Black Bartlemys Treasure (Chapter 1, page 1 of 7)


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Chapter 1

It was a night of tempest with rain and wind, a great wild wind that shouted mightily near and far, filling the world with halloo; while, ever and anon, thunder crashed and lightning flamed athwart the muddy road that wound steeply up betwixt grassy banks topped by swaying trees. Broken twigs, whirling down the wind, smote me in the dark, fallen branches reached out arms that grappled me unseen, but I held on steadfastly, since every stride carried me nearer to vengeance, that vengeance for the which I prayed and lived. So with bared head lifted exulting to the tempest and grasping the stout hedge-stake that served me for staff, I climbed the long ascent of Pembury Hill.

Reaching the summit at last I must needs stay awhile to catch my breath and shelter me as well as I might 'neath the weather bank, for upon this eminence the rain lashed and the wind smote me with a fury redoubled.

And now, as I stood amid that howling darkness, my back propped by the bank, my face lifted to the tempest, I was aware of a strange sound, very shrill and fitful, that reached me 'twixt the booming wind-gusts, a sound that came and went, now loud and clear, anon faint and remote, and I wondered what it might be. Then the rushing dark was split asunder by a jagged lightning-flash, and I saw. Stark against the glare rose black shaft and crossbeam, wherefrom swung a creaking shape of rusty chains and iron bands that held together something shrivelled and black and wet with rain, a grisly thing that leapt on the buffeting wind, that strove and jerked as it would fain break free and hurl itself down upon me.

Now hearkening to the dismal creak of this chained thing, I fell to meditation. This awful shape (thought I) had been a man once, hale and strong,--even as I, but this man had contravened the law (even as I purposed to do) and he had died a rogue's death and so hung, rotting, in his chains, even as this my own body might do some day. And, hearkening to the shrill wail of his fetters, my flesh crept with loathing and I shivered. But the fit passed, and in my vain pride I smote my staff into the mud at my feet and vowed within myself that nought should baulk me of my just vengeance, come what might; as my father had suffered death untimely and hard, so should die the enemy of my race; for the anguish he had made me endure so should he know anguish. I bethought me how long and deadly had been this feud of ours, handed down from one generation to another, a dark, blood-smirched record of bitter wrongs bitterly avenged. "To hate like a Brandon and revenge like a Conisby!" This had been a saying in our south country upon a time; and now--he was the last of his race as I was the last of mine, and I had come back out of hell that this saying might be fulfilled. Soon--ha, yes, in a few short hours the feud should be ended once and for all and the house of Conisby avenged to the uttermost. Thinking thus, I heeded no more the raving tempest around me until, roused by the plunge and rattle of the gibbet-chains, I raised my head and shaking my staff up at that black and shrivelled thing, I laughed loud and fierce, and, even as I did so, there leapt a great blaze of crackling flame and thereafter a thunder-clap that seemed to shake the very earth and smite the roaring wind to awed silence; and in this silence, I heard a whisper: "O mercy of God!"

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