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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter29)

2006-08-28 22:29

  Chapter XXIX. Of My Encounter Beneath Bartlemy's Tree

  The moon was very bright, casting great, black shadows athwart our way, and now, once our familiar surroundings were left behind, we fell silent or spake only in low voices, awed by the universal hush of all things; for the night was very still and hot and breathless, not a leaf stirred and no sound to hear save the unceasing roar of the surf.

  "Martin," says she, very softly, "here is a night of such infinite quiet that I grow almost afraid——"

  "Of what?" I demanded, pausing to look down on her where she limped beside me. And then, 'twixt my teeth, "Is it me you fear?"

  "Ah no, no!" cries she, slipping her hand within my arm, "Never, never that, you foolish Martin!" And here she looks at me with such a smile that I must needs glance otherwhere, yet methought her cheeks showed pale in the moonlight.

  "Why then, what's amiss?" I questioned as we went on again and I very conscious of her hand yet upon my arm.

  "I know not," she sighed, "'tis the stillness, mayhap, the loneliness and dreadful solitude, I feel as though some danger threatened."

  "A storm, belike," says I, glancing round about us and across the placid sea.

  "O Martin, 'tis hateful to be a woman! Why should I fear thus and no reason, 'tis folly!" And here she must pause to stamp her foot at herself. "And yet I do fear!" says she after a while. "O Martin, glad am I to have man like you beside me."

  "Though another man might serve as well!" says I, "Of course?"

  "Of course, Martin!"

  At this I turned to scowl at the placid sea again.

  "Any man?" says I at last.

  "O Martin, no——how foolish under grow——'any man' might be evil as Black Bartlemy."

  "I've heard I am much like him in looks."

  "But then you are Martin and he was——Black Bartlemy."

  After this we were silent a great while nor spoke again until we had traversed the whole length of Deliverance Sands, then:

  "What manner of man?" I demanded.

  Now at this she turns to look at me and I saw their lips quiver to a little smile that came but to vanish again.

  "Something your sort, Martin, but without your gloom and evil tempers and one who could laugh betimes."

  "Sir Rupert?" quoth I.

  "He was very gay and merry-hearted!" says she.

  "Yet suffered you to be beguiled and cast adrift to your great peril!"

  "But stayed to do his share of the fighting, Martin."

  "Ha!" says I scowling, "'Tis great pity we may not change places, he and I!"

  "Would you change places with him——willingly, Martin?"

  "Aye——I would so!" At this she whipped her hand from my arm and turned to frown up at me whiles I scowled sullenly on her.

  "Why then, Master Conisby," says she, "I would you were anywhere but here. And know this——when you scowl so, all sullen-eyed, I know you for the very image of Black Bartlemy!"

  Now as she spake thus, we were standing almost in the very shadow of that tall pimento tree beneath which Bartlemy had laughed and died, and now from this gloomy shadow came something that whirred by my ear and was gone. But in that moment I had swept my companion behind a rock and with sword advanced leapt straight for the tree; and there, in the half-light, came on a fantastic shape and closed with it in deadly grapple. My rusty sword had snapped short at the first onset, yet twice I smote with the broken blade, while arm locked with arm we writhed and twisted. To and fro we staggered and so out into the moonlight, and I saw my opponent for an Indian. His long hair was bound by a fillet that bore a feather, a feather cloak was about him, this much I saw as we strove together. Twice he broke my hold and twice I grappled him, and ever we strove more fiercely, he with his knife and I with my broken sword, and once I felt the searing pain of a wound. And now as we swayed, locked together thus, I saw, over his bowed shoulder, my lady where she crouched against a rock to watch us, and knowing myself hurt and my opponent very mighty and strong, great fear seized me.

  "Run, Joan!" cried I, gasping, "O Damaris——run back!"

  "Never, Martin——never without you. If you must die——I come with you!"

  Mightily heartened by her voice I strove desperately to secure the hold I sought, but my antagonist was supple as any eel, moreover his skin was greased after the manner of Indian warriors, but in our struggling we had come nigh to the rock where crouched my lady and, biding my time, I let go my broken sword, and seizing him by a sort of collar he wore, I whirled him backward against the rock, saw his knife fly from his hold at the impact, felt his body relax and grow limp, and then, as my grasp loosened, staggered back from a blow of his knee and saw him leap for the lagoon. But I (being greatly minded to make an end of him and for good reasons) set after him hot-foot and so came running hard behind him to the reef; here, the way being difficult, I must needs slack my pace, but he, surer footed, ran fleetly enough until he was gotten well-nigh to the middle of the reef, there for a moment he paused and, looking back on me where I held on in pursuit, I saw his dark face darker for a great splash of blood; suddenly he raised one hand aloft, shaking it to and fro, and so vanished down the rocks. When I came there it was to behold him paddling away in a long piragua. Panting I stood to watch (and yearning for a bow or firelock) until his boat was hardly to be seen amid the moonlit ripples that furrowed the placid waters, yet still I watched, but feeling at hand touch me, turned to find my lady beside me.

  "Martin," says she, looking up at me great-eyed, "O Martin, you are wounded! Come let me cherish your hurts!"

  "Why, Damaris," says I, yet panting with my running, "You said this to me when I fought the big village boy years agone."

  "Come, Martin, you are bleeding——"

  "Nought to matter……and I let him go……to bring others like enough……to-morrow I will make my bow……nay……I can walk." But now indeed sea and rocks grew all blurred and misty on my sight, and twice I must needs rest awhile ere we came on Deliverance Sands. And so homewards, a weary journey whereof I remember nothing save that I fell a-grieving that I had suffered this Indian to escape.

  So came we to the plateau at last, her arm about me and mine upon her shoulders; and, angered at my weakness, I strove to go alone yet reeled in my gait like a drunken man, and so suffered her to get me into our cave as she would. Being upon my bed she brings the lamp, and kneeling by me would examine my hurt whether I would or no, and I being weak, off came my shirt. And then I heard her give a little, gasping cry.

  "Is it so bad?" says I, finding my tongue more unready than usual.

  "Nay, 'tis not——not your——wound, Martin.

  "Then what?"

  "Your poor back——all these cruel scars! O Martin!"

  "Nought but the lash! They whipped us well aboard the 'Esmeralda' galleass." In a while I was aware of her soft, gentle hands as she bathed me with water cool from the spring; thereafter she made a compress of moss and leaves, and laying it to my wound bound it there as well as she might, the which I found very grateful and comforting. This done she sits close beside me to hush and soothe me to sleep as I had been a sick child. And I, lying 'twixt sleep and wake, knew I might not rest until I told her what I had in mind.

  "Damaris," says I, "this night I lied to you……I would not have another man in my place……now or……ever!" and so sank to sleep.

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