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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter22)

2006-08-28 22:27

  Chapter XXII. Telleth How We Were Cast Adrift

  I awoke to a wind on my brow, very pleasant and sweet, and in my ears the soft and drowsy ripple of water right soothing to hear, and thus would have slumbered on but for another sound that broke out at intervals, a thunderous roar that seemed to shake me where I lay. Therefore I opened my eyes to see above me a great multitude of stars, and lay staring up at them in vague and dreamy wonderment until, roused again by another thunderclap, I raised myself and saw I lay in the stern-sheets of a large, open boat that rocked to a gentle swell, and all about me a misty sea grey with the dawn. Now as I gazed around me, greatly troubled and amazed, I beheld, far away across these dim waters, a flash of red flame, and after some while heard again the thunder of a gun.

  Little by little, as the light waxed, I made out the loom of two ships and, despite the distance, I knew the foremost for the "Faithful Friend." Ever and anon would come the faint crack of caliver or petronel from her high poop, and the thunder of her stern-chase guns. And with my mind's eyes I seemed to espy Adam firing from his loopholes to sweep the decks forward, the while Godby and his few gunners served the great basilisks aft, aiming them at a tall, black ship that stood hard in their wake, yawing now and then to bring her fore-chase to bear on them in answer.

  Suddenly up flamed the sun turning sea and sky to glory; but I crouched miserable in my helplessness, for now I saw the "Faithful Friend" steered a course that was taking her rapidly away from me upon the freshening wind. Perceiving which bitter truth, beholding myself thus befooled, bubbled and tricked (and my head throbbing from the blow of Penfeather's pistol-butt) a mighty anger against him surged within me, and shaking my fists I fell to fierce curses and revilings, like any madman, until what with my aching head and lack of breath, I cast myself face down and lay there spent with my futile ravings. Yet even so, bethinking me of all my fine schemes and purposes thus brought to nothingness and myself drifting impotent at the mercy of wind and wave, I sought to spit my puny anger against the God that made me, in blasphemies and bitter imprecations.

  "O shame, shame on you, Martin Conisby! The God you rail upon is my God also. Have done, I say! Be silent, nor tempt His mercy with your childish clamours!"

  Up-starting I turned and beheld the Lady Brandon upon her knees within a yard of me, saw her shrink before my gaze and the griping passion of my hands; for now, reading in her look all her scorn and loathing for the thing I was, I must needs turn my fury upon her and did that the which shames me to this day, for even as she fronted me, all defenceless but with head erect and eyes unflinching despite the sick pallor of her cheeks, I seized her in cruel hold and, dragging her to me, bent her backward across a thwart.

  "Ha!" I gasped, "Will ye dare cry shame on me? Will ye mock—— will ye flout——will ye scorn me still——and you but a lying, thieving Brandon! Would you trample me 'neath your proud feet——."

  "All this!" says she, staring up into my eyes, "But I do pity you most for——what you are become. O——kill me if you will, 'twould be very easy for you and, mayhap, best for me, and I do not fear to die. So do as you will, Martin Conisby, I do not fear you since Death is my kind friend and shall free me of the shame of you if need be!"

  Hereupon I loosed her and, crouched again in the stern-sheets, bowed my head upon my fists, whiles she, kneeling patiently beside the midship thwart, ordered her wrenched garments with shaking hands.

  And, after some while, her voice with its sweet, vital ring, pierced to those black deeps where lay the soul of me:

  "'Tis growing very rough. What must we do?"

  Lifting my head, I saw that the sea was risen considerably, and the boat drifting broadside to the wind, so that the waves, taking us abeam, spilled aboard us ever and anon. So I arose and made shift to step the mast and hoist sail, nothing heeding her proffered aid; then shipping the tiller, I put our little vessel before the wind. And now, from a log pitching and rolling at mercy of the waves, this boat became, as it were, alive and purposeful, lifting to the seas with joyous motion, shaking the water from her bows in flashing brine that sparkled jewel-like in the early sun, her every timber thrilling to the buffets of the waters that rushed bubbling astern all rainbow-hued and with a sound like elfin laughter, until what with all this and the strong, sweet air, even I felt the joy of it; but though my black humour lifted somewhat, my shame was sore upon me, wherefore I kept my gaze for the peak of the sail, the cloudless heaven, the deep blue of the seas, and never so much as glanced at the patient, solitary figure amidships.

  "Whither do we sail?" she questioned at last.

  "What matter?" says I sullenly.

  "Aye, true!" she sighed.

  "Besides, I have no compass."

  "There is one in the locker here, and with it a packet and a letter writ to you. Shall I bring them?"

  "As you will," says I, keeping my gaze averted. So she makes her way over to me (and mighty dexterous) despite the motion of the boat, and setting the compass beside me, gives me the letter. It was sealed, and subscribed thus:

  "To my well-loved, trusty friend, comrade and brother-adventurer Martin, these:"

  Breaking the seal, I read as follows:

  "For your sore head, Martin, I grieve, but the blow I regret no whit seeing it was struck to our mutual advantage hereafter. Now you (reading this) being at sea betwixt the parallels 70 and 65 in an open boat and all by reason of circumstances proving too strong for you, Martin, it much behoveth you to mark and heed well these my directions, to wit: You shall lay your course south-westerly, and that for these several and sufficing reasons, viz., (1) You lie out of the track of ships. (2) These be treacherous seas, given to sudden furies of wind and raging tempest. (3) I like not the look of the weather. (4) Our Island lieth scarce twenty-four hours' sail due south-westerly. Whereof I have drawn for your guidance a chart of these waters, together with a plan of our Island (very just and exact). Also a chart of the passage or channel through the barrier-reef, for saving this passage, there is no landing upon the island that I know of. Nor shall you attempt this passage except at the flood and the seas calm. Being landed, Martin, you shall, with due regard to rest and refreshment, forthwith secure our Treasure (the secret whereof I have included with this my letter). Thereupon, and with all dispatch, you shall, troubling not for the gold or silver, take but the four caskets of jewels, and, setting them aboard your boat, sail away due West (three days) until you shall fetch up with another island, the which you shall know by its three several hills plain to be seen, and called Gibbet Island, since 'twas there I hanged one Juan Maldonada (and richly deserved it!). Here then you shall bury our Treasure (four caskets) in such place as seemeth to you proper, and there await my coming. And if I join you not within two months, then shall this mighty treasure three-quarters thereof be yours. And if I come not within six months, then shall this fortune be wholly yours since I shall be beyond all need of it. So now, Martin, good Fortune attend you. Your boat (chosen by me long since, and for this very purpose) is staunch, and an excellent sea-boat and very well stored with everything for your needs, as arms, clothes, food and the like. Moreover within the treasure-cave is all manner of stores, so that a man even though he bides on the land to his life's end need suffer no lack, but have his every comfort supplied.

  And now, as to your head, Martin, 'twill be none the worse by this, I judge. And for the blow, 'twas no harder than called for, and very well intentioned, as you shall confess one day, mayhap, unless you be greater fool and blinder than I take you for. Howbeit I trust you, Martin, and in bidding you farewell for the nonce, subscribe myself,

  Your faithful friend and comrade to serve,

  Adam Penfeather."

  Having read this wordy missive, I crumpled it in angry fist and thrust it into my pocket. But now she gives me the packet named therein, the which I forthwith tossed overboard (like the wilful fool I was). Thereby involving us in divers and many great dangers and difficulties, as you shall learn hereafter.

  Howbeit (the wind serving) I altered our course and stood away south-westerly even as Adam had directed, since I perceived the weather thickening behind us and the sea heaving with uneasy motion. And presently my companion questions me again:

  "Whither do we sail?"

  "South-westerly."

  "Aye, but whither?"

  "To an island."

  "Is it far?"

  "Two days' journey or thereabouts."

  "Do you know this island?"

  "I have never seen it."

  "Then why sail thither?"

  "'Tis thereabouts Penfeather would meet with us again if he may."

  "And being there, what then?"

  "God knoweth!"

  Here was silence again save for the creak of mast and timbers as we rose to the gentle swell and the ripple of water 'neath our keel, while the sun, high risen, blazed down from the blue, his fierce beams tempered by the cool, sweet wind.

  "Are you hungry, Martin?"

  "Is there aught to eat?"

  "Plenty!" So saying she opened one of the lockers and brought thence a loaf of fine white bread, a neat's tongue, a flask of wine, and a small barrico of water, upon which I, for one, made an excellent meal. Which done, she sets all things away again, very orderly, and sits elbow on knee, staring away into the distance and with her back to me. Hereupon, I opened the stern- locker and found therein a couple of musquetoons, a brace of pistols, a sword with belt and hangers, and divers kegs of powder and ball.

  "How came you lying stunned in the boat?" says my companion at last, but without turning her head.

  "By roguery!" I answered. "But how and when did the mutiny start?"

  "'Twas when we went to fetch the boy, my little page, Marjorie and I. He lay hurt and crying on the deck; so we ran out to him and took him up betwixt us, and then I heard shouts and rush of feet, and they were all about us——drunken men singing and dancing. And they struggled with us till came Master Penfeather, with Godby and others, and after much bitter fighting brought us away. But Marjorie, my dear, faithful Marjorie, had taken a blow aimed at me and died……in my arms……And the great cabin choking with powder-smoke……and wounded men who cried and shouted. My dear, brave Marjorie! With the dark the fight began again, and twice I feared they would break in upon us. Then Master Adam brought me into the stern-gallery and lowered me into the boat where I might lie secure, and so got him back into the battle. But in a little I saw a hand in the gloom cutting at the tow- rope, and I screamed, but none heard. And so the boat drifted away, and with the dawn I found you lying under a boat-cloak."

  When she had done, I sat awhile staring up at the peak of the sail:

  "My Lady Brandon," says I at length, "Fate hath set you in scurvy company, for I am an ill rogue, very rough and rude-mannered, and no fit company for any woman, as you do very well know. Howbeit, I swear that henceforth, so long as we company together, I will trouble you no more than I may, either by act or speech, you to your place in the bows yonder in mine here at the tiller, you to your thoughts, I to mine. And thus methinks we shall do well enough until we can go our several ways."

  "Must we not speak?" she questioned, keeping her face turned from me.

  "When needful, madam!"

  "Am I but to answer when you deign me notice? Will it plague you if I sing? Am I to sit with my hands folded henceforth and do nought but think? Must I stay in the bows until you summon me thence?" says she, and all in the same small, soft voice, so that I perceived my fine speech had been thrown away; wherefore I stared up at the sail and with never a word in answer.

  But presently, chancing to look at her, I found her regarding me with her dimpled chin set mighty resolute; "Because," says she, meeting my look, "I shall talk when I will and sing when so minded, Martin Conisby. I shall not sit in the bows for 'tis wet there, and I shall not fold my hands, but you shall teach me how to steer and handle the boat and do my share of the labour. For look now, here are we, by no will of our own, God knoweth, companions in misfortune, let us then aid each other that our troubles be the easier. And O pray do you forget Martin Conisby his woes awhile." And away she goes, and getting to her knees before one of the lockers, begins rearranging the contents, singing away the while merry as any grig.

  As the day wore on, the skies clouded over with a wind very sudden and blusterous, wherefore, misliking the look of things, I was for shortening sail, but feared to leave the helm lest the boat should broach to and swamp while this was a-doing. But the wind increasing, I was necessitated to call my companion beside me and teach her how she must counter each wind-gust with the helm, and found her very apt and quick to learn. So leaving the boat to her manage I got me forward and (with no little to-do) double-reefed our sail, leaving just sufficient to steer by; which done I glanced to my companion where she leaned to the tiller, her long hair streaming out upon the wind, her lithe body a-sway to the pitching of the boat and steering as well as I myself. From her I gazed to windward where an ominous and ever- growing blackness filled me with no small apprehensions; wherefore I made fast all our loose gear, as oars, spare sail, spars and the like. Now in the bows were stowed her belongings, a leathern trunk and divers bundles, the which I proceeded to secure in their turn. This done, I got me aft again, but when I would have relieved her of the tiller, she shook her head.

  "Nay, let me steer a while," she cried, looking up through her wind-tossed hair, "'tis joy to me! Lay you down and rest a while and trust the boat to me." And seeing how quick she was to meet each send of the seas (that were already running high) glad enough was I to humour her whim, and clambered forward again. And there (having nought better to do) I set about rigging a rough awning athwart the bows, with canvas and a stout spar, which methought should keep out the spray and any chance sea that might break forward; though indeed the boat seemed mighty staunch, and sea-worthy to a miracle.

  With every hour the wind waxed in fury and therewith the sea rose, huge, rolling billows that came roaring up astern to whirl us aloft amid hissing brine and passing, left us deep-plunged in great, foaming hollows. Being got back aft at last and with no small exertion (by reason of the boat's pitching) I stared amazed to hear my companion singing right joyously.

  "O Martin!" she cried, her voice a-thrill with the clear, vital ring I knew so well, "O Martin, the wonder and glory of it! See yonder on these mighty waters, Death rides crying to us. But God is there also, and if these rushing surges 'whelm us we, dying, shall find God there." And beholding her as she sat, her face uplifted to the tempest, her sea-wet hair upborne upon the wind, I marvelled within myself. "And the boat, Martin!" cries she as we rose on a hissing wave-crest, "This dear, brave boat! See how nobly she rides——indeed and indeed I do love her every timber!"

  And verily to me, awed by these mighty waters, it was wonderful to see how our little craft rose to the seas, buoyant as any cork; now poised 'mid hissing foam high in air, now plunging dizzily down; and ever the wind gathered fury until the very air seemed full of whirling spindrift.

  In a while I took the tiller, and wondered to see my companion droop all at once with head bowed upon her hands.

  "Are you sick?" I cried.

  "'Tis but weariness," she answered, "I slept no wink last night."

  "Why then go forward and lie down!" says I. The which she did forthwith, and made less business of it than I. Reaching the mast she paused thereby to behold my handiwork, then going on her knees crept beneath the awning and vanished from my view.

  Left alone I stared around me on the raging tumult, and beholding all its terrors my mind was full of wonder of this maid who could sing so blithely with Death all about her and behold God, as it were, riding on the wings of the storm.

  Presently she comes and sits close beside me that we might talk, for the wind was very loud.

  "It was kind of you to make me so fair a shelter, Martin, and a bed also, kind and very thoughtful, but I shall not sleep to- night unless it be here."

  "And why here?"

  "Death hath more terrors in the dark and I grow a little fearful, Martin." So saying she wrapped a boat-cloak about her and, spreading out the other, lay down thereon and so near that I might have touched her where she lay.

  And in a while Night rushed down upon us and it was dark; but from the dark her voice reached me where she lay, her head pillowed at my feet, and I, crouching above her, strove to shelter her somewhat from the lashing spray and buffeting wind. Thus in despite of raging tempest we contrived to make each other hear though with difficulty, talking on this wise:

  She: Are you afraid?

  Myself: No.

  She: Have you then no fears of death?

  Myself: I have prayed for it, ere now.

  She: And vainly! For God, instead, hath made you very hale and strong.

  Myself: Aye, for a purpose.

  She: What purpose?

  Here, seeing I held my peace, she questioned me again: "Was your purpose the slaying of my father? He is an old man and feeble!"

  Myself: He plotted the downfall of our house and slew my father!

  She: And so you have prayed for vengeance?

  Myself: I have.

  She: And God hath denied you this also. Should you die to-night you go to him innocent of your enemy's blood.

  Myself: Aye, but if I live——?

  She: You shall grow wiser, mayhap, and forgetting the ill that lies behind you, reach out to the good that lieth before.

  Myself: And what of my just vengeance?

  She: Vengeance is but for the weak of soul, 'tis only the strong can forgive.

  Myself: What of my sacred vow? What of my many prayers for vengeance?

  She: Empty breath!

  Myself: Dare you say so?

  She: I dare more, for lying here with Death all about us I tell you, Martin Conisby, despite your size and strength, you are no better than a pitiful, peevish child——"

  "Ha!" cried I fiercely, bending over her in the dimness until I might stare into her eyes, wide and dark in the pale oval of her face, "Will ye dare——"

  "A child," says she again, nodding at me, "lost and wilful and very selfish with no thought above Martin Conisby and his wrongs. Nay, scowl not nor grind your teeth, 'tis vain! For how may I, that fear not God's dreadful tempest, stoop to fear poor Martin Conisby?"

  "Stoop, madam?" I cried hoarsely.

  "Aye, stoop," says she. "The wrongs you have endured have plunged you to the very deeps, have stripped you of your manhood. And yet——yours is no murderer's face even when you scowl and clench your fist! 'Twas so you looked when you fought that rough boy on my behalf so many years ago when you were Sir Martin the Knight-errant and I was Princess Damaris. And now, Martin, you that were my playmate and had forgot——you that were so ready to fight on my behalf——in this desolation there is none you may do battle with for my sake saving only——Martin Conisby!"

  Now here she turned, her face hid from me 'neath a fold of the great boat-cloak, and spake no more. And I, crouched above her, staring down at her muffled form outstretched thus at my mercy, felt my quivering fist relax, felt my brutish anger cower before her trust and fearlessness. And so, leaning across the tiller, I stared away into the raging dark; and now it seemed that the soul of me had sunk to deeps more black and, groping blindly there, hungered for the light.

  So all night long we drove before the tempest through a pitchy gloom full of the hiss of mighty seas that roared past us in the dark like raging giants. And all night long she lay, her head pillowed at my feet, sleeping like a wearied child, and her long, wind-tossed hair within touch of my hand.

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