For Prey and Spoils - Frederick Ober

A Fight to the Finish for Honor

The senorita stood with us, but when she first appeared Eli and I did not know it was she. There emerged from the cabin a handsome young man, or boy, but brown as to complexion and with eyes black as sloes. He had a sword in his hand, and as he came to the spot at which we had taken our stand he said: "By 're favor, gentles, I will stand with you through the fight that is coming."

"We are here," I replied, "to defend the ladies in the cabin below, whose honor may be imperiled if the pirates succeed in boarding our ship. The fight will doubtless be a stiff one, and you had better consider twice before engaging in it, young sir."

"Mayhap it be," rejoined the lad, "but if I die it shall be in gallant company. But you speak of ladies, senor. Let me tell you, there are no ladies down below, only one lady, a senora from Peru."

"What?" I exclaimed. "Is there not a senorita, also, the daughter of Don Pasquale del Mar de los Remedios of Spain?"

"No, senor," replied the lad, albeit with a twinkle in his eye. "She is not there. In sooth, I have not seen her since—"

"Since you looked in the glass," interrupted Eli, and slapping me on the shoulder. "Hump, you dolt, here stands the senorita before you now. Why, it's as plain to me as the nose on my face; but I can't account, of course, for the nut-brown complexion."

"But I can," said the senorita, with a merry laugh; "I made it myself, and I did hope that neither of you would know me in this disguise. But you will allow me to stay with you, will you not?"

"Methinks it would be better for you to remain below, ma'am," replied Eli, seriously. "Not that we wouldn't like your company, to be sure; but the young master and myself have planned to fight back to back when the tight squeeze comes, and I 'm reely afraid you 'd be rather in the way."

The maiden looked at me appealingly. "And are you of the same mind, too?" she enquired, with a world of pleading in her eyes.

"Our friend has spoken truly," I answered, "that the prospective peril is great, and we can render you, and perhaps ourselves, greater service if you should remain out of sight."

"So be it, then," she said with a sigh, the light all going out of her eyes. "But I cannot endure the thought of my brave friends out fighting for me all alone, and I so near and yet rendering no aid."

"Pardon me, ma'am," said Eli; "but you can aid us if so be it seems good to you. That is, if you know how to load and prime a musquet.

"You can load the musquets as we fire them, and pass them up to us through the companion-way, if you wish."

"Oh, Senor Humphrey, may I?" The light had danced back into her eyes by now, and though I felt there might be some risk in her exposing herself somewhat in passing us the musquets from below, I could not but grant her request. She seemed overjoyed and danced delightedly up and down, like a child, forsooth. "Oh, I know how to load the musquets," she exclaimed—"yes, and to discharge them, too, for my papa taught me when I was but a child. We were once besieged in our castle at Ronda by a band of bandits, and all our family, as well as our retainers, had to serve watch and watch, until the soldiers came and drove the bandits away."

"These pirates now approaching be worse than any Spanish bandits, I trow," muttered old Eli. "And they are getting too close for comfort, ma'am; so please go below at once, and allow us free scope for the swing of our cutlasses. By my soul, but there may be no stemming the tide that is now rolling upon us. And they're no Dagoes this time, nor Dutchmen, but brother buccaneers, trained to arms and having no knowledge of what the word fear means, my children."

By now the uproar was terrific, for the buccaneers had gained the lower decks and were surging toward the castle. Between us and the main body of the fighting multitude stood the captain and a choice few of his picked men, who had stood aloof as a reserve; but even this party was now actively engaged, and every moment seeming to be on point of giving way before the onrush of the buccaneers. We on the castle could see but imperfectly, being now and again enveloped in the dense clouds of smoke that rolled athwart the decks and surged out to sea. Lurid flames, like lightning flashes, shot out from the clouds, and the belchings of cannon and musquetry were more terrific than ally thunder that ever greeted human ears.

With a farewell glance, in which her solicitude was expressed most vividly, the senorita fled down the stairs and to the cabin, whence the senora from Peru was sending forth such piercing shrieks as to be heard above the din of battle. It was but a moment later that she reappeared, bearing in her arms a cuirass of leather and steel, which, without e'en asking permission, she proceeded to buckle upon me forthwith.

I ventured a lame protest, feeling much abashed, but she placed a hand over my mouth. "Nay, nay, brother mine, say not a word. This cuirass is for thy protection; it may save thy life.

"And I have another which is for Senor Eli." Saying which she disappeared, and eftsoon came forth with yet another breastplate, which she girded about the old buccaneer. Eli seemed to be well used to the breastplate, and welcomed it warmly, thanking the senorita for her thoughtfulness; but my cuirass chafed me sorely, and but for appearing unthankful I should have doffed it eftsoon. But I had no time for thought of whether or no the armor chafed or fitted like a glove, for now the enemy were upon us. They had broken through the frail barrier opposed by the captain and his men, who had fallen or fled, so that nothing was left to prevent the storming of the castle. Loud were the yells of the infuriated buccaneers as they found their pathway to the castle open. They rushed forward like wolves on the scent of prey, and Eli shouted out to me: "Boy, yon villains know we are here, mark my word! When the Brethren stop not to cut the throats of wounded or knock them on the head, they have more important prey in view. Since they pass the Spaniards by, my boy, they must be on the trail of somebody they value more highly, eh?" I said nothing in reply, but knew in my heart that we were the quarry they were after, we and the women down below; and to myself I could not but admit that their chances seemed good for the getting. It should not be alive, however—that was the resolve of both Eli and myself; and we knew the senorita well enough to be assured that her sentiment was the same. In sooth, her last words to me buzzed in my ears like a swarm of bees, and nearly made me blind with the rush of blood to my brain, for these were the words she whispered after she had girded the cuirass on me: "Brother, dear, do not let them capture me. I will not kill myself until the last moment; but, oh, my dearest friend, the crowning act of your surpassing goodness to me will be to kill me, rather than that I should be made a pirate's captive."

Her hands were on my shoulders, her eyes lookingly pleadingly into mine, and what could I do but promise—promise, e'en though the thought of it was like death to me! But we were in a forlorn hope, and though we were calm, it was with the calmness of despair. With a smile that she might have worn to meet a lover or mother, the senorita left us to assume her task of caring for the musquets, the which, as we emptied of their loads, we passed down to her—that is, when we had the time to do so; but as the press came upon us there were moments when we could not e'en do this act, simple as it may seem.

On came the buccaneers: those in front pressed forward by their companions behind and forced ahead, whether it were their will or no. These were easy marks for us, and we dropped them so fast, the one after the other, with the accurate aim of our musquets and the broadsides from our musketoons, that the survivors fain would have made halt for a parley, I ween. But those ahead could not stop unless it were to stumble and be trodden on by those in the rear, and when they did go down it was for aye, not to rise again.

I did not like this sort of warfare, for it seemed too much like cold-blooded murder. Still, as Eli Herrick warned me when I allowed a fair shot to pass, and was the means of the object thereof, getting almost within arm's-length of us, it was either their lives or ours; and more than the lives of the two of us—that also of the senorita and her chaperone. Eli put a bullet into the man I had spared, without any apparent compunction, and then urged me to be more mindful of my aim. I do not mean for it to be understood that we ourselves were not in peril from bullets, both of pistol and musquet, which came whizzing about like hornets and smote everything about us, apparently, but fortunately missed their most important marks. The senorita did her duty bravely and well, her white hand appearing with a loaded musquet whene'er there was need—which was full oft, in sooth. But the moment came when no one man or woman could load them fast enough—when they had perforce to be cast aside and the pistols snatched hastily, then the cutlasses. And, to speak the very truth, I was more than glad when it came to short-arm play with the blades; for now it was man to man, the best one to win. The odds were greatly against us, at least a hundred to one, e'en after we had mowed down heaps of the enemy; but what else was there to do than to stand and meet it? Nothing, forsooth—nothing but to prevail or to die—and well we knew it. Above the din of voices rose a shout that commanded our attention. It was from one who recognized us and fain would have a surrender. "We will spare you. Throw down your arms," he said But we were not deceived, and still fought on.

We would be spared, yes—but only for the torture. "No surrender!" shouted Eli. "No surrender, boy!" He might have spared his breath, for this was far from my thoughts then, if, in sooth, I had any thought. As at the time when assailed on board the "Nancy" I blindly parried cut and thrust, with no particular individual foe in my eye, only one gigantic demon at whom I used my whole endeavor. But out of the smoke and flame came to me a familiar voice, which, e'en in my madness, I recognized. It was that of old Jaques, who stumbled almost into my arms as I was hewing down a composite giant who looked like a veritable demon. Eli did not hear, or, hearing, did not recognize the voice, and would have cut our old friend from chin to waist had I not interposed my blade at the instant. The diversion made Eli pause aghast, and, sweeping the foe in front of him with a glance—such as could be seen—he grasped the situation as a whole and executed a most masterly move. Seizing old Jaques by the legs, he hurled him down the companion-way, and then shouted in my ear: "Back, Hump! Get into the cabin! It is our only hope!"

Not less quickly than he I saw that this movement was our only salvation—if perchance there were any in store for us—and tumbled over him down the steps. A white hand reached out to me as I fell, and seizing it I took along with me our heroine, before she had a chance to utter e'en a protest. At the foot of the steps there we lay for the space of two full breaths, all in a heap. And it was a miracle that all of us were not cut by naked blades or crushed to pulp by the fall. But none was badly injured, and the first to extricate himself was Eli, who bethought himself of the hatch o'erhead, which he drew across the opening and secured with its massive bolts before the raging buccaneers above had hardly missed us. This act gave us a few moments' respite, which we improved in untangling the snarl and planning what we should do next. I had bethought me, despite the swiftness of our descent, to try to break the force of the fall for the senorita, and she was apparently uninjured; at least she declared herself unhurt, though her face paled and she gasped for breath as if in pain. I assisted her to a seat, first of all, and when she had regained her composure we held the council of war.

Old Jaques was the first to speak; that is, if I except the senora from Peru, who was still lifting up her voice, though now faint from continuous shouting. We pacified her as best we could, the senorita whispering words of encouragement and patting her hands the while we held the council.

"Ze firs' sing" (thing), said old Jaques, "ees to get out of here."

"Seems to me," retorted Eli, who was nursing a bad bruise on his chin and gazing ruefully at his wooden leg—"the fust thing was to get in here. Now, how in the name of goldarnation air we going to get out? But I agree with Jaques, we've got to git out before them devils up above get in."

The senora ceased her wailing for a moment and said something to our senorita, who beckoned to me. As I sat down beside her she said: "The senora tells me the cabin windows are not far above the water, and that there is a boat beneath them—or there was not many hours ago—and she suggests an escape that way."

"That's good as far as it goes," said Eli, "and I guess it's the only plan open to us—provided it is open. But, please, tell her that we can't do anything if she's going to keep up that everlasting yowling. She's either got to stop or else we go without her. That's gospel truth."

The senorita whispered in her friend's ear, and the "yowling" was heard no more. The Peruvian lady was beside herself with terror, poor thing; but, when she saw she was among friends, and that her only chance for life lay in doing just as we advised, she became sane again and proved amenable to reason.

"The poor critter's scart 'enamost to death," said Eli, apologetically,. "and we can't blame her much, either. Howsomever, her hint 's a good one, and the fust thing to do—and that mighty lively, too—is to find that air boat."

The cabin of the galleon was large and occupied the entire stern of the ship, with great window-like portholes. Groping his way to one of these windows—for the cabin was but dimly lighted—Jaques peered out and downward, a moment later signifying by violent gesticulations that a boat was still there.

"Well," said Eli, "don't make a monkey of yourself, old man. Take this rope ladder and hang it out the winder. It'll reach the boat all right, for that's what it's here for. Now, jest you shin down that air ladder and hold it stiddy while we pass down the ladies. Hump, you take charge of the gal and I'll look out for her chappyrone. There ain't no time to lose, I needn't remind you folks. I can hear our friends a-hewing that air hatch to pieces, and it's about an even chance if we don't get caught. Grab that jug of wine, Hump, and I'll chuck in a bag of bread. There's likely to be a water-cask in the boat; anyway, we've got to chance it. Them musquets served us a good turn, so let's take 'em along, and some powder and ball, too; for Lord knows where we 're going and what we 're going to find. Like 's not we shall strike the little end of nowhere and find next to nothing when we get there."

While indulging in this monologue Eli was darting this way and that, seizing upon things he thought we might need on the trip, and inter-larding his talk with curses upon the bad luck that had caused a bullet to splinter the end of his wooden leg, so that he had hard work to keep his balance. But at last we were all in the boat, the senora behaving like a lamb, and our senorita proving a veritable angel of helpfulness. We pushed off quietly, but quickly, for the buccaneers had smashed in the hatch as Eli—the last to get aboard—had dropped into the boat, and it would not take them long to discover the means we had employed for escaping and the direction we had taken.