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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter23)

2006-08-28 22:27

  Chapter XXIII. Divers Perils and Dangers at Sea

  Towards dawn the wind abated more and more and, glancing into the lightening East, I saw the black storm-clouds pierced, as it were, by a sword of glory, a single vivid ray that smote across the angry waters, waxing ever more glorious until up flamed the sun before whose joyous beams the sullen clouds scattered, little by little, and melted away.

  And now I (that was doomed to be my own undoing) instead of thanking that merciful God who had delivered us from such dire peril, must needs scowl upon this kindly sun and fall again to my black humours. For, the immediate dangers past, I began to ponder the future and inwardly to rage against that perverse fate the which was driving me whither it would. So, crouched chin on fist, scowling across these tempestuous waters (for though the wind was fallen the seas ran very high) within myself I cursed Adam Penfeather and all his works.

  "You are hungry, Martin!" Turning about I beheld my companion sitting up regarding me with eyes that belied her solemn mouth.

  "How should you know this?"

  "You frown, Martin! Though the storm is done and we alive, yet you frown! Have patience and you shall eat and sleep."

  "I want neither one nor other!" I began.

  "And you are wet, Martin!"

  "'Tis no matter!"

  "And cold!"

  "The sun shall warm me."

  "So you shall eat, and lie here i' the sunshine, and sleep!" And away she goes to vanish under the dripping pent-house forward (the which had served its purpose admirably well) whiles I, perceiving the waves subsiding and the wind blowing steady and fair, laid our course due south-westerly again, and lashing the helm, went forward to shake out the reefs, finding it no easy task what with the stiffness of my cramped limbs and the pitching of the boat; howbeit, 'twas done at last but, coming back, I tripped across a thwart and fell, cursing.

  "Are you hurt?" she questioned, stooping over me; whereupon (for very shame) I turned my back answering short and ungraciously, and sat frowning like the sullen rogue I was whiles she busily set forth the wherewithal to break our fast, and singing softly to herself.

  "I told you I was an ill rogue and rough!" says I, bitterly.

  "Why so you did," says she, meeting my scowl with her wide, calm gaze. "Also you are hungry, and the food is unspoiled despite the storm——come and eat!"

  So I ate (though with mighty ill grace) and found little savour in the food for all my hunger; but she waited on my wants with heedful care, my surliness notwithstanding.

  "Whose was the hand set this boat adrift, think you?" says I suddenly.

  "Nay, 'twas too dark to see!"

  "'Twas Penfeather!" says I, clenching my fist. "Aye it was Adam, I'll stake my life on't!"

  "Then Poor Master Adam!" she sighed.

  "How? Will you pity a rogue?"

  "I speak of Master Penfeather," says she. "If he indeed cut the boat adrift it was doubtless because the battle was going against him and he did this to save me!" Hereupon I laughed and she, flushing angrily, turns her back on me.

  "Pray you," she questioned, "when may we hope to reach the island and be free of each other?"

  "To-night or to-morrow, unless the storm hath driven us further than I judge." And now, our meal done, she sets away everything in its appointed place and thereafter sat watching the sea all foam and sparkle beneath the young sun. And presently a sigh brake from her and she turned, her anger forgotten quite.

  "O!" cries she, "'Tis joy to be alive, to breathe such air, and behold such a glory of sea and sky! Look around us, Martin, and give thanks!" And truly the sea was smooth enough save for a long, rolling swell out of the East, and with a soft and gentle wind to abate the sun's generous heat. "Are you not glad to be alive, Martin?" says she.

  "To what end?" I answered. "Of what avail is life to me cast away on a desolate island."

  "Desolate?" says she, starting. "Do you mean we shall be alone?"

  "Aye, I do."

  "But surely," says she with troubled look, "surely Master Adam will fetch us away?"

  "There is a chance!"

  "And——if not?"

  "God knoweth!" says I gloomily, "'Tis a small island as I learn, little known and out of the track of vessels."

  "Yet a ship may come thither to our relief?"

  "And if one doth not?"

  "Then must we tempt the sea again in our boat."

  "I am no navigator, and these seas are strange to me."

  "Howbeit," says she, bravely, "we have good store of provisions."

  "And when they are gone——how then, think you?"

  "I think you do lack for sleep. Go, take your rest, mayhap you shall waken a little bolder and less despairing."

  "And you," says I, "you that so look on all this as a joyous adventure——"

  "Joyous? Ah God!" she cried, "Do you think because I do not weep that my heart is not full of misery and grief to lose thus home and friends and country and live 'prisoned and solitary with such as you, that think but on your own selfish woes and in your big body bear the soul of a fretful babe? I hate you, Martin Conisby, scorn and despise you! And now give me the tiller and begone to your sleep!" Saying which she pointed where she had spread the cloaks hard by the midship thwart and I, amazed by her fierce outburst, suffered her to take the tiller from my hold, and coming amidships laid myself down even as she had commanded.

  But no thought of sleep had I, rather I lay that I might watch her (furtively, beneath my arm) where she sat head aloft, cheeks flushed and bosom tempestuous. And (despite her beauty) a very termagant shrew I thought her. Then, all at once, I saw a tear fall and another; and she that had sung undaunted to the tempest and outfaced its fury, sat bitterly weeping like any heart-broke maid, yet giving due heed to our course none the less. Presently, chancing to look my way, she catches me watching her and knits her slender brows at me:

  "Get you to sleep!" says she. "O get you to sleep nor trouble my grief!"

  Hereupon (and feeling mighty guilty) I pillowed my head and, closing my eyes, presently fell to sweet and dreamless slumber.

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