THOMAS COMES TO SHORE
For an hour or more I stood thus craning my neck upwards to seek for the priest. At length when I was about to sink back into the hold, for I could stand no longer in that cramped posture, I saw a woman’s dress pass by the hole in the deck, and knew it for one that was worn by a lady who had escaped with me in the boat.
‘Senora,’ I whispered, ’for the love of God listen to me. It is I, d’Aila, who am chained down here among the slaves.’
She started, then as the priest had done, she sat herself down upon the deck, and I told her of my dreadful plight, not knowing that she was acquainted with it, and of the horrors below.
‘Alas! senor,’ she answered, ’they can be little worse than those above. A dreadful sickness is raging among the crew, six are already dead and many more are raving in their last madness. I would that the sea had swallowed us with the rest, for we have been rescued from it only to fall into hell. Already my mother is dead and my little brother is dying.’
‘Where is the priest?’ I asked.
’He died this morning and has just been cast into the sea. Before he died he spoke of you, and prayed me to help you if I could. But his words were wild and I thought that he might be distraught. And indeed how can I help you?’
‘Perhaps you can find me food and drink,’ I answered ’and for our friend, God rest his soul. What of the Captain Sarceda? Is he also dead?’
’No, senor, he alone is recovering of all whom the scourge has smitten. And now I must go to my brother, but first I will seek food for you.’
She went and presently returned with meat and a flask of wine which she had hidden beneath her dress, and I ate and blessed her.
For two days she fed me thus, bringing me food at night. On the second night she told me that her brother was dead and of all the crew only fifteen men and one officer remained untouched by the sickness, and that she herself grew ill. Also she said that the water was almost finished, and there was little food left for the slaves. After this she came no more, and I suppose that she died also.
It was within twenty hours of her last visit that I left this accursed ship. For a day none had come to feed or tend the slaves, and indeed many needed no tending, for they were dead. Some still lived however, though so far as I could see the most of them were smitten with the plague. I myself had escaped the sickness, perhaps because of the strength and natural healthiness of my body, which has always saved me from fevers and diseases, fortified as it was by the good food that I had obtained. But now I knew that I could not live long, indeed chained in this dreadful charnel-house I prayed for death to release me from the horrors of such existence. The day passed as before in sweltering heat, unbroken by any air or motion, and night came at last, made hideous by the barbarous ravings of the dying. But even there and then I slept and dreamed that I was walking with my love in the vale of Waveney.