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Aylward Edward Dingle
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Rupert Venner sat on the floor of his prison, tugging at his chains with an absent, aimless, all but perpetual motion; for he had long since convinced himself that his fetters could not be broken or loosed. The ruby light that had shown him the food and wine placed for him had faded away to the faintest red glow which scarcely sufficed to reach the tabouret. That mattered little; Venner had eaten when he was hungry, drunk when dry, and knew the position of the flagon and dish to the ultimate inch. He was not caring about the light. His mind was filled to the exclusion of all else with his plight and the predicament of his schooner.
"Confound me for a fool!" he mused aloud, gritting his teeth savagely. "Led by the nose by a saucy little chit who knows how to display her charms as well as her pearls!"
He pondered over his situation with growing irritation; for he knew only too well that his release could never be obtained by bribery; his keen sense of values told him that neither in the yacht or at home could he match the treasures he had already seen on the persons of Dolores, and Pascherette, and the other women of the camp. Yet he tried to console himself that after all these things might be displayed for his impression; might in fact be the entire store of the pirate queen, displayed for one gaudy, overpowering effect.
"That's it!" he cried, striking fist to palm. "Just a theatrical trick. That little jade, Pascherette, will sell her dark little soul for diamonds or pearls, I'll wager, and she shall sell me liberty. Then I'll see the queen creature, gaining entry by the same medium, and we shall see if cultivated wits are not a match for this wild beauty."
With something very like a smile of resignation Venner stretched himself on the floor and composed himself to rest. He was quite certain that Pascherette could be reached through his jailer, whoever that might be--Milo or somebody else--and the entire plan seemed to him beautifully simple and infallible. He dozed, awoke, dozed again, and the ruby light seemed to intensify each time his eyes opened. Gradually the shaft of light grew so strong that, focused on his closed eyes, it forced him to full wakefulness; and now he stared hard at it, blinking, hypnotized by the trembling radiance that seemed to shoot out from the main shaft until a great moving circle of light appeared before him. And out from the midst of the light stepped Dolores, bewitching, irresistible, smiling down upon him with a tenderness that filled him with awe.
Amazed, dazzled, the man sat up, quivering with a sensation that rippled at his hair-roots and sent the blood singing to finger and toe-tips. And Dolores, with one forefinger at her scarlet lips to enjoin silence, glided toward him with her inimitable grace, and knelt before him shaking her head and starting him on the way to intoxication with the touch of her wonderful hair.
"My friend, I grieve that thou art here," she said, and her glowing eyes thrilled him afresh. "Wilt thou believe that it is necessary for a while?"
"Necessary?" repeated Venner, dazedly. He strove hard to burst into angry protest, but his tongue refused to utter the harsh words in the face of such a creature of beauty. "I don't understand why it is necessary at all, lady. It is no choice of mine, or my friends, that our schooner is aground and we are your prisoners!"
"Ah, my friend, thou shalt understand," she answered, and laid a hand on his shoulder, making his senses swim with the fragrance of her breath. "But this is for thy ears alone. Thou wilt respect my confidence?" Venner nodded, wondering if, after all, the adventure might not turn out well. With Dolores so close to him that he could hear her tunic rustling to her deep, even breathing, that her loosened hair continually brushed his face, he would have nodded assent had she offered him a piece of charcoal for his immortal soul. "Then listen, man of my own people. A longing gnaws at my heart--this heart that beats under thy hand"--she took his hand with a swift movement and pressed it to her breast--"a longing to go far from this place and these brutish people, to thy land and the land to which I belong.
"And now must I say why thy ship is here? It is because I have chosen thee, my friend, to free me from this detestable bondage." She paused for a breath, leaning closer to him, then asked with a sudden grip of his hand at her breast: "Wilt take me out into thy world?"
Venner shifted uneasily beneath her blazing eyes. His soul was in torment with the touch of her; yet somewhere back of his trained brain lingered a spark of wit not yet extinguished along with his other wits by her spell. He lowered his gaze and said: "Was there need to murder my crew, wreck my vessel, and fling me and my friends into these cells? Could not you, who are queen here, board my schooner yourself and ask a passage?"
"The murder of thy crew was not of my seeking. And thinkest thou I would go from here leaving behind my treasures? Or dost fancy my rascals would permit me to carry them away? No, friend, it is not so simple. The man who aids me to attain my desire must be strong and wise and true. He shall mate with me, and my treasures shall be his. That is why I have chosen thee."
"That requires thought, lady," returned Venner, half-heartedly. "I would assist you in getting free from this, since you wish it; but as for mating or marriage, why, there is a woman at home waiting for me."
"Woman!" Dolores cried with scorn. "Woman! I am Dolores!" She swayed toward him, her arms went about his neck, and slowly, slowly her glorious eyes fastened on his, her moist, warm lips sought his in a kiss that dragged at his soul's foundations.
"Canst refuse me?" she laughed softly, drawing back her head and peering at him from under lowered lids. "See, I trust thee utterly!" Snatching her dagger from the sheath she placed it in his right hand; then, with a key from her girdle, she unfastened his chains and swayed back, still kneeling. She clutched the single shoulder-strap of her tunic, tore it from her bosom, and flung both arms wide apart. "See!" she whispered, and Rupert Venner flung away the dagger, stumbled to his feet, and swept her into his crushing embrace while she abandoned herself to him with a long, quivering sigh.
"By the gods!" he swore hoarsely, "show me what I have to do. Wonderful, wonderful Dolores!"
"Patience," she smiled, resting her head on his breast. "First tell me thy name. What shall thy Dolores call thee?"
"I am Rupert. Call me slave!"
"Rupert. It is a name to love. Slave? Nay, it is I who shall be slave to thee. But patience again, Rupert. When we two go from here, there can be no other to share our secret; none save the slaves that I shall place in thy ship to replace thy dead crew. Thy friends may not go. They must not live to see thee go!"
Venner shivered, and drew back, holding her at arms' length and staring at her in horror.
"What are you saying, Dolores?" he gasped. "My friends are to die?"
"Yes, and by thy hand, my Rupert. For how else may I know thou are worthy to be mate to a queen?"
"Now, by Heaven! Witch, siren, whatever you are, my madness has passed!" he cried. "Not for the key to a paradise peopled with such as you would I do this!" He stepped aside, picked up her dagger, and glared at her with steely eyes.
Dolores laughed at him: a low, throaty little laugh that went clear to his brain and set it on fire again. Yet, nerving himself against her, he stood erect, dagger in hand, and met the blaze of her dusky eyes bravely. He shivered violently when her rich voice thrilled his tingling ears.
"Hah, my Rupert, thou'rt not yet tamed. Let me show thee thy master!"
With the words she reached him with her subtle, tigerish glide, swiftly, startlingly, and with the dart of a cobra her hand gripped his which held the dagger. Her warm body again pressed closely to him, her red lips, parted still, almost touched his cheek; her hair smothered him with its fragrance; and while his senses swam her supple muscles tensed to living steel wire, her grip tightened and twisted at his wrist, and the dagger was wrenched from his fingers. Then leaping back, laughing mockingly now, Dolores slipped the dagger into the sheath, snatched up the chains from the floor, and flew upon him with a deadly pounce that bore him back to the wall.
Aroused from his numbness, Rupert Venner fought back furiously, humiliated, and ashamed. Whether he would or not, he forgot all his chivalry, and strove to meet this appalling woman with strength against strength; but in Dolores he met a thing of wire and whipcord where moments before had been a creature of warm softnesses; a being of feline agility, and devilish skill that reflected the devilish skill of her teacher, Milo. The chain-links tinkled and clashed against their swaying bodies, but she never let them fall; they hung from her girdle; her hands were free; and she had both his wrists in a grip that outrivaled the irons. Laughing, ever laughing, her hot breath playing over his face, she placed one foot behind one of his, surged toward him heavily, and, when his arms would have involuntarily gone out to preserve his footing, she subtly twisted them back and up from the elbows, until she rested against his chest with her bare arms tightly about his body.
Now her head, with the gold circlet about the brows, pressed hard against his chin. Her hair was in his mouth, tendrils of it stung his eyes, but the gold band numbed his flesh and bruised the bone. Upward, ever upward, she forced his chin until his neck was cracking with the strain and he choked for breath. Then she suddenly relaxed. Her arms left him, her wickedly lovely face once more smiled into his starting eyes, and she took the chain from her girdle with leisurely swiftness, falling to her knees at his feet.
"There, my friend, thou art back in thy place!" she said, snapping on his ankle irons. "Spend the night in thought, good Rupert. To-morrow I shall come to thee again for thy decision. Now, pleasant dreams, my--lover!" she whispered, suddenly slipping her arms about his neck again and pulling his head hard against her panting breast. She softly kissed his hair, then pressed back his head and kissed his lips long and passionately.
"Good night, beloved!" she said, and passed out of the room, leaving behind the echoes of a rippling little laugh that set Venner's blood to leaping.