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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter21)

2006-08-28 22:27

  Chapter XXI. Telleth How the Said Fire Came About

  "Lord love me, shipmate, here's you to hang at peep o' day and a- smiling in your dreams!"

  "What——Adam!" says I, sitting up.

  "In few short hours, Martin, here will be ninety odd souls earnestly seeking to swing you up to the main-yard and you a- slumbering sweet as any innocent babe, and burn me, shipmate, I love you the better for't!"

  "What of the fire, Adam?"

  "Why, 'twas an excellent fire, Martin, and smoked bravely! What's more it served its divers purposes whiles it lasted."

  "Is it out then, Adam?"

  "This two hours."

  "And what might you mean by its purposes?"

  "Well, mayhap you were one o' them, Martin. Here's the second time fire hath served ye well, you'll mind."

  "How!" I cried, starting to my feet, "Will you be telling me 'twas you set this fire going?"

  "As to the other purpose, shipmate, 'tis yonder——hark to it!" And smiling grimly, Adam held up a sinewy finger, as, from somewhere forward, rose a confused and dismal wailing.

  "In heaven's name what's toward now, Adam?"

  "The crew are singing, Martin, likewise they dance, presently they shall fall a-quarrelling, then grow pot-valiant, all in regular and accepted order. Already one poor rogue hath been aft to demand the women of us d'ye see, and——"

  "To demand the women!" says I in gasping astonishment.

  "Aye, the women, Martin——my Lady Joan and her maid, d'ye see."

  "God's love, Adam!" I cried, gripping his arm, "And you——what said you to the vile dog?"

  "Nought! I shot him!"

  "Is the mutiny broke out then?"

  "Not yet, shipmate, but 'tis coming, aye 'tis coming, which is very well——"

  "And what hath brought things to this pass?"

  "Rum, Martin! The fire was in the store-room where there is rum a-plenty, d'ye see, and what was to prevent the rogues making off with a keg or so that chanced to lie handy——not I, shipmate, not I!"

  "And why not, in the Devil's name?"

  "Because, Martin," says Adam, sitting at the table and beginning to set his papers in order, "because there's nought like liquor for putting the devil into a man, and of all liquor commend me to rum with a dash o' tobacco or gunpowder, d'ye see. We shall be heaving dead men overboard ere dawn, I judge, and all along of this same rum, Martin. Black mutiny, murder and sudden death, shipmate, and more's the pity say I. But if Providence seeth fit why so be it."

  "Providence!" quoth I, scowling down into his impassive face, "Dare ye talk of Providence? 'Twas you set this bloody business a-foot."

  "Aye, Martin, it was!" says he nodding. "As to Providence—— look'ee now, if you can ape Providence to your own ends, which is vengeance and bloody murder, I can do as much for mine, which is to save the lives of such as stand true to me and the ship——not to mention the women. There's Tressady skulking below, and I have but contrived that the mutiny should come in my time rather than his and theirs. As it is, we are prepared, fifteen stout lads lie in the round-house below with musquetoon and fusee, and every gun and swivel that will bear (falconet and paterero) aimed to sweep the waist when they rush, as rush they will, Martin, when the drink hath maddened 'em properly——"

  "And having maddened them with your hellish decoctions you'll shoot the poor rogues down?"

  "Aye, Martin, I will so, lest peradventure they shoot me. Then besides, shipmate, what o' the women? I have the Lady Joan and her maid to think on, 'twould be an ill fate theirs in the hands of yon filthy rabblement. Hark to 'em yonder, hark what they sing!"

  For a while I could hear nought but a clamour of fierce shouts and hallooing, then, little by little, this wild, hoarse tumult rose and swelled to a fierce chaunt:

  "Some swam in rum to kingdom come,Full many a lusty fellow. And since they're sped, all stark and dead,They're flaming now in hell O. So cheerly O,Hey cheerly O,They're burning down in hell O!"

  "D'ye hear it, Martin, did ye hear it? Shoot the poor rogues d'ye say? Sink me, but I will so if Fortune be so kind. Yonder's short shrift and quick dispatch for me, shipmate, and then——the women! Think of my Lady Joan writhing in their clutches. Hark'ee to the lewd rogues——'tis women now——hark to 'em!" And here again their vile song burst forth with much the same obscenity as I had once heard sung by Abnegation Mings in a wood, and the which I will not here transcribe.

  "Well, shipmate," says Adam, glancing up from his papers, "last of all, there's yourself! Here's you with the rope in prospect unless you quit this ship, and yonder, Martin, yonder is the long-boat towing astern, all stored ready, a calm sea and a fair wind——"

  "No more of that!" says I angrily.

  "But will ye dangle in a noose, Martin, when you might be away in the long-boat as tows astern of us, and with a fair wind as I say and——"

  "Have done!" says I clenching my fists.

  "'Twill be the simplest thing in the world, Martin," he went on, leaning back in his chair and nodding up at me mighty pleasant, "aye, a very simple matter for you to drop down from the stern- gallery yonder d'ye see, and setting a course south-westerly you should make our island in four-and-twenty hours or less what with this wind and the sea so calm——"

  "Never!" cried I in growing fury, "Come what will I stay aboard this ship until we reach our destination!"

  "Hum!" says he, pinching his chin and eyeing me 'twixt narrowed lids, "Are ye still bent on nought but vengeance then? Why look'ee, Martin, 'tis none so far to seek, for seeing you may not reach the father why not smite him through the daughter? She'd make fine sport for our beastly crew——hark to 'em roaring! Sport for them and a mighty full vengeance for you——"

  The table betwixt us hampered my blow and then, as I strove to come at him, I brought up with the muzzle of his pistol within a foot of my brow.

  "Easy, shipmate, easy!" says he, leaning back in his chair but keeping me covered.

  "Damned rogue!" I panted.

  "True!" he nodded, "True, Martin, vengeance is kin to roguery, d'ye see. If you're for murdering the father what's to hinder you from giving the proud daughter up to——steady, Martin, steady it is! Your sudden ways be apt to startle a timid man and my finger's on the trigger. Look'ee now, shipmate, if your scheme of fine-gentlemanly vengeance doth not permit of such methods towards a woman, what's to prevent you going on another track and carrying her with you, safe from all chance of brutality? There's stowage for her in the long-boat, which is a stout, roomy craft now towing astern, stored and victualled, a smooth sea, a fair wind——"

  "Hark'ee, Adam Penfeather," says I, choking with passion, "once and for all I bide on this ship until she brings up off Hispaniola."

  "But then, Martin, she never will bring up off Hispaniola, not whiles I navigate her!"

  "Ha!" I cried, "Doth my lady know of this? Doth Sir Rupert?"

  "Not yet, Martin."

  "Then, by Heaven, they shall learn this very hour!"

  "I think not, Martin."

  "And I swear they shall. Let them hang me an they will, but first they shall hear you intend to seize the ship to your own purposes——aye, by God, they shall know you for the pirate you are!"

  Now as I turned and strode for the door, I heard the sudden scrape of Adam's chair behind me, and whirling about, saw his pistol a-swing above my head, felt the vicious, staggering blow, and reeling to the door, sank weakly to my knees, and thence seemed to plunge into a black immensity and knew no more.

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