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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter6)

2006-08-28 21:44

  Chapter VI. Of My Shameful Sufferings and How I Was Delivered Therefrom

  I awoke with a sound in my ears like the never-ceasing surge and hiss of waters, a sound that waxed ever louder. Hearkening to this, I presently sought to move and wondered, vaguely uneasy, to find this impossible: I strove now to lift my right hand, found it fast held, tried my left and found it in like case, and so became conscious of something that gripped me about the throat, and ever my wonder and unease grew. And now, opening my eyes, the first thing they lighted on was a small pool of blood and beyond this a battered turnip, and beyond this, the carcass of a dead cat, and beyond this again, a pair of trim, buckled shoes, cotton stockings, wide breeches and a broad belt where swung a tuck or rapier prodigiously long of blade; in a while (my eyes ranging higher yet) I beheld a thin face scarred from mouth to eyebrow, a brown face with bright, very quick eyes and strange ears, they being cut to points like a dog's ears. Now looking at this face, it seemed to me in hazy fashion that somewhere and at some time I had seen such a face before. All this while, the noise I have likened to the sea had been growing louder, so that I began to recognise voices and even words, and, lifting my head as well as I might (by reason of the thing that gripped my throat), I saw faces all about me——they hemmed me in on every side and stretched away to the churchyard wall.

  Then, all at once, the knowledge of my situation rushed upon me; I was in the pillory.

  "Huroor! 'E be a-coming' round!" cried a voice.

  "Time, too!" shouted a great, strapping fellow near by. "'Tis sinful shame to waste good bad-eggs on rogue as knoweth not when 'e do be hit! He be a mark as babe couldn't miss——a proper big 'un!" So saying, the fellow let fly an egg at me, the which, striking the board within an inch of my face, filled the air with suffocating stench.

  This was a signal for me to become a target for all the garbage of the village. And now, indeed, good cause had I to be thankful for my thick mane of hair which (in some sort) saved me from sundry cuts and bruises, howbeit my face was soon clotted with blood and filth.

  Vain were it to tell all the frenzy of rage that possessed me as I stood thus helpless against my howling tormentors, chief of whom was the great fellow I have mentioned, who (by reason of height and length of arm) struck me oftenest; once indeed when (beside myself with fury) I raised my head to curse him, he took me a blow in the mouth with some vile missile that set my very gums a-bleeding.

  "Lord love ye, shipmate——that's the spirit!" said a voice below me, "But keep the wind o' them——don't let 'em rake ye——douse your figure-head. Lie low, shipmate, lie low and trust to your comrade Adam Penfeather——and that's me. Patience is the word!"

  Looking whence the voice came I beheld the man with whom I had talked that morning; now as our glances met, one of his bright eyes closed slowly and, nodding twice, he turned and elbowed his way through the crowd. Small liking had I for this fellow, but with his departure a sense of loneliness gripped me and needs must I lift my head to stare after him, whereupon a rotten egg struck me above the eye, causing a most intolerable smart; at this moment, too, the great fellow swung a cat's carcass by the tail, but, or ever he could hurl this stinking missile, a hand clouted him heavily over the ear from behind, tumbling his hat off, whereupon he turned, bellowing with rage, and smote his nearest neighbour with the foul thing meant for me. In an instant all was uproar around these two as the crowd, forgetting me, surged about them. Thus for some while, during which the fight raged, I was left unmolested and looked hither and thither amid the swaying throng for this fellow, Adam Penfeather, but he was vanished quite.

  At length, the big fellow having sufficiently trounced his opponent, the crowd betook itself (and very joyously) to my further baiting and torment. Now as I hung thus in my shame and misery, faint with my hurts and parched with cruel thirst, my gaze lighted upon a small, bony man——a merry-eyed fellow with wide, up-curving mouth, who laughed and jested continually; it was as he stooped for some missile or other that his eye met mine, and in that bright eye methought I read a sudden pity.

  "O cull," says I hoarsely, "a mouthful o' water——"

  "Pal," says he, winking, "all's bowmon!" Whereupon he turned and vanished in the crowd and I, burning in a fever of thirst, panted for his return, straining my eyes for sight of him; then, as he came not, I groaned and drooped my head, and lo! even then he was before me bearing a tin pannikin full of water. This in hand, he mounted the steps of the pillory and, despite the jeers and hootings of the crowd, was lifting the life-giving water to my eager lips when forth leapt the big fellow and sent water and pannikin flying with a savage blow of his fist.

  "None o' that, peddler!" he roared. And now, as I groaned and licked at bleeding lips with swollen tongue, the little man turned (quick as a flash), tripped up the great fellow's heels and, staying for no more, made off through the crowd, that gave him passage, howling its acclaim.

  The afternoon dragged wearily on and, what with the suffocating stench of the filth that plastered me, what with heat and dust and agonising thirst, my suffering grew almost beyond endurance; a deadly nausea seized me and I came nigh to swooning. But now, in this my great extremity, of a sudden, from somewhere on the outskirts of the crowd rose a shrill cry of "Fire!" the which cry, being taken up by others, filled the air with panic, the crowd melted as if by magic until the village green and the road were quite deserted. All this I noted but dimly (being more dead than alive) when I became conscious of one that spake in my ear.

  "Stand by, shipmate, stand by! There's never a rogue left——all run to the fire——stand by to slip your moorings!"

  "Let be," I groaned, "I'm a dead man!"

  "Then here's that shall make ye quick," says this fellow Penfeather, dangling a great key before my swimming eyes. "Here's freedom from your devil's trap and a plaguy time I've had to come by it."

  "Then for the love o' God——let me out," I groaned.

  "Easy all, shipmate!" says he, turning the key upon his finger. "For look'ee now, here's me, (a timid man) run no small risk this last half-hour and all for you. Now a bargain's a bargain, you'll agree?"

  "Well?" says I, faintly.

  "Why then, shipmate, if I free ye of your bonds, wilt be my comrade sworn? Aye or no?"

  "No!" says I. "Plague take ye that bargain with dying man. No!"

  "Why then," sighs he, "here's a good rick ablaze, here's John Purdy the beadle wi' his head broke, and here's me in a sweat, alack——and all to no purpose, since needs must you in your bilboes bide."

  "Do but get me a draft of water!" I pleaded.

  "Nary a drop!" says he, spinning the key on his finger under my nose, "Nor yet a foaming stoup o' good Kentish ale——nut brown——"

  "Ha, rogue——rogue!" I panted, 'twixt parched lips. "I'll yet—— avenge this torment——an' I live!"

  "The legs of a man," says he, "are a vain thing and his strength likewise, and as to vengeance, shipmate, well——how goeth your vengeance as be more to ye than fortune or riches?" Here he paused, but I held my peace and he continued, "Here's you now, you that was so mighty and fierce——aye, a very hell-fire roarer—— here's that same you a-hanging here a very helpless, pitiful fool, shipmate, and thirsty 'twould seem——"

  Here I groaned again.

  "And one not over sweet!" says he, stopping his nose.

  Hereupon I cursed him, though faintly, and he comes a step nearer.

  "'Tis said my Lady Brandon and her gallant Sir Rupert Dering——him you overthrew, shipmate——do mean to come and take a look at you anon, though 'tis shame you should be made a raree show——burn me!"

  Hereupon, I fell into a sudden raging fury, striving so desperately against my bonds that the devilish engine wherein I stood shook and rattled again; but I strove to no purpose, and so presently hung there spent and bruised and breathless whiles Penfeather spun the key on his finger and sighed:

  "Shipmate," says he, "wherefore irk yourself wi' bonds? Say but the word and I'll deliver ye, bring ye to safe harbourage and cherish ye with much good ale. Be persuaded, now."

  "Why then," groans I, "give me but until to-morrow to do what I will——and I'm yours!"

  "Done!" says he, and forthwith set key to padlock; but scarce had he freed the head-board than he falls a-cursing 'neath his breath. "Easy, comrade, easy!" quoth he, softly. "Bide still awhile——hither cometh yon beefy fool back again——so will I make show of miscalling ye till he be gone." The which he did forthwith, giving me "scurvy rogue" and the like. Now, lifting my head, whom should I behold but that same tall fellow had been my chief tormenter, and who now hasted over the green towards us.

  "It be now't but Farmer Darrell's rick ablaze," says he to Penfeather, "so let 'un burn, says I, Farmer Darrell be no friend o' mine. So I be come to sport wi' yon big rogue awhile." Herewith he stooped for some missile to cast at me; but now I straightened my back, the head-board gave and, ere the fellow was aware, I was creeping swiftly upon him. Taken thus by surprise small chance had he, for, leaping on him, I bore him over on his back and kneeling on him, buried my fingers in his throat. And so I choked him (right joyfully) till Penfeather gripped my arm.

  "Lord love me!" cries he, "Will ye kill the fool?"

  "That will I!"

  "And hang for him?"

  "Nay——he's scarce worth it."

  "Then, devil burn ye——loose his windpipe!" So I loosed the fellow's throat, and, despite his feeble kicks, began to drag him over the grass.

  "What now, comrade?" says Penfeather. "Sink me, what now?"

  "Watch and see!" So I brought the fellow to the pillory wherein I set him, and plucking the key from Penfeather, locked him there in my stead; which done I kicked him once or twice, and having found the cat's carcass made shift to hang the stinking thing about his neck; then tossing the key into the pond, I took to my heels and left the fellow groaning mighty dismal.

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