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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter24)

2006-08-28 22:28

  Chapter XXIV. How We Came to Black Bartlemy's Island

  "Martin, Martin——look!"

  I started up, and rubbing sleep from my eyes, turned to gaze whither she pointed; and there, faint and far, above the rolling blue of the seas rose a blue shape. "'Tis the island, Martin! Our voyaging is nigh ended."

  "Aye, 'tis the island!" says I.

  "'Tis like an island of dream, Martin."

  "Nay, 'tis real enough!" quoth I, "And solitary!"

  "There is a perspective glass in the locker, yonder, Martin."

  "Master Adam was vastly thoughtful!" quoth I, bitterly. And reaching the glass I gave it to her.

  "Will you not look at the island?" she questioned wonderingly.

  "Nay, I shall see more than enough of it ere long! Do you give me the tiller and view it as you will."

  "I see rocks!" says she, after some while.

  "Ha, a barren place, as I thought."

  "Nay, there are trees——many trees! O 'tis wonderful!" And so she sat viewing it all untiring, every moment discovering some new marvel; but I fell to my old, black humour, since to me this island was no better than a prison.

  By mid-day we were come so close that I might see the place very well; a smallish island with sheer cliffs very jagged and grim where the seas broke in foam and crowned with many and divers trees, beyond which rose greeny slopes with more trees that mounted up and up to a lofty summit of rocks and brush. Being within some two miles of these forbidding cliffs I steered to fetch a compass about the island, and so presently opened a bay of white sand with tree-clad cliffs beyond, and before a sheet of placid water or lagoon shut off from the sea by a semicircular barrier-reef, such as Adam had described in his story.

  And now, bethinking me that (by his account) this was the only means of landing upon the island, I stood for this reef, against which the foaming seas dashed with a mighty roaring, looking for that narrow channel through the reef, that opening amid these breakers whereby we might steer into those calm waters beyond.

  And presently, sure enough, I espied it well-nigh in the middle of the reef, even as Adam had said, and, putting up the helm, ran for it straightway. An evil enough place it looked, perilously narrow and with mighty seas that broke in thunderous spray to right and left of it; insomuch that heedful of Adam's warning (and all too late) I was minded to bear up and stand away, plying off and on, until the waves should have moderated. But in my folly I had sailed too near and now, swept onward by some current, the boat, responding no more to her helm, was borne on at ever-increasing speed. So thus helpless and at mercy of the seas we drove straight for this perilous channel until I had some desperate hope that she might make it; on we sped, nearer and nearer, until the spume of the breakers was all about us and I well-nigh deafened by their roar; but this roar was pierced suddenly by a cry:

  "O Martin! God pity us——look!" Turning my head, I saw a hugeous wave hard upon us, felt my companion's arms about me, and then—— deafened, blinded, choking, I was whirled aloft on this mighty sea, tossed, buffeted, hurled into blinding sunlight, buried beneath green deeps and, expectant of death, suddenly found myself face down on warm sands wherein my griping fingers clutched desperately against the back-rush of the sea.

  So lay I gasping and gripping this kindly earth and waited to do battle for what remained of life, hearkening for the fierce hiss of that great wave that was to bear me back to the horror of those green deeps the which should bury me for ever; instead I heard the gentle, drowsy lapping of water all about me, and opening my eyes beheld myself lying on the edge of those white sands that bordered the lagoon, while behind me the seas thundered impotent against the reef. And now, little by little, I saw that the great wave must have borne me hither in miraculous fashion; and lying thus bruised and spent I must needs remember how Adam had experienced the like.

  But all at once I staggered up to my feet and began staring hither and thither; then as my brain cleared and strength came back, I took to running along the edge of the lagoon like one demented, staring down into those placid waters and searching the white sands with eyes of dreadful expectancy, yet nowhere could I discover sign or trace of my companion. None the less I continued to run aimlessly back and forth, heedless of my going, slipping and stumbling and often falling, but never staying my search until the sweat poured from me. And ever as I ran I kept repeating these words to myself over and over again, viz., "Adam's comrade, Nicholas Frant, was cast safe ashore with him!" Thus I ran to and fro gasping these words to myself until, tripping over a piece of driftwood I lay bruised and well-nigh spent. Howbeit, I forced myself up again and re-commenced my search, and this time with more method, for I swore to myself that I would find her or perish also. To this end I determined to get me out upon the reef; now to come thither I must needs climb over certain rocks, so came I thither and, breathless with haste, made shift to mount these rocks heedless of bruises or bleeding hands, and reaching the summit at last, paused all at once.

  She lay face down almost below these rocks, outstretched within a little cove and her long, wet hair wide-tossed like drifted seaweed all about her. Now, seeing how still she lay, a great sickness seized me so that I sank weakly to my knees and crouched thus a while, and with no strength nor will to move. At last, and very slowly, I made my way a-down the rocks, and being within the little cove, found myself all trembling and holding my breath. Then, though the soft sand deadened all sound of my going, I crept forward. So came I where she lay, her wet draperies clinged fast about her; and standing above this stilly form I looked down upon her slender shapeliness yet feared to touch her. And now I saw that one sleeve was torn away and upon her round, white arm the marks my cruel hands had wrought.

  "Damaris!" says I, falling on my knees beside her, and the word was a groan. And in that moment she raised her head and looked at me, and in her eyes methought to read wonder and a sudden, great joy:

  "Martin!" she whispered, "O thank God!" And so hid her face again. Now, being yet on my knees, I looked from her to the blue heaven and round about me like one that wakes upon a new world.

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