The Dynamiter

Page 80

'Where?' he cried; and then, seeing it before his eyes, 'Can this be possible?' he added. 'I must be light-headed. Girl,' he cried suddenly, with the same screaming tone of voice that I had once before observed, 'what is wrong? is this swamp accursed?'

'It is a grave,' I answered. 'You will not go out alive; and as for me, my life is in God's hands.'

He fell upon the ground like a man struck by a blow, but whether from the effect of my words, or from sudden seizure of the malady, I cannot tell. Pretty soon, he raised his head. 'You have brought me here to die,' he said; 'at the risk of your own days, you have condemned me. Why?'

'To save my honour,' I replied. 'Bear me out that I have warned you. Greed of these pebbles, and not I, has been your undoer.'

He took out his revolver and handed it to me. 'You see,' he said, 'I could have killed you even yet. But I am dying, as you say; nothing could save me; and my bill is long enough already. Dear me, dear me,' he said, looking in my face with a curious, puzzled, and pathetic look, like a dull child at school, 'if there be a judgment afterwards, my bill is long enough.'

At that, I broke into a passion of weeping, crawled at his feet, kissed his hands, begged his forgiveness, put the pistol back into his grasp and besought him to avenge his death; for indeed, if with my life I could have bought back his, I had not balanced at the cost. But he was determined, the poor soul, that I should yet more bitterly regret my act.

'I have nothing to forgive,' said he. 'Dear heaven, what a thing is an old fool! I thought, upon my word, you had taken quite a fancy to me.'

He was seized, at the same time, with a dreadful, swimming dizziness, clung to me like a child, and called upon the name of some woman. Presently this spasm, which I watched with choking tears, lessened and died away; and he came again to the full possession of his mind. 'I must write my will,' he said. 'Get out my pocket-book.' I did so, and he wrote hurriedly on one page with a pencil. 'Do not let my son know,' he said; 'he is a cruel dog, is my son Philip; do not let him know how you have paid me out;' and then all of a sudden, 'God,' he cried, 'I am blind,' and clapped both hands before his eyes; and then again, and in a groaning whisper, 'Don't leave me to the crabs!' I swore I would be true to him so long as a pulse stirred; and I redeemed my promise. I sat there and watched him, as I had watched my father, but with what different, with what appalling thoughts! Through the long afternoon, he gradually sank. All that while, I fought an uphill battle to shield him from the swarms of ants and the clouds of mosquitoes: the prisoner of my crime. The night fell, the roar of insects instantly redoubled in the dark arcades of the swamp; and still I was not sure that he had breathed his last. At length, the flesh of his hand, which I yet held in mine, grew chill between my fingers, and I knew that I was free.

I took his pocket-book and the revolver, being resolved rather to die than to be captured, and laden besides with the basket and the bag of gems, set forward towards the north. The swamp, at that hour of the night, was filled with a continuous din: animals and insects of all kinds, and all inimical to life, contributing their parts. Yet in the midst of this turmoil of sound, I walked as though my eyes were bandaged, beholding nothing. The soil sank under my foot, with a horrid, slippery consistence, as though I were walking among toads; the touch of the thick wall of foliage, by which alone I guided myself, affrighted me like the touch of serpents; the darkness checked my breathing like a gag; indeed, I have never suffered such extremes of fear as during that nocturnal walk, nor have I ever known a more sensible relief than when I found the path beginning to mount and to grow firmer under foot, and saw, although still some way in front of me, the silver brightness of the moon.

Presently, I had crossed the last of the jungle, and come forth amongst noble and lofty woods, clean rock, the clean, dry dust, the aromatic smell of mountain plants that had been baked all day in sunlight, and the expressive silence of the night.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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