A SET OF ROGUES
CHRISTOPHER SUTTON, JOHN DAWSON, THE SENOR DON SANCHEZ DEL CASTILLO DE CASTELANA AND MOLL DAWSON
Their Wicked Conspiracy, and a True Account of their Travels and Adventures
THE MARRIAGE OF MOLL DAWSON BY SINFUL MEANS TO A WORTHY GENTLEMAN OF MERIT; HER FALL, REMORSE AND GREAT SORROW; HER SECOND EXPEDITION WITH HER FORMER ROGUISH COMPANIONS INTO STRANGE PLACES
HER ATONEMENT TO MR. RICHARD GODWIN (WHEREBY SHE RENDERS UP ALL SHE EVER HAD OF HIM AND MORE) AND SELLING OF HERSELF TO ALGERINE PIRATES AND GOING INTO BARBARY A SLAVE; TOGETHER WITH THE TRIBULATIONS OF THOSE WHO LED HER TO WRONG DOING, AND MANY OTHER SURPRISING THINGS NOW DISCLOSED FOR THE FIRST TIME AS THE FAITHFUL CONFESSION OF CHRISTOPHER SUTTON
Of my companions and our adversities, and in particular from our getting into the stocks at Tottenham Cross to our being robbed at Edmonton.
There being no plays to be acted at the "Red Bull," because of the Plague, and the players all cast adrift for want of employment, certain of us, to wit, Jack Dawson and his daughter Moll, Ned Herring, and myself, clubbed our monies together to buy a store of dresses, painted cloths, and the like, with a cart and horse to carry them, and thus provided set forth to travel the country and turn an honest penny, in those parts where the terror of pestilence had not yet turned men's stomachs against the pleasures of life. And here, at our setting out, let me show what kind of company we were. First, then, for our master, Jack Dawson, who on no occasion was to be given a second place; he was a hale, jolly fellow, who would eat a pound of beef for his breakfast (when he could get it), and make nothing of half a gallon of ale therewith,—a very masterful man, but kindly withal, and pleasant to look at when not contraried, with never a line of care in his face, though turned of fifty. He played our humorous parts, but he had a sweet voice for singing of ditties, and could fetch a tear as readily as a laugh, and he was also exceeding nimble at a dance, which was the strangest thing in the world, considering his great girth. Wife he had none, but Moll Dawson was his daughter, who was a most sprightly, merry little wench, but no miracle for beauty, being neither child nor woman at this time; surprisingly thin, as if her frame had grown out of proportion with her flesh, so that her body looked all arms and legs, and her head all mouth and eyes, with a great towzled mass of chestnut hair, which (off the stage) was as often as not half tumbled over her shoulder. But a quicker little baggage at mimicry (she would play any part, from an urchin of ten to a crone of fourscore), or a livelier at dancing of Brantles or the single Coranto never was, I do think, and as merry as a grig. Of Ned Herring I need only here say that he was the most tearing villain imaginable on the stage, and off it the most civil-spoken, honest-seeming young gentleman. Nor need I trouble to give a very lengthy description of myself; what my character was will appear hereafter, and as for my looks, the less I say about them, the better. Being something of a scholar and a poet, I had nearly died of starvation, when Jack Dawson gave me a footing on the stage, where I would play the part of a hero in one act, a lacquey in the second, and a merry Andrew in the third, scraping a tune on my fiddle to fill up the intermedios.
We had designed to return to London as soon as the Plague abated, unless we were favoured with extraordinary good fortune, and so, when we heard that the sickness was certainly past, and the citizens recovering of their panic, we (being by this time heartily sick of our venture, which at the best gave us but beggarly recompense) set about to retrace our steps with cheerful expectations of better times. But coming to Oxford, we there learned that a prodigious fire had burnt all London down, from the Tower to Ludgate, so that if we were there, we should find no house to play in. This lay us flat in our hopes, and set us again to our vagabond enterprise; and so for six months more we scoured the country in a most miserable plight, the roads being exceedingly foul, and folks more humoured of nights to drowse in their chimnies than to sit in a draughty barn and witness our performances; and then, about the middle of February we, in a kind of desperation, got back again to London, only to find that we must go forth again, the town still lying in ruins, and no one disposed to any kind of amusement, except in high places, where such actors as we were held in contempt. So we, with our hearts in our boots, as one may say, set out again to seek our fortunes on the Cambridge road, and here, with no better luck than elsewhere, for at Tottenham Cross we had the mischance to set fire to the barn wherein we were playing, by a candle falling in some loose straw, whereby we did injury to the extent of some shilling or two, for which the farmer would have us pay a pound, and Jack Dawson stoutly refusing to satisfy his demand he sends for the constable, who locks us all up in the cage that night, to take us before the magistrate in the morning. And we found to our cost that this magistrate had as little justice as mercy in his composition; for though he lent a patient ear to the farmer's case, he would not listen to Jack Dawson's argument, which was good enough, being to the effect that we had not as much as a pound amongst us, and that he would rather be hanged than pay it if he had; and when Ned Herring (seeing the kind of Puritanical fellow he was) urged that, since the damage was not done by any design of ours, it must be regarded as a visitation of Providence, he says: "Very good. If it be the will of Providence that one should be scourged, I take it as the Divine purpose that I should finish the business by scourging the other"; and therewith he orders the constable to take what money we have from our pockets and clap us in the stocks till sundown for payment of the difference. So in the stocks we three poor men were stuck for six mortal hours, which was a wicked, cruel thing indeed, with the wind blowing a sort of rainy snow about our ears; and there I do think we must have perished of cold and vexation but that our little Moll brought us a sheet for a cover, and tired not in giving us kind words of comfort.
At five o'clock the constable unlocked us from our vile confinement, and I do believe we should have fallen upon him and done him a mischief for his pains there and then, but that we were all frozen as stiff as stones with sitting in the cold so long, and indeed it was some time ere we could move our limbs at all. However, with much ado, we hobbled on at the tail of our cart, all three very bitter, but especially Ned Herring, who cursed most horridly and as I had never heard him curse off the stage, saying he would rather have stayed in London to carry links for the gentry than join us again in this damnable adventure, etc. And that which incensed him the more was the merriment of our Moll, who, seated on the side of the cart, could do nothing better than make sport of our discontent. But there was no malice in her laughter, which, if it sprang not from sheer love of mischief, arose maybe from overflowing joy at our release.
Coming at dusk to Edmonton, and finding a fine new inn there, called the "Bell," Jack Dawson leads the cart into the yard, we following without a word of demur, and, after putting up our trap, into the warm parlour we go, and call for supper as boldly as you please. Then, when we had eaten and drunk till we could no more, all to bed like princes, which, after a night in the cage and a day in the stocks, did seem like a very paradise. But how we were to pay for this entertainment not one of us knew, nor did we greatly care, being made quite reckless by our necessities. It was the next morning, when we met together at breakfast, that our faces betrayed some compunctions; but these did not prevent us eating prodigiously. "For," whispers Ned Herring, "if we are to be hanged, it may as well be for a sheep as a lamb." However, Jack Dawson, getting on the right side of the landlord, who seemed a very honest, decent man for an innkeeper, agreed with him that we should give a performance that night in a cart-shed very proper to our purpose, giving him half of our taking in payment of our entertainment. This did Jack, thinking from our late ill-luck we should get at the most a dozen people in the sixpenny benches, and a score standing at twopence a head. But it turned out, as the cunning landlord had foreseen, that our hanger was packed close to the very door, in consequence of great numbers coming to the town in the afternoon to see a bull baited, so that when Jack Dawson closed the doors and came behind our scene to dress for his part, he told us he had as good as five pounds in his pocket. With that to cheer us we played our tragedy of "The Broken Heart" very merrily, and after that, changing our dresses in a twinkling, Jack Dawson, disguised as a wild man, and Moll as a wood nymph, came on to the stage to dance a pastoral, whilst I, in the fashion of a satyr, stood on one side plying the fiddle to their footing. Then, all being done, Jack thanks the company for their indulgence, and bids 'em good-night.
And now, before all the company are yet out of the place, and while Jack Dawson is wiping the sweat from his face, comes the landlord, and asks pretty bluntly to be paid his share of our earnings.
"Well," says Jack, in a huff, "I see no reason for any such haste; but if you will give me time to put on my breeches, you shall be paid all the same." And therewith he takes down his trunks from the nail where they hung. And first giving them a doubtful shake, as seeming lighter than he expected, and hearing no chink of money, he thrusts his hand into one pocket, and then into the other, and cries in dismay: "Heaven's mercy upon us; we are robbed! Every penny of our money is gone!"
"Can you think of nothing better than such an idle story as that?" says the landlord. "There hath been none behind this sheet but yourselves all the night."
We could make no reply to this, but stood gaping at each other in a maze for some seconds; then Jack Dawson, recovering his wits, turns him round, and looking about, cries: "Why, where's Ned Herring?"
"If you mean him as was killed in your play," says the landlord, "I'll answer for it he's not far off; for, to my knowledge, he was in the house drinking with a man while you were a-dancing of your antics like a fool. And I only hope you may be as honest a man as he, for he paid for his liquor like a gentleman."
That settled the question, for we knew the constable had left never a penny in his pocket when he clapt us in the stocks.
"Well," says Jack, "he has our money, as you may prove by searching us, and if you have faith in him 'tis all as one, and you may rest easy for your reckoning being paid against his return."
The landlord went off, vowing he would take the law of us if he were not paid by the morning; and we, as soon as we had shuffled on our clothes, away to hunt for Ned, thinking that maybe he had made off with the money to avoid paying half to the landlord, and hoping always that, though he might play the rogue with him, he would deal honestly by us. But we could find no trace of him, though we visited every alehouse in the town, and so back we go, crestfallen, to the Bell, to beg the innkeeper to give us a night's lodging and a crust of bread on the speculation that Ned would come back and settle our accounts; but he would not listen to our prayers, and so, hungry and thirsty, and miserable beyond expression, we were fain to make up with a loft over the stables, where, thanks to a good store of sweet hay, we soon forgot our troubles in sleep, but not before we had concerted to get away in the morning betimes to escape another day in the stocks.
Accordingly, before the break of day, we were afoot, and after noiselessly packing our effects in the cart in the misty grey light, Jack Dawson goes in the stable to harness our nag, while I as silently take down the heavy bar that fastened the yard gate. But while I was yet fumbling at the bolts, and all of a shake for fear of being caught in the act, Jack Dawson comes to me, with Moll holding of his hand, as she would when our troubles were great, and says in a tone of despair:
"Give over, Kit. We are all undone again. For our harness is stole, and there's never another I can take in its place."
While we were at this stumble, out comes our landlord to make sport of us. "Have you found your money yet, friends?" says he, with a sneer.
"No," says Jack, savagely, "and our money is not all that we have lost, for some villain has filched our nag's harness, and I warrant you know who he is."
"Why, to be sure," returns the other, "the same friend may have taken it who has gone astray with your other belongings; but, be that as it may, I'll answer for it when your money is found your harness will be forthcoming, and not before."
"Come, Master," says I, "have you no more heart than to make merry at the mischances of three poor wretches such as we?"
"Aye," says he, "when you can show that you deserve better treatment."
"Done," says Jack. "I'll show you that as quickly as you please." With that he whips off his cap, and flinging it on the ground, cries: "Off with your jacket, man, and let us prove by such means as Heaven has given all which is the honester of us two." And so he squares himself up to fight; but the innkeeper, though as big a man as he, being of a spongy constitution, showed no relish for this mode of argument, and turning his back on us with a shake of the head, said he was very well satisfied of his own honesty, and if we doubted it we could seek what satisfaction the law would give us, adding slyly, as he turned at the door, that he could recommend us a magistrate of his acquaintance, naming him who had set us in the stocks at Tottenham Cross.
The very hint of this put us again in a quake, and now, the snow beginning to fall pretty heavily, we went into the shed to cast about as to what on earth we should do next. There we sat, glum and silent, watching idly the big flakes of snow fluttering down from the leaden sky, for not one of us could imagine a way out of this hobble.
"Holy Mother!" cries Jack at length, springing up in a passion, "we cannot sit here and starve of cold and hunger. Cuddle up to my arm, Moll, and do you bring your fiddle, Kit, and let us try our luck a-begging in alehouses."
And so we trudged out into the driving snow, that blinded us as we walked, bow our heads as we might, and tried one alehouse after the other, but all to no purpose, the parlours being empty because of the early hour, and the snow keeping folks within doors; only, about midday, some carters, who had pulled up at an inn, took pity on us, and gave us a mug of penny ale and half a loaf, and that was all the food we had the whole miserable day. Then at dusk, wet-footed and fagged out in mind and body, we trudged back to the Bell, thinking to get back into the loft and bury ourselves in the sweet hay for warmth and comfort. But coming hither, we found our nag turned out of the stable and the door locked, so that we were thrown quite into despair by the loss of this last poor hope, and poor Moll, turning her face away from us, burst out a-crying—she who all day had set us a brave example by her cheerful merry spirit.
Of our first acquaintance with the Senor Don Sanchez del Castillo de Castelana, and his brave entertaining of us.
I was taking a turn or two outside the shed,—for the sight of Jack Dawson hugging poor Moll to his breast and trying to soothe her bodily misery with gentle words was more than I could bear,—when a drawer coming across from the inn told me that a gentleman in the Cherry room would have us come to him. I gave him a civil answer and carried this message to my friends. Moll, who had staunched her tears and was smiling piteously, though her sobs, like those of a child, still shook her thin frame, and her father both looked at me in blank doubt as fearing some trap for our further discomfiture.
"Nay," says Jack, stoutly. "Fate can serve us no worse within doors than without, so let us in and face this gentleman, whoever he is."
So in we go, and all sodden and bedrabbled as we were, went to follow the drawer upstairs, when the landlady cried out she would not have us go into her Cherry room in that pickle, to soil her best furniture and disgrace her house, and bade the fellow carry us into the kitchen to take off our cloaks and change our boots for slip-shoes, adding that if we had any respect for ourselves, we should trim our hair and wash the grime off our faces. So we enter the kitchen, nothing loath, where a couple of pullets browning on the spit, kettles bubbling on the fire, and a pasty drawing from the oven, filled the air with delicious odours that nearly drove us mad for envy; and to think that these good things were to tempt the appetite of some one who never hungered, while we, famishing for want, had not even a crust to appease our cravings! But it was some comfort to plunge our blue, numbed fingers into a tub of hot water and feel the life blood creeping back into our hearts. The paint we had put on our cheeks the night before was streaked all over our faces by the snow, so that we did look the veriest scarecrows imaginable; but after washing our heads well and stroking our hair into order with a comb Mistress Cook lent us, we looked not so bad. And thus changed, and with dry shoes to our feet, we at length went upstairs, all full of wondering expectation, and were led into the Cherry room, which seemed to us a very palace, being lit with half a dozen candles (and they of wax) and filled with a warm glow by the blazing logs on the hearth reflected in the cherry hangings. And there in the midst was a table laid for supper with a wondrous white cloth, glasses to drink from, and silver forks all set out most bravely.
"His worship will be down ere long," says the drawer, and with that he makes a pretence of building up the fire, being warned thereto very like by the landlady, with an eye to the safety of her silver.
"Can you tell me his worship's name, friend?" I whispered, my mind turning at once to his worship of Tottenham Cross.
"Not I, were you to pay me," says he. "'Tis that outlandish and uncommon. But for sure he is some great foreign grandee."
He could tell us no more, so we stood there all together, wondering, till presently the door opens, and a tall, lean gentleman enters, with a high front, very finely dressed in linen stockings, a long-waisted coat, and embroidered waistcoat, and rich lace at his cuffs and throat. He wore no peruke, but his own hair, cut quite close to his head, with a pointed beard and a pair of long moustachios twisting up almost to his ears; but his appearance was the more striking by reason of his beard and moustachios being quite black, while the hair on his head was white as silver. He had dark brows also, that overhung very rich black eyes; his nose was long and hooked, and his skin, which was of a very dark complexion, was closely lined with wrinkles about the eyes, while a deep furrow lay betwixt his brows. He carried his head very high, and was majestic and gracious in all his movements, not one of which (as it seemed to me) was made but of forethought and purpose. I should say his age was about sixty, though his step and carriage were of a younger man. To my eyes he appeared a very handsome and a pleasing, amiable gentleman. But, Lord, what can you conclude of a man at a single glance, when every line in his face (of which he had a score and more) has each its history of varying passions, known only to himself, and secret phases of his life!
He saluted us with a most noble bow, and dismissed the drawer with a word in an undertone. Then turning again to us, he said: "I had the pleasure of seeing you act last night, and dance," he adds with a slight inclination of his head to Moll. "Naturally, I wish to be better acquainted with you. Will it please you to dine with me?"
I could not have been more dumbfounded had an angel asked me to step into heaven; but Dawson was quick enough to say something.
"That will we," cries he, "and God bless your worship for taking pity on us, for I doubt not you have heard of our troubles."
The other bowed his head and set a chair at the end of the table for Moll, which she took with a pretty curtsey, but saying never a word, for glee did seem to choke us all. And being seated, she cast her eyes on the bread hungrily, as if she would fain begin at once, but she had the good manners to restrain herself. Then his worship (as we called him), having shown us the chairs on either side, seated himself last of all, at the head of the table, facing our Moll, whom whenever he might without discourtesy, he regarded with most scrutinising glances from first to last. Then the door flinging open, two drawers brought in those same fat pullets we had seen browning before the fire, and also the pasty, with abundance of other good cheer, at which Moll, with a little cry of delight, whispers to me:
"'Tis like a dream. Do speak to me, Kit, or I must think 'twill all fade away presently and leave us in the snow."
Then I, finding my tongue, begged his worship would pardon us if our manners were more uncouth than the society to which he was accustomed.
"Nay," says Dawson, "Your worship will like us none the worse, I warrant, for seeing what we are and aping none."
Finding himself thus beworshipped on both hands, our good friend says:
"You may call me Senor. I am a Spaniard. Don Sanchez del Castillo de Castelana." And then to turn the subject, he adds: "I have seen you play twice."
"Aye, Senor, and I should have known you again if by nothing but this piece of generosity," replies Dawson, with his cheek full of pasty, "for I remember both times you set down a piece and would take no change."
Don Sanchez hunched his shoulders cavalierly, as if such trifles were nought to him; but indeed throughout his manner was most high and noble.
And now, being fairly settled down to our repast, we said no more of any moment that I can recall to mind till we had done (which was not until nought remained of the pullets and the pasty but a few bones and the bare dish), and we were drawn round the fire at Don Sanchez's invitation. Then the drawers, having cleared the tables, brought up a huge bowl of hot spiced wine, a dish of tobacco, and some pipes. The Don then offered us to smoke some cigarros, but we, not understanding them, took instead our homely pipes, and each with a beaker of hot wine to his hand sat roasting before the fire, scarce saying a word, the Don being silent because his humour was of the reflective grave kind (with all his courtesies he never smiled, as if such demonstrations were unbecoming to his dignity), and we from repletion and a feeling of wondrous contentment and repose. And another thing served to keep us still, which was that our Moll, sitting beside her father, almost at once fell asleep, her head lying against his shoulder as he sat with his arm about her waist. As at the table, Don Sanchez had seated himself where he could best observe her, and now he scarcely once took his eyes off her, which were half closed as if in speculation. At length, taking the cigarro from his lips, he says softly to Jack Dawson, so as not to arouse Moll:
Jack nods for an answer, and looking down on her face with pride and tenderness, he put back with the stem of his pipe a little curl that had strayed over her eyes. She was not amiss for looks thus, with her long eyelashes lying like a fringe upon her cheeks, her lips open, showing her good white teeth, and the glow of the firelight upon her face; but her attitude and the innocent, happy expression of her features made up a picture which seemed to me mighty pretty.
"Where is her mother?" asks Don Sanchez, presently; and Dawson, without taking his eyes from Moll's face, lifts his pipe upwards, while his big thick lips fell a-trembling. Maybe, he was thinking of his poor Betty as he looked at the child's face.
"Has she no other relatives?" asks the Don, in the same quiet tone; and Jack shakes his head, still looking down, and answers lowly:
Then after another pause the Don asks:
"What will become of her?"
And that thought also must have been in Jack Dawson's mind; for without seeming surprised by the question, which appeared a strange one, he answers reverently, but with a shake in his hoarse voice, "Almighty God knows."
This stilled us all for the moment, and then Don Sanchez, seeing that these reflections threw a gloom upon us, turned to me, sitting next him, and asked if I would give him some account of my history, whereupon I briefly told him how three years ago Jack Dawson had lifted me out of the mire, and how since then we had lived in brotherhood. "And," says I in conclusion, "we will continue with the favour of Providence to live so, sharing good and ill fortune alike to the end, so much we do love one another."
To this Jack Dawson nods assent.
"And your other fellow,—what of him?" asked Don Sanchez.
I replied that Ned Herring was but a fair-weather friend, who had joined fortunes with us to get out of London and escape the Plague, and how having robbed us, we were like never to see his face again.
"And well for him if we do not," cries Dawson, rousing up; "for by the Lord, if I clap eyes on him, though it be a score of years hence, he shan't escape the most horrid beating ever man outlived!"
The Don nodded his satisfaction at this, and then Moll, awaking with the sudden outburst of her father's voice, gives first a gape, then a shiver, and looking about her with an air of wonder, smiles as her eye fell on the Don. Whereon, still as solemn as any judge, he pulls the bell, and the maid, coming to the room with a rushlight, he bids her take the poor weary child to bed, and the best there is in the house, which I think did delight Dawson not less than his Moll to hear.
Then Moll gives her father a kiss, and me another according to her wont, and drops a civil curtsey to Don Sanchez.
"Give me thy hand, child," says he; and having it, he lifts it to his lips and kisses it as if she had been the finest lady in the land.
She being gone, the Don calls for a second bowl of spiced wine, and we, mightily pleased at the prospect of another half-hour of comfort, stretch our legs out afresh before the fire. Then Don Sanchez, lighting another cigarro, and setting his chair towards us, says as he takes his knee up betwixt his long, thin fingers:
"Now let us come to the heart of this business and understand one another clearly."
Of that design which Don Sanchez opened to us at the Bell.
We pulled our pipes from our mouths, Dawson and I, and stretched our ears very eager to know what this business was the Don had to propound, and he, after drawing two or three mouthfuls of smoke, which he expelled through his nostrils in a most surprising unnatural manner, says in excellent good English, but speaking mighty slow and giving every letter its worth:
"What do you go to do to-morrow?"
"The Lord only knows," answers Jack, and Don Sanchez, lifting his eyebrows as if he considers this no answer at all, he continues: "We cannot go hence with none of our stage things; and if we could, I see not how we are to act our play, now that our villain is gone, with a plague to him! I doubt but we must sell all that we have for the few shillings they will fetch to get us out of this hobble."
"With our landlord's permission," remarks Don Sanchez, dryly.
"Permission!" cries Dawson, in a passion. "I ask no man's permission to do what I please with my own."
"Suppose he claims these things in payment of the money you owe him. What then?" asks the Don.
"We never thought of that, Kit," says Dawson, turning to me in a pucker. "But 'tis likely enough he has, for I observed he was mighty careless whether we found our thief or not. That's it, sure enough. We have nought to hope. All's lost!"
With that he drops his elbows on his knees, and stares into the fire with a most desponding countenance, being in that stage of liquor when a man must either laugh or weep.
"Come, Jack," says I. "You are not used to yield like this. Let us make the best of a bad lot, and face the worst like men. Though we trudge hence with nothing but the rags on our backs, we shall be no worse off to-morrow than we were this morning."
"Why, that's true enough!" cries he, plucking up his courage. "Let the thieving rascal take our poor nag and our things for his payment, and much good may they do him. We will wipe this out of our memory the moment we leave his cursed inn behind us."
It seemed to me that this would not greatly advance us, and maybe Don Sanchez thought the same, for he presently asks:
"And what then?"
"Why, Senor," replies Dawson, "we will face each new buffet as it comes, and make a good fight of it till we're beat. A man may die but once."
"You think only of yourselves," says the Don, very quietly.
"And pray, saving your Senor's presence, who else should we think of?"
"The child above," answers the Don, a little more sternly than he had yet spoken. "Is a young creature like that to bear the buffets you are so bold to meet? Can you offer her no shelter from the wind and rain but such as chance offers? make no provision for the time when she is left alone, to protect her against the evils that lie in the path of friendless maids?"
"God forgive me," says Jack, humbly. And then we could say nothing, for thinking what might befall Moll if we should be parted, but sat there under the keen eye of Don Sanchez, looking helplessly into the fire. And there was no sound until Jack's pipe, slipping from his hand, fell and broke in pieces upon the hearth. Then rousing himself up and turning to Don Sanchez, he says:
"The Lord help her, Senor, if we find no good friend to lend us a few shillings for our present wants."
"Good friends are few," says the Don, "and they who lend need some better security for repayment than chance. For my own part, I would as soon fling straws to a drowning man as attempt to save you and that child from ruin by setting you on your feet to-day only to fall again to-morrow."
"If that be so, Senor," says I, "you had some larger view in mind than that of offering temporary relief to our misery when you gave us a supper and Moll a bed for the night."
Don Sanchez assented with a grave inclination of his head, and going to the door opened it sharply, listened awhile, and then closing it softly, returned and stood before us with folded arms. Then, in a low voice, not to be heard beyond the room, he questioned us very particularly as to our relations with other men, the length of time we had been wandering about the country, and especially about the tractability of Moll. And, being satisfied with our replies,—above all, with Jack's saying that Moll would jump out of window at his bidding, without a thought to the consequences,—he says:
"There's a comedy we might play to some advantage if you were minded to take the parts I give you and act them as I direct."
"With all my heart," cries Dawson. "I'll play any part you choose; and as to the directing, you're welcome to that, for I've had my fill of it. If you can make terms with our landlord, those things in the yard shall be yours, and for our payment I'm willing to trust to your honour's generosity."
"As regards payment," says the Don, "I can speak precisely. We shall gain fifty thousand pounds by our performance."
"Fifty thousand pounds," says Jack, as if in doubt whether he had heard aright. Don Sanchez bent his head, without stirring a line in his face.
Dawson took up his beaker slowly, and looked in it, to make sure that he was none the worse for drink, then, after emptying it, to steady his wits, he says again:
"Fifty thousand pounds."
"Fifty thousand pounds, if not more; and that there be no jealousies one of the other, it shall be divided fairly amongst us,—as much for your friend as for you, for the child as for me."
"Pray God, this part be no more than I can compass," says Jack, devoutly.
"You may learn it in a few hours—at least, your first act."
"And mine?" says I, entering for the first time into the dialogue.
The Don hunched his shoulders, lifting his eyebrows, and sending two streams of smoke from his nose.
"I scarce know what part to give you, yet," says he. "To be honest, you are not wanted at all in the play."
"Nay, but you must write him a part," says Dawson, stoutly; "if it be but to bring in a letter—that I am determined on. Kit stood by us in ill fortune, and he shall share better, or I'll have none of it, nor Moll neither. I'll answer for her."
"There must be no discontent among us," says the Don, meaning thereby, as I think, that he had included me in his stratagem for fear I might mar it from envy. "The girl's part is that which gives me most concern—and had I not faith in my own judgment—"
"Set your mind at ease on that score," cried Jack. "I warrant our Moll shall learn her part in a couple of days or so."
"If she learn it in a twelvemonth, 'twill be time enough."
"A twelvemonth," said Jack, going to his beaker again, for understanding. "Well, all's as one, so that we can get something in advance of our payment, to keep us through such a prodigious study."
"I will charge myself with your expenses," says Don Sanchez; and then, turning to me, he asks if I have any objection to urge.
"I take it, Senor, that you speak in metaphor," says I; "and that this 'comedy' is nought but a stratagem for getting hold of a fortune that doesn't belong to us."
Don Sanchez calmly assented, as if this had been the most innocent design in the world.
"Hang me," cries Dawson, "if I thought it was anything but a whimsey of your honour's."
"I should like to know if we may carry out this stratagem honestly," says I.
"Aye," cries Jack. "I'll not agree for cutting of throats or breaking of bones, for any money."
"I can tell you no more than this," says the Don. "The fortune we may take is now in the hands of a man who has no more right to it than we have."
"If that's so," says Jack, "I'm with you, Senor. For I'd as lief bustle a thief out of his gains as say my prayers, any day, and liefer."
"Still," says I, "the money must of right belong to some one."
"We will say that the money belongs to a child of the same age as Moll."
"Then it comes to this, Senor," says I, bluntly. "We are to rob that child of fifty thousand pounds."
"When you speak of robbing," says the Don, drawing himself up with much dignity, "you forget that I am to play a part in this stratagem—I, Don Sanchez del Castillo de Castelana."
"Fie, Kit, han't you any manners?" cries Dick. "What's all this talk of a child? Hasn't the Senor told us we are but to bustle a cheat?"
"But I would know what is to become of this child, if we take her fortune, though it be withheld from her by another," says I, being exceeding obstinate and persistent in my liquor.
"I shall prove to your conviction," says the Don, "that the child will be no worse off, if we take this money, than if we leave it in the hands of that rascally steward. But I see," adds he, contemptuously, "that for all your brotherly love, 'tis no such matter to you whether poor little Molly comes to her ruin, as every maid must who goes to the stage, or is set beyond the reach of temptation and the goading of want."
"Aye, and be hanged to you, Kit!" cries Dawson.
"Tell me, Mr. Poet," continues Don Sanchez, "do you consider this steward who defrauds that child of a fortune is more unfeeling than you who, for a sickly qualm of conscience, would let slip this chance of making Molly an honest woman?"
"Aye, answer that, Kit," adds Jack, striking his mug on the table.
"I'll answer you to-morrow morning, Senor," says I. "And whether I fall in with the scheme or not is all as one, since my help is not needed; for if it be to Moll's good, I'll bid you farewell, and you shall see me never again."
"Spoken like a man!" says Don Sanchez, "and a wise one to boot. An enterprise of this nature is not to be undertaken without reflection, like the smoking of a pipe. If you put your foot forward, it must be with the understanding that you cannot go back. I must have that assurance, for I shall be hundreds of pounds out of pocket ere I can get any return for my venture."
"Have no fear of me or of Moll turning tail at a scarecrow," says Jack, adding with a sneer, "we are no poets."
"Reflect upon it. Argue it out with your friend here, whose scruples do not displease me, and let me know your determination when the last word is said. Business carries me to London to-morrow; but you shall meet me at night, and we will close the business—aye or nay—ere supper."
With that he opens the door and gives us our congee, the most noble in the world; but not offering to give us a bed, we are forced to go out of doors and grope our way through the snow to the cart-shed, and seek a shelter there from the wind, which was all the keener and more bitter for our leaving a good fire. And I believe the shrewd Spaniard had put us to this pinch as a foretaste of the misery we must endure if we rejected his design, and so to shape our inclinations to his.
Happily, the landlord, coming out with a lantern, and finding us by the chattering of our teeth, was moved by the consideration shown us by Don Sanchez to relax his severity; and so, unlocking the stable door, he bade us get up into the loft, which we did, blessing him as if he had been the best Christian in the world. And then, having buried ourselves in hay, Jack Dawson and I fell to arguing the matter in question, I sticking to my scruples (partly from vanity), and he stoutly holding t'other side; and I, being warmed by my own eloquence, and he not less heated by liquor (having taken best part of the last bowl to his share), we ran it pretty high, so that at one point Jack was for lighting a candle end he had in his pocket and fighting it out like men. But, little by little, we cooled down, and towards morning, each giving way something, we came to the conclusion that we would have Don Sanchez show us the steward, that we might know the truth of his story (which I misdoubted, seeing that it was but a roguish kind of game at best that he would have us take part in), and that if we found all things as he represented them, then we would accept his offer. And also we resolved to be down betimes and let him know our determination before he set out for London, to the end that we might not be left fasting all the day. But herein we miscalculated the potency of liquor and a comfortable bed of hay, for 'twas nine o'clock before either of us winked an eye, and when we got down, we learnt that Don Sanchez had been gone a full hour, and so no prospect of breaking our fast till nightfall.
Presently comes Moll, all fresh and pink from the house, and falls to exclaiming upon the joy of sleeping betwixt clean sheets in a feather bed, and could speak of nothing else, saying she would give all the world to sleep so well every day of her life.
"Eh," whispers her father in my ear, "you see how luxuries do tempt the poor child, and what kind of a bed she is like to lie in if our hopes miscarry."
On which, still holding to my scruples, I says to Moll:
"'Tis easy to say you would give the world, Moll, but I know full well you would give nothing for all the comfort possible that was not your own."
"Nay," says she, crossing her hands on her breast, and casting up her eyes with the look of a saint, "what are all the fruits of the earth to her who cannot take them with an easy conscience? Honesty is dearer to me than the bread of life."
Then, as Jack and I are looking at each other ruefully in the face at this dash to our knavish project, she bursts into a merry peal of laughter, like a set of Christmas bells chiming, whereupon we, turning about to find the cause of her merriment, she pulls another demure face, and, slowly lifting her skirt, shows us a white napkin tied about her waist, stuffed with a dozen delicacies she had filched from Don Sanchez's table in coming down from her room.
Of the several parts that we are appointed to play.
Finding a sheltered secret corner, we made a very hasty breakfast of these stolen dainties, and since we had not the heart to restore them to our innkeeper, so we had not the face to chide Moll for her larceny, but made light of the business and ate with great content and some mirth.
A drizzly rain falling and turning the snow into slush, we kept under the shelter of the shed, and this giving us scope for the reflection Don Sanchez had counselled, my compunctions were greatly shaken by the consideration of our present position and the prospect of worse. When I thought of our breakfast that Moll had stolen, and how willingly we would all have eaten a dinner got by the same means, I had to acknowledge that certainly we were all thieves at heart; and this conclusion, together with sitting all day doing nothing in the raw cold, did make the design of Don Sanchez seem much less heinous to me than it appeared the night before, when I was warm and not exceedingly sober, and indeed towards dusk I came to regard it as no bad thing at all.
About six comes back our Don on a fine horse, and receives our salutations with a cool nod—we standing there of a row, looking our sweetest, like hungry dogs in expectation of a bone. Then in he goes to the house without a word, and now my worst fear was that he had thought better of his offer and would abandon it. So there we hang about the best part of an hour, now thinking the Don would presently send for us, and then growing to despair of everything but to be left in the cold forgotten; but in the end comes Master Landlord to tell us his worship in the Cherry room would see us. So, after the same formalities of cleansing ourselves as the night afore, upstairs we go at the heels of a drawer, carrying a roast pig, which to our senses was more delightful than any bunch of flowers.
With a gesture of his hands, after saluting us with great dignity, Don Sanchez bade us take our places at the table and with never a word of question as to our decision; but that was scarce necessary, for it needed no subtle observation to perceive that we would accept any conditions to get our share of that roast pig. This supper differed not greatly from the former, save that our Moll was taken with a kind of tickling at the throat which presently attracted our notice.
"What ails you, Molly, my dear?" asks Jack. "Has a bit of crackling gone down the wrong way?"
She put it off as if she would have us take no notice of it, but it grew worse and worse towards the end of the meal, and became a most horrid, tearing cough, which she did so natural as to deceive us all and put us in great concern, and especially Don Sanchez, who declared she must have taken a cold by being exposed all day to the damp weather.
"If I have," says she, very prettily, after wiping the tears from her eyes upon another fit, "'tis surely a most ungrateful return for the kindness with which you sheltered me last night, Senor."
"I shall take better care to shelter you in the future, my poor child," replies the Don, ringing the bell. Then, the maid coming, he bids her warm a bed and prepare a hot posset against Moll was tucked up in the blankets. "And," says he, turning to Moll, "you shall not rise till noon, my dear; your breakfast shall be brought to you in your room, where a fire shall be made, and such treatment shown you as if you were my own child."
"Oh! what have I done that you should be so gentle to me?" exclaims Moll, smothering another cough. And with that she reaches out her leg under the table and fetches me a kick of the shin, looking all the while as pitiful and innocent as any painted picture. "Would it be well to fetch in a doctor?" says Don Sanchez, when Moll was gone barking upstairs. "The child looks delicate, though she eats with a fairly good appetite."
"'Tis nothing serious," replies Jack, who had doubtless received the same hint from Moll she had given me. "I warrant she will be mended in a day or so, with proper care. 'Tis a kind of family complaint. I am taken that way at times," and with that he rasps his throat as a hint that he would be none the worse for sleeping a night between sheets.
This was carrying the matter too far, and I thought it had certainly undone us; for stopping short, with a start, in crossing the room, he turns and looks first at Dawson, then at me, with anything but a pleasant look in his eyes as finding his dignity hurt, to be thus bustled by a mere child. Then his dark eyebrows unbending with the reflection, maybe, that it was so much the better to his purpose that Moll could so act as to deceive him, he seats himself gravely, and replies to Jack:
"Your family wit may get you a night's lodging, but I doubt if you will ever merit it so well as your daughter."
"Well," says Jack, with a laugh, "what wit we have amongst us we are resolved to employ in your honour's service, so that you show us this steward-fellow is a rascal that deserves to be bounced, and we do no great injury to any one else."
"Good," says Don Sanchez. "We will proceed to that without delay. And now, as we have no matter to discuss, and must be afoot early to-morrow, I will ring for a light to take you to bed."
So we up presently to a good snug room with a bed to each of us fit for a prince. And there, with the blankets drawn up to our ears, we fell blessing our stars that we were now fairly out of our straits, and after that to discussing whether we should consult Moll's inclination to this business. First, Dawson was for telling her plump out all about our project, saying that being so young she had no conscience to speak of, and would like nothing better than to take part in any piece of mischief. But against this I protested, seeing that it would be dangerous to our design to let her know so much (she having a woman's tongue in her head), and also of a bad tendency to make her, as it were, at the very beginning of her life, a knowing active party to what looked like nothing more nor less than a piece of knavery. Therefore I proposed we should, when necessary, tell her just so much of our plan as was expedient, and no more. And this agreeing mightily with Jack's natural turn for taking of short cuts out of difficulties, he fell in with my views at once, and so, bidding God bless me, he lays the clothes over his head and was snoring the next minute.
In the morning we found the Don just as kind to us as the day before he had been careless, and so made us eat breakfast with him, to our great content. Also, he sent a maid up to Moll to enquire of her health, and if she could eat anything from our table, to which the baggage sends reply that she feels a little easier this morning and could fancy a dish of black puddings. These delicacies her father carried to her, being charged by the Don to tell her that we should be gone for a couple of days, and that in our absence she might command whatever she felt was necessary to her complete recovery against our return. Then I told Don Sanchez how we had resolved to tell Moll no more of our purpose than was necessary for the moment, which pleased him, I thought, mightily, he saying that our success or failure depended upon secrecy as much as anything, for which reason he had kept us in the dark as much as ever it was possible.
About eight o'clock three saddle nags were brought to the door, and we, mounting, set out for London, where we arrived about ten, the roads being fairly passable save in the marshy parts about Shoreditch, where the mire was knee-deep; so to Gracious Street, and there leaving our nags at the Turk inn, we walked down to the Bridge stairs, and thence with a pair of oars to Greenwich. Here, after our tedious chilly voyage, we were not ill-pleased to see the inside of an inn once more, and Don Sanchez, taking us to the King's posting-house, orders a fire to be lighted in a private room, and the best there was in the larder to be served us in the warm parlour. While we were at our trenchers Don Sanchez says:
"At two o'clock two men are coming hither to see me. One is a master mariner named Robert Evans, the other a merchant adventurer of his acquaintance whom I have not yet seen. Now you are to mark these two men well, note all they say and their manner of speaking, for to-morrow you will have to personate these characters before one who would be only too glad to find you at fault."
"Very good, Senor," says Dawson; "but which of these parts am I to play?"
"That you may decide when you have seen the men, but I should say from my knowledge of Robert Evans that you may best represent his character. For in your parts to-day you are to be John and Christopher Knight, two needy cousins of Lady Godwin, whose husband, Sir Richard Godwin, was lost at sea seven years ago. I doubt if you will have to do anything in these characters beyond looking eager and answering merely yes and no to such questions as I may put."
Thus primed, we went presently to the sitting-room above, and the drawer shortly after coming to say that two gentlemen desired to see Don Sanchez, Jack and I seated ourselves side by side at a becoming distance from the Don, holding our hats on our knees as humbly as may be. Then in comes a rude, dirty fellow with a patch over one eye and a most peculiar bearish gait, dressed in a tarred coat, with a wool shawl about his neck, followed by a shrewd-visaged little gentleman in a plain cloth suit, but of very good substance, he looking just as trim and well-mannered as t'other was uncouth and rude.
"Well, here am I," says Evans (whom we knew at once for the master mariner), flinging his hat and shawl in a corner. "There's his excellency Don Sanchez, and here's Mr. Hopkins, the merchant I spoke on yesterday; and who be these?" turning about to fix us with his one blue eye.
"Two gentlemen related to Mrs. Godwin, and very anxious for her return," replies the Don.
"Then we being met friends all, let's have up a bottle and heave off on this here business without more ado," says Evans; and with that he seats himself in the Don's chair, pokes up the fire with his boots, and spits on the hearth.
The Don graciously places a chair for Mr. Hopkins, rings the bell, and seats himself. Then after a few civilities while the bottle was being opened and our glasses filled, he says:
"You have doubtless heard from Robert Evans the purpose of our coming hither, Mr. Hopkins."
"Roughly," replies Mr. Hopkins, with a dry little cough. "But I should be glad to have the particulars from you, that I may judge more clearly of my responsibilities in this undertaking."
"Oh, Lord!" exclaims Evans, in disgust. "Here give us a pipe of tobacco if we're to warp out half a day ere we get a capful of wind."
Don Sanchez puts us in the way of robbing with an easy conscience.
Promising to make his story as short as he possibly could, Don Sanchez began:
"On the coming of our present king to his throne, Sir Richard Godwin was recalled from Italy, whither he had been sent as embassador by the Protector. He sailed from Livorno with his wife and his daughter Judith, a child of nine years old at that time, in the Seahawk."
"I remember her," says Evans, "as stout a ship as ever was put to sea."
"On the second night of her voyage the Seahawk became parted from her convoy, and the next day she was pursued and overtaken by a pair of Barbary pirates, to whom she gave battle."
"Aye, and I'd have done the same," cries Evans, "though they had been a score."
"After a long and bloody fight," continues Don Sanchez, "the corsairs succeeded in boarding the Seahawk and overcoming the remnant of her company."
"Poor hearts! would I had been there to help 'em," says Evans.
"Exasperated by the obstinate resistance of these English and their own losses, the pirates would grant no mercy, but tying the living to the dead they cast all overboard save Mrs. Godwin and her daughter. Her lot was even worse; for her wounded husband, Sir Richard, was snatched from her arms and flung into the sea before her eyes, and he sank crying farewell to her."
"These Turks have no hearts in their bellies, you must understand," explains Evans. "And nought but venom in their veins."
"The Seahawk was taken to Alger, and there Mrs. Godwin and her daughter were sold for slaves in the public market-place."
"I have seen 'em sold by the score there," says Evans, "and fetch but an onion a head."
"By good fortune the mother and daughter were bought by Sidi ben Moula, a rich old merchant who was smitten by the pretty, delicate looks of Judith, whom he thenceforth treated as if she had been his own child. In this condition they lived with greater happiness than falls to the lot of most slaves, until the beginning of last year, when Sidi died, and his possessions fell to his brother, Bare ben Moula. Then Mrs. Godwin appeals to Bare for her liberty and to be sent home to her country, saying that what price (in reason) he chooses to set upon their heads she will pay from her estate in England—a thing which she had proposed before to Sidi, but he would not hear of it because of his love for Judith and his needing no greater fortune than he had. But this Bare, though he would be very well content, being also an old man, to have his household managed by Mrs. Godwin and to adopt Judith as his child, being of a more avaricious turn than his brother, at length consents to it, on condition that her ransoms be paid before she quits Barbary. And so, casting about how this may be done, Mrs. Godwin finds a captive whose price has been paid, about to be taken to Palma in the Baleares, and to him she entrusts two letters." Here Don Sanchez pulls two folded sheets of vellum from his pocket, and presenting one to me, he says:
"Mayhap you recognise this hand, Mr. Knight."
And I, seeing the signature Elizabeth Godwin, answers quickly enough: "Aye, 'tis my dear cousin Bess, her own hand."
"This," says the Don, handing the other to Evans, "you may understand."
"I can make out 'tis writ in the Moorish style," says Evans, "but the meaning of it I know not, for I can't tell great A from a bull's foot though it be in printed English."
"'Tis an undertaking on the part of Bare ben Moula," says the Don, "to deliver up at Dellys in Barbary the persons of Mrs. Godwin and her daughter against the payment of five thousand gold ducats within one year. The other writing tells its own story."
Mr. Hopkins took the first sheet from me and read it aloud. It was addressed to Mr. Richard Godwin, Hurst Court, Chislehurst in Kent, and after giving such particulars of her past as we had already heard from Don Sanchez, she writes thus: "And now, my dear nephew, as I doubt not you (as the nearest of my kindred to my dear husband after us two poor relicts) have taken possession of his estate in the belief we were all lost in our voyage from Italy, I do pray you for the love of God and of mercy to deliver us from our bondage by sending hither a ship with the money for our ransoms forthwith, and be assured by this that I shall not dispossess you of your fortune (more than my bitter circumstances do now require), so that I but come home to die in a Christian country and have my sweet Judith where she may be less exposed to harm than in this infidel country. I count upon your love,—being ever a dear nephew,—and am your most hopeful, trusting, and loving aunt, Elizabeth Godwin."
"Very well, sir," says Mr. Hopkins, returning the letter. "You have been to Chislehurst."
"I have," answers the Don, "and there I find the estate in the hands of a most curious Puritanical steward, whose honesty is rather in the letter than the spirit. For though I have reason to believe that not one penny's value of the estate has been misemployed since it has been in his hands, yet will he give nothing—no, not a maravedi to the redemption of his mistress, saying that the letter is addressed to Richard Godwin and not to him, etc., and that he hath no power to pay out monies for this purpose, even though he believed the facts I have laid before him—which for his own ends doubtless he fains to misdoubt."
"As a trader, sir," says Mr. Hopkins, "I cannot blame his conduct in that respect. For should the venture fall through, the next heir might call upon him to repay out of his own pocket all that he had put into this enterprise. But this Mr. Richard Godwin, what of him?"
"He is nowhere to be found. The only relatives I have been able to discover are these two gentlemen."
"Who," remarks Mr. Hopkins, with a shrewd glance at our soiled clothes, "are not, I venture to think, in a position to pay their cousin's ransom."
"Alas, no, sir," says Jack. "We are but two poor shopkeepers of London undone by the great fire."
"Well now, sir," says Mr. Hopkins, fetching an inkpot, a pen, and a piece of paper from his pocket. "I may conclude that you wish me to adventure upon the redemption of these two ladies in Barbary, upon the hazard of being repaid by Mrs. Godwin when she recovers her estate." And the Don making him a reverence, he continues, "We must first learn the extent of our liabilities. What sum is to be paid to Bare ben Moula?"
"Five thousand gold ducats—about two thousand pounds English."
"Two thousand," says Mr. Hopkins, writing. "Then, Robert Evans, what charge is yours for fetching the ladies from Dellys?"
"Master Hopkins, I have said fifteen hundred pounds," says he, "and I won't go from my word though all laugh at me for a madman."
"That seems a great deal of money," says Mr. Hopkins.
"Well, if you think fifteen hundred pounds too much for my carcase and a ship of twenty men, you can go seek a cheaper market elsewhere."
"You think there is very small likelihood of coming back alive?"
"Why, comrade, 'tis as if you should go into a den of lions and hope to get out whole; for though I have the Duke's pass, these Moors are no fitter to be trusted than a sackful of serpents. 'Tis ten to one our ship be taken, and we fools all sold into slavery."
"Ten to one," says Mr. Hopkins; "that is to say, you would make this voyage for the tenth part of what you ask were you sure of returning safe."
"I would go as far anywhere outside the straits for an hundred pounds with a lighter heart."
Mr. Hopkins nods his head, and setting down some figures on his paper, says:
"The bare outlay in hard money amounts to thirty-five hundred pounds. Reckoning the risk at Robert Evans' own valuation (which I take to be a very low one), I must see reasonable prospect of winning thirty-five thousand pounds by my hazard."
"Mrs. Godwin's estate I know to be worth double that amount."
"But who will promise me that return?" asks Mr. Hopkins. "Not you?" (The Don shook his head.) "Not you?" (turning to us, with the same result). "Not Mrs. Godwin, for we have no means of communicating with her. Not the steward—you have shown me that. Who then remains but this Richard Godwin who cannot be found? If," adds he, getting up from his seat, "you can find Richard Godwin, put him in possession of the estate, and obtain from him a reasonable promise that this sum shall be paid on the return of Mrs. Godwin, I may feel disposed to consider your proposal more seriously. But till then I can do nothing."
"Likewise, masters all," says Evans, fetching his hat and shawl from the corner, "I can't wait for a blue moon; and if so be we don't sign articles in a week, I'm off of my bargain, and mighty glad to get out of it so cheap."
"You see," says Don Sanchez, when they were gone out of the room, "how impossible it is that Mrs. Godwin and her daughter shall be redeemed from captivity. To-morrow I shall show you what kind of a fellow the steward is that he should have the handling of this fortune rather than we."
Then presently, with an indifferent, careless air, as if 'twas nought, he gives us a purse and bids us go out in the town to furnish ourselves with what disguise was necessary to our purpose. Therewith Dawson gets him some seaman's old clothes at a Jew's, and I a very neat, presentable suit of cloth, etc., and the rest of the money we take back to Don Sanchez without taking so much as a penny for our other uses; but he, doing all things very magnificent, would have none of it, but bade us keep it against our other necessities. And now having his money in our pockets, we felt 'twould be more dishonest to go back from this business than to go forward with it, lead us whither it might.
Next morning off we go betimes, Jack more like Robert Evans than his mother's son, and I a most seeming substantial man (so that the very stable lad took off his hat to me), and on very good horses a long ride to Chislehurst And there coming to a monstrous fine park, Don Sanchez stayed us before the gates, and bidding us look up a broad avenue of great oaks to a most surprising brave house, he told us this was Hurst Court, and we might have it for our own within a year if we were so minded.
Hence, at no great distance we reach a square plain house, the windows all barred with stout iron, and the most like a prison I did ever see. Here Don Sanchez ringing a bell, a little grating in the door is opened, and after some parley we are admitted by a sturdy fellow carrying a cudgel in his hand. So we into a cold room, with not a spark of fire on the hearth but a few ashes, no hangings to the windows, nor any ornament or comfort at all, but only a table and half a dozen wooden stools, and a number of shelves against the wall full of account books and papers protected by a grating of stout wire secured with sundry padlocks. And here, behind a tableful of papers, sat our steward, Simon Stout-in-faith, a most withered, lean old man, clothed all in leather, wearing no wig but his own rusty grey hair falling lank on his shoulders, with a sour face of a very jaundiced complexion, and pale eyes that seemed to swim in a yellowish rheum, which he was for ever a-mopping with a rag.
"I am come, Mr. Steward," says Don Sanchez, "to conclude the business we were upon last week."
"Aye," cries Dawson, for all the world in the manner of Evans, "but ere we get to this dry matter let's have a bottle to ease the way, for this riding of horseback has parched up my vitals confoundedly."
"If thou art athirst," says Simon, "Peter shall fetch thee a jug of water from the well; but other liquor have we none in this house."
"Let Peter drown in your well," says Dawson, with an oath; "I'll have none of it. Let's get this matter done and away, for I'd as lief sit in a leaky hold as in this here place for comfort."
"Here," says Don Sanchez, "is a master mariner who is prepared to risk his life, and here a merchant adventurer of London who will hazard his money, to redeem your mistress and her daughter from slavery."
"Praise the Lord, Peter," says the steward. Whereupon the sturdy fellow with the cudgel fell upon his knees, as likewise did Simon, and both in a snuffling voice render thanks to Heaven in words which I do not think it proper to write here. Then, being done, they get up, and the steward, having dried his eyes, says:
"So far our prayers have been answered. Put me in mind, friend Peter, that to-night we pray these worthy men prosper in their design."
"If they succeed," says Don Sanchez, "it will cost your mistress five-and-thirty thousand pounds."
The steward clutched at the table as if at the fortune about to turn from him; his jaw fell, and he stared at Don Sanchez in bewilderment, then getting the face to speak, he gasps out, "Thirty-five thousand pounds!" and still in a maze asks: "Art thou in thy right senses, friend?"
The Don hunches his shoulders and turns to me. Whereupon I lay forth in pretty much the same words as Mr. Hopkins used, the risk of the venture, etc., to all which this Simon listened with starting eyes and gaping mouth.
"Thirty-five thousand pounds!" he says again; "why, friend, 'tis half of all I have made of the estate by a life of thrift and care and earnest seeking."
"'Tis in your power, Simon," says Don Sanchez, "to spare your mistress this terrible charge, for which your fine park must be felled, your farms cut up, and your economies be scattered. The master here will fetch your mistress home for fifteen hundred pounds."
"Why, even that is an extortion."
"Nay," says Jack, "if you think fifteen hundred pounds too much for my carcase and a ship of twenty men, you may seek a cheaper market and welcome, for I've no stomach to risk my life and property for less."
"To the fifteen hundred pounds you must add the ransom of two thousand pounds. Thus Mrs. Godwin and her daughter may be redeemed for thirty-five hundred pounds to her saving of thirty-one thousand five hundred pounds," says the Don.
And here Dawson and I were secretly struck by his honesty in not seeking to affright the steward from an honest course, but rather tempting him to it by playing upon his parsimony and avarice.
"Three thousand five hundred," says Simon, putting it down in writing, that he might the better realise his position. "But you say, friend merchant, that the risk is as ten to one against seeing thy money again."
"I will run the risk for thirty-one thousand pounds, and no less," says I.
"But if it may be done for a tenth part, how then?"
"Why, 'tis your risk, sir, and not mine," says I.
"Yea, yea, my risk. And you tell me, friend sailor, that you stand in danger of being plundered by these infidels."
"Aye, more like than not."
"Why, then we may count half the estate gone; and the peril is to be run again, and thus all cast away for nought."
In this manner did Simon halt betwixt two ways like one distracted, but only he did mingle a mass of sacred words with his arguments which seemed to me nought but profanity, his sole concern being the gain of money. Then he falls to the old excuses Don Sanchez had told us of, saying he had no money of his own, and offering to show his books that we might see he had taken not one penny beyond his bare expenses from the estate, save his yearly wage, and that no more than Sir Richard had given him in his lifetime. And on Don Sanchez showing Mrs. Godwin's letter as a fitting authority to draw out this money for her use, he first feigns to doubt her hand, and then says he: "If an accident befalls these two women ere they return to justify me, how shall I answer to the next heir for this outlay? Verily" (clasping his hands) "I am as one standing in darkness, and I dare not move until I am better enlightened; so prithee, friend, give me time to commune with my conscience."
Don Sanchez hunches up his shoulders and turns to us.
"Why, look here, Master," says Dawson. "I can't see as you need much enlightenment to answer yes or no to a fair offer, and as for me, I'm not going to hang in a hedge for a blue moon. So if you won't clap hands on the bargain without more ado, I throw this business overboard and shall count I've done the best day's work of my life in getting out of the affair."
Then I made as if I would willingly draw out of my share in the project.
"My friends," says Simon, "there can be scarce any hope at all if thou wilt not hazard thy money for such a prodigious advantage." Then turning to Peter as his last hope, he asks in despair, "What shall we do, my brother?"
"We can keep on a-praying, friend Simon," replies Peter, in a snivelling voice.
"A blessed thought!" exclaims the steward in glee. "Surely that is more righteous than to lay faith in our own vain effort. So do thou, friend" (turning to me), "put thy money to this use, for I will none."
"I cannot do that, sir," says I, "without an assurance that Mrs. Godwin's estate will bear this charge."
With wondrous alacrity Simon fetches a book with a plan of the estate, whereby he showed us that not a holding on the estate was untenanted, not a single tenant in arrear with his rent, and that the value of the property with all deductions made was sixty-five thousand pounds.
"Very good sir," says I. "Now you must give me a written note, stating what you have shown, with your sanction to my making this venture on Mrs. Godwin's behalf, that I may justify my claim hereafter."
But this Simon stoutly refused to do, saying his conscience would not allow him to sign any bond (clearly with the hope that he might in the end shuffle out of paying anything at all), until Don Sanchez, losing patience, declared he would certainly hunt all London through to find that Mr. Richard Godwin, who was the next of kin, hinting that he would certainly give us such sanction as we required if only to prove his right to the succession should our venture fail.
This put the steward to a new taking; but the Don holding firm, he at length agreed to give us this note, upon Don Sanchez writing another affirming that he had seen Mrs. Godwin and her daughter in Barbary, and was going forth to fetch them, that should Mr. Richard Godwin come to claim the estate he might be justly put off.
And so this business ended to our great satisfaction, we saying to ourselves that we had done all that man could to redeem the captives, and that it would be no harm at all to put a cheat upon the miserly steward. Whether we were any way more honest than he in shaping our conduct according to our inclinations is a question which troubled us then very little.
Moll is cast to play the part of a fine lady; doubtful promise for this undertaking.
On our way back to Greenwich we stayed at an inn by the road to refresh ourselves, and there, having a snug parlour to ourselves, and being seated about a fine cheese with each a full measure of ale, Don Sanchez asks us if we are satisfied with our undertaking.
"Aye, that we are," replies Dawson, mightily pleased as usual to be a-feasting. "We desire nothing better than to serve your honour faithfully in all ways, and are ready to put our hands to any bond you may choose to draw up."
"Can you show me the man," asks the Don, lifting his eyebrows contemptuously, "who ever kept a treaty he was minded to break? Men are honest enough when nought's to be gained by breaking faith. Are you both agreed to this course?"
"Yes, Senor," says I, "and my only compunction now is that I can do so little to forward this business."
"Why, so far as I can see into it," says Dawson, "one of us must be cast for old Mrs. Godwin, if Moll is to be her daughter, and you're fitter to play the part than I, for I take it this old gentlewoman should be of a more delicate, sickly composition than mine."
"We will suppose that Mrs. Godwin is dead," says the Don, gravely.
"Aye, to be sure; that simplifies the thing mightily. But pray, Senor, what parts are we to play?"
"The parts you have played to-day. You go with me to fetch Judith Godwin from Barbary."
"This hangs together and ought to play well; eh, Kit?"
I asked Don Sanchez how long, in the ordinary course of things an expedition of this kind would take.
"That depends upon accidents of many kinds," answers he. "We may very well stretch it out best part of a year."
"A year," says Jack, scratching his ear ruefully, for I believe he had counted upon coming to live like a lord in a few weeks. "And what on earth are we to do in the meanwhile?"
"Teach Moll," answers the Don.
"She can read anything print or scrip," says Jack, proudly, "and write her own name."
"Judith Godwin," says the Don, reflectively, "lived two years in Italy. She would certainly remember some words of Italian. Consider this: it is not sufficient merely to obtain possession of the Godwin estate; it must be held against the jealous opposition of that shrewd steward and of the presumptive heir, Mr. Richard Godwin, who may come forward at any time."
"You're in the right, Senor. Well, there's Kit knows the language and can teach her a smattering of the Italian, I warrant, in no time."
"Judith would probably know something of music," pursues the Don.
"Why, Moll can play Kit's fiddle as well as he."
"But, above all," continues the Don, as taking no heed of this tribute to Moll's abilities, "Judith Godwin must be able to read and write the Moorish character and speak the tongue readily, answer aptly as to their ways and habits, and to do these things beyond suspect. Moll must live with these people for some months."
"God have mercy on us!" cries Jack. "Your honour is not for taking us to Barbary."
"No," answers the Don, dryly, passing his long fingers with some significance over the many seams in his long face, "but we must go where the Moors are to be found, on the hither side of the straits."
"Well," says Dawson, "all's as one whither we go in safety if we're to be out of our fortune for a year. There's nothing more for our Moll to learn, I suppose, senor."
"It will not be amiss to teach her the manners of a lady," replies the Don, rising and knitting his brows together unpleasantly, "and especially to keep her feet under her chair at table."
With this he rings the bell for our reckoning, and so ends our discussion, neither Dawson nor I having a word to say in answer to this last hit, which showed us pretty plainly that in reaching round with her long leg for our shins, Moll had caught the Don's shanks a kick that night she was seized with a cough.
So to horse again and a long jog back to Greenwich, where Dawson and I would fain have rested the night (being unused to the saddle and very raw with our journey), but the Don would not for prudence, and therefore, after changing our clothes, we make a shift to mount once more, and thence another long horrid jolt to Edmonton very painfully.
Coming to the Bell (more dead than alive) about eight, and pitch dark, we were greatly surprised that we could make no one hear to take our horses, and further, having turned the brutes into the stable ourselves, to find never a soul in the common room or parlour, so that the place seemed quite forsaken. But hearing a loud guffaw of laughter from below, we go downstairs to the kitchen, which we could scarce enter for the crowd in the doorway. And here all darkness, save for a sheet hung at the further end, and lit from behind, on which a kind of phantasmagory play of Jack and the Giant was being acted by shadow characters cut out of paper, the performer being hid by a board that served as a stage for the puppets. And who should this performer be but our Moll, as we knew by her voice, and most admirably she did it, setting all in a roar one minute with some merry joke, and enchanting 'em the next with a pretty song for the maid in distress.
We learnt afterwards that Moll, who could never rest still two minutes together, but must for ever be a-doing something new, had cut out her images and devised the show to entertain the servants in the kitchen, and that the guests above hearing their merriment had come down in time to get the fag end, which pleased them so vastly that they would have her play it all over again.
"This may undo us," says Don Sanchez, in a low voice of displeasure, drawing us away. "Here are a dozen visitors who will presently be examining Moll as a marvel. Who can say but that one of them may know her again hereafter to our confusion? We must be seen together no more than is necessary, until we are out of this country. I shall leave here in the morning, and you will meet me next at the Turk, in Gracious Street, to-morrow afternoon." Therewith he goes up to his room, leaving us to shift for ourselves; and we into the parlour to warm our feet at the fire till we may be served with some victuals, both very silent and surly, being still sore, and as tired as any dogs with our day's jolting.
While we are in this mood, Moll, having finished her play, comes to us in amazing high spirits, and all aglow with pleasure shows us a handful of silver given her by the gentry; then, pulling up a chair betwixt us, she asks us a dozen questions of a string as to where we have been, what we have done, etc., since we left her. Getting no answer, she presently stops, looks first at one, then at the other, and bursting into a fit of laughter, cries: "Why, what ails you both to be so grumpy?"
"In the first place, Moll," says Jack, "I'll have you to know that I am your father, and will not be spoken to save with becoming respect."
"Why, I did but ask you where you have been."
"Children of your age should not ask questions, but do as they're bid, and there's an end of it."
"La, I'm not to ask any questions. Is there nothing else I am not to do?"
"Yes; I'll not have you playing of Galimaufray to cook wenches and such stuff. I'll have you behave with more decency. Take your feet off the hearth, and put 'em under your chair. Let me have no more of these galanty-shows. Why, 'twill be said I cannot give you a basin of porridge, that you must go a-begging of sixpences like this!"
"Oh, if you begrudge me a little pocket-money," cries she, springing up with the tears in her eyes, "I'll have none of it."
And with that she empties her pocket on the chair, and out roll her sixpences together with a couple of silver spoons.
"What," cries Jack, after glancing round to see we were alone. "You have filched a couple of spoons, Moll?"
"And why not?" asks she, her little nose turning quite white with passion. "If I am to ask no questions, how shall I know but we may have never a spoon to-morrow for your precious basin of porridge?"
Of our journey through France to a very horrid pass in the Pyraneans.
Skipping over many unimportant particulars of our leaving Edmonton, of our finding Don Sanchez at the Turk in Gracious Street, of our going thence (the next day) to Gravesend, of our preparation there for voyage, I come now to our embarking, the 10th March, in the Rose, for Bordeaux in France. Nor shall I dwell long on that journey, neither, which was exceedingly long and painful, by reason of our nearing the equinoctials, which dashed us from our course to that degree that it was the 26th before we reached our port and cast anchor in still water. And all those days we were prostrated with sickness, and especially Jack Dawson, because of his full habit, so that he declared he would rather ride a-horseback to the end of the earth than go another mile on sea.
We stayed in Bordeaux, which is a noble town, but dirty, four days to refresh ourselves, and here the Don lodged us in a fine inn and fed us on the best; and also he made us buy new clothes and linen (which we sadly needed after the pickle we had lain in a fortnight) and cast away our old; but no more than was necessary, saying 'twould be better to furnish ourselves with fresh linen as we needed it, than carry baggage, etc. "And let all you buy be good goods," says he, "for in this country a man is valued at what he seems, and the innkeepers do go in such fear of their seigneurs that they will charge him less for entertainment than if he were a mean fellow who could ill afford to pay."
So not to displease him we dressed ourselves in the French fashion, more richly than ever we had been clad in our lives, and especially Moll did profit by this occasion to furnish herself like any duchess; so that Dawson and I drew lots to decide which of us should present the bill to Don Sanchez, thinking he would certainly take exception to our extravagance; but he did not so much as raise his eyebrows at the total, but paid it without ever a glance at the items. Nay, when Moll presents herself in her new equipment, he makes her a low reverence and pays her a most handsome compliment, but in his serious humour and without a smile. He himself wore a new suit all of black, not so fine as ours, but very noble and becoming, by reason of his easy, graceful manner and his majestic, high carriage.
On the last day of March we set forth for Toulouse. At our starting Don Sanchez bade Moll ride by his side, and so we, not being bid, fell behind; and, feeling awkward in our new clothes, we might very well have been taken for their servants, or a pair of ill-bred friends at the best, for our Moll carried herself not a whit less magnificent than the Don, to the admiration of all who looked at her.
To see these grand airs of hers charmed Jack Dawson.
"You see, Kit," whispers he, "what an apt scholar the minx is, and what an obedient, dutiful, good girl. One word from me is as good as six months' schooling, for all this comes of that lecture I gave her the last night we were at Edmonton."
I would not deny him the satisfaction of this belief, but I felt pretty sure that had she been riding betwixt us in her old gown, instead of beside the Don as his daughter, all her father's preaching would not have stayed her from behaving herself like an orange wench.
We journey by easy stages ten days through Toulouse, on the road to Perpignan, and being favoured with remarkably fine weather, a blue sky, and a bright sun above us, and at every turn something strange or beautiful to admire, no pleasure jaunt in the world could have been more delightful. At every inn (which here they call hotels) we found good beds, good food, excellent wine, and were treated like princes, so that Dawson and I would gladly have given up our promise of a fortune to have lived in this manner to the end of our days. But Don Sanchez professed to hold all on this side of the Pyrenese Mountains in great contempt, saying these hotels were as nothing to the Spanish posadas, that the people here would rob you if they dared, whereas, on t'other side, not a Spaniard would take so much as the hair of your horse's tail, though he were at the last extremity, that the food was not fit for aught but a Frenchman, and so forth. And our Moll, catching this humour, did also turn up her nose at everything she was offered, and would send away a bottle of wine from the table because 'twas not ripe enough, though but a few weeks before she had been drinking penny ale with a relish, and that as sour as verjuice. And, indeed, she did carry it mighty high and artificial, wherever respect and humility were to be commanded. But it was pretty to see how she would unbend and become her natural self where her heart was touched by some tender sentiment. How she would empty her pockets to give to any one with a piteous tale, how she would get from her horse to pluck wild-flowers by the roadside, and how, one day, overtaking a poor woman carrying a child painfully on her back, she must have the little one up on her lap and carry it till we reached the hamlet where the woman lived, etc. On the fifteenth day we stayed at St. Denys, and going thence the next morning, had travelled but a couple of hours when we were caught in a violent storm of hailstones as big as peas, that was swept with incredible force by a wind rushing through a deep ravine in the mountains, so that 'twas as much as we could make headway through it and gain a village which lay but a little distance from us. And here we were forced to stay all day by another storm of rain, that followed the hail and continued till nightfall. Many others besides ourselves were compelled to seek refuge at our inn, and amongst them a company of Spanish muleteers, for it seems we were come to a pass leading through the mountains into Spain. These were the first Spaniards we had yet seen (save the Don), and for all we had heard to their credit, we could not admire them greatly, being a low-browed, coarse-featured, ragged crew, and more picturesque than cleanly, besides stinking intolerably of garlic. By nightfall there was more company than the inn could accommodate; nevertheless, in respect to our quality, we were given the best rooms in the house to ourselves.
About eight o'clock, as we were about to sit down to supper, our innkeeper's wife comes in to tell us that a Spanish grandee is below, who has been travelling for hours in the storm, and then she asked very humbly if our excellencies will permit her to lay him a bed in our room when we have done with it, as she can bestow him nowhere else (the muleteers filling her house to the very cock loft), and has not the heart to send him on to St. Denys in this pitiless driving rain. To this Don Sanchez replies, that a Spanish gentleman is welcome to all we can offer him, and therewith sends down a mighty civil message, begging his company at our table.
Moll has just time to whip on a piece of finery, and we to put on our best manners, when the landlady returns, followed by a stout, robust Spaniard, in an old coat several times too small for him, whom she introduced as Senor Don Lopez de Calvados.
Don Lopez makes us a reverence, and then, with his shoulders up to his ears and like gestures, gives us an harangue at some length, but this being in Spanish, is as heathen Greek to our ears. However, Don Sanchez explains that our visitor is excusing his appearance as being forced to change his wet clothes for what the innkeeper can lend him, and so we, grinning to express our amiability, all sit down to table and set to—Moll with her most finicking, delicate airs and graces, and Dawson and I silent as frogs, with understanding nothing of the Dons' conversation. This, we learn from Don Sanchez after supper, has turned chiefly on the best means of crossing into Spain, from which it appears there are two passes through the mountains, both leading to the same town, but one more circuitous than the other. Don Lopez has come by the latter, because the former is used by the muleteers, who are not always the most pleasant companions one can have in a dangerous road; and for this reason he recommends us to take his way, especially as we have a young lady with us, which will be the more practicable, as the same guides who conducted him will be only too glad to serve us on their return the next morning. To this proposition we very readily agree, and supper being ended, Don Sanchez sends for the guides, two hardy mountaineers, who very readily agree to take us this way the next morning, if the weather permits. And so we all, wishing Don Lopez a good-night, to our several chambers.
I was awoke in the middle of the night, as it seemed to me, by a great commotion below of Spanish shouting and roaring with much jingling of bells; and looking out of window I perceived lanterns hanging here and there in the courtyard, and the muleteers packing their goods to depart, with a fine clear sky full of stars overhead. And scarce had I turned into my warm bed again, thanking God I was no muleteer, when in comes the Don with a candle, to say the guide will have us moving at once if we would reach Ravellos (our Spanish town) before night. So I to Dawson's chamber, and he to Moll's, and in a little while we all shivering down to the great kitchen, where is never a muleteer left, but only a great stench of garlic, to eat a mess of soup, very hot and comforting. And after that out into the dark (there being as yet but a faint flush of green and primrose colour over towards the east), where four fresh mules (which Don Sanchez overnight had bargained to exchange against our horses, as being the only kind of cattle fit for this service) are waiting for us with other two mules, belonging to our guides, all very curiously trapped out with a network of wool and little jingling bells. Then when Don Sanchez had solemnly debated whether we should not awake Don Lopez to say farewell, and we had persuaded him that it would be kinder to let him sleep on, we mounted into our high, fantastic saddles, and set out towards the mountains, our guides leading, and we following close upon their heels as our mules could get, but by no guidance of ours, though we held the reins, for these creatures are very sagacious and so pertinacious and opiniastre that I believe though you pulled their heads off they would yet go their own way.