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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter9)

2006-08-28 21:45

  Chapter IX. How I Had Word with the Lady Joan Brandon for the Third Time

  The moon was well up when, striking out from the gloom of the woods, I reached a wall very high and strong, whereon moss and lichens grew; skirting this, I presently espied that I sought——a place where the coping was gone with sundry of the bricks, making here a gap very apt to escalade; and here, years agone, I had been wont to climb this wall to the furtherance of some boyish prank on many a night such as this. Awhile stood I staring up at this gap, then, seizing hold of massy brickwork, I drew myself up and dropped into a walled garden. Here were beds of herbs well tended and orderly, and, as I went, I breathed an air sweet with the smell of thyme and lavender and a thousand other scents, an air fraught with memories of sunny days and joyous youth, insomuch that I clenched my hands and hasted from the place. Past sombre trees, mighty of girth and branch, I hurried; past still pools, full of a moony radiance, where lilies floated; past marble fauns and dryads that peeped ghost-like from leafy solitudes; past sundial and carven bench, by clipped yew-hedges and winding walks until, screened in shadow, I paused to look upon a great and goodly house; and as I stood there viewing it over from terrace-walk to gabled roof, I heard a distant clock chime ten.

  The great house lay very silent and dark, not a light showed save in one lower chamber. So I waited patiently, my gaze on this light, while, ever and anon, the leaves about me stirred in the soft night-wind with a sound like one that sighed mournfully.

  Thus stayed I some while; howbeit, the light yet aglow and my patience waning, I stole forward, keeping ever in the shadows, and, ascending the terrace, came where grew ivy, very thick and gnarled, overspreading this wing of the house. Groping amid the leaves I found that I sought——a stout staple deep-driven between the bricks with above this another and yet other again, the which formed a sort of ladder whereby, as a boy, I had been wont to come and go by night or day as I listed.

  Forthwith I began to climb by means of these staples and the ivy, until at last my fingers grasped the stone sill of a window; and now, the lattice being open, I contrived (albeit it with much ado) to clamber into the room. It was a fair-sized chamber, and the moonlight, falling athwart the floor, lit upon a great carven bed brave with tapestried hangings. Just now the silken curtains were up-drawn and upon the bed I saw a bundle of garments all ribands, laces and the like, the which, of themselves, gave me sudden pause. From these my gaze wandered to where, against the panelling, hung a goodly rapier complete with girdle and slings, its silver hilt, its guards and curling quillons bright in the moonbeams. So came I and, reaching it down, drew it from the scabbard and saw the blade very bright as it had been well cared for. And graven on the forte of the blade was the Conisby blazon and the legend:

  ROUSE ME NOT.

  Now as I stood watching the moonbeams play up and down the long blade, I heard the light, quick tread of feet ascending the stairs without and a voice (very rich and sweetly melodious) that brake out a-singing, and the words it sang these:

  "A poor soul sat sighing by a green willow tree With hand on his bosom, his head on his knee,Sighing Willow, willow, willow!

  O willow, willow, willow!

  And O the green willow my garland shall be!"

  Nearer came the singing while I stood, sword in hand, waiting; the song ended suddenly and the sweet voice called:

  "O Marjorie, wake me betimes, I must be abroad with the sun to- morrow——good-night, sweet wench!"

  I crouched in the curtains of the great bed as the latch clicked and the room filled with the soft glow of a candle; a moment's silence, then:

  "O Marjorie, I'll wear the green taffety in the morning. Nay indeed, I'll be my own tirewoman to-night."

  The light was borne across the room; then coming softly to the door I closed it and, setting my back against it, leaned there. At the small sound I made she turned and, beholding me, shrank back, and I saw the candlestick shaking in her hand ere she set it down upon the carved press beside her.

  "Who is it——who is it?" she questioned breathlessly, staring at my bruised and swollen features.

  "A rogue you had dragged lifeless to the pillory!"

  "You?" she breathed. "You! And they set you in the pillory? 'Twas by no order of me."

  "'Tis no matter, lady, here was just reward for a rogue," says I. "But now I seek Sir Richard——"

  "Nay indeed——indeed you shall not find him here."

  "That will I prove for myself!" says I, and laid hand on latch.

  "Sir," says she in the same breathless fashion, "why will you not believe me? Seek him an you will, but I tell you Sir Richard sailed into the Spanish Main two years since and was lost."

  "Lost?" says I, feeling a tremor of apprehension shake me as I met her truthful eyes. "Lost, say you——how lost?"

  "He and his ship were taken by the Spaniards off Hispaniola."

  "Taken?" I repeated, like one sore mazed. "Taken——off—— Hispaniola?" And here, bethinking me of the cruel mockery of it all (should this indeed be so) black anger seized me. "You lie to me!" I cried. "Ha, by God, you lie! An there be aught of justice in heaven then Richard Brandon must be here."

  "Who are you?" she questioned, viewing me with the same wide-eyed stare. "Who are you——so fierce, so young, yet with whitened hair, and that trembles at the truth? Who are you——speak?"

  "You have lied to save him from me!" I cried. "You lie——ha, confess!" And I strode towards her, the long blade a-glitter in my quivering grasp.

  "Would you kill me?" says she, all unflinching and with eyes that never wavered. "Would you murder a helpless maid——Martin Conisby?" The rapier fell to the rug at my feet and lay there, my breath caught, and thus we stood awhile, staring into each other's eyes.

  "Martin Conisby is dead!" says I at last.

  For answer she pointed to the wall above my head and, looking thither, I saw the picture of a young cavalier, richly habited, who smiled down grey-eyed and gentle-lipped, all care-free youth and gaiety; and beneath this portrait ran the words:

  MARTIN CONISBY, LORD WENDOVER. Aetat. 21.

  "Madam," quoth I at last, turning my back on the picture, "Yon innocent was whipped to death aboard a Spanish galleass years since, wherefore I, a poor rogue, come seeking his destroyer."

  "Sir," says she, clasping her hands and viewing me with troubled eyes, "O sir——whom mean you?"

  "One who, having slain the father, sold the son into slavery, to the hell of Spanish dungeon and rowing-bench, to stripes and shame and torment, one the just God hath promised to my vengeance——I mean Richard Brandon."

  "Ah——mercy of God——my father! Ah no, no——it cannot be! My father? Sure here is some black mistake."

  "Being his daughter you should know 'tis very truth! Being a Brandon you must know of the feud hath cursed and rent our families time out of mind, the bitter faction and bloodshed!"

  "Aye!" she murmured, "This I do know."

  "Well, madam, five years agone, or thereabouts, my father falsely attainted of treason, died in his prison and I, drugged and trepanned aboard ship, was sold into the plantations, whence few return——and Richard Brandon, enriched by our loss and great at court, dreamed he had made an end o' the Conisbys and that the feud was ended once and for all."

  "My lord," says she, proud head upflung, "I deny all this! Such suspicion, so base and unfounded, shameth but yourself. You have dared force your way into my house at dead of night, and now——O now you would traduce my absent father, charging him with shameful crimes——and this to me, his daughter! Enough, I'll hear no more, begone ere I summon my servants and have you driven forth!" and, seizing the bell-rope that hung against the panelling, she faced me, her deep bosom heaving tempestuous, white hands clenched and scorning me with her eyes.

  "Ring!" says I, and seated myself in a chair beside her great bed.

  "Have you no shame?"

  "None, madam, 'twas all whipped out o' me aboard the 'Esmeralda' galleass. Ring, madam! But I go not till I learn, once and for all, if Sir Richard be here or no."

  Now at this she loosed the bell-rope very suddenly and, covering her face with her hands, stood thus awhile:

  "God pity me!" says she at last in weeping voice. "I may not forget how you saved me from——" Here a tremor seemed to shake her; then she spake again, yet now scarce above a whisper. "Your face hath looked upon me night and morn these two years, and now ——O Martin Conisby, were you but the man I dreamed you!"

  "I'm a rogue new-broke from slavery!" says I.

  "Aye," she cried suddenly, lifting her head and viewing me with new and bitter scorn, "and one that speaketh lies of an absent man!"

  "Lies!" quoth I, choking on the word. "Lies, madam? Why then, how cometh my picture here——my coat of arms above the mantel yonder, the Conisby 'scutcheon on your gates? What do you at Conisby Shene?"

  Now in her look I saw a sudden doubt, a growing dread, her breath caught and she shrank back to the panelled wall and leaned there, and ever the trouble in her eyes grew. "Well, my lady?" I questioned, "Have ye no answer?"

  "'Twas said……I have heard……the Conisbys were no more."

  "Even so, how came Sir Richard by this, our house?"

  "Nay——nay, I——I know little of my father's business——he was ever a silent man and I——have passed my days in London or abroad. But you——ah, tell me——why seek you my father?"

  "That is betwixt him and me!"

  "Was it——murder? Was it vengeance, my lord?" Here, as I made no answer, she crosses over to me and lays one slender hand on my shoulder; whereat I would have risen but her touch stayed me. "Speak!" says she in a whisper. "Was it his life you sought?" Meeting the look in her deep, soft eyes, I was silent for a while, finding no word, then dumbly I nodded. And now I felt her hand trembling on my shoulder ere it was withdrawn and, looking up, I saw she had clasped her hands and stood with head bowed like one in prayer: "O Martin Conisby," she whispered, "now thank God that in His mercy He hath stayed thee from murder!" So she stood awhile, then, crossing to the carven press, took thence divers papers and set them before me. "Read!" she commanded.

  So I examined these papers and found therein indisputable evidence that my journey here was vain indeed, that Sir Richard, sailing westward, had been taken by Spaniards off Hispaniola and carried away prisoner, none knew whither.

  And in a while, having read these papers, I laid them by and rising, stumbled towards the open casement.

  "Well, my lord?" says she in strange, breathless fashion, "And what now?"

  "Why now," says I, wearily, "it seems my vengeance is yet to seek."

  "Vengeance?" she cried, "Ah, God pity thee! Doth life hold for thee nought better?"

  "Nought!"

  "Vengeance is a consuming fire!"

  "So seek I vengeance!"

  "O Martin Conisby, bethink you! Vengeance is but a sickness of the mind——a wasting disease——"

  "So seek I vengeance!"

  "For him that questeth after vengeance this fair world can hold nought beside."

  "So give me vengeance, nought else seek I of this world!"

  "Ah, poor soul——poor man that might be, so do I pity thee!"

  "I seek no man's pity."

  "But I am a woman, so shall I pity thee alway!"

  Now as I prepared to climb through the lattice she, beholding the sword where it yet lay, stooped and, taking it up, sheathed it. "This was thine own once, I've heard," says she. "Take it, Martin Conisby, keep it clean, free from dishonour and leave thy vengeance to God."

  "Not so!" says I, shaking my head. "I have my knife, 'tis weapon better suited to my rags!" So saying, I clambered out through the lattice even as I had come. Being upon the terrace, I glanced up to find her leaning to watch me and with the moon bright on her face.

  "Live you for nought but vengeance?" she questioned softly.

  "So aid me God!" says I.

  "So shall I pity thee alway, Martin Conisby!" she repeated, and sighed, and so was gone.

  Then I turned, slow of foot, and went my solitary way.

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