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- Their Mariposa Legend - 4/12 -
quarter deck, appeared to be weighing the old man's words with unusual care. At length, however, he turned as one who has made his decision.
"By the mass and it shall be even as you say, Jarvis," he declared. "I think myself 'twere well to push on at once. At the most they be but Indians!" The last words were spoken in a lower tone as if to himself. "'Twill matter little either way!"
It was at this point that young Harold stepped hastily forward. For, strangely enough, although on the morning of that same day such a proceeding would scarcely have appealed to him as being at all unfitting or out of the ordinary, yet now it seemed unthinkable.
"But, good sir," he interrupted, "you would not so belie your promise! To do as Jarvis here advises, - by heaven, 'twould be neither truthful nor honorable! 'Tis not like you, Sir Francis!"
Drake shot at him a surprised glance from under his bushy eyebrows, then shrugged his shoulders.
"Prate not to me, my lord, of truth or honor amongst these savages," he replied. "Did not their chief himself but even now lie to me? Well knew the rascally heathen where the Spaniard hides! The truth indeed! They know not the meaning of such words."
In vain the younger man petitioned to be allowed to deliver the promised gift with the aid of his own retinue.
"Thou can'st not get under way for two hours at best, sir," he pleaded, "and well within that time I will be back. 'Tis but a stone's throw to the shore!"
But Drake first scoffed at his rashness, then, finally losing patience, as commander of the expedition he sternly forbade him or any of his men to leave the ship.
"We dare not lose the wind," he finished emphatically, "and are like to start at any minute." Then, turning on his heel, he strode away to his cabin and shut the door behind him.
Left in this unceremonious fashion, young Harold considered a moment, glancing with anxious eyes at the dim line of the coast just visible in the darkness. For some minutes he leaned upon the rail, lost in thought.
"The old man will e'en have to bear his disappointment," he muttered at length, "but, an' heaven help me, the maid shall not!"
Then he, too, left the deck to seek out his favorite retainer, the dark, swarthy man who had sat that morning in the prow of the long boat. To him he explained his difficulty, adding grimly:
"And so thou see'st, Mortimer, that I have work cut out for thee!"
He threw an arm about the other's shoulders and in this familiar fashion the two men paced the deck together, conversing in low tones.
"And besides," observed the nobleman as they paused a moment before parting, "would'st know the truth about the matter? For all old Jarvis' prating, the Golden Hind is not like to sail before the dawn, no, nor even then! Jarvis is ever the man to make a show of much hurry, but - " he snapped his fingers scornfully, "only aid me now, unseen by anyone, to launch the Zephir, and by our virgin queen herself I swear, when once again we see the shores of Merry England, thou shalt find 'twas well worth thy trouble."
His companion smiled even while, with the trained servility of the retainer, he doffed his cap.
"Aye, truly, my lord," he answered, "but, since it were an impossible feat to get so much as a colt into the Zephir, methinks thou hast a gift of thine own to bestow on yonder pretty Indian maid!"
The blood leaped to Sir Harry's cheek. With a quick gesture he placed his hand upon his sword.
"Presume not upon my favor, Mortimer, or by heaven! - " he began angrily, but stopped suddenly as, with a fearless laugh, the man beside him pushed the half-drawn weapon back into its place.
"Nay then, not so fast, my lord," he chuckled gaily. "Hearkee, my master. I did but use my eyes during their everlasting pow-wow. Surely ye would not grudge me that! And the maid is comely, well worth a trinket from thy store. Besides," he laughed slyly, "I saw e'en more to thine interest, for methinks the princess is as much in love with thy looks as art thou with hers."
"Silence, fool! Thou hast said more than enough already. Think'st thou the son of a duke royal would look at a brown-skinned savage, an unbelieving pagan, no matter how comely, as thou call'st it, she might be!"
But the flush remained, nevertheless, on the dark cheek of the young nobleman as he strode angrily from the deck.
The moonlight had laid a quivering path of light across the water before Wildenai raised her bowed head from the ground. But, at length, drawing her blanket more closely about her, for into the night air the chill of the ocean had crept, she was about to leave the cave when a sudden sound from the beach below arrested her. For a moment she listened in silence while the shout was repeated, then stood dumb with amazement. A third time it came to her, borne on the rising wind, the terrified cry of a man in dire distress. Nor was it one of her own people who thus called out of the darkness for help. Swiftly she ran to an overhanging ledge of rock from which, by lying flat and peeping over, she could, without exposing herself, command a wide view of the sea.
At the first glance there appeared to be nothing amiss. Far beneath her the noisy breakers spilled in liquid silver on the beach. Above their musical booming no other sound could be heard. Then suddenly she saw him. A tiny boat it was, tossing dangerously close to the great rounded boulder which, together with a still larger one from which it had at some distant time been broken off, formed the outermost boundary of the curving Beach of Moons. The dark figure standing erect in the boat strove with the aid of an oar to keep it from being dashed to pieces against the giant rock. Again there floated up to her the desperate call for help. The voice was that of the English noble!
Instantly the girl sprang to her feet, and without the slightest hesitation ran lightly down the perilous incline, leaping fearlessly from rock to rock, until, within a few seconds, she stood poised above the seething surf on the top of the larger boulder. Here, balancing herself as easily and securely as a wild antelope, she raised her arms to dive. But now from the shadows below the white man called once more.
"Attempt it not, oh Wildenai! 'Tis death to leap from there!"
But without waiting even to reply, the Indian girl sprang into the waves. An instant later and he saw her arms gleam in the moonlight as, with the strong slow strokes of an experienced swimmer, she struck out for the boat. In spite of the perilous rocking of the little craft he rested on his oar to watch her for a moment in sheer admiration of her skill. But the maid knew well the danger of every instant's delay. In the very nick of time she seemed almost to throw herself between him and the rocks while, with a strength he would have believed impossible in one so small, she pulled the boat around. Then, still swimming and without a word to him, she began to push it ahead of her toward the shore. It was but a few minutes before they stood together on the beach.
And now the young noble, overcome with gratitude, fell on his knees before her and caught her hand between his own. He would have kissed it in sheer joy at his escape, but the Indian girl drew sharply back.
"Quick!" she whispered, yet remembering to speak in Spanish, "You must hide yourself at once. My father will kill you if he should find you here!"
Swiftly she concealed the boat in a tiny cove behind the boulder, a hiding place he would never have seen though it was apparently perfectly familiar to her.
"Sometimes my own canoe I keep there too," she whispered. "Now come!" and she hurried him along the beach and up an easier trail beyond the rocks to her cavern bower above.
Nor did she pause for an instant's rest until they had passed safely behind the manzanita branches which concealed the entrance. Here, motioning him to do the same, she dropped upon a pile of skins. But instead, in real concern, the young Englishman knelt again beside her.
"Thou art so wet and cold," he began anxiously, "Will it not make thee ill? Yet 'twas a wondrous feat," he added admiringly, "well conceived and carried out with skill such as any man might envy!"
The princess laughed.
'Twas nothing," she answered briefly. "I do it almost every day."
"I came to bring to thee the gift I promised," explained Lord Harold then, and from his belt he drew the little case. Eagerly he flung the gleaming string of garnets about her slim brown throat.
"Jewels brought by my father to my mother on the morning of their marriage," he told her. "When she lay dying she gave them me and told me never to part with them except I gave them to my - " He paused suddenly, "But thou hast saved my life!" he added as quickly, "Who else could ever deserve them more? Well know I my mother would wish thee to have them."
Silently, though her eyes were bright with, pleasure, the princess lifted the beautiful necklace.
"Wildenai will wear them always, senor lord," she answered softly, "for now she knows that truly you did mean to keep your word!"
And so, his mission accomplished, her guest rose hastily to his feet. He must return immediately to the ship.
"Know you not, then, that it is gone?" exclaimed the girl, amazed.
"Gone?" echoed young Harold, and stared at her astounded. He seemed not to have grasped her meaning. "Gone, said'st thou?"
"The ship was out of sight a full hour or more ere ever I heard you call," she explained.
Still he continued to gaze at her fixedly as if totally unable to comprehend what she would have him know. Then it was plain to be seen that, for the moment at least, blank despair took hold upon him. Up and down the length of the cave he strode like some imprisoned wild thing.
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