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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter43)

2006-08-28 22:34

  Chapter XLIII. Of the Death-Dance of the Silver Woman

  A small wind had sprung up that came in fitful gusts and with sound very mournful and desolate, but the moon was wonderfully bright and, though I went cautiously, my hand on the butt of the pistol in my girdle, yet ever and always at the back of my mind was an infinitude of joy by reason of my dear lady's love for me and the wonder of it.

  I chose me a devious course, avoiding the white sands of Deliverance Beach, trending towards that fatal cleft hard by Bartlemy's tree (the which we had come to call Skeleton Cove) though why I must go hither I knew no more then than I do now.

  Thus went I (my eyes and ears on the stretch) pondering what manner of man this should be who sang words the which had so haunted my sick dreams; more than once I stopped to stare round about me upon the wide expanse of ocean, dreading and half expecting to behold the loom of that black craft had dogged us over seas.

  Full of these disquieting thoughts I reached the cove and began to descend the steep side, following goat-tracks long grown familiar. The place hereabouts was honeycombed with small caves and with ledges screened by bushes and tangled vines; and here, well hid from observation, I paused to look about me. But (and all in a moment) I was down on my knees, for from somewhere close by came the sharp snapping of a dried stick beneath a stealthy foot.

  Very still I waited, every nerve a-tingle, and then, forth into the moonlight, sudden and silent as death, a man crept; and verily if ever murderous death stood in human shape it was before me now. The man stood half-crouching, his head twisted back over his shoulder as watching one who followed; beneath the vivid scarf that swathed his temples was a shock of red hair and upon his cheek the sweat was glittering; then he turned his head and I knew him for the man Red Andy, that same I had fought aboard ship. For a long moment he stood thus, staring back ever and anon across Deliverance, and so comes creeping into the shadow of the cliff, and I saw the moon glint on the barrel of the long pistol he clutched, as, sinking down behind a great boulder, he waited there upon his knees.

  Now suddenly as I lay there watching Red Andy's murderous figure and strung for swift action, I started and (albeit the night was very warm) Sfelt a chill pass over me, as, loud and clear upon the stilly air, rose again that full, deep voice singing hard by upon Deliverance:

  "Go seek ye women everywhere,North, South, lads, East or West,Let 'em be dark, let 'em be fair,My Silver Woman's best,Blow high, blow low,Where e'er ye go The Silver Woman's best. Aha!

  My Silver Woman's best!"

  Thus sang the unknown who, all unwitting, was coming to his death; sudden as it came the voice was hushed and nought to hear save the hiss and murmur of the surge, and I saw the man Andy stir restlessly as minute after minute dragged by.

  The rock where he crouched lay at the mouth of this cove towards Deliverance, it being one of many that lay piled thereabout. Now chancing to look towards these scattered rocks (and for no reason in the world) I saw a thing that held me as it were spellbound, and this a small enough thing in itself, a sharp, glittering thing that seemed fast caught in a fissure of one of those rocks, and I knew it for a steel hook; but even as I stared at it, the thing was gone and so noiselessly that I half-doubted if I had seen it or no. But, out from the shadow of this rock flashed something that whirled, glittering as it flew, and Red Andy, starting up from his knees was shaken by a fit of strange and awful coughing and came stumbling forward so that I could see his chin and breast bedabbled with the blood that spurted from his gaping mouth. All at once he sank to his knees and thence to his face, spreading his arms wide like one very weary, but with the moonlight flashing back from that which stood upright betwixt his shoulder-blades. And thus I saw again the silver haft of the dagger that was shaped like to a woman, saw this silver woman dance and leap, glittering, ere it grew terribly still.

  Then came Roger Tressady from the shadows and stooping, turned up the dead face to the moon, and tapped it gently with his shining hook. And now, whipping out his dagger, he bent to wipe it on the dead man's shirt, but checked suddenly as a pebble started beneath my foot, and, stooped thus, he glared up beneath thick brows as I rose up with pistol levelled and the moon bright upon my face, whereupon he leaped backwards, uttering a choking cry:

  "Black Bartlemy——by God!" he gasped and let fall his reeking dagger upon the sand; and so we stood staring on each other and with the dead man sprawling betwixt us.

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