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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter38)

2006-08-28 22:32

  Chapter XXXVIII. Concerning the Dead Man Humphrey and How I Saw a Vision in the Moonlight

  My next memory was of sun and a dance of leafy shadows on the wall of the cave, the which shadows held my attention so that I had no will to look otherwhere; for these were merry shadows that leapt in sportive gambols, that danced and swayed, pleasing me mightily. And as I watched these antic shadows I could hear the pleasant murmur of the little rill without the cave, that bubbled with sweet, soft noises like small, babbling voices and brake ever and anon into elfin laughter. And presently, mingled with this pretty babblement, I seemed to hear a whisper:

  "Martin! Dear Martin!"

  And now I saw my lady plunge to death from the rock, and started up, filling the place with my lamentations, until for very weakness I lay hushed and heard again the soft rippling of the brook and therewith her voice very sweet and faint and far away:

  "Martin! Dear Martin!"

  I remember a season of blackness in which dim-seen, evil things menaced me, and a horror of dreams wherein I, fettered and fast bound, must watch my sweet lady struggle, weeping, in the arms of vile rogues whiles I strove desperately to break my bonds, and finding this vain, fell to raging madness and dashed myself hither and thither to slay myself and end my torment. Or, axe in hand, amid smoke and flame, I fell upon her murderers; then would I smite down the man Humphrey only for him to rise to be smitten again and yet again, nodding shattered head and flapping nerveless arms in derision of me until, knowing I might never slay him——he being already dead——I turned to flee, but with him ever behind me and in my ears his sobbing cry of "Death for all of us——death!" And feeling his hands on me I would fall to desperate struggle until the blackness closed over me again thick and stifling like a sea.

  And behind all these horrors was a haunting knowledge that I was going mad, that this man Humphrey was waiting for me out beyond the surf beckoning to me with flapping arms, and had cast on me a spell whereby, as my brain shrivelled to madness, my body was shrivelling and changing into that of Black Bartlemy. Always I knew that Humphrey waited me beyond the reef, watchful for my coming and growing ever more querulous and eager as the spell wrought on me so that he began to call to me in strange, sobbing voice, hailing me by my new name:

  "Bartlemy, ahoy! Black Bartlemy——Bartlemy ho! Come your ways to Humphrey, that being dead can die no more and, knowing all, doth know you for Bartlemy crept back from hell. So come, Bartlemy, come and be as I am. And there's others here, proper lads as wants ye too, dead men all——by the rope, by the knife, by the bullet——oho!

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

  Black Bartlemy——Bartlemy ho!

  There's a fine Spanish dame,Joanna's her name,Must follow wherever ye go;Till your black heart shall feel Your own cursed steel:

  Black Bartlemy——Bartlemy ho!"

  And I, hearkening to this awful sobbing voice, sweating and shivering in the dark, knew that, since I was indeed Black Bartlemy, sooner or later I must go.

  Thus it befell that of a sudden I found myself, dazzled by a fierce sun, supporting me against a rock and my breath coming in great gasps. And in a while, my eyes growing stronger, I stared away to the reef where this man Humphrey waited me with his "dead men all"; and since I must needs go there I wept because it was so far off.

  Now as I stood grieving thus, I saw one stand below me on Deliverance, looking also towards the reef, a woman tall and very stately and habited in gown of rich satin and embroidery caught in at slender waist with golden girdle, and about her head a scarf of lace. And this woman stood with bowed head and hands tight-clasped as one that grieved also; suddenly she raised her head and lifted folded hands to the cloudless heaven in passionate supplication. And beholding her face I knew her for the poor Spanish lady imploring just heaven for vengeance on me that had been her undoing; and uttering a great cry, I sank on my knees:

  "Mercy, O God——mercy! Let me not be mad!"

  Yet, even as I prayed, I knew that madness was upon me ere I plunged again into the dreadful dark.

  But God (whose mercy is infinite) hearkened to my distressful cry, for, in a while, He brought me up from that black abyss and showed me two marvels, the which filled me with wonder and a sudden, passionate hope. And the first was the bandage that swathed my thigh; and this of itself enough to set my poor wits in a maze of speculation. For this bandage was of linen, very fine and delicate, such as I knew was not to be found upon the whole island; yet here was it, bound about my hurt, plain and manifest and set there by hands well-skilled in such kindly work.

  And my second wonder was a silver beaker or ewer, very artfully wrought and all chased and embossed with designs of fruit and flower and of a rare craftsmanship, and this jug set within my reach and half-full of milk. The better to behold this, I raised myself and with infinite labour. But now, and suddenly, she was before me again, this poor Spanish lady I had slain upon a time, wherefore I blenched and shrank from her coming. But she, falling upon her knees, sought to clasp me in her arms, crying words I heeded not as (maugre my weakness) I strove wildly to hold her off.

  "I am Bartlemy that killed you!" says I. "I am Black Bartlemy! They know out yonder beyond the reef, hark and you shall hear how they hail me——"

  "O kind God, teach me how I may win him back to knowledge!" So crying, this Spanish lady of a sudden unpinned her hair and shook its glossy ripples all about her:

  "Look, Martin!" cries she, "Don't you know me——O don't you know me now? I am Joan——come back to you——"

  "No!" says I, "No——Damaris is dead and lost——I saw her die!"

  "Then who am I, Martin?"

  "The Spanish lady or——one of the ghosts do haunt me."

  But now her hands were clasping mine, her soft hair all about me as she stooped. And feeling these hands so warm and vital, so quick and strong with life, I began to tremble and strove against her no longer; and so she stooped above me that I might feel her sweet breath on fevered cheek and brow:

  "'Tis your Damaris, Martin," says she, her tears falling fast, "'tis your comrade hath come back to comfort you."

  Now seeing how I stared all trembling and amazed, she set her arms about me, and drawing me to her bosom, clasped me there. And my head pillowed thus I fell a-weeping, but these tears were tears of joy and thankfulness beyond all words.

  "O Damaris," quoth I at last, "if this be death I care not since I have seen thee again!"

  "Why, Martin," says she, weeping with me, "art indeed so glad——so glad to find again thy poor comrade!"

  And thus, knowing myself forgiven, a great joy sang within me.

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