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Aylward Edward Dingle
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Milo and Pascherette stood outside the rock portals of the great chamber after their dismissal by Dolores, and the giant's face wore a look of perplexity which was not reflected in the little octoroon. If her task was difficult, Pascherette seemed not in the least disturbed; rather in her sharp eyes lurked something of bravado at having escaped her mistress's anger so easily. And this expression perplexed Milo.
"Art sure of thyself, Pascherette?" asked the giant, ill at ease for his little companion.
"Why not?" she laughed, peering up at his troubled face impudently. "Thinkest thou Pascherette is a fool?"
"No, thou art not a fool," replied Milo slowly. He laid a heavy hand on her shoulder, turned her around to face the faint light remaining, and gazed hard into her bright eyes. "Thou art not a fool, little one. But Sancho--is it so simple to find him?"
"Big, childish Milo!" she cried with a laugh that had no joy in it. "Dost think I feared that verdict of Dolores? No. I fear her whip only. My flesh creeps even now at thought of my poor shoulders hadst thou not appeared in time. Sancho? Pah! I can find him easily enough."
"Then, child, was there nothing in thy traffic with him save what I heard from thy lips?"
Pascherette looked down, tapping the sand with her tiny foot, and her breast fluttered in agitation. Then she slipped her hand into his, looked up shyly yet ardently into his eyes, and replied swift and low: "Milo, my love for thee must be my defense. I did have traffic with Sancho, to the end that we--thee and me--might use him to our advantage. Wait!" she cried, when he would have spoken, "hear me. Canst not see Dolores's cunning intention? She goes from here, carrying her treasure; what will she do with thee, once safely away? Will she carry thee always with her, to be marked because of thy great stature? No, Milo, thy life will pay for her desertion of her people, and she will laugh at thy passing. And why should it be? Here, thou and I can rule these cattle as she never could. With Sancho's deserters, and Rufe's followers, I can give thee a band that will force the treasure from her greedy grasp, and make of her what she has made of thee and me--a slave!"
"Girl!" Milo's deep voice vibrated with passionate horror. "Cease thy treason, or I crush thy wicked heart in these two hands. Dolores is mistress of my soul--my body is but the slave of that."
"Pish!" retorted Pascherette, contemptuously. "She has thee dazzled, Milo. Say, dost thou not love me?" she demanded, standing tiptoe and thrusting her piquant little face under his gaze. "Look in my eyes, and then tell me another woman owns thy soul!"
"Yes, I love thee," replied Milo, with simple earnestness. "I love thee; yet will I kill thee ere Dolores suffers ill through thy scheming. Have done with this talk. I hate thee for it!"
"Love--and hate!" she laughed metallically. "Loving me, still thou hast room to love another better. Hate and love! Thou great fool, it cannot be!"
"Pascherette, I love thee. Thou'rt entangled in my heart-strings. When I hate thee, it is because of that love, which will not brook treason in thee. Again, I love thee, golden girl; but, forget it not, I worship Dolores as I worship my gods!"
"Then wilt thou not seek her power for thyself?" whispered the girl subduedly, awed for the moment by his tremendous and solemn earnestness.
"Little one, bring Sancho as she bade thee. He has merited punishment. Yet tell him the Sultana will be just. His punishment will but fit the fault. Afterward we two will talk together, and I shall teach thee loyalty. Go now, bring thy man to the council hall. I shall await thee. Stay, I shall come with thee, for the woods are dark, and a storm threatens."
"I go alone, Milo. He will fly from thee. Have no fear for me; the woods are safe, and the storm is in thy great head only."
The girl turned, kissed her hand airily, and ran into the gloom of the forest. And as she went she laughed again harshly and muttered: "The great clod! His worship overtops his love. But I shall make love overtop worship yet, my giant! Such a man--a slave? Not for a thousand Doloreses! Wait, Milo; wait, my mistress!"
The evening breeze had strengthened as darkness fell, and its breath was hot and sultry. As Pascherette plunged deeper into the woods, the heavy boom of the seas along shore died away and gave place to the softer, more vibrant hum and murmur of the great trees. The track, little more than a line of flattened underbrush, vanished before she had gone fifty yards; but the little octoroon was no stranger to nocturnal rambles, her keen eyes, and, keener still, her sense of direction, led her unerringly through the shades toward the rearward spur of the granite cliff. Creepers and hanging mosses brushed her face and limbs; alone she might have ignored them; but there was a quality in the sighing and rustling about her that seemed to give voices to the ghostly fingers that touched her, and to support her courage as well as to warn Sancho of her coming, she thrilled forth a merry little snatch of song: "Ho! for the Jolly Roger lads; Ho! for the decks red-streaming. A pirate's lass is a well-lov'd lass, And there's gold through the red a gleaming!
"Ho! for a cask in the fire's red glow; Ho! for the heaps of plunder. There are showers of pearls for the pirates' girls-- The rain from the corsair's thunder!"
At the end of her song Pascherette halted, listened, then called softly: "Sancho! Thy Pascherette calls!"
Silence prevailed for several moments, and she called again, fearing that her voice had gone astray amid the increasing confusion of the trees. Then came a lull in the wind, the lull that always punctuated the gathering of such tropical storms as now threatened; and in the hush she heard voices--uncertain, disputing. Then Sancho growled, close to her ear: "Art alone, jade?"
"Oh, Sancho!" she cried, darting into the gloom to the sound of his voice and flinging her arms about him. "I have feared for thee, my Sancho. Now I fear no more, for all is well."
"Well?" the pirate growled suspiciously. "Hast left thy hot-blood mistress, then?"
"No, Sancho. It is better for thee even than that. I have made thy peace with Dolores. She has forgiven thee, and wishes to tell thee so."
A fervid curse burst from some one yet invisible, and Sancho leaned back to catch some whispered words. Then he, too, ripped out an oath, and gripped Pascherette tightly by the arm.
"This is a trick, little devil! Don't you value that pretty little head more than to trifle with me?"
"I trifle with thee? Thou art mad, Sancho!" she cried. "Did I lie when I said I loved thee, then?"
"The fiend knows! I know 'tis plaguey risky for thee if thou didst!"
"Unbeliever!" whispered Pascherette with thrilling emphasis. "Shall I tell thee again, in language even thy stubborn soul must believe?"
The girl suddenly glided inside his arms, flung up her hands, each clutching a mass of her glossy, scented hair, and enmeshed his disfigured face. Then, straining upward from her small height, her rosy, false lips sought his and fastened there while he staggered as if drunk.
"There, heart o' mine!" she panted. "Dost believe now? Or must I tell thee again that with such love as mine proud Dolores cannot hurt thee. Come! Such a chance will never come thy way again. Man! 'Tis her confidence Dolores offers thee. Shall it go begging because of thy madness?"
"Pascherette!" returned Sancho hoarsely. "I will go with thee. But, girl, thy heart's blood pours at first sign of treachery! Mark that well. And tell me now, does Yellow Rufe share in this mercy?"
"No, Sancho. It cannot be. Dolores has sworn to hunt him down; the woods are full of men even now, seeking him and thee. Only by going with me wilt thou escape them and have advantage from my pleading with the queen." She drew his head down to her ear, and whispered rapidly. Doubt, then admiration, crept into Sancho's voice as he said: "Dost think it can be done? Can he gain the sloop unseen?"
"I will make it easy, Sancho. Bid Rufe have no fear. The storm will be upon us within an hour. It is dark; there is wind aplenty. With six men he may win clear; and listen: If he is stout of heart, what is to stop him taking tribute from the stranger's white vessel?"
"Lack o' powder, girl," returned Sancho angrily. "Thy mistress keeps us short of powder, as well thou dost know, lest we become too strong for her. Who of us has ever seen the store? Not I, by Satan! Canst thou get powder and shot for Rufe?"
"Simpleton! Can he not get with steel all he wants from the schooner?"
"By the heart of Portuguez, he can!" cried another voice, and Yellow Rufe strode through the bushes.
"Rufe!" exclaimed the girl, feigning astonishment. Her ears were too keen not to have caught Rufe's voice in the whispering that had gone on.
"Yes, Rufe, and obliged to thee, Pascherette. Dost say thou wilt help me win away?"
"Gladly, Rufe, for I like well men of your mettle. Follow close behind Sancho and me. Count ten score after we go in to Dolores with Milo, then for an hour thou'lt have the sea to thyself. Luck go with thee, Rufe; thou'lt think of little Pascherette sometimes, I'll warrant."
A rumble of thunder rolled up from the sea, and lightning played in the tree-tops. Pascherette turned back toward the camp, and giving no heed to Sancho save to listen for his footsteps, she ran through the darkness sure-footed, sure-eyed as a cat. Rain began to fall, and the heavy foliage thrummed with the growing downpour which yet did not penetrate to the earth. As they neared the shore, the forest resounded with the solemn boom and crash of long-sweeping seas outside the bar; the wind screamed among the huts; all the women and those men who had returned from their portion of the search were snugly under cover. The place seemed deserted.
"Farewell, Rufe," Pascherette whispered at last, when the great black mass of the council hall loomed against the sky in a lightning flash. "Count ten score. Thy safety is in my hands."
Then she took Sancho by the hand, and led him through the plashing rain to the rear of the hall and called softly: "Milo!"
"Here. Hast found him?"
"Take us to the Sultana quickly, Milo. I have told Sancho to trust in the justice of Dolores."
"He may well do that," returned Milo. "The great Sultana is ever just."
"Yes, have no fear, good Sancho. I am Justice itself!" rejoined the mellow voice of Dolores in person, who had a few moments before left Rupert Venner. "Milo, I am minded to give Sancho proof of my mercy, since he already believes in my justice. Open the great chamber. Sancho, canst guess the honor I propose to do thee?"
"No, lady," replied Sancho, an awful dryness gripping his throat.
"Hast ever hungered for sight of the great chamber?" She paused smiling at the uneasy pirate, who could not answer. "Of course thou hast," she replied for him. "Which of my rogues has not? I am minded to show thee this mark of my love, since thy conscience permitted thee to return here. Hast any fear of the saying the Red Chief uttered? That none might enter the great chamber and live?"
Sancho suddenly sprang to life. His face was distorted; when the lightning flashed it revealed him a ghastly picture of apprehension.
"I will not go there! I have no wish to see what my eyes are forbidden to see. I never sought to enter, Sultana. It was the others!"
"Yes, Sancho, the others. That is why I select thee for the honor, because thou wert patient. Come. I promise thee thy life is safe."
Dolores passed on toward the great stone, where Milo stood guard over the opened portals. Sancho, trembling violently, was drawn irresistibly after her, partly fascinated by her calm strength, partly influenced by the soft fingers and whispered prattle of Pascherette, who strove to set him aflame with mention of some of the wonders he was to see.
He paused at the rock door, glancing around with a vague premonition of evil; but now it was Dolores's hand that took his; Dolores's rich voice that lured him on; and he stepped after her, smothering a sob of resurging terror as the great stone fell into its place behind.