make of it. If it pulls along, we'll not be baiting the Spanish for many a day, but living like gentlemen in glad England." He paused to drain the goblet, and Severish, dark eyes glowing with awakened interest, leaned forward upon his elbows and cupped his long chin in his hands.
Kit laughed. "Willie, when there's the smell of gold in the air, you're ready to listen. Like a hound, eh, lad? Frown not, but listen. What say you to holding a city for ransom?" He smelled thoughtfully at his flower once more.
Severish scowled, then waved an immaculate hand. "If you have a scheme, get on with it Kit. Your jest is poorly timed."
Kit said: "What do you know of San Louvelle?"
"San Louvelle!" Severish laughed, and shook his head. "Do you intend to sack the best-defended town in the Islands? Stop dreaming. It is nigh impregnable."
"Impregnable, Willie, and for that reason the better supplied with gold. Only a fool would seek to sack it, for the harbor is scarce six-score paces from shore to shore, and twenty good guns command it. But I speak of ransom, man ransom."
"I can't follow you, Kit," said Severish, shaking his head.
"And if no should could enter or leave this impregnable harbor?" asked Kit. "What then?"
For a moment, Severish stared into his eyes. Then a fierce light broke upon his features and he brought his clenched fist down upon the board with such force that the dishes leaped nervously. A tall goblet overturned, sending its crimson flood across the white cloth. "What will you be at next?" he exclaimed. "A thought for the gods, Kit! And what would you say a city were worth?"
Master Christopher pursed his lips, and filled his goblet anew. "Gold, I should say, to the matter of one hundred thousand English pounds."
Severish expelled his breath in a long whistle and sank back in his chair. "A fortune, Kit," he whispered, for the warm friendliness of the room had suddenly become hostile, and he felt a need for caution. "A fortune, and in our grasp."
Kit murmured: "Yes fortune. But it is not in our grasp, Willie. It's a ticklish bit of business, and will not stand any bungling. The task will need time, and much patience. Not a little of warm blood will be spilt before it is over." He drained his tumbler, held the empty glass to the light. "A fine wine, eh? It's here that the English cannot walk with the French." Bending the square bottle, he poured the goblet full with warm, red fragrance.
They talked for a long time over the wine, and made their plans with such detail that the room was empty and the candles guttering by the time they had finished. Master Kit rested his head upon his folded arms and began to doze, while Severish sought the innkeeper and paid the score. When he returned, Kit was fast asleep, letting out his breath with the guttural heaviness of a man who, unused to liquor, has drunk more than his head can hold.
Severish eyed him, a subtle gleam in his deep, brown eyes. A smile cautiously spread over his face, and he nodded his head, as if approving of something that had leaped to his mind. Then he slapped Kit upon his shoulders, and drew him roughly to his feet. "Come lad," he said, "you can't slumber here. We have already overstayed our visit. Are you forgetting that we are to lift sail tonight?"
Kit yawned, placing his arm about Severish's shoulder. "Take me along, Willie," he muttered. "My head's the worse for it, and I am chary of making a step alone. Take me along to the ship, and put sail up before the moon rises."
Nodding, Severish repeated: "Before moon rises."
They were walking several minutes before Master Kit looked about him. Then he said: "But we're walking in the wrong direction, Willie. The water's behind us.''
"Yes," agreed Severish, "the water is behind us." He struck Kit sharply over the head with the hilt of: his cutlass.
Then came blackness....
It was almost dawn before Kit regained consciousness. His head ached appallingly, whether more from the wine or the blow of the cutlass he could not say. Painfully, he got to his feet and stumbled down to the harbor-front. Many ships rode the still water, and in the gray light of the dawn the masts and yards gave the appearance of a winter forest. There were many ships there, but the two red galleons were gone Severish with them.
Master Kit looked across the water and swore a double oath that he would receive a ransom from San Louvelle, and that he would kill William Severish.
A TALL, lean Englishman, blond and wearing both beard and mustache, walked the main street of San Louvelle. He was booted in black, in the latest French style, clad from knee to neck in worn velvet. A cutlass, hung about his shoulder, struck an incongruous note, and his head, which was hatless, floated in a mesh of golden silk that flapped about his neck in picturesque disarray. Altogether, he was so striking a figure that scarce a passerby but turned his head to follow him with wondering and admiring eyes. The flower on his chest, alone, would have assured that.
Though he strode firmly and held his gaze straight before him, Master Kit seemed to have no definite destination. Walking from one street to another, he covered most of the town. In a little side street he collided with a small figure whom his upflung gaze had scarcely noticed. He pardoned himself in his most fluent Spanish, and would have moved on had he not noticed a pair of the deepest and most beautiful violet eyes he had ever seen. There he stood, staring at her rather stupidly. The girl, in fascinated wonder, regarded his blond beard and blue eyes. Thus it was that Christopher Kentshire met Madonna Deuvieux for her beauty, called the Rose.
"Madonna" his hat swept the very ground "you must believe how I grieve to have jostled you. Again I beg forgiveness. Do not take it amiss, Madonna, but I see I have brushed you against the wall. If you will but allow me"
What had happened to him, as he gazed into that lovely face, Master Kit could not coolly analyze. Only, somehow no matter how he must detain her. She must not pass casually from his life. He must hold her here.
With delight, he though he beheld in her a similar instantaneous reaction. A blush suffused her lovely cheek. And the very parting of her warm lips revealed to him a shared emotional excitement.
"You are too too kind, señor" she breathed hesitantly.
Intoxication though subtle seized Master Kit. Never had he gazed upon a woman who affected him as did this slim, dark-haired, slumbrous-eyed Spanish girl. As he reached out with his cambric handkerchief to dust from her cape the wall's whitewash, his fingers did not attain their goal. Instead, they touched her shoulder, fastened about it tenderly. And, at that split second, their eyes met, glued one upon the other held.
It was broad daylight. Master Kit realized it, as did this strange, compelling creature. But time, passersby, meant nothing when their two young bodies met, held as if transfixed. To his bosom, without thought or reason, Master Kit swept Madonna Deuvieux and the rest was a little moment of sublime, blissful forgetfulness.
When, at last, they parted, it was to hold each other at arm's-length and gaze into the mystery which each instinctive lover sees in the wells, deep and mysterious, of the other's eyes.
First to collect senses was Master Kit.
"It is a miracle," he said.
What the girl said, he could not grasp it was whispered so low in her native tongue.
Reality came to Master Kit quickly, as it had a habit of doing abruptly, clear-headedly. As the lovely creature withdrew herself gently, though firmly, from his eager embrace, some degree of sanity began to suffuse his reeling imagination.
"We need not explain this?" he muttered, trembling.
Straightforwardly, her gaze met his. "I would not have it explained, señor Would you?"
Conscious of the strange warmth, increased confidence that now filled his being, he told her: "I speak directly, because it is a time for straight speaking. You must present me to your father."
As if his words had been hammer-beats upon her very heart, a change came over this woman whom he knew was his beloved. Her very breath appeared to stifle itself; the whites of her eyes mirrored not love but an emotion far less reassuring.
"Certainly," he said, surprised. "I must speak with your father. Would you have it otherwise?"
It was some time before the words came from the trembling lips. Even then it was not so much their import as the frightened manner of her speaking. "You cannot speak with my father."
"Heigh-o," said Master Kit, "and why is it that I cannot speak with the father of one who means what you now mean to me?"
So softly, so soft-spoken, her voice fluttered out to him like lost white pigeons flapping dazedly through a fog. "My father does not like the English. If my father knows, he will kill you"
The next minute she was in his arms, weeping bitterly.
"Well, well," said the intrepid Christopher, "if he will not see me gladly then more is the pity! You, my sweet one, I shall have. I shall have you though all things bar my way. But wait, let us think. Somewhere, there must be a way to win him over. Even an accursed Englishman may deal with a strong-willed Spanish don when he finds the right way."
So they stood there, clasped tightly in each other's arms, as Master Kit began to set his mind to working.
JUAN FIEDOLA DEUVIEUX, governor of the Spanish city of San Louvelle, and invested by His Majesty, Philip, with all the powers of the mighty kingdom of Spain, sat in state at his executive mansion and gave undivided attention to the affairs of the administration. There was something about Señor Deuvieux which left one awe-struck. It was the grandeur of the Rock of Gibraltar, the Sphinx, the Pyramids. Nor was it merely the size of Juan Deuvieux full three hundred pounds of him spilt into his mighty chair that quickened the likeness. His face was almost blank, with the blankness of the Sphinx, his tight, shiny skin having the unruffled surface of polished stone. But his small, dark eyes, deep-sunken though they were, redeemed him. They twinkled with a merry, silent sparkle that made one love him for all his vastness.
But now, as he somberly regarded a sheet of foolscap that lay before him, the smoothness of his brow was marred by many puzzled wrinkles. Without lifting his head he spoke to an attendant. "Perez, when did you find this?"
The man bowed, spread wide his palms. "Early this morning, señor tacked to the very center of the door."
"You read English, Perez?"
"Not one word, señor"
"Then why was not this nonsense given to my secretary?"
"It was, señor and he sends it to you."
"Bah!" Juan Deuvieux clenched his fist and crumpled the foolscap into a ball. "Ransom!" he exclaimed. "One hundred thousand English pounds! Damned nonsense, I say. No, I will have none of it. You may tell my secretary, Perez, that if he will be a little more astute, and a little less credulous, he will do far better in his position. You may go now."
AT TWO o'clock the following afternoon, within sight of the city but out of range of the harbor guns, a freighter, high to the gunwales with silver, and enroute to Spain, was sent to the bottom by two red galleons. The gunnery of the red ships was excellent, for they attacked the Spaniard upon either side, giving her double broadsides and never once fouling each other. When her upperworks were smashed to splinters, and the decks silenced, they boarded her and cleared off a goodly part of the cargo before she sank.
In the crowd that swarmed to the waterfront to watch the battle was a blond Englishman who noticed each movement of the ships with keen, discerning eyes. When it was over, and the pirates had lifted their sails to the east, he nodded his head approvingly and muttered: "Ay, Willie, you always were a hand at maneuvers and gun-play, but you lack a sharp eye with a cutlass. Soon we'll be meeting, Willie."
And Master Kit shook his head with conviction.
JUAN DEUVIEUX explained: "The message was sent to my door by one of that same rascally crew. And, as there is in San Louvelle, at this time, but one Englishman, it stands to reason that his was the hand."
Señor Gomez, the secretary, shook his head. "Perhaps," he soothed, "but remember that the Englishman came here three days before the red galleons and he came in a Spanish ship. And why could not one of the pirates may they be cursed by Providence have come ashore in a smallboat? No, señor, we have not proof enough now to arrest the Englishman."
Ssñor Deuvieux turned a shade more crimson, and angrily brought his huge fist down upon the table. "Devil take proof, Gomez," he exploded. "You will have the Englishman here before me within the hour. Do you understand me? Now, get you gone."
But, as at that moment Christopher Kentshire was seated securely within the four walls of Juan Deuvieux's garden, his arm thrown about the lovely waist of Madonna Deuvieux, Señor Gomez's emissaries searched the streets and taverns in vain.
THE next day, two incoming Spanish ships fled before the cannon-fire of the pirates, and Señor Deuvieux cursed until his already red face turned a shade of deep purple. "Gomez," he asked later, "how long will it be before those two ships return with a flotilla?"
"If they have luck and find the admiral in the Islands, a week, or two, or three. If not" the secretary shrugged his shoulders expressively "months perhaps."
"Whether it will be weeks or months," exclaimed Deuvieux, "we will hold out. I would see the whole city starve before I'd send that English scum an ounce of Spanish gold. And, Gomez, you will have that Englishman in irons before dusk or there will be a new secretary tomorrow."
This time fortune was with Señor Gomez, for scarce had he left the governor when Master Kit walked into the arms of his men. Señor Gomez sighed with relief and wiped his brow. "My friend," he said to the blond Englishman, :you have saved me a secretary's position which really pays quite well, and, since I owe you that much, I will try to do my best for you. You must remember that Señor Deuvieux, though rather violent in temper, has a good heart. Try not to antagonize him."
They proceeded toward the executive mansion, and Kit, walking among his captors with comfortable assurance, between sniffs at the flower in his buttonhole, kept up a running flow of conversation with the amiable Señor Gomez. Before they had gone a hundred paces the secretary began to regret the necessary action, and fell beneath the spell of the tall Englishman. "My friend," said Señor Gomez as they entered the broad hall, "you are an extremely agreeable Englishman. Again I say I will do my best for you."
Juan Deuvieux glowered at his desk, and Master Kit, recognizing an unusual presence, bowed low and gracefully. He remained at the door, while Gomez went forward and spoke in low tones to the governor. Deuvieux waved him aside, and directed a huge finger at Kit. "Explain your presence in San Louvelle," he ordered.
Kit shrugged his shoulders. "Does an Englishman explain his whims? We are a race of wanderers. If I should choose to wander in San Louvelle, who would prevent me?"
"Who would prevent you!" Señor Juan grew in size, and the blood flowed into his broad cheeks. "Gomez!" he roared. "Take this thing from my sight! Who would prevent him and after the Armada! But wait, Gomez. I will have to go over him first." Raising the accusing finger, he exclaimed: "You are one of that crew of cutthroats who downed my ship last noon! None of your English slyness. Answer yes or no?"
Kit, who all the while stood smiling urbanely, nodded. "I have that honor," he murmured.
Deuvieux appeared upon the verge of apoplexy. "Honor!" he cried. "You admit it, rascal! And you term it an honor! Are you mad, or are all English thus? Do you know that tomorrow you will swing from a gibbet?"
Master Kit shook his head. "Not tomorrow nor any time. You see, I have always had a conviction that I should die upon a rapier." He bent his head to sniff at his flower.
Gomez made frantic signs, but, before this supreme confidence, the governor had wilted. "Take him away," he motioned wearily to the secretary. "Take him away and put him in a cell. I will see him again tomorrow."
Kit waved the guards aside. "Señor would be wiser to see me now alone," he said calmly.
Such effrontery was too much even for the dignity of Juan Deuvieux. "Gomez," he spluttered, "leave me alone with this this thing." And the secretary, recognizing the black clouds of a storm, quickly left the chamber, herding the guards before him.
When the two were alone Deuvieux rose and ranged himself before the Englishman. Spreading wide his huge arms, as if he would crush him in a single mighty hug, he said: "Well, get on with what you have to say before I lose hold of myself."
Kit, straightforwardly, hedging neither upon words nor facts, explained who he was, told of the night at the inn, and concluded with these words: "You know everything now. If you wish, you may hang me upon the morrow, as you said. But you will be wiser to follow my plan."
"And just what is your plan?" asked Señor Juan, now thoroughly calm, and wondering whether the man before him, who had just revealed a plot to sack his city, was a liar or a fool.
"This," said Kit. "Give me three-score of your best blades and a good, swift ship. Before tomorrow's sun has set, I will clear the wolves from your door."
"Give you three-score of my best men and a ship! Do you think me entirely a fool, señor, And if I were mad enough to do so, you, of all men, should know that Spaniards are no match at gunnery with that pack of scoundrels."
"There will be no gunnery. I shall board them."
"Board two ships? Are you mad, señor?"
"If you knew anything of naval tricks, you would know that a scheme of maneuvering can render two ships less dangerous than one. Listen, now, and hear what I say." Then, for more than an hour, Master Kit explained his plans and methods to Señor Juan Deuvieux. As the smooth, enticing voice of the Englishman wove out the several threads of the plot, the governor, as was the case with Gomez, fell beneath the spell of the blond stranger's fascinating personality, and believed more and more surely the other's words.
Hours later, over tall glasses of sweet port, they clasped hands. "I will not fail," said Kit with a slow smile. "You see, I have a vow."
And the old Spaniard boomed. "Rid me of this menace, señor, and you may ask me for whatever ransom you desire."
MASTER KIT was never one to have a great opinion of Spaniards. Perhaps he was biased, for since Sir Francis had hurled his few-score vessels against the great Armada, and put the banner of Philip to rout, no Englishman had thought very highly of these so easily vanquished opponents.
But Kit had more concrete grounds upon which to base his doubts. Much of his trade if one may so dignify it was carried on with ships of Spain, and never once had he found foemen worthy of his steel. To him, as to most of the English filibusters, the Spaniard was a small foe. Their gunnery was negligent, and their rapier-play, while facile, was no match for the pikes and cutlasses of the English. So, when upon the following morning Master Kit surveyed his sixty Spaniards, all gotten up in shiny cuirasses and helms, a rather scornful smile flickered over his lips. He bowed his head, as though agreeing with some inward thought. "A pretty sad lot," he muttered.
Señor Juan, his mood changing from doubtful to belligerent enthusiasm, sought to press upon Kit a massive galleon, heavy with gilt and mounting six deck-guns.
But Master Kit, though he eyed the vessel fondly, with the knowing eye of a true lover of ships, shook his head. "Give me something long, low, and nimble on the rudder. One of those swift merchants, perhaps. I'll have no need of guns."
Señor Juan was dubious, but gave in. He found Kit a long thing, low in the prow and high in the poop, rigged with three lateen-sails. He shook Kit's hand, and remained upon the wharf, amid a curious throng, while the ship stood forth to sea, sixty Spaniards crouched behind her rails.
Not until they had passed the harbor guns did it occur to the governor how mad, utterly senseless and devoid of reason his action had been. "Gomez!" he bellowed. "Gomez!" The secretary answered from beneath his arm. "Gomez," he spluttered, "I have been a fool, and you have been a fool. That Englishman should be swinging upon a gibbet. Instead, I have given him sixty of my men and a good ship." But as he turned his face to the little galleon, whose lateen sails were growing smaller, and gleaming brightly in the morning sun, his face wrinkled and broke into a grudging smile. "Gomez a man, that Englishman."
THE breeze blew strong with Kit, and soon his vessel had the two red galleons in full view. Evidently they expected an easy and quick victory, for they stood apart and bent toward him on a hard tack. It was obviously their intention to place themselves on upon either side of his ship, and give double broadsides to one of his.
Kit smiled at the neatness and dispatch with which the familiar maneuver was put into play, and then shook his head rather sadly. "Willie," he muttered, "your hand is upon the rudder, and, if you had not been such a villain, I would be at your side now. We fight today, Willie." Then to the helmsman he cried. "Put her hard over!"
The little ship came abruptly about, showing her broadside to the Englishmen, and flapping her sails against the wind. Her canvas trimmed, she bent upon a tack that took her out of the path of the approaching vessels. They, too, came about, but before their large spread of sail was cut, she swung back into the wind, the larger of the pirate vessels between her and the smaller. Head on, the two ships approached each other, the red galleon turning about, so as to bring her broadside into position.
Once the English guns belched flame, and the ball and grape swept the prow of the Spaniard. But before they could reload for a second volley the ships were together and boarding-grapnels had been thrown and made fast. Then the Spaniards rose up from their shelters, the sun glinting through the smoke upon their cuirasses. Rapiers and pikes in hand, they sprang across the narrow width of the water to the boards of the pirate. But one was before them.
After he had given his orders to the helmsman, Master Kit ran foreward to the prow and crouched beneath the head, cutlass in hand. It was imperative to his plan that he should be the first to board the other vessel. As the two ships came together, he sprang out upon the bowsprit, and, before the Englishmen were aware of the Spanish soldiers, he was in their midst, cutting and slashing with wild, unbridled fury. "Way!" he cried. "Stand aside for you captain! Give way!"
In spite of the smoke and excitement of the fray, they recognized his blond hair and ringing voice, and fell back, awestruck, before the fury of his sword.
Kit minded them not, and pressed through with the swiftness of a deer. He sought one behind and above them that figure upon the poop. "Willie," he shouted, "don't hang back! Come man!" Then he sprang up the ladder and threw himself upon Severish with such fury that the other was beaten back to the edge of the upper deck. "Stand, man," cried Kit. "Let's see that blade of yours. I don't want to have to murder you!"
Below, both Spaniards and Englishmen found their hands full, and the two leaders had the upper deck to themselves. After the first furious onslaught, Severish, his back against the rail, made a play to defend himself, swinging heavily with long, crossing strokes. He read death in Kit's voice, and, like a cornered rat, fought with wild abandon. Kit laughed as he parried the mad lunges. Before his facile swordsmanship, Severish was helpless. He recognized the futility of his clumsy efforts, saw death staring with lean, parted jaws. "Hold!" he screamed. "Hold, Kit! Once we were friends!"
"Willie," said Kit, "here is the only atonement for what you've done," and he ran him through the heart.
He bowed his head as Severish slipped to the ground. "Willie," he muttered, "it hurts, though God knows you deserved it. Perhaps you'll be forgiving me some day, Willie, and I you?" A moment he stood thus, silently. Then, shaking off the mood, he sprang to the rail, and, in a voice that sounded above the cries of the struggling men, called: "Hold that's enough of it!"
Though the words were English, both pirates and Spaniards lowered their swords, and for an instant glanced toward the tall, bloodstained blond figure. "Men," cried Kit, and again the words were English, "sweep this scum from the decks!"
They hesitated, as if unanxious to renew the battle, but Kit, careless of danger, sprang down the ladder and hurled himself upon the nearest Spaniard. They were two to one, the Spaniards, but before the new onslaught and the wild figure of the man who, but moments before had been their leader, they wilted, and fell back to their own ship.
The second red galleon had come about and boarded them from the other side. Caught between two fires, they found resistance futile, and despairingly threw down their arms. Sword in hand, Kit faced his men. They looked wonderingly at him, and then toward the poop-deck where Willie Severish lay in a pool of blood.
TO those upon the waterfront of San Louvelle, the three ships were but specks upon the broad surface of the sea. Faintly, the sound of cannonading came to them. But as the ships drew together even those none too reassuring sounds were lost, and a calm silence drifted over the water. The three specks of ships soon became one. For an hour, they stayed thus, drawn close and tightly together. Relatives of the Spanish soldiers surrounded the governor, angrily gesticulating, demanding that he explain, crying as to why the smallest ship in the harbor had been sent forth in command of one of the hated Englishmen. Señor Juan, for the first time in many years losing his dignity, wearily shrugged his shoulders and kept silence.
An hour passed. Then the three ships began to grow larger, until their yellow sails were plainly seen. In the van, proudly flying the colors of Aragon, stood the little vessel of the Spaniards, and her decks swarmed with men in bright cuirasses and shining helms.
Through the inlet, between the silent guns that rendered San Louvelle so impregnable, and on to the broad surface of the bay, came the three ships. The townsfolk cheered madly, and rained glad congratulations upon the bewildered governor. With slow and stately majesty, the vessels took their way across the smooth water and came to anchor scarcely fourscore paces from the stone pier. Then, very suddenly, a choking, anguished cry went up from the cheering crowd, for the faces beneath the polished Spanish helms were English!
Señor Juan Deuvieux clutched at his secretary, and whispered hoarsely: "It is all over, Gomez. The town is beneath their guns!"
The forty-two remaining Spaniards eighteen had perished in the fight were flung overboard, and struggled across the narrow space of water to the shore. Bedraggled, wet, shorn of all their former splendor, they shamefully approached the governor and spilled their painful story at his feet. Señor Juan's round face turned darker, and purpled until even the anguished survivors drew away from his wrath.
"Gomez," he exclaimed, as always seeking the secretary for his butt, "in all my experience I have never seen such an example of utter perfidy. But, Gomez, we were justly served. Death is preferable to the trust of an Englishman. Honor a thief? Bah there is no honor among thieves!" And that was precisely what Master Christopher Kentshire, himself, was thinking at the moment.
Another hour dragged past, while the Spaniards barricaded themselves in their homes, and waited for the storm of the bombardment or sweeping sack of the pirates. The town streets were deserted. The waterfront was bare. So located was the fort that a finger of land protected the three ships from its guns. Alone and triumphant, they rode the bay. Only one consolation was the Spaniard's that the three vessels would never leave the harbor of San Louvelle.
PRESENTLY, a boat was lowered from the largest of the pirates, and Kit, splendidly attired in black velvet, French lace, and large-rimmed, pointed boots, feathered hat in hand, took his seat in her stern. Four men, mockingly garbed in Spanish steel, drew him to shore. His men returned to the ship, while he, alone, one gloved hand resting upon a handsome rapier, took his way to the governor's mansion. Dumbfounded attendants opened wide the doors, and, looking neither to left nor to right, Kit strode in to where Señor Deuvieux wearily paced the floor of his chamber.
Gomez, who unobtrusively lingered in one corner of the room, glanced once at the stranger's face. Then he wilted into a chair. The governor ceased his angry pacing, stared, turned purple. He seemed to have lost his voice. At last he, too, collapsed into a chair.
"My compliments, señor," murmured Kit in his best Spanish.
Señor Juan suddenly found his voice and cried, "The guard!" They appeared at the chamber-door, and he waved them away. "Outside," he commanded. "You, too, Gomez." When the two were alone, the governor rose and shook his fist before the Englishman's face. "Scoundrel," he exclaimed, "explain yourself. Thus do you honor a trust. Explain yourself, or I shall hang you within sight of your men."
"That would be very stupid," said Kit, taking a pinch of snuff from an ornate silver box that had once been the possession of a noble Spanish gentleman. "Very stupid, since your town lies beneath my guns."
Deuvieux bristled. "Scum! Scoundrel! Honorless thief!"
"Yes, señor," Kit agreed, "a thief. But not one entirely honorless. I promised to sweep those pirates from your door. I have done that. Isn't it only natural that I should prefer my men to yours, that I should strive to keep my ships and a crew to sail them? Señor, the siege is off. Your commerce is free to come and go as you wish after I have claimed my reward."
Señor Juan shook his head. He had known many Englishmen, but this one was beyond comprehension. "What means this?" he demanded. "Another of your vile English jests? You kill eighteen of my men and smilingly tell me of it. Are you a fool or a madman?"
"Neither. I am only keeping my word. As for your men, they were killed in fair fight, with swords in their hands."
The governor seated himself at his desk and looked into Master Kit's blue eyes. "What of your ships?" he questioned.
"They will be out of the harbor at sundown."
"And what is my assurance that they will not again bar the way of my trade?"
"An English gentleman's word."
"Bah! I want one of your English gentlemen. The scale is even, señor You have your ships, and I have my trade. Get you gone, and thank Heaven that you leave my presence alive."
SMILING, Kit folded his arms. "You forget, señor, that one other thing of which you spoke. You said, rashly, perhaps, that once your lane was free, any ransom I might desire was mine for the asking. Now I hold you to your word the word of a Spanish gentleman."
Señor Juan's eyes glowered, but the last words had rankled. "What would you?" he demanded. "Gold? Jewels? Here, this sapphire upon my finger is worth a fortune. Take it."
Kit slowly shook his head. His fingers went gently to that flower at his chest, broken in battle. Its fragrance was gone; now it was only a dried, twisted, useless thing. "I am not mercenary, señor I do not want your sapphire even though it is worth two fortunes. I ask only a rose to replace this one marred in your service."
"What!" The governor sat bolt upright, pushing the huge desk from him as if it were but a fragment of wood. He had always heard that these Englishmen were mad and this certainly proved it.
"For my ransom I ask one rose," said the strange man before him.
Deuvieux came up to him, sulkily led him to the door of the garden, flung it open. Into the room swept the magic of rare and pungent perfumes. The older man extended his hand.
"There is my garden," he said wrathfully. "Go into it and take what you will. Had I a rose sent from Heaven itself that one would be yours!"
Master Kit bowed. "With your blessing then," he said grinning, and strode out into the garden.
Astonished, Deuvieux stood there, watching with wonder-filled eyes. For a little time, the Englishman's sturdy figure was lost in the mazes of that beautiful garden. Slightly perplexed, old Deuvieux heard the murmur of a voice. The man was talking with the flowers!
Then, as two figures leisurely emerged from the cool, scented depths, Deuvieux reeled. His face was swollen into crimson; his breath choked him. He loosened his neckpiece frantically, gasping. Eyes starting from their very sockets, he saw it all.
Straight up to the father, Master Kit led the daughter.
"I have the flower promised me, señor Your garden can hold nothing fairer or more Heaven-sent than Madonna Deuvieux, whom men call the Rose."
The governor's bellow broke then, but Master Kit said smoothly: "I love her, and she loves me, señor"
"You English dog! You profaning swine!"
"She swears it, señor"
The girl said "I swear it, my father."
Deuvieux advanced upon him, his broad hands flexing and unflexing. "Señor," he whispered, "but one more word, and I shall kill you. I am of a mind to do it now."
Kit's rapier was at his breast. "Halt, señor, I do not want to harm the father of the woman I love."
"The guard!" roared Deuvieux. "The guard!"
In a moment, Kit's arms were pinioned behind his back.
"Gomez," said the governor, "put this thing in a cell, and hang him an hour before the sun rises. Send orders to the fort to make whatever shift they can toward transporting the guns overland, and prepare to defend the city before a bombardment."
The secretary wavered. "Señor," he deferred, "would it not be unwise?"
Deuvieux raised his voice. "Gomez, you have heard my orders."
Arms bound to his back, the Englishman was led from the room. To the rear of the chamber, a drapery stirred, as if it were moved by the wind. But, strangely, the blinds were drawn, and no breath of air confirmed the illusion.
THERE were three cells in the little adobe prison to which Master Kit was led, and he was put in the center one, a guard with a long pike placed before his door. "Señor," said Gomez when they were about to leave, "you are a charming Englishman. It is a pity you are to die. However, I will do my best. Men's moods have changed in less than twelve hours."
And then Kit was left alone with his guard.
Soon the sun set, and through the tiny opening in his cell, he could see the two ships, all red and gleaming in the dying rays. He wondered whether he had been a brave man, a fool, or a hopelessly incurable romantic. What had prompted him to put his head in the lion's mouth? If he had sacked the town he would have had the fabulous treasure it was reputed to hold, in addition to the girl. But then she would have hated him. He could not take her that way, not her. Their love must last forever.
He had no hope of reprieve. He knew men, and recognized the wrath in Deuvieux's eyes. Well, in his trade one had to be prepared for death. It was by far the cheapest thing in the Islands. That very day eighteen Spaniards had died. Four of his men had gone with them Willie Severish, too. He remembered an old jest of Severish's, that they should both swing upon the same rope.
Only she would know. Only she would mourn him. What a futile satisfaction to know that his ships would pound the city to pieces an hour after his death. Terrible thought! If the town were sacked, what of her?
It was quite dark. A sense of strange quietness pervaded the air. He could no longer see his two ships. He wondered how long he had been there. Hours perhaps, or minutes.... What was that he heard?
A dark figure had glided into the prison, and was whispering with his guard. The voice was soft, the tones familiarly liquid. Straining his ears, he could barely catch the words. "Philippe," the voice was saying, "you must do it. As you love me, Philippe, you must do it."
"Señorita," the guard replied huskily, "you know that any one of us would die for you. It is not the death that I fear. It is your father, Señorita. I cannot face him. I dare not. Ask of me anything else. But not this."
"As you love me, Philippe."
"Please, señorita, I cannot."
"We will bind your arms and legs, Philippe. He will never know."
"Heaven have mercy I am clay in your hands!"
"Quick, give me your key, Philippe."
SEÑOR JUAN DEUVIEUX bent over his desk and stared with dull, uncomprehending eyes at a bit of yellow paper. He whispered to the figure at his side: "Gomez, it cannot be true. She would not have done it, Gomez!"
"She loved him, señor," soothed the secretary.
"But she is a Spaniard, Gomez"
"There are no Spaniards and no Englishmen in this business of love, señor only a man and a woman."
"A man and a woman, Gomez. Yes, he was a man." For many minutes, the governor leaned back, eyes closed. Then he glanced up at the secretary, and a strange smile flickered over his lips. "Such a man was I, Gomez, once." But suddenly his face sobered. "The ships, Gomez, how did they leave the harbor? How did they pass the guns?"
The secretary ran his tongue over his lips and cleared his throat.
"Well," cried the governor, "speak!"
"If señor will remember," murmured the secretary, "he gave orders last night for the fort to be dismantled, and the guns brought overland to the city."
For a moment Señor Juan stared, mouth open, at the opposite wall, then broke into a fit of laughter that shook him as if he were a pot of jelly and left him weak and helpless. "Gomez," he managed to say, "we are a pair of fools! Youth will have its way, with a sword or a smile. I think I rather liked that Englishman. A madman, an empty-headed, romantic ass. But a man for all that. She might have done worse, Gomez, far worse. He will be kind to her. He called her his Rose."