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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter25)

2006-08-28 22:28

  Chapter XXV. How I Was Haunted of Black Bartlemy

  "Are you hurt?" says I, at last.

  "Indeed," she answered, "all over. Yet am I alive and there's the wonder. The wave cast me into the lagoon and I crept ashore here. Then methought you surely dead and I alone within these solitudes and so I swooned, Martin."

  "Being afraid of the loneliness?"

  "Yes, Martin."

  "Even fellow as rough as I is better than loneliness?"

  "Yes, Martin."

  "Though your arms be bruised by my handling! For this I——I would crave your pardon——"

  "'Tis all forgot!" says she, making shift to cover up her arm. "But your hand is bleeding——"

  "A scratch!"

  "Have you no other hurts?"

  "A bruise or so."

  "And did you come a-seeking me, Martin?"

  "Yes."

  "Are you glad to find me alive?"

  "Yes."

  "Even a Brandon is better than nobody, Martin?" But at this I arose, albeit stiffly, and turned away. "Whither would you go?" she questioned.

  "To seek some shelter ere night catch us."

  "Shall I not come with you?"

  "Can you walk?"

  Hereupon she made to rise, but getting to her knees, flinched and bit her lip:

  "I'm so bruised, Martin!" says she.

  "Why then, bide you here, yonder cleft i' the rock should serve for to-night. Howbeit I'll go look." So I limped across the beach to where showed a great fissure in the cliff hard beside a lofty tree; being come within this cleft I found it narrow suddenly, and at the end a small cave very dry and excellent suited to our purpose. Moreover, close at hand was a little rill that bubbled among mossy rocks, mighty pleasant to be heard. And hereabouts grew all manner of vines, sweet-smelling shrubs and fern; of these I gathered goodly quantity and strowing them within the cave therewith made a very passable bed; which done, I went back where she lay a-drying her wet garments in the warm sun as well as she might.

  "Martin," says she, mighty doleful, "I have lost my comb and all my hairpins."

  "I will fashion you others."

  "Aye, but the boat, Martin, our dear, brave boat!"

  "To-morrow I will seek what remains of her."

  "And our stores——all lost, Martin!"

  "I can find more."

  "Where?"

  "Among the rocks and on the trees. There should be no lack of fruit and fish according to Adam."

  "Nay but," sighed she, shaking woeful head, "even though we contrive to live thus, yet here must we 'bide far from our kind with small hopes of relief and destitute of all things to our comfort."

  "Why look now," says I, "here in my pocket is a tinder box, the which is a very comfortable thing, here in my belt a good, stout, knife, which is another comfortable thing, and yonder is a cave, dry and airy, shall make you a goodly chamber; so take comfort to-night, at least." And drawing my knife I betook me to whetting the blade on the sole of my damp shoe. Glancing up at last I found my companion regarding me with strange expression.

  "Methinks you are greatly changed!" says she.

  "How changed?"

  "In the boat you did nought but cry out and rail 'gainst fortune, but now, Martin——"

  "Now," says I, "the sun is low and night cometh apace in these latitudes, let me know you sheltered ere it be dark!" and sheathing my knife I rose. Then seeing what effort she made to come to her knees, I reached her my hand aiding her up to her feet. So she takes a step and, stifling a cry of pain, would have fallen but for my arm.

  "O Martin," says she, with rueful shake of the head, "I fear I cannot walk."

  "Lean on me——"

  "'Tis vain," says she, catching her breath, "I cannot set this foot to ground."

  "Have you any bones broke?"

  "Nay, 'tis none so bad as that——"

  "Where's your hurt?"

  "My knee——my ankle! And I'm direly bruised, Martin."

  But you cannot sleep out here!"

  "I needs must. The sand is warm and soft to my bed."

  "There is a better waiting you in the cave yonder."

  "But——if I cannot walk, Martin——"

  "Why then," says I, "why then you must suffer that I carry you."

  "I fear I am——greatly heavy, Martin!"

  "As to that——" says I, and lifting her as gently as I might, began to bear her across the beach. And after we had gone thus some way she spoke:

  "I fear me I am vastly heavy!"

  "No!" says I, keeping my gaze before me.

  "Yet you go very slowly."

  "'Tis that I would not jostle you."

  "And the sand is ill-going, belike, Martin?"

  "Most true!" says I, pretending to stumble.

  "Why then, I pray you take your time." At this I ventured to glance down at her, but saw no more than the curve of a cheek and the tip of a little ear; and staring at this came very near blundering into a rock. So I bore her into the rocky cleft already full of shadow, taking due heed in my going yet mighty conscious of all the yielding softness of her none the less.

  "Your clothes are very damp!" says I.

  "They will be dry ere morning," she answered, her voice muffled.

  "I had best light a fire then!"

  "There is no need, 'tis very warm, I do think."

  "'Tis good against wild beasts and the like," says I.

  "Why then, as you will, Martin."

  Reaching the little cave at last she would have had me set her down; but I bade her lie still, and getting to my knees within the cave I laid her upon her ferny bed, whereat she uttered a little cry of pleasure.

  "Why, Martin," says she, snugging down, here is wondrous soft bed and fragrant."

  "'Twill serve until I can contrive a better," quoth I, and coming without the cave, stood looking down on her, while the night deepened about us apace.

  "And what of you, Martin?"

  "I shall sleep here, beyond the fire."

  "Do you think there be any wild beasts hereabouts?"

  "God knoweth!" says I. "Howbeit you may sleep secure and fear nothing."

  "I know that, O I know that!" says she gently.

  "Do you lack for aught?"

  "Only sleep, Martin."

  "Why then, I'll set about making the fire." So I fell to gathering twigs and driftwood, of which there was no lack, and taking out my tinder-box (albeit the tinder was still damp) soon contrived to have the fire crackling right merrily. This done and with store of fuel to hand, I scooped me out a hollow in the warm sand and lying therein found myself very well, the aches of my many bruises notwithstanding. The night air struck chill through my damp garments, but now, stretched in the comfort of the fire, there grew within me a great wonder at our miraculous deliverance; and this led me to ponder upon our present situation, cast thus destitute upon this lonely island where, devoid of every comfort and necessity, we must needs live in barbarous fashion as best we might until either Penfeather should come to our relief or we be taken off by some chance vessel. And supposing (thinks I) that neither chance befall and we doomed to drag out our days to their miserable end? Here I must needs bethink me of all the woeful tales I had heard of marooners or poor, shipwrecked mariners who, by reason of wretchedness and hardship, had run mad or become baser than the brutes. And now, I must needs take out and read Penfeather's crumpled letter, and bethinking me how (in my wicked folly) I had cast overboard the packet of instructions whereby we must at least have found all those stores he made mention of, from cursing him I straightway fell to bitter recriminations of my vain self.

  "Are you asleep, Martin?"

  "No!" Here I heard her sigh, and a rustle as she turned on her leafy couch.

  "O Martin, surely God hath had us in His care to bring us safe through so many dangers, and methinks His gentle hand will be over us still."

  "Have you no fear of what is to be?"

  "None, Martin——not now. But had I found myself alone here——hurt and helpless in the dark——and really alone, O methinks I should have died indeed, or lost my wits and perished so. O truly, truly, God is infinitely merciful!"

  Thus (and all unknowing) she rebuked my ungrateful despondency. For (thinks I) if she, a woman accustomed to ease and comfort, may thus front our desperate fortunes undismayed and with faith unshaken, how much more should I, a man inured to suffering and hardened by privation? Thus, checking my gloomy foreboding, I too breathed a prayer to God for His infinite mercies, and thereafter fell to pondering how I might supply our more pressing needs with such small means as I possessed; and so in a while, dozed off to sleep.

  I started up, knife in hand, to find the moon very big and bright, flooding the world with a radiance wondrous to behold; and blinking drowsily, I wondered what had waked me. Now as I gazed about me the place seemed all at once to take on an evil look, what with its steepy sides a-bristle with tangled vines and bushes and pierced here and there with black holes and fissures, and I shivered. The fire being low I, minded to replenish it, was groping for my fuel when I started and remained peering up at the cliff above, with ears on the stretch and every nerve a- tingle. The night was very calm and still, for the wind had died away, and save for the distant murmur of the surf beyond the reef, nought was to hear; then and all at once, from one of those black holes in the rock above I heard a long-drawn, sighing breath and therewith a faint scuffling. Slowly and cautiously I got to my feet and, with knife gripped ready, began to creep thither; and now within one of these gloomy crevices in the rock- face I saw a crouching shape that, as I drew nearer, sprang away with a snort and clatter, and I saw this was a large goat.

  And surely no poor wight ever more relieved than I as, sheathing my knife, I wiped the sweat from me; and now to relief was added a mighty satisfaction, for where was one goat would be others. Thus, my fears allayed, and bethinking me how savoury was a mess of goat's-flesh, I fell a-watering at the mouth like the hungry animal I was.

  Having no more mind to sleep (and the moon so marvellous bright) I wandered forth of these shadowy rocks and, being upon the sands, stood to look about me. Before me stretched the wide ocean, a desolation of heaving waters that, rolling shorewards, broke in splendour 'neath the moon; to my right lay a curve of silver beach backed by cliffs and groves of stately palms; and to my left and hard beside these bush-girt rocks was a great and lofty tree.

  Now observing this tree more closely, its mighty writhen branches and gnarled roots, and how it stood close against the opening in the cliff, an uneasy feeling possessed me that this tree and its immediate surroundings were all familiar, almost as I had seen it before, though I knew this could not be. So stood I chin in hand, staring about me and ever my unease grew; and then:

  "So that night, Martin, the moon being high and bright, I came to that stretch of silver sand where they lay together rigid and pale, and though I had no tool but his dagger and a piece of driftwood, I contrived to bury them 'neath the great pimento tree that stood beside the rock-cleft, and both in the same grave."

  It was, for all the world, as though Adam had repeated the words in my ear, insomuch that I glanced round as almost expecting to see him. So then it was here Black Bartlemy had died at the hands of the poor, tortured Spanish lady; and here they lay buried, their bones mouldering together within a yard of me. And standing in this dismal spot I must needs mind Adam's narrative and great was my pity for this poor Spanish lady.

  In a while I got me back to the fire and, lying down, fain would have slept, but my mind was full of Adam's story. Howbeit after some while, what with fatigue and the warmth of the fire, slumber took me.

  But in my sleep the dead arose and stood fronting each other beneath a pallid moon, Bartlemy in all the bravery of velvet and lace and flowing periwig, and the Spanish lady tall and proud and deadly pale. And now as she shrank from his evil touch, I saw that her face was the face of Joan Brandon. Sweating in dumb anguish I watched Bartlemy grip her in cruel hands and bend her backward across his knee, while she stared up at him with eyes of horror, her lips moving in passionate entreaty. But, as he bent over her, was a flash of steel, and deep-smitten he staggered back to the great tree and, leaning there, fell into a fit of wild laughter so that the silver dagger-hilt that was shaped like a woman seemed to dance and leap upon his quick-heaving breast; then as he swayed there laughing his life out, he raised his face to the pale moon, and I saw that the face of Black Bartlemy was my own.

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