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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter15)

2006-08-28 21:49

  Chapter XV. Telleth of a Nameless Black Ship

  And now within my gloomy hiding-place, dim-lit by flickering lanthorn, I passed many weary hours, while all about me was a stir and bustle, a confused sound made up of many, as the never- ending tread of feet, the sound of hoarse voices now faint and far and anon clear and loud, the scrape of a fiddle, snatches of rough song, the ceaseless ring and tap of hammers——a very babel that, telling of life and action, made my gloomy prison the harder to endure. And here (mindful of what is to follow) I do think it well to describe in few words the place wherein I lay. It was indeed a very dog-hole, just below the orlop, some ten feet square (or thereabouts) shut in 'twixt bulkheads, mighty solid and strong, but with a crazy door so ill-hung as to leave a good three inches 'twixt it and the flooring. It had been a store-room (as I guessed), and judging by the reek that reached me above the stench of the bilge, had of late held rancid fat of some sort; just abaft the mizzen it lay and hard against the massy rudder-post, for I could hear the creek and groan of the pintles as the rudder swung to the tide. Against one bulkhead I had contrived a rough bunk with divers planks and barrels, the which with mattress and bedding was well enough.

  Now opposite my berth, within easy reach of my hand, was a knot- hole the which, by some trick of the grain, had much the look of a great staring eye, insomuch that (having no better employ) I fell to improving on nature's handiwork with my knife, carving and trimming around it; and in betwixt my sleeping, my eating and drinking (for Adam and Godby kept me excellent well supplied) I would betake me to my carving and fashioning of this eye and with my initials below it, the which foolish business (fond and futile though it was) served in no small measure to abate my consuming impatience and the dreary tedium.

  Howbeit on the third day, my situation becoming unbearable, I stumbled out from my dog-hole, and groping my way past kegs and barrels firm-wedged in place against the rolling of the vessel, I climbed the ladder to the orlop. Here I must needs pause, for, dim though it was, the light from the open scuttle nigh blinded me. In a while, my eyes growing strong, I got me to the main- deck, where again I must stay to shade my eyes by reason of the radiance that poured through an open gun-port. Glancing around after some while, I saw no one and wondered, for here was the main gun-deck. Ten great pieces a side I counted, with ports for divers more. I was yet wondering at the emptiness about me when I heard sudden uproar from the deck above my head, shouts, cries, a rush and patter of many feet, and above all Penfeather's furious hail.

  Wondering, I came to the open port, and leaning out saw it was evening with a heavy mist creeping down upon the waters, and through the mist loomed a great, black ship drifting lubberly across our hawse. Louder and more furious grew the shouting above, answered by a hail aboard the great, black craft as, broadside on, she swung towards us.

  And now, creeping in the mist, I beheld a small boat with a great, shapeless bundle in the stern-sheets and rowed by a single waterman who swung easily to his oars, scanning now the "Faithful Friend," now the great black ship, like one who bided the inevitable crash. Sudden I heard the roar of one of Penfeather's ever-ready pistols followed by his voice up raised in vicious sea-curses, and glancing up saw the black ship right aboard of us and braced myself for the impact; came a shock, a quiver of creaking timbers and the groan of our straining hawsers as the black ship, falling off, drifted by in a roaring storm of oaths and blasphemy. Now when her battered stern-gallery was nigh lost in the mist, bethinking me of the boat I had seen, I glanced about and beheld matter that set me wondering; for he was the fellow plying his oars with a will and so near that I might have tossed a biscuit aboard him; moreover the great misshapen bundle had lain in the stern-sheets was there no longer, which set me mightily a-wondering. Long after man and boat were swallowed up in the fog I sat there lost in thought, insomuch that I started to feel a hearty clap on the shoulder and, turning, beheld Godby, a pair of great gold rings in his ears, and very sailor-like in all things from sea-boots to mariner's bonnet.

  "Here's a ploy, Mart'n!" says he with a round oath. "Here's yon curst lubberly craft carried away our starboard cat-head and six- feet o' the harpings wi't, sink him! And us but waiting for my lady to come aboard to trip anchor and away. And now here's we shorebound for another two days at the least as I'm a gunner! And all on account of yon black dog, burn him! A plaguy fine craft as sails wi' no name on her anywheres, keelhaul me else! But Penfeather winged one o' the lubberly rogues, praise God, Mart'n! Which done and with due time to curse 'em, every mother's son of 'em, he turns to——him and the carpenter and his mates——there and then to repair damages. Ha, a man o' mark is Captain Adam, pal."

  "Godby," says I, "did ye chance to see aught of a boat carrying a great bundle in the stern-sheets and rowed by a man in a red cap?"

  "Nary a blink, Mart'n——why?"

  "I'm wondering what came of that same bundle——"

  "Hove overboard belike, pal——there's many a strange thing goes a- floating out to sea from hereabouts, Mart'n——drownd me!"

  "Belike you're right!" says I.

  "Mart'n, Sir Rupert's ashore to meet her ladyship, so you'm free to come 'bove deck if so minded?"

  "Nay, I'll bide where I am, Godby."

  "Why then come, Mart'n, clap your eye on my beauties——here's guns, Mart'n, six culverins and t'others sakers, and yonder astern two basilisks as shall work ye death and destruction at two or three thousand paces; 'bove deck amidships I've divers goodly pieces as minions, falcons and patereros with murderers mounted aft to sweep the waist. For her size she's well armed is the 'Faithful Friend,' Mart'n!"

  Thus Godby, as he led me from gun to gun slapping hand on breech or trunnion, and as I hearkened 'twas hard to recognise the merry peddler in this short, square, grave-faced gunner who spake with mariner's tongue, hitched ever and anon at the broad belt of his galligaskins, and rolled in his gait already.

  "She's a fair ship!" says I, seating myself on one of the great guns mounted astern.

  "She is so, Mart'n. There's no finer e'er sailed from Deptford Pool, which is saying much, split me if it isn't. Though, when all's said, Martin, I could wish for twenty more men to do justice to my noble guns, aye thirty at the least."

  "Are we so short?"

  "We carry but ninety and two all told, pal, which considering my guns is pity——aye, vast pity, plague me else! 'Twould leave me shorthanded to serve my guns should they be necessary, which is fair and likely, Martin."

  "And black rogues they are!" says I.

  "Never clapped eyes on worse, pal, kick me endwise else! But Captain Adam's the man for such and I mean to work 'em daily, each and every, at my guns as soon as we be well at sea. Ah, there soundeth Toby Hudd's pipe——all hands on deck——this should be her ladyship coming aboard. So here's me aloft and you alow, and good luck to both, pal." Saying which he nodded, gave a hitch to his wide galligaskins and rolled away. Now coming to the gun-port I have mentioned I must needs pause there awhile to look out across the misty river already darkening to evening; and thus presently beheld a boat, vague and blurred at first, but as it drew nearer saw in the stern-sheets four gallants who laughed and talked gaily enough, and the muffled forms of two women, and in one, from the bold, free carriage of her head, I recognised, despite hood and cloak, my Lady Joan Brandon; nay, as the boat drew in, I heard the sweet, vital tones of her voice, and with this in my ears I caught up my lanthorn and so descended to the orlop. Now as I paused at the narrow scuttle that gave down to my noxious hiding-place, I thought to hear a step somewhere in the gloom below.

  "Ha, Godby!" says I. "Are you down there, man?" But getting no answer, I descended the ladder, bethinking me of the rats (whereof I had no lack of company), and coming into my dog-hole, closed the rickety door, and having supped, cast myself down upon my bed and blew out the light, and despite the rustle and scutter away there in the dark beyond my crazy door I was very soon asleep.

  And in my sleep what must I dream of but rats with eyes that glared in the dark, that crawled ever nearer, while one that crept upon my bosom grew and swelled into a great fellow with a steel hook in place of one hand, a face with flashing white teeth and glowing eyes that peered close ere eyes and teeth vanished, and I sunk down and down into a black emptiness of dreamless slumber.

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