Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
MARTIN CHANDOS woke to the touch of fingers upon his lacerated back. He lay flat on his front in a cabin bunk, with the creak of an iron ship’s lantern directly overhead. By raising his head he could see the wide span of stern windows, divided by carved and gilded timbers, above the wide cushions fitted to a roomy sea chest inbuilt from bulkhead to bulkhead. A table of Honduras mahogany was set with a brass nocturnal and a boxed mariner’s compass on either side of a metal lamp. Beyond the slanting windows, the night lay like a black fog across the waters.
The softness of the fingers that doctored his flesh made him lift his head, and he found himself staring upward into a woman’s face.
Her lips twisted in a smile. “Never seen a girl before, laddie?”
Her violet eyes regarded him steadily, under thin brows that had been plucked to an upward slant. Her lips pursed, and the touch of her hands grew harsh.
“Not on a pirate vessel, you were about to say. Be glad you’re under the black flag now, and not the red and yellow of Spain.”
Her hair was black and lustrous, with reddish glints in its soft length. She went on. “Redscar told me what the Spaniard did to you. Bound for Jamaica with your tools, weren’t you? I’ve anchored off Port Royal with Morgan more than once.”
Martin Chandos lay quiet. What use to tell this female corsair of the Spaniard who had wrecked his ship and clapped his Crew below decks, and whipped him until his throat went raw from holding back his screams? This hate and thirst for vengeance was his own, and was not to be shared with a buccaneer.
His silence annoyed the woman. She took her hands away and stretched, straightening. Her violet eyes taunted him as they detected the direction of his glance. When his eyes dropped lower, she laughed out loud.
“Been out of England some weeks, haven’t you, laddie?”
Martin Chandos flushed, and turned to put his face on his forearm. He heard her kneel, and then her hands were warm on his bare shoulders.
“Never mind Lizzie. I’ve as sharp a tongue as I have a dagger. I need them both, to control those things out there. Tell Lizzie what happened. You’re master of the Forthright, out of Bristol, with a cargo of tools for the Jamaica plantations.”
“Out of Plymouth,” he corrected, “with every brass farthing my father left me sunk into her hull and hold. And it was a Spaniard did it to me. In time of peace between our countries. Sinking a peaceful cargo ship, firing on a man who intended no harm to him! He might as well have been one of your own kind, flying the black flag.”
The woman came off her knees to stand with her brown hands clenched into hard little fists. “As well be one of my own kind, say you?”
“Aye! A damned buccaneer he was, bad cess to him! A tall man with a thin face and red lips, and a laugh I’ll remember from here to hell. That lash played a tune on my back such as Hob-gob himself might play on the heights over Kenmare. And at every stroke of that cat, he laughed. I said he was a pirate, and pirate he is Just like yourself, but not so honest.”
Lizzie Hollister was rigid. “Buccaneer! Pirate! Fine words from a man who owes his life to us.” With one hand she brought a slim dagger from her belt. “I’ve a mind to carve my name across the back the Spaniard lashed, to teach you manners, you Sorry jackanapes. Just because I’m a woman, don’t think I can’t stand up for the honor of the Coast brethren!”
She pricked him with the point of her dagger. Her eyes were bright and hard, and her mouth was twisted to one side of her face. The touch of that dagger was tinder to the fury that had been rising in Martin Chandos. He twisted sideways and the great bulk of his right arm rose and flung her a dozen feet. She went down on the bare wooden planks with a thump that shook the cabin.
And then she was snarling and lifting the dagger and hurling herself at him.
“No man raises his hand to Lizzie Hollister! I’ll do more than carve my name in your skin! I’ll write your epitaph under it!”
Against the pain that ate in him, Martin Chandos turned and put out his hands. He caught her wrists and swung her off her feet, so that she came toppling down on him in the narrow bunk. He locked a leg across the backs of her knees.
He found that he had caught a wildcat. For one moment he felt the softness of her flesh against his, and then she was clawing at him, dropping her dagger to rip at his face, flinging herself back and sideways against his legs and clutching fingers. Her breath came quickly, and Martin Chandos found it strangely sweet.
He was weak from shock and loss of blood. He held her for a moment, but there was the strength of a sleek tigress in her. Her fingernails raked his cheeks and her white teeth drew blood from his shoulder, and then she was off him and standing by the bunk.
Lizzie Hollister stared with wide eyes at the crimson gashes in his cheeks. There was anger in her, and a confused, frightening hunger.
“I ought to finish the job the Spaniard begant! Or maybe you’d prefer some of the Exterminator’s treatment? He’d slit your belly, nail part of your guts to a mast, and make you dance down the deck until your insides were laid out on its planks. Is that what you want me to do to you?”
His head rolled on the blankets spread across the bunk. His cheeks were white, but his mouth was set in a grim smile.
“Fash, do what you want! I’ve lost everything else. Why should I balk at giving up my life?”
She glared at him, arms rigid at her sides. She swung around and crossed the flooring under the hand-hewed beams from which ship’s lanterns were suspended on Creaking chains. Martin Chandos watched her walk away, and thought, It’s a fair colleen she is, for all that she seems blood sister to the devil! If she were not the pirate wench he found her, she would be something to come to a man in his dreams.
She stood by the stern windows, with the dying sunlight coming in on her. “For a man whose back was whipped raw, you defend Spain hotly,” she snarled.
“I’m not defending anyone, acushla. I say he was a damned pirate to board me when there’s peace between our countries. And so he was!”
Her lips twisted as she slapped the carved woodwork of the bulkhead. “That is the way of Spain in the New World. Get used to it, if you’re to stay here.”
“Aye. Don Carlos gave me to understand as much. He’s drawn an iron curtain across it, so he says. He means to keep everyone but Spanishers east of it.”
“An iron curtain! I never thought of it like that, but it’s true enough. A curtain formed of the ships and the steel of Spain. Penetrate that curtain, and you become fair game for her galleons. She’ll take and sink you, and steal what you call your own. She’ll kill and drag you off to slave in her labor camps, the mines. She’s nothing but a robber!”
He grinned through the pain that was bringing big beads of sweat to his forehead. “Fash, mavourneen! Isn’t that what I’ve been telling you?”
She swung around, and discovered that Martin Chandos was still and limp in the bunk. She came and stood over him, eyeing his thick chest and muscular arms. She put a brown hand to her heavy black hair and pushed it back over a shoulder. This Martin Chandos was not like the hairy, half-naked men who formed her crew, not like the vicious men she knew in Tortuga and Port Royal. There was something clean about him, like the air that swept from the Leeward Islands northwestward to Tortuga and beyond.
Her fingers lifted and traced the red scars that ran from his shoulders across his ribs and down to the curving hollow of his back. It was almost as if she caressed him.
Martin Chandos slept on, through the night and into the next day. At moments he would open his eyes dreamily, to stare at an empty cabin. He could feel the roll of the ship to the sea swells and hear the humming of the rigging as the wind lashed it. They were familiar sounds, and he slipped easily into the dreams from which a snapping sail or a sailor’s cry had roused him.
There were times when he woke to feel the touch of fingers on his back, soft and gentle fingers that worked in soothing salves and ointments. Usually it was night, and the room was filled with black shadows and the pale flicker of a lantern’s beams and a rich perfume that reminded him that it was a woman who knelt there.
At last there came a night when his eyes remained open, and his body was strong in the bunk, and he could feel the strength returning in him as he stretched the length of his body and yawned.
The sound of flowing water startled him and he turned his head. A woman was bent over a wooden washstand where an earthenware bowl had been set, lathering her face and upper body. A spill of black hair lay like a fan across her shoulders.
That Lizzie Hollister thought him asleep was obvious from the freedom with which she washed. A cloth soaked in suds was drawn from chin to the belt of her breeks. And then she was standing sideways to him, drying herself with a towel, and Martin Chandos choked back the cry that rose to his lips.
Her face was smooth and oval under the black froth of hair. Her mouth was full, ripe for kissing. The shoulders that she bared to the lantern light were smooth and golden. As if she felt his eyes on her, she swung about, the towel suspended. For a long moment she regarded him, and he lay motionless as a statue, wondering if she saw the glint of his slightly opened eyes.
And then Lizzie shrugged and resumed her toweling. She moved beyond his vision, into the darker shadows, near an ornate lowboy. The sound of rustling cloth came to him, stirring him with its unknown mystery. He held his breath, waiting.
When Lizzie Hollister came out of the shadows, she wore a veil of black lace across her bosom, twisted up and knotted over one shoulder. A girdle of silver links supported a skirt of black silk. Her ball earrings and the thick ropes of brass balls around her neck clinked to her every step. She was barbaric and unashamed. She was something out of a man’s dreams, pulse-stirring and exotic.
The woman went to the thick oak door and reassured herself that its iron bolt had been thrust home. She turned and stood in the beam of an overhead lantern, swaying a little as the ship rolled. Then she was moving to the bed, and there was a cadence in the swing of her shadowed hips and in the manner of her walk that sent a bolt of fire through the man on the bunk.
“Martin Chandos,” she whispered, “you’ve been watching me for a long time. Open your eyes.”
She stood beside the bunk, reaching out a hand to shake him. He lifted his lids and looked up at her. For once he could let the hunger that she roused show in his face, knowing it was expected. When she saw it, she laughed softly.
“I’m a far cry from any woman you’ve ever known, Martin Chandos. What tavern wench or merchant’s daughter would so deck herself out for you?”
She spread her arms and went dancing across the worn rug on the cabin flooring. The lantern light went through the black silk of her skirt and played across her long legs. He came up on an elbow, staring. Under the ship’s lantern Lizzie Hollister whirled to a halt. On the table had been set a silver tray, covered by a snowy napkin. Her hand whisked the linen aside, and Martin Chandos saw a haunch of meat, two loaves of Cassava bread, a bowl of green peas, and two mugs of steaming cocoa.
“Food for a hungry man,” she mocked, meeting his hot eyes. “Come join me. Taste our cassava bread, mixed with red peppers. Try our lamantin, that is made from the flesh of the sea cow.”
He swung his legs to the edge of the bunk until he felt the wooden floor under his bare feet. There was a ravening hunger in him, but it was mixed now with a different kind of hunger, as the red peppers were mixed with cassava flour. He stood erect, surprised by the fact that there was little weakness in him.
“You’re as lovely as Deirdre herself, Lizzie darling And as savage as Bricrin of the bitter tongue.”
She watched him cross the floor in his worn homespun breeches. He was thinner than he had been when Redscar had hefted him over the starboard rail, but he was as big as ever, and the sight of his great chest and the long arms he had inherited from his Galway father made her catch her breath. This would be a rare night for Lizzie Hollister, in which she could repay some of the debts she owed men and their furious desires.
“Tonight you serve me as I served you,” she told him. “You’ll wait on me, and bring me food—and when I’m ready to use you, I’ll do it, and not before!”
Their eyes locked. He smiled wryly, finding in himself a pity that softened his feelings toward her. He bowed and moved to the table. He lifted the platter that held the smoking lamantin and regarded her across the meat.
“It’s a fine pirate lass you are, indeed! Fash, and it’s true enough I’m your captive. So sit down and be waited on by a Chandos.”
From under her long dusky lashes, Lizzie Hollister looked at him. Then she was striding freely across the cabin, to throw herself into a brocaded chair. Her hand beckoned him as she crossed one leg over the other.
He served her as she ate. He watched her seize a meat bone and gnaw at it with even white teeth. He watched her spoon peas and break the hard cassava loaf with strong fingers. There was a restlessness in Lizzie Hollister that was a tangible thing.
When she bade him, he sat at the table and fed himself, aware that her violet eyes were hard and bright. The food put new strength in him, and he found himself meeting her gaze with something akin to challenge. The ship surged on beneath the triangular sail at its lone mast, and the faint gurgle of her wake lifted above the counter and through the stern windows.
As he wiped his greasy fingers on a napkin, Lizzie Hollister leaned forward.
“You’re a superior kind of by-blow, Martin Chandos. You take on the airs of a Versailles fop. You turn up your nose at buccaneers, but you fill your belly with the food they give you, and you didn’t scorn to accept the salves I rubbed into your torn back.”
She put a hand to a platter that was heavy with fruit, plucking a yellow banana from it. She began peeling it. “What turns a man into a buccaneer, Martin Chandos? Ask yourself that question. These buccaneers used to be men as honest as yourself. Hunters of hogs and cattle they were, and butchers of flesh. They buccaned the meat over smoke fires, and sold it to passers-by, until Spain became aware of them. Then Spain decided to rid herself of these honest workingmen.
“In retaliation, these men struck back, in the only way they knew. If Spain wanted war, Spain would have war. They took to the sea in little ships, and attacked Spain’s fine galleons. There’s no law here in the West Indies but the law of force. There’s no king to run to with a story of how you’ve been robbed. Peter le Grande showed them the way when he captured a Spanish galleon after sinking his own ship behind him, so he and his men had to win, or die!”
Not even in later years did it strike Martin Chandos as odd that he should sit here in a buccaneer cabin with a half-clad woman and listen to her discourse on the affairs of a world that knew a Sun King, Louis XIV of France, and a Charles II and his restoration program in England. A half-mad boy under the Queen Regent, Maria Ana, ruled Spain.
He said, “It isn’t so much the fact you’re buccaneers that bothers me, Lizzie darling, as it is the way you go about your business. By the snakes Saint Patrick drove from Ireland, instead of robbing a ship here and a ship there, you could band together and really teach those dogs of Spain a lesson!”
Her low laughter mocked him. “You’ll be conceiving yourself as a man with a mission next. Come like a prophet to show us the way to run our trade!”
The laughter stung. He sat up straighter, and his blue eyes went hard. “It’s not such a far-fetched notion as you think. A man with brains and a little skill might do the trick. Like any greedy-guts, Spain extends herself. Her holdings stretch from Cajamarca in Peru as far north as Matarmoros.”
Lizzie put out a brown hand set with rings and lifted a succulent custard apple. Her black eyes gleamed Smokily, as though an inner fire burned under the black lace vest she wore. White teeth flashed as she bit deep into the fruit.
“You sound like Harry Morgan. He has some such notion as yours. Hit Spain where it hurts the most. Teach her respect for the men she’d thrust like lepers from the Indies, and from this New World she considers her own. God love me! I’ve rescued a Crusader!”
He stood up then, in his anger, and Lizzie Hollister let her gaze drift lazily over his chest and the wide sweep of his shoulders. He was a big man, powerful as a draft horse, yet lean and fit as a racer. Her lips thickened, and she discovered that the black lace across her shoulders was too tight.
“I was violated by a Spanish don, five feet from my mother on the deck of an English merchantman, when I first came out to the Indies!” she snarled. “That’s what turned me to the sweet trade, Martin Chandos! Revenge on the men of Spain because of the foul dog who showed me what beasts men can be! And so, because I’m one of those buccaneers whom you affect to despise, I’ll act like one!”
Her laughter, low and sensual, drifted through the little cabin like heady perfume. She stood, moving close to him. “But we’ve talked long enough. Crusader or man with a mission, you’re my captive—mine, to do with as I want!”
There was flame in the eyes of Martin Chandos as he watched Lizzie Hollister sway before him. Her eyes and her laughter mocked him until he dragged her in against him with a wild cry.