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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter4)

2006-08-28 21:43

  Chapter IV. Telleth How I Met One Adam Penfeather

  I awoke to find the waggon at a standstill and Master Trueman watching me with a scowl the while his plump fingers toyed lovingly with his whip-stock; but as I roused, this hand crept up to finger his several chins.

  "Yonder lieth Lamberhurst!" quoth he sulkily, and nodded where, in the valley below, was a village with a green wherein was a placid pool shaded by trees; and about this green stood white- walled cottages, many of them bowered in roses or honeysuckle to the very thatch (right pleasant to the eye), while beyond these again rose gables of barns or the pointed roofs of oasthouses. "Lamberhurst!" says Trueman again; whereon, having yawned and stretched myself, I clambered down into the road.

  "Well?" I questioned, seeing how he watched me, triple chin in hand.

  "Well," quoth he stoutly, "I be wondering what the likes o' you should be wanting wi' the likes o' Sir Richard Brandon o' Shene?"

  "Nought but this," says I, shaking the hay from my tattered cloak, "I am come to watch him die, and the manner of it shall mayhap be something slow and painful!" and speaking, I clenched my right hand to a sunburnt fist. Now looking on this clutching hand, Trueman blinked and, saying no word, whipped his horses and the heavy wain rumbled and creaked on its way. But, when he had gone some distance, he grinned at me over his shoulder and called something whereof I caught the words "labour lost." For a moment I was minded to run after and demand his meaning; howbeit, in a little, I turned and went down the hill very full of thought.

  Reaching the village I found it not yet astir, for the clock of the church tower showed the time was but half after four; and now, leaning on my staff I stared up at the church tower with its new weathercock, brave with gilding, agleam in the early sun, and from thence turned my gaze where (hard beside the pool upon the green) rose the grim shape of Sir Richard's new pillory. Just now it stood untenanted and I wondered idly what unhappy wight was destined next to suffer there. Thus stood I some while, staring round me on this peaceful hamlet where all (save only myself) forgot their cares awhile in blessed sleep; the wide road, the gabled cottages, oast-house and fragrant rick yard——all was as I minded it five weary years since: nothing strange was there saving only Sir Richard's hateful pillory, wherefore I smote it with my staff and, cursing him that set it there, turned away.

  Now within a stone's-cast of the church was a goodly tavern with a weatherbeaten signboard a-swing above the door, whereon was painted what purported to be a leopard asleep and below the following legend, viz.:

  ROUSE ME NOT

  and below this again:

  YE CONISBY ARMS.

  From this I glanced at the third finger of my left hand, which was a battered signet ring that bore the semblance of another sleeping leopard and the like inscription; and looking from the sleeping leopard on the signboard to the sleeping leopard on my ring, I fell to deep and gloomy thought. Howbeit, rousing in a while, I perceived a horse-trough hard by full of clean water, and came thither minded to wash the dust and sweat from me. But, stooping, I paused and stood thus, staring down at the face that scowled up at me; a face lean and haggard with wide, fierce eyes agleam beneath knitted brows, a prominent nose and square chin with short, peaked, golden beard; an unlovely face framed in shaggy, yellow hair patched and streaked with silver; and beholding lowering brow and ferocious mouth and jaw I stood awhile marvelling at the ill-changes evil and hardship had wrought in me.

  For thus was it that I first beheld myself after five years of slavery.

  Having looked my fill, I nodded grimly at my watery image and plunged my face and head within the trough to my great refreshment, which done, I made shift to dry myself on my tattered shirt. Thereafter, coming to the broad oak settle beside the tavern door, I sat down and fell to meditation. But now, moved by sudden impulse, I unbuckled the wallet at my girdle and taking thence the strange dagger, unwound the neckerchief that swathed it and began to examine the weapon, first carelessly enough, then with growing interest and wonder. The blade (as I have told elsewhere) was triangular of form, very narrow and some eight inches in length and exceeding sharp of point; but that which drew and held my gaze was the wonder of its haft. I have seen and handled many fair weapons in my day, but never before or since have I beheld such rare craftsmanship as went to the chiselling of this hilt. Of silver it was, wrought into the shape of a standing woman, her feet poised upon the small, chiselled cross-guard, her head forming the pommel; naked she stood in languorous pose, arms raised and hands locked behind her head. The delicate chiselling of the features was worn somewhat by handling and rough usage, but even so the evil beauty of the face was plain and manifest, the wanton languor of the long eyes, the mocking cruelty of the smiling mouth. The longer I viewed it, the more manifest became the nameless evil of the thing, so that I was greatly minded to whirl it into the horse-pond and be done with it. But bethinking me of my destitution and not doubting but that I might find a ready market for a thing so rare, I lapped it up again and thrusting it back into my wallet, stretched myself out upon the broad settle and presently fell asleep.

  But (even as I slept) methought I was back in torment. I seemed to hear again the crack of whips, the harsh cries of the drivers, the shrill screams and curses, the long, groaning breaths with the rattle and creak of the great oars as they swung ceaselessly back and forth; nay, I could even feel the kick of the oar-shaft that had escaped my fainting grasp. So real was it all that I waked groaning (as I had done many a time and oft), waked to find the kindly sun making a glory about me and a blackbird hard by a- piping most sweet to hear, while before me stood a little, thin fellow in a broad-eaved, steeple-crowned hat, who peered at me through narrowed eyes and poked at me with a stick.

  "And how's the wind, shipmate?" he questioned. I sat up and scowled, whereupon he tucked the stick beneath an arm and stood viewing me, chin in hand. "You sleep mighty sound," says he, "here I've stood a-poking at ye with my stick, d'ye see, and you snore but the louder——or was it groans?"

  "For the which poking I'm minded to throw you into the horse- pond——"

  "Why, that's as may be!" says he, falling back a step. "But no offence, shipmate."

  "Then leave me in peace." And I laid me down again.

  "You sleep mighty sound," says he, "and your bed none so easy!"

  "I've known worse!"

  "Aye——the rowing-bench of a Spanish floating hell, shipmate——ha?"

  At this, I started and turned to look at him again. He was (as I say) a little man and clad in suit of russet-brown (very trim and sober), but at his hip he bore a long rapier or tuck, while in his ears (which were trimmed to points in mighty strange fashion) swung great, gold rings such as mariners do wear; his face was lean and sharp and wide of mouth and lighted by very quick, bright eyes, seeming to take in all things with swift-darting glances. A scar that ran from brow to chin lent to him a certain hangdog air; as to his age, it might have been thirty or forty or sixty, for, though he seemed vigorous and active, with smooth, unwrinkled face, his hair was snow-white.

  "Well, shipmate," he questioned, meeting my searching gaze, "and how d'ye like me?"

  "No whit!"

  "Sink me, but that's plain enough!" says he, smiling ruefully. "So there's nought in me as draws you, then?"

  "No!"

  "'Tis pity, for I've a feeling we shall sail aboard ship together yet."

  "How should you know I've rowed aboard a Spanish ship?"

  "You bear the mark, shipmate; as you lay a-groaning in your sleep I took occasion to cast an eye over ye, d'ye see, and what wi' the new-healed scars on your wrist, your sunburnt skin and the desperate sink-or-swim look o' you I judged you new-broke from slavery, and named a Spanish galleass at a venture, d'ye see."

  "You are an observant man, it seems," says I, frowning.

  "I have a way o' putting one and one together——'tis a trick I've found useful now and then!"

  "Ha!" says I, mighty scornful, "You'll be telling me my own name next!"

  "Why, as to that," says he, pinching his long, clean-shaven chin thoughtfully, "how would Conisby suit?"

  "Damned spy!" I cried, and caught him in my grip; the fellow never so much as flinched, and there was something formidable in his very quietude.

  "Easy all, shipmate!" says he mildly and staring up at me eye to eye. "Use me kindly, for I'm a timid soul with a good heart, meaning no offence."

  "How learned ye my name? What devilry is here?"

  "None in the world, Lord love ye! 'Tis just my trick of adding one and one, d'ye see? There's the ring on your finger and the signboard above you."

  "And wherefore spy on a sleeping man?"

  "Because I'm a lonely soul doth seek a comrade. Because the moment I clapped eyes on you I felt drawn to ye, and seeing the scars on your wrist, knew 'em for shackle-marks——and 'twas a bond betwixt us."

  "How a bond?"

  "Loose me, shipmate, and I'll show ye." Which done, he bared a long and sinewy arm, discovering thereon marks of old fetter- sores like those upon my own.

  "So you've slaved at an oar, then?" says I.

  "Aye, shipmate!"

  "Endured the shame of stripes and nakedness and filth?"

  "Aye, shipmate. And more, I've fought for my life on the Inca Death-stone ere now, as you may see by my ears if you know aught of the Maya Indians."

  And here without so much as a "by your leave" he sat him down on the bench beside me, and leaning forward began to trace idle patterns in the dust with his stick.

  "Shipmate," says he, "I'm a timid man——"

  "As a snake," quoth I, "and as deadly!"

  Here he stayed his drawing to glance at me askance, to sigh and shake his head. "You misjudge me," says he, "howbeit we'll say cautious——a cautious man with an honest, kindly heart as yearns to fellowship."

  "And with a pistol 'neath each armpit!"

  "True!" he nodded. "I might ha' shot ye a moment since and didn't——which doth but prove my words, for I'm one as never harmed any man——without just cause——save once, and that——" here he sighed, "was years agone. And me a lonely man to this day. So 'tis I seek a comrade——a right man, one at odds wi' fortune and the world and therefore apt to desperate ploys, one hath suffered and endured and therefore scornful of harms and dangers, one as knoweth the sea. Now let that man pledge me the blood- brotherhood, let him stand staunch and faithful blow fair, blow foul, and I'll help him to a fortune greater than ever came out of Manoa, El Dorado, or the Indies. Come, what d'ye say, friend?"

  "I say sheer off and leave me to my sleep lest I mischief you."

  "Ha' ye no lust for riches, then?"

  "No more than I have to your company and I love that less and less."

  "'Tis pity!" says he, shaking his head. "Aye, 'tis pity, for I do like you more and more, such a fine blood-and-beef, dare-and- be-damned, gibbet-like figure of a rogue, shipmate, as would grace a cross-roads better than most, which is one reason I was drawn to ye, d'ye see, I being a quiet soul——"

  "And a pirate, like as not!"

  "Easy, shipmate, easy. Passion is an ill word to steer by. And I'm a lonely man as seeks a comrade——"

  "And I'm a lonely man that loveth solitude, so e'en now will I go seek it!" and I rose.

  "Stay a bit, shipmate, haul your wind and listen!" says he, laying hand on my arm. "Stand in wi' me, blow high, blow low, and I offer you——wealth untold——riches, fortune——"

  "Tush!," says I, "empty things all." At this his hold tightened while his keen gaze held mine.

  "More than this," says he slowly, "I offer you rank, honours, power and mayhap——love, shipmate."

  "Enough!" quoth I. "You offer nought I desire."

  "Why then," says he, "in the Fiend's name what would ye have?"

  "Vengeance!" I answered, and shaking off his grasp I turned and strode away along the dusty road.

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