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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter31)

2006-08-28 22:29

  Chapter XXXI. I Try My Hand at Pottery

  Next morning, having bathed me in the pool, I descended thence to find breakfast a-cooking, two noble steaks propped before the fire on skewers stuck upright in the ground, a device methought very ingenious, and told her so; the which did seem to please her mightily.

  "Are you hungry, Martin?"

  "'Tis a poor word for it!" says I, sniffing at the roasting steaks.

  "Alas! Our poor turtle-shell is all perished with the fire. Martin, if you could but contrive me a pan with handles! I have found plenty of clay along the river bank yonder." Here she gives me my steak on a piece of wood for platter, and I being so sharp-set must needs burn my mouth in my eagerness, whereon she gravely reproves me as I had been a ravenous boy, yet laughs thereafter to see me eat with such huge appetite now a bite of plantain, and now a slice of steak cut with my knife.

  "As to your pan with handles," says I, my hunger appeased somewhat, "I will set about it as soon as I have made my bow and arrows——"

  "There is no need of them," quoth she, and rising, away she goes and presently comes back with a goodly bow and quiver full of arrows.

  "Lord love you!" says I, leaping up in my eagerness. "Here's mighty good weapon!" As indeed it was, being longer than most Indian bows and of good power. Moreover it was tufted with feathers rare to fancy and garnished here and there with fillets of gold-work, very artificially wrought as were also the arrows. Nine of these there were in a quiver of tanned leather, adorned with featherwork and gold beads, so that I did not doubt but that their late owner had been of some account among his fellows.

  "I found them two days ago, Martin, but kept them until you should be well again. And this I found too!" And she showed me a gold collar of twisted wire, delicately wrought. All of the which put me in high good humour and I was minded to set off there and then to try a shot at something, but she prevailed upon me to finish my meal first; the which I did, though hastily.

  "There was a knife also," says I suddenly.

  "Yes, Martin, but I threw it into the lagoon."

  "O folly!" says I.

  "Nay, we have two knives already, and this as I do think was poisoned."

  "No matter, 'twas a goodly knife——why must you throw it away?"

  "Because I was so minded!" says she, mighty serene and regarding me with her calm, level gaze. "Never scowl, Martin, though indeed 'twas goodly knife with handle all gold-work." At this I scowled the more and she must needs laugh, calling me Black Bartlemy, whereon I turned my back on her and she fell a-singing to herself.

  "Think you these arrows are poisoned also?" says she as I rose. At this, I emptied them from the quiver, and though their iron barbs looked innocent enough, I held each in the fire until I judged I had rendered them harmless if poisoned they were indeed.

  And now, though sore tempted to try my skill with this good bow, I followed her down to the river-bank to try my hand at pottery, though taking good care to carry my bow with me.

  Being come to the river I laid aside bow and quiver, and cutting divers lumps of clay (the which seemed very proper to my purpose) I fell to kneading these lumps until I had wrought them to a plastic consistency, and so (keeping my hands continually moistened) I began to mould and shape a pot to her directions. And now, since I was about it, I determined to have as many as need be and of different sizes. My first was a great ill-looking thing, and my second little better, but as I progressed I grew more skilful so that after some while I had six pots of varying size and shape, and each with handles; and, though ill things to look at, my lady found them all she desired.

  "Surely they are very clumsy?" says I, viewing them doubtfully.

  "But very strong, Martin!"

  "And very ponderous!"

  "But they have handles, Martin!"

  "And very ill-shaped!"

  "'Tis no matter so long as they will hold water, Martin."

  Hereupon, heartened by her encouragement, I tried my hand at a set of dishes, platters and the like, for as I grew more expert at the art, my interest increased. So I laboured all the morning, working 'neath a tree upon the river-bank, and my pots set out to dry in the full glare of the sun all of a row, and I, in my heart, not a little proud of them. But turning to look at them after some while I saw divers of them beginning to crack and gape here and there with the sun's heat, whereon my vain pride gave place to sudden petulant anger, and leaping up I demolished them, one and all, with a couple of savage kicks.

  'O Martin!" cries my lady, desponding, "Is all your labour wasted? Are you done?"

  "No!" says I, clenching my teeth, "I begin now!" And down I sat to my clay-kneading again. But this time I worked it more thoroughly, and so began to mould my pots and pipkins over again, and she aiding me as well as she might. This time the thing came easier, at the which my companion did admire and very full of encouragement as the vessels took shape under my hands.

  "Come, Martin," says she at last, "'tis dinner-time!"

  "No matter!" quoth I.

  "Will you not eat?"

  "No!" says I, mighty determined. "Here sit I nor will I go eat till I can contrive you a pot worthy the name." And I bent to my work again; but missing her from beside me, turned to see her seated upon the grassy bank and with two roasted steaks set out upon two great green leaves, a delectable sight.

  "Pray lend me your knife, Martin."

  "What, have you brought dinner hither?" says I.

  "To be sure, Martin."

  "Why then——!" says I, and laving the clay from my hands came beside her and, using our knife alternately, a very pleasant meal we made of it.

  All that afternoon I wrought at our pots until I had made a dozen or so of all sizes, and each and every furnished with one or more handles; and though I scowled at a crack here and there, they looked none the less serviceable on the whole, and hardening apace.

  "And now, comrade," quoth I, rising, "now we will fire them." So having collected wood sufficient, I reached for my biggest pot (the which being made first was the hardest-set), and taking it up with infinite care off tumbled the handles. At this I was minded to dash the thing to pieces, but her touch restrained me and I set it down, staring at it mighty discomfited and downcast; whereat she laughs right merrily.

  "O Martin," says she, "never gloom so, 'tis an excellent pot even without handles, indeed I do prefer it so!"

  "No," says I, "handles you wanted and handles you shall have!" So taking a stick that lay handy, I sharpened it to a point and therewith bored me two holes beneath the lip of the pot and other two opposite. "This pot shall have iron handle," says I, "unless it perish in the fire." Then setting the pots as close as might be, I covered them with brushwood and thereupon (and with infinite caution) builded a fire and presently had it a-going. Now I would have stayed to tend the fire but my companion showed me the sun already low, vowed I had done enough, that I was tired, etc. So, having set upon the fire wood enough to burn good time, I turned away and found myself weary even as she said.

  "Goat's-flesh," says I as we sat side by side after supper, "goat's-flesh is an excellent, wholesome diet and, as you cook it, delicious."

  "'Tis kind of you to say so, Martin, but——"

  "We have had it," says I, "we have had it boiled and baked——"

  "And roast and stewed, and broiled across your iron bolts, Martin, and yet 'tis always goat's-flesh and I do yearn for a change, and so do you."

  "Lord!" says I, "You do read my very thoughts sometimes."

  "Is that so wonderful, Martin?"

  "Why, a man's thoughts are but thoughts," says I, watching where she braided a long tress of her hair.

  "Some men's thoughts are so easily read!" says she.

  "Are mine?"

  "Sometimes, Martin!" Now at this I blenched and well I might, and she smiled down at the long tress of hair she was braiding and then glances at me mighty demure; quoth she: "But only sometimes, Martin. Now, for instance, you are wondering why of late I have taken to wearing my hair twisted round my head and pinned with these two small pieces of wood in fashion so unsightly!"

  "Aye, truly," says I wondering, "indeed and so I was! Though I do not think it unsightly!"

  "I wear it so, Martin, first because my hairpins are yet to make, and second because I would not have you find my hairs in your baked goat, boiled goat, roast, fried or stewed goat. And speaking of goat brings us back where we began, and we began yearning for a change of food."

  "As to that," says I, taking her half-finished hairpin from my pocket and drawing my knife, "the lagoon is full of fish had I but a hook——"

  "Or a net, Martin."

  "How should we contrive our net?"

  "In the woods all about us do grow vines very strong and pliable ——would these serve, think you?"

  "Ha——an excellent thought!" says I. "To-morrow we will attempt it. As to fish-hooks, I might contrive them out of my nails hammered small, though I fear they'd be but clumsy. Had I but a good stout pin——"

  "I have two, Martin, here in my shoe-buckles."

  "Show me!" Stooping, she slipped off one of her shoes and gave it to me; and turning it over in my hand I saw the poor little thing all cut and torn and in woeful estate.

  "I must contrive you other shoes and soon!" says I.

  "Can you make shoes, Martin?"

  "I'll tell you this to-morrow."

  "O Martin, 'twould be wonderful if you could, and a great comfort to me."

  "Why then, you shall have them, though unlovely things they'll be, I fear."

  "No matter so long as they keep out sharp stones and briars, Martin."

  "Your foot is wonderfully small!" says I, studying her shoe.

  "Is it, Martin? Why 'tis a very ordinary foot, I think. And the pins are behind the buckles." Sure enough I found these silver buckles furnished each with a good stout pin well-suited to my design; so breaking them from the buckles, I had soon bent them into hooks and (with the back of my knife and a stone) I shaped each with a small ring a-top whereby I might secure them to my line; and though they had no barbs I thought they might catch any fish were I quick enough.

  "How shall you do for a line, Martin?"

  "I shall take the gut of one of our goats and worsted unravelled from my stocking."

  "Will worsted be strong enough?"

  "I shall make it fourfold."

  "Nay, I will plait it into a line for you!"

  "Good!" quoth I. And whipping off one of my stockings I unravelled therefrom sufficient of the worsted.

  "But what shall you do for stockings?" says she, while this was a-doing.

  "I will make me leggings of goat's-skin." So she took the worsted and now, sitting in a patch of radiant moonlight, fell to work, she weaving our fish-line with fingers very quick and dexterous, and I carving away at the pin for her hair.

  "How old are you, Martin?" says she suddenly.

  "Twenty-seven."

  "And I shall be twenty-six to-morrow."

  "I judged you older."

  "Do I look it, Martin?"

  "Yes——no, no!"

  "Meaning what, Martin!"

  "You do seem older, being no silly maid but of a constant mind, and one to endure hardship. Also you are very brave in peril, very courageous and high-hearted. Moreover you are wise."

  "Do you think me all this?" says she softly. "And wherefore?"

  "I have never heard you complain yet——save of me, and I have never seen you afraid. Moreover you caught a goat and killed it!"

  "You are like to make me vain of my so many virtues, Martin!" laughs she; yet her laugh was very soft and her eyes kind when she looked at me.

  "This hairpin shall be my birthday gift to you," says I.

  "And surely none like to it in the whole world, Martin!"

  After this we worked a great while, speaking no word; but presently she shows me my fish-line very neatly plaited and a good five feet long, the which did please me mightily, and so I told her.

  "Heigho!" says she, leaning back against the rock, "Our days grow ever more busy!"

  "And will do!" quoth I. "Here is strange, rude life for you, days of hardship and labour unceasing. Your hands shall grow all hard and rough and yourself sick with longing to be hence——"

  "Alas, poor me!" she sighed.

  "Why, 'twill be no wonder if you grieve for England and ease," says I, "'twill be but natural."

  "O very, Martin!"

  "For here are you," I went on, beginning to scowl up at the waning moon, "here are you bred up to soft and silken comfort, very dainty and delicate, and belike with lovers a-plenty, courtly gallants full up of fine phrases and eager for your service——."

  "Well, Martin?"

  "Instead of the which you have this island!"

  "An earthly paradise!" says she.

  "And myself!"

  "A foolish being and gloomy!" says she. "One that loveth to be woeful and having nought to grieve him for the moment must needs seek somewhat! So will I to bed ere he find it!"

  "Look now," quoth I, as she rose, "in losing the world you do lose everything——."

  "And you also, Martin."

  "Nay," says I, "in losing the world of yesterday I may find more than ever I possessed!"

  "Meaning you are content, Martin?"

  "Is anyone ever content in this world?"

  "Well——I——might be!" says she slowly. "But you——I do fear you will never know true content, it is not in you, I think."

  And off she goes to bed leaving me very full of thought. Howbeit the moon being very bright (though on the wane) I stayed there until I had finished her hairpin, of the which I give here a cut, viz.:——

  {Sketch of a hairpin.)

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