Black Bartlemys Treasure (Prologue, page 2 of 7)


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The oar whereto I was chained along with my three bench-mates had at some time been badly sprung, so that the armourers had made shift to strengthen it with a stout iron fillet some six inches wide. Now it so happened that my grasp came upon this fillet, and, with every stroke of the oar, day after day, week in and week out, it had become my wont to rub the links of my chain to and fro across this iron band, whereby they had become very smooth and shining.

The words of my prayer were yet upon my lips, when, chancing to look upon one of these links, I beheld that which set my heart a-leaping and my riotous blood a-tingle to my fingers' ends; yet 'twas a very small thing, no more than a mark that showed upon the polished surface of the link, a line not so thick as a hair and not to be noticed without close looking; but when I bore upon the link this hair-line grew and widened, it needed but a sudden wrench and I should be free. This threw me into such a rapturous transport that I had much ado to contain myself, howbeit after some while I lifted my eyes to the heaven all flushed and rosy with the young day, for it seemed that God had indeed heard my prayer.

Presently, along the gangway amidships, comes none other than that accursed Portugal, Pedro the whip-master, who, espying the drooping form of the Frenchman beside me, forthwith falls a-cursing in his vile tongue and gives a prodigious flourish with his whip. Now by reason of much practice they do become very expert with these same whips, insomuch that they shall (with a certain cunning flick of the lash) gash you a man as it were with a knife, the like of which none may bear and not cry out for the exceeding pain of it. "Ha, thou lazy dog!" cries he, "Think ye to snore and take your ease whiles Pedro is aboard?" And with the word the long lash hissed and cracked upon the Frenchman's naked back like a pistol-shot.

And lo! he (that meseemed was dead) stirred. I felt the scarred body leap and quiver, the swooning eyes opened, rolling dim and sightless and the pallid face was twisted in sharp anguish; but, even as I watched, the lines of agony were smoothed away, into the wild eyes came a wondrous light, and uttering a great, glad cry he sank forward across the oar-shaft and hung there. Hereupon this accursed Pedro betook him to his whip, smiting right heartily, but, seeing the Frenchman stirred not and perceiving, moreover, the blood to come but slow and in no great quantity, he presently desisted and bade us cease rowing one and all.

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