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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter34)

2006-08-28 22:30

  Chapter XXXIV. How I Stood Resolute in My Folly

  The day was still young when we reached our habitation, and both of us glad to return, especially my lady.

  "For truly I do grow to love this home of ours," says she, and sets herself to sweeping out her three caves. As for me I was determined on making her an arm chair forthright; to the which end I took my saw and set out for Deliverance Sands, there to cut and select such timber as I needed from my store. But scarce was I come hither than I uttered a shout of joy, for there, cast up high upon these white sands, lay a great mast in a tangle of ropes and cordage.

  Drawing near, I saw this for the mainmast of some noble ship but lately wrecked, wherefore I hasted along the beach and out upon the reef to see if haply any other wreckage had come ashore, but found nothing to reward my search. Returning to the mast I saw to my joy that this cordage was all new and sound, though woefully tangled. Howbeit I had soon unravelled some fifty yards of good stout twine, and abundance of more yet to hand together with the heavier ropes such as shrouds and back-stays. Taking this line I came to that rocky cleft where I had killed the goat, and clambering up the bush-grown cliff found it to be honey- combed with caves large and small and with abundant evidences of the animals I sought. Wherefore, choosing me a narrow, well-worn track I set there a trap formed of a running noose, and this did I in divers other places, which done I returned to my labours on the mast. At the which occupation my lady, finding me, must needs fall to work beside me, aiding as well as she might like the true comrade she was.

  Thus by late afternoon I had coiled and stowed safely away more good hempen rope and cordage than I could ever want. This accomplished I found time to praise my companion's diligence; but finding her all wearied out with such rough and arduous labour, grew mighty vexed with my heedlessness, reproaching myself therewith; but she (and all toilworn as she was) laughed her weariness to scorn, as was ever her way:

  "Why, Martin," says she, "labour is a good thing and noble since it giveth health and strength to both mind and body. And 'tis my joy to share in your labours when I may and a delight to see how, cast here destitute of all things, you have contrived so much already. The more I work and the harder, the more able am I for work, so trouble not if I do grow a little weary sometimes!" This comforted me somewhat until, chancing to see her hands, I caught them in mine and turning them saw these tender palms all red and blistered with the ropes; and grieving over them I would have kissed the poor little things had I dared (and indeed came mighty nigh doing it) as she perceived, I think, for she flushed and laughed and drew them from my hold.

  "Nay, Martin," says she softly. "I would have you forget my sex ——sometimes!"

  "'Twere a thing impossible!" says I, whereat she, stealing a glance at me, flushed all the hotter.

  "Why then," says she, "You must not coddle and cosset me because I am a woman——"

  "Never, quoth I, "'tis not my nature to do so."

  "And yet you do, Martin."

  "As how?"

  "O in many ways——these blisters now, why should your hands grow rough and hard and not mine? Nature hath formed me woman but Fate hath made me your comrade, Martin. And how may I be truly your comrade except I share your toil?"

  Now when I would have answered I could not, and turning from her to stare away across the limitless ocean saw it a-gleam through a mist as it were.

  "Surely," says I at last, "O surely never had man so sweet and true a comrade! And I so rude and unlovely——and in all ways so unworthy."

  "But you are not, Martin, you are not!"

  "Aye, but I am——beyond your guessing, you that are so pure, so saintly——"

  "Saintly? O Martin!" and here she laughs albeit a little tremulously. "Surely I am a very human saint, for I do grow mighty hungry and yearn for my supper. So prithee let us go and eat."

  But on our way we turned aside to see if we had any fortune with my snares; sure enough, coming nigh the place we heard a shuffling and snorting, and presently discovered a goat fast by the neck and half-choked, and beside her a little kid pitifully a-bleating.

  "O Martin!" cries my lady, and falling on her knees began caressing and fondling the little creature whiles I secured the dam, and mighty joyful. The goat, for all its strangling, strove mightily, but lashing its fore and hind legs I contrived to get it upon my shoulders and thus burdened set off homewards, my lady carrying the kid clasped to her bosom, and it very content there and small wonder.

  "'Tis sweet, pretty thing," says my lady, stroking its silky hair, "and shall soon grow tame."

  "And here is the beginning of our flock: our cheese and butter shall not be long a-lacking now, comrade."

  "You must fashion me a press, Martin."

  "And a churn," says I.

  "Nay I can manage well enough with one of our pipkins."

  "But a churn would be easier for you, so a churn you shall have, of sorts."

  This evening after supper, sitting by our fire, my lady (and despite her weariness) was merrier than her wont and very full of plans for the future, deciding for me what furniture I must construct next, as chairs (two) a cupboard with shelves, and where these should stand when made:

  "And, Martin," says she, "now that we own goats I must have a dairy for my cheese-making, and my dairy shall be our larder, aye, and stillroom too, for I have been tending our garden lately and found growing many good herbs and simples. In time, Martin, these caves shall grow into a home indeed and all wrought by our own hands, and this is a sweet thought."

  "Why so it is," says I, "in very truth——but——"

  "But what, sir?" she questioned, lifting admonishing finger.

  "There may come a day when we may weary of it, how then?"

  "Nay we are too busy——"

  "Can it——could it be"——says I, beginning to stammer——"that you might live here thus content to the end of your days?"

  "The end of my days?" says she staring thoughtfully into the fire. "Why, Martin, this is a long way in the future I do pray, and our future is in the hands of God, so wherefore trouble?"

  "Because I who have been stranger to Happiness hitherto, dread lest it may desert me and leave me the more woeful."

  "Are you then happy at last——and so suddenly, Martin?"

  Now this put me to no little heart-searching and perplexity, for casting back over the time since our landing on the island I knew that, despite my glooms and ill-humours, happiness had come to me in that hour I had found her alive.

  "Why, I am no longer the miserable wretch I was," quoth I at last.

  "Because of late you have forgot to grieve for yourself and past wrong and sorrows, Martin. Mayhap you shall one day forget them quite."

  "Never!" quoth I.

  "Yet so do I hope, Martin, with all my heart," says she and with a great sigh.

  "Why then, fain would I forget an I might, but 'tis beyond me. The agony of the rowing-bench, the shame of stripes——the blood and bestiality of it all——these I may never forget."

  "Why then, Martin——dear Martin," says she, all suddenly slipping from her stool to kneel before me and reach out her two hands. "I do pray our Heavenly Father, here and now before you, that you, remembering all this agony and shame, may make of it a crown of glory ennobling your manhood——that you, forgetting nothing, may yet put vengeance from you now and for ever and strive to forget——to forgive, Martin, and win thereby your manhood and a happiness undreamed——" here she stopped, her bosom heaving, her eyes all tender pleading; and I (O deaf and purblind fool!) hearing, heard not and seeing, saw nought but the witching beauty of her; and now, having her hands in mine, beholding her so near, I loosed her hands and turned away lest I should crush her to me.

  "'Tis impossible!" I muttered. "I am a man and no angel——'tis impossible!" Hereupon she rose and stood some while looking down into the fire and never a word; suddenly she turned as to leave me, then, sitting on her stool, drew out her hairpins and shook down her shining hair that showed bronze-red where the light caught it. And beholding her thus, her lovely face offset by the curtain of her hair, her deep, long-lashed eyes, the vivid scarlet of her mouth, I knew the world might nowhere show me a maid so perfect in beauty nor so vitally a woman.

  "Martin!" says she very softly, as she began braiding a thick tress of hair. "Have you ever truly loved any woman?"

  "No," says I, "No!"

  "Could you so love, I wonder?"

  "No!" says I again and clenching my hands. "No——never!"

  "Why, true," says she, more softly, "methinks in your heart is no room for poor Love, 'tis over-full of Hate, and hate is a disease incurable with you. Is't not so, Martin?"

  "Yes——no! Nay, how should I know?" quoth I.

  "Yet should love befall you upon a day, 'twould be love unworthy any good woman, Martin!"

  "Why then," says I, "God keep me from the folly of love."

  "Pray rather that Love, of its infinite wisdom, teach you the folly of hate, Martin!"

  "'Tis a truth," says I bitterly, "a truth that hath become part of me! It hath been my companion in solitude, my comfort in my shameful misery, my hope, my very life or I had died else! And now——now you bid me forget it——as 'twere some mere whimsy, some idle fancy——this thought that hath made me strong to endure such shames and tribulations as few have been forced to suffer!"

  "Aye, I do, I do!" she cried. "For your own sake, Martin, and for mine."

  "No!" quoth I, "A thousand times! This thought hath been life to me, and only with life may I forego it!"

  At this, the busy fingers faltered in their pretty labour, and, bowing her head upon her hand, she sat, her face hid from me, until I, not doubting that she wept, grew uneasy and questioned her at last.

  "Nay, my lady——since this must be so——wherefore grieve?"

  "Grieve?" says she lifting her head, and I saw her eyes all radiant and her red lips up-curving in a smile. "Nay, Martin, I do marvel how eloquent you grow upon your wrongs, indeed 'tis as though you feared you might forget them. Thus do you spur up slothful memory, which giveth me sure hope that one day 'twill sleep to wake no more."

  And now, or ever I might find answer, she rose and giving me "Good-night" was gone, singing, to her bed; and I full of bewilderment. But suddenly as I sat thus, staring into the dying fire, she was back again.

  "What now?" I questioned.

  "Our goat, Martin! I may not sleep until I know her safe——come let us go look!" and speaking, she reached me her hand. So I arose, and thus with her soft, warm fingers in mine we went amid the shadows where I had tethered the goat to a tree hard beside the murmurous rill and found the animal lying secure and placidly enough, the kid beside her. The which sight seemed to please my lady mightily.

  "But 'tis shame the poor mother should go tied always thus. Could you not make a picket fence, Martin? And she should have some refuge against the storms," to the which I agreed. Thus as we went back we fell to making plans, one project begetting another, and we very blithe about it.

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