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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter19)

2006-08-28 22:26

  Chapter XIX. Concerning the Princess Damaris

  For a while she stood looking down on me, and I, meeting that look, glanced otherwhere yet, conscious of her regard, stirred uneasily so that my irons rattled dismally.

  "Sir," says she at last, but there I stayed her.

  "Madam, once and for all, I am no 'sir!'"

  "Martin Conisby," she amended in the same gentle voice, "Master Penfeather telleth you refused the honourable service I offered—— I pray you wherefore?"

  "Because I've no mind to serve a Brandon."

  "Yet you steal aboard my ship, Master Conisby, you eat the food my money hath paid for! Doth this suffice your foolish, stubborn pride?" Here, finding nought to say, I scowled at my fetters and held my peace, whereat she sighed a little, as I had been some fretful, peevish child: "Why are you here in my ship?" she questioned patiently. "Was it for vengeance? Tell me," she demanded, "is it that you came yet seeking your wicked vengeance?"

  "Mine is a just vengeance!"

  "Vengeance, howsoever just, is God's——leave it unto God!" At this I was silent again, whereupon she continued, her voice more soft and pleading: "Even though my father had……indeed……wronged you and yours……how shall his death profit you——?"

  "Ha!" I cried, staring up at her troubled face, "Can it be you know this for very truth at last? Are you satisfied of my wrongs and know my vengeance just? Have ye proof of Sir Richard's black treachery——confess!" Now at this her eyes quailed before my look and she shrank away.

  "God forgive him!" she whispered, bowing stately head.

  "Speak!" says I, fiercely. "Have ye the truth of it at last?"

  "'Tis that bringeth me here to you, Martin Conisby, to confess this wrong on his behalf and on his behalf to offer such reparation as I may. Alas! for the bodily sufferings you did endure we can never atone, but……in all other ways——"

  "Never!" says I, scowling. "What is done——is done, and I am—— what I am. But for yourself his sin toucheth you no whit."

  "How?" cried she passionately. "Am I not his flesh——his blood? 'Twas but lately I learned the truth from his secret papers……and……O 'twas all there……even the price he paid to have you carried to the plantations! So am I come pleading your forgiveness for him and for me……to humble myself before you……see thus……thus, upon my knees!"

  Now beholding all the warm beauty of her as she knelt humbly before me, the surge and tumult of her bosom, the quiver of her red lips, the tearful light of her eyes, I was moved beyond speech, and ever she knelt there bowed and shaken in her mute abasement.

  "My Lady Joan," said I at last, "for your pure self I can have nought to forgive——I——that am all unworthy to touch the latchet of your shoe……Rise, I pray."

  "And for——my father?" she whispered, "Alas, my poor, miserable father——"

  "Speak not of him!" I cried. "Needs must there be hate and enmity betwixt us until the end." So was silence awhile nor did I look up, dreading to see her grief.

  "Your face is cut, Martin!" said she at last, very softly, "Suffer that I bathe it." Now turning in amaze I saw her yet upon her knees, looking up at me despite her falling tears: "Wilt suffer me to bathe it, Martin?" says she, her voice unshaken by any sob. I shook my head; but rising she crossed to the door and came back bearing a small pannikin of water. "I brought this for the purpose," says she.

  "Nay, indeed, I——I am well enough——"

  "Then I will make you better!"

  "No!" says I, angrily.

  "Yes!" says she patiently, but setting dimpled chin at me.

  "And wherefore, madam?"

  "Because I'm so minded, sir!" So saying she knelt close beside me and fell a-bathing my bruised face as she would (and I helpless to stay her) yet marvelling within me at the gentle touch of her soft hands and the tender pity in her tear-wet eyes. "Martin," says she, "as I do thus cherish your hurts, you shall one day, mayhap, cherish your enemy's——"

  "Never!," says I. "You can know me not at all to think so."

  "I know you better than you guess, Martin. You think it strange belike and unmaidenly in me that I should seek you thus, that your name should come so readily to my lip? But I have remembered the name 'Martin' for the sake of a boy, long years since, who found a little maid (she was just ten year old) found her lost and wandering in a wood, very woeful and frightened and forlorn. And this boy seemed very big and strong (he was just eleven, he said) and was armed with a bow and arrows 'to shoot outlaws.' And yet he was very gentle and kindly, laying by his weapons the better to comfort her sorrows and dry her tears. So he brought her to a cave he called his 'castle' and showed her a real sword he kept hidden there (albeit a very rusty one) and said he would be her knight, to do great things for her some day. Then he brought her safely home; and he told her his name was Martin and she said hers was Damaris——"

  "Damaris!" said I, starting.

  "Often after this they used to meet by a corner of the old park wall where he had made a place to go up and down by——for six months, I think, they played together daily, and once he fought a great, rough boy on her behalf, and when the boy had run away she bathed her champion's hurts in a little brook——bathed them with her scarf as thus I do yours. At last she was sent away to a school and the years passed, but she never forgot the name of Martin, though he forgot her quite……but……you……you remember now, Martin——O, you remember now?" says she with a great sob.

  "Aye, I remember now!" quoth I, hoarsely.

  "It is for the sake of this boy, Martin, so brave, so strong, yet so very gentle and kindly——for him and all he might have been that I pray you forego your vengeance——I beseech you to here renounce it——"

  "Never!" I cried, clenching my shackled hands. "But for my enemy this boy might now be as other men——'stead of outcast rogue and scarred galley-slave, he might have come to love and win love——to have known the joy of life and its fulness! Howbeit he must go his way, rogue and outcast to the end."

  "No!" she cried, "No! The wrong may be undone——must——shall be—— wounds will heal and even scars will fade with time."

  "Scars of the body, aye——belike!" said I, "But there be scars of the mind, wounds of the soul shall never heal——so shall my just vengeance sleep not nor die whiles I have life!"

  Here for awhile she was silent again and I saw a tear fall sparkling.

  "And yet," said she at last and never stirring from her humble posture, "and yet I have faith in you still for, despite all your cruel wrongs and grievous suffering, you are so——young, headstrong and wilful and very desolate and forlorn. Thus whiles I have life my faith in you shall sleep not nor die, yet greatly do I pity——"

  "Pity?" says I fiercely, "You were wiser to hate and see me hanged out of hand."

  "Poor soul!" she sighed, and rising, laid one white hand upon my shackled fist. "And yet mayhap you shall one day find again your sweet and long-lost youth——meanwhile strive to be worthy a sorrowing maid's honest pity."

  "Pity?" says I again, "'Tis akin to love——so give me hate, 'tis thing most natural 'twixt your blood and mine."

  "Poor soul!" she repeated, viewing me with her great, calm eyes albeit their lashes were wet with tears, "How may I hate one so wretched?" Here, seeing mayhap how the words stung me she must needs repeat them: "Poor wretched soul, thou'rt far——far beneath my hate."

  "Belike you'll come to learn in time!" says I, beside myself. At this I saw the white hand clench itself, but her voice was tender as ever when she answered:

  "Sorrow and suffering may lift a man to greatness if he be strong of soul or debase him to the brute if he be weak."

  "Why then," says I, "begone to your gallants and leave me to the brutes."

  "Nay, first will I do that which brought me!" and she showed the key of my gyves.

  "Let be!" I cried, "I seek no freedom at your hands——let be, I say!"

  "As you will!" says she, gently. "So endeth my hope of righting a great wrong. I have humbled myself to you to-night, Martin Conisby. I have begged and prayed you to forego your vengeance, to forgive the evil done, not so much for my father's sake as for your own, and this because of the boy I dreamed a man ennobled by his sufferings and one great enough to forgive past wrongs, since by forgiveness cometh regeneration. Here ends my dream——alas, you are but rogue and galley-slave after all. So shall I ever pity you greatly and greatly despise you!"

  Then she turned slowly away and went from me, closing and locking the door, and left me once more in the black dark, but now full of yet blacker thoughts.

  To be scorned by her! And she——a Brandon!

  And now I (miserable wretch that I was) giving no thought to the possibility of my so speedy dissolution, raged in my bonds, wasting myself in futile imprecations against this woman who (as it seemed to me in my blind and brutish anger) had but come to triumph over me in my abasement. Thus of my wounded self-love did I make me a whip of scorpions whereby I knew an agony beyond expression.

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