Black Bartlemys Treasure (Chapter 1, page 2 of 7)

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Chapter 1

Somewhere in the darkness hard by a woman had cried. Instinctively I turned thitherward, searching the night vainly until the lightning flared again and I beheld a cloaked and hooded figure huddled miserably against the bank of the road, and, as darkness came, I spoke: "Woman, doth the gibbet fright you, or is't I? If 'tis the gibbet go hence, if 'tis I rest assured."

"Who are you?" said a breathless voice.

"One of no more account than the poor thing that danceth aloft in his chains and for you as harmless."

And now she was beside me, a dark, wind-blown shape, and above the howling tempest her voice reached me in passionate pleading: "Sir--sir, will you aid one in sore danger and distress?"

"Yourself?" I questioned.

"Nay--indeed nay," she panted, "'tis Marjorie, my poor, poor brave Marjorie. They stopped my coach--drunken men. I know not what came of Gregory and I leapt out and escaped them in the dark, but Marjorie--they carried her off--there is a light down the lane yonder. I followed and saw--O sir, you will save Marjorie--you are a man--"

A hand was upon my ragged sleeve, a hand that gripped and shook at me in desperate supplication--"You will save her from--from worse than death? Speak--speak!"

"Lead on!" quoth I, answering this compelling voice. The griping fingers slipped down and clasped my hand in the dark, and with never another word she led me away unseeing and unseen until we came where we were more sheltered from rain and wind; and now I took occasion to notice that the hand that gripped mine so masterfully was small and soft, so that what with this and her voice and speech I judged her one of condition. But my curiosity went no further nor did I question her, for in my world was no place for women. So she led me on at haste despite the dark--like one that was sure of her whereabouts--until I suddenly espied a dim light that shone out from the open lattice of what I judged to be a small hedge-tavern. Here my companion halted suddenly and pointed to the light.

"Go!" she whispered. "Go--nay, first take this!" and she thrust a small pistol into my hand. "Haste!" she panted, "O haste--and I do pray God shield and bless you." Then with never a word I left her and strode towards the beam of light.

Being come nigh the casement I paused to cock the weapon and to glance at the priming, then, creeping to the open lattice, I looked into the room.

Three men scowled at each other across a table--desperate-looking fellows, scarred and ill-featured, with clothes that smacked of the sea; behind them in a corner crouched a maid, comely of seeming but pallid of cheek and with cloak torn by rough hands, and, as she crouched, her wide eyes stared at the dice-box that one of the men was shaking vigorously--a tall, hairy fellow this, with great rings in his ears; thus stood he rattling the dice and smiling while his companions cursed him hoarsely.

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