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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter39)

2006-08-28 22:33

  Chapter XXXIX. How My Dear Lady Came Back to Me

  I was sitting in one of our armchairs amid the leafy shade watching her knead dough with her two pretty fists. To this end she had rolled up the sleeves of her splendid gown; and thus I, hearkening to her story, must needs stare at her soft, round arms and yearn mightily to kiss their velvety smoothness and, instantly be-rating myself therefor, shifted my gaze from these temptations to my own unlovely figure, contrasting myself and my worn garments with her rich attire and proud and radiant beauty; she was again the great lady and far removed above such poor wretch as I, for all her pitiful tenderness.

  "……and so when I plunged from the rock," she was saying, "I never thought to see this dear place again or the blessed sun! And I sank……O deep——deep! Then, Martin, I seemed to be caught in some current, far down there in the darkness, that whirled and tossed me and swept me up behind the torrent. And in the rock was a great cavern sloping to the water, and there this current threw me, all breathless and nigh dead, Martin."

  "God be thanked!" says I fervently.

  "And there I lay all night, Martin, very sick and fearful. When day came I saw this great cave opened into a smaller and this into yet another. So I came to a passage in the rock, and because there was none other way for me, I followed this——and then——O Martin!"

  "What?" quoth I, leaning forward.

  "Have you ever been to the palace at Versailles, Martin!"

  "Once, as a boy with my father."

  "Well, Martin, the cave——the hall I came to at last was more splendid than any Versailles can show. And then I knew that I had found——Black Bartlemy's Treasure!"

  "Ha!" quoth I. "And is it indeed so great?"

  "Beyond description!" says she, clasping her floury hands and turning on me with shining eyes. "I have held in my hands, jewels——O by the handful! Great pearls and diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires——beyond price!"

  "Aye!" I nodded, "But was this all?"

  "All, Martin?" says she, staring.

  "Why, according to Adam there should be all manner of stores," says I, "powder and shot, tools——a carpenter's chest——"

  "They are all there, with provisions of every kind; as witness this flour, Martin, but I heeded only these wondrous jewels!" Hereupon she turns to her work again, describing to me the splendour of these precious stones and the wonder of Bartlemy's treasure, whiles I, viewing her loveliness, would have given such foolish treasure a thousand times for but her little finger, as watching the play of her round arms again, I fell a-sighing, whereupon she turns, all anxious questioning.

  "Doth your wound trouble you, Martin?"

  "Nay, indeed," says I, shaking my head, "I am very well, I thank you!"

  "Then wherefore sigh so deep and oft?"

  "I am a vasty fool!"

  "Are you, Martin——why?" But in place of answer I rose and, coming beside her, scowled to see the tender flesh of her arms all black and bruised:

  "What is this?" I demanded.

  "Nought to matter!"

  "Who did it?"

  "You, Martin. In your raving you were very strong, mistaking me for the poor Spanish lady."

  "O forgive me!" I cried, and stooping to this pretty arm would have touched my lips thereto for mere pity but checked myself, fearing to grieve her; perceiving this she comes a little nearer:

  "You may——an you so desire, Martin," says she, "though 'tis all floury!" So I kissed her arm, tenderly and very reverently, as it had been some holy thing (as indeed so I thought it).

  "I'm glad 'twas I did this, comrade."

  "Glad, Martin?"

  "Aye! I had rather 'twas myself than yon evil rogues——nay forget them," says I, seeing her shiver, "plague on me for reminding you."

  "Hush, Martin!"

  "Why then, forget them——and I have their weapons to cope with 'em should they return."

  "Now thank God!" cries she, clasping my hand in both of hers. "Thank God, Martin! I feared you had killed them all!"

  "Why, I did my best," I sighed, shaking my head, "but they were too strong for me! Would to God I had indeed slain——"

  "Hush, Martin, O hush!" And here she claps her pretty hand to my lips, where I straightway 'prisoned it to my kisses. "Though truly," says she the whiles this was a-doing, "from your raving I feared them all slain at your hand, so do I rejoice to know you innocent of their deaths!" Here, her hand released, she fell a- laughing (albeit a little tremulously) to see my face all patched with flour; and so, back to her labour.

  "But, Martin," says she, turning to glance at me in a while, "You must be very terrible to drive away these four great men, and very brave!"

  "Here was no bravery!" quoth I, "Methought you surely dead and I meant them to slay me also."

  "Did you——miss me——so greatly?" she questioned and not looking at me.

  "Yes!"

  "You fought them in Skeleton Cove, beyond Deliverance, Martin?"

  "Aye! You found their guns there?"

  "And the sand all trampled and hatefully stained. 'Tis an evil place, Martin."

  "And so it is!" says I. "But as to these weapons, there were two good firelocks I mind, and besides——"

  "They are all here, Martin, guns and swords and pistols. You raved for them in your sickness so I fetched them while you slept. Though indeed you have no need of these, there be weapons of every sort in the Treasure cave, 'tis like an arsenal."

  "Ha, with good store of powder and shot, comrade?"

  "Yes, Martin."

  "How many weeks have I lain sick, comrade?"

  "Nay, 'twas only four days."

  At this I fell to marvelling that so much of agony might be endured in so little time.

  "And you——tended me, Damaris?"

  "Why, to be sure, Martin."

  "And so saved my life."

  "So I pray may it be a life lived to noble purpose, Martin."

  And now I sat awhile very thoughtful and watched her shape the dough into little cakes and set them to bake.

  "I must contrive you an oven and this at once!" says I.

  "When you are strong again, Martin."

  "Nay, I'm well, thanks to your care of me. And truly 'twill be wonderful to eat bread again."

  "But I warned you I had no yeast!" says she, looking at me a little anxiously, "Nay, sir, why must you smile?"

  "'Tis strange to see you at such labour and clad so vastly fine!"

  "Indeed, sir needs must this your cook-maid go bedight like any queen since nought is there in Black Bartlemy's Treasure that is not sumptuous and splendid. Have you no desire to behold these wonders for yourself?"

  "Not a tittle!" says I.

  "But, Martin, three months are nigh sped and Master Penfeather not come, and according to his letter, three-quarters of this great treasure is yours."

  "Why then, my lady, I do freely bestow it on you."

  "Nay, this have I taken already because I needed it, look!" So saying she drew a comb from her hair and showed me how it was all fashioned of wrought gold and set with great gems, pearls and sapphires and rubies marvellous to see.

  "'Tis mighty handsome," quoth I, "and beyond price, I judge."

  "And yet," says she, "I would rather have my wooden pin in its stead, for surely there was none like to it in all this world."

  Hereupon, groping in my pocket I brought out that three-pronged pin I had carved for her; beholding which, she uttered a little cry of glad surprise, and letting fall her golden comb, took the pin to turn it this way and that, viewing it as it had been the very wonder of the world rather than the poor thing it was.

  "Why, Martin!" says she at last, "Why, Martin, where found you this?" So I told her; and though my words were lame and halting I think she guessed somewhat of the agony of that hour, for I felt her hand touch my shoulder like a caress.

  "Death's shadow hath been over us of late, Martin," says she, "and hath made us wiser methinks."

  "Death?" says I, "'Tis mayhap but the beginning of a greater life wherein shall be no more partings, I pray."

  "'Tis a sweet thought, Martin!"

  "And you have never feared death!" says I.

  "Aye, but I do, Martin——I do!" cries she. "I am grown craven these days, mayhap——"

  "Yet you sought death."

  "Because there was no other way, Martin. But when Death clutched at me from those black depths I agonised for life."

  "Is life then——become so——sweet to you, Damaris?"

  "Yes, Martin!" says she softly.

  "Since when?" I questioned, "Since when?" But instead of answering she falls a-singing softly and keeping her back to me; thus I saw that she had set the pin back in her hair, whereat I grew all suddenly and beyond reason glad. Though indeed the thing accorded but ill with her fine gown, as I told her forthwith.

  "Think you so, Martin?" says she gravely, but with a dimple in her cheek.

  "I do! 'Tis manifestly out of keeping with your 'broideries, your pleats, tags, lappets, pearl-buttons, galoons and the rest on't."

  "'Twould almost seem you do not like me thus," says she frowning down at her finery but with the dimple showing plainer than ever.

  "Why truly," says I, stooping to take up the jewelled comb where it lay, "I liked your ragged gown better."

  "Because your own clothes are so worn and sorry, sir. 'Tis time you had better, I must see to it——"

  "Nay, never trouble!"

  "'Twill be joy!" says she sweetly, but setting her chin at me. "And then——good lack, your hair, Martin!"

  "What of it?"

  "All elf-lox. And then, your beard!"

  "What o' my beard?"

  "So wild and shaggy! And 'tis so completely out o' the mode."

  "Mode?" says I, frowning.

  "Mode, Martin. Your spade beard was, then came your dagger or stiletto and now——"

  "Hum!" says I, "It may be your broadsword or half-pike for aught I care. But as to yon gown——"

  "Alas, poor thing! 'Twill soon look worn and ragged as you can wish, Martin. I have already lost three pearl studs, and should grieve for them were there not a coffer full of better that I wot of. O Martin, when I think of all these wonders, these great diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, pearls and rubies——I do tingle!"

  "And can these toys so please you?" says I.

  "Yes!" cries she, "Yes, and so would they any other that was not a stock or a stone or——Martin Conisby who is above such vanities!"

  "Vanities indeed!" says I, "In this wilderness more especially."

  "How if we should find the world again?"

  "Hum!" says I. "But this powder and shot now——"

  "Pho!" cries she, and stamping her foot turns her back on me. "Here am I yearning to show you all these hidden marvels, Martin, but I never will until you beg me——no, never! And now 'tis time you took your medicine."

  "What medicine?" I questioned, wondering.

  "'Tis a soothing draught I have decocted from some of my simples ——it will make you sleep."

  "But I have no mind to sleep!"

  "'Tis why you must drink your potion."

  "Never in this world!" says I, mighty determined.

  "Why yes you will, dear Martin," says she gently, but setting her dimpled chin at me. "I'll go fetch it." And away she goes forthwith and is presently back bearing an embossed cup (like unto a little porringer) and of gold curiously ornamented.

  "Here is a noble cup!" says I.

  "In these secret caves, Martin, is nothing that is not beautiful. The walls are all hung with rich arras, the floors adorned with marvellous rugs and carpets. And there are many pictures excellent well painted. Pirate and wicked as he was, Black Bartlemy understood and loved beautiful things."

  "Aye, he did so!" says I, scowling.

  "And amongst these pictures is one of himself."

  "How should you know this?"

  "Because, were you shaven, Martin, this might pass for picture of you, though to be sure your expression is different——except when you scowl as you do now, sir. Come, take your medicine like a good Martin!" And here she sets the cup to my lips.

  "No!" says I.

  "Yes, Martin! 'Tis sleep you need, and sleep you shall have. For indeed I do long to hear you at work again and whistling. So drink it for my sake, Martin! Indeed, 'tis none so very bitter!"

  So in the end I swallowed the stuff to be done with it. And in a while (sure enough) I grew drowsy, and limping into the cave, stared to behold my bed no longer a heap of bracken but a real bed with sheets and pillows, such indeed as I had not slept in for many a long day. Thus, instead of throwing myself down all dressed, as I had been minded, I laid aside my rough clothes lest they soil this dainty gear, and, getting into bed, joyed in the feel of these cool, white sheets, and closing my eyes, fell to dreamless slumber.

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