The Dynamiter

Page 79

'If we fall from that unsteady bridge,' said I, 'see, where the caiman lies ready to devour us! If, by the least divergence from the path, we should be snared in a morass, see, where those myriads of scarlet vermin scour the border of the thicket! Once helpless, how they would swarm together to the assault! What could man do against a thousand of such mailed assailants? And what a death were that, to perish alive under their claws.'

'Are you mad, girl?' he cried. 'I bid you be silent and lead on.'

Again I looked upon him, half relenting; and at that he raised the stick that was in his hand and cruelly struck me on the face. 'Lead on!' he cried again. 'Must I be all day, catching my death in this vile slough, and all for a prating slave-girl?'

I took the blow in silence, I took it smiling; but the blood welled back upon my heart. Something, I know not what, fell at that moment with a dull plunge in the waters of the lagoon, and I told myself it was my pity that had fallen.

On the farther side, to which we now hastily scrambled, the wood was not so dense, the web of creepers not so solidly convolved. It was possible, here and there, to mark a patch of somewhat brighter daylight, or to distinguish, through the lighter web of parasites, the proportions of some soaring tree. The cypress on the left stood very visibly forth, upon the edge of such a clearing; the path in that place widened broadly; and there was a patch of open ground, beset with horrible ant-heaps, thick with their artificers. I laid down the tools and basket by the cypress root, where they were instantly blackened over with the crawling ants; and looked once more in the face of my unconscious victim. Mosquitoes and foul flies wove so close a veil between us that his features were obscured; and the sound of their flight was like the turning of a mighty wheel.

'Here,' I said, 'is the spot. I cannot dig, for I have not learned to use such instruments; but, for your own sake, I beseech you to be swift in what you do.'

He had sunk once more upon the ground, panting like a fish; and I saw rising in his face the same dusky flush that had mantled on my father's. 'I feel ill,' he gasped, 'horribly ill; the swamp turns around me; the drone of these carrion flies confounds me. Have you not wine?'

I gave him a glass, and he drank greedily. 'It is for you to think,' said I, 'if you should further persevere. The swamp has an ill name.' And at the word I ominously nodded.

'Give me the pick,' said he. 'Where are the jewels buried?'

I told him vaguely; and in the sweltering heat and closeness, and dim twilight of the jungle, he began to wield the pickaxe, swinging it overhead with the vigour of a healthy man. At first, there broke forth upon him a strong sweat, that made his face to shine, and in which the greedy insects settled thickly.

'To sweat in such a place,' said I. 'O master, is this wise? Fever is drunk in through open pores.'

'What do you mean?' he screamed, pausing with the pick buried in the soil. 'Do you seek to drive me mad? Do you think I do not understand the danger that I run?'

'That is all I want,' said I: 'I only wish you to be swift.' And then, my mind flitting to my father's deathbed, I began to murmur, scarce above my breath, the same vain repetition of words, 'Hurry, hurry, hurry.'

Presently, to my surprise, the treasure-seeker took them up; and while he still wielded the pick, but now with staggering and uncertain blows, repeated to himself, as it were the burthen of a song, 'Hurry, hurry, hurry;' and then again, 'There is no time to lose; the marsh has an ill name, ill name;' and then back to 'Hurry, hurry, hurry,' with a dreadful, mechanical, hurried, and yet wearied utterance, as a sick man rolls upon his pillow. The sweat had disappeared; he was now dry, but all that I could see of him, of the same dull brick red. Presently his pick unearthed the bag of jewels; but he did not observe it, and continued hewing at the soil.

'Master,' said I, 'there is the treasure.' He seemed to waken from a dream.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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