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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter41)

2006-08-28 22:34

  Chapter XLI. Of the Voice that Sang on Deliverance Sands

  If clothes be the outward and visible (albeit silent) expression of a man, his tastes and certain attitudes of his mind, yet have they of themselves a mighty influence on their wearer, being, as it were, an inspiration to him in degree more or less.

  And this is truth I will maintain let say who will to the contrary, since 'tis so my experience teacheth me.

  Hitherto my ragged shirt, my rough leathern jerkin and open-kneed sailor's breeches had been a constant reminder of the poor, desperate rogue I had become, my wild hair and shaggy beard evidences of slavedom. Thus I had been indeed what I had seemed in looks, a rude, ungentle creature expectant of scorns and ill- usage and therefore very prone to fight and quarrel, harsh- tongued, bitter of speech, and in all circumstances sullen, ungoverned and very desperate.

  But now, seeing myself thus gently dight, my wild hair tamed by comb and scissors, there grew within me a new respect for my manhood, so that, little by little, those evils that slavery had wrought slipped from me. Thus, though I still laboured at my carpentry and such business as was to do, yet the fine linen rolled high above my scarred and knotted arm put me to the thought that I was no longer the poor, wild wretch full of despairing rage against Fate her cruel dealings, but rather a man gently born and therefore one who must endure all things as uncomplainingly as might be, and one moreover who, to greater or less degree, was master of his own fate.

  And now came Hope, that most blessed and beneficent spirit that lifteth the fallen from the slough, that bindeth up the broken heart, that cheereth the sad and downcast and maketh the oft- defeated bold and courageous to attempt Fortune yet again.

  O thou that we call Hope, thou sweet, bright angel of God! Without thee life were an evil unendurable, with thee for companion gloomy Doubt, sullen Fear and dark Despair flee utterly away, and we, bold-hearted, patient and undismayed by any dangers or difficulties, may realise our dreams at last. O sweet, strong angel of God, with thee to companion us all things are possible!

  Thus every morning came Hope to greet me on my waking, and I, forgetting the futile past, began to look forward to a future more glorious than I had ever dreamed; so I, from a sullen rogue full of black humours, grew to know again the joy of laughter and put off my ungracious speech and ways with my rough attire. Though how much the change thus wrought in me was the work of my sweet comrade these pages, I do think, will show.

  As for my lady she, very quick to mark this change, grew ever the more kind and trusting, sharing with me all her doubts and perplexities; thus, did some problem vex her, she must come to me, biting her pretty lips and her slender brows wrinkled, to ask my advice.

  At this time (and at her suggestion) I builded a fireplace and oven within our third or inmost cave (that was by turns her larder, stillroom, dairy and kitchen) and with a chimney to carry off the smoke the which I formed of clay and large pebbles, and found it answer very well. Thus, what with those things I contrived and others she brought from her treasure-house (the secret whereof she kept mighty close) we lacked for nothing to our comfort, even as Adam had promised in his letter. Moreover, I was very well armed both for offence and defence, for, one by one, she brought me the following pieces, viz., a Spanish helmet, inlaid with gold and very cumbersome; a back and breast of fine steel of proof; four wheel-lock arquebuses, curiously chased and gilded, with shot and powder for the same; three brace of pistols, gold-mounted and very accurate; and what with these, my sword, axe, and trusty knife, I felt myself capable to drive away any should dare molest us, be he Indian, buccaneer or pirate, as I told her.

  "Aye but," says she, "whiles you fought for our lives what must I be doing?"

  "Lying secure within your secret treasure-house."

  "Never!" says she, setting her chin at me, "O never, Martin; since I am your comrade my place must be beside you."

  "'Twould but distress me and spoil my shooting."

  "Why then, my aim should be truer, Martin. Come now, teach me how to use gun and pistol."

  So then and there I fetched a pistol and one of the arquebuses and showed her their manage, namely——how to hold them, to level, sight, etc. Next I taught her how to charge them, how to wad powder and then shot lest the ball roll out of the barrel; how having primed she must be careful ever to close the pan against the priming being blown away. All of the which she was mighty quick to apprehend. Moreover, I took care to keep all my firearms cleaned and loaded, that I might be ready for any disturbers of our peace.

  So the days sped, each with its meed of work, but each full- charged of joy. And dear to me beyond expressing is the memory of those days whenas I, labouring with my new tools, had but to lift my head to behold my dear comrade (herself busy as I). Truly how dear, how thrice-blessed the memory of it all! A memory this, indeed, that was to become for me sacred beyond all others; for now came Happiness with arms outstretched to me and I (poor, blind wretch) suffered it to plead in vain and pass me by, as you shall hear.

  It was a night of splendour with a full moon uprising in majesty to fill the world with her soft radiance; a night very warm and still and we silent, I think because of the tender beauty of the night.

  "Martin," says my companion softly at last, "here is another day sped——"

  "Alas, and more's the pity!" quoth I.

  "O?" says she, looking at me askance.

  "Our days fly all too fast, Damaris, here is a time I fain would linger upon, an I might."

  "It hath been a very wonderful time truly, Martin, and hath taught me very much. We are both the better for it, I think, and you——"

  "What of me, comrade?" I questioned as she paused.

  "You are grown so much gentler since your sickness, so much more my dear friend and companion."

  "Why, 'tis all your doing, Damaris."

  "I am glad——O very glad!" says she almost in a whisper.

  "Why, 'tis you who have taught me to——to love all good, sweet things, to rule myself that I——I may some day, mayhap, be a little more worthy of——of——" here, beginning to flounder, I came to sudden halt, and casting about in my mind for a likely phrase, saw her regarding me, the dimple in her cheek, but her eyes all compassionate and ineffably tender.

  "Dear man!" says she, and reached me her hand.

  "Damaris," says I heavily and looking down at these slender fingers, yet not daring to kiss them lest my passion sweep me away, "you know that I do love you?"

  "Yes, Martin."

  "And that, my love, be it what it may, is yet an honest love?"

  "Yes, dear Martin."

  Here was silence a while, she looking up at the moon, and I at her.

  "I broke my oath to you once," says I, "nor will I swear again, but, dear my lady, know this: though I do hunger and thirst for you, yet mine is such reverent love that should we live thus together long years——aye, until the end of our lives, I will school myself to patience and wait ever upon your will. Though 'twill be hard!" says I 'twixt my teeth, thrilling to the sudden clasp of her fingers.

  "But, Martin," says she softly, "how if our days together here should all suddenly end——"

  "End?" cries I, starting, "Wherefore end? When? Why end?" And I trembled in a sick panic at the mere possibility. "End?" quoth I again, "Would you have an end?"

  "No——ah no!" says she leaning to me that I could look down into her eyes.

  "Doth this——O Damaris, can this mean that you are happy with me in this solitude——content——?"

  "So happy, Martin, so content that I do fear lest it may all suddenly end and vanish like some loved dream."

  "Damaris——O Damaris!" says I, kissing her sweet fingers, "Look now, there is question hath oft been on my lips yet one I have it dared to ask."

  "Ask me now, Martin."

  "'Tis this……could it……might it perchance be possible you should learn with time……mayhap……to love me a little? Nay, not a little, not gently nor with reason, but fiercely, mightily, beyond the cramping bounds of all reason?"

  Now here she laughed, a small, sad laugh with no mirth in it, and leaned her brow against my arm as one very weary.

  "O foolish Martin!" she sighed. "How little you have seen, how little guessed——how little you know the real me! For I am a woman, Martin, as you are a man and joy in it. All these months I have watched you growing back to your nobler self, I have seen you strive with yourself for my sake and gloried in your victories, though……sometimes I have……tempted you……just a little, Martin. Nay, wait, dear Martin. Oft-times at night I have known you steal forth, and hearkened to your step going to and fro out in the dark, and getting to my knees have thanked God for you, Martin."

  "'Twas not all in vain, then!" says I, hoarsely, bethinking me of the agony of those sleepless nights.

  "Vain?" she cried, "Vain? 'Tis for this I do honour you——"

  "Honour——me?" says I, wincing.

  "Above all men, Martin. 'Tis for this I——"

  "Wait!" says I, fronting her all shamefaced. "I do love you so greatly I would not have you dream me better than I am! So now must I tell you this……I stole to you once……at midnight……you were asleep, the moonlight all about you and looked like an angel of God."

  And now it was my turn to stare up at the moon whiles I waited miserably enough for her answer.

  "And when you went away, Martin," says she at last, "when I heard you striding to and fro, out here beneath God's stars, I knew that yours was the greatest, noblest love in all the world."

  "You——saw me?"

  "Yes, Martin!"

  "Yet your eyes were fast shut."

  "Yes, but not——not all the time. And, O Martin, dear, dear Martin, I saw your great, strong arms reach out to take me——but they didn't, they didn't because true love is ever greatly merciful! And your triumph was mine also, Martin! And so it is I love you——worship you, and needs must all my days."

  And now we were on our feet, her hands in mine, eyes staring into eyes and never award to speak.

  "Is it true?" says I at last, "God, Damaris——is it true?"

  "Seems it so wonderful, dear Martin? Why, this love of mine reacheth back through the years to Sir Martin, my little knight- errant, and hath grown with the years till now it filleth me and the universe about me. Have you forgot 'twas your picture hung opposite my bed at home, your sword I kept bright because it had been yours? And often, Martin, here on our dear island I have wept sometimes for love of you because it pained me so! Nay, wait, beloved, first let me speak, though I do yearn for your kisses! But this night is the greatest ever was or mayhap ever shall be, and we, alone here in the wild, do lie beyond all human laws soever save those of our great love——and, O Martin, you——you do love me?"

  Now when I would have answered I could not, so I sank to my knees and stooping ere she knew, clasped and kissed the pretty feet of her.

  "No, Martin——beloved, ah no!" cries she as it were pain to her, and kneeling before me, set her soft arms about my neck. "Martin," says she, "as we kneel thus in this wilderness alone with God, here and now, before your lips touch mine, before your dear strong hands take me to have and hold forever, so great and trusting is my love I ask of you no pledge but this: Swear now in God's sight to renounce and put away all thought of vengeance now and for ever, swear this, Martin!"

  Now I, all bemused by words so unexpected, all dazzled as it were by the pleading, passionate beauty of her, closed my eyes that I might think:

  "Give me until to-morrow——" I groaned.

  "'Twill be too late! Choose now, Martin."

  "Let me think——"

  "'Tis no time for thought! Choose, Martin! This hour shall never come again, so, Martin——speak now or——"

  The words died on her lip, her eyes opened in sudden dreadful amaze, and thus we remained, kneeling rigid in one another's arms, for, away across Deliverance, deep and full and clear a voice was singing:

  "There are two at the fore,At the main are three more,Dead men that swing all in a row;Here's fine dainty meat For the fishes to eat:

  Black Bartlemy——Bartlemy ho!"

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