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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter27)

2006-08-28 22:28

  Chapter XXVII. Divers Adventures on the Island

  Seeing my companion so anxious to be gone, I left my fire to burn out and, giving her my hand, forthwith turned my back on this place of death, nor sorry to do it.

  Following the base of the cliff we found an opening in the rock vaulted and arched by nature so that it was of white sands, bordering the lagoon, the which we there and then agreed to call "Deliverance" in memory of our escape. What with the soft sand and scattered rocks it was ill-going for my companion, but though she limped painfully she held bravely on nevertheless, being of a mighty resolute mind as this narrative will show.

  Now as we went slowly thus, I pointed out caves a-plenty and very proper to our purpose, but she would have none of them and was forever lifting her eyes to the cliffs and tree-clad, greeny slopes beyond.

  "Let us seek above," says she, "where there be trees and mayhap flowers, for, Martin, I do love trees."

  "Nay but," says I, "none save a bird or a goat may climb yonder."

  "Let us be patient and seek a way, Martin."

  "And you all bruised and lame!"

  "Nay, I am very well and——see yonder!" Looking whither she would have me, I saw, beyond this great jutting rock, a green opening in the cliffs with a gentle ascent.

  "O Martin!" cries she, stopping suddenly, "O Martin, 'tis like England, 'tis like one of our dear Kentish lanes!" And indeed so it was, being narrow and grassy and shady with trees, save that these were such trees as never grew on English soil.

  "Let us go, Martin, let us go!"

  So we began the ascent and (despite the blazing sun) the slope being gradual, found it easier than it had looked. On we went, and though she often stumbled she made nought of it nor stayed until we were come to a green level or plateau, whence the ground before us trended downwards to a wondrous fertile little valley where ran a notable stream 'twixt reedy banks; here also bloomed flowers, a blaze of varied colours; and beyond these again were flowery thickets a very maze of green boskages besplashed with the vivid colour of flower or bird, for here were many such birds that flew hither and thither on gaudy wings, and filling the air with chatterings and whistlings strange to be heard.

  Now beholding all this, my companion sank to the ground and sat very still and silent like one rapt in pleasing wonder.

  "O!" says she at last and very softly. "Surely here is an earthly paradise, O Martin, the beauty of it!"

  "Yet these flowers have no smell!" says I. "And for these gaudy birds I would give them all for one honest English robin or sweet-throated black bird!"

  But she, chin in hand, sat a-gazing upon this prospect as she would never tire. As for me, I began to look around and, the more I looked, the better I liked this place, pleasantly shaded as it was by trees and affording from this eminence a wide view of the sea, the lagoon, and Deliverance Beach below. Moreover, I heard near by the pleasant sound of falling water and, drawn by this, came to a flowery thicket, and forcing my way through, paused suddenly, as well I might, for before me, set in the face of a rock, was a door. All askew it hung and grown over with a riot of weed and vines; and behind the weatherworn timber I saw the gloom of a cavern.

  Approaching this door I found it built with ship's timbers exceeding stout and strong, joined by great battens clamped with bolts and nails, and in the midst a loophole; and besides this I saw divers shot-marks in these timbers the which set me a- wondering. Now having my hatchet in hand, I set about cutting away bush and vines, and forcing wide the door (the which swung 'twixt great beams like jambs, clamped to the rock) I stepped into the cool dimness beyond. The place was irregular of shape but very spacious and lighted by a narrow, weed-choked crevice high up that admitted a soft, greeny glow very pleasing after the glare of the sun; by which light I perceived that from this cave two smaller caves opened. Now seeing this place had once been the abode of some poor castaway, I sought high and low in hopes of finding something to our use if no more than a broken cup, but came on nothing save the ruin of a small table; the place was bare as my hand. I was yet busied in my fruitless search when comes my companion all pleased-eyed wonderment.

  "Why, 'tis as good as any cottage!" cries she.

  "And better than some," says I, "for here is no thatch to leak and no windows to break and let in the rain!"

  "O Martin, for a broom!" says she, looking around upon the floor ankle-deep in dead leaves, twigs and the like. "O for a broom!"

  "These leaves be well enough——"

  "But better for a broom, Martin."

  "Why then, a broom you shall have," says I, and coming without the cave I cut twigs sufficient to my purpose, and divers lengths of vine, very strong and tough, and therewith bound my twigs about a stick I had trimmed for a handle; whiles she, sitting upon a great stone that lay hard by, watched me with mighty interest.

  "You are very clever, Martin!" says she.

  "'Tis very rough, I doubt."

  "I have seen many a worse broom used in England, Martin."

  "Why, 'twill serve, mayhap."

  "'Tis excellent!" says she, and taking the broom from me away she limps with it forthwith and I, standing without the cave, presently heard her sweeping away (despite her bruises) and singing sweet as any mounting lark. I now set out to bring away such things as I had left behind, as my iron and the turtle-shell (the which I held of more account than all the jewels in Adam's treasure) and on my way stopped to cut a stout, curved branch that I thought might furnish me a powerful bow; and another that, bladed with iron, should become a formidable spear. Though why my mind should run to weapons of offence seeing that the island, so far as I knew, was deserted, and no wild beasts, I know not. Reaching Deliverance Sands I paused to look about me for such pieces of driftwood as might serve us, and came on several full of nails and bolts; some of these timbers being warped with age and others comparatively new. And looking on these poor remains of so many noble ships and thinking of the numberless poor souls that had manned them and gone to their account, I could not but feel some awe for these storm-rent timbers as I handled them. And presently as I laboured I spied a piece new-painted, and dragging it forth from sand and seaweed, knew it for the gunwale of our own boat. This put me in great hopes that I might come upon some of our stores, but, though I sought diligently then and for days after, I never found anything but this poor fragment. Having laid by such timbers as shewed iron of any sort, I went my way and so at last reached our first shelter. And what should I espy upon a ledge of rock just above me but a goat; for a moment the creature blinked at me, chewing busily, then scrambled to its feet; but in that instant I caught up a heavy stone that chanced handy and hurled it; the poor beast bleated once, and rolling down the rock thudded at my feet, where I despatched it with my knife. My next care was to skin it, which unlovely task I made worse by my bungling, howbeit it was done at last and I reeking of blood and sweat. None the less I persevered and, having cleaned the carcass I cut therefrom such joints as might satisfy our immediate needs, and setting them in my turtle-shell with my irons, hung up the carcass within the coolest part of the cave out of reach of any prowling beast. This done, I went down to the lagoon and laved my arms and hands and face, cleansing myself as well as I might, and so, taking my well-laden turtle-shell under one arm and the reeking skin beneath the other, I set off. Now it was mid-day and the sun very hot, insomuch that the sweat poured from me, and more than once I must needs pause to moisten my hair to keep off the heat. At last, espying a palmetto that grew adjacent, I made shift to get me a leaf, whereof, with twigs to skewer and shape it, I made me the semblance of a hat and so tramped on again. Being come to the plateau I set down my burdens, very thankful for the kindly shade and the sweet, cool wind that stirred up here, and turned to find my companion regarding me pale-cheeked and with eyes wide and horror-struck.

  "Why, what now?" says I taking a step towards her; but seeing how she shrank away I paused and, glancing down at myself, saw my clothes all smirched with the blood of the goat. "How, is it this?" says I. "Well, a little blood is no great matter!" But she still eyeing me mightily askance I grew angry. "Ha!" quoth I, "You'll be thinking doubtless of the murders aboard ship and my bloody jerkin? Why then, madam, think and grow as wise as you may!" Saying which I strode off; and thus I presently heard the soothing sound of falling water, yet look where I might could see none save that in the little valley below. Being direly athirst I began to seek for this unseen rill, and little by little was led up a steep, bush-grown acclivity until, all at once, I found myself in a right pleasant place; for here, all set about with soft mosses, fern and flowers, I beheld a great oval basin or rocky hollow some twelve feet across and brim-full of pellucid water through which I might see the bottom carpeted with mosses and in this water my image mirrored; and what with the blood that fouled me, my shaggy hair and beard and the shapeless thing upon my head, an ill-enough rogue I looked.

  This pool was fed by a little rill that gurgled down from rocks above and, having filled the basin, flowed out through a wide fissure and down the cliff to lose itself amid flowery banks 'twixt which it ran bubbling joyously to meet the river. And now, having satisfied my thirst and found the water very sweet and cool, I stripped and bathing me in this pool, found great solace and content, insomuch that (to my great wonder) I presently found myself whistling like any boy. At last I got me forth mightily refreshed, and that the wind and sun might dry me, strove to cleanse my garments, but finding it a thankless task I got dressed at last, but my chain-shirt I left folded beside the pool and I much more comfortable therefor.

  Following the dancing rill, I clambered down the rocks and so into the little valley where ran the stream. Fording this, I came amid thickets where was a glory of flowers of all colours, but one in especial I noticed, white and trumpet-shaped. And here I was often stayed by quickset and creeping plants, their stems very pliant and strong and of the bigness of my little finger. On went I haphazard through a green twilight of leaves, for here (as hath been said) were many trees both great and small, some of which were utterly strange to me, but others I knew for cocos-palms, plantain and bread-fruit, the which rejoiced me greatly; and hereabouts I found growing great bunches of black fruit like to grapes, though smaller, and which I would not dare touch until, seeing divers birds peck at them, I ventured to taste and found them excellent. So, gathering some of these to stay my hunger I pressed on, despite the heat, for from somewhere before me was the roar of great waters, and forced me a passage with my hatchet until this denser wood gave place to a grove of mighty palm trees, and beyond these I came suddenly upon a great, barren rock that overhung a lake, whose dark waters were troubled by a torrent hard by that poured into it with a great rushing sound, a torrent of prodigious volume though of no great height. "So here" (thinks I) "is Adam's 'notable fall of water,'" and sitting down, I fell to viewing the place, munching my grapes the while. Opposite me the lake was bounded by a high- sloping sandy beach with trees beyond, while beyond these again rose that high, tree-clad hill whose barren, rocky dome we had seen from afar. Now the waters of this lake flooded away through a great rent in the surrounding rocks betwixt which I might catch a glimpse of the distant sea; and beholding this rushing cataract I must needs fall a-wondering where so great a body of water should come from, and to ponder on the marvels of nature. And from this I got to considering how we might cross this stream, supposing we should explore the island. I was yet puzzling this when, glancing up, I found the sun already westering, wherefore (not minded to be caught in the dark) I rose and, turning my back on these troubled waters, set out on my return. Ever and anon as I went I caught glimpses of that rocky eminence with its silver thread of falling water whence I had come, and, guided by this, strode on amain, bethinking me how best I might cook the goat's- flesh for (despite the grapes) I was mightily an hungered. But reaching the denser woods I lost my way, for here nought was to see but the greeny gloom of tangled thickets and dense-growing boskages where I must needs cut a path, yet even so I troubled myself with divers bunches of grapes that my companion might prove my discovery. Thus my progress was slow and wearisome, and night found me still forcing my way through this tangled underwood. Being lost and in the dark, I sat me down to wait for the moon and stayed my hunger with the grapes meant for better purpose, but one bunch that methought the better I preserved. Soon this leafy gloom glowed with a silvery radiance, and by this light I went on and so at last came upon the stream. But hereabouts it ran fast and deep and I must needs seek about till I found a ford. Thus the moon was high as, after desperate scramble, I came out upon our grassy plateau and saw the welcome glow of a fire. Moreover, as I approached I smelt right savoury and most delectable savour, and hurrying forward saw my companion crouched upon that stone I have mentioned, her head bowed upon her hands. Hearing my step she glanced up and rose to her feet.

  "Are you come at last, Martin?" says she in her sweet voice. "Supper is ready this hour and more!"

  "Supper!" says I.

  "The goat's-flesh. I made a stew, but fear 'tis spoiled."

  "Indeed," says I, "it smells mighty appetising!"

  "I had no salt nor spices, Martin, but in a little garden yonder that is all run wild, I found some sage and sweet herbs."

  "Good!" says I. So she brought me to the fire and there in our great turtle-shell was as savoury a stew as ever greeted eyes of hungry man.

  By her directions, and will all due care, I lifted this from the fire, and propping it with stones we sat down side by side. And now she shows me two of my smaller shells, and dipping hers into the stew I did the like, and though we had no salt (the which set my wits at work) and though we lacked for bread, a very excellent meal we made of it, and the moon shedding its glory all about us.

  The meal done, and while she cleansed the things at a rill that murmured hard by, I made up the fire (for after the heat of the day, night struck chill) and by the time she came back I had the flame crackling merrily. And now as she sat over against me on the stone, I saw she had been weeping. And she, knowing I saw this, nodded her head, scorning all subterfuge.

  "I feared you had met with some mischance and lay hurt, Martin—— or worse——"

  "You mean dead?"

  "Aye, dead."

  "Would it have mattered so much?"

  "Only that I should have died likewise!"

  "Because of the loneliness?" says I.

  "Indeed," she sighed, staring into the fire, "because of the loneliness."

  "I serve some purpose, then, in the scheme of things?"

  "Yes, Martin, you teach a woman how, even in this desolation, being weak and defenceless she may trust to a man's honour and find courage and great comfort in his strength. 'Twas foolish of me to be horror-struck at your stained garments when you had been slaying that I might eat."

  "'Tis all forgot!" says I, hastily.

  "And as for the murders on the ship——O Martin, as if you might ever make me believe you had committed murder——or ever could. You that under all your bitterness are still the same gentle boy I knew so long ago."

  "And why should you be so sure of all this and I but what I am?" says I, staring also into the fire.

  "Mayhap because I am a woman with all a woman's instinct to know the evil from the good."

  Hereupon I began telling her of my exploration and describing the wonders I had seen, as the fruit-trees and waterfall. Whereupon she grew eager to explore the island so soon as she might. In a while I arose, and drawing my knife turned where I knew was fern a-plenty.

  "Where away?" she questioned, rising also.

  "I must make you a bed."

  "'Tis done, Martin, and yours also."

  "Mine!" says I, staring. "How should you do all this?"

  "With the old, rusty sword, Martin. Come and see!"

  So she brought me to the cave, the moon flooding the place with its pale radiance, and I espied a goodly bed of fern very neatly contrived, in one corner.

  "Bravely done!" says I.

  "At least, Martin, 'twill be more easy than your bed of sand, and methinks you shall have no ill dreams to-night."

  "Dreams!" quoth I, and bethinking me of my last night's hateful visions (and now beholding the beauty of her) I shivered.

  "Are you cold?"

  "No!"

  "Why then, good-night, Martin."

  "Wait!" says I, "Wait!" And hasting out, I brought her the grapes I had saved, telling her that though small she would find them sweet and wholesome.

  "Why, Martin!" says she, under her breath as one greatly surprised, "Why, Martin!" and so vanishes into her little cave forthwith, and never a word of thanks.

  Now being yet haunted by my dreams of yesternight, I went forth into the moonlight and walked there awhile, my eyes uplifted to the glory of the heavens; and now I must needs bethink me of Godby's star-time, of the dark, lonely road, of the beckoning light beyond and the welcoming arms of love. And hereupon I scowled and turned to stare away across the placid sea dimpling 'neath the moon, at the stilly waters of the lagoon, and the white curve of Deliverance Beach below; but, look where I would, I could see only the proud, lovely face and the great, truthful eyes of this woman Joan Brandon, even when my scowling brows were bent on that distant pimento tree beneath whose towering shadow Black Bartlemy had laughed his life out. So in a while I came within the cave and found it dim, for the moonbeam was there no longer, and cast myself upon my bed, very full of gloomy thoughts.

  "Martin, I thank you for your grapes. To-morrow we will gather more!"

  "Aye, to-morrow!"

  "I found a shirt of chain-work by the pool, Martin——"

  "'Tis mine."

  "I have set it by against your need."

  "Nay, I'm done with it, here is no fear of knives in the back."

  "Are you sleepy, Martin?"

  "No, but 'tis plaguy dark."

  "But you are there," says she, "so I do not fear the dark."

  "To-morrow I will make a lamp." Here she fell silent and I think to sleep, but as for me I lay long, oppressed by my thoughts. "Aye, verily," says I at last, speaking my thought aloud as had become my custom in my solitude, "to-morrow I will contrive a lamp, for light is a goodly thing." Now here I heard a rustle from the inner cave as she had turned in her sleep, for she spake no word; and so, despite my thoughts, I too presently fell to blessed slumber.

  Now if there be any who, reading this my narrative, shall think me too diffuse and particular in the chapters to follow, I do hereby humbly crave their pardon, but (maugre my reader's weariness) shall not abate one word or sentence, since herein I (that by my own folly have known so little of happiness) do record some of the happiest hours that ever man knew, so that it is joy again to write. Therefore to such as would read of rogues and roguish doings, of desperate fights, encounters and affrays, I would engage him to pass over these next few chapters, for he shall find overmuch of these things ere I make an end of this tale of Black Bartlemy's Treasure. Which very proper advice having duly set down, I will again to my narrative.

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