The Dynamiter

Page 75

Should my pursuers come before the hour at which I look to see them, they will still arrive too late; a trusty man attends on the mainland; as soon as they appear, we shall behold, if it be dark, the redness of a fire, if it be day, a pillar of smoke, on the opposing headland; and thus warned, we shall have time to put the swamp between ourselves and danger. Meantime, I would conceal this bag; I would, before all things, be seen to arrive at the house with empty hands; a blabbing slave might else undo us. For see!' he added; and holding up the bag, which he had already shown me, he poured into my lap a shower of unmounted jewels, brighter than flowers, of every size and colour, and catching, as they fell, upon a million dainty facets, the ardour of the sun.

I could not restrain a cry of admiration.

'Even in your ignorant eyes,' pursued my father, 'they command respect. Yet what are they but pebbles, passive to the tool, cold as death? Ingrate!' he cried. 'Each one of these--miracles of nature's patience, conceived out of the dust in centuries of microscopical activity, each one is, for you and me, a year of life, liberty, and mutual affection. How, then, should I cherish them! and why do I delay to place them beyond reach! Teresa, follow me.'

He rose to his feet, and led me to the borders of the great jungle, where they overhung, in a wall of poisonous and dusky foliage, the declivity of the hill on which my father's house stood planted. For some while he skirted, with attentive eyes, the margin of the thicket. Then, seeming to recognise some mark, for his countenance became immediately lightened of a load of thought, he paused and addressed me. 'Here,' said he, 'is the entrance of the secret path that I have mentioned, and here you shall await me. I but pass some hundreds of yards into the swamp to bury my poor treasure; as soon as that is safe, I will return.' It was in vain that I sought to dissuade him, urging the dangers of the place; in vain that I begged to be allowed to follow, pleading the black blood that I now knew to circulate in my veins: to all my appeals he turned a deaf ear, and, bending back a portion of the screen of bushes, disappeared into the pestilential silence of the swamp.

At the end of a full hour, the bushes were once more thrust aside; and my father stepped from out the thicket, and paused and almost staggered in the first shock of the blinding sunlight. His face was of a singular dusky red; and yet for all the heat of the tropical noon, he did not seem to sweat.

'You are tired,' I cried, springing to meet him. 'You are ill.'

'I am tired,' he replied; 'the air in that jungle stifles one; my eyes, besides, have grown accustomed to its gloom, and the strong sunshine pierces them like knives. A moment, Teresa, give me but a moment. All shall yet be well. I have buried the hoard under a cypress, immediately beyond the bayou, on the left-hand margin of the path; beautiful, bright things, they now lie whelmed in slime; you shall find them there, if needful. But come, let us to the house; it is time to eat against our journey of the night: to eat and then to sleep, my poor Teresa: then to sleep.' And he looked upon me out of bloodshot eyes, shaking his head as if in pity.

We went hurriedly, for he kept murmuring that he had been gone too long, and that the servants might suspect; passed through the airy stretch of the verandah; and came at length into the grateful twilight of the shuttered house. The meal was spread; the house servants, already informed by the boatmen of the master's return, were all back at their posts, and terrified, as I could see, to face me. My father still murmuring of haste with weary and feverish pertinacity, I hurried at once to take my place at table; but I had no sooner left his arm than he paused and thrust forth both his hands with a strange gesture of groping. 'How is this?' he cried, in a sharp, unhuman voice. 'Am I blind?' I ran to him and tried to lead him to the table; but he resisted and stood stiffly where he was, opening and shutting his jaws, as if in a painful effort after breath.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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