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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter12)

2006-08-28 21:47

  Chapter XII. Telleth of a Fight in the Dark

  Penfeather was at the casement, had whipped open the lattice and, pinning the intruder by the throat, thrust a pistol into his face all in a moment; and then I recognised Godby the peddler.

  "Let be, Adam!" I cried, springing forward. "Let be, here's a friend!" Saying nothing, Penfeather thrust away the weapon, and gripping the little man in both hands, with prodigious strength jerked him bodily in through the window; which done, he clapped to the lattice and drawing the curtain stood fronting Godby grim- lipped.

  "And now what?" says he softly.

  "Lord!" gasped Godby, "Lord love me, but here's a welcome to a pal, here's the second pistol I've had under my nose this night—— throttle me in a hayband else!"

  "What d'ye seek?"

  "My pal Martin, 'cording to his word."

  "D'ye know this fellow, Martin?"

  "Aye!" I nodded and told briefly how and where we had met.

  "God-be-here Jenkins am I, master," said Godby, "and well beknown to Joel Bym as keepeth this house, strangle me else——ask Joel! And if you're Master Penfeather I've first, this here for ye, and second, a warning." And speaking, Godby drew a letter from the breast of his leathern jerkin.

  "A warning?" says Penfeather, glancing at the superscription, "Against whom?"

  "A black dog as goes erect on two legs and calls himself Gregory Bragg."

  "You mean Lady Brandon's under-bailiff?"

  "I do so. Well, he be no friend o' yourn, and what's more, he's hand and fist wi' others as be no friends o' yourn either, cut- throat sailor-men and black rogues every one."

  "How d'ye know 'em for sailor-men?"

  "By their speech, master——I was a mariner once——and moreover by a ranting, hell-fire chorus."

  "Ha!" says Penfeather, shooting a glance at me. "A chorus, was it?"

  "Aye, master, concerning murder and what not."

  "And the words running like this——

  'Two on a knife did part wi' life And three a bullet took O!

  But three times three died plaguily A-wriggling on a hook O!'

  Was that the way of it?"

  "Smother me if it weren't!" quoth Godby, staring.

  "Sit down, Godby, and tell me how you chanced on this," says Adam, seating himself at the table.

  "Well, master, I happened to lie snug hid 'neath a heap o' straw ——and for why, says you? Says I to you, by reason o' two lousy catchpolls as won't let poor Godby be. Now this straw chanced to be in my Lady Brandon's stables——and why there, says you? Says I to you, because these lousy catchpolls being set on poor Godby by this black dog Gregory, and him my lady's man, my lady's stables is the last place catchpolls would come a-seeking Godby. Well now, as I lie there I fall asleep. Now I'm a light sleeper and presently I'm roused by the sound o' your name, master."

  "Mine?" says Penfeather, softly.

  "Aye. 'Here's a black passage to Captain Penfeather——curse him!" says a voice. 'Aye,' says another, 'by knife or bullet or——' and here he falls to singing of a knife and a bullet and a hook. 'Avast!' says a third voice. 'Belay that, Abny, you'll be having all the lubbers about the place aboard of us!' 'Why,' says the man Abny, 'since you're wi' us well and good, but don't forget we was hard in his wake, aye, and ready to lay him aboard long before you hove in sight and damn all, says I.' 'Some day, Abny, some day,' says the other, "I shall cut out that tongue o' yourn and watch ye eat it, lad, eat it——hist, here cometh Gregory at last——easy all.' Now the moon was very bright, master, and looking out o' my hay-pile as the door opened I spied this rogue Gregory——"

  "Did ye see aught o' the others?" questioned Adam.

  "No master, not plain, for they kept to the dark, but I could see they was four and one a very big man. 'Ha' ye got it, friend, ha' ye got it?' says the big rogue. 'No, plague on't!' says Gregory. 'Look how I will, I can find nought.' 'Here's luck!' says the big fellow, 'Bad luck, as I'm a soul. Where's he lie?' 'Can't say,' says Gregory. 'His messages go to the Conisby Arms, but he aren't there, I know.' 'The Faithful Friend, was it,' says the big fellow, 'a-lying off Deptford Creek?' 'Aye, the Faithful Friend,' says Gregory, and then chancing to look outside, claps finger to lip and comes creeping into the shadow. 'Lie low!' says he in a whisper——here's my lady!' And then, master, close outside comes my lady's voice calling 'Gregory! Gregory!' 'Answer, fool!' whispers the big man. 'Quick, or she'll be athwart our cable!' 'Here, my lady!' says Gregory and steps out o' the stable as she's about to step in. 'Gregory,' says she in hesitating fashion, 'have ye seen a stranger hereabouts to-night?' 'Not a soul, my lady!' says Gregory. 'A tall, wild man,' says she, 'very ragged and with yellow hair?' 'No, my lady,' says Gregory. Here she gives a sigh. 'Why then,' says she, 'bear you this letter to Master Penfeather——at once.' 'To the Conisby Arms, my lady?' says Gregory. 'No,' says she, 'to the Peck-o'-Malt by Bedgebury Cross. And, Gregory, should you see aught of the poor man that suffered lately in the pillory, say I would speak with him. And now saddle and begone with my letter.' 'To Bedgebury,' says Gregory, 'the Peck-o'- Malt——to-night, my lady?' 'This moment!' says she, mighty sharp. 'And, Gregory, I hear tales of your hard dealing with some of the tenantry: let me hear no more or you quit my service!' And away she goes, leaving Gregory staring after her, letter in hand. ''Twas she!' says the big man in a whisper. 'I'd know her voice anywhere——aye, 'twas she whipped it from my girdle, my luck, shipmates——our luck, but we'll find it if we have to pull the cursed house down brick and brick.'"

  "Godby," says Adam suddenly, leaning forward, "did ye get no glimpse o' this man's face?"

  "Nary a one, master, and for why?——the place was dark and he wore a great flapped hat."

  "Why then," says Adam, pinching his chin, "did ye chance to see his hands?"

  "No whit, master, and for why?——he wore a loose cloak about him."

  "And what more did ye hear?"

  "No more, master, and for why?——because, as luck would have it a straw tickled my nose and I sneezed loud as a demi-culverin, and there's poor Godby up and running for his life and these murderous rogues after poor Godby. Howbeit they durst not shoot lest they should alarm the house, and I'm very light on my feet and being small and used to dodging catchpolls and the like vermin, I got safe away. Having done which and bethinking me of my pal Martin, I made for the Peck-o'-Malt. Now as luck would have it, Gregory overtakes me (as I had purposed he should, I being minded to get even wi' him for good and all). Down he gets from the saddle and me by the collar, and claps a great snaphaunce under my nose. 'So it was you, ye rogue, was it?' says he. 'That same,' says I, 'but who's that peeping over the hedge there?' The fool turns to see, I twist the pistol out of his grip, and have him very neatly trussed and gagged with his belt and my girdle, and so, heaving him i' the ditch, into the saddle and here I am."

  "Godby," says Penfeather, viewing him keen-eyed, "I need men—— will ye sail with us for the Main?"

  "Does Martin sail?"

  "He does! Will ye along?"

  "Heartily, captain, heartily!"

  "Are ye armed, Godby?"

  "I've Gregory's dag here," says Godby, pulling out a long- barrelled pistol.

  "Joel shall find ye another to go with it. And ye know the sea?"

  "Aye, Captain, I sailed with Captain Myddleton as gunner and will lay you a gun with any man from a murdering-piece or minion to a great culverin."

  "Good!" says Penfeather and summoned Joel Bym, who, beholding the peddler, stared, bellowed jovial greeting, and at nod from Penfeather, departed with him, arm in arm.

  "Well, Martin," says Adam when the door had closed, "and what d'ye make o' this tale of sailor-men?"

  "That they're the same rogues I fell out with."

  "Beyond doubt, Martin. And what more?"

  "That like enough they're on their road hither."

  "Beyond any peradventure, shipmate."

  "Well?"

  "Well, let 'em come, Martin, let 'em come. There's somewhat here I don't understand and I mislike mystery. So let them come, here in this little room, in light or dark, I ask no better."

  "And you such a timid man, Adam!"

  "True, Martin, but there's occasion when a worm turneth." Here he took up the letter Godby had brought and breaking the seal, read it through, once with a glimmer of his grim smile, read it again and frowned and frowning, glanced across at me:

  "Here's matter concerning you, Martin, hark'ee!" And he read this:

  "To MASTER ADAM PENFEATHER:

  Should you chance upon the poore man that suffered lately in the pillory (by no order or will of mine) you will I charge you do all you may to succour him in any manner soever: This letter I do write in much haste to instruct you that I purpose to sail in the 'Faithfull Friend' along with you and my good cuzen Sir Rupert in this quest for my father. Moreover I will you should sail as speedily soon as may be.

  As regardeth the poore young man afore-mentioned, if he be quite destitute as I do think him, and will take no money as I do judge most like, then Master Adam you shall offer to him such employ in my ship the 'Faithfull Friend' as he will accept.

  And this is my wish and command.

  JOAN BRANDON.

  He is great and tall and fierce with yellow hair and cruell mouth, yet seemeth more cruell than he trulie is."

  "So there you are to a hair, Martin, and here's our enterprise brought to nought if she sail on this venture!"

  "Why then she mustn't sail!" says I.

  "'Tis her ship, Martin, and she's a Brandon!"

  "Then sail without her."

  "And be taken before we're clear o' the Downs and strung up at Execution Dock for piracy."

  "Why then if she goeth aboard I don't!"

  "And wherefore not, Martin?"

  "I'll take no service with a Brandon!"

  "Aye verily there's your pride, Martin, which is cumbersome cargo."

  "Call it what you will, I'll not sail."

  "And your oath, comrade? Sail along o' me you must and shall! But having respect for your high-stomached pride you shall stow away in some hole or corner and she never know you're aboard."

  Hereupon I scowled, but perceiving him so serene albeit a little grim, I said no more and he fell to pacing slowly back and forth, head bowed and hands locked behind him.

  "I need you, Martin," says he at last, "aye, I need you even more than I thought, the one man I may trust to in a pinch. For, Martin, here's that I don't understand."

  So saying he halted by the table, and presently taking up the dagger (and with a strange reluctance) fell to twisting it this way and that; finally he gave a sudden twist and the smiling head of the silver woman coming away, showed a hollow cavity, running the length of the haft, roomy and cunningly contrived. Slowly he fitted the head into place again and, laying the weapon down, shook his head:

  "Here's Bartlemy's dagger true enough, Martin," says he, touching its keen point. "Here's what found Bartlemy's black heart——aye, and many another! Here's what went hurtling over cliff in Tressady's fist——and yet here it lies——which is great matter for wonder, Martin. And, since 'tis here——why then——where sis the vile rogue Tressady? Which is matter for painful speculation, Martin——where?"

  "Snoring, likely enough!" says I, "Not so far hence, or tramping hither."

  "If so, Martin, then Death cannot touch him, the which is out of all reason!"

  "'Tis more like the fall did not kill him, Adam."

  "Had you but seen the place, shipmate! But if water won't drown him and steel won't harm him——"

  "Like you, he wears a chain-shirt, Adam, that I do know. Moreover, the devil cherisheth his own, I've heard."

  "Why here's reason, Martin, plain reason I grant, and yet——but 'tis late and you'll be for sleep, and there's reason in that too. Come, I'll show your bed——"

  "Spare yourself——I want no bed," says I bitterly. "'Twere a luxury wasted on the likes o' me. My couch shall be the corner yonder."

  "Ah, prideful youth! 'Tis sweet to be young, Martin!" says Penfeather with his sudden, whimsical half-smile and clapping his hand on my shoulder. "Sleep where ye will, that corner is as good as another. See, there stands my tuck, a Spanish blade of notable good temper, it hath been a true friend to me many a time ere now and should be a trusty bedfellow. As for me, I'm for a feather-bed. And, Martin," says he, pausing to pinch his chin and view me sideways, "if aught should chance to me——at any time- the chart and treasure will be yours. So good-night, comrade, and sleep sound, for 'tis like we shall wake betimes."

  Saying which he turned, slow and thoughtful, and went out, closing the door softly behind him. As for me, being very drowsy, I wrapped myself in my weather-worn cloak, blew out the candles and, lying down in the corner, was presently fast asleep.

  Now as I slept I dreamed that Penfeather's long rapier, standing in the dark corner close by, was stealthily endeavouring to free itself from its leathern scabbard with intent to skewer me to the floor as I lay; and, striving thus to draw itself, made soft, strange noises and rustlings insomuch that I presently woke, and staring motionless into the darkness above, knew that these sounds were real. Somewhere close by was a furtive whisper of sound that came and went, a soft-drawn breath, a scraping of fingers on the panelling above me in the darkness; and in that moment also I became aware that the lattice yawned wide upon a square of glimmering blackness. Suddenly a sly-creeping foot touched me unseen and then (even as the owner of this foot tripped over me) came the roaring flash of a pistol hard by, followed immediately by another and, as I lay deafened and half- dazed, the floor quivered to the soft, vicious thud of leaping, swift-trampling feet, and on the air was a confused scuffling, mingled with an awful, beast-like worrying sound. And now (though I was broad-awake and tingling for action) I constrained myself to lie still, nothing stirring, for here (as I judged) was desperate knife-play, indeed more than once I heard the faint click of steel. And now rose shouts and cries and a tramp of feet on the stair without. Someone reeled staggering across the room, came a-scrabbling at the open casement and, as I leapt up, the door burst open and Joel Bym appeared flourishing a naked hanger and with Godby behind bearing a lanthorn, whose flickering light showed Adam, knife in hand, where he leaned panting against the wall, a smear of blood across his pallid face and with shirt and doublet torn in horrid fashion.

  "The window!" he gasped. "Shutters! 'Ware bullets!" I sprang forward, but Joel was before me, and crouching beneath the open lattice swung the heavy shutters into position, but even as he did so, a bullet crashed through the stout oak.

  "Doors all fast, Joel?"

  "Aye, Cap'n! But who's here——is't the preventive? And me wi' the cellars choke-full. My cock! Is't the customs, Cap'n?"

  "Worse, Joel!" says Penfeather, wiping sweat from him.

  "Art hurt, Adam?" I questioned, eyeing his wild figure, and now I saw that the thin, steel chain was gone from his sinewy throat.

  "No, shipmate. But the dagger, look ye——'tis clean disappeared, Martin."

  "And good riddance," quoth I. "But, Adam——what o' your chart—— gone along o' the dagger, has it?"

  "Tush, man!" says he, sheathing his knife, "'Tis snug in that wallet o' yours."

  "My wallet!" I cried, clapping hand on it where it hung at my girdle.

  "Aye, shipmate. I slipped it there as I bid ye good-night! But, Martin——O Martin, the dead is alive again——see how I'm all gashed with his hook."

  "Hook?" quoth Joel, shooting great, hairy head forward. "Did ye ——say a——hook, Cap'n?"

  "Aye, Joel——Tressady's alive again."

  "God love us!" gasped the giant and sank into a chair.

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