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´╗┐Title: Humphrey Bold - A Story of the Times of Benbow
Author: Strang, Herbert
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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HUMPHREY BOLD

A Story of the Time of Benbow

by

HERBERT STRANG

1909



CONTENTS

Chapter  1: The Wyle Cop.
Chapter  2: Joe Breaks His Indentures.
Chapter  3: I Meet The Mohocks.
Chapter  4: Captain John Benbow.
Chapter  5: I Lose My Best Friend.
Chapter  6: I Take Articles.
Chapter  7: A Crown Piece.
Chapter  8: I Fall Among Thieves.
Chapter  9: Good Samaritans.
Chapter 10: The Shuttered Coach.
Chapter 11: I Hold A Turnpike.
Chapter 12: I Come To Bristowe--And Leave Unwillingly.
Chapter 13: Duguay-Trouin.
Chapter 14: Harmony And Some Discord.
Chapter 15: The Bass Viol.
Chapter 16: Across The Moat.
Chapter 17: Exchanges.
Chapter 18: In The Name Of King Lewis.
Chapter 19: I Fight Duguay-Trouin.
Chapter 20: The King's Commission.
Chapter 21: I Meet Dick Cludde.
Chapter 22: I Walk Into A Snare.
Chapter 23: Uncle Moses.
Chapter 24: I Make A Bid For Liberty.
Chapter 25: I Spend Cludde's Crown Piece.
Chapter 26: We Hold A Council Of War.
Chapter 27: Some Successes And A Rebuff.
Chapter 28: I Cut The Enemy's Cables.
Chapter 29: We Bombard The Brig.
Chapter 30: The Six Days' Battle.
Chapter 31: The Cockpit.
Chapter 32: I Become Bold.



Chapter 1: The Wyle Cop.


'Tis said that as a man declines towards old age his mind dwells
ever more and more on the events of his childhood. Whether that be
true of all men or not, certain it is that my memory of things that
happened fifty years ago is very clear and bright, and the little
incidents of my boyhood are more to me, because they touch me more
nearly, than such great matters as the late rebellion against His
Majesty King George, whom God preserve.

Especially does my thought run back to a day, fifty-six years ago
this very summer, when by mere chance, as it would appear to men's
eyes, my fortunes became linked with those of Joe Punchard, who is
now at this moment, I warrant, smoking his pipe in the lodge at my
park gates. I was eleven years old, a thin slip of a boy, small for
my age, and giving no promise, to be sure, of my present stature
and girth. The neighbors shook their heads sometimes as they looked
at me, and wondered why Mr. John Ellery, if he must adopt a boy--a
strange thing, they thought, for a bachelor to do--did not choose
one of a sturdier make than poor little Humphrey Bold. They even
joked about my name, averring that names assuredly must go by
contraries, for I was Bold by name, and timid by nature. The joke
seemed to me, even then, a very poor one, for a boy must have the
name he is born with, and I have known very delicate and
white-handed folk of the name of Smith.

Mr. Ellery, a bachelor, as I have said, adopted me when my own
father and mother died, which happened when I was still an infant
and, mercifully, too young to understand my loss. My father, as I
called him, was a substantial yeoman whose farm and holding lay
some three miles on the English side of Shrewsbury. He was well on
in years when he adopted me, and dwells in my memory as a strong,
silent man who, when his day's work was done, would sit in the
inglenook with a book upon his knees. This taste for reading marked
him out from the neighboring farmers, with whom, indeed, he had
little in common in any way, so that he was rather respected than
liked by them. But he was wonderfully kind to me, and if my love
for him was qualified with awe, it was from reverence, and not from
fear.

My frail appearance, on which the neighbors jested, caused my
father to look on me sometimes with an anxious eye, and he would
question the housekeeper and the maids about my appetite, and
whether I slept well o' nights. On these matters he need not have
had any concern, since I ate four hearty meals a day, with perhaps
an apple or a hunk of bread in between; while as for sleeping,
Mistress Pennyquick was wont to declare, five out of the seven
mornings in the week, when she woke me, that she knew I would sleep
my brains away. This prediction scarcely troubled me, and since the
motherly creature never disturbed me until I had slept a good nine
hours by the clock, I do not think she was really distressed on
this score.

Until I reached my eleventh birthday I did not go to school, being
taught to read and write and cipher by my father himself. But one
day he set me before him on his horse and rode into Shrewsbury,
where, after a solemn interview with Mr. Lloyd, the master, I was
put into the accidence class at King Edward's famous school. As we
rode back, I remember that my father, who was generally so silent,
talked to me more than ever before, about school, and work, and the
great men who had been in past time pupils in the same school,
notably Sir Phillip Sidney. And from that day I used to trudge
every morning, barring holidays, into the town, and say my hic,
haec, hoc as well, I verily believe, as the rest of my schoolfellows.

But with the opening of my school days I began to know what misery
was. My lessons gave me little trouble, and the masters were kind
enough; but among the boys there were two who, before long, kept me
in a constant state of terror. They were older than I by some four
or five years, and in school I never saw them; but outside they
used to waylay me, tormenting me in many ingenious ways. Looking
back now I see that much of my terror was needless. They seldom
ill-treated me in act; but knowing, I suppose, that the imagination
is often very apprehensive in weakly bodies like mine, they took a
delight in threatening me, conjuring up all manner of imaginary
horrors, and so working on me that my sleep was disturbed by
hideous nightmares. I told nobody of what I suffered, and when
Mistress Pennyquick noticed that I was pale and heavy-eyed
sometimes in the morning, she did but suppose it was due to a
closer application to books than I had known formerly, and
forthwith increased my daily allowance of milk.

My father, if he had known of these doings, would doubtless have
taken strong measures to put a stop to them, for the older, though
not the worse, of the two bullies was a nephew of his own. His
sister was married to Sir Richard Cludde, of a notable family whose
seat lay north of Shrewsbury, towards Wem, and it was his only son,
named Richard after his father, who made one of this precious
couple of harriers. There was little coming and going between the
houses of the two families, for Mr. Ellery had not approved his
sister's match, Sir Richard's character being not of the best, and
heartily disliked the fine-lady airs which she put on when she
became wife of a baronet; while she on her side resented her
brother's cold looks, and nourished a special grievance against him
when he adopted me and announced that he would name me his heir. I
make no doubt that she gave tongue to her feeling in the hearing of
her son Dick, for among the many taunts which he and his boon
fellow Cyrus Vetch cast at me was that I was what they pleased to
call a "charity child."

I have mentioned Cyrus Vetch. If I feared Dick Cludde, I both
feared and hated his companion. Cyrus was the son of a well-to-do
merchant of the town--a man little in stature, but stout, and
wondrous big in self esteem. He was the owner of much property,
already one of the twelve aldermen, and ambitious, folk said, to
arrive at the highest dignity a citizen of Shrewsbury could attain
and wear the chain of mayor about his bulldog neck. He doted on his
son, who certainly did not take after his father so far as looks
went, for he was a tall, lanky fellow with a sallow face, the
alderman's countenance being as red as raw beef.

Hating Cyrus as I did, and not without cause, as will be seen
hereafter, I may be a trifle unjust in my recollection of him; but
I seem to see again a weasel face, with a pair of little restless
cunning eyes, and lips that were shaped to a perpetual sneer. As to
the sharpness of his tongue I know my memory does not play me
false: Dick Cludde's taunts bruised, but Cyrus Vetch's stung.

I had been less than a year at the school when an event happened
which had a great bearing on my future life. It was in the autumn
of the year 1690. I left afternoon school, and walked up Castle
Street, intending to turn down by St. Mary's Church as I was wont
to do, and make my way by Dogpole and Wyle Cop to English Bridge
and so home. But just as I came to the corner I spied Cludde and
Vetch waiting for me, as they sometimes did, at the back end of the
church. To avoid them, I went on till I came to the corner of
Dogpole and Pride Hill, hoping thereby to escape. But Cyrus Vetch's
keen eyes had seen me, and when I came to the turning by Colam's,
the vintner's, there were my two tormentors, posted right in my
path.

"Aha, young Bold!" says Cyrus, clutching me roughly by the arm, "so
you thought to give us the slip, did you?"

I could not deny it, and said nothing.

"Hark 'ee, young Bold," Cyrus went on, "you're to bring us tomorrow
morning a good dozen of old Ellery's apples, d'you hear?"

"A good dozen, young Bold," says Cludde, with the precision of an
echo.

"Let me go, please, Vetch," I said, endeavoring to wrench my arm
away.

"Not so fast, bun face," says he, giving my arm a twist. "You'd
best promise, or it will be the worse for you. Now say after me,
'I, Humphrey Bold, adopted brat of John Ellery'--Speak up now!"
"Please let me go, Vetch," said I, wriggling in his grasp.

"You won't, eh? You're an obstinate pig, eh? You defy us, eh?" and
with every question the bully twisted my arm till I almost screamed
with the pain.

"Don't be a ninny," says Cludde. "What's a few apples! Why, old
Ellery's trees are loaded with 'em."

Vetch's grip somewhat relaxed while Cludde was speaking, and,
seizing the opportunity, I wrenched my arm away with a sudden
movement and took to my heels. Being thin and light of foot, I was
a fleet runner, and though they immediately set off in pursuit, I
gained on them for a few yards, and had some hope of distancing
them altogether. But just as I came to where Dogpole runs into Wyle
Cop, a stitch in the side, which often seized me at inconvenient
times, forced me to slacken speed. Seeing this, they quickened
their pace, and in a few moments they would have had me at their
mercy.

But in that predicament I heard Joe Punchard whistling, through the
open door of the shop where he did 'prentice work for old Matthew
Mark, the cooper. I knew Joe well; he had often brought barrels to
our farm, and once or twice on my way home from school I had gone
into the shop and watched him at his work.

Now, as a fox when the hounds are in full cry behind him will run
for shelter into any likely place that offers, so I, hard pressed
as I was, rushed panting into the shop, too breathless at first to
explain my need.

"Hallo! What's this!" cried Joe, who was just rolling down his
sleeves before closing work for the day. "What be the matter,
Master Bold? You be all of a sweat and puffing like to burst."

"They're after me! Keep 'em off, Joe!" I gasped.

"After you, be they! Some of your schoolmates worriting of you, eh?
Don't be afeared, lad. I be just going home, and I'll see you safe
to Bridge.

"Ah! there they be," he added, as my pursuers appeared in the
doorway.

"Good afternoon to you, and what might you be pleased to want?"

"Out of the road, Joe Punchard!" cries Cludde, walking into the
shop. "I'll teach that little beast to run away."

And he came forward to where I stood, sheltering myself behind
Joe's thick-set body.

"Bide a minute," says Joe, lurching so as to shield me. "What ha'
Master Bold bin doin' to you?"

"What's that to you?" says Cyrus Vetch, edging round him on the
other side. "He's a young sneak, that's what he is, and wants a
good basting, and he'll get it, too."

"Not so fast now," says Joe, sticking out his elbows to broaden
himself. "I know you, Master Vetch, and 'tis my belief you and
Master Cludde are just nought but a brace of bullies, and you ought
to be ashamed of yourselves, Master Cludde in particular, seeing as
the little lad be your own cousin."

"You shut your mouth, Joe Punchard!" shouts Cludde in a passion.
"He my cousin, indeed!--the mean little charity brat!"

"And a blubbering baby, too!" says Vetch, "cries before he is
hurt."

"'Tis not much good crying after," says Joe with a chuckle, before
I could protest that I was not crying; I always did hate a
blubbering boy.

"Now you two boys be off," Joe went on. "I'm going home, and I'll
see to it you don't bait Master Bold no more this side of the
Bridge. And what's more, I tell you this: that if I cotch you two
great chaps worriting the boy again, I'll take and leather you,
both of you, and that's flat."

"Try it, bandy-legs," said Vetch with a sneer. "We'll do as we
please, and if you dare to lay a hand on either of us, I'll--I'll--"

"What'll you do, then?" says Joe, who all this while had been
spreading himself in front of me. "What'll you do then? D'you think
I care a farden what you'll do? You'd better behave pretty, Master
Vetch, or 'twill be worse for you, my young cockchafer."

At this the two boys backed a little, and Joe, thinking them
daunted by his threatening mien, turned to take down the key of the
shop from its nail on the wall. But he had no sooner left my side
than Vetch sprang forward, and catching me by the arm, gave it a
cunning twist that, in spite of myself, made me shriek with pain.
Joe was round in an instant, and made for my tormentor, who with
Cludde ran towards the door. But in their endeavor to escape they
impeded each other: Vetch tripped, and before he could recover his
footing Joe had him in an iron grip, and began to shake him as I
had many times seen our terrier shake a rat he had caught in the
barn.

"Let me go!" yells Cyrus. "Help, Dick! Kick his shins!"

But Cludde, though a big fellow enough, was never over ready to put
his head in chancery. He stood in the street, shaking his fist, and
writhing his face into terrible grimaces at me.

"Let me go!" cries Vetch again.

"You young viper!" says Joe, shaking him still. "You'll misuse the
little lad before my face, will you? And squeal like a pig to be
let go, will you?

"Aha! You shall go," he says with a sudden laugh. "Dash me if
'twere not made o' purpose."

Joe Punchard, I have forgotten to mention, was short of stature,
standing no more than five feet three. But he was very thick-set and
heavily made, with massive arms and legs, the latter somewhat bowed,
making him appear even shorter than he was. It was these legs of his,
together with his big round head and shock of reddish hair, that
inspired some genius of the school with a couplet which was often
chanted by the boys when they caught sight of Joe in the street. It ran:

O, pi, rho, bandy-legged Joe,
Turnip and carrots wherever you go.

But bandy-legged as he was, Joe had the great strength which I have
often observed to accompany that defect of nature. So it was with
exceeding ease he lifted Cyrus Vetch, for all his struggles, with
one hand, and dropped him into a barrel that stood, newly finished,
against the wall--a barrel of such noble height that Vetch quite
disappeared within it. Then, trundling it upon its edge, as draymen
do with casks of beer, he brought it to the street, laid it
sidelong, and set it rolling.

Now the Wyle Cop at Shrewsbury, as you may know, is a street that
winds steeply down to the English Bridge over the Severn. Had it
been straight, the bias of the barrel would doubtless have soon
carried it to the side, and Joe Punchard might have risen in course
of time to the status of a master cooper in his native town. But
when I went to the door to see what was happening, there was the
barrel in full career, following the curve of the street, and
gathering speed with every yard. Joe stood with arms akimbo,
smiling broadly. Cludde was racing after the barrel, shouting for
someone to stop it.

If I had not already been in such mortal terror of the consequences
of Joe's mad freak, I should have laughed to see the wayfarers as
they skipped out of the course of the runagate, not one of them
aware as yet that it held human contents, nor guessing that the end
might be more than broken staves.

By this time Joe himself had come to a sense of his recklessness.
He gripped me by the hand, and dragged me down the hill at so
fierce a pace that in half a minute all the breath was out of my
body. I wondered what he purposed doing, for the barrel was now out
of sight past the bend, and could scarce have been overtaken by the
wearer of the seven league boots. But as we turned into the
straight again, just by Andrew Cruddle, the saddler's, we again
espied the terrible barrel, rolling with many bumps towards the
head of the bridge.

And then I verily believe that my heart for some seconds ceased to
beat, and I am sure that Joe shared my dismay, for he tightened the
grip of his great strong hand upon my puny one until I could have
sworn it was crushed to a pulp. At the bridge head were two
gentlemen, who had to all appearance been engaged in chatting, for
one still sat on the parapet, while the other stood within a foot
or two of him. They were not talking now, but gazing at the barrel
rolling down towards them, and the one who was seated wore the
trace of a smile upon his face.

But the other--Heaven knows what terror seized me when my eyes
lighted upon him: it was none other than Joshua Vetch, the father
of the boy who, as I feared, was being churned to a jelly; and he
stood full in the path of the barrel.

Mr. Vetch, as I have said, was a small but corpulent man, and stood
very upright, with a slight backward inclination, to balance, I
suppose, the exceeding greatness of his rotundity. His countenance
habitually expressed disapproval, and his shaggy brows were drawn
down now in an angry frown. I perceived that he said something to
his companion, and then I saw no more for a while, a mist seeming
to gather before my eyes.

When I regained possession of my faculties, dreading what might
have happened, I found myself on the skirts of a group of five or
six, and heard the loud voice of Mr. Vetch bellowing forth words
which, for modesty's sake, I forbid my pen to write. He was not
dead, then, I thought, nor even hurt, or assuredly he would not
have had the strength to curse with such vigor. But what of Cyrus?

"I'll have the law on the villain! Run for a potticary! D'you hear,
you gaping jackass? Run for Mr. Pinhorn and bid him come here!"

And then followed a string of oaths like to those I had heard
before. The group parted hastily, and out came Dick Cludde, with a
face as white as milk, and sped up the town as fast as his long
legs would carry him. No doubt he was the "gaping jackass" whom Mr.
Vetch had so addressed in his fury.

Pushing my way through the townsmen who had gathered, and whose
numbers were swelled every moment by the afflux of aproned grocers,
and potboys, and 'prentices, and others from the streets, I saw
Cyrus laid on his back by the parapet, white and still, his father
pacing heavily up and down, and his friend Captain Galsworthy
fending off the prying onlookers with his cane.

"I'll thrash the villain to a pulp! I'll send him to the
plantations, I will! I'll break every bone in his body!"

So Mr. Vetch roared and, much as I disliked him, I could not but
feel a certain compassion, too, for all the world knew how he doted
on his son. I looked around for Joe Punchard, to see whether he was
in hearing of these threats, but he was not among the crowd.

By and by came Mr. Pinhorn, the surgeon, and some while after him
four lads bearing a stretcher, upon which the unconscious form of
my enemy was conveyed slowly up the town to Mr. Vetch's house on
Pride Hill. I followed on the edge of the crowd until I saw the
doors close upon the bearers, and then I betook myself home, in
sore distress at the fate in store for my friend Joe Punchard, and
in some terror lest I should share it, the mad freak of which he
was guilty having been performed on my behalf.



Chapter 2: Joe Breaks His Indentures.


It was so much later than my usual hour for returning from school
that I was not surprised to see Mistress Pennyquick at the gate of
our farm, shading her eyes against the westering sun as she looked
for me up the road. I endeavored to compose my countenance so as to
betray no sign of the excitement through which I had passed; but
the attempt failed lamentably, and when the good creature began to
question me, I burst into tears. This was so rare an occurrence
with me that she was mightily concerned and adjured me to tell all,
promising that if I had done wrong she would shield me from my
father's anger. And when in answer to this I told her what Joe
Punchard had done to Cyrus Vetch, and the terrible things I had
heard the alderman threaten against him, she laughed and said I was
too tender hearted for a boy, and Joe Punchard would be none the
worse for a basting, and a deal more to the same tune, which almost
broke through my determination to say nothing of what had caused
the mischief; for, after all, Dick Cludde and Cyrus Vetch were my
schoolfellows, and, in my day; for one boy to tell on another was
the unpardonable sin.

My father came in soon after, and when he heard so much of the
story as I had told Mistress Pennyquick he drew his fingers through
his beard and said in his quiet way: "To be sure, barrels were not
made for that kind of vetch!"

And then we sat down to supper. We had hardly begun when there came
a smart rap on the door, and, with the freedom of our country
manners, in walked a visitor. My heart gave a jump when I saw it
was none other than Captain Galsworthy, the gentleman with whom Mr.
Vetch had been in converse at the bridge.

We knew the captain well; he was, in a way, one of the notable
persons of our town. We boys looked on him with a vast admiration
and reverence, not so much for his title--for there are captains
and captains, and I have known some who have done little in the
matter of feats of arms--as because he bore on his lean and rugged
countenance marks which no one could mistake. A deep scar seamed
his right temple, and on one of his cheeks were several little
black pits which we believed to be the marks of bullets. He spoke
but rarely of his own doings, and until he came to Shrewsbury a few
years before this he had been a stranger to the town: but it was
commonly reported that he had been in the service of the Czar of
Muscovy, and since that potentate was ever unwilling that any
officer who had once served him should leave him (save by death or
hanging), it was supposed that the captain had made his escape. He
lived alone in a little cottage on the Wem road, and, not being too
plentifully endowed with this world's goods, he eked out his
competency by giving lessons in fencing, both with singlesticks and
swords.

Well, in comes the captain, cocking a twinkling eye at me, lays on
the table the cane without which he never went abroad, and, placing
a chair for himself at the table, says:

"'Tis to be hoped we are not in for a ten years' Trojan war, Master
Humphrey."

Though I understood nothing of his meaning, I knew he made reference
to the recent escapade, and I felt mightily uncomfortable. My father
looked from one to the other, but did not break his silence.

"They haven't put you to the Iliads yet, I suppose," says the
captain, helping himself to a mug of our home-brewed cider, "but
you know, neighbor Ellery, 'twas an apple that set the Greeks and
Trojans by the ears, and 'tis apples, or rather the want of 'em,
that is like to put discord between some of our families
hereabout."

"You speak in riddles, Captain," says my father at last; "and why
are you eying Humphrey in that quizzical way?"

"Why, bless my soul, don't you know? I thought it had been half
over the county by this."

"I know that that 'prentice lad Punchard hath half-killed young
Vetch, and richly deserves what he will no doubt get tomorrow."

"And is that all? Have you told only half your story, Humphrey?"

This direct question made me still more uncomfortable, especially
as my father's eyes were sternly bent upon me. He hated lies, and
half truths still more, and I could see that he was dimly
suspecting me of a complicity in Joe Punchard's action to which I
had not confessed. But Captain Galsworthy was a shrewd old man, and
he saw at once how the matter stood.

"No peaching, eh, lad?" he said kindly. "I've an inquisitive turn
of mind, and after that performance with the barrel--and it was a
monstrous comical sight, Ellery, to see the little alderman skip
out of the way when the barrel made straight for his shins, but not
so funny when he pulls at the shock head sticking out and finds it
belongs to his own son--after that performance, I say, I caught
young Dick Cludde by the ear, and made him tell me the story. And
it begins with apples--like this excellent cider of yours, Ellery."

He quaffed a deep draught and leaned back in his chair, giving me
another friendly wink. The captain was ever somewhat long winded
over his stories, and I could see that my father was growing
impatient; but he sat back in his chair with his hands upon the
arms and said never a word.

"Young Cludde and Cyrus Vetch, it seems, have a sweet tooth for
your apples, Ellery," said the captain, "and Cludde told me with a
fine indignation that Humphrey flatly refused to fill his pockets
for their behoof. They were proceeding to enforce their
requisition, I gather, when the boy broke from them, and, finding
himself hard pressed by and by, took refuge behind Joe Punchard's
bandy legs. And Joe must needs take up the cudgels on behalf of the
oppressed, and chose an original way of punishing the oppressor.
And thus the rolling of the barrel is explained."

At this Mistress Pennyquick broke out into vehement denunciation of
the two boys, but my father silenced her. Quietly he began to
question me: he would take no denial, and drew out of me bit by bit
the whole story of the bullying I had suffered from those two of my
schoolfellows.

And then he was more angry than I had seen him ever before. He
smote the arm of the chair with his great fist, and vowed he would
not have me ill used; and though he said but little, and never once
raised his voice, I knew by the set of his lips and the gleam of
his eye that it would go hard with anyone who baited me again. Then
the captain made a proposition for which I have been thankful all
my life long.

"The moral of it is, Ellery, that Humphrey must be a pupil of mine.

"Give me your arm, boy.

"Ah!" says he, feeling the muscle, which was soft enough, no doubt,
seeing that I was only eleven and had never done anything about the
farm. "We must alter that. Let him come to me twice a week, Ellery,
and he shall learn the arts of self defense, first with nature's
own weapons, for boxing I take to be the true foundation of all
bodily exercise, and afterwards, when he is a little grown, the
more delicate science of swordsmanship, which demands bodily
strength and wits, and to which the other is but a prelude. And I
warrant you, if he have the right stuff in him, that by the time
the schoolmaster has done with him he shall be able to hold his own
against any man, and will need no succors from Joe Punchard or
anyone else."

Hereupon Mistress Pennyquick set up a cry about the wickedness of
teaching little boys to fight, and the state she would be in if I
was some day brought home mangled and disfigured, and a great deal
more to the same effect. The captain tapped the table until she had
finished, and then, with a fine courtly bow, he said:

"Spoken like a woman, ma'am. Humphrey will suffer hard knocks, to
be sure; yes, please God, he shall have many a black eye, and many
a bloody nose, and we shall make a man of him, ma'am: a gentleman
he is already."

"Yes, to be sure," says the simple creature, "and his mother was a
born lady, and--"

"Tuts, ma'am," the captain here interrupted. "I was not alluding to
his pedigree. The boy has suffered torment for months without
breathing a word of it to betray his schoolfellows; from that I
deduce that he has the spirit of a gentleman, and I want no further
proof."

"'Tis time the boy was abed," says my father. "Run away, lad."

I got up at once to go, guessing that my father wished to have some
private talk with Captain Galsworthy. My ears were tingling, I
confess, with his praise of me, and my heart throbbed with delight
and pride at the thought of being the captain's pupil. I could not
sleep for thinking of it. I imagined all manner of scenes in which
I should some day figure, and saw myself already holding off five
enemies at once with my flashing sword. These visions haunted my
dreams when at last I slept, and it was after a bout of especial
fierceness that I found myself lying awake, in a great heat and
breathlessness.

And then I was aware of an actual sound--a sound which no doubt had
entered into my dreams as the clash of arms. It was a soft and
regular tapping, a ghostly sound to hear at dead of night, and like
to scare a boy of quick imagination. I lay for some moments in a
state bordering on panic, unable to think, much less to act.

Tap, tap, tap--so it went on, like the ticking of the great clock
on the stairs, only louder and more substantial. It ceased, and I
held my breath, wondering whether I should hear it again. Then it
recommenced, and I was about to spring from my bed and run to tell
Mistress Pennyquick when a sudden thought held me: What would
Captain Galsworthy think if he knew I had fled from a sound? Would
he regard me as the right stuff of which to make a man?

The captain's good opinion was worth so much to me now that I
crushed down my fears and sat up in bed (yet keeping a tight clutch
upon the blanket), and tried to use my reason.

The tapping, I reflected, must be caused by some person or thing. A
ghost is a spirit, and insubstantial, and I had never heard that
the ghost which some of the townsfolk (chiefly servant maids) had
seen in St. Alkmund's Churchyard had done more at any time than
glide silently among the tombs. And even as I decided that the
sound must have a natural cause, I had startling confirmation of my
conclusion in a new sound--nothing else than a sneeze, sudden, and
short, and stifled. The tapping ceased, and while I was still
trying to collect my wits I heard a groan, and immediately
afterwards a voice calling my name, and then a new tapping, only
quicker.

It was now clear to me that some one was at my window, though,
seeing that my room was some twenty feet above the ground, I was at
a loss to imagine how the tapper had mounted there.

My fears now being merged in surprise, I got out of bed, stole to
the window, and pulled the blind an inch aside.

"Master Bold! Master Bold!" came the voice again, and, venturing a
little more, I put my head between the blind and the window, and
saw a dark form against the clear summer sky.

"Master Bold, 'tis me, Joe Punchard," said the voice in a whisper.
"Canst let me in, lad, without making a noise?"

Without more ado I lifted the sash gradually, for it was heavy and
creaked, and I feared to rouse the household. When it was high
enough for Joe's bulky form to pass through he clambered over the
sill, and stood in my room.

"How did you get up, Joe?" I asked in a whisper.

"Got a ladder from the rick yard, lad. I bin tapping for nigh half
an hour, I reckon. You be one of the seven sleepers, for sure."

"But what do you want, Joe? You can't stay here, you know."

"Nor don't want to. I be come to tell you, lad, I be going away."

"Going away, Joe?"

"Yes. No one knows it but you, and I wouldn't ha' telled you only
the old mother will be in a rare taking when she finds me gone, and
I want you to tell her as I've come to no harm."

"But why, Joe?"

"Vetch--that's why. 'Tis no place for me now, lad. He bin cursing
and swearing he'll send me to the plantations for that business
with the barrel, and he'll keep his word. And so I be going to run
for it."

"But where, Joe? And what about your 'dentures?"

"That's where it is: my 'dentures must go too. If I be catched,
there's a flogging and prison for that. But I don't mean to be
catched. Before the sun's up I'll be on my way to Bristowe."

"That's ever so far."

"So 'tis, but not further than a pair of legs can walk."

"And will you get a place with a cooper there?"

"No, no; no more coopering for me; I be done with barrels for good
and all. I be going to sea."

"To sea! What ever made you think of such a thing?"

"One thing and another. And I won't be the first, not even from
such an upland place as Shrewsbury. Why, haven't we heard Mistress
Hind tell time and again how her brother John Benbow ran away to
sea nigh upon thirty years ago?"

"True, and so did Sam Blevins, and hasn't been heard of since,
Joe."

"Well, if Vetch ships me to the plantations you may be sure no more
will be heard of Joe Punchard, so 'tis as broad as 'tis long."

"'Tis all my fault, Joe. If I hadn't run into the shop this
wouldn't have happened, and you'd have worked out your 'dentures,
and maybe risen to be a partner with Mr. Mark. I wish I had let
them catch me, Joe, I do."

"Now don't you take on, Master Humphrey. As for partners, I be sick
of making barrels for other folks' beer, that's the truth, and by
what I've heard there's riches to be picked up in the Indies, and
many a sea captain is a deal better off than Matthew Mark. And I'm
set on trying it, lad, the more so as, by long and short, I dursn't
stay in Shrewsbury no longer. So you'll be so good as go and see
the old mother tomorrow, and tell her I be gone to sea, and I'll
send her home silks, and satins, and diamonds, too, maybe, and I'll
come home some day rich as creases, as I heard parson say once."

"I hope you will, Joe. Will you write to me and tell me how you are
getting on?"

"Bless your life, I can do no more than make my mark. But maybe
I'll light on some scholard who'll write down out of my mouth, and
I'll make him limn a barrel on the paper, and then you'll know for
sure 'tis me."

This conversation had proceeded in whispers, but Joe's whisper was
sonorous, and I was in some fear lest Mistress Pennyquick, whose
room was hard by, should hear the rumble and take alarm. Yet I
could not refrain from keeping him while I told of the matter so
near my heart--the offer of Captain Galsworthy to take me as a
pupil. Joe listened very sympathetically.

"'Tis an ill wind blows no one good," he said. "That there barrel
makes a sailor of me; maybe 'tis to make a sojer of you."

"And what of Cyrus Vetch?" I could not help saying.

"Ah! Cyrus Vetch!" muttered Joe, looking troubled. "I be afeared
'twill make him a downright enemy to you, lad. But you'll grow, and
captain will learn you how to ply your fists, and when it comes to
a fight, mind of my fighting name, and punch hard."

Then, having promised to see his mother and do what I could to
console her, I wrung his hand and wished him well, and he climbed
out again by the window, and in the starlight I watched him carry
the ladder across the yard; and then with a final wave of the hand
he vanished into the night.



Chapter 3: I Meet The Mohocks.


At breakfast I said nothing of Joe's midnight visit, reckoning that
it would not be long before the news of his flight got abroad. It
was indeed the subject of a great buzz of talk among my
schoolfellows, who flocked about me as I walked down Castle Street,
demanding to hear the full story from my own lips. I could tell
them nothing that they did not know, save only my leave-taking with
Joe Punchard, which, of course, I had resolved to keep very close.
I learned from them that Cyrus was abed, and like to stay there,
said Mr. Pinhorn, for a week or more. His father was in a desperate
rage, and had sent horsemen along all the roads in pursuit of the
runaway, and I had some fear that my good friend would be caught
and brought back to receive his punishment.

However, nothing had been heard of him by the time school was over,
so that I had great hopes that he had got himself clean away. I
went to see his mother as I had promised, and said what I could to
comfort her; but the good woman was mightily upset, and declared in
a passion of weeping that she was sure she would never see her Joe
again.

That evening at supper my father was even more quiet than his wont.
Mistress Pennyquick told me afterwards that he had been to see his
sister Lady Cludde and her husband at Cludde Court, and given them
a piece of his mind. What passed between them I know not, but I do
know that my father never set foot in Cludde Court again, nor did
his sister come any more to the farm, even when her brother lay
a-dying. His visit had this good effect, however, that I suffered
no more bullying at the hands of Dick Cludde or Cyrus Vetch. Dick
eyed me with a malignant scowl whenever he met me, and as for
Cyrus, who did not come back to school for a good ten days, he
looked over my head as though I did not exist, which gave me no
discomfort, you may be sure. At the end of that year they were both
taken from school, Cludde going to Cambridge, and Vetch to assist
his father, who was a grain merchant in a substantial way, as all
Shrewsbury supposed.

It would be a tedious matter were I to tell all the little
happenings of the next few years. Whether it was due to my constant
exercise under Captain Galsworthy's tuition, I know not, but
certainly, from that very summer, I grew at an amazing rate,
shooting up until I was as tall as boys three or four years older,
yet hardening at the same time. Twice a week regularly I betook
myself to the captain's little cottage on the Wem road, and spent
an hour with him in mastering the principles and practice of what
he called the noble arts of self defense. He was pleased to say
that I was quick of eye and nimble of body, and, being on my side
very eager to learn, I was speedily in his good books, and he
seemed to take a special pleasure in teaching me.

At first I found our bouts at fisticuffs a severe tax. The captain,
though well on in years, was still hale and active, and, being tall
and spare, he had a great advantage of me. With the long reach of
his arms he could pummel me without giving me the least chance of
reprisal, and many's the day I crawled home after our encounters
bruised and sore, provoking indignant remonstrances from Mistress
Pennyquick. But I refused to let her coddle me, and as my appetite
never failed, and I throve amazingly, the good woman at last ceased
to lament, and, as I discovered, was wont behind my back to vaunt
my growing manliness.

By the time I was fifteen I was as tall as the captain himself, and
then my share of bruises ceased to be so disproportionate. In
skill, whether with the fists or the foils, he was always vastly my
superior; indeed, to this day I have never met his equal. But I had
youth on my side, and sometimes the old man at the end of a
particularly arduous bout would sigh, and wish he were younger by a
score of years.

No one could have been more generous in encouragement and praise.
It would have amused an onlooker, I am sure, to see him, when I had
had the good fortune to tap claret, mopping the injured feature and
all the time maintaining a flow of complimentary remarks.

"Capital, my lad!"--after fifty years I can hear him still--"on my
life, a neat one, Humphrey; I shall make something of you yet, my
boy."

And then we fall to it again, and, being somewhat overconfident,
perhaps, after my success, I fail a little in my guard, and the
captain sees his opportunity and lands me such a series of
staggerers that I see a thousand stars, and there am I dabbing my
nose while he cries again: "Capital, my lad! A Roland for an
Oliver! And now we'll wash away the sanguinary traces of our combat
and allay our noble rage with a mug of cider."

And thus, giving and receiving hard knocks, we continued to be the
best of friends.

These years brought changes in their train. One day Joshua Vetch,
Cyrus' father, died suddenly of an apoplectic fit, brought on, folk
said, by disappointment at Mr. Adderton the draper being elected
mayor over his head. And then it was found that, so far from being
wealthy as was supposed, he had been for years living beyond his
means, being ably assisted in his expenditure by Cyrus. His affairs
were in great disorder; Cyrus himself was totally unprovided for,
and but for his uncle, John Vetch, a reputable attorney of our
town, who took pity on him, and gave him articles, God knows what
would have become of him.

At this change of fortune I could not but remember how, years
before, he had sneered at me as a "charity brat." I fancy he
remembered it too, for when I met him face to face one day, as I
returned from school, coming out of his uncle's office, he flushed
deeply and then gave me such a look of hatred that I felt uneasy
for days after.

Cyrus had never borne a good name in Shrewsbury, and after his
father's death he seemed to grow reckless. Dick Cludde was still at
college, though I never heard that he did any good there, and in
the vacations he and Cyrus consorted much together, and became in
fact the ringleaders of a wild set whose doings were a scandal in
Shrewsbury for many a day. Cludde, it seemed, had made a jaunt to
London with other young bloods at the end of the term in the
December of this year 1694, to see the great pageant of Queen
Mary's funeral.

The adventure did him no good, for when he returned to Shrewsbury
he formed, with Vetch and others of his kidney, a gang in imitation
of the Mohocks, as they were called--the band of dissolute young
ruffians who then infested London, wrenching off knockers,
molesting women in the streets, pinking sober citizens, and
tumbling the old watchmen into the gutters. Our streets at night
became the scene of riotous exploits of this kind, and our watch,
being old and feeble men, were quite unable to cope with the
rioters, so that decent folk began to be afraid to stir abroad
after dark. Though they disguised themselves for these forays, it
was shrewdly suspected who they were; but they escaped actual
detection, and indeed, they were held in such terror by the
townsfolk that no one durst move against them openly, for fear of
what might come of it.

Things grew to such a height that one Saturday the mayor, with half
a dozen aldermen, walked out to the little cottage on the Wem Road,
and besought Captain Galsworthy's aid. The captain and I chanced to
be in the thick of an encounter with the foils, and neither of us
heard the rap on the door which announced the visitors. A gust of
air when the door was opened apprised us that we had onlookers at
our sport; but the captain's eyes never left mine until with a
dexterous turn of the wrist, which I had long envied and sought in
vain to copy, he sent my foil flying to the end of the room.

"Capital, capital!" cried he, removing his mask and wiping his
heated brow.

"Good morning, Mr. Mayor," he added; "we have kept you waiting, I
fear; but we were just approaching the critical moment: the issue
was doubtful, and there is little satisfaction in a drawn battle.

"Your looks are portentous, gentlemen: is this a visit of state,
may I ask?"

Whereupon the mayor, an honest little draper, made a speech which I
am sure he had diligently conned over beforehand. He passed from a
recital of the woes under which Shrewsbury suffered to a most
flattering eulogium of the captain's prowess, to which my good
friend listened with an air of approval that amused me mightily.
And then the mayor came to the point, and in the name of the
corporation and all decent citizens of Shrewsbury besought the
captain to suppress the disturbers of their peace.

"Hum! ha!" said the captain, rubbing his nose reflectively. "I am
an old man, Mr. Mayor: methinks this is work for younger blood than
mine."

"No, no!" cried the company in chorus.

"We seed tha knock the steel from the hand of Master Bold there as
'twere a knitting needle," says the mayor, whose speech was as
broad as his figure.

"Well, well," says the captain, "I'll think of it, my friends. You
do me great honor, and I thank you for your visit."

The captain and I talked over the matter between ourselves, and the
upshot of our consultation was that we got together a little band
of his former pupils, and for several nights in succession we
perambulated the streets of Shrewsbury from the English to the
Welsh Bridge and from the Castle to the Quarry, with naked swords
and a martial air. But we had our exercise for nothing. The town
was as quiet as a graveyard, and the only disturber of the peace
that engaged our attention was poor Tom Jessopp, the drayman, who,
one night, having drunk more old October than was good for him,
encountered us as he was staggering home down Shoplatch, and
invited us, first to wet our whistles, and, on our declining, to
fight him for a pint. We escorted him home and put him to bed, not
without some difficulties and inconveniences, and that was the
first and last of our adventures, the captain declaring that to
deal with topers was no work for a man of honor.

The very night after our company was thus dissolved the mayor was
knocked down at the foot of Swan Hill by the Town Wall, gagged and
trussed, and laid upon his own doorstep, where he was found by the
maidservant in the morning, having wrought himself to the verge of
apoplexy by his struggles to rid himself of his bonds. He besought
the captain with tears of outraged dignity to resume his
guardianship of the town; but the old warrior merely rubbed his
nose and spoke of rheumatism.

The outrages occurred only at intervals, and ceased altogether
during the college terms, when Dick Cludde was absent, so that we
were not far wrong in our inference that he was the fount and
origin of the deeds of lawlessness. The townsfolk, you may be sure,
did not love him; nor did the high and mighty airs Sir Richard and
my lady chose to assume in their dealings with the citizens win
them many friends; so that when it became known, about the time
when Dick left Cambridge finally, without a degree, that his father
had suffered serious reverses of fortune in his adventures in
oversea trade, there were few who felt anything but satisfaction.

At this time I was midway in my seventeenth year--a big strapping
fellow standing five feet ten, having quite outgrown the delicacy
of my childhood. I was high up in the school, on good terms with
the masters, though my Latin and Greek was never considerable: on
better terms with the boys, for, I must own, my inclinations were
rather towards baseball and quoits than towards the nice
discrimination of longs and shorts. I had developed in particular
an amazing strength of arm, which stood me in good stead in
wrestling bouts, and led to my being counted two in our tugs of
war. It was this same strength, I fancy, that made my schoolfellows
chary of provoking me to wrath, for which I was somewhat sorry,
having always loved a fight.

During these years no tidings came to us of Joe Punchard. His poor
mother, who earned a living by washing for some of our Shrewsbury
folk, feared the worst from his long silence. But Mistress Nelly
Hind, who kept a coffee shop in Raven Street, called Mistress
Punchard a croaker and bade her be of good cheer, for she had
neither seen nor directly heard from her brother John Benbow for
twenty years; yet he was alive and well, and captain of a king's
ship, if rumor were not a false, lying jade.

"Not that your Joe will ever rise to such a height," she added.

"Sure he's a better boy than ever your John was," said Mistress
Punchard, up in arms for her offspring.

"John's legs are as straight as the bed post," retorted his sister,
and then the two women began a war of words, in the midst of which,
having drunk my dish of coffee, I slipped away.

I rarely speculated on my future, and my father never spoke of it.
We took it for granted that I should succeed him in his little
property, and during the school holidays I sometimes accompanied
him to market, and learned to handle samples of grain and to
discuss the points of his fat cattle.

It was when I was approaching the end of my seventeenth year that I
began to think of the future more nearly. My father had suffered
long--though Mistress Pennyquick and I had known nothing of it, he
being so reticent--from a disease which nowadays physicians call
angina pectoris, a disease that grips a man by the chest, as 'twere
his breastbones are ground together, with breathlessness and
exquisite pain. As he grew older, the attacks recurred more
frequently and with greater violence, and after one of them, the
first I had seen with my own eyes, he sent for Mr. Vetch, the
attorney, and was closeted with him a great while in his room.
Mistress Pennyquick's face was very grave when she spoke to me
about it afterwards.

"'Tis a bad sign when a man sends for his lawyer, Humphrey," she
said. "I can't abide 'un, for they always make me think of my
latter end. Your father have made his will, I'll be bound, and I
wish he spoke more free of things. But there, 'tis always the way;
empty barrels make the most noise, as the saying is, and I will
groan with the toothache while the poor master will suffer his
agonies without a word."

One night as we were sitting reading, my father had an attack which
terrified us. All at once, without a moment's warning, he dropped
his book, and stood up, bending forward, his face blue, his eyes
almost starting from his head. We hastened to him, but he motioned
us away, and then Mistress Pennyquick bade me ride for Mr. Pinhorn.
I snatched my cap, and, knowing that with my long legs I could
reach the town by the fields more quickly than on horseback by the
road, I did not stay to saddle Jerry, but set off at full speed
across five-acre, vaulted the gate into the spinney, and so on till
I gained the bridge, by which time I was blowing like a furnace.

It was dark, being October, and though I knew every yard of our
ground, I marvel now to think how I escaped breaking my leg in a
ditch or coming to some other mishap. I raced on to Raven Street,
where Mr. Pinhorn lived, and by good luck found him just alighting
at the door from his nag. I told him my errand in gasps; the good
surgeon understood without much telling, and he leaped again into
the saddle (his foot never having left the stirrup) and galloped
away.

My knees shook so violently with the exertions I had made that I
would fain have rested awhile before returning. But the thought
that my father might die in my absence struck me with a chill, and
I set off at a swinging stride after the surgeon.

I had gone but a few yards, however, when ahead of me, by the light
of a flickering oil lamp, hanging from a bracket before one of the
houses, I saw a group of some five or six, youths by their build,
gathered about a doorway. Immediately afterwards I heard from the
same spot a harsh sound as of rending wood, followed by guffaws of
laughter. The party then moved quickly on for a few paces, and
again came to a halt at a doorway, whence in a few seconds the same
sound reached my ears.

Passing the door at which I had first seen them, I noticed that
where the knocker should have been there was nothing but a few bent
nails and a splintered panel. After former experiences my suspicion
scarce needed this confirmation: without doubt these were our
Shrewsbury Mohocks, out for a night's frolic. I had never before
seen them at their diversions, my patrolling of the streets with
Captain Galsworthy having been a mere parade, as I have related,
and now I was in no mood to encounter them, having the trouble of
my father's illness on my mind. But I perceived that they were
engaged in wreaking their knavery upon the sign board of Nelly
Hind, and my blood waxed hot at the thought of the poor woman's
distress, and my fingers itched to strike a blow on her behalf.

Strong as I was, I knew 'twould be mere folly to attempt
single-handed to engage half a dozen, and I was thinking of running
quickly to some of the members of the Captain's disbanded force and
enlisting their help when the situation was changed by the arrival
of old Ben Ivimey, the feeblest of the ancient watchmen to whom the
peace of Shrewsbury was confided. He was past sixty and stone deaf,
and his bent old figure, with a lantern in one hand and a staff in
the other, came round the corner all unsuspecting what was in store
for him.

The Mohocks, intent upon their mischief, did not observe the coming
of the watchman. He was a little man, but must have been of some
mettle in his day, for, perceiving what is afoot, he toddles up in
his odd headlong gait, and laying his hand on the arm of one of the
roisterers, formally arrests him in the name of the mayor.

The fellow swings round at the touch, and bursts into a roar of
laughter. He was masked, as were all his companions; but I knew him
by his make to be Cyrus Vetch. Well, he laughs, and shakes off the
watchman's feeble grasp, and springing back, draws his sword; and
in another instant there was old Ben, the center of the group,
skipping this way and that to avoid their sword points, protesting,
threatening, appealing, escaping one merely to run upon another.

I will say this for them, that they intended to do him no harm;
their lunges were sportive and not in earnest; but diverting as the
sport was to them, it was the very contrary to the old man, whose
cries proclaimed that he thought his last hour was come.

All this happened in the space of a few moments. I was unwilling to
leave old Ben to the mercy of his tormentors while I ran for
assistance, as I was intending; yet it was clear I could do nothing
alone.

"John Kynaston," thinks I, "lives only a couple of hundred yards
away: he and I together might account for the ruffians."

I was just turning to make my way to Kynaston's house, when a cry
of pain from the old man drove out all considerations of prudence.
In dodging one of that ring of steel points it would appear that he
had stumbled full upon another, and the weapon, by accident or
otherwise, had pierced his arm. My blood was up; I clean forgot my
design of running for help. I had no weapon with me, but, hastily
scanning the dim-lit street for a something to wield, my foot
kicked an object in the gutter. In a trice I had seized it in both
hands, barely conscious of its weight. Then I ran with it the few
yards that separated me from the scuffle, and, lifting my weapon
above my head, hurled it at the nearest of the group. There was a
sound of fury from the fellow at whom I had aimed, and from the two
beyond him--a sound muffled and all but inarticulate, for the
missile which had fallen like a bolt among them was a large wooden
bin filled with household refuse, and placed in the gutter for the
coming of the early morning scavenger.



Chapter 4: Captain John Benbow.


Our Mohocks suffered some discomfort, I fear, as the contents of
the bin hurtled upon them. Household refuse hath, to be sure, no
sweetness of savor; and the shower of bones, eggshells, cabbage
stalks, potato parings, rinds of bacon, and what not, with a
plentiful admixture of white wood ash, served to stay their
activity in deeds, though I must own it did but enhance the fury of
their tongues. But the diversion gave me a breathing space in which
I drew old Ben within the shadow of a doorway and took his staff
from his fainting hands--not without resistance on his part, for
the mettlesome old fellow refused to yield up his insignia until I
brought my face within an inch of his dim eyes, and he recognized
me for a friend.

"Spring your rattle, man!" I cried, and then to the din of curses
and roars for vengeance there was added the sharp crackle of his
alarm signal.

By this time the leaders of the rioters had rubbed the dust from
their eyes and came towards me, the foremost of them, Cyrus Vetch,
shouting to his comrades to spit me like a toad. He had recognized
me, and sprang towards the doorway where I stood with staff aslant,
the trembling watchman still whirling his rattle behind. Mad with
rage he cut at me with his sword, which bit deep into the staff, by
that very fact becoming for a brief moment useless.

Before Vetch could recover his weapon, I had withdrawn mine, and
lunging fair upon him, I dealt him a thrust that sent him spinning
halfway across the street. But I was now beset by his comrades, who
made at me from both sides of the porch, but for whose shelter I
should in all likelihood have been overborne.

They had some sense of fair play, however. They returned their
swords to the scabbards, and were for trusting to their fists
alone. I contrived to give one of them a smart tap on the crown
before they came to close quarters; but ere I could recover myself
they were upon me, the staff was wrenched from my grasp, and I was
as hard put to it as a stag bayed by hounds. I made what play I
could with my fists, and got home at least one blow for two; but
the odds were too heavy against me, and when at length a fellow as
big as myself slipped round to my back and gripped me hard by the
neck, all my struggles did not avail to prevent my being shoved and
pulled and hustled out into the middle of the street.

Vetch had picked himself up, and now came running towards me in a
frenzy. In his rage he had plucked off his mask, revealing his
distorted features to all the good folk who, I doubt not, by this
time had their heads out at their windows, viewing the scene from a
secure altitude.

"Out of the way, Mytton!" he screamed, his voice shrill with
passion. "Out of the way, I say; I will crop his ears, the cur!"

Burt Mytton, the fellow who had me by the neck, and some others of
the band, were not for pushing things to such extremities. They
closed about to protect me, and even Dick Cludde caught Vetch's arm
and expostulated with him. Another meanwhile had snatched old
Ivimey's rattle from him, and ever and anon amid the din I caught
the sound of his quavering voice calling, "Help for the watch! O my
sakes! O my bones!"

Then a cry arose:

"To the river! Give 'em a ducking!" and in another moment there we
were, myself and Ivimey, being lugged at a quick scuffle down the
street towards the Severn. There was no hope of escape, and I had
resigned myself to the imminent bath, when at a turn in the narrow
roadway we found the path blocked by two pedestrians.

With Mytton's hand forcing my head downwards I did not at first see
them, but I heard a loud voice call, "Hold, rascals!" breaking in
upon the watchman's feeble cry, "O my sakes! Help for the watch!"

"Out of the way!" cried Vetch; but the next moment I heard a
clatter of steel upon the cobbles; and guessed that the stranger
had struck my enemy's sword from his hand. Then my neck was
released, and looking up I saw my captor himself captive in the
grip of a tall man in riding cloak and high boots, while Vetch was
struggling with a short, thick-set fellow who had his arms about
the other's body.

Bullies are ever cowards at heart, and the rest of the band,
finding the tables thus turned upon them, had taken to their heels
and disappeared into the night.

"Let me go, hound!" yelled Vetch, and at the answer I started with
a thrill of pleasure.

"Let ye go! Not for all the aldermen in the country. 'Twas your
tricks drove me out of Shrewsbury, and seemingly ye're at 'em
still. You ha'nt learnt your lesson, Master Vetch; more fool you."

It was Joe Punchard's voice. If I had doubted it I should have been
assured by a word that fell from his companion.

"Haul him to the watch house, Joe. I'll bring this fellow!"

"And the bag, Captain?" says Joe.

"Give it to this long fellow," says the other, with a hard look at
me.

And I found a large bag thrust into my arms, which Joe had been
carrying and had dropped on the road at the encounter.

By this time a crowd had assembled, the good folk who had been
craning their necks at the windows having swarmed out, now that the
danger was past. And as we thronged up the street a score of voices
poured into the ears of the man Joe had called "captain" the full
tale of the Mohocks' doings.

I walked among them, shouldering the bag. I perceived that Joe had
not recognized me, which was not to be wondered at, seeing that
when he last saw me I was a pale slip of a boy, whereas now I was a
tall brawny youth with cheeks the color of a ripe russet. And Joe
himself was not quite the 'prentice lad I had known. His legs
indeed were no less bowed than of yore; nor was his hair less red;
but the round face appeared rounder than ever by reason of a thick
fringe of whiskers. His body had filled out, and he moved with a
rolling gait that caused him to usurp more than one man's share of
the narrow street.

When we had laid the two ruffians safely in ward, the captain said
to Joe:

"Now we'll go visit Nelly, and 'gad, my limbs yearn for bed, Joe.
This fellow can still carry the bag; 'tis worth a groat."

I grinned, and stepping alongside of Joe, whose head did not reach
much above my elbow, I looked down on him, and said:

"Don't you know me, Joe?"

His start of surprise set me a-smiling. His round face, somewhat
more weatherbeaten than when I saw it last, expressed amazement,
incredulity, and half a dozen more emotions in turn.

"Bless my soul!" he cried. "Sure 'tis little Humphrey Bold, growed
mountain high. Give me the bag, sir; God forbid you should bear a
load for Joe Punchard."

"No, no," I replied. "I'll earn my groat, now I've begun. And right
glad I am to see you, Joe; I had thought never to look on your face
again."

"And would not, but for my dear captain," says he.

"Captain, 'tis Master Bold, the boy I told ye of. 'Twas him I saved
from the hands of Cyrus Vetch the last day I was at home, and sure
'tis a wonderful thing that the very night of homecoming we save
him again. Vetch needs another turn in the barrel, methinks. I
wonder if my old master has one that will hold his long carcass.

"But look 'ee, Master Humphrey, this be Captain Benbow, Mistress
Nelly's brother, and my dear master. Oh, I've a deal to tell 'ee
of, and a deal to hear, I warrant me. Is my old mother yet alive,
sir?"

"Yes, and hale and hearty, Joe, though she has well-nigh given up
hope of the silks and satins you promised her."

"Bless her heart, she shall have 'em now. We have rid from
Bristowe, sir, the captain and me, and we stayed but to put up our
horses at the Bull and Gate, where I left my bag filled with good
store of things for the old woman. Won't she open her eyes! Won't
she thank Heaven for bandy-legged Joe!"

We had now reached the door of Mistress Hind's house, and as I set
down the bag a great oath burst from Captain Benbow's lips.

"Split me!" says he, eying the splintered panel and the gap where
the knocker had been. "Had I those villains on deck they should
have a supper of rope's end, I warrant you."

His voice was rough, and his tongue had a keen Shropshire tang,
which indeed it never lost, giving thereby evidence to confute
those who afterwards claimed for him kinship with a noble family.
In truth Benbow was the son of an honest tanner of our town, and
took no shame of his origin: his greatness was above such pettiness
of spirit. He had run away to sea at an early age, and for some
years lived a hard life before the mast. But his native merits in
time triumphed over adverse fortune, and before he was thirty he
became master and in a good measure owner of a frigate which he
called The Benbow.

It is said, I know not with what truth, that his fortunes date from
an adventure that befell him in the year 1686. In the Benbow
frigate he was attacked by a sallee rover, who boarded him, but was
beaten off with the loss of thirteen men. Benbow (I tell the tale
as I heard it) cut off their heads and threw them into pickle. When
he landed at Cadiz, he brought them on shore in a sack, and on
being challenged by the custom house officers as importing
contraband goods, he threw them on the table with, "Gentlemen, if
you like 'em, they are at your service."

This saying so tickled the humor of the king of Spain that he
recommended Benbow to our King James, and thus led to his promotion
in our Royal Navy. The captain was now somewhat above forty years
old, straight but slight in build, not ill looking, save that his
nose was a trifle over big--a defect not uncommon, I have remarked,
among great commanders.

Well, as I said, we had arrived at Mistress Hind's door, and the
captain was in a great rage at the havoc wrought by Vetch and his
crew. He rapped on the door with the hilt of his sword, and out
pops Mistress Nelly's head from the window above ('twas in a
night-cap), and she screams:

"Out upon you, you vagabones! You've done mischief enough for one
night, drat you, and if ye be not gone inside of half a minute I'll
empty the slops on ye, that I will."

Benbow laughed.

"The family spirit!" he says under his breath to Joe. "Speak to
her; don't tell her I'm here."

"Oh, Mistress Hind," says Joe in a mournful voice, "here's a
welcome to a poor worn-out old mariner as you used to befriend."

"Who in the world are ye?" she asks.

"Who but Joe Punchard, ma'am, that went away for rolling a barrel,
and has been a-rolling ever since."

"Ay, now I know your voice. Back like a bad penny, are ye? Come and
see me tomorrow; I'm abed now."

"But I've brought a friend with me--another poor old mariner"--with
a wink at Benbow--"who wants a night's lodging."

"Can he pay?" asks Mistress Hind.

"To be sure: his pockets are full of pieces of eight and other
sound coin."

"Then I'll come down to you; but ye must bide a minute or two till
I throw a few things on, for I'd die rather than show myself to a
mariner in my night rail."

Benbow laughed again.

"'Tis twenty years or more since I saw Nell," he said, "but I'd
know her tongue in any company."

And now the remembrance of my father's illness, which the
subsequent excitements had driven from my mind, returned with a
sudden force that made me take a hasty leave of the two travelers,
though both asked me to wait and drink a dish of coffee with them.
So I did not see the meeting of brother and sister, but learned
from Joe next day the manner of it.

Mistress Hind did not recognize the captain, never having seen him
from a boy, until, sitting at table with a dish of coffee before
him, and she standing over him, bidding him haste that she might
return to bed--sitting thus, I say, he took up the dish and began
to blow into it to cool it, as children do.

"Why," says Mistress Hind, "tha blows it round and round to make
little waves, just like my brother John."

"Nelly!" says the captain, setting the dish down.

"And there they were," said Joe in telling me the story, "in each
other's arms, and when she'd done drying her eyes she says,

"'John, and I needn't ha' minded about the night rail!'"

It was nigh eleven o'clock when I got home--a very late hour in our
parts, and Mistress Pennyquick was in a great to-do, imagining all
kinds of evil that might have befallen me. Mr. Pinhorn had remained
with my father a long time, she said; he was now asleep and was not
to be disturbed. I was myself fairly tired out, and fell asleep the
instant my head touched the pillow.



Chapter 5: I Lose My Best Friend.


There was a crowded courthouse next day when Ralph Mytton and Cyrus
Vetch were brought before the Mayor and charged with breach of the
peace and malicious damage to the property of lieges. It was the
first time that the Mohocks had been caught in the act, and their
being well connected added a spice to the event.

The two prisoners bore themselves very differently. Mytton, a
nephew of the member of Parliament, assumed an air of bravado,
smiled and winked at his friends in court, evidently trusting to
his high connections to get him off lightly. Vetch, on the other
hand, was sullen and morose, never lifting his eyes from the floor
except when I was giving my evidence, and then he threw me a glance
in which I read, as clearly as in a book, the threat of venomous
hate. Both he and Mytton were very heavily fined, and the Mayor was
good enough to compliment me on the part I had played.

As we were leaving the court, a tipstaff came up to Joe Punchard,
and formally arrested him as a runaway 'prentice; at the instance,
I doubt not, of Vetch himself. But the matter ended in a triumph
for Joe, for Captain Benbow accompanied him before the Mayor and
declared that as a mariner in the King's navy he was immune from
civil action. Whether the plea was good in law I know not. The
Mayor did not know either, and the clerk, to judge by his
countenance, was in an equal state of puzzlement. But Benbow was
clearly not a man to be trifled with, and Joe had certainly had a
part in bringing the Mohocks to book, and for one reason or another
he was given the benefit of the doubt. When he left the court he
was mightily cheered by a mob of 'prentices among the crowd, and
would have accepted the invitations to drink pressed upon him but
for the peremptory orders of his captain, who was no wine bibber
himself, being therein unlike many of the navy men of his time.

The fines levied on Mytton and Vetch were the least part of their
punishment. The incident of the dust bin brought on them open
ridicule; they became the laughingstock of Shrewsbury. The school
wag, who afterwards became famous for his elegant Greek verses at
Cambridge, pilloried them in a lampoon which the whole town got by
heart, and for days afterwards they could not show their faces
without being greeted by some lines from it by every small boy who
thought himself beyond their reach. It began, I remember:

Come list me sing a famous battle,
A dustbin and a watchman's rattle;
The hero he was nominate Cyrus,
The scene was Shrewsbury, not Epirus.

The rhymester introduced all the characters; for instance:

Another who the dust has bitten
Was a brawny putt by name Ralph Mytton;
And Richard Cludde, a Cambridge lubber,
He ran away home to his mam to blubber;

and so the doggerel went on, chronicling the details (more or less
imaginary) of the fight, the entrance of Mr. Benbow and Punchard on
the scene:

And Nelly Hind's bashed portal closes
On bandy legs and Roman noses;

and ending thus:

Carmen concludo sine mora:
"Intus si recte ne labora,"

which being the school motto (dragged in by the hair of the head,
so to speak), pleased Mr. Lloyd, the master, mightily.

The rage of the persons chiefly concerned knew no bounds, and this
good came of it, that the Mohocks troubled Shrewsbury streets no
more.

Captain Benbow, and with him Joe Punchard, stayed but a few days in
the town. They had come on a flying visit in an interval of the war
against the French on the high seas, and very proud we were that
the captain, one of ourselves, was winning himself a name for
prowess and gallantry in his country's service.

Before he departed, however, I got from Joe a relation of what had
befallen him since the night he stole away. He arrived in Bristowe
footsore and ragged, and there came nigh to starving before he
found employment. One shipmaster swore his hair was too red: it
would serve for a beacon to French privateers; another, that he was
too bandy: his legs would never grip the rigging if he essayed to
go aloft. But at length he obtained a berth on a tobacco ship
trading to Virginia, and suffered great torture both from the sea
and from the harsh and brutal ship's officers. He made other
voyages, to the Guinea coast, the Indies, and elsewhere, and one
fine day, being paid off at Southampton, he chanced to hear that
Captain Benbow was in port, and making himself known to that
officer as a fellow townsman, he was taken by him to be his
servant, and had never left him since.

"And have you pickled any pirates' heads?" I asked, remembering the
story, and bethinking me of the silver-mounted cup possessed by Mr.
Ridley, the captain's brother-in-law, which was said to have once
covered the head of a sallee rover.

"Pickled fiddlesticks!" says Joe. "Dunnat believe every mariner's
tale you hear, Master Humphrey."

And then he proceeded to tell me a fearful and wonderful tale of a
sea serpent, and was mightily offended when I said it was all my
eye.

Joe went away with his captain after a few days, and I own I envied
him, and for the first time felt a secret discontent in the
prospect of a life among pigs and poultry, a feeling which was
heightened when Dick Cludde soon afterwards departed with a
commission from His Majesty. Dick was a lubber and, I believed
then, though I had afterwards proof to the contrary, a coward; and
matching myself against him I knew I would do the king's navy more
credit than he. But I kept my thought to myself--and next day made
a sad bungle, I remember, of my construe of Thucydides' account of
the sea fight at Salamis.

So months passed away. I saw with grave concern that my father was
ailing more and more. The attacks of his terrible disease came more
frequently, and Mr. Pinhorn owned that he could do him no good. He
bore his pain with wonderful fortitude, never suffering a complaint
to pass his lips. Many a time in after years I recalled his noble
courage, which helped me to bear the lesser sufferings which fell
to my lot. He seemed to know that his end was approaching, and one
day called me to his private room and talked to me with a kindness
that brought a lump into my throat.

Much of what he said is too sacred to be set down here; I can
truthfully say that his assurance of having made ample provision
for me seemed of little moment beside his earnest loving counsel,
which made the deeper impression because he had so rarely spoken in
that strain.

The end came suddenly, and with a shock that stunned me, for all I
was so well prepared for it. A few brief moments of dreadful agony,
and the good man who had been more than a father to me was no more.
Never once during his long illness had his sister Lady Cludde
visited him; neither she nor her husband accompanied his remains to
the grave: and when we had left him in the churchyard of St. Mary
and returned to the house, I was roused for a little from my stupor
by the sight of Sir Richard among those assembled to hear Mr. Vetch
read the will.

A great wave of anger surged within me when I saw him sitting in my
father's chair, his fat hands folded upon his paunch, and his
bleared eyes rolling a quizzing glance round upon the little
company. So enraged was I that I took little heed of Mr. Vetch at
the table, and heard nothing of what he said as he drew from his
pocket a long paper sealed and tied with tape. No doubt I watched
him untie the knots and break the seal, and spread the document on
the table before him; no doubt I heard his cry of amazement, and
saw Sir Richard and the few friends of my father who were present
rise from their seats and crowd about him; but I remained listless
in my place until a shriek from Mistress Pennyquick woke me to a
sense that something was amiss. Then I heard Sir Richard say, in
his loud blustrous tones:

"Then my lady inherits?"

"Not so fast, not so fast, Sir Richard," said Mr. Vetch in a tone
of great perturbation. "She is, it is true, the heir-at-law, but
our departed friend left his house, messuage, farm and all its
appurtenances to his adopted son Humphrey Bold, with an annuity of
fifty pounds per annum to his faithful housekeeper Rebecca
Pennyquick: I took down his instructions with his own hand, and
engrossed the will myself.

"There is some mistake, gentlemen, something inexplicable. I must
ask you, in all fairness, to postpone your judgment of the matter
until I have made search in my office. Never in my forty years'
experience has so untoward a thing happened, and I must beg of you
to give me time to solve the mystery."

"I will wait on you tomorrow, Mr. Attorney," says Sir Richard.
"Meanwhile I claim this property for my Lady Cludde."

And with that he takes his hat and stick and marches from the room.

The neighbors followed him, giving me commiserating glances, one or
two of them shaking me by the hand and speaking words of
condolence. Mr. Vetch remained for a time staring at the paper
before him; then he folded it and came to me.

"Some devilish prank," he said hurriedly. "Never fear, my lad; all
will come right. I will see you tomorrow, my boy."

And then he too went, leaving me alone with Mistress Pennyquick,
who had done nothing for some while but sob and rock herself to and
fro on her chair.

"That wicked man!" she moaned. "But he will be punished--he will be
punished, Humphrey. What does the good Book say about them that
despoil widows and orphans? Oh, my poor master!"

"What is it, Becky?" I asked, with but little curiosity for her
answer.

"'Tis the doing of that wicked man and his wife! I know it is," the
poor creature sobbed. "And they wouldn't come near the poor soul
when he was in his agony. And now they want to rob us--to rob you,
my poor boy, and me who served him faithful these twenty year. God
will punish him!"

"But what have they done, then?" I asked again.

"Done! Lord knows what they haven't done. I knew summat would
happen when I saw Mr. Vetch come to your poor father a while
ago--you mind, I told you so. Lawyers are all no good, that's my
belief. Don't tell me Mr. Vetch didn't know what he was a-carrying.
He's in league with the wretches, I know he is, for all his mazed
look. Don't tell me he didn't know the paper was as white as the
underside of a fleece. Fleece is the very word for it: he's fleeced
us, sure enough, and I'll come on the parish, and you'll be a
beggar, and they unnatural wretches will wallow in their pride,
and--oh! I can't abear it, I can't abear it!"

And the poor creature burst into a passion of weeping, so that it
was some time before I could learn the cause of her distress. It
was amazing enough. When Mr. Vetch unfolded the document which he
believed to be my father's will, the paper inside was as clean as
when it came from the scrivener's. There was not a single mark upon
it.



Chapter 6: I Take Articles.


We were at breakfast next morning, Mistress Pennyquick and I, when
Captain Galsworthy, after a herald tap on the door, walked into the
room.

"What's this cock-and-bull story that's running over the town?" he
cried without circumstance.

Before I could reply, Mistress Pennyquick began to pour out her
tale of woe, roundly accusing Sir Richard Cludde and Lawyer Vetch
of conspiring to defraud me of my rights.

"I haven't slept a wink the whole night through, sir," says the
poor soul, "and I've wetted six--no, 'tis seven handkerchers till
they're like clouts from the washtub, and I can hardly see out o'
my eyes, and--"

"Stuff and nonsense and a fiddlestick end!" cries the captain
angrily, "dry your eyes, woman. Of all God's creatures a sniveling
woman is the worst. Vetch has been wool gathering:

"Quandoque dormitat Homerus--eh, Humphrey?--

"Which means, ma'am, that you sometimes catch a weasel asleep.
Depend on't, he engrossed the wrong docket, and by this time has
discovered the true will in one of his moldy boxes. Gad, it'll ruin
him, though--if his nephew has not done it already. A family lawyer
can't afford to be caught napping.

"Put on your cap, Humphrey: we'll go and look into things and hint
that we must change our attorney."

So he and I set off together. But, early as it was, Sir Richard
Cludde had been before us. When we entered Mr. Vetch's office,
there was the burly knight with his hand on the door, flinging a
parting word at the lawyer, who sat behind his desk with his wig
awry, the picture of harassment and woe. Sir Richard gave a curt
nod to the captain, but vouchsafed me not a glance.

"You understand, Mr. Attorney?" he said. "The present occupants
will vacate the premises within a week, and you will bring me the
keys."

Then he strode away, banging the door after him. The captain
whistled.

"Sits the wind--the whirlwind, I might say-in that quarter? Where's
the will, Vetch?"

"I would give my right hand to know," said the lawyer. "There is
Mr. Ellery's box"--he indicated a case of black tin with the name
John Ellery printed in white letters on its side; "'twas there I
laid it, with the title deeds and other documents. I searched it
through yesterday. I spent half the night in ransacking every other
box in the room, all to no purpose."

"You did not lay it aside when you had drawn it and afterwards
engross a blank paper like folded, think you?"

"Sir, 'tis impossible. I drew the will at a sitting: it was not a
long one; folded, engrossed, and tied it with my own hands. Nothing
short of witchcraft could undo my handiwork."

"Or your nephew," snapped the captain. "He is the boon fellow of
young Cludde; 'tis the Cluddes who gain by the disappearance, and
mightily glad they will be of the property if all is true that's
said of Sir Richard's affairs. Where's your nephew, Vetch?"

"At home and abed, Captain, suffering from a catarrh. I did ask him
if he knew aught of the matter, and he laughed and denied it,
reminding me that I had never trusted him with the keys. He is
wild, I own, sir; heady and self willed, a sore trial to me
sometimes; but he is of my name, and that name is honorable in
Shrewsbury."

"'Tut, man, nobody but a fool would suspect you of evil dealing,
and if your nephew had a hand in this it might be nought but a
boyish prank, though a deuced indecent one. But now to the
practical question: in the absence of the will, how does Humphrey
stand?"

I shall never forget the poor lawyer's look of misery when this
question was put to him, sharp as a pistol shot. He bent his quill
in his hand till it cracked; he fidgeted on his stool; he began a
sentence three times and left it unfinished.

"In a word," says the captain, who was ever for directness, "he is
a pauper?"

The lawyer bowed his head, but said never a word. Captain
Galsworthy began to drum on the table with his fingers, as his
manner was when perturbed. I sat silent, still too much under the
shadow of my great loss to comprehend the full bearing of his
words.

"Did you put it to Cludde?" he asked suddenly.

"I did, sir, with all the force of which I was capable. I begged
him to acquiesce in the known wishes of our friend, to accept the
draft of the will--here it is--taken 'down by myself from his lips.
Sir Richard looked at it, pished and pshawed, said he had never
held John Ellery's wits in much account, and declared that my
instructions were a clear proof of his feeble mindedness. When I
protested that I had never known a man with a clearer head or of
sounder sense he bellowed at me: what, did I think it sound sense
to will away to a stranger property that had been in the family for
generations?

"'No stranger,' I said, 'indeed, by marriage a kinsman of your own,
Sir Richard.'

"'No kinsman of mine!' he said, 'nor of my lady's neither. When I
married Susan Ellery I did not wed her brother, nor any beggar's
brat'--those were his words, sir--'any beggar's brat he was fool
enough to keep off the parish. If you had the will I'd dispute it
against all the attorneys in England.'

"He is a hard man, Captain. He demands possession in a week."

"And your draft has no value in law?"

"Not a whit, I am sorry to say."

"Then devil take the law," the captain snapped out.

"Hang me, I'll go myself and see Cludde and tell him what I think
of him."

"Not for me, Captain," said I, feeling my face burn. "I'll take
nothing from Sir Richard Cludde, beggar's brat as I am."

"You won't be a fool, Humphrey," said the captain. "Half a loaf is
better than no bread, and if I don't wring an allowance out of the
rogue, I'm a Dutchman."

The captain would have his way, in spite of my protestation. But he
returned from his visit to Cludde Court in a towering passion. The
knight refused point blank to acknowledge any claim upon him, and
swore that if Mistress Pennyquick and I were not out of the house
by the day he named, he would come with bailiffs and constables and
fling us out neck and crop.

Captain Galsworthy was more concerned than I was at the failure of
his well-meant intervention. In my ignorance of the world, and how
hardly it uses those who have nothing, I did not foresee, as my
wise old friend did, the arduous course I was to follow, nor the
many buffets in store for me, but thought, like many lads before
and since, that with the equipment of health and strength I could
ride a tilt against circumstance. Youth is green and unknowing, as
Mr. Dryden hath it, and sure 'tis a mercy.

Before the day was out, we had a piece of news that confirmed the
captain's suggestion as to the disappearance of the will. Cyrus
Vetch had vanished, together with the contents of his uncle's cash
box. When Mr. Vetch went home to his dinner, he found the cash box
broken open, and Cyrus gone. I could not doubt now that 'twas my
old enemy had wreaked on me the vengeance that had smouldered in
his breast ever since Joe Punchard sent him down Wyle Cop in the
barrel, and was fanned into a flame by my action on the night of
the adventure in Raven Street. Mistress Pennyquick was firm in her
belief that the Cluddes were party to the crime, but that I could
not credit then, and never will.

Mr. Vetch himself came to see me the next day. The poor old man was
quite broken down. He humbly begged my forgiveness for the trouble
he had brought upon me, for so he chose to regard it; and he
confessed to me, what I am sure he never revealed to a living soul
beside, that Cyrus had been for years a thorn in his flesh. He was
a spendthrift and a gambler, and had bled his uncle many a time to
discharge what he called his debts of honor. This drain upon the
lawyer, together with losses he had sustained in the failure of
Chamberlain's Land Bank scheme--that monstrous attempt of the
Tories to set up a rival to the Bank of England--had brought him to
the verge of ruin, and with tears in his eyes he expressed to me
his fear that the matter of my father's will would bring him into
such ill repute that the Shrewsbury folk would no longer trust him
and would give their business into other hands.

This set me a-thinking, and during the week I was allowed to remain
in the old farmhouse I turned over in my mind a plan which, I own,
mightily pleased me. It was clear that I must do something for
myself. I had never had any great liking for farming work, and now
that the position of a yeoman on my own land was denied me I was
not inclined to accept service on the land of another. Mr. Lloyd,
the master of the school, when I went to take leave of him, was
kind enough to say that he would use his interest to obtain for me
a servitorship at Oxford or a sizarship at Cambridge, which would
put me in the way of making a livelihood as a tutor or perhaps as a
parson. But I was not in the mind to be any more subsistent on
charity, even of this modified sort, nor had I indeed any hope of
achieving excellence in the classical tongues, so I thanked him,
but declined his offer.

The idea that had entered my noddle was that I might join Mr.
Vetch, and do something in the practice of law to make amends for
the ill fortune which, unwittingly and indirectly, I had been the
means of bringing upon him. When I had made up my mind, I mooted
the project to Captain Galsworthy, who laughed at it as quixotic,
but confessed that he saw no better course open to me.

"I had liever you took up a more active trade--one in which you
could put to use the sciences you have learned of me," said the old
warrior. "But that would take you from Shrewsbury, to be sure, and
I should miss our little bouts, Humphrey boy. And when you come to
think of it, a man needn't be the worse lawyer for a passable
dexterity with the small sword."

Mr. Vetch was quite overcome when I set my proposal before him. He
embraced it eagerly, drew out my articles at once, and swore that I
would be his salvation. And as I must needs have somewhere to live,
he insisted on my taking up my abode with him; he had a roomy
house, he said, and I need not occupy Cyrus' chamber unless I
pleased.

"But what about poor old Becky?" I said. "She is really harder hit
by this unlucky affair than I, and 't would break her heart to go
to the poor house."

"Let her come, too," said Mr. Vetch. "My housekeeper is leaving me;
the fates are conspiring in our favor, you see. Let her come and
mother us both, and I will give her twenty pounds a year."

I had as yet broken nothing of my designs to Mistress Pennyquick,
foreseeing trouble in that quarter. It was pitiful to see her, who
had been such a bustling housewife, sitting the greater part of the
day with her hands in her lap, or dabbing the tears from her eyes,
and to hear her melancholy plaints, which grew the more frequent as
the time drew nearer for leaving the old house. After concluding my
arrangement with Mr. Vetch I went back to the farmhouse, flung my
cap into a chair, and, sitting across the corner of the table,
said:

"Only two days more, Becky."

"And what will become of us I don't know," says the old woman.
"'Tis the poor house for me, and water gruel, and I've had my
rasher regular for forty year. And as for you, my poor lamb, never
did I think I'd live to see you put on an apron, and say 'What d'ye
lack, Madam?' to stuck-up folks as'll look on ye as so much dirt."

"What's this talk of aprons?" says I, laughing.

"How can ye laugh?" she says, the tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Beggars can't be choosers, and ye'll have to ask Mr. Huggins to
have pity on ye and take ye into his shop, and ye'll tie up sugar
and coffee for Susan Cludde belike, and--oh, deary me!"

"Nonsense, Becky," says I. "I shan't have that pleasure. I'm going
to join Mr. Vetch."

"What!" she shrieks.

"'Tis true. Mr. Vetch has given me my articles, and instead of
tying up coffee and sugar I shall tie deeds and conveyances and
become a most respectable lawyer."

"Oh! 'twill kill me!" she moans. "Of all the dreadful news I ever
heard! And wi' Lawyer Vetch, too; the man as devours widows' houses
and makes away with good men's wills! I wish I were in my grave, I
do!"

"Wouldn't you rather be with me, Becky?" I said, smiling at her.

"'Tis cruel to talk so," she cried, sobbing. "How can I be with
'ee? What you get from Lawyer Vetch won't keep two--if you get
anything at all. They say his nephew has ruined him--the wretch!
Indeed, if you ask me, I say you'll get more from Mr. Huggins than
from the lawyer. You'll have enough to do to keep yourself, without
being saddled with a poor, forlorn old widow woman."

"But won't you come? I am going to live with Mr. Vetch."

"Live with the devil!" she screamed, lifting her hands with a
gesture of utter despair. "It is downright wicked of you,
Humphrey--and your poor father not a week in the grave. Sure the
end of the world be coming, when the leopard and the kid shall lie
down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox."

"And donkeys won't bray, I suppose," says I. "There, I don't mean
you, Becky, though you are an old goose. Mr. Vetch wants a
housekeeper, and you are to come with me and mother us both, he
says, and he'll give you twenty pounds a year."

The good creature's look sent me into a fit of laughter. She stared
solemnly at me for a while through her tears, saying never a word.
Then the drooping corners of her mouth lifted; she folded her hands
across her plump person and said:

"Your father only gave me eighteen, Humphrey: are you sure 'twas
twenty the lawyer said?"

"Quite sure. The devil isn't as black as he's painted, eh Becky?"

"Ah! you never know a man till yon've lived with him. Pennyquick
was--but there, he's gone, poor soul, as we all must, and tis ill
work saying anything against one as can't answer ye back: not that
Pennyquick was ever much of a hand at that, poor soul!"

I heard no more vilification of Mr. Vetch. Becky recovered her old
activity with surprising ease, and went about the house collecting
such personal belongings of her own and mine as the lawyer told us
we might remove without question. He himself came to the house on
our last day, and made an inventory of the articles we removed, and
having seen these safely bestowed in a pannier on the back of Ben
Ivimey's son, who came to carry them away, we shut the doors of the
old place, Mr. Vetch pocketed the keys, and we set off for the
town.

Mistress Pennyquick shed a plenitude of tears, and I had a
monstrous lump in my throat that threatened to choke me if I tried
to speak. With a discretion that raised him mightily in Becky's
esteem, Mr. Vetch fell behind, leaving us two together; and so with
full hearts we took the road, going into our new life hand in hand.



Chapter 7: A Crown Piece.


This turn in our affairs was a nine days' wonder in Shrewsbury. And
whether it was that some chord of sympathy was touched in our
townsfolk, or that Mr. Vetch worsted his only rival, Mr. Moggridge,
in a case of breach of covenant that was tried at the next assizes,
I know not; but certain it is that my friend's business took a leap
upward from that very time. Clients flocked to him; he soon had to
employ an additional clerk; and Mistress Pennyquick, who was twice
as tyrannical as before on the strength of her extra two pounds a
year, declared privately to me one day that she wished for nothing
now but that she might live to see me a partner with Mr. Vetch, in
a house of my own, with a sensible wife and five pretty children.

But I have come to believe that as an Ethiopian can not change his
skin, nor a leopard his spots, so a man can not alter the bent of
mind he was born with, nor follow any course with success but the
one to which his nature calls. I entered Mr. Vetch's office with
the best will in the world to please him, and to master the
principles of legal practice and procedure; but I found it hard to
reconcile myself to the atmosphere of a stuffy room filled with
musty tomes, and to the unvarying round of desk work--copying from
morning to night agreements, deeds and other documents bristling
with a jargon unintelligible to me.

I soon tired of freehold and copyhold tenure, of manorial rights
and customs, and the hundred and one legal fictions connected with
actions at law and bills in chancery that constitute the routine of
an attorney's profession. I yearned to breathe an ampler air; and
when one day I saw Dick Cludde, returned home on leave, strutting
past with Mytton and other boon companions, in all the bravery of
cocked hat, laced coat and buckled shoes, I flung down my pen and
donned my cap, and set off, with bitter rage and envy in my heart,
to pour out my soul to my constant friend, Captain Galsworthy.

"Halt!" cried the captain, when I was in the midst of a tirade.
"We'll have a bout."

And forthwith we donned the gloves, and for a full quarter of an
hour we sparred, he with the cool mastery that never deserted him,
I with a blind rage and fury which had its natural end. In the
third round I aimed a blow at my adversary's neck with my right
hand, but failing in my reach, he returned it full swing with his
left, and dealt me such a staggerer on my cheekbone that down I
went like a ninepin and measured my length on the floor.

"Capital!" says the captain, sitting down (the old fellow was
puffing not a little). "Capital! That was a settler, eh, my boy?
Now you can get up and talk sense."

I got up, rubbing my cheek, and grinning a rueful smile, as the
captain told me. We remained long in talk; never had my old friend
been wiser or more kindly. He listened to me with patience as I
told him--quietly, for he had fairly knocked my rage out of me--how
desperately sick I was of my occupation, and how I longed to
stretch my limbs and do something.

"I knew it, my boy," he said. "I had seen it coming. I understand
it. Haven't I been through it myself? I was bred for commerce: you
might as well have harnessed a pig. One day--I was younger than
you-I took French leave and a crown piece and trudged to London. I
enlisted in old Noll's army, shipped to Flanders and served under
Lockhart--he was a man, sir!--at the siege of Cambrai, deserted
when the campaign was at an end, and roamed over half Europe; took
service with the Emperor; fought with the Swedes against the Poles,
and the Poles against the Swedes; fell in with Patrick Gordon, and
was beguiled by him to Muscovy; and should have been with the Czar
Peter at this day if he hadn't called me a fool when he was sober;
we paid no heed to what he called us when he was drunk.

"Ah! I see your eyes glistening, you young dog. You were never born
to be tied up with red tape."

This brief account of his life, and he never told me more, had
indeed set my heart leaping. What would I not give, I thought, to
see what he had seen, and do what he had done!

"But now to be practical," said the captain. "You want to go: very
well, go. But you won't sneak off like Cyrus Vetch; you can't go
with a commission like young Cludde. How much money have you got?"

"A few guineas I have saved."

"Well, keep them; you may be in a tight place some day, and find
'em handy. You have a hankering for the sea, you say. Then tramp to
Bristowe, as your champion Joe Punchard did, and hitch on to John
Benbow if you can find him. He'll work you hard, if all that's said
about him is true; but he'll either make you or break you. That's
my advice."

Advice that jumps with one's own inclinations hath ever a
comfortable appearance of soundness. I told the captain that he had
hit on the very scheme I had proposed to myself, adding, however,
that I had thought to go a-horseback.

"A-horseback!" he cried. "What want you with a horse? You don't own
a horse, and to hire one you would expend all your guineas and have
nothing to feed either him or yourself. No, go on your shanks;
there's a world of knowledge to be gained by footing it on the open
road."

And so we settled that Captain Galsworthy should himself come to
our house on Pride Hill and break the news to my good friends
there. They were both downcast when they heard it, Mr. Vetch more
than Mistress Pennyquick, which somewhat surprised me. He plied me
with innumerable reasons for remaining with him, spoke of the long
miles I should have to trudge before I reached the port, described
the perils of the road, even foresaw that I should be arrested as a
vagrant and clapped into jail! He conjured up dismal pictures of
the seafaring life, and waxed quite eloquent in drawing a contrast
between the bare windswept deck and the cosy fireside, the dangers
from storm and pirates and the serenity of our quiet town. And then
the captain broke in upon his speech with a great laugh.

"Gad, Mr. Attorney, you have o'ershot your bolt," he cried. "Mark
you the sparkle in the boy's eyes and the catch in his breath? The
bogies you raise are beacons to him. D'you think to frighten him as
you would a girl? Spare your breath, man, to cool your porridge;
what fellow of spirit would be deterred from a life of action by
your vision of slippers and a basin of gruel?"

And indeed the lawyer's eloquence fell on deaf ears; or rather, as
the captain said, all his reasons did but whet my eagerness until I
fairly tingled with the imagined delight of matching myself against
the hostility of the elements and man. And so he at last desisted,
and gave a grudging compliance to my purpose; and Mistress
Pennyquick concluded the discussion with a shot at Captain
Galsworthy.

"This is all along o' you, Captain," she cried. "This is what comes
of teaching little boys to fight. I knew years ago 't'ud have a bad
end, and I told his poor father so, and I'm sure I hope you are
satisfied."

"Abundantly, ma'am," says the captain, bobbing her a bow. "My pupil
does me credit, and will do me more."

My preparations were soon made; indeed, I had nothing to prepare
save a few garments, which poor Becky blessed with a copious
baptism of tears. Then, one fine spring morning, when the buds on
tree and hedge were bursting and the air was full of song, I set
off on my long journey. Captain Galsworthy accompanied me for a few
miles on the road--across English Bridge, past our old farmhouse
(now held by a tenant of Sir Richard Cludde's), through the
beautiful vale of Severn, till at Cressage my way led me southward
from the river. Then he held me fast by the hand and looked me in
the face.

"God bless you, Humphrey," he said. "Live clean, and--and--hit
straight from the shoulder, my boy."

And then he turned away--not before I had seen a film of moisture
gather in his eyes.

Now I was fairly started on my travels--in a customary suit of
plain gray homespun, with worsted hose, knit for me by Mistress
Pennyquick, a pair of stout shoes, a round hat, and a stout staff
in my hand. I carried a few extra garments in a knapsack strapped
to my back, and my few guineas were safely stowed in a wallet
beneath my belt.

For a mile or two after leaving the captain I was in as black a fit
of the dumps as ever beset a man. I was but halfway through my
eighteenth year, and had as yet never gone more than ten miles from
my native town, nor slept a night away from home. 'Tis true, no
close ties of blood now bound me to Shrewsbury, but it held dear
memories and kind friends, and I felt a natural heart sickness at
thus cutting myself adrift from all and ranging forth alone into
the great unknown world. But healthy youth can not long lie under
such an oppression; my low spirits lasted just so long as it took
me to gain the crest of the hill towards Harley, and when I had
turned and taken a parting look behind--at the fields in their
fresh green, and the spires of Shrewsbury beyond, and the Severn
winding like a bright ribbon through the vale--when I had fed my
eyes on this charming scene, and breathed a prayer that in good
time I should behold it again, I set my face once more to the
south, and stepped briskly down the slope that hid my home from
sight and stood as the dividing line between my past and my future.
And as I trudged on between the bright hedgerows, and heard the
song of birds all about me, and felt the warm sunbeams on my face,
I began to exult in my youth and strength, and the words of a song
from one of my father's play books came to my mind, and I hummed
them aloud:

A merry heart goes all the day,
A sad tires in a mile a.

About half a mile out of Harley, the road makes a long ascent to
the market town of Much Wenlock. I was pretty warm by the time I
arrived there, and mighty hungry, so I repaired to the inn where my
father was wont to eat on market days, and where I had several
times been with him, and ordered a dinner of bread and cheese and
ale. The innkeeper, Mr. Appleby, was not a little surprised to see
me, and was fairly staggered when I told him I was off to Bristowe
to seek my fortune. To the stay-at-home folk of the countryside
Bristowe was as distant as Brazil, and he would have heard that I
was starting for the ends of the earth with but little more
amazement.

"Betsy," he called through the half-open door into the little
parlor behind, "here be young Master Bold a setting off to
Bristowe."

"Bless us!" cried his wife, bustling out, and bringing with her an
odor of roast meat that somewhat slacked my appetite for bread and
cheese. "Deary me! You doesn't say so now! Well, to be sure! 'Tis a
fearsome long way, by all accounts; but there, you be growed a
great big chap, Master Bold, and I'm sure I wish 'ee good luck.
Come away in, sir, dinner's just off the jack, and me and my man
'ud be main proud if you'd eat a morsel with us afore ye goes."

I was nothing loath, and found the roast of mutton a deal more to
my liking than the frugal fare I had ordered. I was still but
halfway through my second helping when there came through the door
a great clatter of hoofs from the street, and then a loud voice
crying "Appleby! here, sirrah, stir your stumps!" with an oath or
two by way of seasoning.

My host got up in a hurry and ran to the outer door, and I laid
down my knife and fork, and I think my cheeks must have gone a
trifle pale, for Mistress Appleby asked me anxiously what was
amiss. I hastened to reassure her, but begged her to close the door
into the inn place which her husband had left open. She wonderingly
complied, but was enlightened a moment afterwards, when she saw
Dick Cludde swagger in, followed by the two naval captains whom his
lady mother had been entertaining.

"I understand your feeling, sir," said the good wife. "'Tis a sin
and a shame ye lost the farm, which was yours by right; but doan't
'ee let 'em spoil your dinner; I can't abear mutton half, cold."

A more important matter, however, than the cooling of my mutton was
troubling me. I had heard Cludde call for wine and dice, from which
it was clear that he did not intend to leave yet awhile. There was
no way out except by going through the inn taproom, and I was not
inclined to face Dick Cludde there, for he would of a certainty
make some sneering or belittling remark, and my temper being not of
the meekest I feared things might come to a brawl. Not that I cared
a fig's end for Cludde, or feared any ill result from a personal
encounter; but I knew the inn was a property of Sir Richard's, who
would speedily find a new tenant if Dick got a broken head there.

There was nothing for it but to stay where I was, and bear with
what patience I might the interruption to my scarcely begun
journey. So I sat in my chair, and even through the closed door
could hear the loud voices of the naval men and the rattle of the
dice on the board. They called often for more wine, and grew more
and more boisterous as their potations lengthened, giving me a hope
that they would by and by be so fuddled as to make it possible for
me to escape unrecognized. But this hope was soon dashed.

"Let's have another bottle!" cried one of the three; his speech was
very thick. "Let's have another."

"No, no," said another. "You've had enough, Kirkby; and Cludde
there is half asleep already."

"Ads bobs, Walton," returned the man addressed as Kirkby, "are you
growing like Benbow? No wine, no gentlemen! What's things comm' to,
I say, when a fellow like Benbow, no gentleman"--(he pronounced it
"gemman")--"flies his flag on a king's ship!"

And then, being perfectly tipsy, he launched out into violent abuse
of Joe Punchard's captain, who was, it is true, a rough and ready
seaman, and, I must own, somewhat uncouth in his manners. From his
words I learned that Kirkby had been a lieutenant on Benbow's ship,
and was deeply incensed that any one who was not a "gemman" should
have had the right to give him orders. For a full half hour he
inveighed against that brave man, the head and front of whose
offense appeared to be that he rated bravery more highly than
blood, and seamanship than breeding, and often took sides with the
tars against their officers.

"Why, what d'ye think of this now?" cried Kirkby. "'Twas on
Portsmouth Hard, and a dirty old apple woman shoved her basket
under my nose and begged me to buy, and wouldn't be denied, and
followed me whining up the road, and out of all patience I turns
round and tips up her basket, and all the apples roll into the mud.
A tar who was smoking against the wall says something under his
breath and begins to gather up the apples. 'Leave that, sirrah!'
says I. He begs my pardon and goes on as before.

"I up with my cane and was laying on for his insolence when Benbow
roars out ('twas under the window of his inn) 'What be you a-doin'
of?' That's how he speaks. 'What be you a-doin' of?' says he.

"'I'm a-teachin' of him manners,' says I.

"'I'll teach you manners,' he roars, and orders me back to my ship,
and humiliates a gemman before a lout with hair as red as fire and
legs that made a circle."

"Why, sure 'twas Joe Punchard," cries Cludde, "a fellow that near
killed a friend o' mine," and he breaks into the old School
distich--

"O, pi, rho, bandy-legged Joe,
Turnip and carrots wherever you go."

and the others screamed with maudlin laughter.

"I know who was the gemman," whispers Mistress Appleby, who had
heard it all.

Shortly afterwards, being in high good humor after vindicating
their quality as gentlemen, the three called for their reckoning
and went round to the stables to see to their horses. I seized the
opportunity to make my escape, taking leave very heartily of my
kind host and hostess. I was not sorry to get upon the road again,
having purposed to cover at least twenty-five or thirty miles
before night. It was downhill now, and I was swinging along at a
good pace when I heard horses behind me and saw, with annoyance,
that I might not escape unnoticed, after all. Cludde and his
companions were cantering down the hill, at the risk of mishap, for
naval officers are notoriously bad horsemen, and one of them--
Kirkby, I doubt not--was swaying in his saddle. I stepped down to
the side of a brook which skirted the road, hoping they would pass
me by; but my lanky body was not one to escape remark, and Kirkby
himself as he came up threw a jest at my height. Cludde gave me a
glance, and a malicious smile sat upon his face.

"Poor beggar!" he said in an undertone, but loud enough for me to
hear, and he flung me a coin, which struck my arm and rolled to the
brink of the brook. In a trice I was up the bank, hot with a mad
rage to come to grips with the fellow. But he had anticipated the
movement, and setting spurs to his horse was beyond my reach. I
disdained to pursue him; indeed it would have been vain; I could
but stomach the affront. But I was not yet seasoned to petty
slights, and in my bitterness of spirit I sat down on the grassy
bank and for a while gave the rein to my feelings, brooding moodily
on my wrongs. Then I chanced to spy the coin which he had flung to
me as a man might fling a bone to a dog. I picked it up: it was a
crown piece. For a moment I was tempted to pitch it into the brook;
but on a sudden impulse I bestowed it in a little inner pocket
apart from the rest of my money.

"There it is, Dick Cludde," I muttered between my teeth, "and there
it shall remain until the day when I return it you, with interest."

After that I felt more composed, and walked on with a lightened
heart.



Chapter 8: I Fall Among Thieves.


For some time past the sky had been clouding over, and the wind
blowing up with a threat of rain. Before long it began to fall in a
steady drizzle, and I saw that if I would not be drenched to the
skin I must renounce my purpose of completing thirty miles, and
seek a shelter for the night. Coming to a small hamlet of two or
three cottages, I inquired of a laboring man whom I saw entering
one, how far I must go to find an inn. He told me that there was
one a mile or so on, just before coming to Morville, and thanking
him, I hastened on my way.

But before I had gone a mile I espied a ruined barn in a field by
the roadside, and being already tired and little inclined to
encounter strangers, I turned into it to see if it would afford me
sufficient protection against the weather. The interior was cosier
than the outward aspect promised, and finding a quantity of clean
hay at one end, I stripped off my coat, set down my knapsack for a
pillow, and, rolling myself in the hay, was soon fast asleep.

I was roused while it was still dark by the sound of voices. Being
wide awake in an instant, I had sufficient presence of mind to
avoid betraying my whereabouts by a rustling among the hay, and lay
and listened, wondering who the intruders might be, and fearing
lest they should approach my end of the barn to seek a couch for
the remainder of the night. But they made no movement in my
direction, and before many minutes had passed I understood by their
voices that they were three, and gathered from their talk that they
were poachers who had been plying their stealthy trade in the
coverts of a neighboring park, and had turned into the barn, which
they evidently knew well, for a brief rest before making for their
homes at Bridgenorth.

I hoped that they would leave before daylight, without discovering
me; but just as the sparrows on the roof were twittering a greeting
to the dawn, as ill luck would have it, one of the men spied my
coat, spread on staddles against the wall to dry. He uttered a
sharp exclamation, and called to his comrades. I heard them come in
my direction, and guessed by their silence that they were looking
warily around for the owner of the coat. But they did not see me,
being completely covered by the hay; and, remarking that it looked
a "rare good coat," one of them put his hand into all the pockets
in turn, and from the inner one fetched out Cludde's crown piece.

"A silver crown, Jo," he says.

"Bite it," said another.

"Good as gold," returned the first. "This be rare luck."

Now, if I had been a few years older and more expert in dealing
with men, I should doubtless have parleyed with the fellows; but in
the heat of youth and inexperience, indignant at the freedom with
which they were handling my belongings, I sprang out of the hay,
made for the man who held the coat, and peremptorily called on him
to drop it.

His answer was a sudden well-planted blow which sent me
incontinently backward into the hay from which I had risen. I was
up in an instant, and then began a struggle, short and decisive.
The three men were all shorter than I, but thick-set and powerfully
made, and struggle as I might I soon had to own myself beaten, and
was borne to the floor, one holding my head, another my feet, and
the third discommoding me very much by sitting on my middle.

"What be you a-doing here?" says the man called Job.

"I might ask you the same question," I replied, again choosing the
wrong method of dealing with them.

"You might, but you wouldn't get no answer," was the grim retort.
"You've heard what we've a-said?" the fellow went on.

I replied that I had heard it all. The men joined in a chorus of
oaths, and then began to discuss among themselves what they should
do with me, with a freedom and a disregard of any view I might hold
on the matter which in other circumstances I might have found
amusing.

"If we lets him go," said the man called Job, "he peaches, sure
enough, and then 'tis the collar for us all," by which I understood
he meant the hangman's noose. "If we don't let him go we must
ayther take him with us or tie him up, and then belike his friends
will find him, and 'twill be the same end for us."

"Rest easy on both points," I said, having recovered somewhat of my
composure. "I won't peach, and I have no friends within twenty
miles."

"'S truth?" said the man.

"It is quite true," I replied.

Whereat they burst into a guffaw, and I knew that I had made
another mistake.

"He bain't over ripe," said the man on my middle.

"True, he was born young," said Job. "Well, now, I'm a gemman, I
am, and fair exchange is no robbery, and as I've took a fancy for
this 'ere coat, being a trifle newer nor mine, I'll chop with you;
me being a trifle older nor you makes all square, I reckon. Bill,
what about the breeches?"

"To be sure, Job, mine be worn thin; I'll have measter's breeches."

"And what's for me?" growled the man at my feet.

"There's only the shirt and the boots left," said Job, "for bein'
gemmen we can't let him go bare. You take the boots, Topper."

And having thus apportioned my habiliments, they proceeded to
divest me of boots and breeches, threatening to knock me on the
head if I made any resistance. In stripping me they came upon the
wallet in which my precious guineas were stowed. Job opened it in a
twinkling, and I had the mortification of seeing all the money I
possessed divided among these three ruffians.

When the exchange of clothing had been effected, I found myself
attired in a dirty, greasy coat much too small for me, my arms
protruding far beyond the sleeves, a pair of grimy patched leather
smalls, that left an inch or two of bare flesh above my stockings,
and boots that, rent and battered though they were, cramped my feet
terribly.

"How we have overgrowed!" quoth Job with a leer.

The others laughed; then suddenly the man called Topper looked at
Job with a frown and said:

"Fair's fair; that there silver crown--I want a bit of that, Job."

This set them squabbling, though they kept a wary eye on me all the
time. In the end they decided to settle the ownership of the coin
by the arbitrament of chance. Job first spun it; Bill called
"heads" and lost. At the second spin Topper called "tails," and was
about to pocket the crown when I made a suggestion.

"Gentlemen," I said, in a conciliatory tone which I ought to have
adopted before, "I value that crown piece more highly than all the
guineas you have appropriated. 'Tis clear you are sportsmen"--I
glanced at the hares that lay on the floor, the booty of their
night's depredations. "I make you an offer which as sportsmen you
will not refuse. Let Mr. Topper and me fight it out, man to man,
and the coin go to the winner."

"Spoke like a man; what dost say, Topper?" said Job.

"Done!" says Topper, forthwith flinging off his coat, and rolling
up his shirt sleeves.

It was clear that I was incurring a risk, for the muscles of his
arms stood up like great globes; but if I could not match him in
strength, I hoped at least to have some little advantage of him in
science, thanks to the lessons of my good friend Captain
Galsworthy. I pulled off my coat, or rather Job's, starting a seam
as I did so, and then, the other two men standing between us and
the door, Topper and I began our bout.

I could see that he, as well as his companions, expected to win an
easy victory. But when at the end of the first round, we stopped at
Job's call for a breather, neither of us had got home more than a
few body blows, and Topper was patently chagrined, more especially
as the others could not forbear twitting him. He began the second
round with an impetuosity that kept me wholly on the defensive, and
pressed me so hard that I gave back and failed to counter a blow
that sent me spinning on to the hay behind. This afforded the
others much satisfaction, and at the call of time, they encouraged
Topper with a cry to give me a settler and have done with it.

But this was his undoing. He came at me with the same ferocity as
before, and, confident of a speedy victory, gave me an opening of
which I was quick to take advantage. In a trice I was within his
guard; I dealt him a right-hander with all my force; he staggered,
and before he could recover, a left-hander got him on the point of
the chin, and over he went with a thud on to the floor.

His companions bent over him in consternation. At that moment I
could have made my escape, I doubt not, had I chosen to dash for
the door, and indeed, I was on the point of doing so when I was
stayed by some feeling that it would be hardly becoming to take
flight then. Besides, the coin for which I had fought was still in
the fallen man's pocket.

He got up by and by, somewhat dazed and rubbing his head. He
glowered at me for a moment, then flung the crown towards me with a
curse.

"Who said he was green?" he muttered, allowing Job to help him on
with his coat.

"He's a viper," said Job consolingly. "We won't tell no one,
Topper."

It was light by this time, and Bill remarked that they had best be
getting back to Bridgenorth, or they would find folk astir. They
looked at me with some hesitation; then Job said:

"We're a-going to make you fast, my bawcock, and don't make no
mistake. Ads bobs, if ye come to Bridgenorth Fair we'll find some
'un to down you, strike me if we don't."

They bound my legs and arms with withes that are used for tying
trusses of hay, and left me.

I felt some natural satisfaction in the issue of this fight; but it
made poor amends for the loss of my clothes and my guineas. Luckily
my knapsack, hidden in the hay, had escaped the poachers'
observation; and the recovery of Dick Cludde's crown piece gave me
a good deal of pleasure.

The moment the poachers were gone, I began to try to free myself
from my bonds, but it was only after much painful wriggling and
straining that I at length released my hands. My clasp knife had
departed with my breeches; Bill's pockets were empty; but after
some search, crawling about the barn, I discovered a broken slate
wherewith to cut the fastenings of my feet. And then, when I stood
upright, and with leisure for thought became fully aware of the
sorry figure I cut, in foul garments a world too small for me, I
was nigh overwhelmed with a feeling of despair, and was almost
ready to wait until nightfall, and slink back by byways to
Shrewsbury. But after a while I got the better of this heartsickness,
and, rating myself for a poltroon, I strapped on my knapsack and
issued forth from the barn, doggedly resolved to pursue my journey.

It was many an hour since I had eaten, and, once more in the open
air, my stomach cried out for breakfast. When a man has never had
to want for food, it is with a disagreeable shock he realizes that
he must be hungry. True, I had the crown piece, and before the sun
had mounted I was sore tempted to spend it; but the vow I had
inwardly made to keep it for its owner, together with a shame-faced
reluctance to appear in my present condition before a fellow man,
helped me for a time to bear my hunger. Yet I knew that I could not
go long without food, and it would soon become imperative that I
should pocket my pride and either change the crown or seek some
means of earning enough to buy myself a meal.

For a time I trudged through the fields, avoiding the public eye.
Coming at length to a road, which I took to be the highroad, I set
off along it, stiffening my resolution to ask for a job at the
first village I reached. But just as a row of cottages came in
sight, and I was considering in what terms to make my request, a
parson and a lady on horseback turned into the road from a by-lane,
and when they had passed I heard a ripple of laughter from the
lady, no doubt in response to some jest from her companion on my
ridiculous appearance.

This set my blood a-boiling; I flung away in a rage, leapt a stile
into a field, and felt that I would rather starve than ask
assistance of a living soul. I sat down beneath a hedge, utterly
woebegone, and chewed the bitter cud of my misfortunes until for
sheer weariness I fell asleep.

When I awoke, the sun, which had shone brilliantly all day, was
already sloping to the west. My rage was gone now, and I cursed
myself for a fool. A pretty spirit I had shown indeed! What was I
good for if I could not bear a little ridicule?

"Let 'em laugh, and go hang!" I cried, and up I sprang, resolved to
accost the first person I met, whoever it might be, and at any rate
earn a crust.

I walked along the field, took a long draught from a clear brook
that crossed it, and coming into the road, spied a large house
lying some way back amid trees. True to my resolve, I made towards
it, entered an iron gate that stood open, and was marching up the
broad gravel walk leading to the house when I was checked by a
voice.

"Hi, you fellow, what do you want here?"

I turned, and saw a well-dressed boy of about my own age coming out
of a shrubbery into the walk. I stopped, feeling a certain
awkwardness, and stood before him, looking sheepish enough, no
doubt. He eyed me for a moment; then burst out a-laughing.

"You have no business here; get you gone, fellow," he said, when he
had recovered.

I gulped down the wrath that rose in me, and said quietly:

"I was but on my way to ask if I might do something to earn a meal
and a night's lodging."

He looked at me curiously, perceiving that in mode of speech I was
somewhat different from the low tramp I looked. But youth is often
impatient and hard; my appearance consorted so little with my
tongue that he had much excuse for regarding me as a ne'er-do-well,
the less deserving of pity because he probably owed his plight to
vicious courses.

"There's the poorhouse for tramps, and the lock-up for rascals," he
added. "Be off with you!"

"Pardon me, sir," said I, as quietly as before, "I have eaten
nothing for thirty hours or longer, and if you would but give me
speech with the master of the house, I doubt not he would allow me
milk and bread, for which I would willingly do a turn of work in
the morning."

"D'you hear me, sirrah!" cries the boy. "You're a poacher if the
truth were known. We want no lazy louts here, and if you're not
outside the gates instantly I vow I'll set the dogs on to you."

And with that he came up to me and gave me a shove with his
shoulder. He had courage, for he was smaller than I. 'Twas the
spirit that prompts a gentleman, however puny, to despise the
churl, however big.

His words I had borne patiently enough, but I could endure no more.
Wrenching myself away, I dealt him a buffet that stretched him flat
on the ground.

This scene had passed within a few paces of the gate, and I had
been so preoccupied that I had not heard the clatter of an
approaching horse, and in consequence was taken utterly aback when
a loud voice behind me cried, "What's this? What's this?" and
immediately afterwards the lash of a whip fell smartly on my back,
causing me to spring round in a heat of indignation. A gentleman
had just ridden in at the gate, and, taking in the situation at a
glance, had begun the chastisement which he had much reason to
suppose I deserved.

What with my hunger, the boy's insults, and the sting of the lash,
I was now roused to as high a pitch of fury as I had ever in my
life reached. I had taken a step towards the horse, to drag the
rider from his saddle, and he had raised the whip once more to
strike, when a voice from the direction of the house caused us both
to pause.

"Don't, uncle; oh, please don't!"

Involuntarily I turned, and saw a young girl flying down the path,
her long unloosed black hair streaming behind her. She came to us
with flushed cheeks, and breathless with running.

"It was all Roger's fault," she cried. "I saw it, heard it all. The
poor man is starving and wanted to work for food, and Roger was
rude to him."

Her uncle looked at her, and at me, and at the boy, who had risen
from the ground, wearing a sullen and crestfallen look.

"Is that the right of it, Roger?" asked the gentleman.

"He said so, sir," he replied, "but he looks such a villainous
tramp, and you know what lies they tell--why, look here!" He
stooped and picked something from the ground. "He said he was
hungry, and look at this!"

He held up my crown piece, which in the violence of my movements, I
suppose, had sprung out of my tattered garment. I felt my cheeks
flush hotly, and was stricken dumb in the face of this mute
evidence giving me the lie. The girl gazed at me for a moment;
then, her lip curling with disdain, she turned her back and walked
up the path towards the house.

"Well, rascal?" said the gentleman sternly.

"It is mine, truly," I said. "But--"

"Go fetch the men," he said to the boy.

"As sure as I'm alive I'll commit you for a rogue and vagabond, for
mendicancy and assault."

He drew his horse across the gate so that I could not escape, while
the boy hastened to the house.

"You are a magistrate, sir," I ventured to say, "and sure 'tis not
your custom to condemn your prisoners unheard."

"Adzooks, you teach me my duty?" he cried in a rage. "You insolent
scoundrel!"

I held my peace, and in a few moments the boy returned, with two
stablemen.

"Take this fellow to the coach house," said their master.

"I'll go where you please," I cried hotly, "but if those men lay a
finger on me I'll crack their skulls for them."

My height and my fierce aspect so well promised that I could
perform my threat that the men held off and eyed their master
dubiously.

"Lead on, Roger!" he cried with an oath, too much incensed for
further speech.

The boy led the way. I followed, the two stablemen stepping behind
me, but at a reasonable distance, and the horseman brought up the
rear. Thus in procession we went round the house to the back; I
entered the coach house, and the gentleman having dismounted, came
in after me, and commanded me to give an account of myself.



Chapter 9: Good Samaritans.


During the short passage to the coach house I had been trying to
consider my course: but my state of famishment and the agitation
into which I had been thrown had bereft me of all power of
consecutive thought; so that when the gentleman called upon me, in
no gentle tones, to give an account of myself, I stood like a stock
fish before him. Then I was amazed to feel my legs giving way under
me; I stretched forth my arms in an instinctive attempt to steady
myself, and, clutching at empty air, fell heavily forward on to the
stone floor.

When I came to myself, I saw a kind, motherly face bending over me,
and was aware of a hot taste in my mouth.

"Are you better now?" said the lady, in tones the like of which I
had seldom heard.

I smiled, and she held a spoon to my lips, and I swallowed its
contents--a mixture of rum and milk, I think--as obediently as a
baby.

"Poor boy! he must have been starving," said the lady.

"And what right had a fellow to be starving with a crown piece in
his pocket?" said the gentleman behind.

"He will explain by and by," replied the lady. "He must not be
vexed tonight, James. I have made up a bed in the loft, and Martha
is preparing some food.

"Can you walk, my poor boy?" she asked me.

"I am quite well, ma'am," I said, staggering to my feet. "I don't
know what came over me."

She told me that I had fainted, which surprised me mightily, though
when I came to reflect it was not much to be wondered at, seeing
that never in my life before had I been for more than four hours
without food.

"The gentleman asked me to explain--" I began, remembering what had
preceded my fall.

"Never mind about that now," said the lady. "You will go to bed,
and when you have had some food you will sleep, and you can tell my
husband all about it in the morning."

And then she directed the two stablemen who were standing at the
door to help me up the ladder into the loft of the coach house. A
bed, spread with linen as good as ever I lay on, was arranged at
one end; and, dropping on to this, I was asleep immediately. They
told me next morning that the mistress had herself brought up the
posset which her servant had prepared; but, finding me in such deep
slumber, had carried it away again, saying that sleep was as good
as food to me then.

The sunlight, streaming in at the little window above my bed,
wakened me early. I was at first perplexed at my unfamiliar
surroundings, but, recollecting at length the happenings of the
previous day, I got up and descended the stairs. At the door of the
coach house one of the men I had already seen was swilling the
wheel of a big coach with pails of water, whistling the while. He
grinned when he saw me, and said:

"Mistress said you was to go straight to kitchen when you waked,
and fill your stomick."

"I am mighty hungry, to be sure, but I should like to wash first,"
I replied.

"Why, you do look 'mazing grimy," he said with another grin. "Do ye
feel better this marnin'? You went into a faint like as I never did
see--a real female faint it was. I reckon as how you be overgrowed,
young man."

"Where shall I find the pump?" I asked, restive under this
reference to my unhappy attire.

"Ho, Giles!" he called, "take the young man to the poomp."

At this cry, Giles, in whom I recognized the second man whose skull
I had threatened to crack, appeared from round the corner of the
coach house. His face also wore a grin.

"Ay, true now, you do want the poomp," he said. "Come, and I'll
show 'ee. It do make a young feller weak-like when he overgrows his
strength. There was my sister Jane's Billy, to be sure, shot up
like a weed, he did, was for ever falling into fits, and a bit soft
in his noddle, too, poor soul.

"Here's the poomp; be 'ee strong enough to draw for yourself, think
'ee, or shall I do it for 'ee?"

I was strongly tempted to catch the fellow by the middle and give
him a back throw which would enlighten him as to my physical
aptitude; but I forbore, and allowed him to pump for me, which he
did with great willingness, discoursing the while on the
infirmities of all his kin. Refreshed by my ablutions, I was
nothing loath to follow him to the kitchen, where a red-faced
little dumpling of a cook set before me such a breakfast as would
have made Mistress Pennyquick stare.

"Eat away," she said, setting her arms akimbo and eying me up and
down as I ravenously began my meal. "Lawks! I don't wonder ye
fainted if 'tis true, as they say, that ye hadn't had bite or sup
for a week. You've a big body to keep a-goin', to be sure;
overgrowed your strength seemingly. The likes of me don't faint."

And at this Susan the housemaid, who had just come in, giggled, and
put her hand over her mouth, and I felt as if my ears had rims of
fire. Would they never have done with their personal allusions?
Mentally I cursed Job and Bill and Topper very heartily, and as
heartily wished that my inches were a little less.

Luckily I was not born without a certain sense of humor. It had
deserted me under stress of what I had gone through during the last
two days, but when my cavities had been well filled with Martha's
excellent viands, I was suddenly able to see myself as I must
appear to others, and I astonished the servants by laying down my
knife and fork, leaning back in my chair, and emitting a long
ripple of laughter.

"Goodness alive!" exclaimed Martha. "Giles said a' was a natural,
and I believe a' spoke true."

"No, no," I spluttered. "My noddle's sound enough. I think; 'tis
only that--that I'm overgrown!"

And with that I laughed again, and my merriment was infectious, for
the round little cook laughed until she dropped exhausted into a
chair, and the housemaid uttered shrill little titters from behind
her hands, bending forward at each explosion, opening her hands to
take a peep at me, and then "going off," as they say, again.

In the midst of this hilarity there sounded suddenly a jangling and
creaking of wires in the neighborhood of the ceiling, followed by a
clang.

"Measter's bell!" cried Susan, and, smoothing her apron, and
settling her countenance to a wonderful demureness and sobriety,
the little rascal tripped away. She was back in a minute.

"Measter wants to see tha," she said.

I got up and followed her from the room and up the stairs,
comfortable in body and mind, for sure, I thought, such
cheerfulness was of good augury: the master of such happy servants
could not be a very terrible man. Susan showed me into a large and
well-furnished room, where, though it was summer time, a big fire
was crackling merrily in the grate. On one side of it sat the
master in a deep chair, smoking a pipe of tobacco; on the other the
kind mistress was knitting. She smiled at me as I approached, and I
knew that she was not thinking of my strange garb. The master
hummed and hawed, as if in embarrassment how to address me; then,
in a jovial tone intended to set me at my ease he said:

"Had a good breakfast?"

I assured him that I had never made such a meal in my life.

"That's right. Now, we want you to tell us your story in your own
way; but mind, no beating about the bush."

I had already resolved to tell just so much as was necessary,
without naming names, so I began:

"I was on my way to Bristowe, sir, and two nights ago, being
overtaken by the rain, I sought shelter in a decayed barn near the
roadside, and slept among some hay. Before morning three men came
in whom I soon discovered from their speech to be poachers. They
found me, robbed me of my money--not a vast sum--and forced me to
exchange garments with them."

Here the flicker of a smile crossed the gentleman's face.

"They left me tied hand and foot, and when I released myself I was
in such a taking at the scarecrow figure I must cut that I shunned
the sight of men, and kept to the fields. But I had not eaten since
noon of the day of my misadventure, and, being desperately hungry,
I entered your gate to beg a meal, purposing to pay for it by some
service for you."

"Hum! What then of this crown piece which you confessed was yours?
Why need ye starve with that in your pocket?"

"To that, sir, I have no answer, save that I would not spend it
till the last extremity."

"Hum! How old are you?"

"Somewhat past seventeen, sir."

"Just the age of our Roger," said the lady.

"And what's your name?"

At this I hesitated. I could not be more than thirty miles from
Shrewsbury, and if I told my name perchance it might travel back,
and I was in no mind to have my mischances retailed in the town.
The gentleman saw my hesitation.

"Well, well," he said, "no matter for that. You have run away, eh?"

"No, sir. I have no relatives, and I came with full consent of my
friends."

"And what think you to do at Bristowe? Have you friends there?"

"No, sir. I purposed to find employment on a ship."

"The old story!" quoth the gentleman with a grunt. Then, with a
shrewd look at me, he said: "Contra mercator, novem jactantibus
austris."

"Militia est potior," I said, capping his tag from Flaccus' first
satire, without reflecting whereto he was luring me.

"I knew it!" he cried, waving his pipe triumphantly at his wife.
"And you haven't run away from school?"

"Indeed I have not, sir. I left school some months ago."

The lady smiled at his crestfallen look. It was plain that, in
talking over myself and my situation, he had declared with the
positiveness which I found was part of his character, that I had
fallen into some trouble at school and fled the consequences.

There was a brief silence; then he said:

"You spoke of work. What can you do?"

"Little enough, sir," I replied. "But I lived for some years on a
farm, and could do something in that kind."

Husband and wife glanced at each other, and the gentleman said:

"Well, well, go downstairs now; presently I will send for you
again."

I went down, and found my way, by the back of the house, the door
standing open, into the garden. I had not taken more than half a
dozen paces down the middle path when a big dog of the retriever
kind came barking towards me. Stooping down, I patted his head and
tickled his ears, a thing which all animals love, and then went on,
the dog trotting by my side in most friendly wise.

And at a turn of the walk I came without warning upon the girl who
had interposed to save me from a thrashing and had then gone
scornfully away, thinking me a liar. The consciousness of my
ridiculous appearance rushed upon me in a flood, and, having but
small experience of womankind save as represented by Mistress
Pennyquick and our maids, I must stand stock still, red to the
roots of my hair.

The girl had been walking towards me, swinging by its riband a
garden hat, for the air was hot. The dog ran to her, with a bark
that might have been of reassurance. She stopped, and, with a
pretty shyness far short of embarrassment, said:

"Are you better now, poor man?"

I mumbled something, I know not what, and she smiled and passed on.

Then I felt I would have given anything to live that moment again.

"Dolt! Fool! Jackass!" I called myself. "What a baby she must think
me! 'Poor man!' she said. Good heavens! Does she think I am forty?"

And thus fuming at my tongue-tied awkwardness, I went along the
path.

I walked up and down for some time, and was still pacing along with
my back to the house, when I heard a light footstep behind me, and
for a foolish moment fancied it was the girl whose aspect and kind
words had lately put me in such a commotion. But on turning about,
I felt relief and disappointment mingled (the disappointment was, I
think, the greater) to see that it was only Susan.

"Measter wants tha," she said.

I stepped along in silence beside her, she taking three steps for
my one, and giggling to sicken a man.

"Tha'lt never get a sweetheart," she said by and by.

"Oh! and why not?" I asked.

"'Cos tha'rt such a great big feller," she said.

"What in the name of all that's wonderful has that to do with it?"

The minx looked archly up into my face.

"Tha'rt too high for a maid to kiss," says she.

To this I made no answer, being no whit inclined to bandy words
with this pert young housemaid. And so we came to the house.

"We have been considering your case," said the master, when I again
stood before him. "Are you still set on going to Bristowe?"

"Truly, sir, I have seen nought to change my mind."

"You know you are miles out of your road?"

"'Tis through coming over the fields," I said.

"Well, if you are bent upon it, I will furnish you with money
enough to take you there, and trust to you to repay me in good
time."

"'Tis good of you, sir," I said, guessing, and not wrongly, I
think, at whose persuasion he made that offer.

Then I was silent. The name "charity brat," bestowed on me years
before by Cyrus Vetch, still rankled in my soul, and though, now
that I look back upon it, there was nothing that need have wounded
my pride in accepting the proffered loan, I was loath to be
beholden to any man. Maybe my feeling on this point was complicated
with another of which I was as yet hardly conscious; but certain it
is that, after standing silent for a brief space, I said suddenly:

"I thank you heartily, sir, but I had liever earn the money."

"Pish, lad!" cried the gentleman. "'Tis easy to see you are not of
laboring rank, and as for the money, I shall not break if I never
see it again."

That was the worst argument he could have devised. My pride was up
in arms now, in good sooth, and I said firmly:

"With your leave, sir, I will earn what money I need."

"Didst ever see such an obstinate youth?" said he testily, turning
to his wife. "Well, as you will. I warrant you will soon sing
another tune. Go and see my steward, one of the men will take you
to him, and tell him what you know of husbandry; 'tis no more, I
warrant, than you have learned out of Vergil's Georgics.

"Stay," he added, as I turned to go, "we must have a name for you.
You can not be a mere cipher in my estate books."

"Call me Joe, sir," I said, he thinking me of my friend Punchard.

"Joseph in the house of bondage," says he with a laugh, "Well, Joe
it shall be."

I was some paces towards the door when remembrance came to me.

"May I have my crown piece, sir?" I said, turning back.

"God bless the boy! Here, take it; 'tis the same that jumped from
your pocket. And now I bethink me, those poachers' tatters sit very
ill on your long carcass.

"We must find something better suited to his frame, mistress."

"We will have, a clothier from Bridgenorth," said the lady.

"I trust you will be very happy with us the short while you stay,
Joe," she added with her gentle smile, and I went from the room
with my heart very warm towards her.



Chapter 10: The Shuttered Coach.


Thus I entered on a period which I look back upon, after fifty
years, as one of the happiest in my life. The steward, Mr. Johnson,
an active, silent man, employed me alternately in practical work
upon the estate--felling trees, repairing fences, and so.
forth--and in keeping his books, for which latter duty my service
with Mr. Vetch had in some sort fitted me. For a week I saw nothing
of my master, and caught but fugitive glimpses of the members of
his family. I suspected, and rightly, as it turned out, that he was
deliberately keeping out of my way, but receiving careful reports
of me from Mr. Johnson.

His name, I learned, was James Allardyce, and his rank was
something above that of a yeoman. He was choleric in temper and
hasty in judgment, but the soul of kindness and generosity, and the
servants loved him. The boy I had felled was his only son, just
home from the school at Rugby; and his niece, Mistress Lucy, as
everyone called her, had but lately become a member of his
household. She was an orphan. Her father had been a planter with
large estates in Jamaica, and on his death she had been brought to
England at his wish by an old nurse, and delivered into the care of
her mother's brother. She had another uncle, it was said--a squire,
her father's brother, who lived somewhat north of Shrewsbury. 'Twas
Susan who told me this; she was a chatterbox, and would have talked
all day to me had I not discouraged her, and then she said I gave
myself airs.

But it was from Roger Allardyce I learned things so surprising that
I wonder I did not betray myself. About a week after I came to the
Hall (so the house was called) I was returning early one morning
from bathing in a stream that crossed the estate, when I met the
boy face to face. He was striding along, whistling, with his towel
over his shoulder, and gave me a look aslant as he passed, then
halted and called after me: "I say, Joe!"

I turned at once, and knew that he bore me no malice for the blow I
had dealt him at our first meeting.

"I say," he repeated, "how did you manage to keep your crown piece
when those poacher fellows bagged your money?"

I could not forbear smiling at this blunt manner of holding out the
olive branch. I told him of my fight with the man called Topper.

"Wish I had seen it," he said, laughing heartily. "And I wish it
had happened a day or two before, for if you had been settled here
then you could have plied your fists to some better purpose."

I asked him to explain.

"Why, a lubber of a fellow rode over from Shrewsbury; he's a cousin
of mine, more's the pity, and a king's officer, by George! There
were two other officers with him, and they had been drinking, and
they insisted on coming in, and stayed ever so long playing the
fool. Father was in Bridgenorth, and Giles with him, and the other
men were not at hand, and we had to put up with their tomfoolery,
which soon drove mother and Lucy from the room: but if you had been
there we could have contrived to fling them out between us."

"I would have done my best," I said.

"How is the water?" he asked.

"Fresh, with a wholesome sting," I replied, and then, giving me a
friendly nod, he went on to his bath.

Here was strange news, I thought, as I returned to the house. I
could have no doubt that the obnoxious visitors were Dick Cludde
and his friends: for it was hardly possible that three other king's
officers should have ridden out of Shrewsbury in this direction on
the same day. If Cludde had come once he might come again, and
should he catch sight of me my story would not only be known to my
employer, but would be spread all over Shrewsbury--a thing I could
not contemplate with satisfaction. It crossed my mind that 'twould
be safer to leave Mr. Allardyce and seek employment with some other
yeoman; but from this course two reasons deterred me: first, the
liking I had taken for him and his family; second, an obstinate
reluctance to allow Dick Cludde in any way to alter my plans. It
would not be difficult, I reflected, for one in my humble position
to avoid him should he come to the house, and if I needs must meet
him, I should even welcome the occasion for bundling him out neck
and crop if he proved a troublesome visitor.

My resolution was strengthened a few days afterwards. Since the
morning when Roger Allardyce had first addressed me, a friendship
had sprung up between us, with a rapidity only possible to boys. We
bathed together of mornings; he would come and chat to me when I
was at my work; and the hours of work being over, he would lug me
into a little outhouse he kept as his own, and show me his
treasures--guns, and fishing tackle, a breastplate worn by his
grandfather in the Civil War, an oak-apple from the tree in which
King Charles had hidden after the battle of Worcester. He treated
me as his equal, and once, when I alluded to my dependent position,
his curiosity, which with excellent well-bred delicacy he kept in
check, got the better of him, and he begged me to tell him all
about myself, swearing never to reveal it to a soul. But I cleaved
to my determination; all I would tell him was what he knew already,
that I was a penniless orphan bent on making my way in the world.

Well, one evening, when I returned from my work in the fields, I
found him waiting for me with excitement plainly writ on his open
face. He dragged me to his outhouse, and having shut the door,
said:

"I say, Joe, there's a storm brewing, and we may need your fists.
You remember I told you about my cousin riding over from
Shrewsbury? Well, his father came today--Sir Richard Cludde, a big
red-faced bully of a man. He's Lucy's uncle, you know; her father
was his brother, and they quarreled, and hadn't seen each other for
twenty years. But now he declares that he is Lucy's legal guardian;
his brother died suddenly and left no will, and he came today to
claim her as his ward. Father wouldn't hear of it; but told him
Lucy had been brought here by the express command of her father,
and he refused to give her up. The squire was in a terrible rage:
'tis said he has fallen on evil times, and is set on getting a hold
on Lucy's property in Jamaica, and making a match between her and
his son Dick--the lubber I told you of. There was an angry scene
'twixt him and father, you could have heard him roaring all over
the house, and he went away in a towering passion, swearing that
we'd not heard the last of it, and he'd go to law, and he'd beat us
even though it cost him his last penny, and more to the same
effect. Father makes light of it, but I know he is uneasy: he has
been several times of late to see his lawyer in Bridgenorth, and
'tis by no means clear how the law will decide. There will be
trouble, for Sir Richard is an obstinate man, and I'm glad you are
here, for we are not going to let Lucy leave us, and if he comes
one day to take her by force we'll make a fight for it, Joe. And
I'll tell you what: you must teach me how to use my fists. Shall we
begin now, Joe?"

I smiled at his eagerness, and though I was tired after my day's
work I would not disappoint him, but stripped off my coat, and then
and there began his instruction in what my old friend the captain
called the noble art of self defense. He proved an apt pupil, and I
a conscientious teacher, pleasing myself with the thought that by
making him expert in boxing I was maybe gathering interest on Dick
Cludde's crown piece. And being then of the age when romantic ideas
get some hold upon a boy's mind, I flattered myself also that by
staying on at the Hall I became in some sort a defender of fair
Lucy Cludde, who was far too good, I vowed, for that pudding-headed
lubber Dick.

After this Roger and I became faster friends than ever. We had
constant sparring matches and some practice also with singlestick
and foils; and Mr. Johnson would let me off sometimes of an
afternoon to go a-fishing with the boy. Before I had been a month
at the Hall there were few likely streams for miles around that I
did not know. All this time I had seen very little of the other
members of the family. Mr. Allardyce was putting me to probation,
inquiring of my diligence from Mr. Johnson, and hearing somewhat of
me from his son. As for Mistress Lucy, I deliberately avoided her.
I had cut anything but an heroic figure at our two meetings, and
though I was ready to engage in mortal fray as her champion, the
recollection of my abashment before her caused me to hold aloof.
She and Roger would sometimes go riding together, and I thought
with a bitter envy that, but for the misfortune that had befallen
me, I might have made one of the party, though in truth I
remembered, a moment afterwards, that but for this same misfortune
I should very likely never have seen her.

Thus matters went on for upwards of a month. My wages, which I had
scrupulously saved, amounted to something above twenty-five
shillings--enough to pay my way to Bristowe. There was no reason
why I should remain longer at the Hall, and indeed I was beginning
to grow restive under my servitude, light as it was, and to think
more and more eagerly of my interrupted purpose. One day,
therefore, I sought an interview with Mr. Allardyce, and told him
that having now enough money for my needs I wished to leave his
service and set forth on my way. He laughed and said:

"I wondered how long 'twould go on. You are still bent upon your
travels, then?"

I assured him that such was the case, thanked him for his kindness,
and asked to be allowed to go on the following Monday: it was then
Friday.

"Well, Joe," says he, "I won't stay you. Mr. Johnson has given me
good reports of you, and as for Roger, he is never tired of singing
your praises. According to him, you are a past master in exercises
of arms, and I confess I had hopes you would give up your scheme
and return to your friends and take the position you were clearly
bred for: then Roger and you might have been companions still. But
'twas not to be; very well; on Monday we shall bid you our adieux,
and we shall look to see you someday when you have made a name for
yourself--which to be sure will not be Joe."

I was up early next morning, and was going off for my customary
swim when, on crossing a stile, I saw a figure draw back into a
coppice bounding the field. Thinking it was Roger who had been
before me, I called to him, but receiving no answer, and wondering
who could be abroad at that early hour--for the men of the estate
were engaged in their duties elsewhere--I sprang down and strode
off to the coppice, moved by some little curiosity. But though I
walked to and fro among the trees for some time, I saw no one, and
concluding that it was probably some poacher returning home from
his night's work I went on to the bathing place, resolved to give a
hint to Mr. Johnson.

Roger joined me presently, with a glum face.

"Oh, I say, Joe," he said, "this is deuced bad news. Father says
you are leaving us on Monday."

"Yes, I have been here long enough," I said.

"Of course, I didn't expect you to work here forever, but I did
think you would change your mind and remain friends with me."

"We shall always be friends, you and I, I hope," I said, "but it
will be on a different footing. I could not work here forever, as
you say: and if I mean to do anything in the world 'tis time I set
about it. Maybe five years hence I shall return, and you will not
be ashamed to own me for a friend."

"Ashamed! When was I ever ashamed? Why, we think a world of you,
father and mother and Lucy, too. When father told us last night,
they were sorry, yet glad, too, I own. Mother said she was sure you
would get on, and I know you will, but all the same I wish you were
not going. I say, tell me your real name, and if you have a bother
with your people I'll go and see them, I swear I will, and persuade
'em to forgive you."

How surprised he would have been, I thought, if I had told him that
the people whom I had not wronged, but who had done me wrong, were
relatives of his own! But I would not tell him, and when we had
finished our swim and were returning to the house, he declared that
he also would leave home; there was no fun in being a yeoman, he
said: and if a fellow like Dick Cludde could be an officer in the
king's navy, so could he--or in the army, and he would persuade his
father to let him go, by George he would! And he asked me to write
to him, so that he might know where to find me when his great plan
came to execution.

On Monday morning at half-past seven, after a good breakfast, I was
at the gate, girt and equipped for my journey. The poachers'
garments had, of course, long been discarded, and I was clad in the
suit of serviceable homespun obtained for me from Bridgenorth in
the first days of my service, and now but little the worse for
wear. All the family was at the gate to bid me farewell, even
Mistress Lucy, in her riding habit, for she was wont to go for an
hour's canter on fine mornings, before breakfast at half-past
eight. The adieux were said; all wished me well; Mr. Allardyce, as
a parting shot, said that I should always find a job on his estate
if I fell in with more poachers, or if my fortunes at Bristowe did
not turn out to my liking; and then, my heart warm with their
kindness, I set off up the road.

Six or seven miles lay between me and the highroad to Bristowe
through Worcester and Gloucester, but I knew of a short cut four
miles from the Hall, which would bring me into the road at the
turnpike at Deuxhill, some way farther south, and save a good three
miles of the road. I had learned of this short cut in the course of
my fishing expeditions with Roger; it was the nearest way to the
Borle Brook, where our angling had ever the best success--a narrow
track striking off to the right, very rutty and rough, bordered by
hedges, and uphill but not steep.

I had tramped three miles or more, at a good pace, when I heard
galloping horses behind me, and the rumble of wheels. Turning
about, I saw a coach drawn by three horses, with a postilion on the
leader, approaching at a great rate, jolting and swaying in a
manner that bespoke desperate haste.

I stood aside to let it pass, holding my nose against the whirling
dust cloud it raised, and giving it but a glance as it rattled by.
The shutters were up; I could not see whether it held anybody; and
when it had passed I again took the middle of the road, wondering
idly what necessity there might be for so great speed. Only a
minute or two afterwards I heard a light patter close at my heels,
and looking back without stopping, I was surprised to see the big
black retriever which belonged to Mistress Lucy, and with which,
since my first meeting with him in the garden, I had been on
friendly terms. The dog uttered a low bark when he recognized me,
fawned upon me, and then set off running ahead. I noticed now that
the beast left a thin trail of blood on the ground. He had not run
far when he stopped, turned round, and barked as if to invite me
on, not waiting, however, to see whether I responded.

For a moment I was too much taken up with wondering by what mishap
the dog had been wounded to connect his appearance, and his evident
wish to urge me on, with the coach that had lately passed. But then
the connection struck upon me in a flash, and I began to run with
all my might. The dog had doubtless accompanied his mistress on her
morning ride; he could only have been wounded in defending her; she
must have been waylaid, and, thought linking itself with thought, I
guessed that Sir Richard Cludde had taken this means of asserting
his claim to her guardianship, and the man I had seen in the
coppice a few days before was an emissary of his. Without a doubt
she was now a prisoner in the coach, being carried against her will
to Shrewsbury.

The road here ran steeply downhill, and the coach was out of sight
round a bend. Without pausing to consider the chances of overtaking
it, I leapt rather than ran forward, soon outstripping the dog,
which had done his best, poor beast, but was now well-nigh
exhausted. I flung away my staff, that encumbered me, and tore
headlong down the hill, till, coming to the bend, where the road
sloped upwards, I caught sight once more of the coach, no more than
half a mile ahead of me. This surprised me, for neither the ascent
nor my speed could account for its nearness, and I wondered, as I
pounded after it, whether I had after all been mistaken.

But the matter was explained when I came to the inn that stood at
the point where my short cut branched off. I saw wheel tracks to
the right, crossed by similar tracks back again to the road, and I
guessed that the postilion had intended to drive his horses down
the byroad, but having found it too rough or too narrow had been
compelled to return, even at the cost of loss of time in backing.

My heart leapt with exultation; the kidnappers were not making for
Shrewsbury after all; they purposed driving southward, with what
design I could not guess, nor did I stop to consider, for in a
twinkling I saw a possibility of intercepting them. Dashing into
the inn, much to the amazement of the innkeeper, who had sometimes
served Roger and me with a pot of ale as we returned from fishing,
I told him my suspicions in quick, breathless gasps, and bade him
send to Mr. Allardyce for assistance, and to follow me, if he
could, along the byroad to Deuxhill. The man was not too
quick-witted, and I could have beaten him for his slowness to
comprehend the urgency of the affair. But some glimmering of it
dawning upon him, he promised to borrow a horse from Farmer Grubb
close by, he having none of his own, and to send a messenger back
to the Hall. Without further parley I left him, and set off along
the byroad, scarce giving a glance to the poor dog limping
painfully towards the inn.



Chapter 11: I Hold A Turnpike.


Could I reach the turnpike in time? I wondered. I had lost perhaps
three minutes at the inn. The coach must already have reached the
crossroads, and was now, without doubt, speeding southward on a
course parallel with my own, but downhill, whereas the byroad,
though shorter, was for the most part uphill, and so rough that I
risked spraining my ankle on a stone or in a rut.

And even supposing I gained the turnpike before the coach, would
the keeper be persuaded to close his gates against a three-horsed
vehicle on the highway? I knew the man, and luckily had done him a
slight service which perchance he would be willing to repay. Once,
when Roger and I had gone to the Borle Brook to fish, we came upon
a little girl some five years old sitting by the brink, weeping
bitterly. One foot was bare, her little shoe was floating down the
stream, she had lost herself, and was so frightened that it was
long before we could make out from her sobbing answers to our
questions that she was daughter to the turnpike man. Then Roger
rescued her shoe, and I set her aloft on my shoulder, to her great
contentment, and she was laughing merrily when we reached the
turnpike, and gave her into the hands of her distracted mother.
Remembering this, I raced on at my best speed, resolved, if only I
arrived in time, to turn this little incident to account.

It did but add to my anxiety that the highroad was nowhere visible
to me as I ran, so that I could not measure my progress with that
of the coach, but was forced to go on at the same break-neck pace,
not daring to moderate it in any degree. And I could almost have
cried with vexation when that plaguey stitch in the side seized me,
and I had to stand a while to recover my breath. Then I raced on
again, desperately anxious to make up for the lost time. My work
upon the Hall estate, and my exercise with Roger, had kept my body
in good condition: yet to run for four miles or more at a stretch
with the mind in a ferment would tax any man, and by the time I
came in sight of the turnpike I was fairly overdone, dripping with
sweat--'twas a sunny day in July--and trembling in every limb.

And then I heard, or fancied I heard, the rattle of the coach on my
left, and I picked up my heels and scampered along the last
half-mile at a pace which, in other circumstances, I should have
deemed impossible, the loose stones flying from beneath my feet.

I emerged upon the highroad, threw a glance over my left shoulder,
and gave a great gasp of relief when I spied the coach plunging
down the road, but nearly a mile distant. I had had no clear notion
of what I was going to do beyond attempting to keep the gate
closed, and now I realized with a sinking heart that, even if I
should succeed therein, the coach could scarcely be delayed long
enough for help to arrive. But certainly that was the first step,
and I dashed straight into the keeper's cottage, the door of which
stood open, and found Mistress Peabody, his wife, paring potatoes
at the table, her little girl by her side.

"Where is Peabody?" I blurted out.

"Sakes alive!" cried the woman, "but you did give me a start.
Whatever be amiss?"

What more I said I know not, but at my demand that she should
refuse to open the gate for the coming coach the poor bewildered
soul dropped her potatoes and declared she could never do it;
'twould cause terrible trouble with Peabody, and maybe bring about
his dismissal by the justices, and where he was she did not know,
and she had told him many a time he would get into a coil if he
left his duty and went so often to the King William a-fuddling
himself with--

"For God's sake, woman," I broke in, exasperated, "take the child
into the garden and leave it to me."

I fairly pushed her out at the back door, the little girl clinging
to her skirts, terrified at my appearance and the fierceness of my
words. I shut the door upon them, whipped the key of the gate from
its nail on the wall, flung it into the pan of water among the
potatoes, and then, a desperate expedient coming into my mind,
sauntered leisurely out of the front door, picking up as I passed a
stick of wood from among a heap with which the child had been
playing on the floor.

I climbed the gate, and sat upon the topmost bar, with my feet on
the third. Then, having pulled the broad brim of my hat down over
my eyes, I took out my clasp knife (it had been given me a few days
before by Roger as a memento) and began to whittle the stick,
whistling a doleful tune.

The coach was by this time within a hundred yards of me.

"Gate! gate!" shouted the postilion, but I paid no heed. There was
now a man on the box; I suppose he had been picked up at the
crossroads. He joined his cry to the postilion's, and together they
roared "Gate!" with many imprecations of the kind that men who deal
with horses have at command.

But I still went on whittling my stick, not without some feeling of
insecurity, for the coach was approaching at a furious speed, and
it seemed impossible that the postilion could draw up in time to
prevent the horses from dashing themselves against the barrier. He
accomplished that feat, however, and the leading horse came to a
standstill within little more than a foot of me; I could feel its
hot breath on my hand. Like the other two, it was covered with
foam, and their sides were heaving like a bellows.

"Gate!" roared the postilion, looking in at the open door, and
receiving no reply he turned his head towards me and demanded with
an oath to know where the turnpike keeper was.

"He bin gone out," I said, in the broadest Shropshire accent I
could muster.

"The mischief he is! Who be in charge of the gate then?"

Sputtering with wrath the postilion cursed me and demanded to know
what I meant by sitting a-top when travelers wished to pass
through. I assumed the vacant grin that rustics wear, and said:

"The toll be tuppence, measter."

"Here it is," says the man, flinging the coins on the ground, "and
be hanged to you."

I descended from my perch (the man abusing me for my slowness),
picked up the money, and went into the cottage as if to get the
key.

"Be quick about it," roared the postilion after me.

"Coming, measter," I replied, sitting on the table, out of his
sight. In a little he cried to me again:

"What be doin' of? Stir your stumps, I say."

"Coming, measter," says I, knocking my knife against the potato pan
to signify bustle. The man's language grew more and more violent as
the minutes passed and still I did not reappear, until, having
consumed as much time as I thought becoming, I went to the doorway,
and said, in the manner of stating a simple fact of no importance,

"Key binna hangin' on nail, measter. The nail be proper plaace for
it: can ya tell me where to look?"

My drawling tone seemed to incense the man to the verge of
apoplexy. Hurling abuse at me, he ended with a threat to horsewhip
me within an inch of my life if I did not instantly find the key
and open the gate. At this I shrank back, putting up my hands to
guard my head with great affectation of terror, and withdrew once
more into the cottage. As I did so, I heard the shutters on the far
side of the coach let down, and a voice demanding the reason of the
delay.

"The pudding-headed scut cannot find the key, sir."

"Tell him," said the voice in a louder tone (and I tingled as I
recognized it)--"tell him that if he keeps us waiting another
minute we will break the gate down."

I laughed inwardly at this foolish threat. The gate was a stout
barrier, that would do more damage than it could receive from any
attempt of theirs.

"Bring out the key, rascal," roared the postilion again.

"An' you please, measter," says I, appearing in the doorway, "I be
afeared the key bin lost."

Then the man on the box scrambled down, and ran into the cottage.
With him I hunted in every nook and corner of the room, and there
being no sign of the key we went out, and to the other side of the
coach, and there I heard the coach door open, and the voice cried:

"Hold the leader, Jabez; and you, Tom, go to the wheelers' heads.
I'll blow in the cursed lock with my pistol."

Slipping back so that I might not be seen, I peeped through the
window and saw Cyrus Vetch, pistol in hand, moving towards the
gate. Here I was in a wretched quandary. I glanced anxiously up the
road: there was never a sign of Mr. Allardyce or any other pursuer.
To blow in the lock would be the work of a second: then nothing I
could do would prevent the coach from passing through and getting
clean away.

I was ready to despair when a possible means of checkmate flashed
into my mind. Vetch was within a yard of the gate; his two men were
at the horses' heads, to hold them when the report of the pistol
came; their eyes were fixed on their master. As lightly as I could
(my boots being heavy, as the long service required of them
demanded) I darted through the doorway, my right hand clasping my
knife, hid behind my back. Running to the side of the horse nearest
me I set to a-hacking with all my strength at the leathern trace.
Thank Heaven my knife was new and unblunted! But I had not
succeeded in cutting the leather through when the pistol cracked
and the lock burst. The startled horses immediately began to rear
and plunge, so violently that the single man at the wheelers' heads
could not hold them. Vetch ran to assist him; none of them had
noticed that the violence of the horses' straining had completed my
unfinished work: the trace snapped in two.

Pulling itself free the horse swung round, and plunged more
violently than before, keeping the man Tom employed and serving
also to screen me from view. Now was my opportunity. I wrenched
open the shuttered door, and saw a man leaning with his body out of
the other door, watching the movements of Vetch. And between us,
shrinking back on the seat, was Mistress Lucy. She turned her head
as I pulled the door open, and holding on to it to preserve my
balance, for the coach was being swerved this way and that by the
frantic horses, I whispered:

"'Tis I, Mistress Lucy: jump out!"

And quick as thought--'tis a blessing when a woman's wits are
keen--she made one spring for the roadway, by a hair's breadth
eluding the grasp of Dick Cludde, who had turned about at my
whisper. I caught the girl as she touched the ground, and, pulling
her away from the wheel, just in time to save her foot from being
crushed by it, I seized her hand, and dragged her--willing
captive!--towards the doorway. I pushed her into the cottage, with
a roughness for which I afterwards asked her pardon, and hastened
in after her.

Before I could close and bolt the door I heard a crash and a cry of
pain, and caught a glimpse of Cludde, who, in leaping from the
coach, had fallen awry and lay sprawling in the dust. Then I shut
him from sight and ran to the other door, by which Mistress Peabody
had gone into the garden. This I slammed and barred, dashing
afterwards to the window to do the like with it. Luckily it was
already fastened, and I was hastily drawing the shutters over it,
when Vetch, his face livid with passion, came up to it, drove his
pistol through the glass, and threatened to shoot me if I did not
instantly unbolt the door.

I have always had reason to thank Heaven that my brain is quickest
and my resolution most cool at the moments of greatest stress.
Vetch had fired his pistol through the lock of the turnpike gate;
being busy with the horse he had certainly not had time to recharge
it, nor to get another; so I thought that I might safely defy him.
Whispering to Mistress Lucy to find some hiding place in the
cottage out of view from the window, I stood with my hand on the
shutter, and said:

"What will you do if I yield?"

The answer was the heavy pistol, hurled straight at my head. It
struck my temple and fell with a crash to the floor. I gave back a
little, half stunned by the blow, and Vetch seized that moment to
smash another pane of the window, preparing to leap on the sill and
into the room, But I had sufficient strength to anticipate him.
Throwing my whole weight on the shutter I drove it into its place,
taking a certain pleasure in the knowledge that I had at least
bruised the fellow's knuckles. Then I dropped the bar into its
socket, and in the half darkness called to Mistress Lucy that all
was well.

Immediately there began a heavy battering on the door, but not so
heavy but that through it I heard Cludde order his men to splice
the broken trace. 'Twas lucky it was so, for had all four of them
come with one mind to force my frail defences, the brief siege
would, I fear, have had but a sorry end. The door was a stout one,
and finding it resisted their blows, Vetch and Cludde soon
desisted, and I supposed that they had withdrawn altogether. But
after a short interval, a violent crash on the back door, which was
of much slighter timber, warned me that I must still be prepared to
fight against heavy odds.

I looked round for Mistress Lucy: she was standing beside an oaken
clothes press, the largest article of furniture in the room.

"Help will come, I hope," I said to her; "if not, I can keep them
at bay, and I will."

A moment after I had spoken, I heard a shout from the road. The
blows upon the door ceased; I caught the sound of scurrying feet,
and running to the window, I unbarred the shutter and opened it so
that I might glance out. The coach was moving: the postilion was in
the saddle, the other man was on the box. It passed through the
gate: the horses were lashed to a gallop, and the equipage
disappeared down the road in a cloud of dust. Flinging the shutter
wide, I craned my neck out of the broken panes and looked in the
other direction. Not half a mile away three horsemen were pressing
a gallop towards us.

"You are safe," I said, turning to the girl.

She came eagerly to my side, and in another minute the
horsemen--the innkeeper and two men whom I did not know--leapt from
their saddles when I hailed them, and came to ask if all was well.



Chapter 12: I Come To Bristowe--And Leave Unwillingly.


The presence of the innkeeper and his friends--a neighboring farmer
and one of his sons: another son had ridden to acquaint Mr.
Allardyce at the Hall of the kidnapping--relieved me of a certain
embarrassment I felt, now that the stress and excitement were over.
As yet Mistress Lucy had spoken scarce a word; but she had looked
at me with great kindness, and I knew that she was but waiting for
an opportunity to thank me for the service I had rendered her. With
the shy awkwardness of my age I wished to avoid this, and so I
willingly related to the innkeeper all that had occurred, and had
barely ended when Peabody came back in haste from Glazeley, where I
fear he had been fuddling himself as his wife had suggested. To him
the story had to be told over again, I meanwhile itching to get
away before Mr. Allardyce could arrive.

When I announced my determination to proceed at once on my journey
there was a great outcry from the men: would I not wait and see the
Squire and be suitably rewarded? Mistress Lucy herself, who had
remained in the cottage while we conversed outside, came to the
door at this point of our discussion, and with bright color in her
cheeks beckoned me and asked whether I would not stay until her
uncle's arrival. But my mind was made up.

"You are in safe hands," I said, "and I have far to go."

"I shall not forget what you have done for me--Joe," she said, and
for the second time gave me her little hand. I could say nothing,
but when I was once more upon the road I thought of her kind look
and manner, and glowed with a deep contentment.

I had not walked above a mile when I heard a galloping horse behind
me, and Roger's clear voice calling me by name. I halted, and he
sprang from the saddle and caught me by the hand.

"By George! 'twas mighty fine of you, Joe," he cried, with kindling
eyes. "I'll break Dick Cludde's head for him, I will, if ever I see
him again. Who was the other villain? Lucy says there were two."

"'Twas--" I began, but suddenly bit my lip; if I named Cyrus Vetch
my own secret, which I had so carefully guarded, would soon be
known, and I was resolved (maybe without reason) that they should
not know me as Humphrey Bold until I had done somewhat to win
credit for the name. "'Twas a long weasel-faced fellow," I said,
after so slight a pause that it escaped Roger's perception.

"And weasels are vermin," cried Roger, "and he has killed Lucy's
dog! But come, Joe, what nonsense is this! Father insists that you
shall come back; he declares this trudging to Bristowe is sheer
fooling, and had already got half a dozen fine schemes in his head
for you. Mount behind me, man: the mare will carry you though you
are a monster; come back and we'll be sworn brothers."

I confess the boy's generosity touched me, and the offer was
tempting; but I steeled my soul against it, and, strange as it may
seem, 'twas the remembrance of Mistress Lucy that put an end to all
wavering. Once I had had no higher aim than to win Captain
Galsworthy's praise; now I felt--but dimly--that I would endure the
toils of Hercules to win a lady's favor. 'Twas the budding of young
love within me--and I never knew that a lad was any the worse for
it.

So I thanked Roger as warmly as I might, but held to my purpose
against all his reasons. The boy was impulsive and quick tempered,
and finding me obdurate after ten minutes' battery of argument, he
flung away in a huff, got up into the saddle, and bidding me go
hang for an obstinate mule he galloped back to the turnpike.

And so I set my face once more for the south. Missing my staff,
which I had thrown away in my haste, I cut myself a large hazel
switch from a copse by the roadside, promising myself a stouter
weapon when I should arrive at a town.

My heart was light: had I not begun to pay Dick Cludde interest on
his crown piece? I was inexpressibly glad that I had been able to
defeat his outrageous scheme, and thinking of this, I wondered why
he had driven southward instead of to his father's house beyond
Shrewsbury. My conjecture was that, knowing what a hue and cry Mr.
Allardyce would raise if he believed his niece had been conveyed
thither, the Cluddes had arranged to remove her to a distance until
the legal matter then pending should have been decided in their
favor. I remembered hearing Dick once speak of some relatives at
Worcester, and in all likelihood that had been his destination.

To have encountered me within so few miles of Shrewsbury must have
mightily surprised him. He had known of my intention in setting
out; 'twas common talk in Shrewsbury; and, having passed me at
Harley near two months before this, must have supposed (if he
thought of me at all) that I had long since reached my destination.
What he would infer now I did not trouble to consider, and as he
was to have rejoined his ship about this time, I did not expect any
news of my adventure would be carried back to Shrewsbury. It
crossed my mind that he might possibly seek to waylay me on the
road and take vengeance for his discomfiture, but reflecting that
he would scarcely suppose my journey, interrupted for so long,
would be resumed at once, I was in nowise disquieted; only I
resolved again to buy a stout cudgel, to have a weapon in case of
need.

By noon I arrived at Bewdley, where, being mighty hungry, I made a
good dinner of beef and cabbage at an inn. When I started again, I
had the good luck to get a lift in a farmer's gig, which carried me
for several miles, so that I reached Worcester without difficulty
that night. After a sound sleep at the Ram's Head I sallied out,
bought a fine staff of knobby oak at a shop in the High Street, and
after viewing the outside of the cathedral (the doors were not yet
open), a building that surpassed in beauty anything that I had
before seen, I set off for Gloucester.

No mischance, nor indeed any incident of note, befell me during the
remainder of my journey. I passed the next night in a wagon,
swaddled in a load of fresh mown hay, the driver with rustic
friendliness inviting me to keep him company on his dark journey.
On the third night after my departure from the Hall I trudged,
weary and footsore, into Bristowe, and sought a bed at the White
Hart in Old Market Street, this tavern having been recommended to
me by the friendly hay-cart man.

Next day, when I went out to view the city of which I had heard so
much, I was struck with wonderment, not merely at its size, wherein
it dwarfed Shrewsbury and all the towns through which I had passed,
but at its noise and bustle. Shrewsbury was a sleepy old town,
where life went on very placidly from day to day, and the sight of
these busy, though narrow, streets with their many fine buildings
and their swarms of people, the dogs drawing little carts of
merchandise, the river with its bridges, the floating basin with
many tall ships, the quays thronged with sailors and lightermen,
filled me not only with wonder, but with a sense of loneliness and
insignificance.

Among all these folk, intent upon their various occupations, what
place was there for me, I wondered? I got in the way of a line of
men on the quay side carrying large bales which I presumed had been
unloaded from a ship there moored. One of them hustled me violently
aside, another made a coarse jest upon me, and, raw and
inexperienced as I was, bewildered by the strangeness of it all, I
felt a sinking at the heart, and questioned for the first time
whether I had been wise in forsaking the scenes I knew and
venturing unbefriended into this outpost of the great world.

I was standing apart, gazing at the shipping, when an old,
weather-beaten sailor, smoking a black pipe, came up and accosted
me.

"Lost your bearings, matey?" he said in a very hoarse voice, which
yet had a tone of friendliness.

No doubt I looked foolish, for I knew no more than the dead what he
meant.

"Lor' bless you," he went on, "I knows all about it. 'Tis fifty
year since I made a course for that 'ere port from Selwood way, and
I stood like a stuck pig--like as you be standing now. Be you out
o' Zummerzet, like me?"

I told him I came from Shrewsbury.

"Never heard tell of it," he said, "but seemingly they grow high in
those parts. And what made ye steer for Bristowe, if I might ask?"

Mr. Vetch had warned me against confiding in strangers; but there
was something so honest in the old seaman's look that I, who have
rarely been wrong in my instinctive judgment of men, determined to
trust him, and told him so much of my story as I thought necessary.

The result was that he took me under his wing, so to speak. He
spent the whole morning with me, explaining to me the differences
in build and rig between the vessels lying there, telling me a
great deal about the duties of a seaman and the ways of life at
sea. He counseled me very earnestly to give up my design and seek
an employment on shore.

"Sea life bean't for the likes of you," he said. "I don't know
nothing about lawyers, saving them as they call sea lawyers, and
they're rogues; but you'd better be a land lawyer than go to sea.
'Tis all very well for them as begin as officers, but for the men
the life bean't fit for a dog. Aboard ship you'd meet some very
rough company--very rough indeed. I don't pretend to be better nor
most, but there be some terrible bad ones at sea. Of course it
depends mostly on the skipper, but even where the skipper's a good
'un--and there be good and bad--he can't have his eyes everywhere,
and I've knowed youngsters so bad used on board that they'd sooner
ha' bin dead. Not but what you mightn't stand a chance, being a big
fellow of your inches."

What the old fellow said did not in the least shake my resolution.
The only effect of it was to turn my inclination rather in favor of
the merchant service than the king's navy, to which I had inclined
hitherto. In a king's ship I might certainly share in some
fighting, which has ever great attractions to a healthy boy; but
then I should have little chance of seeing the world unless
specially favored by circumstances, for the ship might be kept
cruising about, looking for the French who never came. Whereas in a
merchant ship I might see India, and even China, and my new friend
told me fine stories of the fortunes to be made in those distant
parts by the lucky ones, besides which I felt a longing to see
strange and far-off lands and peoples for the mere pleasure of it.
To take service with an East Indiaman most hit my fancy, and when
the sailor told me that London and Southampton were the ports for
the East India trade, I began to think of working my passage to one
or the other of them.

John Woodrow, as he was named, advised me not to be in a hurry, and
when I explained that my little stock of money would be exhausted
in a few days by the charges at the inn where I had put up, he
recommended me to a widow living towards Clifton, who would give me
board and lodging for a more modest sum. My anxieties on this score
being removed, I resolved to follow Woodrow's advice, and not be in
too great haste to take my first plunge. He promised to let me know
of any decent skipper who might be sailing to Southampton or London
if, when I had had a few days to think things over, my mind
remained the same.

Next day a great king's ship of three decks came into the river,
and I passed the whole morning in gazing at her, watching what went
on upon her deck, and the boatloads of mariners that came ashore
from her, envying the officers, and wavering in my design to join a
merchant vessel. The vessel was named, as I found, the Sans Pareil,
and though I had little French (the dead tongues being most thought
of at Shrewsbury), I knew the words meant "the matchless," and
certainly she outdid all the other ships around her.

The only vessel, indeed, that any way approached her was a large
brig which, as my friend Woodrow had told me the day before, was a
privateer that was being fitted out by certain gentlemen and
merchants of Bristowe for work against the French. The Bristowe
merchants had suffered great losses from the depredations made on
their ships by French corsairs. Many a vessel loaded with a rich
freight of sugar, or tobacco, or other produce of the colonies, had
fallen a prey to the enemy, who swooped out of St. Malo or Brest,
as Woodrow said, and snapped up our barques almost within sight of
their harbor. 'Twas not to be wondered at that those who had
suffered in this way should make reprisals.

The Sans Pareil had such a fascination for me (never having seen a
king's ship before) that I was only awakened to the passage of time
by the crying out of my stomach. I had promised Mistress Perry, the
widow with whom I had taken up my abode, that I would return
punctually at noon for my dinner, and now the church clocks (no
less than my hunger) told me it was long past that hour. She would
be mightily vexed, and the joint would be burned black, and I
neither wished to offend her nor to eat cinders. So I now hurried
away as fast as my legs would carry me, and soon came to the
footpath leading to Clifton.

As I turned the corner by Jacob's Well, I stepped hastily aside to
avoid a man who was coming fast in the opposite direction. He also
moved at the same moment, and, as I have often known to happen at
such sudden encounters, the very movements made to prevent the
collision brought it about. We both moved to the same side, and
jostled each other, and I, being the more weighty of the two, gave
him a tough shoulder and well nigh upset him.

"Clumsy h--" he was beginning, but he got no further, and 'twas
well he did not, for if he had uttered the word "hound" that had
all but come to his lips he would scarce have gone on his way
without my mark upon him. But he did not say it, being indeed
startled out of his self possession. No doubt he had as little
expected to see me as I to see him: it was Cyrus Vetch.

We both turned after jostling each other. The impulse seized me to
take him by the neck and drub him for his rascally dealing with
Mistress Lucy--and to settle at the same time some little private
scores of my own. But he was in truth so pitiful a creature, and
looked so scared, that I let him alone; besides I felt that I might
one day have a greater account to pay off, to which settlement Dick
Cludde must be a party.

He on his side, to judge by his pale cheeks, expected a rude
handling, and when he found that I made no movement towards him, a
look of relief crossed his countenance, followed by an expression
which at the moment I was unable to fathom. Then, as by mutual
consent, and without having exchanged a word, we turned our backs
on each other and went our several ways.

As I expected, the joint of beef was done to shreds, and Widow
Perry rated me soundly for being so late, asking me whether I
expected her dog to keep turning the jack till doomsday. ('Twas a
strange custom of the Bristowe housewives to employ dogs for
turning their roasting jacks). With all humility I expressed
contrition, and vowed amendment, and I kept my word. While I ate my
dinner my thoughts were busy with my late encounter with Vetch, and
I wondered what he was about in Bristowe, and whether Dick Cludde
was still with him. I did not doubt they were in a desperate rage
with me, and if they should be here together I was pretty sure they
would take some means of avenging themselves; but confident of my
strength and my skill of fence the prospect gave me rather a
pleasant expectancy than any alarm.

So three days passed--days which I spent for the most part with
Woodrow the old mariner, plying him with questions innumerable
about shipping and life at sea, and learning many things by my own
observation. I saw no more of Vetch, nor did anything give me cause
of uneasiness. On the second day Mistress Perry, indeed, threatened
a slight discomfort by wishing me to share my room with a new
lodger she had just taken; but she gave in when I flatly refused to
bed with a stranger, and grumblingly accommodated the man--a
rough-looking sea dog--in a little closet off the stairs.

On the third afternoon, when I returned to the quay after my
dinner, Woodrow told me he had found a skipper who would sail for
Southampton at the end of the week, and was willing to take me as
ship's boy. He assured me that I could hope for nothing better to
begin with, and the voyage would be long enough for me to try my
sea legs, and, as he believed, to cure me of my fancy for a sea
life. I was to visit the skipper at the Angel tavern that evening,
and if he liked my figurehead, as Woodrow put it, the matter could
be settled there and then.

Accordingly, about seven o'clock, I met Woodrow at the corner of
the Bridge, by the Leather Hall, and accompanied him to the Angel
in Redcliffe Street, where he presented me to his friend, Captain
Reddaway. After the usual jocose allusions to my height, to which I
was now fairly inured, the skipper asked me a great many questions
about navigation, feigned a vast surprise at my ignorance, and
supplied the answers himself, to impress me, I suppose, with his
own stores of knowledge.

Then the two mariners settled down over their pipes and beer to a
conversation in which I was not expected to take a part; indeed, it
consisted chiefly of reminiscences of voyages they had made
together, and, though entertaining enough at first, by and by
became insufferably tedious. For politeness' sake they included me
in the conversation from time to time by waving their pipes at me,
and I did not like to risk hurting the feelings of my new employer
by showing how wearied I was, or by leaving them; so that it was
not till near ten o'clock that I managed to escape, and then only
because they had both fallen asleep.

The night was warm, and my lungs being filled with the reek of
their strong tobacco I determined to walk down by the river before
returning to my lodging, in the hope of getting a breath of fresh
air blowing in from the sea. The river side was deserted and
silent; the lights of the vessels at anchor increased the darkness
around; and I was walking slowly along, wondering which of the
lamps hung on Captain Reddaway's vessel, when suddenly I found
myself surrounded by a group of men who seemed to have sprung from
nowhere. Before I knew what was happening, much less make any
movement of defence, I was being dragged by rough hands to the edge
of the quay. I shouted lustily for help, only to receive a crack on
the head from one of the men, while another clapped his hand across
my mouth. I wriggled desperately, tripped up one fellow, and used
my feet to some purpose on the shins of another; but there were so
many of them that I was soon overpowered, and was quite helpless in
their hands when they lugged me down the steps into a boat that lay
moored below.

Throwing me into the bottom they pulled off; in a few minutes they
came under the quarter of a large vessel in midstream; I was hauled
up the side, and, more or less dazed with my rough handling, heard
without understanding a loud voice giving orders. In two minutes I
was lying bound hand and foot in the fore part of the vessel, and
there I remained, exposed to the open sky, until morning dawned.



Chapter 13: Duguay-Trouin.


'Twas little sleep I got that night, my body smarting with the ill
usage I had suffered, and my mind in a ferment of rage and dismay.
This was the third and the worst mischance that had befallen me
since I left Shrewsbury, and no one would blame me overmuch,
perhaps, had I given way to utter despair. Old Woodrow had told me
stories about such tricks of kidnapping, but, just as when we hear
a parson denouncing sin we are apt to apply it to our neighbor and
not ourselves, so I had never dreamed that I myself might be the
victim of such an outrage. And remembering what Woodrow had said, I
broke out into a sweat of apprehension, for I knew that I could not
have been impressed as a mariner to serve aboard a privateer, as
was often done; only tried mariners were seized with that intent,
and certainly no one would wish to teach a raw landsman his duties
on a vessel engaged in such a perilous and desperate business.

I could only conclude, then, that the design in kidnapping me was
to ship me to the American or West Indian plantations, whither
every year hundreds of poor wretches were sent to a dismal slavery.
Woodrow had pointed out to me one day in the street a high
magistrate of the city, who had made great wealth in the sugar
trade, and did not disdain to add to it by selling flesh and blood.

My imagination racked with this fear, I lay sleepless, save for
brief intervals of restless dozing. Soon after dawn I heard
movements about the ship, and by and by some of the sailors came
and looked at me, making all manner of jests in language fouler
than I had ever heard. The features of one of them seemed familiar
to me, though at first I could not recall place or time when I had
seen him before. But after a while, as I watched him, I recognized
him in spite of some change in his garb: it was the lodger whom
Mistress Perry had wished to place in my room.

My kidnapping was then, I thought, a carefully arranged plan, and I
remembered that before leaving the house I had told Mistress Perry
in the man's hearing where I was going, and that I might return
somewhat late. He had doubtless lodged there to spy on me, and I
was sore tempted to speak to the fellow and ask him how much he had
got for the dirty job.

But an hour or two afterwards I had fuller enlightenment as to my
plight. The master of the vessel came aboard; he had spent the
night ashore; and his foot no sooner touched the deck than he
stepped to where I lay, and ordered one of the men to loose my
bonds and stand me on my feet. And as I rose, staggering, I saw
behind him the grinning faces of Cyrus Vetch and Dick Cludde. The
meaning of it all flashed upon me; this was their revenge; and the
knowledge heated me to such a fury that I leapt forward and, before
I could be stopped, dealt Vetch a buffet that sent him spinning
against the foremast. Cludde, ever chicken-hearted, turned pale,
expecting a like handling, but he was spared, for the master cried
to his men to seize me, and I was in a minute again pinioned and
laid where I had been before.

"Hot as pepper," says the master, with a grin to Vetch.

"Yes," I cried, with an impetuous rage I could not check, "and
'twill be hot for you some day. You've no right to bring me here
against my will, and I demand to be set free."

"Too-rol-loo-rol!" hummed the master, smirking again. "What a
bantam cock have ye brought me here, Mr. Cludde?"

"He was a desperate fellow at school, Captain," said Cludde. "Why,
when he was only eleven he pretty nearly murdered my friend Vetch
here."

"Split my snatch block, you don't say so! We shall have to watch
the weather with him aboard."

"D'you hear?" I cried, incensed beyond bearing. "Let me free, or I
promise you you shall suffer for it, and those curs too."

"Didst ever see such a brimstone galley! I'll soon bring you to
your bearings," and with that he gave me a cuff on the head which
made me dizzy.

He left me then with the others, and soon afterwards I saw Cludde
go over the side, taking farewell of the captain, and, to my
surprise, of Vetch also. Still more astonished was I when, the
order being given to throw off, the vessel dropped down with the
tide, having Vetch still aboard. We made the mouth of the river,
and stood out to sea; it was clear that my old enemy and I were to
be shipmates, though I could not guess the purpose of his crossing
the ocean.

During the ship's slow beating out I had had leisure to look about
me, and I now knew that I was aboard the Dolphin, the privateer
whose fitting out I had watched from the quayside. Despite my sorry
situation I felt a stirring of interest and excitement; a privateer
would scarce put to sea for nothing, and the thought that ere many
days were passed I might be in the midst of a sea fight helped to
drive my grievances from my mind. Withal I was puzzled: if slavery
was not to be my lot, what had my enemies gained?

But I was soon, in sooth, in no state either to feed my imagination
or to nurse my wrongs. The unaccustomed motion of the vessel
produced on me the effect which but few escape; and we were no
sooner fairly out in the Channel than I turned sick, and suffered
the more severely, as I was told afterwards, because I had had no
food for upwards of fifteen hours. For a whole day I lay in
helpless misery: but then Captain Cawson (so he was named) himself
came to me, hauled me to my feet, and with an oath bade me go and
scrub the floor of the cook's galley. At the time I thought him a
monster of brutality, driving me to my death; but I soon learned
that nothing prolongs sea sickness, or indeed any sickness, so much
as brooding on it, and the activity thus forced upon me had some
part, I doubt not, in hastening my recovery.

From that time I was the ship's drudge. At everybody's beck and
call, I was employed from morning till night in all kinds of menial
offices. It was a hard life, and the treatment meted out to me was
rough; but having got the better of my first rage and indignation,
I resolved to make the best of my situation and to show no
sullenness; besides I honestly wished to learn all that I could of
a sailor's duty, and felt some little amusement in thinking that,
if my enemies had sought this way of crushing me, they had very
much mistaken their man. My activity and strength of limb stood me
in good stead and won me a certain rough respect from officers and
men, together with the real goodwill of a few of the better
disposed among them.

After a day or two one old salt, named John Dilly, took me in a
manner under his wing, and I made shift with his guidance to bear
my part in shortening and letting out sail. Fortunately the weather
was mild, and the early days of my apprenticeship were not so
terrible as they might have been had the vessel encountered the
storms that are commonly experienced in those seas, and especially
in the Bay of Biscay, in which we beat about for nigh a week in the
hope of sighting a Frenchman.

From John Dilly I learned that Vetch's position on board was that
of purser, he having been introduced to the captain by Dick Cludde.
Vetch attempted no active measures of hostility against me; indeed,
he kept religiously out of my way, fearing maybe that I might seize
an opportunity to settle accounts with him. Sometimes I saw him
grin with malicious pleasure when he caught sight of me tarring
ropes or engaged in some other arduous or unsavory task; but I
never gratified him by giving sign of resentment or humiliation.

I had to take my watch with the rest of the crew. One morning, some
ten days after leaving Bristowe, the captain came on deck at two
bells and ordered me to the mizzen cross-trees to keep a sharp
lookout, at the same time sending Dilly to the fore cross-trees. It
was his practice, I had learned, to give a money bounty to the
first man who sighted an enemy if the discovery resulted in a
capture, and I was eager to win the prize, not more for its own
sake than as a means of standing well with the captain.

The sun rose over the hills of France as I sat at my post. For a
time I was entranced with the beauty of the sight, watching the
changing hues of the sky, as pink turned to gold, and gold merged
into the heavenly blue. But the morning air was chilly, and what
with the cold and my cramped position I was longing for release
when my eye was suddenly caught by what resembled the wing of a
bird on the horizon about west-southwest. Was it the sail of a
ship, I wondered, roused to excitement, or merely a cloud? Had old
Dilly observed it?

I durst not cry out lest I were mistaken; but, straining my eyes,
in the course of a few minutes I made out the speck to be beyond
doubt the royals of a distant ship.

"Sail ho!" I cried with all my might.

"Where away?" shouts the captain, and when I answered "About
west-sou'-west," he went to the companion way, reached for his
perspective glass, and, mounting the rigging, climbed as high as
the royal yard.

He took a long look through the glass, and then, shutting it up
with a snap, he cries:

"You're right, my lad, smite my taffrail if you're not. She's a
Frenchman, sure enough, and the bounty's yours if it comes to a
battering and grappling. I'm a man of my word, I am."

The stranger was yet a good way off, and the captain, instead of
altering the brig's course and standing in pursuit, shouted to the
men to brace the yards round, and, the wind being due north, headed
straight for Bordeaux, whither the vessel was to all appearance
making. At the same time he hoisted French colors at the mizzen,
and then ordered one of the anchors to be dropped over the stern
and about fifty fathom of cable to be paid out, the meaning of
which I did not understand till Dilly explained that 'twas to check
the way on the brig and allow the stranger to overhaul us. Then he
cried to us to lie flat on the deck and keep out of sight, and he
sent one of the best hands to the wheel, wearing a red cap, which
was, Dilly told me, to make him look like a Frencher.

There was only a light six-knot breeze, and Dilly said that the
anchor dragging astern took quite two knots off our speed, so that
in the course of an hour the stranger came clearly into view. She
was a big barque, deep in the water, and the men chuckled as they
peeped at her, for 'twas clear she was full of cargo. Every sail
was set, alow and aloft, and she came on steadily at a good rate,
not altering her course a point, from which 'twas plain she had as
yet no suspicions of us.

I noticed that a buoy had been fixed to the end of the cable
inboard.

"What's that for?" I asked Dilly, who lay at my side.

"'Tis ready to be flung over," he replied, "so as to mark the
position of our cable when it is sent by the board. We'll come back
for it anon."

When the vessel was about a mile distant, our captain gave the
order to fling the cable overboard, then shouted:

"Hard up, wear ship."

We sprang to the braces, the ship spun round, and there we were on
the starboard tack heading straight for the stranger. 'Twas clear
then that she thought something was amiss, for she tried to put
about and run for it; but being greatly hampered by her stern sails
and the press of canvas she was carrying, by the time she had come
round we had gained a good quarter mile upon her. The wind had
freshened, and in some ten minutes our captain gave the order to
haul the tarpaulin off Long Tom, the biggest of eight guns we
carried, and give the Frenchman a pill. The gun was already loaded,
and Bill Garland, the best shot aboard, of whose skill I had heard
not a little from his messmates, laid it carefully and took aim,
and then for a minute I could see nothing for the cloud of smoke. I
sprang up in my excitement; 'twas the first shot I had ever seen
fired, and the roar of it made me tingle and throb. But old Dilly
pulled me down.

"Not so fast, long shanks," he said. "Our turn's a-coming."

"Did he hit her?" I asked, dropping down beside him.

"Clean through the mizzen topsail," he replied, "but done no more
harm than blowing your nose."

The gun was reloaded, and Bill was about to fire again when the
captain sang out to him to wait a little, for we were sailing two
feet to the Frenchman's one, and drawing rapidly within point-blank
range.

"He's loaded with chain shot this time," said Dilly, "and that's a
terrible creature for clearing a deck or cutting up rigging. If
Bill have got his eye we'll see summat according."

The gun spoke, and when the smoke had cleared we saw that the shot
had cut through the Frenchman's mizzen and main weather rigging,
bringing down the top masts with all their hamper of sails. Even to
my inexperienced eye it was clear that the barque was crippled and
lay at our mercy. She still kept her flag flying, however, and as
we drew nearer we could see a throng of soldiers upon her decks,
she being without doubt a transport returning from the French
possessions in the West Indies. She fired a shot or two at us, but
they fell short, her ordnance plainly being no match for ours, so
we had nothing to do but heave to and rake her at our pleasure.
After a couple of broadsides that made havoc on her decks, she
suddenly struck her flag, and of our crew I was perhaps the only
one who did not cheer, for it seemed to me that none but a craven
would have yielded so easily, and I was longing for the excitement
of boarding. We ran up to windward of her, and Captain Cawson,
keeping the port broadside trained on her in case of treachery,
sent an armed boat's crew in charge of the first mate to take
possession of her.

I was not among those who were told off for this duty, but the
fever of adventure had got such a hold upon me that I was hungry to
take a share in what was toward. So I contrived to slip into the
boat at the last moment, at some peril of a ducking, and mounted
the Frenchman's deck with the rest. Then I wished that I had not
been so impetuous, for the sight that met my eye was more terrible
than anything I had ever imagined, and explained the surrender.
Scores of wounded and dying men were strewn over the decks; their
groans and piteous looks turned my heart sick. But such sights were
no new thing to the rest of the crew. They set to work with amazing
coolness to clear the decks, and get the vessel into trim, our
captain having ordered the mate to rig jury masts, under which he
hoped to sail the prize to England.

This seemed to me, I own, an enterprise of much danger, for we were
near the French coast, and might easily fall in with a French
frigate, or even a squadron of the enemy's vessels. But the prize
was exceedingly valuable, and Captain Cawson was no more unwilling
than any other English seaman to run a certain risk. Accordingly
the soldiers and passengers on board the Frenchman were sent below
and battened under hatches, and the crew was made to assist our men
in cutting away the rigging and splicing and setting up the weather
shrouds. The lighter sails were stripped off the foremast, the mate
thinking to bring her into port under mizzen and main sail,
together with all the fore and aft canvas that could be safely set.

'Twas the work of several hours to get things shipshape, the
Dolphin meanwhile lying by to give us countenance and protection.
When all was trim and taut we set a course for our own shores,
following the Dolphin about three cables' lengths astern.

'Twas drawing towards sunset when she signalled to us that a sail
was in sight. This news caused much commotion among us, still more
when our own lookout cried that the vessel bearing towards us under
press of sail out of the west was beyond doubt a frigate, and in
all likelihood a Frenchman. I knew our case would be parlous if
indeed it was so, for neither the privateer nor the merchant barque
we had captured was armed in any wise to match a line-of-battle
ship. Moreover 'twas unlikely that in our partly crippled condition
we could out-sail the vessel: and when the mate, taking a look at
the stranger through his perspective glass, declared that she was
certainly French, our only hope was that darkness might shroud us
before she came within striking distance--a slender chance at the
best, for, though 'twas drawing towards dusk, the sky was
wonderfully clear.

We held on our course, there being nothing else for us to do. The
frigate loomed ever larger, and my heartbeats quickened as I
wondered what the event would be. I did not dream that we should
strike our flag as the Frenchman had done, and thought that we,
having two vessels against one, would at least make a fight of it.
But I was struck with mingled indignation and dismay when I saw the
Dolphin crowd on all sail and bear away northwards, leaving us to
our fate. I thought it a scurvy action on the part of Captain
Cawson, and Dilly could not persuade me that he could have done us
no good by remaining.

But the mate was not a whit discomposed. He swore a little, as did
the men, yet without any heat: indeed they joked among themselves
about the prison fare they would soon be starving on; and when a
shot from the frigate fell across our bows, the mate merely spat
out the quid he was chewing, and ordered the flag to be hauled
down. Ten minutes after, the frigate was on our weather quarter,
and dropping a boat, sent a crew aboard.

I was bitterly chagrined at this reversal of our fortunes, and when
the Frenchmen who had been our prisoners were released, I went very
sullenly with the rest into the boat that conveyed us to the
frigate. We were clapped under hatches, and confined in the hold, a
noisome close place, lit by a single oil lamp that stunk horribly.

"Smite me if it bean't Doggy Trang!" said the mate when the squat
towsy-headed seaman who had conducted us below had left us. "I seed
him at Plymouth a year or two ago."

I thought he was referring to the seaman, but it turned out that he
meant the captain of the vessel, a young Frenchman named
Duguay-Trouin, who was known to our men as a daring and courageous
corsair. Two years before this, they told me, when commanding the
royal frigate La Diligente of thirty-six guns, he had run among a
squadron of six English vessels in a fog, and after a stout
resistance was forced to yield, not before a ball from the Monk had
laid him low. He was carried prisoner to Plymouth, whence he had
cleverly escaped one night by scaling a wall and putting off in a
little boat.

My companions soon accommodated themselves to their surroundings
and fell asleep; but I was in too great a ferment to take matters
so equably. I had no love for the buccaneers who had kidnapped me
at Bristowe, to be sure: but my English pride was hurt at our
capture by the French, and I quailed at the prospect of a long
imprisonment in France. Surely, thought I, I must have been born
under an unlucky star, for misfortune has dogged me ever since I
left my native town.

The old seaman brought us some food by and by. He knew a little
English, and in answer to a question from the mate explained that
his captain was now hotly chasing the vessel which had run away,
and if he caught it, the dogs of English would be sorry they ever
showed their noses off the French coast. The captain being
Duguay-Trouin, we knew that if it came to an action his ship would
be well handled, and we had noticed that she carried far heavier
metal than our own vessel. But the Dolphin had got a good start of
her, and we did not suppose it possible that she could be
overtaken.

I had never spent a more uncomfortable night than those hours in
the hold. I could not sleep; the light went out; and in the
darkness rats scurried hither and thither, and I had to keep my
legs and arms in motion to ward them off. There was no glimmer of
light from the outside, and it was only when the seaman again
appeared with food that we knew morning had dawned. He told us with
a grin that our vessel was fast being overhauled, and assured us
that she had certainly made her last privateering voyage under the
English flag. The mate cursed him vigorously, rather from habit
than from ill temper, and the seaman shut us in, leaving us once
more in total darkness.

My fellow prisoners talked among themselves, using language that
made me shudder. I rested my head on my hands, stopping my ears and
giving myself up to a dismal reverie. From this I was suddenly
startled by a dull report overhead, and a slight trembling of the
vessel.

"Ads my life!" cried the mate: "they've caught her."

"Maybe 'tis another vessel," said one of the men.

"Shut your mouth!" was the reply, "and list for an answer."

In a few moments there came a muffled report through the timbers.

"There's to be a fight, sure enough," said the mate, "though what
the captain can be a-thinkin' of beats me altogether."

"I would do the same," I said, "and so would any Englishman worth
his salt."

"Then you'd be as big a fool as he is," was the blunt retort.

It was a tantalizing position to be in. Here we were, boxed up in
the darkness, condemned to listen to a duel of firing at long
range, without any means of knowing what its effects were, hoping
that our countrymen would win, yet aware that if the vessels came
to close quarters a shot might plunge among us and send us all into
eternity. We could tell that the vessel was racing through the
water at a great rate, but, to judge by the reports that reached
our ears, the distance between the combatants was not diminishing.
The alternation of shots continued for some time; then suddenly the
ship swung round with a violence that threw us all in a heap, and
caused me to bump my head hard against the wall.

"Helm's hard up," said the mate, "she's going to try a broadside."

And in a few seconds there was a thunderous roar above, and a shock
that made the vessel stagger. There was no reply save a single
shock, from which I judged that the Dolphin was holding her course;
and it was clear that the broadside had done little or no damage,
for the ship again swung round, and the duel of single shots began
again. But we could tell that the vessels were now nearer to each
other, and after a time we heard a series of dull reports, followed
by a thud or two and the sound of rending and tearing woodwork
above and around. 'Twas a broadside from the Dolphin. But before we
had time to rejoice at the success of our comrades, or to hope that
their shots had brought down enough of the French ship's spars to
disable her, the vessel shook again under a terrific discharge of
her ordnance, and we, knowing how vastly superior was her armament
to that of our own ship, were in no little anxiety as to the effect
of this second broadside at shorter range. Another and another
broadside followed from each combatant: and then came to our ears
from the deck above a great yell of triumph. My heart sank within
me; the mate let out a volley of oaths; 'twas impossible to mistake
the meaning of that shrill cry.

The cannonading ceased. For a time that seemed endless there was
silence, save for a shout now and then, and a thud that might be
caused by the work of replacing or repairing an injured spar.
Suddenly the hatch above was lifted, raised, and when our eyes
became accustomed to the light we saw men swarming down the ladder
into the hold. A French seaman among them relit the lamp, and we
recognized the faces of some of our comrades on the Dolphin. Among
the first I saw old Dilly, and behind him came Cyrus Vetch, his
countenance black with rage. As soon as he was among us he launched
out into bitter complaints at being herded with common seamen--he
who by right and courtesy ought to have been classed with the
officers and allowed the hospitality of a cabin.

"'Tis infamous," he cried; "'tis a scandal to treat a gentleman
with such indignity. Duguay-Trouin was not so served when he was
brought prisoner to Plymouth."

"Stow your jab!" cried the mate angrily. "Ain't we good enough for
you? What's a land lubber like you doing here at all? We ain't
aboard the Dolphin now, I'll let ye know, and here we're all equal,
and smite my eye, if you complains of your company, and gives
honest seamen any more of your paw-wawing, 'ware timbers is what I
say to you, my gemman, or I'll rake you fore and aft."

From which it may be concluded that Vetch was by no means a
favorite with the crew of the Dolphin.



Chapter 14: Harmony And Some Discord.


From Dilly I learned that the Dolphin had suffered severely in the
engagement. A third of the crew had been killed or wounded: Captain
Cawson himself was dead. The survivors had been divided, some being
left in the Dolphin, the remainder being brought to the Francois;
among these were the more severely wounded, who were tended with
much humanity in the sick bay.

Now that the chase and the fight were over, we were allowed on deck
a few at a time, a boon for which I was very grateful. I was
surprised at the youth of our captor, the renowned Duguay-Trouin.
He looked little older than myself, and was in fact, as I
afterwards discovered, but twenty-three years of age.

His youthful appearance somewhat heartened me. Here was a man (so
ran my thought) but little my senior, yet he had already won a
great name for daring and courage; he had been captured and
imprisoned, but had escaped, and was now again active in his
vocation. Other men as well as I had their mischances and
surmounted them: why should not I? Thus it happened that when, a
few days later, we arrived at the French port of St. Malo, and were
handed over to the authorities of the prison there, I was not so
depressed in spirits as I had expected to be.

This was fortunate, for the lot to which we were condemned was
miserable in the extreme. We had wretched quarters, foul and
unhealthy; some five hundred prisoners, most of them captured in
merchant vessels, were herded in a space not large enough for the
comfortable habitation of half that number. In my heart I fully
sympathized with Vetch's objection to being classed among the
seamen, for they were in the main a sorry lot, filthy in their
habits and base minded. Some, like old Dilly, were of a higher
type, and these consorted together as much as possible.

The conditions at St. Malo were so had that I was not sorry when,
after some few weeks there, a great number of us were marched out
under an armed guard to a castle about fifteen miles to the
southeast. A very woebegone battalion we must have looked as we
tramped to our new quarters--many of us suffering from prison
fever, all more or less in rags, and half starved. The change was
due to no compassion on the part of the authorities, but to an
alarm in the town. A sloop had come in, it appeared, with news that
an attack was intended against the port by no other than Benbow,
and it was feared that the prisoners might seize this opportunity
for a mutiny. I did not learn this until after we had reached our
new prison; it came out through one of our jailers, a talkative
fellow who liked to air his little English, otherwise I should not
have felt so much pleased at the change of quarters; though even if
Benbow had assaulted the town and we prisoners had risen, it was
improbable that we could have found a means of escaping to him.

The new prison was, as I have said, a castle, or to speak more
precisely, the ruins of one. It had once been a place of
considerable dimensions and of great strength; but it was now far
gone towards demolition. The outer walls still stood, completely
encircled by a moat, the only entrance being by way of the
drawbridge which, to judge by its moss-grown edges, had not been
raised for many a day. Marching over it, and through an archway, we
found ourselves in the courtyard, a large area roughly square in
shape, and open to the sky.

At the farther end, built against the wall in the intervals between
three round towers, a kind of wooden barracks had been erected for
our accommodation, the only habitable portion of the castle being
the keep, flanking the entrance, and this was devoted to our
guardians. Our barracks was in two stories, the lower being
intended for use by day, the upper, which was reached by a ladder,
containing our sleeping apartments. The rooms on the ground were
lit by windows opening into the courtyard; the sleeping rooms only
by narrow gratings in the wooden wall. I did not learn all this at
once, of course; but I have set it down here for convenience sake.

On arriving at the castle we were marshaled in the courtyard, and
taken into the keep one by one. There, with the aid of the
loquacious sergeant as interpreter, we gave our names, ages, and
descriptions to the commandant, a sour-visaged fellow, who entered
the particulars in a book. Then we were severally assigned our
sleeping quarters, and I found myself one of a squad of ten, none
of whom was known to me with the exception of Vetch and Dilly.
Vetch once more protested against being ranked with common seamen,
and demanded to be released on parole; but the commandant ordered
him gruffly to be silent, and he went away very sullen and
wrathful.

Our sleeping apartment, I found, was a small room at the right-hand
corner of the barracks--so small that I foresaw our nights would
not be comfortable. There were five truckle beds ranged against the
wall; 'twas clear that each of us would have a bedfellow. The
bedding consisted of a hard straw mattress and a single woollen
coverlet which, judging by its tenuity, had already seen service
with generations of sleepers. Luckily it was early autumn; we
should not need to dread the winter cold for some time to come; and
I was young and lighthearted enough to flatter myself with the
fancy that we should either be released as the sequel to some
terrible defeat of the French, or that we should find some way of
escape.

Being myself long and broad, I made matters even by choosing as my
bedfellow a little fellow named Joseph Runnles, lean as a rake, and
of a quiet and melancholy countenance, thinking that such an one
would not discommode me in either body or mind. My choice was
justified; he neither kicked nor snored, and was so reserved and
silent that I believe I did not exchange with him a dozen words a
week.

Our new quarters proved a deal less dreary than those we had left
at St. Malo. The weather was fine; there was ample elbow room in
the courtyard, and though we were closely watched by the guard
constantly set at the gate, we had our liberty during the day. At
night, when we repaired to our dormitories, the doors opening on
the courtyard were locked, and we could dully hear the tramping of
the sentry along the battlements above our heads.

In a few days we had settled down in our new life. Some of the men
passed all the daylight hours in throwing dice or playing games of
chance, not without frequent quarrels, which our guardians ignored
so long as they remained short of fighting. Others, more
industriously inclined, occupied themselves in fashioning toys from
wood supplied them, which were afterwards sold in neighboring
villages, the proceeds (after a very liberal commission had been
subtracted) being devoted to the purchase of additions to their
meagre fare.

As for me, the idea of escape was already beating in my mind, and
as a first step I resolved to pick up a knowledge of the French
tongue, of which I was almost wholly ignorant. Accordingly I lost
no opportunity of conversing with soldiers of the guard, with whom
I ingratiated myself by showing them some of the tricks of fence
taught me by Captain Galsworthy. The only work which all the
prisoners had to perform in turn was the drawing of water from a
well in the keep. The water of the moat, as I had seen when we
crossed it on entering, was covered with a green scum, the rivulet
which fed it not being of sufficient volume to keep it in
circulation.

A few days after our arrival I was laid low by a mild attack of
jail fever, of which I had doubtless brought the seeds from St.
Malo. I kept my bed for a couple of days, being tended with much
kindliness by a little old surgeon attached to the garrison. I
should not have mentioned this trifling sickness but that it
prevented me from witnessing the arrival of a fresh batch of
prisoners; so that when I descended on the third day into the
courtyard I was mightily surprised to see, at that very instant
carrying a bucket of water across from the keep, no other than my
old friend Joe Punchard.

"Joe!" I cried, beyond measure delighted at seeing a familiar face.

Down went the bucket with a clatter upon the stones, and Joe looked
around as though scarce trusting his ears. Then seeing me he
waddled across, seized my hand, and shook it with a hearty goodwill
that was somewhat over vigorous for my enfeebled condition.

"Ods firkins, sir!" he cried, "my head spins like a whirligig. How
dost come here among these heathen Frenchies, and all the way from
Shrewsbury, too?"

Before I was halfway through my story, one of the soldiers ran up
and ordered Joe to fill his bucket again and wash out the lower
rooms.

"Ay, I'm a swab again, sure enough," says poor Joe, going off
ruefully to his task.

He was soon back, and when he had heard me through my account of
what had befallen me since I saw him last, he broke out into
vehement denunciation of Cyrus Vetch and all the race of Cluddes.
Vetch himself happening to pass at that moment, wearing the hangdog
look habitual to him since fate had made him a prisoner, Joe bursts
out:

"Ay, you may well look ashamed of yourself, you villain! Where's
that will, rogue? What have you done wi' 't?"

Vetch turned a shade paler, I thought. I had never said a word to
him about the loss of my father's will, and had no intention of
doing so, biding my time, and I was a little vexed that Joe in his
impetuous espousal of my cause had let the fellow know of our
suspicions. He halted a moment, then with a "What are you prating
about, turnip head?" he turned on his heel and walked away.

Joe, in a great rage, was for springing after him, but I caught him
by the arm and begged him to let the matter rest.

"Snatch my bowlines!" he cried, in a tone reminding me of Captain
Cawson; "he'd better 'ware of running across my course. If I come
athwart his hawser I'll turn him keel upwards, I will."

I diverted the current of his anger by asking him how he had become
a prisoner of the French.

"Why, in a deuced unlucky way," says he. "Captain Benbow--he's now
rear admiral, but will always be captain to me--he had a mind to
draw alongside that there place they call St. Malo, and cut out a
frigate of Doggy Trang he believed to be there, and he sent me and
some more by night to take the bearings of the harbor. We was in a
skiff, and a gale came on and beat us about all night and split our
sails and drove us ashore in the very teeth of a crew o' Frenchies.
There was a tight little scrimmage, I promise you, but they were
two to one, and grappled us close, and clapped a stopper on our
cable, hang 'em. They chained us together, the dogs, and marched us
into St. Malo with scarce a rag to our backs, and yesterday they
sent me and some more here."

"And right glad I am they did, Joe. But surely Captain Benbow did
not send you in charge of the party?"

"Well, no, if you put it so, he didn't. We was in command of
Lieutenant Curtis."

"And is he here, too?"

"No. He happened to have a pocketful o' money, and so they let him
sling his hammock in the town, where he could spend it. When it is
gone, belike they will send him to join us."

"And let us hope that we'll be gone as soon as his money, Joe. I am
mighty glad you are here; for if we put our heads together we can
surely find some way of getting free."

"Bless your eyes, don't I wish we may. Maybe there's a fate in it,
sir. Fate jined you and me when it made me set Vetch a-rolling in
the barrel, and 'tis fate has jined us all three here. Ay, please
God, sir, one day we'll slip our cables, clap on all canvas, and
steer for the north, though how, whereby, and by what means we can
do it beats Joe Punchard."

The companionship of Joe, at a time when I was weak from my
sickness, mightily cheered me, and we spent much of each day
together. Our longing to be free did but increase as the days
passed. The monotony of prison life fretted us, Joe perhaps less
than me, for his life had been harder than mine, and as the days
grew shorter, and the nipping cold of winter by degrees overtook
us, we began to know what real wretchedness is. By day we could
warm ourselves with exercise and active sports in the courtyard,
but at night we shivered under our thin coverlets, and I found
myself by and by wishing that my bedfellow Runnles had a little
more flesh on his bones, for a lean man is no comfort in bed on a
bitter night. Joe was not in my dormitory, or I should certainly
have bedded with him.

Above everything else, I think, the wretched food made us unhappy.
If a man be but well fed he can endure much hardship and trouble,
and I had never wanted in this respect. The prison food was bad,
ill cooked, and meagre; and though Joe, for one, might have
procured better if he had chosen to employ himself in his old trade
of coopering, he refused to do so after making one barrel, the
price of which, after the soldiers' commission had been deducted,
was something less than a fourth of what it would have been in
England.

"'Noint my block!" he cried, when the pitiful sum was placed in his
hand. "Dost think a Shrewsbury man 'll be done out of his dues by a
codger of a Frenchman what he don't vally no more than pork slush
or a stinking dogfish? Split my binnacle if I be!"

And he flung the money at the amazed Frenchman, and kept his word
to work at his old trade no more.

I think this sturdiness of his raised him somewhat in the
estimation of our jailers, and in spite of the opprobrious epithets
he applied to them (which to be sure they did not understand) he
was soon as popular with them as Vetch was the reverse. Joe was
blessed with a great fund of good humor, which withstood all
privation and restraint. He growled and groaned at being compelled
to take his turn in scouring the floors and other menial tasks, but
after emitting a stream of hot language, which ever appears to flow
very freely from the lips of sailor men, he went his way with great
cheerfulness. He joked with his fellow prisoners, and being of a
loquacious turn, had many things to tell them of the doings of his
hero, Captain Benbow.

Vetch, on the contrary, was what the Scriptures call a "continual
dropping." He kept himself apart, sulking the livelong day, scarce
ever speaking, and when he did speak using a tone which the Grand
Turk might employ towards a beggar. It was true enough that the
prisoners were inferior to him in quality, but, their lot and
circumstances being the same, it was decidedly a mistake to make
the others feel their inferiority, and, as I think, a mark of ill
breeding to boot. His few words were sneers, and he had a
contemptuous way of looking at a man that made one itch to thrash
him. At length he was thrashed, and very smartly, by a man in our
dormitory, and after that he was utterly ignored, by general
consent. It happened in this wise.

One bleak day of mud and rain, when we were driven by the weather
out of the courtyard into the lower rooms of the barracks, and were
sitting in doleful dumps, at a loss how to pass the time, Joe
Punchard cried out of a sudden:

"Come, souls, what's a spell of foul weather to men that have
sailed the salt seas! Haul forward your stools, mates, and we'll
have a concert and make all snug. I warrant some of you can troll a
ditty, though ye be too modest to own it; and not being plagued wi'
modesty myself, I'll heave anchor first."

I knew, nothing of Joe's musical powers, and it was with no little
surprise I discovered that he had an excellent voice of the pitch
they call barytone. He began:

Of all the lives, I ever say,
A pirate's be for I;
Hap what hap may he's allus gay
And drinks an' bungs his eye.
For his work he's never loath;
An' a-pleasurin' he will go;
Tho' sartin sure to be popt off,
Yo ho, with the rum below.

At the conclusion of the stanza his audience broke into loud
applause. And then, with a sheepish air that set me a-smiling,
Joseph Runnles, my bedfellow, the little silent man of whom I have
spoken, drew out of his pocket the parts of a flute, and putting
them together, set it to his lips and accompanied Joe through the
next stanza, picking up the tune with a facility that spoke well
for his musical ear.

In Bristowe I left Poll ashore,
Well stored wi' togs and gold;
An' off I goes to sea for more,
A-piratin' so bold.
An' wounded in the arm I got,
An' then a pretty blow;
Comes home I finds Poll flowed away.
Yo ho, with the rum below.

"Adad, brother," cries Joe, clapping the little man on the
shoulder, "why have you stowed away your noble talents so long
under hatches? I've sailed the seas for many a year; east, west,
north and south, as the saying is; Blacks, Indians, Moors,
Morattos, and Sepoys; but smite my timbers, never such a man of
music have I drawn alongside of before."

Runnles blushed like a girl, and said never a word, but blew the
moisture out of his flute, ready for the next stanza.

An' when my precious leg was lopt.
Just for a bit of fun,
I picks it up, on t'other hopt,
An' rammed it in a gun.
"What's that for?" cries out Salem Dick.
"What for, my jumpin' beau?
Why, to give the lubbers one more kick!"
Yo ho with the rum below.

By this time the other men had got the hang of the song, and when
Joe started the next stanza they joined in, trolling the tune (they
knew not the words as yet) in voices high and low, rough and coarse
for the most part, and with more heartiness than melody. This happy
thought of Joe's cured our dumps and put us all in a good temper,
and for the rest of that morning we sat singing songs, and
listening to the tootling of Runnles' flute, when the little man
could be prevailed on to treat us to a solo.

"You be mighty bashful for a sailor man," said Joe at the end of
the concert, "partickler as your name be Joe like mine, but we
won't let 'ee hide your talents any more, split my braces if we
will."

It was on the night of that day that Vetch got his thrashing. We
had gone early to our dormitory because of the rain, and being
unable to sleep for the cold, one of the men suggested that Runnles
should give us a tune.

"'Tis comfortin' to the spirits," said the man, a big fellow known
to us as the bosun: his name was Peter Wiggett.

Runnles, evidently gratified at this mark of appreciation, put his
flute together and began to pipe the tune of Mr. Ackroyd's famous
song of the fight in '92 when Admiral Russell beat the French.
This, to be sure, was rather inspiriting than soothing, and thus
perhaps there was a shadow of excuse for Vetch when he called out
from under his coverlet (he lay in the next bed):

"Cease that squealing, hang you, and let a man get to sleep."

"Belay there!" shouted the bosun.

"Pipe away, Runnles, and we'll love you, my hearty."

Runnles struck up again, but he had not gone far (it was to the
line, "To meet the gallant Russell in combat on the deep") when the
fluting suddenly ceased, and we heard a cry that was certainly a
squeal. Vetch had got out of bed in the dark and, snatching the
flute from Runnles' hand, caught him by the throat. I sprang up
from Runnles' side, but the bosun from the bed beyond was before
me.

"Avast, you lubber!" he cries, flinging himself on Vetch; "I
thought we should grapple one day: now I'll bring you up by the
head, you swine."

And with that he took Vetch with the left hand, and belabored him
with the right until the poor wretch fairly howled for mercy. Then
he threw him on to his bed (with some damage, I fear, to Dilly, who
shared it), and bade Runnles play up: but the little man was so
much upset at the turn affairs had taken that he declared his lips
were too dry to blow a note, and indeed it was several days before
he could be prevailed on to flute again.



Chapter 15: The Bass Viol.


Where one leads, others are sure to follow. It was wonderful how
many of the prisoners discovered a talent for music after Punchard
and Runnles had thus led the way. Our jailers encouraged this
pastime; it was not merely harmless in itself, but it had a
quietening effect on the temper of the men, and the squabbles and
brawls among them notably diminished. One of the Frenchmen
unearthed an old fiddle, and though one of its strings was wanting,
a man named Ben Tolliday contrived to scrape very passable melody
out of it. Old John Dilly announced that he had played the cornet
in his youth, and before very long an instrument was found for him,
and after a few days' practice (during which we had to suffer a
variety of discordant and ear-splitting noises) he recovered
something of his former skill. An old drum with a very loose
membrane was found in the lumber room of the keep, and this the
bosun appropriated, though being quite destitute of a sense of
rhythm he made but an indifferent performer. Some of the men
fashioned original instruments for themselves, one of these, a
mouth organ, being a real triumph of ingenuity.

I, alas, had no singing voice, and was totally ignorant of music;
but Joe kindly informed me that any fool could play the bones, and
made two pairs of castanets for me out of beef bones supplied by
the soldiers (we had no joints ourselves, but only a bullock's
cheek now and then) so that I too was able to bear my part in the
concerts which now became of daily occurrence.

The soldiers of the guard often came and listened to our
performances, and even the sour-faced commandant once condescended
to form part of our audience, and smiled broadly when Dilly, who
was a Devon man, sang with much expressive pantomime the pleasant
ditty of Widdicombe Fair, though the Frenchman did not understand a
word of it.

This condescension on the part of the commandant emboldened me to
proffer a request which I had been meditating for some days. I had
by no means given up the hope of escaping from the castle, but the
more I thought of it, the less likely it appeared that I could
succeed without assistance. Of course, Joe Punchard should
accompany me, and when I talked the matter over with him, neither
of us had the heart to scheme for our own freedom without regard to
those of our fellow prisoners with whom we had become more closely
connected through our musical interests.

"There is old John Dilly," I said one day, when we were discussing
the subject, "he was good to me aboard the Dolphin; I shouldn't
like to leave him behind."

"True," says Punchard, "and Runnles is a quiet, good soul; besides
his name is Joe."

"And the bosun, he's as strong as an ox, and might be a useful
man."

"And Tolliday, he's for ever sighing about Molly, his sweetheart;
'twould make two folks happy (maybe) if he got away among us."

Thus we ran over the list of our friends very seriously, though it
tickled my sense of humor when I remembered that we had not as yet
the ghost of a notion how this escape we talked of was to be
contrived. But having thus selected our partners in the attempt we
were resolved to make some day, we decided that it would be a step
in the right direction if we all shared the same dormitory. We
might then talk over the matter without the danger of it being
blabbed among the whole body of prisoners.

Accordingly I took advantage of the commandant's gracious
appearance among our audience to ask him (having now picked up
enough French to make myself understood) to allow all the members
of the band to sleep together, explaining that we should attain to
greater efficiency if, after the lower doors were locked for the
night, we could practice for an hour or so together before the sun
went down. His grim face relaxed into a smile at the serious manner
in which we took our diversion, and he readily granted the
permission we desired. By this change we got rid of Vetch, who was
glad enough to leave us, I doubt not.

The first step having thus been gained, I began to devote myself
earnestly to the problem of escape. I did not make light of the
difficulties. The only entrance to the castle precincts was, as I
have said, the gateway at the end of the drawbridge, and this was
so stoutly guarded that escape in daylight was impossible. At night
we were locked in the dormitory nearly thirty feet above ground,
with a thick stone wall between us and freedom, and supposing we
could make a hole in the wall, which seemed unlikely, there was
still the moat to be reckoned with. It was not only too far below
for any one to dive into it with safety, but it was, as I had
learned from the soldiers, choked with mud to within a very little
of the surface, so that I could not but doubt whether it were
possible even to swim across. But I did not despair of crossing it
if we could only get down: that was the difficulty, and for long
tedious weeks it seemed to me insuperable.

Before we had hit upon a plan, we were thrown into a great
excitement by the disappearance of Vetch. I had missed him for a
day or two from the courtyard, but thought little of it, supposing
that he was confined to his dormitory by a touch of fever, as
happened not infrequently among the prisoners. But on Punchard's
remarking one day that he believed Vetch was malingering, it came
out that he had not been seen by his roommates for nearly a week.

Was it possible that while we had been merely thinking of escape,
Vetch had found a means of escaping? It seemed impossible, and when
I was having my daily conversation with the soldiers of the guard,
I asked point blank what had become of him. They laughed and
chuckled, and amused themselves for some time by giving all manner
of fantastic explanations, which improved my knowledge of French,
but were mightily vexatious. At last I made out, from hints and
half statements, that the commandant had been discreetly inquiring
among some of the prisoners for a man who was well acquainted with
the river Avon. Since these inquiries ceased and Vetch disappeared
about the same time, I was free to conclude that in Vetch the
commandant had found his man. Had he purchased his freedom at the
price of treason to his country? Were the French meditating an
attack on Bristowe? These were questions I could not answer; but
you may be sure the knowledge that Vetch was gone acted as a whip
to my determination, and I was more than ever resolved to find some
way of leaving these walls behind.

We had concluded, Punchard and I, that our only course must be to
pierce the castle wall and let ourselves down to the moat by means
of a rope. The latter portion of this scheme being manifestly the
more likely, we decided to secure our rope first. This was easier
said than done. Our coverlets were of such thin and rotten
material, we should need to tear up several of them before, even
carefully knotted, they would serve our purpose, and we could not
risk the detection that would surely follow if any of them were
missed by our guards. When I went next to take my turn at drawing
water from the well I carefully examined the rope by which the
bucket was let down, thinking it might be possible to cut this one
night at an hour when its loss would not be discovered till next
day and the birds had flown. But a close inspection showed that it
was very rotten; evidently it had seen long service; and while it
was still strong enough to stand the strain of a bucketful of
water, I could not flatter myself it would safely bear my weight,
to say nothing of the bosun, who was a deal heavier.

But since a rope we must have, I pleased myself with the fancy that
if I should succeed in procuring that it might be taken as a good
augury for success in the more difficult feat, the piercing of the
wall. Could we make a rope, I wondered? We had a fair quantity of
bast, in the mats that formed the only covering of the floor of our
barracks, but not near enough to form a rope sufficiently stout to
bear the weight of even the lightest of us; besides the tearing up
of the mats could not fail to be discovered.

Racking my brains for some means of overcoming the difficulty, I
suddenly bethought myself of trying a ruse. I said nothing of my
intention to Punchard (to the others I had as yet not breathed a
word of our purpose) but the next time I went to the well I took a
knife with me, and, choosing a portion of the rope where it was
much frayed, I carefully sawed through one or two of the strands
with the blunt edge. The result was that when I was drawing the
full bucket up, the rope snapped, the bucket fell to the bottom
with a clatter, and I (to make the accident more convincing)
toppled over on my back. Up came one of the guard, and rated me
soundly for my clumsiness, employing a succession of abusive terms
which I stored in my memory for use in case of need.

I picked myself up slowly, rubbing my back, and, putting on the
most innocent air in the world, I pointed to the frayed rope and
asked whether my corrector could expect such a thing as that to
last for ever. The man grumbled a good deal, but the condition of
the rope admitted no answer to my question, and I had the
satisfaction next day of seeing a brand new rope attached to a
brand new bucket. I even had the pleasure of using it for the first
time, for the old rope having broken when I was on duty, I was
condemned to the punishment of drawing water for a week afterwards,
an extension of my task which I bore with wonderful cheerfulness.

When I told Punchard of what I had done he laughed with great
delight, but immediately became very sober.

"'Tis all no use, sir," says he gloomily. "For why? I can't swim."

This was a difficulty I had not foreseen. How is it, I wonder, that
so many men who go down to the sea in ships do not master that most
useful art--the very first, one would think, that should engage
their attention? 'Twas true, the depth of water above the mud in
the moat was so little that even the best swimmer would be at a bad
pass; but I hoped that with the coming of the spring rains this
would be remedied. Yet if Punchard and any of the others were
unable to swim, the moat would be impassable were it dredged to the
bottom; and since we must descend the rope singly, and the water
came right up to the wall, I could not see for the life of me how
this disability could be got over.

Finding our purpose thus stopped in this direction (though but for
a time, for my resolution was in nowise weakened), I began to
devote myself earnestly to what I had felt all along was the
crux--the breaking through the wall. So deeply was I preoccupied
with this baffling problem that I fear I clattered my bones but
half heartedly in our musical concerts. Yet it was during one of
these concerts that some good genie flashed upon my invention a
plan which promised (if it could be carried out) to solve the very
difficulty I had almost given up as insoluble. I say it was a good
genie that suggested the idea to me, for, looking back upon it, I
can account for it in no other way.

I was watching Tolliday sawing away at his fiddle, and marveling
(being ignorant of music) at the loud tones which he produced from
so small an instrument. 'Twas clear that the hollow belly of the
fiddle had some part in the effect, and then I remembered the big
bass viols I had seen used in the church at home, and reflected
that the larger the instrument the deeper and more powerful the
tones.

And here came in the genie to supply the link which led to the
formation of my plan. In my mind's eye I saw a big hollow vessel
shaped like a bass viol floating on the water of the moat, and Joe
Punchard clinging to it, and I wished with all my heart that one of
our jailers would discover such an instrument, and hand it to us
for the use of our band. 'Twas but a step from wishing to devising.
We had no bass viol; could we not make one? No one would oppose us;
the band was highly popular with the garrison, and I was sure that
they would willingly provide us with material for the construction
of yet another instrument.

Accordingly, next morning I suggested that we should ask the
commandant to give us some planks of wood with which to make an
instrument of a new model. The men were amused at the notion, never
suspecting that I had any other design than to enrich the harmony
of our ensemble. 'Twould be good fun, they agreed, though they had
great doubt (as I had myself) whether our unskilled workmanship
would produce anything but a useless monstrosity so far as music
was concerned. They were willing to try, however, the attempt would
help us to kill time; and the commandant proving perfectly
agreeable to humor us, we gut the planks, borrowed some tools from
the soldiers, and set to work.

The next following days saw half a dozen of us busily employed in
the courtyard in knocking together a long shallow box, in the upper
side of which we pierced S-shaped holes like those of the fiddle,
with a notched bridge at about one-third of its length for holding
four strings, and wooden screws at the other end for stretching
them taut. Joe Punchard, good fellow, was the most ardent of the
artificers, plying the tools with a dexterity born of his work for
master cooper Matthew Mark years before. We got from the soldiers,
who showed a great interest in our task, cords of different
thickness, and several lengths of iron wire which we twisted
together somewhat after the manner of the thickest string of the
fiddle. We then stretched this and three cords over the bridge on
the top of the box, screwed them to a high tension, and plucked
them to see if they emitted notes that could be called musical.

The result surpassed my expectations. Tolliday, our fiddler,
declared that the notes were true music, though to be sure not very
resonant, and he undertook to tune the strings in fifths, so that
it might be able to take a proper part in our next symphony. Having
no bow with which to scrape the strings, he said that they could
only be strummed with the finger and thumb, and when he offered to
teach one of us thus to handle it, there were many candidates for
the place, which in the end fell to a man named Winslow. The men
were all mightily pleased with the success of our work, and I was
secretly delighted, not with the instrument as a producer of music,
but at knowing that we had a box which might serve those of us who
could not swim as a raft.

We had now at command (if we could secretly purloin it) a rope to
let us down, and a raft to ferry us over the moat, but we had still
to find a means of getting beyond the wall, and to this I bent all
my energy of mind. In this, too, I took Joe Punchard into
consultation, and we discussed all kinds of plans. With the sentry
on guard throughout the night in the courtyard there was no hope of
escape by the gate and drawbridge. There was no opening in the
wall. The only possible means of exit was to cut a hole in it, and
this would be a matter of great toil, the wall being, as some one
had told us, ten feet thick. It consisted, so far as we could tell
from the inside, of solid blocks of stone cemented together, and
when, at an odd moment when no one was looking, I tried to scrape
away some of the cement between two of the stones, I found that it
was almost as hard as the stone itself.

To cut through ten feet of such solid material was a task that
might have caused any one to despair. Still, it was the only course
open to us, and I have never known any task too hard for patience
and determination. Joe and I decided that we must gradually scrape
away the cement around one of the blocks until we could remove this
altogether, and then work at the next one, and the next, until we
had pierced right through to the open air.

Apart from the toilsomeness of the task, there were risks to be
feared and provided against. First; one or another of the soldiers
inspected our dormitory every day. This inspection, 'tis true, had
become somewhat perfunctory, the man being content, as a rule, to
mount the ladder until his head was a foot or two above the level
of the floor, throw a hasty glance around, and descend again. The
second risk was more serious. Since we could hear at night the
tramp of the sentry going his round of the battlements, it was
probable that, however quietly we might work, the sentry would hear
the sound of scraping as he passed above. If the wall had been
wainscotted, he might suppose such sounds to be caused by the
gnawing of mice; but there was no likelihood of mice making their
habitat in a thick stone wall. Further, even if we should so
contrive that our task of scraping was interrupted when the sentry
passed, there was still the danger that the sound might attract the
attention of the men in the adjoining dormitory. If they should get
any suspicion of what was toward, it would soon be common talk
among the whole body of prisoners, and some whisper of it would
certainly reach the ears of the guard.

In order to lessen this risk, Joe and I decided to begin our work
at a stone measuring three feet by two, in the right-hand corner of
the dormitory, farthest removed from the partition dividing us from
the next, and a foot or two above the floor, so that a bed could be
pushed against the wall and hide all signs of our operations in
case a sudden visit of inspection was made.

These preliminaries having been settled by Joe and myself, the time
was come for taking our roommates into our confidence. I did not
disguise from myself that we were staking a great deal on their
loyalty, and even more on their silence, for the slightest whisper
of the plot outside our own little company would be fatal. There
were ten of us bandsmen altogether. At first I thought of speaking
to the men individually, and thus testing their courage and
enterprise. But on reflection I decided that what was most
requisite to our success was a corporate spirit, which could be
best engendered by opening the matter to them as a body.
Accordingly, one evening, when we were assembled in the dormitory
for a practice, I took the fateful plunge.

I am not an orator, and I shall not set down here the words in
which I addressed them. Suffice it to say that they listened very
attentively, not at first perceiving the full drift of my meaning,
so careful was I to feel my way with them. They held me in some
special consideration, which I no doubt owed partly to Joe
Punchard, who had told them something of my story, and when at
length I declared plainly our intention to escape, asked them if
they would join hands with us, and impressed on them the necessity
of maintaining silence about it, they one and all promised that
never a word should pass their lips.

As to the scheme itself, when I unfolded its details, they were
somewhat dubious, and, strangely enough, the most enthusiastic in
its favor was little Runnles, the melancholy flute player, and the
most doubtful was the bosun, whose physical courage was equal to
anything, but who was daunted by what appealed more particularly to
the moral qualities of patience and endurance. He dwelt
lugubriously on the difficulties I have already mentioned, and
shook his head when I combated his objections; but he agreed to
throw in his lot with the rest of us, and said that if we once got
clear of the walls, and there was any fighting to do, he would
break any Frenchman's head as soon as look at him.

Nothing remained now but to begin operations, and I soon found that
the demands upon our patience would be even more exacting than I
had supposed. We divided our company of ten into five watches, each
to take a spell of two hours' work. One night, as soon as all was
quiet, Joe and I set to work, he with a chisel which he had used in
making our new instrument, I with my clasp knife. Very gently, so
as to avoid noise, we began to scrape away at the mortar between
the block of stone we had selected for removal and the one below
it.

Runnles hit upon a capital way of warning us of the approach of the
sentry within earshot. He tied a string to Joe's leg, and gave it a
tug when he heard the tramp of footsteps above. Then we desisted
for a minute or two, resuming our work when the footsteps had died
away.

At the end of our two hours' spell we were disappointed at the
little we had been able to do. Two small heaps of dust lay at the
foot of the wall, but the impression on the hard mortar or cement
had been but slight, and I was appalled to think of the weeks that
must elapse before we had cut completely round the stone. But I
professed myself well satisfied with the start we had made, and we
handed over our tools to Dilly and Tolliday, the next couple, with
encouraging words.



Chapter 16: Across The Moat.


It would be tedious to chronicle the stages of our progress, the
hopes and fears, the anxieties and suspense, which in turn laid
hold of me. Night by night for a week, in pitch darkness and bitter
cold, we scraped away the cement, carrying away in the morning in
our pockets the dust that fell, and disposing of it in the
sweepings of the courtyard.

Once we had a great scare. In the dead time of night we heard
footsteps, and voices in the room below our dormitory, and gave all
up for lost. We stole into our beds, and lay in that painful state
of shortened breath and quickened pulse which the expectation of
ill induces. But by and by the voices ceased; we heard the closing
of the door below; whatever their errand had been (and we never
knew it) the men of the guard had returned to their quarters, and
after a few minutes' pause we were again out of bed and at our
work.

At the end of a week it happened as I had feared. The men's
patience gave out. The bosun was the first to yield. After his two
hours' spell of labor he rose from the cramped position it entailed
and swore he would do no more. The men whose turn it was to follow
refused to get out of bed, and Joe and I, who, having worked our
spell were fast asleep, knew nothing of the mutiny until the
morning. Then, though I was nigh despairing, I affected
cheerfulness, said that we had all been working too hard, and
declared for a couple of nights' holiday.

I did not blame or expostulate, and the wisdom of my course was
vindicated on the third night, when, without a word being said, the
bosun and Runnles took up their tools and set to work again. I
learned afterwards that Runnles had employed himself during the two
days in quietly encouraging the others, and I think it was the
persistence of the little man that shamed them into perseverance.

Night by night for three weeks we toiled on, and then were
bountifully rewarded. We had scraped away the cement between the
stone we had selected and those around it, and by prying it with
our chisel and one or two other tools we had now procured, we
gradually forced it inwards and at length lifted it out and laid it
on the floor. It was the middle of the night, but all the men were
awake, and in the excitement of the occasion the bosun uttered a
shout of triumph, cursing himself immediately afterwards for his
folly. The sentry above stopped, and by and by a soldier came into
the room below and up the ladder and demanded what was the matter.
Luckily I had the presence of mind (and by this time sufficiency of
French) to make answer pat.

"'Tis the big man in a nightmare," I said with a laugh, "dreaming
he heads a boarding party."

"Mad dream!" says the Frenchman with a chuckle, and went down again
without entering the room.

We longed for daylight to reveal the full extent of our success,
yet dared not wait for it, for the stone was heavy, and it would
take some time to replace it, and since we were always visited soon
after daybreak we feared to be intruded on before we had put it
back and removed the traces of our work. So we set it again in its
place and for the rest of the night slept the sound sleep of
contentment.

But this success spurred me on to devise some means of easing the
work yet to be done. The stone was two feet broad; if the wall was
ten feet thick there were four more like it still to be removed,
and at the same rate it would be three months before we could
tunnel through to the air. And thinking of this my heart fell, for
there was not room in the cavity left by the stone for two men to
work abreast, so that it might indeed be four months before we saw
the end of our toil. I determined, therefore, by some means or
other to procure a light, by whose aid I could explore the hole and
see if the next stone was cemented with the same care.

It chanced that that day we had for dinner a very fat piece of
beef. I took advantage of this to pocket some lumps of fat,
intending to make a candle with it and a wick composed of some
twisted threads from my shirt. The difficulty was to kindle the
candle when made, for none of us had a tinder box, though we had
steel in our chisel and could easily break a piece of stone from
the slab we had loosened.

Tolliday was equal to this, however. He pretended that one of the
screws of his fiddle had swelled, so that it would not turn freely
in the hole, and he got us to ask one of the soldiers to lend him
his tinder box, so that he might make a fire of shavings and heat a
skewer red hot, with which to burn away the hole. All unsuspicious,
the man lent him the box, which, when it was returned to him had
somewhat less tinder in it than before.

That night, and during the remaining weeks of our work, we had a
candle. We screened the light very carefully, you may be sure, so
that it should not shine through the grating in the wall on the
courtyard, and attract the soldiers' notice.

The stone having been removed, I crawled into the opening, holding
the candle, and could scarcely check a cry of joy as I perceived
that our task would henceforth be much lighter than I had supposed.
At the end of the hole, instead of another stone cemented like the
first, as I expected, there was a mass of rubble. I could not doubt
that the whole of the interior of the wall consisted of this
material, and that we should encounter no more blocks of stone
until we came to the outer layer of the wall.

It was easy to understand now why castles deemed impregnable were
sometimes battered down. A thickness of ten feet of stone might
withstand any bombardment, but once the outer stones were pierced,
the lighter material would offer but little resistance to cannon
shot.

That was an afterthought, however; my reflection at the moment was
that liberty was nearer to us by several weeks. Being acquainted
with my discovery, my comrades made no ado when I suggested that we
should now remove another of the stones of the inner wall, so that
we might more easily get at the rubble. Filled with a new spirit of
cheerfulness, they worked with such ardor that in ten nights we
were able to lay a second stone alongside of the first.

But we were now confronted with a new difficulty. It had been easy
enough to dispose of the cement dust: it was quite another thing to
get rid of the vast quantity of small stones and pieces of brick
which now had to be removed. Further, if we cleared all the rubble
from the middle of the wall between us and the outside, there would
be no support for the slabs of the battlement above, and however
firmly they were cemented, it was not improbable that they would
sink in and betray us.

The latter predicament we could but ignore for the present. For the
disposal of the rubble, after some thought I hit upon a plan that
proved entirely successful.

When all was quiet one night, Joe and I descended the ladder which
led from our dormitory to the room below, and lifted, after some
trouble, one of the planks of the floor. As I had hoped, it was not
laid immediately on the ground; a space of two feet deep had been
left. Into this hole night by night we cast the rubble we scooped
out from the wall, carefully replacing the plank when we had done.
We moved always with bare feet, carrying the stuff in our pillow
cases. When I consider how many slight accidents might have marred
our work and utterly undone us, I can not but think that we were in
some sort watched over by Providence. Our life aboard ship had made
us sure footed; but that we were able to work for weeks without
betraying ourselves by a sound or the neglect of some precaution I
ascribe to something higher than ourselves.

To come to an end of this part of my story, after several weeks'
work at the rubble we once more encountered stone. Before attacking
this, we waited for a night or two. We no longer had any fear of
the slabs of the battlement falling; the cement was clearly strong
enough to bear the weight of the passing sentry; but I had some
apprehension that as he tramped along the man might discover the
hollowness below him by the ringing of his feet on the stones. But
two nights sufficed to banish this fear also, and then we started
eagerly on the last portion of our task.

The flight of time passes almost unnoticed when the moments are
well filled. Winter had given place to spring, and spring was now
merging into summer. We had no almanac, and kept no account of the
days; it was by the lengthening daylight and shortening darkness
and the new warmth in the air that we knew summer was at hand. The
long nights of winter would perhaps have been more favorable to our
escape, but, on the other hand, we should suffer more from
exposure, and moreover, I fancy no man is ever so brave in cold
weather as in warm. We prisoners, at any rate, worked now with more
zest than ever, heartened by the knowledge that if we did win to
freedom, we should find ourselves in a pleasant, sunny world.

One night when Runnles and the bosun were at work, the chisel of
the former met with no further obstacle. Enlarging the hole he had
made, he set his eye to it, and whispered to the bosun to blow out
the candle. Then he crawled back into the room and told me in his
quiet way that he had seen the stars. Before morning the cement
round a stone somewhat larger than the one we first removed had
been scraped away, or pushed out into the moat, and we knew that
when we had hauled the stone back through the tunnel into the room
we should have made a hole large enough for the biggest of us to
pass through.

My fears for the success of our enterprise were never greater than
at this moment when the way seemed open. The men were in so wild a
state of excitement that I was consumed with anxiety lest their
demeanor should arouse suspicion among our guardians. Before I went
down to the courtyard I spoke to them very earnestly, begging them
to keep a watch on themselves, and not betray by word, look or sign
that anything had happened to break the monotony of our life.

They obeyed my injunctions almost too well, for a more silent,
morose, hangdog set of fellows could never have been seen; they
provoked jests from the prisoners of the other dormitories, who
declared that sure their music had made them all melancholy.

"It must be tonight, Joe," I said, when, our morning tasks being
done, he and I went apart from the rest for a little private talk.
"If we delay it, I cannot answer for their behavior."

"That is all very true, sir," said Joe; "but I can not see how we
are to manage it. There's a hole in the wall, to be sure, and a new
rope on the windlass of the well: but how we be going to get the
rope where 'tis needed is more than I can guess."

"Don't you think that by tonight our drum will want washing?" I
said.

He looked at me, clearly puzzled at what seemed a sudden change of
subject.

"'Tis very dirty, to be sure; but washing it won't make it sound no
better, I reckon."

"I rather think it will," I replied, and then I told him what I had
in mind.

"'Tis a main risky trick, sir," he said dubiously. "If they should
happen to want another bucketful of water we're lost men."

"We must risk something, Joe," I answered, "and fortune has so well
befriended us hitherto that I can't think she will balk us now."

But I own that my anxieties increased as the day wore on, and my
melancholy countenance was doubtless a good match with the faces of
my comrades. When one of the other prisoners twitted me on my
lugubrious mien, I had an inspiration.

"We are saving our cheerfulness for the concert tonight," I said.
"'Twill be the best we have ever given, and we shall never give a
better."

And for the rest of the day there was a great buzz of talk among
the men about the announcement I had made, and a great deal of
laughter at our mournful preparation for a cheerful entertainment.

Late in the afternoon, when water drawing had ended for the day, I
went to one of the soldiers and asked if I might be allowed to wash
our big drum.

"Why, 'twill spoil it," he cried. "You'll get no sound out of a wet
skin."

"I shall only wash one side," I replied, "and it will give a
thicker sound than the dry one, and so add to the variety of the
piece we are going to play."

"Well, wash it then," he said, and went off grinning to tell his
comrades of this latest whimsy.

I fetched the drum from the corner of the room where it lay, and
carried it to the well within the keep. The members of the band
were in the secret, and I had asked them to hold the attention of
the other prisoners while I set about my task. The well was
situated in a somewhat gloomy corner, and, there being none of the
garrison at hand, I was able to accomplish my purpose unobserved
and without interference. Having drawn up a bucketful of water, I
unhooked the bucket, unwound the rope until there were but a few
feet still left upon the windlass, then cut it, made a gash in the
side of the drum, and coiled the lower and longer portion of the
rope in the interior of the instrument. Then I tied the bucket to
what remained of the rope, and lowered it into the well, where it
hung only a few feet from the surface, but quite out of sight in
the darkness. This done, I carried the drum across the yard,
turning its broken side away from the soldiers, who stood smoking
against the wall, and who laughed when they saw the water dripping
from the instrument upon the flagstones.

The prisoners were all grouped in a ring about Joe Punchard, who
was amusing them with a strange dance of his own invention. He bent
his knees till he was almost sitting on the ground, and in that
position danced a sort of hornpipe--a feat that must have imposed a
terrible strain upon his inwards, but which he seemed to perform
with consummate ease. The men were so intent upon his antics that I
passed them by unnoticed, and gained the lower room of the shed,
where I whipped the rope out of the drum and ran with it up into
the dormitory, hiding it under one of the beds. I was down again in
a minute, and then, tearing the membrane jaggedly to disguise the
fact that it had been cut, I went out into the yard, and when Joe
had finished announced with an air of vexation that I had unluckily
made a hole in the drum. At this my fellow bandsmen abused me with
a fine show of anger, the bosun in particular storming at me with a
violence at which I had much ado not to smile.

The other men laughed, and made fun of our mishap, which boded ill
for the success of our concert. But when we had eaten our evening
meal, we got our instruments and played until the sun went down,
with a gusto which certainly we had never shown before. For the
nonce I gave up the castanets to the bosun, and beat the drum
myself, thumping it on its sound side joyously. The soldiers
gathered round and gave us very hearty applause; and when Runnles,
to conclude the program, played them on his flute the air of Au
clair de lune, which he had picked up from one of them, they
cheered him to the echo.

I hoped that there was nothing ominous in the choice of this old
song to end our concert. Moonlight would be fatal to our
enterprise; and I was quite ignorant whether the moon rose early or
late. But we had gone so far that our attempt must be made this
very night, for with the morning the cutting of the rope would
without doubt be discovered; the alarm would be given, and the
ensuing search would bring to light not merely the severed rope,
but our operations upon the wall.

We went up into our dormitory, taking with us our instruments as
usual, among them the bass viol of our invention. This was to serve
as our raft. We waited for several hours with feelings painfully
tense. None of us was inclined to talk; my nine comrades were, I
doubt not, wondering as anxiously as I myself what the issue of our
attempt would be.

When all was quiet, the strongest of them removed the stone at the
inner end of the tunnel, and set it down with many precautions on
the floor. Then Runnles, being a little man, crawled to the other
end and looped the rope about the loosened stone there. This we
hauled inwards an inch at a time, stopping after every pull to
listen. It seemed endless work to drag it into the room, but at
last it was done, and we set the stone alongside the other.

Our way was now clear. I had insisted on being the first to
descend, though Joe Punchard and two other men volunteered for that
office, pleading that they were mariners of longer standing than I,
and therefore fitter for the climbing work. But this I would by no
means agree to--the suggestion and the plan being mine, it was meet
that I should be the first to face what perils it might involve.
Accordingly, I first crawled through the tunnel to see whether the
aspect of the sky favored an immediate descent, and, being
reassured on that point, I went back into the room to make the
final preparations.

We stripped a plank from one of the truckle beds and placed it
across the opening, one end of the rope being knotted about its
middle; the knots were firm, you may be sure, as none but sailors
can make them. Then, taking the other end of the rope, I went to
the outward end and lowered it very gently towards the moat,
knowing that it would not be seen in the darkness by the sentry on
the battlements above even if he chanced to look over, and to that
he would have no temptation.

There was a good deal of doubt among us as to whether the rope was
long enough for our purpose. The bosun, who had crawled after me,
whispered he was sure it was too short. And when I had let it down
to its full length and drawn it up again, as yard after yard it
came dry through my fingers I began to fear that the bosun was
right. But at last the rope left a slimy wetness upon my hands, and
I rejoiced to find that two or three yards of it had fallen into
the water.

Our next step was to draw the rope wholly into the dormitory and
fasten its wet end to the bass viol. On the top of this, it will be
remembered, there were two S-shaped openings which we had cut to
make it serviceable as a sound board. These Joe had now covered
over with the broken skin of the drum, to make the box water tight.
We pushed it through the tunnel, and I let it down into the moat,
very slowly, so that it might not strike the wall and draw the
sentry's attention. When the rope was paid out to its full length I
wrapped a coil of bast about my shoulders, and, having suspended
from my neck a short plank from the head of the bed, I bade the men
in a whisper to remember the further plan we had arranged, and made
my way down the rope--a feat that offered no difficulty to a seaman
even so little practiced as I.

Coming safely to our musical raft, I was not long in discovering it
to be a very cranky thing, so that I had to keep my hold of the
rope in order to maintain my balance. But in a short time I was
able to defeat the raft's attempts to turn turtle, and then,
kneeling on it, still gripping the rope, I looked anxiously for
signs that the attention of the sentry on the battlements had been
awakened. But I heard his footsteps approach and recede at the same
measured pace; 'twas clear he suspected nothing; and without more
delay I began to work the raft towards the far side of the moat,
using the short plank I had brought with me as a paddle. So that no
sound of splashing might rise to betray us, at every stroke I dug
the paddle into the mud, which, as I had suspected, came to within
a little of the surface; indeed, the depth of water was barely
sufficient to float the raft, with my weight on it.

A most unsavory odor resulted from the stirring of the mud; but a
greater inconvenience was the tendency of the raft to lurch.
Holding on to the rope with one hand, I instinctively pulled upon
it to maintain my equilibrium when I felt myself toppling, with the
result that the raft moved backward, and I had to begin my punting
again. Fortunately, the width of the moat was little more than
thrice the length of my crazy craft, in spite of whose instability
I succeeded in reaching the opposite side.

Here, however, I found that my difficulties were by no means over.
The water was low in the moat, and the bank, perfectly free from
vegetation, rose almost vertically to a height of six or eight
feet. On a moonlit night I must have been seen if the sentry had
glanced in my direction; dark as it was, I feared it was not so
dark but that my moving shape might be descried. I waited: not
hearing the sentry's footsteps, I began to fear the worst; but
finding after a time that no alarm had been given, and that all was
still about me, I first fastened the coil of bast I had brought on
my shoulders to the end of the rope where it was knotted about the
raft, and then began to clamber up the bank, somewhat incommoded by
having to keep a hold of the bast with one hand.

Careful as I was, I yet dislodged one or two clods of earth as I
climbed, which fell with a dull splash into the water. I went cold
with apprehension, and clung to the face of the bank, not daring to
make a movement. There were no fowl upon the moat; the splash I had
made was louder than any frog could have made; surely the
unaccustomed sound must this time have caught the sentry's ear! But
all was silent; maybe he was asleep; and in another few moments I
gained the top of the bank, breathless, rather, I suspect, from
excitement than exertion.

It seemed a very long time since I had left my comrades above:
doubtless it had seemed even longer to them. So, after the briefest
of pauses to recover my breath, I gave three sharp tugs upon the
bast line, which were immediately answered by three similar tugs:
this was the signal I had arranged with Joe. The tension on the
line was relaxed; Joe, hauling at the rope, was drawing the raft
gently back across the moat to its former position at the foot of
the wall. There was a short interval; then I knew from the jerking
of the bast line that a man was descending the rope, and when he
was almost level with me I saw his form very dimly. When I learned
from the cessation of the jerks that he was safe on the raft, I
hauled in my line, ferried the man across, and, leaning over, gave
him a helping hand up the bank. It was little Runnles.

"I've got my flute, sir," he whispered with strange inconsequence
as he came to my side.

"Lie on the ground and don't stir," I whispered back.

Again I gave three tugs, and the same sequence of events ensued.
One by one the men came down the rope, crossed the moat on the
raft, and joined me on the bank. We had no difficulty with any of
them but the bosun, whose massy frame so much depressed the raft
that it took the united exertions of six of us to haul it through
the upper layer of mud.

Joe Punchard came last of all. When with his arrival our little
party of ten was complete, we crawled on hands and knees one by one
to the shelter of a thicket that stood some fifty yards away, and
then consulted in whispers how we were to shape our course.



Chapter 17: Exchanges.


I have been many a time surprised to observe the strange volatility
of sailormen. They will pass in an instant from jollity to woe,
and, when just snatched from the jaws of death, will give the rein
to jests and sportiveness as if life were nothing but a perpetual
holiday. Some of my comrades were perfectly hilarious, and began to
talk and laugh as freely as they might in the forecastle, far from
a hostile shore. I had to warn them very earnestly against so
imperiling the safety of us all; but Joe Punchard's admonitions
were more effective than mine, for in a harsh whisper he roundly
abused them, threatening with many offensive terms to leave them to
their fate if they did not instantly cease and obey me as their
captain.

Their intelligence being penetrated with some notion of the
exceeding danger of our situation, the noisy ones kept silence and
agreed to follow my behests. This threw on me a task of great
hazard and responsibility, for we were strangers in a strange land,
and I had no knowledge of our whereabouts, nor a clearly defined
plan of action. Gathering them in a knot about me, so that all
could hear my lowest whisper, I put to them the situation as I
conceived it.

"By God's mercy we have succeeded thus far," I said, "but the
greatest of our dangers lie still before us. I know nothing of this
country, nor does any of us, and in a few hours day will dawn, our
escape will be discovered, and there will be a hue and cry after us
for miles around. What we want to do is to make the coast and
borrow a boat in which we may set sail for England."

"Ay, ay," was the general grunt.

"Ay, indeed," I went on, "but we know not in what direction the
coast lies, nor would it be safe for us to attempt to reach it yet.
When our absence is known, the Frenchmen will assuredly suspect
that the coast will be our aim, and they will have it watched for
miles, so that even if we found a boat and got to sea (in which we
might fail), we should certainly be espied and chased and caught.
What we must do, as it seems to me, is to strike into the country
and find a hiding place where we may lie until the first alarm has
passed, and then endeavor by some means to learn of a secluded
fishing hamlet whither we may steal our way by night. Can you
suggest a better plan?"

For a brief space there was silence; then the bosun said:

"If we can not tell the way to the coast, neither can we know if we
be going inland, and so we may stumble into the very danger we
ought to avoid."

"There is the north star above us," I replied, "and by going south
it would appear that we shall go away from the sea. I propose,
then, that we turn our backs on the star and march southward,
trusting to find some wood or perchance some ruin where we may lurk
a day or two."

"And our bellies empty," groaned Tolliday.

"Let us hope not," I said. "We may come upon some fruit gardens
where we can find enough to keep us from starvation. But if we must
fast, then I warrant we, being Englishmen, can endure our pangs for
a day. Time is passing; 'tis gone midnight, if I guess right, and
since move we must, I speak for moving at once."

No other course suggesting itself, we set off, and, having the good
luck to strike a road, we marched along in dogged silence for what
must have been a couple of hours. We passed but one house, and that
was in total darkness, and if any person in it had been awake, our
passage would not have been heard, for we were all barefooted but
three, myself and two others.

After pausing a while to rest, we set off again, and tramped on
until there was a hint of daybreak in the sky. Then, being utterly
weary (for none of us had enjoyed a full night's sleep for months),
we looked about for some spot where we might rest without danger.
We found ourselves between open fields, somewhat cut up by low
stone dykes, but with no buildings or copses that offered even a
temporary shelter. We had perforce to continue on our way, and
about half a mile farther on our eyes were gladdened by the sight
of a large, low, dismantled farmhouse lying somewhat back from the
road. It appeared at first to be a total ruin, and bore the marks
of fire upon its blackened walls: but on entering we discovered one
room that had some portion of a roof over it, and, better still, a
quantity of straw spread about the floor. We were gathering this up
to make rough beds of it, when we perceived a trap door in the
floor, and it occurred to me that if it led down to a dry cellar,
such as were not uncommon in farmhouses in England, this would
prove a more secure refuge than the room on a level with the road.

Lifting the trap door, I found that it was even as I hoped. The
cellar beneath was large, and dimly illuminated through a grating
let into the wall just above the level of the ground. I perceived,
too, that it had a door, so that in the unlikely event of our
re-entrance by the trap door being prevented, we could still escape
into the open. There was straw also in the cellar, and it did not
take us many seconds to decide that here we would lay down our
tired bodies and gain some sleep. My purpose was, after resting, to
go exploring alone, trusting to my knowledge of the French tongue
to procure some food and also to learn something of the lie of the
land, for there must assuredly be a habitation somewhere in the
neighborhood.

We all descended into the cellar, closing the trap door after us,
and gladly stretched our limbs upon the straw. It did not appear
necessary to keep a watch. The farm had clearly not been inhabited
for many years, and there was no reason to fear that our rest would
be disturbed. Even when the pursuit of us should be begun, it was
in the highest degree unlikely that it would tend in this
direction. The road was hard after a period of dry weather, and we
had left no foot tracks to betray us. But as a precaution I went
out by the cellar door, ascended a short flight of steps and made
my way to the upper room again, where I spread some straw on the
trap door, to hide it from any chance visitor. Then I returned to
the cellar. Our fatigue was so great that in a few moments we were
all asleep.

I was awakened by a touch on my arm. I sat bolt upright in an
instant. Runnles was leaning over me, with his finger at his lips.
The other men were already awake, and seeing, I suppose, a look of
inquiry on my face, Runnles whispered:

"I wakened them first, 'cos they was snoring."

And then I became aware that it was precisely the unexpected that
had happened. There were people in the room above. I heard
footsteps and voices, and then felt no little alarm when another
sound reached my ears--a sound that I could not mistake. It was the
sound of muskets being stacked.

We looked at one another in mute dismay. Had our pursuers hit upon
our tracks at once? It seemed scarcely credible. Yet for a minute
or two I waited in a kind of paralysis, expecting the trap door to
open and a posse of armed soldiers to descend. My anxiety on this
score soon vanished, however, for I heard a heavy thump on the trap
door above, and guessed that either something had been thrown upon
it or that one of the intruders had unwittingly chosen it for his
seat. This, with the previous stacking of the arms, seeming to
indicate that the visitors intended to make some stay, and had no
suspicion of our presence.

I determined to set my fears finally at rest (and, I must own, also
to satisfy my curiosity) by stealing out and taking a peep at them,
if they had left the door open. Whispering my comrades to remain
perfectly silent, I slipped off my boots, quickly opened the door,
and went very cautiously round to the front part of the house.

The first object that caught my eyes was a horse standing tethered
in what had been the ruins of a barn adjoining the farmhouse.
Creeping up to the door, which had been left ajar, I peeped in, and
saw a party of French soldiers seated on the floor, eating bread
and sausages, and drinking from little tin cans. My mouth watered
at the sight of this food after more than twelve hours of fasting,
but I was not conscious of this till afterwards. The party
consisted of seven men. One, somewhat apart from the rest (it was
he who had sat himself on the trap door), was clearly an officer.
He was a tall, lean man of some forty years; he had unbuttoned his
coat and laid his hat, in which there was a white cockade, beside
him. At a respectful distance from him sat the others of the party.

For some time they ate their meal in silence, the men, I suppose,
not daring to converse in the presence of their captain. But by and
by the officer, his hunger being some whit appeased, unbent a
little from his dignity and addressed a stout little sergeant among
the party.

"It is twelve years since I was here before, Jules," he said, and
there was a noticeable air of condescension in his tone; it was as
though he did the sergeant a mighty favor in speaking at all.

"Yes, monsieur," said the sergeant, as if humbly inviting him to
continue.

"Yes, twelve years ago," the officer repeated. "I have reason,
truly, to know it again. Those were the days of the Conversions,
Jules. You don't know what the Conversions were? I will tell you.
There were cursed Huguenots in the country then, Jules, bad
citizens, unruly rascals every one of them, and our good king
commanded that they should instantly return to the true faith. Some
of them were obstinate, and they, see you, had to be converted. We
called it conversion by lodgings, and, my faith, it was excellent
sport. They quartered some of us on any household that was
unwilling to obey the king, and there we remained until they saw
the error of their ways.

"My faith! some were hard to convert. The owner of this place, for
instance. We were here for a month, and never lived better in our
lives. The fool! He had a pretty daughter, too, and I fell in love
with her. The farmer objected, and one day had the insolence to
strike me. That was treason, of course, and the least we could do,
especially as he was so obstinate in the matter of his conversion,
was to burn his farm. He shot one of my men while we were at the
work, and--well, we hanged him. That was twelve years ago."

The sergeant laughed. I, who had heard something from my father of
King Lewis' treatment of his Huguenot subjects--of the Dragonnade,
as it was called, and the sufferings of the poor people at the
hands of the brutal soldiery--I, who knew of this, was shocked at
the callous levity of the captain's speech; and I could have struck
the fat, foolish face of the sergeant for his chuckle.

"What fools men are!" the captain went on. "Who would have supposed
that these rascals of deserters would make for the very place where
they would most readily be discovered! But all these peasants are
simpletons. If you, now, were to desert, Jules, you would not
return to Meaux, would you? You are a townsman, and have more
sense. But these peasants--bah! cattle, no more."

I thought the sergeant's laugh at this rang a trifle hollow. He was
not a soft-hearted man in appearance, but perhaps he had some
fellow feeling for poor men dragged from their work at the plough
to serve in the army of the Grand Monarque. His next words
surprised me, for I had not understood the captain's reference to
deserters.

"Shall we give them something to eat, mon capitaine?" he asked.

"Decidedly not," said the officer with an oath. "They have led us a
pretty dance, and what's the good of food to men about to be shot!"

"But they may fall from exhaustion before we reach Rennes,"
suggested the sergeant, "and that may cause delay. They have had
nothing for near twelve hours, mon capitaine, and marching best
part of the time."

"Well, give them a crust," said the captain, lazily throwing
himself back on the straw; "but it is waste, sheer waste."

The sergeant rose and, taking some scraps of food, crossed the room
and disappeared from my sight. I knew now that the deserters of
whom they had spoken were actually in the place with them, and
found myself pitying the fate of men who had had the ill luck to
fall into the hands of so coldly brutal an officer as this captain.

Then I turned about with a start, having the strange feeling--for
I heard nothing--that someone was moving behind me. It was Runnles.
He came towards me stealthily, wearing that meek, shy look of his,
and told me in a whisper that Joe Punchard had sent him to see what
had become of me. At the sight of him a fantastic notion buzzed
into my head. I caught him by the sleeve and whispered eagerly in
his ear, his eyes becoming two round O's with excitement as he
listened. He stole away again, and I turned once more to my
business of eavesdropping.

"They eat like pigs," I heard the captain say to the sergeant, who
had returned to his lair on the straw. "These peasants never lose
the ill manners bred in them. And those English dogs who have
escaped from prison--how do I know they are peasants, too, Jules?"

"I can not tell, mon capitaine," says the sergeant.

"Why, because you may be sure they have done a foolish thing, like
these deserters of ours. They are seamen; depend upon it, they have
made straight for the coast, and we shall soon hear that they have
been taken."

I could not help smiling at the ingenuousness of the captain's
reasoning.

"My faith!" he went on, "I wish we were going from Rennes to St.
Malo instead of from St. Malo to Rennes. I should have loved to
join in the hunt for the rascals, and I doubt not you, Jules, would
be glad enough to get some portion of the reward offered for their
capture. Ah, well! the others will have the luck; but I would give
something to see those English dogs when--"

And here I pushed wide the door.

"Am I permitted to enter, messieurs?" I said in my best French, and
giving the captain a pleasant smile. Lying at full length with his
head on his arms, he could not clearly see me. The men stared at
me, but did not move nor speak, waiting dutifully for their
officer. He raised himself on his elbow.

"Who are you?" he asks, looking me up and down from my bare feet to
my unkempt head.

"I, monsieur," said I steadily, though my heart was thumping at a
furious rate--"I, monsieur, am one of the English dogs--at your
service."

This announcement was sufficiently startling to account for the
temporary paralysis that seemed to have fallen on the party. They
stared at me, speechless. During that moment I had thrown a rapid
glance to my left. The three deserters were lying against the wall;
between them and me were the stacked muskets of the soldiers.

While the men were still fixed in their astonishment, I sprang
three paces to the left, caught up the muskets in both arms, and
dashed towards the door. That released them from the spell; the men
jumped to their feet and rushed after me. What happened to the
captain I learned afterwards from Joe. He suddenly found himself
heaved up into the air: four brawny arms had shoved up the trap
door on which he was lying, my dash for the door having been the
signal I had communicated to them through Runnles. When the officer
came sprawling down on the straw again, some feet away from his
former position, he was pounced on by Joe and the bosun, who made
short work of tying him up with his own sword strap.

Meanwhile the rest of my comrades had run out of the cellar door,
and joined me just in time to receive the charge of the six
Frenchmen who had followed me from the house. Fortunately for us,
what with surprise and haste, the Frenchmen had not drawn their
swords, so that the fight that ensued beneath the ruined wall of
the farm was waged on fairly even terms. And when it comes to a
contest in which nature's weapons are employed, I never yet met
combatants to match sturdy English tars. There were six Frenchmen,
and my comrades (Joe and the bosun being busy with the captain)
numbered seven, but of these Dilly was old and Runnles was small,
and, coming up in the rear of the rest, they two had no part in the
fight. Nor had I, for when they engaged my arms were full of the
muskets; and when I had laid these on the ground I saw that one of
the Frenchmen, evidently foreseeing how the matter must end, left
his fellows and ran fleetly towards the horse, which was looking
with serene indifference at the scene. I sprinted after him; he had
only a few yards' start, and knew that he was pursued, for he
swerved out of the direction in which he was running, seeing, no
doubt, that he would not have time to untether the horse before I
was upon him. He turned aside, leapt a low dyke into a field, and
picked up his heels so nimbly that, though I was pretty quick of
foot, I was by no means sure of my power to overtake him.

But he had left me the horse. Quickly untethering it, I mounted, and
set off after the runaway. And then my practice in cross-country
riding about Shrewsbury served me well; I did not hesitate to set
the beast at the dykes that divided the fields; he took them gamely,
and after five minutes of as mad a steeplechase as I ever enjoyed
I came up with the fugitive. He sprang aside, drew his sword, and
seemed to be for showing fight: but when I wheeled the horse and
threatened to ride him down he saw that the game was up, and, sullenly
surrendering his sword, marched back before me to the farm.

Then I found that my comrades had already finished the business.
They had hauled the Frenchmen back into the room where their
captain lay, screeching abuse at Joe and the bosun, who smiled at
him encouragingly. The Frenchmen's faces bore marks of punishment;
several of them had signs of war upon their sleeves, which they had
used to stanch their noses. So loudly did the captain vituperate me
that I had to ask Joe to silence him; it was necessary for us to
hold a council of war, and quiet discourse was impossible while the
Frenchman raved.

Joe chose a way as effective as it was simple. He caught up a
handful of straw and stuffed it between the officer's teeth.

And now some of the circumstances reminded me of the similar
mischance that had befallen me on the Bristowe road. There also the
scene had passed in a ruined building strewn with straw. And the
recollection of the indignity I had suffered at the hands of Topper
and his fellows, coupled with the sight of the three deserters
lying manacled and open-mouthed against the wall, gave me an idea
that pleased me mightily. I had once changed clothes against my
will; why should not Monsieur le Capitaine learn humility in the
same way? He was about my height: his clothes would certainly fit
me better than Job the poacher's had done; and whereas my former
change had been for the worse, the change I contemplated should
turn out very much for the better, and so the whirligig of time
would have his revenges.

I told my comrades what I had in mind.

"All very well for you, sir," said the bosun bluntly, "but what
about us tars?"

"Why, some of you can slip into the Frenchmen's clothes," I
replied. "You won't get a fit, I fear, bosun; you are overgrown" (I
smiled as the words others had used about me came unbidden to my
lips); "but the sergeant there is very much Joe Punchard's figure,
and five of you can make shift, I daresay. You would make quite a
pretty squad of Frenchmen, and show a little more brawn."

"But what's the good, sir?" objected Tolliday. "We can't talk a
word of the lingo, and if your idea be to march through the country
till we can find a boat, bless my buttons if we can do it, 'cos the
first cuss I say will be the ruin of us."

"I haven't told you all my plan yet," I said. "But first I must
speak to these poor fellows here: they are deserters and were on
the way to Rennes to be shot.

"Take 'em outside, Joe."

The plan I had in mind when seizing the Frenchmen was somewhat
hazy, but it was becoming clearer every moment, and, being spiced
with hazard, it appealed to all that was adventurous in my nature.

When I had the deserters out of earshot of their late guards, I
asked them if they wished to regain their freedom, knowing well
what their answer would be.

"Well," said I, "if I set you free now it may do you no good. You
have been caught once and may be caught again. But if you throw in
your lot with us there is a chance for you. We are English
prisoners who have escaped: join us, and we will try to take you to
England."

They demurred to this. They did not want to go to England, where
they would be friendless and might starve. They would rather remain
in their own country, among their own kin.

"But there is a France overseas," I said. "From England you may
perhaps sail by and by for Quebec, where you would be among your
own countrymen, and run little risk of being recognized. If you
stay here you will sooner or later be captured again and shot. A
new land is the place for you."

They discussed this suggestion among themselves, and at length
agreed to make the attempt. I then returned to my comrades, and
explained to them more fully my design. It was nothing less than to
personate the French captain, and to lead my party across country
just as he had been doing. The three deserters would exchange their
peasant rags for the uniforms of three of the French soldiers, and
three of my comrades would wear the uniforms of the rest. I hoped
that with courage and address and circumspection we might contrive
to keep up the imposture long enough to accomplish our ends.

My comrades, however, looked at the matter in a different light.

"'Tis all very fine," said the bosun gloomily, "but what about the
lingo, sir? We may dress up as much as you like, but nohow can we
twist our tongues to the jabber of these Frenchies, and I could no
more march a score of miles without using my clapper than I could
steer without a rudder."

"Then you will have to be wounded in the jaw," I said, "and Joe
will tie it up so that you can't open your mouth. We must pretend
that we had a desperate fight before we captured the deserters. We
must be very careful; I don't make light of the difficulties before
us, but we shouldn't be worth the name of English tars if we didn't
make the best use of this opportunity that Providence has offered
us."

"But what about the rest of us?" said Tolliday. "There bean't
enough uniforms to go round."

"Why," I said, with a sudden inspiration, "you shall be just what
you are, English seamen who have escaped prison. I shall give out
that as we were escorting our deserters we discovered you skulking
in a barn, and brought you along with us."

My comrades were aghast at this, but I pointed out that my plan
would solve the language difficulty, and that if it succeeded in
one part it might succeed in all, whereas if it failed they would
be none the worse off. They admitted that this was reasonable, and
the humor of the situation suddenly striking them, they began to
enjoy it as an excellent joke.

And then Runnles suggested a difficulty which had not occurred to
me: it may seem a mark of self-conceit, but it was really mere
thoughtlessness. He pointed out that though I spoke French well
(little Runnles was a man of tact!), yet it would not deceive a
native. He was undoubtedly right, and the suggestion staggered me.
Hoping to be reassured, I asked one of the deserters whether I
might pass as a Frenchman, and I own I felt deeply chagrined when,
with a shrug, he confessed that I would not. But one of his
comrades here broke in.

"Pardon, monsieur," he said, "what matters it? That brute of a
captain is only a German Swiss; there are plenty such in the king's
army; and your French is as good as his."

My spirits rose at this, and having told my comrades what he had
said, I determined to lose no more time in putting my plan into
execution. The changes of clothes were quickly made, not without
some struggles on the part of our victims, and a vast deal of
violent language from the captain, whom Joe again half choked with
straw. We soon had him and his men rigged up, gagged and manacled
as deserters; we borrowed (without leave) kerchiefs of various
colors which the Frenchmen had about them, and of them made
bandages for those who were to pass as wounded. Joe donned the
sergeant's clothes, and the bosun those of the largest of the
company, though they were a sad misfit.

It struck us that we should make the imposture more complete if we
got a cart in which to convey our wounded men, so when the
preparations were otherwise complete I, attired as the French
captain, mounted his horse and, accompanied by two of the quondam
deserters (now appearing quite respectable infantrymen), set off to
find a farm where in the name of King Lewis I might demand what we
needed. We had to go some three miles before we came to a likely
looking farmhouse, and there, assuming an authoritative and
hectoring manner quite foreign to my amiable disposition, I secured
a wagon and two horses, for which I gave the farmer a formal
receipt.

The sight of his dairy reminded me that I was hungry, and I added
to my requisition a good store of food, for which I knew my
comrades would bless me. For driver I picked out the stupidest
looking yokel I could find among the farmer's men, and then we
returned to the ruined farmhouse in triumph and not a little haste,
for I was eager to set my teeth in the bread and cheese we were
conveying.



Chapter 18: In The Name Of King Lewis.


While we were appeasing our appetites, I got from the deserters an
inkling of our locality. They had been marching, as I knew, from
St. Malo to Rennes, but instead of keeping to the highroad through
Combourg, they had taken a short cut that saved several miles. It
passed through several hamlets, some of which, they said, could be
avoided; but there were others which we must take on our way, and
it was in these that we should be put to the test.

I asked the men if they knew of any spot on the coast where we
might find a boat to convey us across the Channel, and after
consulting together they decided that the only likely place was the
little fishing town of Cancale, about ten miles east of St. Malo.
It had a harbor on the Bay of St. Michel, whence the luggers sailed
forth a little before sunset. I would rather have chosen a smaller
place, and one more distant from our late prison, but the men
assured me that there was no other so easily accessible, or so
likely to furnish the boat we needed; so I determined to put all to
the hazard and make for Cancale. It was, as nearly as they could
tell, about five and twenty miles from our present position, so
that we could not hope to reach it before night, and we had to
reconcile ourselves to the prospect of another day's march across
country on the morrow.

We set off, a strange company indeed. One of the deserters led the
way; behind him went the cart containing the French captain and his
men, now passing as deserters, and all gagged; then came seven of
my comrades with their hands tied, the other two deserters marching
one on each side of them; and the rear was brought up by the bosun,
Joe and myself, and the two men being attired as French soldiers
and having their heads bandaged, their supposed wounds being
sufficient to account for their silence if they were addressed.

Having plenty of time before us, we chose devious and little
frequented roads, the deserters who led us being fortunately
familiar with the district. We avoided the villages when we could,
but towards evening came to a hamlet which it was impossible to
shun, since only through it could we gain a ford at a stream that
crossed our route.

The appearance of a party of soldiers aroused great interest among
the villagers. They came about us, asking who we were and whither
we were going. They were greatly excited when they learned that we
were escorting deserters and recaptured English prisoners. The real
deserters told a glib story of the furious fight they had had with
the villains (pointing to the unhappy officer and his men). The
villagers threw up their hands with shrill exclamations at this
moving recital, and, going up to the cart, gazen open-mouthed and
not without a secret sympathy at the prostrate forms.

Then they asked why the deserters were gagged. At this I took up
the tale, explaining that they were desperate characters, and had
used such terrible language against his sacred majesty the king
that, as a loyal officer, I had sworn they should not speak again
until they were safely jailed in St. Malo. The captain's face was
distorted with rage as he listened to this libel: he flung his
manacled hands about and made frantic efforts to speak, which Joe's
gag was too thoroughly fixed to allow.

"Voila!" said I, with a dramatic gesture; and the simple villagers,
taking the officer's writhings and gnashings as so much evidence of
his desperate wickedness, poured imprecations upon him for his
impiety, and declared that no punishment was too great for him. The
poor people had, I daresay, no great reason themselves for loving
their monarch, but they were anxious that their own loyalty should
be above suspicion.

About the English prisoners they expressed their sentiments without
disguise. The English were their natural enemies, and they hurled
such abuse at my comrades that I felt some anxiety lest these
should cast off their cords (which were by no means closely tied)
and take summary vengeance on their revilers. Fortunately their
patience endured the strain, being aided by their ignorance of the
precise meaning of the opprobrious terms applied to them.

The peasants told us we had come far out of the direct road to St.
Malo, and pressed us to stay the night in their village. But this I
would by no means consent to, for I was on thorns already lest
something should mar our plot, and was keeping a wary eye on our
wagoner, who, though slow-witted, was clearly in a state of great
uneasiness. Professing, then, that having missed our way we must
needs hurry on to make up for lost time, I listened patiently to
the minute and befogging directions given us for finding the St.
Malo road and ordered my party to march. But when we had gone some
few miles out of the village, and darkness was settling down, I
called a halt, and we rested till daylight in a field, taking it in
turns to watch.

During the night I talked long with Joe Punchard about our course.
The good fellow was very uneasy, fearing that when it came to
negotiating for a boat our scheme would break down.

"Pluck up heart, Joe," I said. "I own we are running a desperate
hazard, but so far we have had good luck, and 'tis a case of
grasping the nettle boldly."

"But what reason can we give for hiring a boat, sir? If this
Cancale is but ten miles from St. Malo we can not say we are
sailing thither; 'twould be quicker to go by road."

"Then we'll change our destination, Joe. We may do what we please
in this country in the name of the king, and provided there be no
soldiers in Cancale we have but to put on an impudent assurance to
weather through safely."

I asked the deserters what other port besides St. Malo we might
give out to be our destination, and learning that Cherbourg was
some sixty or seventy miles to the northward, and by that much
nearer home, I determined to make that our aim. This involved
another difficulty, for the authorities in Cancale might reasonably
say that the prisoners having escaped from near St. Malo, should be
entrusted to them to convey back to their prison. But 'tis no good
meeting troubles halfway, and I resolutely kept my thought from
dwelling on the manifold dangers that bestrewed our path to
liberty.

We so contrived our march next day that we arrived at the outskirts
of Cancale late in the afternoon, but with time enough, as I hoped,
to set sail before night. When I beheld the size of the place my
heart sank. I had imagined it to be little more than a village; but
found it a regular town (though small for that), its little
red-tiled houses clustering thick upon a height overlooking a bay.
We had already met and exchanged speech with some of the townsfolk,
and to retreat now might awaken suspicion. There was nothing for it
but to adventure boldly, and I made up my mind to this the more
readily because I had caught a glimpse of half a dozen fishing
smacks lying in the little harbor, and a larger vessel of perhaps
fifty tons moored to the jetty.

With a word to my comrades to be alert and ready for anything that
might happen, I led the way at a quick pace into the town. I had
grave misgivings when I noticed that the streets were en fete,
flags flying at the windows, and people gossiping in knots at the
corners. But we had certainly come too far to retreat, so I boldly
accosted a red-capped fisherman and demanded to be led to the
mairie.

As I walked along beside him I asked what was the occasion of the
festal appearance of the town, and learned with a disagreeable
shock that no other than the redoubtable Duguay-Trouin had that day
put into the harbor on the vessel that lay at the jetty.

"A notable visitor, truly," I said, feeling that I had run into a
hornet's nest. "But surely that small vessel is not Monsieur
Duguay-Trouin's own ship, in which he works such havoc among the
English."

"To be sure, monsieur," said the man, "that is an English prize.
His own ship lies in the offing there, towards the point; it draws
too much water to come into our harbor. And there is another prize
out there too: a big vessel, filled, so they say, with a valuable
cargo. Oh! without doubt Monsieur Duguay-Trouin is a hero, and the
English tremble at his name."

"And why has he honored your little town with a visit?" I asked.

"Why, Monsieur le Capitaine, it is because the English admiral
Benbow appeared off St. Malo this morning with four great ships,
and so Monsieur Duguay-Trouin could not carry his prize there, and
indeed had to make all sail to escape."

Here was news indeed! It revived my drooping spirits; surely there
must be a providence in the proximity of Benbow. But I devoutly
hoped I should not encounter Duguay-Trouin. It was scarcely
probable that he would recognize me in my new attire, having paid
scant attention to me when I was among the prisoners on his deck,
but I trembled to think of the risk we all ran.

"Here is the mairie," said my guide, stopping at a house above
which a flag was flying.

I thanked him, and whispering Punchard to keep an eye on the
Frenchmen, and especially on the wagoner, I stepped boldly in and
confronted the maire, a little man with a cocked hat over his gray
wig.

"Good evening, monsieur," I said pleasantly.

The maire rose from his seat and returned my greeting.

"I am taking some deserters to Cherbourg, monsieur," I continued,
"and I must beg of you to provide me tomorrow with a smack to
convey them thither."

For the moment I said nothing about the prisoners.

"A smack, monsieur!" said the maire. "But it is foolish. Does not
monsieur know that four English warships are in the neighborhood?
Monsieur would run great risk of being captured. I would recommend
that monsieur march to Cherbourg; he would then go quite safely."

"That is perfectly true, monsieur," I said pleasantly', "but it is
a long and wearisome road; my men are already greatly fatigued by
their march from Rennes. The passage by sea would be much easier
and more comfortable, and moreover cheaper, and it is the duty of
all good Frenchmen to save his majesty expense."

I could see that the maire was nettled. His reluctance to accede to
my demand was due, not so much to his fears for our safety--for
Benbow had higher game to fly at than a fishing vessel--as to his
indisposition to provision us for the voyage. Maybe he had had some
experience of the same sort before, and knew that, whatever
receipts might be given him for commodities supplied, he had little
chance of being reimbursed for such services rendered to King
Lewis. No doubt it was some recent soreness that prompted his reply
to my remark about all good Frenchmen.

"To judge by his accent," he said, with a hint of a sneer,
"monsieur is not a Frenchman himself."

At this I affected to be mightily huffed. Laying my hand on my
sword, and knitting my brows to a frown, I replied:

"His majesty has honored me with a commission. No doubt if Monsieur
le Maire has any serious objections--"

"Pardon, Monsieur le Capitaine," the maire hastened to say, alarmed
at my tone. "I was only concerned for monsieur's safety. Certainly
he shall have a smack, equipped as befits the servants of his
majesty."

"That is well spoken, monsieur," I said. "Is it true, may I ask,
that Monsieur Duguay-Trouin is in your town?"

"Not at this moment, monsieur."

I thrilled with relief at this.

"He has gone half a league eastward to the chateau of Monsieur le
duc de Portorson, having already sent a message to St. Malo to
acquaint the admiral that he was forced to put in here by the
appearance of the English warships."

"And did he not fear that in his absence the English might swoop
down upon his vessel and the prizes he has captured?" I asked.

"They are hidden behind the point, monsieur. Besides, the highest
part of our town commands a view of forty miles of sea, and we have
placed a man there who will fire a musket if a strange sail
appears."

"Then I hope that we shall after all make our voyage to Cherbourg
in safety," I said with an air of satisfaction. "And now, will
monsieur be good enough to select the smack?"

Before he could answer, a man who had just cantered up on horseback
entered and said:

"Monsieur le Maire, Monsieur Duguay-Trouin is supping with Monsieur
le Duc. Will monsieur kindly acquaint the lieutenant in charge of
the brig at the jetty, and say that Monsieur Duguay-Trouin will
return before dark?"

"Can not you take the message yourself?" said the maire, whose
temper I fear, had been ruffled by his interview with me.

The man explained that he had been bidden to ride on without delay
to St. Malo; Monsieur Duguay-Trouin, he believed, was concerting a
plan to entrap the English vessels, and it was of particular
importance that the letter he bore should reach the admiral early.
The maire then agreed to have the message conveyed to the
lieutenant on the brig, and the horseman took his leave.

During their short conversation, which I only partly heard, my
brain was whirling with a wild dance of notions the messenger's
tidings had suggested. When he had gone, I turned to the maire.

"Monsieur," I said. "I think there is much soundness in the advice
you gave me just now. It will probably be safer for us to go to
Cherbourg by land. In that case, however, I must request you to
billet us for the night."

"Assuredly, monsieur," said the little man, delighted at the turn
affairs had taken. "Of how many does your party consist?"

"Of seven deserters and five soldiers."

"A dozen," said the maire, rubbing his chin. "I fear I shall have
to ask some of my fellow townsmen to share in billeting you."

"It is not to be heard of," I said, guessing that he wished to
distribute the expense.

Not that I should have had any objection to that; but that it was
necessary to the design I had suddenly conceived that we should be
all together.

"It will not be safe," I continued. "The deserters are desperate
fellows, and will need careful guarding. Besides, I have had the
good luck to capture some English prisoners who had escaped, and
they are too precious to be allowed out of my sight. My men must
take turns at watching during the night; if there were an outbreak,
it would not easily be quelled if we were separated."

The maire had pricked up his ears at the mention of the prisoners.

"Prisoners, monsieur!" he exclaimed. "You said nothing of them. We
have heard about them, and there is a reward offered for their
capture. If monsieur would deign to give us part of the reward--"

"We will talk of that again, monsieur," I said. "I am in haste to
get to Cherbourg with the deserters; I can trust you, no doubt, to
guard the prisoners well until an escort can be sent for them from
St. Malo. In consideration of that, no doubt--"

I broke off expressively, and the maire doubtless regarded his
share of the reward as secure, for he raised no more objections. He
accompanied me to the door, looked contemptuously at my comrades
(who were in a great state of anxiety, I can assure you, knowing
nothing of what I had in mind), and then went on to the wagon where
the supposed deserters were lying. On seeing him the captain
started up and with many contortions struggled to speak.

"Why are they gagged, monsieur?" asked the maire.

I repeated the explanation I had already given.

"Terrible!" said the maire, and the captain grew purple in the
face.

"You perceive I could not allow my men's ears to be defiled by the
language of such a ruffian," I remarked.

"Perfectly, monsieur. Ah, scilerat!" he cried, shaking his fist at
the infuriate officer, and pouring out upon him a torrent of loyal
abuse which I find it impossible to translate.

Then he turned to the bosun, and asked him how he had come by his
wound. The bosun was quick-witted enough to take my cue, and,
pointing to the captain, whose reputation as the most violent of
the deserters was clearly established, he made through his bandages
a series of grunts and roars which proved to the maire's
satisfaction that his jaw was very seriously damaged. And last of
all inspecting my comrades, who stood aside with trouble in their
faces, he bestowed on them sundry offensive epithets which I was
thankful they did not understand, for otherwise I am sure they
would have forgotten their part and endangered everything by
administering a castigation.

The maire arranged to billet us all. Having seen my double set of
prisoners securely locked up, and the deserters with Joe and the
bosun accommodated in a room hard by, I offered to convey Monsieur
Duguay-Trouin's message myself to his lieutenant, saying that I
should be charmed to make the acquaintance of the deputy of so
renowned a seaman. The maire took this as a great mark of
condescension. Accordingly I went down to the jetty, not far below
the maire's house, and accosting the officer in charge, a
rough-spun seaman, I gave him the message, and then bantered him in
a tone of good humor.

"So the English have been too much for you this time, lieutenant,"
I said. "It is Benbow, they say; a terrible fire eater, is he not?"

"Bah!" exclaimed the Frenchman. "Let him beware. He is no match for
Duguay-Trouin, and we'll beat him again as we have done before,
never fear."

"But they say he is bottling up St. Malo," I said.

"So he is," he replied with a laugh: "and while he is bottling up
St. Malo we shall slip by to Havre; trust Duguay for that."

I asked him how the prizes had been captured, and he launched forth
into a long and vainglorious account (why must the French always
boast of their successes?). I affected to be greatly impressed by
his tale of daring, and invited him to sup with me, so that I might
hear more of his adventures at length. As I had guessed, he
replied, regretfully, that he could not leave the vessel.

"I am not to be balked," I said. "I have set my heart upon it: one
does not get every day the opportunity of hearing of these glorious
exploits at first hand. If you cannot come to supper, then supper
shall come to you. Monsieur Duguay-Trouin would not object, I
presume, to my bringing a little entertainment on board."

"My faith, no," replied the officer, taking this as a high
compliment. "I shall be charmed. I only regret that I cannot invite
you, monsieur, but our cook, together with all the crew but four,
is on shore for a spell, and I have no means of providing a repast
worthy of a gallant captain."

I returned in haste to the maire, and informed the maire that I
should share my supper with the lieutenant, who had not enjoyed a
meal fit for a Frenchman for three weeks. The maire could raise no
reasonable objection, though I doubt not, being economical, he
grudged this extra demand upon his hospitality. As for me, I had no
scruples at getting, at the King's expense, the best meal possible
at such short notice.

While it was preparing, I explained my design to Joe and the bosun.
They assented to it with enthusiasm; it was one that mightily
pleased them as sailormen; and appealed as much to their sense of
humor as to their love of daring.

When the supper was ready, I told off two of the three deserters,
with Joe and the bosun, to carry it down to the brig on tables made
of boards, each laid on two muskets. The lieutenant received me
with open arms, and led me immediately to the captain's cabin.
Having placed the viands on the table, the two deserters returned
to the deck, to fraternize with the French crew. The other two I
kept, ostensibly to wait at table; and I remarked to the lieutenant
on their willingness to do their duty in spite of their wounds, of
which I gave him a brief explanation.

It was already becoming dusk; we had no time to lose if my design
was to succeed, for with the imminent arrival of Duguay-Trouin our
fate was sealed.



Chapter 19: I Fight Duguay-Trouin.


I had brought wine on board, but before a bottle was opened I said,
with a wink at the lieutenant:

"I fear this wine of the country will taste somewhat thin after
English rum, monsieur."

"We have a great quantity of it in the hold, monsieur," he said
laughing, "and with your leave I will order my men to broach a
cask."

He shouted his command to the men on deck. Instantly Joe, who was
behind him, threw his arm round the officer's neck, thrust a gag
into his mouth, and with the bosun's aid deftly tied his arms and
legs together. Then all three of us ran up the companion way. In
obedience to the lieutenant's command two of the men had gone
forward and were descending through the open hatchway into the
hold. While the deserters held the rest of the men in talk, the
bosun strolled carelessly after the two, and as soon as they had
disappeared, quietly clapped on the hatch and battened it down.
Meanwhile Joe and I joined the group at the bulwarks, without
awakening suspicion among the crew. At a signal from me the men
tripped them up, and in another two minutes they were lying gagged
and bound on the deck.

It was scarcely ten minutes since we came on board, and we had done
everything without the least noise to alarm the town. Then, leaving
the deserters to guard the ship, I returned in all haste with the
others to the maire.

"What shall we do with our prisoners, Joe?" I asked, as we hurried
along.

"Leave 'em locked up, sir, and lock the maire up with them in case
of accidents."

"But I think we will bring the captain and the sergeant," I said.
"You see, they have got our clothes."

"But these are better, sir," he replied, "and you make a rare fine
captain, smite my timbers if you don't."

"Still, we will bring them; a taste of prison may do the captain,
at any rate, a world of good."

And so, when we got to the mairie, I unlocked the door where the
prisoners were confined, told my comrades in a few words what had
happened, and bade them go forth into the street, when Joe and the
bosun had loosed their bands and hasten to the harbor.

The maire, learning that I had returned, had followed me in, and
hearing these words of English, and seeing Joe and the bosun
untying the cords, he cried to me to know what I was about. The
bosun instantly laid hands on him and began to truss him up. He
gave one shout of alarm, which Joe deftly checked with a gag made
of the bandage he had stripped from his head, and then he was laid
on the floor beside the Frenchmen. Then we seized the captain and
sergeant, and having locked the door again, marched them among us
at a brisk pace to the harbor and on to the brig.

"Now, man, we have no time to lose," I said, as we stepped aboard.
"'Tis nearly dark, and Doggy-Trang, as you call him, may return any
minute. Luckily the tide is fast ebbing.

"Cast off, Joe; Bosun, run up the sail. And we are only just in
time. Here they come."

And indeed we had escaped only by the skin of our teeth, for I saw
a number of French seamen coming down the streets and a horseman
behind them. No doubt it was Duguay-Trouin himself, and his coming
had caused his men to turn out of the cabarets. The brig was
already moving from the jetty; the practised hands of my comrades
were at work with the sails; and as the vessel slipped away quickly
on the ebbing tide, from sheer lightheartedness and pleasure at the
success of our trick they made the welkin ring with their cheers.

I was as hilarious as they. The Frenchmen were crowding on the
jetty, shouting, cursing, actually screaming to us to come back. I
mounted the bulwarks, and, clinging to the shrouds, took off my hat
(or rather the captain's) and waved it gaily towards Duguay-Trouin,
who, having dismounted, had pushed through his men, and was
evidently angrily demanding an explanation of the extraordinary
scene he had arrived in time to witness. The townsfolk and fishers
were flocking down now in great numbers; the shouting increased to
a veritable pandemonium, and as we scudded away farther and farther
into the growing darkness I heard the scurrying of feet on the
cobble stones and the creaking of blocks as the sails were run up
on the smacks in the harbor.

They were going to pursue us, then! I laughed aloud. With nine good
English tars aboard an English brig I thought I could snap my
fingers at Duguay-Trouin in a smack.

But there was one danger, which, after the flush of jubilation had
died down, I was quick to appreciate. Duguay-Trouin's privateer was
lying off the point a few miles northward, and if, in answer to a
signal, she were to join in the chase, I saw that our chances of
getting away were small enough. Even as the thought struck me, two
musket shots were fired from the harbor. These were doubtless a
signal, but they could scarcely convey any real information: the
capture of the brig at its moorings was too unlikely a thing to
have been provided against. But the shots would set the privateer
on the alert, and we must run no risks of encountering her. So,
instead of running straight out into the channel, we stood away up
the coast, keeping the brig close-hauled. She proved somewhat slow
in working to windward, but we were now almost totally enveloped in
darkness, and by hugging the shore were not so likely to be
descried from the privateer as if we ran out to sea.

Unluckily this gave the pursuers some advantage of us. Looking in
our wake, I by and by discerned three smacks in full chase, and
perceived that they were steadily overhauling us. The brig carried
a brass gun, and I thought it well to get her ready for use, though
I was determined not to fire save in extremity, since the flash
would apprise the privateer of our direction and bring her on our
track. But the distance between us and the leading smack grew less
and less, and knowing that we dare not allow them to close in upon
us (for doubtless their crews vastly outnumbered ours and would
overpower us if they got the chance to board), I at length, when
our enemy was within about half a cable's length of us, called to
the bosun to fire, aiming to hull her just below water line.

He set his match to the touch hole, and the round shot flew forth.
I could not tell whether the smack was hit or not, but 'twas clear
that she had suffered little or no damage, for she came on as fast
as ever. The bosun reloaded in all haste, and fired again when she
could not have been above fifty yards distant. This time I knew the
shot had struck her, but she still came on, and as she was now
below our line of fire I feared it would come to push of pike after
all. But a moment or two afterwards I rejoiced to see that she was
losing way: our shot had gone home. The other two smacks overtook
her, and then began a dropping fire of musketry from all three.

Clearly it was no longer expedient to hull them merely. Their speed
was so much superior to the brig's that even if we hit one or other
of them they might close in before their pace was much checked by
the inrush of water. Loath as I was to spill blood, I bade the
bosun now load the gun with grape, and my qualms were banished when
I heard cries of pain, and learned that Runnles and another had
been hit by musket shots. The smack that was leading was coming up
directly in our wake.

"Give it her, Bosun!" I cried.

"She shall have it," he answered, and immediately she was swept by
the grape shot from stem to stern, yells and execrations telling
that the bosun had not aimed in vain. She at once paid off before
the wind: 'twas clear the steersman had been hit; and before
another man could take his place and bring her head round the smack
behind crashed into her.

I had good hope that the chase was now ended, and we might go
rejoicing on our way to the white shores of England. But I was
reckoning without Duguay-Trouin. For a few moments we drew away
from our pursuers; but then I saw that the third smack had cleared
herself from the one she had run into and was again sailing swiftly
in our wake, having apparently suffered no injury. The bosun had
already re-charged the gun with grape, but when he fired, at a
range which forbade the possibility of missing, there were only one
or two cries instead of the chorus we had heard before.

"Burst me if they be not lying down in the bottom," said Joe,
standing at my side, "and the shot have passed clean over them."

"And 'tis no good firing again," I said. "We can't depress the gun
enough to hull her or hit the men, and the shot will only cut holes
in the rigging. Would we had tried round shot and brought down her
mast."

"'Tis all hands to repel boarders now," returned Joe, "and there'll
be a few broken heads afore we are done."

Runnles meanwhile had had the good sense and the ready wit to load
three muskets apiece from the ship's armory. We each of us took
one, having the other two in reserve at our feet. The smack came on
bravely, and I could now see that her deck was swarming with men.
She had deflected somewhat from her straight course, and was coming
up on our larboard quarter, whither we hastened to meet the attempt
to board us. In another minute the vessels touched, and a few shots
were fired from the smack, but without damage to us, for the impact
had set her rocking, so that 'twas impossible for the Frenchmen to
take good aim. Next moment they threw grapnels into our rigging,
and the vessels were locked together.

The whole of our company, save Dilly at the wheel, was spread along
the bulwarks, and at my word twelve muskets sped their slugs among
the men endeavoring to swarm up our side. There were cries and
groans enough now, and not merely from the enemy, for while the
foremost of them was attempting to board, others beyond fired at
us, and I knew from the bosun's bellow of rage that he for one had
been hit. We snatched up a second musket each, but before we could
turn to fire them, three of the Frenchmen had gained a footing on
our deck.

Making a rush for these, we shoved them by main force back over the
side, only just in time to meet another group who had scrambled up.
It was no longer possible to fire. We clubbed our muskets and dealt
about us lustily, cheers and yells and groans mingling in a babel
the like of which I had never heard before. I reckoned that there
were at least three Frenchmen to every one of us, and Duguay-Trouin
was with them; I heard his voice shouting encouragement. 'Twas
lucky that their deck was lower than ours, for if we had been level
I doubt not we had soon been overpowered by the weight of numbers.
But they, being below us, and crowded to boot, could not use their
superiority to advantage, and though they did what mortal men might
to get at us, we beat them back time after time.

Joe, beside me, was a host in himself. 'Twas clear fighting and not
coopering was the trade he was born to; he cut and thrust and
jabbed and smote with his musket, and more than once drove a
Frenchman backward by mere shoving with his mighty shoulders,
breathing hard, shouting loving farewells to the men he heaved into
the smack or the sea, some of them, I fear, never to fight again.
But in truth we all fought with might and main; we knew how much
depended on the issue.

And let no Englishman ever despise the French as an enemy, as 'tis
the fashion with some vainglorious folk to do. I have fought them,
and I know, and I say they are gallant fighters, and as brave as
men can be.

How long the light continued I could not tell; but all at once, as
it seemed to me, the enemy disappeared; there was no one in front
of me to hit.

"Fling off the grappling irons," I shouted, and in a trice we
disengaged them and cast them back whence they came. The two
vessels broke apart, and though ere we had left the smack behind, a
volley of bullets fell among us, hitting three of our men, and
giving me a burning wound in the leg, the fight was over. We hailed
our victory with a true English cheer, and I own I felt no little
pride in having worsted so renowned a captain as Duguay-Trouin.

But I was by no means sure that we were wholly out of peril. The
sound of firing must have been heard for miles around, and we could
not tell but that Duguay-Trouin's own vessel, and maybe others,
too, were making sail towards us. Dilly had now set the course of
the vessel due north, but the wind was against us, and we had still
many hours to sail before we gained the open Channel. A big red
moon was peering above the horizon, and (having stanched my wound
and done what was possible for my comrades who were hurt, none
seriously, thank God!) I looked anxiously for signs of vessels.

By and by, as the light increased with the whitening moon, I did
indeed behold a large vessel under full sail beating towards us,
and I made no doubt 'twas Duguay-Trouin's privateer. The bosun said
her course would bring her athwart ours, and I felt how barren our
late victory would prove if she came to grips with us. 'Twas clear
she was outsailing us, and the seasoned mariners among my comrades
foretold that in a couple of hours we should be at her mercy.

We had spread all the canvas we could carry, and could only wait
and hope. I sat on a coil of rope, suffering much pain from my
wound, and trembling with anxiety as I watched the vessel drawing
nearer and nearer. A shifting of the wind helped us to mend our
pace a little; two hours, three hours, four hours passed, and still
the enemy had not come within range of us. And then, as day began
to dawn, I gave up hope, foreseeing a speedy end to the chase and
an enforced surrender.

But a cry from Runnles, who had gone aloft, raised my drooping
spirits.

"Four sail, sir, on the larboard bow," he shouted.

I sprang up (forgetting my wounded leg), and looked eagerly across
the sea. By and by I discovered four vessels of a large size
bearing down upon us from the west. Whether friend or foe I could
not tell until I saw the privateer change her course and at last
head directly back towards the shore. Then a great shout of
thankfulness broke from the throats of us tired men. We could no
longer doubt that these were English ships, and we were alive with
excitement when we saw two of them part from the others and go in
chase of the privateer. Would they catch her? We forgot our fatigue
and wounds, so fascinated were we in watching the pursuit, and the
other two vessels were within hailing distance of us almost before
we were aware. English colors were now flying at our masthead, and
a voice through a speaking trumpet called to know who we were.

"The brig Polly of Southampton," roared the bosun in reply, "run
a-truant from Doggy-Trang. And who be you?

"Ads bobs, sir," he added in a breath to me, "there be a white flag
at her fore topmast."

"What's that mean?" I asked.

But I had my answer from the other vessel.

"The frigate Gloucester, with Admiral Benbow aboard."

And then Joe Punchard danced a pirouette ('twas a comical sight, he
being so bandy), and shouted:

"'Tis my captain, my captain, dash my bowlines and binnacle."

And he caught the arm of one of the deserters, and danced him round
the deck till he was dizzy.



Chapter 20: The King's Commission.


I have had many happy moments in my life, but none happier, I do
think, than when Admiral Benbow clapped me on the shoulder and
cried, in his big quarterdeck voice:

"Why, my lad, we must have you a middy, and you shall serve the
King."

I was in the admiral's own cabin on the Gloucester, whither I had
been taken when my wound was dressed. Mr. Benbow and the captain
were both there, and to them I had to tell my story, from the time
of my setting forth from Shrewsbury to the late fight with
Duguay-Trouin. Some little concernments of my own (the fight with
Topper in the barn, and my rescue of Mistress Lucy on the highroad)
I kept to myself, but the rest of my adventures I related as I have
set them down here, though, to be sure, more shortly. The officers
found much entertainment in my narrative, and in particular they
were mightily tickled at the notion of escaped prisoners capturing
themselves. The admiral was good enough to speak in high praise of
my doings (far beyond my deserts), and then he told me that though
he could not himself make a midshipman without a warrant from a
higher power, he would use his interest in my behoof, and had no
doubt that all would fall out as I most ardently desired.

I had to wear my leg in a sling for a week or more, but then I got
about as nimbly as ever. In all but name I was a junior midshipman,
for the admiral said I must learn betimes the duties of the rank
which was to be mine as soon as he could compass it. And I set
about doing so with zest, for I was now turned eighteen, and there
were boys in my mess four years younger who were veterans in
seamanship and ship drill compared with me.

My messmates welcomed me with much kindness; while I was laid up of
my wound they had heard of my adventures from Joe Punchard, who was
a prime favorite aboard; and they all declared they wished they had
had my luck, though they agreed with me when I reminded them that a
nine months' imprisonment was after all a long price to pay. They
told me I should certainly get a good share of prize money for the
recapture of the Polly of Southampton, and probably also for the
other prize of Duguay-Trouin's that was retaken. The two frigates
sent in chase of the privateer had failed to come up with her, but
they had seized the prize lying off the point, which proved to be
an Indiaman richly laden.

The knowledge that I should soon have some money of my own was very
grateful to me, and I felt a natural elation of spirits at the
wonderful change that had come over my fortunes.

I hoped that while I was on the admiral's ship I should see and
take my part in a good set battle between our squadron and the
French; but in this I was disappointed. Admiral Benbow was on his
way to Dunkirk, to lie in wait for the French admiral Du Bart and
pursue him if he should put to sea. We cruised off the port for
upwards of a month without any encounter with the enemy; and when
at last, towards the end of August, we gave chase to some of their
vessels which had slipped out, we failed to overtake any of them
save a small privateer of ten guns, which struck her colors on the
first demand we made.

And then in September we learned that peace was proclaimed. The
treaty about whose terms the diplomatists had been wrangling for
seven or eight months had at last been signed at Ryswick, and the
war was at an end. But none of the officers believed that the peace
would endure. 'Twas impossible, they said, that Dutch William would
ever be a friend of French Lewis, and they prognosticated that the
lifelong struggle between the two kings would yet be fought out to
a bitter end.

Regarding war, as did all lads of my age, rather as a stage for the
display of gallantry and prowess than as the dreadful scourge it
really is, I wished for nothing better than that I should soon have
an opportunity of serving under the brave admiral. He was already a
hero to me, and not to me only. All the world knows of his courage
and daring and skill, but only those who were closely connected
with him know the full worth of that great-hearted man. The sailors
loved him. He would go and sit down with them in the foc'sle,
chatting with them rather like a brother than a high officer, yet
without loss of dignity or respect. Bravery and seamanship he rated
at their true value, whether in peer or peasant; but he never could
abide the fops and fine gentlemen who thought they became officers
merely by donning epaulets. With them he had no patience, and in
consequence he was as much hated as loved. The tars were his to a
man: but the officers were either his dear friends or his bitter
foes.

Towards the end of September we ran into Portsmouth harbor, and the
ships were then paid off. I learned that some time must elapse
before the prize money was distributed: but being eager to get back
to Shrewsbury and see my good friend and especially to acquaint
Captain Galsworthy with my wondrous good fortune, I was glad to
accept the advance of twenty pounds which the admiral offered me
when I told him of my wish. I spent five pounds in buying a
befitting suit of clothes, devoting much care to the cloth and the
cut. The admiral laughed when I went to take leave of him, and
jokingly said that he hoped I was not going to shame him by turning
into a beau and a lady-killer.

"I smoke you, by gad!" he cried with another laugh, when to my
confusion I felt my cheeks go warm.

And the truth of it is I had determined to pay a visit to Mr.
Allardyce on my way home, and the wish to cut a different figure
from that in which I had first appeared to the ladies of his family
had entered not a little into the consideration of my new garments.
Why do I say "the ladies"? Let me be honest and say 'twas Mistress
Lucy I had in my mind.

There was no question of tramping to Shrewsbury afoot. I took
passage to Bristowe in a coasting vessel, and there, after having a
chat with old Woodrow (who told me that his friend Captain Reddaway
had sworn to shew me a rope's end for deceiving him if I ever came
athwart his hawser), I booked a seat in the new diligence that ran
between Bristowe and Worcester, and there indulged myself in the
luxury of a postchaise for the journey to the Hall. And I warrant
you I was as proud as a peacock when the chaise swung in at the
gate, and rattled up the drive to the door.

'Twas Susan who opened it. She stared at me for a moment, then
burst out a-giggling, and left me standing while she rushed into
the house with a cry of "Measter, here be Joe come back, dressed
like a lord!"

"The deuce he is!" came the answering roar, and down came Mr.
Allardyce, pipe in hand, with his wife and Mistress Lucy close
behind him.

"How d'ye do, sir?" says I, advancing, feeling my face glow with
pleasure at seeing my kind friends again as much as any other
emotion, I am sure.

"Come back for a job, Joe?" cries Mr. Allardyce, gripping my hand
heartily. "Ah! you impostor! We know all about you, you young dog,
don't we, madam? Joe! Humph!"

"You can't shorten it like that, sir," said I, laughing, and giving
a hand to the ladies in turn.

And I don't know whether 'twas due to the suit of clothes, but
certainly I felt, as I shook hands with Mistress Lucy, none of the
shamefaced awkwardness that had overcome me when I stood before her
in rags and she called me "poor man."

They had me into the room where I had begged work of Mr. Allardyce,
and despatched Susan (still giggling) to bespeak a meal of Martha
the cook.

"And you must give an account of yourself, Mr. Bold," says Mr.
Allardyce, putting out a chair for me and pushing a pipe into my
hand.

"With all my heart, sir," said I, "but first will you please
enlighten me as to how you know my name?"

"Why we learned it a month after you left us," he replied. "'Twas
Roger found it out.

"He is not here, hang it!" he said, his face falling a little. "We
could not keep him at home after you had gone, and now he's
carrying an ensign in the foot regiment of General Webb.

"Well, 'twas he found out all about you. Having set his heart on
going into the army, he must needs go into Shrewsbury to take
lessons in fencing from a Captain Galsworthy he had heard of. And
it appears that during his very first bout with the captain he
tried a botte that you had taught him. The captain drops his point,
and stares a moment, and then cries 'Ads my life! The only man in
the world that knows that botte besides myself is Humphrey Bold.
Where in the name of Beelzebub did you learn it?' And so it all
came out, and the whole story of the villainous doings of those
Cluddes and Lawyer Vetch--"

"Stay, sir," I interrupted; "Mr. Vetch is a very dear friend of
mine, and I would lay my life he is innocent of any share of the
trickery that lost me my father's lands."

"Maybe, maybe: I know the story of the will," said Mr. Allardyce.
"Roger was wild with excitement when he came back, and nothing
would satisfy him but that he must go to Bristowe and see if he
could learn any news of you. But he could learn nothing, and--"

"My dear," says Mistress Allardyce at this point, "you are keeping
us waiting so long. Lucy and I want to hear Mr. Bold."

"That's an extinguisher," cries he with a jolly laugh.

"Light my pipe, Lucy, my dear; it will last a good half hour, and
maybe that will be long enough for Mr. Bold's story."

But in truth he had smoked another couple of pipes before I had
finished, and gave no heed to Susan when she appeared at the door
and said that my meal was ready. I have heard that a speaker's
eloquence depends much upon his hearers and the bond of sympathy
betwixt him and them, and sure I spoke with a freedom that
surprised me. Certainly no man was ever better favored in his
audience; Mr. Allardyce let his pipe go out more than once. And the
ladies hung on my words, Mistress Lucy sitting forward in her
chair, her lips parted, her eyes kindling, and a ruddy glow
suffusing her cheeks. The room rang with Mr. Allardyce's laughter
when I described our march across country with the gagged
Frenchmen, and I vow I could almost hear the beating of Mistress
Lucy's heart as I told of our fight with Duguay-Trouin.

When I had ended my tale, Mr. Allardyce tugged at the bell rope,
crying:

"Egad, we must drink the health of Mr. Midshipman Bold," and when
Susan appeared, with surprising celerity (I believe the minx had
been listening at the door) he roared at her for keeping me waiting
so long a-fasting.

"And what do you think of that, Lucy?" he cries, turning to his
niece. "Didst ever hear such a tale of ups and downs and derring
do?"

"I love Joe Punchard," said Mistress Lucy, and that set her uncle
a-laughing again, though I confess it somewhat mystified me.

My kind friends insisted that I should stay the night with them,
and we sat up talking to a late hour. I longed to ask how things
stood in the matter of the guardianship of Mistress Lucy, but the
subject was ignored by tacit consent so long as the ladies were in
the room. When they had retired, however, Mr. Allardyce drew his
chair alongside of mine, and said:

"Humphrey, I am worried out of my life. We are almost in a state of
siege here. Ever since that attempt at kidnapping Lucy that you so
happily frustrated I have never felt easy about her. She never goes
forth unattended now: those morning rides are at an end. I have
taken two more menservants to act as special guard for her, and
they two, or myself and one of them, always accompany her, with
well primed pistols, I warrant you. Men have been seen at various
times lurking about here, and I have taken pains to track them, and
went so far as to commit one of them for loitering with intent to
commit a felony. But I had no proof, and an attorney fellow in
Shrewsbury named Moggridge threatened me with all sorts of pains
and penalties if I did not at once release the villain."

"But what does the law say to it, sir?" I asked.

"The law is uncommon slow to say anything, confound it! My lawyer
in Bridgenorth was at first all for an accommodation, as he called
it; he wanted me to make terms with that rogue Cludde, and a host
of letters passed between him and Moggridge, who is Cludde's
attorney. But that failed; of course it did, since I wouldn't give
way, and now my man has filed a bill in chancery to make Lucy a
ward of court, with me as her guardian. The other side is opposing,
and the case will not come on till next sessions and maybe not
then. My man says we are bound to win, the court, as he declares,
being very jealous of the rights of minors, especially where
property is concerned. But meanwhile we live in constant fear of
the girl being carried off, and if they once get her there will be
precious little chance of getting her back."

"Can we not imprison Dick Cludde for the former attempt?" I
suggested. "Now that I am back I could give evidence against him."

"He is away with his ship, and will be careful, you may be sure,
not to show his nose again in these parts while there is any
danger."

"But the other fellow, Vetch--has he been seen hereabouts? I have
often wondered what became of him after he left prison."

"What is he like?"

"A tall, thin, weasel-faced fellow, with a sour look."

"No, I have not seen or heard of him."

"If I could hear of his whereabouts I would have him arrested for
his complicity in my kidnapping. I own I should feel more secure of
Mistress Lucy's safety if I knew he was laid by the heels. Could
you give me a warrant, sir, which I could execute if ever I met
him?"

"I will certainly do so, though I doubt if he'll ever give you the
opportunity. Villains of his stamp are uncommonly clever in running
to earth. But you shall have the warrant."

"I shall see his uncle tomorrow," I said. "May I mention Mistress
Lucy's affairs to him? He was accounted a good lawyer until that
unhappy business of my father's will, and as he has no reason to
love the Cluddes, or his nephew either, I am sure he would give the
best advice he knows."

"Do so, by all means; 'twill be some comfort to know that my man is
taking the right course."

We sat till near midnight, and Mr. Allardyce recovered something of
his usual good spirits before I rose to say good night. As he shook
hands with me he broke into a sudden laugh.

"Egad!" he cried, "I had forgot to ask you whether you still have
that crown piece you were so loath to part with."

"Indeed I have," I said, laughing too. "It is slung about my neck,
and there it will remain until I return it with interest to Dick
Cludde."

"Dick Cludde!" says he. "What! is he concerned in that, too?"

And then I told him what I had hitherto kept to myself--that
incident upon the road when Cludde flung the coin at me.

"On my life, Humphrey," he said, "I should not care to have you for
an enemy."

And then we parted.

I left next morning, promising to see my friends as often as
possible before I received the summons which I hoped for from
Admiral Benbow. Mr. Allardyce lent me one of his horses, which he
was kind enough to place at my service while I remained at home. In
my breast pocket I carried a warrant in due form for the arrest of
Cyrus Vetch.

There was a great surprise awaiting me at Shrewsbury. I asked the
little maid who answered my knock at Mr. Vetch's door for Mistress
Pennyquick, and felt some astonishment that the door had not been
opened by the good dame herself, for she had no maid when I left
her, doing all the housework herself. The girl stared at me.

"Is Mistress Pennyquick within?" I repeated.

"No, sir: but would you like to see Mistress Vetch?"

I was minded to refuse, and thought of going on to Mr. Vetch's
offices where I knew I should find him at this time of day. I felt
a certain annoyance at Mr. Vetch marrying ('twas unreasonable, I
admit), and wondered whether poor old Becky had been dismissed, or
was dead. But while I stood hesitating, I heard the well-remembered
voice from the interior of the house--"Tell the man the coffee is
not fit to drink, and if I have any more of it I'll say goodby to
Mr. Huggins and see if Mr. Martin can serve me better."

"What, Becky!" I cried; "d'you think I'm a grocer's boy after all?"

There was a scream, and my old friend came flying towards me, her
cap (with lilac trimmings) shaken askew by her haste.

"Oh, my boy!" she cried, flinging her arms about me. "Drat the
girl!

"How many times have I told you to ask visitors into the parlor!

"Oh, my dear, precious boy!"

"'Tis not her fault," I said, giving the good creature an answering
hug; "I asked for Mistress Pennyquick."

"Which my name is Vetch, and has been for six months come Saturday.
He would have it so, though I told him Vetch wasn't a name to my
taste. But there! What was a poor lone widow to do? A lawyer have
got such a tongue!"

"You look ten years younger, Becky," I said.

"I feel it, Humphrey," she said solemnly, and then bade the maid
set wine and biscuits in the parlor, and never to forget to ask a
gentleman in instead of keeping him at the door, gaping like a
ninny!

Of course I had to tell my story to her, and again to Mr. Vetch
when he came home to dinner. The lawyer looked much the same as
when I left him, save that he was certainly neater in his dress. He
was delighted to see me, and when he heard of the good fortune that
had befallen me in gaining the interest of Mr. Benbow he declared
that I had taken a load off his mind, for he had always been
oppressed with the fear that the loss of the will had ruined me.
His business, I was glad to hear, was a trifle better than when I
was with him, though it would never be what it had been.

"Fiddlesticks!" said his wife. "You have no spirit, Mr. Vetch, and
what you would be if I didn't keep you up, the Lord alone knows."

I will not dwell on my visit to Captain Galsworthy. He was looking
older, I thought: but after I had told him my adventures, nothing
would satisfy him but that we should have a bout with the foils. I
was careful to let the good old man get the better of me, and when
we had finished he shook his head and declared that my skill had
declined.

"But we'll get it back, we'll get it back," he said. "You must come
to me for half an hour every day, and we'll soon rub off the rust."

He told me of the six months' lessons he had given Roger Allardyce,
and foretold a creditable career for that young soldier, not so
much for any sign of military aptitude in him (though the captain
owned he had the making of a good swordsman) as because he had
doggedly refused to say anything about me. He knew, I suppose, that
I should not wish the tale of my mischances to be told by any lips
but my own, and could not have pleased the captain more than by
declining to answer his questions. I never knew a man nicer than
Captain Galsworthy on the point of honor.

I remained about a month in Shrewsbury, seeing old friends, among
them Nelly Hind and Mistress Punchard, whom I rejoiced with news of
their brother and son, and paying many visits to my newer friends
at the Hall. I was able to assure Mr. Allardyce that the procedure
of his lawyer had the full approval of Mr. Vetch, who was careful
to say, when giving his opinion, that it was given in a private
capacity and without prejudice to his brother in the profession.

One day I received through the post a letter with a great red seal.
I tore it open eagerly, and could scarcely believe in my good
fortune when I saw it was nothing less than a lieutenant's
commission in the King's navy, accompanied by an order to join my
ship the Falmouth, Captain Samuel Vincent, at Portsmouth, as soon
as might be. I had not expected to be rated higher than a
midshipman, though when I had mentioned that to Mistress Vetch, she
tossed her head and declared she had looked for nothing else.

"Midshipmen, as I have heard tell," she said, "are but little boys
fresh from their nurses' apron strings, and the King had the good
sense to know that you are too tall for any such childishness."

"I don't suppose the King knows anything about me," I said
laughing.

"That I will never believe; the King knows everything," said the
simple creature.

You may be sure I rode off at once with my great news to the Hall,
and received very hearty congratulations there. But I could see
that Mr. Allardyce was in some perturbation of mind, and by and by
he took me aside and said:

"That weasel-faced rascal you spoke of was seen about here
yesterday, Humphrey. One of my men told me that he saw such a man
as you described in close talk with a low innkeeper in Morville. I
have not acquainted the ladies; 'tis no use alarming them; but I
don't like it, my boy."

This was a mighty disconcerting piece of news, especially now that
I was on the point of going away for I knew not how long. While I
remained within close call I flattered myself on being an efficient
protector of Mistress Lucy, and I had that warrant always in my
pocket to use against Cyrus Vetch if ever I set eyes on him. And
now I would willingly have resigned my commission, dearly as I
prized it, if I could have found any reasonable ground for
remaining to defend her still. But I knew 'twas impossible, if for
no other reason, because I was little more than a pauper, having
indeed only enough of my twenty pounds left to carry me to
Portsmouth. So I could only fume inwardly, and long that war might
break out again, and that I might capture many of the enemy's
vessels, and win heaps of money and early promotion to the rank of
post captain, and return with my laurels thick upon me to lay all
at Lucy's feet. You may smile at such ambitions in a youngster; but
can you truly say you have not dreamed such dreams yourself?

'Twas with a full heart I set off in the dusk of evening to ride
back to Shrewsbury. I rode slowly, my mind being filled with
forebodings, and I was only roused from my preoccupation by the
sudden appearance of a horseman at the turning of a byroad leading
from Bridgenorth. He was riding rapidly, and we both reined up at
the same moment to avoid a collision. And at that moment my heart
leapt with furious exultation as, in the fading light, I recognized
my old enemy, and my friends', Cyrus Vetch.

"Hold, you villain!" I cried, pulling my horse against his and
drawing my sword. "I have you now, and you will come into
Shrewsbury with me."

Fear struggled with anger in his face. He was in no mind to show
himself in Shrewsbury, where there was that matter of his uncle's
cash box to answer for, to say nothing of a matter more nearly
concerning me. But he could not pass me, and seeing that there was
no other way out of it he whips out his sword and deals a savage
cut at me. I easily parried the stroke, and not being disposed to
spare him, I ran my own weapon under his guard (he having no skill
in sword play), and through the fleshy part of his right arm, so
that he cried out with the pain, his sword dropping to the ground.

"Now, sirrah," says I, "you will ride before me into Shrewsbury, to
which you have been overlong a stranger."

"I will not," he cries, with a scream of rage. "'Who are you to
order my goings?"

"No matter as to that: we will see where the right lies when we get
to the town. And since I have no wish to cheat the hangman, I will
tie my kerchief round your arm."

He raged and swore at me as I made the bandage, but was helpless,
and soon I had him riding at a foot pace in front of me, he knowing
very well that he could not escape, wounded as he was, without risk
of being thrown from his horse.

I had a comfortable sense of satisfaction as I rode behind him, my
eyes fixed on his back. He had much to answer for, and any one of
his crimes would send him to the plantations. Then I remembered
that he was Lawyer Vetch's nephew, and thought of the good old
man's grief when he should see his flesh and blood in the felon's
dock. And the idea came to me that by merely holding over him the
threat of punishment for his undoubted villainies we might draw
from him a confession of what we only suspected--his theft of my
father's will. I did not reflect for the moment that Mr. Allardyce
would have something to say in that matter, and already saw myself
reinstated in my father's property (though I meant to cleave to my
new profession), when suddenly I noticed that Vetch was swaying in
the saddle. Thinking him overcome with faintness from his wound, I
cantered up to assist him, but just as I reached him he suddenly
pulled his horse across the road, and I saw a pistol in his left
hand. While I was ruminating he had quickly unbuttoned the
holsters, which I had stupidly neglected to examine.

Immediately I wrenched my horse aside. The sudden pull caused it to
rear, and the poor beast received the shot intended for me, and
fell to the ground. I was up in an instant, but Vetch was already
galloping madly away, leaving me by the side of Mr. Allardyce's
dying horse.

To pursue the fellow afoot would be but a fool's errand. The spot
at which this mischance happened being about a mile from Oldbury,
my best plan seemed to be to ride thither and hire a horse at the
inn and then ride back to the Hall and acquaint Mr. Allardyce with
what had befallen me. This I did, and found my friend much less
vexed at the loss of his horse (though 'twas a noble animal) than
at the escape of Vetch. He sent off a man at once to Bridgenorth to
ask his lawyer to raise a hue and cry after the fugitive, and
promised to take like measures in Shrewsbury. I spoke of it to the
town authorities and to Captain Galsworthy, and since I was leaving
on the morrow, he agreed to enlist some of his old pupils in the
business, who would ride here and there about the neighborhood and
try to track Vetch down. And thus, having done all I could, I set
off next day once more for Bristowe, to take ship for Portsmouth.



Chapter 21: I Meet Dick Cludde.


Captain Samuel Vincent gave me a reception warm indeed, but not in
the way of kindness. After making me repeat my name, he asked me
under what captain I had served as a midshipman, and when I said
that I had never been a midshipman, and was proceeding to explain
the manner of my appointment he cut me short.

"Not a midshipman!" he cried, running together all three syllables
of the word. "You bin to school, I s'pose?"

"Yes, indeed," I said, "at Shrewsbury."

"Now hark to me," he cries, again interrupting me. "I never went to
no school, and I hain't got no philosophies nor any other useless
cargoes in my hold, nor Mr. Benbow neither; and if ever you say a
word against Mr. Benbow you'll wish you wasn't Humphrey, nor Bold,
'cos you'll wish as how you'd never bin born. I bid you good
mornin'."

I left him, in a fine heat of resentment, thinking that a few years
at Shrewsbury school might have improved both his language and his
manners. But when I came to know him better, and to understand the
motive of his rough address to me, I forgave the bluff seaman
heartily. He was a keen partisan in the feud that then divided the
navy, the one faction being for Benbow, the other against him; and
being ignorant of my antecedents, he supposed from my not having
been a midshipman that I was one of the fine gentlemen who were
foisted on the King's service by their high connections and
despised plain seamen of the Benbow school. I might have undeceived
him very soon had I so pleased, but I thought it best to win his
approval by the manner in which I performed my duties, leaving the
other matter to time. As it happened, my fidelity to Mr. Benbow was
shown very clearly before long.

'Twould be a dull story to relate the trivial incidents of my first
year of service in the navy. I spent five months at sea, and seven
on shore, and Captain Vincent being a martinet. I had to work hard
for my pay of four shillings a day (on shore it was cut down to two
shillings). My diligence in studying navigation pleased him; and
when a little affair in which I had been concerned came to his
ears, he took me, in a sense, to his heart.

I had gone one day with Lieutenant Venables, of our ship, into a
coffee house in Portsmouth, whither the officers of the fleet much
resorted. The first man I set eyes on was Dick Cludde, who was, as
I learned afterwards, a lieutenant of the Defiance, which had
lately come into port. With him was his captain ('twas the Captain
Kirkby I had seen in the inn at Harley), also Captain Cooper Wade,
of the Greenwich, Captain Hudson of the Pendennis, and a number of
junior officers.

Cludde greeted me with a puzzled stare; 'twas clear he had not
heard of the change in my fortunes, and maybe believed me to be
still scouring the cook's slush pans aboard the Dolphin privateer.
I saw him turn to Lieutenant Simpson, of the Pendennis, who knew
me, and guessed by the quick glance Simpson gave me that Cludde had
asked him concerning my appearance there.

Venables and I sat down to our coffee, and 'twas not long before we
knew, by the loud voices of the others, that they had laced theirs
with rum, or maybe were pretty well filled with wine to begin with.
And, as it always happened when officers of the fleet met together,
they were soon hot upon the subject of Mr. Benbow, his rough
manners, his rustic speech, and his outrageous lack of respect for
his betters. After a little of this talk Venables says to me:

"Come, Bold, we are better away from this."

"You are right," says I, and we both rose and put on our hats.

Cludde saw the action, and, taking courage I suppose from the
presence of his boon fellows, he said, in a tone loud enough to
reach my ears:

"That's one of his doings. Simpson tells me that that fellow is a
lieutenant on the Falmouth, through Benbow's interest; he comes
from my town Shrewsbury, and a year or two ago was a charity brat,
with scarce a coat to his back."

At this I swung round and took a pace or two towards the table
where Cludde was seated. Though I had much ado to curb my anger, I
said quietly:

"If that is true, Cludde, you know who is the cause of it."

"I did not speak to you, sirrah," says he.

"But I speak to you," I said. "You may say what you please about
me; I will settle my account with you in good time; but I advise
you not to say too much about Mr. Benbow, who is not here to answer
for himself."

"Oho, you sneak out of it that way, do you?" says he. "I'll say
what I please about Mr. Benbow without asking leave of you or any
man. Benbow is a low-born scut--can you deny it? Wasn't his father
a tanner, and don't his sister keep a coffee shop?"

"And what then?"

"What then? Why, this: that he ain't fit to be in the company of
gentlemen," and then he told a foul story of Benbow which angered
me past all endurance.

I strode up to him, and before I could be prevented I planted my
fist in his face with such force that he toppled backwards over his
chair and came to the floor.

"Now you can swallow that lie," I cried, standing with clenched
fists over him.

I was now in the midst of a great hubbub; the officers had started
from their chairs, shouting and cursing, some of them helping
Cludde to his feet.

"You will answer for this, sir," says Captain Kirkby.

"With all my heart," I said. "Mr. Venables will meet Mr. Cludde's
man and make the arrangements."

And with that I went from the house.

I ever regarded dueling as a barbarous and foolish way of settling
a quarrel. If men must fight, let them use their fists, and so be
quit of it for a bloody nose and a few bruises. But I could not
avoid the duel with Cludde without suffering the imputation of
cowardice, and when Venables came after me and said that he had
arranged with Simpson that we should meet next morning at daybreak
on the Southsea Common and settle the matter with rapiers, I was
quite content. 'Tis true that ere the day was over I regretted in
cool blood that things had come to this pass; but I could not think
I was in the wrong, and believing myself more than a match for
Cludde in swordsmanship I resolved to disarm him quickly, when his
friends would no doubt declare him satisfied.

In the chill of dawn we met within sound of the surf, and having
stripped to our shirts, faced each other with the length of our two
swords between. Cludde was three or four inches shorter than I, but
well made and muscular, and in mere strength I daresay there was
little to choose between us. But after a pass or two I knew (and
the knowledge surprised me not a little), that I had no mean
swordsman to deal with. His riposte came quick upon my lunge; he
had a very agile wrist; 'twas clear he had had much practice in a
good school; and being determined not to do him a serious injury I
put myself at some disadvantage and had much ado to avoid his
point. He was beset by no such scruples, I could see, and would
willingly have taken my life, which made my task all the harder.

Finding him thus proficient in all the ordinary tricks of sword
play, I saw myself in a difficulty. I had no doubt that I could
bring things to a speedy end by employing the special botte which
Captain Galsworthy had taught me; and if we had been fencing for
sport I should already have used it to disarm my adversary. But
fighting as we were (at least, as he was) in deadly earnest, I
could not be sure that my botte would not be too successful, and
that, instead of merely striking his sword from his hand, I should
not run him through. The caution I displayed was mistaken by him
(and by his friends also, I suspect) for weakness, and gaining
courage therefrom, he pressed me so hard that, unless I had gone
instantly to the extremity I wished to avoid, I could not have
parried the thrust which pinked me in the shoulder.

"He is hit!" cried Venables, running between us.

"You are now satisfied, Mr. Cludde?"

"If Mr. Bold will apologize," says Simpson, after a glance at his
principal.

"I am ready when Mr. Cludde is," I said bluntly.

Certainly I would not apologize; besides, I was annoyed to think
that, through my own forbearance, the fellow had drawn blood
(though 'twas but a scratch). And so we set-to again.

This time I no longer pursued the same purely defensive tactics,
and before many passes had been exchanged I saw an opening for my
botte, took instant advantage of it, and sent his sword spinning
from his hand. Cludde was too good a swordsman to be ignorant that
I had purposely spared him, and I saw by the look in his eyes that
he knew it and would fight no more.

"Mr. Cludde is now satisfied, I presume?" said Venables, at a look
from me.

The contest was of course over. At that moment I own I felt tempted
to take Cludde's crown piece from the string whereon it hung about
my neck, and return it to him; but as a second thought showed me
that to do so would be in a manner to heap humiliation on a beaten
enemy, I forbore, conscious at the same time of an inward assurance
that I should yet find a fitting time for that act of restoration.

The duel was much talked of among the officers of the fleet, and
when Captain Vincent heard of it he, as I have said, took me to his
heart. By it I was sealed of the tribe of Benbow, and became, in my
worthy captain's eyes, one of the elect.

In October of the year 1698 we were stirred to excitement by the
news that Mr. Benbow had been ordered to take a squadron to the
West Indies, and there was much eager speculation among us as to
the vessels which would have the good fortune to sail with him. I
hoped with all my heart that the Falmouth would be one of them, for
I was weary of the humdrum life of idling on shore or aimless
sailing up and down the channel. The admiral's was a peaceful
mission, and no fighting was expected, but I felt a great curiosity
to behold new scenes. To my vast delight, when the admiral came
down from London, Captain Vincent told me that the Falmouth was to
be one of a squadron of four, the others being the Gloucester, the
Dunkirk (both fourth rates of forty-eight guns), and a small French
prize called the Germoon.

We set sail on the 29th of November, touched at Madeira to take in
wine and other stores in which that bounteous isle is prolific, and
after a tranquil voyage reached Barbados on the 27th of February.
We proceeded to Mevis and the Leeward Islands, and steering our
course thence to the continent, made the highland of St. Martha,
and so to Cartagena, where we obliged the governor to deliver up
two or three English merchant ships which they had seized at the
time of the hapless Scotch settlement at Darien. Thence we stood
away for Jamaica.

Joe Punchard (who was on board the Gloucester, having returned to
his old vocation of body servant to Mr. Benbow) had prepared me, in
a measure, before we left Portsmouth, for the wondrous beauty of
these western isles, but I might say, as the Queen of Sheba said of
the glory and grandeur of King Solomon, that "the half had not been
told." I was struck dumb with admiration as we threaded our way
through a narrow channel between irregular reefs lying off the
harbor of Port Royal. The spacious harbor itself was a noble sight,
but the background was even more picturesque--the light,
two-storied houses with their piazzas painted green and white, the
varying hues of the gardens, filled with palms and cocoanut trees,
and the lofty minarets of the Blue Mountains, towering to a great
height behind. Such scenes were a new thing to my untraveled eyes,
they were in very truth the revelation of a new world to me.

Our arrival was the occasion of great festivity; all the
inhabitants of Spanish Town, the capital, from the governor
downward, were lavish in their hospitality; and for some days it
was one round of balls and banquets, to which we came with unjaded
appetites and vigor after our long voyage. And I warrant you that
the officers of Collingwood's regiment then in garrison were soon
mighty jealous, for the ladies of the place, English and Creole
alike, preferred us naval men to them as partners. I confess I
nearly lost my heart a dozen times, and the thirteenth might have
been fatal, only it chanced that her name being Lucetta reminded me
of a certain Mistress Lucy at home in England, whom the others had,
so to speak, elbowed out of my recollection. My wandering fancy
being thus recalled to her, I remembered that her estates were in
Jamaica, and she had lived here during all her childhood, and then
I was for seeking out the house, and assuring myself that her
interests were being well guarded.

But I learned that her estates lay on the north side of the island,
two good days' journey distant. They were being managed by a
careful Scotchman named McTavish, who sent large and regular
consignments of sugar and tobacco to the port for shipment to
England. I would have gone a thousand miles to see Mistress Lucy,
but had no interest in the excellent McTavish, and so I remained in
Spanish Town.

After a week or two of high revelry, the admiral, yielding to the
entreaties of the governor and merchants, sailed to Puerto Bello to
demand satisfaction of the Spaniards for several depredations which
they had committed on their ships, goods, and men. We had but a
rough answer from the admiral of the Barlovento fleet, he alleging
that whatever the Spaniards had done had merely been in reprisal
for similar doings of the Scotch settlers on Darien, and he could
not be persuaded that the Scotch and English were two separate
nations, and as often (in those times) enemies as friends. But
after several messages he assured us at length that if we would
retire from before the fort, our demands should be satisfied. This
was an instance of the notorious perfidy of the Spaniards, for
after our departure, notwithstanding their solemn promises, nothing
was effected.

We returned to Port Royal the 15th of May, where, having
intelligence that the insolent pirate Captain Kidd was hovering on
the coast, Mr. Benbow went in quest of him, unluckily without
success. After that we spent several months in cruising among the
West Indian islands, and receiving then orders to return home, Mr.
Benbow, leaving the Germoon for the service of the governor of
Jamaica, set sail for New England, our squadron being increased by
three other king's ships which happened to be then in Port Royal
harbor. When we had made Havana, the admiral, thinking the Falmouth
too weak to be trusted in the dangerous seas about the New England
coast, ordered Captain Vincent to return in her to England, and we
sailed into Portsmouth harbor towards the end of August, two years,
all but three months, since our departure.

I stayed there but long enough to replenish my wardrobe and to draw
my prize money, which, added to what I had left of my pay, amounted
to the respectable sum of four hundred pounds, and then, having
leave from my captain, I set off once more for Shrewsbury.

As before, I broke my journey at the Hall, to see my good friends
the Allardyces, and especially to give to Mistress Lucy some kind
messages entrusted to me by old friends of hers in Jamaica.

They were rejoiced to see me; Mistress Lucy was greatly interested
to learn that I had but lately come from scenes she knew so well,
and we talked for a long time about friends and acquaintances of
hers whom I had met. And when I was alone with Mr. Allardyce I did
not fail to inquire how things stood in the matter of her
guardianship. He told me that no more had been seen of Vetch, and
indeed the espionage upon the house had ceased, Sir Richard being
resolved apparently to abide the issue of the action at law. The
bill in chancery had been filed; answers had been put in by Mr.
Moggridge on behalf of Sir Richard; and Mr. Allardyce hoped that
the proceedings might drag along for a couple of years, when
Mistress Lucy would be of age and her own mistress. And so 'twas
with a light heart that I went on to Shrewsbury, to tickle the ears
of my old friends there with the tale of my wanderings.



Chapter 22: I Walk Into A Snare.


Cruising on shore is a flat and sorry business to a man who has
obeyed the call of the sea, and I was glad enough when, soon after
Christmas, I was summoned to rejoin my ship. There were already
whispers that war was like to break out again ere long between
England and France, owing to the machinations of King Lewis, who
had procured from the king of Spain on his death bed a will
appointing the Duke of Anjou to succeed him. 'Twas not to be
expected that our good King William, having striven all his life to
prevent Europe from being swallowed up by King Lewis, would tamely
submit to see a great kingdom like that of Spain disappear into
that ravenous maw; and when the new parliament met in February,
1701, it was significant that their first resolution was "to
support His Majesty and take such effectual measures as may best
conduce to the interest and safety of England." There was a
widespread suspicion that the French proposed to invade our shores
from Dunkirk, and Admiral Benbow, who was then commanding in The
Downs, was ordered to use his utmost diligence to frustrate any
such design.

In common with every officer in the fleet I hoped that the French
would take the sea, so that we might have the pleasure of thrashing
them. But in this we were disappointed: I suppose they were
deterred by the knowledge that the channel was swarming with our
ships; for, besides Admiral Benbow off Dunkirk, there was Sir
George Rooke in The Downs, and Sir Cloudesley with six and forty
vessels at Spithead. Whatever be the reason, we saw nothing to
alarm us; and toward the middle of August Admiral Benbow was
ordered to proceed once more to the West Indian station, with two
third rates and eight fourth rates. The French and Spanish both had
large fleets in the Indies, and 'twas to secure our possessions
against attacks in case war should be declared, that Admiral Benbow
was sent out again.

Since it was not expected that we should set sail for several
weeks, I obtained leave from my captain to go to Shrewsbury and
take farewell of my friends. With war imminent, and the possibility
that I might never return; I should not have been happy without
seeing them once again and leaving with their blessing. You may be
sure I took the Hall in my way, for having been almost wholly at
sea since my last visit, I had not heard anything from the family,
and I was anxious to know whether the chancery case had yet been
settled. Mr. Allardyce was not at home when I rode up to the door;
but I was taken to Mistress Allardyce, who astonished me beyond
measure by bursting into tears when she saw me.

"Good heavens, ma'am!" I cried, imagining all kinds of ill, "what
is amiss?"

"Oh, Mr. Bold," says the good lady, "I am so glad to see you. We
are in such trouble."

"Have the Cluddes got her?" I asked, Mistress Lucy being uppermost
in my thoughts.

"No, it is not so bad as that, though I fear that will be the end
of it. But she has left us, and I tremble to think of the poor
child so far away, and among strangers."

"Among strangers! Pray, ma'am, explain," I said, glad enough that
my first fear was unfounded, but marveling much at what had
happened.

"She left us six months ago," Mrs. Allardyce went on. "She has gone
back to Jamaica."

"To Jamaica!" I said. "What on earth induced her to do that,
ma'am?"

"'Twas that dreadful law case, Mr. Bold. The squire lost the day. I
do not understand it myself, he will explain it all to you when he
comes home: he has indeed gone to Bridgenorth this very day to see
his lawyer about it. Oh, Mr. Bold, I am so distressed! If I only
knew she was safe I could bear the separation so much better."

"I do not think you need be uneasy on that score," I said. "She has
friends in Jamaica, as you know; the people there are all very
kind; and you may be sure they will see to her happiness."

"I am so glad to hear that," said the lady. "After all, she is no
longer a child; she is twenty now, Mr. Bold, and has a will of her
own, and great self reliance. We had one letter from her, to say
that she had arrived safely; that was three months ago: I suppose
there has not been time to receive another."

"There has been time, certainly," I replied, with some misgivings.
"Vessels leave Port Royal every week. But her estate is situate a
long way from the port, and maybe it is not convenient to send
letters often."

"'Tis the absence of letters that makes the squire so uneasy. But
for his being unwilling to leave me, I am sure he would have sailed
to Jamaica himself to make sure that all is well. He dotes on Lucy.
'Tis a thousand pities that Roger's military duties will not permit
of his going out. Do you think that Jamaica is a healthy place to
live in, Mr. Bold?"

We were still talking when Mr. Allardyce returned. He was heartily
glad to see me, and at once poured out his tale of trouble. The
Court of Chancery, it appeared, had made Miss Lucy a ward, but
instead of appointing Mr. Allardyce to be her guardian, it had
given that office to Sir Richard Cludde, her paternal uncle. Mr.
Allardyce spoke of the judge with the most bitter obloquy; he was a
cross-grained, dried-up old mummy, said the squire, without a drop
of good red blood in his veins.

"He was prejudiced against us from the beginning, and when our
counsel said that Lucy herself entreated to be placed formally
under my guardianship the old wretch refused to listen, and said
that girls were better seen and not heard. I suppose he has a
nagging wife, and serve him right!"

"And there is no appeal?" I asked.

"Oh, the wretch said we might appeal if we pleased, but meanwhile
'twas the order of the court that Lucy should pass under Cludde's
guardianship. But he had not reckoned with Lucy. While I was in
London about the miserable business she was with Mistress Allardyce
at Bath, where madam had gone to take the waters. 'Twas lucky
Cludde did not know that, for as soon as the decision was made, he
posted off with the decree in his pocket, making no doubt that he
would seize her here and carry her off in triumph. Ha! ha! you
should hear Giles tell how he raved and cursed when he found she
was not here. He demanded to know where she was, but not a man or
maid would tell him; I've raised their wages all round. Meanwhile I
had posted to Bath, and no sooner does Lucy hear what has happened
than she jumps up and cries: 'I'll not have him for guardian for
all the judges in the country. Uncle, I'll go back to Jamaica;
please find me a ship at once.' Egad, I like spirit in a woman.

"Well, being only a stone's throw, you may say, from Bristowe, it
was no long matter to arrange as she wished. I own I was loath to
let her go, but 'twas clear that Cludde would get hold of her if
she remained in the country, and there was no better way to avoid
that. ''Twill not be for long, uncle,' she says when I bid her
good-by. 'In a few months I shall be of age, and then I can snap my
fingers at the Lord Chancellor himself.' And that's one
consolation, Humphrey; she will be of age before the year's out."

"But will not Sir Richard go after her?"

"Not he. He doesn't know--at least I hope not--where she is. And
he's crippled with the gout, and made it ten times worse by rushing
across country in such desperate haste in the wettest month I've
known for a score of years. He came in his coach to see me, and
couldn't stir out of it, his foot being so swathed in flannel. He
roared himself purple, threatening me with imprisonment for
contempt of court and what not, but I laughed in his face, and told
him that Lucy was a Cludde already, and would change her name for a
better one when the time came. That hit him on the raw, Humphrey my
boy; he went away fuming, and I don't think he will drive over to
see me again."

And then, being somewhat cheered by this recollection of his
victory over Sir Richard, he asked me how I had been faring. When
he learned that I was about to sail for the West Indies again, he
gave a gleeful chuckle.

"I wish you luck, my boy," he cried, slapping me on the back, "both
in love and war."

"Sir!" said I, conscious of flushed cheeks.

"Give Lucy my love," he said, "and remember, my lad, that 'tis a
very serious matter to marry a ward of court."

And then he chuckled and laughed again. Seeing that I had never so
much as hinted that any such idea as he suggested had entered my
head, I was somewhat taken aback by the old gentleman's
perspicacity; for if the truth must be told (and it will out,
sooner or later) I had quite resolved in my own mind that as soon
as I attained captain's rank, and had gained some store of prize
money, as I had no doubt I should do, I would endeavor to settle
Dick Cludde's hash so far as his matrimonial project was concerned.

"I will warn off all trespassers, sir," I said soberly in reply to
Mr. Allardyce's remark, and my answer seemed to give him great
delight.

Having said my farewells to my friends in Shrewsbury also, I
hastened back to my ship. We set sail in the last week of August,
being escorted down the channel by Sir George Rooke and Sir John
Munden with a large fleet. On the second of September we left Sir
George off Scilly, and on the twenty-eighth made St. Mary's, one of
the Azores, and remained there some eight days, during which Mr.
Benbow (who was now promoted vice admiral) called his flag officers
and captains together on board the Breda, his flagship, and
communicated to them his instructions. The junior officers and some
of the men were allowed to go in detachments for a few hours on
shore, and it was on one of these trips that I heard a piece of
news that interested me deeply.

I was strolling along with Mr. Venables when we encountered Joe
Punchard and a group of men from the Breda. Seeing me, he touched
his cap, and begged that he might have a few words with me in
private. I went aside with him, and he began:

"That there young lady, sir--wasn't she kin to Dick Cludde--Mr.
Lieutenant Cludde, begging his pardon?" (I had told Joe how 'twas
Mistress Lucy had saved me from a horse whipping when first I
appeared at the Hall.)

"To be sure, Joe," I replied, "she is his cousin."

"That be bad, sir," says he, "and 'twill be worse, by all
accounts."

"What do 'you mean?" I asked.

"Why, sir, one of the men yonder be Jonathan Tubbs, Captain Kirkby
his man, and he was just a-telling of us how Mr. Cludde, when he's
in his cups (which is pretty often) tells a bragging yarn as how
there's a mighty pretty girl out in Jamaicy a-waitin' to be spliced
as soon as he comes to port; and she's a cousin of his, with a fine
property; and he'll invite all the officers of his ship to the
wedding and take 'em teal shooting next day, and--"

"That's enough, Joe," I said. "You had better go and tell your
friend Jonathan Tubbs not to repeat things he hears when he's on
duty."

Joe instantly touched his cap, begged my pardon, and walked away. I
must have worn a very sober countenance when I rejoined Mr.
Venables, for he looked at me oddly, and asked if I had had bad
news. I evaded the question, and he did not press me. It was indeed
bad news in this respect; that 'twas clear the Cluddes knew of
Mistress Lucy's whereabouts. Indeed, for all I knew, Sir Richard
himself might have got well of his gout and made the voyage to
secure his ward. It wanted but a few months to her coming of age,
and while I knew that Dick could not wed her during her minority, I
saw that the very shortness of the time left would make the Cluddes
eager to get her under their influence. I had never met Dick since
that duel of ours on Southsea Common, having deliberately avoided
him; but I said to to myself that I would certainly meet him when
we arrived in Jamaica and make it clear to him that he would
interfere with Mistress Lucy at his peril.

Much as I loved the sea, I now wished heartily that the voyage was
over. But I had to curb my impatience. 'Twas the third of November
when we arrived at Barbados; we made Martinica on the eighth, and
next day came to anchor in Prince Rupert's Bay, on the northwest
end of Dominica, where we supplied ourselves with water and other
refreshments. Thence we sailed to Mevis, and proceeding to Jamaica,
arrived there on the fifth of December, and anchored in Port Royal
harbor.

I immediately got leave from my captain to go ashore, and inquired
of the harbor master whether one Sir Richard Cludde had lately come
to the island. My worst fear was relieved when I learned that it
was not so, but I could not rest until I had satisfied myself of
Mistress Lucy's well being, so I hired a horse and rode out to
Spanish Town, being well nigh choked, I remember, with the dust my
steed's hoofs raised from the sandy road.

And here I had news that gave me the greater shock, for that it was
utterly unexpected. I made my inquiries from a merchant with whom I
had struck up a friendship during my former visit (he was indeed
the father of the Lucetta I have spoken of) and he told me that
Mistress Lucy was certainly living on her estate on the north side
of the island, but added that 'twould not be hers much longer, for
'twas coming into the market by order of her guardian. This was
surprising enough, and I asked to whom the instructions to this
effect had been committed. My friend then said that they had been
brought from England some months before by a lawyer named Vetch,
who was armed with a power of attorney.

"Cyrus Vetch?" I cried, not doubting it, but overcome with sheer
amazement.

"His name is Cyrus, I believe," replied my friend. "He stayed here
a few days, and made himself very pleasant, though I can't say I
took to him myself."

"He is a thorough-paced villain," I said. "Is he still in the
town?"

"No, he is at Penolver." (This was the name of the Cludde estate.)
"He is a masterful fellow, too; he dismissed old McTavish, who has
stewarded the estate since Mr. Cludde's death; the poor old fellow
feels it very sorely, for though he is a pretty warm man, like most
of his countrymen here, he won't take no other stewardship, though
he could have one for the asking, but moons about here in
idleness."

"Does Mistress Lucy write to her friends here?" I asked.

"No, and they are displeased at her silence; but I suppose she
thinks it scarce worth while to write when she will soon be here in
person. She will, of course, return to England when the estate is
sold, and is to make a match with her guardian's son, so they say.
My word! he'll be a lucky fellow."

This news of Vetch's presence was staggering. As Sir Richard's
attorney he had, I supposed, full power to administer the estate,
or to sell it if he pleased; but I thought it a monstrous
proceeding if he did this without Mistress Lucy's consent. I had no
belief in his honesty, and suspected that he would take a pretty
picking of the purchase money for himself. The absence of letters
from Mistress Lucy was disquieting. The presence of the man who had
been Cludde's companion in the abduction must be obnoxious to her,
and it seemed strange that she had not written to her friends in
Spanish Town, and had allowed the report of a projected marriage
with Cludde to pass unchecked.

A notion that she might be under some constraint put me in a
ferment, and I resolved to ride to Penolver and see for myself how
matters stood, and to let Vetch know that, even though I could not
dispute his legal status, he would at least have me to reckon with
if he subjected Lucy to any annoyance or duress.

Returning to the port, I begged leave of Captain Vincent to go for
a few days' visit to a friend on the north side of the island, not
acquainting him with any particulars, because I felt that Mistress
Lucy would not like her affairs discussed. He demurred at first,
saying that we could not tell when we might have to put to sea; but
on my reminding him that the work of refitting and cleaning after
the voyage would take some time, and promising to return within a
week, he yielded.

I set off early next morning, being provided by my merchant friend,
Mr. Gurney, with a trusty companion and guide in the person of a
smiling negro. At first I had purposed to ride alone, but my friend
said that, while I had only to follow the direct road for about
half my journey, which could take me through the well-settled
parish of St. John, afterwards I should run great risk of losing my
way in the cockpit country, maybe stumbling upon a settlement of
wild maroons, or stepping into one of the impassable sink holes
whose grass-grown surface gives no warning of the treacherous chasm
below.

We rode till eleven o'clock, when the air became too hot for
comfortable traveling, and entered a rest house kept by a black
friend of my companion. He met us at the door, his face shining
with heat and good temper.

"Good mornin', Massa; hope I see you well," says he. "Hi, Jacob,
where you bin dis long time?"

He led the way most obsequiously into a large room with a sanded
floor. It was cool and dark after the outside air, being shaded
with green jalousies at the windows. I sat down, glad to escape
from the heat, and Jacob went off with the host to enjoy a chat and
prepare me a meal. Drowsy with the warmth, I was half dozing when a
rough voice aroused me with a start.

"Mornin', yer honor."

My eyes being now accustomed to the dim light, I saw a man seated
at a table at the farther end of the room. He was a burly fellow,
with a look of the sea dog about him.

"Good morning," I replied.

"Ridin' far, yer honor?" said the man again.

"Massa Humf'y Bold ridin' jest as far as Missus Cludde's at
Penolver," said my guide, coming at this moment into the room with
a plate of jams and part of a fowl. "Massa Bold a king's officer,
and don't want do no talk wiv common man. Me do talk for massa."

I laughed at the negro's officiousness, which the man did not
appear to resent. He said nothing more to me, and I soon knew by
his snores that he had fallen asleep.

After a light meal and a long rest, we set off again, and came at
dark to another humble roadside hostelry, where I was glad to put
up for the night. I had not yet gone to sleep when I heard the
trot-trot of a horse, and wondered a little, as the sound died away
in the distance, who could be riding so late. A brilliant moon was
shining, and I thought that perhaps I had done better if I too had
pursued my journey through the night, and rested during the day.
But it was too late to think of that now; I was very tired, and
with the faint sounds of the trotting horse still in my ears I fell
asleep, not awaking till the sun was an hour or two above the
horizon.

'Twas towards evening next day when, after riding through a wild
hilly country, densely clad with tropical vegetation, amid which
the only road was a horse track, my guide told me we were
approaching our journey's end. The road broadened, and by and by
ran between large fields of pasture land. Then we came beneath a
thick grove, and were jogging along carelessly, when my horse
suddenly stumbled and went down with so violent a shock that I was
jerked from the saddle. Before I could get upon my feet, rough
hands seized me, in a trice cords were lashed round me with a
dexterity that identified my captors as seamen, and I was forthwith
hauled along at the heels of as villainous a crew as I had ever
seen. And I knew from sundry moans and howls behind me that Jacob
had been dealt with in like manner.



Chapter 23: Uncle Moses.


Since my former kidnapping at Bristowe I had learned that 'tis mere
folly to fly into a rage and rail at fate or your enemies. So,
affecting a cheerful tone, I said:

"Why, sure this is scurvy treatment to deal out to a king's
officer, my friends."

"No friends of yourn," replied one of the men.

Another laughed and said: "Strap me if we ha'n't caught a tolly,
mates."

"Tolly," as I learned afterwards, was the cant name by which king's
officers were known to the buccaneers. The fact that I was an
officer, of which they had apparently been ignorant, seemed to give
the men much pleasure. Some of them, no doubt, had once been king's
men, and knew without any telling the gravity of their offense. I
wasted no more words on them. They took me to a wooden shanty
standing by itself, tied me to a staple in the wall, shut and
padlocked the door, and went away.

Left to myself, I sought for some explanation of this new addition
to the catalogue of my mischances. What were buccaneers doing on
this estate? Had they quitted for the nonce their usual work of
snapping up cargo ships? Had they made a raid upon the house and
served Vetch as they had served me? I had no pity for him, but the
thought of the sore straits in which Mistress Lucy might be filled
me with disquiet and alarm.

And then another explanation flashed into my mind. Was it possible
that the men had been hired by Vetch himself in pursuance of some
villainous scheme for keeping Mistress Lucy in his power? I thought
of this until it became a conviction. Mistress Lucy's friends in
Spanish Town were surprised and hurt at the absence of news from
her; her silence must be due to Vetch. His motive was not far to
seek. Cludde had been boasting of the bride awaiting him in
Jamaica; I could not doubt that Vetch was holding her in durance
until Cludde should arrive, and, her minority having expired, she
could be cajoled or forced into a marriage with him. It was
essential to the success of this piece of villainy that she should
be kept from communication with her friends, and nothing was more
natural than that Vetch should hire a gang of buccaneers to assist
him in accomplishing his end. I marveled at his audacity, and
burned with rage at my utter helplessness.

It did not occur to me at first that Vetch would know who it was
that his hirelings had entrapped. I supposed that he had
established a system of ambushing, so that whoever should arrive at
the place might be prevented, if need were, from having speech with
Mistress Lucy and learning of the restraint in which she was held.
But on considering this matter further I doubted whether even Vetch
would have dared to go this length, for if people came from Spanish
Town and did not return, it would certainly be suspected that
something was wrong, and I could scarcely believe that no notice
would have been taken of it by the authorities, civil or military.
This made my capture the more surprising, for while I did not doubt
that Vetch, if he had heard of my coming, would not scruple to lay
by the heels one who had defeated him in his former design on
Mistress Lucy. I was at a loss to understand how the identity of
his visitor could have become known to him.

I lay awake all night, plagued by the heat and the multitudinous
insects, but still more by my anxieties. In the morning I heard
footsteps approaching, and the door being thrown open, I saw that
my visitor was Vetch himself.

"So 'tis indeed Mr. Humphrey Bold," he said, with a grin of malice.
"I scarce believed in my good fortune. I did not expect to be
honored by a visit from Mr. Humphrey Bold."

I knew not what to say to the insolent wretch who stood smiling
there; 'twas clear that he had expected me, which was very
puzzling, since none but my friend Mr. Gurney in Spanish Town and
Captain Vincent knew of my errand. Then all at once I remembered
the seaman in the hostelry, and my guide's telling him my name, and
the horseman riding by at night; 'twas clear to me now that the man
was a spy of Vetch's, kept on the road for this very purpose of
riding ahead of a visitor and giving intimation of his approach.

"I need not say," continued Vetch, "how charmed I am to see one who
is endeared to me by many old associations."

"You villain!" I cried, finding my tongue now that I had light upon
his doings. "You have had many lucky escapes, but by heaven you
shall not escape this time."

"Escape!" he said, opening his eyes in feigned astonishment. "'Tis
you who will not escape again!"

"You will release me," I said.

"In my own good time," he answered. "A hothead like you will
benefit by a period of quiet meditation."

"You will release me at once," I said. "You dare not keep me here.
There are those in Spanish Town and Port Royal who know where I
have come: they will seek me if I do not return to the ship within
the expected time, and then you will find a halter round your neck,
Cyrus Vetch."

"Not at all," he said with a bland smile. "A messenger will leave
here tomorrow with a letter saying that my old friend and
schoolfellow, Humphrey Bold, is sick with a fever. He will have
every attention, and a report of his condition shall be sent to his
captain--Captain Vincent, is it not? I fear Mr. Bold may not have
recovered before the fleet sails; it is likely that he may be very
ill indeed; 'tis possible he may die! And Captain Vincent shall
know how tenderly he was nursed--yes, by Mistress Lucy Cludde--"

"Don't name her name, you hound!" I cried hotly, stung at last into
fury.

"Gently, Mr. Bold," said he; "you will but aggravate your
distemper. Mistress Lucy Cludde will nurse you--in my letter; and
your captain will think it most natural and commendable seeing that
you are her guest, and that it may be regarded there is some slight
relationship between you. And if you should happily recover, why,
she may herself accompany you to port and restore you to your
comrades. But that will not be till I please."

I cried out on him as a scoundrel, though vexed with myself for
such mere windiness of utterance. The truth is, want of sleep and
the discomforts of the night were like to throw me into a real
fever, and the dismay I felt at this possibility helped me to pull
myself together. When I spoke again 'twas calmly, without heat.

"You are playing a fool's game," I said. "You are exceeding your
rights as representative of Sir Richard Cludde, and you may be sure
you will be called to a heavy account if you deal wrongfully with
the estate or its owner. Pull up before it is too late; there are
sundry things against you in England that will not dispose the
courts to show you mercy."

"Hark to him!" cries Vetch with an evil sneer. "He turns preacher!
You fool! Who are you to foist yourself into the concerns of your
betters--a fellow only saved from the gutter by charity! While the
girl is a minor I will deal with this estate as I please; and when
she comes of age, then--"

He paused, an inscrutable look upon his face.

"Then Humphrey Bold may go hang," he said, and with a smile that
made me feel wondrous uneasy he shut the door upon me and departed.

Of all the mischances I had suffered, this was, I thought, the most
afflicting. In the others it was only myself that was concerned,
and a man who sets out to conquer fortune must expect his share of
buffets by the way. But my own ill hap was as nothing compared with
the dangers I felt to be hovering about Mistress Lucy, and to know
myself helpless when she was in sore need was as a crushing weight
upon my heart.

I was not left long to my reflections. Presently Vetch returned
with two villainous-looking ruffians, seamen by their build, who at
his orders bound my hands behind me and then conveyed me across a
stretch of pasture land to a wooden house that stood in the angle
of a field. They took me up a flight of steps on to a veranda,
through one room into another, furnished with a table, a chair, and
a bed, and there left me.

"I warn you once more," I said to Vetch before he went. "You are
dealing with a king's officer, and if you think this outrage will
go unpunished you are mistaken, and very grievously. And I tell
you, Vetch, that if Mistress Lucy suffer a jot at your hands,
either in herself, or in her property, you shall hang for it, as
sure as my name is Humphrey Bold."

He smiled, swept me a bow and was gone.

The chamber in which I was left was an inner apartment, such as are
common in the houses in Jamaica, enclosed by other rooms, to defend
it from the heat. It had but one door, and was illuminated by a
little window high up in the partition wall. Escape was impossible
save through the door, and I knew by the sound of voices from
without that the two men had been stationed there to keep guard
over me. They brought me some food by and by, one of them carrying
it into the room, the other standing at the door with a musket in
his hand, and I perceived that he had a hanger at his belt. To
attempt to overpower them and escape would be madness; but I
thought it might not be impossible to prevail on them by means of a
bribe to help me, and with that ultimate design I resolved to open
friendly communications with them.

"What house is this?" I said.

"Look 'ee, master, drink your bumbo and say nought," he growled.

"Come, come," I said pleasantly, "you are a tar, as any one can
see, and as good a seaman, I doubt not, as ever slept upon
foc's'le. Two years ago I was a swab myself--"

"Splutter and oons!" cried the man, interrupting me, "who be you
a-calling swab, I'd like to know!"

"No offense," I said, "I was just going to tell you of the fun we
had, my mates and I, when we were prisoners in France, and how we
escaped and had a running fight with Duguay-Trouin--"

"That's a good un!" he cried.

"Hark to him, Jack: says he had a fight with Doggy Trang."

"Let's hear about it," cries the man he had called Jack.

Whereupon I launched out into the story of our escape, made them
laugh heartily by my description of our dealings with the French
captain, and so brought them, as I thought, to a more reasonable
temper.

"And now, seeing that we're in a manner shipmates, you won't refuse
to answer a simple question, I'm sure," I said. "What house is
this?"

"No harm in that, Bill," says Jack. "'Tis the house of the second
overseer of this 'ere plantation, and much good may it do you to
know it."

Having thus broken the ice, I succeeded, before I had finished my
meal, in drawing sundry other information out of them. I learned
that the place of my imprisonment was some two miles from Mistress
Lucy's house, being situate at the extreme verge of the sugar
plantation. The men knew nothing about Mistress Lucy, or of what
went on at the house, having recently been brought up by Vetch,
along with a dozen or more shipmates, from a brig belonging to
their employer that now lay in a cove on the north of the island
some ten miles away. They made no bones about acknowledging that
they had formed part of the crew of a buccaneer vessel and had been
hired by Vetch for a month's service on shore, which suited them
very well, since they had nothing to do, good pay, and were given a
liberal allowance of bumbo, which was, I discovered, a concoction
of rum and water, sugar and nutmeg.

"Well, now," says I, thinking the time had come for my proposal, "I
don't ask you what pay you are getting, but whatever it is, I will
double it if you'll let me loose, and help me to get down to
Spanish Town."

"Come up, now!" says Bill, "d'ye think to gammon us? We know what a
lieutenant's wages is, we do, and 'twould take a dozen of you
together to pay us enough for that there job."

"And you shall have it," I said.

"Ay, and a dose of irons into the bargain," said the man. "No, no;
we don't want no lobsters up from Spanish Town; not if we know it.

"Besides, we knows what king's officers be, don't we, Jack?

"We've bin on king's ships, Lord love you, and we knows where the
pay goes to. Once you get to Spanish Town you'd forget all about
us; we've bin done like that afore."

And then what must I do but produce a handful of silver and show it
them as earnest of my promise. I could not have done a stupider
thing. At the sight of the money the men fell upon me, and emptied
my pocket (despite my resistance) of every stiver it contained; so
that I was now, as once before in my life, bare of everything save
my clothes and Cludde's crown piece, which was hidden under my
shirt. Then, with many a chuckle, the scoundrels left me, to
meditate on the exceeding folly of trying to make terms with
buccaneers.

So three days passed. I was never allowed to quit my room; Jack and
Bill guarded it by day, two other men by night. I became more and
more miserable and anxious. I could get no news from my jailers,
nor did I ever see the overseer in whose house I was; and I
suffered from a constant dread that Vetch's plans, whatever they
were, were maturing, and that it would soon be too late for any
intervention.

On the third night of my imprisonment in the overseer's house (the
fourth since my arrival) I was very restless. My enforced
inactivity, and the lack of fresh air, were producing the natural
effect; every night I slept less, waking frequently, to toss and
heave until I sank again into a troubled slumber.

In one of these intervals, I heard a scratching sound--just such a
sound as a mouse makes behind the wainscot. I had not noticed it
before, and it caused me nothing but irritation now, for when a man
is wakeful, such sounds, however slight they may be, become
magnified to his overstrung nerves. I endured the sound for a time;
then shooed to scare the gnawing animal away. But it did not desist
for an instant, and at last, vexed beyond measure, I got out of
bed, groped my way to the spot whence I thought the sound proceeded
(it seemed to come from the floor) and stamped heavily on the
boards.

My action was heard by the men outside the door, and one of them
cried out angrily to know what I was about.

"'Tis a wretched mouse will not let me sleep," I replied.

"And what can you expect, you fool, when your room's over an empty
stable?" he said. "Curse me! what a fresh-water fair-weather fowl
you be!"

The scratching having ceased, I went back to bed. But in a few
moments it recommenced, at what seemed to be a spot nearer to me,
and, marveling somewhat at the persistence of the beast (for a
mouse is easily scared), I covered my head, and so endeavored to
shut out the annoyance.

I think I must have dozed again, for suddenly I found myself
sitting bolt upright, straining my ears as a man does when he is
suddenly wakened from sleep and is not sure whether 'twas by an
actual sound or by a sound heard in dream. And in a moment my doubt
was resolved; assuredly I heard a sound, and 'twas like a human
voice, but muffled. I listened intently; it appeared to come from
beneath me. While I was wondering who could have chosen the stable
as a place for conversation in the dead of night I could have sworn
(though half-believing it must be an hallucination) that I beard my
own name. In a trice I was out of bed, and groping my way under it,
my hand struck against something projecting from the floor, and at
the same moment I heard distinctly, and as it were in my very ear,
a low whisper, "Massa Bold, Massa Bold!"

"Who is there?" I whispered in return, and, clutching the thing my
hand had touched, I felt it move.

I tightened my grasp upon it; it was round, and as I discovered by
laying my other hand upon its top, hollow. Struck by a sudden
thought I bent my face down, and whispered again into the hole,
"Who is there?" afterwards turning my ear upon it.

"Massa Bold, lill Missy sends a letter."

The words came clearly up the tube.

"Me poke it up," said the voice again.

I withdrew my ear, and waited in a tense breathlessness of
amazement. Then I heard a slight rustling, and placing my hand on
the tube, I felt a small piece of paper thrust against it. Grasping
this, all my frame thrilling with excitement, I whispered again:

"Who are you?"

"Me Uncle Moses," said the voice. "Good night, sah; come again
tomorrow."

And then all was silent.

Picture if you can my state of mind as I crept back into my bed and
lay down again, the precious note in my hand. I was trembling with
happiness: Lucy knew of my presence, and had written to me. And yet
I was doomed to lie in a tantalizing impatience until the dawn
should give me leave to read her message. I had no more sleep that
night, wonderment, conjecture, pleasure, hope, setting up a whirl
in my brain.

As soon as there was the faintest tremor in the darkness I sat up
and, unfolding the paper, sought vainly to decipher it. Never had
time seemed so long to me as I waited for the oncoming of the
beneficent light of day. And at last, lifting the paper almost to
my eyes, I was able to make out the words.

'Twas in French, and I blessed the chance which enabled me to
understand it, and the woman's wit that had prompted Lucy to choose
this disguise. She said she had learned of what had happened
through the gossip of the servants; the man who had heard my name
in the rest house had mentioned it. She told me that she was
virtually a prisoner. She knew not what Vetch intended (she did not
name him, but wrote of him as cet homme mechant), but she was kept
under strict surveillance; her movements were dogged; and though
she had three times endeavored to make her escape along with the
old nurse who had accompanied her from England, she had always been
prevented, and those who had assisted her had been terribly
punished. Uncle Moses, her father's bodyservant, who was devoted to
her, had been whipped almost to death, and she dared make no
further attempt, for the sake of the poor black people.

Dick Cludde had come up from Spanish Town, she told me, and
crushing down her repugnance to meet him, she had besought him to
interpose. He had seemed troubled, and had gone away, as she
thought, to plead with Vetch, but she had not seen him again. It
was after that that she had heard of my imprisonment. She thanked
me for coming to help her; she knew that was my purpose; had I not
helped her before? and she prayed that I might find some means of
escaping, so that I might take her away and save her from the
wicked man who had her in his power.

I ground my teeth as I read all this, and vowed that if I could but
get free I would wreak a vengeance on Vetch that he would not
easily forget. But the knowledge of my impotence wrought me to a
pitch of fury that for a time almost bereft me of my senses, and I
could only rage and fume in desperate misery. My guardians, when
they came in to attend to my wants, seemed to be conscious of my
state of mind; they eyed me with suspicion, and the man at the door
took up his musket ostentatiously, though neither said a word to
me.

After a time my passion subsided, and with recovered calmness I saw
that my only chance of doing anything for Lucy depended on my
patience and self restraint. I waited eagerly for night. The negro
had said that he would come again, and this could only mean that
Lucy had some hope of our being able between us to devise some
means of escape. The man ran a great risk; if the buccaneers heard
us speaking they would discover him, and then all hope would be
lost. Fervently as I longed to hear his voice again, I was consumed
with anxiety lest he should come too soon, or that by some
accident, some incautious movement, he might reveal his presence.

The day passed and when I went to bed I lay in restless impatience,
straining my ears to catch the slightest whisper, and starting up
several times in the belief that I heard him. At last, when all was
silent save for the heavy breathing of the men outside the door, I
caught the faint sound made by the pushing of the tube (a length of
sugar cane, as I afterwards learned) through the hole he had bored
in the double floor. I stole noiselessly out of bed, and crept
cautiously to the place beneath it.

"Is that you, Moses?" I whispered.

"Yes, massa, me's here."

"Is Mistress Lucy well?"

"Welly miserable, sah. Missy say Massa Bold take care; she say 'God
bless Massa.'"

Inwardly I blessed her for her thought of me; then I said:

"We must both be careful, Moses. Now, I must escape from this, and
you must help me."

"Yes, Massa, me want to help, but dere is no way for po' Uncle
Moses."

"We must find a way; we must," I said in a fierce whisper. "Could
you come up and help me if I burst open the door? Are you strong?
Could you knock a man down?"

"Me plenty strong, sah, but what good dat? Massa might get away,
but what den?"

"Why, we could get among the trees in the darkness, and you could
lead me to the road, and perhaps find me a horse, so that I could
ride to Spanish Town."

"No, no, sah, me berry much 'fraid in dark, sah. Me shake like leaf
now, sah; but in forest, wiv de bugaboos, me melt all away to
water."

I had heard of the dread with which the negroes regarded the
bugaboos, the evil spirits of the woods, and knew that there was
but a poor chance of escaping if my guide were in a state of panic
terror. Moses had shown unusual courage in coming alone in the
darkness to the stable beneath me, and there was a tremor in his
voice which showed that even now but little was wanted to make him
go howling away. I thought it best not to risk so inopportune and
fatal a calamity, so I bade him go away and come again next night,
by which time I hoped to have been able to think out a plan that
offered reasonable prospects of success.



Chapter 24: I Make A Bid For Liberty.


I slept heavily when Uncle Moses had gone, making up for my
wakefulness the night before; and next day I was more composed in
mind, and readier to take thought. Ignorant as I was of the
plantation and the country round, I saw that to escape in the night
without a guide would be to court disaster, and a timorous guide
like Uncle Moses, with his fear of the bugaboos, might lead me to
my undoing. Therefore my flight must be contrived by day. The door
of my chamber was opened three times, when the guards brought me
food, and 'twas possible that, with the negro making a diversion
outside, I might seize such an occasion to fell one of the men and
evade the other. But this plan scarce promised success, for the
house was situate in the sugar plantation, and doubtless many
negroes would be at work, and the overseer would be at hand, with
possibly others of the piratical dogs whom Vetch had brought up
from the coast.

There was one period of the day, however, when few people, if any,
would be astir, and that was the middle part from eleven till about
three, when work ceased, everybody seeking shelter from the heat. I
could reckon on my guards being sleepy and sluggish then; and,
moreover, seeing that during several days I had given them no
trouble, they would be quite unprepared for any violent outbreak.
True, my door was always locked, but looking at it, I did not doubt
that if I threw myself upon it with all my strength it would give
way. And if Uncle Moses had the courage at the same time to tackle
the men, there was a chance that we might seize their arms and make
good our escape before they had recovered from their surprise. At
any rate, I saw nothing better.

Being resolved on this first step, I had to consider the next. What
should I do if I escaped? Should I endeavor to make my way to
Spanish Town and return with a force of tars, or of soldiers from
Collingwood's regiment then in garrison, sufficient to deal with
Vetch's desperadoes? This idea I soon dismissed. I felt that time
was of the greatest moment. I did not know the exact date of
Mistress Lucy's coming of age, but 'twas very clear that it was not
far distant; it might be, indeed, within a few days, and I had such
a belief in Vetch's villainy that I feared he might force Lucy into
a marriage with Cludde the very moment she was free from the
authority of the Chancery Court. Cludde had arrived, I remembered,
and was perhaps still at the house awaiting the day of Lucy's
enfranchisement, and I clenched my fists at the thought.

It would take me a full day on a swift horse to reach Spanish Town,
even if I rode at peril of sunstroke through the hot hours, and
another day, perhaps two or three, to return with assistance; and
it was in the highest degree unlikely, first that I should be able
to get a horse, and if I did, to ride the whole length of the
estate without being intercepted. And further, supposing all
happened as favorably as I could wish, at the news of my flight
Vetch would without question carry off Mistress Lucy to the brig
that lay on the coast, and would sail to England or elsewhere,
secure in the knowledge that I could not pursue him.

I can relate the course of my reasoning in cold blood now, but on
that day of anxious pondering every other consideration was
outweighed by the feeling that I must not go far from Mistress
Lucy. And so I resolved that if I got free I would ask Uncle Moses
to lead me to some spot near by, difficult of access, where I might
lurk while concerting some means of assisting her. It passed my wit
to conceive of any plan that promised success; but certainly I
could do nothing while a prisoner, and to be free was my one
consuming desire.

How impatiently I waited for the dark needs no telling. And some
words I overheard pass between my jailors, as they talked over
their supper, drove me to such a state of desperation that I had
almost there and then dashed myself against the door and ruined
everything.

"'Twill be summat new for Parson Jim," says Jack.

"Ay, 'tis many a year since he tied a knot o' that sort," replied
the other.

"D'ye reckon he can tie it safe and proper, seeing he bean't no
more a parson?" asked Jack.

"Never you fear," says Bill; "once a parson always a parson, as
I've heard tell. 'Tis no matter he's a swab and a tosspot like you
and me, only worse, and fit for nothing but a Newgate galley; he'll
read the words o' the book, if so be he's sober enough to see 'em
(though to be sure his talk is always most pious when he's drunk),
and they'll be lawful man and wife, same as if they'd bin spliced
by the Pope of Rome himself."

This wrought me into a very fever of apprehension. I could only
guess who Parson Jim might be; the buccaneers gathered all manner
of strange recruits; it was enough that there was talk of a
marriage, and I was sick with dread lest after all I should be too
late. And when at last I heard the welcome rustle below me, the
first words I spoke through the tube were an anxious inquiry for
Lucy's welfare.

"Missy lots better now, sah," replied the negro, and with the
vanity of youth I inferred that she was better for the knowledge
that I was near.

"Is Mr. Cludde at the house?" I asked.

"No, sah; Massa Cludde gone yesterday."

That was good news, at any rate, for I supposed him to have
returned to Spanish Town, perhaps to make preparations for his
wedding, and it must be four or five days at earliest before he
could be back.

"And when is Mistress Lucy's birthday?" I asked.

"Missy's bufday Friday, Massa, but oughter be Fursday."

"What do you mean?"

"Missy keep bufday one day after proper time, sah, cos her muvver
die on proper bufday, and Massa and Missy too sorry to be jolly dat
day, sah."

"Does Mr. Vetch know that?" I asked, with no little anxiety, for
'twas Tuesday night, and if Vetch knew that Lucy came of age on
Thursday the time was perilously short.

"No, sah; Massa Vetch t'ink de proper bufday be Friday, and he hab
told all de black people dey shall get drunk Saturday, 'cos dere
will be wedding in de house."

There was confirmation of the suspicion my jailors' talk had bred
in me. I lost no time now in imparting my plan to the negro. He
gave a low groan when I had finished.

"What's the matter?" I said. "Are you afraid?"

"Yes, Massa, I am 'fraid. S'pose we get away, dere be dogs at the
big house, and dey will let 'em loose on us and follow on
horseback. We shall be cotched, and dat will be de last of po'
Uncle Moses."

This was a staggering blow, and I own I felt for the moment an
utter despair. In the depths of the forest land, could we but gain
it, we might elude the search of men, but not the unerring scent of
bloodhounds.

"Are there horses we could make off with?" I said at length.

"No, Massa; all de horses but two at de big house be gwine to take
sugar to de coast tomorrow, and dose two are kept for Missy and
Massa Vetch."

This had an element of comfort in it, for if we could not find
horses for ourselves, neither could our pursuers, save these two,
which might not be at hand, and I did not doubt we could outstrip
any man on foot. I pointed this out to the negro, and when he
replied that we had still to reckon with the dogs, I tried to
hearten him by showing that some time must elapse before the beasts
could be fetched from their kennel and put upon the scent. And then
I asked him whether slaves had never run away from the estate
without being caught.

"Not when old Massa was alive, nor yet when Massa McTavish was de
boss; but some did run 'way when Massa Vetch come, and dey was not
cotched."

"Well, then, why should not we do the same? Do you know where they
hid?"

"In de swamp six mile 'way," he said.

"Yes, dat is it," he added, with a new eagerness in his tone, "we
will run to de swamp. I never thought of Massa going where de
niggers go. De dogs will not run on de swamp 'cos dey 'fraid of
being drownded."

"Then how can we?" I asked, wondering.

"I know all about dat, Massa," he said. "De slaves what run way dey
wear swamp shoes. I make some for massa and me, and den if we get
dere befo' de dogs cotch us, we shall be safe."

I was getting desperately uneasy lest our whispered conversation,
which had lengthened itself out, should be heard by my jailors. So
I now brought it to an end by reminding Uncle Moses of the part he
was to play on the morrow and giving him a message to Mistress
Lucy.

"Tell her that with God's help I shall be free tomorrow, and beg
her to shut herself in her room, and see no one. If mortal man can
save her, she shall be saved."

And ere I went to sleep I prayed very fervently that all might be
well with us and her.

When morning broke, I was conscious of a great agitation of mind,
which I schooled myself to hide from the eyes of my guards, forcing
myself to eat the breakfast for which I had no appetite. It would
have eased me to pace up and down my room, but I forbore even from
this, so that no restlessness might provoke their curiosity or
suspicion. I sat for hours on my bed, awaiting the time for our
attempt. The men brought me my midday meal: one of them made a
brutal remark on my pallor; and then the door was shut, and they
settled themselves to their usual siesta.

'Twas about an hour later when I heard the tube pushed up through
the hole in the floor. Uncle Moses was below. The critical moment
for which I had been longing was come, and my limbs trembled
uncontrollably, as they had not done since the time when I saw my
first sea fight on the deck of the Dolphin. As we had arranged, I
allowed time for the negro to mount the steps and come through the
veranda into the room adjoining. Then, gathering my strength, I
took three strides across my chamber and dashed my right shoulder
against the door. It flew outwards with a crash, the force of my
impact being such that the lock tore a great piece out of the jamb.

I rushed blindly into the next room, and lost a few moments in the
endeavor to grasp the scene. But my jailors lost more, for the
crash had wakened them from a sound sleep and, seamen though they
were, the event was so sudden and unexpected that they were taken
perfectly aback, and were still looking about them in a dazed
bewilderment when Uncle Moses and I threw ourselves upon them. We
got them just as they were staggering to their feet. A blow from my
fist sent one spinning against the wall; at the same moment the
negro, whom I had barely yet seen, caught the other man by the
middle and, by a feat of strength which amazed me, hurled him
through the doorway into the room I had just quitted. I hoped they
were stunned; we could not wait to see, and we had no means of
binding them.

The noise must have awakened everybody in the house; indeed, I
heard shouts from the rear; no doubt the overseer, and the two
buccaneers who had been on guard during the night, would in a few
moments be upon the scene. Snatching up the men's muskets and
bandoliers that lay on a bench against the wall, we dashed into the
veranda, sprang down the steps, and made off across the plantation.

We had not run a hundred yards when we heard a bellow behind us,
and, turning, I saw a man at the head of the steps lighting the
match for his musket. I was pleased at this, for it would give us
another hundred yards' start before he could fire. The muskets of
these days can not boast of great precision, but those of fifty
years ago were infinitely more cumbersome and clumsy, so that I did
not fear he would hit us, unless by some unlucky chance. And
indeed, when his weapon flashed, we were quite two hundred and
fifty yards away, and the slug went very wide. He would have done
better, I thought, to pursue us at once on foot.

But as we sped on side by side, I heard a great horn blast that
seemed to set the welkin ablaze. 'Twas the signal that a slave had
run away, and I could not doubt that Vetch would immediately
suspect what had actually happened. Before long, beyond question,
he would be hot upon our traces.

"How far to the forest?" I asked of the negro.

"More'n a mile, massa," he replied.

And then, as I ran, I looked more closely at the man whom fate had
made my comrade in this desperate adventure. He was an older man
than I had expected; very powerfully made, as his cast of the
buccaneer had proved; but his hair was white, and, short as was the
distance we had run, I could see that he would soon be laboring for
breath. But it was two miles to the big house, as he had called
Mistress Lucy's abode, and I did not despair of reaching the edge
of forest land before Vetch could make up on us, even if he started
the very moment he heard the alarm. If once we gained the forest,
we might perhaps blind our trail in a stream, and so gain time
enough for our further flight to the swamp.

We were running on a broad track that divided the sugar plantation,
and here and there negro laborers who had been roused from their
noontide sleep by the horn blast and the shot rose up to see what
was afoot. None of them offered to interfere. They stared at us for
the most part in silence, one or two of the older people crying out
that it was Uncle Moses on the run, and wondering at his companion
being a white man.

I took little note of them, for I was already anxious on behalf of
the old negro. We had six miles to go; could he hold out? 'Twas two
miles from the big house to the house we had left; a horseman could
cover the distance in little longer than it would take us to reach
the forest; and then we should have but one mile start in a race of
six. The odds were heavily against even me, in strong and lusty
youth; how much more heavily against Uncle Moses, who was perhaps
three times my age!

Already I was slackening my pace to keep with him. And we were
cumbered with the muskets we had seized--heavy weapons, and, when I
came to think of it, likely to prove of little use to us, for we
could not pause in the race to light matches, nor, once they were
discharged, should we have time to recharge them. Yet I dared not
suggest we should fling them down; they were our only weapons save
for a knife that Uncle Moses carried at his belt, and perchance if
it came to a fight at close quarters we could wield them with some
effect as clubs. So we pounded on, saying never a word, I
husbanding my breath, the negro panting hard.

We came to the edge of the forest land bordering the estate, and
when we had plunged into it for some little distance Moses was fain
to stop to recover his wind.

"Dey hab not started yet, massa," he gasped.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"'Cos dere is no sound of de dogs," he replied.

"Should we hear them three miles away?"

"Oh, yes, massa; de wind carry de sound miles and miles."

"We have luck on our side, then. Can you run again?"

"Yes, massa. Po' Uncle Moses hain't no chicken now, but he hain't
done yet."

And then we set off again through the forest, at a more moderate
pace now, for the way ran no longer clear. The word "forest" to a
stay-at-home means a tract of soft, springy turf, with tall trees
and pleasant glades and clumps of bracken that shelter rabbits and
other small creatures of the woodland. But the forest of the West
Indies bears to our English forest the relation of a giant to a
dwarf. The fronds of the bracken grow to feet where we have inches;
weeds that with us would shelter a mouse would there oonceal an
elephant, and a creeping plant which in England would delay a man
only while he kicked its tendrils aside grows in Jamaica to such a
strength and tanglement that it would obstruct the passage of a
troop of horse.

This was somewhat in our favor. We could run where horses might
not. But I took little comfort from this, for where we went the
dogs would certainly follow. And we had not gone above a mile, as I
reckoned, when the howling sound came to our ears--a deep-toned
baying, faint and mellow, stealing through the umbrageous foliage
like the horns of some fairy host. The hounds had found our scent.

Uncle Moses groaned. Doubtless he knew full well the fate of
unhappy slaves who had been recaptured in flight. He quickened his
strides for some yards, then, stopping, he held his hand to his
side and begged me to go on alone.

"But I can not," I said. "I do not know the way; and besides, I
will not leave you. Give me your musket. We have still a good
start, and after you have rested a little you will be able to run
again."

I took his musket, and when we set off again we were lucky to come
upon a stream swirling athwart our track. We stepped into this and
walked through the water for some distance, until we had, as I
thought, effectually blinded our trail. And no doubt it was so, but
Uncle Moses told me that it would only delay our pursuers for a
little; they knew the direction of the haven for which we were
making, and even if the dogs were at fault the horsemen would still
press on. We wasted no more time in deflecting from our course for
any such vain manoeuvers, but ran straight on.

Alas! the old man's strength was failing. He staggered, and but for
my arm would have fallen. I think his collapse was due partly to
terror, for the baying of the hounds was growing upon our ears; the
pursuers were gaining fast upon us. I had perforce to wait
patiently until the poor negro had somewhat recovered, and
meanwhile the deep-mouthed baying sounded ever nearer, and the
precious minutes were fleeting by. When we set off once more 'twas
at little above a walking pace, and every moment I dreaded the
appearance of the pursuers at our heels. And I noticed with alarm
that the forest was thinning; apparently we should soon reach open
country, and lose what little advantage we had in being out of our
enemy's sight.

I asked anxiously whether 'twould not be better for us to turn
aside into the thickets and try to hide; peradventure the dogs and
the horsemen would go past. But the negro said 'twould be useless;
we could not deceive the dogs, and we should be no safer than rats
in a barn.

We had come to the end of what would in England be called a glen--a
narrow gorge, with shelving banks rising to the height of some
ninety feet, and overgrown with shrubs and creeping plants. No
doubt in the rainy season 'twas the bed of a torrent; the bottom
was sandy and pebbly, and hard to the feet. We had gone but a
little way along it when Uncle Moses sank down, and, looking at his
livid face, his panting nostrils and starting eyes, I feared that
the hand of death was upon him. 'Twas clear that he was utterly
spent; he could not even stagger to the farther end of the gorge;
and with the bitter pangs of despair I heard the fierce baying of
the hounds, and had almost resigned myself to the inevitable end.

I glanced round to see whether the pursuers were in sight. I saw,
not them, but something which flashed a wild hope through me. Some
little distance back a tree hung over the sandy bottom, its roots
partially laid bare by the washing of the stream which had now
disappeared. The trunk was inclined at a sharp angle; but little
force would be needed, I thought, to topple it over until it lay
athwart the path which the pursuers must follow. Its foliage was
thick, and though I did not flatter myself 'twould put an end to
the pursuit, I thought it might serve as a check, and enable Uncle
Moses to gain strength enough for a last attempt.

Dropping the muskets by the negro's side, I ran down the gorge,
scrambled up the bank to the base of the tree, and swarmed along
the trunk to the farthest extremity. It was a tall tree, of a kind
I did not know, and my weight upon its tapering top must have
exerted a considerable force upon its loosened lower end. Catching
a branch that seemed strong enough to bear me, I dropped with a
jerk. There was a movement of the trunk, and I heard a wrenching
sound below, but the roots still held fast. I climbed up again with
the quickness I had learned at sea, and again threw myself down.

This time I produced the effect I desired; the roots gave way, and
in a moment I found myself on the ground, somewhat scratched and
bruised, but sound of bone and limb. The fallen tree lay full
across the gorge, its foliage completely filling the space, save
for a narrow gap between it and the ground, through which a man or
a dog might crawl, but not a horse.

I ran back to Uncle Moses, lifted him to his feet, and, assisting
him with one hand, the muskets clasped in the other, I led him up
the gorge with what haste I might. We had gone but a little way
when I heard the shouts of men mingled with the baying of the
hounds, and immediately afterwards these latter forced their way
beneath the tree and ran with lolling tongues towards us. Knowing
nothing of the ways of bloodhounds, I expected the two dogs would
fly at our throats like foxhounds at a fox, and I loosed the
negro's arm and stood with musket upraised to defend myself and
him. But to my surprise Uncle Moses called to them by name, and
they answered him with a bark and fawned on him.

"Dey won't hurt us," he said. "Dey hab done their work; dey lub po'
Uncle Moses."

"Will they come with us?" I asked, with wondering delight.

"Dey will do anyt'ing for Uncle Moses," he replied.

"Then let us get away into the forest again as soon as we can, and
take them with us. How far is the swamp now?"

"'Bout a mile, Massa."

"Come, then; we may have time to get to it before the men can
overtake us. They cannot get their horses over the tree."

And we made off, the dogs accompanying us willingly, in spite of
the cries and calls of the baffled horsemen on the other side of
the tree. Issuing from the gorge, we struck into the forest, and
heard our pursuers cursing us and the dogs as they tried to follow
us. By the help of my arm Uncle Moses managed to struggle along,
and after about a quarter of an hour we came to the edge of the
swamp.

Then he took from his back, where they had been strapped, two pairs
of shoes in shape similar to those which our trappers in America
adopted from the Indians for marching over snow, but slighter and
shorter. These we donned, the negro showing me how to fasten mine,
and then we stepped on to the morass, the oozy red soil squelching
beneath our feet. The hounds came with us for a few yards, but, the
ground becoming softer the farther we went from the edge, they
halted, whined as though loath to part from friends, and then ran
back to meet Vetch and one of his buccaneers, who stood helpless at
the brink. They fired at us, but we were already out of range, and
with the sound of their execrations still in our ears we trudged
slowly but steadily towards the other side of the swamp.



Chapter 25: I Spend Cludde's Crown Piece.


Thankful as I was for my wondrous escape, my mind still misgave me,
both as to our own ultimate safety and as to what might befall
Mistress Lucy. I did not know the extent of the swamp, and maybe
Vetch and his companion would go back for their horses and,
circling round it, circumvent us. Uncle Moses relieved my fears on
this score, telling me that, while the swamp was little more than
half a mile across, it stretched laterally for several miles, and
we should reach the haven whither we were making long before the
swiftest horses could complete the circuit.

On the other point, the well being of Mistress Lucy, he could give
me no reassurance. 'Twas Wednesday: she came of age tomorrow; even
if Vetch was not aware of this, but believed that Friday, the day
of her birthday celebrations, was the actual birthday, it gave us
terribly little time to concert any movements on her behalf. And so
my joy of having recovered my freedom was tempered by uneasiness.

It was heavy going across this sagging morass. Uncle Moses told me
that we were in no danger of sinking into it so long as we took
short and rapid steps; but we were both mightily fatigued, and my
feet as I lifted them seemed heavy as lead. The negro was in far
worse case than I, and had I not grasped him firmly by the arm and
fairly pulled him along, I think he would never have gained the
other side. Towards the middle the surface of the swamp was nothing
but liquid ooze, and once or twice, in spite of our swamp shoes, we
sank in it up to the ankles. But at length we reached more solid
ground; then Uncle Moses said we must strike off to the right, and
after a tramp of two miles or thereabouts we should come to a
well-concealed spot where he had no doubt we should find fugitives
of his color.

As we neared the place he put his fingers to his mouth and blew a
whistle of three quick notes that reminded me of the piping of a
thrush. And immediately I started back: a black man had risen
almost from beneath our feet. So well hidden was he in a
low-growing bush that we might have passed within a yard of him and
been none the wiser. I perceived that he carried a long knife in
his hand.

"Hi, Sam!" said Uncle Moses, stepping in advance of me.

I stood leaning on one of the muskets while the two men spoke
together in tones too low to reach my ears. But I knew from his
gestures and his manner of looking at me that the stranger was
loath to comply with the request Uncle Moses was putting to him.
His demeanor said, as plainly as words, that he distrusted me; I
was a white man, and doubtless the poor runagate had too much
reason to regard all white men as his enemies. But Uncle Moses took
him by the arm and appeared to plead with him; and by and by the
man left us and went away.

"Him gone to ask his brudders if we may go where dey are," said
Uncle Moses, coming to my side.

Then he flung himself on the ground and lay at full length upon his
face, with his arms outstretched in an attitude of utter
prostration. I sat down by him, clasping my knees, and mused with
down-bent head.

After what seemed a long while the negro returned and told us that
we might accompany him. He led us back toward the swamp, threading
his way through the rank vegetation along an invisible path that
wound about like the coils of a snake in most bewildering wise. But
it was firm to the tread, and his bare feet had no need of swamp
shoes. Finally we came to a little island copse slightly above the
general level, and there, well screened from view, we found a group
of about a dozen negroes. They had constructed for themselves
little huts of grass and branches of trees, and in the midst a pot
was boiling on a fire of sticks. They cried a greeting to Uncle
Moses, and I was not a little amazed when one of them came grinning
up to me and said:

"Massa Bold, we bofe free now. Huh! dat debbil nebber cotch us no
mo'."

'Twas Jacob, the man who had escorted me from Spanish Town and been
captured with me. He told me that he had been put to work in the
plantation, but had run away on the second day, along with another
man.

"Dat him ober dere," he said, pointing to a burly,
pleasant-featured negro who was in close conversation with Moses.
"Dat Noah! Ah! he hab drefful time--pufeckly drefful, 'cos he help
Missy."

"What did he do?" I asked, feeling a most friendly disposition
towards a man who had done anything for Lucy.

"She want to run away, too," he said; "ebery one want to run away.
She got on horse, and Noah was leading her round about, but dey
cotched him, and den, oh, lor', didn't dey jest beat him!

"Say, Noah, show Massa Bold your po' back."

The man left Uncle Moses, and, coming to me, turned about (he was
naked to the waist) and displayed to my sickened gaze a score of
long, raw wounds upon his back. They had begun to heal; I learned
that his companions had anointed them with grease, and plastered
them with leaves from a plant that grew abundantly in the forest.

"Dat is what Massa Vetch do," he said with a dark look, "and his
friend he look on and cry to him to gib me mo'. He say, teach me a
lesson, and I learn it--oh, yes, I learn it. And now I show how to
teach lesson back."

His pleasant face was darkened with a glare of utter savagery.

"Black man can teach jest as good as white. Come 'long o' me,
massa; I show massa somet'ing."

Wondering, I followed him past the huts, through the copse, into a
little clearing, when I saw a white man stripped to the shirt and
tightly bound to a tree.

"Dat is him!" cried Noah excitedly. "Dat is de white debbil what
say gib me mo'. I teach him lesson: he nebber want no mo'."

His tone already sent a shiver through me, but as he went on to
explain the nature of the lesson he intended, I shuddered with
horror.

"Dis berry night we burn him up!" he cried. "Massa Bold see? We tie
him up to de bough of de tree, and we light a lill fire, jest a
lill one, and first it warm his feet, and den it get bigger, and
creep up and up, and bimeby it come to his head, and den he burn
all up. Oh, yes; dat is a proper lesson for white debbils to
learn!"

"You will not do anything so horrible!" I murmured.

"Hobbible! Hain't my back hobbible? He laugh when he see ole whip
come whisk! whisk! on my po' back; well, den, I laugh when I see de
fire go creep, creep, and when I hear him holler. Oh, yes, it will
be a proper lesson, no mistake 'bout it."

And then the poor bound wretch, whose head was hanging forward as
though he were already in extremis, lifted his eyes and saw me.

"Bold! Humphrey Bold!" he shrieked in a harsh, gasping whisper.
"Save me! Save me from these monsters!"

I started forward, scarce believing my eyes. In the pinched,
haggard features of the man who was lashed to the tree I recognized
my old enemy, my whilom schoolfellow, Dick Cludde.

"Save me! Save me!" he cried again and again.

"For God's sake, loose him!" I cried, turning to the negro.

God knows Cludde had done me harm enough; but for the working of a
gracious Providence he had ruined my life; but all remembrance of
this fled from me as I beheld his pitiful plight and mortal terror,
and heard his altered voice screaming for mercy.

"I know him; he was once a friend of mine," I cried, and God
forgive me the lie. "Let him go; don't torture him any longer."

Noah laughed in my face.

"What for me let him go?" he said. "'Cos he is a white man? He is a
white debbil; he shall hab his lesson."

"But it is murder. You would not murder him?"

"And he murder me! De whip cut me twenty times, and if I die, what
den? Noah is only a black man: it is not murder to kill a black
man! Dey kill me: I lib for teach him lesson."

"Let him go," I cried, "and I will give you money--twenty dollars."

"No!"

"Thirty--forty dollars!"

"No!"

"Forty dollars is a great big lot," said Uncle Moses, who had
joined us and saw my desperate eagerness to save the man.

"No!" said Noah again, his mouth tightening with inflexible
determination.

"Uncle Moses," I said, "can't you bend him? I will give anything if
he will but spare the man. I am a king's officer; you know that
what I promise I will do; and he is your mistress' cousin."

"Noah, my son," said the old negro, "listen to Massa. S'pose you
burn de white man, what good to you? He die, oh course, and nebber
can do nuffin' to black mans no mo'; but you will only be pleased a
lill tiny while, and if you let him go you gwine hab dollars what
will last long, long time."

"No!" returned Noah. "I will teach him lesson, and be pleased for
ebber and ebber."

And he walked away and began to gather up some sticks and carry
them to the tree where Cludde, utterly exhausted, seemed to have
fainted away.

I asked Moses what sum would purchase Noah's freedom, ready to
spend my last penny to prevent the hideous scene for which
preparation was being made. He told me five hundred dollars, and I
bade him go to Noah and promise that the money should be his as
soon as I got back to Spanish Town. He returned downcast from his
mission.

"He say dat is all talk," he said. "It is for bimeby, but he want
rebenge now; black man don't fink nuffin' ob bimeby."

"But can't we give him something now as earnest of what is to come?
There are our muskets; they will be useful to him, and are worth
some dollars; offer them to him, and assure him on the word of an
Englishman that he shall have the price of his freedom as soon as
ever I can get back to my friends."

He went away with this message, but came back again unsuccessful.

"He say hab plenty guns, and what good guns widout any powder and
shots? He hain't got no powder; de guns hain't worth more'n old
sticks. Hain't Massa got no money? If he seed de look of silver,
now, dat would be somet'ing 'spectable."

But my pockets were empty; all my money had been taken by the
buccaneers. And then, with a start of recollection, I remembered
the crown piece that hung by a riband about my neck, and with the
thought a flash of inspiration shot through my mind. I ran forward
to the spot where Noah was already heaping the sticks for the fire,
and, tearing open my shirt, I displayed the silver coin.

"Look, Noah," I cried, "you shall have this, and five hundred
dollars beside by and by. Listen while I tell you about it."

And then I told how, ever since I had worn that coin about my neck,
I had had the best of good fortune. It had brought me friends, and
raised me from a lowly position. I had been imprisoned and escaped;
I had been shot at, without scathe. I had gained what I prized most
in all the world. I fear I exaggerated; certainly I had never
before ascribed any talismanic power to the coin which I had kept
for no other purpose than to humiliate the man who had humiliated
me. But in this extremity I saw the possibility of working on the
negro's superstitious mind, and I would have racked my invention to
give the piece the most marvelous virtues under heaven.

But I had said enough. With a stare of wonderment Noah took the
coin in his hand, turned it over, examined it, handled it as though
it was a sacred object. I lifted the string from my neck.

"There, take it; 'tis yours," I said, handing it to him, and then,
by a happy afterthought, I myself slipped it over the negro's head.
He saw the white coin lying on his dusky breast, a smile overspread
his face, most wondrously obliterating all the lines of malice and
hate; and then, turning swiftly, he went to the tree, with me at
his heels, and cut the cords.

Cludde fell fainting into my arms, and as I laid him on the ground
and begged for water (not a drop had passed his lips for thirty-six
hours), I wondered whether he would ever know how I had paid the
stored-up interest I had vowed to pay.



Chapter 26: We Hold A Council Of War.


For some time I was in doubt whether the agonies Cludde had
suffered would not prove fatal. He lay long unconscious, and when
his eyes at last opened he shrieked aloud, with so wild a look in
his eyes that I feared his reason was gone. But I, who had not left
his side since he was loosed from the tree, spoke to him quietly,
assuring him that he was safe, and gave him water to drink, and by
and by he was soothed to quietude and slept like a tired child. And
then I lay beside him, worn out with the stress and agitations of
this long day, and together (strange chance!) we who had been
mortal enemies found repose on the bosom of mother earth.

Night came down upon us, and the stars were blinking in the dark
vault above when we awoke. Uncle Moses brought us food--birds the
negroes had snared and roasted, and root plants they had grubbed
up; and as we ate we talked.

"Bold," said Cludde huskily, "you've returned good for evil. You
don't want my thanks; you hate me."

"I wonder if I do," I said, and pondering the matter, I came to the
conclusion that I rather despised than hated him; but I did not
tell him so. "How did you come to this strait?" I asked him.

"I came up to see Lucy, and happened to arrive just after that
nigger had been caught. Vetch was flogging him, told me he was an
insolent and lazy scoundrel, and I agreed he ought to be taught a
lesson--"

"Even if it killed him," I interrupted.

"Why, he's only a black fellow," said Cludde.

"And black fellows are flesh and blood, like you and me."

"But they haven't our feelings; come now, you won't say that?"

I would not argue with: him, and he went on--"I came to the house,
and Lucy refused to see me. I hated you then, Bold; Vetch told me
that you had been up, and I guessed you had put a spoke in my
wheel."

"I never saw Mistress Lucy," I said.

"What? Why, Vetch told me that you had proposed to her, and been
sent away with a flea in your ear."

"That was a lie. But go on: I will tell you about myself
presently."

"Well, I plucked up courage to go to the house again, and this time
I was admitted and saw Lucy, and by heaven, Bold, I had no inkling
of what had been going on."

"You might have guessed, knowing Vetch, whom your own father had
sent out here," I said.

"But not for this," he said eagerly. "I beg you to believe me,
Bold. I know there is much against me, but after that business at
the turnpike I told Vetch I would countenance no more tricks of
that sort--though I own I helped to arrange your kidnapping at
Bristowe."

"'Twas an insult to Mistress Lucy to send Vetch out here," I said,
refusing to compromise on this matter. "But go on, let me hear how
you came to this."

"Lucy told me what tricks Vetch had been playing, and begged me to
help her to get away from him, and burst into tears, and I can't
stand a woman's tears. I sought Vetch, and I told him that he had
gone too far, and bade him remember that, whether she married me or
not, she is my cousin, and I wouldn't have her worried.

"'You've got my father's power of attorney,' I said to him, 'but
that don't authorize you to do what you are doing.'

"And then the scoundrel rounded on me, and asked me with his
infernal sneer what I thought he had come out to Jamaica for, and
then, by heaven, Bold, he said that he was going to marry Lucy
himself!"

At this I broke into a shout of laughter, the idea seemed so
ridiculous; but my mirth gave place to a hot fit of anger when I
remembered that the fellow had Lucy in his power.

"I laughed, too," said Cludde, "but 'tis no laughing matter. The
villain has a parson to his hand--a besotted Cambridge fellow who
has sunk to buccaneering with the pretty crew Vetch has about him.
I said I'd see him hanged first; I've been sick of the fellow this
long time; and then he threatened me, and in his blazing temper
told me about the will which he stole--"

"You didn't know it?" I cried, astonished.

"Why, I'm not a saint, Bold," he said, "but I'm not so bad as that.
Vetch told Sir Richard that his uncle had burned the will among
some old papers by mistake, and was afraid to confess it, but he
tells me now 'twas he stole it and hid it, and says that if I
attempt to interfere with him he'll produce it and turn us out of
our property--which is yours, Bold; and swear that he stole it at
Sir Richard's request. And then I called him a villain to his face,
and said I would go instantly back to Spanish Town and proclaim him
for the scoundrel he is, and he laughed and said I should never get
there alive.

"But his horse was standing by; he had just come in from riding;
and before he knew what I was about I was in the saddle and
galloped off. In my hurry I took the wrong road. The horse carried
me into the forest and stumbled over a root, and down I went, and
lay dazed for a time, and when I got up I wandered about, utterly
lost, and fell among these niggers. You know the rest."

I fell silent, thinking of Vetch's villainy, and of the extremity
of peril in which Lucy lay. That she would willingly wed him I did
not for a moment believe; but in her helpless position I feared
what she might be compelled to do under constraint.

"I know we have treated you very ill," said Cludde.

"I was not thinking of that," I said, interrupting him. "You can
make amends, Cludde."

"And I will, Bold, on my honor I will, as soon as ever we get back
to England."

"Before then," I said. "'Twill be too late then. You must help me
to save Mistress Lucy."

"But what can we do? Her birthday is on Friday--"

"On Friday?" I said, to test his knowledge.

"Yes, Vetch told me so. She will be of age then, and even supposing
we could escape his people we could not get to Spanish Town and
back in time. I only wish we could do something. I would give a
great deal to see Vetch get his deserts."

"We must get help from Spanish Town: we must do something
ourselves--you and I and the niggers. We must attack the house."

"'Tis impossible. He has a score of cut-throat ruffians in his
pay."

"At the house?"

"A dozen or so at the house, the rest about the plantations and on
the road, to guard against surprise from Spanish Town or any of the
settlements."

"Will you help me loyally, if I can find some means of rescuing
Lucy?" I asked, for Cludde's attitude to me was so altered that I
was not without suspicion of his sincerity.

"With all my heart; but we can do nothing."

"At present I see no way," I sorrowfully admitted; "but help her we
must. Good heavens! Can we leave her at his mercy, and not make an
effort on her behalf? We may fail, but let us at least do what men
may do."

Then Cludde made me tell him what had happened to me. He fell
asleep before I had finished my story, but I lay for long hours
pondering this baffling problem, and wishing that I had Joe
Punchard and my messmates of the Dolphin instead of negroes, whom I
could scarce trust. 'Twas clear, as Cludde had said, that we were
no match for the ruffians whom Vetch had about him; in open fight
we should be worsted, and maybe hasten the very catastrophe I
dreaded. Even if we should attempt a surprise by night I could not
hope for success, for the least check would turn the negroes into a
pack of howling cowards. We could only succeed by a ruse, and
though I cudgelled my brains until all my thoughts were in a whirl
I could invent no plan which had the least promise.

And it was Wednesday night! If we had not rescued Mistress Lucy
within forty-eight hours I had a strong presentiment that 'twould
be too late.

I sank at last into a sleep of sheer exhaustion. When I awoke, day
had dawned, and with the return to consciousness there came a
sudden recollection of something told me by Uncle Moses--something
that explained the fact that only two horsemen had ridden in
pursuit of us. All the horses of the estate had been employed in
conveying sugar to Dry Harbor. They had been gone a day; when would
they return?

I sprang up in haste to get an answer to this question; for on it
depended the chances of a plot which had flashed upon my mind.
Uncle Moses told me that, if the usual course were followed, the
wagons would return on Friday, either empty, or with loads of salt
fish, which formed the staple of the negro's food. I asked what men
would accompany the convoy, and learned that the wagoners were
negroes, and that one or two white men would be in charge.

This information threw a ray of hope upon my dark forebodings. If
we could but win to a position where the returning convoy might be
intercepted, I made no doubt we could overpower the white
men--overseers of the plantations; as to the negro drivers, I held
them of little account. There was one possible danger: that the
customary escort might be augmented by some of Vetch's buccaneers.
But I saw no likelihood of this, for however careful Vetch might be
in his watch over Mistress Lucy, he would have no reason to be
specially vigilant over the conduct of the ordinary operations of
the estate.

The question was, could we by any means come unobserved at a place
where the wagons could be intercepted? I put it to Uncle Moses, who
answered me readily enough, not seeing the drift of it. If we
crossed the swamp, and retraced our way through the forest, we
could skirt the whole length of the plantation without fear of
being discovered until we arrived within a very short distance of
the road to Spanish Town. We should then have to cross the road in
the open, but having crossed it, we should come in less than a
furlong to another clump of woodland, and passing through this,
avoiding the plantain groves which filled that portion of the
estate, we should reach the rough track leading to Dry Harbor, at a
point about three miles from the big house. 'Twas a round in all of
some twenty-five miles, and, as Uncle Moses assured me, if we were
reasonably cautious we should run no risks save at the crossing of
the road.

In great elation of spirit I now took into consultation Cludde with
Uncle Moses, Noah, and Jacob, all of whom I felt I could trust,
because all had suffered. I told them what I proposed, and whether
it was the story I had told of the wondrous good fortune that had
befallen me through the crown piece, or whether their own native
courage and their thirst for revenge influenced them, I know not;
but certain it is that the negroes agreed at once to follow my
lead.

Considering then how the rest of my party should be made up, I
decided, with the assent of Uncle Moses, to take only two more men,
these being all who had fled from the Cludde estate. I thought it
better that none but those who had a personal interest in the
welfare of Mistress Lucy, and who had reason to deplore the iron
rule of Vetch, should be enlisted in the enterprise. The sixth and
seventh members of the expedition having been brought into the
council, we talked over the details of the scheme so far as we
could foresee them. My general plan was to surprise the convoy, to
conceal ourselves--myself and Cludde--in one of the wagons, and,
thus gaining the house unsuspected, to steal our way in and then
act as chance might order.

Since we knew not how we might be taxed if we should succeed in
reaching the house, and a march of twenty-five miles in the heat of
the day would greatly impair our energies, we decided to set off at
once (this being Thursday), and spend the night in the forest at a
spot not far distant from the road. The negroes by themselves would
never have consented to this plan, so great was their dread of
bugaboos, but they derived courage from the companionship of white
men, and, to stiffen their resolution, I told them how, when
wearing the crown piece about my neck, I had escaped by night with
nine companions from a place with stone walls ten feet thick. This
impressed them greatly--Noah in particular; and in the evening,
when we halted for our bivouac in the forest, he came to me holding
the string on which the coin was suspended, and put it into my
hand, saying:

"Dis white man's duppy. Massa hab it dis time; Massa got through
stone wall, get through anything. Den I hab it again when Massa
done wid it."

I smiled and was hesitating whether to sling it round my neck or to
give it back when Cludde asked me what was the meaning of this
strange talk. As I did not answer at once, Uncle Moses broke in.

"Massa gib dat silver so dat you not be burned, sah. Noah will hab
eber so much more bimeby, 'nuff to buy him free, sah."

Cludde looked at me inquiringly.

"'Tis true, Cludde," I said. "I had to buy you off."

"But I don't understand," he said. "A crown piece?"

"Oh!" said I, feeling a little uneasy lest he should probe this
matter of the crown piece too far, "the negro has the mind of a
child. The price of his freedom is five hundred dollars: he
wouldn't take my word for that sum, but the sight of a coin was
enough."

"But you told me the buccaneers stripped you of your money," he
said, with a look of puzzlement.

"So they did, but I happened to have this crown piece slung about
my neck under my shirt, and it escaped their attention."

"Egad, I should never have believed you were superstitious," he
said with a laugh, and I laughed back, glad enough that I had
escaped further interrogation.

I returned the coin to Noah, assuring him that I had no further
need of it, and he went away well pleased, assured of the
protection of the white man's duppy--the token of the good spirits
which he venerates as much as he fears the bugaboos.

I was not to get off after all. When we lay side by side on the
grass, Cludde was for a long time silent; then he said abruptly,
with a keen look at me:

"Bold, do you remember I flung a crown piece at you when I passed
you on the Worcester road years ago!"

"I believe you did," said I, prevaricating.

"Is that the coin?"

"Why, Cludde," says I, "there are thousands of crown pieces in the
world."

"Is it?" he persisted.

"Why should you suppose it is?" I said.

"Why did you keep it? Come, I must know."

"Oh, confound you, Cludde," I said, "why don't you let me go to
sleep?"

"You had some design in keeping that coin," he said; "I want to
know what it was."

"Well, if you insist," I said, "I meant to keep it until I could
return it to you with interest. But Fate, you see, has found a
better use for it."

"Bold," says he, after a silence, "you're a good fellow and a
generous--"

"Belay there, Cludde," I said, anxious to cut him short, "we'll cry
quits over all the past. Intus si recte ne labora--you remember the
old school motto. We're friends, and all we have to worry about now
is how to dish Cyrus Vetch; and as we shall be none the worse for a
long sleep, I'll take first watch, and wake you when you've had
three or four hours."

And with a grip of hands we closed the enmity of a dozen years.



Chapter 27: Some Successes And A Rebuff.


We lay all next day in the forest, maintaining an irksome silence,
and continually on our guard against intrusion. Uncle Moses told me
that the wagons would not leave Dry Harbor on their return journey
until the heat of the day was past--a circumstance which favored
our design. The spot we had determined on for the ambush was five
miles from our lurking place, and we should have cover all the way
save where we must needs cross the road. When the time came for our
setting forth, I went myself to the edge of the woodland to spy out
and see if the coast was clear. Not a soul was in sight; we were at
the portion of the estate which was given over to pasture; if it
had been sugar land we must have inevitably met negro laborers.

I was about to return and acquaint the others that we might safely
start when I heard a trotting horse, and from my place of
concealment among the trees, I soon afterwards saw a horseman
appear from the direction of Spanish Town and ride by towards the
big house two miles or more away. He was beyond doubt one of
Vetch's gang: 'twas impossible to mistake the thick ungainly
figure, and the exceedingly nautical way he had of sitting his
horse. 'Twas lucky indeed that we had not already begun the
crossing, for he must have seen us, the road being straight: and
for that same reason I deemed it well to delay a little, lest he
should chance to look back. And so 'twas a good half hour later
when, nothing further having happened to give us pause, we ran in a
compact body for the edge of the forest, crossed the road and a
long stretch of grass land, and arrived at the clump I have before
mentioned, where we stood a little while to recover breath.

And then we were amazed to hear the sound of singing--amazed, for
it was not the uncouth singing of negroes (who in happy
circumstances delight to uplift their voices in psalms) nor yet the
boisterous untuneable roaring of rough seamen, like Vetch's
buccaneers, but a most melodious and pleasing sound, which put me
in mind (and Cludde also) of the madrigal singers of our good town
of Shrewsbury. And as it drew nearer there seemed to be a something
familiar in the tone, though being quite without ear for music, as
I have confessed, I could not tell whether it was a known tune or
not.

With one consent, we had waited, held, I suppose, by the same
feeling of wonderment and curiosity. The sound continually
approached; 'twas from the direction of Spanish Town; and from our
vantage ground we should soon see the singer as he passed along the
road. But before he came within sight, the words of the song came
distinctly to my ears, and though I knew not one tune from another,
I started with a thrill of delight.

"What's that for?" cries out Salem Dick.
"What for, my jumping beau?
Why, to give the lubbers one more kick!"
Yo ho, with the rum below.

Thus rang the voice, and there ambled into view Joe Punchard,
perched upon a mule, and on mules behind him two negroes, their
countenances shining, their teeth flashing, with a happy smile.

"Joe!" I cried, in defiance of all caution.

"Ahoy ho!" he cried in return, pulling up his mule. "Who be that
a-calling of Joe?"

I broke away from Cludde's detaining arm, and ran to my old friend.

"Ahoy ho!" he shouted jovially when he saw me; but when I put my
fingers to my lips he dismounted clumsily, and met me with the
whispered question, "What be in the wind, Master Bold?"

I could not have taken ten minutes to possess him with the
necessary facts, so rapidly did I tell the gist of my story.

"Bless my buttons!" he ejaculated, "I reckoned there was somewhat
amiss. When I heard talk of you being ill, I was most desperate
uneasy, knowing you was in the latitude o' Vetch. And I said so to
my captain, and begged him to let me fetch a course this way to
make sure as you weren't run aground or wrecked on a sunken reef.
My captain he laughs and says you'd steered clear so often that
he'd no fears of you not coming safe to port; but seeing I was set
on it, he give me leave, and to make things reg'lar, as he said, he
told me being in these parts to keep an eye lifting for the
buccaneers as are said to be somewheres on this coast. And sink my
timbers, it do seem as how I'm on a rare voyage of discovery!"

I told him quickly of the purpose I had in view, and he at once
volunteered to join our party. But this I could not allow. I had no
doubt that the horseman whom I had previously seen riding to the
house was carrying thither news of his approach, as my own arrival
had been heralded. He would be expected, and if he did not appear
Vetch would be suspicious, and might despatch men in search of him,
and the footprints of his mule would bring them upon our track. I
urged him to go forward with his guides to the house, where it was
possible, if they left him free, that he might prove a useful
auxiliary if our ruse succeeded. To this he readily agreed,
declaring he would anchor at Vetch's door, and would not slip his
cable until I came up on his quarter. And he clambered to the
saddle again, called to the negroes to come on astern, and set
forth again towards the house, and as I rejoined my party among the
trees I heard his jolly voice ringing out:

"I 'llow this crazy hull o' mine
At sea has had its share;
Marooned three times an' wounded nine,
An' blowed up in the air."

We had wasted some eight or ten minutes on this interview, and
'twas high time to speed on our journey if we were to reach the
place of ambush before the convoy. As we marched, I told Cludde the
purport of my talk with Joe, and he agreed that the course I had
insisted on was the right one, though he feared Punchard would have
a sorry time when he came within the clutches of the man who bore a
long-standing grudge against him. I confess that I had clean
forgotten the matter of the barrel rolling, and being now reminded
of it, felt greatly concerned at having sent poor Joe into the very
jaws of danger, but 'tis idle to repent, and I could only hope that
we should get to the house in time to prevent any irremediable
harm.

'Twas nigh five o'clock when we came to the copse fringing the road
(a rough cart track) from the coast.

Noah went out stealthily to inspect the road for traces of the
convoy, and told us that we were in time; the wagons had not yet
come up. We waited patiently, and I took advantage of the interval
to repeat the instructions I had previously given to the negroes.
About half an hour after our arrival we heard a creaking in the
distance, and soon the convoy came in sight--three six-horsed
wagons, with two negroes in each, and two overseers on horseback,
carrying long whips, and riding side by side in the rear. These two
Cludde and I marked for our own, leaving the negroes to deal with
the men of their color. We two separated from the rest of the
party, so that the attack might be made on the whole line at the
same moment.

When we came opposite to the two riders, I gave a shrill whistle,
and with Cludde at my side dashed from among the trees. So sudden
and unexpected was the assault that the overseers had no time to
defend themselves. Cludde and I hauled them from their saddles and
held them fast while two of the negroes brought from the wagons
ropes wherewith to bind them. The negro drivers let forth a yell
and dropped their reins when the rest of our party sprang out from
the copse. The convoy halted and Uncle Moses in a very little time
made the drivers understand that they must either do what we bade
them or be trussed up and left in the woods. With night approaching
this latter alternative had too many terrors to make it acceptable,
and the men professed themselves willing to render utter obedience,
the more readily in that Vetch and his gang of desperadoes were
well hated by all the hands upon the estate.

One of them, who Uncle Moses told me, was a bad character, we bound
and placed with the overseers in one of the wagons, which we then
drew into the copse out of sight from the road.

Cludde and I deliberated for a moment whether we should mount the
overseers' horses and ride on with the wagons. But we decided not
to tempt fate. Before we reached the big house we should have to
pass that of the principal overseer of the estate, and though the
sky was already dusking, and it would be dark before we arrived,
there were many chances that we might be seen by the buccaneers or
others as we came within the bounds, and being in our officers'
habiliments we should be marked and the alarm given. So we resolved
to get into the first wagon, and cover ourselves with the sacking
it contained as soon as we came to the borders of the plantations.
Uncle Moses seated himself beside the driver of the first wagon,
Noah on the second, and the rest of our party got into this wagon
and likewise hid under sacking.

The stables, as I had learned from Uncle Moses, lay beyond the big
house, so that our driving by would awaken no suspicion. In order
that we might gain the further advantage of darkness, Uncle Moses
drove slowly, and there was but a glimmer of twilight when we
reached the house of the overseer. He had heard the rumbling of our
wheels, and was standing at his gate as we came up. Seeing only the
wagons and no horsemen, he cried out to know where the rest were.
The negro beside Uncle Moses (who shrank back to escape
recognition) made ready answer that the third wagon had broken
down, and would come on presently with the overseers. The white man
rapped out an oath, declaring (with what truth I know not) that the
cursed wagon was always breaking down, and we drove past. Two of
the buccaneers were smoking at the gates of the big house when we
came up, and they hailed us in rough sailor fashion, but showed no
curiosity; the work of the estate was no concern of theirs.

Uncle Moses had told me that there would certainly be a number of
the buccaneers in the kitchen of the big house, where they took
their supper and often sat far into the night drinking and dicing.
As we drew near, indeed, I heard through the sack that covered me
('twas very sticky and fraught with the cloying smell of sugar)
loud sounds of merriment proceeding from the house. Instead of
driving past in the direction of the stables, the negro, obeying
his instructions, pulled up his horses when the wagons came
opposite the kitchen door.

I did not need Uncle Moses' call to know that the moment had
arrived. Flinging off the sack that smothered us, Cludde and I
sprang from the wagon, our companions doing likewise, and we burst
headlong into the kitchen.

The merry sounds that we had heard were explained, but in an
unforeseen way. In the middle of the room sat Joe Punchard, tied to
a chair. Around him were half a dozen of Vetch's villainous crew
engaged in the pleasant sport of baiting their prisoner. At the
moment of our entrance they were rubbing the dregs of molasses into
his red hair. I learned afterwards from him that he had been seized
on approaching the house, and, Vetch being absent at the time, had
been carried into the kitchen for a preliminary inquisition. They
knew, doubtless on the information of the horseman I had seen, that
he was a seaman from a king's ship, and charged him with having
come to spy on them, shrewdly hitting the mark, though they could
hardly have believed in their accusation, seeing that he had
approached quite openly with no companions but a brace of negroes.
He had suffered many indignities before we arrived, and he
confessed to me that, though he had endured many a buffeting in the
first years of his life at sea, he had never spent so distressful a
couple of hours as those when the buccaneers put him to the
question.

They were, I say, rubbing a filthy black semi-fluid into his hair
at the moment when Cludde and I, with our negroes behind, made a
sudden irruption into the kitchen. We had our muskets with us, and
seizing mine by the barrel, I brought the stock down on the head of
the fellow nearest me, and he dropped heavily to the floor.
Springing past him, I cut Joe's cords with my knife, and then
turned to assist my companions in the fight that was raging. The
five buccaneers were sturdy villains, and after the first shock of
surprise they were more than a match for Cludde and the negroes.
One had wrested the musket from Cludde's hand, and now had his arms
about his body, endeavoring to throw him. The rest had drawn their
hangers and were pressing hard upon the negroes, who made play with
their knives, but were not equal to their opponents.

The entrance of Joe and myself into the fray, however, turned the
tide of battle in our favor. Joe had caught up the chair to which
he had been bound, and wielded it like a flail, with every swing of
it breaking a head or snapping an arm. And my musket took a heavy
toll. The room rang with the din of battle--the shouts of the men,
the whoops of the negroes, the clashing of our weapons. For half a
minute it was perfect pandemonium; then finding the odds hopelessly
against them, the two buccaneers who were not by this time on the
floor dashed through the open door and fled, pursued by the
negroes, who had no doubt long scores to pay off against them.

In the midst of the uproar I had not lost sight for a moment of the
main purpose of my errand, and as soon as I saw that the issue of
the fight was decided I called Uncle Moses to my side and asked him
eagerly to lead me to his mistress' sitting room. We went along a
passage and up a flight of stairs to the floor above, coming then
to another corridor which was in darkness.

"Missy's room at de end," said the negro.

With beating heart I hurried along behind him, and we came to an
open door. I knocked upon it, and entered. The room was dark, but
the window was open, and the jalousies not having been closed it
was possible to see that no one was there.

"Missy gone to bed," said Moses; "de bedroom is just dar."

He pointed to a closed door in the wall. Loath as I was to disturb
Mistress Lucy, I was still more anxious that she should know of my
presence; so I went to the door and rapped briskly upon it. There
was no answer. I rapped again, more loudly, but still without
result. She was either fast asleep or--and the thought struck me
with a chill--she was no longer there.

"Where is Mr. Vetch's room ?" I asked, beset by a great anxiety.

"I show Massa," replied Uncle Moses.

He led me from the room, and along a passage that branched from the
other. There was a thread of light beneath a door at the end.

"Dat is Massa Vetch's room," said the negro.

I went to it and tried the handle. The door was locked. I thumped
upon it with my fist, and was answered with a curse.

"Settle your drunken quarrels yourselves," cried the
well-remembered voice. "What is it to me if you break each other's
skulls?"

Clearly he had heard the uproar and taken it to be a brawl among
the buccaneers. 'Twas like Vetch to shut himself aloof from the
disputes of his hirelings; he was ever careful of his skin.
Affecting a harsh and surly voice I cried that the quarrel was over
and asked him to open the door: I had news from Spanish Town.
Another oath saluted me; then I heard the sound of movements
within, and the door was thrown open.

Instantly I sprang in, the negro at my heels; he closed the door
behind me; and I stood once more face to face with Cyrus Vetch.

His sallow cheeks blanched when lie saw me. No doubt 'twas the
apparition he least expected. He whips out his sword and springs
back to have space to cut at me; but I parried the stroke with my
musket, and he skipped back and entrenched himself behind the
table. I own that I could have cheerfully slain him there and then
but for my anxiety concerning Mistress Lucy's whereabouts. There
was Vetch, glaring at me from behind the table, upon which, as I
now saw, there were books and money, and two lighted candles.

"You have no right here," said Vetch, and his voice was unsteady,
"breaking into my house--"

"Your house!" I replied. "And as for right, I have the right of
every honest man to catch a villain and present him to the
hangman."

"Mind your words, sir," cries the fellow, and I saw by his manner
that he was desperately anxious to gain time. "I warn you I am
steward of this estate by virtue of authority deputed to me by Sir
Richard Cludde, the guardian appointed by the Court of Chancery."

"Your stewardship and Sir Richard's guardianship ended yesterday,"
I said curtly.

"You mistake," says he, beginning to recover himself, "I tell you
again that this is an unwarrantable intrusion, and you stand there
at your peril."

"Stuff!" I cried impatiently. "'Tis you who are an intruder, a
trespasser; you are in this house against the will of the owner,
who is now of full age. But I won't bandy words with you about
that. You and I have other accounts to settle, Cyrus Vetch, and if
you do not yield at once, I swear I will show you no mercy."

I advanced towards the table, and Vetch lifted his sword as though
to defend himself. But his courage failed him, and indeed his was a
hopeless case if it came to a tussle, as he very well knew.
Incontinently he dropped his sword point, and with a shrug of the
shoulders, said:

"I will not fight a couple of bullies. I yield now, but let me tell
you, Humphrey Bold, the law will have something to say to this."

"It will indeed," I said grimly. "Hand over your sword."

He took it by the blade; I placed my musket against the table and
reached forward to take the hilt, but with a sudden swift movement
he swept the candles to the floor and the room was in total
darkness. I sprang forward, but before I could vault over the
obstructing table Vetch had dashed through a door behind him that
opened on to the veranda. I was after him in an instant, and he
escaped me by no more than an arm's length. He had leapt over the
rail of the veranda, and I halted for a moment, supposing that he
must at least twist his ankles after a fall of some fifteen feet.
But I was amazed to see him swarming down one of the pillars that
supported the veranda.

I followed him in desperate haste, but the fellow was always very
light and nimble, and the fear of death lent him a marvelous new
agility. My heavier frame was slower in descending; yet I could not
have been much more than fifteen seconds behind him; but he had
vanished. There were bushes and palms growing to within a few feet
of the house. I ran among them, but could not hear his footsteps,
nor had I any means of judging of the direction of his flight. Mad
with disappointment, I rushed blindly on, and in a moment collided
with a man, whom seizing, I knew by the howl he emitted, no less
than by the feel of his bare skin, that I had laid hands on a
negro.

"Which way did he run?" I cried, shaking the man in my hot
impatience.

"Oh, Massa, I dunno nuffin'," said the trembling wretch.

I hurled him aside and sped off again, very soon encountering other
negroes, who in spite of their dread of the dark, had been drawn
from their huts, I doubt not, by the noise of the altercation.

"Where is your mistress?" I asked one of them.

He could tell me nothing. I asked the same question of another man
whom I met within a few yards.

"I see Missy going to Massa Wilkins' house," he said. "Two men take
her."

Wilkins was, I knew, the name of the principal overseer. Uncle
Moses coming up with me, I bade him lead me at once to Mr. Wilkins'
house. We ran on as fast as our legs could carry us, the other
negroes shuffling along behind, uttering cries and yells which
angered me beyond endurance. We had come some distance in the wrong
direction, and I fumed in vain and bitter rage at the loss of time.

Coming into the road that led to the house I heard the sound of
galloping horses, and though I continued to run until I was
breathless and dripping with sweat I knew I was too late. The thud
of the hoofs grew fainter and fainter. Without doubt Vetch had
seized Mistress Lucy, and was hurrying her away; the villain had
baffled me; Lucy, snatched from me, was hopelessly beyond my reach.



Chapter 28: I Cut The Enemy's Cables.


At the door of the overseer's house stood Patty, Mistress Lucy's
old nurse, wringing her hands and weeping bitterly. She told me
through her tears that Vetch had set Lucy before him on his own
horse, and that he was accompanied by two of his desperadoes. I
broke away from her as she was imploring me to save her "dear
lamb," as she called her mistress, and ran back in the direction of
the big house to find a horse and lead a pursuit.

The whole place was in commotion. All the negro workers on the
estate seemed to have flocked together, many of them carrying
flares which threw a lurid glow upon the scene. Before I reached
the house I was met by Cludde and Punchard, who had laid the
captured buccaneers in pound. I rapidly acquainted them with what
had happened, and was going on to the stables to find horses when
one of the negroes told me that there was none there, the only
saddle horses being those which were now carrying Vetch and his
companions to the coast. But the wagons were still where we had
left them; in the excitement of the past half hour they had been
forgotten. The horses were draught horses, and did not promise good
speed, but we had no others; and I cried to the men to unyoke the
teams, while I ran to the kitchen for a weapon.

I seized a couple of the buccaneers' cutlasses, and hastening back,
gave one to Cludde. We had no time for saddling up; throwing
ourselves on the horses' bare backs, we set off with Punchard and
Uncle Moses along the road, urging the beasts to a pace which I
feared they could not long keep up.

As we drew near to the place of our ambush I remembered the
overseers we had left tied up there in the wood, and their horses
which we had tethered. Bidding Punchard and the negroes ride on, I
flung myself from the back of my sweating steed, ran into the wood,
and soon returned with the saddle horses. Within three minutes of
our halt Cludde and I were galloping on, at a pace which soon
outstripped our more heavily mounted companions. Vetch had had but
ten or fifteen minutes' start of us, and his horse carrying a
double burden, I hoped we should overtake him before he could
convey Mistress Lucy aboard his brig.

Luckily the moon had risen, and was throwing a light, dim but
sufficient, upon the track. Birds clattered out of the trees as we
sped past; wild creatures of the wood, terrified at the unwonted
disturbance of the night, scurried across our path. In spite of the
moonlight, and because of the deep shadows it cast, we narrowly
escaped being dashed from our horses by low-hanging branches of the
trees on either side.

So we raced on for mile after mile without pause or mitigation of
our pace. The track wound about in baffling curves, so that we
could see but a little distance ahead. Once or twice I thought I
caught a glimpse of moving objects before us, but 'twas but a trick
of the moonlight. We dared not stop to listen for sounds of the
fugitives; I felt that every second was of vital import, and 'twas
not until we had come into a stretch of country clear of trees, our
horses' hoofs falling silently on the soft turf, that we caught the
faint rustle of the sea. I knew not how far distant it was; sounds
carry far and are deceptive at night; we smote the flanks of our
horses and rode as for a wager.

Suddenly a shrill whistle cut the air.

"A signal!" I said to Cludde, riding at my side. "Are they calling
assistance?"

"'Tis a call for a boat, without doubt," he replied. "They have got
to the shore."

Sick with fear that we were too late, I pressed my horse forward at
a mad and reckless gallop, outpacing Cludde altogether. We were now
again among trees, and, having come out of the moonlight, I could
not at first see more than a yard or two ahead. But on a sudden the
dim track before me was wholly blotted out by a dark figure. It
loomed larger as I approached, and my heart leapt with the hope
that it was Vetch's overburdened horse dropping behind. The rider
could not escape; there was a bank on either side of the track. I
was within a dozen yards of him when he reined up as if to dismount
and seek the shelter of the woodland, and then I perceived with
distress that whoever it might be it was not Vetch; the horse had
no second burden.

Next moment there was a flash and a roar; a bullet grazed my arm;
finding himself closer pressed than he thought, the fellow had
turned in his saddle and fired at me. He uttered an oath when he
saw me riding towards him unchecked. I was level with him, I drew
my horse alongside; and raising my cutlass above my left shoulder I
brought it down with a swinging cut upon the man. With a cry he
toppled from his saddle, and I shot past, in a headlong rush
towards the now thunderous rumbling of the sea.

'Twas but a few moments afterwards that I found myself falling as
it seemed into space. In my heedless and impetuous course I had
come unawares to the edge of a cliff. My horse fell, flinging me
clean over his crupper. I had given myself up for lost when I was
suddenly caught as by outstretched arms, in the entangling foliage
of a shrub, and as I lay there, dazed, I heard a sickening thud far
below me, and guessed that no such friendly obstacle had saved my
poor horse from death.

Barring the shock, and a few scratches, I was unhurt, and with
great thankfulness of heart for my merciful deliverance I crawled
carefully out of the shrub, and set to scrambling up the steep
slope to the top. There I met Cludde pale and shaking with horror.
My involuntary cry as I fell had warned him. He reined up in time
to escape my mishap, and hearing shortly afterwards the thud as the
horse came to the bottom, he believed that I must be a mangled
corpse.

"Too late!" he gasped, clutching me by the arm and pointing down to
the sea.

Clear in the moonlight lay the dark shape of a brig with bare
yards. At that very moment a boat was drawing in under her quarter,
and as we stood helpless there we saw a cradle let down over the
side, a form placed in it and hoisted to the deck, and then the
boat's crew mounting one by one.

'Twas not until Uncle Moses came up with Joe that we found the
circuitous path by which Vetch had reached the shore. We raced
down, but Vetch, you may be sure, had left no boat in which we
might follow him. We came upon his horse, quietly cropping the
plants that grew at the foot of the cliff. The moon shining
seawards, we were in shadow, so that had Vetch been looking from
the brig, he would not have seen me as I raged up and down in
impotent fury, nor my companions as they sat themselves down,
troubled, like myself, but not with the same yearning.

My grief and rage bereft me for a time of all power of thought. All
that I was conscious of was the fact that Lucy was gone,
irrevocably, as I feared. But by and by order returned to my
confused and gloomy mind, and, observing suddenly that the tide was
running in, and that the breeze was blowing inshore, I felt a
springing of hope within me.

'Twas clear that the brig could not put to sea against both wind
and tide; she must lie where she was for several hours; was it
possible that even now something might be done to rescue Mistress
Lucy? Could we by some means win to the brig and snatch her from
the villainous hands that held her captive? I dashed back to my
companions and put this throbbing question to them. They shook
their heads; we had no boat to convey us to the vessel, nor if we
had could we have overcome the crew by main force. Uncle Moses said
that there were some fifteen or twenty men aboard, well armed; she
carried three brass guns; whereas we were but four, unarmed save
for our two cutlasses. And even supposing our party were ten times
as large, we could do nothing without means of transport; and the
buccaneers could bring their guns to bear upon us if we exposed
ourselves to their view, and with the turn of the tide could mock
us and sail away.

But on a sudden a thought came to me. Might we not at least render
the departure of the brig impossible? Though with any force we
might gather 'twas hopeless to think of capturing her, if we could
but strand her we should at any rate gain time, and maybe bargain
with Vetch for the release of the lady. He would know that he had
put himself beyond the pale of mercy if he should be caught, his
hope of gaining the estate must be dead; we might work on his fears
and the fears of the men with him, and secure our object by paying
them a price.

I took Cludde with me to the top of the cliff to gain a clearer
view of the vessel's position. Keeping in shadow, we saw that she
lay some little way out in a narrow bay overhung by cliffs, the
seaward end appearing closed, owing to a bend in the shore. The
tide was fast coming in; the wind, which at the foot of the cliffs
had seemed but a light breeze, was blowing strong at our altitude.

"Cludde," I said, "I am going to cut the cables."

"'Tis madness!" he replied, in an accent of amazement and protest.
"You would be sure to be seen in the moonlight."

"The moon is sinking," I answered. "'Twill be down behind the
cliffs in an hour."

"But the sharks! These waters are infested with them."

"'Tis the only way," I said with resolution, "and sharks or no
sharks I must make the attempt. With the wind and tide the brig, if
I can but cut her cables, will drift up the bay and run on the
shoals, and then 'twill be impossible to get her off for some
hours."

"You cannot cut the cables unperceived. When they feel her riding
free they will suspect the cause, and you're a dead man."

"I must take my chance. 'Twill be dark soon, and maybe luck, that
has been against me so long, will turn with the tide. I am going to
do it, Cludde, and as we have an hour or so before the moon goes
down, come with me along the cliff to find the most convenient spot
for the venture."

We went along together, and had walked but a few yards when we came
near to breaking our necks. A part of the cliffs had fallen,
leaving a wide gap, and coming suddenly to this, we barely escaped
plunging headlong down. The long slope was strewn with great
numbers of stones small and large. We managed to scramble down the
one steep side, and up the other, without having to go a long way
round, and came at length opposite the brig, and saw by the manner
of her rocking that she rode on two anchors, one from the bows and
the other from the stern. There were several men on deck; we heard
their voices and laughter. I thought of Mistress Lucy doubtless
imprisoned in the cabin, and vowed that before many hours were past
she should be free, if mortal wit and mortal arm could achieve it.

We settled on a place for me to take the water--a little beyond the
brig, where the cliff dipped low. With all my heart I hoped the
tide would not turn before the moon went down. We did not care to
leave the spot and return to the others, lest when I came again I
should lose my way in the darkness and come to some mishap. But
while we were waiting on the cliff edge for the setting of the moon
I bethought me that our company would be none the worse for
strengthening, for if the brig were stranded as I hoped, some means
might perchance be found (though I knew not what) of gaining
possession of her. So I sent Cludde back to Uncle Moses to bid him
ride back to the house and bring up, afoot or on horseback, a great
force of the negroes of the estate, with whatever arms they could
find. I reckoned (but wrongly, as it proved) that curiosity, the
courage of numbers, and their common hatred of Vetch, would
outweigh their dread of bugaboos, and bring them at once.

When Cludde had departed on this errand, I sat by the edge of the
cliff, waiting with scant patience for the slow sinking moon to
disappear. At last it was gone; all around was darkness and
silence, save for the washing of the tide and the rustling of the
trees in the wind. I stripped off my coat, left it with my cutlass
on the grass, and, taking my knife between my teeth, crept into the
water and struck out towards the brig. I swam silently; indeed, I
had little need to exert myself, for the tide carried me in the
direction I would go. And so, with a few minutes, I came safely
under the vessel's side.

I heard voices on the deck above me, and though I could not catch
what was said, I distinguished Vetch's clear, high-pitched tones.
Doubtless the crew were keeping a careful watch on the shore, but
very likely they had heard the crashing of my horse when he fell,
and Vetch might be flattering himself that the beast and I had
shared the same fate and that he would set eyes on me no more. I
waited but long enough to be sure there was no uneasiness among the
crew; then, with much pains to avoid splashing, I crept close along
by the hull until I found the fore cable.

When considering my plan on the shore, I had to decide which of the
two cables to attempt first. The vessel lay with her head to the
sea. If I cut the cable over the stern, the tide running in, the
position of the brig would alter so slightly as not to be at once
perceived, and I might have time to deal with the other cable
before anyone was aware of it. On the other hand, supposing I were
by some unlucky chance espied, the cutting of the second cable
would be beyond possibility, and no harm done. Whereas, if I began
with the fore cable, the brig would swing round immediately, and
the movement could not escape the notice of the crew, however
heedless, and if they looked over the side they might spy me and so
defeat my full purpose. Yet it seemed that by adopting the latter
course I could not fail utterly; with the fore rope cut the vessel
might drag the other anchor, so that, indeed, it might not be
necessary to cut the second rope at all. The risk to me was perhaps
greater, but so would be the success; accordingly I had decided to
begin my work under the bow of the vessel.

Winding my legs about the part of the rope that was in the water, I
began to saw gently with my knife at the part above me, only my
head and shoulders showing above the surface. The tide and the sea
breeze put some strain on the cable, but every now and again it
slackened as the bow sank with the long rocking of the vessel.

This set me thinking. If the rope snapped when it was taut, those
on board would feel the spring of it, and I should be without doubt
discovered before I could sever the other: whereas, if the
severance was made when the rope was slack, there would be no
shock, and the men would be aware of nothing until the vessel swung
round on the tide. I so timed my knife work, therefore, that the
last strand was cut through when the bow was dipping. The moment it
was done I sank down to the water level, and after waiting a moment
to see in what direction the vessel would swing, I went wholly
under, and swam along in the opposite direction towards the stern,
keeping as close to the hull as was safe.

When I came up for breath, I heard a great uproar on board. The
crew were flocking to the bows to see what had happened to the
anchor. Meanwhile with a few more strokes I reached the other rope,
and was hacking away at it steadily when I heard one cry out that
the cable was cut, and immediately afterwards the voice of Vetch as
he rushed out of the roundhouse. I felt pretty secure in the
darkness under the stern sheets, but the strain upon the cable here
was much greater now that the other was gone, and when I cut it
through the vessel gave a jump, I heard oaths and a great scurry of
feet on deck and some one let down a flare to discover the
perpetrator of the mischief.

You may be sure I dived under water as quickly as might be, but not
before I was descried, and my head had barely disappeared when a
heavy object fell with a great splash within a few inches of it. I
swam along like a fish beneath the surface, making towards the
shore; but when for the sake of my lungs I had perforce to come up,
a perfect fusillade spattered all around me, and it seemed a
miracle I was not hit. I swam on; the tide was bearing the vessel
away from me; the flare lit but a narrow space of water, and I
doubt whether my head could now be seen and made a target. Though I
heard the muskets roaring and slugs plopping into the water, not
one of them touched me, and in a minute or two I gained the beach,
pretty breathless, but marvelously content.

As I shook the water from me I heard lusty swearing from the deck
of the drifting vessel, and from the tone of some of the voices
guessed that the lookout was in very hot water. And amid the deeper
voices of the buccaneers Vetch's shriller tone was quite audible to
me, as he shouted for someone to drop a kedge anchor over the side
and stop the cursed drifting. This was done, but I was in no fears
for the result, for under the force of wind and tide combined there
was a considerable way on the brig, which no light anchor would
avail to check. And in a few minutes I knew for certain that I was
right.

There came a great shout: "She's aground!" and the dark shape,
which I could now barely distinguish from where I stood, ceased to
move.

Satisfied that for a time at least I had prevented Vetch from
putting to sea, I clambered up the cliff and set off to rejoin my
companions, not venturing to go back for my coat, lest I should
lose my way in the dark. They had been eagerly watching the issue
of my device, the success of which pleased them mightily. Cludde
made me strip off my dripping garments, declaring that if I stood
in them (the night being chilly) I should catch my death of cold.

"That's all very well," I said; "but I shall be colder still stark
naked."

"You must just run about and slap yourself," cries Joe; "Mr. Cludde
and me can help--me particler, my name being so. And it won't be
for long, 'cos when that black Moses went off to do your bidding
(he was a bit scared of some foolishness he called bugaboos), I
told him to bring clothes and blankets from the house, knowing that
the likes o' that wouldn't have come into your own noddle."

"True, it did not," I confessed. "I am lucky in having an old
mariner like you to look after me."

"Ay, and there be old mariners aboard that brig, too. See, they bin
and dropped a couple of boats out, to tow her off."

This gave me a start, and I watched with great anxiety the efforts
of the buccaneers to haul their vessel off the shoals. She was not
more than fifty yards from the cliff where we were standing, which
somewhat overhung the bay, and from our elevated position we could
see clearly what was going on. I suppose it was a full hour before
they gave up the attempt, and 'twas clear that having failed a good
many more hours must pass before 'twould be possible to float her,
for the tide, which had been at the flood when she ran aground, was
now ebbing, and Vetch could not (any more than King Canute) command
that.

I think if I had been Vetch, with so much at stake (for if we got
the better of him, be sure there would soon be a halter about his
neck)--I think if I had been in his place, with nigh a score of
stalwart daredevils at my beck, all armed and trained to desperate
deeds, I should have waded ashore wi' 'em and made some effort to
run us down. He must have known that there could be but two or
three of us, and with a little manoeuvering and stealth there was a
chance that he might have got upon us and done us mischief.

But Vetch, as has more than once appeared, was never a fellow to
run into jeopardy; and our very weakness, I doubt not, persuaded
him that he had nothing to fear in way of assault, and need only
bide for the next flood to carry him out beyond our reach.

Many times during that night I thought of Mistress Lucy, and
wondered whether she, below decks, had guessed from the movement of
the vessel, and the commotion and uproar, that we were still
working for her behoof. She told me afterwards that, having locked
herself in the cabin, she was in a stupor of grief, and felt, when
the vessel moved (believing that it was putting out to sea) that
nothing could save her now. But when she heard the shouts and the
firing, a wild hope sprang up within her; she was possessed with a
strong assurance that something was being attempted for her sake,
and she clasped her hands and prayed that it might have a happy
issue.



Chapter 29: We Bombard The Brig.


'Twas not very long before Uncle Moses was back, bringing welcome
blankets, in which I rolled myself while my clothes were drying at
a fire Joe kindled in the wood. The old negro said that we could
not expect any reinforcements before daybreak, the people being
quite unwilling to march during the night so far from their homes.
He had brought back with him, however, Noah and Jacob on horseback,
and indeed I suspected that without them even Uncle Moses himself
would not have conquered his dread of the bugaboos and faced the
night journey a second time.

Some three hours after daybreak the dusky recruits came dropping in
with weapons of all sorts--firelocks, knives, bludgeons--and with
food, of which I for one was mighty glad, being sharp set after my
swimming and a cold night. The negroes made a great clamour as
their numbers increased--there were soon pretty nearly a hundred of
them, all the able-bodied men on the estate and a fair sprinkling
of women, too. 'Twas hopeless, the noise being so great, to expect
that Vetch would not get a shrewd notion of the size of our force,
and I saw no reason for attempting to conceal it; indeed, I
nourished a secret hope that, being a coward at heart, he would be
daunted at sight of us, and yield up Mistress Lucy on terms. But
this hope soon took wing.

The tide had now left the brig high and dry on the sand. She had
heeled over, but not enough to make it possible for her crew to use
their brass guns against the negroes who crowded the top of the
cliff. They made some attempt to train the guns, but desisted when
they saw that the utmost elevation would reach no higher than
halfway up. But the cliff top was well within range of their
muskets, as one unfortunate negro, approaching the edge too closely
found to his cost. A shot struck him on the leg, and he ran howling
back, causing his companions to scuttle like rabbits into the
woodland.

We had discussed during the night what course we should follow in
the morning, but without arriving at any conclusion. I hoped that
we should find ourselves in a state to make an organized assault on
the brig and carry it by main force; but this idea was speedily
dashed when I came to take stock of our forces and armament. We had
but eight muskets among us; I counted more than twenty buccaneers
on the sloping deck of the brig. Though we so greatly outnumbered
them I saw that a direct assault could not succeed. From the
vantage of the deck they would have us at their mercy; and though
fifty disciplined men, even unarmed, might perhaps swarm up and
overcome them by sheer weight of numbers, I believed that the
negroes would have no stomach for so desperate an undertaking.

And my former gloom and trouble of mind descended upon me, when I
saw the tide begin to creep up again. Unless we could do something
before the flood the buccaneers would without doubt get the vessel
off, for she had not sufficient way on when she struck to run her
deep into the sand, and they had only to jettison a part of her
cargo to float her.

I walked apart with Cludde and Punchard, all three of us at our
wit's end. With only eight muskets we could not fire fast enough to
keep the deck clear of men, and our store of ammunition was scanty;
further, I doubted whether the negroes were sufficiently practised
with firearms to make good marksmen. It seemed that we should ere
long see the buccaneer vessel slipping out of our reach.

'Twas a chance act of Joe Punchard that drew me out of my
heaviness, and set my wits a-jump. We were walking along the
cliffs, and came to that gap I have before mentioned, where Cludde
and I had nearly broke our necks the night before.

"'T'ud ha' saved a deal o' trouble if that there barrel had rolled
a bit further," says Joe, and he picks up a stone and shies it out
to sea, for the mere easement of his temper. My eyes followed the
flight of the stone idly, but when it flopped into the water a
notion came to me which I was quick to impart.

"By Jupiter, Cludde," I cried, "we'll bombard 'em!"

He stared at me as though he feared my wits were astray, but when I
pointed to the innumerable stones strewing the cliff side, from
boulders of great size to nuggets no bigger than an apple, and
showed how easy 'twould be for our negroes to cast them on to the
very deck of the brig, his face changed, and I saw a light in his
eyes that reminded me of the time when he was one of the
ringleaders in the prankish tricks of the Shrewsbury Mohocks. Then
all at once he fell sober again.

"But what's the good," he said. "We can clear the deck, 'tis true;
but be never a whit the nearer to capturing the vessel."

"I don't know that," said I. "If we clear the deck they go down
below; if they go down below they will not be able to keep so good
a lookout upon us; and while the niggers are stoning the deck we
may get a chance to creep up and be among 'em before they know it."

"But they would see us from the portholes," he persisted.

"True, if we are fools enough to approach 'em broadside," I said.
"The bow is pointing shorewards; if we make for a point exactly
opposite and go in single file in a line with the vessel's keel,
they will not see us unless they put their heads clean out of the
portholes and look down and aslant, and they will not do that with
the chance of getting a broken skull."

"Smite my timbers," cries Joe, "'tis a pretty ploy, and would
tickle my captain mightily. We'll do it, sir, and all I wish is
that the niggers can aim straight."

We lost no time in putting things in trim for the venture, and
indeed 'twould not be long before the tide washed the brig and
rendered the attack I proposed impossible. Gathering the negroes,
we set them to collect stones of a fair size (but not too big, for
I did not wish to break holes in the deck with jeopardy to Mistress
Lucy), and pile them up so as to be handy. And since I have ever
believed that folk, whether black or white, work more willingly if
they see the aim and purpose of their toil, I told them as they set
about the task what our intent was. It pleased them, and they
worked with a will, being indeed childishly eager to begin the
bombardment before the time was ripe.

When a sufficiency of missiles had been collected, I ranged the
negroes along the cliff so that, while they could see the brig,
they could scarcely be seen from it. They were stupid enough to be
sure; from what I saw of negroes then and since I cannot but think
they are no better than children in intelligence; and in their
eagerness to begin this merry sport, as they regarded it, they went
a deal too near the edge of the cliff and exposed too large a
portion of their bodies.

There was nothing for it but to place them in position ourselves,
which I did, Cludde and Joe assisting (the latter with some
roughness of handling and of speech), and we marked out a line for
them beyond which we forbade them to advance. Then, all being ready
I gave the word. Instantly some three score stones, none less than
a pound in weight, hurtled down, many of them falling on to the
sand, a dozen, maybe, finding the deck, and two or three striking
the buccaneers.

There was a roar from below, which the negroes answered with a wild
whoop, and then a dozen muskets flashed, and the slugs whistled
over our heads or embedded themselves in the cliff. Another shower
of stones fell, a greater proportion this time hitting the mark,
which filled the simple negroes with such joy that they pressed
forward in full view from the ship, many of them exposing the whole
upper half of their bodies.

What ensued taught them a lesson. A second fusillade burst from the
vessel; two of the negroes fell with howls of pain; the rest
scurried back in dismay, and some few took to their heels and fled
squealing into the woods. I called them back and rated them soundly
for disobeying orders, and then we placed them again in a secure
position and the bombardment recommenced.

I reckoned that within a minute or two five hundred stones had been
hurled from the cliff, and though many more fell upon the sand than
upon the deck I saw that the effect was answering my hopes. Some of
the crew retreated to the lee side of the masts; others crouched
under the guns, whence they fired their muskets, slowly and with
difficulty, doing us no harm; others again took refuge by the break
of the poop, and in the round house and the forecastle.

One man with great boldness tried to climb the rigging to the
cross-trees, no doubt with intent to get a better aim. But he
instantly became the target for a perfect hurricane of stones, and
he dropped to the deck and crawled painfully away. In a few minutes
not a man was to be seen.

Bidding the negroes continue to throw, but not so rapidly, I lay
down on the cliff top and took a good look at the vessel. So far as
I could discover, no one was so posted as to be able to see below
the level of the deck and I deemed that the time had come to
attempt the second and more hazardous part of my plan. Leaving
Uncle Moses to superintend the activities of the main body of
negroes, I crept down the gap with Cludde, Punchard and a score of
the men who possessed arms of a sort, and came (not without some
perilous stumbles) to the sea line, immediately opposite to the bow
of the brig. Then those of us who had muskets lit our matches, and
I set forward across the sand, bending almost double, and making
straight for the figurehead, the others close behind me in single
file. Stones were still falling from the cliff, and I was in fear,
as we approached the vessel, lest some of the negroes should be hit
and betray us with a cry. But we arrived beneath the bow without
this mishap and undiscovered, and crept round to the larboard side,
where we were sheltered by the intervening hull.

We made for the cable to which the kedge anchor was attached, and I
began to swarm up, any sound that I may have made being smothered
by the clatter of stones on the planks of the deck. I gained the
poop without being seen, but immediately afterwards I heard a yell
from the roundhouse, and the men who had sheltered there began to
pour out.

But having seen the uselessness of their fusillade against the
cliff they had allowed their matches to go out, so that I was for
the moment safe from musket shot. When I fired and brought down the
first man, the rest hesitated, and seeing my companions clambering
up behind me they scuttled back into the roundhouse again. The
instant Joe Punchard reached the deck he swung round one of the
brass guns to command the roundhouse. It was already loaded, as the
buccaneers knew, and Joe cried out that he would send them all to
Davy Jones if they showed their noses outside the door.

The shower of stones had now ceased, and the men who had gone below
were swarming up to meet this unlooked-for boarding party. Cludde
and I, with our negroes, were upon them before they had time to
collect their wits. And then ensued as pretty a bit of close
fighting as ever I was engaged in. We laid about us right lustily
with our clubbed muskets, and I will say for the black men that
they were not a whit less doughty than the white. Our first success
had, I suppose, given them confidence; and Noah, with his firm
belief in the virtue of the talisman slung about his neck, threw
himself into the very forefront of the struggle, dodging the
cutlasses of the buccaneers with great agility, and slipping in
under their guard with shrewd thrusts of his knife.

They still outnumbered us, I think (for you may be sure I was too
busy to count them); but they were disheartened, no doubt, as any
men would be, at this rude and sudden onslaught on their security,
and with their comrades cooped up under the menace of the guns they
fought without the confidence that goes so far to win victory.
Moreover, they lacked leadership. The master of the brig, as I
afterwards discovered, was in the roundhouse, and Vetch (in this
equal to himself) was not to be seen, having ever a tender regard
for the safety of his skin. And so, after some few minutes of it,
the buccaneers turned tail and fled for their lives into the
forecastle, where they barricaded themselves.

Leaving Cludde to keep an eye on them, I rushed down the companion
to find Vetch and to assure Mistress Lucy that her troubles were at
an end. And there was Vetch, trying to batter down the door of the
cabin in which she had locked herself. His design, I guessed, was
to seize her and use her to extort terms from us. He had the
advantage of me in that I was coming from the full daylight into
the dimness of below decks, and before I had reached the ladder
foot he fired his pistol at me, the bullet striking my thigh. I
fell to the floor; he sprang over my body and up the steps; I cried
out to Cludde to seize him, and to Mistress Lucy that the fight was
over, and then all things became a blank to me.

When I came to myself, I knew by the lazy rocking of the vessel
that it was once more afloat; I was lying on a bench beneath a
porthole, and when I turned my head to see more particularly where
I was, Mistress Lucy came towards me, her eyes shining with
kindness.

"Mistress Lucy!" I cried, trying to rise, but wincing at an
exquisite pain in my leg.

"Don't move," she said. "The surgeon said you were to lie quite
still."

"The surgeon!" I repeated, scarce believing I had heard aright.

"Yes, you are surprised," she said with a smile; "but that is not
the strangest of the many strange things that have happened of
late. One of the crew of this vessel was once a surgeon; he took
his degrees in Edinburgh, he told me--"

"And that's true," said a harsh voice, and there entered the cabin
one of the buccaneers--a big bottle-nosed fellow, with a face of
purple hue. "And how are ye the noo, Mister?"

"Mighty shaky!" I said. "What is wrong with me?"

"A bit wound in the dexter femur," he said, "within a hair's
breadth like o' your femoral artery and kingdom come.

"But ye'll do fine," he added, feeling my pulse. "Man, ye've good
blood in your veins, and me having a good hand at the cutting,
we'll verra soon have ye on your two feet again; and the lassie
will no like be fashed at that, I'm thinkin'."

"I am to thank you then for cutting out the bullet," I said, and
then, remembering how I had come by it, I cried: "Have they got
that villain?"

"Meanin' Vetch?" says the man. "Hoots! Ye'll no catch him; he's a
slithery man, yon. He was up and awa' before he could be stoppit,
with a wheen o' yelling niggers after him. Aweel, I'm no that sorry
mysel', for he wasna just what ye would call a gentleman."

I suppose that something of what I was thinking showed in my face,
for the Scotchman continued:

"I had naething against him as an employer, ye ken; he was sound
wi' the siller; but his dealin' wi' sic a bonny lassie kind o'
affrontit me, and I'm well enough pleased ye got the better of him
in that regard. I mind o' the time when I had a wee-bit lassie
mysel'."

And then the besotted fellow began to weep, and comforted himself
with a long pull from a flask he took from his pocket. 'Twas plain
that the drink had been his undoing, and indeed, before I parted
company with him in Port Royal some days later, he told me with
maudlin tears the story of his declension from surgeon on a king's
ship to buccaneer, and preached me many an impressive sermon on the
text of the bottle.

Mistress Lucy had withdrawn while we were talking, and Sandy
MacLeod, as he was named, dressed my wound again with a hand as
tender as a woman's. And then Joe Punchard came down to see me,
Cludde remaining on deck to keep an eye on the crew. Vetch had
sprung overboard, and run fleetly as a deer to the shore, and
though the negroes on the cliff sped after him with yells, they had
a round of half a mile to go over rough ground, and could not catch
him. I would fain have him in my power, so that he might receive
his desserts at the hands of a jury, and be deprived at least of
further opportunities of mischief, but my vexation at his escape
was solaced by the knowledge that Mistress Lucy's safety was
secure.

I talked things over with Joe, and we decided to sail the brig
round the coast to Port Royal, and hand Mistress Lucy over to her
friends in Spanish Town. The management of her estate gave us some
concern. It could not be left without a responsible head, and the
overseers, being, as I learned from her, men whom Vetch had put in
when he dismissed McTavish and the other white men whom he had
found there on his arrival, were scarcely to be trusted.

As the result of a consultation with Mistress Lucy, she asked
Cludde (who had begged and received her forgiveness) to return to
Penolver and take charge until we should have had time to reengage
McTavish and send him up from Spanish Town. Mistress Lucy being now
of age, Vetch's brief authority had come to an end, and I supposed
that he would make his way to Dry Harbor and take ship to England.
I could imagine the rage of Sir Richard when his emissary should
return and report the total failure of his scheme. 'Twould sort
with his violent and overbearing character to make Vetch a
scapegoat (a man in the wrong must ever have someone to kick); and
I wondered to what new villainy Cyrus would turn for his
livelihood.

We had some trouble with the buccaneers when I told them they would
be required to work the brig to Port Royal. They felt a very
natural reluctance to come within reach of the merchants and
shipmen who had suffered from their depredations. But I took it
upon myself to promise them good pay and immunity from arrest,
provided they joined a king's ship forthwith, and being seconded by
Sandy MacLeod the surgeon, who had much influence with his
comrades, I brought them to acquiesce. And so, having bade farewell
to Cludde and the friendly negroes, Uncle Moses and Noah (Jacob
would accompany me), we waited a few hours until the old nurse
Patty had been sent up from the house and then we unfurled our
sails to a favoring wind, and in the course of three days made the
harbor of Port Royal.

During the voyage I saw almost nothing of Mistress Lucy. My wound
kept me to my cabin; she did not often stir from hers, and 'twas
Patty who bestowed on me the ministrations that are so pleasant to
a sick man. I own I was somewhat disappointed in this matter. 'Twas
nothing that Mistress Lucy had not uttered a word of thanks to me
for what I had done for her (she was much more affable with Joe
Punchard); her refraining spared me embarrassment, for a man of my
nature is ill at ease under any demonstration of gratitude; but
there were many other things we might have talked about, and the
mere sight of her would have been a comfort. But, as I say, she saw
me but seldom, and spoke very little, and I felt a spasm of
jealousy when I learned that she spent hours on deck chatting with
Punchard, who for his part, when he came to see me, spoke of her
with all the adoration of a worshipper.

And when, on arriving at Port Royal, I was carried ashore, and
Mistress Lucy came and took leave of me, she said nothing but a
mere "Goodby, Mr. Bold," though to be sure she looked on me with
wondrous kindness.

And when she was gone I could not forbear heaving a monstrous sigh
at the thought that she was now a lady of great property, whereas I
was but a second lieutenant, poor on eighty pounds a year.



Chapter 30: The Six Days' Battle.


My wound kept me laid up for a fortnight, and hobbling for another,
so that I was unluckily prevented from accompanying my captain in a
little expedition in which he gained much credit and a goodly
portion of prize money. The Falmouth was sent by Admiral Benbow,
with the Ruby and the Experiment, to cruise off the Petit Guavas.
'Twas the middle of May when they returned (with four prizes, one a
very rich ship), and meanwhile things had happened which mitigated
my disappointment.

We learned in April from Rear Admiral Whetstone, who had joined the
vice admiral, of the death of King William and the accession of the
Princess Anne, and knowing how much the new queen was under the
influence of the Earl of Marlborough's lady, we had little doubt
that England would soon be at war with France. A few days before my
ship returned to port we had advice of the rupture between the two
countries, and when Captain Vincent informed the admiral that
Monsieur Chateau-Renaud was at the Havana, with six and twenty
men-of-war, waiting for the great treasure fleet from Santa Cruz,
we looked forward with lively anticipation to the imminent
conflict.

And it chancing that one of the second lieutenants of the flagship
was sick, Mr. Benbow with great kindness appointed me, being now
perfectly recovered, to fill his room. I parted with regret from
Captain Vincent, whom I esteemed a better commander than Captain
Fogg, of the Breda, but I was greatly delighted at the prospect of
serving under Mr. Benbow's eye, and in hardly less degree at being
on the same ship as Joe Punchard, who had returned to his duty as
the admiral's servant.

It was nigh two months before the vice admiral hoisted his flag and
set sail. In the interim he had despatched Rear Admiral Whetstone
to intercept Monsieur du Casse, who, as he was informed, was
expected at Port Louis, at the west end of Hispaniola, with four
men-of-war, to destroy our trade for negroes. At length sailing
orders were given to the fleet, and on the evening before we
departed we attended a grand entertainment given by the new
governor, Brigadier General Selwyn, who had arrived towards the
latter end of January.

All the important people of the colony accepted the governor's
invitation, and among them was Mistress Lucy. I had seen her many
times since I had recovered of my wound, and, I own, was somewhat
piqued at her conduct towards me, for though always perfectly kind,
she was no more cordial to me than to a score of my fellow
officers. Indeed, if any one was favored more than another, it was
Dick Cludde, who had, since his breach with Vetch, cast off his bad
habits, and appeared to be on an excellent footing with his cousin.

I had always thought him a lubber, and the good qualities he now
showed annoyed (I am ashamed to say) as much as they surprised me.
'Twas clear that he was humbly paying his court to the lady, and
feeling myself debarred by my poverty from entering the lists
against him, I could but stand aside and fume at his greater
advantages. Lucy danced much with him at the governor's ball; she
was so beset by would-be partners that when I, who had somewhat
morosely hung back, approached her to ask her for a place on her
card, she hummed, and pursed her lips, and said she feared I was
too late, and then, with a pretty air of relenting, announced that
she could give me one dance towards the end.

I was standing, gloomily watching her dance with Cludde, when I
felt a tap on my arm, and saw Mistress Lucetta Gurney (whom I have
before mentioned) smiling up at me from behind her fan.

"Why these black looks, Mr. Bold?" says she.

"Because you have not favored me with a dance, Mistress Lucetta,"
said I, with a very low bow.

"Fie, Mr. Bold," cries she, "when did you ask me?"

"I ask you now," I said, and with that I took her under my arm and
strode among the dancers with so fierce and determined an air (as
Mistress Lucetta told me) that, being more than common tall, I was
much observed and humorously criticized by the company. I suppose I
carried the same fierceness into my dancing, for after footing it
for the space of a minute, Mistress Lucetta begged me to stop,
saying she had no fancy for dancing with a whirlwind.

"Take me to a seat, Mr. Bold. I am going to talk to you," she said.

And talk to me she did, in a way that mightily surprised me.

"Do you think I don't see through you, Mr. Bold?" she said. "You
are most desperately jealous of Mr. Cludde; you know you are; and
of every other man in the room; and you show it, which is a very,
very silly thing to do. Oh, don't speak; you would only tell me
stories. Listen to me. Lucy is a dear friend of mine, and I know
all about everything. You are a disgrace to your name, sir."

"Why, what have I done?" I asked, amazed at the sternness she had
suddenly thrown into her voice. And she burst into a ripple of
laughter.

"I do think you are the stupidest man alive," she said. "Is not
your name Bold, and are you not timid, and backward, and humble,
and despondent, and a great big baby! Why, Lucy thinks the world of
you; she is never tired of hearing that red-haired man Punchard
talk of you; and yet you are glum, and scowl at her, and glower at
the men who are cheerful and try to amuse her, and whom she doesn't
care a button for. Oh, Mr. Bold, 'tis you who ought to change your
name, for to be sure you will never persuade her to change hers."

"But Dick Cludde!" I stammered, taken aback by this plain speaking.

"Is going to dance with me, sir," she said, springing up as, the
dance being over, Dick came to claim her for the next.

I wandered into the governor's beautiful garden, and, pacing up and
down, pondered what the lively Lucetta had said. Was it true that
Lucy did not care a button for the men who courted her so
assiduously? Was Lucetta seeking to make a fool of me? Did Lucy's
apparent indifference mask another feeling? My thoughts made a
flying circle of perplexity and I could not anywise come at a
resolution.

And then I remembered again how far above me Lucy was in worldly
position, and how I had nothing, barring a few hundred pounds of
prize money and my paltry eighty pounds (or less) a year. What had
I to offer her? And besides this, I felt a scruple (even supposing
my chances were not hopeless), against seeking to engage her while
she was so far from the relatives whose advice she would naturally
seek. 'Twould savor much of fortune hunting, I thought, if I sought
her hand so close upon her coming of age.

The upshot of my meditations was that I must cleave to my former
resolve, and wait at least until I should have been promoted to
captain's rank, and then seek her at her uncle's house and put my
fate to the hazard.

Whether my resolution would have survived a dance with her I know
not. When I went back to the hall to claim her I found I was too
late: she was dancing with a young popinjay of Collingwood's
regiment. I watched them gloomily, in high dudgeons, though 'twas
my own fault, and I did not even get an opportunity of bidding her
farewell.

Next day ('twas the eleventh of July) we sailed out of Port Royal,
amid salvos of artillery, the merchant ships in the harbour being
all dressed with flags. The Breda, in which I was now serving, led
the van, and the squadron consisted, besides another third-rate, of
six fourth-rates, a fireship, a bomb vessel, a tender and a sloop.
Mr. Benbow designed to join Rear Admiral Whetstone, but we were
soon spoken by the Colchester, from which we learned that Monsieur
du Casse was expected at Leogane, and making for that place, we
arrived on the twenty-seventh.

We saw several ships at anchor near the town, and one of them being
under sail, we pursued her, and found her to be a man-of-war of
fifty guns. She did not stay to try conclusions with us, but ran
ashore, and then her captain, to prevent her from falling into our
hands, blew her up. Next morning we had the good fortune to capture
with ease three other French ships and to sink a fourth; and
perceiving that a vessel of eighteen guns was being hauled inshore
under the guns of the fort, the admiral sent the boat in, which
burned her to the ground, and brought off some other ships with
wine and stores aboard.

We came next day before Petit Guavas, and saw three or four small
ships in the harbor called the Cul, which was so strong by its
natural position, and so well defended, that Mr. Benbow thought it
not advisable to run any risk there for vessels of little value. We
continued for three days in the bay, and sailed from thence for
Cape Donna Maria, on the west side of Hispaniola, where we learned
that Monsieur du Casse was gone to Cartagena. 'Twas clear that the
Frenchman was in no mind to encounter us, and there was a good deal
of grumbling among our men at the wild goose chase on which we
appeared to be engaged.

Falling in with Rear Admiral Whetstone, who had taken three ships
of the enemy, Mr. Benbow despatched him back to Jamaica to look to
the safety of that island, being resolved himself to cruise about
until he should come in touch with the fleet of Monsieur du Casse.

On the tenth of August we left Cape Donna Maria, the Breda being
accompanied by the Defiance (of which Captain Kirkby was commander,
and Dick Cludde first lieutenant), the Falmouth (with my friend
Captain Vincent), the Ruby, the Greenwich, the Pendennis and the
Windsor. Early in the morning of the twenty-ninth we came over
against the coast of Santa Martha, and espied ten ships sailing
under topsails westward along the shore, and soon perceived them to
be the French. Four of them were great vessels of sixty or seventy
guns.

Some of our ships being three or four miles astern, Mr. Benbow flew
the signal for action, and went on under easy sail so that the
others might come up with us. He had disposed his line of battle
with the flagship in the center, the Defiance at the extreme left,
and the Falmouth at the extreme right.

On board the Breda we were all desperately eager for the fight, and
I could not watch without admiration the coolness with which Mr.
Benbow made his disposition, and the particular order and
cheerfulness that prevailed among the men. Our consorts were long
in coming up, and I observed the admiral to grow very uneasy as he
watched them through his perspective glass. He bit his lips, and
frowned, and at last broke out into indignant speech, especially
against the Defiance and the Windsor, which were making but little
haste to come into their stations.

He was ever a man of quick temper, and his habit of speaking his
mind freely accounted in some measure for his unpopularity with
some of his captains. But to my mind he was fully justified in the
bitterness with which he now spoke of Captain Kirkby of the
Defiance and Captain Constable of the Windsor. Evening was drawing
on, and though the enemy was stronger than we, both in numbers and
armament, Mr. Benbow made no doubt we should give a good account of
ourselves if only the captains would loyally support him.

At length, to bring on an engagement before night, the admiral ran
alongside of the enemy, being to windward, and steering large, not
intending to attack before the Defiance was abreast of the headmost
ship. But before this was done the Falmouth opened the fight by
firing on a great Dutch-built ship in the rear, and the Windsor and
the Defiance immediately did likewise, though they had not arrived
at the appointed stations. Cursing with vexation at this violation
of orders, the admiral saw himself forced to open fire upon the
nearest French ship, which had already given us a harmless
broadside.

And then to our amazement we saw the Defiance and the Windsor,
though they had received but two or three broadsides apiece (in one
of which Dick Cludde got a severe hurt) luff out of gunshot, so
that the two sternmost ships of the French were free to lay upon
the Breda. I think I never saw a man in such a passion of anger as
Mr. Benbow was then. He mingled hot reproaches of the erring
captains with words of cheer to our gunners, and though we were the
target for three of the enemy's ships, he bade Captain Fogg keep us
in touch with them and swore that he would fight the whole squadron
single-handed.

'Twas four o'clock before the action became general, so sluggish
were our vessels in coming into line, and the firing continued till
nightfall, by which time we on the Breda had suffered severely. We
kept the French company all night, and during the night watches the
admiral, believing that if he led himself on both tacks the
captains for very shame could not fail to follow his example,
altered the line of battle accordingly, the Defiance coming next to
the Breda. At daybreak the Breda was near the enemy, but only the
Ruby was up with us, the rest of the squadron lying three, four,
and five miles astern, and there was little wind. We were within
gunshot of the French, but they were civil enough not to fire, and
indeed 'twas clear as the day went on that they were not eager to
fight us, for on a sea breeze coming up they got into a line and
made what sail they could.

One ship set off with the Ruby in pursuit, plying our chase guns on
them till night; but the other ships again delayed to come up with
us, and we were left to keep the enemy company.

Next morning at daylight we found ourselves on the quarter of the
second ship of the enemy's squadron, within point-blank shot, the
Ruby being ahead of us. The French ships fired at the Ruby, which
returned their fire; and the two French vessels which were ahead
fell off, and there being little wind, brought their guns to bear
on our consort. Mr. Benbow gave orders that we should send our
broadside upon the ship that first began, which our gunners did
with such right good will that they brought her masts and rigging
tumbling down, and shattered her so that she had to lower her boats
to tow her away. But the Ruby had suffered in no less a degree, and
the admiral ordered Captain Fogg to lay by her and send his boats
to tow her off.

This action had lasted for nigh two hours, during which the
Defiance and Windsor had come abreast of the rear French ship and
though within point-blank range had never fired one gun at her. The
admiral ground his teeth and swore he would court martial the
captains when we came to port. Meanwhile a gale had sprung up, and
the enemy again made all sail, and we set off in chase. At two in
the afternoon we got abreast of two of the stern-most of the
enemy's ships off the mouth of the Rio Grande, and in hopes to
disable them in their masts and rigging we began to fire on them,
as did some of our vessels astern; but the Frenchmen, seeing the
Breda so ill supported, paid no heed to any other, but pointed
wholly at us, doing much hurt to our rigging, and maiming some of
our men.

After the fight had continued upwards of two hours, the Frenchmen
drew off out of gunshot, and we made what sail we could after them,
but they used all possible shifts to evade fighting, our men
shouting after them derisively as cowardly curs. Darkness put a
stop to the pursuit, but again we hugged the enemy all night,
hoping that next day would see the conclusion of this long-drawn
battle.

When the third morning dawned, we spied the enemy about a mile and
a half ahead. Of our ships the half-crippled Ruby was nearest, the
Falmouth next; the rest were but indifferently near, the Greenwich
indeed lying full three leagues astern, though the admiral had
never struck his signal for battle night or day.

For many hours the wind blew easterly, but at three in the
afternoon it shifted to the south and gave the enemy the weather
gauge. In tacking we fetched within gunshot of the sternmost of
them, and for half an hour or so we kept up a brisk bombardment;
but our line was still much out of order, and some of our ships
being even now three miles astern, nothing more could be done.

And so another day passed. The other vessels had not come within
speaking distance of us, and it seemed that all hope of bringing
the enemy to a decisive engagement must be abandoned.

The dawn of the fourth morning found the Frenchmen six miles ahead,
and one less in number, for the great Dutch ship had separated from
the squadron and was out of sight. The Defiance and Windsor, ever
the most dilatory of our vessels, were at this time four miles
astern. About ten o'clock, the wind then blowing east nor'-east,
but very variable, the enemy tacked, and the admiral fetched within
range of two of them, giving them his broadside and receiving from
them many shrewd knocks. Then, tacking also, he pursued them with
what speed he might, and about noon contrived to cut off from their
line a small English ship, the Ann galley, which they had taken off
Lisbon.

This small success cheered our drooping spirits a little; but a
complete victory seemed further off than ever, for the Ruby proved
to be so disabled that the admiral ordered her to return to Port
Royal, so that we had five ships against the enemy's nine. During
the day our vessels drew somewhat closer to us, the Falmouth being
the foremost, and we gained some four miles upon the enemy by
sunset.

Ever since we had first sighted the Frenchmen, Mr. Benbow had
snatched but a few hours' sleep each night, and was becoming worn
out for want of rest and for bitter mortification at the ill
conduct of his captains. 'Tis true the enemy had shown no
disposition to stand, and the light winds had not favored the
overhauling of them, and I was very sure that in the case of
Captain Vincent, at any rate, 'twas sheer ill luck that prevented
him from giving the admiral support. But I had other ideas of the
behavior of the captains of the vessels that hung back most.
Captain Kirkby of the Defiance and Captain Wade of the Greenwich I
knew to be of the anti-Benbow party, and though I had not the same
knowledge of Captain Constable of the Windsor and Captain Hudson of
the Pendennis, I suspected that they were infected by the same
blight, for I could not believe that officers of the English navy
could be arrant cowards.

On the night of the twenty-fourth I had the middle watch. Towards
two o'clock Joe Punchard came to me, smoking a pipe, and looking
more miserable than I had ever seen him.

"Twill break my captain's heart if we have another day of it," he
says gloomily. "He looks five years older than he did when we left
Port Royal. He can't sleep, and if he do fall into a doze he starts
up like a child out of a bad dream. He swears he will court martial
the captains, every man jack of them, when we get to port, but that
won't win us the battle, and he has set his heart on giving the
Frenchmen a drubbing. And he's took a notion that he'll never get
through alive, which is so uncommon unlike him, being mostly so
cheery, that it gives me the dumps bad."

I was saying what I could to cheer the good fellow when the lookout
cries he sees a sail ahead. The admiral rushes out of his cabin and
orders the drums to beat to quarters. In an instant, as it seemed,
the decks were full of men. 'Twas a clear night, with very little
wind, and we could see one of the French ships within hail of us.
We gave her a tremendous broadside from all three decks at once,
with double shot, round below, and round and partridge aloft. She
returned it hotly, striking down many of our good fellows; I myself
narrowly escaped one of the shot, which hit a man at my side,
carrying away his right arm clear from the shoulder.

We kept up the duel of firing for near an hour, and then I heard a
great cry go up that the admiral was wounded, and by and by Joe
comes to me with tears streaming down his cheeks, and says that the
admiral's right leg was shattered to pieces by a chain shot, and he
was carried below. But while he was still talking to me we heard a
great shout and there was Mr. Benbow being hoisted in his cradle on
to the quarterdeck, and crying out "Good cheer, my hearties! The
Frenchmen have given me a knock, but we've got 'em now and by God!
we'll beat 'em!"

And then they cheered him again, and he, sitting in his cradle,
making nothing of his dreadful pain, gave orders and shouted
encouragement for a good three hours.

When the morning light showed us the ship we had been fighting, she
appeared a mere ruin; her main yard down and shot to pieces, her
fore-topsail yard shot away, her mizzen mast by the board, all her
rigging gone, and her sides bored through and through with our
double-headed shot. And near by us stood my old ship the Falmouth,
which in the darkness had assisted us very much in crippling this
great vessel of seventy guns, the sternmost of the French squadron.

Soon afterwards we saw the other ships of the enemy bearing down
upon us before a strong easterly wind; at the same time the
Windsor, Pendennis and Greenwich, ahead of the enemy, ran to
leeward of the disabled ship, gave her their broadsides ('twas like
flogging a dead horse), and then stood to the southward. Whereupon
up comes the Defiance, and passes like the others; and while we
were still in our amazement at this sudden bravery, the battered
ship fired twenty of her guns at the Defiance, whereupon she ports
her helm a-weather and runs away right before the wind, lowering
both her topsails without any regard to the signal for battle.

This was more than our men could stomach; breaking all discipline,
they pursued the coward ship with groans and curses. I glanced at
the admiral, sitting erect on the quarter deck, and his pale face
was drawn with a look of utter despair.

The enemy, seeing our other two ships stand to the southward,
clearly expected them to tack, for they brought to with their heads
to the northward, preparing to meet their fire. But when they
perceived that our dastard captains had no such intent, but were
beyond doubt running away, they bore down upon the Breda and ran
between us and the disabled ship, firing all their guns, shooting
away our main-topsail yard, and shattering our rigging.

"For God's sake, Mr. Fogg," cried the admiral, "fire a couple of
shots at those villains ahead and mind them of their duty!"

This the captain did, but the others took not the least notice of
his signal. He stamped and swore like a madman, and I went hot with
shame to think of what opinion the Frenchmen must have of us. And
with our rigging all shot away we had to lay by and look at them as
they brought to, remanned their own shattered ship, and took her in
tow. Sure never did English admiral before or since suffer such
undeserved humiliation.

Our men set to work diligently to refit the vessel, and this being
done by ten o'clock, Mr. Benbow ordered the captain to pursue the
enemy, who was then about three miles distant, and to leeward,
having the disabled ship in tow, and steering northeast, the wind
being sou'-sou'west. We made all the sail we could, the battle
signal always flying at the fore; and the enemy, taking
encouragement from the behavior of some of our captains, now showed
the first signs of waiting for us. Whereupon the admiral ordered
Captain Fogg to send to the other captains and bid them keep their
line and behave themselves like men.

And when our boat returned from this errand there was Captain
Kirkby in it. He came aboard the Breda and went up to the admiral,
who never left the quarterdeck. There were high words between them;
I learned afterwards that Captain Kirkby pressed Mr. Benbow very
earnestly to desist from any further engagement, alleging that he
had tried the enemy's strength with little success for six days
together.

"And whose fault is that, sir?" roared the admiral.

Then, with difficulty curbing his anger, he bade Captain Fogg
signal to the other captains to come aboard, so that he might know
whether they were all of the same mind as that craven.

They obeyed this signal with wondrous alacrity. They came aboard,
and for two mortal hours the admiral, racked and almost fainting
with pain, reasoned, expostulated, pleaded, showed them that now
they had the fairest opportunity of success, seeing that our ships
were all in good condition, and only eight men killed in all the
squadron save those the Breda had lost; that we had plenty of
ammunition; that three or four of the enemy's ships had suffered
injury and one was quite disabled and in tow. 'Twas all in vain.
The most of them concurred with Captain Kirkby's opinion, that it
was undesirable to continue the fight, nor could any reasoning turn
them. And then they put their names to a paper, formally giving
their opinion, and (though I did not know this till afterwards)
Captain Fogg and my own old commander, Captain Vincent, signed with
the rest.

After this there was no more to be done. If the admiral had been
unwounded I believe he would have stood out against them all and
fought the enemy single-handed: but he had no assurance of being in
a fit state to direct the battle; 'twas clear the captains had no
mind to fight; and rather than imperil the whole squadron and let
the French boast of a victory he resolved to venture no further.
And so we let the enemy depart unmolested, and returned to Jamaica.

On the way I had the privilege of some talk with the admiral.
Deeply mortified as he was at his own ill success, his personal
grief was outweighed by his sense of the national disappointment
which must attend the frustration of his design.

"And 'tis my last fight, Bold," he said to me. "I shall not live to
meet the French again, and 'tis a sore trial to me to go out of the
world a failure."

"You are not a failure, sir," I said. "'Tis those rascally captains
who have failed and are disgraced forever; and be sure our people
will do you justice."

"You think so?" he said, with a pleased look. "'Twas King William
that called me 'honest Benbow,' and if I keep that name with the
country I am content. I may die before we make Port Royal; if I do,
you will take my love to Nelly, my lad?"

"I will indeed, sir, but I hope for better things," I said. "There
be good surgeons in Spanish Town, who will use all of their skill
to preserve a life so valuable to the country."

"We shall see," he replied. "This plaguey leg will have to come
off; maybe I shall return home with a wooden leg and stump about as
port admiral somewhere!

"At any rate, I hope I shall live long enough to see you a captain.
You have done well, my lad, and there will be a few vacancies, I
warrant you, when the court martial has done with those villains."

Before we reached Port Royal a French boat overtook us with a
letter to the admiral from Monsieur du Casse, who, being a brave
man, felt for the distress of his brave foe.

"Sir" (he wrote), "I had little hope on Monday last but to have
supped in your cabin, but it pleased God to order it otherwise; I
am thankful for it. As for those cowardly captains who deserted
you, hang them up, for by God, they deserve it."

Our return to harbor was a melancholy affair. There was universal
rage against the unworthy captains, and universal grief at the
plight of the admiral. His broken leg was taken off, an operation
which he bore with wonderful fortitude, and being of a robust
constitution, he gave the surgeons at first good hopes of recovery.
From his sick bed he issued a commission to Rear Admiral Whetstone
to hold a court martial for the trial of the four captains whom he
accused of cowardice, breach of order, and neglect of duty; and of
Captains Fogg and Vincent on the minor charge of signing the paper
against engaging the French.

The trial began on the eighth of October. Among the officers who
gave evidence (much against his will) against Captain Kirkby was
Dick Cludde, who was carried wounded before the court. Kirkby and
Captain Wade of the Greenwich were found guilty on all the charges
and sentenced to be shot. Captain Constable was cleared of
cowardice, but convicted on the other counts, and he was cashiered
from her Majesty's service, with imprisonment during her pleasure.
Captain Hudson of the Pendennis was lucky, as I thought, in dying
before the trial which must have branded him with indelible
disgrace.

As for my old friend Captain Vincent, and my new commander, Captain
Fogg, they alleged in their defense that they had signed the paper
only because they feared if we engaged the enemy, that the other
captains would wholly desert and leave the Breda and the Falmouth
to their fate; and Mr. Benbow himself testifying to their great
courage and gallant behavior in the battle, the court was satisfied
with suspending them from their employment in the queen's service.
The sentences were not executed at once, it being decided that the
officers (except Vincent and Fogg) should be carried to England to
await the pleasure of the queen's consort, Prince George of
Denmark, who as Lord High Admiral had the power to ratify or quash
the decrees of the court martial.

I was not myself present at the trial of these officers. On
arriving in the harbor, the admiral was informed that, taking
advantage of his absence, a buccaneer vessel had appeared off the
north coast, and was doing much damage among the merchant shipping.
Many planters who had suffered in their property had sent requests
to the governor to take immediate action against the buccaneers,
which he was unable to do until Mr. Benbow's return, Rear Admiral
Whetstone not thinking himself justified in diminishing his own
squadron with risk to the general safety of the island.

But on the day before the court martial was to meet Mr. Benbow sent
for me, and ordered me to cruise along the north shore in search of
the pirate vessel. He did not give me a ship of war for this
purpose, thinking that this would only serve to warn the
buccaneers, who no doubt had spies in the principal ports. But the
brig in which we had brought Mistress Lucy being still in the
harbor, the admiral instructed me to fit her out as a trader, and
send her to sea with a dummy captain and a skeleton crew, and then
to join her secretly with some thirty picked men from the queen's
ships.

This mark of his confidence gave me very great pleasure, and I set
about my preparations with zeal, being busy with them during the
days of the trial. Knowing how strongly attached I was to Joe
Punchard, Mr. Benbow insisted that he should accompany me,
declaring with only too much truth that he himself had little need
of Punchard's services while he was fixed to his bed.

I had, of course, paid a visit to Mistress Lucy immediately on
reaching port. She took me very severely to task for leaving the
port without a word of farewell, and seemed to find it a demerit in
me that I had returned without a wound, praising Dick Cludde very
warmly for the part he had taken in the fight. I answered with some
heat that if I was not wounded 'twas from no shirking of duty, and
I would have desired nothing better than that we should board one
of the French vessels; 'twas no pleasure for a man to stand idle on
deck while guns were shot off. And being now wrought to a certain
degree of anger, I reminded her that I had given proof that I was
no coward, and hoped the queen would not show herself so ungrateful
to those who served her well as some other ladies I could name.

This outburst (foreign to my wonted mildness of temper) brought a
color to her cheeks and a gleam to her eyes, and in quite a changed
voice she said:

"Indeed, and I am not ungrateful, Mr. Bold."

And then I craved her pardon (for which, as I learned, Mistress
Lucetta Gurney called me a fool), and inquired how her own affairs
were prospering.

Mr. McTavish, she told me, had gone back to her estate as steward,
she heard from him every week, and he gave excellent reports of the
plantations. I asked her whether anything had been heard of Vetch,
and whether any vessel conveying her produce from Dry Harbor had
been molested by the buccaneers. She said she had no news of either
the one or the other, and I inclined to believe that Vetch had
accepted his defeat and vanished out of her life for ever. When I
told her of the commission intrusted to me by Mr. Benbow she looked
a little troubled, and besought me to have a care of myself--a
departure from her former indifference that surprised me. I could
only answer that I would not court danger, and that as for taking
care of myself I must do my duty and leave the rest to Providence.

Long afterwards I learned that she sent privately for Joe Punchard,
and extorted from him a solemn promise that he would watch over me
day and night, see that I did not take a chill or expose myself to
danger, and bring me back unscathed, on pain of her lasting
displeasure.

"I had to promise," said Joe when I taxed him with it. "I couldn't
help it. I would ha' sworn black was white, the mistress have got
that way with her. Thinks I to myself, 'Mr. Bold beant a baby, nor
I beant a nurse; but I'll commit black perjury to make her happy,'
and so I would, sir."

And having taken my leave of her, and of Mr. Benbow, and Cludde,
and other my friends, I left the harbor in a boat at sunset on
October twelfth and joined the brig off Bull Bay, where she had
lain awaiting me.



Chapter 31: The Cockpit.


The brig, whose name was the Tartar (a very fitting name for one
that had been a privateer) was manned with thirty able seamen whom
I had myself been permitted to pick from the man-of-war's men in
the harbor. As lieutenant I had a quartermaster named Fincham, a
very excellent officer. We sailed with a fair wind until we reached
Port Antonio on the northeast side of the island, but then the wind
fell contrary, and we had to beat up along the north coast at a
creeping pace that vexed me sorely.

We did not expect to have any news of the buccaneers until we had
fetched past Orange Bay, but from thence onwards I knew that we
should have to search every inlet save those that had an anchorage
for large vessels; and our slow progress was the more vexing
because I feared that the buccaneers might get wind of Mr. Benbow's
return and sheer off. I hoped they would not do this, for I was
burning to justify the admiral's confidence in me by bringing the
pirate craft into harbor.

One morning, when we had been a week at sea, we sighted a wreck on
a small island off Blowing Point; the islet has since totally
disappeared in one of the volcanic disturbances that afflict those
latitudes. We drew in towards the derelict, and then spied a man on
deck waving his shirt very energetically to attract our notice. I
sent Fincham with a boat's crew to bring him off, and learned from
him when he came aboard that he was the sole survivor of the barque
Susan Maria, which was set upon a week before by a buccaneer vessel
and carried to this islet, where she had been plundered and burned,
many of her crew being killed, the rest taken away to be sold to
the Spanish planters in Hispaniola. The man had been left for dead
on the deck, but he had come out of his swoon, and had since
supported himself on some moldy cheese and biscuits which the
buccaneers had not deemed worth taking when they stripped the
vessel.

He told me that the buccaneer vessel was a light brig carrying six
guns and a crew of at least sixty men of all nations, her captain
being a Frenchman. She had sailed away to the westward. I had
little doubt that this was the very vessel I had been sent in
search of, and though she was stronger than I supposed, I was hot
set to find her and see for myself whether we might not attempt to
put a stop to her mischievous career.

We lay becalmed for the rest of that day, but a light easterly
breeze springing up towards morning, we clapped on all sail and
worked steadily along the coast. I examined the chart very
carefully for likely anchorages, and used my perspective glass
constantly; but we saw no sign of the pirate, nor indeed of any
vessel, all that day.

Towards dusk we approached the entrance of the cove whence I had
sailed the brig of which I was now in command. We heaved to behind
a headland about two miles to the east of it, out of view of any
vessel which might be in the cove or at the mouth, and waited for
darkness. I had no reason to suppose that the pirate lay within the
cove, though 'twas likely enough; but it behooved us to go as
cautiously as if we knew she was there for certain. Considering her
strength, if it should come to a fight, 'twas clearly good tactics
to choose my own time and manner of attacking her.

About the end of the second dog watch I lowered a boat, and with
Joe Punchard and half a dozen picked men, together with the sailor
we had rescued, set off with muffled oars up the cove to
reconnoiter, leaving Fincham in charge of the brig. The moon was
rising, but there was a deep shadow beneath the cliffs, and by
keeping well within this I trusted to escape observation. The cove
was about two miles long, and after rowing half the distance I
caught sight of a dark shape before me, as nearly as I could judge,
almost at the same spot as my brig when I cut her cable. We drew a
little closer, till we could see every spar clear in the moonlight,
and the man of the Susan Maria told me that the vessel was beyond
doubt the pirate of which we were in search. We lay on our oars for
a while watching her, and listening for sounds from her deck, but
hearing nothing, and judging that her captain would feel perfectly
secure, I thought that all things favored an attempt to cut her out
that night.

We pulled back to the brig and immediately prepared two boats for
the expedition. I selected twenty-four men for the job, leaving ten
to guard the brig. 'Twas a question whether Fincham or Punchard
should be placed in charge of the second boat, but Joe pleaded so
hard to have a hand in the venture (animated as much by his love of
action as by his promise to Mistress Lucy, of which I as yet knew
nothing) that I decided to leave Fincham in command of the vessel.
If the buccaneers numbered sixty, as I had been told, we had heavy
odds against us; but with the advantage of surprise I hoped that
our twenty-four picked men would prove equal to more than twice
their number of a mixed lot who had nothing but their common crimes
to hind them together.

'Twas about four in the morning, under a waning moon, when we again
came within sight of the enemy's vessel. We rowed dead slow in
order to avoid noise, and had come within half a cable's length of
her, and I was on the point of ordering my men to give way for a
dash, when I was surprised to hear voices from the deck, and the
creaking of davit blocks. 'Twas clear the buccaneers were letting
down a boat. I whispered my men to ship oars, and waited with no
little anxiety.

Had our approach been discovered? I could not think so, for the
most confident enemy would scarcely throw away their advantage of
position by seeking us out under the shadow of the cliffs when they
might securely await our attack and surprise us in turn. Then what
could they be about? I could just see the boat as it was lowered
over the side, and then immediately afterwards a second boat
followed, and men crowded into both and pulled away for the shore.
They came full into the moon's rays, I saw them land, cross the
beach, and disappear.

My first thought was that the vessel was delivered into our hands.
I reckoned that the boats had carried close on forty men; those who
were left would be no match for my tars; it seemed that my task was
made miraculously easy. But then, reflecting that the buccaneers
must have some errand on shore, it flashed upon me that their
destination was Penolver, and their object to plunder the house and
estate. There could be no other explanation of their quitting their
vessel at this dead time of night.

And here I felt a conflict between duty and inclination. The latter
prompted me to make off at once after the landing party and do what
might be done to save Lucy's property. But my orders were to deal
with the buccaneers, and I felt that I should not be justified in
interfering on behalf of a private person, however dear to me,
until my first duty was fulfilled.

It was a question then whether I should first attack the ship or
capture the boats on the strand. To accomplish the latter we should
have to overpower the men who had no doubt been left in charge, and
there would certainly be some noise that would alarm the men on
board the vessel, so that although the possession of the boats
would cut off the return of those who had landed, it would also
make the capture of the brig far more difficult. On all grounds it
seemed better to wait until the landing party had gone too far to
return in time to help their comrades, and then cut out the ship.
When that was in our hands I should be free to go ashore and set
off in pursuit of the ruffians who, I was convinced, were marching
for Lucy's house.

Ordering my men to put me alongside Punchard's boat, I arranged
with him the manner of our attack. I would make for the larboard,
he for the starboard side, and we would board as nearly as possible
at the same moment. This being settled I whispered the word to go,
and the two boats crept along the shore in shadow as silently as we
could until we came directly opposite the enemy's vessel. Then I,
having the tiller of the leading boat, brought her round and
steered her straight for the ship. 'Twas scarce to be hoped, in
spite of our muffled oars, that our approach should be wholly
unheard; and we were no more than ten fathoms distant when the
alarm was given. There was not sufficient way on the boat, the tide
being between flood and ebb, to bring us quite to the vessel, but
after a few more strokes I ordered the men to ship oars and seize
their arms, and we came under the brig's counter just in time to
escape a volley from the deck.

We swarmed up, half a 'dozen of us together, the men shouting and
cursing as Jack tars will, and met with a very warm reception. The
enemy was assembled in full force to beat us back, the watch below
having had time to tumble up, though to be sure they were half
dazed with sleep, and maybe drink. If they had been wide-awake I
will not answer for it that we should not have been repulsed; even
as it was, several of my crew were driven headlong back into the
boat and the sea. But the rest gained a footing on deck, and I
warrant you they kept it. We were at too close quarters to fire;
'twas a brief hand-to-hand encounter with cutlasses and clubbed
muskets, and what with the clashing of the weapons and the cries of
the men we made a great din and hurly burly.

But the enemy had lost their sole chance of success when they
failed to dislodge us before Joe's men arrived. 'Twas but a minute
before his boat came round the bows to the starboard side, and then
the crew swarmed up, with Joe at their head, and fell upon the rear
of our assailants. Thus hemmed in between our two parties the
buccaneers saw 'twas vain to contend longer. They flung down their
arms and cried (in many tongues) for quarter; and within five
minutes of our first setting foot on deck we had them securely
battened down below.

And now having accomplished, by fortune's favor, my first duty, I
resolved to make all speed after the fellows who had landed, hoping
fervently that the noise of our engagement had not reached their
ears and put them on their guard. There was hot work before us, I
well knew, if they numbered forty, as I had reason to believe. I
could not leave the brig wholly unguarded; yet I was loath to
diminish my own little company; in the end I decided to leave a
boatswain's mate in command of a party of five (three who had had a
ducking and two who had received slight hurts in the fight) and to
take Joe and the other eighteen hot-foot to Penolver.

I had left instructions with Fincham on our brig to sail into the
inlet in the morning to support us, and I told the boatswain's mate
to communicate with her as soon as she appeared. Thus I had no
anxiety about the security of the prize and the prisoners during my
absence.

These arrangements made, we set off for the shore, taking two of
the six men to row back to the brig the boats from which the
buccaneers had landed, which we found hauled up on the beach, but
no one in charge of them. Either they had been left unattended
because the leader had no fears for their safety, or the men set to
watch had taken alarm from our doings on the brig and had decamped.
I hoped they had not gone ahead of us to warn their fellows, which
indeed did not seem very likely, for they would be loath to venture
alone into a strange country. If the buccaneers had had warning of
what was happening behind them and hastened back, or if we should
miss them and they returned to the cove before us, they would at
any rate be unable to recapture their vessel, lacking their boats.

I reckoned that 'twas near two hours since the main body of the
buccaneers had departed; by this time they must be three parts of
the way to the house, if that was their goal; so we set off at a
great pace to follow them up. The sun was not yet risen, though the
darkness was lifting; and the air being cool, we could march
without discomfort.

We had not gone very far, and had come to where the track runs
between thin clumps of trees, when Joe Punchard suddenly left my
side and darted into the woodland. His bandiness was no check upon
his running. In a few seconds he was back, shoving before him a
seaman much larger than himself, having one hand upon his neck and
the other grasping his arm behind his back. He thus propelled the
man towards us at a quick trot, crying out to me:

"Here be one of the villains, sir, and I reckon 'twill be well to
make him speak."

Without slackening our pace I made the captive walk by my side and
questioned him. He had been left, as I suspected, in charge of the
boats, alone, and at the noise of our assault he had run up the
path, intending to overtake his comrades and give them warning of
what was happening. But being out of his element, his heart failed
him when he came into the wild wooded country, and he had been
skulking behind the trees when Joe espied him. He was a Frenchman.

I learned from him that some weeks before, his vessel had been
joined by an Englishman, who had proposed to his captain an
expedition to an estate some ten miles inland. The captain had been
at first reluctant to undertake the expedition; 'twas work for
landsmen, he said, not for sea dogs, and having heard rumors of a
buccaneer brig having been captured in that very cove by a horde of
negroes led by a white man, he was loath to leave his vessel. But
the Englishman had worked upon his fellow countrymen among the
buccaneers by tales of large sums of money lying in the house in
question; he had been steward of the estate, he said, and had been
forced to leave behind the hoard he had gathered, on being attacked
by a villainous enemy that coveted his wealth. But it was too
securely hidden to have been discovered by the interloper.

These compatriots of his had insisted on the captain holding a
council of the whole crew, at which the proposal was put to the
vote and carried; and the captain's last objections were overcome
by the promise of a quarter of the hidden money, the Englishman to
have a quarter, and the remainder to be divided among the crew.

My suspicion being so fully borne out, I forced the pace, for
though I foresaw a tough fight, my men were all sturdy fellows, who
were not like to feel any distress after a march of but ten miles.
I only half believed the story of hidden gold. The produce of the
estate would generally, I thought, be paid for, not in specie, but
in bills of exchange, which would be in the hands of duly appointed
agents at the port. It seemed more likely that Vetch had some other
motive: what, I could not guess. But whatever his design might be,
I counted myself very lucky in having come to the neighborhood in
time to frustrate it.

When we came within a mile of the estate we saw a dense cloud of
smoke rising into the air at the spot where, as I judged, the house
stood. This seemed to confirm my suspicion; Vetch was indulging his
venomous spite by burning the residence of Mistress Lucy. We sprang
forward at the double, and coming in sight of the house, I saw with
relief that it was yet intact, the smoke arising from the
outbuildings, which were already almost burned to the ground. Then
we heard musket shots, and as we drew nearer loud shouts. The
plantations were utterly deserted, there was not a negro visible of
whom we might ask what was toward; so we skirmished forward to a
place among the trees where the front of the house was in full
view.

The veranda was packed with men, and around them smoke was
swirling, but the smoke of musketry, not of a conflagration. Some
were firing at the shuttered windows, others hacking with axes at
the doors and walls. 'Twas clear that the attack had only just
begun, for the light timbers of the house could not long have
withstood the tremendous battering they were now receiving. It
amazed me that the assailants had met with any resistance at all;
McTavish and his overseers must be men of mettle to attempt to hold
the house against such odds. Even in the few seconds I allowed
myself to observe them I saw two or three of the buccaneers fall,
shot, I had no doubt, by the defenders within. But mingled with the
yells of rage there now arose a cry of triumph; a panel of one of
the doors had given way under the fierce strokes of an ax wielded
by a man whom I knew by some instinct to be the captain. 'Twas
manifest that we had come but just in time.

Calling to my men to follow me closely, I led them at the double
straight across the open grassy space that separated us from the
house. The buccaneers were so intent upon their work, and the noise
was so deafening, that they were not aware of us until we came
within a few yards of the veranda. Then a great shout of warning
was raised by those of the men who, having been wounded, had fallen
out of the fight. Some of the storming party swung round, caught
sight of us, and rushed to the head of the steps leading to the
veranda as we reached the foot. Luckily for us they had discharged
their muskets, whereas my men had theirs loaded, and had lit their
matches during the few moments we had waited at the edge of the
copse.

Knowing ourselves outnumbered by at least two to one, I cried to my
men to halt and fire. Several of the foremost of the buccaneers
fell, but those behind had not been hit, and when I gave the order
to rush up the steps they stood in close array with clubbed muskets
to meet us.

The next few moments were filled with such a wild commotion that
'twould be vain to try to describe all that happened. Joe Punchard,
seeing that it was impossible for all of us to mount by the steps,
had with great readiness of wit called off half a dozen men, and
they were now scrambling up the pillars supporting the veranda.
Finding my ascent blocked by the crowd, I slipped over the
balustrade, and, taking advantage of my great height, leapt at the
rail of the veranda and began to haul myself up.

At that desperate moment I saw one of the buccaneers with his
musket uplifted, preparing to bring it down with crushing force
upon me, and caught sight of Vetch behind him sword in hand. I
thought my end was come, for I had not yet secured my footing, and
was powerless to protect myself. But suddenly there was a deafening
report from the room beyond; the buccaneer pitched forward on to
the rail, his musket falling from his hand. My life was saved by
the man's body lurching against me, for being between Vetch and me,
he prevented my old enemy from using his sword arm.

With a desperate heave I threw the buccaneer against Vetch, and in
a trice was over the rail and on the veranda. Vetch's face was
fixed with terror, as, drawing my sword, I rushed at him. There was
no escape for him now; his slipperiness could not serve him; and I
will do him this justice, that, finding himself driven into a
corner, he stood against me and fought with a courage of frenzy.
But he was no swordsman; with a few simple passes I disarmed him,
and flinging his sword over the rail I caught him by the neck and
arm and held him fast.

Meanwhile the resistance of his hirelings had been broken. My
sturdy men had forced their way up the steps or climbed up the
pillars, not without loss, and the defenders in the room behind
firing a succession of shots, the buccaneers had scattered to right
and left to escape being taken in front and rear at once. Their
ranks being thus weakened my men pressed upon them with redoubled
vehemence. I caught sight of Joe Punchard in the melee, his red
head a flaming battle signal, wielding an iron belaying pin, every
swing of it leaving the enemy one man the less.

The buccaneer captain, with the furious courage for which the West
Indian freebooters have ever been notable, threw himself wherever
the fight was thickest, striving to stay the rout, with cutlass in
one hand and pistol in the other. He hurled his pistol at Joe, but
he saw the movement and nimbly ducked, to the discomfiture of the
man behind him, who received the weapon full in his chest (Joe
being short) and staggered back in a heap against the rail. Joe was
erect again in time to catch the captain's cutlass on his belaying
pin, which it struck with such force as to be shivered to
splinters. Ere the captain had time to spring back, a half swing
from Joe's formidable weapon caught him on the neck, and he fell
like a bullock under the pole ax.

This was the signal for a general stampede. With their leader gone
the buccaneers could not rally, and every man sought how best to
save his skin. Some tumbled down the steps, others swung themselves
over the rail and dropped to the ground, and as they rushed this
way and that to find safety, they were pursued not merely by my
men, but by crowds of yelling negroes, who had emerged from their
concealment with wondrous rapidity when they saw the tide of battle
turn against the buccaneers, and were now ready enough to join in
the shouting.

The veranda being clear of the enemy, the half-battered door was
thrown open, and to my amazement Dick Cludde came towards me with
Mr. McTavish, three overseers, Uncle Moses, and Noah, all with
smoking muskets in their hands. A bare word of greeting passed
between us, for Noah, seeing Vetch helpless in my grasp, sprang
forward with a shout of savage joy and but for my intervention
would have plunged his knife into the wretched man. Fending him
off, I pushed Vetch into the room, and shut the door, keeping out
all but McTavish and Cludde.

Vetch was pale and discomposed, his lips twitching, his eyes
ranging restlessly between Cludde and me. I felt no pity for him.

"This man," I said to McTavish, "led his ruffians here under
promise of a share in a large sum of money they would find. Is
there any truth in it?"

"There is no that much money here at this present time," replied
McTavish, "but when I came back to the estate a while ago and
looked into matters, I couldna just make out where two thousand
pounds had gone. 'Twas in specie, too, for I happened to know that
the coin had been sent up from Spanish Town--a verra large sum to
keep in an up-country house."

"Where is that money?" I asked, turning to Vetch.

He was more composed now, and his wonted look of alertness had
returned.

"Let me understand," says Vetch. "You accuse me of--"

"Of appropriating money that did not belong to you," I said,
filling up his pause.

"A serious accusation," he said, drawing his brows together. "And
when did this appropriation take place?"

"We are not playing a game," I said impatiently. "Where is the
money which you stole, and which you used as a lure for your
ruffians?"

"We are not playing a game, as you say," he replied, becoming more
and more collected as I waxed hotter. "You accuse me of stealing, I
answer, when did I steal, and what are your proofs?"

"You heard what Mr. McTavish said," I replied, with difficulty
curbing my anger. "Two thousand pounds are not accounted for; you
were here when the money was received; it disappeared during the
time you held Mr. McTavish's place; you bring your desperadoes here
to secure it. 'Tis useless fencing with us."

"During the time I held Mr. McTavish's place," he repeated
musingly. "That was for several months last year, until the day
when the owner of this property came of age--the day when Mr.
Humphrey Bold by trickery gained access to this house and
threatened my life. Has it gone from your recollection that I held
Mr. McTavish's place in right of a power of attorney from the legal
guardian of the estate, and that whatever I may have done I was
empowered to do? Does it not occur to you that the money you charge
me with stealing was appropriated to the payment of the men whom I
felt impelled to engage for the defense of this property against
the unlawful designs of Mr. Humphrey Bold?

"You will bear me out, Mr. Cludde, when I remind you that the owner
of the estate had fled from her lawfully-appointed guardian, aided
and abetted in her flight, I doubt not, by this upstart himself. I
am ready to account for my administration of the property to Sir
Richard Cludde, and to no one else, and I say you have no right to
call in question anything I may have done in his name."

The fellow's impudence fairly took my breath away. For some moments
I could do nothing but look at him, and he returned my gaze without
blinking, the old sneer playing about his lips. The brazen coolness
with which he ignored his recent attack on the house and sought to
put me in the wrong filled me with sheer amazement. I began to
wonder again whether, after all, the tale he had told to the
buccaneers was a lie, and he had come back to the house with no
further design than to wreak his spite upon it.

And yet this could hardly be, for he could easily have set fire to
it, and then the question flashed upon my mind suddenly, why had he
pressed home the attack on this particular room, when all the rest
of the house lay open to him? Did not that point to the probability
that the money he had spoken of was actually here, in this room?

'Twas vain to bandy more words with the fellow. I called in Joe
Punchard and one of my seamen, and bade them take him to the
kitchen and tie him up. He flushed and bit his lip when I gave this
order, but he saw 'twas folly to resist. When he had gone I told
the others what I had been thinking, and suggested that we should
search the room. A bureau stood against the wall; this was the only
article of furniture in which money could be secured, and Mr.
McTavish, who used it constantly, assured me that there was but a
small sum in one of its drawers, which he had himself placed there.

We looked around in perplexity. The walls were of wood, not of lath
and plaster, so that there were no nooks and crannies in which he
could have bestowed his hoard. The floor also was of single
planking, forming the roof of the room below. There seemed no
possible place of concealment here. Could there be any spot on the
veranda that might have served his purpose?

I went out; the veranda was empty, the men who had been injured
(and some who were dead) having been removed. If my reasoning was
correct, the hiding place must be on the inner side, otherwise the
assailants could have obtained what they came to seek without
attacking the room. We looked carefully along the base of the wall
where it met the floor of the veranda at first in vain.

But just as I was almost prepared to give up the search and try
elsewhere I noticed that at one spot the nails of the flooring
seemed newer than at other parts. Calling to Cludde, with his
assistance I prized up one of the boards, and the secret was
instantly revealed. The board rested on one of the broad wooden
pillars supporting the veranda. A hole had been cut down the center
of the pillar, and there lay the missing money--doubloons and
silver dollars.

Leaving McTavish to gather them up and count them, Cludde and I
went down to the kitchen. Vetch was tied to a chair (as Joe had
been tied months before), and Joe was sitting over against him,
with a cutlass on his knees. I told Vetch briefly that the money
was found.

Even now his bravado did not desert him. He repeated we had no
right to call in question any action of his and that none but Sir
Richard could claim an account of his stewardship. I did not reply,
as I might have done, that the money, being found in the house
after Mistress Lucy had come of age, was patently hers, and in
attempting to recover it he was no better than a common
housebreaker. I bade Punchard collect our men in readiness to march
back to the brig, and strictly charged him that he should have
every care of Vetch on the way.

Then I saw a shadow of fear cross the villain's face. He knew that
to brazen it out longer would avail him nothing, and 'twas his
inward vision of the hangman, I doubt not, that caused him to go
white to the lips.

Cludde went from the room to gather his few possessions in
preparation for our despatch. Vetch struggled with himself for a
moment, then said huskily:

"Bold, you must let me go. I will make it worth your while. Your
father's will--is not destroyed; let me go--and I will tell you
where it is."

"I will make no terms with you," I said.

"But what do you gain by refusing?" he cried. "You are only a
lieutenant; promotion is slow; money would help you on. You have
your revenge on me--and lose your property, for I vow I will tell
you nothing unless you let me go."

"I would not let you go for a king's ransom," I said. "The wrongs
you have done me are nothing; but for your villainy I should not be
a king's officer today. I could almost forgive you. But nothing in
the world could persuade me to forget the wrongs you have done to a
helpless woman--the indignities you put upon her, the villainous
designs you harbored against her. No, you have done your rascally
work--you shall take your wages."

He said no more then, but presently, when Cludde returned he made
an appeal to him.

"Dick," he said, "you and I are bound by long friendship--"

"Which you have killed," said Cludde, interrupting him.

"But you will not forget all the past--our school days, the merry
times we had then and after, all I have done with you, and for you.
For a dozen years we were as close as brothers; you won't turn
against me now?"

"I know, but--Lucy--'twas unpardonable," Cludde stammered in great
discomfort. "I'm not spotless--done things I am ashamed of--but you
carried things too far--you wanted to force her to marry you--"

"And do you think she will marry you now, you fool?" cried Vetch,
with a flash of his old fiery temper.

"I could wish her to wed a better man," says poor Cludde.

"Even so good as Mr. Humphrey Bold," says Vetch with a sneer.

Cludde looked at me. If he intended to say anything 'twas prevented
by the entrance of Joe Punchard with news that all was ready.

"Bring him along," I said, glancing towards Vetch.

Joe unstrapped his legs, leaving his arms still bound, and they
followed us from the room.

We set off on our seaward march, having just time to regain the
brig before the day became oppressive. We took with us, as
prisoners, such of the buccaneers as had been caught; what became
of the rest I never knew. Vetch marched with them, amid a guard of
our men.

On the way I learned from Cludde how it happened that he was at the
house at a time when, but for him, the buccaneers' attack might
have been successful before I came on the scene. Being convalescent
from his wound, and learning that Mistress Lucy wished to consult
Mr. McTavish about selling the estate (for she had determined to
carry through the negotiations begun by Vetch), he had offered to
carry a message to the steward, intending to remain at the house
for a few days for change of air. He had seized the opportunity
also of bringing to Uncle Moses and Noah charters of freedom from
their mistress, in reward for their services to her and to hers.
Cludde insisted on her accepting from him the five hundred dollars
which I had promised Noah for his life, and she handed it back as a
present for the negro.

We were talking about all these strange things that had happened,
when suddenly we heard a commotion at the head of the column.
Running hastily forward, I saw Punchard and several of my men
rushing at full speed across a tract of scrubby land in pursuit of
Vetch. He had persuaded the buccaneer beside him, whose hands had
not been bound, to cut his bonds.

I joined in the chase; Cludde hung back; I think that after all he
would not have been ill pleased, for old friendship's sake, if
Vetch had got away. Vetch had had but a few yards' start, but he
was a swift runner, and I doubted much whether any of us could
overtake him. We could not bring him down with a shot, for my men,
though their muskets were loaded, had not kindled their matches, so
that before they could fire he was out of range. Foremost of the
pursuers was Joe, bounding along like a deer, furious (as he
afterwards told me) because he regarded the escape as due to his
own negligence.

We had raced on for maybe half a mile, and still had not lessened
the distance between us and the fugitive, when I suddenly saw him
sink above his ankles into the earth. He uttered a terrible shriek;
the man running beside me, who knew something of the country, cried
out "A cockpit!" in accents of horror and stopped short. But the
agonizing cries of the poor wretch who was sinking inch by inch
into the horrible hole whose treacherous surface had beguiled him
were more than I could endure. 'Twas not a death for the foulest
villain on earth. Heedless of the warning shouts of my crew, I
dashed forward, hoping to reach Vetch in time to rescue him ere he
was sucked under.

To venture directly on the spot where he was sinking would, I knew,
be certain death to me. But when I reached the edge of the cockpit
I flung myself on my face, thinking with my outstretched arms to
seize him. He turned his head and saw me. To this day I shudder as
I see again the anguish, the mute imploring entreaty, that spoke
out of his ghastly features.

I could not reach him.

I crawled forward, and my hands began to sink. Joe Punchard behind
was shouting to recall me. Vetch was up to his shoulders. Half my
body was on solid ground, and with a prayer on my lips I was edging
forward inch by inch to make one final effort, when I felt my feet
held fast; I was hauled back with great violence, just as Vetch,
with a scream that rang in my ears and ran through my dreams for
weeks afterwards and haunts me still, disappeared forever.



Chapter 32: I Become Bold.


The flags were at half mast when we sailed into Port Royal Harbor,
with the pirate brig in our wake; and my dark foreboding was
confirmed by the first news we had when we stepped ashore. Admiral
Benbow was dead. Sturdy fighter as he was, he had contended
gallantly for near a month against the fever that ensued upon the
amputation of his leg, but 'twas not Heaven's will that he should
live for further service to his country. In the presence of Death,
the great leveler, all detraction is hushed, all enmities are
extinguished; and even some who had thwarted and criticized the
admiral sincerely deplored his loss. He had won no great victories,
done nothing to dazzle the eyes of men; but I make bold to say
that, in the long roll of England's worthies no name will ever
shine more brilliantly to a seaman's eyes than that of honest John
Benbow.

Rear Admiral Whetstone, to whom the command of the West Indian
squadron fell, was pleased to compliment me on my dealings with the
buccaneers, and appointed me first lieutenant of the British
frigate on which the officers under sentence of the court martial
were to be conveyed to England.

When we sailed out of Port Royal (you may be sure I had Joe
Punchard with me), we acted as convoy to a large merchant brig,
richly laden with produce of the island, and with a freight more
precious to me in the person of Mistress Lucy. She had not waited
for the completion of the business connected with the sale of her
estate, having perfect confidence in the integrity of Mr. McTavish,
who would remit the price to her in due course. From a mercenary
point of view the time was not well chosen for the disposal of her
property, values always diminishing in time of war. But the island
was associated for her now with so many unpleasant incidents that
she was glad to sever the last tie that bound her to it and return
to her happy life with the Allardyces.

'Twas a bleak day in December when we sailed into Plymouth Sound.
As soon as we had spoken the port a boat put off hearing a paper
sealed with the seal of Prince George, the Lord High Admiral. And
there fell to my captain a duty which sure no man could have
performed without compunction. I was truly thankful no such
dreadful task was ever mine. The prince ordered that the sentence
of the court martial should be executed upon those two unhappy
captains, Kirkby and Wade, on the deck of the vessel, with a full
muster of the crew. When they were drawn up in lines according to
rank, the whole ship's company, from the lieutenants and master's
mates down to the grommet and the boy; the captain, pale as death
but in a firm voice, gave the word of command at which, with one
volley of muskets, the souls of those two cravens and traitors were
sped into eternity. Their crimes were flagrant, the sentence was
most just; but I hope and pray no Englishman will ever do the like
again.

The same papers contained news of a more agreeable nature.
Considering the high terms in which Mr. Benbow had spoken of
Captains Fogg and Vincent, and the recommendation he made on their
behalf, the prince was pleased to command that the sentence of
suspension should be remitted, and that they should be again
employed in the Queen's service. I was sorry that I could not be
present when this good news was conveyed to them; they had remained
in Jamaica, and did not learn of the prince's clemency for several
months. I never saw Captain Fogg again; but I had the pleasure to
serve with Captain Vincent seven years later, when we each
commanded a vessel in Admiral Baker's squadron that cruised about
the Irish coasts in search of Duguay-Trouin. He retired from the
service soon afterwards, and lived for twenty years longer in much
contentment. 'Tis sixteen years (so fast does time fly) since I was
bid to his funeral.

We continued to Portsmouth, where, the ship being paid off, I
hastened with Mistress Lucy, her faithful nurse and Joe, to be in
time to keep Christmas at Shrewsbury. My good friends Squire
Allardyce and his lady were in the seventh heaven of delight when I
restored Mistress Lucy once more to their arms, and overwhelmed me
with their praises when they heard from her a full recital of what
they were pleased to call my heroic deeds on her behalf. In truth I
think there was little of the heroic in anything I had done, but
just my plain duty, and what any man of honor would have attempted
for any woman in like circumstances.

The squire made a comical grimace when (after the ladies had
disappeared) I expressed this opinion.

"Ads bobs!" he cried, "what are young fellows made of nowadays!
Have you spirit for nothing but fighting the French, Mr. Humphrey
Bold? I could have sworn there would be a Mistress Bold by this
time."

I reminded him that I was as yet only a lieutenant on eighty pounds
a year (though I looked for my captain's commission when Prince
George should have had time to overlook Admiral Whetstone's
report).

"But hasn't Lucy enough for you both and a large family to
boot?--though to be sure she made a precious bad bargain over that
estate of hers. D'you want her to be snapped up under your very
nose? Why, young Cludde will have her yet, if he has turned out
such a paragon as you would make it appear."

But I corrected him on this point, for on our journey to the Hall
Mistress Lucy told me (what had been a secret hitherto) that Dick
Cludde and Lucetta Gurney would one day make a match of it. In the
end the old gentleman pished and pshawed and called me a young
fool, but I learned from Mistress Allardyce afterwards that in the
bosom of his family he laid this also to my credit.

I stayed at the Hall one night, as did Joe Punchard (who, between
Susan and the cook, spent a merry evening, and made Giles turn
black with jealousy), and then set off with him to see my older
friends in Shrewsbury. Mr. Vetch and his good lady welcomed me
right royally. They were in excellent health, Mistress Vetch fine
in a new magenta-colored cap, and I was right glad to learn that
the lawyer's practice had grown quite to its former prosperity, and
that he was spoken of as mayor for the next year. (This honor,
however, he did not attain to, the election falling on Mr. William
Bowlder the tanner.)

I warrant you I had to tell over my adventures until my tongue was
aweary, my wits being sore put to it, moreover, to avoid the
mention of Cyrus, for I was resolved that the lawyer's declining
years should not be vexed by the knowledge of his nephew's villainy
and dreadful end. But Fate was against me in this. I had strictly
charged Joe Punchard to keep silence on all that pertained to Cyrus
Vetch; but having his pockets well lined, and being of a generous
and social disposition, he made a great feast on Christmas eve, to
which he invited certain friends of his mother, Nelly Hind among
them, and some who had been 'prentices at the same time as himself.

And in the height of their entertainment, good ale flowing very
freely, Joe, usually the most abstemious of tars, was a little
overtaken by the liquor he had drunk, and, with no other object
than to heighten my reputation, must needs tell how I had ventured
into the jaws of death (so he put it) to save the man of all others
who had done me the most ill. And next day Nelly Hind meets
Mistress Vetch at the church door and pours the whole tale into her
ears; and by and by Joe comes himself with a very doleful
countenance and begs Mistress Vetch not to let her husband know,
and very humbly asks my pardon, vowing not to drink more than a
quart in future even though the Queen should bid him do otherwise.

But Mistress Vetch bore an old grudge against Cyrus for the tricks
he had played on me, and the trouble he had brought on the lawyer,
forgetting, good soul, that but for this same trouble she would
still have been (so far as one can tell), Becky Pennyquick and a
widow. She declared to me that she would not have the matter hidden
up, quoting against me the Bible text that says a candle is not put
under a bushel, but set on a candlestick to give light to the whole
house. And so that the light might dazzle as many as possible, she
invited a dozen neighbors to dinner on Boxing Day and sprung the
story on poor Mr. Vetch as he sat at the head of his own table.
('Tis marvelous what strange ineptitudes mar the characters of
excellent good folk.)

Luckily our good friend Captain Galsworthy was among the guests. He
ever treated poor Becky with a sort of good-humored tolerance, and
now, perceiving the shadow that crossed the lawyer's face, he broke
in upon the dame's loquacity with a tremendous tirade against the
captains who had behaved so treacherously towards Mr. Benbow (the
story of whose last fight he had already drunk in from my lips).

"How can you wonder at it," he cried, "when you remember the
covetous spirit that overspread the kingdom before Dutch William
came to rule us--when men perfectly scrambled for the revenues of
the crown, and made their private fortunes out of the nation's
treasure! 'Tis a matter of years, ay, generations, to undo all the
mischief that springs from such corruption; and when money, oftener
than merit, gained admission to a command, no wonder that such
scoundrels as Wade and Kirkby were trusted with our men-of-war.

"By God, sir!--" and here he raised his clenched fist, no doubt to
bang upon the table; but being seated at the corner, very close to
the wall (the party being a large one for the room), he drove his
elbow clean through a wooden panel beside the fireplace. He swung
back, full of consternation and remorse.

"And now see what you have done, with your profanity and all!"
cries Mistress Vetch, her cap sidling upon her head as she shook it
with vexation. "You was always a violent man; 'tis no thanks to you
that poor Humphrey hasn't been killed over and over again, for
'twas you and no one else as taught him to fight. And who'll pay
the bill for your breakages? That's what I say!"

Mr. Vetch did his best to soothe his angry spouse; I fear he
suffered a good deal at times from her unmannerliness, though to be
sure she was an excellent housewife and had a heart of gold. And
Captain Galsworthy, saying never a word in reply to her outbreak,
rubbed his elbow and said with a rueful smile:

"'Tis assault and battery, Vetch; I'm sorry: but I wonder why they
call it the funny bone!"

Mistress Vetch would, I am sure, have given her views on this
question had not Mr. Pinhorn, the surgeon, who was at the other
side of the corner from the captain, suddenly called out:

"I say, Vetch, I fear you'll have to choose another receptacle for
your secret documents."

"He has no secrets from me, I would have you know!" cries Mistress
Vetch in high indignation, not knowing in the least what had
occasioned his remark.

"I don't doubt it, madam," said Mr. Pinhorn, with a comical twist
of the mouth; "but maybe he stowed that paper there before you and
he was made one."

He pointed to the hole made by Captain Galsworthy's elbow, and
there, sure enough, was the white end of a folded paper showing.

"Dear me," says Mr. Vetch, getting up from his seat. "I knew
nothing of it."

He goes to the broken panel, brings out the paper, and as he looked
at it turned so ghastly pale that Mr. Pinhorn clutched a decanter
of brandy and began to pour some of it into a glass. We were all
struck silent with wonderment; even Mistress Vetch being tongue
tied. Then Mr. Vetch turned to me and, holding out the paper with
trembling hand, tears standing in his eyes, said:

"God be thanked for all His mercies!"

'Twas my father's will, dusty, gnawed at the edges, but indubitably
the will which had disappeared seven years before. Remembering the
hiding place in which Cyrus had secreted the money at Penolver, it
was no mystery to me that he should have fashioned a similar
receptacle for the will he had purloined.

There is no need to tell of the congratulations showered upon me;
My hand was wrung by my kind neighbors until it tingled with
numbness. Mistress Vetch fell into hysterics--mercilessly ignored
by Mr. Pinhorn. And as for Captain Galsworthy, he seemed incapable
of doing anything but repeat his question, chuckling aloud "Can
anyone tell me why 'tis called the funny bone?"

The party soon broke up, to carry the news far and wide through
Shrewsbury. And I, after an affecting five minutes with the lawyer,
suddenly stuffed the paper in my pocket, flung on my hat, and ran
out with furious haste to saddle my horse. Mistress Vetch came to
the door as I mounted.

"Mind you speak the villain plain," she cried.

I laughed joyfully and galloped away up Pride Hill. The tale of my
discovery had already got abroad; the people came to their doors
and cheered me, and some little fellows of the school stood in the
middle of the road and waved their caps and shouted "Huzzay for
Captain Bold!"

But I did not ride straight on towards the Wem Road and Cludde
Court, as Becky had supposed I intended. I turned into Dogpole,
rode helter skelter down Wyle Cop in the very course where Joe's
barrel had rolled, and never drew rein until I came to the door of
the Hall. 'Twas opened to me by Roger, home from following the
campaign in Flanders--a strapping fine fellow, near as tall as
myself.

"Gad, but your horse is in a sweat!" he said by way of greeting.
(We laughed at it afterwards.).

"Where is Lucy?" I said.

He stared at me for a moment, then burst into a hearty roar.

"Up you go," says he, clapping me on the back. "Egad, and I'll go
and find the squire."

That is more than forty years ago. My hand is weary with writing:
why should I tell you more? There is indeed little more to tell,
for from that time, thank God, there have been no mischances in my
life. Yet maybe those who have read my story patiently hereto (if
any there be) may like to have it rounded off--totus, teres, et
rotundus.

A few weeks after I regained possession of my little property Sir
Richard Cludde died--of gout and other diseases, said Mr. Pinhorn;
Mistress Vetch said of rage. His estate had been much impoverished,
and his widow was now left almost penniless. She was my father's
sister, and, my own lot being happy, I could not endure to think of
her in penury and distress. So I made her a small allowance through
Mr. Vetch (and I can vouch for it this was a secret his wife never
knew)--sufficient to keep her from want. She never saw me, made me
no acknowledgment, and to the day of her death maintained, in the
little house she took next St. Michael's Church, the haughty
bearing which had always won her such dislike.

Lucy and I were married on St. Valentine's day in the year 1703.
Less than three months afterwards I was appointed to command the
Pegasus, a third-rate of forty-eight guns, and ordered to the
Mediterranean with Admiral Sir Cloudesly Shovel. From that time
until I retired in the year 1713 I was almost continuously on
service, having but brief intervals to spend with my wife. I was at
the taking of Gibraltar by Sir George Rooke (which we have yet in
possession, and may we ever keep it), and in the famous sea fight
off Velez Malaga in 1704; next year I entered Barcelona with Sir
Stafford Fairborn; in brief, I had a share (though humble) in many
of our notable transactions at sea during those memorable years
when we fought King Lewis.

But when peace was concluded in the year 1713, both Mr. and Mrs.
Allardyce being then dead, I thought it was high time I settled
down at home, especially as there were two sturdy boys growing up
to plague their mother. Accordingly I retired with the rank of
captain and a considerable fortune. We purchased the estate of
Cludde Court and made great additions to it, and our boys every day
rode into Shrewsbury to school, and did it more credit than their
father.

Captain Galsworthy was a frequent visitor, and though he was past
eighty, insisted on giving our boys their first lessons with the
singlestick. He died in the year '15, leaving fragrant memories to
us who loved him.

Joe Punchard is with me still. He regarded Lucy's injunctions as
binding on him for life, and clave to me all through my naval
career, though he lost a leg at the taking of Port Mahon in 1708.
He retired when I did, and came to Cludde Court as our lodge
keeper, where he would entrance my boys with sea songs and his
tales of p what he had gone through on sea and land with me and
with Admiral Benbow, whom he ever cherished as a matchless captain.
His own naval career, he says, began with a wooden barrel and ended
with a wooden leg, and sometimes, over his pipe, he shakes his head
and declares that I had all the chances, he all the mischances. But
he is gone seventy years of age, and is apt to be a little
forgetful.





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