The woman shook her head and smiled. “No Inglese—no Inglese,” she lisped. She had drunk off the bumper of wine which Sharkey held to her, and her dark eyes gleamed more brightly than before. Sitting on Sharkey’s knee, her arm encircled his neck, and her hand toyed with his hair, his ear, his cheek. Even the strange quartermaster and the hardened surgeon felt a horror as they watched her, but Sharkey laughed in his joy. “Curse me, if she is not a lass of metal!” he cried, as he pressed her to him and kissed her unresisting lips.
But a strange intent look of interest had come into the surgeon’s eyes as he watched her, and his face set rigidly, as if a fearsome thought had entered his mind. There stole a grey pallor over his bull face, mottling all the red of the tropics and the flush of the wine.
“Look at her hand, Captain Sharkey!” he cried. “For the Lord’s sake, look at her hand!”
Sharkey stared down at the hand which had fondled him. It was of a strange dead pallor, with a yellow shiny web betwixt the fingers. All over it was a white fluffy dust, like the flour of a new-baked loaf. It lay thick on Sharkey’s neck and cheek. With a cry he flung the woman from his lap; but in an instant, with a wild-cat bound, and a scream of triumphant malice, she had sprung at the surgeon, who vanished yelling under the table. One of her clawing hands grasped Galloway by the beard, but he tore himself away, and snatching a pike, held her off from him as she gibbered and mowed with the blazing eyes of a maniac.
The black steward had run in on the sudden turmoil, and among them they forced the mad creature back into the cabin and turned the key upon her. Then the three sank panting into their chairs and looked with eyes of horror upon each other. The same word was in the mind of each, but Galloway was the first to speak it.
“A leper!” he cried. “She has us all, curse her!”
“Not me,” said the surgeon; “she never laid her finger on me.”
“For that matter,” cried Galloway, “it was but my beard that she touched. I will have every hair of it off before morning.”
“Dolts that we are!” the surgeon shouted, beating his head with-his hand. “Tainted or no, we shall never know a moment’s peace till the year is up and the time of danger past. ‘Fore God, that merchant skipper has left his mark on us, and pretty fools we were to think that such a maid would be quarantined for the cause he gave. It is easy to see now that her corruption broke forth in the journey, and that save throwing her over they had no choice but to board her up until they should come to some port with a lazarette.”
Sharkey had sat leaning back in his chair with a ghastly face while he listened to the surgeon’s words. He mopped himself with his red handkerchief, and wiped away the fatal dust with which he was smeared.
“What of me?” he croaked. “What say you, Baldy Stable? Is there a chance for me? Curse you for a villain! speak out, or I will drub you within an inch of your life, and that inch also! Is there a chance for me, I say!”
But the surgeon shook his head. “Captain Sharkey,” said he, “it would be an ill deed to speak you false. The taint is on you. No man on whom the leper scales have rested is ever clean again.”
Sharkey’s head fell forward on his chest, and he sat motionless, stricken by this great and sudden horror, looking with his smouldering eyes into his fearsome future. Softly the mate and the surgeon rose from their places, and stealing out from the poisoned air of the cabin, came forth into the freshness of the early dawn, with the soft, scent-laden breeze in their faces and the first red feathers of cloud catching the earliest gleam of the rising sun as it shot its golden rays over the palm-clad ridges of distant Hispaniola.
That morning a second council of the Rovers was held at the base of the mainmast, and a deputation chosen to see the captain. They were approaching the after-cabins when Sharkey came forth, the old devil in his eyes, and his bandolier with a pair of pistols over his shoulder.
“Sink you all for villains!” he cried. “Would you dare cross my hawse? Stand out, Sweetlocks, and I will lay you open! Here, Galloway, Martin, Foley, stand by me and lash the dogs to their kennel!”
But his officers had deserted him, and there was none to come to his aid. There was a rush of the pirates. One was shot through the body, but an instant afterwards Sharkey had been seized and was triced to his own mainmast. His filmy eyes looked round from face to face, and there was none who felt the happier for having met them.
“Captain Sharkey,” said Sweetlocks, “you have mishandled many of us, and you have now pistolled John Masters, besides killing Bartholomew, the carpenter, by braining him with a bucket. All this might have been forgiven you, in that you have been our leader for years, and that we have signed articles to serve under you while the voyage lasts. But now we have heard of this bona roba on board, and we know that you are poisoned to the marrow, and that while you rot there will be no safety for any of us, but that we shall all be turned into filth and corruption. Therefore, John Sharkey, we Rovers of the Happy Delivery, in council assembled, have decreed that while there be yet time, before the plague spreads, you shall be set adrift in a boat to find such a fate as Fortune may be pleased to send you.”
John Sharkey said nothing, but slowly circling his head, he cursed them all with his baleful gaze. The ship’s dinghy had been lowered, and he, with his hands still tied, was dropped into it on the bight of a rope.
“Cast her off!” cried Sweetlocks.
“Nay, hold hard a moment, Master Sweetlocks!” shouted one of the crew. “What of the wench? Is she to bide aboard and poison us all?”
“Send her off with her mate!” cried another, and the Rovers roared their approval. Driven forth at the end of pikes, the girl was pushed towards the boat. With all the spirit of Spain in her rotting body she flashed triumphant glances on her captors.
“Perros! Perros Ingleses! Lepero, Lepero!” she cried in exultation, as they thrust her over into the boat.
“Good luck, captain! God speed you on your honeymoon!” cried a chorus of mocking voices, as the painter was unloosed, and the Happy Delivery, running full before the trade-wind, left the little boat astern, a tiny dot upon the vast expanse of the lonely sea.
Extract from the log of H.M. fifty-gun ship Hecate in her cruise off the American Main.
“Jan. 26, 1721.—This day, the junk having become unfit for food, and five of the crew down with scurvy, I ordered that we send two boats ashore at the nor’-western point of Hispaniola, to seek for fresh fruit, and perchance shoot some of the wild oxen with which the island abounds.
“7 p.m.—The boats have returned with good store of green stuff and two bullocks. Mr. Woodruff, the master, reports that near the landing-place at the edge of the forest was found the skeleton of a woman, clad in European dress, of such sort as to show that she may have been a person of quality. Her head had been crushed by a great stone which lay beside her. Hard by was a grass hut, and signs that a man had dwelt therein for some time, as was shown by charred wood, bones and other traces. There is a rumour upon the coast that Sharkey, the bloody pirate, was marooned in these parts last year, but whether he has made his way into the interior, or whether he has been picked up by some craft, there is no means of knowing. If he be once again afloat, then I pray that God send him under our guns.”