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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter47)

2006-08-28 22:36

  Chapter XLVII. How My Doubting was Resolved for Me

  The sun being high-risen and myself famished with hunger, I set off for our habitation by paths well-hid from observation and yearning mightily to find my lady there. Having scaled the cliff I reached the little plateau, and parting the bushes, recoiled from the muzzle of a piece levelled at me by a squat, grim fellow.

  "What, Godby!" says I, frowning, "D'ye take me for murderer still, then?" At this he let fall his musket in blank amaze, and then came running and with hands outstretched.

  "O pal!" cries he, "O pal——have I found ye at last? Ha, many's the time I've grieved for ye and my fool's doubts o' you, Martin, choke me else? I'm sorry, pal, burn me but I've repented my suspecting o' you ever since, though to be sure you was mighty strange aboard the 'Faithful Friend' and small wonder. But here's me full o' repentance, Martin, so——if you can forgive poor Godby——?"

  "Full and freely!" says I, whereupon he hugs me and the tears running down his sunburned cheeks.

  "Then we'm pals again, Martin, and all's bowmon!"

  "And what o' me?" Turning about I beheld Adam on the threshold of the cave, "What o' me, shipmate?"

  "Aye——what?" says I, folding my arms.

  "Ha, doth the tap o' my pistol-butt smart yet, Martin?"

  "I know you beyond all doubt for pirate and buccaneer——"

  "All past and done, Martin."

  "I know you planned from the first to seize the 'Faithful Friend.'"

  "Aye, but where's your proof——the 'Faithful Friend' is blown up——"

  "And by your hand, like as not."

  "True again, so it was, Martin, and thereby did I outwit Tressady and saved the lives of my own people."

  "You have been at great pains to befool me to your evil ends."

  "At no pains, Martin, 'twas purely simple matter!"

  "You have been the death of divers men on this island."

  "But always in fair fight!" says he, glancing at me in his furtive fashion. "'Twas them or me, comrade, and black rogues all."

  "So you say!"

  "And who's to deny it, shipmate?"

  "Aye, who indeed? It seems you've killed 'em all."

  "Ha, d'ye doubt my word, Martin?"

  "Aye, I do so, and judging from what I know, I do take ye for a very rogue and so I'm done with you henceforth."

  "Rogue?" says he, "'Tis an ill word! And yet I had rather be rogue than fool, and you are the fool of the world, Martin, for here are you seeking quarrel with your best friend."

  "Friend?" quoth I, "O God protect me from such!"

  "Now, look'ee, you have named me rogue and good as called me liar, which is great folly seeing you do lie in my power. So here will I prove my friendship and the depth of your folly."

  "Nay——I'll hear no more!"

  "Aye——but you will! Cover him, Godby, and fire if I say so!"

  "O Lord love me!" groaned Godby, but obeyed nevertheless, and looking where he stood, his piece levelled at me, I knew he would obey Adam's word despite his anguished looks.

  "And now," says Adam, crossing his arms, "here's the truth on't. I found a poor wretch bent on vengeance, murder, and a rogue's death, which was pure folly. I offered you riches, the which you refused, and this was arrant folly. I took you for comrade, brought you aboard ship with offer of honest employ which you likewise refused and here was more folly. Your conduct on board ship was all folly. So, despite yourself, I set you on a fair island with the right noble and handsome lady that you, by love, might perchance learn some little wisdom. Well, you fall in love——"

  "Stop!" cried I, clenching my fists.

  "Not I!" says he, uncrossing his arms, and I saw he had levelled a pistol at me in the crook of his arm, "I'm no fine gentleman for ye to bruise, so haul your wind and listen! You fall in love with my lady, as how could you help, and she with you, which is a matter of some wonder. So here are you full o' love, but doth this teach ye wisdom? Never a whit! For now must you fall foul and belabour our four gallants, and from mere fine gentlemen transform 'em into your deadly enemies, and here was folly stupendous! And now you must quarrel with me, the which is folly absolute. Thus do I find ye fool persistent and consistent ever, and I, being so infinitely the opposite, do contemn you therefore——"

  "And now ha' you done?" I demanded, raging.

  "Not quite, Martin. You balked me i' the hanging o' these two rogues Tressady and Mings, and here was pitiful folly, since to hang such were a wise and prudent measure. Thus have you loosed murder on my heels again, well, let that go. But you doubted my word, you named me rogue, and for this you shall fight me!" So saying he stepped into the cave and brought thence that same be- jewelled Spanish rapier.

  "I've no mind to fight with you," says I, turning away.

  "An excellent blade!" says he, making a pass in the air, then he tendered it to me hilt foremost and with the little bow.

  "'Tis right you should know I am wearing the chain-shirt."

  "No matter," quoth he, drawing, "there is your throat or your eye——come!"

  So point to point we fell to it. I had been somewhat esteemed at the art once and now I matched his vicious thrusts with cunning parades, with volts and passes, pushing at him when I might, so that twice I was very near. But suddenly as he retreated before my attack, his blade darted and flashed and he called out: "One!" And now he pressed me in turn with quick thrusts and bewildering feints, and presently called out again: "Two! Three! Four!" Then I saw he was cutting the buttons from my sleeve, how and when he would; therefore I cast away my sword in petulant anger and folded my arms.

  "Lord love me! Are ye done, Martin?"

  "O make an end one way or t'other, I'll not be played with!"

  "Verily, you were more dangers with the club!" says he, and sheathed his rapier. As for me, espying the three-legged stool, I sat me down mighty dejected and full of bitter thoughts until, feeling a touch on my bowed shoulder, I looked up and found him beside me.

  "Martin," says he, "'tis true you are a fool but your folly harmeth none but yourself! And thou'rt such honest fool that I must needs love thee, which is strange, yet so it is. Look'ee, we have quarrelled and fought, very well——what's to let us from being friends again?"

  "But if I doubt you, Adam?"

  "Why, as to that," says he with his whimsical look, "I verily do think myself a something doubtful being at times."

  Now at this, up I rose and gripped his hand right heartily; which done he brought me into the cave whiles Godby posted himself on the threshold, leaning on his musket.

  "What now, Adam?" I questioned.

  "Now let us divide our treasure, Martin——"

  "But I bartered my share for the lives of——"

  "Tush!" says he, and reaching a valise from shadowy corner he opened it and I beheld such a glory of flashing gems as nigh dazzled me with their splendour. "Look at 'em, Martin, look at 'em!" he whispered. "Here's love and hate, life and death, every good and all the sins——look at 'em!" And catching up a handful he let them fall, glittering, through his fingers. "Lord love me, Martin," he whispered, "'tis enough to turn a man's brain! Have ye counted 'em over, comrade?"

  "I never saw them until this moment, Adam." And I confessed how in my folly I had cast his letter of instruction into the sea, and of how my lady had found the secret at her dire peril.

  "And she never showed you, Martin?"

  "I was always too busy!"

  "Busy!" says he, sitting back on his heels to stare up at me. "Busy? O Lord love me! Sure there's not your like i' the whole world, Martin!"

  "Which is mighty well for the world!" says I bitterly.

  "'Tis vasty treasure, Martin and worth some little risk. And in the cave lie yet fifty and four bars of gold and others of silver, with store of rix-dollars, doubloons, moidores and pieces of eight——gold coins of all countries. There let 'em rot——here's more wealth than we shall ever spend. Shall we divide it here or aboard ship?"

  "Wait rather until we reach England."

  "So be it, comrade. Then I'm minded to apportion a share to Godby here——what d'ye say?"

  "With all my heart!"

  "Why then 'tis time we got it safe on board."

  "But how to do it——what of Tressady's rogues, Adam?"

  "Having buried such of themselves as needed it, Martin, you shall see 'em playing leap-frog on the sands down yonder happy as any innocent school-lads, and never a firearm amongst 'em."

  "Hist, Cap'n!" says Godby, suddenly alert, "The man Abner and his two mates a-peeping and a-prying!"

  "Where away, Godby man?"

  "Hove to in the lee o' them bushes yonder."

  "'Tis sly, skulking rogue Abner!" says Adam, closing and strapping the valise, "'Tis in my mind, Godby, this Abner will never live to see England. Summon 'em hither, all three."

  This Godby did forthwith, and presently the three fellows appeared who, knuckling their foreheads, made us their several reverences.

  "What now, lads?" says Adam, viewing them with his keen eyes, "I seem to mind your looks, you sailed with Black Bartlemy aboard the 'Delight' I think? Nay, 'tis no matter, we'll let bygones be bygones, and we be all marvellous honest these days, the which is well. Meantime take this dunnage down to the boat," and he pointed to the valise. Hereupon one of the fellows took it up, and knuckled an eyebrow to us in turn. "We sail at sundown," says Adam, "so, Godby, you may as well go aboard and see that all be ready."

  "Aye, aye!" says Godby, tightening the belt where swung his great cutlass and, shouldering his musket, set off after the three.

  "So there goeth our fortune aboard, comrade."

  "And in desperate risky fashion, Adam."

  "In safe, straightforward fashion rather, and in broad daylight, the which is surer than stealing it aboard in the dark."

  "But should these rogues guess what they carry——"

  "They won't, Martin, and if they should they have but their knives 'gainst Godby's musket and pistols."

  "Ha——murder, Adam?"

  "Would you call this murder, comrade?"

  "What other? I wonder what manner of man you'll be, away there in England?"

  "A worthy, right worshipful justice o' the peace, Martin, if Providence seeth fit, in laced coat and great peruke, to see that my tenants' cottages be sound and wholesome, to pat the touzled heads o' the children, bless 'em! And to have word with every soul i' the village. To snooze i' my great pew o' Sundays and, dying at last, snug abed, to leave behind me a kindly memory. And what for you, Martin? What see you in the ship yonder?"

  "God knoweth!" says I, gloomily.

  "Why not a woman's love, comrade, why not good works, rank and belike——children to honour your memory?"

  "Were I but worthy all this, Adam."

  "Zounds, but here's humility! Yet your true lover is ever humble, I've heard, so 'tis very well, Martin. And this doth mind me I bear you a message from my lady——"

  "A message——from her?" I cried, gripping his arm, "Out with it, man, out with it and God forgive you this delay! What says my lady?"

  "This, Martin: she would have you shave according to late custom."

  "Why, so I will! But said she no more?"

  "Aye, something of meeting you here. So get to your shaving and cheerily, comrade, cheerily. I'll to the ship, for at sunset 'tis up anchor and hey for England! I'll fire two guns to warn you aboard, and tarry not, for the ship lieth within a sunken reef and we must catch the flood." Here he turned to go, then paused to glance round the horizon with a seaman's eye. "The wind is fair to serve us, Martin," says he, pinching his chin, "yet I could wish for a tempest out o' the north and a rising sea!"

  "And why, Adam, in Heaven's name?"

  "'Twould be the sure and certain end of Tressady and Mings, comrade. Howbeit what's done is done and all things do lie in the hands of Providence, so do I cherish hope. Go and shave, Martin, go and shave!"

  Left alone I betook me to my razors and shaved me with unwonted care, yet hearkening for her quick, light step the while.

  Scarce was my labour ended that I thought to hear the rustle of leaves and hasted from the cave, calling on her name and mighty joyous and eager:

  "Damaris! Art here at last, dear my lady!" And so came face to face with Sir Rupert.

  He stood smiling at my discomfiture, yet his black brows were close——but he halted and folded his arms and I could see the betraying bulge of the pistol on his great side-pocket. For a while he measured me with his eye, at last he spoke:

  "Within the hour my Lady Brandon sails for England, and from this hour you will forget my Lady Brandon ever existed or——"

  "Tush, man!" says I, "Begone, you weary me."

  "Or," he went on with an airy gesture of his hand, "I shall cure your weariness for good——"

  "Shoot me?"

  "Most joyfully! Whatsoever hath chanced betwixt you in this wilderness, my Lady Brandon's honour must and——"

  Warned by my look he clapped hand to his pocket but as he freed the weapon I was upon him, grasping his pistol-hand. For a moment we swayed together, he striving frantically to break my hold, I to wrest the weapon from him, then it exploded, and uttering a sudden, long-drawn gasp he sank to the grass at my feet and lay very mute and still. Whilst I yet stared from his pallid face to the pistol where it had fallen, I heard shouts, a running of feet, and glancing up saw the three gentlemen, his companions, standing at gaze, motionless; then suddenly, they turned and hasted away, crying "murder" on me as they ran. Like one in a dream I stared down at Sir Rupert's motionless form, until I was aware of my lady beside him on her knees and of the pallor of her face as she looked from him to me, her eyes wide with horror:

  "If you have killed him, Martin——if you have killed him, here is an end of our happiness——God forgive you!"

  Now would I have spoken but found no words, for in this moment I knew that Sir Rupert was surely dead. Dumbly I watched the passionate labour of her dexterous hands, saw them pause at last to clasp and wring themselves in helpless despair, saw the three gentlemen, obedient to her word, stoop and lift that limp form and bear it slowly away towards Deliverance Sands and she going beside them.

  Now as I stood watching her leave me, I heard the sudden roar of a gun, and glancing towards the ship saw they were already making sail. Roused by this I came beside my lady, and found my voice at last.

  "Here was the work of chance——not I, Damaris, not I!"

  But she, gazing ever on that piteous, limp form, sought to silence me with a gesture. "God, Damaris, you'll never doubt my word? Speak——will you not speak to me? He threatened me——we strove together and the pistol went off in his grasp——"

  "Damned Murderer!" cried one of the gentlemen.

  After this I held my peace, despairing, and thus we went in silence until before us was Deliverance Beach. All at once I caught her up in my arms and, despite her struggles, began to bear her back up the ascent. For a moment only she strove, uttering no word, then hiding her face against me, suffered me to bear her where I would. But now I heard shouts and cries that told me I was pursued:

  "You are mine, Damaris!" I cried, "Mine henceforth, and no man shall take you from me whiles I live!"

  Despite my haste the noise of pursuit waxed louder, spurring me to greater effort. And now it became the end and aim of my existence to reach the cave in time, wherefore I began to run, on and up, until my breath came in great, panting sobs; my heart seemed bursting, and in my throbbing brain a confusion of wild thoughts:

  "Better die thus, my love upon my heart……The ship shall sail without us……The door of the cave is stout, God be thanked and, firing from the loophole, I may withstand them all."

  Breathless and reeling I gained the plateau at last, but as I staggered towards the cave I tripped and fell heavily, crushing her beneath me. But I struggled up, and bearing her within the cave, laid her upon my bed and closing the door, barred it; then I reached my muskets from their rack and set them in readiness. This done, and finding my lady so still and silent, I came to view her where she lay and, peering in the dimness, uttered a great cry to see the pale oval of cheek horribly bedabbled with blood. Trembling in a sickness of fear I sank beside her on my knees, then, seeing she yet breathed, I parted the silky hair above her temple and so came on a cruel gash. Now as I strove to staunch this precious blood I heard again the echoing thunder of a gun.

  "Damaris!" says I, clasping her to me and kissing her pallid lips, "O Damaris, they are summoning us to England, d'ye hear, beloved, d'ye hear? Well, they shall call in vain——they shall sail without us. Love hath found us and here with Love will we abide. Wake, beloved, wake and tell me you would have it so!"

  But, save for her breathing, and despite all my pleading and caresses, she lay like one dead. So I brought water and bathed her face and throat and wrists, yet all to no purpose, so that fear grew to agony. How if she die thus? (thinks I) Why then I can die likewise. But again, how if she wake, and finding the ship gone, despise me and, in place of her lover, look on me as her gaoler? For a long while I crouched there, my head bowed on my fists, since well I knew that England might shelter me nevermore. And yet to part with her that was become my very life——

  As I knelt thus, in an agony of indecision, was sudden tumult of knocking upon the door and the sound of fierce voices:

  "Come forth, murderer! Open to us, rogue——open!"

  But still I knelt there heeding only the hurry of my thoughts:

  "How if the ship sail without us? How if she wake and know me for her gaoler? How might I endure loneliness? How part with her that was become my life? Belike she might not hate me——"

  "Open, murderer, open!" roared the voices.

  "A murderer! How if she believe this? Better loneliness and death than to read horror of me in her every look!"

  And now beyond the door was silence, and then I heard Adam hailing me:

  "Oho, shipmate——unbar! Tide's on the turn and we must aboard. And trust me, Martin, for your comrade as will see justice done ye. So come, Martin, you and my lady and let's aboard!"

  "Aye, aye, Adam!" quoth I, "Better die o' solitude than live with a breaking heart. So cheerily it is, Adam!"

  Then rising, I took my dear lady in my arms, and holding her against my heart, I kissed her hair, her closed eyes, her pale, unresponsive lips, and bearing her to the door, contrived to open it and stepped forth of the cave. And here I found Adam, pistol in hand, with divers of his fellows and the three gentlemen who scowled amain, yet, eyeing Adam's weapon, did no more than clench their fists and mutter of gibbets and the like.

  "Look you, Adam," says I, "my lady is stunned of a fall, but 'twill be no great matter once we come aboard——let us go."

  "Why then, Lord love you, Martin——hasten!" says he, "For tide's falling and it's all we shall do to clear the reef."

  Reaching Deliverance Sands I saw the boat already launched and manned and, wading into the water, laid my lady in the stern sheets.

  "Come!" cried Adam, reaching me his hand, "In with ye man——"

  "Not I, Adam."

  "Why, what now, comrade?" says he, staring.

  "Now——my hand, Adam, and a prosperous voyage!"

  "How, comrade, will ye stay marooned in this desolation?" and he stooped to peer down at me. "Martin," says he, gripping my hand and staring into my eyes, "Doth this mean you are safer here by reason of the mystery of Sir Rupert's sudden end?"

  "Mayhap!" says I, and loosed his hand. "What think you?"

  "That you are no murderer, comrade, nor ever will be!"

  "My lady said as much once! Farewell, Adam!" And I waded back to the beach.

  "Give way, lads!" cries he, "Give way!" I heard the splash and beat of their oars, and when I turned to look I saw them half-way across the lagoon.

  Then I turned and wandered aimlessly along these white sands that had known so often the light tread of her pretty feet. Very slowly I went, with eyes that saw not, ears that heard not and my mind a confusion of bitter thoughts.

  At last I reached the little plateau, and from this eminence beheld the ship standing away under a press of sail, and saw that night was at hand. Suddenly as I watched, the ship, her lofty masts and gleaming canvas swam all blurred and misty on my sight, and sinking to my knees I bowed my head.

  "Almighty God!" says I, "Thou hast shown unto me the wonder of love and the heaven it might have been, but since love is not for me, teach me how I may be avenged."

  But now, even as I prayed thus, my voice brake upon a great sob insomuch that I might pray no more. Therefore I cast myself upon my face, forgetting all things but my great and bitter loneliness.

  And so came night and shut me in.

  ……

  Here then I make an end of this narrative of Black Bartlemy's Treasure, but how and in what manner I came to my vengeance is yet to tell.

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