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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter37)

2006-08-28 22:32

  Chapter XXXVII. How I Sought Death but Found it Not

  Beyond Deliverance Sands I saw the glow of their fire, and drawing thither knew them camped in the shadow of that great pimento tree and within that rocky gorge the which had afforded my dear lady and me our first night's shelter. Being come thither, I sat me down and took counsel how best to attack them that I might slay as many as possible ere they gave me the death I hungered for; and the end of it was I began to scale the cliff, my goatskin buskins soundless and very sure amid the rocks.

  As I mounted I heard the hoarse murmur of their voices and knew by their very intonation (since I could hear no words as yet) that they were speaking English. Reaching the summit, and mighty cautious, I came where I might look down into the cleft.

  They lay sprawled about their fire, four grim-looking fellows, ragged and unkempt, three of them talking together and one who lay groaning ever and anon.

  "Be damned, t'ye, Joel for a lily-livered dog!" growled a great, bony fellow, "Here's good an island as man can want——"

  "And full of bloody Indians——eh, Humphrey?" says a black-jowled fellow, turning on the wounded man. "Us do know the Indians, don't us Humphrey? Inca, Aztec, Mosquito and Cimaroon, we know 'em and their devil's ways, don't us, Humphrey?"

  "Aye——aye!" groaned the wounded man. "They tortured me once and they've done for me at last, by God! My shoulder's afire——"

  "And the shaft as took ye, Humphrey, were a Indian shaft——a Indian shaft, weren't it, lad? And all trimmed wi' gold, aren't it? Here, ye may see for yourselves! 'Sequently I do know it for the shaft of a chief or cacique and where a cacique is there's Indians wi' him——O thick as thieves——I know and Humphrey knows! I say this curst island be full of Indians, thick as fleas, curse 'em! And they'll have us soon or late and torment us. So what I says is, let's away at the flood and stand away for the Main——the sea may be bad now and then, but Indians be worse——always and ever!"

  "Why, as to that, Ned, the Indians ha' left us alone——"

  "Aye!" cried the bony man, "And what o' the wench——her was no Indian, I lay! A fine, dainty piece she was, by hooky! And handsome, ah——handsome! But for Humphrey's bungling——"

  Here the man Humphrey groaned and cursed the speaker bitterly.

  "Howbeit——'twas an Indian arrer!" says Ned. "And that means Indians, and Indians means death to all on us——ask Humphrey! Death——eh, Humphrey?"

  "Aye——death!" groaned Humphrey, "Death's got his grapples aboard me now. I'm a-dying, mates——dying! Get me aboard, death will come easier in open water."

  "Why, if ye must die, Humphrey," growled the bony man, "die, lad, die and get done wi' it, the sooner the better. As to Indians I wait till I see 'em, and as for Death——"

  "Death?" gasped Humphrey, "Here's for you first!" and whipping out a knife he made a fierce thrust at the speaker; but the others closed with him. Then as they strove together panting and cursing I rose to come at them; but the wounded man, chancing to lift his head, saw me where I stood, the moonlight on my bloody face, and uttered a hoarse scream.

  "Death!" cries he, "'Tis on us mates——look, look yonder! Death and wounds——yonder he comes for all of us——O mates look! Yon's death——for all on us!"

  But in this moment I leaped down upon them from above, sending one man sprawling and scattering their fire, and 'mid whirling sparks and smoke, within this dim rock-cleft we fought with a merciless fury and desperation beyond words. A pistol flashed and roared and then another as I leapt with whirling axe and darting knife. I remember a wild hurly-burly of random blows, voices that shouted hoarse blasphemies, screams and groans, a whirl of vicious arms, of hands that clutched; once I reeled to hard-driven sword-thrust, a knife flashed and stabbed beneath my arm, but twice I got home with my knife and once a man sobbed and went down beneath my hatchet——and then they were running and I after them. But I had taken a scathe in my leg and twice I fell; thus they reached their boat with some hundred yards to spare, and I saw their frantic struggles to launch it as I staggered after them; but ere I could reach them they had it afloat and tumbled aboard pell-mell. Then came I, panting curses, and plunged into the sea, wading after them up to my middle and so near that, aiming a blow at one of them, I cut a great chip from the gunwale, but, reeling from the blow of an oar, sank to my knees, and a wave breaking over me bore me backward, choking. Thus when I found my feet again they were well away and plying their oars lustily, whiles I, roaring and shouting, stood to watch them until the boat was lost in the distance. Now as I stood thus, raging bitterly at my impotence, I bethought me that I had seen but three men run and, turning about, hasted back to deal with the fourth. Reaching the scene of the struggle, I came on the man Humphrey outstretched upon his back in the moonlight and his face well-nigh shorn asunder. Seeing him thus so horribly dead, I went aside and fell to scrubbing my hatchet, blade and haft, with the cleanly sand.

  Then came I, and grasping this thing had been named Humphrey, I dragged it a-down the sands and hove it forthwith into the sea, standing thereafter to watch it borne out on the receding tide. Now as I watched thus, came a wave that lifted the thing so that this dead man seemed to rise up and wave an arm to me ere he vanished.

  This done (and I yet alive!) I took to wandering aimlessly hither and thither, and chancing into the rocky cleft found lying three muskets and four pistols with bandoliers full-charged, together with a knife and a couple of swords; these I set orderly together and so wandered away again.

  All this night I rambled about thus, and dawn found me seated 'neath Bartlemy's tree staring at the ocean yet seeing it not.

  So God had refused my appeal! It seemed I could not die. And presently, chancing to look down at myself in the growing light I understood the reason, for here was I armed in my shirt of mail (forgotten till now) and scowling down at this, I saw its fine, steel links scratched and scored by many blows and bedaubed here and there with blood. So then (thinks I) 'twas she had saved me alive, and in this thought found me some small solace. Hereupon I arose and went down to the sea, limping by reason of my hurt (an ugly gash above my knee) being minded to wash from me the grime and smears that fouled me. But or ever I reached the water I stopped, for there, more hateful in sun than moonlight, lay that ghastly thing that had been Humphrey. There he lay, cast up by the tide, and now, with every wave that broke, he stirred gently and moved arms and legs in wanton, silly fashion, and nodding with his shattered head as in mockery of me. So I went and, seizing hold upon the thing, swung it upon my back and, thus burdened, climbed out upon the reef (and with mighty trouble, for my strength seemed oozing out of me). Reaching a place at last where the water ran deep I paused, and with sudden, painful effort whirled the thing above my head and hove it far out, where, splashing, it fell with sullen plunge and vanished from my sight. But even so I was possessed of sudden, uneasy feeling that the thing had turned on me and was swimming back to shore, so that, drawing my knife, I must needs sit there awhile to watch if this were so indeed. At last I arose, but being come to Deliverance Sands, whirled suddenly about, expectant to behold that dead thing uprising from the surge to flap derisive arms at me. And this did I many times, being haunted thus all that day, and for many weary hours thereafter, by this dead man Humphrey. Presently, as I went heedless of all direction and the sun very hot, I began to stagger in my gait and to mutter her name to myself and presently to shouting it, until the cliffs gave back my cries and the hollow caves murmured, "Damaris! O Damaris!"

  And now was a mist all about me wherein dim forms moved mocking me, and ever and anon methought to behold my lady, but dim and very far removed from me, so that sometimes I ran and oft-times I fell to moaning and shedding weak and impotent tears. Truly a black and evil day for me this, whereof I have but a vague memory save only of pain, a hopeless weariness and intolerable thirst. Thus it was sunset when I found myself once more upon that grassy plateau, creeping on hands and knees, though how I came thither I knew not. I remember drinking from the little rill and staggering within the cave, there to fall and lie filling the place with my lamentations and oft-repeated cry of "Damaris! O Damaris!" I remember a patch of silver light, a radiance that crept across the gloom, and of dreaming my lady beside me as of old, and of babbling of love and forgiveness, of pain and heartbreak, whiles I watched the beam of light creeping nigh me upon the floor; until, sobbing and moaning, yet gazing ever upon this light, I saw grow upon it a sudden dark shape that moved, heard a rustle behind me, a footstep——a cry! And knowing this for the man Humphrey come upon me at last in my weakness, I strove to rise, to turn and face him, but finding this vain, cried out upon him for murderer. "'Twas you killed her——my love ——the very soul of me——'twas you, Humphrey, that are dead——come, that I may slay you again!" Then feeling his hands upon me I strove to draw my knife, but could not and groaned, and so knowledge passed from me.

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