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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter14)

2006-08-28 21:49

  Chapter XIV. How I Came Aboard the "Faithful Friend"

  We followed a roundabout course, now across broad meadows, now treading green cart-tracks, now climbing some grassy upland, anon plunging into the shadow of lonely wood or coppice until the moon was down, until was a glimmer of dawn with low-lying mists brimming every grassy hollow and creeping phantom-like in leafy boskages; until in the east was a glory, warming the grey mist to pink and amber and gold, and the sun, uprising, darted his level beams athwart our way and it was day.

  And now from coppice and hedgerow, near and far, was stir and flutter, a whistling and a piping that rose ever louder and swelled to a trilling ecstasy of gladness.

  "Hark to 'em——O pal, hark to 'em!" quoth Godby, lifting head to watch a lark that soared aloft. "Here's music, Martin, here's cure for the megrims, hope for the downcast and promise o' joys to come. O hark to 'em!"

  All the day Penfeather led us on by lonely ways, never seeming to weary and never at a loss, silent for the most part as one in profound thought, and I speaking little as is my wont, but Godby talked and sang and laughed for the three of us.

  It was as we sat outside a little ale-house snugged 'mid trees, eating of bread and cheese, that Penfeather turned suddenly and gripped my arm:

  "Martin," says he, "'twill be plaguy business carrying women aboard ship——along o' these lambs o' mine——there's scarce a rogue but cheats the gallows with his every breath!"

  "Why then, tell her so, Adam, plain and to the point."

  "'Twould be vain breath, Martin, I know her too well——and she is a Brandon!"

  "A curse on the name!" says I, whereupon Godby choked into his ale, stared in surprise and would fain have questioned me, but meeting my eye, spake no word.

  "D'ye know aught of navigation, Martin?" says Adam suddenly.

  "No whit, Adam, but I'll handle a boat with any man."

  "Ha!" says he, and sat there pinching his chin until, our hunger being appeased and the ale all drank, we fared on again. So we tramped, and though our road was long I will here make short work of it and say that at last we came, very hot and dusty, into the village of Lewisham, where we would fain have baited awhile at the 'Lion and Lamb,' a fair inn; but this Adam would by no means permit, so, leaving the village, we presently turned aside from the main road into a lane very pleasantly shaded by tall trees and bloomy hedgerows, the which (as I do think) is called Mill Lane. In a while we reached a narrow track down which Adam turned, and now as we went I was aware of strange sounds, a confused hubbub growing ever louder until, deep amid the green, we espied a lonely tavern before which stood a short, stout man who alternately wrung his hands in lamentation, mopped at bloody pate and stamped and swore mighty vehement, in the midst of which, chancing to behold Penfeather, he uttered joyful shout and came running.

  "Master Penfeather," cried he, "O Master Penfeather, here's fine doings, love my eyes! Here's your rogues a-fighting and a- murdering of each other, which is no great matter, but here's them a-wrecking o' my house, which is great matter, here's them has broke my head wi' one o' my own pottlepots, which is greater matter, here's me dursen't set of it i' the place and my wife and maids all of a swound——O Master Penfeather, here's doings, love my limbs!"

  "Ha," says Penfeather, "fighting, are they, Jerry?"

  "Like devils, Captain, your rogues and the rogues as my Lord Dering 'listed and brought here yesterday——O love my liver——look at yon!" As he spoke was a crash of splintered glass and a broken chair hurtled through the wide lattice.

  "So!" says Adam, striding towards the inn, and I saw a pistol in his hand. Following hard on his heels I entered the inn with him and so to the scene of the riot.

  A long, low room, full of swirling dust, and amid this choking cloud a huddle of men who fought and struggled fiercely, roaring blasphemy and curses. Two or three lay twisted among overturned chairs and tables, others had crawled into corners to look to their hurts, while to and fro the battle raged the fiercer. Leaning in the doorway Penfeather surveyed the combatants with his quick keen glance, and then the hubbub was drowned by the roar of his long pistol; the thunderous report seemed to stun the combatants to silence, who, falling apart, turned one and all to glare at the intruder. And, in this moment of comparative silence while all men panted and stared, from Penfeather's grim lips there burst a string of blistering sea-oaths such as even I had scarce heard till now; for a long minute he reviled them, the smoke curling from his pistol, his black brows knit across glittering eyes, his thin nostrils a-quiver, the scar glowing on his pallid cheek, his face indeed so changed and evil that I scarce knew him.

  "……ye filthy scum, ye lousy sons o' dogs!" he ended. "Ha, will ye fight agin my orders, then——mutiny is it?"

  "And who a plague are you and be cursed to ye!" panted a great fellow, flourishing a broken chair-leg threateningly and scowling in murderous fashion.

  "He'll tell ye——there, behind ye, fool!" snarled Penfeather, pointing sinewy finger. The big man turned, Penfeather sprang with uplifted pistol and smote him, stunned and bleeding, to the floor, then bestriding the prostrate carcass, fronted the rest with head viciously out-thrust.

  "And who's next——come!" says he softly, scowling from one to other of the shrinking company. "You, Amos Penarth, and you, Richard Farnaby, aye and half a dozen others o' ye, you've sailed wi' me ere now and you know when I say a thing I mean it. And you'd fight, would ye, my last words to you being 'see to it there be no quarrelling or riot.'"

  "Why, Cap'n," says one, "'tis all along o' these new 'listed rogues——"

  "Aye, master," says another, "and that's gospel-true, theer aren't a right sailor-man among 'em——"

  "Then we'll learn 'em to be!" says Penfeather. "Stand forward the new men——show a leg and bustle, ye dogs!" Scowling and muttering, some twelve unlovely fellows obeyed. "I' faith!" says Penfeather, looking them over, "Here's fine stuff for the gallows! And where's the rest of 'em?"

  "Gone aboard this morning along o' Toby Hudd the bo's'un!"

  "See here, my bright lads," quoth Penfeather, eyeing each scowling face in turn, "learn this——when you come aboard my ship and I say to one o' ye do this or do that, he does it, d'ye see, or——up to the yard-arm he swings by his thumbs or his neck as occasion warrants. D'ye get me, my bully roarers?"

  Not a man of them spake a word, but all stood shifting uneasily beneath Penfeather's quick bright eye, shuffling their feet and casting furtive glances on their fellows.

  "Now as to this lump o' roguery," says Penfeather, spurning the still unconscious man with his foot, "have him into the yard and heave a bucket o' water over him. As to you, Farnaby, muster the hands, and stand by to go aboard in half an hour——every unhung rascal."

  Without we came on the misfortunate landlord still in the deeps of gloom, but upon Adam's assurance that all damages should be made good, he brought us up a pair of stairs to a fair chamber and there served us a most excellent meal.

  Scarce had we risen from table than comes the man Penarth a- knocking, cap in hand, to say the men stood ready to go aboard. We found some score fellows drawn up before the inn, and a desperate lot of cut-throats they looked, what with their hurts and general hang-dog air as they stood there in the light of a rising moon. Having looked them over each and every, Penfeather spat, and setting them in Godby's charge, ordered them to go on before.

  "Well, Martin," says he as we followed together, "and how think ye of my lambs?"

  "Call them raging tigers, rather——"

  "Nay," says he, "tigers be cleanly creatures, I've heard."

  "'A God's name, Adam, why truck with such ill rogues? Sure there be many honest mariners to be had?"

  "Why as to that, Martin, good men be scarce and ever hard to come by——moreover these scum are a means to an end, d'ye see?"

  "How so?"

  "Just that, Martin," says he, glancing at me in his furtive manner, "a means to an end."

  "What end?"

  "Ah, who may tell, Martin?" he sighed, shaking his head. Now when I would have questioned him further he put me off thus with side answers, until we were come to the waterside, which is called Deptford Creek. Here, having seen the others safe embarked we took boat also, and were soon rowing between the huge bulk of ships where dim lights burned and whence came, ever and anon, the sound of voices, the rattle of a hawser, a snatch of song and the like, as we paddled betwixt the vast hulls. Presently we were beneath the towering stern of a great ship, and glancing up at this lofty structure, brave with carved-work and gilding, I read the name,

  THE FAITHFULL FRIEND.

  At a word from Adam the oars were unshipped and we glided alongside her high-curving side where hung a ladder, up which I followed Adam forthwith. She was a great ship (as I say) of some two hundred tons at least, with high forecastle and lofty stern, though I saw little else ere, at a sign from Adam I followed him down the after-gangway where, taking a flickering lanthorn that hung from a deck-beam, he led me 'twixt a clutter of stores not yet stowed, past the grim shapes of great ordnance, and so down and down to a noisome place beneath the orlop.

  "'Tis not over sweet, Martin," says he, "but then bilge-water never is, you'll mind. But you'll grow used to it in time, shipmate, unless, instead o' swallowing this unholy reek you'll swallow your pride and 'list as master's mate."

  "I've no knowledge of navigation," says I.

  "But I've enough for the two of us, Martin. 'Tis a comrade at my back I need. What's the word?"

  "No!" says I, mighty short.

  "As you will, shipmate," he sighed, "as you will. Pride and bilge-water go well together!" which said he brought me to a dark unlovely hole abaft the mizzen. "'Tis none too clean, Martin," says he, casting the light round the dingy place, "but that shall be remedied and Godby shall bring ye bedding and the like, so although 'tis plaguy dark and wi' rats a-plenty still, despite the stench, you'll lie snug as your pride will permit of. As for me, shipmate, I shall scarce close an eye till we be clear o' the Downs, so 'tis a care-full man I shall be this next two days, heigho! So good-night, Martin, I'll send Godby below with all you lack."

  Saying which Penfeather turned, and groping his way into the darkness, left me scowling at the flickering lanthorn.

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