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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter45)

2006-08-28 22:36

  Chapter XLV. Of the Coming of Adam Penfeather

  In the shadow of the cliff below our hiding-place crept divers of these pirate rogues, and, crouching there cheek by jowl fell to a hoarse mutter of talk yet all too low for us to catch; but presently there brake out a voice high-pitched, the which I knew for that of Smiling Sam.

  "We'm done, lads, I tell ye. O love my lights——we'm done! 'Tis the end o' we since Penfeather hath took the ship——and here's us shall lie marooned to perish o' plagues, or Indian-savages, or hunger unless, lads, unless——"

  "Unless what, Smiler?" questioned one, eagerly.

  "Unless we'm up and doing. Penfeather do lack for men——Mings says he counted but ten at most when they boarded him! Well, mates——what d'ye say?"

  "Ha, d'ye mean fight, Smiler? Fall on 'em by surprise and recapture the ship——ha?"

  "O bless my guts——no! Penfeather aren't to be caught so——not him! He'll ha' warped out from the anchorage by this! But he be shorthanded to work the vessel overseas, 'tis a-seekin' o' likely lads and prime sailor-men is Penfeather, and we sits on these yere sands. Well, mates, on these yere sands we be but what's took up us on these yere sands? The boats lie yonder! Well?"

  "Where be you heading of now, Smiler? Where's the wind? Talk plain!"

  "Why look'ee all, if Penfeather wants men, as wants 'em he doth, what's to stay or let us from rowing out to Penfeather soft and quiet and 'listing ourselves along of Penfeather, and watch our chance t' heave Penfeather overboard and go a-roving on our own account? Well?"

  At this was sudden silence and thereafter a fierce mutter of whispering lost all at once in the clatter of arms and breathless scuffling as they scrambled to their feet; for there, within a yard of them, stood Tressady, hand grasping the dagger in his belt, his glittering hook tapping softly at his great chin as he stared from one to other of them.

  "Ha, my pretty lambs!" says he, coming a pace nearer. "Will ye skulk then, will ye skulk with your fools' heads together? What now, mutiny is it, mutiny? And what's come o' my prisoner Martin, I don't spy him hereabouts?"

  Now at this they shuffled, staring about and upon each other and (as I think) missed me for the first time.

  "You, Tom Purdy, step forward——so! Now where's the prisoner as I set i' your charge, where, my merry bird, where?"

  The fellow shrank away, muttering some sullen rejoinder that ended in a choking scream as Tressady sprang. Then I (knowing what was toward) clasped my lady to me, covering her ears that she might not hear those ghastly bubbling groans, yet felt her sweet body shaking with the horror that shook me.

  "So——there's an end——o' Tom Purdy, my bullies!" gasped Tressady, stooping to clean his hook in the sand. "And I did it——look'ee, because he failed me once, d'ye see! Who'll be next? Who's for mutiny——you, Sammy, you——ha?"

  "No——no, Cap'n!" piped Smiling Sam, "Us do be but contriving o' ways and means seeing' as Penfeather do ha' took our ship, curse him!"

  "And what though he has? 'Tis we have the island and 'tis on this island lieth Black Bartlemy's Treasure, and 'tis the treasure we're after! As to ways and means, here we be thirty and eight to Penfeather's fourteen, and in a little 'twill be dark and the guns shan't serve 'em and then——aha, look yonder! The fools be coming into our very clutches! To cover, lads, and look to your primings and wait my word."

  Now glancing whither he pointed, I saw, above the adjacent headland, the tapering spars of a ship. Slowly she hove into view, boltsprit, forecastle, waist and poop, until she was plain to view, and I knew her for that same black ship that fouled us in Deptford Pool. She was standing in for the island under her lower courses only, although the wind was very light, but on she came, and very slowly, until she was so near that I might see the very muzzles of her guns. Suddenly with a cheery yo-ho-ing her yards were braced round, her anchor was let go and she brought to opposite Skeleton Cove and within fair pistol-shot.

  Now glancing below I saw Tressady stand alone and with Abnegation Mings huddled at his feet, but in the gloom of the cave and to right and left, in every patch of shadow and behind every bush and rock, was the glimmer of pistol or musket-barrel, and all levelled in the one direction.

  Presently up to the lofty poop of the ship clambered a short, squat man in marvellous wide breeches and a great cutlass on hip, who clapping speaking-trumpet to mouth, roared amain:

  "Ahoy the shore! We be shorthanded. Now what rogues o' ye will turn honest mariners and 'list aboard us for England? Who's for a free pardon and Old England?"

  Hereupon, from bush and shadow and rock, I heard a whisper, a murmur, and the word "England" oft repeated.

  Tressady heard it also, and stepping forward he drew a long furrow in the sand with the toe of his shoe.

  "Look'ee my hearty boys," says he, pointing to this furrow with his hook, "the first man as setteth foot athwart this line I send to hell-fire along o' Tom Purdy yonder!"

  "Ahoy the shore!" roared Godby louder than ever, "who's for an honest life, a free pardon and a share in Black Bartlemy's Treasure——or shall it be a broadside? Here be every gun full charged wi' musket-balls——and 'tis point-blank range! Which shall it be?"

  Once again rose a murmur that swelled to an angry muttering, and I saw Smiling Sam come creeping from the shadow of the cave.

  "O Cap'n," he piped, "'Tis plaguy desperate business, here's some on us like to be bloody corpses——but I'm wi' you, Cap'n Roger, whether or no, 'tis me to your back!"

  "To my back, Sammy? Why so you shall, lad, so you shall, but I'll ha' your pistols first, Smiler——so!" And whipping the weapons from the great fellow's belt, Tressady gave them to Abnegation Mings where he lay in the shelter of a rock, and sitting down, crossed long legs and cocked an eye at the heavens.

  "Hearties all," quoth he, "the moon sinketh apace and 'twill be ill shooting for 'em in the dark, so with dark 'tis us for the boats——muffled oars——we clap 'em aboard by the forechains larboard and starboard, and the ship is ours, bullies——ours!"

  "Well and good, Cap'n!" piped Smiling Sam. "But how if she slip her cable and stand from us——"

  "And how shall she, my fool lad, and the wind dropped? The wind's failed 'em and they lie helpless——"

  "And that's gospel true, Cap'n. Aye, aye, we'm wi' you! Gi'e us the word, Cap'n!" quoth divers voices in fierce answer.

  "O sink me!" groaned Mings, "here lies poor Abnegation shattered alow and aloft——O burn me, here's luck! But you'll take me along, Roger? If Death boards me to-night I'd rayther go in honest fight than lying here like a sick dog——so you'll have me along, Roger?"

  "Aye that will I, lad, that will I and——"

  "Ahoy the shore!" roared Godby's great voice again, "Let them rogue-dogs as'll turn honest mariners, them as is for England and a free pardon, stand by to come aboard and lively! In ten minutes we open fire wi' every gun as bears!"

  Now here there brake forth a clamour of oaths, cries and dismayed questioning:

  "Lord love us, what now, Cap'n? Is us to be murdered, look'ee? Doomed men we be, lads! Shall us wait to be shot, mates? What shall us do, Cap'n, what shall us do?"

  "Lie low!" quoth Tressady, rising, "Bide still all and let no man stir till I give word. In half an hour or less 'twill be black dark——very well, for half an hour I'll hold 'em in parley, I'll speak 'em smooth and mighty friendly, here shall be no shooting. I'll hold 'em till the moon be down——and Smiler shall come wi' me——come, Sammy lad——come!"

  So saying he turned and I watched him stride out upon that spit of sand hard by Bartlemy's tree and this great fat fellow trotting at his heels. Upon the edge of the tide Tressady paused and hailed loud and cheerily:

  "Penfeather ahoy! O Adam Penfeather here come I Roger Tressady for word wi' you. Look'ee Adam, we've fought and run foul of each other this many a year——aye, half round the world and all for sake o' Black Bartlemy's Treasure as is mine by rights, Adam, mine by rights. Well now to-night let's, you and me, make an end once and for all one way or t'other. There's you wi' my ship—— true, Adam, true! But here's me wi' the island and the treasure, Adam, and the treasure. And what then? Why then, says I, let's you and me, either come to some composition or fight it out man to man, Adam, man to man. So come ashore, Captain Penfeather—— you as do be blacker pirate than ever was Bartlemy——come out yonder on the reef alone wi' me and end it one way or t'other. Come ashore, Adam, come ashore if ye dare adventure!"

  "Ahoy you, Tressady!" roared Godby in reply, "Cap'n Adam is ashore wi' ye this moment——look astarn o' you, ye rogue!"

  Round sprang Tressady as out from the dense shadow of Bartlemy's tree stepped Adam Penfeather himself. He stood there in the moonlight very still and viewing Tressady with head grimly out- thrust, his arms crossed upon his breast, a pistol in the fist and deadly menace in every line of his small, spare figure.

  "I'm here, Tressady!" says he, his voice ringing loud and clear. "And I am come to make an end o' you this night. It hath been long a-doing——but I have ye at last, Roger."

  "Be ye sure, Adam, so sure?"

  "As death, Tressady, for I have ye secure at last."

  "Bleed me but you're out there, Adam, you're out there! The boot's on t'other leg, for hereabouts do lie thirty and eight o' my lads watching of ye this moment and wi' finger on trigger."

  "I know it!" says Adam nodding. "But there's never a one dare shoot me, for the first shot fired ashore shall bring a whole broadside in answer, d'ye see. But as for you, Tressady, pray if you can, for this hour you hang."

  "Hang is it, Adam?" says Tressady, and with swift glance towards the sinking moon, "And who's to do it——who?"

  "There be thirty and eight shall swing ye aloft so soon as I give 'em the word, Tressady."

  "You do talk rank folly, Adam, folly, and ye know it!" says he smiling and stealing furtive hand to the dagger in his girdle. "But and I should die this night I take you along wi' me and you can lay to——" But he got no further, for Smiling Sam (and marvellous nimble) whipped up a stone, and leaping on him from behind smote him two murderous blows and, staggering helplessly, Tressady pitched forward upon his face and lay upon the verge of the incoming tide.

  Beholding his handiwork, Smiling Sam uttered a thin, high- shrilling laugh, and spitting upon that still form kicked it viciously.

  "Oho, Cap'n Penfeather," cries he, "'tis the Smiler hath saved ye the labour, look'ee! 'Tis Sam hath finished Tressady at last and be damned t' him! And now 'tis the Smiler as do be first to 'list wi' ye!" and he began to shamble across the sands; but passing that rock where crouched Abnegation Mings he tripped and fell, and I saw the flash of Abnegation's knife as they rolled and twisted in the shadow of this rock, whiles, from this shadow, rose a shrill crying like the wail of a hurt child, and into the moonlight came a great, fat hand that clutched and tore at the sand then grew suddenly still, and with crooked fingers plunged deep into the sand like a white claw. Then, tossing aside his bloody knife, Abnegation Mings struggled to his feet and came staggering to kneel above his comrade Tressady and to turn up the pallid face of him to the moon.

  And now Adam thrust away his pistols and with hands clasped behind him, turned to face the gloomy shadows of Skeleton Cove:

  "Come out, sons o' dogs!" says he. "Step forward and show yourselves——and lively it is!" Ensued a moment's breathless pause, then, from bush and shadow and rocks, they stole forth these thirty and eight and, at Adam's harsh command, lined up before him shoulder and shoulder. "Well," says Adam, pacing slowly along their rank to peer into every sullen, hang-dog face. "Am I captain here? Aye or no?"

  "Aye——aye!" they cried in eager chorus.

  "And us was promised a free pardon, Cap'n!" quoth one.

  "And a share of the treasure, Cap'n!" says another.

  "And England, Cap'n!" cried a third. "There's some on us as do be honest sailor-men and forced to turn pirate in spite o' we——"

  "Avast!" says Adam. "What I promise I stand by. But mark this! Let any man fail of his duty to me but once and I shoot that man or hang him out o' hand——is't understood?"

  "Aye, aye, Cap'n——'tis agreed! We'll serve ye faithful and true," they cried.

  "Why then, bring ropes!" says Adam, and with his new 'listed men at his heels, goes whither lay Tressady and with Abnegation Mings yet crouched above him.

  What now was doing I might not see by reason of the crowd, but I heard the voice of Mings upraised in fierce invective, and the throng presently parting, beheld him trussed hand and foot and dragged along with Tressady towards Bartlemy's tree. There a noose was set about the neck of each, and the rope's ends cast over a branch. But as at Adam's command these miserable wretches were hauled aloft to their deaths, my lady uttered a cry of horror and grasped my arm in desperate hands.

  "Martin!" she panted, "O Martin, 'tis horrible! Save them, this must not——shall not be——"

  "'Tis but justice," says I, "these men are pirates and murderers——"

  "This is no justice!" cries she breathlessly, her face all pale and drawn, "And these men are sore hurt beside——Ah God——look! Stop them, Martin——O stop them! Nay then I will!" And here, or ever I could let or stay her, she begins to clamber down into the cove. Howbeit, quick and sure-footed though she was, I was presently before her and so came running, knife in hand. Nor was I any too soon, for as I reached the tree Tressady and Mings were dragged, choking, from their feet; but with a couple of strokes my keen knife had cut those deadly ropes asunder, and as the two fell gasping on the sand I turned to stare into the scowling eyes of Adam Penfeather.

  Now as I stood thus someone spoke 'twixt sigh and groan: "Bartlemy——'tis Bartlemy!" and the word was taken up by others, "Bartlemy——Black Bartlemy!" and all men fell back from me whiles Adam scowled at me above levelled pistol.

  "Hold off——Adam!" I panted. "Let be, Adam Penfeather——let be!"

  "What?" says he, peering, "And is it——Martin? Lord love me, now what fool's ploy is this?"

  "What you will," quoth I, "only here has been enough of death for one night——"

  "'Tis but you do think so, Martin, and you was ever a fool! I came ashore to see these two rogues hang, and hang they shall!"

  "Now look you, Adam Penfeather," says I, scowling in turn, "you have cozened and tricked me since first you crossed my path, well, let that go! But mark this——according to your letter three-quarters of this treasure is mine. Very well——take it back——I'll buy these rogues' lives of you——"

  "Lord love me!" says he, staring in blank amaze, "What new fool craze is this? Will ye save this bloody murderer Tressady that drugged ye aboard ship, the man that was our bane and plague all along? The rogue hath been my deadliest enemy seeking my destruction these fifteen years, and you would save him alive! It seemeth my pistol-butt must ha' harmed what little brain you have and you be run stark, staring mad, Martin!"

  "Howbeit," says I, mighty determined, "you don't hang these men whiles I live!"

  "Why, there's no difficulty either, Martin, for what's to stay me from hanging you along with 'em, or shooting you for the fool you are?"

  "I!" cried a voice, and there betwixt us was my lady, she all stately dignity despite her hurried breathing, at sight of whom these lawless fellows gave back one and all, even Adam himself retreated a step, staring upon her round-eyed. Then, very slowly he thrust pistols into belt and uncovering his head bowed full low, and I fancied his thin lips twitched as he did so.

  "So be it, my lady," says he, "I call on your ladyship to witness that I sell two bundles of very unseemly merchandise," and he pointed towards the two helpless forms at his feet. "And now, with your fair leave, madam, I'll see these fellows safe aboard and warn my Lord Dering and gentlemen of your welfare and presence here."

  "Wait!" says I as he turned to go. "First I would have these my purchases set aboard a boat, with such stores needful, and cast adrift."

  "Why, this was not in the bargain, Martin!" says he, shaking his head, "But it shall be done for sake of our one-time comradeship." And away he goes and his fellows with him. True to his word he orders the pinnace launched and sends divers men to bear these two rogues aboard. Hereupon I cut away their bonds, doing the which I found Tressady still unconscious, but Mings for all his wounds seemed lively enough.

  "Master," says he, staring hard at me, "Your name's Martin, as I think?"

  "And what then?" says I, mighty short.

  "'Tis a name I shall mind as long as I do my own, and that is Mings——Abnegation Mings."

  "Aye," says I. "You told me this when you sang of dead men in a wood at midnight——"

  "Ha, 'twas you, was it, master! Well, here lieth poor Roger dead or dying and me little better, and 'tis far to the Main and an ill journey, but should we come there and live, there be two men shall wonder at ye, master, nor ever forget the name o' the man as saved our necks. Howsoever, come life or death, here's Abnegation doth wish ye a fair wind ever and always, master."

  So they bore him, together with Tressady, to the pinnace, and setting them aboard, shoved them adrift, and I watched Abnegation ply feeble oars until the boat was through the passage in the reef and out in the open sea beyond.

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