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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter10)

2006-08-28 21:46

  Chapter X. How I Swore to the Blood-Brotherhood

  I remember the moon was very bright as, reaching the end of a grassy lane (or rather cart-track) I saw before me a small, snug- seeming tavern with a board over the door, whereon were the words:

  YE PECK OF MALT

  BY

  JOEL BYM.

  And looking the place over, from trim, white steps before the door to trim thatched roof, I marvelled at its air of prosperity; for here it stood, so far removed from road and bye-road, so apparently away from all habitation, and so lost and hid by trees (it standing within a little copse) that it was great wonder any customer should ever find his way hither.

  The place was very quiet, not a light showed anywhere and the door was fast shut, which was nothing strange, for the hour was late. Stepping up to the door I knocked loudly thereon with my cudgel, at first without effect, but having repeated the summons, a voice from within hailed me gruffly:

  "Who knocks?"

  "'The Faithful Friend!'" says I. At this, the door swung suddenly open and a lanthorn was thrust into my face, whereupon I fell back a step, dazzled; then gradually, beyond this glare, I made out a dark shape blocking the doorway, a great fellow, so prodigiously hairy of head and face that little was there to see of features, save two round eyes and a great, hooked nose.

  "And who d'ye seek, Faithful Friend?" says he.

  "Master Adam Penfeather."

  "Why then, Faithful Friend, heave ahead!" says he, and, making way for me to enter, closed the door (the which I noticed was mighty stout and strong) and, having locked and bolted it, barred it with a stout iron set into massy sockets in either wall.

  "You go mighty secure!" says I.

  "Cock," quoth the giant, eyeing me over slowly, "Cock, be ye a cackler——because if so be you do cackle overly here's we as won't love ye no whit, my cock."

  "Good!" says I, returning his look. "I seek no man's love!"

  "Cock," quoth he, plunging huge fist into his beard and giving it a tug, "I begin to love ye better nor I thought! This way, cock!" Herewith he led me along a wide, flagged passage and up a broad stair with massy, carven handrail; and as I went I saw the place was much bigger than I had deemed it, the walls, too, were panelled, and I judged it had once formed part of a noble house. At last we reached a door whereon the fellow knocked softly, and so presently ushered me into a fair chamber lit by wax candles; and here, seated at a table with papers before him and a pen in his fingers, sat Master Adam Penfeather.

  "Ha, shipmate," says he, motioning to a chair, "you be something earlier than I expected. Suffer me to make an end o' this business——sit ye, comrade, sit! As for you, Bo'sun, have up a flask o' the Spanish wine——the black seal!"

  "Aye, cap'n!" says he, and seizing a fistful of hair above his eyebrow, strode away, closing the door behind him.

  Now beholding Penfeather as he bent to his writing——the lean, aquiline face of him so smooth and youthful in contrast to his silver hair——I was struck by his changed look; indeed he seemed some bookish student rather than the lawless rover I had thought him, despite the pistols at his elbow and the long rapier that dangled at his chair-back; moreover there was about him also an air of latent power I had not noticed ere this.

  At length, having made an end of his writing, he got up and stretched himself:

  "So, shipmate, art ready to swear the blood-fellowship wi' me?"

  "Aye!" says I. "When do we sail?" At this he glanced at me swiftly from the corners of his eyes:

  "So ho!" he murmured, pinching his chin. "The wind's changed it seems, you grow eager——and wherefore?"

  "'Tis no matter!"

  "Shipmate," says he, shaking his head, "an we sail as brothers and comrades there must be never a secret betwixt us——speak!"

  "As ye will!" quoth I, leaning back in my chair. "I learn then you are sailing as master in a ship bound for the Main in quest of Sir Richard Brandon lost off Hispaniola two years agone. Sir Richard Brandon is the man I have sought ever since I broke out of the hell he sold me into. Now look'ee, Adam Penfeather," says I, springing to my feet and grasping his arm, "look'ee now——put me in the way of meeting this man, aid me to get my hand on this man and I am yours——aye, body and soul——to the end o' things, and this I swear!"

  While I spake thus, my voice hoarse with passion, my fingers clutching his arm, Penfeather stood pinching his chin and watching me beneath his black brows; when I had ended he turned and falls a-pacing to and fro across the room as it had been the narrow poop of a ship.

  "Ah——I know you now, my lord!" says he, pausing suddenly before me. "As the sailor-man who watched you as you lay a-groaning in your sleep outside the Conisby Arms, I guessed you one o' the Conisby breed by your ring, and as one born and bred here in Kent I mind well the adage, 'To hate like a Brandon and revenge like a Conisby,' and by God, my lord, you are a true Conisby, it seemeth! Vengeance!" says he, his thin features grown sharp and austere, "Ah! I have seen much and overmuch of it aboard lawless craft and among the wild islands of the Caribbees. I have seen the devilish cruelties of Spaniard, Portugal, and the red horrors of Indian vengeance——but, for cold, merciless ferocity, for the vengeance that dieth not, biding its time and battening on poisonous hate, it needeth your man o' noble birth, your gentleman o' quality!" Here he turned his back and paced slowly to the end of the room; when he faced me again his austere look was gone, in its stead was the grimly whimsical expression of the mariner, as I had seen him first.

  "Damme!" says I, scowling, "Was it to read me homilies that you had me here?"

  "Aha, shipmate," says he with rueful smile, "there spake the young divine, the excellent divinity student who committed a peccadillo long years agone and, sailing to the Golden West, gave place to one Adam Penfeather a sailor-man——as you shall hear tell of at St. Kitt's, Tortuga, Santa Catalina and a score o' places along the Main. As to yourself, shipmate, if 'tis only vengeance ye seek, vengeance let it be, though, when all's done, 'tis but wind——hist! Here cometh the Bo'sun——come in, Jo lad, come in! 'Twas trusty Joel Bym here gave me my first lesson in navigation ——eh, Jo?"

  "Aye, Cap'n," growled the hairy giant, "by cock, them was the days, a fair wind, a quick eye an' no favour, aye, them was the days, by cock's-body!" So saying, he placed a flask of wine on the table, together with a curious silver cup, and (at a sign from Penfeather) left us together.

  "And now, comrade," says Penfeather, filling the goblet, "draw up your chair and do as I do."

  And now as we sat facing each other (across the table) Penfeather turns back his left sleeve and, whipping out a knife, nicked himself therewith on the wrist and squeezed thence a few drops of blood into the wine; which done, he passed the knife to me and I (though misliking the extravagance of the thing) nevertheless did the same.

  "Martin," says he, "give me your hand——so! Now swear as I do!" And thus, clasping each other's hands, we swore the oath of brotherhood; and this as followeth, viz."

  (1) To keep ever each other's counsel.

  (2) To aid each other in all things against all men soever.

  (3) To cherish and comfort each other in every adversity.

  (4) To be faithful each to each unto the death.

  Thereafter, at his command, I drank of the wine wherein our blood was mingled and he did the like.

  "And now," says he, leaning back in his chair and viewing me with his pensive smile, "since we be brothers and comrades sworn, how d'ye like me now?"

  "Better than I did," says I, speaking on impulse, "for sure you are the strangest picaroon that ever cheated the gallows."

  "Ah," says he, pinching his chin, "an I am neither hanged nor murdered you shall one day find me a worshipful magistrate, Martin, Justice o' the Peace and quorum——custos rotulorum and the rest on't, there my ambition lies. As for you, Martin, Lord Wendover, there is your enemy, ha?——bloody vengeance and murder and what beside?"

  "That is mine own concern!" I retorted angrily. "And look 'ee, since comrades we are, you will forget who and what I am!"

  "Why so I have, Martin, so I have. Art a poor, destitute rogue that might be a man and rich but for this vengeful maggot i' thy brain. Howbeit thou'rt my comrade sworn and brother-in-arms and as such I shall trust thee——to the death, Martin."

  "And shall find me worthy, Adam——despite thy curst tongue."

  "Death is an ill thing, Martin!"

  "Is it?" says I, and laughed.

  "Aye," he nodded, "an ill thing to him that hath ambitions above the brute. See here!" Unbuttoning his doublet he showed me a shirt of fine chain-mail beneath his linen. "'Twill turn any point ever forged and stop a bullet handsomely, as I do know."

  "Why, sure," says I, a little scornful, "you avowed yourself a cautious man——"

  "True, Martin, I have another shirt the like o' this for you. And as for caution, I have need, d'ye see, comrade. The arrow that flieth by day is an ill enough thing, but the knife that stabbeth i' the dark is worse. This shirt hath turned death thrice already——once i' the breast here and twice 'twixt the shoulders. I am a man marked for death, Martin, murder creepeth at my heels, it hath dogged me overseas and found me here in Kent at last, it seems. And, comrade, henceforth the steel that smiteth me shall smite you also, belike."

  "And why is your life sought thus?"

  "By reason of a secret I bear about me; wherefore (saving only my good friend Nicholas Frant who……perished) I have ever been a solitary man walking alone and distrustful of my fellows. For, Martin, I have here the secret of a treasure that hath been the dream and hope of roving adventurers along the Main this many a year——a treasure beyond price. Men have sought it vainly, have striven and fought, suffered and died for it, have endured plague, battle, shipwreck, famine, have died screaming 'neath Indian tortures, languished in Spanish dungeon and slaveship, and all for sake of Bartlemy's Treasure. And of all that ever sought it, but one man hath ever seen this treasure, and I am that man, Martin. And this treasure is so marvellous well hid that without me it shall lie unfound till the trump of doom. But now, since we are brethren and comrades, needs must I share with thee the treasure and the secret of it."

  "No, no, Adam!" says I. "Keep it to yourself, I'll none of it."

  "Share and share!" says he. "'Tis the law of the Coast."

  "None the less I want nought of it."

  "'Tis the law," he repeated, "and moreover with such vast wealth a man shall buy anything in this world——even vengeance, Martin. Look'ee now, here's the secret of our treasure." Hereupon he thrust his hand into his breast and drew out a small oilskin packet or bag, suspended about his lean throat by a thin steel chain, and from this he drew forth a small roll of parchment.

  "Here 'tis, Martin," says he softly, "here's that so many lusty men have perished for——not much to look at, shipmate, torn, d'ye see and stained, but here's wealth, Martin, fame, honours, all the vices and all the evils, and chief among 'em——vengeance!"

  So saying, he unrolled the small scrap of parchment, and holding it before me, I saw it was a rough chart.

  "Take it, Martin, and study it the while I tell you my story."

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