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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter11)

2006-08-28 21:47

  Chapter XI. Adam Penfeather, His Narrative

  "Mine is a strange, wild story, Martin, but needs must I tell it and in few words as may be. Fifteen years agone (or thereabouts) I became one of that league known as the Brotherhood of the Coast and swore comradeship with one Nicholas Frant, a Kent man, even as I. Now though I was full young and a cautious man, yet, having a natural hatred of Spaniards and their ways, I wrought right well against them, and was mighty diligent in many desperate affrays against their ships and along the Coast. 'Twas I (and my good comrade Nick Frant) with sixteen lusty lads took sea in an open pinnace and captured the great treasure galleon 'Dolores del Principe' off Carthagena, and what with all this, Martin, and my being blessed with some education and a gift of adding two and two together, I got me rapid advancement in the Brotherhood until——well, shipmate, I that am poor and solitary was once rich and with nigh a thousand bully fellows at command. And then it was that I fell in with that arch-devil, that master rogue whose deeds had long been a terror throughout the Main, a fellow more bloody than any Spaniard, more treacherous than any Portugal, and more cruel than any Indian——Inca, Mosquito, Maya or Aztec, and this man an Englishman, and one of birth and breeding, who hid his identity under the name of Bartlemy. I met him first in Tortuga where we o' the Brotherhood lay, six stout ships and nigh four hundred men convened for an expedition against Santa Catalina, and this for two reasons, first, because 'twas a notable rich city, and second, to rescue certain of the Brotherhood that lay there waiting to be burnt at the next auto- de-fe. Well, Martin, 'tis upon a certain evening that this Bartlemy comes aboard my ship and with him his mate, by name Tressady. And never was greater difference than 'twixt these two, Tressady being a great, wild fellow with a steel hook in place of his left hand, d'ye see, and Bartlemy a slender, dainty- seeming, fiendly-smiling gentleman, very nice as to speech and deportment and clad in the latest mode, from curling periwig to jewelled shoe-buckles.

  "'Captain Penfeather,' says he, 'Your most dutiful, humble——ha, let me parish but here is curst reek o' tar!' with which, Martin, he claps a jewelled pomander to the delicate nose of him. 'You've heard of me, I think, Captain,' says he, 'and of my ship, yonder, the "Ladies' Delight?"' I told him I had, Martin, bluntly and to the point, whereat he laughs and bows and forthwith proffers to aid us against Santa Catalina, the which I refused forthwith. But my council of captains, seeing his ship was larger than any we possessed and exceeding well armed and manned, overruled me, and the end of it was we sailed, six ships of the Brotherhood and this accursed pirate.

  "Well, Martin, Santa Catalina fell according to my plans, and the Governor and Council agreeing to pay ransom, I drew off my companies, and camped outside the walls of the town till they should collect the money. Now the women of this place were exceeding comely, Martin, in especial the Governor's lady, and upon the second night was sudden outcry and uproar within the city, whereupon I marched into the place forthwith and found this curst Bartlemy and his rogues, grown impatient, were at their devil's work. Hastening to the Governor's house I found it gutted and him dragged from his bed and with the life gashed out of him——aye, Martin, torn body and throat, d'ye see, as by the fangs of some great beast! That was the first time I saw what a steel hook may do! As for this poor gentleman's lady, she was gone. Hereupon, we o' the Brotherhood fell upon these pirate rogues and fought them by light o' the blazing houses (for they had fired the city), and I, thus espying the devil Bartlemy, met him point to point. He was very full o' rapier tricks, but so was I, Martin (also I was younger), and winged him sore and had surely ended him, but that Tressady and divers others got him away, and what with the dark night and the woods that lie shorewards he, together with some few of his crew, got them back aboard his ship, the "Ladies' Delight," and so away; but twelve of his rogues we took (beyond divers we slew in fight) and those twelve I saw hanged that same hour. A week later we sailed for Tortuga with no less than ninety and one thousand pieces of eight for our labour, but I and those with me never had the spending of a single piece, Martin, for we ran into a storm such as I never saw the like of even in those seas. Well, we ran afore it for three days and its fury nothing abating all this time I never quit the deck, but I had been wounded, and on the third night, being fevered and outworn, turned in below. I was awakened by Nick Frant roaring in my ear, for the tempest was very loud and fierce:

  "'Adam!' cried he, 'We're lost, every soul and the good money! we've struck a reef, Adam, and 'tis the end and O the good money!' Hereupon I climbed 'bove deck, the vessel on her beam ends and in desperate plight and nought to be seen i' the dark save the white spume as the seas broke over us. None the less I set the crew to cutting away her masts and heaving the ordnance overboard (to lighten her thereby), but while this was doing comes a great wave roaring out of the dark and dashing aboard us whirled me up and away, and I, borne aloft on that mighty, hissing sea, strove no more, doubting not my course was run. So, blinded, choking, I was borne aloft and then, Martin, found myself adrift in water calm as any millpond——a small lagoon, and spying through the dark a grove of palmetto trees presently managed to climb ashore, more dead than alive; and, lying there, I prayed——a thing I had not done for many a year. As the dawn came I saw the great wave had hurled me over the barrier reef into this small lagoon, and beyond the reef lay all that remained of my good ship. I was yet viewing this dolorous sight (and much cast down for the loss of my companions, in especial my sworn friend Nicholas Frant) when I heard a sound behind me and turning about, espied a woman, and in this woman's face (fair though it was) I read horror and sadness beyond tears, and yet I knew her for the same had been wife to the murdered governor of Santa Catalina.

  "'Go back!' says she in Spanish, pointing to the surf that thundered beyond the reef. 'Go back! Here is the devil——the sea hath more mercy——go back whiles ye may!' And now she checked all at once and falls a-shivering, for a voice reached us, a man's voice a-singing fair to hear, and the song he sang was this,

  'Hey cheerly O and cheerly O And cheerly come sing O!

  While at the mainyard to and fro——

  and knowing this voice (to my cost) I looked around for some weapon, since I had none and was all but naked, and whipping up a jagged and serviceable stone, stood awaiting him with this in my fist. And down the beach he comes, jocund and debonair in his finery, albeit something pale by reason of excess and my rapier work. And now I come to look at you, Martin, he was just such another as you as to face and feature, though lacking your beef and bone. Now he beholding me where I stood, flourishes off his belaced hat and, making me a bow, comes on smiling.

  "'Ah,' says he gaily, ''tis Captain Penfeather of the Brotherhood, a-collogueing with my latest wife! Is she not a pearl o' dainty woman-ware, Captain, a sweet and luscious piece, a passionate, proud beauty worth the taming——ha, Captain? And she is tamed, see you. To your dainty knees, wench——down!' Now though he smiled yet and spake her gentle, she, bowing proud head, sank to her knees, crouching on the ground before him, while he looked down on her, the devil in his eyes and his jewelled fingers toying with the dagger in his girdle, a strange dagger with a hilt wrought very artificially in the shape of a naked woman——"

  "How," says I, leaning across the table, "A woman, Penfeather?"

  "Aye, shipmate! So I stood mighty alert, my eyes on this dagger, being minded to whip it into his rogue's heart as chance might offer. 'I wonder,' says he to this poor lady, 'I wonder how long I shall keep thee, madonna, a week——a month——a year? Venus knoweth, for you amuse me, sweet. Rise, rise, dear my lady, my Dolores of Joy, rise and aid me with thy counsel, for here hath this misfortunate clumsy Captain fool blundered into our amorous paradise, this tender Cyprian isle sacred to our passion. Yet here is he profaning our joys with his base material presence. How then shall we rid ourselves of this offence? The knife——this lover o' men of mine? The bullet? Yet 'tis a poor small naked rogue and in two days cometh my 'Ladies' Delight' and Tressady with his hook. See, my Dolores, for two days he shall be our slave and thereafter, for thy joy, shall show thee how to die, my sweet——torn 'twixt pimento trees or Tressady's hook——thou shalt choose the manner of't. And now, unveil, unveil, my goddess of the isle——so shall——' Ha, Martin! My stone took him 'neath the ear, and as he swayed reeling to the blow, lithe and swift as any panther this tortured woman sprang, and I saw the flash of steel ere it was buried in his breast. Even then he didn't fall, but, staggering to a pimento tree, leans him there and falls a- laughing, a strange, high-pitched, gasping laugh, and as he laughed thus, I saw the silver haft of the dagger that was a woman leap and quiver in his breast. Then, laughing yet, he, never heeding me, plucked and levelled sudden pistol, and when the smoke cleared the brave Spanish lady lay dead upon the sands.

  "'A noble piece, Captain!' says he, gasping for breath, and then to her, 'Art gone, my goddess——I——follow thee!' And now he sinks to his knees and begins to crawl where she lay, but getting no further than her feet (by reason of his faintness) he clasps her feet and kisses them, and laying his head upon them——closes his eyes. 'Penfeather!' he groans, 'my treasure——hidden——dagger——'

  "Then I came very hastily and raised his head (for I had oft heard talk o' this treasure), and in that moment he died. So I left them lying and coming to the seaboard sat there a great while watching the break o' the seas on what was left o' the wreck, yet seeing it not. I sat there till noon, Martin, until, driven by thirst and hunger and heat of sun, I set off to seek their habitation, for by their looks I judged them well-fed and housed. But, and here was the marvel, Martin, seek how I might I found no sign of any hut or shelter save that afforded by nature (as caves and trees), and was forced to satisfy my cravings with such fruits as flourished in profusion, for this island, Martin, is a very earthly paradise. That night, the moon being high and bright, I came to that stretch of silver sand beside the lagoon where they lay together rigid and pale and, though I had no other tool but his dagger and a piece o' driftwood, made shift to bury them 'neath the great pimento tree that stood beside the rock, and both in the same grave. Which done, I betook me to a dry cave hard by a notable fall of water that plungeth into a lake, and there passed the night. Next day, having explored the island very thoroughly, and dined as best I might on shell-fish that do abound, I sat me down where I might behold the sea and fell to viewing of this silver-hilted dagger."

  "The which was shaped like to a woman!" says I.

  "Aye, Martin. And now, bethinking me of Bartlemy's dying words anent this same dagger, and of the tales I had heard full oft along the Main regarding this same Bartlemy and his hidden treasure, I fell to handling this dagger, turning and twisting it this way and that. And suddenly, shipmate, I felt the head turn upon the shoulders 'twixt the clasping hands; turn and turn until it came away and showed a cavity, and in this cavity a roll of parchment, and that parchment none other than this map with the cryptogram, the which I could make nought of.

  "Now as I sat thus, studying this meaningless jumble of words, I of a sudden espied a man below me on the reef, a wild, storm- tossed figure, his scanty clothing all shreds and tatters, and as he went seeking of shell-fish that were plenteous enough, I knew him for my sworn comrade, Nick Frant. And then, Martin, I did strange thing, for blood-brothers though we were, I made haste (and all of a tremble) to slip back this map into its hiding- place, which done, I arose, hailing my comrade and went to meet him joyously enough. And no two men in the world more rejoiced than we as we clasped hands and embraced each other as only comrades may. It seemed the hugeous sea that had caught me had caught him likewise and hurled him, sore bruised, some mile to the south of the reef. So now I told him of the deaths of Bartlemy and the poor lady, yet Martin (and this was strange) I spoke nothing of knife or treasure; I told him of the expectation I had of the pirate's ship return, and yet I never once spake o' the map and chart. And methinks the secret cast a shadow betwixt us that grew ever deeper, for as the days passed and no sail appeared, there came a strangeness, an unlove betwixt us that grew until one day we fell to open quarrel, disputation and deadly strife, and the matter no more than a dead man's shirt (and that ragged) that had come ashore. And we (being in rags and the sun scorching) each claimed this shirt, and from words came blows. He had his seaman's knife and I Bartlemy's accursed dagger, and so we fought after the manner of the buccaneers, his leg bound fast to mine, and Martin, though he was a great fellow and strong and wounded me sore, in the end I got in a thrust under the armpit and he fell a-dying, and I with him. Then I (seeing death in his eyes, Martin) clasped him in my arms and kissed him and besought him not to die, whereat he smiled. 'Adam!' says he, "Why Adam, lad——' and so died.

  "Then I took that accursed dagger, wet with my comrade's life- blood, and hurled it from me, and so with many tears and lamentations I presently buried poor Nick Frant in the sands, and lay there face down upon his grave wetting it with my tears and groaning there till nightfall. But all next day, Martin (though my heart yearned to my slain friend) all next day I spent seeking and searching for the dagger had killed him. And as the sun set, I found it. Thereafter I passed my days (since the pirate ship came not, doubtless owing to the late tempest) studying the writing on the chart here, yet came no nearer a solution, though my imagination was inflamed by mention of diamonds, rubies and pearls, as ye may see written here for yourself. So the time passed till one day at dawn I beheld a great ship, her mizzen and fore-topmasts gone, standing in for my island, and as she drew nearer, I knew her at last for that accursed pirate ship called "Ladies' Delight." Being come to anchor within some half-mile or so, I saw a boat put off for the reef, and lying well hid I watched this boat, steered by a knowing hand, pass through the reef by a narrow channel and so enter the lagoon. Now in this boat were six men and at the rudder sat Tressady, and I saw his hook flash in the sun as he sprang ashore. Having beached their boat, they fell to letting off their calivers and pistols and hallooing:

  "'Oho, Captain!' they roared, 'Bartlemy, ahoy!' And this outcry maintained they for some while. But none appearing to answer, they seemed to take counsel together, and thereafter set off three and three, shouting as they went. And now it seemed they knew no more of Bartlemy's hiding-place than I, whereat I rejoiced greatly. So lay I all that forenoon watching their motions and hearing their outcries now here, now there, until, marvelling at the absence of Bartlemy, they sat down all six upon the spit of sand whereby I lay hid and fell to eating and drinking, talking the while, though too low for me to hear what passed. But all at once they seemed to fall to disputation, Tressady and a small, dark fellow against the four, and thereafter to brawl and fight, though this was more butchery than fight, Martin, for Tressady shoots down two ere they can rise, and leaping up falls on the other two with his hook! So with aid from the small, dark fellow they soon have made an end o' their four companions, and leaving them lying, come up the beach and sitting below the ledge of rock whereon I lay snug hidden, fell to talk.

  "'So, Ben, camarado mio, we be committed to it now! Since these four be dead and all men well-loved by Bartlemy, needs must Bartlemy follow 'em!'

  "'Aye!' says the man Ben, 'when we have found him. Though Bartlemy's a fighting man!'

  "'And being a man can die, Ben. And he once dead we stand his heirs——you and I, Ben, I and you!'

  "'Well and good!' says Ben. 'But for this treasure where lieth it, and for that matter, Roger, where is Bartlemy?'

  "'Both to find, Ben, so let us set about it forthwith.' The which they did, Martin; for three days they sought the island over and I watching 'em. On the third day, as they are sitting 'neath the great pimento tree I have mentioned (and I watching close by) Tressady sits up all at once.

  "'Ben!' says he, 'What be yon?' and he pointed to a mound of sand hard by.

  "'Lord knoweth!' says Ben.

  "'Yon's been digging!' says Tressady, 'and none so long since!'

  "'Aye,' said Ben, 'and now what?'

  "'Now,' says Tressady, 'let us dig likewise.'

  "'Aye, but what with?' says Ben.

  "'Our fingers!' says Tressady. So there and then they fell to digging, casting up the loose sand with their two hands, dog- fashion, and I, watching, turned my head that I might not see.

  "'Ha!' says Tressady, in a while, 'Here is foul reek, Ben, foul reek.'

  "'Right curst!' says Ben, and then uttered a great, hoarse cry. And I, knowing what they had come upon, kept my face turned away. ''Tis she!' says Ben in a whisper.

  "'Aye, and him!' says Tressady. 'Faugh! Man, 'tis ill thing but needs must——his dagger, Ben, his dagger.'

  "'Here's no dagger,' says Ben. 'Here's empty sheath but no steel in't!'

  "''Tis fallen out!' says Tressady in a strangled voice. 'Seek, Ben, seek!' So despite the horror of the thing, they sought, Martin, violating death and careless of corruption they sought, and all the time the thing they sought was quivering in this right hand.

  "'Ben,' says Tressady, when they were done. 'Ben——how came he dead——how?'

  "'Who shall say, Roger? Mayhap they did each other's business.'

  "'Why then——where's the dagger o' the woman——the silver goddess—— where? And how came they buried?'

  "'Aye, there's the rub, Roger!'

  "'Why,' says Tressady, 'look'ee, Ben, 'tis in my mind we're not alone on this island——'

  "'And who should be here, Roger?'

  "'The man that slew our Captain!' Here there was silence awhile, then the man Ben arose and spat.

  "'Faugh!' says he. 'Come away, Roger, ere I stifle——come, i' the devil's name!' So they went and I, lying hid secure, watched them out of sight.

  "Now when they were gone I took counsel with myself, for here were two desperate, bloody rogues, very well armed, and here was I, a solitary man with nought to my defence save for Nick's knife and the silver-hilted dagger, which was heavy odds, Martin, as you'll agree. Now I have ever accounted myself a something timid man, wherefore in cases of desperate need and danger I have been wont to rely on my wit rather than weapons, on head rather than hands. So now as I looked upon this cursed dagger wherewith I had slain my poor friend, beholding this evil silver woman whose smile seemed verily to allure men to strife and bloodshed——the end of it was I stole from my lurking-place and set the dagger amid the gnarled roots of the great pimento tree, where it might have slipped from dying fingers, and so got me back into hiding. And sure enough in a while comes the big man Tressady a-stealing furtive-fashion and falls to hunting both in the open grave and round about it but, finding nothing, steals him off again. Scarce was he out of eye-shot, Martin, than cometh the little dark fellow Ben, who likewise fell to stealthy search, grubbing here and there on hands and knees, yet with none better fortune than his comrade. But of a sudden he gives a spring and, stooping, stands erect with Bartlemy's dagger in his hand. Now scarce had he found it than comes Tressady creeping from where he had lain watching.

  "'Ha, Ben!' says he jovially. 'How then, lad, how then? Hast found what we sought? Here's luck, Ben, here's luck! Aye, by cock, 'tis your fortune to find it and your fortune's my fortune, eh, Ben——us being comrades, Ben?'

  "'Aye,' says Ben, turning the dagger this way and that.

  "'Ha' ye come on the chart, Ben, ha' ye found the luck in't Ben?'

  "'Stay, Roger, I've but just picked it up——'

  "'And was coming to your comrade with it, eh, Ben——share and share——eh, Benno——Bennie?'

  "'Aye,' says Ben, staring down at the thing, 'but 'twas me as found it, Roger!'

  "'And what then, lad, what then?'

  "'Why then, Roger, since I found it, 'tis mine,' says he gripping the dagger in quivering fist and glancing up sideways.

  "'Hilt and blade, Ben!'

  "'And the chart, Roger?'

  "'Aye, and the chart, Ben!' says Tressady, coming a pace nearer, and I saw his hook glitter.

  "'And the treasure, Roger!' says Ben, making little passes in the air to see the blue gleam of the steel.

  "'All yours, Ben all yours, and what's yours is mine, according to oath, Ben, to oath! But come, Ben, you hold the secret o' the treasure in your fist——the silver goddess. Come, the chart, lad, out wi' the chart and Bartlemy's jewels are ours——pearls, Ben—— diamonds, rubies——aha, come, find the chart——let your comrade aid ye, lad——'

  "'Stand back!' says Ben and whips a pistol from his belt. 'Look'ee, Roger, says he, 'I found the dagger without ye and I'll find the chart——stand back!'

  "'Why here's ill manners to a comrade, Ben ill manners, sink me—— but as ye will. Only out wi' the chart and let's go seek the treasure, Ben.'

  "'D'ye know the secret o' this thing, Roger?'

  "'Not I, Ben!'

  "'Why then must I break it asunder. Hand me yon piece o' of rock,' says Ben, pointing to a heavy stone that chanced to be near.

  "'Stay, Ben lad, 'twere pity to crush the silver woman, but if you will, you will Ben——take a hold!' So saying, Tressady picked up the stone, but, as his comrade reached to take it, let it fall, whereupon Ben stooped for it and in that moment Tressady was on him. And then——ha, Martin, I heard the man Ben scream, and as he writhed, saw Tressady's hook at work……the man screamed but once……and then, wiping the hook on his dead comrade's coat he took up the dagger and began to unscrew the head. But now, Martin, methought 'twas time for me to act if I meant to save my life, for I had nought but Nick Frant's knife, while within Tressady's reach lay the dead man's pistols and divers musquetoons and fusees on the beach behind him, which put me to no small panic lest he shoot me ere I could come at him with my knife. Thus, as I lay watching, I took counsel with myself how I might lure him away from these firearms wherewith he might hunt me down and destroy me at his ease; and the end of it was I started up all at once and, leaning down towards him, shook the parchment in his face. 'Ha, Tressady!' says I, 'Is this the thing you've murdered your comrade for?' Now at this Tressady sprang back, to stare from me to the thing in my hand, Martin, and then——ha, then with a wild-beast roar he sprang straight at me with his hook——even as I had judged he would. As for me, I turned and ran, making for a rocky ledge I knew, with Tressady panting behind me, his hook ringing on the rocks as he scrambled in pursuit. So at last we reached the place I sought——a shelf of rock, the cliff on one side, Martin, and on the other a void with the sea thundering far below——a narrow ledge where his great bulk hampered him and his strength availed little. And there we fought, his dagger and hook against my dead comrade's knife, and thus as he sprang I, falling on my knee, smote up beneath raised arm, heard him roar and saw him go whirling over and down and splash into the sea——"

  "And he had the dagger with him, Adam!" says I in eager question.

  "Aye, Martin, which was the end of an ill rogue and an evil thing."

  "The end," says I, "the end, Adam? Why then——what o' this?"

  So saying I whipped the strange dagger from my wallet and held it towards him balanced upon my palm. Now, beholding this, Penfeather's eyes opened suddenly wide, then narrowed to slits as, viewing this deadly thing, he drew back and back, and so sat huddled in his chair utterly still, only I heard his breath hiss softly 'twixt clenched teeth.

  "Martin," says he in the same hushed voice, "when a man's dead he's dead, and the dead can never come back, can they, shipmate?"

  But now, as we sat thus, eyeing the evil thing on the table betwixt us, my answer died on my lips, for there came a sharp, quick rapping of fingers on the lattice.

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