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- Lysbeth, A Tale Of The Dutch - 40/87 -
watchman--he thought I was a ghost, and was too frightened to call out. I have cut the cable, and I think that I have fired the ship. Ah! look! but row--row round the corner of the island."
They gave way, and as they turned the bank of reeds glanced behind them, to see a tall tongue of fire shooting up the cordage of the ship, and to hear a babel of frightened and angry voices.
Ten minutes later they were on board the /Swallow/, and from her deck watching the fierce flare of the burning Spanish vessel nearly a mile away. Here they ate and drank, for they needed food badly.
"What shall we do now?" asked Foy when they had finished.
"Nothing at present," answered Martha, "but give me pen and paper."
They found them, and having shrouded the little window of the cabin, she sat at the table and very slowly but with much skill drew a plan, or rather a picture, of this portion of the Haarlem Mere. In that plan were marked many islands according to their natural shapes, twenty of them perhaps, and upon one of these she set a cross.
"Take it and hide it," said Martha, when it was finished, "so that if I die you may know where to dig for Brant's gold. With this in your hand you cannot fail to find it, for I draw well. Remember that it lies thirty paces due south of the only spot where it is easy to land upon that island."
"What shall I do with this picture which is worth so much?" said Foy helplessly, "for in truth I fear to keep the thing."
"Give it to me, master," said Martin; "the secret of the treasure may as well lie with the legacy that is charged on it." Then once more he unscrewed the handle of the sword Silence, and having folded up the paper and wrapped it round with a piece of linen, he thrust it away into the hollow hilt.
"Now that sword is worth more than some people might think," Martin said as he restored it to the scabbard, "but I hope that those who come to seek its secret may have to travel up its blade. Well, when shall we be moving?"
"Listen," said Martha. "Would you two men dare a great deed upon those Spaniards? Their ship is burnt, but there are a score or over of them, and they have two large boats. Now at the dawn they will see the mast of this vessel and attack it in the boats thinking to find the treasure. Well, if as they win aboard we can manage to fire the matches----"
"There may be fewer Spaniards left to plague us," suggested Foy.
"And believing it to be blown up no one will trouble about that money further," added Martin. "Oh! the plan is good, but dangerous. Come, let us talk it over."
The dawn broke in a flood of yellow light on the surface of the Haarlem Mere. Presently from the direction of the Spanish vessel, which was still burning sullenly, came a sound of beating oars. Now the three watchers in the /Swallow/ saw two boatloads of armed men, one of them with a small sail set, swooping down towards them. When they were within a hundred yards Martha muttered, "It is time," and Foy ran hither and thither with a candle firing the slow-matches; also to make sure he cast the candle among a few handfuls of oil-soaked shreds of canvas that lay ready at the bottom of the hatchway. Then with the others, without the Spaniards being able to see them, he slipped over the side of the little vessel into the shallow water that was clothed with tall reeds, and waded through it to the island.
Once on firm land, they ran a hundred yards or so till they reached a clump of swamp willows, and took shelter behind them. Indeed, Foy did more, for he climbed the trunk of one of the willows high enough to see over the reeds to the ship /Swallow/ and the lake beyond. By this time the Spaniards were alongside the /Swallow/, for he could hear their captain hailing him who leant over the taffrail, and commanding all on board to surrender under pain of being put to death. But from the man in the stern came no answer, which was scarcely strange, seeing that it was the dead pilot, Hans, to whom they talked in the misty dawn, whose body Martin had lashed thus to deceive them. So they fired at the pilot, who took no notice, and then began to clamber on board the ship. Presently all the men were out of the first boat--that with the sail set on it--except two, the steersman and the captain, whom, from his dress and demeanour, Foy took to be the one-eyed Spaniard, Ramiro, although of this he was too far off to make sure. It was certain, however, that this man did not mean to board the /Swallow/, for of a sudden he put his boat about, and the wind catching the sail soon drew him clear of her.
"That fellow is cunning," said Foy to Martin and Martha below, "and I was a fool to light the tarred canvas, for he has seen the smoke drawing up the hatchway."
"And having had enough fire for one night, thinks that he will leave his mates to quench it," added Martin.
"The second boat is coming alongside," went on Foy, "and surely the mine should spring."
"Scarcely time yet," answered Martin, "the matches were set for six minutes."
Then followed a silence in which the three of them watched and listened with beating hearts. In it they heard a voice call out that the steersman was dead, and the answering voice of the officer in the boat, whom Foy had been right in supposing to be Ramiro, warning them to beware of treachery. Now suddenly arose a shout of "A mine! a mine!" for they had found one of the lighted fuses.
"They are running for their boat," said Foy, "and the captain is sailing farther off. Heavens! how they scream."
As the words passed his lips a tongue of flame shot to the very skies. The island seemed to rock, a fierce rush of air struck Foy and shook him from the tree. Then came a dreadful, thunderous sound, and lo! the sky was darkened with fragments of wreck, limbs of men, a grey cloud of salt and torn shreds of sail and cargo, which fell here, there, and everywhere about and beyond them.
In five seconds it was over, and the three of them, shaken but unhurt, were clinging to each other on the ground. Then as the dark pall of smoke drifted southward Foy scrambled up his tree again. But now there was little to be seen, for the /Swallow/ had vanished utterly, and for many yards round where she lay the wreckage-strewn water was black as ink with the stirred mud. The Spaniards had gone also, nothing of them was left, save the two men and the boat which rode unhurt at a distance. Foy stared at them. The steersman was seated and wringing his hands, while the captain, on whose armour the rays of the rising sun now shone brightly, held to the mast like one stunned, and gazed at the place where, a minute before, had been a ship and a troop of living men. Presently he seemed to recover himself, for he issued an order, whereon the boat's head went about, and she began to glide away.
"Now we had best try to catch him," said Martha, who, by standing up, could see this also.
"Nay, let him be," answered Foy, "we have sent enough men to their account," and he shuddered.
"As you will, master," grumbled Martin, "but I tell you it is not wise. That man is too clever to be allowed to live, else he would have accompanied the others on board and perished with them."
"Oh! I am sick," replied Foy. "The wind from that powder has shaken me. Settle it as you will with Mother Martha and leave me in peace."
So Martin turned to speak with Martha, but she was not there. Chuckling to herself in the madness of her hate and the glory of this great revenge, she had slipped away, knife in hand, to discover whether perchance any of the powder-blasted Spaniards still lived. Fortunately for them they did not, the shock had killed them all, even those who at the first alarm had thrown themselves into the water. At length Martin found her clapping her hands and crooning above a dead body, so shattered that no one could tell to what manner of man it had belonged, and led her away.
But although she was keen enough for the chase, by now it was too late, for, travelling before the strong wind, Ramiro and his boat had vanished.
If Foy van Goorl, by some magic, could have seen what was passing in the mind of that fugitive in the boat as he sailed swiftly away from the scene of death and ruin, bitterly indeed would he have cursed his folly and inexperience which led him to disregard the advice of Red Martin.
Let us look at this man as he goes gnawing his hand in rage and disappointment. There is something familiar about his face and bearing, still gallant enough in a fashion, yet the most observant would find it difficult to recognise in the Senor Ramiro the handsome and courtly Count Juan de Montalvo of over twenty years before. A long spell of the galleys changes the hardiest man, and by ill luck Montalvo, or Ramiro, to call him by his new name, had been forced to serve nearly his full time. He would have escaped earlier indeed, had he not been foolish enough to join in a mutiny, which was discovered and suppressed. It was in the course of this savage struggle for freedom that he lost his eye, knocked out with a belaying pin by an officer whom he had just stabbed. The innocent officer died and the rascal Ramiro died, but without his good looks.
To a person of gentle birth, however great a scoundrel he might be, the galleys, which represented penal servitude in the sixteenth century, were a very rough school. Indeed for the most part the man who went into them blameless became bad, and the man who went into them bad became worse, for, as the proverb says, those who have dwelt in hell always smell of brimstone. Who can imagine the awfulness of it --the chains, the arduous and continual labour, the whip of the quarter-masters, the company of thieves and outcast ruffians, all dreadful in its squalid sameness?
Well, his strength and constitution, coupled with a sort of grim philosophy, brought him through, and at length Ramiro found himself a free man, middle-aged indeed, but intelligent and still strong, the
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