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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter35)

2006-08-28 22:31

  Chapter XXXV. How My Dear Lady was Lost to Me

  And now followed a season of much hard work, each day bringing its varied tasks and we right joyous in our labour, so that ofttimes I would hear her singing away in her sweet voice merry as any grig, or find myself whistling lustily to the tap of my hammer. And now indeed my saw (and all rusty though it was) served me faithfully and well, and my carpentry went forward apace. During this time also we added four goats and six kids to our flock, so that we had good store of milk, and having with my lady's help made our net with strands of cord knotted crosswise, we caught therewith great plenty of fish.

  Remembering my adventure with the Indian I furnished myself with a good stout pike and a couple of javelins; moreover I set up divers marks, like rovers, and every day I would shoot at these with my bow, so that I soon became so dexterous I could bring down a bird on the wing six times out of seven, though in teaching myself this proficiency I lost four of my Indian arrows beyond recovery.

  Thus sped the time all too quickly, but with each day came a greater understanding and a deeper amity betwixt my lady and me.

  Now much and very much might I set down here concerning this my sweet comrade, her many noble qualities, and how, as our fellowship lengthened, I (that was a man selfish beyond thought) finding her unselfish always and uncomplaining, seeing her so brave in the face of adversity, and indomitable to overcome all difficulty, yet ever and always a woman gracious and tender, I, by my very reverence for her sweet womanhood, became in some sense a better man.

  I might tell how, when my black moods took me, the mere sight of her, the sound of her voice, the touch of her hand, nay her very nearness was enough to dispel them.

  I might paint to your imagination the way her hair curled at her temples, the trick she had of biting her nether lip when at all put out, of the jut of her pretty chin when angered. Then the sweet, vibrant softness of her voice, her laughter, the wonder of her changing moods——all these I would dilate upon if I might, since 'tis joy to me, but lest I prove wearisome I will hasten on to the finding of Black Bartlemy's Treasure, of all that led up to it and all those evils that followed after it. And this bringeth me to a time whenas we sat, she and I, eating our breakfast and the world all radiant with a young sun.

  "To-night," says she, "if my calculations be right, should be a new moon. And I am glad, for I do love the moon."

  "Aye, but how should you judge this?" says I, wondering.

  "Because I have kept a record, Martin. A stroke for each day and a cross for every Sunday."

  "Excellent!" quoth I. "Then you will know how long we have lived here?"

  "Two months and five days, Martin."

  "So long a time?" says I amazed.

  "Hath it seemed so very long?" she questioned.

  "No indeed!" says I. "No, and there's the marvel!"

  "'Tis no marvel, Martin, you have been too full of business to heed time. Let us reckon up what we have achieved thus far. First of all a three-legged stool for me——"

  "Hairpins!" says I.

  "A spoon, Martin, and shoes for me——"

  "Lamps and candles!" quoth I.

  "A table, Martin——"

  "A fishing line and two hooks."

  "Two armchairs, Martin, a cupboard and a press."

  "A churn!" says I.

  "You are forgetting our five pipkins, Martin."

  "True," says I, "and clumsy things they are!"

  "But very useful, sir! Next a fishing-net, and a bed for me. Here is fine achievement, Martin! Are you not proud to have wrought so much and with so little?"

  "But there is much yet to do!" quoth I.

  "So much the better!" says she. "Thus far I am well content."

  "And happy?" I demanded.

  "Aye, Martin——are you?"

  "Now at this I fell to profound reverie and she also, and this the subject of my musings, viz.,

  In every man and woman born into this world (as it doth seem to me) God putteth some of His infinite self whereby all things are possible in degree greater or smaller; for to the God within us all things are possible, 'tis our very humanity that limits our potentialities. Confidence in this power within us is a mighty aid to all endeavour whereby we, our coward flesh notwithstanding, may attempt great things, and though, being human, we ofttimes fail, yet this very effort strengthens and ennobles us.

  "Who art thou," cries Flesh, "to adventure thing so great and above thy puny strength to perform? Who art thou?" "I am God!" answers Man-soul, "Since finite man am I only by reason of thee, base, coward Flesh." Thus (to my thinking) in every man is angel and demon, each striving 'gainst each for the soul of him; whereby he doeth evil or good according to the which of these twain he aideth to victory. Howbeit, thus it is with me, I being, despite my seeming slowness, of quick and passionate temper and of such desperate determination that once set on a course needs would I pursue it though it led to my own confounding and destruction. For now, indeed, I wrought that the which brought on my lady great sorrow and grievous peril, and on myself shame, bloodshed and a black despair, and this the manner of it.

  "Are you not happy, Martin?" says she, 'Happy and proud to have accomplished so much with so little?"

  "No!" says I, and so bitterly-fierce that she blenched from me. "For look now," says I, clenching my fist, "here have we wrought and slaved together day in and day out——and to what end?"

  "That we may live——to our comfort——" says she a little breathlessly.

  "And to what end?" I demanded. "To what purpose have you cozened me to labour thus?"

  "I? I don't understand you, Martin!" says she unsteadily.

  "Here's you cast alone with me on this island. 'He is a man,' says you to yourself, 'and I a lonely woman. So must I keep him busy, his mind ever employed on some labour, no matter what, lest peradventure he make love to me——'"

  "Stop!" cries she angrily, leaping up to her feet all in a moment. "For shame, Martin Conisby! You wrong me and yourself—— I am your comrade——"

  "Nay, you are a woman, very subtle, and quick-witted as you are beautiful. So have you kept me in ploy thus, yearning meanwhile for some ship——anything to bear you safe away from me! Often have I seen you staring seaward and praying for a sail."

  "O you lie, Martin, you lie! Ah, have I not trusted you?"

  "Aye, as one might a tiger, by humouring me and distracting my attention! All these weeks I have scarce touched you and kissed you never, nor had I thought to——but now by God——"

  "Martin——O Martin, what would you——"

  "Kiss you!" says I savagely, and caught her wrists.

  "Nay, that you shall never do——with that look on your face!" cries she, and twisted so strongly as nigh broke my hold; but despite all her desperate striving, struggle how she might, I dragged her to me, pinning her arms in my cruel embrace; but still she withstood me and with such fury of strength that twice we staggered and came near falling, until all at once she yielded and lay all soft, her breath coming in little, pitiful, panting groans. So I kissed her as I would, her hair, her eyes, her parted lips, her cool, soft throat, until sun and trees and green grass seemed to spin and whirl dizzily about me, until my lips were wet with her salt tears.

  "O God——O God!" she whispered, "O Martin that I trusted so, will you kill my faith and trust? Will you shame your comrade? You that I loved——"

  "Loved!" says I, catching my breath and staring down at her tear- wet lashes, "Loved me——O Damaris——"

  "Aye loved, and honoured you above all men until the beast broke loose."

  "And now?" cried I hoarsely, "And now——what? Speak!"

  "God's pity——loose me, Martin!"

  "And now what——tell me. Is't hate now, scorn and contempt——as 'twas aboard ship?"

  "O Martin——let me go!" she sobbed.

  "Answer me, is it hate henceforth?"

  "Yes!" she panted, "Yes!" and tore herself from my hold. But, as she turned to fly me, I caught her back to me and, madman that I was, bent her backward across my knee that I might look down into her eyes; and, meeting my look, she folded her hands upon her bosom and closing her eyes, spoke broken and humbled:

  "Take——take your will of me——Black Bartlemy——I am not——brave enough to stab you as——she did——"

  Now at this I shivered and must needs cast my gaze towards that great pimento tree that towered afar off. So, then, my hateful dream had come true, and now I knew myself for black a rogue as ever Bartlemy had been. So I loosed her and starting up, stood staring across the desolation of ocean.

  "O Damaris!" says I at last, "Here in my belt was my knife to your hand, 'twere better you had stabbed me indeed and I, dying, would have kissed your feet after the manner of yon dead rogue. As it is I must live hating myself for having destroyed the best, the sweetest thing life could offer me and that, your trust. But, O my lady," says I, looking down where she knelt, her face bowed upon her hands, "I do love you reverently and beyond my life."

  "Even greatly enough to forego your vengeance?" she questioned softly, and without glancing up.

  "God help me!" cried I, "How may I forget the oath I swore on my father's grave?"

  "You broke your oath to me!" says she, never stirring, "So do I know that true love hath not touched you."

  "Think of me as you will," quoth I, "but——"

  "I know!" says she, raising her head at last and looking up at me, "I am sure, Martin. Where hate is, true love can never be, and love howsoever vehement is gentle and reverent and, being of God, a very holy thing! But you have made of it a thing of passion, merciless and cruel——'tis love debased."

  "So will I get hence," says I, "for since I have destroyed your faith how shall you ever sleep again and know yourself secure and such rogue as I near you. I'll go, Damaris, I'll away and take your fears along with me."

  Then, the while she watched me dumbly, I slung my bow and quiver of arrows about me, set the hatchet in my girdle and, taking my pike, turned to go; but, checking my haste, went into the cave (she following me silent always) and taking the pistol from where it hung, examined flint and priming and charge and laid it on the table.

  "Should you need me at any time, shoot off this pistol and I will come" says I, "so good-bye, my lady!" But scarce was I without the cave than she comes to me with my chain-shirt in her hands, and when I would have none of it, grew the more insistent.

  "Put it on," says she gently, "who can tell what may befall you, so put it on I pray!" Thus in the end I donned it, though with ill grace; which done, I took my pike across my shoulder and strode away. And when I had gone some distance I glanced back and saw her standing where I had left her, watching me and with her hands clasped tight together.

  "Good-bye, Martin!" says she. "O good-bye!" and vanished into the gloom of the cave.

  As for me I strode on at speed and careless of direction, for my mind was a whirl of conflicting thoughts and a bitter rage against myself. Thus went I a goodish while and all-unheeding, and so at last found myself lost amidst mazy thickets and my eight-foot pike very troublesome. Howbeit I presently gained more open ways and went at speed, though whither, I cared not. The sun was westering when, coming out from the denser woods, I saw before me that high hill whose rocky summit dominated the island, and bent my steps thitherward; and then all in a moment my heart gave a great leap and I stood still, for borne to me on the soft air came a sudden, sharp sound, and though faint with distance I knew it for the report of a firearm. At this thrice- blessed sound an overwhelming great joy and gratitude surged within me since thus, of her infinite mercy my lady had summoned me back; and now as I retraced my steps full of thankfulness, I marvelled to find my eyes a-watering and myself all trembling eagerness to behold her loveliness again, to hear her voice, mayhap to touch her hand; indeed I felt as we had been parted a year rather than a brief hour. And now I got me to dreaming how I should meet her and how she would greet me. She should find a new Martin, I told myself. Suddenly these deluding dreams were shivered to horrible fear and myself brought, sweating, to a standstill by another sound that smote me like a blow, for I knew this for the deep-toned report of a musket. For a moment I stood leaning on my pike as one dazed, then the hateful truth of it seized me and I began to run like any madman. Headlong I went, bursting my way through tangled vines and undergrowth, heedless of the thorns that gashed me, cursing such obstacles as stayed me; now o'erleaping thorny tangles, now pausing to beat me a way with my pikestaff, running at breathless speed whenever I might until (having taken a wrong direction in my frenzy) I came out amid those vines and bushes that bordered the lake of the waterfall, and right over against the great rock I have mentioned. But from where I was (the place being high) I could see over and beyond this rock; and as I stood panting and well- nigh spent, mighty distraught and my gaze bent thitherward, I shivered (despite the sweat that streamed from me) with sudden awful chill, for from those greeny depths I heard a scream, wild and heartrending, and knowing this voice grew sick and faint and sank weakly to my knees; and now I heard vile laughter, then hoarse shouts, and forth of the underbrush opposite broke a wild, piteous figure all rent and torn yet running very fleetly; as I watched, cursing my helplessness, she tripped and fell, but was up again all in a moment, yet too late, for then I saw her struggling in the clasp of a ragged, black-bearded fellow and with divers other men running towards them.

  And now madness seized me indeed, for between us was the lake, and, though my bow was strung and ready, I dared not shoot lest I harm her. Thus as I watched in an agony at my impotence, my lady broke her captor's hold and came running, and he and his fellows hard after her. Straight for the rock she came, and being there stood a moment to stare about her like the piteous, hunted creature she was:

  "Martin!" she cried, "O Martin!" and uttering this dolorous cry (and or ever I might answer) she tossed wild arms to heaven and plunged over and down. I saw her body strike the water in a clean dive and vanish into those dark and troubled deeps, and with breath in check and glaring eyes, waited for her to reappear; I heard vague shouts and cries where her pursuers watched for her likewise, but I heeded them nothing, staring ever and waiting——waiting. But these gloomy waters gave no sign, and so at last my breath burst from me in a bitter, sobbing groan. One by one the minutes dragged by until I thought my brain must crack, for nowhere was sign of that beloved shape. And then——all at once, I knew she must be dead; this sweet innocent slain thus before my eyes, snatched out of life and lost forever to me for all time, lost to me beyond recovery.

  At last I turned my haggard, burning eyes upon her murderers—— four of them there were and all staring into those cruel, black waters below and not a word betwixt them. Suddenly the black- bearded man snapped his fingers and laughed even as my bowstring twanged; then I saw him leap backwards, screaming with pain, his shoulder transfixed by my arrow. Immediately (and ere I might shoot again) his fellows dragged him down, and lying prone on their bellies let fly wildly in my direction with petronel and musquetoon. And now, had I been near enough, I would have leaped upon them to slay and be slain, since life was become a hateful thing. As it was, crouched there 'mid the leaves, I watched them crawl from the rock dragging their hurt comrade with them. Then, seeing them stealing off thus, a mighty rage filled me, ousting all other emotion, and (my bow in one hand and pike in the other) I started running in pursuit. But my great pike proving over- cumbersome, I cast it away that I might go the faster, trusting rather to my five arrows and the long-bladed knife in my girdle, and the thought of this knife and its deadly work at close quarters heartened me mightily as I ran; yet in a while, the passion of my anger subsiding, grief took its place again and a hopeless desolation beyond words. So ran I, blinded by scalding tears and my heart breaking within me, and thus came I to a place of rocks, and looking not to my feet it chanced that I fell and, striking my head against a rock, knew no more; and lost in a blessed unconsciousness, forgot awhile the anguish of my breaking heart.

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