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Chapter 37 IN WHICH MY LORD AND I PART COMPANY

  • THE door of the guest house stood wide, and within the lower room were neithe_en that drank nor men that gave to drink. Host and drawers and chance guest_like had left pipe and tankard for sword and musket, and were gone to fort o_alisade or river bank.
  • I crossed the empty room and went up the creaking stairway. No one met me o_ithstood me; only a pigeon perched upon the sill of a sunny window whirre_ff into the blue. I glanced out of the window as I passed it, and saw th_ilver river and the George and the Esperance, with the gunners at the gun_atching for Indian canoes, and saw smoke rising from the forest on th_outhern shore. There had been three houses there,—John West's and Minifie'_nd Crashaw's. I wondered if mine were burning, too, at Weyanoke, and care_ot if 't was so.
  • The door of the upper room was shut. When I raised the latch and pushe_gainst it, it gave at the top and middle, but there was some pressure fro_ithin at the bottom. I pushed again, more strongly, and the door slowl_pened, moving away whatever thing had lain before it. Another moment, and _as in the room, and had closed and barred the door behind me.
  • The weight that had opposed me was the body of the Italian, lying fac_ownwards, upon the floor. I stooped and turned it over, and saw that th_enomous spirit had flown. The face was purple and distorted; the lips wer_rawn back from the teeth in a dreadful smile. There was in the room a faint,
  • peculiar, not unpleasant odor. It did not seem strange to me to find tha_erpent, which had coiled in my path, dead and harmless for evermore. Deat_ad been busy of late; if he struck down the flower, why should he spare th_hing that I pushed out of my way with my foot?
  • Ten feet from the door stood a great screen, hiding from view all that migh_e beyond. It was very quiet in the room, with the sunshine coming through th_indow, and a breeze that smelt of the sea. I had not cared to walk lightly o_o close the door softly, and yet no voice had challenged my entrance. For _inute I feared to find the dead physician the room's only occupant; then _assed the screen and came upon my enemy.
  • He was sitting beside a table, with his arms outstretched and his head bowe_pon them. My footfall did not rouse him; he sat there in the sunshine a_till as the figure that lay before the threshold. I thought with a dull fur_hat maybe he was dead already, and I walked hastily and heavily across th_loor to the table. He was a living man, for with the fingers of one hand h_as slowly striking against a sheet of paper that lay beneath them. He kne_ot that I stood above him; he was listening to other footsteps.
  • The paper was a letter, unfolded and written over with great black characters.
  • The few lines above those moving fingers stared me in the face. They ran thus:
  • "I told you that you had as well cut your throat as go upon that mad Virgini_oyage. Now all's gone,—wealth, honors, favor. Buckingham is the sun i_eaven, and cold are the shadows in which we walk who hailed another luminary.
  • There's a warrant out for the Black Death; look to it that one meets not yo_oo, when you come at last. But come, in the name of all the fiends, and pla_our last card. There's your cursed beauty still. Come, and let the Kin_ehold your face once more"—The rest was hidden.
  • I put out my hand and touched him upon the shoulder, and he raised his hea_nd stared at me as at one come from the grave.
  • Over one side of his face, from temple to chin, was drawn and fastened a blac_loth; the unharmed cheek was bloodless and shrunken, the lip twisted. Onl_he eyes, dark, sinister, and splendid, were as they had been. "I dig not m_raves deep enough," he said. "Is she behind you there in the shadow?"
  • Flung across a chair was a cloak of scarlet cloth. I took it and spread it ou_pon the floor, then unsheathed a dagger which I had taken from the rack o_eapons in the Governor's hall. "Loosen thy poniard, thou murderer," I cried,
  • "and come stand with me upon the cloak."
  • "Art quick or dead?" he answered. "I will not fight the dead." He had no_oved in his seat, and there was a lethargy and a dullness in his voice an_yes. "There is time enough," he said. "I too will soon be of thy world, tho_aggard, bloody shape. Wait until I come, and I will fight thee, shadow t_hadow."
  • "I am not dead," I said, "but there is one that is. Stand up, villain an_urderer, or I will kill you sitting there, with her blood upon your hands!"
  • He rose at that, and drew his dagger from the sheath. I laid aside my doublet,
  • and he followed my example, but his hands moved listlessly and his finger_ungled at the fastenings. I waited for him in some wonder, it not being lik_im to come tardily to such pastime.
  • He came at length, slowly and with an uncertain step, and we stood together o_he scarlet cloak. I raised my left arm and he raised his, and we locke_ands. There was no strength in his clasp; his hand lay within mine cold an_anguid. "Art ready?" I demanded.
  • "Yea," he answered in a strange voice, "but I would that she did not stan_here with her head upon your breast… . I too loved thee, Jocelyn,—Jocely_ying dead in the forest!"
  • I struck at him with the dagger in my right hand, and wounded him, but no_eeply, in the side. He gave blow for blow, but his poniard scarce drew blood,
  • so nerveless was the arm that would have driven it home. I struck again, an_e stabbed weakly at the air, then let his arm drop to his side, as though th_ight and jeweled blade had weighed it down.
  • Loosening the clasp of our left hands, I fell back until the narrow scarle_ield was between us. "Hast no more strength than that?" I cried. "I canno_urder you!"
  • He stood looking past me as into a great distance. He was bleeding, but I ha_s yet been able to strike no mortal blow. "It is as you choose," he said. "_m as one bound before you. I am sick unto death."
  • Turning, he went back, swaying as he walked, to his chair, and sinking into i_at there a minute with half-closed eyes; then raised his head and looked a_e, with a shadow of the old arrogance, pride, and disdain upon his scarre_ace. "Not yet, captain?" he demanded. "To the heart, man! So I would strik_n you sat here and I stood there."
  • "I know you would," I said, and going to the window I flung the dagger dow_nto the empty street; then stood and watched the smoke across the river, an_hought it strange that the sun shone and the birds sang.
  • When I turned to the room again, he still sat there in the great chair, _ragic, splendid figure, with his ruined face and the sullen woe of his eyes.
  • "I had sworn to kill you," I said. "It is not just that you should live."
  • He gazed at me with something like a smile upon his bloodless lips. "Fret no_hyself, Ralph Percy," he said. "Within a week I shall be gone. Did you see m_ervant, my Italian doctor, lying dead upon the floor, there beyond th_creen? He had poisons, had Nicolo whom men called the Black Death,—poison_wift and strong, or subtle and slow. Day and night, the earth and sunshin_ave become hateful to me. I will go to the fires of hell, and see if they ca_ake me forget,—can make me forget the face of a woman." He was speaking hal_o me, half to himself. "Her eyes are dark and large," he said, "and there ar_hadows beneath them, and the mark of tears. She stands there day and nigh_ith her eyes upon me. Her lips are parted, but she never speaks. There was _ay that she had with her hands, holding them one within the other, thus"—
  • I stopped him with a cry for silence, and I leaned trembling against th_able. "Thou wretch!" I cried. "Thou art her murderer!"
  • He raised his head and looked beyond me with that strange, faint smile. "_now," he replied, with the dignity which was his at times. "You may play th_eadsman, if you choose. I dispute not your right. But it is scarce wort_hile. I have taken poison."
  • The sunshine came into the room, and the wind from the river, and the trumpe_otes of swans flying to the north. "The George is ready for sailing," he sai_t last. "To-morrow or the next day she will be going home with the tidings o_his massacre. I shall go with her, and within a week they will bury me a_ea. There is a stealthy, slow, and secret poison… . I would not die in a lan_here I have lost every throw of the dice, and I would not die in England fo_uckingham to come and look upon my face, and so I took that poison. For th_an upon the floor, there,—prison and death awaited him at home. He chose t_lee at once."
  • He ceased to speak, and sat with his head bowed upon his breast. "If you ar_ontent that it should be as it is," he said at length, "perhaps you wil_eave me? I am not good company to-day."
  • His hand was busy again with the letter upon the table, and his gaze was fixe_eyond me. "I have lost," he muttered. "How I came to play my cards so badly _o not know. The stake was heavy,—I have not wherewithal to play again."
  • His head sank upon his outstretched arm. As for me, I stood a minute with se_ips and clenched hands, and then I turned and went out of the room and dow_he stair and out into the street. In the dust beneath the window lay m_agger. I picked it up, sheathed it, and went my way.
  • The street was very quiet. All windows and doors were closed and barred; not _oul was there to trouble me with look or speech. The yelling from the fores_ad ceased; only the keen wind blew, and brought from the Esperance upon th_iver a sound of singing. The sea was the home of the men upon her decks, an_heir hearts dwelt not in this port; they could sing while the smoke went u_rom our homes and the dead lay across the thresholds.
  • I went on through the sunshine and the stillness to the minister's house. Th_rees in the garden were bare, the flowers dead. The door was not barred. _ntered the house and went into the great room and flung the heavy shutter_ide, then stood and looked about me. Naught was changed; it was as we ha_eft it that wild November night. Even the mirror which, one other night, ha_hown me Diccon still hung upon the wall. Master Bucke had been seldom a_ome, perhaps, or was feeble and careless of altering matters. All was a_hough we had been but an hour gone, save that no fire burned upon the hearth.
  • I went to the table, and the books upon it were Jeremy Sparrow's: th_inister's house, then, had been his home once more. Beside the books lay _acket, tied with silk, sealed, and addressed to me. Perhaps the Governor ha_iven it, the day before, into Master Bucke's care,—I do not know; at an_ate, there it lay. I looked at the "By the Esperance" upon the cover, an_ondered dully who at home would care to write to me; then broke the seal an_ntied the silk. Within the cover there was a letter with the superscription,
  • "To a Gentleman who has served me well."
  • I read the letter through to the signature, which was that of his Grace o_uckingham, and then I laughed, who had never thought to laugh again, an_hrew the paper down. It mattered naught to me now that George Villiers shoul_e grateful, or that James Stewart could deny a favorite nothing. "The Kin_raciously sanctions the marriage of his sometime ward, the Lady Jocely_eigh, with Captain Ralph Percy; invites them home"—
  • She was gone home, and I her husband, I who loved her, was left behind. Ho_any years of pilgrimage… how long, how long, O Lord?
  • The minister's great armchair was drawn before the cold and blackened hearth.
  • How often she had sat there within its dark clasp, the firelight on her dress,
  • her hands, her face! She had been fair to look upon; the pride, the daring,
  • the willfulness, were but the thorns about the rose; behind those defenses wa_he flower, pure and lovely, with a heart of gold. I flung myself down besid_he chair, and, putting my arms across it, hid my face upon them, and coul_eep at last.
  • That passion spent itself, and I lay with my face against the wood and well-
  • nigh slept. The battle was done; the field was lost; the storm and stress o_ife had sunk into this dull calm, as still as peace, as hopeless as th_harred log and white ash upon the hearth, cold, never to be quickened again.
  • Time passed, and at length I raised my head, roused suddenly to th_onsciousness that for a while there had been no stillness. The air was ful_f sound, shouts, savage cries, the beating of a drum, the noise of musketry.
  • I sprang to my feet, and went to the door to meet Rolfe crossing th_hreshold.
  • He put his arm within mine and drew me out into the sunshine upon th_oorstep. "I thought I should find you here," he said; "but it is only a roo_ith its memories, Ralph. Out here is more breadth, more height. There i_ountry yet, Ralph, and after a while, friends. The Indians are beginning t_ttack in force. Humphry Boyse is killed, and Morris Chaloner. There is smok_ver the plantations up and down the river, as far as we can see, and awhil_go the body of a child drifted down to us."
  • "I am unarmed," I said. "I will but run to the fort for sword and musket"—
  • "No need," he answered. "There are the dead whom you may rob." The nois_ncreasing as he spoke, we made no further tarrying, but, leaving behind u_ouse and garden, hurried to the palisade.