The battle might have gone in their favor if, in the very nick of time, the Viceroy himself and the remainder of the troops had not come up. They had not thought it necessary to come on foot since the surprise had been effected, and the Viceroy rightly divined they would have more advantage if mounted. Choosing the very freshest horses therefore, he had put fifty of the best soldiers upon them and had led them up on a gallop, bidding the others follow on with speed. The fighting had gradually concentrated before the church and in the eastern fort, where Braziliano had his headquarters. The arrival of the horsemen decided the day. Morgan and de Lussan, fighting desperately in the front ranks with splendid courage, were overridden. De Lussan was wounded, fell, and was trampled to death by the Spanish horsemen, and Morgan was taken prisoner, alive and unharmed. When he saw that all was lost, he had thrown himself upon the enemy, seeking a death in the fight, which, by the Viceroy's orders, was denied him. Many of the other buccaneers also were captured alive; indeed, the Viceroy desired as many of them saved as possible. He could punish a living man in a way to make him feel something of the torture he had inflicted, and for this reason those who surrendered had been spared for the present.
Indeed, after the capture of Morgan the remaining buccaneers threw down their arms and begged for mercy. They might as well have appealed to a stone wall for that as to their Spanish captors. A short shrift and a heavy punishment were promised them in the morning. Meanwhile, after a brief struggle, the east fort was taken by assault, and Braziliano was wounded and captured with most of his men. The town was in the possession of the Spanish at last. It was all over in a quarter of an hour.
Instantly the streets were filled with a mob of men, women, and children, whose lives had been spared, bewildered by the sudden release from their imminent peril and giving praise to God and the Viceroy and his men. As soon as he could make himself heard in the confusion de Lara inquired for Alvarado.
"Where is he?" he cried. "And de Tobar?"
"My lord," answered one of the party, "we were directed to take the west fort and those two cavaliers were in the lead, but the pressure of the pirates was so great that we were stopped and have not seen them since. They were ahead of us."
"De Cordova," cried the old man to one of his colonels, "take charge of the town. Keep the women and children and inhabitants together where they are for the present. Let your soldiery patrol the streets and search every house from top to bottom. Let no one of these ruffianly scoundrels escape. Take them alive. We'll deal with them in the morning. Fetch Morgan to the west fort after us. Come, gentlemen, we shall find our comrades there, and pray God the ladies have not yet—are still unharmed!"
A noble old soldier was de Lara. He had not sought his daughter until he had performed his full duty in taking the town.
The anteroom of the fort they found in a state of wild confusion. The dead bodies of the sentry and the others the two cavaliers had cut down on the stairs were ruthlessly thrust aside, and the party of gentlemen with the Viceroy in the lead poured into the guardroom. There, on his back, was stretched the hideous body of the half-breed where he had fallen. There, farther away, the unfortunate de Tobar lay, gasping for breath yet making no outcry. He was leaning on his arm and staring across the room, with anguish in his face not due to the wound he had received but to a sight which broke his heart.
"Alas, de Tobar!" cried the Viceroy. "Where is Mercedes?"
He followed the glance of the dying man. There at the other side of the room lay a prostrate body, and over it bent a moaning, sobbing figure. It was Mercedes.
"Mercedes!" cried the Viceroy running toward her. "Alvarado!"
"Tell me," he asked in a heartbreaking voice. "Art thou——"
"Safe yet and—well," answered the girl; "they came in the very nick of time. Oh, Alvarado, Alvarado!" she moaned.
"Senorita," cried one of the officers, "Don Felipe here is dying. He would speak with you."
Mercedes suffered herself to be led to where de Tobar lay upon the floor. One of his comrades had taken his head on his knee. The very seconds of his life were numbered. Lovely in her grief Mercedes knelt at his side, a great pity in her heart. The Viceroy stepped close to him.
"I thank you, too," she said. "Poor Don Felipe, he and you saved me, but at the expense of your lives. Would God you could have been spared!"
"Nay," gasped the dying man, "thou lovest him. I—watched thee. I heard thee call upon his name. Thou wert not for me, and so I die willingly. He is a noble gentleman. Would he might have won thee!"
The man trembled with the violent effort it cost him to speak. He gasped faintly and strove to smile. By an impulse for which she was ever after grateful, she bent her head, slipped her arm around his neck, lifted him up, and kissed him. In spite of his death agony, at that caress he smiled up at her.
"Now," he murmured, "I die happy—content—you kissed—me—Jesu—Mercedes——"
It was the end of as brave a lover, as true a cavalier as ever drew sword or pledged hand in a woman's cause.
"He is dead," said the officer.
"God rest his soul, a gallant gentleman," said the Viceroy, taking off his hat, and his example was followed by every one in the room.
"And Captain Alvarado?" said Mercedes, rising to her feet and turning to the other figure.
"Senorita," answered another of the officers, "he lives."
"Oh, God, I thank Thee!"
A little shudder crept through the figure of the prostrate Captain, who had only been knocked senseless by the fierce blow and was otherwise unhurt.
"His eyes are open! Water, quick!"
With skilled fingers begot by long practice the cavalier cut the lacings of Alvarado's doublet and gave him water, then a little wine. As the young Captain returned to consciousness, once more the officers crowded around him, the Viceroy in the centre, Mercedes on her knees again.
"Mercedes," whispered the young Captain. "Alive—unharmed?"
"Yes," answered Mercedes brokenly, "thanks to God and thee."
"And de Tobar," generously asserted Alvarado. "Where is he?"
"Oh, brave de Tobar! And the city——"
"Here in my hands," said the Viceroy sternly.
"Thank God, thank God! And now, your Excellency, my promise. I thought as I was stricken down there would be no need for you to——"
"Thou hast earned life, Alvarado, not death, and thou shalt have it."
"Senors," said Alvarado, whose faintness was passing from him, "I broke my plighted word to the Viceroy and Don Felipe de Tobar. I love this lady and was false to my charge. Don Alvaro promised me death for punishment, and I crave it. I care not for life without——"
"And did he tell thee why he broke his word?" asked Mercedes, taking his hands in her own and looking up at her father. "It was my fault. I made him. In despair I strove to throw myself over the cliff on yonder mountain and he caught me in his arms. With me in his arms—Which of you, my lords," she said, throwing back her head with superb pride, "would not have done the same? Don Felipe de Tobar is dead. He was a gallant gentleman, but I loved him not. My father, you will not part us now?"
"No," said the old man, "I will not try. I care not now what his birth or lineage, he hath shown himself a man of noblest soul. You heard the wish of de Tobar. It shall be so. This is the betrothal of my daughter, gentlemen. Art satisfied, Captain? She is noble enough, she hath lineage and race enough for both of you. My interest with our royal master will secure you that patent of nobility you will adorn, for bravely have you won it."
IN WHICH SIR HENRY MORGAN SEES A CROSS, CHERISHES A HOPE, AND MAKES A CLAIM
These noble and generous words of the Viceroy put such heart into the young Spanish soldier that, forgetting his wounds and his weakness, he rose to his feet. Indeed, the blow that struck him down had stunned him rather than anything else, and he would not have been put out of the combat so easily had it not been that he was exhausted by the hardships of those two terrible days through which he had just passed. The terrific mountain climb, the wild ride, the fierce battle, his consuming anxiety for the woman he loved—these things had so wearied him that he had been unequal to the struggle. The stimulants which had been administered to him by his loving friends had been of great service also in reviving his strength, and he faced the Viceroy, his hand in that of Mercedes, with a flush of pleasure and pride upon his face.
Yet, after all, it was the consciousness of having won permission to marry the woman whom he adored and who loved him with a passion that would fain overmatch his own, were that possible, that so quickly restored him to strength. With the realization of what he had gained there came to him such an access of vigor as amazed those who a few moments before had thought him dead or dying.
"But for these poor people who have so suffered, this, my lord," he exclaimed with eager gratitude and happiness, "hath been a happy day for me. Last night, sir, on the beach yonder, I found a mother. A good sister, she, of Holy Church, who, rather than carry the ladders which gave access to the town, with the fearful alternative of dishonor as a penalty for refusal, killed herself with her own hand. She died not, praise God, before she had received absolution from a brave priest, although the holy father paid for his office with his life, for Morgan killed him. To-night I find, by the blessing of God, the favor of your Excellency and the kindness of the lady's heart—a wife."
He dropped upon his knees as he spoke and pressed a long, passionate kiss upon the happy Mercedes' extended hand.
"Lady," he said, looking up at her, his soul in his eyes, his heart in his voice, "I shall strive to make myself noble for thee, and all that I am, and shall be, shall be laid at thy feet."
"I want not more than thyself, Senor Alvarado," answered the girl bravely before them all, her own cheeks aglow with happy color. "You have enough honor already. You satisfy me."
"Long life to Donna de Lara and Captain Alvarado!" cried old Agramonte, lifting up his hand. "The handsomest, the noblest, the bravest pair in New Spain! May they be the happiest! Give me leave, sir," added the veteran captain turning to the Viceroy. "You have done well. Say I not true, gentlemen? And as for the young captain, as he is fit to stand with the best, it is meet that he should win the heart of the loveliest. His mother he has found. None may know his father——"
"Let me be heard," growled a deep voice in broken Spanish, as the one-eyed old sailor thrust himself through the crowd.
"Hornigold, by hell!" screamed the bound buccaneer captain, who had been a silent spectator of events from the background. "I missed you. Have you——"
The boatswain, mindful of his safety, for in the hurry and confusion of the attack any Spaniard would have cut him down before he could explain, had followed hard upon the heels of Alvarado and de Tobar when they entered the fort and had concealed himself in one of the inner rooms until he saw a convenient opportunity for disclosing himself. He had been a witness to all that had happened in the hall, and he realized that the time had now come to strike the first of the blows he had prepared against his old captain. That in the striking, he wrecked the life and happiness of those he had assisted for his own selfish purpose mattered little to him. He had so long brooded and thought upon one idea, so planned and schemed to bring about one thing, that a desire for revenge fairly obsessed him.
As soon as he appeared from behind the hangings where he had remained in hiding, it was evident to every one that he was a buccaneer. Swords were out in an instant.
"What's this?" cried the Viceroy in great surprise. "Another pirate free and unbound? Seize him!"
Three or four of the men made a rush toward the old buccaneer, but with wonderful agility he avoided them and sprang to the side of Alvarado.
"Back, senors!" he cried coolly and composedly, facing their uplifted points.
"My lord," said Alvarado, "bid these gentlemen withdraw their weapons. This man is under my protection."
"Who is he?"
"He I told you of, sir, who set me free, provided Donna Mercedes with a weapon, opened the gate for us. One Benjamin Hornigold."
"Thou damned traitor!" yelled that fierce, high voice on the outskirts of the crowd.
There was a sudden commotion. A bound man burst through the surprised cavaliers and threw himself, all fettered though he was, upon the sailor. He was without weapon or use of hand, yet he bit him savagely on the cheek.
"Hell!" he cried, as they pulled him away and dragged him to his feet, "had I a free hand for a second you'd pay! As it is, I've marked you, and you'll carry the traitor's brand until you die! Curse you, whatever doom comes to me, may worse come to you!"
The old buccaneer was an awful figure, as he poured out a horrible torrent of curses and imprecations upon the traitor, grinding his teeth beneath his foam-flecked lips, and even the iron-hearted sailor, striving to staunch the blood, involuntarily shrank back appalled before him.
"Senor," he cried, appealing to Alvarado, "I was to have protection!"
"You shall have it," answered the young soldier, himself shrinking away from the traitor, although by his treason he had so greatly benefited. "My lord, had it not been for this man, I'd still be a prisoner, the lady Mercedes like those wretched women weeping in the streets. I promised him, in your name, protection, immunity from punishment, and liberty to depart with as much of the treasure of the Porto Bello plate galleon, which was wrecked on the sands a few days ago, of which I told you, as he could carry."
"And you did not exceed your authority, Captain Alvarado. We contemn treason in whatsoever guise it doth appear, and we hate and loathe a traitor, but thy word is passed. It will be held inviolate as our own. You are free, knave. I will appoint soldiers to guard you, for should my men see you, not knowing this, they would cut you down; and when occasion serves you may take passage in the first ship that touches here and go where you will. Nay, we will be generous, although we like you not. We are much indebted to you. We have profited by what we do despise. We would reward you. Ask of me something that I may measure my obligation for a daughter's honor saved, if you can realize or feel what that may be."
"My lord, hear me," said the boatswain quickly. "There be reasons and reasons for betrayals, and I have one. This man was my captain. I perilled my life a dozen times to save his; I followed him blindly upon a hundred terrible ventures; I lived but for his service. My soul—when I had a soul—was at his command; I loved him. Ay, gentlemen, rough, uncouth, old though I am, I loved this man. He could ask of me anything that I could have given him and he would not have been refused.
"Sirs, there came to me a young brother of mine, not such as I, a rude, unlettered sailor, but a gentleman—and college bred. There are quarterings on my family scutcheon, sirs, back in Merry England, had I the wit or care to trace it. He was a reckless youth, chafing under the restraints of that hard religion to which we had been born. The free life of a brother-of-the-coast attracted him. He became like me, a buccaneer. I strove to dissuade him, but without avail. He was the bravest, the handsomest, the most gallant of us all. He came into my old heart like a son. We are not all brute, gentlemen. I have waded in blood and plunder like the rest, but in every heart there is some spot that beats for things better. I divided my love between him and my captain. This man"—he pointed to his old master with his blunted finger, drawing himself up until he looked taller than he was, his one eye flashing with anger and hatred, as with a stern, rude eloquence he recited his wrongs, the grim indictment of a false friend—"this man betrayed us at Panama. With what he had robbed his comrades of he bought immunity, even knighthood, from the King of England. He was made Vice-Governor of Jamaica and his hand fell heavily upon those who had blindly followed him in the old days, men who had served him and trusted him, as I—men whose valor and courage had made him what he was.
"He took the lad I loved, and because his proud spirit would not break to his heavy hand and he answered him like the bold, free sailor he was, he hanged him like a dog, sirs! I—I—stooped for his life. I, who cared not for myself, offered to stand in his place upon the gallows platform, though I have no more taste for the rope than any of you, if only he might go free. He laughed at me! He mocked me! I urged my ancient service—he drove me from him with curses and threats like a whipped dog. I could have struck him down then, but that I wanted to save him for a revenge that might measure my hate, slow and long and terrible. Not mere sudden death, that would not suffice. Something more.
"Treachery? My lord, his was the first. I played his own game and have overcome it with the same. D'ye blame me now? Take your treasure! I want none of it. I want only him and my revenge! Liberty's dear to all of us. I'll give mine up. You may take my life with the rest, but first give me this man. Let me deal with him. I will revenge you all, and when I have finished with him I will yield myself to you."
He was a hideous figure of old hate and rancor, of unslaked passion, of monstrous possibilities of cruel torture. Hardened as they were by the customs of their age to hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness, the listeners turned cold at such an exhibition of malefic passion, of consuming hatred. Even Morgan himself, intrepid as he was, shrank from the awful menace of the mordant words.
"My lord!" shouted the unfortunate captain, "give him no heed. He lies in his throat; he lies a thousand times. 'Twas a mutinous dog, that brother of his, that I hanged. I am your prisoner. You are a soldier. I look for speedy punishment, certain death it may be, but let it not be from his hand."
"Think, senors," urged the boatswain; "you would hang him perhaps. It is the worst that you could do. Is that punishment meet for him? He has despoiled women, bereft children, tortured men, in the streets of La Guayra. A more fitting punishment should await him. Think of Panama, of Maracaibo, of Porto Bello! Recall what he did there. Is hanging enough? Give him to me. Let me have my way. You have your daughter, safe, unharmed, within the shelter of her lover's arms. The town is yours. You have won the fight. 'Twas I that did it. Without me your wives, your children, your subjects, would have been slaughtered in Caracas and this dog would have been free to go further afield for prey. He coveted your daughter—would fain make her his slave in some desert island. Give him to me!"
"Old man," said the Viceroy, "I take back my words. You have excuse for your betrayal, but your request I can not grant. I have promised him to Alvarado. Nay, urge me no further. My word is passed."
"Thank you, thank you!" cried Morgan, breathing again.
"Silence, you dog!" said the Viceroy, with a look of contempt on his face. "But take heart, man," he added, as he saw the look of rage and disappointment sweep over the face of the old sailor, "he will not escape lightly. Would God he had blood enough in his body to pay drop by drop for all he hath shed. His death shall be slow, lingering, terrible. You have said it, and you shall see it, too, and you will. He shall have time to repent and to think upon the past. You may glut yourself with his suffering and feed fat your revenge. 'Twill be a meet, a fitting punishment so far as our poor minds can compass. We have already planned it."
"You Spanish hounds!" roared Morgan stoutly, "I am a subject of England. I demand to be sent there for trial."
"You are an outlaw, sir, a man of no country, a foe to common humanity, and taken in your crimes. Silence, I say!" again cried the old man. "You pollute the air with your speech. Take him away and hold him safe. To-morrow he shall be punished."
"Without a trial?" screamed the old buccaneer, struggling forward.
"Thou art tried already. Thou hast been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Alvarado, art ready for duty?"
"Ready, your Excellency," answered the young man, "and for this duty."
"Take him then, I give him into your hands. You know what is to be done; see you do it well."
"Ay, my lord. Into the strong-room with him, men!" ordered the young Spaniard, stepping unsteadily forward.
As he did so the crucifix he wore, which the disorder in his dress exposed to view, flashed into the light once more. Morgan's eyes fastened upon it for the first time.
"By heaven, sir!" he shouted. "Where got ye that cross?"
"From his mother, noble captain," interrupted Hornigold, coming closer.
He had another card to play. He had waited for this moment, and he threw back his head with a long, bitter laugh. There was such sinister, such vicious mockery and meaning in his voice, with not the faintest note of merriment to relieve it, that his listeners looked aghast upon him.
"His mother?" cried Morgan. "Then this is——"
He paused. The assembled cavaliers, Mercedes, and Alvarado stood with bated breath waiting for the terrible boatswain's answer.
"The boy I took into Cuchillo when we were at Panama," said Hornigold in triumph.
"And my son!" cried the old buccaneer with malignant joy.
A great cry of repudiation and horror burst from the lips of Alvarado. The others stared with astonishment and incredulity written on their faces. Mercedes moved closer to her lover and strove to take his hand.
"My lords and gentlemen, hear me," continued the buccaneer, the words rushing from his lips in his excitement, for in the new relationship he so promptly and boldly affirmed, he thought he saw a way of escape from his imminent peril. "There lived in Maracaibo a Spanish woman, Maria Zerega, who loved me. By her there was a child—mine—a boy. I took them with me to Panama. The pestilence raged there after the sack. She fell ill, and as she lay dying besought me to save the boy. I sent Hornigold to her with instructions to do her will, and he carried the baby to the village of Cuchillo with that cross upon his breast and left him. We lost sight of him. There, the next day, you found him. He has English blood in his veins. He is my son, sirs, a noble youth," sneered the old man. "Now you have given me to him. 'Tis not meet that the father should suffer at the hands of the son. You shall set me free," added the man, turning to Alvarado.
"Rather than that—" cried Hornigold, viciously springing forward knife in hand.
He was greatly surprised at the bold yet cunning appeal of his former captain.
"Back, man!" interposed the Viceroy. "And were you a thousand times his father, were you my brother, my own father, you should, nevertheless, die, as it hath been appointed."
"Can this be true?" groaned Alvarado, turning savagely to Hornigold.
"I believe it to be."
"Why not kill me last night then?"
"I wanted you for this minute. 'Tis a small part of my revenge. To see him die and by his son's hand—A worthy father, noble son——"
"Silence!" shouted de Lara. "Art thou without bowels of compassion, man! Alvarado, I pity thee, but this makes the promise of the hour void. Nay, my daughter"—as Mercedes came forward to entreat him—"I'd rather slay thee with my own hand than wed thee to the son of such as yon!"
"My lord, 'tis just," answered Alvarado. His anguish was pitiful to behold. "I am as innocent of my parentage as any child, yet the suffering must be mine. The sins of the fathers are visited on the children. I did deem it yesterday a coward's act to cut the thread of my life but now—I cannot survive—I cannot live—and know that in my veins—runs the blood of such a monster. My lord, you have been good to me. Gentlemen, you have honored me. Mercedes, you have loved me—O God! You, infamous man, you have fathered me. May the curse of God, that God whom you mock, rest upon you! My mother loved this man once, it seems. Well, nobly did she expiate. I go to join her. Pray for me. Stay not my hand. Farewell!"
He raised his poniard.
"Let no one stop him," cried the old Viceroy as Alvarado darted the weapon straight at his own heart. "This were the best end."
Mercedes had stood dazed during this conversation, but with a shriek of horror, as she saw the flash of the blade, she threw herself upon her lover, and strove to wrench the dagger from him.
"Alvarado!" she cried, "whatever thou art, thou hast my heart! Nay, slay me first, if thou wilt."
HOW THE GOOD PRIEST FRA ANTONIO DE LAS CASAS TOLD THE TRUTH, TO THE GREAT RELIEF OF CAPTAIN ALVARADO AND DONNA MERCEDES, AND THE DISCOMFITURE OF MASTER BENJAMIN HORNIGOLD AND SIR HENRY MORGAN
"Ay, strike, Alvarado," cried the Viceroy, filled with shame and surprise at the sight of his daughter's extraordinary boldness, "for though I love her, I'd rather see her dead than married to the son of such as he. Drive home your weapon!" he cried in bitter scorn. "Why stay your hand? Only blood can wash out the shame she hath put upon me before you all this day. Thou hast a dagger. Use it, I say!"
"Do you hear my father's words, Alvarado?" cried Mercedes sinking on her knees and stretching up her hands to him. "'Tis a sharp weapon. One touch will end it all, and you can follow."
"God help me!" cried the unhappy young Captain, throwing aside the poniard and clasping his hands to his eyes. "I cannot! Hath no one here a point for me? If I have deserved well of you or the State, sir, bid them strike home."
"Live, young sir," interrupted Morgan, "there are other women in the world. Come with me and——"
"If you are my father, you have but little time in this world," interrupted the Spaniard, turning to Morgan and gnashing his teeth at him. "I doubt not but you were cruel to my mother. I hate you! I loathe you! I despise you for all your crimes! And most of all for bringing me into the world. I swear to you, had I the power, I'd not add another moment to your life. The world were better rid of you."
"You have been well trained by your Spanish nurses," cried Morgan resolutely, although with sneering mockery and hate in his voice, "and well you seem to know the duty owed by son to sire."
"You have done nothing for me," returned the young soldier, "you abandoned me. Such as you are you were my father. You cast me away to shift for myself. Had it not been for these friends here——"
"Nay," said Morgan, "I thought you dead. That cursed one-eyed traitor there told me so, else I'd sought you out."
"Glad am I that you did not, for I have passed my life where no child of yours could hope to be—among honorable men, winning their respect, which I now forfeit because of thee."
"Alvarado," said the Viceroy, "this much will I do for thee. He shall be shot like a soldier instead of undergoing the punishment we had designed for him. This much for his fatherhood."
"My lord, I ask it not," answered the young man.
"Sir," exclaimed Morgan, a gleam of relief passing across his features, for he knew, of course, that death was his only expectation, and he had greatly feared that his taking off would be accompanied by the most horrible tortures that could be devised by people who were not the least expert in the practice of the unmentionable cruelties of the age, "you, at least, are a father, and I thank you."
"Yes, I am a father and a most unhappy one," groaned de Lara, turning toward Alvarado. "Perhaps it is well you did not accomplish your purpose of self-destruction after all, my poor friend. As I said before, Spain hath need of you. You may go back to the old country beyond the great sea. All here will keep your secret; my favor will be of service to you even there. You can make a new career with a new name."
"And Mercedes?" asked Alvarado.
"You have no longer any right to question. Ah, well, it is just that you should hear. The girl goes to a convent; the only cloak for her is in our Holy Religion—and so ends the great race of de Laras!"
"No, no," pleaded Mercedes, "send me not there! Let me go with him!" She stepped nearer to him, beautiful and beseeching. "My father," she urged, "you love me." She threw her arms around his neck and laid her head upon his breast. Upon it her father tenderly pressed his hand. "You loved my mother, did you not?" she continued. "Think of her. Condemn me not to the living death of a convent—away from him. If that man be his father—and I can not believe it, there is some mistake, 'tis impossible that anything so foul should bring into the world a man so noble—yet I love him! You know him. You have tried him a thousand times. He has no qualities of his base ancestry. His mother at least died like a Spanish gentlewoman. My lords, gentlemen, some of you have known me from my childhood. You have lived in our house and have followed the fortunes of my father—you have grown gray in our service. Intercede for me!"
"Your Excellency," said old Don Caesar de Agramonte, a man, who, as Mercedes had said, had literally grown gray in the service of the Viceroy, and who was man of birth scarcely inferior to his own, "the words of the Lady Mercedes move me profoundly. By your grace's leave, I venture to say that she hath spoken well and nobly, and that the young Alvarado, whom we have seen in places that try men's souls to the extreme, hath always comported himself as a Spanish gentleman should. This may be a lie. But if it is true, his old association with you and yours, and some humor of courage and fidelity and gentleness that I doubt not his mother gave him, have washed out the taint. Will you not reconsider your words? Give the maiden to the man. I am an old soldier, sir, and have done you some service. I would cheerfully stake my life to maintain his honor and his gentleness at the sword's point."
"He speaks well, Don Alvaro," cried Captain Gayoso, another veteran soldier. "I join my plea to that of my comrade, Don Caesar."
"And I add my word, sir."
"And I, mine."
"And I, too," came from the other men of the suite.
"Gentlemen, I thank you," said Alvarado, gratefully looking at the little group; "this is one sweet use of my adversity. I knew not I was so befriended——"
"You hear, you hear, my father, what these noble gentlemen say?" interrupted Mercedes.
"But," continued Alvarado sadly, "it is not meet that the blood of the princely de Laras should be mingled with mine. Rather the ancient house should fall with all its honors upon it than be kept alive by degradation. I thank you, but it can not be."
"Your Excellency, we humbly press you for an answer," persisted Agramonte.
"Gentlemen—and you have indeed proven yourselves generous and gentle soldiers—I appreciate what you say. Your words touch me profoundly. I know how you feel, but Alvarado is right. I swear to you that I would rather let my line perish than keep it in existence by such means. Rather anything than that my daughter should marry—forgive me, lad—the bastard son of a pirate and buccaneer, a wicked monster, like that man!"
"Sir," exclaimed a thin, faint old voice from the outskirts of the room, "no base blood runs in the veins of that young man. You are all mistaken."
"Death and fury!" shouted Morgan, who was nearer to him, "it is the priest! Art alive? Scuttle me, I struck you down—I do not usually need to give a second blow."
"Who is this?" asked de Lara. "Back, gentlemen, and give him access to our person."
The excited men made way for a tall, pale, gaunt figure of a man clad in the habit of a Dominican. As he crossed his thin hands on his breast and bowed low before the Viceroy, the men marked a deeply scarred wound upon his shaven crown, a wound recently made, for it was still raw and open. The man tottered as he stood there.
"'Tis the priest!" exclaimed Hornigold, who had been a silent and disappointed spectator of the scene at last. "He lives then?"
"The good father!" said Mercedes, stepping from her father's side and scanning the man eagerly. "He faints! A chair for him, gentlemen, and wine!"
"Now, sir," said the Viceroy as the priest seated himself on a stool which willing hands had placed for him, after he had partaken of a generous draught of wine, which greatly refreshed him, "your name?"
"Fra Antonio de Las Casas, your Excellency, a Dominican, from Peru, bound for Spain on the plate galleon, the Almirante Recalde, captured by that man. I was stricken down by his blow as I administered absolution to the mother of the young captain. I recovered and crawled into the woods for concealment, and when I saw your soldiers, your Excellency, I followed, but slowly, for I am an old man and sore wounded."
"Would that my blow had bit deeper, thou false priest!" roared Morgan in furious rage.
"Be still!" commanded the old Viceroy sternly. "Speak but another word until I give you leave and I'll have you gagged! You said strange words, Holy Father, when you came into the hall."
"I did, my lord."
"Some of the conversation, sir, from which I gathered that this unfortunate man"—pointing to Morgan, who as one of the chief actors in the transaction had been placed in the front rank of the circle, although tightly bound and guarded by the grim soldiers—"claimed to be the father of the brave young soldier."
"Ay, and he hath established the claim," answered de Lara.
"Nay, my lord, that can not be."
"Why not, sir," interrupted Alvarado, stepping forward.
"Because it is not true."
"Thank God, thank God!" cried Alvarado. Indeed, he almost shouted in his relief.
"How know you this?" asked Mercedes.
"My lady, gentles all, I have proof irrefutable. He is not the child of that wicked man. His father is——"
"I care not who," cried Alvarado, having passed from death unto life in the tremendous moments, "even though he were the meanest and poorest peasant, so he were an honest man."
"My lord," said the priest, "he was a noble gentleman."
"I knew it, I knew it!" cried Mercedes. "I said it must be so."
"Ay, a gentleman, a gentleman!" burst from the officers in the room.
"Your Excellency," continued the old man, turning to the Viceroy. "His blood is as noble as your own."
"His name?" said the old man, who had stood unmoved in the midst of the tumult.
"Captain Alvarado that was," cried the Dominican, with an inborn love of the dramatic in his tones, "stand forth. My lord and lady, and gentles all, I present to you Don Francisco de Guzman, the son of his excellency, the former Governor of Panama and of his wife, Isabella Zerega, a noble and virtuous lady, though of humbler walk of life and circumstance than her husband."
"De Guzman! De Guzman!" burst forth from the soldiers.
"It is a lie!" shouted Hornigold. "He is Morgan's son. He was given to me as such. I left him at Cuchillo. You found him, sir——"
He appealed to the Viceroy.
"My venerable father, with due respect to you, sir, we require something more than your unsupported statement to establish so great a fact," said the Viceroy deliberately, although the sparkle in his eyes belied his calm.
"Your grace speaks well," said Morgan, clutching at his hope still.
"I require nothing more. I see and believe," interrupted Mercedes.
"But I want proof," sternly said her father.
"And you shall have it," answered the priest. "That cross he wears——"
"As I am about to die!" exclaimed Morgan, "I saw his mother wear it many a time, and she put it upon his breast."
"Not this one, sir," said Fra Antonio, "but its fellow. There were two sisters in the family of Zerega. There were two crosses made, one for each. In an evil hour the elder sister married you——"
"We did, indeed, go through some mockery of a ceremony," muttered Morgan.
"You did, sir, and 'twas a legal one, for when you won her—by what means I know not, in Maracaibo—you married her. You were forced to do so before you received her consent. One of my brethren who performed the service told me the tale. After you took her away from Maracaibo her old father, broken hearted at her defection, sought asylum in Panama with the remaining daughter, and there she met the Governor, Don Francisco de Guzman. He loved her, he wooed and won her, and at last he married her, but secretly. She was poor and humble by comparison with him; she had only her beauty and her virtue for her dower, and there were reasons why it were better the marriage should be concealed for a while.
"A child was born. You were that child, sir. Thither came this man with his bloody marauders. In his train was his wretched wife and her own boy, an infant, born but a short time before that of the Governor. De Guzman sallied out to meet them and was killed at the head of his troops. They burned Panama and turned that beautiful city into a hell like unto La Guayra. I found means to secrete Isabella de Guzman and her child. The plague raged in the town. This man's wife died. He gave command to Hornigold to take the child away. He consulted me, as a priest whose life he had spared, as to what were best to do with him, and I advised Cuchillo, but his child died with its mother before it could be taken away.
"Isabella de Guzman was ill. I deemed it wise to send her infant away. I urged her to substitute her child for the dead body of the other, intending to provide for its reception at Cuchillo, and she gave her child to the sailor. In the confusion and terror it must have been abandoned by the woman to whom it was delivered; she, it was supposed, perished when the buccaneers destroyed the place out of sheer wantonness when they left Panama. I fell sick of the fever shortly after and knew not what happened. The poor mother was too seriously ill to do anything. It was months ere we recovered and could make inquiries for the child, and then it had disappeared and we found no trace of it. You, sir," pointing to Hornigold, "had gone away with the rest. There was none to tell us anything. We never heard of it again and supposed it dead."
"And my child, sir priest?" cried Morgan. "What became of it?"
"I buried it in the same grave with its poor mother with the cross on its breast. May God have mercy on their souls!"
"A pretty tale, indeed," sneered the buccaneer.
"It accounts in some measure for the situation," said the Viceroy, "but I must have further proof."
"Patience, noble sir, and you shall have it. These crosses were of cunning construction. They open to those who know the secret. There is room in each for a small writing. Each maiden, so they told me, put within her own cross her marriage lines. If this cross hath not been tampered with it should bear within its recess the attestation of the wedding of Francisco de Guzman and Isabella Zerega."
"The cross hath never left my person," said Alvarado, "since I can remember."
"And I can bear testimony," said the Viceroy, "that he hath worn it constantly since a child. Though it was large and heavy I had a superstition that it should never leave his person. Know you the secret of the cross?"
"I do, for it was shown me by the woman herself."
"Step nearer, Alvarado," said de Lara.
"Nay, sir," said the aged priest, as Alvarado came nearer him and made to take the cross from his breast, "thou hast worn it ever there. Wear it to the end. I can open it as thou standest."
He reached up to the carven cross depending from the breast of the young man bending over him.
"A pretty story," sneered Morgan again, "but had I aught to wager, I'd offer it with heavy odds that that cross holds the marriage lines of my wife."
"Thou wouldst lose, sir, for see, gentlemen," cried the priest, manipulating the crucifix with his long, slender fingers and finally opening it, "the opening! And here is a bit of parchment! Read it, sir."
He handed it to the Viceroy. The old noble, lifting it to the light, scanned the closely-written, faded lines on the tiny scrap of delicate parchment.
"'Tis a certificate of marriage of——" He paused.
"Maria Zerega," said Morgan, triumphantly.
"Nay," answered the old man, and his triumph rung in his voice, "of Isabella Zerega and Francisco de Guzman."
"Hell and fury!" shouted the buccaneer, "'tis a trick!"
"And signed by——"
He stopped again, peering at the faded, almost illegible signature.
"By whom, your Excellency?" interrupted the priest smiling.
"'Tis a bit faded," said the old man, holding it nearer. "Fra—An—tonio! Was it thou?"
"Even so, sir. I married the mother, as I buried her yester eve upon the sand."
"'Tis a fact established," said the Viceroy, satisfied at last. "Don Francisco de Guzman, Alvarado that was, thy birth and legitimacy are clear and undoubted. There by your side stands the woman you have loved. If you wish her now I shall be honored to call you my son."
"My lord," answered Alvarado, "that I am the son of an honorable gentleman were joy enough, but when thou givest me Donna Mercedes——"
He turned, and with a low cry the girl fled to his arms. He drew her close to him and laid his hand upon her head, and then he kissed her before the assembled cavaliers, who broke into enthusiastic shouts and cries of happy approbation.
"There's more evidence yet," cried the priest, thrusting his hand into the bosom of his habit and drawing forth a glittering object. "Sir, I took this from the body of Sister Maria Christina, for upon my advice she entered upon the service of the Holy Church after her bereavement, keeping her secret, for there was naught to be gained by its publication. That Church she served long and well. Many sufferers there be to whom she ministered who will rise up and call her blessed. She killed herself upon the sands rather than give aid and comfort to this man and his men, or submit herself to the evil desires of his band. Sirs, I have lived long and suffered much, and done some little service for Christ, His Church, and His children, but I take more comfort from the absolution that I gave her when she cried for mercy against the sin of self-slaughter than for any other act in my career. Here, young sir," said the priest, opening the locket, "are the pictures of your father and mother. See, cavaliers, some of you knew Don Francisco de Guzman and can recognize him. That is his wife. She was young and had golden hair like thine, my son, in those days. You are the express image of her person as I recall it."
"My father! My mother!" cried Alvarado. "Look, Mercedes, look your Excellency, and gentlemen, all! But her body, worthy father?"
"Even as her soul hath gone out into the new life beyond, her body was drawn out into the great deep at the call of God—but not unblessed, senors, even as she went not unshriven, for I knelt alone by her side, unable by my wounds and weakness to do more service, and said the office of our Holy Church."
"May God bless thee, as I bless thee!" answered Alvarado, to give him the familiar name.
As he spoke he sank on his knees and pressed a long and fervent kiss upon the worn and withered hand of the aged man.
"It is not meet," said the priest, withdrawing his hand and laying it in blessing upon the bowed fair head. "That which was lost is found again. Let us rejoice and praise God for His mercy. Donna Mercedes, gentlemen, my blessing on Senor de Guzman and upon ye all. Benedicite!" he said, making the sign of the cross.
IN WHICH SIR HENRY MORGAN APPEALS UNAVAILINGLY ALIKE TO THE PITY OF WOMAN, THE FORGIVENESS OF PRIEST, THE FRIENDSHIP OF COMRADE, AND THE HATRED OF MEN
"And bless me also, my father," cried Mercedes, kneeling by Alvarado's side.
"Most willingly, my fair daughter," answered the old man. "A fit helpmate indeed thou hast shown thyself for so brave a soldier. By your leave, your Excellency. You will indulge an old man's desire to bless the marriage of the son as he did that of the mother? No obstacle, I take it, now exists to prevent this most happy union."
"None," answered the Viceroy, as the young people rose and stood before him, "and glad I am that this happy solution of our difficulties has come to pass."
"And when, sir," questioned the priest further, "may I ask that you design——"
"The sooner the better," said the Viceroy smiling grimly. "By the mass, reverend father, I'll feel easier when he hath her in his charge!"
"I shall prove as obedient to thee as wife, Don Francisco——" said Mercedes with great spirit, turning to him.
"Nay, call me Alvarado, sweet lady," interrupted her lover.
"Alvarado then, if you wish—for it was under that name that I first loved thee—I shall prove as obedient a wife to thee as I was a dutiful daughter to thee, my father."
"'Tis not saying o'er much," commented the Viceroy, but smiling more kindly as he said the words. "Nay, I'll take that back, Mercedes, or modify it. Thou hast, indeed, been to me all that a father could ask, until——"
"'Twas my fault, your Excellency. On me be the punishment," interrupted the lover.
"Thou shalt have it with Mercedes," answered the Viceroy, laughing broadly now. "What say ye, gentlemen?"
"My lord," said Agramonte, from his age and rank assuming to speak for the rest, "there is not one of us who would not give all he possessed to stand in the young Lord de Guzman's place."
"Well, well," continued the old man, "when we have restored order in the town we shall have a wedding ceremony—say to-morrow."
"Ay, ay, to-morrow, to-morrow!" cried the cavaliers.
"Your Excellency, there is one more thing yet to be done," said Alvarado as soon as he could be heard.
"Art ever making objections, Captain Alvarado—Don Francisco, that is. We might think you had reluctance to the bridal," exclaimed the Viceroy in some little surprise. "What is it now?"
"The punishment of this man."
"I gave him into your hands."
"By God!" shouted old Hornigold, "I wondered if in all this fathering and mothering and sweethearting and giving in marriage he had forgot——"
"Not so. The postponement but makes it deeper," answered Alvarado gravely. "Rest satisfied."
"And I shall have my revenge in full measure?"
"In full, in overflowing measure, senor."
"Do you propose to shoot me?" asked the buccaneer chieftain coolly. "Or behead me?"
"That were a death for an honorable soldier taken in arms and forced to bide the consequences of his defeat. It is not meet for you," answered Alvarado.
"What then? You'll not hang me? Me! A knight of England! Sometime Governor of Jamaica!"
"These titles are nothing to me. And hanging is the death we visit upon the common criminal, a man who murders or steals, or blasphemes. Your following may expect that. For you there is——"
"You don't mean to burn me alive, do you?"
"Were you simply a heretic that might be meet, but you are worse——"
"What do you mean?" cried the buccaneer, carried away by the cold-blooded menace in Alvarado's words. "Neither lead, nor steel, nor rope, nor fire!"
"Neither one nor the other, sir."
"Is it the wheel? The rack? The thumbscrew? Sink me, ye shall see how an Englishman can die! Even from these I flinch not."
"Nor need you, from these, for none of them shall be used," continued the young soldier, with such calculating ferocity in his voice that in spite of his dauntless courage and intrepidity the blood of Morgan froze within his veins.
"Death and destruction!" he shouted. "What is there left?"
"You shall die, senor, not so much by the hand of man as by the act of God."
"God! I believe in none. There is no God!"
"That you shall see."
"Your Excellency, my lords! I appeal to you to save me from this man, not my son but my nephew——"
"S'death, sirrah!" shouted the Viceroy, enraged beyond measure by the allusion to any relationship, "not a drop of your base blood pollutes his veins. I have given you over to him. He will attend to you."
"What means he to do then?"
"You shall see."
The sombre, sinister, although unknown purpose of the Spaniards had new terrors lent to it by the utter inability of the buccaneer to foresee what was to be his punishment. He was a man of the highest courage, the stoutest heart, yet in that hour he was astonied. His knees smote together; he clenched his teeth in a vain effort to prevent their chattering. All his devilry, his assurance, his fortitude, his strength, seemed to leave him. He stood before them suddenly an old, a broken man, facing a doom portentous and terrible, without a spark of strength or resolution left to meet it, whatever it might be. And for the first time in his life he played the craven, the coward. He moistened his dry lips and looked eagerly from one face to another in the dark and gloomy ring that encircled him.
"Lady," he said at last, turning to Mercedes as the most likely of his enemies to befriend him, "you are a woman. You should be tender hearted. You don't want to see an old man, old enough to be your father, suffer some unknown, awful torture? Plead for me! Ask your lover. He will refuse you nothing now."
There was a dead silence in the room. Mercedes stared at the miserable wretch making his despairing appeal as if she were fascinated.
"Answer him," said her stern old father, "as a Spanish gentlewoman should."
It was a grim and terrible age. The gospel under which all lived in those days was not that of the present. It was a gospel writ in blood, and fire, and steel.
"An eye for an eye," said the girl slowly, "a tooth for a tooth, life for life, shame for shame," her voice rising until it rang through the room. "In the name of my ruined sisters, whose wails come to us this instant from without, borne hither on the night wind, I refuse to intercede for you, monster. For myself, the insults you have put upon me, I might forgive, but not the rest. The taking of one life like yours can not repay."
"You hear?" cried Alvarado. "Take him away."
"One moment," cried Morgan. "Holy Father—your religion—it teaches to forgive they say. Intercede for me!"
His eyes turned with faint hope toward the aged priest.
"Not for such as thou," answered the old man looking from him. "I could forgive this," he touched his battered tonsure, "and all thou hast done against me and mine. That is not little, for when I was a lad, a youth, before I took the priestly yoke upon me, I loved Maria Zerega—but that is nothing. What suffering comes upon me I can bear, but thou hast filled the cup of iniquity and must drain it to the dregs. Hark ye—the weeping of the desolated town! I can not interfere! They that take the sword shall perish by it. It is so decreed. You believe not in God——"
"I will! I do!" cried the buccaneer, clutching at the hope.
"I shall pray for thee, that is all."
"Hornigold," cried the now almost frenzied man, his voice hoarse with terror and weakness, "they owe much to you. Without you they had not been here. I have wronged you grievously—terribly—but I atone by this. Beg them, not to let me go but only to kill me where I stand! They will not refuse you. Had it not been for you this man would not have known his father. He could not have won this woman. You have power. You'll not desert an old comrade in his extremity? Think, we have stood together sword in hand and fought our way through all obstacles in many a desperate strait. Thou and I, old shipmate. By the memory of that old association, by the love you once bore me, and by that I gave to you, ask them for my death, here—now—at once!"
"You ask for grace from me!" snarled Hornigold savagely, yet triumphant. "You—you hanged my brother——"
"I know, I know! 'Twas a grievous error. I shall be punished for all—ask them to shoot me—hang me——"
He slipped to his knees, threw himself upon the floor, and lay grovelling at Hornigold's feet.
"Don't let them torture me, man! My God, what is it they intend to do to me?"
"Beg, you hound!" cried the boatswain, spurning him with his foot. "I have you where I swore I'd bring you. And, remember, 'tis I that laid you low—I—I—" He shrieked like a maniac. "When you suffer in that living death for which they design you, remember with every lingering breath of anguish that it was I who brought you there! You trifled with me—mocked me—betrayed me. You denied my request. I grovelled at your feet and begged you—you spurned me as I do you now. Curse you! I'll ask no mercy for you!"
"My lord," gasped out Morgan, turning to the Viceroy in one final appeal, as two of the men dragged him to his feet again, "I have treasure. The galleon we captured—it is buried—I can lead you there."
"There is not a man of your following," said the Viceroy, "who would not gladly purchase life by the same means."
"And 'tis not needed," said the boatswain, "for I have told them where it lies."
"If Teach were here," said Morgan, "he would stand by me."
A man forced his way into the circle carrying a sack in his hand. Drawing the strings he threw the contents at the feet of the buccaneer, and there rolled before him the severed head of the only man save Black Dog upon whom he could have depended, his solitary friend.
Morgan staggered back in horror from the ghastly object, staring at it as if fascinated.
"Ha, ha! Ho, ho!" laughed the old boatswain. "What was it that he sang? 'We'll be damnably mouldy'—ay, even you and I captain—'an hundred years hence.' But should you live so long, you'll not forget 'twas I."
"You didn't betray me then, my young comrade," whispered Morgan, looking down at the severed head. "You fought until you were killed. Would that my head might lie by your side."
He had been grovelling, pleading, weeping, beseeching, but the utter uselessness of it at last came upon him and some of his courage returned. He faced them once more with head uplifted.
"At your will, I'm ready," he cried. "I defy you! You shall see how Harry Morgan can die. Scuttle me, I'll not give way again!"
"Take him away," said Alvarado; "we'll attend to him in the morning."
"Wait! Give me leave, since I am now tried and condemned, to say a word."
A cunning plan had flashed into the mind of Morgan, and he resolved to put it in execution.
"It has been a long life, mine, and a merry one. There's more blood upon my hands—Spanish blood, gentlemen—than upon those of any other human being. There was Puerto Principe. Were any of you there? The men ran like dogs before me there and left the women and children. I wiped my feet upon your accursed Spanish flag. I washed the blood from my hands with hair torn from the heads of your wives, your sweethearts, and you had not courage to defend them!"
A low murmur of rage swept through the room.
"But that's not all. Some of you perhaps were at Porto Bello. I drove the women of the convents to the attack, as in this city yesterday. When I finished I burned the town—it made a hot fire. I did it—I—who stand here! I and that cursed one-eyed traitor Hornigold, there!"
The room was in a tumult now. Shouts, and curses, and imprecations broke forth. Weapons were bared, raised, and shaken at him. The buccaneer laughed and sneered, ineffable contempt pictured on his face.
"And some of you were at Santa Clara, at Chagres, and here in Venezuela at Maracaibo, where we sunk the ships and burned your men up like rats. Then, there was Panama. We left the men to starve and die. Your mother, Senor Agramonte—what became of her? Your sister, there! Your wife, here! The sister of your mother, you young dog—what became of them all? Hell was let loose in this town yesterday. Panama was worse than La Guayra. I did it—I—Harry Morgan's way!"
He thrust himself into the very faces of the men, and with cries of rage they rushed upon him. They brushed aside the old Viceroy, drowning his commands with their shouts. Had it not been for the interference of Hornigold and Alvarado they would have cut Morgan to pieces where he stood. And this had been his aim—to provoke them beyond measure by a recital of some of his crimes so that he would be killed in their fury. But the old boatswain with superhuman strength seized the bound captain and forced him into a corner behind a table, while Alvarado with lightning resolution beat down the menacing sword points.
"Back!" he cried. "Do you not see he wished to provoke this to escape just punishment? I would have silenced him instantly but I thought ye could control yourselves. I let him rave on that he might be condemned out of his own mouth, that none could have doubt that he merits death at our hands to-morrow. Sheath your weapons instantly, gentlemen!" he cried.
"Ay," said the Viceroy, stepping into the crowd and endeavoring to make himself heard, "under pain of my displeasure. What, soldiers, nobles, do ye turn executioners in this way?"
"The women and children——"
"The insult to the flag——"
"The disgrace to the Spanish name!"
"That he should say these things and live!"
"Peace, sirs, he will not say words like these to-morrow. Now, we have had enough. See!" cried the old Viceroy, pointing to the windows, "the day breaks. Take him away. Agramonte, to you I commit the fort. Mercedes, Alvarado, come with me. Those who have no duties to perform, go get some sleep. As for you, prisoner, if you have preparation to make, do so at once, for in the morning you shall have no opportunity."
"I am ready now!" cried Morgan recklessly, furious because he had been balked in his attempt. "Do with me as you will! I have had my day, and it has been a long and merry one."
"And I mine, to-night. It has been short, but enough," laughed Hornigold, his voice ringing like a maniac's in the hall. "For I have had my revenge!"
"We shall take care of that in the morning," said Alvarado, turning away to follow the Viceroy and Mercedes.
IN WHICH THE CAREER OF SIR HENRY MORGAN IS ENDED ON ISLA DE LA TORTUGA, TO THE GREAT DELECTATION OF MASTER BENJAMIN HORNIGOLD, HIS SOMETIME FRIEND
AND LAST. WHEREIN IS SEEN HOW THE JUDGMENT OF GOD CAME UPON THE BUCCANEERS IN THE END
Before it was submerged by the great earthquake which so tremendously overwhelmed the shores of South America with appalling disaster nearly a century and a half later, a great arid rock on an encircling stretch of sandy beach—resultant of untold centuries of struggle between stone and sea—thrust itself above the waters a few miles northward of the coast of Venezuela. The cay was barren and devoid of any sort of life except for a single clump of bushes that had sprung up a short distance from the huge rock upon a little plateau sufficiently elevated to resist the attacks of the sea, which at high tide completely overflowed the islet except at that one spot.
Four heavy iron staples had been driven with great difficulty into holes drilled in the face of the volcanic rock. To these four large chains had been made fast. The four chains ended in four fetters and the four fetters enclosed the ankles and wrists of a man. The length of the four chains had been so cunningly calculated that the arms and legs of the man were drawn far apart, so that he resembled a gigantic white cross against the dark surface of the stone. A sailor would have described his position by saying that he had been "spread-eagled" by those who had fastened him there. Yet the chains were not too short to allow a little freedom of motion. He could incline to one side or to the other, lift himself up or down a little, or even thrust himself slightly away from the face of the rock.
The man was in tatters, for his clothing had been rent and torn by the violent struggles he had made before he had been securely fastened in his chains. He was an old man, and his long gray hair fell on either side of his lean, fierce face in tangled masses. A strange terror of death—the certain fate that menaced him, was upon his countenance. He had borne himself bravely enough except for a few craven moments, while in the presence of his captors and judges, chief among whom had been the young Spanish soldier and the one-eyed sailor whom he had known for so many years. With the bravado of despair he had looked with seeming indifference on the sufferings of his own men that same morning. After being submitted to the tortures of the rack, the boot, the thumbscrew, or the wheel, in accordance with the fancy of their relentless captors, they had been hanged to the outer walls and he had been forced to pass by them on his way to this hellish spot. But the real courage of the man was gone now. His simulation had not even been good enough to deceive his enemies, and now even that had left him.
He was alone, so he believed, upon the island, and all of the mortal fear slowly creeping upon him already appeared in his awful face, clearly exhibited by the light of the setting sun streaming upon his left hand for he was chained facing northward, that is, seaward. As he fancied himself the only living thing upon that island he took little care to conceal his emotions—indeed, it was impossible for him any longer to keep up the pretence of indifference. His nerves were shattered, his spirit broken. Retribution was dogging him hard. Vengeance was close at hand at last. Besides, what mattered it? He thought himself alone, absolutely alone. But in that fancy he was wrong, for in the solitary little copse of bushes of which mention has been made there lay hidden a man—an ancient sailor. His single eye gleamed as fiercely upon the bound, shackled prisoner as did the setting sun itself.
Old Benjamin Hornigold, who had schemed and planned for his revenge, had insisted upon being put ashore on the other side of the island after the boats had rowed out of sight of the captive, that he might steal back and, himself unseen, watch the torture of the man who had betrayed him and wronged him so deeply that in his diseased mind no expiation could be too awful for the crime; that he might glut his fierce old soul with the sight for which it had longed since the day Harry Morgan, beholden to him as he was for his very life and fortune, for a thousand brave and faithful, if nefarious, services, had driven him like a dog from his presence. Alvarado—who, being a Spaniard, could sympathize and understand the old sailor's lust for revenge—had readily complied with his request, and had further promised to return for the boatswain in two days. They calculated nicely that the already exhausted prisoner would scarcely survive that long, and provisions and water ample for that period had been left for the sustenance of Hornigold—alone.
Morgan, however, did not know this. He believed his only companions to be the body of the half-breed who had died for him as he had lived for him, and the severed head of a newer comrade who had not betrayed him. The body lay almost at his feet; the head had been wedged in the sand so that its sightless face was turned toward him in the dreadful, lidless staring gaze of sudden death. And those two were companions with whom he could better have dispensed, even in his solitude.
They had said to the buccaneer, as they fastened him to the rocks, that they would not take his life, but that he would be left to the judgment of God. What would that be? He thought he knew.
He had lived long enough on the Caribbean to know the habits of that beautiful and cruel sea. There was a little stretch of sand at his feet and then the water began. He estimated that the tide had been ebbing for an hour or so when he was fastened up and abandoned. The rock to which he had been chained was still wet, and he noticed that the dampness existed far above his head. The water would recede—and recede—and recede—until perhaps some three hundred feet of bare sand would stretch before him, and then it would turn and come back, back, back. Where would it stop? How high would it rise? Would it flood in in peaceful calm as it was then drawing away? Would it come crashing in heavy assault upon the sands as it generally did, beating out his life against the rock? He could not tell. He gazed at it intently so long as there was light, endeavoring to decide the momentous question. To watch it was something to do. It gave him mental occupation, and so he stared and stared at the slowly withdrawing water-line.
Of the two he thought he should prefer a storm. He would be beaten to pieces, the life battered out of him horribly in that event; but that would be a battle, a struggle,—action. He could fight, if he could not wait and endure. It would be a terrible death, but it would be soon over and, therefore, he preferred it to the slow horror of watching the approach of the waters creeping in and up to drown him. The chief agony of his position, however, the most terrifying feature in this dreadful situation to which his years of crime had at last brought him, was that he was allowed no choice. He had always been a man of swift, prompt, bold action; self-reliant, fearless, resolute, a master not a server; accustomed to determine events in accordance with his own imperious will, and wont to bring them about as he planned. To be chained there, impotent, helpless, waiting, indeed, the judgment of God, was a thing which it seemed impossible for him to bear. The indecision of it, the uncertainty of it, added to his helplessness and made it the more appalling to him.
The judgment of God! He had never believed in a God since his boyhood days, and he strove to continue in his faithlessness now. He had been a brave man, dauntless and intrepid, but cold, paralyzing fear now gripped him by the heart. A few lingering sparks of the manhood and courage of the past that not even his crimes had deprived him of still remained in his being, however, and he strove as best he might to control the beating of his heart, to still the trembling of his arms and legs which shook the chains against the stone face of the rock making them ring out in a faint metallic clinking, which was the sweetest music that had ever pierced the eager hollow of the ear of the silent listener and watcher concealed in the thicket.
So long as it was light Morgan intently watched the sea. There was a sense of companionship in it which helped to alleviate his unutterable loneliness. And he was a man to whom loneliness in itself was a punishment. There were too many things in the past that had a habit of making their presence felt when he was alone, for him ever to desire to be solitary. Presently the sun disappeared with the startling suddenness of tropic latitudes, and without twilight darkness fell over the sea and over his haggard face like a veil. The moon had not yet risen and he could see nothing. There were a few faint clouds on the horizon, he had noticed, which might presage a storm. It was very dark and very still, as calm and peaceful a tropic night as ever shrouded the Caribbean. Farther and farther away from him he could hear the rustle of the receding waves as the tide went down. Over his head twinkled the stars out of the deep darkness.
In that vast silence he seemed to hear a voice, still and small, talking to him in a faint whisper that yet pierced the very centre of his being. All that it said was one word repeated over and over again, "God—God—God!" The low whisper beat into his brain and began to grow there, rising louder and louder in its iteration until the whole vaulted heaven throbbed with the ringing sound of it. He listened—listened—it seemed for hours—until his heart burst within him. At last he screamed and screamed, again and again, "Yes—yes! Now I know—I know!" And still the sound beat on.
He saw strange shapes in the darkness. One that rose and rose, and grew and grew, embracing all the others until its head seemed to touch the stars, and ever it spoke that single word "God—God—God!" He could not close his eyes, but if he had been able to raise his hand he would have hid his face. The wind blew softly, it was warm and tender, yet the man shivered with cold, the sweat beaded his brow.
Then the moon sprang up as suddenly as the sun had fallen. Her silver radiance flooded the firmament. Light, heavenly light once more! He was alone. The voice was still; the shadow left him. Far away from him the white line of the water was breaking on the silver sand. His own cry came back to him and frightened him in the dead silence.
Now the tide turned and came creeping in. It had gone out slowly; it had lingered as if reluctant to leave him; but to his distraught vision it returned with the swiftness of a thousand white horses tossing their wind-blown manes. The wind died down; the clouds were dissipated. The night was so very calm, it mocked the storm raging in his soul. And still the silvered water came flooding in; gently—tenderly—caressingly—the little waves lapped the sands. At last they lifted the ghastly head of young Teach—he'd be damnably mouldy a hundred years hence!—and laid it at his feet.
He cursed the rising water, and bade it stay—and heedlessly it came on. It was a tropic sea and the waters were as warm as those of any sun-kissed ocean, but they broke upon his knees with the coldness of eternal ice. They rolled the heavier body of his faithful slave against him—he strove to drive it away with his foot as he had striven to thrust aside the ghastly head, and without avail. The two friends receded as the waves rolled back but they came on again, and again, and again. They had been faithful to him in life, they remained with him in death.
Now the water broke about his waist; now it rose to his breast. He was exhausted; worn out. He hung silent, staring. His mind was busy; his thought went back to that rugged Welsh land where he had been born. He saw himself a little boy playing in the fields that surrounded the farmhouse of his father and mother.
He took again that long trip across the ocean. He lived again in the hot hell of the Caribbean. Old forms of forgotten buccaneers clustered about him. Mansfelt, under whom he had first become prominent himself. There on the horizon rose the walls of a sleeping town. With his companions he slowly crept forward through the underbrush, slinking along like a tiger about to spring upon its prey. The doomed town flamed before his eyes. The shrieks of men, the prayers of women, the piteous cries of little children came into his ears across forty years.
Cannon roared in his ear—the crash of splintered wood, the despairing appeals for mercy, for help, from drowning mariners, as he stood upon a bloody deck watching the rolling of a shattered, sinking ship. Was that water, spray from some tossing wave, or blood, upon his hand?
The water was higher now; it was at his neck. There were Porto Bello, Puerto Principe, and Maracaibo, and Chagres and Panama—ah, Panama! All the fiends of hell had been there, and he had been their chief! They came back now to mock him. They pointed at him, gibbered upon him, threatened him, and laughed—great God, how they laughed!
There was pale-faced, tender-eyed Maria Zerega who had died of the plague, and the baby, the boy. Jamaica, too, swept into his vision. There was his wife shrinking away from him in the very articles of death. There was young Ebenezer Hornigold, dancing right merrily upon the gallows together with others of the buccaneers he had hanged.
The grim figure of the one-eyed boatswain rose before him and leered upon him and swept the other apparitions away. This was La Guayra—yesterday. He had been betrayed. Whose men were those? The men hanging on the walls? And Hornigold had done it—old Ben Hornigold—that he thought so faithful.
He screamed aloud again with hate, he called down curses upon the head of the growing one-eyed apparition. And the water broke into his mouth and stopped him. It called him to his senses for a moment. His present peril overcame the hideous recollection of the past. That water was rising still. Great God! At last he prayed. Lips that had only cursed shaped themselves into futile petitions. There was a God, after all.
The end was upon him, yet with the old instinct of life he lifted himself upon his toes. He raised his arms as far as the chains gave him play and caught the chains themselves and strove to pull, to lift, at last only to hold himself up, a rigid, awful figure. He gained an inch or two, but his fetters held him down. As the water supported him he found little difficulty in maintaining the position for a space. But he could go no higher—if the water rose an inch more that would be the end. He could breathe only between the breaking waves now.
The body of the black was swung against him again and again; the head of young Teach kissed him upon the cheek; and still the water seemed to rise, and rise, and rise. He was a dead man like the other two, indeed he prayed to die, and yet in fear he clung to the chains and held on. Each moment he fancied would be his last. But he could not let go. Oh, God! how he prayed for a storm; that one fierce wave might batter him to pieces; but the waters were never more calm than on that long, still night, the sea never more peaceful than in those awful hours.
By and by the waters fell. He could not believe it at first. He still hung suspended and waited with bated breath. Was he deceived? No, the waters were surely falling. The seconds seemed minutes to him, the minutes, hours. At last he gained assurance. There was no doubt but that the tide was going down. The waves had risen far, but he had been lifted above them; now they were falling, falling! Yes, and they were bearing away that accursed body and that ghastly head. He was alive still, saved for the time being. The highest waves only touched his breast now. Lower—lower—they moved away. Reluctantly they lingered; but they fell, they fell.
To drown? That was not the judgment of God for him then. What would it be? His head fell forward on his breast—he had fainted in the sudden relief of his undesired salvation.
Long time he hung there and still the tide ebbed away, carrying with it all that was left of the only two who had loved him. He was alone now, surely, save for that watcher in the bushes. After a while consciousness returned to him again, and after the first swift sense of relief there came to him a deeper terror, for he had gone through the horror and anguish of death and had not died. He was alive still, but as helpless as before.
What had the Power he had mocked designed for his end? Was he to watch that ghastly tide come in again and rise, and rise, and rise until it caught him by the throat and threatened to choke him, only to release him as before? Was he to go through that daily torture until he starved or died of thirst? He had not had a bite to eat, a drop to drink, since the day before.
It was morning now. On his right hand the sun sprang from the ocean bed with the same swiftness with which it had departed the night before. Like the tide, it, too, rose, and rose. There was not a cloud to temper the fierceness with which it beat upon his head, not a breath of air to blow across his fevered brow. The blinding rays struck him like hammers of molten iron. He stared at it out of his frenzied, blood-shot eyes and writhed beneath its blazing heat. Before him the white sand burned like smelted silver, beyond him the tremulous ocean seemed to seethe and bubble under the furious fire of the glowing heaven above his head—a vault of flaming topaz over a sapphire sea.
He closed his eyes, but could not shut out the sight—and then the dreams of night came on him again. His terrors were more real, more apparent, more appalling, because he saw his dreaded visions in the full light of day. By and by these faded as the others had done. All his faculties were merged into one consuming desire for water—water. The thirst was intolerable. Unless he could get some his brain would give way. He was dying, dying, dying! Oh, God, he could not die, he was not ready to die! Oh, for one moment of time, for one drop of water—God—God—God!
Suddenly before his eyes there arose a figure. At first he fancied it was another of the apparitions which had companied with him during the awful night and morning; but this was a human figure, an old man, bent, haggard like himself with watching, but with a fierce mad joy in his face. Where had he come from? Who was he? What did he want? The figure glared upon the unhappy man with one fiery eye, and then he lifted before the captive's distorted vision something—what was it—a cup of water? Water—God in heaven—water brimming over the cup! It was just out of reach of his lips—so cool, so sweet, so inviting! He strained at his chains, bent his head, thrust his lips out. He could almost touch it—not quite! He struggled and struggled and strove to break his fetters, but without avail. Those fetters could not be broken by the hand of man. He could not drink—ah, God!—then he lifted his blinded eyes and searched the face of the other.
"Hornigold!" he whispered hoarsely with his parched and stiffened lips. "Is it thou?"
A deep voice beat into his consciousness.
"Ay. I wanted to let you know there was water here. You must be thirsty. You'd like a drink? So would I. There is not enough for both of us. Who will get it? I. Look!"
"Not all, not all!" screamed the old captain faintly, as the other drained the cup. "A little! A drop for me!"
"Not one drop," answered Hornigold, "not one drop! If you were in hell and I held a river in my hand, you would not get a drop! It's gone."
He threw the cup from him.
"I brought you to this—I! Do you recall it? You owe this to me. You had your revenge—this is mine. But it's not over yet. I'm watching you. I shall not come out here again, but I'm watching you, remember that! I can see you!"
"Hornigold, for God's sake, have pity!"
"You know no God; you have often boasted of it—neither do I. And you never knew pity—neither do I!"
"Take that knife you bear—kill me!"
"I don't want you to die—not yet. I want you to live—live—a long time, and remember!"
"Hornigold, I'll make amends! I'll be your slave!"
"Ay, crawl and cringe now, you dog! I swore that you should do it! It's useless to beg me for mercy. I know not that word—neither did you. There is nothing left in me but hate—hate for you. I want to see you suffer——"
"The tide! It's coming back. I can't endure this heat and thirst! It won't drown me——"
"Live, then," said the boatswain. "Remember, I watch!"
He threw his glance upward, stopped suddenly, a fierce light in that old eye of his.
"Look up," he cried, "and you will see! Take heart, man. I guess you won't have to wait for the tide, and the sun won't bother you long. Remember, I am watching you!"
He turned and walked away, concealing himself in the copse once more where he could see and not be seen. The realization that he was watched by one whom he could not see, one who gloated over his miseries and sufferings and agonies, added the last touch to the torture of the buccaneer. He had no longer strength nor manhood, he no longer cried out after that one last appeal to the merciless sailor. He did not even look up in obedience to the old man's injunction. What was there above him, beneath him, around him, that could add to his fear? He prayed for death. They were the first and last prayers that had fallen from his lips for fifty years, those that day. Yet when death did come at last he shrank from it with an increasing terror and horror that made all that he had passed through seem like a trifle.
When old Hornigold had looked up he had seen a speck in the vaulted heaven. It was slowly soaring around and around in vast circles, and with each circle coming nearer and nearer to the ground. A pair of keen and powerful eyes were aloft there piercing the distance, looking, searching, in every direction, until at last their glance fell upon the figure upon the rock. The circling stopped. There was a swift rush through the air. A black feathered body passed between the buccaneer and the sun, and a mighty vulture, hideous bird of the tropics, alighted on the sands near by him.
So this was the judgment of God upon this man! For a second his tortured heart stopped its beating. He stared at the unclean thing, and then he shrank back against the rock and screamed with frantic terror. The bird moved heavily back a little distance and stopped, peering at him. He could see it by turning his head. He could drive it no farther. In another moment there was another rush through the air, another, another! He screamed again. Still they came, until it seemed as if the earth and the heavens were black with the horrible birds. High in the air they had seen the first one swooping to the earth, and with unerring instinct, as was their habit, had turned and made for the point from which the first had dropped downward to the shore.
They circled themselves about him. They sat upon the rock above him. They stared at him with their lustful, carrion, jeweled eyes out of their loathsome, featherless, naked heads, drawing nearer—nearer—nearer. He could do no more. His voice was gone. His strength was gone. He closed his eyes, but the sight was still before him. His bleeding, foamy lips mumbled one unavailing word:
From the copse there came no sound, no answer. He sank forward in his chains, his head upon his breast, convulsive shudders alone proclaiming faltering life. Hell had no terror like to this which he, living, suffered.
There was a weight upon his shoulder now fierce talons sank deep into his quivering flesh. In front of his face, before a pair of lidless eyes that glowed like fire, a hellish, cruel beak struck at him. A faint, low, ghastly cry trembled through the still air.
* * * * *
And the resistless tide came in. A man drove away the birds at last before they had quite taken all, for the torn arms still hung in the iron fetters; an old man, blind of one eye, the black patch torn off the hideous hole that had replaced the socket. He capered with the nimbleness of youth before the ghastly remains of humanity still fastened to that rock. He shouted and screamed, and laughed and sang. The sight had been too horrible even for him. He was mad, crazy; his mind was gone. He had his revenge, and it had eaten him up.
The waters dashed, about his feet and seemed to awaken some new idea in his disordered brain.
"What!" he cried, "the tide is in. Up anchor, lads! We must beat out to sea. Captain, I'll follow you. Harry Morgan's way to lead—old Ben Hornigold's to follow—ha, ha! ho, ho!"
He waded out into the water, slowly going deeper and deeper. A wave swept him off his feet. A hideous laugh came floating back over the sea, and then he struck out, and out, and out——
* * * * *
And so the judgment of God was visited upon Sir Henry Morgan and his men at last, and as it was writ of old:
With what measure they had meted out, it had been measured back to them again!