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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter13)

2006-08-28 21:47

  Chapter XIII. We Set Out for Deptford Pool

  Penfeather drew clenched hand across his brow, and coming to the table reached the half-emptied flagon and drank what remained of the wine thirstily, while Bym, his great body huddled in the chair, stared at the bullet hole in the shutter with starting eyes: as to me, I picked up Penfeather's fallen pistols and laid them on the table, where Godby had set the lanthorn.

  "Tressady!" says Bym at last in a hoarse whisper, "Tressady——O Cap'n, be ye sarten sure?"

  "Sure!" says Penfeather, in the same hushed manner, and reaching powder and bullets from a cupboard he began methodically to reload his pistols. 'He'll be outside now where the shadows be thickest, waiting me with Abnegation and Sol and Rory, and God knoweth how many more."

  "Then he aren't dead, Cap'n?" Penfeather's black brows flickered and his keen eyes glanced from his rent doublet round about the room:

  "Howbeit——he was here, Joel!" said he.

  "Why then, Cap'n, the dying woman's curse holds and he can't die?" says Bym, clawing at his great beard.

  "He was here, Joel, in this room," says Penfeather, busy with powder-horn, "man to man, knife to knife——and I missed him. Since midnight I've waited wi' pistols cocked and never closed eye——and yet here was he or ever I was aware; for, as I sat there i' the dark by the window above the porch, which is therefore easiest to come at, I spied Mings and him staring up at the lattice of this chamber. So here creeps I and opening the door saw him move against the open lattice yonder——a shot no man could miss."

  "Aye, Cap'n——aye?"

  "And I——missed him, Joel——with both weapons and I within three yards of him, aye, I missed him with both pistols."

  "Which is small wonder," says I, "for as you fired he tripped over me, Adam——"

  "And why should he trip just then——at the one and only moment, Martin? Chance, says you? Why, when he came leaping on me in the black dark should his hook meet and turn my knife from his throat? Chance again, says you? Why, when he flung me off and made for the window——why must I catch my foot 'gainst that staff o' yours and bring up against the wall with all the strength and breath knocked out o' me, and no chance for one thrust as he clambered through the lattice? By the Lord, Martin, here's more than chance, says I."

  "Aye, by cock!" muttered Joel, shaking his head. "'Tis 'witched he be! You'll mind what I told ye, Cap'n——the poor lady as died raving mad aboard the 'Delight,' how she died cursing him wi' life. And him standing by a-polishing o' that hook o' his——ah, Cap'n, I'll never forget the work o' that same hook……many's the time……Bartlemy's prisoners……men and women……aboard that cursed 'Ladies' Delight!' By cock, I dream on't sometimes and wake all of a sweat——"

  "Here's no time for dreams!" says Penfeather, ramming home the charge of his second pistol, "Is the passage clear?"

  "Save for the matter of a few kegs, Cap'n, but 'twill serve."

  "We start in half an hour, Joel."

  "The three o' you, Cap'n?"

  "Aye, we must be aboard as soon as maybe now."

  "Captain," says Godby, "speaking as a master-gunner, a mariner and a peddler, I'm bold to say as there's nought like bite and sup to hasten a man for a journey or aught beside——flog me else! And there's nought more heartening than ham or neat's tongue, or brisket o' beef, the which I chanced to spy i' the kitchen——"

  "Why then, master-gunner," says Penfeather, "go you and engage those same in close action and I'll join ye as soon as I've shifted these rags o' mine."

  "Adam," says I, unstrapping my wallet as Bym and Godby descended the stair, "if we are to have our throats cut to-night, 'twere as well I handed back your chart first"; and I laid it on the table.

  "Why 'tis as safe with you, comrade——but as you will!" says he, slipping the chain about his neck. "As for any throat-slitting, Martin, you'll find that with danger my inborn caution groweth to timidity——"

  "Ha, yes!" I nodded. "Such timidity as walks under the very noses of desperate, well-armed rogues of a moonlight night."

  "Why, the moon is down——or nearly so, Martin. And then, besides, this trim little inn hath divers exits discreetly non-apparent. 'Twas a monastery once, I've heard."

  "And now a smuggling-ken it seems, Adam."

  "Even so, comrade, and no place better suited! And there's the Bo's'n hailing!" says he, as a hoarse roar of "Supper O!" reached us. "Go down, Martin, I stay but to make things ship-shape!" and he nodded towards the books and papers that littered the table. Upon the stairs I met Godby, who brought me to a kitchen, very spacious and lofty, paved with great flagstones and with groined arches supporting the roof, and what with this and the wide fireplace flanked with fluted columns and enriched by carvings, I did not doubt that here had once stood a noble abbey or the like.

  "Pal," said Godby, as I stared about me, "you'd never guess as there be nigh three hundred kegs stowed hereabouts besides bales and the like, choke me else! Ha, many's the good cargo I've helped Jo and the lads to run——eh, Joel?"

  "So you're a smuggler, Godby," says I.

  "Cock," says Bym reproachfully, and setting a goodly cheese on the table with a bang, "say free-trader, cock——t'other 'un's a cackling word and I don't like cackle——"

  "Aye," nodded Godby, "that's the word, 'free-trader,' Mart'n. So I am and what then? 'Twas summat o' the sort as got me suspicioned by Gregory and his catchpolls, rot 'em." But here Adam entered, very soberly dressed in sad-coloured clothes, and we sat down to sup forthwith.

  "Do we sail soon, Captain?" questioned Godby in a while.

  "I hope to be clear o' the Downs a few days hence," says Adam.

  "And you so short-handed, Cap'n," quoth Bym.

  "Sir Rupert hath 'listed thirty new men, I hear, and rogues every one I'll be sworn."

  "Sir Rupert——?" says I.

  "My lady's cousin, Martin, and captain of the expedition."

  "Is he a sailor, Adam?"

  "No, Martin, like most o' your fine gentlemen-adventurers, he knows no more of navigation than this cheese, which is just as well, Martin, aye, mighty well!"

  "How so?"

  "Who shall say, Martin, who shall say?" And here he took a long draught of ale. In a while, our meal being ended, Penfeather rose:

  "As to arms, Martin, ha' ye aught beside your knife?"

  "My staff and this pistol," says I, taking out the silver-mounted weapon my lady Brandon had thrust upon me.

  "Is't loaded, Martin?" I examined charge and priming and nodded. "Good!" says Adam, "Here's five shot betwixt us, that should suffice. Up wi' the trap, Jo, and we'll out." Hereupon Bym lighted his lanthorn and putting aside the great settle by the hearth, stooped and raised one of the flagstones, discovering a flight of worn, stone steps, down which we followed him and so into a great cellar or vaulted crypt, where stood row upon row of barrels and casks, piled very orderly to the stone roof. Along the narrow way between strode Bym, and halting suddenly, stooped and lifted another flagstone with more steps below, down which we followed him into a passage-way fairly paved, whence divers other passages opened right and left. And when we had gone some distance Adam halted.

  "Best bring the light no further, Jo, says he. "And hark'ee, Joel, as to this black rogue——this——y'know who I mean, Jo?"

  "Aye——him, Cap'n!"

  "That same, Jo. Well, keep an eye lifting and if you find out aught worth the telling, let one o' your lads ride post to Deptford, Jo."

  "Aye, Cap'n. Aboard ship?"

  "Aboard ship."

  "Cap'n," quoth he, grasping Adam's hand, "I'm man o' few words, an' thanks t' you I'm snug enough here wi' my wife and darter as is away till this cargo's run, but, say the word, and I'll sail along o' you come battle, murder or shipwreck——"

  "Or a hook, Joel?" says Penfeather softly, whereat Joel clawed at his beard and blinked into the lanthorn; finally he gives a great tug to his beard and nods:

  "Aye, Cap'n," says he, "for you——even that, by cock!"

  "Good lad," says Penfeather, clapping him on brawny shoulder. "Bide where you are, Jo, and Fortune with you and yours. This way, Martin."

  So having taken our leave of Bym, Godby and I followed Adam along the passage, guided by the Bo's'n's lanthorn until, turning a sudden, sharp corner, we plunged into pitchy gloom wherein I groped my way until Penfeather's voice stayed me:

  "Easy all!" says he, softly. "Have your pistols ready and heed how you come." Creeping cautiously I found myself amid leaves that yielded before me, and stepping through this natural screen, I stumbled into a bush and presently found myself standing in a small copse dim-lighted by a waning moon; and never a sound to be heard save the soft whisper of leaves about us and the faint, far cry of some night-bird.

  "Ha! says Adam at last, gazing away to the sinking moon, "So our journey begins, and from the look o' things, Martin, from the look o' things here's going to be need of all your resolution and all my caution ere we can see the end. Come!"

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