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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter36)

2006-08-28 22:31

  Chapter XXXVI. Telleth Some Part of a Night of Agony

  When at last I opened my eyes I found myself in a place of gloom and very stiff and sore; therefore I lay where I was nor sought to move. Little by little, as I lay thus 'twixt sleep and wake, I was aware of a pallid glow all about me, and lifting heavy head, saw the moon low down in the sky like a great golden sickle. And staring up at this, of a sudden back rushed memory (and with it my hopeless misery) for now I remembered how, but a few short hours since, my dear lady had prophesied this new moon. Hereupon, crouching there, my aching head bowed upon my hands, I gave myself up to my despair and a corroding grief beyond all comforting.

  From where I crouched I might look down upon this accursed lake, a misty horror of gloomy waters, and beholding this, I knew that my gentle, patient comrade was gone from me, that somewhere within those black and awful depths her tender body was lying. She was dead, her sweet voice for ever hushed, she that had been so vitally alive! And remembering all her pretty ways I grew suddenly all blind with tears and, casting myself down, lay a great while sobbing and groaning until I could weep no more.

  At last, sitting up, I wondered to find my head so painful, and putting up my hand found my face all wet and sticky with blood that flowed from a gash in my hair. And remembering how I had fallen and the reason of my haste I started up and forthwith began seeking my knife and hatchet, and presently found them hard by where I had tripped. Now standing thus, knife in one hand and hatchet in the other, I turned to look down upon these dark and evil waters.

  "Goodbye, my lady!" says I, "Fare thee well, sweet comrade! Before to-morrow dawn we will meet again, I pray, and shalt know me for truer man and better than I seemed!" So, turning my back on the lake I went to seek my vengeance on her destroyers and death at their hands an it might be so.

  In a while I came to that torrent where the water flowed out from the lake, its bed strewn with tumbled rocks and easy enough to cross, the water being less in volume by reason of the dry weather. All at once I stopped, for amid these rocks and boulders I saw caught all manner of drift, as sticks and bushes, branches and the like, washed down by the current and which, all tangled and twisted together, choked this narrow defile, forming a kind of barrier against the current. Now as I gazed at this, my eyes (as if directed by the finger of God) beheld something caught in this barrier, something small and piteous to see but which set me all a-trembling and sent me clambering down these rocks; and reaching out shaking hand I took up that same three- pronged pin I had carved and wrought for her hair. Thus stood I to view this through my blinding tears and to kiss and kiss it many times over because it had known her better than I. But all at once I thrust this precious relic into my bosom and stared about me with new and awful expectation, for the current which had brought this thing would bring more. So I began to seek among these rocks where the stream ran fast and in each pool and shallow, and once, sweating and shivering, stooped to peer at something that gleamed white from a watery hollow, and gasped my relief to find it was no more than a stone. None the less sought I with a prayer on my lips, dreading to find that white and tender body mangled by the cruel rocks, yet searching feverishly none the less. Long I stayed there, until the moon, high-risen, sent down her tender beam as though to aid me. But of this time I will write no more, since even now it is a misery to recall.

  At last, I (that knew myself a man about to die) turned me towards our habitation, those rocks she had called "home," and reaching the plateau I stood still, swept alternately by grief and passion, to see this our refuge all desecrated by vile hands, our poor furniture scattered without the cave. And presently I espied her three-legged stool standing where she had been wont to sit to watch and cheer me at my labour; coming thither I fell on my knees, and laying my head thereon wetted this unlovely thing with my tears and kissed it many times. As I lay thus, much that she had done and said (little things forgot till now) rushed upon my memory; her sweet, calm presence seemed all about me soothing away the passion of my grief. And in this hour that was to end my miserable life, I knew at last that I had loved her purely and truly from the first, and with such love as might have lifted me to heaven. And kneeling thus, I spake aloud to this her sweet presence that seemed to hover about me:

  "O Damaris, beloved——as thou, to 'scape shame, hast chosen death ——in death I'll follow thee——trusting to a merciful God that I may find thee again!" Then uprising from my knees, I came out from the shadows, and standing in the moon's radiance, looked heedfully to the edge of my axe, and with it gripped in my hand, went out to find death.

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