Black Bartlemys Treasure (Chapter 4, page 2 of 5)


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Chapter 4

From this I glanced at the third finger of my left hand, which was a battered signet ring that bore the semblance of another sleeping leopard and the like inscription; and looking from the sleeping leopard on the signboard to the sleeping leopard on my ring, I fell to deep and gloomy thought. Howbeit, rousing in a while, I perceived a horse-trough hard by full of clean water, and came thither minded to wash the dust and sweat from me. But, stooping, I paused and stood thus, staring down at the face that scowled up at me; a face lean and haggard with wide, fierce eyes agleam beneath knitted brows, a prominent nose and square chin with short, peaked, golden beard; an unlovely face framed in shaggy, yellow hair patched and streaked with silver; and beholding lowering brow and ferocious mouth and jaw I stood awhile marvelling at the ill-changes evil and hardship had wrought in me.

For thus was it that I first beheld myself after five years of slavery.

Having looked my fill, I nodded grimly at my watery image and plunged my face and head within the trough to my great refreshment, which done, I made shift to dry myself on my tattered shirt. Thereafter, coming to the broad oak settle beside the tavern door, I sat down and fell to meditation. But now, moved by sudden impulse, I unbuckled the wallet at my girdle and taking thence the strange dagger, unwound the neckerchief that swathed it and began to examine the weapon, first carelessly enough, then with growing interest and wonder. The blade (as I have told elsewhere) was triangular of form, very narrow and some eight inches in length and exceeding sharp of point; but that which drew and held my gaze was the wonder of its haft. I have seen and handled many fair weapons in my day, but never before or since have I beheld such rare craftsmanship as went to the chiselling of this hilt. Of silver it was, wrought into the shape of a standing woman, her feet poised upon the small, chiselled cross-guard, her head forming the pommel; naked she stood in languorous pose, arms raised and hands locked behind her head. The delicate chiselling of the features was worn somewhat by handling and rough usage, but even so the evil beauty of the face was plain and manifest, the wanton languor of the long eyes, the mocking cruelty of the smiling mouth. The longer I viewed it, the more manifest became the nameless evil of the thing, so that I was greatly minded to whirl it into the horse-pond and be done with it. But bethinking me of my destitution and not doubting but that I might find a ready market for a thing so rare, I lapped it up again and thrusting it back into my wallet, stretched myself out upon the broad settle and presently fell asleep.

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