Black Bartlemys Treasure (Prologue, page 1 of 7)


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The Frenchman beside me had been dead since dawn. His scarred and shackled body swayed limply back and forth with every sweep of the great oar as we, his less fortunate bench-fellows, tugged and strained to keep time to the stroke.

Two men had I seen die beside me, yet Death ever passed me by, nay, it seemed rather that despite the pain of stripes, despite the travail and hardship, my strength waxed the mightier; upon arm and thigh, burnt nigh black by fierce suns, the muscles showed hard and knotted; within my body, scarred by the lash, the life leapt and glowed yet was the soul of me sick unto death. But it seemed I could not die--finding thereby blessed rest and a surcease from this agony of life as had this Frenchman, who of all the naked wretches about me, was the only one with whom I had any sort of fellowship. He had died (as I say) with the dawn, so quietly that at first I thought he but fainted and pitied him, but, when I knew, pity changed to bitterness.

Therefore, as I strove at the heavy oar I prayed 'twixt gnashing teeth a prayer I had often prayed, and the matter of my praying was thus: "O God of Justice, for the agony I needs must now endure, for the bloody stripes and bitter anguish give to me vengeance--vengeance, O God, on mine enemy!"

So prayed I, hoarse-panting and with the sweat trickling down whiles I stared at the naked back of him that rowed before me--a great, fat fellow he had been once, but now the skin hung in numberless creases whereon were many weals, some raw and bloody, that crossed and re-crossed each other after the manner of lace-work.

"Justice, O God, upon mine enemy! Since Death is not for me let me live until I be avenged; for the pain I suffer so may I see him suffer, for the anguish that is mine so may I watch his agony. Thou art a just God, so, God of Justice, give to me vengeance!"

The sun rose high and higher over our quarter, beating down upon our naked backs and adding greatly to our torments thereby, waking the pain of old stripes and lending an added sting to new.

Ever and anon would come the sharp crack of the drivers' whips followed by the squealing cry of quivering flesh (a cry wherein was none of the human) the which, dying to a whine, was lost in the stir and bustle of the great galleass. But ever and always, beneath the hoarse voices of the mariners, beneath the clash of armour and tramp of feet, beneath the creak and rumble of the long oars, came yet another sound, rising and falling yet never ceasing, a dull, low sound the like of which you shall sometimes hear among trees when the wind is high--the deep, sobbing moan that was the voice of our anguish as we poor wretches urged the great "Esmeralda" galleass upon her course.

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