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To Have and To Hold
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XXIV. In Which We Choose The Lesser Of Two Evils
THE luck that had been ours could not hold; when the tide turned, it ebbed fast.
The weather changed. One hurricane followed upon the stride of another, with
only a blue day or two between. Ofttimes we thought the ship was lost. All hands
toiled like galley slaves; and as the heavens darkened, there darkened also the
mood of the pirates.
In sight of the great island of Cuba we gave chase to a bark. The sun was
shining and the sea fairly still when first she fled before us; we gained upon her,
and there was not a mile between us when a cloud blotted out the sun. The next
minute our own sails gave us occupation enough. The storm, not we, was victor
over the bark; she sank with a shriek from her decks that rang above the roaring
wind. Two days later we fought a large caravel. With a fortunate shot she brought
down our foremast, and sailed away from us with small damage of her own. All
that day and night the wind blew, driving us out of our course, and by dawn we
were as a shuttlecock between it and the sea. We weathered the gale, but when
the wind sank there fell on board that black ship a menacing silence.
In the state cabin I held a council of war. Mistress Percy sat beside me, her arm
upon the table, her hand shadowing her eyes; my lord, opposite, never took his
gaze from her, though he listened gloomily to Sparrow's rueful assertion that the
brazen game we had been playing was well-nigh over. Diccon, standing behind
him, bit his nails and stared at the floor.
"For myself I care not overmuch," ended the minister. "I scorn not life, but think it
at its worst well worth the living; yet when my God calls me, I will go as to a gala
day and triumph. You are a soldier, Captain Percy, you and Diccon here, and
know how to die. You too, my Lord Carnal, are a brave man, though a most
wicked one. For us four, we can drink the cup, bitter though it be, with little
trembling. But there is one among us" - His great voice broke, and he sat staring
at the table.
The King's ward uncovered her eyes. "If I be not a man and a soldier, Master
Sparrow," she said simply, "yet I am the daughter of many valiant gentlemen. I
will die as they died before me. And for me, as for you four, it will be only death, -
naught else." She looked at me with a proud smile.
"Naught else," I said.
My lord started from his seat and strode over to the window, where he stood
drumming his fingers against the casing. I turned toward him. "My Lord Carnal," I
said, "you were overheard last night when you plotted with the Spaniard."
He recoiled with a gasp, and his hand went to his side, where it found no sword. I
saw his eyes busy here and there through the cabin, seeking something which
he might convert into a weapon.
"I am yet captain of this ship," I continued. "Why I do not, even though it be my
last act of authority, have you flung to the sharks, I scarcely know."
He threw back his head, all his bravado returned to him. "It is not I that stand in
danger," he began loftily; "and I would have you remember, sir, that you are my
enemy, and that I owe you no loyalty."