Black Bartlemys Treasure (Chapter 5, page 1 of 4)

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Chapter 5

It being yet full early for my purpose I took to the woods, and presently chancing upon a little stream that bubbled pleasantly 'mid shady willows, I sat myself down within this greeny bower and fell to watching the hurrying waters of this brook and hearkening to its drowsy murmur. And lying thus, with the good green world around me, the sunny air blithe with the mellow piping of birds and the soft wind rustling the leaves about me--what must I have in mind but bloodshed and the destruction of my enemy, insomuch that reaching a stone from the brook I drew the knife from my girdle and set about straightening the blade thereof.

I was thus employed when all at once the leaves on the opposite side of the brook were parted and a girl-child appeared. For a long moment we eyed each other across the brook, then all at once her pretty lips curved to a smile.

"Little maid," says I, furtively thrusting the knife into my belt, "art not afraid of me then?"

"Nay!" she answered, smiling yet and shaking her golden head.

"And why?"

"I do like your eyes, big man, kind eyes they be!"

"Are they?" says I, glancing from her smiling innocence into the brook.

"Aye, and your voice--I do like that too--'tis low and soft--like father's."

"And who's your father?"

"He be th' blacksmith."

"How old are you?"

"Seven, an' a big maid I be. Will 'ee aid me 'cross t'brook, now?"

So I lifted her over and there we sat, side by side, she laughing and talking and I hearkening to her childish prattle with marvellous great pleasure. Presently I ventured to touch her soft cheek, to stroke her curls, and finding she took this not amiss, summoned courage to stoop and kiss her.

How long we had sat thus I know not, when I was aroused by a shrill, harsh voice and turning, beheld a bony woman who peered at us through the leaves.

"Susan Ann!" she cried. "O you Susan, come away! Come quick or I'll run for your mother."

"The child is safe enough!" says I, frowning, but clasping the small damsel closer within my arm.

"Safe?" cries the woman, turning on me in fury. "Safe--aye, for sooth, wi' a great, ill rogue the like o' you! Loose her--loose her or I'll scream and rouse the village on ye for a wild gipsy wastrel that ye are!" And here the old harridan railed at me until the child whimpered for fear and even I blenched before the woman's fierce aspect and shrewish tongue. Then, while she loaded me with abuse, a ceaseless torrent (and no lack of breath), I kissed the little maid's tear-wetted cheek and, setting her back across the brook, stood to watch until the child and woman were lost to my sight. Then I sat down, scowling at the hurrying water, chin on fist, for my black humour, banished awhile by the child's innocent faith in me, was returned and therewith an added bitterness. Scowling yet, I plucked forth my knife and seizing my staff, set to trim and shape it to a formidable weapon; and as I worked I cursed this woman deep and oft, yet (even so) knew she had the right on't, for truly I was a rogue, an outcast of unlovely look and unlovely ways, a desperate fellow unfit for the company of decent folk, much less an innocent child; and yet, remembering those fearless child-eyes, the kiss of those pure child-lips I sighed amain betwixt my muttered cursings.

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