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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter44)

2006-08-28 22:35

  Chapter XLIV. How I Had Speech with Roger Tressady to My Undoing

  For maybe a full minute we fronted each other unmoving and with never a word; and thus at last I beheld this man Tressady.

  A tall, lusty fellow, square of face and with pale eyes beneath a jut of shaggy brow. A vivid neckerchief was twisted about his head and in his hairy ears swung great gold rings; his powerful right hand was clenched to knotted fist, in place of his left glittered the deadly hook.

  "Sink me!" says he at last, drawing clenched fist across his brow, "Sink me, but ye gave me a turn, my lord! Took ye for a ghost, I did, the ghost of a shipmate o' mine, one as do lie buried yonder, nought but poor bones——aye, rotten bones——as this will be soon!" Here he spurned the dead man with his foot. "'Tis black rogue this, my lord, one as would ha' made worm's- meat o' poor Tressady——aye, a lump o' murdered clay like my shipmate Bartlemy yonder——but for this Silver Woman o' mine!" Here he stooped for the dagger, and having cleaned it in the sand, held it towards me upon his open palm: "Aha, here's woman hath never failed me yet! She's faithful and true, friend, faithful and true, this Silver Woman o' mine. But 'tis an ill world, my master, and full o' bloody rogues like this sly dog as stole ashore to murder me——the fool! O 'tis a black and bloody world."

  "So it is!" quoth I, 'twixt shut teeth, "And all the worse for the likes o' you, Roger Tressady!"

  "So ho——he knoweth my name then!" says Tressady, rubbing shaven chin with silver dagger-hilt and viewing me with his pale, keen gaze: "But do I know him now——do I?"

  "I know you for pirate and damned murderer, Roger Tressady, so shall you quit this island this very hour or stay here to rot along with Bartlemy and Red Andy!"

  Now at this (and all careless of my pistol) he drew a slow pace nearer, great head out-thrust, peering.

  "Why," says he at last, "why——bleed me! If——if it aren't——aye 'tis——Martin! Why for sure 'tis my bonnet Marty as saved my skin time and again aboard the 'Faithful Friend!' Though ye go mighty fine, lad, mighty fine! But good luck t'ye and a fair wind, say I!" And thrusting the dagger into his girdle he nodded mighty affable. "But look'ee now, Marty, here's me wishing ye well and you wi' a barker in your fist, 'tis no fashion to greet a shipmate, I'm thinking."

  "Enough words!" says I, stepping up to him. "Do you go——alive, or stay here dead——which?"

  "Split me!" says he, never stirring. "But 'tis small choice you offer, Marty——"

  "My name's Martin!"

  "And a curst good name too, Marty. But I've no mind to be worm's-meat yet awhile——no! Come, what's your quarrel wi' me? First Andy would murder me and now 'tis you——why for? Here's me wi' a heart of gold t' cherish a friend and never a friend t' cherish! What's your quarrel, lad, what?"

  "Quarrel enough, what with your drugging me and murder aboard ship——"

  "Avast, lad! Here's unchancy talk, ill and unmannered!"

  "You murdered divers men aboard the 'Faithful Friend.'"

  "Only three, Marty, only three——poor souls! Though yours is a foul word for't. I took 'em off, lad, took 'em off as a matter of policy. I've never took off any yet as I wasn't forced to by circumstances. Look'ee, there's men in this world born to be took off by someone or other, and they always come a-drifting across my hawse and get took off accordingly, but don't blame me, lad, don't. And as for a-drugging of ye, Marty, true again! But love me! What was I to do? But I didn't take you off, lad, no, nor never shall unless you and policy force me so to do. I'm no murderer born——like Adam——curse him! Clap me alongside Adam and I'm a turtle-dove, a babe for innocence and a lamb for meekness! There never was such a murderer born into this wicked world as Adam Penfeather, with a curse! 'Twas he as murdered Black Bartlemy and nine sweet, bright lads arter him, murdered 'em here one by one, and wi' a parchment rove about the neck of each poor corpse, Marty. 'Twas he as drove their mates out to sea to perish in a leaky boat——ask Abnegation Mings! 'Twas him nigh murdered me more than once, aye me, lad, as can't BE killed according to the prophecy of the poor mad soul aboard the old 'Delight.' Why Adam, curse him, has murdered more men than you have years. And talking of him, how cometh it you aren't blown t' hell along wi' him and the rest?"

  "Do you tell me Adam is dead?"

  "Blown up aboard the 'Faithful Friend,' lad. Just after we run her aboard and grappled, aye blew up she did and nigh took us wi' her. Aha, but Adam's dead at last, curse him! Unless he can't be killed either, unless he is——"

  Here, and all at once, he turned to stare away across Deliverance, then shrinking, cowered towards me as in sudden terror stabbing at the empty air with his glittering hook:

  "Ha——what's yon!" cried he in awful voice; and I turning whither his glaring eyes stared (and half-dreading to behold my lady) had the pistol wrenched from my hold and the muzzle under my ear all in a moment; and stood scowling and defenceless like the vast fool I was.

  "Split me!" says he, tapping me gently with his hook "O blind me if I thought ye such a lubberly fool! So old a trick, Marty! Now look'ee, were I a murderer and loved it——like Adam, curse him——I should pull trigger! But being Roger Tressady wi' a heart o' gold, I say sit down, lad, sit down and let us talk, friend, let us talk. Come——sit down! Never mind Andy, he shan't trouble us!" So with the pistol at my ear we sat down side by side and the dead man sprawling at our feet.

  "Now first, Marty lad, how come ye here alone on Bartlemy's island——how?"

  But sitting thus chin on fist I stared down at Red Andy's stiffening body silent as he, I being too full of fierce anger and bitter scorn of my folly for speech.

  "Come, come, Marty, be sociable!" says Tressady, tapping my cheek with the pistol-muzzle, "Was it Penfeather sent ye hither t' give an eye to——the treasure? Was it?"

  "Aye!"

  "'Twould be the night he made the crew drunk and spoiled my plans. Ha, 'twas like him——a cunning rogue! But for this I'd have had the ship and him and the treasure. O a right cunning, fierce rogue was Adam, and none to match him but me."

  "But he nearly did for you once!" says I bitterly, "And he such a small, timid man!"

  "Look'ee, Martin, when Adam grows timid 'tis time for your bold, desperate fellows to beware! But he's dead at last, though I'd ha' felt more comfort, aye I'd ha' took it kinder had he been took off by my Silver Woman——or this!" Here he thrust his hook before my eyes. "It ain't a pretty thing, Martin, not pretty, no——but 'tis useful at all times and serves to shepherd my lambs wi' now and then, 'tis likewise a mighty persuading argument, but, and best of all——'tis sure, lad, sure. So I'd ha' took it kinder had I watched him go off on this, lad, this. My hook for my enemies and for my friends a heart o' gold! And, talking o' gold, Marty, what——what o' Bartlemy's Treasure?"

  "You are happily welcome to it for all me."

  "Why, that's spoke manly and like a friend, rot me but it is! And now where might it lie, Marty, where?"

  "I've no idea."

  "What ha'n't ye found it, lad?"

  "No!"

  "Not even——seen it, then?"

  "No!"

  "Why, think o' that now, think of that! And you wi'——a fortun' o' pearls on you, Marty. These pearl studs and buttons, lad. Pearls——ha, pearls was meat and drink to Bartlemy. And here's you wi' pearls I've seen on Bartlemy many a time. And yet you ha'n't found the treasure, says you. If I was a passionate man, Marty, I should call ye liar, says I. Howsoever what I do say is——as you've forgot, and very right and proper. But we'm friends, you and me, so far, and so, 'twixt friends, I ask you to think again until you remember, and to think hard, lad, hard."

  Now as I sat (and miserably enough) staring down at my jewelled buttons that seemed to leer up at me like so many small, malevolent eyes, upon the air rose a distant stir that grew and grew to sound of voices with the creak and rumble of oars.

  "Here come my lambs at last, Marty, and among 'em some o' the lads as sailed wi' Bartlemy aboard the 'Delight.' There's Sam Spraggons for one——Smiling Sam as you'll mind aboard the 'Faithful Friend.' Now the Smiler knoweth many and divers methods of persuasion, Marty lad, tricks learned of the Indians as shall persuade a man to anything in this world. But first, seeing 'tis you, Martin, as played 'bonnet' to me and saved my life aboard ship, though all unknowing, here's my offer: show me how to come by Bartlemy's Treasure as is mine——mine by rights, let me get my hands on to it and none the wiser, and there shall be share for you, Marty lad, share for you. Otherwise I must let Sam try to persuade you to remember where it lieth——come, what d'ye say?"

  "What——you'll torture me then?"

  "If I must, friend, if I must. 'Tis for you to say."

  "Why then 'twill be labour in vain, Tressady, for I swear I know nought of this treasure——"

  "Sit still, lad, sit still!" says he, clapping the pistol to my ear again. "Though a fool in many ways, Marty, you're proper enough man to look at and 'twill be pity to cripple ye! Aye, there won't be much left when Sam is done wi' you, more's the pity."

  Hereupon he hailed loudly and was answered from the lagoon, and glancing thither, I saw two boats crowded with men pulling for the beach.

  "A wildish company, Martin, desperate fellows as ever roved the Main, as I do love no more than they love me. So say the word and we'll share Black Bartlemy's treasure betwixt us, just you and me, lad, me and you! Come, what's your will?" But shaking my head (and hopelessly enough) I set my teeth and watched the coming of my tormentors.

  And foremost was a short, plump, bright-eyed man who lacked an ear, and at his elbows two others, the one a lank rogue with a patch over one eye, the third a tall, hairy fellow.

  And observing them as they came I knew them for those same three rogues I had fought with in the hedge-tavern beside Pembury Hill on that night I had first seen my dear lady. Hard upon their heels came a riotous company variously armed and accoutred, who forthwith thronged upon me pushing and jostling for sight of me, desecrating the quiet night with their hoarse and clamorous ribaldry. Unlovely fellows indeed and clad in garments of every shape and cut, from stained home spun and tattered shirts to velvet coats be-laced and gold-braided; and beholding this tarnished and sordid finery, these clothes looted from sinking ships and blazing towns, I wondered vaguely what had become of their late owners.

  At gesture from Tressady I was dragged to my feet and my arms jerked, twisted and bound before me crosswise, and so stood I helpless and in much painful discomfort whiles Tressady harangued his fellows, tapping me gently with his hook:

  "Look'ee, my bullies," quoth he, "I promised ye gold a' plenty and here, somewhere on this island, it lieth waiting to be found. It needeth but for this fool Martin here, as some o' you will mind for Adam Penfeather's comrade, with a curse, it needeth but for him to speak, I say, and in that same hour each one o' you may fill your clutch wi' more treasure than ever came out o' Eldorado or Manoa——so speak he must and shall——eh bullies, eh?"

  "Aye, aye, Cap'n!" they roared, pressing upon me with a shaking of fists and glitter of eager steel.

  "Twist his thumbs, Cap'n!" cried one.

  "Slit his nose!" roared another.

  "Trim his yeres!" cried a third. But Tressady silenced them with a flourish of his hook.

  "Hark'ee, lads!" says he. "You all mean well, but you're bunglers, here's a little delicate matter as none can handle like the Smiler. There's none like Sam can make a man give tongue! Pass the word for Smiling Sam! Step forward, Sammy."

  Hereupon cometh the great, fat fellow Spraggons who had been bo'sun's mate aboard the "Faithful Friend," forcing his way with vicious elbows and mighty anxious to come at me.

  "O love my limbs!" says he in his high-pitched voice and blinking his hairless lids at me, "O cherish my guts——leave him to me, Cap'n! Sam's the lad to make this yer cock crow. See now——a good, sharp knife 'neath the finger or toe-nails——drew slow, mates, slow! Or a hot iron close agen his eyes is good. Or boiling water poured in his yeres might serve. Then——aha, Cap'n! I know a dainty little trick, a small cord, d'ye see, twisted athwart his head just a-low the brows, twisted and twisted——as shall start his eyes out right pretty to behold. I mind too as Lollonais had a trick o' bursting a man's guts wi' water——"

  "Bring him to the beach yonder!" says Tressady, watching me ever with his pale eyes, "There shall be more room for't yonder!"

  So they hailed me along betwixt them, and with huge merriment; but scarce were we out of the cove and hard beside Bartlemy's tree than I started to the vicious prick of a knife, and whirling about despite the fierce hands that sought to hold me, I saw Smiling Sam about to stab me again. But now, as I strove with my reeling captors, was a flicker of vicious steel as Tressady sprang and, whipping his hook beneath the great fellow's belt, whirled Smiling Sam from his feet despite his prodigious weight and forthwith trampled upon him.

  "So-ho, my merry lad!" quoth Tressady, glaring down into Smiling Sam's convulsed face, "And must ye be at it afore I give the word? Who's captain here——who? Come speak up, my roaring boy!" and he thrust his hook beneath the Smiler's great, flabby chin.

  "Mercy, Cap'n——mercy!" cried Spraggons, his high-pitched voice rising to a pitiful squeal. "Not the hook, Cap'n——O Lord love me——not the hook!"

  "Hook? And why not, Sam, why not? 'Tis sharp and clean and quick, and hath done the business o' nicer rogues than you, bully, aye and better, Sam, better——"

  O Cap'n——for God's sake——"

  "Who're you to call on God so glib, Sammy?" 'Tis marvel He don't strike ye blind, lad. Or there's your innards, Sam, here's that may whip out your liver, lad——So!" I saw the glitter of the hook, heard Smiling Sam's gasping scream as the steel bit into him, and then Tressady was on his feet smiling round upon his awed and silent company.

  "Look'ee, bullies!" says he, pointing to the Smiler's inanimate form, "Here's poor Sam all swounded away at touch o' my hook like any woman——and him my bo'sun! Pshaw! I want a man!" Here he stooped, and wrenching the silver pipe from Smiling Sam's fat throat stared from one shuffling rogue to another: "Step forward, Abner," says he at last, "Come, you'll do——you're a prime sailor-man, you're my bo'sun henceforth."

  But now Smiling Sam awaking from his swoon moaned feebly and sat up:

  "Not the hook, Cap'n!" he wailed, O not that——"

  "No, Smiler, no, I keep it for better men. Disobey me again and I'll drown ye in a puddle. And now up wi' you, Sammy, up wi' you and stand by to teach Martin here how to talk."

  "Aye, aye, Cap'n——aye, aye!" says the gross fellow, rising nimbly enough, whiles his comrades closed about us expectant, and glancing from me to Tressady where he had seated himself on a boulder:

  "Here will do!" says he, pointing to a brilliant strip of moonlit sand midway betwixt the shadows of the cliff and Bartlemy's tree. "On his back, hearties, and grapple him fast, he's strong well- nigh as I am. Now his hand, Smiler, his right hand——"

  "Aye, aye, Cap'n!" quoth the fellow, kneeling above me where I lay helpless. "Will I cut it adrift——slow like?" And as he flourished his knife I saw a trickle of saliva at the corners of his great, loose mouth, "Off at the wrist, Cap'n, or fingers first?"

  "No, fool! His thumb-nail first——try that!"

  Sweating and with every nerve a-quiver I watched that cruel knife, holding my breath in expectation of the coming agony, and then——from the black gloom of the cliff beyond burst a sudden echoing roar, I heard the whine of a bullet and immediately all was confusion and uproar, shouts of dismay and a wild rush for shelter from this sudden attack. But as I struggled to my knees Tressady's great hand gripped my throat, and dragging me behind a boulder he pinned me there.

  "Stand by, lads!" he roared. "Level at the cliff yonder, but let no man pull trigger! Wait till they fire again and mark the flash!"

  Helpless in my bonds and crushed beneath Tressady's knee I heard a stir and rustle to right and left of me, the click of cocking triggers and thereafter——silence. And, marking the gleam of pistol and musket-barrel, I fell to an agony of dread, well knowing whence that merciful shot had come. For mayhap five minutes nought was to hear save the rustle of stealthy arm or leg and the sound of heavy breathing, until at length one spoke, loud-voiced:

  "What now, Captain? Us can't bide here all night."

  "How many are we, Purdy?"

  "Thirty and nine, Captain."

  "Then do you take ten and scale the starboard cliff and you, Abner, with other ten take the cliff to larboard. I'll bide here wi' the rest and so we'll have 'em——"

  "Them cliffs be perilous high, Cap'n!"

  "My hook is more perilous, Tom Day! Off wi' you, ye dogs, or I'll show ye a liver yet and be——"

  He stopped all at once as, faint at first yet most dreadful to hear, there rose a man's cry, chilling the flesh with horror, a cry that waxed and swelled louder and louder to a hideous screaming that shrilled upon the night and, sinking to an awful bubbling murmur, was gone.

  Up sprang Tressady to stare away across Deliverance whence this dreadful cry had come, and I saw his hook tap-tapping at his great chin; then beyond these shining sands was the thunderous roar of a great gun, a furious rattle of small-arms that echoed and re-echoed near and far, and thereafter single shots in rapid succession. Hereupon rose shouts and cries of dismay:

  "Lord love us we'm beset! O Cap'n, we be took fore and aft. What shall us do, Cap'n? Yon was a gun. What o' the ship, Cap'n——what o' the ship?"

  "Yonder——look yonder! Who comes?" cried Tressady, pointing towards Deliverance Beach with his glittering hook.

  Twisting my head as I lay, I looked whither he pointed, and saw one that ran towards us, yet in mighty strange fashion, reeling in wide zig-zags like a drunken man; and sometimes he checked, only to come on again, and sometimes he fell, only to struggle up.

  "By God——it's Abnegation!" cries Tressady. "'Tis my comrade Mings! Look to the prisoner, ye dogs——you Tom Purdy! I'm for Abnegation!" And off he went at a run. At his going was mighty talk and discussion what they should do, some men being for stealing away in the boats, others for taking to the woods, and all clean forgetting me where I lay. But suddenly they fell silent all for Abnegation was hailing feebly, and was come so nigh that we might see him, his face all bloody, his knees bending under him with weakness as he stumbled on. Suddenly, beholding Tressady, he stopped and hailed him in wild, gasping voice:

  "Roger——O Roger! The devil's aboard us, Roger——Penfeather's on us——Penfeather's took the ship——I'm all that's left alive! They killed Sol first——did ye——hear him die, Roger? O did ye hear——"

  I saw him fall and Tressady run to lift him, and watched these pirate rogues as, with oaths and cries of dismay, they hasted hither to throng about the two; then, rolling into the nearest shadow I struggled to my feet and found myself beneath the spreading branches of Bartlemy's tree. And now, as I strove desperately against the rope that bit into the flesh of me, I felt the rope fall away, felt two soft arms close about me and a soft breath on my cheek:

  "Martin——O thank God!" Turning, I caught my dear, brave lady to my heart. Heedless of aught else in the world beside I clasped her in my aching arms, and kissed her until she stayed me and showing me where stood our enemies, a wild disordered company, took my hand and began to run. Reaching the cliff we climbed together nor stayed until she had brought me to a little cave where lay an arquebus together with bandoliers. "I tried to reload it, dear Martin, but 'twas vain——my poor, silly hands shook so. For, O my dear, I——heard them——saw them and——thought I should run mad——O Martin my love!"

  So now whiles I loaded the arquebus I told her as well as I might something of what I thought concerning her brave spirit, of my undying love for her, though in fashion very lame and halting. Thereafter, the weapon being ready I placed it near and, sitting within the gloom of this little cave, I took my love into my arms, her dear head pillowed on my breast, and kissed the tremors from her sweet mouth and the horror from her eyes. And thus with her arms about my neck and her soft, smooth cheek against mine, we waited for what was to be.

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