´╗┐

Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: Maid No More
Author: Helen Simpson
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0801101.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2008
Date most recently updated: September 2008

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Maid No More
Author: Helen Simpson

First Published 1940

* * * * *

CONTENTS:
---------

FIRST ENCOUNTER
PART ONE
PART TWO


* * * * *


FIRST ENCOUNTER


E. K.: Here is Madimi.

DEE: Blessed be the God of Heaven and Earth, who regardeth the sincere
intent of his silly ones.

_A True and Faithful Relation of what passed for many years between Dr.
John Dee and some Spirits._


The young gentlemen of Magdalen College, going about their lawful
occasions, halted to observe a sensible-looking woman talking to herself
below their outdoor pulpit. The academic life offered many opportunities
for baiting, none of which they were apt to neglect; poor scholars,
professors, and nonconformists of various kinds were mischief's daily
bread. But women, apart from complaisant persons in taverns, did not
often offer. The undergraduates therefore gave some attention to this
creature's words, as they were wont to give attention to the mannerisms
of those who instructed them, with a view to reproducing in caricature
what was meant to edify. To their displeasure, the woman was sermonizing.

She was saying that each man and woman must be visited personally by God.
Each must know God in his heart of hearts and acknowledge him there in
the spirit; without this, no ceremony under vaulted stone could avail.
The young gentlemen found it dry stuff, and were drifting away after a
few conventional catcalls, when they heard words which swung them like
weathercocks. The woman, when naming them Antichrists, a statement
received with ironical cheers and some yelping in Latin from the elders,
went on to assail them as a corporate body and more particularly to
blacken by comparison the College of which they were members.

They had no objection to being told that they were sinners; indeed, the
complaint had a flattering ring to those who were hardly old or rich
enough to be able to do much sinning save in a general unspecialized way.
They had no quarrel with anyone who told them that they were wasting
their time at the University learning things that were not of God. They
were amused to hear their chapel called a steeple-house when it had in
fact no steeple. But that the College to which they owed loyalty should
be denominated a cage of unclean birds and the synagogue of Satan was a
prick beyond ordinary symptoms of impatience. They began throwing
whatever came first to hand, apples, books; those who were near enough
launched spittle; all were certain of righteousness.

The women--there were two of them, but one had done all the talking--did
not budge, or avoid what was flung at them. Thus the affair went on
longer than it ought to have done, long enough to attract the attention
of a young Master of Arts who found his translation of Horace's Art of
Poetry difficult to pursue owing to the din. He had written:--

"Wise sober folk a frantic poet fear
And shun to touch him, as a man that were
Infected with the leprosy, or had
The yellow jaundice, or were furious mad
According to the moon--"

His nodding head approved the version thus far, and the pen began once
more to skirmish:--

"But then the boys
They vex and follow him with shouts and noise,
The while he--"

It was perhaps the coincidence of his matter with the evidence of his
senses that made him aware at last of the riot and brought him to his
window. Indulgently, for he was young, he called down to the youths to
cease their riot. They replied, with the identical din observed by Horace
centuries before, that it was the women who were causing disturbance. The
Master of Arts, on the tip of whose tongue an airy grammatical
construction complete with needed rhymes was trembling, answered briefly
that women were not matters to which even the junior members of any
university should devote attention, and recommended the constable and the
bride-well. A spokesman, above the laughter of the rest, cleared away
this misapprehension. The women had no notion of leading into temptation
(yells of mock disappointment) but rather sought to deliver from evil;
were, in fact, trying to convert their hearers.

"Convert the Grand Turk!" replied the Master of Arts in a phrase which
combined mistrust of female powers with recognition of the futility of
the task, and withdrew his head. Banging his window and snibbing it, he
paused an instant to hear if the noise would ebb, though it was none of
his affair to check it if it should continue. It seemed, however, to
dwindle satisfactorily in the course of the next couple of minutes,
leaving him to measures more polished, and the proper allocation of
stresses. He was a young man not unusual in that University at that time,
one who had fought for his King, and lost his patrimony, but in so doing
had discovered how to command both words and men. No man was better
fitted than he to bring order out of confusion of sense, to discipline
rebel meanings. In the peace which ensued he worked well. And in the
benevolence which flows from knowledge of labour well accomplished, he
had nothing but disgust for the news which later in the day a servant
brought him.

"Strip Christian women and whip them through the streets! Why, the Jews,
the Turks are less barbarous than that."

"It's preachers, master. They don't deserve no better. The Mayor, he's
very strong on the subject."

"Is toleration, then, also a lost cause? What women are these?

"Why, you saw them, they were here breaking the peace. You gave the order
to commit; so the gentlemen say."

"I did?" The voice of the Master of Arts, which had lifted indignantly,
sank. "I do now recollect something. I told them to let the constable
deal with the matter. Whips! Yet the Mayor goes to sermon, I suppose."

With his eye upon the fair copy of his verses, he began to argue the
immediate issue into a larger one. If, in the peaceful hours brought at
the price of these strangers' pain, he had caught up for a moment the
torch of the centuries, was not that, considered sub _specie
aeternitatis_, a fair exchange? And if, through what he had that day
written, some English boy yet unborn were brought to the knowledge and
love of the Roman poets, was not this in effect to make pain bear good
fruit? That pain could be fruitful in men he, a soldier, had not often
observed. It seemed, indeed, to tumble them down from man's estate and
make children or madmen of them. But that pain might be fruitful in women
he need not deny, God having declared this penalty upon them for Eve's
fault, besides making them tender, weakly, and obstinate, snares set to
catch pain. The spell of the place being upon him he stood thus splitting
hairs awhile, finding a sort of pleasure in detachment from that world
into which he was soon once more to venture. To consider pain in the
abstract; to consider women in the abstract; to be free of the senses for
a week or two, and to view action as an aspect of thought was delightful.
He stretched his arms wide.

But an image of the whipped women intruded; he was obliged, this being
one of the penalties of imagination, the other side of being half a poet,
to see their poor bodies striped with blows, to hear them cry out. He
shook the vision away impatiently, and took up his soldier-scholar
argument once more. The women must sooner or later, if they persisted in
their preaching, come to be whipped. This was the law; only thus, in a
time of religious uneasiness, could that peace be preserved which enabled
true preachers of the word, poets and Masters of Arts, to continue their
labours. Was it not better, then, that these torn bodies should serve a
holier purpose than such bodies were wont to do, bringing to birth spirit
rather than flesh?

He took his pen and, standing, scrawled above the first lines of his
version of the Art of Poetry a Latin dedication: To one unknown who has
trodden the press, this draught of Falernian wine.




PART ONE



E. K.:  She falleth down on her face prostrate: Now she riseth again. The
fire entreth into her mouth, she is Waxen of higher stature than she was,
she hath now three faces.

DEE: Now it is the virtue of the Trinity in her so represented.

MADIMI: And I have a few things to say, and I say.

E. K.:  I hear a marvellous noise, as of many Mountains falling.

MADIMI: Arise and believe. The time is come, that of the foolish I will
make the wise. And of such as are sinfull men many anointed: if they
encline their ear unto my voice.

E. K.:  The noyse is marvellous: And which of the mouths doth speak, I
cannot discern.

_A True and Faithful Relation of what passed for many Years between
Dr. John Dee and some Spirits._


(i)


The _Nonsuch_ struck south into seas opaque, so thickly and darkly blue
that it seemed as though the buckets slung overboard must rise filled and
dripping with colour. Winds which had pursued the ship, thrusting her at
a good pace towards these seas, now accosted her more languidly, and
occasionally slept altogether, so that there was some concern on the part
of the master for his water holding out, it having been his intention to
take in fresh at St. Jago in the Cape Verdes.

His passengers hitherto had been reasonable. They appeared to have
forgotten, very conveniently, all the promises he had made them at the
docks of excellent victual, and were content, after the first distaste
for food of any kind had passed, to take their chance of the ship's
stores--butter from Holland that had already made a voyage or two, flour
from which the worms had daily to be sifted. To fast for a few weeks from
food did nobody any harm, but stinking water was another matter. The
Master, his mate, and his male passenger dosed the stuff with strong
liquor, and so got enough moisture, as he put it, to sweat by. But the
crew were permitted no such resource, and the women rejected it. Women
were nothing. Thirsty men were liable to make trouble. The Master,
lifting his eye to where the topsail hung lank, instead of rounded like a
dragoon's breastplate, addressed a joke concerning the wind to his
boatswain, a Swedish man. He had some notion of touching up the pious
ladies, and thus delivered himself in the hearing of the three
passengers, sitting on deck where the sails would shade them.

"Gunnar," began the Master. And this very calling of the boatswain by
name was, had the passengers but known it, a sign that something unusual
was toward. "Gunnar, we've had too long a calm."

The boatswain nodded, looking up at the sky with a roll of his small grey
eyes.

"D'ye think sixpence would do it?" the Master asked. The boatswain looked
at the steady horizon, and shook his head once, from right to left. "Or a
shilling?"

The boatswain appeared to be calculating; and after some forty seconds,
during which the shadow of a rope swung slowly across him and back, gave
it as his opinion that a crown would do. The Master, feigning annoyance,
repeated the words, asking if he supposed such a sum could be got
together among the seamen and passengers.

"For I don't make complaint of the water," said the Master, his eye on a
sailor who came near, "my old mother brought me up not to pick my food
and drink ('pingle' was the word she had for it) and I've been thankful
to her these forty years. But there's others not so easy satisfied."

The male passenger stirred. Lifting his head from the saltire of his
folded arms, he regarded the Master with impudent intentness for some
seconds.

"That's the way of these people," said the male passenger aloud but to
the air, "these psalm-singers disguised as honest men. Cheat you with
pig-swill, and then tell you it's a moral matter, the stomach should not
be pandered to. The stomach should be pandered to, by your leave. From it
all action flows. Even your psalms--if we trace the muddy distillation to
its alembic--are only plum duff and biscuit emerging in nasty vapour
through' the nose. If you lack water, let us all drink wine while it
lasts; then, if no wind comes before the barrels are empty, we can jump
overboard drunk and wake up with sore heads in glory."

So saying, the male passenger allowed his head to drop on his arms again
and forsook the discussion. The master stepped into the shadow of the
sail.

"I'm no psalm-singer," said he. "I think for our safety. These are what
my old captain used to call the horse latitudes, between the westerlies
and the trades. They threw the horses over hereabouts, to lighten ship
and because they drank too much. That's how the name comes."

"Throw Mrs. Sawyer over," the male passenger suggested, "if you want to
lighten ship. As for Mrs. Askill, the next whale we see, feed her to him.
She is a Jonah if ever I saw one."

Ann Sawyer, a fat woman, looked to her companion for help. It came, in a
strong countrified voice.

"You that are used to courts, you don't know how a right woman should be
shaped, or how a right prophet should look. Jonah, indeed! It was, how
d'ye call her, Cleopatra you named me yesterday."

"Cleopatra was a serpent, and you are a serpent," answered the male
passenger. "A kind of holy Satan. Here we all are in our earthly
paradise, swilling away at our sins quite content, when in you come with
your temptations to be holy, and upset the whole apple-cart."

"It was an apple-tree," said Mary Askill, "and it would take more than me
to tempt you out of damnation. Master, are we soon to have wind?"

"Oh yes, we are," the male passenger answered, suddenly, with an easy
spring, lifting himself on to his hands and approaching the Master thus,
both feet in air. "We are soon to have a wind. We'll buy one--throw a
shilling to the sea gods and look what they send you. Just the kind of
thing," went on the male passenger, clapping his feet for emphasis, "that
the Old Testament men strove against with fire and sword. Just the kind
of thing Oliver would cut off your head for doing if he caught you at
it." A silver coin ran out of his pocket and rolled to the master's feet.
"Take that and let us have a little witchcraft."

The Master put his foot on the coin to stop it rolling. He kicked it,
with a sideways scrape of his shoe, towards the boatswain, who gathered
it with his toes. The male passenger, after a final flourish with his
feet, lowered them one after the other with great gravity and stood right
way up.

"We could do with a wind, though," said the Master more seriously. "The
water in store is uncommon low."

"Uncommon high," the male passenger answered. "It stinks to heaven. Well,
I don't think less of a man for being a hypocrite. You, Master Bryant,
are a man; I don't think less of you. Ergo--"

"You know how to make yourself civil, Mr. Conisby," said the Master,
losing patience. What had begun as a joke had now lost that colour, and
become a resolve. "We are not to rot in a calm for you. As for
witchcraft, I have seen things happen at sea that it would not do to talk
about on land. That's all I say."

He walked off towards the bows, where sailors were slashing sea-water
over the deck.

"What's this he's to do?" Mary Askill asked.

"Oh, a piece of charming," Conisby answered, "nothing to what you could
compass if you tried."

"I know a plenty charms," said Mary Askill composedly. "We was great for
them when I was a girl. Cure toothache, and find husbands, and all. To
think you could get into God's mind and know the future with any old
piece of apple-peel or spitting over your shoulder."

The male passenger laughed. Ann Sawyer looked at them both and drew down
her upper lip. She had her own notions of how a chosen vessel should
behave, which did not include these freedoms of speech. She knew Mary's
steadfastness, had seen her moved by the spirit to signs and wonders, but
this other side of her was a thing not acceptable. She felt called upon
to make protest.

"Are you going to set there and let such a thing come to pass? When even
this man, this mocker, condemns it?"

"I do not condemn, Mrs. Ann. Nor should you. If this fellow can buy us
wind (from whom, we need not ask) he saves you and your companion for a
larger mission than that of converting me. Thanks to him, if he succeeds,
the blackamoors of Barbados will be washed whiter than snow, and the fear
of the Lord stalk through American forests like the pillar of cloud
before Israel. All by reason of one piece of silver thrown into the sea
which otherwise might have been changed for stronger waters. How do you
answer that, Mrs. Ann?"

"I can't answer you. I only know what you have said is not truth, and
you're mocking me."

"I have more faith than you, let me tell you," said the male passenger,
"for I am willing to risk a shilling on the gods of the sea, while you
won't throw the Almighty so much as a penn'orth of prayer. The truth,
now. Have you prayed for wind?"

"We may not petition," said Ann Sawyer angrily; "save as we are moved. It
is not for sinners to be reminding their Creator."

"Well," Conisby said, "let us make a match of it." He spoke ambiguously,
watched the flush come, then amended: "A wager would be nearer my
meaning, but I supposed that ungodly term might not please you. If I ask
Mr. Bosun not to toss his shilling to-day, will you use the time to pray
for wind? That is, if you should be moved, as you call it."

"Sit down, Ann," said Mary Askill. "He's tempting you to tempt God. No
good comes of that. Swallow it; you've held worse."

"Admit," said Conisby reasonably, "that God has not so far had fair
trial. For my own part, prayer is not my trade, I do it awkwardly. If a
man could worship by eating beefsteaks I might be a saint. But since it
is a matter not of beefsteaks but of marrowbones--" He broke off with a
laugh and stood defying the two women, head on one side, the sun catching
and burnishing a lock of hair by his ear. "Well, will you put up a
prayer? Will you give God first chance?"

"Be quiet," said Mary Askill, her hand on the other's sleeve. Under that
sleeve she could feel a trembling. She tightened her grasp, shook the
arm. "No, Ann, no!"

"The spirit!" answered the other, harshly. "The spirit moved once upon
the face of the waters. Shall we not require that it may move again to
confound unbelievers?"

She stood, petitioning. It was the first time, though the ship's company
knew the women religious, that either had prayed publicly. Now the Master
drew near, the boatswain, and two or three sailors with buckets. They did
not laugh, they were grateful for the unusual spectacle, and stared as at
a play. The male passenger looked from Ann Sawyer to her companion, who
to the astonishment of all sat attentive to the book in which she was
teaching herself to read.

"Don't you join her?" he asked suddenly.

"It is not me that is moved," Mary Askill answered. The prayer went on.
It came in rushes; it was a fierce challenging prayer. From the stout
woman's mouth the poetry of the Bible spurted, then for a while was lost;
she was like a murky night on whose horizons lightning played. Loudly she
recalled the mighty wind that came upon the apostles, and David's praise
of the Lord who bringeth the wind out of his treasuries. There was a kind
of refrain, that the unbelievers should be confounded and the safety of
the chosen regarded. She spoke for three minutes, then, very white in the
face, sat down upon the deck where she had sat before, and wiped her
mouth. A scar on her forehead showed red.

"The wager's on, then," said Conisby, clapping his hands. "You have the
courage of your belief, Mrs. Ann."

He sauntered off to confer with the boatswain. The Master, becoming aware
of sailors gaping beside him, scattered them with an oath or two, and
casting his eyes at the sky, to whose pale dome the masts steadily
pointed, observed that it must be about midday.

"We'll give it twice round the clock," said he to Ann Sawyer. "That was a
fine prayer, and should do the trick."

He tapped his forelock, grinning, and departed to take the sun. Mary
Askill spoke at last.

"Here's a nice thing," said she.

"I was moved," said the other sullenly.

"By anger. Because that young cavee made you hot with his nonsense. Now
you have put our God in a cleft stick. Either he is to heed a prayer
offered for spite, or be deaf, and let us all become laughing-stocks."

"They were about to perform enchantments."

"Well, well, I dare say you have turned the money in your own pocket
before now when the moon was new."

"Not since I saw the light."

"When they see it, they will be as wise as you. Ann Sawyer, Ann Sawyer,
is grapes to be looked for from thorns, or figs from thistles?"

She laughed as she said it, but glancing at the stout woman's forehead
she became grave.

"Does that place hurt you?"

"It might."

"Poor soul."

She went to Ann, and kneeling, began to rub the damp forehead lightly but
strongly.

"We did wrong to come on this ungodly ship."

"There was no other. They are all cavaliers that deal with Barbados. I
wish, though, there was some useful thing that you and me could do,
instead of sitting all day on our burns."

"You won't find that word in Scripture."

"Nor no need for it. They was all up and doing in Israel. Will you go to
sleep?"

"I might."

"Do, then."

Mary Askill took the stout woman's head on her knees, and continued the
quiet motion of her hand. She gazed at the sea, whose polished surface
only the stuttering flying fish broke. She looked aloft at the sails,
that swung instead of straining; she became aware that her mouth was dry,
and remembered the foulness of the only water they had. The day was very
hot. She sighed briefly, once.


(ii)

Wind came up before midnight. Mary Askill, lying awake, heard waves begin
to slap at the sides of the vessel, and a thumping of feet on the deck as
the seamen were whistled up to set sail. The ship, which had lain like a
dead thing, now stirred; she had been breathed upon, she lived. All her
own sounds that had been quiet awoke with this wakening of the air.
Timber groaned, cordage cried, up aloft there came a snapping from some
rope's end loosened.

Ann Sawyer, who slept heavily all night, came to her senses as the ship
rolled her against a bulwark; stared, took in the meaning of the noises
and stated the obvious.

"The ship moves!"

"She does," said Mary Askill, dressing as she swayed. "Have you given
praise?"

"I've blessed God. But pat the Almighty on the head because his will runs
for once with ours, like a schoolmistress praising a boy that gets his
lesson--that I haven't done, and won't do. Dress quick, Ann. Oh, the
pleasure to see whitecaps again!"

The sea indeed was covered with breaking waves. As the ship bowed to this
side and that, Mary Askill observed a curiosity; that though these waves
advanced towards the _Nonsuch_, their crests of spray, which should have
broken forward, blew back over their shoulders. The Master, when she
spoke of this, told her that they had run into a cross sea, and might
look for a rough time of it before they came into St. Jago.

"And I wish," said he, "Mrs. Ann had been more particular to ask only for
a breeze. We have enough wind now; but so far as I can tell, this will
not be the end of it."

The two women, encountering Mr. Conisby at dinner, had a few compliments
from him, with a more complete appraisement of their situation than the
Master had thought fit to give.

"New wine in old bottles is no good thing, we know," said he. "But a
worse is new wind in old sails. This set that we have--I have been in
talk with the sailmaker--is rotten from long trading on the Guinea coast.
Our Master, a saving man rather than saved, has diddled the owner in some
way, got money for new ones but never bought them; in short, we are
remarkably ill-found. That your own noses may have told you. (This
butter, pah!) But your noses would not guess that there is not a yard of
thread in the vessel to mend our canvas with if it should crack. Your
noses, pretty organs, built to turn up at lovers, did not warn you that
if there should be a hurricane we have no way to deal with it. This is
all very well for you that are godly, you have no preference, you had as
lief be drowned now as eaten by Indians six months hence. But those of us
who feel our blood run warm--"

He leered at Ann Sawyer, and gave attention to the biscuit which he had
dipped in wine. It showed a certain liveliness; he shrugged, and
addressed the weevils:

"You, too, that pay no passage-money, and take a voyage for pleasure;
salt water or stomachs are the same to you. But I have a notion to live
as long as I can, not being a saint or a stowaway worm." Seeing Mary
Askill laugh he leant across the narrow table. "And what say you?"

"I say, we're all in good hands," she answered. "Amen," said Conisby, for
once not laughing. "They take good note of you in heaven, Mrs. Ann. I
wish Mr. Bryant would shorten sail before it is shortened for him. This
wind's rising."

Certainly the movement of the ship was becoming more violent. The pewter
plates upon their table slid this way and that; the water-bottle cast a
little jet at them. Ann Sawyer, not to see these things, shut her eyes
fast. But this would not do, the closing out of the cabin made her own
sensations her world; an uneasy world it was, filled with questionings,
the forerunners of dread certainty.

"Best come on deck before you're sick," said Mary Askill shoving her
companion up the ladder towards air.

On deck the wind was busy; they had to stoop going into it as into a
tunnel, and turn out of it to catch their breath. The ship wore all her
canvas, taking risks to make speed. But caution was beginning to commend
itself to the Master. An order had just been shouted, and the sailors
were going aloft, spray soaking them each time the _Nonsuch_ plunged. The
Master, visible on his quarter-deck wearing an old painted leather hat
with a neck-piece as long as a shovel, kept his eye upon the men as they
climbed, and seemed to be arguing with his mate. By comparison with the
waves, leaping up at the ship and falling back like dogs, and with the
hastening clouds, the deck was tranquil. All movable matters were lashed
tight; the struggling men seemed to be climbing out of their timber
coffin, a projection from the element of earth, to tackle in their own
territory the powers of air.

As the women stood there came a frantic gust. The bowsprit, with a crack
heard above the wind, jerked up in an unnatural manner, then fell
sideways under the lee bow. The man at the helm, not skilled to read the
compass before him, and dependent upon the Quartermaster who shouted his
order too late, brought the ship too near into the wind. She trembled
throughout her length, the sails beat against the masts; and in a single
minute, while the inevitable pressure of that gust was maintained, every
sail she carried split into ribbons, whose ends stood out at right angles
from the masts.


(iii)


"Ha!" said the Master, coming in to the cabin with his hat on. "What's
this, fattening yourselves for the fishes?"

Mr. Conisby poured him some wine, and held the cup a moment in mid air.
The liquor tilted, reached one side, fled to the other and lipped over.

"Playing cup and ball," said he. "What news?"

"We have cut away the bowsprit. She was dunting at our bow like a ram,
there was no saving her or the sheet. I have timber in the hold, we could
rig another to-night."

"Comfortable hearing," said Mr. Conisby.

"Comfortable," the Master answered, pausing with the cup at his chin.
"You are easy comforted. I could rig the stick, but I have no rag of
canvas left. That is to say, they are all rags. You might as well try to
hold wind in a beggar's breeches."

"Ask the ladies to lend us their petticoats. They seem, from what little
I see of them, to be of stout stuff."

The Master muttered something about, No more prayers, for the Lord's
sake.

"Mrs. Askill is very calmly learning to spell, and holding her
companion's head whenever she needs it. Her prayers won't hinder us. How
do we stand?"

"This wind, if we could use it, might bring us to St. Jago in four days.
But we are a hulk. I cannot get steering-way on her with a yard and a
half of canvas. We must drift, and take our chance. No need to tell it to
the women."

Conisby looked into his half-empty wine-cup, and poured its contents back
into the jug.

"This stuff is too fiery. I take it you have still a hogshead left--well
is it so called!--of that other sewage."

"And," said the Master, answered after a moment, "I had something to say
about that. We have shipped a sea or two; you saw for yourself how she
necked into it. With one thing and another, there is not so much fresh
water as there was. We have enough for three days, if there is no
hanky-panky with the men. And a gallon or so of spirits."

Conisby looked at him steadily, nodding from time to time as to a known
tune. He got up when the other had done.

"Well, Mr. Bryant, this is no more than I expected, to tell the truth. It
gives me pleasure to think you already know my opinion of you, which
these events have hardly changed. You set out with a little stinking food
and water, in the hope to buy cheaper from the benighted negroes of St.
Jago. You trundle into a storm with all sail set, and come out of it--if
we do come out--with not enough canvas to blow a Jew's nose for him. You
are a pretty sailor and a prudent man. And we must all go to hell for
your economies."

"I can't be talked to that way, I warn ye, Mr. Conisby," said the Master,
taking off his sea-hat, as though suddenly remembering he had it on his
head. "I risk my own life too."

"More fool you," said Conisby briefly, "to go to hell with a bag of saved
halfpence round your neck."

He moved towards the ladder. The Master, standing at its foot, did not
budge. When they stood face to face, a foot from each other, each
straddling to keep his balance on the tossing floor, the Master said:

"It will do no good for us to have a rix now. If we come to shore,
though, I'll request your company."

"Why not now?" said Conisby, not moving.

"Why, you fool, who is there to see to the ship?" the Master added,
exasperated yet reasonable.

A woman's foot showed at the top of the ladder, a foot with no nonsense
about it.

"Let the captain come up," Conisby called, "it's bad luck to cross on the
stairs."

"He that is down fears no fall," Mary Askill answered, and descended the
ladder. She moved neatly aboard ship, neither knocking her head nor being
knocked, coming by none of the pretty feminine mischances. "They told me
you were here, Mr. Bryant. I'd be thankful to know the truth of our
situation."

"What good will it do you? Put your head under the blankets. I've been
too long talking." Still he had more to say and said it, advancing his
face to hers, spitting out his anger. "Our situation! Well, the _Nonsuch_
has taken a knock from the wind, she is making water forrard where the
sprit banged her, her sails is fit to trawl for mackerel, and what good
does it do you to know it? You pair of holy Jennies."

"I once heard a man talk this way when his wife was dying in child-bed.
It was his own fault, and he knew it, so he took out his woe on other
people."

The Master, without answering, shoved her aside and went up the ladder.
She said, looking after him:

"He loves his ship."

"Well, damn him," Conisby answered, "he's lost her." Then, putting on
deliberately an air of false comfort:

"That is, we have a good chance of finding help, we should be on a
trade-route here--" She shook her head. At once he changed his tone. "You
must excuse me. There are times when I mistake you for just another
female. In fact, we have no great chance. We cannot either use the wind
or defend ourselves from it."

"I suppose," said she shrewdly, "the true danger is, we cannot hold out
for water."

"Three days, he says. The wine-bibbers like me will come off best."

"There was a good man once got a name for that, who no more deserved it
than you do."

"What man was that?" Conisby asked idly.

"Christ Jesus," Mary Askill answered.

There was a little silence.

"Another danger," said Conisby, "Mr. Bryant has a mixed crew. It will
take a day for the apprehension of death to work in them. Then they may
be troublesome. I will give you such warning as I can. Should I teach you
to handle a weapon?"

She laughed, showing healthy teeth.

"My good soul, isn't that a man all over. Weapons!" She considered,
frowning. "Now, what's the peaceable way out?"

Conisby said:

"You must take men as you find them. It goes against my grain to have a
gaggle of Portugals and Dutchmen yelling over my carcase. I was brought
up to the sword, and with your permission or without, I'll use it."

"I don't doubt that," she said. "What is there for me and Ann Sawyer?"

"Patience to wait. Courage to suffer. What else, for women?"

"How about wits?"

"Not against the elements," Conisby answered. Then, slowly:

"And yet--somebody, somewhere, once thought of catching the wind in a
sheet. A woman, like as not. Yes, since we don't know the name, and
nobody has the credit, it may have been a woman."

"Men are the lazybones. It was a man, to my way of thinking, hoisted
his shirt one day to save his muscles."

"Does it occur to you," said he with honest curiosity, "that inside of a
week we shall all be more or less painfully dying or dead? Yet we sit
here speculating on the origin of sails. You a farm-worker--is that
right? I the son of scholar; myself a scholar once. Is death, then, a
mere importunate fly, that he can so easily be brushed away?"

"The first look frightens," she said with unconscious authority. "The
next is not so bad; so it goes. There would be nothing in it if we could
die every day." Another silence.

"I will tell you something," said Conisby abruptly. "I am not a brave
man. Sword in hand I can pretend pretty well. But this waiting and
helplessness--Do you know what I hope? I hope the men will rise, and that
the Master and I may be alone against them. They will finish us off in
hot blood, and die themselves in cold. It must be so, if I am to make a
good showing. The other prospect--I won't answer for myself." She did not
look at him. He went on:

"You see that I don't care what you think. Other men take courage from
drinking; I, from quarrelling. I have tried in vain already to make our
captain bite me. What's left?" He paused and said in a half-voice:

"I would not have told you, but that you knew it already." Mary Askill
said nothing. He asked in alarm:

"Not going to pray, are you? Isn't it a had sign when psalm-singers are
quiet?"

"All right, easy now," said she as once on the farm she had gentled her
cows to the bail. "Take it easy, and listen. Don't you go provoking the
crew. They're as frightened as you are, and with better cause, for most
of them's papists. There's still something can be done."

"Nothing," said he. "Nothing. We'll swing in this wind for a week, then
run mad and die slow." He pulled down his sword from where it lay with
other blades in a rack, and said, posturing with it:

"Who's to blame me if I choose to die this way?"

"Put that down," she commanded; the voice was so sure of itself that he
dropped his point to the floor. "Go on deck. Find the carpenter and bring
him to me."

"Do you think because I have confessed myself a coward--no witnesses,
either--you can hector me?"

"No more talk. Go!" said Mary Askill. She took the rapier from him, and
tossed it again on the rack. He gave a laugh, then made for the ladder.
She called him back.

"What else, most high and puissant dame?"

"This," said she, and pulled off her knitted shawl. "Come here." He came.
She tied the shawl under his chin, and stood back from him. "No need to
take your death of cold with this wind."

He gazed at her; scratched his car through the folds, and went.


(iv)


On deck there was now some confusion. Conisby could feel under his feet
the helpless distress of the ship, as at table he had seen it shown forth
in his cup of wine. The smoothly sloping deck of a vessel running with
wind upon her quarter now had given way to a tilt never constant; the
water lifted, the wind swung her; she threshed and wallowed like a
sea-creature dying. Birds circled above; their sureness, the strength
which sent them sailing up the unseen hills of the wind to drift down
unerringly on motionless wings, made a mock of the _Nonsuch_, which,
lacking power and so direction, was now neither fish nor fowl. She was no
more than a log with a name upon it such as is driven by the current to a
far country's shore, there to tell its story of disaster and burn blue
upon some indifferent fisherman's fire.

But neither captain nor crew had yet accepted this fate. There was a
bustle where men were carrying forward a rope they called the horse for a
stay to the foremast. The slashed sails had been taken down; the spars
were bare; past them and the ropes the wind ran, giving out sounds that
wavered in the manner of plain-song, but atonal; the phrases respected no
tonic. These sounds; light withdrawing from the sky; the silly strife of
manikins at their rope, careless seas knocking them off their feet as
they strained on it; the smell of spray, a sweetish saltness--Conisby,
who had seen war, never before knew desolation press so heavily upon his
senses as it did now.

He went forward and lent himself to the manoeuvre at the bow. The
mysteries being achieved, the boatswain's whistles translated into action
and the rope at last pulling strongly upon the mast as a stay--what
reason, since the masts now were functionless?--the men slithered and
dragged themselves, by means of other ropes stretched lengthwise down the
deck, to the shelter of the cuddy. There Conisby demanded the carpenter,
and when he could make himself understood got a laugh for answer. The
carpenter, it seemed, had enough to keep him busy. He was looking for
strained timbers in the hull of the ship, caulking leaks; who wanted him,
and for what? Conisby did not say. He looked the men over--Portugals
mostly, with a smattering of Dutch and Swedish, reckoning them up as meat
for trouble. They seemed calm enough, preoccupied with their own small
damages, a crushed hand here, a broken shin there, and he was,
unreasonably, reassured. Surely such a riff-raff, with no common pride of
nationality to hold them together, would they not have broken if there
were in fact danger? He recollected that they still had hope, they were
unaware of the loss of drinking water; there was a goad to strike them to
action, if one were needed. He considered if he should tell them of it,
and so bring about soon the riot in which he might die. But their
unexpressed faith that they would continue to exist weighed in him
against his knowledge. His mind shifted from courageous despair to
demoralizing hope; he remembered that he was for the moment a woman's
errand-boy, and, like the sailors ignoring their extremity in trifles, he
set off to find and bring the carpenter to the woman. "For God knows,"
thought Conisby, mocking himself, "it may be urgent. She may want a
knitting-pin mended."

The carpenter, traced at last by the stench of melting pitch to a hole
between decks where he had barely room to lift his mallet, proved to be
English and in spasms voluble. He did not answer Conisby's greeting,
except by a jerk of his head towards the lantern by which he worked, and
which hung awkwardly about his neck, throwing shadows on his hands.
Conisby understood by this jerk a request to hold it more conveniently
and did so, while the carpenter drove oakum into a gap whose edges shone
wetly even by those dull rays; expertly dressed it with pitch and
finished off the seams. The task done and examined, he crept along,
spying for leaks, his nose almost upon the planks, till they came by the
shelf-pieces on which rested the midship beam. There he stood upright,
and taking the lantern, which he surveyed suspiciously and carefully,
hung it again round his own neck and was ready for speech.

"Does she--how do you call it--make much water?" Conisby asked.

The carpenter said bluntly that the gentleman himself would make water if
he had taken such a beating; but added that there was nothing as yet that
he, and the pumps, and the Lord Almighty couldn't deal with.

"She's sound enough, then?" Conisby went on, dallying with his errand.

The carpenter spat, and volunteered to kick a hole in any plank the
gentleman might point out. This, he explained, was a very desirable state
of affairs. "If a ship is half sound, half rotten, the sound planks are
too much for the rotten ones, they will not give, and so the others gape;
but where the timber is everywhere as soft as a banana, one is not too
much for another, they are all punk together, and so they make out."

"Are you done now? Can you come to the cabin?"

"What's to do there?"

Because he had given his word, Conisby delivered the message; because he
had faith that Mary Askill might in fact discover some way to lengthen
out their torment, he gave it in such a manner that it would be
unacceptable.

"One of our she-preachers has taken a notion to see you. She has a plan
of salvation to expound."

"Salvation!" repeated the carpenter harshly. "There's a thing to expound,
as you call it, when we may all be at the bottom of the sea next.
Salvation! Let her wait till we make port. Was that all you came for?"
Conisby signified that it was; but volunteered, as he was by, to carry
the lantern again and make himself of use. He felt more at ease down in
that darkness, out of the way of contrasts: little men, huge seas;
restless ship, unchanging horizon. He loosened Mary Askill's shawl about
his head and began again to creep after the carpenter through the ship's
belly. They worked together, travailing in half-darkness, lending life to
the ship with their hands. Once they seemed to hear shouting; but the
sea-sounds more urgently compelled their attention.


(v)


"Did you speak to him?"

"I did. He said to tell Mrs. Askill this was a time to leave men to their
work."

"Their work," she repeated, shaking her head as at a child. "John
Conisby, your fear of drowning will land us all on the sea's bottom yet.
Does the ship go forward at all?"

"How can the ship go forward?" the second woman's voice asked. "She is
not sanctified, the crew are atheists, how can she go forward?"

"But still a good wind blows. Can't they mend the sails enough to hold
it?"

"No. When she was riding low--I don't know these sailors' terms--when she
was filling with water, there was a heap of stuff thrown over to lighten
her, our two cannons, some barrels of beef; and two Portugal sailors had
the notion of dropping overboard a heavy locker that held shot. In this
the sailmaker had stowed, among other things, God knows why, his store of
thread for sewing--in among the small shot! If we die, we deserve it."

"We are not going to die," said Mary Askill, explaining as though nobody
could wish for better assurance:

"It is not God's will. Well, I'll go on deck myself and find this
captain, or whosoever. There has been a great coming and going this last
hour. A sailor came in to know had we any ink. I told him I had no use
for it, being no scholar."

"Ink?" Conisby repeated, astonished. "For a love-letter, I suppose.
Well."

He pondered.

"Have you been at your mischief?" she asked. "Stirring up of the men?"

He showed his hands, sticky and black here and there with pitch.

"I've been stowed safe as Jonah. What others of the men have you seen?"

"None. Ann was sick. It's all been quiet."

He looked at the weapons in the rack; none was missing.

"Come on deck, then, if you will."

"I won't stay here," Ann Sawyer shouted, seeing them stand together, the
woman holding for balance to the man's arm. "Why should I wait here below
to hearken to the waves? Our business is with the Lord, in season and out
of season. Oh, if there was only half a dozen aboard like us we might
hope in his mercy--"

"Well, come," Mary Askill said quietly. "And if so be you should be
moved, Ann, speak to them as will hear."

Instinctively, silent protest against saintly talk, Conisby stretched his
arm to take up a sword. The women watched while he slid it between the
double strips of leather hanging from his belt.

"If you can't fight weather with wits, no more can you with steel," Mary
Askill told him.

But he settled the steel on his hip with a swagger, offered his hand to
Ann Sawyer who rejected it, and bowed them before him up the ladder with
a comment upon their ankles as they climbed.

They went up. The ship tossed sluggishly, broadside on to a wind. She had
become heavy, as a sick body does; her movements were awkward, she could
not avoid the sudden stresses that assailed her; the waves as they struck
and raced away left her groaning behind them.

No men were to be seen about. The look-out from his nest half-way up the
foremast spied down at them, seeing the women put up his hands in a mock
prayer, then took up his task again of scanning emptiness. The wind was
strong, but had no freshness in it. They stood uncertainly, holding to
stays, watching the marbling of water broken by the ship's side.

Without any warning men were all about them on the deck, moving
purposefully and like so many ants, each carrying a burden. Some brought
bundles of rope; others with crowbars levered at the hatch which, secured
by battens and wooden blocks, covered the entrance to the hold. They
seemed to be working to orders, but neither mate nor captain was visible,
and the activity had a look which Conisby did not like. He put his foot
in front of a man who was passing; the man kicked at him, cursing.

"Now what would you be at, I wonder? And where is Captain Bryant?"

Conisby spoke, holding the man's arm as if confidentially, pressing it
close to his side, the wrist twisted. The sailor spoke furiously a few
words in some language not intelligible to the women. Conisby, asking in
the same tongue, got no answer. On that he let the man go, and made for
the ladder that led to the quarter-deck. Instantly a seaman pulled him
back. Conisby struck out, but they pressed upon him, he could not gain
room. An English-speaking sailor told him that he need no longer look to
the captain, but might take his chance, if he would, with the rest of
them.

"Our boats are stove in," said the sailor, "but there's timber in the
hold for a raft. We are to set about it now, and make oars, and rig up
what canvas we have. A sail that will not budge a ship this size will
send a raft along pretty well--"

He stopped there, and looked up, warned by a cry from the mast. Captain
Bryant's face showed above the rail of the quarter-deck, and by its cheek
lay the barrel of a firearm. His forehead had blood on it; the weapon
shone clean. He called in a thick uncertain voice to the men at the hatch
that they should let it alone.

"Let be," said Captain Bryant, "I command in this ship. She's sound,
she'll float. I'm sound, too, I'm afloat too, for all your round robins.
Lay off."

The men heard him, enquiring of each other with their eyes. The boatswain
answered for them, shouting with a gap between each word, seeking his way
in the unfamiliar English tongue:

"We go. Make boat. Make land."

"So you're leader," Captain Bryant observed, and his was no longer the
jocular voice which had offered sixpence for a capful of wind. "Then I'd
best deal with you."

He steadied his pistol on the rail, squinting along its barrel at the
boatswain. Conisby perceived Mary Askill walking forward from the rail
where he had left her safe directly into the line of fire. He shouted.
The shot sounded almost in the same instant. But whether the Master's aim
was disturbed or he deliberately at last tipped his barrel down, the slug
went into the deck at her feet. The men all about her stood in that
instant perfectly still. Then, seeing that the shot was spent, two or
three of them made for the ladder. Conisby, forgotten, wrested himself
away from the man who held him, and was first up in a couple of leaps.
His sword came out. He shouted. He sprang from foot to foot, dancing for
rage as a monkey dances, and in English and bad Dutch yelled to the
sailors to come on, blackening their characters and assailing the honour
of their parentage by way of inducement to do so. The Master, after that
one gesture of authority, had fallen, pistol and all, turning up his eyes
and grunting. There was but the one ladder to the quarterdeck, at whose
head yelled and leaped the madman with the sword. The crew held back.

"Kill your navigator. Set out on a raft for God knows where. The water's
gone, did you know that? Only water for two more days. Well, take the
remedy. What's the remedy? Fewer mouths. You've stopped one of them, now
let us stop some more. Come, I'm waiting, and there's your problem
solved. Two days' water among twenty men. That's four days' water for
ten. Eight days' for five. Who'll be the benefactors? I'm waiting. I've
time for all."

He grinned at them, and swung his sword round his head; tossed it in the
air and caught it neatly by the point; offered the pommel to them like a
civil duellist and began loudly to sing:

"There were two crows sat on a tree.
Came one more, and that made three,
Spoke the birds together:
Clip your doxy, clip your hairs,
Noll's the boy will clip your ears
So all's clipt together--"

Against this singing, and the sound of the sailors murmuring, came Ann
Sawyer's voice in prayer for men of bloody minds, for men unwise and in
peril. There was a movement among the sailors, coming together to confer;
they talked, a man or two slipped away on some errand. The man with the
sword, seeing them so quiet, came at them again with his tongue.

"Well, you had rather cloy of thirst, had you? You had rather run mad
like dogs in summer, on a raft going nowhere. You are a brave company,
but not learned. Come, we'll have a lesson in arithmetic. If water last
twenty men two days, how many days will it last ten men? Five men? One
man? one man, and twenty against him. One man, only one, one little
man--"

He was making them angry. They shouted up at him adjurations to wait, to
look out for himself. He thumbed his nose at them, and all the louder
resumed his singing. A seaman creeping below him skilfully tossed up a
weighted rope so that it swung over the quarterdeck rail on the starboard
side, the ladder Conisby guarded being to port. A rope was as good as a
ladder to the men any day. They made it fast, mocking him; for if he
quitted his post to slash at it the other way was left open. He saw how
he was caught. Over his face came a look exalted yet wary, the look of a
madman that knows himself to be Alexander but must take care lest his
buttons give way.

A woman's voice came at him. So strong was the thrust of the wind that
the voice sounded almost in his ear, no scream calling for help or pity,
but a powerful shout demanding attention.

"Hark to me, men!" Mary Askill was calling, "I took the bullet meant for
one of ye, will you hear me speak?"

There was a change in the groups of men. They drew back from her a
little, and Conisby from above could see that by her foot showed a dark
trickle of blood running from the shoe.

"Don't heed that fellow there," she went on, driving her voice into their
astonished quiet. "He thinks of himself. I know a trick that may save
us--"

Conisby from the quarter-deck cried to them not to listen to the woman,
she was daft and ranting; and the English-speaking sailor, with a cunning
look, gave it out that they were playing into each other's hands.

"She say not hark to him, he say not hark to her, and here's us stuck
between like the ass with two bundles of hay--"

But Mary Askill bore all noises down.

"You have the wind, and no sails. You have the sails, and no thread. But
you've got oakum; you've got rags and tags of rope. Feaze the lot and
give 'em to me. Let the carpenter make me a distaff and spindle out of
those planks you have lying there; and I'll spin you thread that shall
hold the sails and let you be on your way, no bloodshed neither. Do you
hear me?"

They gathered and talked. One or two looked at the rope, and were all for
hanging the cavee before setting the woman to work. "For," said these,
"we have killed the captain, we shall be shot ourselves if ever we come
into English waters. So let us kill them that might swear against us."

This point the said cavalier took up, and urged them to just such a
course; asserting that they should stand up for the dishonour of their
mothers and not miss the chance of a fight with the odds at
twenty-to-one; reminding them again, the fewer mouths the more water. But
they did not pay him the attention he had at first commanded. It was
settled that the carpenter, being the man most concerned, should give
judgment. He had just appeared on deck, his lantern looking silly in the
daylight; and as they put the case to him, three or four speaking at
once, he seemed as deeply bewildered as a mole coming up into air.

"Make a spindle," said he, "what d'ye take me for? First, when I've my
hands full with caulking you talk about rafts, and I told you straight
that was a silly notion as ever I heard. Now it's a spindle. It'll be a
mousetrap next. And by that token, the rats in this ship's hold aren't
making ready to drown yet awhile." They persisted. He scratched his head
with one of the irons from his basket, and admitted that he could make a
spindle if put to it, and if someone could draw him out a pattern to
build by.

"Who's to work it?" said the carpenter. "Her, with a hole in her foot?"

"I've been worse," said Mary Askill, "and worked after. Ann here's a good
spinster."

The leaks had been looked to. The pumps could do the rest. He might botch
it. He could but try. It was decided.


(vi)


He had made the wheel by sundown; a rough affair, but the treadle worked.
While the carpenter laboured with that appearance of deliberation by
which the good workman masks adroitness, the sailors sat in groups amid a
tangle of hemp, cursing roundly and combing oakum. The strands so
loosened were put into a great bag made of a fishing-net, where they
showed like coils of hair--grey from the weather-worn ropes, golden from
the ends of new ones. It was astonishing to see how much bulk the ropes
had held prisoner in their close twist. Soon the bag bulged, and the
sailors stretched, confident that no one woman could ever spin so much.
It was like that old tale in which the princess is shown a room full of
flax which she must turn into thread before daylight, or lose her life.
But Ann Sawyer, sane now that her hands might be busy, urged them on with
their picking, and sniffed at the soft hill of hemp. The sailors cursed
in their various tongues, and took up the weary feminine task again,
comforted by the sound of the wheel spinning their chance of unhoped-for
salvation.

When they had done what seemed even to Ann Sawyer enough, they were
turned loose to suck their sore fingers, and get themselves food as they
could. It was night by then, the astonishing soft night of those
latitudes. The mast-tops swept across stars with the very movement of
scythes; the field of heavenly gold stood constant. However, no person
aboard the _Nonsuch_, save the man on look-out, at all regarded the sky.
The men, having eaten what the boatswain gave out in the way of rations,
slept. A sailor, condemned to the pumps for some breach of seaman's
etiquette, sweated with his eyes on the pump brake. Captain Bryant, lying
fiat in his bunk, contemplated a timber roof which pulsed with the
throbbing of his head. The women took turns at the spinning-wheel; who
did not work slept. John Conisby, his restlessness stilled by
contemplation of movement, came in from watching the sea to stand by the
spinster.

Mary Askill was at it. Her left foot, big with a bandage, rested unshod
on the floor; the right pressed the treadle lightly, giving the wheel so
exact a tilt as just to make it ready to receive impetus again. He had
seen church-ringers deal thus with bells, using their weight sparingly
once the metal was rung up, balanced to strike. She looked white by the
lantern's poor beam. Conisby said:

"Well, we have lived through a calm, and a drought, and a mutiny. And now
we tall fellows, that would knock you on the head any night for twopence,
must take our lives from a woman."

"Ye all do that willy-nilly, as tall as you are," she answered absently,
wetting a broken thread to join it. "What of Captain Bryant?"

"He need not die. And the Mate is competent to navigate, once we have our
canvas. He performs all the mysteries of the backstaff, and says he can
tell to a mile the latitude we are in; the longitude is another matter.
He signed the round robin, I believe. Certainly he was of the men's
councils, or we should have had confusion worse confounded than it was."

She nodded. The wheel, which for a minute had paused, resumed its clack.

"To-night he rationed out the water. We shall do, if the wind does not
drop; it has been blowing off the coast, we are in no danger of running
our noses into Africa." A brief pause. "Did I seem very like a
play-actor, up there on the quarter-deck?"

"I've seen ne'er a one," said Mary Askill. "You spoke ugly to the men. If
they had all been English there might have been mischief."

"I wish there had been mischief," Conisby said. "Then I might have
fought, and forgot myself, and not felt a fool--as now I feel."

Her eyes were needed for the thread, to see that it did not dwindle or
swell. But she smiled. He observed the smile and banged his hand on the
plank that served for table.

"What is to become of mankind if they can't see themselves as little
gods? There was I, with my sword, and my muscles, and my loud voice; I
had all the right to be chief player, save the situation, take the
plaudits. Well? All this came, most publicly, to nothing. Here am I, for
all my noise, not a hero. Will you not say, from the topless tower of
your confidence, that you are sorry?"

She still smiled, still ran the thread smoothly, aware that he needed no
answer, letting him talk on. The squealing of wind in the ropes was no
longer shrill; the _Nonsuch_ took the buffeting of waves good-humouredly,
the swell which had so tormented her was dying. The cabin held the man
and woman secure in its darkness; their ears, for days accustomed to the
din of weather without the ship and within, accepted the lessened noises
as silence.

"Does your wound trouble you?"

She shook her head, and moved the bandaged foot a little to show that she
was not at its mercy.

"Here am I, whole and sound, yet helpless. Every moment I am with you I
feel myself shrink; in another hour, when you have worked and I have
idled, there will be nothing of me left. A nothing named John Conisby,
walking, eating. They use such creatures where we are going, I have
heard. Dead men who labour." He paused; in his mind the next question was
linked with that image. "Do you know that at St. Jago we are to take on
slaves?"

At that she did look up, with the quick gaze of an animal who hears some
dangerous sound. He persisted:

"You saved this ship's crew from death. Now the first thing they will do
is pull down death upon others. They bring them out of their own country,
and set them to work with no hope of deliverance save by death. There are
persons yet unborn who will curse you, Mrs. Askill, for this day's work."

She tended her thread with steady hands. He watched them for a sign as he
talked on.

"Ah, you say, but to how many will I bring light! How many Christians
will I not make! These negroes go from darkness to darkness; wretched in
one land or another, what matter? Their souls are their riches, their
souls I will save, say you, I will make Christians of them. Why, their
betrayers are Christians. The men that trap, the men that ship and sell
them are Christians. And, in your own country, the men who beat you for
being a Christian called themselves Christians, too."

She spoke then, dropping her hands to her knee; the right one stretched
itself to ease the cramped muscles:

"Must you make others angry before yourself can have peace?"

"I say what comes to my mind," he answered, watching her ugly skilful
hand that rolled and stretched like an animal loosed from harness.

"God knows then, your mind's not easy."

"No," said he, and with a quick movement of his head shook from him some
troublesome thought. "It is not easy. I have been brought up, d'ye see,
to fear God. I am hat off to him as to the King. I would kill an infidel
or a Turk in his name, had I the chance. But I cannot be at ease with
God. I am afraid of dying. And so if I die I must go drunk with strong
waters, whether it be anger or wine. That is not an easy truth to
contemplate; but you have rubbed my nose in it, you that compel the
elements with your distaff. I am not easy with you. I have a mind to
challenge the love of God in you."

"How will you do that, John Conisby?"

"How else but by the love of man?"

She took up her labour again, giving the wheel a spin, guiding the hemp
till it ran to a fine twist. He stood, and said, looking down on her:

"A man must silence somehow the woman who knows him for a coward."

She said, eyeing the thread, her voice level as the sound of the wheel:

"I dare not say I am chosen. But I feel the working of the Lord in me,
his foot is upon me like mine on this treadle. He drives me; peace of
body is not for me."

"Love," said Conisby, "that's not peace of body."

"I haven't the words. You that is a scholar, do you find them for me."

He set his hand lightly against her cheek.

"Does no spark light now?"

She stopped her work; took his hand in hers, pointed it down at the
bandaged foot clumsily obvious under her skirt, and said in a great
farm-girl's voice, not the low voice of the wheel:

"Sweetheart's talk to a woman with her foot in pain, and her hands near
to bleeding! I doubt you haven't had much practice in love-making, Mr.
Cavee, for all your court ladies. Maybe there's men can kiss when they're
hurt and dropping for sleep, but not women; not where I come from. Take
yourself off now. There'd ought to be some useful thing you could do. You
are a man, for all you act like a child."

He pulled his hand away with a touch of anger; the anger was aimed at
himself, and found expression:

"We can't always be calculating; must take our hearts as we find them.
The child is sorry to have importuned you."

She said heartily:

"No offence taken."

He waited, for what he could not tell; but as she gathered herself to her
work again, he saw her hands in the lantern's glow. The light, itself
unsteady, shone upon firm reddish fingers which gave no hint of
disturbance; they moved orderly, they neither hastened nor stumbled in
the manoeuvres of the spinster.


(vii)


They came into St. Jago early one morning four days later. It was an
island very steep and rocky, the soil showing so little green that the
thirsty men took no great comfort from sight of it. They had spent a
whole twenty-four hours without water of any kind, working in powerful
sun, and their minds had been busy (even those that knew the place
before) with visions of fountains. But the lower slopes of these hills
were covered with a grey sandy earth; their tops wore a suit of cloud;
only here and there in the clefts between them palms sprouted.

The anchor rattled down, and the _Nonsuch_ rested in a bay whose water
showed glassy; no wind could come at it; land curled about it, an island
lay in the mouth like a stopper. All motion of air thus ceasing, the heat
became deathly heavy. Mary Askill, going with the last of her own
water-bottle to tend him, found Captain Bryant fainted in his berth,
sweat gushing from him, trickling and shining under the hairs of his
beard.

Even the absence of sun could not make this stillness endurable, the oven
was no good exchange for the burning glass; water to drink, only water,
could relieve it; and this was not immediately to be come by. _Imprimis_,
having anchored, they had no boat to land with. It was a torment none of
the men had envisaged; that they must wait, and signal, and by signs beg
a boat to come out; wait to explain their need; wait again to be ferried
ashore.

"I'd swim for it myself," said the English sailor, summing up the
sentiments of all, "if 'tweren't for the sharks."

There were sharks. One had followed the ship for days, disdaining the
hook baited with a scrap of canvas that an idler had thrown to him. This
was the very water for sharks, deep that they might hide, clear that they
might see. The sailors looked at it dubiously and muttered; the signalman
still jerked his flag. Ashore, nothing stirred. Fishermen's boats slept
at the jetty, or butted gently the pointed rocks to which they were
tethered like horses, by means of a noose of rope. No smoke lifted.

Mr. Conisby, waking early to have sight of this promised land, dressed
himself particularly fine, put on his sword, and went up to the
quarterdeck. There he stood while the sailors disputed and the Mate,
scratching his chin, lamented that they had not a cannon left to fire. He
cursed all Portugals for lie-a-beds--"though," said the Mate, "I can't
tell what should tempt 'em up early in this dog-kennel of a town."

Conisby, not heeding him, measured with his eye the distance to the
shore; at the same time becoming aware that Mary Askill had come on deck
and was limping to the ship's side.

"We are no more than half a mile off," said he. "I have swum further than
that with my boots on. Child's play--"

"Not in these waters," the Mate said sourly. "We must wait their
leisure."

"I'll wait for no Portugal," Conisby took him up. "Did Drake wait? He
sacked this town, did Drake. By God, I'll wake it, that am no drake, but
a duck for water. The child must have its game. Watch me, says the
child."

The Mate, taking this for exuberance, the kind of masculine
chest-drumming of which he had already seen something, gave a laugh and
walked off. But he turned when a splash sounded, and ran to the rail,
where he saw emerging from the water a dark head, arms dripping but clad
in velvet; and perceived a kind of thin third leg trailing stiffly, which
was Mr. Conisby's sword. His boots he had retained, out of disdain for
the distance; dressed in his best, he was making good speed. The sailors,
understanding his purpose at once, let out a cheer which of itself should
have been enough to rouse the drowsy town. He turned as he swam, and
saluted them, deliberately making a great thrashing with his legs as
though to terrify any sea-creature that might pursue. They watched him,
forgetting for a while their extreme thirst and the weight of the air, in
that frame of mind which, while it enjoys successful dare-devilry, is
prepared to find stimulus as moving in a fatal accident. They talked of
him as they watched; how such a man was better to fight with than fight
under, how the devil was more constant than the Almighty to look after
his own. When he was half-way to shore a figure or two began to appear,
slowly moving from the houses, ruinous-looking in clearer light, towards
the jetty and the tethered dinghies. They had heard the noise of the
anchor, they were already perfectly aware of the _Nonsuch_, the swim in
fine clothing was nothing, therefore, but a useless display. The sailors
hovering between two minds, whether to think Conisby a fool for spoiling
good velvet, or to envy him the drink of fresh water that soon would be
his, broke out into non-committal oaths and made mouths as though they
might, given spittle, have spat.

By noon time the _Nonsuch_ rode among bumboats, which clustered about her
like lice on a salmon's sides. These vendors sold fruit--shapes
unpictured, names unknown, but all magical to quench thirst. The Mate,
espying Mary Askill with some kind of a pink and green pumpkin, warned
her that such provender was loosening, and had gone through dirty hands.
She answered with a country saw--"An egg, an orange, or a nut, you may
take from any slut--" and told him that looseness was healthy every now
and again. She sat with her bandaged foot up on a kind of stool the
carpenter had made, and ate, as Ann Sawyer put it, with almost
irreligious pleasure. Said Ann, tendentiously:

"That young mad fellow, John Conisby; he didn't drown, more's the pity.
The sailors that have come back from shore say that he is gone straight
to the Governor's house." Mary Askill nodded, sucking at her melon and
sighing for delight of its freshness on her mouth. "A papist, this
Governor is."

"It's how these foreign folks is born. Same as being black, they have no
way to help it."

But Ann Sawyer was not to be put off. She had been brewing storm; now
came a gust.

"It's three weeks since we set foot on this ship. In all that time, Mary
Askill, I haven't known you once moved to testify. Not even when it
seemed we was lost. Not even when it was revealed that the Lord had saved
us."

"What would you be at, Ann?"

The answer came obliquely, following a glance at the shore.

"The sailors say, he is gone to make first choice among the black women
that will come aboard."

"You are back at John Conisby, are you?"

"If I am--"

Ann Sawyer stopped the quick answer; but she could not hold back the
resentment, the angry enquiry from her eyes.

"If it is true, and if he should unfold his wickedness before our eyes
here on this ship, would you rebuke him?" Then, before answer could come:

"You are not the woman that set her foot upon the Serpent at Oxford.
There is no light left in you, you that were to be our beacon and our
lantern set in a dark place--"

She broke off on a caught breath, turned aside. Mary Askill knew that she
did so to hide tears, and that the tears were not for an example lost,
but had obscurer origin.

Soon men came about them, busily trundling bales, calling, bickering,
getting the cargo--shoes, black ribbon, and broad-brimmed hats--cleared
from the forward hold. The English sailor, lingering near them to tie up
his head in a handkerchief with some great cool leaf inside it, told the
women that they would not be breathing so sweet a week thence.

"There's neat room below for thirty," said the sailor. "Their stink would
turn a cat's stomach. They say there's always some taste of it left,
pitch how you will and paint how you may. Same with dead bones, that they
use for lime. A nigger ship or a bone ship; any man that's been at sea
can nose either one a mile off."

He dropped down into the quarters furbished to receive these herded
wretches. Ann Sawyer looked in at the dark opening, saw rings upon the
walls, rings upon the transverse beams, and shivered. She had known the
weight of chains. But Mary Askill, looking towards the shore, was
following with her eyes the progress of a small boat. A black man rowed
it, standing and facing forward. A hairy-faced man in a great hat sat in
the stern by the side of a man shaved and hatless. There was something
like a bright-coloured bundle at their feet. She made certain; then a
voice deliberate and jocose as a nudge with the elbow said:

"Here comes your John Conisby with his woman. She has a beard, like the
one I saw at a fair."

"A beard?" Ann Sawyer whipped round, quick on her feet as is the way of
fat people. "That's a Don, sure. What for did you say it was a woman?"

"What for did you say John Conisby was gone to seek one?"

Ann Sawyer could find no direct answer. She fell back upon her fixed
notion of Dons, and muttered that she did not promise what she should do
if he wore a cross on his hat, or started any mummery.

The boats drew close, edging through the hanger-on, which with shoutings
and brandishings of oars made respectful way. And soon upon the deck of
the _Nonsuch_ stood an authentic Don, dressed plain as a puritan only for
the linen at his neck that was a little dirty; having a greenish face, a
sparse beard, a bilious eye, but a manner as of Solomon in his glory.
This, said Conisby, was the Governor, called in his own tongue the Padre
Valgado; he was come to dine and pay his duty to the ladies, and had
brought with him one that would keep them company.

On this, over the ship's side with perfect majesty and grace came a black
woman, and stood looking about her. Round her head was wrapped a length
of green taffeta. Her petticoat was of two colours, sky blue and purple,
ranged not in straight stripes but jagged, after the manner that heralds
call dancette. Her breast was bare; she wore on her shoulders a cloak of
some purple stuff, with a clasp made of cut ivory; there were ivory rings
in her ears. This creature advanced gravely towards the group upon the
deck, and offered no greeting until the Padre Valgado spoke to her, when
she bowed with a kind of noble humility, hands crossed from shoulder to
shoulder, then stood erect at her ease. Ann Sawyer, after the first
glance, stood up and flickered her eyes as a snake darts its tongue, from
Conisby to the Don. She said:

"What's this woman?"

Conisby very civilly told her that here was meat for conversion, if she
were so minded; and as for the lady's name, it was Maria. Ann Sawyer,
very white in the face, spoke briefly:

"She's not decent."

Conisby answered that one must allow for the custom of the country:

"If you, Mrs. Sawyer, had been born in the fifteenth degree of latitude,
we might have seen you thus arrayed, and been better men for it."

The Don meanwhile, looking about him, had gone forward to examine and tap
with his nails the ship's great bell on which the hours were called. The
negress stood still, obedient to a little motion of his finger that bade
her wait. She understood nothing of the debate, was not incommoded by the
stares of the sailors who began to come round her, any more than the
trampling of a troop of sheep disturbs a brilliantly coloured parrot safe
in its tree. But she did gaze at Mary Askill and more particularly at the
bandaged foot, while the dispute continued, now become three-cornered by
inclusion of the Mate.

"What do you do, Mr. Conisby, fetching these people aboard?"

"I have asked 'em to dine, so make your bow and bring out your
compliments. It is the Governor and his lady."

"I won't scrape to a blackamoor."

"Why not? He rules the island, she rules him."

"You're mad. And there's no dinner."

"John Conisby brings the woman here for an affront to Christians."

"She is as much of a Christian as you. The Portugals allow no infidels."

"A papist then; that's worse."

"A beauty, and that makes up."

"You are Belial's own son. Mary, will you come below?"

But the black woman, advancing and sinking to one knee with a movement
like the stoop of a gull, had taken Mary Askill's foot and was untying
the bandage, first asking permission with a lift of the eyes and her
first smile. The wound was bared; it showed angry, and puffed at the
edges. She spoke; a question it seemed, by the inclination of the voice.
Mary Askill answered in English:

"It'll mend. Mine's good healing flesh."

The black woman considered, and rose. An interested circle watched her as
she stood, half a head taller than most of the sailors, seeking with her
eyes among the fruits and vegetables, bumboat's spoils, that lay on deck.
She found among them a leaf broad and large, in shape not unlike the sole
of the foot, and returning laid this on. It was cool, though it had lain
in the sun; the black woman's hands, too, were cool as she laid their
light-coloured palms beside the wound to hold the leaf in place.

"Good," said Mary Askill, speaking loud and unnaturally as is the way of
the English with foreigners. "Better. God bless you."

The woman, still holding the leaf about the foot, began to mutter some
words, again and again the same words; and with her thumb in the air
above the wound described a curious sign.

"Witchcraft," Ann Sawyer said, but nobody heeded her. She called out:

"Mary, she has done a charm upon you."

The sailors with one accord understood and turned upon her, standing up
for charms, declaring their faith in mumbo jumbo in two or three
languages and their sentiments for the negress by means of broad
gestures. None dared, however, to do other than keep his distance. They
gazed, as at a pretty play acted before them, on the two women; finding
their attention sharpened for small things by the steady deck, the leave
to be idle, and the sense that for a time they were, without effort,
secure.

"How's this?" Conisby's voice asked the negress. He spoke in Portuguese,
but was looking at the pale woman with her foot between the other's
hands. "Will you doctor me, Maria?"

She answered readily with a question. Where was his hurt? He told her: In
his heart. Gravely she said: No leaf for that, and began to bind up the
foot again, twisting the linen very lightly, and smiling timidly up with
a sideways deprecating motion of her head, as though she knew she must
hurt and was sorry for it.

The Don had been left alone by the bell amid hats escaped from their
bales, which he amused himself by twirling on his finger. They were
exactly similar to the hat he wore, to the hats which every man upon the
island wore, save those negroes who plaited themselves something more
suitable and cooler, and to the hats worn by his ancestors to the fourth
generation. This keeping to pattern pleased him. His religious thought
believed that man could save himself time and trouble by a uniformity of
inessentials; that if clothing, food and housing were kept to a pattern,
if no ingenuity were wasted in devising change, then the soul might be
more at liberty to regard and question itself. This to him and many of
his countrymen was the implication of those words in the Gospel which
insist that a man shall take no thought for what he is to eat or
wherewith he shall be clothed. He twirled the hats therefore almost
devoutly, as though they had been prayer-wheels whose movement in space
and time might stand for an equivalent movement of the spirit in
eternity.

Nevertheless, thus twirling, he became aware that he was not a cynosure.
The man who had power to deny water to these thirsty voyagers, or who
might, with a word to his six cannoneers at the fort, sink this _Nonsuch_
as she squatted helpless at anchor, was not used to be left alone thus
casually among bales and plantains, while she drew all eyes, the black
woman to whom only his protection lent consequence. He advanced therefore
with a gait which commanded attention and flicked her arm two or three
times with a pointed middle finger. She turned, surprised, read his face,
and with a gesture of submission in which no dignity was lost withdrew
from the circle. The Padre Valgado addressed the Mate.

"If it is your good pleasure, senhor, I am ready to breakfast."

The Mate, who understood well enough, looked at him and made motions with
his hands of not comprehending. He said low to Conisby:

"Say we've nothing worth offering--nothing good enough for such a fine
gentleman. Lay it on thick."

Conisby did so. The Padre Valgado, used to the forms of his own national
politeness, accepted these protestations as conventions much as he was
himself accustomed to say, My poor house, this indifferent wine which you
do me the honour to taste. He smiled narrowly, civilly. Conisby took the
Mate aside.

"Set out what we have."

"Why the devil did you bring him? There's nothing aboard."

"Some biscuit, and a few of his own bananas. They are not used to much."

"I've a mind to serve him a cut of your liver."

"Set out. I'll look to him."

The feast which at last was laid on the long plank table of the cabin
consisted of just this: biscuit, and a few of the Padre Valgado's own
fruits. The cloth was clean, somebody had scoured the pewter, there was
salt in plenty, vinegar, and black Malagueta pepper in a small wooden
quern. This, with water to drink, was the whole of the entertainment.

The women did not attend it; only the Governor, the Mate, and Mr. Conisby
sat down. The Governor's teeth were faulty, and even his knife, painfully
carving at the biscuit as though it had been wooden, broke away lumps too
hard to chew, too angular to swallow. He eyed, without seeming to watch,
the procedure of Mr. Conisby, who filled his tankard with water, put
vinegar into it, added pepper, and in this steeped his biscuit,
afterwards taking hearty draughts of the liquid with no alteration of
countenance. The Mate kept to fruit. There was little talk, but much
polite bowing and handing to and fro of condiments. After half an hour of
this Mr. Conisby rose to speak.

He said (stooping under the low beams of the cabin), that the honour of
entertaining the Padre Valgado, father and leader of an island renowned
in story, was almost more than simple men could contemplate without
abashment. He said that the sharing of their humble table was a
condescension not to be forgotten. He apologized for the weevils in the
biscuit, hoping that the Governor would by no means take their presence
on a Friday as an insult offered to his religion, pointing out that being
begotten at sea they might be allowed to take brevet rank as fish. He
hoped the Governor would recognize, even from this poor showing, how
great a reverence the ship's company in general and John Conisby in
particular felt for his person; and ventured to conclude with a toast
which, he was assured, was associated in England only with kings. Taking
up his pewter mug, not yet emptied of its nauseous brew, he declared
loudly, in his own tongue:

"May heaven forget the prayers, and the foul fiend remember the
iniquities of the very distasteful, cowardly, yellow-jowled, black-avised
whoremonger who sits now at this our table."

With that, giving a loud whoop such as he had heard from the Scots in
Flanders, Mr. Conisby feigned to drain his tankard, dashed it to the
ground, and sat down. The Mate could not emulate this self-possession,
but he had presence of mind to let out his tormented breath in a similar
whoop, and to put on a fit of coughing which the first sip from his
tankard excused. The small yellow man observed them both, made a graceful
acknowledging gesture with his ringed hand, and stood up in his turn to
say that he trusted such good will as they had shown might some day be
within his power to repay and--if business dared intrude upon
hospitality--might he be so happy as to know how much of the cargo the
senhor was prepared to negotiate? Conisby on this withdrew as an active
agent, brought none of his own whimsies into the matter, and interpreted
faithfully, without garbling, the bargain proposed. It was fair enough.
So many cattle, so much water; so many hundred yards of black ribbon, so
many pairs of shoes. The Mate, mistrustful of Dons, demanded security;
was inclined to ask that the cattle and water be first brought aboard
before the shoes and silk were parted with. The Don, with a brief blank
stare, contemptuously pulled the ring from his finger and told Conisby
that one must make allowance for persons who were unaccustomed (not their
fault, but owing to their way of life) to dealing with gentlemen. Conisby
did not translate this to the Mate. He looked a little dashed, and
offered back the ring, which the Governor waved away as a trifle. They
went on deck.

The three women during this time had drawn into the shadow of a drying
sail. Ann Sawyer sat a little aloof; yet it must have been she who had
brought out the spinning-wheel and distaff which Mary Askill was
explaining by example to the negress kneeling before her. Over Maria's
firm bosom an English kerchief was draped; its whiteness and crispness
looked astray among her coloured silks, the ivory brooch that held the
ends together seemed to turn yellow as it lay. She bent her fingers from
time to time to feel the thread as a child might. When, by Mary Askill's
eyes looking over her shoulder, she became aware that the Padre Valgado
was emerging upon desk, she rose and went to him, saying nothing,
standing with hanging hands before him. Ann Sawyer asked:

"Did ever you see anything more like a dog?"

It was in fact an unthinking motion of obedience and deference. They saw
the Governor speak and frown at the kerchief, and did not know that he
was asking the splendid creature how she dared set herself up so;
explaining that such a dress, covering charms, was the prerogative of
married white ladies, and not of slaves. The tall woman lowered her
head--she stood six inches higher than he--and received the lecture
silently. Not till he plucked roughly at the kerchief, tearing it, did
she speak; and then it was only a few words, spoken while she gently
withheld the yellow fingers from further mischief. The Governor
pronounced a short order, turning away. She made her obedient bow,
unfixed the brooch and returned to the two women, folding the kerchief as
she came. The tear by the pin she pointed to, shaking her head
regretfully.

"She is very sorry," said Mary Askill.

"She is whorish to the view," said Ann Sawyer, and stepped towards the
Governor, whom she harangued. The kerchief which she had snatched was in
her hand, and she used it as a banner behind which marched her eloquence.
The Padre Valgado, mystified, spoke to Conisby.

"He says that he has already rebuked her for wearing it. She will not so
offend again."

"She offends still--" and Ann Sawyer was off again, with texts, upon the
iniquity of women going about uncovered to the eyes of men. Conisby,
pleased with the misunderstanding, made no attempt to unravel it. He
stood laughing between the indignant woman and the bewildered man, not
answering the "What does she say? What will she have?" of the Don, until
the latter, with a shrug, asked if it would quiet the talkative lady to
see Maria beaten. Then he put the issue clearly. "The Governor thinks it
not respectful that a black woman should dress like a white. If you
persist she will be beaten. Does that satisfy you?"

Ann Sawyer paused, put her hand to her throat, and went away. She went
out of the sunshine altogether, down to the hot sleeping cabin, where she
lay with her face towards the wall. Terrible pictures tormented her;
worse questionings. She had gone stripped through the streets of Oxford,
glad when the constable's whip drew blood that, after its ugly fashion,
veiled her. But that was for the love of God. Here a woman was to be
beaten for an attempt to cover herself and be decent. She wrung the
pillow with her hand, asking how human creatures could be so perverse,
and marvelling at the ways of God. She assured herself that she was
chosen, having seen a true light; she set up her sufferings and their
righteous cause like a candle for contemplation. But she turned on her
blanket, and turned again, whenever her thoughts strayed to the beauty of
the bedizened negress, and the men's eyes.


(viii)


The days passed. A new suit of sails was to be made from canvas bought in
the little town; till this should be fitted (and a wind arise to honour
it) the _Nonsuch_ lingered, her sailors daily wandering off in the heat
to stray among ruins and the spare shade of palms; the more idle among
them accosting all the women they met, the more active learning to milk
goats. Their cargo, save the human one, was stowed. They had water in
plenty. Now that it had fulfilled their immediate wants, the island from
paradise had turned prison, and they made in it such trouble as
discontented prisoners make; they were noisy and picked quarrels. Though
few were English they boasted of the exploits of the Englishman Drake in
burning the place when it defied him, and upon the handsome ruins of
colonial palaces drew clumsy scriptures implying that the Portuguese of
St. Jago were deceived as husbands and inadequate as men.

Thus when a letter was brought aboard, tied with some of their own black
ribbon but sealed splendidly with yellow wax, the Mate eyed it without
appetite, and offered to lay a bet with Mr. Conisby on the news it
contained, which would be, he declared, a reproof, with an invitation to
the sailors of the _Nonsuch_ to behave themselves. "What does he expect
of men ashore?" enquired the Mate. "And who's to say their goings on
don't make things more lively for the natives?"

But the letter, beautifully written in the clear Iberian script with
symbols of a cross top and bottom, only demanded the privilege of company
to dine.

"I knew it," the Mate stated, "and I don't dine with him, not if he was
to serve his mustachios up on gold plate. He wants to poison us. These
Spaniards and the like are all poisoners, they carry it with them in
buttons and rings."

"We haven't got our slave cargo yet," Conisby reminded him, folding again
the paper which he had read.

"Nor we won't ever get it, if we dine with him. Give a Don a dinner of
ship's biscuit! Do you suppose he'll forget it? I'm not saying anything
against yourself, Mr. Conisby. You've been of good service to me. But I
must have been light-headed to let you play that trick with the water and
all. Where did it take us, what was your notion?"

"Childish matters," Conisby answered, admiring the seal on the ribbon. "I
have put them away now. Say what you will, I go."

"You'll go alone, then. I have this ship, these fools of men to think
for. Are the women bidden?"

"They won't go."

"Aha!"

"They won't go because the man's naughty and keeps a black lady by him.
Did ever you read an old poet called Shakespeare? He had a black love:

'Then will I swear beauty herself is black,
And all they foul that thy complexion lack.'

"There's no denying," the Mate agreed, "they have something that fetches
a man. Who's to answer this letter?"

"I will. And I'll visit him. Someone must speak this Don civil."

"Well," replied the Mate, after meditation, "it's your guts."

With which brief yet capacious phrase, in which was implied respect for
free will with contempt for the individual who thus suicidally exercised
it, the Mate went to wait upon his Master, daily growing more impatient
of fever.

Mr. Conisby sat down to write the acceptance, in black and white
deploring the activities or infirmities which retained on board the
_Nonsuch_ all save himself, and remaining at the revered feet of the
Governor his most loving servant. When it was done he went with the paper
in his hand to the place where the women were sitting.

"Speak me farewell," said he. "I go to dine with the Governor in his
citadel ashore. He will poison me, likely."

Mary Askill said:

"We heard of that prank you played him. He'll make you pay, I don't
doubt."

"And I don't doubt. I am too young, don't you think, to die?"

She said composedly:

"It may come to that. But you won't be said by me." He caught at this.

"I will, though, be said by you. Do you forbid me to go? If you forbid, I
stay." She looked, and shook her head, as though to say: John Conisby,
can you never take the straight road? He went on:

"I say, I will obey you. Your word is law. If you put that law into force
by so much as a motion of your head or of your finger, I will not dine
with the Padre Valgado and his familiar, the girl Maria."

She sat with her hands in her lap. Tormenting himself and her, he began
to trace out her thoughts in words:

"You think: John Conisby is trying to make me prove that I care whether
he lives or dies. He is trying to make me confess that I had rather he
did not go into danger. But such a confession is no part of my plan of
salvation for mankind. You don't answer me. I have hit the truth, have
I?"

Ann Sawyer looked at Mary Askill who sat quite still. Conisby challenged
her repose again.

"Well? Do I go? I have told you that I will obey you. I have told you
that I believe the Don means mischief. If you say nothing, and if I go,
and if I die, on whose head the blood?"

Mary Askill lifted her head and turned it to watch a little worry of wind
on the bay's waters; a ruffle that came from nowhere and troubled a
surface the size of a sail, as though some passing invisible creature had
sighed. The air was silent, except for a tink of hammers coming from the
shore. It was a day to be quiet in, but the young man standing under the
sun did not seem to be aware of that. He repeated his challenge. Mary
Askill then, with a deep breath slowly drawn, took it up.

"I see what you are at. Let me tell you, John Conisby, it is a coward's
dodge."

"Ha!" said he, and shut his mouth tightly for a second. "So much for
confidences."

"I haven't the words. I speak rough, but my thinkings are clear. It's
always your way to let others order your life; but not openly. They must
first he stirred and troubled by you, to provoke you to act; so as you
can say to yourself, They compelled me, there was no other thing I could
have done. Now because I would not put away my purpose to please you, you
say, I'll compel her. She shall take this much care for me, that at her
bidding I live or die. I've not asked for that burden, you put it on me,
and against my will as you well know. So I say you're a coward. Search
yourself, see clear what it is you do, and say if I've wronged you."

He answered with too late a laugh that she was oversubtle for him, and
that she took what was only a game too much in earnest. He played with
the paper he held, made a quick movement as though to crumple and toss it
over the side, watching her the while. She no longer regarded him,
beginning composedly to turn on her hand the stocking she was mending. He
said, in a voice as offensive as thumb to nose, that it could be seen she
had well studied her Bible.

"Christ spoke in parables. No questioner could get from him a plain yes
or no. You are his faithful follower."

He thanked her for her sermon, declared himself edified, promised a large
congregation for her in Barbados--"if they do not hang or burn you--" and
went away with an affectedly firm tread. The women heard him call the
Governor's boatman from where he stood among stitching sailors, and saw
the folded paper given into the man's hand.

Hours later, velvet suit shabby but linen clean, his wide hat carrying a
white scarf round it and the silver of his sword-hilt bright as a new
shilling, Conisby dropped into a casual dinghy and was rowed ashore. It
was late afternoon, and the town took on dignity with lengthening
shadows. Its square houses and small spires, built from the ruins of that
larger town which Drake had plundered, recovered in shadow their height
and former splendour; thus at sunset and sunrise the ghost of old St.
Jago stood by the living body of the new.

The Padre Valgado's house stood high on a steep precipice of rock to
which led a road cut by Spaniards who in earlier days had owned the
island; narrow, and with no sort of verge or rail. Persons climbing or
descending by this road had, from the deck of the _Nonsuch_, the look of
flies on a wall. It was the custom of the sailors to speak of the place
as Hell's Height. Most of the traffic that used it passed in the morning,
when the rock's shade was a shield against sun. To-night there appeared
upon it an unusual going and coming, and--when the sun had dropped with
the rush proper to those latitudes--clusters of lights appeared, which
assembled and drove apart, or stood steadily like so many fireflies;
betraying, whether they stood or shifted, some matter of importance in
train. The Mate, surveying all this through his glass, said to the
boatswain at his side:

"They will cook and eat him. They have a great liking for fire, the
Portugals. I saw them burn some heretics once; it smelled like
Bartholomew Fair in the old days when they used to roast pigs in the
open."

The lights ceased their peregrinations. They gathered, fixed as planets,
at regular intervals along the road. But one great bunch of torches,
starting at the bottom of the bridge out of the town, began slowly to
climb upwards. It was pretty to see how, as this moving constellation met
the first of the fixed groups, it absorbed them, itself becoming larger;
as it moved, the road behind darkened and the advancing glow increased,
until arriving before the castle all the lights were gathered into one
mighty fire. As gates opened and walls hid them, the torches cast only a
kind of upward glow which lit the walls for a while, then dropped,
suddenly as the sun.

The watchers on the ship saw then, coming from above the wall, a strong
forward flash of flame; half a second later the sound of cannon reached
them. This was repeated six times.

"That's a signal," was the Mate's opinion. "Who to, and what for?" They
waited, straining through the thick twilight to see and hear. There was
no answering signal; the castle was quiet, and by degrees, as the torches
flickered out, it faded away into the uneven darkness of the hill. The
Mate took off his hat, held it above his head and replaced it carefully,
as a man may do when a funeral passes.

The night for once was overcast. It might rain before morning, the Mate
considered, looking up and round him with a seaman's customary swing of
the head before going below. He wondered whether to order the hatch to be
covered, the hold destined for his black cargo being open to the sky so
that air might get at it, and it might at least start the voyage sweet.
(The slaves were due early next morning if the Padre Valgado chose to be
honest.) There was a heavy smell of rain in the air. He gave the order
and went below.

Mary Askill, standing in the doorway of the cabin the women shared,
caught him as he went by her to ask news. He understood her to mean news
from the castle, and told her there was none; all the lights were out,
the cannoneers had gone to bed; he should not wonder if their first
salvo, or salute, were fired to conceal other noise. He spoke with
subdued gusto; John Conisby was not at all his kind of man. Mary Askill
nodded. The Mate said jocularly:

"If you and me were papishers, we'd be praying now for his soul."

"Well," said she; no more; and went in behind the curtain.

The men at the hatch had rigged lanterns to work by, a couple slung to
stays, one standing on deck. The night was so still that the candles
would have burned steadily even without their protection of horn. Only a
faint chuckling at the bows and round the anchor cable showed that there
was life in what seemed dead water, the tide was running out. The sailors
went slowly about their work, any least movement brought sweat. There was
little talk, no rhythmic procedure employed such as might call forth a
song. One or two looked towards the shore, in the direction of the
invisible castle on the hill. The only sentences exchanged had to do with
what might have happened to the Governor's guest, and the point of view
taken was that whatever this might have been, it now was over. Thus the
putting on of the hatch's white cap of canvas assumed a solemn and
symbolic purport, like the donning of the black cap by a judge.

Into this silence came singing from the shore. It marched out of the
dark, mournful but not weak, forty voices carrying the tune. It was not a
hymn, though it had something of that quality, nor wholly a lament, since
some of the soaring phrases carried hope. So the Israelites might have
sung before they hung up their harps on the willows, because those people
that bore them away captive required of them a song, saying, Sing us one
of the songs of Zion. The boatswain recognized it, peering over the water
as though eyes could help ears, and said with a beck of his head:

"Cargo sing."

Men halted work to listen. The harbour carried the sound high, as though
this psalm were a boat held by water and borne towards them by tide; so
perfectly did the quiet bay conduct it that the chant seemed to be all
about them, and their stays and rigging the strings of an instrument. The
song was altogether foreign, it had none of the rhythms to which their
ears had from childhood been accustomed; yet each sailor--Portuguese,
Dutch, English, and the men from Stavanger--suddenly was aware of his
childhood and home. They stood listening, hands hanging, thoughts
travelling. A woman's loud voice behind them came on the air like a blow.

Mary Askill, Ann Sawyer at her side, stood by the lantern set on the
deck. The light striking upwards at her face seemed to cut away all
flesh, leaving only the strong bones standing; square chin, square
hollows that held the eyes, square of brow above. Her eyes were fixed.
When she spoke her voice wavered; it was not the everyday voice they
knew, it drifted like a candle in wind against the steady voices from the
shore. She said:

"I am to speak of the blessing of grace. It is God's gift, it cannot be
deserved, but once it is bestowed, man hath assurance. I have God's
assurance that I am loved. To question it, or the witness of the spirit,
though I fall into murder or adultery, proves only that I never had it. I
will not question. I will not despair. You that hear me, do you not
despair. God loves a man never the better for any holiness in him, and
never the less, be he never so unholy. This we may take to our comfort.
All graces are in God, in us are none. We strive with the wind if we
strive to increase grace in ourselves. We steal from God's purse. He
alone gives, but never takes away, never, never! Though we do ill, though
we covet and yield in the works of the body, sin in a child of God must
not trouble him, for he has assurance. He has assurance. Do not pray,
except the spirit, which is God, moves you; for then it is God speaking
through you, which alone is prayer. Oh, the grace of the assurance of
God! When a man or a woman hath once this witness, he never doubts more,
he is eternally safe. Works are vanity, continence vanity, there is no
thing acceptable in heaven or earth but only this, the witness of the
spirit and the assurance of God."

She was quiet for a moment. Ann Sawyer seemed rapt. The sailors, of whom
many could not understand her language, looked at each other, and the
boatswain took her arm rather timorously to lead her away. The men,
embarrassed both by the change in her and by their own inability to
comprehend, began to laugh uneasily, and to make a bustle with their
work. The boatswain could feel a tremor in the arm he held; it was rigid,
and he could not turn the woman. Ann Sawyer pulled at him, nodding
vigorously and angrily her injunction not to interfere. The other had
more to say and said it, looking past him:

"The spirit gives such clear evidence of my estate that I've no need to
be tried by works. This I'm sure, he that elected me must save me. If God
will let me sin, let him look to it, upon his honour be it. I may know I
am God's, not because I do right, but because being his what I do is his
doing. The devil and nature may be cause of a gracious work. A gracious
soul is God's. There's no peace by striving, only by election. Which gift
once made is never taken away, never, never! Though we eat of the husks,
and drink of the wine the woman holds in her cup, there upon the seven
hills."

The words were too wild for the boatswain and, spoken as they were with
an intensifying of her countrified speech, not comprehensible. Ann
Sawyer's moaning:

"Oh, hear ye! Hear ye!" went past his ears unheeded. He was a practical
man, and now; failing to turn Mary Askill's body or stop her tongue, he
sought to distract her mind from the path on which it blindly journeyed.
He looked over to the town, where for a time the singing had died; his
quick exclamation pulled the men's heads round.

"Light!" said the boatswain.

As he said it, and the men turned their eyes shorewards, the castle on
the hill swam out of the dark, its roof and turrets sharp to their sight.
A flash from the wall, like a burning arrow shot forward, came as before
six times to herald the thump and rolling echoes of cannon. Lights were
suddenly revealed in a great coruscation, a single group, and this group
began to move down the hill; slowly it seemed, because the distance was
great and the scale small, but by calculation at a good four-mile-an-hour
pace. The men peered, offered guesses, began to talk with animation; one
or two ran up the shrouds with some notion of getting a better view, but
the castle lying higher than the ship their only benefit came by clearing
the heads of their fellows. Ann Sawyer, perceiving the frenzy of her
companion to be over, gently took her hand and chafed it. She herself had
not been moved to utter. The boatswain left them standing by the lantern,
and went to call the Mate.

That officer, roused from sleep and impatient with all the happenings of
the day, which embarrassed him by departing from good sea-custom, drew no
hope from the moving lights, perhaps because he wished to draw none. He
was of opinion that the townsmen were now returning to their
houses--"about time, seeing it's after midnight"--and that the junketings
at the castle, whatever they might have been, were over. The moving
lights had, he thought, no cheerful significance. But he agreed that so
far as the cargo was concerned it was a good omen to hear singing from
the wharf; it showed that the blacks were gathered ready, and would be
shipped, according to promise, by daylight next morning. He recommended
that the men should get to sleep, and not waste time--"owner's time,
master's time"--by standing about and troubling themselves at something
that was out of their hands by now. He said to Mary Askill standing rigid
by the lantern, no longer trembling:

"Set them an example, you that knows good sense when you hears it." The
boatswain touched his sleeve and said something which appeared to
astonish him. He went forward, picked up the lantern and holding it
directly in front of her eyes, said:

"Mrs. Askill."

She moved, then. It was as if the lantern's light had held her rigid, and
when it was shifted the charm ceased to bind. She put her fingers up to
her head uncertainly; vigorously rubbed her nose, as though glad to find
an errand for them to do; and said in her normal voice:

"What, have I testified?"

The Mate told her he could not say for that, but would she look at the
hill? And say what she thought of it.

She obeyed him, putting away the lantern which he still held high, and
rounding hands over eyes to bring her sight into tune with the darkness
over the town. The group of torches had progressed a little way. There
was no distinguishing of figures; but the torches seemed sometimes to
toss joyfully, and they kept in a clump as though surrounding, honouring,
some central figure.

"It's the same lights as went up, or looks so."

"Ah! But what's bringing down?"

"There's no guessing," said she, hands still about her eyes. "She may
save him."

The Mate, astonished, lifted his lantern to see her face the better.

"That black woman?"

Mary Askill did not trouble to answer; it could be no other than she. Ann
Sawyer said:

"More like they're both gone down into the pit together."

Nobody heeded her enough to contradict. They stood to watch the progress
of lights, each watcher with a different hope.

The ship's bell struck one, the half-hour after midnight. It struck two;
and still the men stood about the deck, not talking, only using their
eyes, clenching their sight to hold it steady, until the clump of lights
entered the town, and there for a while, save for the radiance cast like
a nimbus over low roofs, was lost. Minutes went by. Even Ann Sawyer did
not suggest that the vigil should end in retreat to their cabin. Of the
two women she was the more restless. The words of Mary Askill's testimony
had had time to work in her mind and disquiet her. She heard in them a
confirming of her own thoughts. Petition was disallowed by her creed, yet
she found herself praying that her wish might be fulfilled, and that the
young man might indeed be gone down alive or dead into the pit. Mary
Askill sat quietly. If she recollected the words of her testimony they
did not trouble her.

The lights, heralded by an increasing glow, now burst upon their sight
accompanied with noise. It was not an angry clamour, but the cheerful
yelling of persons whose stomachs are full and who are on the right side
of the law. The negroes pent in their sheds by the wharf, who had begun
to settle down, now lifted their voices again; against the steady beat of
their song yells flickered aimlessly; all this din fled along the water
to the _Nonsuch_, and found its answer in the hills around the bay.

Arriving at the harbour's edge, the lights scattered awhile in what
appeared to be aimless confusion. Then it could be seen that the barrier
of the beach was not to check them; they were on the water, flaring above
the dozens of boats that were pulling out and advancing upon the silent
_Nonsuch_. At this the Mate, incredulously gazing, turned with a sharp
order. Soon the deck was confused, alive with running men and lively with
the bosun's pipe, the signal which called all hands to such arms as the
ship possessed; marlin-spikes, an old cutlass or two, and a single pistol
whose powder was not perhaps to be relied upon. The speculations of the
sailors all centred upon one fact, that no friendly visit took place in
civilized harbours at one in the morning, together with a certain wonder
as to why the assault should not have been more secretly made. Some said:
Those who have been aboard us know we have no cannon. Others thought that
these Portugals, being a mixed kind of people with plenty of black blood
in them, liked to keep up their courage by light and song, could not
fight without, and would be easy to beat off, the ship's sides being high
now that she was part unloaded. Ladders were pulled up. The cook lit his
galley fire and set to work to boil water which he proposed, if the
engagement lasted long enough, to ladle over the invaders' heads. The
boats advanced.

First came one with six oars and as many torches. This, strongly rowed,
shot out from the rest and seemed to make straight for the _Nonsuch_,
taking no precautions at all. A ruse, the Mate opined. "We are meant to
keep our eyes on this fellow and the other boats that are lit; but I
shall be surprised if there are not twice the number that carry no lights
coming about to net us." He levelled his pistol at the impulsive boat,
calculating its distance; a hundred yards, fifty; even fifty was too long
a carry, and still he waited. At last, just as he cocked the hammer, a
figure rose from the boat's stern and waved a hat; not a Don's, but a hat
less severe, the kind of hat in which, that afternoon, John Conisby had
set out to dine with the Padre Valgado. The Mate lifted his head and
looked earnestly. At that moment came a loud unmistakable hail, and
torches held low allowed the face and figure of the standing man to be
seen. It was Conisby. By his side, her shoulder offering support to his
hand, the negress Maria regally sat.

The Mate, for all he had not been troubled by the thought of Conisby's
death, now at the sight of him living was seized with a strong sensation
of triumph. It seemed that an Englishman had gone alone into that high
sinister castle and prevailed there, bearing away the rich trophy of the
Governor's mistress. Pride came rushing up in the Mate's mind; he turned,
waving his pistol by its barrel and calling for cheers. They came, full
measure. The lighted boats re-echoed the sound, with screeching voices
such as hot latitudes nurture; torches whirled, leaving a dust of sparks
in the air; and amid the din of voices, oars, splashing water, John
Conisby swung up the rope ladder to the _Nonsuch_'s deck, the black woman
following after.


(ix)


He told his story while boats circled the ship, enlivening the night with
laughter.

"I went because I would not have it said that in a town Drake sacked an
Englishman was afraid to take a Portugal's challenge. And then, too, I
had done my best to insult him; you have a duty to the man you have
insulted. When I saw the servants waiting with torches, and the lights
all up the road, I was put in mind of an _auto-da-fÚ_. They will set
alight to me at the end of all this, I thought. But at the castle there
were flags out, and green boughs. Confound, utterly and for ever, that
man without bowels, the Padre Valgado!"

His audience, not following this, showed eagerness to have the rest of
the story.

"You shall hear. There was I at the gates. More lights, flags, boughs. A
fellow in a silver chain met me to do the honours. I marched in; the
gates closed." The chorus informed him that this manoeuvre had been seen
and wondered at by all on board the _Nonsuch_. "Nor more than I wondered
myself. The trap was sprung. I could do no more than put on my best face.
I went in to the house. Oh, condemn, eternally spurn and burn him!"

The audience displayed bewilderment.

"Well, but wait. There was a table with all his silver and gold plate set
out; and food steaming; and wine cold. He welcomed me. We sat down. I
kept an eye open, ate what he ate, drank what he drank. It was a good
dinner as ever I ate, and the wine--none better. He saw my caution, and
yielded to it; giving me food from his own plate in the end, and the half
of a peach he had peeled. He was at his ease, a gentleman; and there was
I like a booby, watching every mouthful and spying in every gulp of wine
for poison. Ha!"

He gave a short laugh of anger.

"At the end lie rose for a toast. It was: To better understanding between
nations. I drank it. And when the wine was down he read me a lecture. He
said--" Mr. Conisby choked as at recollection of a bitter morsel--"he
said that understanding came by example; men should show good will by
such means as they had. And, said he, here is the reason I welcome you
with my poor best, because I would have you suppose that a great people
has pleasure in welcoming guests, and takes to itself honour in honouring
them. (Not a word of that vinegar and water.) Ah, the devil, he stood
there bowing and watched me endure it! At last I could not be silent. I
said, thinking to anger him, that this was perhaps the convenient way a
Portugal received insults. He nodded Yes to that. We suppose ourselves
injured, says he, only when circumstances are equal. You are my guest in
this island; in this house, one man against a hundred. I am bound for the
first reason to love you, for the second to protect you. And so, a little
more wine, senhor? says he. Nor would he let me give him back his ring."

This explanation, copious though it was, did not cover one circumstance,
the presence of Maria. Eyes were upon her, and the Mate worded their mute
question.

"There," Conisby answered, "you have the last cowardly stroke of this
infernal Governor. When we had eaten and drunk, and I had taken my lesson
in manners; when we had listened to a fellow play on a ten-stringed lute
some dance that was the mode in King David's day, I made shift to go. He
did not hinder me, beyond their politenesses--the night young, so short a
visit, and the rest. But as I looked for my hat he clapped his hands and
in came"--he swept a hand towards the negress--"madam here in her best
clothes. And the little yellow devil, he says it is the Portugals'
practice to give gifts to strangers; the more honoured the stranger the
dearer the gift; and he begs my acceptance of madam, with her ivory
harness and silk petticoat complete."

There was nothing said. It was clear that this part of the story went
almost beyond general belief, yet Conisby's indignation seemed to witness
the truth of it. He snapped his fingers once or twice involuntarily,
furiously remembering the Governor's magnanimity, the poor figure he
himself had cut with his suspicious glances, the sheepish exit loaded
with benefits. He broke out, shaking his fist at the hill:

"Cheat me, would you?"

An exclamation which only Mary Askill understood of all that heard it,
and which being interpreted meant that John Conisby had been diddled out
of a chance to play the fine fellow, and could not pretend, even to
himself, that he had come off best.

The torches in the boats were dying, the noise was half what it had been,
oars dipped towards shore. An hour or two of night still was left which
townsmen and sailors alike had a mind to spend in sleep before the heat
of day came again, heat which, promoting desire for sleep, took away
performance. The deck cleared itself, until only Conisby, Mary Askill,
and the woman Maria stood together. Mary Askill said:

"The boats all are gone. She'd best have my bed for the night--"

"Why not mine?"

"Why should you suppose so?" And he took up his old tactic once again.
"Do you bid me send her ashore?"

"No need," Mary Askill answered composedly. "You know well what is right
to be done."

"I know nothing. I am your creature. What you bid I will do."

The black woman, to whom these words brought no meaning but who could
hear some stringency in Conisby's voice, turned her eyes from one to the
other, questioning both shadowed faces. The man's was held forward,
demanding; the woman's inscrutable.

"Again?" said Mary Askill. "Why do you torment me?"

He left that question alone and pursued his intent.

"You have your chance. Maria has been kind to you, she is a good animal,
she has her friends and her life here in St. Jago. All this she may keep,
if you say but the word. What holds you back?" Trying to force entry into
her mind, lie repeated:

"What holds you? I do not say you should do it for love of me, or care
for my immortal soul. But here is a sister woman. You have command over
her fate if you will but take up that command. Are you not your sister's
keeper?"

She perceived his object clearly. It was directed at the doctrine she
held and practised, that a man is not to be saved at another's bidding,
or by another's intercession, but must make his own compact with his soul
and with God. He had attempted before to put upon her the burden of a
decision in which life and death were, for all he knew, involved. This
attempt was more subtle; here an innocent third person was the stake,
whom a word might save from unknown degradations and misery all too
easily foreseen. Mary Askill spoke angrily, her thoughts stumbling along
in brief sentences.

"You'll be saved, or you'll be damned. But not by me or any other created
thing. Salvation isn't tossed from one to another like tennis balls. I
see what you are at. I say what I said before, it's a base silly
schoolboy's trick. I leave the upshot to God. He moves wonderfully, uses
all men. Who's to say you are not now, with all your folly, part of his
purpose? And this bargain of yours a trap to catch souls. Let be. Do as
you're a mind to."

Conisby beckoned to the negress, holding out his hand and speaking her
name; she moved to him obediently. He said, taking her narrow fingers in
his, stroking them, looking all the time at the other woman:

"You must learn to argue with your actions; they do not follow your
tongue. You set out to a far island, you have already come within an ace
of death, all to bring such women as this to your God. Here is a slave; a
word from you will free her. A man's bedfellow out of marriage; but not
if you forbid. One word delivers her from bondage, and me from the sin of
this especial flesh. You will not find men so easy everywhere you go.
Well?"

He waited; repeated "Well?" and for a second or two the movement of his
hand ceased, stroking the negress's fingers. He put the question not
mockingly, all challenge gone from his voice, and it was almost with
tenderness that he went on:

"I do not willingly torment you, as you call it. In this matter I am not
serving any malice. I am trying to offer a kind of gift, if you will only
accept of it; this poor creature's gratitude and--for what it is
worth--my continence. There is a third gift better still, but it is hard
to receive. When I seem to question and provoke you, I try to lead you
towards that knowledge which alone is peace. Know thyself, Mary. And so
judge Maria."

The sound of that name softly pronounced, the pleading in the man's
voice, a tone not to be mistaken, made the negress aware that a petition
was on foot. She had means to guess that it concerned her, for the name
was that of the Queen of Heaven, which in St. Jago adorned the most
inappropriate petitions--for the love of Mary peel this onion, for the
love of Mary beat that child. She knew only that the man to whom she
belonged was denied something, and conceived it her duty, so simple were
the workings of her mind, to supplement his plea as best she could. She
therefore stooped, kneeled as she had been taught to do in church, and
gently laid her cheek to the foot of the obdurate woman as she might have
saluted a virgin statue's blessed toe.

Mary Askill made a little stifled sound, the sob of one who has
controlled herself too long, and snatched at the negress to bring her
upright. She put an arm about Maria's waist, gently urging her towards
the ladder which led below. Conisby looked after them in two minds
whether to triumph or lament; he had the sense, however, to say nothing,
and let his victory, if such it should turn out, pass silently into the
region of accomplished fact. He had bought spiritual ascendency at the
cost of physical abnegation, a bargain by no means unusual but to him
surprising. He could not yet see how it might be turned to any account.

He lay down on the deck, hands under head, looking upwards at unfamiliar
stars. They blinked at him. He slept.


(x)


At six of a light and pearly morning the slave negroes came aboard. They
had not the depressed uneasy mien, nor the death's-head jauntiness of
white men going to the galleys. They were grave; silently and with a
self-command which reproached their noisy Portuguese overseers they
climbed the ship's side, wondered a second or two, looking about her
deck, then dropped below into the hold. Some thirty men and women they
were, a few children, a couple of babies at the breast; they had a family
look, as though the raiders who seized them from the banks of stinking
undefended African rivers had made a clean sweep of one tribe. They had
not Maria's height nor her appearance of health, but it could be seen
that they were of the same race and that race not ignoble.

They came aboard. The hatch, that had been open while nobody breathed the
air it admitted, was covered again. It was only then that a spasm of song
broke from the captive people, a noise so ordered and powerful that it
trembled through the very timbers of the ship. The sailors attempted to
cover it with yells and snatches of their own ditties; these sounded thin
and trivial, and were blown away east and west by every shifting gust.
Mary Askill, hearing the two songs, had a kind of wordless vision in
which she saw men weakened by freedom opposed to men by bondage made
strong.

The _Nonsuch_ wore her new sails; such flags as she still owned capered
in a light breeze. Among the Padre Valgado's gifts was a tiny light
cannon, relic of the days of Drake, and from this a salute went out,
bidding farewell to the town. The six cannon on the hill responded,
echoes magnified and prolonged the puny sounds until they rumbled away
like authentic thunder. Captain Bryant, recovered enough to take upon him
a semblance of authority, gave the order to up anchor. His sailors,
chanting, marched about the capstan and raised the anchor, no longer a
dirty cross-bow of iron, but rich from the bay's floor; weed dropped from
its flukes rusted red as ochre, to which shells still clung. It lifted,
dripping wonders, until the cat-tackle could secure it; then the
instrument which for weeks had withheld the _Nonsuch_ from those
destructions which lie in the paths of ships in harbour, collision, the
teeth of rocks, was dispossessed and forgotten.

The ship crept cautiously out of the bay, for all her banging of cannon
hesitant as a prisoner released, until the breeze no longer blanketed by
St. Jago's hill came at her full, sails went up to catch it, she lowered
her head to take the buffets her own speed was creating, and drove west.


(xi)


"How long from here, Mr. Bryant?"

"For distance, six hundred leagues. For time--this is August, tornado
weather, when the winds chop about into the south; say twenty days. With
the sky as it will be, there'll be no taking any observations; so towards
the end of the voyage we hang back, fear of overshooting Barbados, and
falling upon some other coast in the night. Say twenty days if we don't
get stopped by Prince Rupert. He's hereabouts; so the Mate says."

"Twenty days."

Conisby laid a finger upon the compass card, and wetting it held it up to
be cooled by the wind, which sure enough blew from the south. The
_Nonsuch_ leaned with her masts at a slant, swayed, and seemed to be at
her ease upon the waters; no trace was left of the crippled thing that
had floundered in the sea's troughs with canvas ribbons thrashing her
yards and a wake crooked as a ram's horn. She sprang forward, she gained
upon space, she was a thing of hope. The Master addressed Conisby:

"I have a word to say to you. It's regarding this black woman you
shipped."

Conisby looked at him sharply. The Master went on:

"She'll eat and drink, I suppose. I am not here to give away food. So as
she's your property, I'll ask you to pay over the passage-money. That is,
if you want the convenience of her aft."

"Convenience!" Conisby repeated. "Well, I am not a higgler, I'll pay you
at Barbados."

"That won't do," the Master said bluntly.

"I am not in a mind to be patient with you, Mr. Bryant. We did very well
without you when you were sick; we should do none the worse without you
now that you are better."

"Words break no bones," the Master answered. "Pay, or she goes in the
hold with the rest." And with a sneer he went on:

"But you'd best save your money. You get no good of her in there with the
holy Jennies."

"No," said Conisby, eyeing him. "For a man who dislikes to share out his
property, she's best where she is. I am not such a saving man as you, Mr.
Bryant."

He quitted the quarter-deck and came down to where the women sat together
on coils of rope in the lee of the mainmast. Mary Askill was learning to
read. She had by way of horn book a few pages of an ancient Bible, whose
print was planted close as a coppice, with signs to show a word
shortened, and tall capitals mysteriously wrought, like lords of letters,
so as not to resemble at all the humble forms from which they had
ascended. She read word by word, aloud, hesitating, while Ann Sawyer
hemmed linen and the negress sat idle, looking seawards.

"Go and shewe Johan what ye have harde and sene. The blynde se, the hake
go, the lepers are clensed, the deaf heare, the deade aryse agayne--" She
broke off, hearing Conisby's tread, and looked up. "This is Bible, but
not how I've heard it read; more the way country folk speak,
old-fangled."

"The way you speak," said he, cocking an eye at her. "It is pretty, it
would sound well in a love-song." She neither changed colour nor
expression. He took the old printed sheets from her gently, and laid his
hand where hers had been, on the same page. "Well, then, spurn me if you
must. What does Maria say to it?"

He translated the verse, stumblingly, into Portuguese. Maria's response
was astonishing. She got up, gazed wildly at him and the two women and
began to tremble. She crossed herself again and again, a gesture which
brought Ann Sawyer to her feet, slashing with the flat of her hand to cut
and stop the negress's gesture.

"Papistry under my eyes," she shouted.

"Leave her be," Mary Askill advised, astonished, but perceiving a roll of
genuine fear in the black woman's look.

"She's got a devil," Ann Sawyer persisted. "Look how she go, with only
one verse said over her, and in a heathen language too."

As suddenly as the storm had lifted it was over. Ann Sawyer, rising, had
spilled from her lap a spool of thread and the small pair of scissors
with which she trimmed her linen; these fell with their blades apart
cross-shaped, and so lay. Maria's eyes lost their rage the moment they
dwelt upon the scissors. She put on her dignity like a cloak that has
been dropped for running, smiled humbly, and stood at Conisby's orders,
ready to stay or go. He pointed; she took her seat again upon the rope.
He observed that she contrived to scuffle the scissors under her skirt.

Thus the three women once more were seated. Into Conisby's mind, limned
there perhaps by their attitudes, the scissors, and the thread which Mary
Askill was rolling back upon its spool, came a vision of the Fates, and
of himself as the being whose life they took in their hands. Aware of his
attention but not of its cause Ann Sawyer asked, with a motion of her
needle, for more thread. Mary Askill unrolled a length from the spool; it
was too long, Ann said; no more than a few inches would be needed. This
measured out, they looked for the scissors. Maria, seeing that her
treasure must be discovered, displayed it, and keeping the blades as wide
as she could, snipped the thread. Conisby had a brief moment of
discomfort. How short the length of his days if this thin cord might
stand for them! An echo assailed him, the Master's voice reckoning the
days of their journey; say twenty; say twenty.

He said it, therefore, aloud and suddenly, as a charm to break his own
uneasiness.

"Twenty days! In twenty days we shall come into Carlisle Bay. And Mrs.
Askill will go preaching. I shall labour in another vineyard. And
Maria"--she looked up; he soothed her with a hand--"shall be sold for a
queen."

"What of me?" Ann Sawyer asked in a low voice. Mary Askill overbore that
with another question. "Queens are not sold. What's to become of this
poor thing?"

He answered quietly as the drumming thoughts beat more softly in his
mind:

"I give her to you."

She smiled at that as at a piece of nonsense, and made enquiries for the
slaves in the fore-hatch.

"It hasn't been opened these two days. I heard them sing last night,
couldn't sleep for it."

"I dare say Mr. Bryant would let you preach to them without charge. Shall
I ask him?"

"We do not preach," Ann Sawyer interposed, malignantly accenting the
word. "We testify."

"You preach by example," said he, too politely, "as in that passage of
Scripture Mrs. Askill read, which struck such alarm to the bosom of your
dark neighbour. The halt see, the blind go--or however it runs."

"Nor are we saved by works," said Ann Sawyer.

"No?" said Conisby. "Yet if you were in fact like the lilies of the
field, if you could not spin, we should all have foundered, and be coral
bones by now."

"Don't, Ann," said Mary Askill. "We can't match them in talk." She put a
hand on the fat woman's knee to restrain her, and went back to the
slaves. "Mr. Bryant has paid out money for them, as he paid for the flour
we took aboard. He would never let the flour spoil, why does he not look
to the people?"

"You are wise," said Conisby. "You have got round me. It was my intention
to make you take these people upon you as lost souls. But if you come at
them as spoiled merchandise, my cake's dough. You have not said if
you accept the gift I made you a while back."

"Maria?"

The black woman smiled, secure in the protection of the crossed scissors.
Hearing her name and seeing the glance that went with it she said
something in Portuguese, which Conisby translated.

"She says, shall she tell you a story?"

They all looked at the negress in surprise. She, pleased to be able at
last to talk, with all the na´ve enjoyment of a child in being listened
to, began at once, taking consent for granted. Conisby sometimes had to
check her to make sure of the meaning, sometimes enjoyed a private laugh
before he could communicate it; the story flowed in paragraphs, broken
now and then with scraps of song, which he did not imitate; they needed
no interpretation, being the sounds of animals and birds in terms of the
human voice.

"A girl that was a witch lived in a house by a tree. And she had three
that loved her. One was a frog, and one was a pea-fowl and one was a
snake. And they all did her services, to gain her love. The frog sang her
to sleep with a tune. (Sing again, Maria.) Listen, this is the frog."

Maria, chuckling, sang again a little phrase which made them laugh:

"'Jinkororo, Jin-kok-kok-kok--'

"That was the frog. And the pea-fowl waked her in the morning with his
screech, that went as you heard. (Again, Maria.)"

And she repeated the pea-fowl's cry:

"Chirryway, chirryway, chirryway dem de, chirryway."

"Snake, he did nothing. The girl was weary of him and of them all. So she
said she would marry the man that could get the best of Death. Well! So
when they heard that, Frog said again:

'Jinkororo, Jin-kok-kok-kok.'

and he went away, sad. And Pea-fowl too, he said again:

'Chirryway, chirryway, chirryway dem de, chirryway,'

and he went away sad. But Snake he said nothing, and he went along
another road whistling. And he went to Death's house. And Death said,
when he knocked on the door:

'Turn tulla-lulla-lum tum!'

"So Snake went in, and told Death why he had come. Death said: 'We will
make believe to fight.' Snake said: 'She will not be taken in, she is a
wise girl.' Death said: 'I will give you a bone of mine for her to look
at.' And he gave Snake his bone.

"So Snake went back along the road not whistling, because he was holding
the bone in his mouth for safety. Soon he came to the girl's door. 'What
do you want, Snake?' But he could not speak, he was holding the bone.
Then the girl got angry and pulled at the bone so that he might speak.
But she fell down dead. And the bone sang:

'Turn tulla-lulla-lum tum!'

"So from that time Snake always carries the bone of Death in his mouth."

Maria listened attentively to the uncouth sounds, which conveyed her
story to English ears as a stumbling mule might carry a pannier of
oranges to market, and laughed when Conisby ended. To her this was an
amusing legend, whose point lay in the shrewdness of the jester Death,
neatly adding to his score of victims under pretence of helping a love
affair. She laughed, therefore; but seeing that her audience did not find
the conclusion funny, though smiles had encouraged her throughout the
rest of the recital, she quickly drew her lips together.

Rain began hopping on the deck, rich drops of a weight to beat the sea
flat and soak any dress in two minutes. There was a scramble to get below
into shelter, and comment upon the negress's story was forgotten.

This rain continuing all evening imposed a new problem upon the
passengers. During the three days that had passed since they set out from
St. Jago meals had been eaten alfresco on the deck, Maria being present
and taking her share, skilfully showing the others how best to deal with
those unfamiliar fruits which were the chief of their diet. Now that rain
obliged a meal in the cabin, hot from the beating of a day's sun and
smoky from untended lamps, where was Maria to go? She herself, having
kept house for the Padre Valgado and deriving from a race which ate
unceremoniously, had no doubts as to what she should do. Mary Askill did
not think about it, Ann Sawyer's objections to eating in the black
woman's company had been mitigated by the decent distribution of a
kerchief over her form. Only Conisby was uneasy. It had hung about him
all day, heavy in the air, a sense that the ship was closing in upon them
all; that those passions from which they had been delivered first by the
need to strive for life, then by passivity following that need fulfilled,
were about to demand satisfaction. He beheld his own conduct as
mischievous, childish, could not see what end it had served. He was
dissatisfied with himself. He sought to fend off trouble at least for one
night, and put it to Maria that she should eat privately for once; but
when unquestioning she accepted this whim as an order and he saw her go
along the alley away from the cabin he called her back. She adapted
herself to the second command as readily as to the first, and followed
him to table.

Captain Bryant was not present, nor the Mate, to carve the leg of a young
wild calf, and the task fell to Conisby. Maria at his nod mixed a salad
after the Portuguese manner, with red wine instead of vinegar and pepper
ground upon it out of a little mill. It was pleasant to taste fresh food
and they ate not greedily, on account of the heat, but taking small
quantities with appetite. They had come to the fruit when Captain Bryant
appeared. He would take nothing, he had supped on the quarter-deck, he
had a communication to deliver which in a sentence was made public.

"Mr. Conisby, you remember what I spoke to you. I see you have the woman
here at table, and so you will let me have the money by to-night."

Conisby finished the salad on his plate, filled his wine-cup and lifted
it. He drank leisurely before he answered.

"A little gold sauce, aurum potabile, with your supper, Mr. Bryant. And a
bill of lading for your bill of fare. These would suit you very well, I
believe."

"I hold you to it," said the other, not shifting his expression, dogged
and impenetrable.

"Ah," Conisby said easily, "I will pay you, I will pay you--in your own
coin, but at my own time."

The Master looked at him. Mary Askill spoke, not interrupting the
encounter of the men's eyes. They disregarded her voice; it was not
permitted to intrude upon the secret space in which dislike and contempt
trod out their quarrel.

"Come into the open," Conisby said, still sitting at ease while the
Master stooped. "You contracted to carry me to Barbados. You do so only
by the mercy of God and the wit of a woman, that saved your ship and your
pence along with it. Your owner will never know, Mr. Bryant, that an
extra passenger has been carried, since the money for Maria's passage
will never quit your pocket. I am not in the humour to give gold to a
fellow whose niggardliness came near to buy me a grave. We'll go on as
before, by your leave--or without your leave." And as though with that
the matter were ended, dismissed, he said to Mary Askill, smiling:

"You see how wise you were not to accept Maria as my gift; Mr. Bryant
might then have come bawling in your ear for her passage-money."

Mary Askill did not answer his words or his smile. She asked the Master
civilly what he proposed to do with the negress; and got the answer that
henceforth Maria must, with the rest of her colour, take her chance in
the hold. She accepted that quietly, with a nod of the head.

It was an odd scene; the lamp hanging at an angle as wind pressed upon
the _Nonsuch_'s sails and tilted her, showed two faces ruminative, two
faces angry, and one blank with that departure of all expression which is
like the animal's stillness before danger. Implements upon the table
clinked now and then, and through the planks which formed the cabin walls
came a sound of water slapping and bubbling as the hull cleft it.

Only one of these five persons was consciously thinking, formulating
decisions. The others were caught up in moods, and so remained as in a
picture. Mary Askill alone was performing an act of thought, laying two
and two together, reckoning her case. When she spoke she struck them all
out of their moods as though somebody had cracked a whip in that wooden
box ten feet by twelve. She said:

"The girl stays. I'll go with the slaves."

After pause there was a babble, in which the loudest voice was Ann
Sawyer's. She got up and stretched across the table to take her
companion's shoulder which she shook, crying out that works were not
obliged upon the chosen, and that the black woman was a witch. Mary
Askill easily put these frantic hands from her and repeated:

"I'll go with the slaves."

She gave no reason. Conisby alone did not ask one; but when the arguments
and disclaiming ceased he said to Mary Askill:

"Will you give me a word?"

Her look answered the question behind his question, a look which said, I
am afraid. It was this confession made without words that he dealt with
when he spoke again.

"I will not torment you. I will cry off entirely, not speak nor come near
you, on deck or at board. You need not fear me."

Again she did not answer, and it was as though she had said: I fear not
you but myself. But the Master was taking a hand.

"What are you saying, Mrs. Askill? God knows such a thing wouldn't do."

"And why would it not do?" said she. Her face was growing whiter with
each moment that passed, and Ann Sawyer could feel the fingers that still
clasped her own becoming cold. The words which followed she perhaps spoke
unknowing. "My place is with those who are captives."

"You are not a black, is my answer to that," the Master said,
uncomfortably looking down. "And it's not you that is in my debt, but I'm
in yours."

"So a debt's paid, what matter? Pay me this way." Conisby, half-smiling,
said softly:

"Are you so much afraid of me?" When she did not answer him he brought
the habitual mockery into his voice. "How will you deal with the heathen
if you are afraid of one infidel? If you run away? Mary, do you hear me?
Captain Bryant knows me better than you do. When his trick fails he
admits it and we start again. You should keep to that example. Do not go
into darkness for a word lightly spoken. It is ended, Maria sleeps where
she pleases, there is no debt--none in money. We may kiss hands."

He kissed his own fingers and gently, almost indifferently touched her,
as a woman at a church door will hand on holy water to another. She did
not seem to see him. She was ranging somewhere out of reach of his words.
When she did speak it was from that uncharted air that her words came
weakly back:

"What should the woman do?"

The Master, disconcerted by the turn matters had taken, quickly
consulting the others with his eyes, answered that there was no occasion,
the matter was settled, let her think no more of it.

"No," said Mary Askill, beginning to tremble and to speak faster than her
usual pace, the words crowding to her mouth, tumbling out. "The woman
must strive, and the witness of the spirit must be borne. To be troubled
in conscience is easy, trouble will not mend matters. What then will mend
her, where must she fly? How shall the woman keep unspotted from the
guile of the serpent? A covenant of works is scorned, yet works deliver,
works are the refuge; the great stone is not of the spirit, not to be
rolled away by the spirit, but by the hands. By laying on of hands the
blind see, the halt go, the dead rise again; but oh, there is a laying on
which is not to be endured, dangerous, treasonous! And brings no peace.
But peace, that too is not to be desired. Peace, farewell. Too easily the
spark lights. No peace, no peace! Weeping and gnashing of teeth through
the years, until the Lord comes at last to his own, until the Bridegroom
cometh. We are not to look for peace but a sword. And the sword is
sheathed, and the sword beats in the water beside him, where the tempter
goes. Such things shall be revealed at the waking, after suffering, as
are not now to be told. To this end I have assurance, works are a snare,
yet shall they deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man. Behold, I am
chosen. And the stone before the bridal chamber shall be rolled away,
lifted up to heaven where the winged things roll and give praise. So, and
only so, goes the woman free."

She stood, hands wavering before her breast. Conisby was touched with
pity at the sight of those hands no longer sure, and to hear the flesh,
caught up by some gust of the spirit, betray its own secret. He was
ashamed for her, and sorry. Quickly he consulted the other faces, to know
if they too had made the discovery that she was troubled by her unwilling
love for him. The Master was purely bewildered, shifting from foot to
foot, and looking for help to stout Ann Sawyer. The regress remained
still and mute; her eyes were upon the speaker, and something of the same
fear that had informed her at recital of the text from Matthew earlier in
the day began to round them. Ann Sawyer turned on Conisby; in her angry
hot face, upon whose brow the scar seemed to pucker and redden, he
perceived that by one person at least his knowledge was shared.

"You that must always be sniffing at her heels! You that carry hell about
with you, and singe all you touch! What do you say now?"

Conisby spoke to the Master with a conscious sharpness that he hoped
might pierce the situation and loose tension.

"It is frenzy. Have you no lazaret for passengers that become lunatic?"

Ann Sawyer cried, holding her fist tightly against her temple:

"She is saner than you. I'll look to her. After she has testified she's
weak, forgets what she's said. Leave her to me."

Conisby's endeavour had been, not to draw fire from Mrs. Sawyer, but to
cover Mary Askill's admission with the name of frenzy. He succeeded in
conveying something of that notion to the Master, who spoke low:

"Mad, d'ye think?"

"Mad or saint, it's all one. Look, she's coming back." It was a curious
return to watch, the return of the native of those eyes. They stirred,
searched, recognized; then without warning were closed by a hearty
sneeze. At the homely innocent sound they all with one accord laughed,
and Mary Askill, finding herself back from the empyrean, restored to gay
company, laughed too. Ann Sawyer put an arm about to lift her. She
resisted.

"What's ado?"

"Sleep," Ann Sawyer shortly answered.

"I'm all over sleep," Mary Askill agreed, rubbing her eyes. She drew back
to question again. "Testimony?"

"Somewhat."

Mary Askill did not follow up that word; she sat rubbing at her cheeks to
liven them. The Master slapped his pocket and said to Conisby:

"She'll do best left alone."

"I'll come with you," Conisby answered. The Master halted to reject his
company, but thought better of it, and went towards the ladder. At that
moment came Mary Askill's voice:

"Captain, Mr. Bryant, where's your key?"

"Key?"

"The slave-pit."

He turned, fixing her with an unbelieving stare.

"You're not back at that? Don't I tell you the matter's over and done
with. Have I been whistling psalms to the taffrail?"

"It's not done with."

"Woman"--the Master began, exasperated; then moderated his voice. "I
thought you had sense. What sense is there to go among these black people
with their nastiness?" She held out her hand, smiling. He looked at it.
"What's that for?"

"I helped you once. Repay me now."

"You're out of your reckoning." She smiled. "You're lunatic." She would
not be disconcerted or denied. And there was a confidence in her smile
against which he found it hard to argue. Still, he had something to say.

"Hark to me," said Bryant with authority, the ship-master speaking.
"These people have troubles. I don't know if there are now any sick; I
believe one or two; but the matter is, they say such things can be
carried. My men are sound, we are a wholesome ship as ships go. I can't
have you trafficking back and forth."

She answered:

"I shall be safe there."

"Nor I won't have it said I compelled you. Bear witness, it's not I who
compel you."

She answered:

"It's by my own will and my own wish. You are quits with me."

The Master hesitated; then angrily, because he was touched, burst out
that he would not do it, this was no sort of repayment for her care when
he lay with a hole in his head. She said, putting a hand weightily on his
arm:

"By that token I ask you. By that care I gave you."

"Let her go," said Conisby softly. "She will not be easy here."

And as he stood beside her he stooped, and, this time not mockingly,
caught up a corner of her prim clean apron, which he lightly kissed and
dropped again. She said, in the rough voice with which she always covered
emotion:

"Ay, do that now. You won't be so ready when the smell of the blacks is
on it, I'm thinking."

"Where thou goest, I will go. Mary, I'm coming."



That was Ann Sawyer. Her words encountered a shake of the head.

"Bide you here."

"We were together in prison."

"There's no call now."

"No, there's no call. I'm not so troubled by"--what, she did not
name--"that I have to jump into a pit to escape."

Mary Askill took the stroke without winking. She let it alone, and Ann
Sawyer, having made it, knew that she had destroyed her own case, that
there could be no question now of them going among the blacks together.
She sat down again, and with a gesture unconsciously symbolic beat her
hand once or twice against her mouth.

The three went up the ladder with no further talk, Conisby in the middle.
Their feet rapped heavily on the treads, the opening of a door on to the
deck let in sounds of the sea; hissing of blown spray, whine of air
parted by ropes, a bell striking four. It was ten o'clock at night,
second hour of the first watch, and very dark.

When they had gone there was a movement from Maria; the tentative
movement of a creature testing the retreat of danger. She came out of her
forgotten corner, and delicately stole a fruit, which she held and ate
without mess, now and then listening. Ann Sawyer said nothing, sat still.
A second fruit was approached; this time the fat woman's quick movement
caught her wrist. Maria moved it feebly, hopelessly in that country grip.

"This is along of you," said Ann Sawyer. "You--six foot of black
nothing." The other made a timid questioning sound. "What for did you
want to come aboard? What good are you but to make trouble? Will you kill
that man for me?" But the thought she had put into words alarmed her,
thus taking body. "No, no. You don't understand what I say." She let the
wrist go. "I don't know as you've made all that difference. Poor thing,
then."

She stroked the negress's cheek. Maria, comprehending the caress no
better than the cuff, let her have her way.


(xii)


Conisby went up the ladder firmly enough, offering a steady inoffensive
hand as the ship came about and the deck changed its angle. While they
stripped the coverings from her bed and rolled them, while she put her
clothes into a bundle he did not talk, but surveyed the preparations
tolerantly, asking only, as she took up her few pages of the Gospel,
whether she thought the hold would afford light for reading, and if the
negroes would be any wiser after she had preached to them in an unknown
tongue. She did not answer; she was not hurt by him in his schoolboy
moods. She cast up a single prayer: Let him not be gentle. He was not
gentle. He was cocksure of something or other, and helped with the
bundles indulgently as at a child's game which could not last long enough
to be troublesome. He had one or two jibes which later she recollected;
something about a jewel in an Ethiop's ear, and a question: if the Lord
wished these people to be saved, would he not have seen to it that they
were born in England as Brownists or Quakers? She could endure that sort
of thing very well.

Preparations ended, the Master led the way along a narrow passage under
the ship's ribs. The hint of a smell came into this passage; sweetish yet
rank, honey out of the dead body of a lion.

"A nigger ship or a bone ship; any man that's been at sea can nose either
one a mile off." She remembered that saying of the English sailor.
Conisby's hand caught her arm; he repeated quickly and harshly his former
question:

"Are you so much afraid of me?"

She would not answer his true meaning, and told him she feared no man.

"I do not believe it," said he, holding her still. The Master turned to
wait for them, his face sardonic in the lantern's light. "You are running
away from me. What is it you are doing?" He shook her arm. "It will be
dark in this place. There will be stenches, the chance of plague. No,
Mary. Mary, I won't persecute you. Only say one thing, only say that you
do not trust yourself, and I swear you shall be free from me. Answer."

"Give over your love-songs," sang out the Master.

"Answer. Say you fear yourself, then, if you don't fear me. I know it;
every turn of your head tells me so. Very well, then, you need not say
even that; only speak to the Master, tell him you will go back. That will
satisfy me. Say it." And he called Bryant with a lift of the voice that
sounded hollow as the cry of Jonah, down among the ship's ribs:

"Hey! Mrs. Askill wants you."

The Master lifted his light enquiringly. Mary Askill made no sound.
Conisby pressed her arm tightly, and shook it.

"Speak to him. Say you will go back. I ask no more. I leave you in peace
henceforward."

"What's amiss?" Bryant called.

"Naught," she answered, and made towards him. Conisby held her back.

"You will not let yourself love. Say it, and have done. You are not like
the Papists, tormenting yourself to please God. You do not run mad for
God. You are a woman. Well, then. Answer."

She pulled away from him towards the waiting lantern. He let her go, but
said in a voice clouded with bewilderment:

"Do you hate me, then? Have I tormented you too long?"

She said to that, over her shoulder:

"My little sir, make your mind easy. You're the least part of it all."

His mouth twitched, he turned back. The Master called:

"Where are you off to?"

Under his left arm Conisby had been carrying her clothes. He dropped the
bundle now, and stooped away under the ship's ribs. Mary Askill, picking
up the bundle, rejoined Bryant beside the iron door.

It was wholly dark in the fore-hold. As the Master's key turned, and the
bolts below and above the latch were loosened, there began a rustling and
a whispering among the people very like what may be heard in a farmyard
when unusual noises disturb the fowls in their light sleep.

"We feed 'em from here," was all Bryant said, as the door was wrenched
open.

Holding a lantern he stooped, then stood upright. A sweetish smell came
at them which was unbearably troubling, so thick, a blanket of smell,
that Mary Askill looked at the light expecting to see it go out. Still it
burned on, protected by horn, bringing out of darkness whites of eyes,
teeth apprehensively bared, of the people disturbed.

"They don't talk any lingo we know," said the Master. He made a wide
sweep with his right arm, brushing the negroes back from him to make a
place where the whites might stand. Then, pointing to Mary Askill, in the
infantile English by which trade was conducted upon the African coast, he
said the white woman was come to stay, eat, live. She good--he patted her
to show approval--she talk plenty, do plenty good thing. The blacks gazed
at Mary Askill as he gestured, all the clear eyeballs swung towards her.
She said loudly:

"God pity you all. I don't come to hurt you."

The Master, fumbling, not abandoning his lantern, spread a blanket in a
place where she might have the support as she lay of the curving hull.
Her clothing made only a small bundle, but she had brought the
spinning-wheel; these set down on the blanket, and the few printed pages
of the New Testament laid with them, represented the only furnishings of
this encampment, her home for weeks of tropical voyaging. The people were
no longer afraid, but they were mystified, unable to suppose that this
woman came among them as a volunteer, and fearing to descry in her traces
of some sickness or madness which might have caused her thus to be set
apart. They shrank back, and a whispering grew.

"Ready?" said the Master. He went on, jocularly:

"Try if prayers will keep the fleas off."

He could find no more to say; and after standing aimlessly, thrust out at
her his hand with the lantern in it.

"Keep this, you'd better."

It was a saving man's gift; no more than half an inch of the dip
remained; but it was acceptable in that place, dark by reason of its
close walls, and the night, and the huddled black bodies. The Master went
away, swinging his keys to make a cheerful noise, and shut the door,
locking it. Mary Askill was left with her lantern like a traveller in the
jungle, who sees round his fire the eyes of inquisitive or hungry beasts,
waiting until the wood burns lower to come near.

She neither spoke to them, nor attempted in any other way to make herself
known, but lay down peaceably. When they saw that she did not rebel
against her situation they began to lose their fear; the whispering
voices took body. She felt that they no longer mistrusted but were
puzzled, as animals might be, by the intrusion of an unknown thing into
their domain. Leaning forward upon her elbow she shifted the shutter of
the lantern, letting her face come close that they might see it plain,
and so blew out the candle.

In the dark she lay, not sleeping. Protest woke in her. Here was a woman
like others, set apart out of the woman's way of life by some choice not
her own, and cast into the irregular pattern of life as led by men; men,
for ever dealing in matters which they could not hope to control;
dependent upon weather for crops, winds for trade, and women for comfort;
never content because never sure. Not theirs to take their time and
seasons by the faithful moon. Not theirs, not hers, to live snug within
the bounds of tasks renewing daily and unfailing as manna. She had a
second's vision, stolen from the first chapter of Job; men, restless as
Satan, going to and fro upon the earth and walking up and down in it,
women stable as--. She checked her mind before it could pronounce that
tremendous last syllable, the name of God. She had made this restlessness
her own, through change pursuing the unchanging. God filled and pressed
upon her as the wind upon the sail.


(xiii)


At the end of his morning watch the Mate stopped in the middle of a
stretch and a yawn to focus a shape thrusting out of the misty horizon to
starboard. The breeze from the south had dropped after its dawn
liveliness, and the _Nonsuch_ dawdled forward with the sun on her
quarter. The shape dawdled too, seeming to swell and dwindle with the
haze, so that even with his spyglass it was difficult for the Mate to
form any precise opinion, beyond that the ship, whatever it might be, was
advancing upon him.

The Master, summoned, did not like the cut of the newcomer. He looked at
her long, then cast a quick eye along his own deck and frowned. The
cannon had gone overboard to lighten the ship during the storm off
Africa, but his glance sought those places where they had been, and his
frown lamented their loss. He confided to the Mate that if she turned out
a pirate then: was no standing up to her. Reminded that Prince Rupert was
on the high seas, in command of the _Constant Reformation_, he said he
took little comfort from that, Rupert being as great a thief as any of
them. But he did not, on the whole, appear much disquieted. His cargo now
consisted of live freight, for which he had bartered ribbons, hats, and
other English trifles with the Padre Valgado; until these had been
exchanged in Barbados for sugar, at the rate of 1,500 pounds of that
commodity per slave, and that same sugar sold in Amsterdam or London for
money, he was not a man worth robbing. So he proclaimed. The Mate,
recollecting a certain locked and heavy sea-chest in the corner across
which was slung the Master's hammock, did not contradict in words. He
asked for orders, and was told to hold the course awhile--"No need to run
until he proves himself."

They held accordingly. The crew being now as well aware of the strange
ship's onset as the denizens of the quarter-deck, gathered and gaped to
starboard. The boatswain came to question whether they should not he
issued with arms, and was told No.

"Last time you took up arms--" said Captain Bryant. He left the sentence
unfinished, but touched his head, which a nightcap covered, his wound
being still unsightly. "So we'll take our chance."

The newcomer approached as a small wind allowed, in zigzags, brief spurts
of speed, languishings. His rig was outlandish, neither English nor
Dutch, but as he turned they could see black squares along his side;
ports for guns. He flew a pennant and some other flag not decipherable
for those on board the _Nonsuch_. Half a mile off a puff of smoke and a
thud came from one of his open ports, but no splash in the water ahead
betokened shot. It was a signal, not a threat; an invitation to heave-to.

The Master gave orders. The adjusted sails, taking each his different
pressure so as to cancel out stresses from the wind, held the _Nonsuch_
still on water that seemed to darken now that the sun was getting high.
The unknown ship performed the like manoeuvre. There was activity on her
deck, a boat was lowered, men swarmed down a rope and filled it. The
Master and Mate saw light blink off metal, and looked at each other.
There was nothing to be done, however, save wait; and wait they did, not
moving, while a stern ladder was hung out and their men restlessly
shifted from rail to shrouds, conjecturing as to the flag which now hung
limp, hidden by the mast.

The boat, rowed with precision by four oarsmen, came near enough to hail
the _Nonsuch_. At sound of the voice which shouted the Master said:

"English! Well, thank God, for I'm no linkister."

"Not an English rig," the Mate contended.

"Rupert's not English."

They waited. The sound of dipping oars was audible now, as was the
rhythmic plash the boat made advancing. She perceived the ladder and came
under the stern to it. All heard the command "Oars!" and the rattle as
they were lifted. The Mate, who had obeyed his captain mulishly hitherto,
took a sort of cold comfort from the fact at least of not being stopped
and boarded by a Dutchman.

A dark youngish man came aboard alone, and looking about him with a
shrewd eye made the traditional enquiries; ship's name, from whence,
whither bound, with what cargo? The Master asked parallel information,
and was coolly informed that it was no concern of his."

"We," said the young man, "please ourselves."

"You're the _Constant Reformation_?"

"Near enough," the young man answered, grinning. "Her younger sister.
Prince Maurice wants wine from you. We're short."

"I carry none."

"Ha!" said the young man, with the least change of countenance.
"Psalm-singer, are you?"

"We lost our wine, and our cannon, and near the ship in a gale. I have
thirty slaves aboard. No other cargo but the stores we need."

"We'll see," the young man told him. "I'll take a view of your quarters,
if you please."

He was not armed. True, a couple of men who had mounted the ladder behind
him had breastplates and short swords; but the young man himself carried
no steel, offered no threat. The Master, in two minds about him, timely
recollected the vessel broadside on to his own, whose open ports
displayed the black roundels of guns. He made protest.

"I have my papers from France. You are out of your rights to search a
friendly ship."

"Well," said the young man accommodatingly, "God save King Louis. Prince
Maurice sends his cousinly compliments, and may he have the loan of a
cask of wine?" He took off his hat, bowed, replaced it, and with his left
hand extended invited the Master to be his guide. They went forward
together. The two marine soldiers lingered at the head of the ladder, and
turned out to be Germans when spoken to by the Mate.

The young man in a methodical way went about his search for wine. It
could be seen that this was one of his more usual tasks, and he was
perfect in it. At last he came to a curtained door.

"What's here?"

"A passenger."

The young man went in, stood a moment at gaze, and gave a shout, which a
shout answered. The Master was obliged to make what he could of the
spectacle of passenger and pirate embracing. He wheeled and left them.

The young man who with polite indifference had rejected the Master's
sworn assurance that there was no wine, was content at once with
Conisby's simple affirmation, and supposed there was nothing more to be
said or done. But he expressed his astonishment at finding an ex-soldier,
ex-drinker, on board a ship with never a cannon on her decks nor a firkin
of wine in her hold, and was of opinion that Conisby had better shift his
quarters.

"We'll take you aboard," said the young man. "And you'll come to Barbados
sometime if that's what you are set on. (I have an uncle there, Colonel
Modiford.) You may come late, but our company is livelier. Bring your
black beauty with you, come to that."

"What do you know of my black beauty?"

"Only what I have seen. So she is yours? I thought as much. Well, then."
And he went on:

"You need not share her. We are gentlemen in some matters, though my poor
mother would blush to see my linen."

Conisby shortly told him he was mistaken, and added no more for a while.
The young man, understanding that some other issue was at stake, waited
civilly. Conisby sat with his clasped hands between his knees, staring
down at them. At last, in a voice unnatural with some strain, he said
that he would not join Prince Maurice; was grateful, sent his duty,
wished he might send wine;' and got up from his bunk as though to signify
that the matter was ended.

"You are your own master," said the young man shrugging; then with a
burst of laughter:

"Not the fat one, is it?" Conisby laughed too. "She's a prophetess," the
young man went on. "There was a question I heard disputed once; how these
Puritan women ever come with child. Some said, on account of their men
all being cuckolds; but that doesn't get over the chief difficulty."

Conisby did not laugh, and the young man with a shrewd twist brought the
talk round again.

"And it's something we'll never prove now. What news when you left
France?"

They talked of indifferent matters until the report of a gun sounded
dully like the thump of a mallet on wood. The young man, with a casual
curse for his Royal Highness's impatience, prepared to go. He tried a
last word of persuasion.

"We'd be glad, John." Conisby shook his head. "As you choose. Confusion
to Oliver!"

The German soldiers when he rejoined them had lost some of their severely
military air. They had accepted fruit and struck up acquaintance with the
crew of the _Nonsuch_; juice upon their beards and breastplates rendered
them mortal to the view. The crew fed them, delighted as a child when
some unknown animal takes food from its hand, and in the lingua franca of
the seas exchanged sea gossip; what ships were about, what trade was to
be had in Barbados, the chances of privateers. The young man's appearance
stiffened them to attention once more, and the contrast with his
carelessness was striking. He advanced, kicking idly at coils of rope,
took a banana from a sailor's hand, stripped and ate it after a
wide-armed signal to his ship; then, easily as ten years back he might
have slid down the oak banisters of an English country house into its
hall with stands of armour, he slipped down the rope ladder into his
cock-boat, followed by the military. The _Nonsuch_ cheered their
departure.

The Master said, sourly watching--he had not been included in the
farewells:

"Honour among thieves. We can thank Mr. Conisby he left us our pewter
mugs. Now we may set a course again."

Easily spoken. But the wind of early morning was now dead. Such small
idle waves as lifted between the ships were of its stirring, owned no
present master. The _Nonsuch_ spread all her canvas, Prince Maurice put
on the like, both wooed the wind with all their skill; yet they did no
more than drift apart at a speed which hardly was enough to break and
whiten the water below their bowsprits' shadow. The sun was getting high.
Conisby, treading the level steady deck in whose seams pitch began to
shine and rise, looked once and again at the hatch fastened down above
the hold. From this came no song, no sound at all; but he fancied as he
stood by it that through canvas and wood came something of the stench
that had crept after him the night before from the place where the black
people, where Mary Askill lay.

He looked after the other ship withdrawing into the haze, and was in half
a mind to swim for it as he had swum to the shore at St. Jago; one of his
scholar's tags came to recollection, the saying that they change skies,
not hearts, who voyage across seas. He was angry with himself that he
could not change his heart. He was slave to a silly passion that had
begun in pure idleness, pure mischief, the wish to turn the head of one
of these praying women concerning whom his young friend had that morning
made a cavalier joke. He shook himself and spat to clear the
unpleasantness from his thought, a process he at once perceived to be
futile as the previous imagined expedient; to swim away from a sick
heart, to spit out knowledge of weakness, one matched the other for
folly. The hot deck reminded him again that the woman for whose sake he
had rejected the company of Prince Maurice was so unwilling that she
preferred to him the heat and misery that lay a few feet below the sole
of his shoe. He stamped with fury, twice; walked a little way, stamped
again in turning, driving his heel at the deck with angry pleasure, then
stopped, having heard as he walked his thumpings echoed: one two, a
pause, one.

He stamped three times, listened. Faithfully the echo came. He stamped a
more lively pattern of sound, and found it repeated, decorated as a
musician decorates with grace-notes some smooth flowing theme. Who would
have supposed the blacks so apt, almost so witty with their drumsticks?
He began to knock out a dance, heel and toe. Beneath him the tapping
followed and skirmished in the liveliest way about his fixed rhythm. He
laughed as he danced, keeping scrupulous time. The tapping began to hold
off from his beat, coming against it in a tantalizing way. He stamped
harder; the drummer still eluded him, dodging the beat deliberately, it
seemed, mocking him. He stood still all of a sudden, aware that he was
sweating; the artist below broke into a flurry of taps like the cadenza
towards the end of a song; slackened, waited for the rhythm to resume
above him, all with an infuriating confidence and mastery of the poor
device, bone upon wood, that was his skill's only instrument.

Conisby suddenly was angry again with himself and with the unseen
drummer. He stood still. The man below invited feet to resume their play
with a quick scamper of taps; he ignored them, did not move. Twice more
the gay taps besought him. He violently trod out the last under a
senseless rubbing and scuffling without rhyme or reason, and walked away,
sweat rolling down the sides of his nose. He heard the taps
half-heartedly resume, as though calling him back; then he was out of
their range and came to a halt by Maria the negress.

Her candid face was frowning. Thought had visited and troubled her during
the night. She said to him breathlessly in the tongue of her adopted
people that she could not understand; where was--and she sketched with a
quick movement of her fingers Mary Askill's square face, the kerchief
round her shoulders. He told her roughly that the other was where she,
Maria, ought to be.

"Down there. Among your people. Where the Master put her."

Maria took this calmly. Such things had happened within her experience to
women who refused to be obliging to their masters.

"But," said she gently, frowning again, "is she not then your woman?"

He said that she was not. Never had been. Never would be. Had rather rot
among blacks than be his woman. Was Maria satisfied? Or should he swear
to it by the shoulder-bone of whatever saint she favoured with her
devotions? She was troubled, because in the scene of the night before she
still could not make out what her own part had been; she begged to be
told whence came the anger of the Master, and why the woman who was not
his had by him been shut away. Conisby's answer, that she had gone to
hell on a fool's errand, hardly settled this question.

"If the other Maria is no man's woman, and not a slave, why must she go
into the dark?"

Conisby answered, with a barking laugh which surprised her, that it was
to keep herself no man's woman still that she had gone. She watched him
for a while as a dog might watch, to discover his mood, then timidly said
that the Master would open the door soon.

"Not while he can keep it shut and watch me kick."

"Perhaps he would give the key."

"Perhaps I would not ask him."

"No," Maria agreed.

Conisby patted her with a curved hand, hard, as he might have patted a
dog, and said she was a good creature and it was no fault of hers if he
were bewitched. Submissively she bowed. The Master, passing, was
challenged:

"How do we get our wind this time, Mr. Bryant?" The Master did not
answer. "You had best set Mrs. Sawyer to work again. But it came a
hurricane last time, she is too extreme in praying. Better have up Mrs.
Askill. Otherwise your wind will cost you money."

The Bryant swung upon him.

"If Mrs. Askill lies where she does it's by her own choosing."

"And the master of a ship cannot hinder, I suppose, a woman from her
will? If it is her choice to sleep on the anchor or make a spindle of the
backstaff he must bow to it?"

"Laugh," said the Master, "that is all your sort are fit for. The ship
and passengers is my concern."

He went away. Conisby, foiled of quarrel, flung himself down upon the
deck in a mast's shadow. The negress, stooping, took his head dutifully
upon her knee. They sat in silence, surrounded as it seemed by motionless
air; the slight stern breeze with which the ship's forward movement kept
pace could not gain upon her enough to make them aware of its presence.
Conisby spoke once, to ask where was Ann Sawyer. Maria answered that she
was lying upon her bed, but this was simply for the sake of answering,
not to disoblige her owner by a show of ignorance. She did not know that
Ann Sawyer was at that moment in the galley with the cook, making a scene
with texts, and demanding to supplement the loblolly prepared for the
blacks with some dish fit for a Christian woman's keep.

Conisby could not be satisfied with this answer. His own helplessness
would not let him rest. And the idleness of the ship, which afforded no
occupation even for his eyes, gave no vicarious satisfaction to the
desire for movement. He sprang up from the supporting knee to hail the
Master again.

"When do you feed your black ivory?"

The Master ignored him, perhaps not hearing, for a slant of wind coming
their way had roused all the familiar small sounds among the cordage.
Conisby stood, flushing, and was lifting his hands to his mouth to bellow
when the negress caught at his sleeve. He looked round at her angrily;
she smiled, patting the leggings of white leather that she wore, pressing
one tight upon her leg to show the shape of a key lying against her calf.
Conisby held out his hand. She fished for the key with a forefinger,
bought it to light, and laid it on his palm.

"From his pocket," said Maria. "But he does not know, perhaps."

Conisby looked at her very directly for a second or two, weighing the key
up and down.

"So that's where you were." She met the questioning eye with modest
complacency, and nodded. He slapped her thigh sharply, twice, and shook a
finger at her. "I thought you understood nothing. I won't say what I
think otherwise; but how could you know I might have a use for that key?"

Now her face became troubled again. With an uneasy flicker of her eyes
she said she had taken the key for herself; that her owner's requirements
had for once not been consulted by her; she had heard the singing, and it
was singing known to her, the people below were her people; she had
thought it might be possible, one night, to creep down below with them
and sing.

"And carry food, I don't doubt." Conisby laughed. "Bryant's face!"

Maria looked blank. It had not occurred to her to better the lot of the
slaves by stealing, but only to give herself pleasure. She was happy to
have afforded him the occasion for laughter, regretting only the loss of
her key, which she anxiously eyed. He stood, beating on his hand with it
one of the rhythms he had danced half an hour back; then on an impulse
made forward. She followed with a half-phrased plea--"for the love of
Mary?"--which at first he would not hear. Then, recollecting that she
knew the speech of the blacks, and might interpret if need be, he
beckoned her and they went below.


(xiv)


Mary Askill waked to the same pains of cramp and damp and darkness that
she had known before when the Mayor of Oxford sent her to his bridewell.
This imprisonment was of her own choosing, none the more bearable for
that, and had for decoration certain horrors of which the gaol at Oxford
knew nothing. The smell, for one thing, was worse, and being a protean
smell her nose could not become used to and discount it. It was disposed
in layers, richest near the bottom; any movement stirred it and brought
variety; every moment seemed to thicken it. And then, the noises made by
the black people were not like the companionable snores or sighs of
English women. They grunted, woke bubbling with nightmare, and spoke
unintelligibly; something in the tones of those devils, it might be, that
besought the Lord to let them enter into swine in the country of the
Gadarenes. There was no window or outer port in the hold, only places
grated with iron that gave upon the ribs of the ship.

She waked, then, not even to light. But by the stirring of the people,
their louder talk, she knew it must be morning. Use of eyes denied, she
employed her ears, and by recollection of the routine of the ship and the
sound of its bells did what she could to guess the hour. But what she
heard could be fitted into no shape of day with which she was familiar.
Bare feet overhead went upon unusual errands, shod feet, stopping and
shifting, answered to no step within her remembrance. She found herself
listening for Conisby's quick walk, and did not hear it; for the clapping
of water on the ship's sides, and did not hear it. She had gone into a
world whence communication with all other was cut off; all other save
one. She knelt, the blacks backing away from her, and repeated aloud a
few sentences of praise. The words did not come easily. She took it that
this costiveness of spirit was a thing not to be wrestled with, even
though the example of Jacob and the angel appeared in her mind's eye.
Getting to her feet, raising her head into a new stratum of the foul air,
she said loudly in her country English:

"Now, neighbours, where's the water?"

There was none, as she discovered after she had blundered about the hold
like a moth in a bed-curtain, thrusting her feet into couchant ribs and
pushing with her hands between masses of smooth or sticky flesh. She had
heard the Captain use a term in speaking of the slaves; he had said with
some self-approval that he was not one for stowing them spoon-ways, that
is, packed and lying close as a set of spoons. But the space between
these bodies could not otherwise be measured.

She came, fumbling, upon a leather crock hung on a cleat in the partition
wall. It was the only one, and it was empty. The blacks had poor light,
no water, little air, no conduit to carry filth away. She recollected
with discomfort the cleanliness of Maria, her pleasure in the fine linen
she wore; these people of the same blood must suffer in filthiness. She
could see, now that her eyes were adjusted to the meagre light, how they
kept themselves from her as well as they could and made way for her
explorations unrescntfully, even with a nervous quickness. The notion
that they were afraid made her say aloud:

"You needn't fear me. Naught to eat or drink or do. We've the day before
us, poor people, and more days like it. Hear your Lord and mine."

She began to repeat what she could remember of the Sermon on the Mount.
The blacks gathered about her inquisitively at first, but they soon tired
of the performance, monotonous yet halting; when shod feet began to stamp
on the deck over their heads a little man climbed upon the shoulders of a
tall one, bringing out from behind his ears two sheeps-shank bones, his
only treasures, with which he tickled and smote the beams. Against this
duet--for the hidden feet entered with spirit into the business--words in
a strange tongue had poor chance of attention. She spoke louder, aware
that she did so not to praise her Lord or to pull away the children of
Shem from their trifling, but because only one person on the ship was
capable of this heeland-toeing, towards whom her thoughts must go
springing if sacred words could not check them. It was almost with relief
that she heard the dancer overhead stop, rejecting the drummer's
collaboration with a scornful shuffle.

But the sense of healing and safety was as far from her as ever. The
people, disappointed at the ceasing of their entertainment, made groaning
sounds and composed themselves again upon the floor of their prison; she
heard soft thuds as they dropped all of a piece like dogs. They had no
other occupation than to wait for the day when they might resume the go
and come of slavery in the open air, but they were not oppressed, it
seemed, by the slow passage of time. They did not calculate, as she
straight out of freedom could not fail to calculate, that the ship must
be at rest since no water chafed her sides, and deduce that if the ship
rested their voyage and torment must be lengthened. They did not talk
often. They were no more restless than horses might be that were kept
standing twenty-four hours in a stable. And she felt her own helplessness
to display for them the glories of God, since by words she could not move
them, and their steadfastness in oppression was greater than her own. But
she was responsible. Somehow she must lure them, and convert them after.
She began to sing one of these chanties of the hayfield to which she had
worked before she found light, a song in whose burden all were expected
to join, and which could hardly lead astray those to whom
English--strange, this, to consider--was gibberish like the mouthing of
apes.

"Not drunken nor sober, but neighbour to both,
I met with a friend in Aylesbury vale,
He saw by my face I was in the case
To speak no harm of a pot of good ale.
A pot of good ale, a pot of good ale--"

She clapped her hands to it, and the blacks gently clapped with her on
the last line:

"To speak no harm of a pot of good ale."

The unregenerate words came easily. She beat her breast, remembering how
the words of praise had, an hour since, trickled slow. But she saw white
teeth and eyeballs turned towards her in expectation, hands lifted,
waiting. She sang on:

"And as we did meet, and friendly did greet,
He put me in mind of the name of the dale.
For Aylesbury's sake, some pain I would take
And not bury the praise of a pot of good ale."

They expected the chorus this time, and came in on it without prompting
in their own version of the English words:

"Poto-gu-dayel,
Poto-gu-dayel,
No birra-de pirra-da poto-gu-dayel."

The man with sheep's bones, who had been listening with his head on one
side, now burst into an ornamental accompaniment on the leathern
water-jack, giving airs and graces to the simple tune until it turned
from English milkmaid to African queen. When he had sufficiently pleased
himself he lapsed into a thrumming which was her cue.

"The ploughman and carter that toil all the day And tire themselves going
behind the plough's tail Will speak no less things than of queens and of
kings If their lips be but soused--"

Her voice dwindled away. She stood nearest to the door and had heard the
key pushed into its lock. The blacks, supposing her hesitation but a
trick to lure them on, came crashing down upon the chorus as before. But
they too, when light widened at the door's opening, let the tune fall and
stood expectant, though not of good; they seemed indifferent, yet they
contrived their own way of reckoning hours, and it was not time for
dinner. The white man came to them as to dogs, either with food or
punishment. This could not be food; so much they knew.

Hardly any of the white men's sounds were intelligible to the blacks. The
sound that greeted them at the opening of the door had, however, a
significance not to be mistaken. The white man was laughing, laughing.
They refrained from taking comfort from this, thinking he might be a
madman put in to keep the strange woman company. The laugh stopped short
and was followed by something brief as the man stepped within their
precinct and took the stench full. A voice they could understand spoke
from behind his shoulder:

"People," it said, "is the white woman safe?"

Safe, they said; and a short square man with authority in his voice asked
why she had been put with them. Was it for some misdeed, or had she a
sickness? Or was she an albino, a priestess, with her white face and
ritual songs?

"Sir," said Maria, "she has run away from her man."

The blacks, scandalized, made a kind of chattering sound. Conisby, at
last identifying the white face and kerchief, shoved aside one or two and
came to Mary Askill. His voice still had the dregs of laughter in it.

"Are these songs of Sion?"

She answered, with no outer witness to the knocking of her heart but the
hand pressed upon it:

"I must lift up their hearts."

"Can't they stomach psalms? I think better of them. Mary, come away. The
comedy's over, the lesson is learned."

The authoritative man said:

"Is this her man come to take her back? Why does he not beat her?"

"They are not like us. She is a kind of priestess. I have heard her
prophesy, and she spoke once of duppy and the dead walking. She has a
charm with her--black marks on white."

The blacks drew away, keeping their faces turned towards Mary Askill like
animals scared. Maria went on:

"With this charm she has caught the man. She says words over it, lifting
her head up and down, and pointing with her finger. It is strong."

"Ha!" said the blacks. "He will not escape. Will she eat his soul?"

"Ask her," said Maria. A shouted chorus, whereby this notion was utterly
rejected, bore down her voice. The white people ignored it.

"Mary, the door's open."

"The door's shut, John Conisby."

"By staying here you confess you love me."

"You spoke to that tune before."

"What good do you do, singing alehouse songs to these?"

"If I could find another way to reach them, I'd take it. Do you want to
help me? Ask Mr. Bryant to let us have some air."

He could not see her face clearly. The tone of the voice, however,
unhurried, not passionate, assured him that her mind was made up past
changing. He said despairingly:

"What the devil am I to do? If I jump overboard will you come out of this
sty?"

The voice answered unperturbed, with amusement in it:

"You think only of your own pleasure. Stay aboard, make yourself useful."

He bowed in the dark and called Maria to come away. She answered almost
sulkily that they were going to sing.

"What of Mr. Bryant's key? Is he to be told who stole that?"

She chattered a quick explanation to her fellows, and came to Conisby's
side. He called to Mary Askill:

"I have a small matter to settle. In an hour we come back."

She nodded. The door was drawn to and on one side and the other they
heard the squeal of the key, which even daily use could not protect from
rust in those latitudes, that thick salty air.


(xv)


He held the key openly in his hand coming out once more upon the deck
which now seemed, by contrast with the hold, to borrow the very breezes
of Olympus. There was a new movement of wind and the _Nonsuch_ was
dipping to it, a white streak spreading at her bow. Though Conisby
breathed it as a thirsty man drinks, Maria's breast rose in normal
motion; she had smelled worse than the hold when, in Africa before her
capture, retreating tides left the bare swamps steaming. But if
suffocation could not impinge upon her calm, apprehension of discovery
could; she looked at the key so freely swinging, unmistakable, and put
her hand on Conisby's to cover it. He looked to see what she was doing.

"Don't be afraid, he shan't know your part in it."

And gently putting her from him he ran on to the quarter-deck by that
ladder which he had once defended. Captain Bryant was there, taking the
hour by the sun. He stood with his back to it, watched by the Mate,
focusing his sight upon a contrivance of two juxtaposed arcs. Conisby did
not distract them. But when the mystery was accomplished and the officers
had leisure to observe him he was plucking feathers out of the dog-vane
and watching them drift in the breeze. The Master called to him, and he
obeyed with all promptness, coming to a stand with feet planted apart,
and the key hanging from a scrap of ribbon on his shoulder like the badge
of some cellarer of ancient kings. The Master spied it.

"That's a key I know. You have been down there, have you, after Mrs.
Askill? I dare say I should thank you that the black scum is not now all
over the ship; we have had white scum already. I'll thank you for that
key."

"Wait a while. Keep your hands down. Will you make me bearer of this key?
I need it for my own purposes, but I will serve yours. Make me
doorkeeper, Mr. Bryant, and for once I'll be at your orders. When you
require an open door I'll open it; only gratify my fancy."

The Master's heavy eyes met Conisby's, and dropped to where the hilt of a
sword twinkled at his hip.

"Sweethearting among the Guinea-gold; that's your fancy, is it?"

"We'll hold to the matter, if you please. Shall I keep the key? You have
my word of honour that I will not use it to bring disorder on the ship.
But I am like a cat, I love an open door of all things. Take that for
consideration, and consider considerately whether it is not better to
agree with a man who offers, putting away his sword, to do as you bid him
for once."

"Mr. Conisby," said the Master after a pause, "you and I have a score to
settle. It grows longer every day, but it will keep till we get ashore.
These things take no harm by waiting. Hold the key."

"He'll let all those black devils out," called the Mate, startled from
silence. "We've had one taste of him."

"Sir," said Conisby, "you have not had much to do with gentlemen. Mr.
Bryant, who could have thought you a wise man?"

He took the key from his shoulder, saluted with it, and at his leisure
went down the ladder.

Said the Master to the Mate, brusquely turning:

"No loss if that fellow went overboard."

The Mate answered, after thought:

"He might yet."


(xvi)


The second expedition to the hold was five persons strong. Ann Sawyer,
keeping jealous watch, had seen the first go by, but would not join with
the ungodly even to have sight of the only creature she had ever allowed
herself to love. When the pair set off again they were led by two sailors
bearing food buckets, and the presence of these sailors somehow made less
odious for her the thought of association with a papist and mocker.
Saying nothing, she came behind Maria as they dropped down, and crept
doggedly along in half-darkness with the ship's ribs arching to one side
of her, and a general ancient and fishlike odour all about. Conisby
turned once and saw her, but said nothing, only hailed her with the key.
He began to sing as they reached the door the chorus of Mary Askill's
song about ale, but was out in his notes. One of the listening blacks
softly sang the phrase correctly, delicately putting him right. He could
make out a kind of bustling and stamping on the other side of the door
which disconcerted him; but one of the sailors banged the other sailor's
bucket with his, calling out in his own tongue that the table was set,
and Conisby understood that the impatient sounds were no more than what
might be heard in a farmyard when the farmer's wife came out calling with
her apron full of grain.

The door being opened, the buckets were first held in. No black stretched
a hand to take them. Mary Askill stood in the opening, and Maria's
stories had already set her legend running; one of the priestesses of the
goddess Aynfwa, the goddess covered from head to foot with white hair
like a goat, the goddess infinitely capricious but not malevolent if
allowed first cut at food. They held back, therefore, while she parleyed
with the white man, her slave; who, however, spoke more like a lord.

"Here I am, you see, faithful to my trust. Maria for interpreter, and
Mrs. Sawyer for luck. What is our text? Come out and stand here awhile;
breathe while you may."

She said, without regard to his words:

"Hark you, John Conisby. Last night a child was born here, this morning
it died."

"What's to be done, then?" said he, taken aback.

"It must be put decently away. And we'll have more light here. The father
trampled it, not knowing--"

"Well, now, such things are beastly."

Ann Sawyer pushed her way forward past the sailors, under Conisby's arm.

"I'm here, Mary."

"Be you? Then say to Mr. Bryant, without he wants his goods spoiled he'll
look to 'em better. Put it that way and he'll heed. Say, for lack of
light that costs nothing he's lost a baby worth gold."

"He's feared of them getting loose."

"Ask him if he's ever seen a calf taken to a fair. It don't get loose
from the cart, for why? There's a net over. And where'd you look for
nets, if it's not on a ship? Go you and talk to him. He won't heed John
Conisby."

She turned upon the people, all holding away meekly from the buckets of
food and water, and told them to eat. But they still stood back,
murmuring. Maria spoke rapidly to Conisby.

"They want you to touch the food. They think you are--" He held
back, with sudden caution, the word he might have used, and
substituted:--"lucky."

"Not them," said she. "They're not Bedlam, whatever else they are, poor
creatures." But she touched the mess of sodden biscuit. "Ann, go
straightway, there's my good friend."

The blacks began then to eat in no disorderly manner, according to some
rule whereby the men filled their hands first, and the women later. There
was no grasping or cheating. It was understood that a double handful each
allowed enough for all. Thus the buckets emptied.

"They say an empty stomach is hard of hearing, but they're filling up.
When does the sermon begin?"

"John," said Mary Askill gravely, "hark you now to me. Why I came into
this hole--I will give you this much I don't rightly know. It may be that
there was pride and fear last night in what I did. I was in a passion,
for all I kept it under. You may sink yourself in darkness, but your
shadow stays by you."

"Our souls are twin," said he, "though I put it to myself differently. No
escape for the soul in chains, not even by swimming."

"There is escape," said she. "How can I say it hard enough for you to
understand, you that can't take a truth without it's swaddled in words
out of Latin and Greek?"

She stood quite silent. She was trying to translate into words a paradox
which she had instinctively guessed at, to discover a bridge between them
which her thought might cross. To imprison a body whose soul was not
awake was no more than to keep an animal chained. She in her Oxford
prison had been able to think on the Lord and take strength. On what
could these people meditate, save on their lost homes and empty bellies?
A first knowledge of God must creep along the channels of physical mercy;
yet that mercy must be seen as the emblem and symbol of a larger
compassion, not as the alms of the papists, cash price of salvation. By
no work of the flesh might the Creator of all flesh be bound.

She perceived it clearly, could not set it forth. But in the endeavour to
reach Conisby her mind thrown inwards discovered and marvelled at the
infinite skill with which she had been led, the tireless provision of
God's providence for one silly woman like a thread stretched for guidance
in a maze. She had been preserved alive by a spinning-wheel, teased into
apostolate, lent the power of tongues by way of an unregenerate cavee and
a negress caparisoned in striped silk. The sense of abandonment departed
from her suddenly and with it the need to defend herself. God's foot was
upon her once more, the buzz of the wheel sang through her like the
running of those wheels in Ezekiel in which dwelt the living spirit.

"I'll go to the Master myself;" she said, surprising him, and bent her
head to the door. "First, though, give me that baby."

The blacks, eating without conversation, paid no heed to this; but on the
command coming to them through two languages, they looked up; and the
chief man asked Maria what the body was required for.

"The child must be given its chance of being born again. It must stay
near the women."

"Perhaps she will use it for her charms. That is very honourable."

"Very well. But ask, make sure."

Maria hedged. She was frightened to put this question to the woman in
whose charm-paper it was written that the dead should start walking. She
therefore put to Conisby another question which he could hand on, thus
appearing to obey.

"They say, will she ask for more water?"

Mary Askill, when the question reached her, answered:

"That I will--" too brief a sentence for Maria to stuff with
fictitious meaning. She translated Conisby's even briefer Portuguese
Yes into:

"She says, Be quiet."

"We cannot," the chief man answered. "If she is a priestess she knows
why. We cannot risk that the child should be restless and come plaguing
us. It died without blood, tell her."

Maria then, casting about in her mind and remembered an outburst in the
cabin, found this:

"They ask, will she prophesy?"

Conisby grinned, handing on the question.

"What are they at?" Mary Askill wondered. "But no, I won't waste words on
them. An alehouse song or the parables, it's all one to them. They ask
for prophecy as they asked a man on deck a while back to jig his heels--"

"That was your servant."

"Then let my servant say through his servant: If God will come to them
and give them understanding he may. But I am back at myself now, I know
what I am to do. Let them give me the child's body for burial and bide
till I come."

Maria translated:

"She says, she will do a charm with the child, so that it cannot haunt
you. She says you must give it to her, and she will make magic with it.
She says, who are you to question a priestess? She will turn you into
crocodiles if you disobey."

They believed this, since the voice of the white woman had been indignant
and strong. The baby's naked body was brought, its small clammy weight
laid upon her hands. Maria spoke again, to the effect that they thanked
her and obeyed. Stepping out of the hold Mary Askill said over her
shoulder:

"God bless you, poor people."

When the whites and their interpreter had gone the blacks began loudly to
sing. They understood that they were under protection, but the protection
of one spirit did not always avail; besides, none could tell what
wickedness or malice might not be all about them in this strange country
of the deep water. They knew only the power of rivers, which slid away
stealthily from the roots of mangroves, or noisily sprang over rocks. The
sea was another dominion, harbouring other gods, whose voices could be
heard whispering through the ship's timbers or crying from her ropes when
there was wind. They felt themselves helpless, not knowing how to
approach these spirits nor what would please them, and they were almost
glad that the white woman had taken the business of propitiation out of
their hands. For what could be offered to the spirit of the sea that he
could not take for himself if the fancy seized him? What food could he
enjoy, how could he be wrapped from cold? And how in his ever-shifting
bush, through which ships made their own paths which lie immediately
smoothed over, could forest people know what places were sacred, and
where trespass lay?

They sang, therefore, such a song as they used for their canoes,
acceptable to the spirits of river water, and so perhaps not hateful to
this larger creation. They sang softly, under the leadership of the man
with the bones, using no words, but allowing the urgent rhythm to carry
their intention. "Protect us. Let us not be the prey of stranger spirits.
Do not punish us for crimes we commit unknowing."

Singing together they took a kind of comfort, behind the re-locked door.


(xvii)


"I don't want to see the thing," the Master declared a second time.

"It's money thrown away," Mary Askill told him, still holding out a
trampled baby, no sight for the nice. "This might have grown, and
thrived; you could have sold it for money."

"Throw it in the sea, for God's sake."

"I'll do that, if you do the rest."

"I knew," said he, "a cavee's word was nothing to hold by. I say nothing
of Mr. Conisby, and his key, and his promises. But I thought you had more
regard for the right than do what you swore you'd never do--come out of
that place and march through the ship with a child that died God knows
how."

"Died God knows how!" She echoed that, and stretched out her arms with
the baby. "I know how, Mr. Bryant. Stamped to death, as you could see for
yourself if you'd lay your eyes on it for a moment."

"Well," said he, walking away, "but who ever heard of the hatch being off
for a parcel of slaves?"

"I've heard of a man that bought swine dear, and kept 'em dirty, and lost
the lot with fever."

"No offence," said the Master, smiling awkwardly. "I have a regard for
you, Mrs. Askill, spite the company you keep. You saved my life, not that
I care about that. But you kept the _Nonsuch_ afloat, and there's
something. Have it your way."

"I'd ask God to bless you," said she, "but he'll please himself whether
or no."

The baby was to be committed to the deep. Mary Askill begged a rag of
canvas, and into this stitched with her own hands the unshapely corpse, a
shot at its feet to keep it under water so long as might be. No sharks
had been seen of late about the ship, only porpoises diving and rising in
schools whose scholars had a gaiety as of perpetual truants. She walked
with her burden to the side of the ship; then on an impulse transferred
it to Conisby's hands with the words:

"Throw him far."

Conisby weighed the bundle, and supposed she needed her hands free to
pray with.

"There's no call for prayer. His Maker has him. But--I don't care to be
the one to cast the poor flesh away."

Conisby nodded, grave for once, and swung the bundle for throwing. Maria
called down into the hold:

"She gives the child to the sea. Something for the sea to eat, so that we
may have good winds and smoothness."

The pent people groaned, and the chief man called upwards:

"What charm has she done? The child may walk."

Maria answered:

"She has sewn him up, and at his feet is a heavy thunder charm, such as
they put into the tubes that roar when they are touched with fire. He
will not return to plague us."

The people, reassured, ceased to shuffle uneasily. They listened for the
sounds that would tell them they were delivered from fear of the ghost.
On deck above their heads Conisby held the bundle still and spoke in
mockery a kind of funeral oration.

"Here you lie. Once flesh and blood surrounded you, but could not keep
you from adventurously coming upon the world. Now only a rag and some
stitchery stands between you and the creatures of the deep; a weight
commodiously bears you down to their dwellings. As well float upon the
surface and be food for gulls, as make meat for sea-snakes in the dark
under water. But you chose to be born into Christian company, and with us
out of sight is out of mind."

He swung with a one, two, three. The bundle clove the water, leaving no
more trace upon its marbled surface than a fish diving. Looking after the
few bubbles that drifted astern Conisby spoke something in a tongue
unknown. Mary Askill looked a question.

"What I spoke then," said Conisby answering this look, "is not papistry,
but paganism, of which you Gospellers know too little to have thought yet
about condemning it. There was a man once; he was a pagan and a poet, a
sinner too, on his own showing. He spoke, however, in his old age, of
death, that it would not be terrible if only we might have some practice
in it; but to perform a difficult act for the first time, which must also
be the last, gives a man no chance to do himself credit. Every death is
bungled, since every one is an experiment. Perhaps the infants, those
without knowledge of what they are doing, and therefore without fear, may
be less clumsy than the rest of us."

She answered:

"I said as much to you, days back; you have not remembered. You heed
better what comes out of a book."

On the deck by their side the toy cannon suddenly barked, then ran back
like a timid dog. Conisby cast a swift eye along the horizon; no sail
showed, and the boatswain, questioned as to why he wasted powder,
admitted that the gun was fired by his captain's order. Mr. Bryant,
indeed, overtaken by some impulse of funereal jocularity, had commanded
this salvo with a view to livening the ship up. He had been pondering the
proposition that humanity, in the secondary sense of that word, might be
made to pay. The results of his musings were two. First, this lively
salute to the dead child, which had the effect of filling its progenitors
and the rest of the cargo with intolerable alarm, besides drawing from
Conisby the jibe that if his blacks were to be pampered thus with
princely tributes of gunpowder they would all be tumbling over themselves
to die. Secondly, the sailors heard with astonishment an order to uncover
the hatch and rig a net over it. They laboured readily, agog for any
novelty, pleased to think that soon the blacks would be on view like
animals in a cage, and might be watched performing those everyday actions
which take on interest and strangeness when performed by creatures of
another geography. A song came out clearly as they knocked away the
wooden pins and lifted the structure, and they worked to it, recognizing
it as a water-song, having one of those beats to which ropes may be
hauled or oars dipped, and which get the best out of strength. As the
hatch lifted it could be seen that the people were standing, stretching
up their hands towards the light in attitudes of adoration, and the song
ceased, as though impotence in sound had come upon them. When the net was
rigged the sailors stood back from it and burst out laughing. They got
scraps of broken biscuit, and tossed these through the mesh upon
imploring hands, experiencing a sensation of power and benevolence, They
were grateful to the negroes for being helpless. Now that they might view
this helplessness and compare it with their own freedom to walk at ease
about a cockleshell darting snipe-like over a waste of water, they could
recognize themselves as fine fellows. They chuckled and cast cheerful
insults down.

Captain Bryant, surveying the pleasant bustle created by his own display
of enlightened self-interest, threw from the poop a suggestion.

"Now they're wide open, try if they'll hear a sermon."

He added, not without malice:

"You find the deck more to your taste than the hold, Mrs. Askill." Mary
Askill answered that this was not so; that she was, indeed, on her way
back among the people; and for a sermon, the only language they
understood was that of corporal mercy.

"That's a soldier I don't know," the Master replied. "But you are welcome
to stay above decks, for me."

"She had rather go down into lewdness," Ann Sawyer said very low. "An
unbeliever keeps the key to her abiding place."

Mary Askill turned. The two women eyed each other; the scar on the fat
woman's forehead showed angry as the blood sank away from her face.

"They'll hear no word of God from you," went on Ann Sawyer. "Only
something they should not."

"What have I said that should not be heard?" Conisby took the fat woman's
hand to distract her from her anger, and kissed it. She turned, with all
her strength striking at him so that he stumbled against the gunwale.
Mary Askill said, troubled:

"Answer me, Ann."

"Don't heed her," instantly Conisby advised. "She'll tell you a packet of
lies; she lies like a pedlar."

"You aren't willing Mary should hear the truth. You're in a mind to keep
your secret mockeries, and use God's vessel for your drinking pot."

The altercation had its eager witnesses; Bryant, sardonic above; the
negress, rendered still by fear of the clamouring voices; sailors,
lingering by the open hatch, turning from the pastime of spitting (but in
a friendly spirit) upon woolly heads to watch this cockand-lien fight.

Mary Askill, gathering her temper, said:

"I hear you. Say what you have to."

Ann Sawyer took breath; but in the very instant of voicing her accusation
found herself up-ended. Conisby, advancing, by a wrestler's trick took
and held her against his hip, head downwards. Her skirt fell over her
mouth, from which stifled sounds issued that had no bearing upon the
dispute; she clawed with her hands to maintain such decency as a
petticoat might secure; from prophetess she had become in a twinkling the
mere squabbling goose of the market-place, helpless, ridiculous. The
spectators, at this unexpected ending to the scene, burst out laughing;
below in the ship the cargo, to whom the whole affair was invisible but
who could catch laughter skilfully as a tossed ball, repeated the sound.
Mary Askill caught at Conisby's arm.

"For shame. Set her down."

"Would she not have shamed you? Would she not have set you down if she
could?" He addressed his victim, who struggled no longer:

"Do you swear to be civil?"

There was no answer. Mary Askill said again:

"Set her down. You don't pleasure me, I can tell you. I fight my own
battles."

Conisby lowered the stout woman to the deck where she lay unmoving. They
could see now that she had fainted. The young man surveyed the open
mouth, slack body, and with a shrug gave it as his opinion that no doubt
they were wasting powder and shot.

"This is a woman, a kind of animal to which men in their dotage write
verse, making immortal Death's morsel. One should never set eyes on women
save in pictures, interview them only by night, and talk with them never.
Thus illusion might be preserved--"

Mary Askill disregarded this fantasy, and, a sailor having brought water
in his cap, began by such means as she had to revive the insensible
woman. In a moment Ann Sawyer, with snortings and haltings of the breath,
came to herself. Finding Mary Askill holding her, she leaned against her
for a moment, the old trustfulness instinctively reviving; but it died
with returning powers. She pushed away the hand that soothed her
forehead.

"Let me up. I've no place here."

"Ann, I had no part in what he did to you."

"What he did to me--that's naught. It's what he've done to you, Mary
Askill. Thieving you from God. Making you his abomination."

"Come you down among the poor people. See for yourself, there's naught
but misery there."

"You can't carry God to them, having none of their speech. What for
should you lie among them, if not by reason of that man?"

"All sermons is not by words."

"It's the Word saves, and so you know well enough, Mary Askill."

"Then in God's name, the Word let them have," said Mary Askill.

She carried now a little stripe of red upon each cheek-bone. Her head was
high, and as she walked to the net over the hatch Conisby promised
himself a study in the alchemy of the spirit; anger distilling prayer. A
further possible development occurred to him, one which, while it offered
matter for laughter, held promises of deeper mischief. A Biblical
happening recurred to his thought, more accustomed to admit tags from
dead classics; the affair of the angel who troubled the waters and so
brought forth healing. Smiling at himself in the part of this heavenly
messenger he called to Maria, who obeyed his finger, and stood with a
hand insolently upon her bare waist to speak to the priestesses.

"Rule of three, Mrs. Ann, Mrs. Askill. There is a way to make yourselves
apprehended, if you will but take it." As they halted he enlarged his
meaning. "Let Mrs. Askill talk English. I will roll her meaning out in
Portuguese into Maria's ear; Maria then from Portuguese shall make their
own mumbo-jumbo of it. Thus, by relay, like the runners of old Greece,
news of salvation comes."

The Master looking down, the sailors standing level, and the blacks
gazing up, as in a church carving of earth, hell, heaven, heard thus the
threefold sermon delivered.

MARY ASKILL:--

"Poor creatures, dark with the darkness of Satan, will you have the
light, will you be clean? I speak that have lain among you, and seen your
distresses. Will you have comfort and joy, will you have food and living
water? All these lie in one that is the Lord's unworthy vessel, to be
spilled upon you when you have learned to ask. Poor people, taken from
your homes. Poor people, caught up by the oppressor into bondage. Yet if
in these bonds you learned God's freedom, they are not bonds, but gates
by which you enter upon a kingdom. People, there is one God only. That
God is your lover, he thirsts after you, he will have you for his own. In
my country, when a woman will marry with a man, that man must say before
witnesses that he takes her to have and to hold, and when he has so
spoken the two cannot be put asunder by voice or hand of man. So it is
with God. Say you that you will have and hold him, know him for your Lord
as the woman knoweth her husband. So are you his, and he yours, and no
sin, no stain can sunder you one from the other--"

JOHN CONISBY, translating freely into Portuguese:--

"Unfortunates, you are the devil's children, will you now forsake your
father? One speaks that knows you. One speaks who has power to give you
good food, clean water, in return for the thing you must do. Will you
have courage to break your bonds? You are many, these people few that
confine you. If you will but ask and bestir yourself, a kingdom is yours
for the taking. You wonder to hear a woman speak before a man, and a man
follow her words. But is not this the way of marriage? Words are women,
deeds are men. Speak then as she asks. Call down the power of God into
you, and after speaking do. If it is your will to be free, say, and do,
and it will be so. And there is no power can hinder you, for God will be
with you."

MARIA, speaking the tongue of the Galu rivers, embroidering the
Portuguese as fancy dictated:--

"They speak with strange tongues. I am not sure that I know what the
woman would be at. The man is the one to listen to. He orders you to do
something, but what it is I can't make out. He wants the woman, but she
will not take him. It would break her magic to take him. She has spoken a
charm to you to make you strong. When you have called upon her, she will
get strength out of the sky, and give it to you, and you will not be kept
down there for slaves any more. There will be a marriage, but I do not
know how. Perhaps she will marry the sky to make wind or rain. I do not
understand them. I think he wants you to call on--" She did not speak the
name of the most feared and sacred deity of the Galu, but made a sign
such as was proper for a woman to use in reference to him. The chief man,
a good deal shocked, interrupted her to protest that there were women
present, and therefore it would be most undesirable to speak that name
aloud. In this place, which was after all a place of waters, it would not
do to be careless of the most feared one of the rivers.

Maria answered that any name would do, spoken loudly; or any song. The
white woman only required a sign. ("What do they say?" Ann Sawyer was
asking; the question was handed down through the two languages. "What do
they say?" Back it came, the soft river speech shifting to Lusitanian,
with harsh Arab sounds; thence to English, which the blacks in their
innocence had named the snake-tongue, from its quick hissed s so often
recurring.) Before any reply could trace its laborious way to them, the
man with the bones had hit upon something acceptable, announcing it to a
rhythm his fellows recognized; and away went the strong voices on a
chorus which they believed could not fail to be the very thing the
priestess desired:--

"Poto-gu-del,
Poto-gu-del,
A linka deklinka de
Poto-gu-del !"

If the words were less clearly pronounced than they might have been, the
tune was not to be mistaken. These people readily caught such things,
hung tunes in their memories as they hung bundles on their shoulders,
unthinkingly sure. Thus there was no misapprehending this outburst. Mary
Askill, Conisby, Ann Sawyer recognized the unregenerate song which came
flooding up from the open hatches, psalm to their sermon. It struck the
flag from Mary Askill's cheeks. Conisby laughed. Captain Bryant also, but
grimly, laughed. The sailors approved the chorus and took it up
themselves, unmelodiously. Ann Sawyer and Mary Askill faced each other
and spoke low, with deadly distinctness.

"God hears that. Are there no songs of Zion in your heart now, any
longer?"

"God hears whom he has chosen."

"Taking your Bible down there, him learning you to read--to read in the
dark. Woe unto you, scribes and hypocrites!"

The hubbub on deck subsided. From the hatch still came the strong chant
of the prisoners, trustfully crying as they had been bid; repeating the
chant untiring, without variation nor shadow of turning; thumping its
rhythm with their bare feet, clapping sharp emphasis with their bare
hands, happy with monotony as children are, safe in routine. The
witnesses on deck, Captain Bryant raised above it, saw the two women
stand close, quite still, though one seemed to be quivering. Again they
spoke together, too quietly to be overheard.

"I've watched you. God's you may be, you're his elect, none can take you
from him. But there's one can send you to him, before you defile the cup
of another's salvation."

"Have done, Ann. I'll go down to the people."

"You shan't multiply your whoredoms. You shan't be a stumbling block."

"What's in your hand? Ann--"

It was the blade of a knife that showed white as Ann Sawyer's hand came
upwards. The Master shouted warning. Conisby, who had turned away, faced
about. Mary Askill stood still, the point touching, denting the skin of
her throat. Ann Sawyer might kill before she could be hindered; the
rescuers hung back. A third time the women spoke quietly together.

"Are you defiled?"

"No."

"You are, and know it not. Your eyes are for him. Your thoughts are with
him. When the hand of God lies upon you, when you are moved, you speak of
him. You fly from him, he is with you in your heart. Your abominations
rise against you. God's forgot."

"What did I say, Ann? When have I spoken?"

"Unknowing, three times. The night he came back from the island with
Maria. Last night, when you testified--"

"And said, what?"

"Oh, Mary, wicked things not to be told, lustful sayings, and your face
with God's seal on it--"

"Who heard, save you?"

"All these here. The man himself. Lie like a pedlar, do I? It's truth,
and he knows it. He has heard you declare yourself."

"Will God permit such a thing?" said Mary Askill softly.

"Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh," Ann Sawyer
answered, spitting out the text. "Do you understand now what for I take
up the knife?"

"If I spoke when God was upon me," Mary Askill said, as if pondering, "I
spoke what was true." The negress Maria who had watched closely, saw the
face of Ann Sawyer change. She had observed that look before, in the eyes
of a sacrifice, drunken with fervour, calling down the knife. She made
signal to her fellows down below therefore, and spoke quickly in their
language.

"They're going to bleed her. Jump up, what good will it do if you can't
smell the blood?"

As Maria spoke, the pommel of a sword, thrown cunningly, caught Ann
Sawyer just between the eyes. She put up both hands towards the shock,
her knife fell, she bowed down, blood dripped between her fingers.
Maria's yelp of astonishment, the strong excited curses of the sailors,
carried a wrong message to the congregation devoutly and alertly waiting
below.

In the hold men standing on each other's shoulders clawed at the netted
ropes, straining to see the blood which was to save them. Their weight
parted the ropes, rotten with too many weathers; through the holes they
swarmed, fifteen of them, roused from acceptance of servitude by the one
unfailing stimulus, an act of religion.

This appearance, perfectly unexpected, threw the sailors into confusion
and interrupted, as the chief man immediately perceived, the ceremony
they had come to share. He beheld a woman prostrate, a weapon ready. It
was not the woman he had been led to suppose, but she seemed to wait so
passively, so decently, hands over her face in all propriety, that he
scarcely hesitated. The knife being to hand, he found the ritual spot
below the right ear and drove it in. His followers welcomed the ensuing
blood with high-pitched cries, hailing it strongest of waters. When Mary
Askill fell on her knees to stanch it they lifted her away kindly,
explaining in language she did not comprehend that she must not interfere
with the libation, while they touched her dabbled fingers with reverence.
She spoke, rebuking and persuading. They were past persuasion.

Captain Bryant now, bawling at his men to look alive, found himself in
difficulties. Since the mutiny he had kept all arms under his own eye,
even necessary tools of the trade like marlin-spikes had been niggardly
dealt out by the boatswain. Thus his fellows had only their bare hands to
oppose to the bare hands, more powerful, of the invaders of the deck.
Conisby's thrown weapon a black hand picked up. It was fifteen men
against eleven, fifteen drunken and warm with religious ecstasy against
eleven alarmed and disunited. The Master up his ladder might shout, the
crew was not given leisure to cup hands to ears and make out his meaning.
They looked to Conisby; but Conisby stood still, arms at his sides, as
though beggared of power to act.

In fact, the turmoil with the two women at its heart had struck at his
recollection. He had never known the names of the preachers who had on
his word been committed to gaol at Oxford; he knew them now as though
they had been proclaimed for his sole benefit by heralds with trumpets.
He could hear his own sophistical arguments, whereby it was proved that
the whole duty of flesh was to pay the debts of the spirit; that you
might set ten lines of good verse against ten stripes of the lash, and
strike a balance satisfactory to any philosopher. This phantasm of memory
possessed him like a dream, and dreamlike robbed his limbs of motion. He
saw sailors springing into the rigging, struggling there with men who
climbed better than they. The Master, disappearing to fetch weapons, drew
pursuit upon him, and was seen no more; from the place where he had gone
black men came out, steel in their hands. All about him was the very
noise and confusion which a few weeks ago he had provoked in a vain
attempt to die and lose life unawares as a man might lose a purse in a
crowd. He could not take his place in it. Blood ran on the deck, he saw
it as wine, and stood still. It appeared to the poet in him orderly and
right that he should now die; but at the back of his mind, where a
soldier lay encamped, there was questioning.

Mary Askill, rising from Ann Sawyer's side after composing the limbs
decently, stood upright. He thought she was about to pray, but there was
no exaltation in her attitude or her eyes. She seemed to be considering
deeply, looking down at the companion of past years. A black man, the
leader, came and spoke to her, holding in his left hand the severed hand
of a sailor. This he dropped at her feet. Other men came with trophies or
put them before her, making obeisance. She could understand by their
urgent voices that they were calling on her to prophesy, to reward them
with promises of protection. The girl Maria, her stateliness departed,
screamed a request in Portuguese: Tell them what more is to be done, is
it finished, are we safe now from the gods of water, and the child?
Nobody was concerned for Conisby, it was as though he had been stricken
invisible.

However, it was towards him that Mary Askill walked, the blacks making
way. When she stood by him, and Conisby felt them both safe on that
stained and spattered deck, the soldier in him drew level with the poet.
His question might have come from either:

"Why do they leave me living?"

She had her own question, brushing this irrelevance aside.

"John Conisby, what's next to be done?"

Behind them the black women began to gather, as good climbers as their
men, swarming up by the broken nets now that the killing was over. They
made a noise sharp and eager, a market-place noise very different from
their previous song, not apt to the desolation of the deck. Conisby said,
continuing his own troubled thoughts:

"You had better know. You have me to thank for your prison at Oxford. You
have me to thank for this last bloodshed."

Again she put away the personal matter to ask:

"Can you sail a ship?"

"Do you hear me?" Conisby insisted. "I have twice been your tormentor. I
have brought this on you." Mary Askill, putting out her strong hands to
his shoulders, grasped and shook him.

"Wash your conscience another time. Mr. Bryant is dead. Can you sail a
ship, can you order these men? If you can, then set to it. They will obey
you. They think you are my servant."

"Am I not?" said he.

"Have done," she told him in her loud farm-girl's voice. "This is no time
for see-sawing back upon the past. This is a time for strength, and wits,
and God Almighty. Look at them."

The blacks, indeed, all ritual passion spent, were now assembling in a
circle about the pair, sinking on their hams to watch the colloquy,
whispering, looking for orders. She dropped her hands from his shoulders.

"They can pull a rope, I dare say, where they are told. Can you guide our
ship? Answer me."

"I can make shift."

She nodded, considering. He broke in upon her thoughts.

"Once before--you did not know it--I dedicated to you the work of my
hands, Mary."

"Oh, great Lord God of Hosts!" she answered, in a burst of rage, face
reddening, eyes swinging upwards:

"Does a man never learn that there are times and seasons? Take Maria and
speak them their orders; bid them clean the decks down. Will you stand
there and simper out compliments with blood under your feet? Must I box
your ears for you?"

That request, with all the echoes of childhood about it and the small
sins of home, spoken on a deck strewn with bodies of men, caught Conisby
out of his mood and allowed the old easy self once more to take command.
He bent double, up came his legs, and he stood balanced on his hands,
head sunk between them to the level of her shoe. Thus standing he spoke
defiance.

"Try it."

"That's more like," answered Mary Askill without a smile turning away.
The black people, at this unexpected ending to the grave conversation of
their commanders began to laugh, and on the broad buckle of a dead man's
belt the little jester, the musician, beat out an amusing rhythm with his
pair of bones.

The ship which had been hanging undecided upon a light wind, running this
way and that, helplessly beating her canvas upon the spars as a woman in
doubt or fear claps her hands together, now resumed her course. Steadily
she took the wind upon her shoulder, coursing west.




PART TWO



GABRIEL: Compare fond knowledge, with true wisdom: Thy spirits of lying
with us, that are the voice of truth: The vanity that they lead thee
into, and the reward of our message: And say within thyself, peccavi.
Wilt thou be persuaded by experience? Consider thy imprisonments, thy
affliction and shame of body. Consider the love of a few and envy of a
multitude. Weigh with thyself the vanity of thy life. Thy rash footsteps.
All that happened unto thee by the society and (as thou thinkest)
comfort; but, indeed, the stinging pricks of thy enemies.

But, this sayeth the Lord, I deal with you as a childe: But the vessel
that I must use, must be clean.

_A True and Faithful Relation of what passed for many years between
Dr. John Dee and some Spirits_.


(i)


Captain Nathaniel Uring, master mariner, in his Voyages and Travels gives
a very particular description of the Bay of Honduras, on whose coast
owing to shipwreck and treachery he once found himself cast away. He drew
indeed a picture of those shores, having the notion that some such chart
might be of use to "masters of Ships that may, by Accident, be drove into
those Seas, or Trade thither, and are unacquainted therewith. In order to
draw the said Draught, I made a wooden Pair of Compasses, and a Scale; my
Ink was made with gunpowder and my Pens with the Feathers of wild Fowl;
with these Utensils I draw the Draught of the Bay of Honduras, describing
all the Islands therein, and the Coast of the Muschetos, which, with some
Alterations I have made since, is a pretty good one."

Among these islands Captain Uring's chart shows, not far off the mouth of
the Monkey River, one to which he gives without comment the name (no
doubt traditional) of Forsaken Island. This place, when visited by
another traveller in the year 1710, was found to be fertile yet deserted.
Traces of buildings were visible, whose stone foundations had survived
the tornadoes and equinoctial storms by which those latitudes are
scourged; from these it could be deduced that a community once had lived
upon the island which understood something of civilized life. A well was
properly faced with stone; dwellings, instead of being scattered in the
Indian manner, were grouped about one central building as an English
village crowds about its church.

This second traveller, not being a prisoner or castaway, and so having
more leisure for detail than Captain Uring (who was concerned to instruct
rather than to conjecture), goes into a kind of rhapsody about the
abandoned island. What, he enquires of the Fates, Sisters Three, and such
branches of learning, can in the first place have brought a white
community to lodge thus far from the noises of the world? And having
taken such a step, what could induce that same community to forsake an
island which he describes as "a veritable Garden of Cucumbers." Going on
to say that there are in fact no cucumbers upon it, though almost every
other vegetable and fruit was to be plucked in unheard-of profusion, the
second traveller composes an imaginary explanation of the exodus in which
Spanish buccaneers, dark-eyed maidens, treacherous Indians and
simple-hearted Englishmen combine to make one heroic pattern. His
enthusiasm even propels him to quote verse:

"Has Heaven reserv'd, in Pity to the Poor,
No pathless Waste, or undiscover'd shore?
No secret Island in the boundless Main?
No peaceful Desert yet unclaimed by Spain?
Quick let us rise, the happy Seats explore,
And bear oppression's Insolence no more."

After this outburst the second traveller, having explored one happy Seat,
seems to have moved on, returning doubtless to that very oppression which
he deplored, but which provided the necessary audience for his
adventures. His romantic interpretation of the exodus from Forsaken
Island remains perfectly untrue.


(ii)


As a drunken man, unable to protect himself against injury, is observed
to move more safely through dangers than a man sober, so did the
_Nonsuch_ preserve her timbers and the lives of her crew when she
followed the wind's bidding into West Indian seas. Though the Master and
Mate had fallen, it was discovered that not all of her, crew had been put
out of action by the blacks in their assault. The boatswain, though
damaged, was in a condition to help with the working of the ship, and
some time after the noises on deck had died down, when swabbing was over,
and food was being distributed, the carpenter appeared from his chosen
seclusion in the ship's bowels where daily he wrought like a Dutchman
against the incursions of the sea. Thus four white persons were left to
control the fortunes of the _Nonsuch_ and the souls aboard her.

The Africans, after one outburst of killing which appeared to have
settled their minds, proved tractable and civil, not wholly inexpert in
the management of a ship. They were content to obey those whom
circumstance had set over them, knowing themselves lost in this restless
desert of the sea. They were conscious of rectitude, they had sacrificed
to it and whatever deity owned it; they might hope for the best, a return
to their own place. Meanwhile, shrewdly aware that in dealing with the
unknown numbers must stoop before knowledge, they made themselves
obedient, pulling ropes as they were bid and behaving with restraint in
the matter of food.

Captain Bryant's charts, discovered in his cabin, were works of fantasy
rather than statements of fact. Large ornamental dolphins swam in their
waters, the shapes of all islands had a family resemblance. Only here and
there near some long-established settlement the scrawled symbol of an
anchor showed where safe water might be found.

Conisby counselled that they should keep away--"if we can, for the wind's
our master"--from all the larger islands of the Mexique Bay. In and out
of their harbours sped ships of war both French and Spanish, privateers,
buccaneers, and adventurous Indians in vessels whose walls, no thicker
than paper, served to stimulate endeavour when it came to a fight, since
for them it was sink or conquer. He had large notions of riding behind
the Leeward Islands, finding arms somehow, and cutting out a lagging
galleon of the Silver Fleet on her way home to Spain from Cartagena.

The carpenter had other views. He was all for keeping their course, and
making for Barbados. He laughed as he pointed out the humour of it, how
the blacks should work, and keep watch, all free as air, and so sail
themselves back into captivity one fine day without the least notion of
what was in store for them.

The boatswain had little to say, recollecting how he had once tormented
the woman who now by the fortunes of war was set over him. He looked at
her out of the corners of his eyes, and sat on his hands like a
schoolboy.

Mary Askill would not have piracy, would not have Barbados. The one meant
bloodshed, the other a sick heart; she could not contemplate delivering
the trustful singing people again into slavery. She was, to their
surprise, more practical than the men, her considerations ranged wider
than theirs. She had reckoned up the stores of food and water, knew them
provisioned for so many days, had some notion where, upon the blankness
of the chart, the _Nonsuch_ lay. She had her plan, based upon these
things, that they should attempt a colony upon some island unclaimed, of
which Captain Bryant had told her there were many off the coast of
Yucatan.

"Look ye here," said she, "we have among us all the powers such a village
would need. There is one that can build houses and teach the rest of us.
There is one that can be schoolmaster in peace, and learn us to defend
ourselves against war. There is one, a woman, that can plant gardens, and
milk cows. And for the black people, let them labour as they do in their
own country, for their own living, not sweat for a master."

Conisby gave a brief groan.

"Strange schooling! What print have we aboard? Your antique Gospel, an
Ephemeris showing the places of the planets, their latitudes and motions;
and, in one of my pockets, Horace in his own tongue."

And he went on to mock at the notion of an island unclaimed; as likely,
said he, to find sixpence unclaimed ten days after it had slipped from
your pocket in Westminster Hall. He was for Barbados, if she would not
come privateering. Sell the blacks and set up (since she would have it
so) as farmers with the money they might fetch.

The carpenter backed this opinion, putting in his claim for a third of
what the cargo would bring. Said he:

"I have kept you afloat, I and my hammer and my pail of pitch. The weeds
hold her planks together as grass holds earth on a dyke, and I have so
contrived that they are not interfered with. I made the spinning wheel
that saved us out of the doldrums. If we are above water at all, it is
thanks to me. But I will be content with my share."

Mary Askill demurred. The carpenter, elbow seeking the boatswain's side,
supposed that she had instructions from on high. Conisby looked
dangerously at him. It seemed as though these four, preserved amid so
many perils, could not be at one for their own safety, but must dispute
until peril should unite them again.

It was Conisby who found the means of deciding. He had pulled from his
pocket, when the matter of school-mastering was in question, the little
Horace which he kept always by him; now, studying this, he spoke.

"It was my father's custom, when he could not make up his mind on some
question, to ask advice of what he called a better man than himself. He
would go to the big volume of Virgil, run a pin between its leaves, and
act as the pin directed; that is to say, according to the verse at which
it pointed. We have a wise man of the ancients here at hand. Will you
stand by what he may tell us?"

The carpenter, after thought, agreed that the idea was a good one; he was
willing to abide by what might chance. Nor did the boatswain, when the
matter had been explained to him, see any harm in it. Mary Askill,
however, made shrewd objection.

"We are three here that knows no Latin. You are a scholar, you may make
what you please of the writing and we be none the wiser."

"You don't trust me," said Conisby, half-smiling, speaking her inner
thought aloud for her. "Small blame to you, after I played you that trick
with the sermon. Well, then, let it be your Bible upon which we cast the
_sortes_."

The carpenter thought this altogether better; safe against cheating--he
could read English a little--and more religious besides. The boatswain
too accepted the plan. It was he, having no tincture of learning
whatsoever, who was set to the actual task of divination from the
tattered pages of St. Luke.

He took from Mary Askill's hand one of the pins that she kept in a row,
drilled like pikemen, upon the shoulder of her dress, and pushed the
pages apart, eyes tightly shut.

"No need for that," Conisby told him. "You cannot read, you are blindfold
already by ignorance. Choose your verse how you will, by its shape or its
length, or the capital letter. To you it's all one. Wait, though. Let St.
Luke be questioned in order. What's first to be asked?"

"We want to know who's to command," said the carpenter. "Until that's
settled, there'll be nothing rightly settled. The Lord was a carpenter,
there is something about my craft in that book. Take the beginning,
master."

"Well," said Conisby, "let it be so. Will you abide by that, Mary? This
is for who shall command."

She nodded. The boatswain again shut his eyes, and blindly thrust with a
pin at the open page. They all leaned over his shoulder to find their
fate.

"And agayne he sayde, wereunto shall I lyken the Kingdome of God; it is
lyke leven, which a woman toke and hyd in thre bushells of floure tyll
all was thorowe levended."

It was Conisby who read the verse aloud. When he had done he laughed
abruptly.

"There's the answer, then. We three are the flour to your leaven, Captain
Mary."

She said nothing, looking at the other men. The carpenter, after a
grumble or two that females should stick to their spinning and not go
sailing the seas, admitted that St. Luke might have done worse. But he
stipulated that he was not to be expected to obey anything she might
command in one of her fits, such obedience being against reason and
nature. She answered:

"But if God speaks through me thus? You are saying you will obey when the
servant tells you, but not the master."

The carpenter still hesitating, Conisby put his hand forward to cover the
hand of the she-captain, and said, very seriously looking into her face:

"Mary, I think such things are over; such signs and wonders."

"We are under protection still."

"There will be no more of it. Only by way of the empty vessel can the
great voice sound, and the day of that vessel was done when you took me
for partner."

"I took you unknowing."

She stood up on the word, and bade them all three go to their posts.


(iii)


In this manner, thus commanded, the _Nonsuch_ pursued her way, driving
blindly among legendary dangers. Slow, she passed unseen by swift raiders
lurking in the shelter of the Leewards; unsound, she was spared the
inquisition of rocks and shallows; ill supplied, she trawled successfully
for fish, bringing up out of the surface waters creatures so magically
coloured that even the blacks clicked tongues and pointed before knocking
them on the head for food. On her flanks grew weed that cheated her of
pace; she lagged along, for all the brisk holding wind, like a ship in a
dream, and Conisby was able to perceive that for the necessary
tip-and-run of privateering she was about as well suited as that bowl in
which the three wise men of Gotham went to sea. He respected Mary
Askill's judgment and said so, lying idly by her on the deck.

"We are telling the tale of a tub. We are like those creatures whose very
defencelessness serves as defence, we cannot fight nor fly. Each night we
prick our bow into the sunset, and so, I understand it, west is our
direction. But where we lie as concerns South or North is a mystery out
of my competence. Shall you take it amiss if we end up in the Brazils?"

She answered gravely that she did not think they would do that, having
regard to the position of the North Star. He was silent for a moment.

"And you and I, which way do we move? Towards what star, Venus or the
Virgin?"

"Venus is heathen, the Virgin's popish. Talk plain."

"You are hard on us poor University fellows. If all the world talked
plain there'd be few books, fewer commentators, and how would the learned
live?"

She looked at him; smiled. He shifted his position to lay hold of her
foot. It wore a square rough shoe, the tongue patched where a bullet once
had struck it. He said, stroking the toe timidly, like a child:

"I am back in my doldrums. I did you once a wrong so dreadful, it seems
to me you never should forgive it. When I touch you there comes a picture
of your skin torn with whips at Oxford, and myself making jingles out of
it."

"Have I reproached you?"

"Not yet--"

"Wait till I do."

She went on with her work, cutting one ample petticoat of dead Ann
Sawyer's into a couple of skirts for the black women. She was equable.
Her coolness and industry goaded him.

"How am I to make court to a woman that won't be revenged, that won't be
in a passion, that snips away like Atropos when I am all lively with the
fires of Eros?"

"Who's he?"

"Love. The emblem of loneliness."

She let him take the length of stuff out of her hands, and was surprised
when, instead of pitching it away, he held it, thinking. His own words
had brought to mind a remembrance of three women sitting like the Fates.
He had endured at that time a foreboding of death; instead, love had come
with pangs and bewilderment not much easier to endure. He spoke out of
his thought something which for her had no relevance:

"But there is this about love, that a man may try it more often than
once. The terror should be less."

He rolled the garment up and tossed it away, remaining on his knees
before Mary Askill. Her hands, deprived of occupation, lay in her lap.
Her eyes met his with frankness.

"Help me talk to you. Some things it takes two to say."

"What troubles you?"

"You trouble me. I find no instructions, even in Horace, for making love
to a prophetess."

"You want to ask me to come to bed to you."

He sat back upon his heels.

"Study of Holy Writ makes a woman plain-spoken. I was asked a question
once concerning Roundheads, how they ever got families; now I have my
answer. Well, and suppose I do? (I am back at your statement.) What would
you say?"

"I'm willing."

"Without a parson? Unless some great fish spews up a prophet upon us out
of the sea."

She said then very seriously, putting off her defence:

"You told me something of yourself once, how you could never do any great
act save in hot blood, skirmishing and turmoil, and out of that you draw
courage. I said to you then--it was the night of the spinning; my foot
pained me--I said I felt God upon me, driving me as I drove my wheel."

He did not interrupt. But he gave a short sigh, thinking of his rival,
the unseen power, hidden and safe upon his throne. She went on:

"I am not like you. All I do must be done coldly, save when the breath
blows. Ann Sawyer said I spoke of love for you. I've been thinking, she
was angry then, she might tell a lie to provoke me. Say true, don't spare
me. Did I speak of that, on that night?"

Conisby said, questioning:

"You trust me to tell the truth, do you? I have been treacherous before,
when it served my purposes. If I say that you spoke love for me, you
would accept that as God's bidding and obey. I should be sure of you, so.
Do you trust me indeed?"

She answered slowly:

"I know you better. You do not like to accept me from the hand of God.
You would rather I came unwilling, struggling. Because that would show
your power over me, and the other would show God's power."

He broke out, after an astonished pause:

"How do you know such things? I that am knowledgeable, that have fought
and read and gone about the world, how is it I can't hide from you? And
yet you are dark to me; I move in your mind like a blind man without his
dog in a strange city. How could you know that it's what I can't endure,
to have you delivered over to me, signed and sealed, like a slave?"

She loosed her fingers that had been tightly clasped together.

"So I did speak of you. God it was that bade me take you. That doesn't
please you. You are jealous."

He said angrily:

"Because I can never possess you as you have been possessed by God, I
shall never hear you cry out, or see you look as you do in those waking
frenzies. It is like wedding Pygmalion's widow."

"Isn't a willing woman better than one that flies you and fears you?"

He said brutally:

"Maria is a willing woman."

Mary Askill, looking at him squarely and sadly, answered:

"Why must you torment yourself and me? You are one that can't take a
piece of money without biting it. All these weeks since you took upon
yourself to destroy me, you could not leave me be. I went among the dark
people, you came after. I ran to God's bosom, you plucked me back. What
will you have now? I have said I will lie with you. But that won't do.
You must have tears and shame, you must see pain before you can take
pleasure--"

"Ah, Mary, no! I've caused you pain enough. I could beat out my silly
brains on the mast when I think of it. Pity my weakness, the crooked run
of my mind. Only, you spoke so coldly."

"I've told you, I am made so."

"Will you say no more than that? Is there no way to strike a spark?" He
stretched up his hand to her cheek. "Does nothing light when I touch
you?"

"You said that before."

"So you remember. You're not quite without passions. You did not hate me
that night."

"I had not licence then to love you."

"Again!" He struck her cheek hard, and after bowed his head against it.
"Mary, be pitiful. I am a fool, but I am suffering. If it were a man that
I could run my sword through--"

She put her hands to his head, lifted it, looked in the eyes which for
once did not smile at her.

"The miseries men make for themselves! As if there wasn't enough of it
real in the world. What can I say to quiet you?"

"Say--" He considered, turning over phrases.

"Listen," said she. "Take this for your comfort. I don't feel any more
the press of God upon me. That's departed. It's as if I had gone back to
the old life, when I tended the cows and sang a song or two, and took no
thought for black men's souls or my own. I have a kind of peace in me. I
lie quiet, like this ship when the wind dies. God gives me over--" He
made an impatient movement. "Not to you. To myself. I'm my own woman
again, that I never thought to be in this life. I can give now, and I can
take."

"Say it, Mary. 'I take this man--'"

She repeated the words of the marriage ceremony, as he remembered them
and dictated. Conisby was not yet satisfied.

"Do you swear?" She shook her head, and he understood her. "Well, it is
not your custom to swear, but do you declare it? Do you say that you come
for love, and not because you are bid?"

"I say that," she steadily answered.

He got up from his knees, and said, looking down on her:

"Do you think me a madman? Feared of a spirit--"

She shook her head.

"It's the kind of spirit you do well to be feared on. It comes in fire."

"Mary, I will have it. Speak as a woman now, not the anointed and the
elect, I don't know what; as a woman that has the want of a man in her
blood."

"John," she said. It was her only word, it was spoken with difficulty,
there was none of the sureness of prayer about it, nothing more followed.

"Ah," said he, very gently. "That's it. Now I'm content."


(iv)


The choice of the island was a matter of chance. The _Nonsuch_ was thrown
upon it late one night; not so much thrown indeed as laid upon the sand
that surrounded it, silt from Monkey River which had piled softly about a
submarine hill. The shock was not great, hardly so disturbing as the
strong opposition of a seventh wave; the _Nonsuch_ ceased her idling
progress, heeled a trifle and lay canted, as much at ease as a dog that
drops down on his side in sunlight.

It was evident to her company that by night nothing could be done; when
day came, that nothing need be done. Here was the very island to serve
their purpose, well watered it would seem, having good soil; unfrequented
as far as an hour's exploration could tell. Four of the strongest black
men were given cutlasses and food, and sent out to march across it with
instructions to spy for smoke and for water, marking the places where
both rose.

On the shore crabs scurried, many turtles reclined, good omen that the
island was not often visited by men. Radiant fishes nuzzled the sides of
the _Nonsuch_, seeking food among the weeds which streamed from her. Mary
Askill surveying these creatures, of which not even the visions of Isaiah
and Ezekiel had given her any previous conception, had a moment's
mistrust of herself. Could one used to England's green fields and homely
beasts pull a living from thicketed woods, and animals in armour? But the
boatswain, adroitly turning a turtle on its back, answered that question
in part, while the black men, when they returned from their expedition
unharmed, made it clear that there was nothing hid in the woods to make a
colonist uneasy. They had found a little lake, fed, they thought, by
springs; and though no river flowed from it, showing that they were not
yet come into the territory of the gods they knew, yet it was fresh water
and so welcome. One circumstance only seemed to disconcert them in
connection with this lake. It was boiling hot.

"That will save us firewood," said Mary Askill when they told her. Had
they said icicles hung from the palm-trees she would not have questioned
it. She was astray in a world not her own, where the most distracted
imaginings might be truth. "Well, we had better take counsel. What's to
do with the ship?"

Here the first difficulty arose. Well enough for Mary Askill and her
co-mates to settle matters by St. Luke and the thrust of a pin; the
majority of the ship's company, which had been allowed no voice in that
arrangement, saw no reason why it should be eternal. They had accepted
her while the ship rode water, having faith that she might know more of
the sea than they did; on land, delivered at last out of these mysteries,
they were free to return to the natural way of life in which women and
cattle ranked side by side. Something in their way of looking and walking
betrayed this change to Conisby. He told her without mockery for once
that there was danger. She would not have it. She spoke of the meekness
of the black people under duress, the tenderness with which even in the
heat of conflict they had regarded her safety. She bade him, through
Maria, call a council. He shrugged and obeyed.

They consulted pretty much after the manner to which the blacks in their
own land were accustomed. Maria the interpreter lay by Mary, and played
at arranging coloured stones. Conisby, by now accustomed to this
contrast, the dignity of each movement compared with the puerility of
each thought, sat by, and offered contributions to the pattern she was
making. The carpenter and the boatswain, seeing no reason why black
heathens should be consulted about their own fate, held aloof,
conspicuously busy about practical matters, but not out of hearing. Mary
Askill asked her first question, so simple as to pass undistorted through
the medium of two other tongues.

"Does this place please you to abide in?"

The chief man asserted on behalf of his fellows that it did, being not so
very different from their own country. There were vegetables, he said,
that he recognized, with which they could make do.

"Will you go on taking me for your ruler?"

With the answer to this the interpreters had some difficulty. Others
spoke besides the chief man, there was argument, which even Maria's ears
could not easily follow.

"She asks, will we obey her? She is bound to show us a sign."

"It is not good to obey women in ordinary matters. In religion it may
sometimes be otherwise."

"A woman cannot rule. She is unclean at times, and then she blasts crops
and brings blood-drinking spirits about the village paths."

"This is a white woman, she is not like our women."

"Will she bring rain? Can she imprison spirits in a basket? Ask what she
can do before we choose her."

"The white men are stronger than we are, the white men obey her."

"They have had a sign, no doubt. Ask if it is so. Ask for a sign."

That, at last, all the voices echoed: Ask for a sign. Conisby, before he
would translate the request, bade Maria be explicit; what sign, what were
they asking? Maria, using the Portuguese word with which she was
familiar, gave Conisby the sense of the demand:

"They say they will obey if she will first of all do a miracle."

Mary Askill eyed the interpreters without speaking. Conisby insisted that
he had not changed the meaning, that this was in fact what they were
asking, and offered to contrive something which would serve.

"It won't do," said Mary Askill.

They were, all of a sudden, back upon their old dispute, their old
relationship. He saw the matter as a simple one, involving nothing more
than some easily contrived pretence of power, which should prove a key to
power's reality. She perceived it as a temptation, the more subtle
because its end seemed desirable, order attained without strife.

Conisby pressed her.

"They want their answer. They will have it. Listen."

The black women had in fact begun very softly to sing. Unable by
tradition to form part of the council circle, they gathered in a group
out of earshot and waited to be told their fate. They sang softly,
swaying as to the motion of paddles, a song which, within the frame of an
old rhythm voiced new fears and hopes:

"Here we sit, olÚlÚ,
All among the turtles
   OlÚlÚ,
Who will lead us, olÚlÚ,
And give us nice fine food?
   Crocodile, parrot, olÚlÚ
   Snake, mudfish, olÚlÚ,
   The dear little bite of a monkey's shoulder,
OlÚlÚ. Nice fine food."

Each woman contributed singly that which she thought best to eat, and the
chorus came in on the final suggestion with an appetizing nonsense word
that sounded like the bubbling of cooking pots:

"0llobuluee! 0llobuluee!"

They drummed on their thighs for accompaniment and the song went on
monotonously, enquiring where the food was to come from, who was to cook
it, how the partakers would feel as it digested, and whether the island
devils would insist upon a share. It had an irrevocable insistence, as of
persons in no hurry. Mary Askill felt the weight of it. She said loudly,
defying the tempter within, that she had no sign for them, that she was
no disposer of signs, that signs came from God and that God was not
mocked.

"You say truth there," said Conisby, "but how if a sign be preparing,
lying in readiness, and you have but to proclaim it?" She told him, none
could know of such a thing. "Can they not? I have a prophecy here under
my hand, printed for one Mercurius Anglicanus, a fellow whose trade it is
to study the stars in their courses. He by calculation (nothing illicit,
nothing but commonsense mathematical) declares that about this day in
these parts there must come an eclipse of the sun. Well? What says
conscience?"

"How can such a thing be foreseen? How should it be told in a book?"

Not answering in words, he pulled out a shabby duodecimo, an Ephemeris,
whole library of the late Captain Bryant, and held it out to her.
Painfully she traced the words:

"It cannot be seen in _England_, but the total shade entereth upon the
disk of the Earth in the midst of the _Mar del Zur_, thence traversing
the lands of the Brasils, where about Three of the after Noon the Sun
will appear with a Luminous Ring about the dark body of the Moon."

Conisby watched as she spelled it out; said nothing, looked at her
half-smiling, and thumped with his hand on the sand the beat of the
women's song; now (though he did not know it) declaring:

"We are many, olÚlÚ,
They are few, olÚlÚ,
They carry their magic,
Ours has forsaken us, olÚlÚ,
They must protect us henceforth when we go in the woods,
In the fields, on the water--in the night,
In the twilight, in the light of the moon.
From the gods lying in wait,
And the dead people walking, olÚlÚ."

Taking a dead twig that lay by him Conisby stuck it upright in sand and
observed the shadow, short, and standing a little eastwards. There was no
mistaking this invitation to mark the hour. Midday was past.

"You had best lose no time," said he. "Will you warn them? Or shall I
take that task upon myself?"

Mary Askill got up and walked away. The black women seeing her come
towards them stressed the beat of their song, the men looked at each
other satisfied; their doctors of witchcraft also withdrew to prepare
marvels. She went into the shadows of the trees that grew almost down to
the sand. Beneath them the air was heavy to breathe. There was no motion
of leaves, no calling of birds, and underfoot none of the crispness of an
English wood in summer; fallen leaves and branches gave out no
cracklings, they yielded, sodden, softly cupping the foot. Mary Askill's
thoughts halted her facing an unfamiliar tree. This tree was host to all
manner of other plants, after the easy fashion of those latitudes; narrow
foliage grew by broad, fibres laced them together; life abundantly and
carelessly strayed upon it, taking food at second hand, affording refuge
or a hunting ground as its guests might decide. It was a way of life for
trees which would not have done in England. Ivy and mistletoe she knew,
the one killed, the other clung; they were to a tree as whore and wife to
a man. Here the issue was confused. It could not be told what was the
effect of all this casual verdure upon the life of the forest, save that
it flourished; but whether despite or by reason of this disdain of right
vegetable thinking she could not yet tell.

The shadows were strong. In their darkness Mary Askill sat, and her
thoughts moved slowly, clouded by past surrenders. In this silent place,
this softly weighted air, she could not hear the voice for which she had
been used to listen, but only Conisby's voice. She shut her eyes, as she
did when he spoke softly at her ear, and heard his sayings charged with
reasonableness. If by some magic of mathematics it could indeed be
discovered that the sun would on this day and in this place be veiled,
what harm to tell the people so? Joshua bade both sun and moon stand
still, and the Scripture said that what he did was written in a book, the
book of Jasher; an Ephemeris perhaps, wherein was laid down for the
chosen people what to expect of the planets, those lamps of the Lord.

Mary Askill became aware that she was drowsing; this after a morning of
inactivity, and in the very eye of the day. A month before she would
indignantly have shaken off the temptation to lie still and let decision
take its chance; now she temporized, gazing at a tiny patch of sunlight
that wavered on her arm. The pale roundel of light was strong, she could
feel on her flesh the shape of it printed in its own heat. She thought:

"I am Mary Askill, that has passed through the fire. Mary Askill, that
has forgotten her Lord in the love of man. I must stand now on my own
feet."

With that she put off drowsiness like a covering grown stifling, and set
her face towards the outer trees, the sand, and the attentive people.

It was no more than ten minutes' walking, at the rate of her long country
strides. Before she had taken fifty steps, however, she became aware of a
coolness in the air. There was a new silence. What her ear had before
accepted as silence was a texture of tiny sounds so close-woven and so
frail that their hum seemed no more than a throbbing of blood in the
living ear. This was quite other, a very antithesis of noise, hearing
blinded. She could have thought the heavy quiet not ominous, no more than
a caprice of the tropic afternoon but for one thing; light began to be
withdrawn as a candle's flame dwindles descending some long-neglected
well. The gap leading to the shore was no longer to be perceived. It had
framed a line of white, the shore, a line of blue, the sea; both were
enveloped in the growing shadow.

Mary Askill stood still. The mould on which she trod had steamed an hour
ago, its exhalations now were cold. A drear little wind blew, running
low, pushing at the tendrils of the creepers. In the fringed wood of a
tropic island at whose centre lay a hot lake she stood shivering, feeling
the hairs rise on her forearms; not at all afraid, since this darkness
and chill were not of the soul, but greatly perplexed. She was lost. She
waited.

The point of turning came after some three slow minutes. Light drained
back through the leaves, colour started out again here and there, sound
began with the shrieking of birds in confused flight overhead, bursting
from the tree-tops in which they had hidden at the first alarm. Mary
Askill resumed her march.

The sand offered to her eyes a singular scene. All the women had fallen
flat face down on the earth; they lay stretched full length in diving
attitudes, hands joined and pointed. The men still sat crouched on their
hams; their heads were sunk, and they peered between fingers at the world
renewed. Conisby lay on his back, facing the sky and rubbing at his eyes
with one hand which still held a scrap of horn through which he had been
gazing. Huddled, with her head thrust between his arm and ribs, Maria lay
like a terrified dog.

As Mary Askill came out of the wood there was a kind of movement and
rustling among the blacks. The chief man saw her first, and in a moment
all the company was aware of her, including the girl Maria, who looked up
from her burrow and pointed. Conisby obeyed the gesture, sprang up
unconcernedly at first; but with a sense of the occasion soon put on
decorum, and made the advancing figure an elaborate bow, hand to heart.
He called out, Maria translating:

"We have seen enough. We know where power dwells."

Maria added, elaborating her abasement:

"She can dry up the sea. She can make the land smoke. She can bring rain.
Let us obey her."

The chief man, rising, turned towards the advancing figure. He performed
quickly a series of ritual motions, his hands which he had touched with
spittle lifted and crossed in front of his face, like the preening
forelegs of a fly. Mary Askill took no notice of him. She came direct to
Conisby.

"What was it?"

"Eclipse," he answered. "Now you see that we schoolmen may sometimes net
the truth in our books."

"Look at that man and the others, look what they do. You have laid it
upon me, have you?"

"I said no word. They draw their own conclusions." Then, as she would not
speak, but looked at him angrily:

"If you tell them you had no hand in it, they will never believe you."

She stood awhile, thinking. At her back the blacks had begun to bestir
themselves, to go and come, never once treading on those marks in the
sand made by the broad sole of her shoe, keeping away from her shadow.
She spoke at last in a voice that betrayed her trouble:

"I cannot speak to them. I am cut off from them, save as you serve me to
speak, you and Maria. If I ask you now to tell them how it came about,
that it was none of my doing, would you obey in honesty?"

"It might mean death."

"Whose death?"

"Mine."

"Why?"

"For blaspheming the goddess whose power they have witnessed, and which
they doubt no longer."

She stood still, closing her eyes. He saw with compunction tears
gathering among the lashes, and forgetting his studied attitude of
deference took her head in his hands and pressed it down upon his
shoulder. He could feel the sobs shake her, and knew that she wept for
her helplessness and the weight that had been laid upon her, accepted
against her judgment. But though he pitied he was triumphant at the
thought of his rival by this acceptance put down from first place. Mary
Askill, looking up, saw through her tears the triumph in his eyes, and
knew that in him the old jealousy of God was not dead; knew too, with a
sort of wonder surprising her own heart, that it no longer had cause.


(v)


The building of the village went forward in a reasonable way. The blacks,
who at first were inclined to put up the kind of huts they preferred,
built of branches rather on the lines of a stork's nest, draughty to wind
and pervious to rain, found themselves overruled and set to work felling
trees. This was done a little inland, so that the clearing might not be
observed by raiders from the sea. They put up cabins in two decorous
rows, and not, as their own happy-go-lucky instincts prompted, facing
every way and sprinkled about disorderly. Conisby, who had previously
made in bark and sand a model of the village for their instruction,
wished to have it wholly upon the English plan, with an inn and a church;
this being, he explained, the nearest he would ever get to home until the
devil saw fit to claim Oliver.

But Mary Askill refused to sanction the erection of any such buildings,
more especially the steeple-house, as she called the church. He rebuked
her.

"Do you know what you are? You are an iconoclast."

"What's he?"

"One that breaks images. You have broken for me the image of home,
imperfect yet dear, that I had made for myself. What of the inn, will you
rob me of that too?"

"What use is an inn? We'll see no travellers."

"To sing songs in; songs, it may be, about pots of good ale. I have
thought out a name for it, the boatswain shall paint it in: 'The Silent
Woman,' and a picture of you with your head under your arm."

She laughed, but would not agree to the idea of any such place. Conisby
kicked down the models he had made and rubbed them back to earth with the
heel of his boot.

"No place in your village for the inpouring or outpouring of spirit.
Queen Dido, that diddled the blacks with an oxhide, was wiser than you."

But he became obstinate in his turn when she wished her cabin to be no
different from the others. She must be different, he declared, in order
that the people might respect and continue to obey. They were accustomed
to rapacious mysterious chieftains, who extorted food and tribute from
them on pretence of making rain. "They will forget, if you live in all
ways as they do, that you can put out the sun."

She jerked her shoulder irritably at that, telling him that the people
were meek, and would respect humility.

"You are wrong," said Conisby seriously. "These people of yours are meek
only while they are helpless. You are not to judge by their behaviour as
prisoners. They do not waste effort in hopeless resistance, and so far
they are wise. But there are certain springs which set them moving; one
of these you have seen at work already, their religion, and powerful it
is, enough to beat down the crew and officers of the _Nonsuch_ with bare
hands. They have no care for my Latin or your Luke. They will do as they
are told so long as the command comes in thunder, and no reasons given;
so long as you make yourself not too common among them."

She kept silence. He argued no further with her, but suddenly asked:

"How shall we name this place? Let us oblige the geographers when they
come by having our answer ready for them."

"It's named already, maybe, by the Spaniards."

"The Spaniards will have given it some papist name; True Cross, or
Assumption, or something of the sort. Shall we not re-baptize it
according to our own dispensation, call it after its ruler; Maryland,
perhaps, or Maid-No-More?"

But she would not even so far oblige the geographers.


(vi)


The houses, finished at last, were distasteful to most of those who had
to live in them. The chief man, while maintaining an attitude of the
utmost respect, pointed out that to plant houses in rows went against
nature; not thus did trees flourish. Moreover, these dwellings were so
solidly constructed, the chinks so well stopped with dried mud, that
nobody could see what his neighbour was doing, and a highly disconcerting
privacy was thereby imposed. Asked whether the people wished to be able
to spy upon each other, he replied that they did, their only use for
privacy being the secret one of manufacturing traps for spirits. If
family were to be set apart from family in this way, said he, there was
no knowing what would come of it, the heart of man being deceitful and
desperately wicked.

"Also," said the chief man, "we are not used to live in the same manner
day after day. In our own place we hunt animals when news of them is
brought by our young men. For days we do not taste meat, and then for
days we do nothing but eat. When we are full, and sometimes when we are
hungry, we lie in wait for our enemies, tying bells across the bush-paths
to warn them of our coming. We make long prayers for rain, or we build up
our houses, which are always falling down. In our own place there is much
to be done. Here the houses stand up, there are no animals, no enemies,
our rain is made for us. We have always the same food, not too much nor
too little. We do not understand such a way of living. We are too safe."

Conisby, who by now had something of their language, told the chief man
that something would be done. He said, mocking a memory:

"We will cause you perhaps to go to school."

"What is that?"

"It is a means to make medicine men of you all."

"That would never do," said the head man, troubled. "When all can make
magic, who will buy it? If all could command spirits this would be a
dangerous world."

Conisby had no answer, but he made application of the saying by
requesting Mary Askill to keep herself more than ever secluded. She,
accustomed to go about freely, rebelled, and was all for making herself
the universal parent and guardian, accessible, loving. She found it hard
to believe that people should prefer a life filled with uncertainties to
one which answered the sun's rise and fall, steady as the hand of a clock
to its pendulum. But she perceived that here under the tropic as in
England under Charles's Wain mischief might be made by idle hands, and
after thought she gave decision.

"I'll teach 'em myself."

"How, without speech?"

"There's a plenty things, Mr. Scholar," said she, "that can be taught
without speech." He broke into a loud laugh, and was commenting on her
changed outlook--"that's a joke you could not have made six months ago--"
when she stopped him with an angry word for his lewdness and went in to
the house. Coming out, she held the spinning-wheel which had saved the
_Nonsuch_, and a handful of oakum that she had brought for occupation.

"And what can you do with that?"

"What I did before; spin, and hope that good may come."

She sat down and began to run the oakum through her fingers. The people,
attracted by the whirr, looked her way, and little by little came closer.
They admired the obedience of the wheel, the excellent strength of the
thread and its transformation from a confused mass of fibre. They made
thread for fishing sometimes, rolling bark on their thighs, but this
method was less laborious, besides having something toylike and
entertaining about it.

They watched, therefore, wondering at the length of the line that was
spun, and were not made much wiser by Maria's officious explanations that
by and by the thread would be put together and turned into clothes.

"Such clothes as yours?" the women asked, for they had none of them been
able to resist envy of Maria's purple and gold.

"Not such as mine," Maria answered proudly.

The women asked, What sort of clothes, then? And when they were told,
like the stuff of the _Nonsuch_'s sails, lost interest in the wheel. In
vain did Mary Askill, advancing gently towards them as towards a herd of
timid heifers, explain with gestures that they should come one at a time
to sit in her place, and guide the thread as she had shown. They drew
back, shocked at her affability. The class of onlookers dwindled.

"Tell them," she said to Conisby, standing by, "that I will teach them to
make clothing."

He translated faithfully enough; but the women replied that if they could
not have clothing as fine as Maria's they were content to do without.
Clothing, they said, should be for display. If it were neither bright nor
rich, why put it on? It was not necessary, while the sun gave warmth all
the time, to hamper legs and arms with woven stuff. Dress was something
extra, its purposes were either to show valour, like the leopard-tails
which their young men had been used to wear, or to delude evil spirits by
altering the appearance.

This false reasoning Mary Askill could not combat. The wheel still spun,
unheeded. Examining the blacks' way of life as far as they would allow,
for enquiry involved either forbidden contacts or alarming proximities,
she found herself at a loss for any object lesson drawn from her
experience that would profit theirs. In the ship they had been filthy for
lack of space and means to be otherwise; for the same cause they had
trampled their babies, and indecently juxtaposed their bodies. Now, with
the open waters of the Honduras Bay at their doors, they swam perpetually
in primal innocence, men, women, and children together, as though the
memory of that slaver's hold must have a hundred new tides to wash it
away. They ceased to infect the air. They tolerated no vermin. As for
their teeth, the natural strength and gleam of these did not content
them. They cut twigs whose ends they frayed, and scrubbed at their gums
after meals.

The meals themselves were haphazard, keeping no hour. This was all that
remained of the African uncertainty which once ruled their lives. Food
was available whenever they chose to catch, gather, or take it. They
cooked it on hot stones, wrapping the fish or roots in leaves and
covering these with ash; handing round the courses later on freshly
plucked leaves, done to a turn. They seemed to know no way of making
fermented or otherwise troublesome drinks. Their cookery involved little
labour, no housewifely display of apparatus. It was adequate, even
excellent at times.

As for the children, these found plenty to amuse them, gave no trouble,
and wore no clothing. Discipline was maintained by the accurate throwing
of small stones, and, in extremer cases, by threatening to loose devils
upon them out of woven sheaths made for the purpose of grass and small
sticks.

In fact, the blacks had the art, theirs by birth and geography, of living
in a manner adapted to such lazy climates as that of the unnamed island.
Nothing that Mary Askill could show from her English notion of right
living profited them. They were as cleanly, as orderly as she. All that
she could teach was the way to save their immortal souls, and even for
this she could not answer. No breath from heaven bore upon her
half-furled sail.

She answered with indignation therefore, when Conisby returned to the
people's grumble concerning safety and sameness:

"Is it not enough that they should be warmed and fed with little labour?
Have their children about them and own no master?"

"Not near enough. There are twenty-four hours in the day, prophetess,
that must somehow be filled. Even you, though you have so greatly
changed, even you will not long tolerate being idle."

"I wouldn't be idle, if I could find a way to be otherwise."

"That I can show you, if you'll hear."

"I'll hear," she answered. He was sitting close to her on the sanded
floor of their house, and suddenly with touching submission folded
himself so that his head was at her knees. Thence he spoke while she,
contented, marvelled at the line of his hair at the temples.

"There are two kinds of labour; one direct and one, as Mercury
Angelicanus might say, oblique. Of the first on this island there is
barely enough to go round; it is the labour necessary for the body's
needs, soon over. The other, that by which we lace and trim up our lives,
is inexhaustible as man's invention. It conceives the king's crown, the
Pope's tiara and chair, the mace that Oliver hurried away out of
Parliament. The order it imposes derives neither from reason nor
necessity and cannot therefore be questioned in terms of either. With
this labour you and I must concern ourselves--"

"No steeple-houses."

"Let our gatherings be called agapemone, if that contents your Puritan
conscience. I am saying that we should do well to draw up a commonwealth
and give each man his place in it, his insignia too, such as we can
devise. We must find them occupation, since Nature does not oblige them
to sweat for their bread."

He lifted his head, listened a moment and sprang up to run to the door. A
quarrel had broken out with the spontaneity of a dog-fight not five yards
away, and the voices raised in yelps of insult were voices of white men.
It was the carpenter and the boatswain who stood foot to foot plying
their fists; one nose was bloody already, a circlet of shells lay
trampled on the sand. Back turned to the tumult, the figure of Maria was
to be seen retreating serenely towards the line of trees.

Conisby's sword was at his side. He hitched it up, scabbard and all, and
clouted the fighters apart. They withdrew from each other in obedience to
these blows, but their eyes still were engaged and watched for an opening
as they spoke with him.

Said the carpenter:

"A fine thing for a man my age to be risking his skin for a black slut.
But this bosun won't be reasonable."

"What d'you call reasonable?"

"He won't share." The boatswain confirmed this with an unclean word or
so. "What should I do, Mr. Conisby? I can't look for a wife among these
other black women, there's not enough to go round for their men. And if
Maria's willing--"

"Who says she is?"

"I know she is," answered the carpenter, his eye on the boatswain. "But
he's all for treating her like a Christian and pinning her down to the
one man. I brought her some shells to-day that she was glad enough to
take when he comes spying and nosing round."

"For that matter," said Conisby, "Maria is mine by gift."

"Sir," answered the carpenter, "you may be a gentleman and carry a sword,
but it's not common justice that you should have the pick of both
bunches."

"I do carry a sword," Conisby answered him, stripping off the scabbard
and standing poised between the disputants. "Shall we put it to the
issue?"

"Fight?" The carpenter pondered. "Where there's no law, who shall abide
by it? In a place like this it's catch as catch can."

Mary Askill came upon them from the house, and the men at once dropped
their stiff attitudes; but blood still ran from the boatswain's nose, and
the sand showed where they had trodden in the course of battle. The
boatswain backed away. The carpenter held his ground and reasoned.

"On a ship," said he, "there is always something to be done, and the
worse the ship the more occupation she gives. Always a leak or so, or a
deck-plank to be caulked; worst come to worst," he eyed her with
humour--"a woman to fit out with a wheel. But a sailor ashore without
liquor or women is a fish out of water, goes against nature. You must
excuse this poor bloody fellow, ma'am, for that reason."

The boatswain, ignoring the apology for his conduct, turned towards the
trees and made a signal.

"Would you?" said the carpenter with sudden ferocity, intercepting this.
"I tell you, she's mine for to-day, so take yourself off if you don't
want that beak of yours worsened."

The boatswain replied with a jet of spittle that landed on the
carpenter's bare foot. The battle was resumed. Again Conisby's sword
earned him a hearing.

"Have done fighting like beasts. Give me the chance, I'll see that you
fight like men to-morrow."

Mary Askill said loudly:

"I'll have no violence here."

Conisby put his hand, holding the sword, across her body, stepping in
front of her. She could not snatch at the sword. The blacks had disturbed
their siestas to roll to the doors of their cabins and observe the scene.
She was aware that she ought to walk away and leave Conisby as her
officer of justice to deal with the situation, but she had been stirred
unreasonably by his action in putting her aside. She said, therefore,
loudly:

"Give me that sword."

"These two cocks will have it out one way or the other. Make a spectacle
of it, we shall all have good."

"Give me that sword," she said again, but had the wisdom not to put out
her hand or offer to struggle for it. He shook his head. The carpenter,
hearing Conisby's words, acclaimed them as good sense and showed willing,
saying that there was nothing to liven the doldrums like a good fight,
and offering to lay off his opponent until such time as Mr. Conisby might
appoint, provided it were not too far distant. The boatswain, when the
sense of the matter had been conveyed to him, was of the same opinion.
Conisby bade them wait until to-morrow when he would see to it that they
had opportunity, and invited them to decide upon their weapons. There
were cutlasses if they meant mischief, or cudgels, more suitable to a
friendly dispute.

They conferred. In preparing for violence its reason was forgotten,
friendship swelled up between the men, ill-feeling dispersed before the
happy prospect of death or mutilation within the rules. Amicably they
were arguing the merits of weapons.

"Will you hear me, men, for the sake and the love of God?" called Mary
Askill.

They ceased their interchange to observe her. She was flushed with anger,
she spoke with her full great voice, she was tall, they admired her. She
said:

"If white men quarrel, how shall blacks keep the peace? If you that are
the like skin with myself will not take my orders, how should they? We
are here wrecked out of a ship, we should thank God and each other, not
tussle like cats in a basket. If Maria makes trouble between you, put it
to her fairly, let her choose which man she will have, and take him and
keep him, and make an end. Will you fight when a word can settle the
matter? Send for Maria."

Conisby twitched up his eyebrows with a look of resignation so comical
that the boatswain laughed, and blew away the last clot of blood from his
nose between his fingers. A child, whistled up from a near-by doorway,
was sent to fetch Maria, whose draperies betrayed her a comfortable
spectator's distance away.

She came obediently, walking over hot sand with the gait of Sheba
treading Solomon's pavement of glass, and stood modestly before them,
eyes cast down, while Conisby interrogated her.

"You are my property. The Padre Valgado bestowed you on me, for my use. I
now make a gift of you, in my turn, to one of these two men."

Maria raised her eyes, gazed innocently at the boatswain and carpenter,
and made her beautiful gesture of acceptance, arms crossed on her breast.

"Look at that," the carpenter commented involuntarily. "Sugar outside and
pepper in. What can you do with them?"

The boatswain eyed him. Conisby resumed his speech, not ignorant of the
fact that about them now was gathering a crowd.

"This I do, according to orders which I obey, as you obey my orders. Here
stand two men. Which do you take for your husband?"

Maria inclined her head over the crossed arms, and modestly, innocently,
made reply:

"With your honour's permission, both."

Conisby, taken aback, laughter rising in him, echoed her word with a
gesture of two fingers which explained it to the onlookers:

"How, both?"

Mary Askill said brusquely and angrily:

"No foolery. Tell her to choose."

Maria, interrogated again, made the same answer, enlarging upon her
reasons. She was now, she said, sure that this was the only peaceable way
out of the trouble; for if she were to choose one of the men, the other
would plague her, and so there would be fighting, whereas by setting up
house with both she could content everybody.

Conisby had control of his countenance now, and could deliver the
judgment to Mary Askill in all seriousness, verbatim. He, Maria, the two
men and their audience awaited the white woman's verdict.

"Wait," said the carpenter of a sudden. "What Maria says is right, and I
for one am agreeable to bide by it. You, what d'you say?" He took the
boatswain by the arm. "We don't want to be carving each other."

"Who gives orders here?" Mary Askill interrupted. "Two men, even such
poor Christian stuff as yourselves, can't share the one woman. It's not
decent, it's not to be suffered."

She appeared to the black watchers very angry. They began to cry
apprehensively to Maria for a translation of what was being said,
guidance as to when they should begin to get out of the way. Maria,
lacking comprehension, made mendacious answer, that the white woman
required all three white men for herself.

"That is reasonable," responded the chief man, "she is inhabited by one
whose needs are many. Be submissive, drive the men away or I will beat
you."

Maria, translating this to Conisby as an endorsement of her resolve,
found that he had understood quite enough to know she was lying. He did
not render the sense of this answer, nor did Mary Askill wait for it. The
matter must be settled, said she, once for all. The carpenter told her
bluntly that Maria had sense. He asked, with a kind of sneer, where was
her authority over him? That Conisby answered, with a hand that went
quickly to his weapon.

"What?" said the carpenter. "I see. It comes to this. If I do not obey
this woman you will fight me, Mr. Conisby, and you are a fire-eater. I
have seen you at work. If I do obey, I must kill this poor boatswain,
against both our wills, because Christians don't go three in a bed. This
island is not a Christian country, woman! Let be, say your own prayers.
It is none of your business to interfere in this sort of matter."

"Again," said Conisby briefly; then, as the carpenter gazed at him, not
understanding:

"Say that again. Be insolent. Give me plenty of cause."

"I tell you, Mr. Conisby," the carpenter answered, reasoning, "I'm no
fighting cock, save when there's something worth fighting over. Why will
you pick a quarrel? When I would have been glad to fight, had begun to
fight, you held me back. Now it's the other way. There's no pleasing you;
her either."

"I don't like your way of speech," said Conisby deliberately. "I don't
care for your beard, or those great outstanding ears of yours. I don't
like a man that prophesies in cold blood who shall cuckold him."

Mary Askill moved more quickly than the carpenter. She spoke:

"Have done. No quarrels. Maria, go to my house. It will do you no harm to
be there for a night or two. I won't give judgment now. Let you gather
here to-morrow."

The fiat travelled to the people, who looked at Maria with sympathy and
interest, for they had no doubt that she would not emerge from that house
in the same state as she went in. They said to each other:

"Will Maria's soul be eaten? Will she be killed, then dug up from her
grave and made labour? What will happen if she hampers any of the doings
of the god?" These were the men. The women said:

"It all comes about because she is allowed to parade in those extravagant
clothes, has no child and does no work."

They dispersed to their siesta. Mary Askill, pushing Maria before her,
went into her house and shut the door. The carpenter began to seek for
the shells he had brought as a love-gift, and mended the broken thong on
which they were strung, the boatswain sitting friendly by. Conisby
waited; they ignored him; and he could find no better occupation for his
temper than to fence a few passes with his own shadow, that at this early
hour of afternoon danced dwarfishly before him on the sand.


(vii)


That night Conisby spoke with animation while Maria lay with her ear to
the mud wall, gathering what information she could from the tone of the
alternating voices.

"Mary, this quarrel between the two men comes like manna to the
Israelites. We may build upon it, turn it into such a ceremony as will
stir their thoughts for a month. It is the old story, idle hands make
mischief. Devise, devise!"

She said bitterly:

"Two souls fighting like rams to please the eyes of the ignorant."

"Two souls fighting." He repeated the words softly. "I thought that fight
was won."

"I don't speak of you and me."

"Yet the quarrel is between you and me. These men are no more than the
outward show of that old quarrel. Mary, your way has failed. It is not
meat for these minds."

Mary Askill was silent, and Maria listened some fifty heart-beats before
the answer came.

"God's meat for all minds."

"I'll continue the image. Do you know that song the women sing? The one
that sways back and forth--" he gave a stave of it, humming. "It tells of
their chosen food, crocodile, monkey, snake. How shall such a taste chime
into ours, that reckons in honest beef and mutton?"

No answer except, after a moment, a murmur.

"Mary, let it go. Forget what you have remembered till now of England.
You are a vagabond and wanton, let me tell you, by the law of England.
They would whip you if you came again to Oxford and if they found you in
the bed of a Master of Arts with no ring on your finger." His voice was
tender, he was laughing. "Here you may wield the whip if you will. You
are powerful. It remains only that you should learn to be wise."

"I'll try again, find some other thing to teach the people. I'll learn
their tongue. Anything; but they shall not be fobbed off with vain
shows."

"You speak, I can't see you. This darkness will not show me your eyes.
Yet I know how they look. There is not in them now the light that burned
us all on the ship's deck. God's foot--they are your own words--God's
foot is no longer upon you."

"This is to be like you were at the beginning--"

"Your own words. Answer me; do you feel that pressure still?"

A silence.

"No."

That word came out not softly but with the strength of a question
answered in pain. Conisby's voice sounded gentle.

"Then be advised. Let us do for these people what we can. Give me the
toys their thoughts need, and never go pining after the will of God, who
has forsaken you. Yes, forsaken! Though you lie here safe and sound and
fed, you are no longer his servant, save as all mankind must serve. Put
away that old duty, put on the new. Be the prophetess still, but of
another dispensation. We must make some sort of a life for ourselves and
these poor devils."

The quick ear attending to this spoken duet heard movements, a tread
going up and clown the little room, heavy, purposeless, the tread of a
prisoner. It halted.

"In England once before you brought me to shame. That was only the shame
of the body. Now--I am what you have made me."

The tread was resumed; other and lighter feet echoed it.

"Mary, must I always lay pain upon you? Then I did it unknowing, now
because I must."

"Must? Must chivvy and trouble me, turn my thoughts upside down? I can't
argue, I'm not scholar enough. I know what you're wanting me to say.
Because we can't make these people Christians, we must turn heathens
ourselves."

"I am asking you to trust your soul to me as you have trusted your body.
Listen. There is in this place, by reason of the bounty of nature, no
thump of the drum of necessity to which we keep time. I will not affront
you with heathenish things; teach the people hymns if you will, but let
there be outward signs. We are the law-givers of this country, who as yet
have given no laws. We are the parents and nurses too, and as yet have
given no toys. Let the Lord govern, but because these are weak, let him
be made manifest. Do you hear, Mary? You that sang to them once a
drinking song."

Her voice, emotion tricking it to leaps of tone, and short unsteady
phrases:

"A month ago--I had then strength, and knowledge not my own. When I
submitted myself to you, that departed. Now I am nothing. I can't answer
with reasons. I can only--"

A sound of sobbing, that lifted Maria's head in astonishment; hardly a
woman's wailing, but a succession of brief breaking sounds unfamiliar to
her experience. The feet stopped their march. His voice:

"Mary. Mary, do you hate it so to be my lover?"

The sounds were less clearly heard. Maria, crouching and turning so that
her car came flat against the very chink, could catch no more of them.
She kept that position for a time, until it seemed that there was to be
no more talk that night. Then noiselessly withdrawing she stood up,
stretched, and with the purposeful indifference of a cat climbed out into
the moonlight.


(viii)


In the morning Conisby, the black drummer prancing before him, stood in
the central place of the village to proclaim a holiday. In effect what he
proclaimed was a day of labour, but his intent was ferial, and thus the
people accepted it. Bored with indolence, they listened enchanted to a
speech exhorting them to work in preparation for a ceremony sacred to the
whites, in which by courtesy and as spectators they were to be allowed
their share. The head man showed especial interest, enquiring whether a
performance by his young men would be acceptable.

"They will be forgetting," said the head man, "our good customs. They
will become an easy prey to witches and masterless souls if they neglect
the precautions."

Conisby, with a glance towards the house in which Mary Askill sat
withdrawn, agreed that something of the kind might add to the solemnity
of the occasion. The head man declared that a day or two's grace would
therefore be necessary, so that the ceremonial might be perfect. He was
of opinion that to perform a ceremony badly was far worse than to neglect
it altogether, since it served in that case only to exasperate and tease
those against whom it was directed, increasing their malice, while the
protection it afforded was unsure.

Conisby with a nod called the drummer to beat again, and made this point
clear. Two days' preparation; a day's marching, a day of ceremonial
observance by the side of the hot lake, and so home.

The black people, interested, gathered about their chieftain to receive
instructions, and soon were busy. The drummer slid away among the trees
and could there be heard practising short inscrutable rhythms. The women
caught crabs and cooked them; caught turtles and cooked them; accumulated
mountains of food while they sang their song about those things they
liked best to eat and which here were not to be had--ripe musky
crocodile, strong hippopotamus, the delicate thumb of a very young
monkey.

The carpenter said to the boatswain:

"All this is for you and me, to settle our quarrel. We are to make a
poppy-show for these blackamoors. Times are changed. What's come over
Mary that she stands by, and says no word to forbid it?"

The boatswain finding no answer, save that it was not for women to forbid
men, the carpenter continued his musings:

"I don't say I object to a fight, or to lookers-on, no matter how
chimneyfied they may be. But I can't see her hand in it. And for all
she's a holy Jenny, she's got more sense to her than this cockerel with
the sword."

The boatswain surmised that she was no longer so holy as she might be,
and added some proverb in his own lingo to the effect that pitch sticks.

"Well," said the carpenter, "that's true enough. Women say their prayers,
most of them, for lack of a man. But she was not like that. I could have
swore she had something spirity in her that man could not put down; it
would lift up, like a flame out of that pitch you talk of; and scorch the
man that was not wary. He has bamboozled her, I suppose. Or it may be
she's with child, and in no state to cross him."

The boatswain agreed that it must be so, and again invited the
carpenter's voice as to how they should fight.

"All this slicing and pinking," said the carpenter after consideration,
"it's not for seamen. Fists and be damned to you. There's some flags in
one of my lockers, come with me, they'll make a show."

The boatswain suggested consulting Maria. The carpenter rejected this, on
the grounds that she would steal the flags for dresses. They went
together to raid the locker.

Conisby stooped, and after making elaborate obeisance, passed in to the
house where Mary Askill sat. The contrast between the busy hands out of
doors, and hers for once lying idly together, was enough to make him
speak.

"We have set the wheels in motion. And you--are you studying your part?
I'm not used to see you so still."

"I'm thinking."

"We came to agreement last night, or so I imagine."

"Not about that. There was a story Maria told once. It comes back to me.
I don't care to remember, but I can't forget. A kind of parable."

"I don't remember. Maria? What story?"

She shook her head and put up her hand to rest it on his belt, to touch
him.

"What was that you said to them with the drum? What devilry are you
brewing?"

"Mary," said he with an effort at patience. "Sec now. In this matter you
have agreed to trust me. If I could give these people beasts to hunt, I
would; if I could give them enemies to fight, I would. As it is, with
food for the eating and peace for the asking, there is nothing to make
their lives endurable but such shows as this I am preparing. People must
be doing; or if they cannot, they must be watching others do. Have you
heard what I am saying?"

"Not to heed."

"Why not?"

She sank her head again and spoke against the worn stuff:

"What's come to me, that I'm so soft?"

He was pleased at her submission. Nevertheless, he had matters to see to,
the plan for the march, the order of the happenings, food, dress. He
said, whispering almost:

"You are their goddess and mine, whether you like it or no. This for your
ear." Then letting his arm fall from her shoulder:

"I came for your Luke. Is he at hand?"

"What to do?"

"I must compose some sort of liturgy, some sort of rite. A sounding text
or two should come in very well. There is something about the dead
walking--"

He began to look about him. The room was bare enough, the quarto pages
large enough, but he could not see them. When he turned to her with a
lifted eyebrow and a hand outstretched, she stood unresponsive.

"Well? Help me."

"No."

"What's this?" said he. "Does conscience trouble you?"

"No matter what troubles me. Do without Luke."

"So I will," said he with a laugh not authentic. "Any mumbo-jumbo should
serve, no one will be the wiser. This is an excellent island, Mary, and
our people is a good people, and Mercurius Anglicanus a good seer, that
gave us preknowledge, which is power. Are you happy?"

She did not answer that. He insisted:

"Are you happy?"

She said with sudden passion:

"How should I know? I'm empty, gone out of myself."

"Gone where?"

"Into you, you. When I sit like you found me, empty-handed, it's you I
think of. When you're not with me I look for you, and when you are with
me I can't look past you. I'm ashamed for myself, sick and sorry, to have
a man so under my skin."

She ceased to speak, gave a great sigh, and stood with hands hanging at
her sides. Conisby did not touch her. He looked gravely at her, but she
would not meet his eyes which, as she guessed, showed a kind of pity. He
was sorry for her distress, yet troubled, at this moment of capitulation,
by a memory of her pacing on the _Nonsuch_. She had found then words at
once more fiery and more abject when loudly she proclaimed' God. He said,
spurred by the jealousy that crossed him:

"So much mine. And out of wedlock too!"

She came from humility as from a sleep, squared herself, and asked in her
ordinary tone:

"What plan have you made, then, for the people?"

He told her briefly, watching for signs of strife or weakness. His own
moods could not be thus abruptly put away out of sight. But Mary Askill
refused further to embarrass a discussion on polity by any personal
intrusion, and heard without comment what he had to say in the matter of
the joust between carpenter and boatswain. She could see from her window
the moving people, and was aware of an atmosphere different from the
usual drowsy morning buzz; iniquities too. Here a child was being painted
with some compound of white in skeleton designs, there one woman braided
another's woolly hair to a fantastic pattern of plaits outstanding like
the spokes of a wheel; everyone seemed to wear less clothing than usual,
and that with a fine disregard of the decencies. They were pagans
returning to their vomit. It could not be denied that they did so
innocently, and she was reminded of her native village long ago, on a May
morning; the same plaiting of hair and twisting of coronets, the same
decking of children, bustle, noise.

"Will you come with us?" Conisby was saying. "I think I might contrive
some kind of progression for you not to disgrace your godhead; a litter
of branches, or some such vanity. You need have no care for the ceremony,
need not witness it. The light of your countenance may hide under a
bushel if it so chooses. It would serve no purpose that you should stay
here three days alone."

"Three days?"

"One for the march, one for the feast, one for return."

She pondered, eyes down. He waited and would not urge her. She who once
with composure had sentenced herself to thirty days of darkness and
stench in the ship's bowels, thirty days of silence amid the solitude of
incomprehensible speech, now was unwilling to face three days alone in a
place safe and full of light. He knew this, and the reason, and what she
would say before it was said. But instead of any direct answer, turning
away she stood on a stool, felt along one of the roof-ties, and brought
down the Gospel she had refused to lend him. He said nothing. She held it
out; her hand shook a little.

"Here's what you asked for. Will you take it?"

He took the long stiff pages and turned them idly, as though embarrassed.
When he looked up he smiled. "It's a parable. You give me that you hold
most dear. What use am Ito make of it?"

"What you think best."

"Ah," said he, "now I have faith to add to hope and love. You'll come?"

She nodded. He made as though to kiss her. But with a sudden gesture that
resembled a shudder she turned away from him and went out of the house so
suddenly that a child had hardly time to dodge her glance, and fled in
fear to its mother, who did a little home-made spell over it. He halted
no longer than a moment, wondering more at himself than at her. He felt
still upon him that pleasure of victory which in such of his thoughts as
he troubled to word he called love; yet he could not but know that the
frenzy was running less high. He said inwardly that what the soldier had
won the scholar must rule, and would not encounter that third personage
within him who was neither soldier nor scholar, one who, like a hound,
ran after what would run, disdained that which cowered and lay still. He
ignored this shadow who kept him a kind of intermittent company, seen out
of the tail of the eye, face to face never.

With a shrug he moved to seek out the carpenter, and consult with him
about certain things needed from the ship to make more awful the day of
feasting.


(ix)


In the open space which served as forum and gossip-room of the village
Conisby had erected a sundial. One long stone set upright formed the
plinth of it, and a pointer of baked clay swung its shadow daily in the
track of the hurrying tropical sun, daily recording, nightly effacing. By
way of motto he had engraved with the point of his own sword a Virgilian
query: Solem quis dicere falsum audeat? This to commemorate the day of
the eclipse, a wry-mouthed joke which as yet none of his subjects, and
not even Mary Askill, had invited him to explain. "Who dare give the lie
to the sun?" Yet the sun had told something less than a half-truth when
on that occasion, obedient to Mercury Anglicanus and a she-prophet, it
had slipped behind the moon. He stood beside the stone with his drummer
early on the morning of the third day, saw that the shadow was as yet
unborn, and considering how he and Mary moved and commanded by reason
only of this vast audacious lie, told himself that the head man was
right: if all were medicine-men none would buy magic. This while, with an
imperative gesture, he bade the drummer sound assembly.

The people came obediently and with sober gaiety from their houses. They
had varied their appearance as well as the resources of the island would
allow, the women by hairdressing and flowers, the men by a display of
ritual weapons composed of such materials as offered. All true weapons,
axes and knives were to be left behind, on the head man's suggestion;
damage was apt to come from them when excitement ran high; and thus their
ancient custom dictated the use, on such occasions, of knives made of
shell or stone, spears of green wood. They understood the order of march
and fell into the way of it with rhythmic stampings; the young men first,
a valiant body, looking about them with a pantomime of vigilance, the
women and children next, then Conisby, with the carpenter on one side and
the boatswain on the other. Lastly the litter carried by four older men,
Maria, still gloriously arrayed, attending, and Mary Askill,
self-condemnatory, inside.

The young men knew the way. It was not difficult to find, nor was the
undergrowth thick, but they tramped heavily to clear a path and sang,
while the procession came in with such nonsense as suited their feet on
the chorus:

"We are brave persons,
Able to encounter lions,
We are protected persons,
Lions cannot harm us.
Lion! Lion!
He will not show his face.
He hears us and hides, because
We are brave persons--"

And so on, _da capo_, with recapitulations of all the dangers conceivably
to be met with in African forests; here absent, so far as anyone knew.
Even, they sang an almost blasphemous verse about Sasabonsum, friend of
witches, who lives under trees and eats wayfarers; thus after their
manner defying the sun:

"We are brave persons,
We go by trees where the earth is red.
We are protected persons,
The One with straight hair cannot harm us.
Ss! Ss!
He will not show his face,
He hears us and hides, because
We are brave persons--"

Conisby, dropping back to walk near the litter, leaving the sacrificial
victims together, found Mary Askill impatient of her eminence, and of the
green boughs which afforded shelter for flies.

"I'll walk."

"Not so. It is irreligious for you to proceed like an ordinary being."

"These poor men aren't able for the weight. I won't bide."

"We must distract you. Maria shall tell you a story. Come, Maria, one of
your stories about spiders--"

"No."

That was said with a passion which puzzled him, but he yielded to it, and
putting his hand up within the shield of boughs caught hers for a moment,
long enough to hold her quiet. Then good-temperedly he began a story of
his own, in which books and battles illuminated each the other, and whose
hero was himself.

The people marched and sang, sang and marched. The sun swung, pouring his
weight through the defence of leaves; all lay down for a while at noon
and slept, cast to earth by this pressure. Mary Askill at the halt
stepped out from her litter and made off alone. Conisby did not oppose
this. It was right that she should be different from the others. Maria
watched her go; then with a face blank of all expression save a kind of
smoothness and righteousness came to lay her head on Conisby's ribs. He
said:

"Are not two enough for you?"

Maria answered that she came for protection. "Against what?"

Wicked men, said Maria, working herself into a comfortable coil.

"Not against--?" He made a gesture towards the empty litter.

Maria shook, or rather rolled from side to side the head that rested on
him, and cocking an eye at her he saw that she was laughing. She was not,
evidently, in the least afraid of the power of the Lady of the Island.
Curious to discover why, he put questions to her; had she not seen the
sun go in, had she not beheld the various wonders that the prophetess
wrought? She still rolled her head and laughed, like a young lioness
playing with some small dead creature before devouring it. She would not
answer, teasing him. At last she consented to admit that she believed
only virgins had power.

"Ha! And where do you get that from?"

She answered innocently that it was a thing well known. In the Padre
Valgado's house was a great picture of one who was the Virgin paramount,
and others of lesser ladies--St. Lucy, St. Agnes, St. Catherine with a
great wheel; all able to do miracles because they kept away men. Mary
Askill too had done wonders, but she would do them no more.

Disconcerted, for this heresy must not get about among the people,
pleased to have confirmation of his own victory over that other, his
rival, Conisby slapped Maria's cheek lightly, with an admonition to hold
her tongue. She took the cuff as a dog might take it, came closer to him,
and lay with the pink palm of her hand turned trustfully upwards.

Mary Askill meanwhile stood alone among trees in a kind of daze, questing
after her conscience. She knew with certainty that the forest was not the
place to find it, her English conscience, so trim, so sure. None owned
these wildernesses. In her own lost leafy country a man, or woman either,
might tell to a yard where a farmer's land ended and a lord's land began,
knew when trespass was committed and recognized which fruits of the earth
were licit to gather, which forbidden. A conscience might roam among
these trees till it lost itself and never discover boundaries of
reproach.

She stood still, attempting to pray. Her heart would not lift, the sun
held it pressed down among the warm smells, too rank for Paradise. She
spoke softly some of the words of a psalm, and ceased almost at once,
frightened by such timid sounds dropped into the august silence of the
forest; a silence as of night, in which the voices of birds flitted,
dwindled by distance to bat-like cries. She knew this power of the forest
and yet sought it, willing to be overcome by the creation that, though it
seemed in its overflowing strength to deny him, yet was God's.

Her eyes, which she had forbidden to disturb her in the effort of
meditation, made a signal; come to the windows, they commanded, and peer
out. She looked. A green snake reared among the leaves not far from her
hand. It had long viewed her from its hiding-place, and now, making an
act of faith in her immobility, moved at its own pace along the branch
towards her. She had a moment's pang of fear lest the symbol of evil
should speak. It came closer, travelling with assurance upon its rounded
pathway, the head from time to time lifting to display eyes set like
jewels.

Mary Askill watched, and the recollection that had been troubling her
sprang to life in her mind; Snake carrying Death's bone in his mouth for
a love-token to the wise girl, the witch. The girl took it and fell dead,
while the bone sang in triumph its refrain:

"Tum-tulla-lulla-tum."

She heard herself chant that, in a voice as deep as she could pitch. The
green snake halted, wavered, seemed to recant its trust, and suddenly
hung head downwards in a loop that for all the world resembled a tendril
of creeper, just of that colour, just so still.

She was frightened by its transformation. When her eye turned away for a
single moment she could no longer tell tendril from snake, the trees all
were looped with temptation and menace. She ran back towards the dell
where the people were sleeping, remembering at the last moment, just
before she became visible, to slacken her pace.

Conisby heard her approach. Even the soft yielding tissues of this
undergrowth made protest when feet trod them too roughly down. He thrust
Maria's head away and got up quickly.

"Oh! Oh! That one waits, she gives the signal. Up, sleepers, the night is
for rest, and we have a journey to go."

The drummer ripped out a summons ending on three loud beats. The people
came to their sense like babies, rubbing eyes, scratching their hips
numbed by the earth. The sun still was heavy. They adjusted their hair,
their flowers, took up weapons and children, and returned to their
marching order singing, this time not boastfully but with decent humility
inviting the forest to aid them:

"Let us alone,
We march for a blessing,
If you are patient
You shall see blood.
We are good people,
Let us pass quickly--"

And the chorus:--

"If you are patient
You shall see blood."


(x)


They came as night was falling to the hot lake. It did not steam, the air
above it came too near its own temperature for that, but from time to
time there rose and broke on its surface a great bubble, as though
underneath, far down, huge creatures were drowning. The trees had
withdrawn from its banks a little way.

These trees, what with abundance of moisture and the continual urging of
warmth, were taller than elsewhere on the island; long naked smooth
trunks breaking into foliage forty feet above the soil, like savages
putting all their finery on their heads.

Conisby had his plan for the people. Here they were to cook, here gather,
here sit by companies, and here the litter with Mary Askill in it was to
be set, to serve as a cabin until he had some place worthily prepared. He
told her that she had better not show herself awhile, but she was
impatient, she had borne all day long the confinement of the green
tumbril, and wished to be breathing the air. Disregarding him she went to
stand by the water not moved by wind, but trembling with its own energy
of heat perpetually renewed. She felt the breath of it come upwards to
her, saw even in that half-light its colour, a deep and heavenly blue,
cold, the colour of deep ice, and felt the contradiction before Conisby
voiced it:

"It invites, it promises as if it would cool you. If I did not know that
five minutes' soak in it would cook me like a lobster I should put my
hands up and be in."

"Unholy," she answered, looking down as a bubble broke. "All a part of
this devil's country."

"Dear," said he laughing, "your mission never took you as far afield as
Bath in Somerset. Had you been guided there you would have found sick men
and women steaming the pain out of themselves in just such water; more
temperate than this, but as hot as godly England can expect."

"Why did you bring us here? A day's weary march."

"Because the best way to prepare for a feast is by a fast. If we are to
rule these people by strangeness, we must choose and use those places
which are strange."

They stood together, looking down into the water which, now that night
was falling and the air growing cooler, began to lift here and there
little trails of steam. Mary Askill put her hand into the man's for
comfort, and was astonished when he with immediate ceremony bowed, and
dropped it. She said with a touch of her old bluntness:

"A nice time to treat a farmer's girl like a court lady, with none but
savages looking, in the thick of a lost place."

"It's for that reason," said he, with a beck of his head indicating the
dark faces about them. "I dare not be familiar before our small world."

"I'm sick of deceit."

"So are not they."

"Better die."

He looked at her, could not make out her expression in the half-night,
and made his voice sturdy to answer:

"It is for you to choose."

She gave a sigh. He knew that it was for the thought of him lying dead,
his quick body gone heavy. This was the thought she could not endure;
consequences to which she was indifferent in her own person were fearful
to contemplate as they included him. She even said this, in her hidden
kind of speech:

"I can't think of you dead." He smiled, relieved that he had interpreted
her mind so well. She added: "Nor old."

For some reason, standing there above the warmth of the hot lake, that
chilled him. He went away among the people to forget the unwilling shiver
which his old nurse had told him meant feet above his grave. She looked
after him through the gloom and slowly returned to her litter of woven
boughs.

Fires sprang up now. They gave more smoke than light, for the wood
gathered about the lake was sodden, but they kept away insects, and made
gathering places whose summons no people in any clime can ignore. The
greater part of the food was already cooked, but two small fish had been
lapped in leaves and transported for purposes of experiment. These now
were speared and sunk in the lake, which hissed as the bodies touched it.
Withdrawn after some minutes they were seen to have become flaccid, and
were judged to be cooked. Conisby directed that these fish should be laid
on broad leaves and brought to the litter with seven small loaves of
bread, there to be presented by two young men. He said in his new rounded
priestly voice:

"Deign to bless this fish, prepared by the god your cousin who lives
under the earth, whose breath is fire. Bless this bread." And he added,
keeping the same tone: "Do not eat. I will bring you food later. Touch
them only."

Obediently her hand came out, touched the warm shapes of the two fish on
the leaf, and withdrew. "The bread too."

The hand obeyed, touching one after the other; but as the count neared
seven it hesitated; over the last loaf it changed its languid shape,
clenched and pointed. Her voice asked harshly:

"Loaves and fishes--what's this you do?"

"Let me alone," he answered, maintaining the smooth flow of his voice.
"It is necessary. I told you we must have ritual."

Before she could intervene or speak again he had gathered the food, and
bidden the young men go with it among the people; each person was to
taste a fragment from the holy hand and by this symbol be assured of the
divinity's care for their well-being. The young men went about their
errand, the people partook, Conisby speaking over them the words he had
conned out of Luke, those verses concerned with the miracle of the loaves
and fishes. He was sufficiently unsure of Mary Askill's discretion to
translate them into Latin, and prepared to forestall protest by glancing
very often towards the litter of boughs. No sign came from within. He
rounded off the ceremony, which the blacks appeared to have understood
and enjoyed, with a kind of benediction, both arms raised; then took his
place among the elders with a good stomach for his supper.

This eating, though gross in quantity, was done orderly, without speech,
here as in the darkness of the _Nonsuch_'s bowels. Only the carpenter and
the boatswain spoke, sitting together, and their dialogue was pastoral:

"I remember," said the carpenter, "the time when I had no eye for the
things of home. I would be out on the quay, and every ship that came in I
thought a marvel; sailors the same. They talked of parrots and forests,
and people brown like monkeys, and I thought, if I could see those things
I'd have nothing left to wish for. Now I have them by the bellyful, I
find more strangeness in the sawdust of my father's shop than all the
blue-tailed macaws in Honduras Bay."

The boatswain said that he too, now he could never return to it, thought
of home. He begged the carpenter to go easy on the morrow, and look out
for his, the boatswain's, left hand, which was the dangerous one.

"If you'd be reasonable about the girl, there's no need for men of our
ages to be fighting at all. None gets anything out of it only him--" he
flicked a pebble towards Conisby--"and if we don't keep awake he'll have
the girl into the bargain. She's inclined to him, the little sow."

The boatswain thought that they might trust Mary Askill for that.

"You might," said the carpenter, "if she was one of these everyday women.
But she's gunpowder. Hey, that puts me in mind--"

He got up and spoke to Conisby, sitting by the head man's fire, and
eating in monastic silence. They conferred. The carpenter laughed, and
all the woolly heads lifted to look gravely at the man who thus brought
sound to quarrel with digestion.

"Signal when you're ready," said he, departing.

"Prayers first," Conisby answered. "Where's your sense of propriety?"

The carpenter answered with a cock of his head like a magnified wink.
Maria reclined by Conisby's side, now and then stealing food from his
plaited dish with dignity unabated; she did so as the carpenter spoke.
Conisby's eye was taken by the movement of her hand; he struck it down
like a thieving paw, telling the carpenter that until their matter was
decided the girl was safer by him.

"Or by Mary."

"And are not Mary and I one?"

The carpenter had no answer to that, or none worth making. But the bower
of leaves was near and he went to it.

"Mrs. Askill, are you there? Do you hear me? Look you after Maria. I
don't trust your spark."

There was a silence which gave him the idea that some sound had been
interrupted. He said again, trying to peer through the leaves:

"Are you there? You that could daunt a whole boatload of men with
cutlasses, what's come to you? Let him work his hocus-pocus and the
blacks bow to it if they're such fools. I'll help him, but you make sure
he don't touch the girl."

At that he heard a rustling behind the leaves and Mary Askill's thickened
voice saying:

"What girl?"

The voice of Conisby cut across his answer, calling on all men to attend.
The drummer sent from his drum a series of sounds like a beast coughing,
smoothed those out with the heel of his hand, and settled down to a
steady purring note against which Conisby's voice sounded, speaking in
the blacks' own tongue:

"We have come safe to this place. It is a sacred place. It is a place of
fire." He repeated that in English, casting his voice upwards in a shout:
"A place of fire."

The carpenter, shrewdly nodding, went away to a clump beside the lake's
brim, and there became busy. Mary Askill stood, seeing Conisby's figure
now lit, now obscured by smoke. She understood none of his words; they
were extravagant.

"It is the dwelling of one who lives under the waters. You are a water
people, whites are fire people."

He gave a loud shout. On that from behind the clump came a thunderous
sound and a brisk light which died immediately. This was repeated a
moment later from another point and another, along the whole of one side
of the small lake; half a dozen times the lake itself, the trees, the
staring eyeballs were made visible, then doused, put out like candles.
The people were quite silent; even the drummer halted amazed. Conisby
went on, speaking in the high commanding voice words whose meaning was
clear. He paused again on a shout; a ball of fire came out from the
carpenter's lair, descended on the surface of the lake and there
continued burning while the water supported and seemed to feed it, until
it too broke in a flash with thunder.

Mary Askill smelt saltpetre and pitch. She saw, as the fire blazed up for
an instant, Conisby turn to the lair of leaves where he supposed her
hidden. She walked towards him, stumbling among the people and through
their fires until she stood beside him.

"Stop all this."

Conisby retained his subservient position while he spoke:

"Let me alone. I know what I do."

"I too, I know what you do. And putting it all on to me, I make no doubt,
as you did before."

"Not you. On God, the god of the lake, your immortal cousin." Still he
spoke respectfully and soft. "Take yourself off, I do this for all our
sakes."

"You blasphemed a while back. You mocked the miracle."

"Dear," said he, "the Almighty is wise enough to understand, if you are
not."

"No," she answered, "it's too pitiful. It must end. My fault, my
weakness, none of the blame yours. But it must end."

She stretched out her arms in a gesture which called all eyes to her,
smoke the while drifting round and past her. Conisby made a signal to the
drummer; he summoned all ears.

"Don't heed him, poor people. We're not masters sent from heaven, we're
weak creatures like you. We have no power of ourselves. I can't stop the
sun, or make cold this lake. I am weaker than you, and a deal more
guilty. You've never known the light, I've gone blind to it. Don't heed
him. Trust us if you can and let us serve you, not by tricks and lies--"

The smoke caught her throat. The headman asked Maria:

"What does she say?"

Maria, who had understood no word, answered that the talk was concerned
with very high things, the moon and such. There might be an overcoming of
the moon as once of the sun.

"Does she say what the god will have us do?"

No, said Maria, she did not say that, except that it was a poor sacrifice
only to cook two little fish in the lake, and then take them away.

Conisby did not hear this interchange. He was speaking to Mary Askill:

"They understand no word of this. Your truth has left as much trace as a
bird on a field, flying over it."

She put him aside, and sent out her voice again over the black men and
women.

"The first time, when the sun was obscured, I had no hand in deceiving
you. It might be--it might, for once I had speech with God--that we were
allowed to know of the eclipse by a providence. But this jugglery is
man's doing. You should not be fooled by it."

Conisby shook his head slowly from side to side. The people were not held
by her, did not marvel. They were respectful while she stood before them,
but drowsy after the long march, and inattentive to a voice which, as
they well noted, had none of the gustiness of possession.

She went on her knees then, and with hands lifted up towards a sky now
pallid with the rising moon, asked, lips hardly moving, for the gift of
tongues. She offered petition, waited. The people had heard Maria's lie.
They shifted inquisitively like animals, and some of them pointed upwards
to the brightening edges of the tree-tops.

"Will that which dwells in her put out the moon? Ask her what is to be
done with the moon, but first to warn us."

"That is reasonable," agreed the head man. "Tell the god, Maria."

Maria, grown suddenly timid, muttered that she would interfere no
further. All the watchers now were aware that something was being waited
for; so much they took from the stiff attitude of the woman, the hush,
and the slow whitening of the sky. Even Conisby resisted the temptation
to pull Mary Askill to her feet, and a question knocked at his
consciousness: How if she should truly do a wonder? He knew he did not
wish that this should happen, because it would mean that she had escaped
him and run back. Seeing her there motionless, imploring help other than
his, he had a new pang of desire for her.

Mary Askill's lips were busy with petition. Understanding; the tongues of
fire; they descended once upon men who were cowards and faithless, who
turned their Lord's words to vile uses, and hid while atonement was made,
afraid for their skins. "For the sake of the stripes I once bore, let me
speak to be heard, though the people slay me. Let them come, the tongues
of fire. Let me speak, and atone, and die."

The moon showed brilliant above the tree-tops, fretted by them to a
texture of lace. It climbed, the rays dropped full upon the silent
waiting company by the lake, not living but dead fire lit Mary Askill's
forehead.

"Will the god work now?" asked the head man of Conisby, Maria having
sidled away. "The moon is in full view, defenceless."

"Be quiet," Conisby told him, himself unsure.

"Or should we give something more than the two fish? The sun was put out
without sacrifice." Suddenly Mary Askill's head drooped. Her petition was
unheard. Conisby saw and interpreted, knew that the field was his again.
It was for him to make the stroke, her rebellion had failed, endangering
them both, perhaps. He said roughly to the man:

"Why do you spy on her? She talks to the god in the lake, the man in the
moon. Such things are not for your ears. Do not concern yourself with
them. Sleep, you will have occupation to-morrow."

The headman said, bewildered, with a sign of his chin towards the figure
of Maria, whose clothes took the moonlight:

"She said it. That there might be an overcoming of the moon."

"Ah," Conisby said with authority, "come here; what's this?"

She approached with her balanced delicate gait and stood before the two
men. "You have been the cause of much mischief. I have a mind to strip
those clothes off you, which by hiding make you desirable. Two men fight
for you, you have the honour of walking by the priestess. Yet you are
nothing, nobody, a girl put into my hand like a piece of bread that one
man is not hungry enough to eat, and tosses to another."

Maria stood subservient, never lifting her eyes, the bondwoman, black but
comely, of a dozen Biblical stories, accepting the voice of the master as
her law while he asked angry rhetorical questions, abusing her for
double-dealing and cowardice.

"You saw with your own eyes the sun covered over. You are brave enough
now, you were on your marrowbones then."

"She was then a virgin," said Maria softly, looking sidelong.

A moment later she had repeated the saying in her own tongue, using the
phrase which according to how it was pronounced meant two things;
unmarried woman, sealed basket in which spirits were confined. She spoke
it with the second significance. The head man, nodding, said to Conisby:

"Is it with the white woman as with ours when the god comes?"

He got no answer. Like children tiring of a spectacle the black people
had ceased to attend to the attitudes and shouts of the whites. They
turned themselves about, and with brief preliminary chirpings and
stirrings, like birds along a bough, were settling to sleep.


(xi)


"Mary, I won't reason, I know it troubles you to box with words. I won't
blaspheme, as you call it, nor ask that you should quit your beliefs.
Only I will say that this is not the soil for them. Here credence grows
lush and tangled like the forest. Faith must stand upon its head in a
country where the very waters forget their natural property to be cool;
where trees take away life and flowers eat flesh."

Silence.

"Had I put your words into their language an hour ago, do you think any
of us would have been the better? They would not understand you, though
you spoke like one of them born. To these God is manifest in terror and
strangeness. Because it is so, we rule. You strive like Samson at the
pillars of the temple when you make us out flesh and blood. You will
bring us all down in ruin."

Silence.

"You have lost the power you had to move them. Better, then, trust to
such wits as I have. It is trickery, if you like. What purpose is served
if we conduct ourselves like a schoolmaster and his dame?" He laughed at
himself. "It is pretty much of a hedge-school. Don't you feel your
thoughts swelling and taking shapes that elsewhere they have not known?
Here I find myself ruler of a few square miles; such I might be in
England, if Oliver would only die. But there I should not be absolute
and dare not be gaudy. Here I may wear purple, I may flaunt, I send my
imagination whistling off to fetch me any fine feathers I please. I may
turn this pliable people into farmers, warriors, what I will; ordain
that they shall wear rings through their noses, march upon their hands
and keep their feet upwards to shade their heads, instead of going
plantigrade. What tune I pipe, that they will dance to. Why, this is to
be like God--" He checked. "I gave you my word I wouldn't blaspheme. But
indeed it is a little like."

"You gave me your word about Luke."

Now it was he who did not answer. They could hear in the trees about them
the slight restlessness of creatures disturbed by the moon, bright as
daylight returning untimely. Mary Askill said no more. Conisby would not
speak, unable to discover the words which might disarm her. He trusted
therefore to an older language, the easy idiom of touch, but she would
not be beguiled by this either. He was not sorry, the day's march having
been strenuous, to be denied further fatigues. He soon slept. She lay
long waking.


(xii)


Next morning, as the people breakfasted, and children played, screaming
and dipping their fruits in the hot lake, Mary Askill emerged, obedient
to the destiny imposed upon her. She saluted the people gravely, bore
herself aloof, and took no notice of the food set before her, beyond
touching it in sign of acceptance. Conisby praised. She answered briefly:

"I'll try your path now mine's lost."

"No bad resolution, for one caught in the jungle."

Maria, ready to claim the nearness which brought her honour among her own
people, was officious at the priestess's side; with gently swaying
branches she kept away pertinacious insects, she had garlanded and oiled
herself, she was conscious of being the central figure of the day.
Conisby, meeting her eye calm with self-righteousness, put his hands on
his hips to stare her down. She began to laugh with the abandon of her
race, like a baby tickled, hiding her face with the branch and peeping
through at him. He said in English:

"You are a bitch. In England it would be the bride-well lash for you.
Here it is the bridal knot. Better have left you behind with the Padre
Valgado. He knew what to do with you; bed and beatings. You make mischief
as a cow makes milk."

Maria, pleased to have attention, continued her grimace. When he turned
away, as soon he did, she dropped all mopping and mowing at once, bending
her branch again in regular sweeps with a dignity that grew out of
grotesqueness as naturally as flowers out of the crack in a tomb.

Black woman and white were together on a mound where the bole of a tree,
broken a hundred storms ago, made a kind of natural throne. Mary Askill
could not be incurious as to the movements below; nor could she repel the
memory of old may-days, seeing the people so intent on their celebration,
and so careful of their ridiculous finery that a man wearing two feathers
in his wool must try them a dozen ways, using the lake for mirror, before
they stood to his liking. She observed that the birds in their quick
journeys never flew above, but always round the lake. Conisby's words
about the bridewell and the lash had roused no echo, good or bad, in her
mind, and she supposed that henceforth her thoughts must do as the birds
did, never travelling above that place from which a warmth mounted which
the night before had been called the breath of the god. She said aloud,
none hearing save Maria (who bent as though she comprehended, but laughed
shallowly like a parrot):

"Lost--my path's lost."

A word which once had carried with it the whole picture of hell,
darkness, flames; but here was no more than the cry of one astray among
unfamiliar creations, forest growths and beasts, not evil because not
having knowledge; the state of man in Eden.

The young men were first to dance. They had taken much trouble to arrange
their display and contrive the costumes for it; these latter were mostly
concerned to convey to the eye that the wearers were not what they
seemed. They enacted a hunting scene, in which an elephant was to be
tracked and captured. The hunters advanced on him, carrying branches to
disguise them; the man who played the quarry wore broad leaves on his
head for ears which he moved with his hands to symbolize the elephant's
complacency, suspicion, and final fury as he sought to burst his way out
of the ring of hunters. The movements of spears were true ones and might
have killed if they would; points fell and sank in the soft earth close
to the feet of the elephant actor. He trumpeted, and the sound was
inhuman. At last he sank, permitted in his final agony to tread down a
spearman, who yelled. The victors rushed upon him, the leader seized the
leafy ears and bore them off, the body was cut up and a pantomime of
gluttony performed, marred only by the victim's uncontrollable tendency
to laugh as they handled his body. There were screams of triumph, not to
be distinguished from those with which the onlookers recorded their
applause. This done, performers and audience mingled as though the
beast's dark flesh had in fact been triumphantly brought home; they
swaggered, smiled, sang fitfully, and again began to eat, as the play
with its mimicry of plenty set their appetites working and their
imaginations too; they tore at soft fruits and fish as if these were
indeed the rubbery meat seized out of danger, to be incorporated while
its juices ran magical and fresh.

Maria had followed delightedly the story told in the dance. Her green fan
lowered, she had watched and clapped the battle, encouraging the spearmen
and rebuking the elephant for his audacity in opposing men so crafty. Now
she took up the fan again, and her grave pose. She said:

"It is time now for the fighting of the white men. Black men fight with
spears, but they take care not to bleed. The white men will bleed,
perhaps. Now we shall see something."

The white men did not appear all at once. First, Conisby must make a
speech explaining why it was necessary that they should thus ceremonially
fight.

"Among us it is considered unseemly that men should share a wife. This is
your custom too. A man may have as many wives as he can buy, but no one
woman should tend two cooking pots."

The blacks laughed, pleased with this reference to the native treachery
of women, their skill in poisons, and the headman called out:

"This is true, it is not safe that one woman should have two men, for one
of them will surely he unlucky."

He indicated the kind of bad luck such an unfavoured husband might have,
putting his hand to his stomach and twisting his eyes upwards. There was
another laugh, loudest among the women themselves, reminded in this
lively manner of their powers. Conisby went on, shifting about through
three languages and topping off with a dozen Latin hexameters. The crowd,
accustomed to long speeches, tolerated his efforts and lay back under the
sunlight to digest and ruminate. They had forgotten their appetite for
magic, a thing of the night.

Conisby ended his discourse. His sword took the sun. He signalled with
it. The combatants, who had been engaged in binding up their hands with
strips of canvas, came forward together, awaiting sheepishly his word to
be ferocious. They showed their sense of the occasion by an arrangement
of flags worn as sashes, and eyed each other, not with the fighter's
appraising look (they were familiar, from months of voyaging, with each
other's capacities) but with a kind of cornradely commiseration at being
caught together in a ridiculous undertaking. The carpenter said, as
Conisby's hand went up:

"I can't tell which of us is the bigger fool."

The hand dropped. They began to walk about, the smaller man crouched, the
larger keeping his fists before him as though they carefully upheld a
pair of roosting birds. From time to time one of these fists flew out and
pecked at the carpenter's head, withdrawing at once into safety. The
carpenter ventured no aggression but moved in every direction as though
he had eyes in the back of his head. The blacks approved these passages
at arms, which they took for ceremonial, and called comments to each
other:

"The big man strikes gently to show he will be merciful. The small man
dances, he is asking a blessing."

The women spoke under their hands to each other after their fashion, and,
when they surveyed the boatswain, laughed.

After a minute or two this slow, mystic pacing and pushing changed to
something less akin to ritual. The carpenter, lifting one agile foot,
kicked the boatswain in the stomach. The boatswain bent double; then
opening his immense hands and his mouth at the same time, came ravening
forward. The carpenter did not attempt to withstand the onset. He ran,
leaping his way out of the audience, and fled, not unattended, into the
forest. There was laughter, and a quick shifting of people, endeavouring
to follow the course of the flight. Echoes of it reached them, sounds
ripped from the throat untimely, full-term threats, occasional silences
no less ominous. Even these withdrew as the fight faded into the forest.
Maria's fate was not to be publicly decided, it seemed, after all.
Conisby said as much.

"Not thus did Amadis fight, or Gawain; though the Green Knight talked
very affably with the latter after his head had been struck off in some
such silly combat as this, running among trees. Maria, what next? Shall
we tie you to a trunk, as in the other Indies they lay bait for tigers?"

He spoke fondling the black woman's ear, and looking at Mary Askill,
moved to torment her who now accepted his bidding to see how well she
could obey; or, if rebellion followed, to have the pleasure of quelling
it. She looked away from his hand too quickly. When he perceived this he
immediately quitted with a buffet the head he had been caressing,
satisfied of his power, not loath to punish the instrument by which it
had been shown. Maria, to whom any handling was better than none, grinned
at him and asked what was next to be done.

"The white men have run away, there will be no marriage, my people will
be sorry." Then, laughing to show that the proposal was not a serious
one: "Let us have another kind of fight, she and I will fight each other,
you shall take the winner."

Conisby put up a finger to stop her, oblivious that Mary Askill could not
speak Portuguese. The use of that language, the little gesture warning of
indiscretion, set him and Maria apart for an instant. Mary Askill got up
from her mouldering throne; her shadow fell, not unobserved, upon the
black girl standing near, who was not discommoded by it.

"Let someone seek out those men."

"Let them run," said he, "if they are such noddies. Here, with all the
world watching, I could have kept them from harming each other. In there
they may do murder. Well, our houses are built now, and ashore the uses
of a boatswain are limited. The men are no loss, save as they spoil our
festival. As this girl says: no winner, no marriage."

The people, resigned to the departure of their chief spectacle and very
well able to amuse themselves, were at play again, the women assembling
about a singer, who sat like the steersman in a canoe, legs wide and a
stick in his hand. They had put together a song about a boiling river,
how the rowers jumped when they were splashed, and the fish swam about
ready cooked, and how the hippopotamuses all turned red like crabs in
that pure hot water. They sang with gusto and the liveliest pantomime.
Conisby, observing them, had a moment's vision of what, Christianized,
they might do with some of the more sinister psalms of the shepherd king.

They sang tirelessly, and tirelessly as children repeated their game, the
brief phrases of the river song. Now and then one would think of some
fresh absurdity connected with the property of heat in a river; as the
fact that lions coming down to drink might scald their tongues, and
sneeze, and growl. They enacted this, with the flight of timid animals,
the hiss of a snake falling from a bough, finally the yells of enemies
routed by this impassable barrier. Sang those who were triumphant:

"We need not carry fire,
We are chosen.
Our cooking-pot bubbles
Down among the dead men.
Jump in, dead man!
Our pot will warm you."

Playing, eating, the day wheeled past. Still no living soul emerged from
the forest, Maria's future was undecided, games were continued, shadows
crept. In the early afternoon there was siesta, people and children
drowsing off, putting their high spirits behind them for an hour or two
like sugar-sticks stowed away. Mary Askill desiring to sleep, would not
do so under the eyes (though closed) of the blacks. Nor would she hide in
her litter, a dwelling-place of insects, its leaves giving out already a
smell of mould; so short a time in these latitudes did live things take
to die. She walked towards the end of the lake. Conisby watched her go,
but was too unsure of her mood to venture his company. Like other
servants of the altar in other times, he knew when it was not well to
tempt divinity.

Divinity accordingly lay alone, meditating upon old stories, handed about
still among English villagers, of the priests of the Scarlet Woman. They
with artful picturings and carvings simulated to the eye the mysteries
they taught, trusting to the ear only on Sundays. The walls of their
steeple-houses they painted with ineffable sufferings, set reminders of
heaven and hell upon roof-beams and water-spouts, and themselves, dressed
in purple and fine linen, postured singing before their unholy Ark. They
might have reached these people so, thought Mary Askill; evil has a long
arm. And she pondered, but timidly as a child touches a sick creature, on
her own fate.

When she woke it was to the sound of the drum and of cries. Another dance
was beginning. The inexhaustible black people were on their feet again,
taking pleasure in iterated movement. This time the women were assembled,
working out some mimicry of their own. Maria led them as they circled and
sprang. Mary Askill could at first make nothing of the pantomime, which
had in fact to do with the ritual of growing yams; but she could guess at
what it was concerned with, and after a little time the gestures began to
take on a meaning. The women danced to the men, who sat together;
motionless they received this homage of the women's twisting bodies,
stamping feet, eyes half closed. Mary Askill too watched without
movement, and unwillingly but perfectly understood their parable. Into
her mind ran a phrase turned wrong way about as all things turn which
come of the devil: the flesh made word.

The women lashed themselves with their own noise. Maria's suppleness was
a challenge to the others, the bride whose grooms had fled swung herself
in rapture to the tune of this ancient petition, the plea to be made
fertile which her ancestresses had invented in defence of their race;
many children to set against the many and desperate chances of the
forest. Mary Askill became angry. She stirred in her lair, straightened
her shoulders, and marched towards the dancers with a strong step that
had in it nothing either of parable or of allure. They did not observe
her, nor did the men, now beginning to unbend to their petitioners,
clapping softly, leaning forward and back in rhythm. Maria led her
prancing line closer to the seated watchers. The drums quickened, the
women, panting and sweating, nevertheless increased the pace, no longer
pleading but frantic. The drum lifted them to utmost endeavour, then
stopped. The women cast themselves down.

It was Maria who saw Mary Askill. She lay at Conisby's feet, and he was
stooping to pull her to him, half-caught by the urgency of the ritual,
when she who of all had seemed most abandoned became at once the most
aware. Invitation died out of her face, which took on a watchfulness not
alarmed, the watchfulness of a fighter before an equal opponent. Conisby
exclaimed and turned swiftly. His tone halted the men, advancing upon the
prostrate dancers. These stared at the white woman, disconcerted by the
silence and unknown purpose of her approach. The head man said:

"Does she want some of us for her service?"

Conisby called out to her, in a voice which forgot its usual studied
reverence, the priestly tone:

"Don't come here."

Mary Askill did not speak. She walked to a place where there jutted out
into the water a rock, flat and low. She was troubled less by the scene
into which she had intruded than by her own heart, sickened and confused.
Conisby, seeing her stand upon this platform and remembering his role,
called out to the people that she would bless them, trusting to his own
wit to translate, if need be, the message of a curse. In English he
called to her:

"Lift up your hands. Say nothing."

Maria, who still stared from behind his shoulder, tense as a cat, flashed
her teeth in a laugh which had for origin no more than the need to
release excitement; it was not insulting, the poise of her shining body
did not seek to provoke, she was gay, her head harboured only such
visions and fears as might dwell in the cramped skull of a monkey. She
was part of the time and place, hers were such actions as in these torrid
and reeking woods it was suitable to perform. The white woman was the
interloper.

Mary Askill, seeing all these things, and that they were hateful;
remembering perhaps something of an Englishman who thrust his offending
hand into the flame; resolving no more to play the deity, even the deity
hidden and unwilling, knelt on her rock and held up one bare arm with the
hand open, calling the sky to witness before she plunged it into the blue
water that, as its surface was disturbed, sent up a waft of steam.

She held her arm thus some twenty breaths, withdrew without looking at
it, pulled the sleeve over, and again walked out of sight into the trees.


(xiii)


None followed. She stepped into their shadows as into a withdrawing room,
aware of pain, her heart not eased by it. At this she felt a kind of
surprise, for it had been the habit of her mind to take ease from the
body's discomfort. She walked slowly in a direction unknown, save that it
was away from the voices and the drum whose note they sent after her to
plead for her return. Very well it pleaded, with a kind of limping weakly
beat, like a child lost and calling, but her ears were too full of
another beat to heed it; her own blood in tumult.

She walked. The trees' shadow began to thicken, and there was movement
among their distant tops, conversation of birds coming home before
nightfall. She stood and spoke aloud:

"I've never pitied myself before. This is what comes when the body starts
whimpering."

The culprit reminded her of its wrongs. Her forearm pained, the sturdy
beat of her heart was quick almost beyond bearing. She struck down across
the shrinking nerves with her left hand to increase their protest and
leave no room in her mind for other contemplations. The body shrank,
recorded its misery, and again abased itself. She spoke:

"No more." And again, strongly: "No more."

But she saw two pictures as she said it, one of herself playing the
goddess under a fan of leaves, one of Conisby looking at her as sometimes
he did with a kind of wondering tenderness; and which of these two the
words served to dismiss she could not have told.

There was after that a momentary silence, through which sounded a cry. It
did not come from the direction of the lake; it was the cry, not of a
seeker but of one desiring to be found. Instantly remembering the runaway
men, she came to herself again and put away her bewilderment, imagining
one of the combatants, (surely the carpenter as the weaker) left injured
and helpless somewhere. She sent out her voice to him. Again the cry, and
a noise of distant stumbling feet, hands pulling at the soft undergrowth
for support. Going towards this, she by continued calling through the
twilight directed the uncertain steps and her own until they came
together. It was the carpenter.

He said, unreasonably whispering now, after a quarter-hour of calling:

"Don't let them hear us. Talk low."

"Are you hurt? Who's 'them'? Where's the boatswain?"

The carpenter, whose face she could not now see, asked if she had any
water. She said she had not. He took her hand and guiding it to his head
discovered there a ridge like the weal from a blow. It had bled; she
could feel the blood caked about it.

"It would take more than my pot of tar to caulk that," said the
carpenter, and she could feel the muscles of his face alter to
accommodate a smile. "That's your boatswain for you. All you'll see of
him." He groaned and put her hand away. "I can't get much further. It's
night already."

"It's quiet now. The lake's not far away. I'll call--"

But he, at that, gripped his fingers about her arm and again forbade all
noise; not a breath; danger. "What danger?"

The carpenter then, gasping and wasting wind to curse his dry throat,
gave her the history of the fight. He had the legs of the boatswain; for
an hour he dodged him here and there until the heavy hour of the
afternoon came when, the pain from that kick in the stomach being no
longer lively enough (or so he said) to preclude sleep, the boatswain had
indicated that the pair of them might, instead of dodging and snorting
about among the trees like pigs, lie under them like rational creatures
and sleep for an hour or two. The carpenter agreed, and fixed a signal
for the renewal of combat; the first to wake to give three long whistles,
neither to strike without this warning.

They slept therefore. But whether the signal was forgotten or not
observed, the carpenter woke to find the boatswain standing over him with
what appeared to be a log uplifted in both hands. He had just time to
protect his head from the full weight of the blow, a knot in the wood
tore a gash and blinded him with blood. If there was one thing more amply
clear than another, it was that the boatswain had the best of it, and
that a man with a leak in his head that might sink a merchantman was in
no state to claim a bride. He therefore feigned to be completely
unconscious--"remember to turn your eyes up, there's no true feigning
without that"--and lay like the log that had felled him until he heard
the boatswain stepping away.

All this happened at the edge of a natural clearing, a ravine whose rocks
were for once in a way too much for the trees. Turning down his eyes, but
making no other movement, he saw the boatswain's steps halt, like a man
who listens. His own head, he said, was ringing a triple bob major, and
there were Catherine wheels in it too, so he heard nothing. But the
boatswain did. He hesitated, looked about with quick pecks of his head
like a great bird, and suddenly darted back almost to where the
carpenter's body lay. That astute man turned up his eyes again but took
no further precaution against discovery by whatever was about to invade
the clearing, trusting to the boatswain's care for his own skin to give
warning of danger.

Through the changes in his head he then heard something that he had not
heard since the olive-green soldiers of the Padre Valgado stalked with
their captives on the quay of that other and now distant island; the
sound of metal on metal, armed men marching. The boatswain sank behind a
tree-trunk.

In a moment, coming from the northern side of the clearing, walking up
the stream, which was shallow and afforded better going, despite its
rocks, than the soft tentacles of the undergrowth allowed, five men
appeared. Under the heat of the day they were armed, and not lightly. He
saw three pistols, and flasks the shape to hold powder. One was better
dressed than the others. His long boots were in good condition, though
they had suffered in the march, and his shirt decently approximated to
white. All these had the countenance, clay-coloured even when warm, of
the Portuguese; when they came into the clearing and exchanged some
speech, it was (so far as the carpenter, no linguist, could tell) the
speech of Lusitania. He caught a word or two: sleep, ship, comrades,
water; words that come within the wide vocabulary of men of the sea, to
whose company he belonged.

They ceased their progress. The leader came out of the ravine and seemed
to curse his boots, which he almost at once took off, and hung up on a
branch to dry. The men laid themselves down, and brought out victuals
from their breeches; bread, some sort of dried meat. The boatswain, who
had not eaten earlier in the day, budged a little seeing the provender;
the leader, quick of hearing and decision, turned instantly towards the
noise, but took no action, possibly because he lacked his boots. They ate
in a half-silence, one venturing a remark from time to time, the others
grunting or ignoring it. They ate sparingly, putting back scraps of food
in their breeches. The leader said a brief word after a guess at the hour
made by standing a stick in a small patch of sun. It was permission to
sleep. Instantly the men obeyed, stretching out without preparation on
the soil that was soft with the death of millions of leaves, year after
year. The leader, after inspection of his boots, leaned against a tree in
an attitude of half-vigilance. His eyelids sank. The carpenter could see
his face losing expression, becoming blank behind the young beard so trim
that it seemed to have been painted on. Under the Catherine wheels and
the ding-donging in his head he calculated that if the boatswain chose to
do so, now was his moment to slip away and warn the camp by the lake.

Instead, he sneezed. The carpenter, who had his eye upon the silent
motionless body behind the tree, saw it contorted, then heard the noise
that burst out from it; not a noise to be confused with any hissing a
serpent might make, or a bird's call, or a beast's cough; the purely
human sound of a sneeze which, like love, cannot be hid. In a moment,
boots or no, the leader was on his feet and had his sword out. In another
moment the men too were awake, and the boatswain, valiant with fists but
no man to face five swords, was surrounded by them, helpless.

They interrogated him. He shook his head. The leader tried another
language. This seemed to hit the mark, for the boatswain answered
something--what, the carpenter could not hear. The men were dissatisfied,
and gave him a punch or two, but the leader stopped them, continuing his
questions. The boatswain's answer included gestures, not so vivid as
those the blacks were accustomed to employ, but yet significant. The
direction he pointed to was the direction of the village, due south. And
he seemed to be explaining, at length and with emphasis, something which
the carpenter could not interpret.


At last the leader seemed satisfied. He unrolled from his own wrist a
strap with a buckle which he kept there--the carpenter noted this
practical touch--and with it tied the hands of the boatswain together
behind their owner's back. He looked about him then, and gave an order.
The men at once went off in different directions, beating the undergrowth
like sportsmen. Almost at once the carpenter was discovered. He turned up
his eyes and lay still, letting the bells and wheels have their way in
his head. He had taken the precaution--"this is something that should be
known"--of putting a rounded pebble under each armpit on which he
clenched the muscles without seeming to do so, thereby causing the pulse
to cease beating. He could not swallow a round pebble and do the same
trick by his lungs; nevertheless, as a good swimmer should, he could hold
his breath; and he knew how to appear collapsed, how to ape the dead
man's terrible shrinkage. The gash in his forehead caused by the log was
providentially sizable.

He was found, therefore. The leader, called, turned him over with a foot
and he obeyed with all due limpness, as a body obeys. The boatswain was
interrogated. By a simple reckoning of the boatswain's muscles and the
size of the log, which lay, bloody and swarming with ants, close by the
tree, and by the faithful trick of the pulses, it was easily determined
that the carpenter ought to be dead, if not would soon die, was in any
case an encumbrance. With his eyes twisted up until he seemed to be
looking through the roof of his own skull the carpenter heard his fate
discussed, and took the kick which the leader dealt him for good measure
after it had been decided. The party moved off, the boatswain with tied
hands going between two groups of men. No more sleep for them that day.
They clanked off down the ravine in silence. The carpenter then yielded
to the insistence of the bells in his head, the strong regular compulsion
of the turning wheels.

He was not clear how long ago all this had happened. He asked for water
again. There was none; he had left the stream behind him. His wound had
rendered him timid, he would not hear of being left alone, would not move
nor let her move. In half an hour he was babbling to the silence of these
Indian trees how oak and elm were worked at his father's bench in Devon.
Mary Askill sat by him, not heeding, considering what was best to be
done.

"If these men are indeed Portugal men, then they come from a ship. Put it
that they landed on the northern beaches of our island, what are they
seeking for, here in the centre? Portugals care for slaves and gold.
There is no gold here. How if they take our people? Five armed men, he
said--" And she interrogated the carpenter: "Five armed men with
swords--hark now, hush! Was it five?" But he was murmuring of life at the
other side of the world. "So many, and we have only the one. Pistols too,
he said. The blacks' spears are toys. I must give warning."

And she determined without sentiment that the carpenter must be left to
whatever fate the woods had in store for him, it being urgent that this
warning should be conveyed. She felt easy having something immediate,
though dangerous, to do; not beyond her wits, either; no goddess trick,
but a task fit for a woman. She had not known such ease since the day
when she sat down to spin safety for the _Nonsuch_ out of a pile of
ropes' ends, many weeks ago.

She stooped over the carpenter. His breathing was uneven, he was dropping
out of his frenzy into a quiet perhaps more deadly. She felt about his
body for the knife which she knew he always carried, hidden at his waist.
The Portugal men had not robbed the rags he wore; the knife was safe. She
took it and went off through the thickness of the trees, notching one
here and there for a guide by daylight to the place where she had left
him; and following the moon, now high, stepped forward.


(xiv)

Her sense of direction did not fail her. At the end of half an hour's
slow progress she caught a whiff of smoke from the camp's evening fires,
and with this and the moon to aid came uneventfully to the lake's end.
The people were still at their noise, so strongly that she felt a
moment's astonishment; she had heard none of it until she was almost upon
them, though the breeze blew towards her. Conisby was not in his place
among the men. He seemed not to be present at all, and her heart
laboured, not for anxiety concerning him, but because without him her
journey had been made for nothing, the warning could not be delivered.

Then he appeared from some place within the forest's edge, alone, from
time to time turning to survey the place from which he had come. He
passed not far from her. She called, and saw him halt, heard his breath
go in on a gasp and come out on a whistle.

"You, Mary! I've been hunting you. Your arm--I've been afraid for you."

She had forgotten her arm, and the impulse which led her to thrust it in
the water. He went on:

"Purging yourself, atoning for the sight you could not help seeing. I
don't know what meaning the people put to what you did, they are not
curious for meanings but for happenings. I did not interfere, or seek
you. I told them you wished their sport well, and needed to be alone. But
I've been troubled and afraid for you." And he added, in something of a
hurry: "Who'd have thought that devil Maria would celebrate her marriage
thus wholesale?"

Mary Askill answered none of this. She began to tell him what she knew of
the five armed men; their seizure of the boatswain and casual brutality
to the carpenter, their departure southwards. He heard without comment or
interruption; at last, when she ended, asked a sharp question or two.

"Where is the carpenter? Did he hear no more of their talk? What are the
words, again, that he could understand?"

She repeated them with her own conjecture, that the invaders were seeking
either gold or slaves; and her own resolve, that the black people must be
defended.

"Defended!" He laughed at that. "I admire your estimate of my powers. We
have only one sword, unless you can call down help from heaven, _gladius
Domini_. We'll do better to hide, not return to-morrow to the village.
Well. I'll think awhile. We must lose no time."

He did not thank her. He had forgotten his concern for her departure and
her arm. He too was by this event liberated from the nets they had woven.
They walked together towards the fires where the people were singing, and
did not so much as think to touch hands.

Conisby stepped through the dance as an animal walks through a whirl of
dust in the road, and commanded attention. When all were silent he gave
the gist of Mary Askill's story and put it that a council should be
called. This done, he invited the headman to speak.

"A grave matter surely," the headman agreed. "We know the men with the
green faces. They have no pity. They are strong, but they do not work.
They are able to fight and take slaves, therefore they do not need to
work. They have certainly come to this place looking for people to carry
away in their ships. They are exceedingly strong, treacherous and wily.
It is my advice to you that we should hide from them."

Others agreed with the headman. They had recolections of those months of
slavery to which they never gave voice even in their songs; but it could
he seen by the imperfect light of a hastening moon that something of that
humiliation was upon them now; the drummer beat a solemn stave or two
until nearer voices hushed him.

"For my part," said Conisby, "that is not what I should counsel. We run,
it may be, from a shadow if we hide. We have not our account from one
that has seen them directly, only a sick man's story remembered and
retold. Five men armed! Granted there are so many, and that their purpose
is to enslave us, and that the boatswain is a traitor; given the worst
that can happen, what will it profit us to go skulking about the forest
for who knows how long, until it is their pleasure to leave hunting us?
We plan in the dark, and in the dark are devils. There must be something
done that will reveal their numbers and their intent, and give us matter
upon which to make our way."

The headman said that the crocodile may allow himself to be seen, but
deer should trust tall grass. He looked at Conisby's sword, the only
weapon worth calling so among the men there gathered, for their spears
were of green wood, ornamental. Conisby took up the challenge.

"Where has this man led them? To the village, since he has not brought
them here. And what to do there?"

There was but one answer to that. The return was planned for next day. An
ambush carefully concealed, falling upon the returning pilgrims at the
end of a long march, would have every chance of success. There was plenty
of food in and about the cabins. The Portuguese might lie there at their
ease, with nothing to do but prime their pistols and wait.

"But we are not sure of it," Conisby said. "We must make sure. We must be
certain of their purpose. We must spy upon them, follow them. And I,
because I know their speech, am the man to undertake this."

The blacks did not dispute that the man with the sword was the man to
investigate the danger; they wondered, however, whether a short cut to
the knowledge they needed might not be found; the priestess who had
brought news of the invaders might prophesy concerning them and make
known their minds.

Conisby hesitated, having no wish thus to entrust the solution of the
problem to chance. The headman answered for him calmly:

"Better not. She is--"

And he used the phrase with the two meanings, the phrase which implied a
woman deflowered and a basket of trouble unsealed, with which Maria had
excused her own disbelief. The elders, glancing among themselves and
nodding, to Conisby's bewilderment made no further comment, taking the
matter for granted. He had been prepared for trouble arising from this
blasphemy, had spent part of his solitude scheming out new miracles to
override it. In fact, the blacks were accustomed to the sight of persons
singled out and afterwards forsaken by strong powers. Certain men and
women among them became, from time to time, dwelling-places of gods and
took the attributes of gods, their bodies being put on like dresses by
the gods and shaken off when the unknown purpose had been served. The
white woman had been so chosen. Now the deity was gone, capriciously as
it had come. This was in the nature of things, not disturbing. They
therefore abandoned all hope of help from her and looked to the man for
aid, he having a sword and being, as they had seen for themselves, a
personage of resource.

He developed his plan quickly. He would set off at once, while the moon
served. A man travelling alone is not subject to delays. He could be upon
them, it might be, while they slept; or could take them one by one if
they strayed into the forest. He spoke boastfully and excitedly, covering
up as he supposed the dwindling of Mary Askill's godhead, casting the
mantle of it over him.

"I shall match them. I shall be protected. No harm can come to me, she
watches over me. She and I are your saviours."

One of the young men put forward a plea: that two persons should go to
spy out the land. Thus, one being taken or disabled, or having the chance
of an accident, one would survive to be useful. Conisby was arrogant.

"Do you suppose I can fail? What accident can touch me?"

The headman would not put the suggestion away so lightly. It seemed to
him and to others a wise precaution. He amended it, however, in an
ingenious manner. The second person to accompany the sword should be a
woman, should be Maria.

"She speaks their tongue," said the headman. "Moreover, she is sly. If
she is caught, they will not kill her as they would kill a man. They will
keep her for their pleasure, and thus she may learn much."

This was perceived by all, Conisby included, to be the merest common
sense. However, he would not agree to it. He was unwilling to accept a
co-saviour, unless it might be Mary Askill; feared what harm the choice
of Maria and her successful undertaking of the expedition might do to the
influence he had built up. He began to object; a woman could not travel
so fast, a woman could not keep a quiet tongue, and so on. He perceived
the feeling of the council to be against him, and with a swift turn of
the mind threw the whole authority for the decision upon the white woman.
If she commanded, if she ordained, Maria should go.

Mary Askill, interrogated, thought it might answer pretty well. The plan
was agreed. But he observed with distress that while she gave her
judgment silence was not accorded her. While food was found, and water,
for the chosen pair to carry Conisby pulled her aside to speak in the
darkness, out of the arc of the moon.

"Something has changed them. Will you be safe here alone?"

She said:

"The house of lies is falling down."

"I thought when you stirred the lake--Mary, why did you do that? Was it
because of me? Have I not caused you pain enough?"

"It's over now. Tribulation's over."

"Don't speak as if you were dead. Mary, this girl coming with me--it
wasn't I who willed that. The dance, too. She did it to plague me, she's
a mischievous devil. It was their chief who obliged her to come with me."

"She'll be serviceable."

"Are you angry? I can't see your face."

"No. I'll ask you a question, though."

"Well?"

"Better not tempt you. Never mind it."

"Tempt me to what?"

She would not say the word that had been on her tongue; to lie. She
twisted the talk away from themselves to the matter of his task.

"I'll be safe. They're kind people. I never harmed them, only myself by
feigning." With a recollection of the carpenter's counsel, without other
relevance she added: "Now I may turn my eyes down." Before he could
question she went on in the darkness, taking her practical country tone:
"When you come to the village don't risk yourself, don't run on all their
five swords at once. These people depend on you. I know your temper, to
challenge and make a noise, bring trouble on to have it the sooner over.
But you mustn't think for yourself."

"I think for you. The people don't heed you now. That girl--what in God's
name has she done to them? She's an ape in queen's robes."

"I shall do well enough."

"Do you love me?"

"Well enough."

He caught and held her to him. She was wise again, in command of every
purpose, no longer to be swayed. He felt this firmness and grudged it;
beneath his power she had trembled. He pressed her closer, bearing
without knowing it upon the scalded arm. She welcomed the pain, it was
fruitful; what her own violence could not do his accomplished; her mind
had ease. He felt with astonishment a sudden clinging, the response she
could afford to make because she was free, and read it wrongly.

"What? Still? Though I plague you, and intrude upon your salvation? Do
you indeed, Mary? Are you so truly woman to forgive it all and still to
love?"

She leant upon the pain, but still did not tremble. He would have his
answer. He would not go into danger, out of life perhaps, lacking the
assurance that she was his; that she would weep for him; that his rival
was at this hour defeated, though she might pray hereafter. He said:

"You told me once that you are what I have made you. What have I made
you? With my whips at Oxford and my scorpions at sea? Answer. What, with
all my faults, have I made you?"

She answered with a last lie, steadying her soul:

"Happy."

He breathed, and let her go.

The blacks, gathered together closely like sheep huddling against attack,
began to sing in half-voices, gravely, out of the shadow of captivity
that for the second time had fallen upon them. The song, like that which
once burst from the close stinking hold of the _Nonsuch_, had no words;
and being given out softly into the night it had a quality that belonged
to the place, dark, questioning and afraid. Conisby said:

"I am not worth a deal. But I will give what is in me so that they shall
never sing for Zion again out of the belly of a ship."

The moon was declining, it was time to be gone. Maria stood ready. She
had put off her clothes, which being light-coloured might have betrayed
her, and was setting out quite naked. Conisby spoke to the people,
telling them that the priestess would have good care of them. No one
spoke either to approve this or deny. The two slipped away southwards.

When there was no longer the least sound from their going and the
people's song had died down, watchmen were posted about the lake. They
had trimmed their green spears, tempering them as well as they could in
the embers of the fires, and these they held ready. The women, pulling
their children near to them, lay down to sleep for the hour that remained
before daybreak. The older men drowsed, would not yield themselves wholly
to sleep. They talked for a time of the green-faced men, recollecting
enormities suffered, companions lost in the prosecution of their
mysterious greed to be masters. As the talk sank away in drowsiness the
headman said to his still wakeful neighbour:

"When that girl returns we had better make an end of her. She is a
trouble-maker. She has no husband now, and she covets the white man.
There will be discord. She had better go."

"Certainly let her go," the neighbour agreed. "There has already been too
much commotion on her account. Women are pests that do not make
themselves useful. This one is idle, a talker, proud. Let her die."

"The white woman does not sleep," said the headman. "They are restless
after the god departs."

"She, too, serves no purpose now," the elder answered. "After they have
been used and the god has gone, they are no more than dead people
walking. This we know."

"We cannot be certain that it is with these people as with ours," said
the headman. "She too has been idle and useless of late, but she knows
things that we do not. It is my advice that we should not molest her."

"We shall see what news the others bring of our enemies," the elder said,
watching Mary Askill moving by the lake, "and whether they return or no.
We may need her if the green-faced men set upon us. We may sell her to
them as one of their own skin. But if they depart, and the man does not
return, she had better not remain with us. That which has been used by
the god is not safe afterwards for men."

"True," said the headman. "We burn the plates that have served them, and
the spirit baskets when these are empty. It is something to be
considered. But as for Maria, that is decided."

"She will make a good blood-offering," the elder agreed. "It is long
since we had one."

They slept till daylight.



(xv)


Mary Askill waked to find herself inside her litter, without recollection
of how she got there. She felt drained, unwilling to move. But an army of
ants passing along their highway beside her foot by some leap of the mind
called to memory the carpenter lying with a bloody head somewhere not far
off. She roused herself at once, and summoned two of the men to accompany
her. They could not understand what she needed, and would not come close
to her, or heed her gestures which, though part of the universal
language, deal adequately only with the appetites. She succeeded all the
same in beckoning the men like dogs to her heel, noting as they came that
there was reluctance which she set down to the wrong cause. She said,
exasperated yet with humour:

"You're like my own people--God help them!--in England. Stand up to cold
and hunger, and scared of the headless horseman."

"What does she want?" her attendants asked pitifully of their chieftain.
"Shall we obey? What need is there to obey her now?"

"None," said the headman briefly. "But go."

The pair went behind Mary Askill along the path that she, the night
before, had marked with notches from her steel knife. This tracking
reassured them, and they spoke with each other softly, wondering what
game it was that they were to carry home; large, that it needed two men.
Then they were overcome with apprehension, for there was in the island,
so far as they knew, no beast of a weight to need the muscles of two men.
They went softly, watching.

When the notches upon the tree-trunks came to an end Mary Askill could
find no carpenter. She saw fresh leaves that had been crushed, and found
the log that had felled him. She showed it to her men. It was
blood-covered, lively with ants and such creatures; pointing with it she
sent them like dogs to seek the trail. She, standing with hollowed hands
to her mouth, stood calling. Hearing this, the men understood for what
they were seeking, set to work with all their skill, and in a little time
found their quarry a surprising distance away, not long dead. The birds
had not discovered his eyes, which, now that there was no longer any need
to feign, stared straight before him. But a little snake that had flexed
itself round his wrist eyed them and slithered away in haste.

The men began to cut sticks and shape them for a bier. She with a motion
bade such preparations cease, and sat down for a while to contrive what
she should do. The foreign logic of the forest invaded her mind. Why hide
away in earth the poor rags and tatters of the soul? In England these,
lying above ground in a country where every yard was trodden, gave
offence, spread unwholesomeness. Here where there was no eye to see, no
foot to strike against these ribs while they rotted, why should the small
creatures of the forest be cheated of their food? England spread feasts
for worms only, forbidding other guests. These climes, as they were more
abundant and solitary, were more generous. The vultures, ants, and those
innominates that would invade the flesh when it grew soft enough
wordlessly presented their claim to Mary Askill, while she sat by the
dead man, hands between her knees.

She stirred at last, and herself cut out the first sod from that rich
ground. Even such poor Christian stuff should have burial, be given to
decent invisible decay and not to plunder. She left the main work of
digging to the men, feeling once more void of power. A young tree
springing near reminded her, by its smooth-surfaced bark, of one further
duty. She summoned her little learning, composed the epitaph and wrote
with her knife in Gothic letters, the only letters she knew how to form:

here lye an
englisch man
take pitie
lord

The men, looking round from time to time from their labour, eyed this
magic in the making. They observed that the hand holding the knife was
reddened and weeping, could not make the blade bite deep; it was the hand
chastised by the god of the lake. They saw that strength had been taken
from this hand, and were not astonished that jealousies and strife should
prevail between the immortals as among men, or that presumption should be
punished.

When the body had been laid below ground they made their way back to the
lake. Here there was still no news, nor could they expect it; and still
no food. The last meal had been copious, but it was now a memory. One or
two children, whose stomachs being smaller than those of their elders
soonest required replenishing, were beginning to wail. The women to
comfort them rocked and sang their ditty about the delicacies to be had
in Africa, crocodile and the rest of the list. At one point in the song
the headman stopped it with a brief interjection, and set four of them to
splitting sticks, making pronged implements which the four women carried
off while those left behind sang with gusto, and crowded with
anticipatory relish about the fires which, for fear of their betraying
smoke, had been allowed to die down.

When the four returned, as they did one by one in no very long time, they
bore what appeared to be whips in their two hands; snakes held in the
prongs and hanging alive from them. Each had been caught behind the head
with a sudden pounce of the stick, but the vitality which creatures need
that have neither thick skins nor speed to ensure the continuance of
their kind, so informed them that even held thus, strangling, they could
not die. Some were thin and green as tendrils of creeper, some longer and
thickly swelling, with a pattern of diamonds along their spines. The men
beheaded them with blows of a sharp heavy stone, and carefully sank in
the lake the poisonous heads that carried Death's bone in their shallow
mouths. Not troubling to skin the bodies, they only shifted them in the
prongs, and with cheerful cries held them to cook in the blue water.
Later they brought on a leaf a piece of whitish flesh, rounded, looking
not too much unlike the flesh of an eel, to tempt Mary Askill's appetite.
She accepted for courtesy, but could not eat. She felt no want of food,
though it was more than twenty-four hours since she had tasted any. The
blacks rejoiced at the food, and took their sleep afterwards. This was to
them a congenial existence, living as by their own rivers they were
accustomed to live, gorging one day, fasting the next. Here as there,
they had an uncertain plenty. Here, as there, the shadow waited.

The men with spears came to eat with the rest, then went back to their
watch.


(xvi)


Next morning, about an hour before the sun was at zenith, Mary Askill
restlessly marching by the lake saw one of the watchmen sink low, poising
his weapon. She stood. Her eyes, reddish from sleeplessness, stared past
him apprehensively at the unseen approach, and she was motionless as an
animal catching fear from the wind.

The man rose, going forward eagerly towards whoever was coming through
the trees from the south; Maria alone. She was naked still, her left hand
carried something wrapped in leaves, and a broad leaf was on her head for
coolness. A shout warned those who waited, they went to meet her,
running. Mary Askill reached the crowd at the moment when the chieftain's
interrogation had begun. She was made way for, nobody touched her, a good
place for seeing and hearing was accorded to her civilly. She surveyed
the faces, trying with her whole mind to read these, since the book of
their tongues was not open to her. Maria's look was smooth, the headman
spoke quietly; as for the people, their faces were blanks of attention.
Yet something of importance was being told. It was as though this matter
went too deep for outward expression, thoughts evaded betrayal as birds
avoided the lake. The gist of the first question was evident:

"Why are you alone?"

Maria jerked her head backwards, and that, too, could be read. He was
delayed, he was following, must surely be the significance of such
beckoning. And the next questions could only be concerned with their
errand:

"Where are the green-faced men? How have you left them?"

Maria began a long story, standing before her hearers in an attitude
upright and easy despite the journey and the day's heat. Her body shone
with sweat, her face had a kind of animation that revealed nothing, wind
on shallow water. She made few movements with her hands, one of which
still held to her side the green-wrapped burden. It could not be known
from her way of telling whether the matter of the story were tragic or
gay. Once the people, listening, drew in their breaths sharply and looked
at each other. Once they made a sound all together like an amen or a
prayer. With desperate attention Mary Askill heeded the smooth run of the
spoken syllables, that clucked sometimes like a river over stones, and
searched the impenetrable faces.

Soon it appeared that the headman possessed all the facts. He ceased to
question. The people, who out of respect for him had held back, now began
a storm of talk. The revelation had been made, and Mary Askill could only
guess at it. There had been a quick flicking of fingers as of skittles
falling down--the enemy, surely? And then at one point a kind of dancing
lunge different from the handling of the black men's weapons, a mimicry
of some white swordsman; but which one? Had there been a combat? How
quarrelled and what the issue?

Mary Askill put out her hands, the people parted like water before a
swimmer. She stood in front of Maria and spoke softly two words: a name:

"John Conisby? John Conisby?"

Maria looked startled. She saw the state of the arm and hand and spread
her fingers above it, regretfully shaking her head, as though she would
have liked to tend this hurt according to the skill she had with wounds.

"Never mind that," said Mary Askill. "That's my own doing, it'll pass.
Where's he, where's John Conisby?"

Maria said nothing. Instead she unwrapped that which she carried at her
hip, rolled in leaves; the hilt of a sword, its blade broken off two or
three inches below the guard. In this the whole of her long story was
resumed. Despite trouble, fatigue and perhaps great fear that she had
endured, she could not help watching the face of the white woman
inquisitively for signs of pain, witnesses of humanity.

Mary Askill recognized the sword-hilt instantly, as did the people. They
made again the sad reluctant sound, like an amen, that had greeted one
passage in Maria's recital, and Mary Askill knew that this was the moment
at which they had been told that their protector was dead. She could from
this groan and single relic put together all she needed of the fight, a
rash and brave one against odds, the black woman watching it unseen, not
helping, useless as a bright bird, and afterwards coming back, stepping
among blood to pick up evidence that would attest the story. Mary Askill
held the hilt before her eyes, searching the cut steel of the guard for
blood. Here and there she saw a round stain where something had lain,
dried, and flaked away in dust.

The headman was speaking to her, making a further detail of the
occurrence clear. He squatted before her, and choosing a few sticks and
grasses built up a tiny cabin such as those which they had built to the
orders of the white man, in straight rows unlike trees. Over these he
made a sound with his tongue, a crackling and spitting sound, then with
his hand swept the erection down, looking up for comprehension like a dog
performing a trick.

Mary Askill signified that she knew what he would have her know. There
had been fire in the village, no chance destruction but the deliberate
contrivance of men hoping for gain and finding none, no gold for the
picking up and all the blackbirds flown. The shining hilt made a
rallying-point for her thoughts, concerned now with the salvation of the
people, but not running clear as before when she had saved them from the
waters; troubled as the pool by the angel before it healed.

Seeing her thus intent Maria ventured forward, and with a quick
deprecating movement laid the broad leaf which she had taken from her
head round the arm and wrist that showed sore. Softly, holding it there,
she made certain sounds which in the house of the Padre Valgado the women
used in the treatment of wounds. Confident in the power of what she was
saying, the African woman called in the Latin tongue upon a long dead
soldier of Rome, Longinus, that by the virtue of his spear piercing a
sacred side to draw forth blood and water this evil might cease. Mary
Askill did not heed her. Painfully she was setting facts in order. Their
village was gone. They could not, for lack of food, remain here by the
lake. The island itself was no longer hidden from men, invaders had come
from the north. They were without weapons to meet such onset, without a
leader--but her mind would not be obedient, it ran towards a point, the
shining hilt dulled here and there as with spots of dust. She ceased to
be aware of the crowding people.

The headman, who had been conferring with the elders, now spoke a word or
two and stretched out his finger in an imperative gesture towards Maria.
She sank down by the white woman's side; the whites of her eyes showed as
she rolled them upwards in fear. The headman repeated what he had said in
a voice that did not need to be loud to have authority, and the women set
up an immediate clamour, angry, insistent.

They were blaming Maria, whose clothes they could not emulate, whose
nearness to the great ones only these fine feathers justified, for
whatever it was that she had done over there in the village now smoking
and abandoned. They threatened her; and their men, standing aloof, would
not interfere.

But she was in sanctuary, gripping fast to the skirt of the white woman
who stood holding the wrought fragment of steel and looking down at it,
still as the lake. They owed this figure no divine observances, it was no
more now than a spirit basket unsealed, the principle that had claimed
reverence was gone. Maria inspired no pity. Her small animal soul looked
this way and that out of eyes that, untroubled, had contemplated fire and
death. Her smooth skin knew fear of another smoothness, cold, that of the
knife, and her imagination dreaded to quit the world she knew, an easy
monkeyish world of food, contacts of flesh, warmth, obedience of strong
limbs, for one that lacked all these things. She clung and tugged at the
skirt, looking up, letting her fear make its own plea.

The headman spoke, telling her that judgment had been passed, and
appealed to the people; was it not so? Here was a cause of dissension,
preserved so long as, by her knowledge of the white people's ways and
tongues, she could be of use. Now that the white man was dead, and the
woman forsaken, there was no longer reason to preserve such a creature in
idleness. He invited those who did not agree to give their voices. One or
two spoke to say that a woman was, after all, a beast capable of labour,
representing so much wealth to a community which it was a pity to
destroy. Against these the women shouted that there was no good to be had
of this one, that she had been spoiled by the whites too long, was
sterile and no longer capable of doing an ordinary day's work. It was
agreed by a majority that their estimate was just.

The women began to stamp and clap, demanding sacrifice. Their impatience
was caught up by the drummer who, with his hands beating his thighs,
sounded an insistent request; die, let her die; die, let her die! Maria
heard, holding the stuff of the skirt over her ears with both hands.

There was a consultation among the men. Their knives, ritual blades of
shell and stone, though suitable enough to strike off the heads of
snakes, were not of a sharpness adequate to this sacrifice. The handle of
the carpenter's knife catching his eye as it stuck out above Mary
Askill's belt, the headman spoke to her, asking for it, and explaining
that it was necessary for what they had to do. He did not step forward to
take it from the still figure. Nor did any of the rhythmically stamping
women, though they urged him to snatch it up and have done, care to
undertake that duty. He spoke again, reminding the white woman of what
had been done on the deck of the ship, how by blood they had been saved
and protected; how needful was blood; and how the sentence which had been
passed upon Maria was just. She did not answer, and after waiting a
little he put his hand on the knife.

At that there came out of the white woman's mouth--she still looking down
at what she was holding--the strong yet empty voice they had thought not
to hear again. The authentic hollowness was there of the empty vessel
echoing, and this they recognized, abasing themselves before the sound of
words whose sense they could not interpret. The drummer ceased to clap
his thighs, the women hesitated and sank down, swaying and moaning. The
men stood, watching with exaltation and fear the god again taking up his
habitation, calling so as to be heard by his fellows under the water and
in the sky:

"Why trimmest thou thy ways to seek love? Therefore hast thou also taught
the wicked ones thy ways. Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the
souls of the poor innocents, I have not found it by secret search but
upon all these. The cool fountains forsaken, living water forsaken, dead
water welling up out of hell to fill their cisterns, broken cisterns that
hold no water. How shall the Lord be answered when he comes to drink, and
finds the reek of the abomination? How shall we answer, what cup shall we
pour? Only the cup of bitterness, and of strife, and of lies; the cup
that was offered under the green tree. To what purpose cometh incense,
and sweet cane from a far country? These are not acceptable, not sweet,
only the heart set before the Lord is sweet, the sweet cane crushed in a
mortar. Call for the mourning women that they may come, for the cunning
women and let them make haste, that the people may be delivered--"

The voice ceased. The people answered with a murmur of submission and
lifted their faces. They saw the white woman take a stride or two
forward, Maria holding to her until she was shaken off; then, relieved of
this burden, walk slowly and with purpose southwards into the trees.
Without consultation the people followed. They no longer feared the
shadow, knowing that the powers they obeyed still were with this woman,
and they accordingly still under protection.


(xvii)


As they stepped behind her the people sang. It was no easy march, for
Mary Askill held a good pace, and the day was sullen. They kept no guard,
even the formality of the green spears was neglected; asked no questions;
knew only that they were being led, and that the one thing necessary was
to follow. Their songs were not now of food or of defiance, but were sung
for the purpose of sustaining the march, a sober beat with now and then a
shuffle and shrug to fit the shifting stride. The song had to serve for
breath, food, water. There was no halt for rest throughout the clay.

The movements of this column of people were the only ones perceptible in
the woods through which they made their way. All life, save that which
crept unseen in the veins of the trees, seemed to have been beaten down
by the heat. When the sky could be seen, clouds hung there brooding. The
birds were silent, forgetting their eternal search. The air stood still,
yet seemed to offer resistance to movement, as though the people walked
through water. They bent their bodies forward and doggedly followed,
Maria keeping for safety close to the leader's heel.

When they came to the place where the village had been it could be seen
that fire had completely possessed it. The wooden walls, the leafy roofs,
all were gone, sunk in ashes. Even the dial that told the sun was smashed
down. Outside that which had been Mary Askill's dwelling a man in foreign
clothing lay dead; there were bones among the ruins, and the broken blade
of a sword.

She did not stop for these, but marched on towards the beach. The ship's
boat in which they had been accustomed to make their journeys to the
_Nonsuch_ was missing; it might be supposed that the invaders had taken
it and set off for the mainland, not distant, but a treacherous coast
which sailors had reason to fear. The _Nonsuch_ lay on her spit of sand
like an old hippopotamus on a mud-bank, wallowing there harmlessly, weed
trailing from her sides seaward or shoreward as the tides chose to direct
it. Beyond her on the horizon lay a bank of cloud so thick and rounded,
and of so heavy a purple colour that it had the look of a bale of cloth.

The tide was high, the spit of sand nearly covered. There was a
quarter-mile of water to traverse before the ship could be reached. Into
this Mary Askill led them, not troubling to lift her heavy skirts which
floated awhile, giving her figure the appearance of being sustained by
them until they soddened and went down. The people followed through the
water, finding it kinder than the forest's heavy air. They shifted their
song to greet it, the children lifted on their mother's shoulders clapped
and laughed as it splashed up at them.

The _Nonsuch_ had been visited by the invaders. A ragged drop or two of
blood was on the deck and on the wooden splinter that had torn a hand
reaching up to scale over the bulwarks. She had been visited, searched
for weapons or food, then abandoned to the trough she had rocked for
herself in the sand. The people swarmed over her, not discontented that
this was again to be their habitation, liking the sound of water sucking
and slapping under their feet again. She was canted at an angle; they
laughed, clinging on the steep decks, peering into the hold where once
they had lain in darkness, singing. They bore the ship no They were water
people, aware that it is the hand and not the paddle or the keel that
should be blamed for disaster; and they had, to gild their memory of the
previous sojourn, the recollection of that magnificent and victorious
fight in which they had, by numbers and faith, borne down white men armed
with iron and thunder. They were without food, such water as had
accumulated in the butts on deck stank and bore a scum, the sky
threatened. They laughed, confident of safety.

She in whom they confided had sunk upon the deck like a dead thing, and
there lay. Maria, having a mind to keep within the influence, not risking
her fate beyond it, gathered the head to her bare knee. There was life in
Mary Askill's face though the pinching and widening of the nostrils alone
betrayed it; in sleep her quitted body was faithful to its grip upon the
hilt of the sword.

A gust of wind from the east, whence the purple cloud was unrolling, came
at the ship like a buffet and withdrew. It was wind hotter even than the
calm that had preceded it. The _Nonsuch_ was secure as a turtle turned on
its back in the sand; for all that, such tempests as the one that
threatened were of a kind to move mountains. Even under this single
thrust the masts groaned and whistled. The headman said to Maria:

"What are we commanded to do?"

Maria, without answering, smoothed the head tilted on her knee, drawing
forth no more than a sigh. The headman, recollecting the matter of the
sun's withdrawal, was not without hope that this wind might yet by some
hidden means be held away. He had seen trees of a hundred years' growth
stirred from their soil by weather, and the masts of the _Nonsuch_,
seasoned as they were, had roots not comparable with these. He said
again:

"What shall we do? She must wake."

The gust came again, this time thrusting hard against the ship's side, so
that water piled along it suddenly, and dropped away, foaming. As though
it had been a push from a hand Mary Askill woke, stared about her, and
asked in English:

"What are we doing here?"

She knew the deck at once, and was not troubled at being upon it, though
lost to know what had brought her. A stiffness and weight in her hand
drew her eyes down to the sword-hilt. She remembered, sickened at her
thoughts, and leaned back for an instant against the black woman's knee.
The wind, steadying, thrummed among the rotten cordage that stayed the
masts. Her spirit rose to it, to the storm and the need of the people.
She stood up, staggering as the deck heaved, and the _Nonsuch_ stirred in
her trough of sand. The lagoon across which they had waded was tossing
now, the trees along the shore tossed more uneasily than the sea. No
refuge there, she thought, only life coming out of the ground, too close
to the ground on which snakes ventured, cutting demi-circles in the dust
with their gaily-coloured bellies as they travelled, and carrying death
in their jaws for a gift to lovers. She spoke again aloud, and though she
was not aware of what had been said, it was without any wonder that she
saw the black people had understood, were taking her orders to close
hatches and doors and to prepare.

The wind held off for a moment. There was a quiet in which could be heard
the rattling of waves on the _Nonsuch_'s side, even the complaints of
trees half a mile away, still swaying under the last impact. Sea-birds,
whose wings had proved of no avail against that pressure and had dropped
for shelter to the water, rose and beat landwards. The wind, renewing,
caught them in air; it hurled them powerless in a straight course as
though down some unseen road or tunnel cleft in the sky, and struck the
ship, which heeled and stirred, came with a protesting noise out of the
hollow where she had lain so long, and drove westwards, helpless as the
birds, masts bare.

Mary Askill, cast to the deck with the shock of that enormous thrust,
called to her people to have courage. This furious impulse towards an end
unknown was that which had driven them all that day, and her for a longer
time. They had courage, obeying in all simplicity; while she, lying on
the deck, forgot the body and felt upon her again the acceptable pressure
of the spirit of God, moving as once before over the face of the waters.


(xviii)


The Portuguese adventurer, he of the boots, safe in port again after
hardships not to be told, was recounting his story:

"This island, when we descended upon it from the north, seemed empty. But
not barren, I would have you know. It showed fine woods, there was water
to be had; fish and beasts; the means to live. We determined, the few of
us, to set out across it on foot; find Indians if we could, and return
with a greater power, remembering the place. We found traces and paths,
but no people except at one spot, where there were two men; white;
speaking a language I knew. One was dead, or half way. The other fellow
had been a sailor, and spoke a kind of seaman's lingo. He offered to
guide us."

"A Christian?" asked the young priest, one of the company attentively
listening. "Not a demon of the woods?"

"Hell is more choice," answered the adventurer, "and has servants better
trained than was this sailor, father."

"Proceed, son," the young priest bade his elder.

"We asked him, was there a settlement on the island. He told us yes,
towards the coast to the south. There was some story of a girl, but I
could not understand it. We agreed with him to lead us to the place, and
so lie did, going under protest, with a sharp point before and behind
him.'

"When I observed by the treading of the paths and the cutting of trees
that we were close upon this village, I gave my signal, and the points
did what they were sharpened for. I could not encumber my little force
with a man who would need to be guarded lest he should betray us. This
fellow, therefore, was killed."

One of the listeners lifted his hand to his forehead and breast, but the
priest checked him, saying that we were not bound to intercede for the
souls of unbelievers.

"That done, I surveyed the village. There was no smoke. I went among the
houses. No soul, no sign. Yet there was food in the houses, not very
stale. My men began then, father, to talk of the devil in earnest. And I
too was afraid, for better reason. There is a scourge other than the
devil that leaves houses standing empty, with no mark of war or fire upon
them."

"Plague," murmured the listeners to each other.

"Plague," the adventurer echoed, "or other deadly sicknesses of those
parts. I bade the men sleep in the woods, and regretted that we had not
enquired more closely of our prisoner before we killed him, to discover
whether he had meant us ill by bringing us to the village.

"In the morning, for prudence, I gave the order to fire the houses. We
overturned a stone with a pointer on it to tell the sun, and a verse writ
under the pointer. What it was now I have forgotten; it was in Latin."

"Son," said the young priest, troubled, "these villagers were, then,
Christians after all?"

"To that I can't speak. It may be. The next thing was, as we were firing
the houses, a man leapt out on me from the roof of one of them. He was
not there, I'll swear, the night before. And he spoke Latin, too, like
the pointer. Stood on the roof shouting it, defying us. Spoke it like an
Englishman, what I could catch; not church stuff neither. We had smoked
him out, he was well hidden in the thatch, we should never have bolted
him but for the flames. He fought well against the five of us. Killed
one, before we broke his sword for him, and then made a quick end."

There was a stir. But the audience recollected what the young priest had
said, and refrained from prayer for one whose Latin was not church stuff.

"We found, beached on a spit of sand, the ship that had brought the
settlers to this island. She was gutted, no rope in her worth the flick
of your nail, nu stores. Her fat sides gaped where she lay in her bed of
sand. A dead ship, swollen and oozing. No use to us. But there was a good
kind of launch, a boat with oars, and that, after some argument, we took;
thinking it less labour, and more wholesome besides, to make our way by
sea back to the island's northern harbour where our own ship lay. We
contrived a sail, we had water and food enough. There was little wind,
and we could not travel fast. But our feet thanked us, I can tell you,
for the good notion of this boat."

The audience laughed, and stretched their own toes to the fire of
sea-wood that burned with hues of the sea, green, purple, blue.

"And now, father, you may hear talk of devils. There came a storm as
storms come in those waters, suddenly as a flea bites. We took in sail,
and laid the canvas over our boat like a deck, to keep out the sea. The
waves mounted, the wind took us. We endured. There is no describing such
a storm except to say that each soul feels alone in it. As we tossed, it
lightened. Their lightning is other than ours, it spreads out branches
like a tree, and gives light longer. By this light I saw what I saw. You
remember I spoke of a ship, a fat ship waddling in the sand?"

They remembered.

"That ship I saw coming towards us out of the storm. A dead ship walking.
As the waves heaved her up, water spouted from her seams like fountains
playing. It was not this that troubled us. Any sick old hulk may be blown
adrift. It was the sound that came out of her."

"The sound?" the young priest asked. "What sound? A howling?"

"No," the adventurer answered. "It was a sound as sweet and strong as
wine. Men and women singing together for joy, in a ship with five minutes
to live."

"She sank, then?"

"Soon. But the singing continued, it seemed to us, out of the depths."

"_De profundis_," said the young priest, "_clamavi ad te, domine_. It was
surely an illusion of the devil, such as the good Inquisitor, Martin
Delrio, warns us against in his Disquisitions. These were voices of the
lost."

"It may be," the adventurer agreed. "I never knew fear as in that
moment."

The audience shivered and came closer to their fire, thinking of the ship
with her cargo sinking to this music, souls drunk with the wine of their
own canticle going joyfully to hell.



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia