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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter7)

2006-08-28 21:45

  Chapter VII. How I Heard Tell of Black Bartlemy's Treasure

  Now scarce was I clear of the village than I was again seized of a deadly sickness and vertigo so that I stumbled and was like to fall, but that Penfeather propped me with his shoulder. In this fashion I made shift to drag myself along, nor would he suffer me stay or respite (maugre my weakness) until, following the brook, he had brought me into the green solitude of the woods.

  Here then I sank down, sucking up the cool, sweet water 'twixt parched lips, drinking until Penfeather stayed me, lest I should do myself hurt thereby. Thereafter, from strength reviving, I bathed my divers wounds (the which, though painful, were of small account) and fell to cleansing my spattered garments as well as I might.

  "So we're to be comrades, after all!" says Penfeather, watching me where he sat hard by.

  "Aye——to-morrow!"

  "And how goeth vengeance, shipmate?" At this I turned on him with clenched fist. "Nay, easy does it," says he, never budging, "for if 'twas the folly of vengeance brought ye in the peccadille, 'twas your comrade Adam Penfeather got ye out again—— so easy all!"

  "'Twas you fired the rick, then?"

  "None other!"

  "'Tis a hanging matter, I've heard!"

  "Why a man must needs run some small risk for his comrade d'ye see——"

  "Then, Adam Penfeather, I'm your debtor."

  "Nay," says he, "there be no debts 'twixt comrades o' the Brotherhood, 'tis give and take, share and share!" And speaking, he drew forth a purse and emptying store of money on the grass betwixt us, divided it equally and pushed a pile of silver and copper towards me.

  "And what's this?" I demanded.

  "Share and share, comrade!"

  "But I'm no comrade o' yours till after to-night."

  "Aha!" says he, pinching his long chin. "Is't more vengeance then?"

  "Keep your money till it be earned!" I muttered.

  "Sink me——and there's pride for ye!" says he. "Pride which is a vain thing and vengeance which is a vainer. Lord love me, shipmate, 'tis plain to see you're o' the quality, 'spite your rags——blue blood, high-breeding, noblesse oblige and all the rest on't."

  "Stint your gab!" says I, scowling.

  "'Tis writ large all over ye," he went on placidly enough. "As for me, I'm but a plain man wi' no time for vengeance and no whit o' pride about me anywhere. What I says to you is, get to wind'ard o' vengeance——nay, heave it overboard, shipmate, and you'll ride the easier, aye and sweeter, and seek something more useful——gold, for instance, 'tis a handy thing, I've heard say—— so ha' done wi' vengeance!"

  "No!" says I, frowning. "Not——nay, not for all Bartlemy's treasure!"

  "Aha!" quoth he softly. "So you've heard tell of it then, along the Spanish Main?"

  "I heard tell of it last night in a cave from a sailor-man."

  "How?" says he starting and with keen eyes glancing hither and thither. "A sailor-man——hereabouts?"

  "Damme!" says I, "the country seems thick o' sailor-men."

  "Ha! D'ye say so? And what like was this one?"

  "A comely rogue that sang strange song."

  "Ah!" said Penfeather, his eyes narrowing. "A song, says you—— and strange——how strange?"

  "'Twas all of dead men and murder!"

  "D'ye mind any line o't, shipmate?"

  "Aye, the words of it went somewhat like this:

  "'Some on a knife did part wi' life And some a bullet took O!

  But——'"

  Now here, as I stopped at a loss, my companion took up the rhyme almost unconsciously and below his breath:

  "'But three times three died plaguily A wriggling on a hook O!'

  "Comrade!" says he in the same low voice, "Did ye see ever among these mariners a one-handed man, a tall man wi' a hook in place of his left hand——a very bright, sharp hook?" And now as Penfeather questioned me, he seized my wrist and I was amazed at the iron grip of him.

  "No!" I answered.

  "Nay," says he, loosing his hold, "how should you——he's dead, along o' so many on 'em! He's done for——him and his hook, devil burn him!"

  "'A hook both long and stout and strong,They died by gash o' hook O!'"

  "Ah!" I cried. "So that was the kind of hook!"

  "Aye!" nodded Penfeather, "That was the kind. A bullet's bad, a knife's worse, but a steel hook, shipmate, very sharp d'ye see, is a death no man should die. Shipmate, I've seen divers men dead by that same hook——torn and ripped d'ye see——like a dog's fangs! I'd seen many die ere then, but that way——'twas an ill sight for queasy stomachs!"

  "And he——this man with the hook is dead, you say?"

  "And burning in hell-fire!"

  "Are you sure?"

  "I killed him, shipmate!"

  "You!" says I.

  "I, shipmate. We fought on a shelf o' rock high above the sea, my knife agin his knife and hook——'twas that same hook gave me this scar athwart my jaw——but as he struck, I struck and saw him go spinning over and over, down and down and splash into the sea. And for three days I watched that bit o' shore, living on shell- fish and watching for him, to make sure I had finished him at last."

  "And these other rogues?" says I.

  "What like were they, shipmate?" Hereupon I described (as fully as I might) the three sailor-men I had fought with in the hedge- tavern (albeit I made no mention of the maid), while Penfeather listened, nodding now and then and pinching at his long chin. "And this other fellow," says he, when I had done, "this fellow that sang——d'ye know if his name chanced to be Mings——Abnegation Mings, comrade?"

  "The very same!" says I.

  "Strange!" quoth Penfeather, and thereafter sat staring gloomily down into the rippling waters of the brook for a while. "I wonder?" says he at last. "I wonder?"

  "What think ye shall bring these fellows so far from the coast—— what should they be after?"

  "Me, shipmate!"

  "You!" says I for the second time, marvelling at the strange quiet of him. "And what would they have of you?"

  "My life, shipmate, and one other thing. What that thing is I will tell you when we have drunk the blood-brotherhood! But now it behoveth me to be a-going, so I'll away. But when you shall seek me, as seek me ye will, shipmate, shalt hear of me at the Peck-o'-Malt tavern, which is a small, quiet place 'twixt here and Bedgebury Cross. Come there at any hour, day or night, and say 'The Faithful Friend,' and you shall find safe harbourage. Remember, comrade, the word is 'The Faithful Friend,' and if so be you can choose your time——night is better." So saying, he arose.

  "Wait!" says I, pointing to the coins yet lying on the grass. "Take your money!"

  "'Tis none o' mine," says he, shaking his head. "Keep it or throw it away——'tis all one to me!" Then he went away through the wood and, as he went, I thought he walked with a new and added caution.

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