IN THE DAYS OF DRAKE
J. S. FLETCHER,
"WHEN CHARLES I. WAS KING," "WHERE HIGHWAYS CROSS."
CHICAGO AND NEW YORK: RAND, MCNALLY & COMPANY. MDCCCXCVII.
Copyright, 1897, by Rand, McNally & Co.
In the whole history of the English people there is no period so absolutely heroic, so full of enthralling interest, as that in which the might of England made itself apparent by land and sea—the period which saw good Queen Bess mistress of English hearts and Englishmen and sovereign of the great beginnings which have come to such a magnificent fruition under Victoria. That was indeed a golden time—an age of great venture and enterprise—a period wherein men's hearts were set on personal valor and bravery—the day of great deeds and of courage most marvelous. To write down a catalogue of all the names that then were glorious, to make a list of all the daring deeds that then were done—this were an impossible task for the most painstaking of statisticians, the most conscientious of historians and chroniclers. For there were men in those days who achieved world-wide fame, such as Drake, Frobisher, Hawkins, Raleigh, Grenville, and Gilbert—but there were also other men, the rough "sea-dogs" of that time, whose names have never been remembered, or even recorded, and who were yet heroes of a quality not inferior to their commanders and leaders. All men of that age whose calling led them to adventure and enterprise could scarcely fail to find opportunity for heroism, self-denial, and sacrifice, and thus the Elizabethan Englishman of whatever station stands out to us of these later days as a great figure—the type and emblem of the England that was to be. It is this fact that makes the Elizabethan period so fascinating and so full of romance and glamour. Whenever we call it up before our mind's eye it is surrounded for us with all those qualities which go toward making a great picture. There is the awful feud 'twixt England, the modern spirit making toward progress and civilization, and Spain, the well-nigh worn-out retrogressive force that would dam the river of human thought. There is the spectacle of the Armada, baffled and beaten, and of the English war-ships under men like Drake and Frobisher, dropping like avenging angels upon some Spanish port and working havoc on the Spanish treasure galleons. There, too, are the figures of men like Grenville and Raleigh, born adventurers, leaders of men, who knew how to die as bravely and fearlessly as they had lived. And beyond all the glory and adventure there looms in the background of the picture the black cruelties of Spain, practiced in the dark corners of the earth, against which the English spirit of that day never ceased from protesting with speech and sword. It was well for the world that in that fierce contest England triumphed. Had Spain succeeded in perpetuating its hellish system, how different would life in east and west have been! But it was God's will that not Spain but England should win—and so to-day we find the English-speaking peoples of the world in Great Britain and America, in Australia and Africa, free, enlightened, full of great purpose and noble aims, working out in very truth their own salvation. It is when one comes to think of this, that one first realizes the immeasurable thanks due to the heroes, known and unknown, of the Elizabethan age. Whether they stand high on the scroll of fame or lie forgotten in some quiet graveyard or in the vast oceans which they crossed, it was they, and they only, who laid the great foundations of the England and the United States of to-day.
J. S. FLETCHER.
IN THE DAYS OF DRAKE.
OF MY HOME, FRIENDS, AND SURROUNDINGS.
Now that I am an old man, and have some leisure, which formerly I did not enjoy, I am often minded to write down my memories of that surprising and remarkable adventure of mine, which began in the year 1578, and came to an end, by God's mercy, two years later.
There are more reasons than one why I should engage in this task. Every Christmas brings a houseful of grandchildren and young folks about me, and they, though they have heard it a dozen times already, are never tired of hearing me re-tell the story which seems to them so wonderful.
Then, again, I am often visited by folk who have heard of my travels, and would fain have particulars of them from my own lips; so that ofttimes I have to tell my tale, or part of it, a dozen times in the year. Nay, upon one occasion I even told it to the King's majesty, which was when I went up to London on some tiresome law business. Sir Ralph Wood, who is my near neighbor and a Parliament man, had mentioned me to the King, and so I had to go to Whitehall and tell my story before the court, which was a hard matter for a plain-spoken country gentleman, as you may well believe.
Now all these matters have oft prompted me to write down my story, so that when any visitor of mine might ask me for it, I could satisfy him without trouble to myself, by simply putting the manuscript into his hand and bidding him read what I had there written. But until this present time I have never seemed to have opportunity such as I desired, for my duties as magistrate and church-warden have been neither light nor unimportant. Now that I have resigned them to younger hands, I have leisure time of my own, and therefore I shall now proceed to carry out the intention which has been in my mind for many years.
I was born at York, in the year 1558. My father, Richard Salkeld was the youngest son of Oliver Salkeld, lord-of-the-manor of Beechcot-on-the-Wold, and he practiced in York as an attorney. Whether he did well or ill in this calling I know not, for at the early age of six years I was left an orphan. My father being seized by a fever, my mother devoted herself to nursing him, which was a right and proper thing to do; but the consequence was disastrous, for she also contracted the disease, and they both died, leaving me alone in the world.
However, I was not long left in this sad condition, for there presently appeared my uncle, Sir Thurstan Salkeld of Beechcot, who settled my father's affairs and took me away with him. I was somewhat afraid of him at first, for he was a good twenty years older than my father, and wore a grave, severe air. Moreover, he had been knighted by the Queen for his zealous conduct in administering the law. But I presently found him to be exceeding kind of heart, and ere many months were over I had grown fond of him, and of Beechcot. He had never married, and was not likely to, and so to the folks round about his home he now introduced me as his adopted son and heir. And thus things went very pleasantly for me, and, as children will, I soon forgot my early troubles.
I think we had nothing to cause us any vexation or sorrow at Beechcot until Dame Barbara Stapleton and her son Jasper came to share our lot. Jasper was then a lad of my own age, and like me an orphan, and the nephew of Sir Thurstan. His mother, Sir Thurstan's sister, had married Devereux Stapleton, an officer in the Queen's household, and when she was left a widow she returned to Beechcot and quartered herself and her boy on her brother. Thereafter we had trouble one way or another, for Dame Barbara could not a-bear to think that I was preferred before her own boy as Sir Thurstan's heir. Nor did she scruple to tell Sir Thurstan her thoughts on the matter, on one occasion at any rate, for I heard them talking in the great hall when they fancied themselves alone.
"'Tis neither right nor just," said Dame Barbara, "that you should make one nephew your son and heir to the exclusion of the other. What! is not Jasper as much your own flesh and blood as Humphrey?"
"You forget that Humphrey is a Salkeld in name as well as in blood," said Sir Thurstan. "If the lad's father, my poor brother Richard, had lived, he would have succeeded me as lord of Beechcot. Therefore, 'tis but right that Dick's boy should step into his father's place."
"To the hurt of my poor Jasper!" sighed Dame Barbara.
"Jasper is a Stapleton," answered Sir Thurstan. "However, sister, I will do what is right as regards your lad. I will charge myself with the cost of his education and training, and will give him a start in life, and maybe leave him a goodly sum of money when I die. Therefore, make your mind easy on that point."
But I knew, though I was then but a lad, that she would never give over fretting herself at the thought that I was to be lord of all the broad acres and wide moors of Beechcot, and that Jasper would be but a landless man. And so, though she never dare flout or oppress me in any way, for fear of Sir Thurstan's displeasure, she, without being openly unfavorable, wasted no love on me, and no doubt often wished me out of the way.
At that time Jasper and I contrived to get on very well together. We were but lads, and there was no feeling of rivalry between us. Indeed, I do not think there would ever have been rivalry between us if that foolish woman, my Aunt Barbara, had not begun sowing the seeds of discord in her son's mind. But as soon as he was old enough to understand her, she began talking to him of Beechcot and its glories, pointing out to him the wide park and noble trees, the broad acres filled with golden grain, and the great moors that stretched away for miles towards the sea; and she said, no doubt, how grand a thing it would be to be lord of so excellent an estate, and how a man might enjoy himself in its possession. Then she told him that I was to have all these things when Sir Thurstan died, and thereafter my cousin Jasper hated me. But he let his hate smoulder within him a good while before he showed it openly. One day, however, when we were out in the park with our bows, he began to talk of the matter, and after a time we got to high words.
"My mother tells me, Humphrey," said he, "that when my uncle Thurstan dies all these fair lands will pass to thee. That is not right."
"'Tis our uncle's land to do with as he pleases," I answered. "We have naught to do with it. If he likes to leave it to me, what hast thou to say in the matter? 'Tis his affair; not thine, Master Jasper. Besides, I am a Salkeld, and you are not."
"Is not my mother a Salkeld?" he asked.
"It counts not by the mother," I answered. "And, moreover, my father would have heired the estate had he lived. But be not down-hearted about it, Jasper, I will see that thou art provided for. When I am lord of Beechcot I will make thee my steward."
Now, that vexed him sore, and he flew into a violent rage, declaring that he would serve no man, and me last of all; and so violent did he become that he was foolish to look at, and thereupon I laughed at him. At that his rage did but increase, and he presently fitted an arrow to his bow and shot at me meaning, I doubt not, to put an end to me forever. But by good fortune his aim mischanced, and the arrow did no more than pin me to the tree by which I stood, passing through my clothes between the arm and the body. And at that we were both sobered, and Jasper cooled his hot temper.
"What wouldst thou have done if the arrow had passed through my heart, as it might easily have chanced to do?" I inquired of him.
"I would have gone home and told them that I had killed thee by accident," he answered readily enough. "Thou wouldst have been dead, and therefore no one could have denied my tale."
I said naught to that, but I there and then made up my mind that if ever I went shooting with him again I would keep my eyes open. For I now saw that he was not only false, but also treacherous. Indeed, I was somewhat minded to go to my uncle and tell him what had taken place between us, but I remembered that the good knight was not fond of carried tales, and therefore I refrained.
After that there was peace for some years, Dame Barbara having evidently made up her mind to take things as they were. She was mortally afraid of offending Sir Thurstan, for she had no jointure or portion of her own, and was totally dependent upon his charity for a sustenance. This made her conduct herself towards me with more consideration than I should otherwise have received from her. Possibly she thought that it might be well to keep in good favor with me in view of my succeeding Sir Thurstan at no distant period. At any rate I had no more trouble with Jasper, and I overheard no more unpleasant discussions between Dame Barbara and the knight.
From our tenth year upwards Jasper and myself daily attended the vicarage, in order to be taught Greek, Latin, and other matters by the Reverend Mr. Timotheus Herrick, vicar of Beechcot. He was a tall, thin, spindle-shanked gentleman, very absent-minded, but a great scholar. It was said of him, that if he had not married a very managing woman in the shape of Mistress Priscilla Horbury, he would never have got through the world. He had one child, Rose, of whom you will hear somewhat in this history, and she was three years younger than myself. When Jasper and I were thirteen and Rose ten years of age, she began to learn with us, and presently made such progress that she caught up to us, and then passed us, and so made us ashamed of ourselves. After that she was always in advance of us, and we used to procure her help in our lessons; then she lorded it over us, as little maidens will over big lads, and we were her humble slaves in everything.
Now it chanced that one afternoon in the June of 1575 Jasper and I were on our way from the vicarage to the manor, our lessons for that day being over. We had to pass through the village of Beechcot on our homeward journey, and it was when we were opposite the inn, then kept by Geoffrey Scales, that there occurred an incident which was to have a greater influence upon our future lives than we then imagined. In the wide space by the inn, formed by the meeting of four roads, there was gathered together a goodly company of people, who seemed to be talking as one man, and looking as with one eye at something in their midst.
"What have we here?" said Jasper, as we paused. "Is it some bear-ward with his bear, or one of those wandering Italians that go about with a guitar and a monkey?"
"I hear no music," said I. "It seems to be something of more importance than either bear or monkey. Let us see for ourselves."
So we ran forward and joined the crowd, which began presently to make way for us. Then we saw that nearly everybody in the village, saving only the men who were at work in the fields, had run together with one accord in order to stare and wonder at a man, who sat on the bench just outside the ale-house door. It was clear to me at once that he was not a native of those parts, and might possibly be a foreigner. He seemed to be of thirty-five or forty years of age, his skin and hair were very dark, and he wore a great black beard, which looked as if it had known neither comb nor scissors for many a long month. Also he was of great size and height, and on his brawny arms, which were bare from the elbows downwards, there were figures and patterns traced in blue and red, so that I at once set him down for a sailor, who had seen much life in strange countries. As for his garments, they were much stained and worn, and his feet, which were naked, were evidently callous and hardened enough to stand even the roughest roads.
When we first set eyes upon him the man was leaning back against the wall of the ale-house, looking defiantly at John Broad, the constable, who stood by him, and at Geoffrey Scales, the landlord, who stood behind Broad. In the rear, holding his chin with one hand, and looking exceeding rueful of countenance, stood Peter Pipe, the drawer. All round them hung the crowd of men and women, lads and lasses, staring open-mouthed at the great man with the black beard.
"What's all this?" said I, as we pushed our way to the front.
The sailor jumped to his feet and touched his forelock civilly enough. He looked at John Broad.
"Marry, Master Humphrey," answered John Broad, "you see this great fellow here, with a beard so long as the Turks? A' cometh into our village here, God knows where from, and must needs fall to breaking the heads of peaceable and honest men."
"'Tis a lie," said the sailor. "At least, that part of it which refers to peaceable and honest men. As to the breaking of heads, I say naught."
"But whose head hath he broken?" asked Jasper.
"Mine, sir," whined Peter Pipe. "God ha' mercy!—it sings like Benjamin Good's bees when they are hiving."
"And why did he break thy head?"
"Let him say," said the sailor. "Aye, let him say."
Peter Pipe shuffled his feet and looked out of his eye-corners. He was a creature of no spirit, and always in deadly fear of something or somebody.
"Maybe he will clout me again," said Peter.
"Fear not," said the sailor. "I would not hurt thee, thou two-penny-halfpenny drawer of small beer. Say on."
"This man, then, Master Humphrey, a' cometh into our kitchen and demands a pot of ale. So I fetched it to him and he paid me—"
"Was his money good?"
"Oh, aye, good money enough, I warrant him," said Geoffrey Scales.
"I said naught to the contrary," continued Peter. "But no sooner had he drunk than he fell to cursing me for a thief, and swore that I had served him with small beer, and with that he caught up the tankard and heaved it at me with such force that my jaw is well-nigh broken."
"And didst serve him with small beer?"
"I serve him with small beer! Nay, Master Humphrey, bethink you. As if I did not know the difference betwixt small beer and good ale!"
"That thou dost not," said the sailor. "Young sir, listen to me. I know thee not, and I fear thee not, and I know not why I should trouble to talk to thee. But thou seemest to be in authority."
"'Tis Sir Thurstan's nephew," whispered the constable.
"What know I of Sir Thurstan? Young sir, I am a man of Cornwall, and my name it is Pharaoh Nanjulian. They know me in Marazion. I have been on a venture to the North Seas—plague take it, there is naught but ice and snow there, with white bears twenty feet long—"
"List to him!" said someone in the crowd.
"I will show thee the white bear's trick, an' thou doubtest me. But to proceed. Young sir, we were wrecked—sixteen good men and true we were—off the Norroway coasts, which methinks are fashioned of iron, and we underwent trials, yea, and hunger. After a time we came to Drontheim—"
"Where is that?"
"A sea-coast town of Norroway, young sir. And thence we took ship to Scarborough. But there was no ship at Scarborough going south, wherefore I set out for mine own country on foot. And to-day, which is my first on this journey, I came to this inn for a pint of good ale, and paid my money for it too, whereupon yonder scurvy knave gives me small beer, thin as water. And I, being somewhat hot and choleric of temper, threw the measure at him, and rewarded him for his insolence. So now I will go on my way, for 'tis a brave step from here to Marazion, and I love not ye north-country folk."
"Not so fast," quoth John Broad. "Thou must needs see Sir Thurstan before we let thee go."
"What want I with Sir Thurstan?"
"Marry, naught; but he may want something with thee. We allow not that wandering rascals shall break the peace in our village."
"If thou talkest to me like that, Master Constable, I shall break thy head, and in such a fashion that thou wilt never more know what peace is. We men of Devon and Cornwall allow no man to lord it over us."
"Thou shalt to Sir Thurstan, anyhow," said John Broad. "We will see what the law says to thee. I fear me thou art a man of lawless behavior; and, moreover, there are strange characters about at this moment."
"Dame Good had two fowls stolen last night," said a voice in the crowd.
"Yea, and there are two fine linen sheets stolen from the vicarage hedge," piped another.
"He looks a strange mortal," said a third.
"And wears gold rings in his ears," cried a fourth. "A' must be a foreigner, and maybe a Papist."
"Foreigner or Papist I am not, good folks, but a true-born Englishman, and a good hater of all Frenchmen and Spaniards. So let me go forward peaceably. As for the clout I gave Master Peter, here is a groat to mend it. I have but a round dozen, or I would give him two."
With that he would have moved forward, but John Broad barred the way.
"Not till I have taken thee before his worship," said he. "What, am I not constable of this parish, and duly sworn to arrest all suspicious persons, sturdy beggars, and what not?"
The sailor paused and drew his breath, and looked at the constable's round figure as if in doubt what to do.
"I am loth to hurt thee," said he, "but if I hit thee, Master Constable, thou wilt never more drink ale nor smell beef. Know that once in Palermo there came upon me a great brown bear that had got loose from his ward, and I hit him fair and square between the eyes, and he fell, and when they took him up, his skull it was cracked. Is thy skull harder than the bear's?"
At this John Broad trembled and shrank away, but continued to mutter something about the law and its majesty.
"You had better go with him before my uncle," said I. "He will deal justly with thee. He is hard upon no man, but it might fare ill with John Broad if Sir Thurstan knew that he had suffered you to go unapprehended."
"Oh, if you put it in that way," he answered, and turned again, "I will go with you. Heaven send that the good gentleman do not detain me, for I would fain reach York to-night."
So we all moved off to the manor, and as many as could find room crowded into the great hall where Sir Thurstan sat to deliver judgment on all naughty and evilly-disposed persons. And presently he came and took his seat in the justice-chair and commanded silence, and bade John Broad state his case. Then Peter Pipe gave his testimony, and likewise Geoffrey Scales, and then Sir Thurstan called upon the sailor to have his say, for he made a practice of never condemning any man unheard.
After he had heard them all, my uncle considered matters for a moment and then delivered judgment, during which everybody preserved strict silence.
"I find, first of all," said he, "that Peter Pipe, the drawer, did serve this man with small beer instead of good ale. For what! I watched the man as he told his story, and he did not lie."
"I thank your honor," said the sailor.
"Wherefore I recommend Geoffrey Scales to admonish Peter at his convenience—"
"Yea, and with a stick, your honor," said Geoffrey.
"So that he transgress not again. Nevertheless, the sailor did wrong to maltreat Peter. There is law to be had, and no man should administer his own justice. Wherefore I fine thee, sailor, and order thee to pay ten groats to the court."
"As your honor wills," said the man, and handed over the money. "I have now one left to see me all the way to Marazion. But justice is justice."
"Clear my hall, John Broad," said my uncle. This order the constable carried out with promptitude. But when the sailor would have gone, Sir Thurstan bade him stay, and presently he called him to his side and held converse with him.
"Dost thou propose to walk to Marazion?" he asked.
"With God's help, sir," answered the man.
"Why not try Hull? Thou mightest find a ship there for a southern port."
"I had never thought of it, your honor. How far away may Hull be?"
"Forty miles. What means hast thou?"
"But one groat, sir. But then I have become used to hardships."
"Try Hull: thou wilt find a ship there, I doubt not. Hold, here are twelve shillings for thee. Humphrey, have him to the kitchen and give him a good meal ere he starts."
"Your honor," said the sailor, "is a father and a brother to me. I shall not forget."
"Do thy duty," said Sir Thurstan.
So I took the man to the kitchen, and fed him, and soon he went away.
"Young master," said he, "if I can ever repay this kindness I will, yea, with interest. Pharaoh Nanjulian never forgets."
With that he went away, and we saw him no more.
There being no disposition on my part to renew our differences, and none on his to lead up to an open rupture, my cousin Jasper Stapleton and I got on together very well, until we had reached the age of nineteen years, when a new and far more important matter of contention arose between us.
Now, our first quarrel had arisen over the ultimate disposition of my uncle's estates; our second was as to which should be lord over the heart and hand of a fair maiden. To both of us the second quarrel was far more serious than the first—which is a thing that will readily be understood by all young folks. It seemed to both of us that not all the broad acres of Beechcot, nay, of Yorkshire itself, were to be reckoned in comparison with the little hand of Mistress Rose Herrick.
For by that time Mistress Rose had grown to be a fair and gracious maiden, whose golden hair, floating from under her dainty cap, was a dangerous snare for any hot-hearted lad's thoughts to fall entangled in. So sweet and gracious was she, so delightful her conversation, so bewitching her eyes, that I marvel not even at this stretch of time that I then became her captive and slave for life. Nor do I marvel, either, that Jasper Stapleton was equally enslaved by her charms. It had indeed been wonderful if he or I had made any resistance to them.
As to myself, the little blind god pierced my heart with his arrow at a very early stage. Indeed, I do not remember any period of my life when I did not love Rose Herrick more dearly than anything else in God's fair world. To me she was all that is sweet and desirable, a companion whose company must needs make the path of life a primrose path; and, therefore, even when I was a lad, I looked forward to the time when I might take her hand in mine, and enter with her upon the highway which all of us must travel.
However, when I was come to nineteen years of age, being then a tall and strapping lad, and somewhat grave withal, it came to my mind that I should find out for myself what feelings Rose had with regard to me, and therefore I began to seek her company, and to engage her in more constant conversation than we had hitherto enjoyed. And the effect of this was that my love for her, which had until then been of a placid nature, now became restless and unsatisfied, and longed to know whether it was to be answered with love or finally dismissed.
Thus I became somewhat moody and taciturn, and took to wandering about the land by myself, by day or night, so that Sir Thurstan more than once asked me if I had turned poet or fallen in love. Now, both these things were true, for because I had fallen in love I had also turned poet; as, I suppose, every lover must. In sooth, I had scribbled lines and couplets, and here and there a song, to my sweet mistress, though I had never as yet mustered sufficient courage to show her what I had written. That, I think, is the way with all lovers who make rhymes. There is a satisfaction to them in the mere writing of them; and I doubt not that they often read over their verses, and in the reading find a certain keen and peculiar sort of pleasure which is not altogether unmixed with pain.
Now it chanced that one day in the early spring of 1578 I had been wandering about the park of Beechcot, thinking of my passion and its object, and my thoughts as usual had clothed themselves in verses. Wherefore, when I again reached the house, I went into the library and wrote down my rhymes on paper, in order that I might put them away with my other compositions. I will write them down here from the copy I then made. It lies before me now, a yellow, time-stained sheet, and somehow it brings back to me the long-dead days of happiness which came before my wonderful adventure.
When I first beheld thee, dear, Day across the land was breaking, April skies were fine and clear And the world to life was waking; All was fair In earth and air: Spring lay lurking in the sedges: Suddenly I looked on thee And straight forgot the budding hedges.
When I first beheld thee, sweet, Madcap Love came gayly flying Where the woods and meadows meet: Then I straightway fell a-sighing. Fair, I said, Are hills and glade And sweet the light with which they're laden, But ah, to me, Nor flower nor tree Are half so sweet as yonder maiden.
Thus when I beheld thee, love, Vanished quick my first devotion, Earth below and heaven above And the mystic, magic ocean Seemed to me No more to be. I had eyes for naught but thee, dear, With his dart Love pierced my heart And thou wert all in all to me, dear!
Now, as I came to an end of writing these verses I was suddenly aware of someone standing at my side, and when I looked up, with anger and resentment that anyone should spy upon my actions, I saw my cousin Jasper at my elbow, staring at the two words, "To Rose," which headed my composition. I sprang to my feet and faced him.
"That is like you, cousin," said I, striving to master my anger, "to act the spy upon a man."
"As you please," he answered. "I care what no man thinks of my actions. But there," pointing to the paper, "is proof of what I have long suspected. Humphrey, you are in love with Mistress Rose Herrick!"
"What if I am?" said I.
"Nothing, but that I also am in love with her, and mean to win her," he replied.
After that there was silence.
"We cannot both have her," said I at last.
"True," said he. "She shall be mine."
"Not if I can prevent it, cousin. At any rate she has the principal say in this matter."
"Thou hast not spoken to her, Humphrey?"
"What is that to thee, cousin? But I have not."
"Humphrey, thou wilt heir our uncle's lands. Thou hast robbed me of my share in them. I will not be robbed of my love. Pish! do not stay me. Thou art hot-tempered and boyish, but I am cold as an icicle. It is men like me whose love is deep and determined, and therefore I swear thou shalt not come between me and Rose Herrick."
I watched him closely, and saw that he valued nothing of land or money as he valued his passion, and that he would stay at nothing in order to gain his own ends. But I was equally firm.
"What do you propose, Jasper?" I asked. "It is for Mistress Rose Herrick to decide. We cannot both address her at the same time."
"True," he said; "true. I agree that you have the same right to speak to her that I have. Let us draw lots. The successful one shall have the first chance. Do you agree?"
I agreed willingly, because I felt certain that even if Jasper beat me he would have no chance with Rose. There was something in my heart that told me she would look on me, and on me only, with favor.
We went out into the stackyard, and agreed that each of us should draw a straw from a wheat-stack. He that drew the longest straw should have the first right of speaking. Then we put our hands to the stack and drew our straws. I beat him there—my straw was a good foot longer than his.
"You have beaten me again," he said. "Is it always to be so? But I will wait, cousin Humphrey."
And so he turned away and left me.
Now, seeing how matters stood, it came to my mind that I had best put my fortune to the test as quickly as possible, and therefore I made haste over to the vicarage in order to find Rose and ask her to make me either happy or miserable. And as good luck would have it, I found her alone in the vicarage garden, looking so sweet and gracious that I was suddenly struck dumb, and in my confusion could think of naught but that my face was red, my attire negligent, and my whole appearance not at all like that of a lover.
"Humphrey," said Rose, laughing at me, "you look as you used to look in the days when you came late to your lessons, from robbing an orchard or chasing Farmer Good's cattle, or following the hounds. Are you a boy again?"
But there she stopped, for I think she saw something in my eyes that astonished her. And after that I know not what we said or did, save that presently we understood one another, and for the space of an hour entirely forgot that there were other people in the world, or, indeed, that there was any world at all.
So that evening I went home happy. And as I marched up to the manor, whistling and singing, I met my cousin. He looked at me for a moment, and then turned on his heel.
"I see how it is," he said. "You have no need to speak."
"Congratulate me, at any rate, cousin," I cried.
"Time enough for that," said he.
And from that moment he hated me, and waited his opportunity to do me a mischief.
When a man has conceived a deadly hatred of one of his fellow-men, and has further resolved to let slip no chance of satisfying it, his revenge becomes to him simply a question of time, for the chance is sure to come sooner or later.
It was this conviction, I think, that kept my cousin Jasper Stapleton quiet during the next few months. He knew that in due course his revenge would have an opportunity of glutting itself, and for that evil time he was well content to wait. You may wonder that so young a man should have possessed such cruel feelings toward one who had never done him any willful wrong. But as events proved Jasper was of an exceeding cruel and malignant nature, and his wickedness was all the worse because it was of a cold and calculating sort. If a man gave him an honest straightforward blow or buffet, it was not Jasper's way to strike back there and then, face to face, but rather to wait until some evil chance presented itself—and then, his adversary's back being turned, Jasper would plant a dagger between his shoulders. In other words, he bided his time, and when he did strike, struck at an unguarded place.
Now at that time I had very little idea that Jasper entertained such hard thoughts of me—my knowledge of his cruelty only came by later experience. All that spring and summer of 1578 I was living in a very paradise, and cared not for Jasper or Dame Barbara or anybody else. My uncle had sanctioned the betrothal of Rose Herrick and myself, and the good vicar had given us his blessing in choice Latin. There had been some little scolding of us from both manor-house and vicarage, for Sir Thurstan and Master Timotheus both thought us too young to talk of love and marriage; but in the end our pleadings prevailed, and it was arranged that we were to consider ourselves plighted lovers, and that our wedding was to take place in two years. This settled, there was naught but happiness for me and Rose. I think we spent most of that summer out of doors, wandering about the Chase, and talking as lovers will, of all the days to come. Never once did there come a cloud over the fair heaven of our hopes, unless it was once, when in a remote corner of the woods, we suddenly came face to face with Jasper Stapleton. He had been out with his bow, and when we met him he was advancing along the path, with a young deer slung over his shoulders. At the sound of our footsteps on the crackling underwood, he stopped, looked up, and, recognizing us, turned hastily away and vanished in the thick bushes.
"Why did Jasper go away so suddenly?" asked Rose.
"Because he was not minded to meet us," said I.
"But why? And I have not seen him these many weeks—he seems to avoid me. Did you mark his face, Humphrey,—how white it turned when he set eyes on us? And there was a look on it that frightened me—a look that seemed to promise no love for you, Humphrey," she said.
"Have no fear, sweetheart," I answered. "Jasper is a strange fellow, but he will do me no harm. He is only disappointed because I have won a flower that he would fain have possessed himself."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean, sweetheart, that Jasper was much in love with Mistress Rose Herrick, and liked not that Humphrey Salkeld should win her. There—perhaps I have done wrong to tell thee this; but, indeed, I like not mysteries."
But so strange are women, that Rose immediately fell to sighing and lamenting on Jasper's woes. "It is sad," she said, "that any man should sorrow over a maiden's pretty face, when there are so many girls in the world." This train of thought, however, suddenly slipped from her when she remembered Master Jasper's ugly looks.
"He will do you a mischief, Humphrey," she said. "I saw it in his eyes. He hates you. They say that jealousy breeds murder—oh! what if Jasper should try to kill you?"
I laughed at the notion. I was so cock-a-whoop at that time, so elated with my love and my fair prospects, that I did not believe anything could harm me, and said so. Nevertheless, I believe Rose was from that time much concerned as to the relations between me and Jasper, having some woman-born notion that all might not go so well as I, in my boyish confidence, anticipated. But when she set forth her fears from time to time, I only laughed at her, never thinking that my cousin's opportunity was already close at hand.
Early in the month of October in that year Sir Thurstan called Jasper and myself into the library one morning, and informed us that he had business for us at the port of Scarborough. There was, he said, a ship coming over from Hamburg, the master of which had been entrusted with a certain commission from him, and as the vessel was now due, he wished us to go over to Scarborough and complete the matter, by receiving certain goods and paying the master his money. Neither Jasper nor I were displeased at the notion of this trip, for we were both minded to see a little of the world. True, I did not like the idea of being separated from my sweetheart for several days; but then, as she said, there would be the delight of looking forward to our meeting again. Alas! neither of us knew that that meeting was not to take place for three long and weary years.
We set out from Beechcot, Jasper and I, one Monday morning, having with us money wherewith to pay the charges of the ship-master. From the manor-house to Scarborough there was a distance of twenty odd miles, and therefore we rode our horses. Sir Thurstan had given us instructions to put up at the Mermaid Tavern, near the harbor, and there we accordingly stabled our beasts and made arrangements for our own accommodation. The ship which we were expecting had not yet arrived, and was not likely to come in before the next day, so that we had naught to do but look about us and derive what amusement we could from the sights of the little fishing town. Small as the place was, it being then little more than a great cluster of houses nestling under the shadow of the high rock on which stands Scarborough Castle, it was still a place of importance to us, who had never for many years seen any town or village bigger than our own hamlet of Beechcot, where there were no more than a dozen farmsteads and cottages all told. Also the sailors, who hung about the harbor or on the quay-side, or who sat in their boats mending their nets and spinning their yarns one to another, were sources of much interest, so that we felt two or three days of life in their company would not be dull nor misspent. Moreover, the merchant, whose ship it was that carried Sir Thurstan's goods, showed us much attention, and would have us to his house to talk with him and tell him of our uncle, whose acquaintance he had made many years previously, but had not been able to cultivate.
There is, near the harbor of Scarborough, lying half-hid amongst the narrow streets which run up towards the Castle Hill, a quaint and curious inn known as the Three Jolly Mariners. At its door stands a figure carved in wood, which at some time, no doubt, acted as figurehead to a ship, but whether it represents Venus or Diana, Hebe or Minerva, I do not know. Inside, the house more resembles the cabin of a vessel than the parlor of a tavern. On the walls are many curious things brought by mariners from foreign parts, together with relics of ships that had made many voyages from the harbor outside, and had finally come home to be broken up. In this place, half-parlor, half-cabin, there assembled men of seafaring life: salts, young and old, English, Scotch, Norwegians, and Danes, with now and then a Frenchman or Spaniard, so that there is never any lack of interesting and ofttimes marvelous discourse.
Our ship not having come in on the Tuesday night, Jasper and I, in company with the merchant aforesaid, entered the Three Jolly Mariners, and having saluted the assembled company, sat down to wait awhile, the harbor-master thinking it likely that our vessel would shortly be signaled. There were several men in the inn, drinking and talking, and all were of interest in my eyes, but one of them much more so than the others. He was a stoutly-built, tall man of middle age, dressed in what seemed to my eyes a very fantastic style, there being more color in his dress than was then usual. He had a high, white forehead, over which his jet-black hair was closely cropped, his eyes were set rather too near together to be pleasant, his nose was long, his teeth very white and large, and his beard, almost as black as his hair, was trimmed to a point. As he sat and listened to the conversation around him he never laughed, but occasionally he smiled, exposing his cruel teeth, and reminding me of a dog that shows its fangs threateningly.
Our friend the merchant whispered to us that this gentleman was a certain Captain Manuel Nunez, who came trading to Scarborough from Seville. He further informed us that his ship now lay outside in the harbor, and was a fine vessel, of very graceful proportions, and much more beautiful to look at than our English ships, which are somewhat squat and ugly, though not difficult to handle.
"And although he is a Spaniard," continued our friend, "this Senor Nunez is well liked here, for he makes himself courtly and agreeable to those who have to do with him, so that our recent relations with his country have not prevented him from coming amongst us."
However, there was something about the man which almost made me afraid. He reminded me of a viper which I once killed in Beechcot Woods. And though we entered into conversation with him that night, and found him a mightily agreeable companion, I still preserved the notion that he was a man not to be trusted, and like to prove cruel and treacherous.
The following day, going down to the harbor-wall to see if there were any signs of our ship, I saw my cousin engaged in close conversation with Senor Nunez. I did not intrude myself upon them, but presently the Spaniard, catching sight of me, came to my side, and with a courteous salutation addressed me.
"I have been inviting your good cousin, Master Stapleton, to go aboard my vessel yonder," said he, "and I would tender the same courtesy to yourself, Master Salkeld. It is not often that an English country gentleman has a chance of seeing a Spanish ship in these sad days, unless, alack! it be in this deplorable warfare; and, therefore, I thought you might both be glad of this opportunity."
"What do you say, Humphrey?" asked Jasper, who had now approached us. "I would like to see the inside of a Spanish ship. If 'tis aught like the outside it should be well worth an examination."
"A look at the Santa Luisa will repay your trouble, gentlemen," said the Spaniard with a proud smile. "There is no faster ship for her size on the high seas."
"I am agreeable," said I. "Our own ship is not yet come, and time begins to hang heavy."
"Then you shall come on board to-night," said Captain Nunez. "Until six of the clock I am engaged on shore, but at that hour I will have a boat awaiting us at the harbor stairs, and you shall go aboard with me, gentlemen."
So we agreed and parted with him, Jasper full of the matter, and exclaiming that we should have much to tell the folks at home. I, however, was beginning to get somewhat impatient with respect to our own ship, which its owner now believed to have been unexpectedly detained, and I only regarded the visit to the Santa Luisa as a diversion.
At six o'clock that night, Jasper and I met the Spaniard at the harbor stairs and went on board his vessel. We found the Santa Luisa to be a very fine ship, and of much more pretentious appearance as regarded her fittings than our own English trading vessels. We passed an hour or so in examining her, and were then pressed by Senor Nunez to enter his cabin and enjoy his hospitality.
I have no very clear recollection of what followed. I remember that we ate and drank, that the Spaniard was vastly amusing in his discourse, and that I began to feel mighty sleepy. After that I must have gone to sleep.
When I came to my full senses again I was lying in a hammock, and I could tell from the motion of the ship that we were at sea in a good, fresh wind. The Spaniard stood by me, regarding me attentively. I started up and addressed him.
"Senor Nunez! I have been asleep. Where am I? The ship seems to be moving!"
"The ship is moving, Master Salkeld," he answered, in his smooth, rich voice. "At this moment she is off the Lincolnshire coast. You have slept for twelve hours."
PHARAOH NANJULIAN AGAIN.
I do not know to this day how I got out of the hammock, but no sooner did I hear the Spanish captain utter these words than I made haste to go on deck and examine the truth of his statement for myself. But before I could reach the companion I reeled and staggered, and should have fallen, if Nunez had not seized my arm and supported me. He helped me to a seat, and handed me a glass containing a restorative.
"You are not well," he said. "But you will come round presently."
"Senor!" I cried, "what is the meaning of this? Why am I on this ship, and why are we at sea? How is it that I am not at Scarborough? There has been some treachery—some foul play!"
"Nay," said he, "be moderate, I entreat you, Senor. Do not let there be any talk of treachery. Am I not serving you as a friend?"
"I do not comprehend anything of what you say," I answered. "There is some mystery here. Again I ask you—why am I on board your ship and at sea?"
"And I ask you, Senor, where else did you expect to be but on board my ship and at sea?"
I stared at the man in amaze and wonder. He returned my gaze unflinchingly, but I felt certain that in his eyes there was a cruel mockery of me, and my blood seemed to turn cold within me as I recognized that I was in the Spaniard's power. But, being now in a desperate mood, I strove to be cool and to keep my wits about me.
"I expected to be at Scarborough, Senor," I said. "Where else? I remember coming aboard your vessel and eating and drinking with you, but after that I must have fallen asleep. I wake and find myself at sea."
"Naturally you do," said he with a smile. "Allow me, Master Salkeld, to recall to you certain incidents which took place last night. You came on board my ship with your cousin, Master Stapleton, and I offered you my poor hospitality. Was that all that took place?"
"It was," said I, confidently enough.
"That is strange," said he, giving me another of his queer looks. "I fear you have undergone some strange mental change in your long sleep. But as I perceive that you do not understand me, I will explain matters to you. Last night, Master Salkeld, as you and your cousin sat at meat with me, you explained to me that you had committed some great crime against the laws of your country, and that it was necessary, if you would save your head, to leave England at once. I remarked that I was about to set sail for the West Indies, and should be pleased to take you as my passenger, whereupon you and your cousin having consulted together, you paid me the passage-money—and here we are."
The man told me all this with the utmost assurance, his face utterly unmoved and his strange eyes inscrutable. It was a lie from beginning to end, and I knew it to be a lie. Nevertheless, I knew also that I was powerless, and I made up my mind to act prudently.
"Senor," I replied, "as between you and me, I may as well tell you that I do not believe a single word of what you have said. There has been treachery—and it lies with you and my rascal cousin, Jasper Stapleton. I have committed no crime against the laws, and I wish to be put ashore at your earliest opportunity."
"You shall be obeyed, Master Salkeld," he replied, bowing low, but with a mocking smile about his lips.
"Where do you first touch land?" I inquired.
"I have already told you, Master Salkeld. Somewhere in the West Indies."
"But you do not mean to carry me to the West Indies?" I cried. "Why, 'tis a journey of many thousands of miles!"
"Precisely. Nevertheless, you must undertake it. We touch no land until we make Barbadoes or Martinique."
I said no more; it was useless. I was in the man's power. Nothing that I could say or do would alter his purpose. There had been villainy and treachery—and my cousin, Jasper Stapleton, had worked it. I comprehended everything at that moment. I had been lured on board the Spanish vessel and subsequently drugged, in order that Jasper might rid himself of my presence. That was plainly to be seen. But what of the future? The West Indies, I knew, were thousands of miles away. They were in the hands of our hereditary enemies, the Spaniards. From them I should receive scant mercy or consideration. I was penniless—for my money had disappeared—and even if I had possessed money, what would it have benefited me in a savage land like that to which I was being carried? I might wait there many a long year without meeting with an English ship. I turned to the Spaniard.
"So I am a prisoner, Senor,—your prisoner?"
"My ship and my goods are at your disposal, Senor," he replied.
"So long as I do not make any demands upon them, eh?"
"Say unreasonable demands, Master Salkeld. As a matter of fact you are free to walk or stand, sit or lie, wake or sleep as you please. I entertain you as I best can until we touch land—and then you go your own way. You have made a contract with me, you have paid your money, and now I have nothing to do but carry out my share of the bargain."
"And that is——?"
"To take you to the West Indies."
"Very good, Senor. Now we understand each other. You will perhaps not object to my telling you, that when I next meet my cousin, Master Jasper Stapleton, I will break his head for his share in this foul conspiracy."
"I do not object in the least, Master Salkeld. But you do well to say, when you next meet him."
"Why so, Senor?"
"Because it is so highly improbable. Indeed, you will never be so near England again as you are at this moment."
I looked through the port, and saw the long, flat Lincolnshire coast. The day was dull and heavy, and the land was little more than a gray bank, but it meant much to me. I was being carried away from all that I loved, from my sweetheart, my uncle, my friends, from everything that had grown a part of my daily life. And I was going—where? That I knew not. Not to the West Indies—no, I was sure of that. Captain Manuel Nunez was an accomplished liar in everything, and I felt sure that he had another lie in reserve yet. At the thought of him and of Jasper's villainy the blood boiled in my veins, and tears of rage and despair gathered in my eyes. But what was the use of anger or sorrow? I was powerless.
I now made up my mind to show a good face to all these troubles and difficulties, and, therefore, I strove to be as much at my ease as was possible under the circumstances. I walked the decks, talked with such of the men as knew a word or two of English, and cultivated as much of the captain's acquaintance as my aversion to his wickedness would permit. I learnt the names of masts, sheets, stays, and sprits, and picked up other information of seafaring matters, thinking that it might some day be useful to me. I am bound to say that Senor Manuel Nunez was very courteous towards me. But what avails courtesy, when the courteous man is only waiting his time to injure you?
We had been at sea something like three weeks, and had passed Ushant four days previously, when, sailing south-by-west, we were overtaken by a gale and had to run before it with bare poles. Upon the second morning, our lookout, gazing across a stormy sea, cried that he saw a man clinging to a piece of wreckage on the lee bow, and presently all those on deck were conscious of the same sight. The man was drifting and tossing half a mile away, and had seen us, for he was making frantic efforts to attract our notice. I was somewhat surprised when Captain Nunez took steps to rescue him, for it would have fitted in with my notion of his character if he had suffered the wretch to remain unaided, However, he sent off a boat, which eventually brought away the man from his piece of wreckage, and had hard work to make the ship again, for the sea was running hard and high. The rescued man crouched in the stern, hiding his head in his hands, so that I did not see his face until he came aboard. Then it seemed familiar, but I could not bethink me where I had seen it before.
"And who art thou, friend?" asked Nunez.
"A mariner of Plymouth, good sir," answered the man, "and sole survivor of the ship Hawthorn. Lost she is, and all hands, save only me."
Then I suddenly recognized him. It was the Cornish sailor, Pharaoh Nanjulian. So the sea had given me a friend in need.
SCHEMES AND STRATAGEMS.
I was not minded to let Captain Nunez and the crew—every man of which was either Spaniard or Portugee—see that I had any knowledge of the man whom they had rescued, and therefore I presently went below and kept out of the way for a while. Somehow I felt a considerable sense of gratification at the thought of the Cornishman's presence on board. He seemed to me a man of resource and of courage, and I no sooner set eyes on him in this remarkable fashion, than I began to think how he might aid me in making my escape from my present position.
After a time Nunez came down into the cabin where I sat, and began to talk with me.
"We have fallen in with a countryman of yours, Master Salkeld," said he, regarding me closely, as if he wished to see how I took the news.
"Indeed!" said I. "The man just come aboard?"
"The same. A native of Cornwall, with an outlandish name, and an appetite as large as his body, judging by the way he eats."
"He is no doubt hungry, Senor," I said. "Perhaps he has been tossing about for a while."
"A day and a night. One additional mouth, Master Salkeld, is what I did not bargain for."
"But you would not have allowed the man to drift away to starvation and death?" I said.
"His life was no concern of mine, Master Salkeld. But I can make him useful; therefore he was worth saving. I shall enroll him as one of my crew, and carry him to the Indies."
"Then he will go ashore with you, unless he prefers to go back with me to Cadiz—which he probably will not do."
He left me then, and I sat wondering what he meant by saying that the English sailor would probably not care to go back to Spain with him. There seemed something sinister in his meaning. But I gave over thinking about it, for I was by that time firmly convinced that Captain Manuel Nunez was a thorough-paced scoundrel, and well fitted to undertake all manner of villainy, despite his polished manners and fine words. Also, I was certain that there was in store for me some unpleasant and possibly terrible fate, which I was powerless to avoid and which was certain to come. Therefore I had resigned myself to my conditions, and only hoped to show myself a true Englishman when my time of trouble came.
Nevertheless, many a sad hour and day did I spend, looking across the great wild waste of gray water and wondering what they were doing at Beechcot. In my sad thoughts and in my dreams I could see the little hamlet nestling against the purple Wold; the brown leaves piled high about the shivering hedgerows; the autumn sunlight shining over the close-cropped fields; and in the manor-house the good knight, my uncle, seated by his wood-fire, wondering what had become of me. Also I could see the old vicarage and the vicar, good Master Timotheus, thumbing his well-loved folios, and occasionally pushing his spectacles from his nose to look round and inquire whether there was yet news of the boy Humphrey. But more than these, I saw my sweetheart's face, sad and weary with fear, and her eyes seemed as if they looked for something and were unsatisfied. And then would come worse thoughts—thoughts of Jasper and his villainy, and of what it might have prompted him to in the way of lies. He would carry home a straight and an ingenious tale—I was very sure of that. He would tell them I was drowned or kidnaped, and nobody would doubt his story. That was the worst thought of all—that my dear ones should be thinking of me as one dead while I was simply a prisoner, being carried I knew not where, nor to what fate.
On the evening of the second day after the Cornish sailor came aboard, the weather having moderated and the ship making good progress, I was leaning over the port bulwarks moodily gazing at the sea, when I felt a touch on my hand. Looking round, I saw the Englishman engaged in coiling a rope close to me. He continued his task and spoke in a low voice.
"I recognized you, master," said he. "I looked through the skylight last night as you talked with the captain, and I knew you again. I know not how you came here, nor why, but it is strange company for a young English gentleman."
"I was trapped on board," I said.
"I thought so," he responded. "But speak low, master, and take no heed of me. We can converse while I work, but it will not do for us to be seen talking too much. The less we are noticed together the better for our necks. How came you here, master? I had no thought of seeing you in such company."
I told him as briefly as possible while he continued to coil the rope.
"Aye," said he, when I had finished my story, "I expected something of that sort. Well, I am glad that the old Hawthorn left me swimming, though sorry enough that all her merry men are gone down below. But what! death must come. Now, young master, what can we do? I swore a solemn oath when your good uncle befriended me that I would serve you. This is the time. What can I do?"
"Alas," said I, "I know not."
"Do you know whither we are bound?" he asked.
"The Captain says to the West Indies. But I do not know if that be true or false."
"More likely to be false than true, master. Now, then, hearken to me, young sir. I have seen a deal of life, and have been a mariner this thirty year or more. We must use our wits. Can you, do you think, find out what our destination really is?"
"I am afraid not," I replied. "Nunez will not tell me more than he has already told me."
"True," said he; "true—you will get naught out of him. But I have a better chance. I can talk to the men—well it is that I know their lingo sufficiently for that. But nay, I will not talk to them, I will listen instead. They do not know that I understand Spanish. There are three of them speak broken English—they shall do the talking. I will keep my ears open for their Spanish—peradventure I shall hear something worth my trouble. You see, master, if we only know where we are going, and what we have to expect when we get there, we shall be in a much better position than we are now. For now we are as men that walk in a fog, not knowing where the next step will take them."
"I will do whatever you wish," said I.
"Then be careful not to have over-much converse with me, master. Yon Nunez has the eye of a hawk and the stealth of a viper, and if he does but suspect that you and I are in treaty together, he will throw me overboard with a dagger wound under my shoulder-blade."
"How shall we hold converse, then?"
"As we are now doing. If I have aught to tell you I will give you a sign when you are near me. A wink, or a nod, or a cough—either will do. And what I have to say I will say quickly, so that whoever watches us will think we do no more than pass the time of day."
So for that time we parted, and during the next few days I watched for Pharaoh Nanjulian's sign eagerly, and was sadly disappointed when I received it not. Indeed, for nearly a week he took no notice of me whatever, giving me not even a sign of recognition as I passed him on the deck, so that Nunez was minded to remark upon his indifference.
"Your countryman seems but a surly dog," said he. "I should have thought he would have sought your company, Master Salkeld, but he seems to care no more for it than for that of the ship's dog."
"He is a Cornishman and a sailor, and I am a Yorkshireman and a gentleman," said I. "In England we should not associate one with the other, so wherefore should we here?"
"Nay, true, unless that you are companions in adversity, and that makes strange bedfellows," said he. "But you English are not given to talking."
I hoped that he really thought so, and that he had no idea of the thoughts within me. I was ready enough to talk when Pharaoh Nanjulian gave the signal.
It came at last as he stood at the wheel one night, and I stood near, apparently idling away my time.
"Now, master," said he, "continue looking over the side and I will talk. I have found out where we are going."
"Well?" I said, eager enough for his news.
"We are bound for Vera Cruz, master."
"Where is that? In the West Indies?"
"It is a port of Mexico, master, and in the possession of the Spaniards, who are devils in human shape."
"And what will they do with us there?"
"That I have also found out. It seems that your good cousin, Master Stapleton, did make a bargain with this noble Spanish gentleman, Captain Nunez, for getting you out of the way. The bo's'n, Pedro, says that your cousin suggested that Nunez should sail you out to sea, and then knock you on the head and heave you overboard. But Nunez would have none of that, and decided that he would carry you with him to Vera Cruz."
"And what will befall me at Vera Cruz?"
"He, being a pious man, will hand you over to the Holy Office."
"To the Holy Office! You mean the Inquisitors? And they——"
"They will burn you for a Lutheran dog, master."
We were both silent for awhile. I was thinking of naught but the fiendish cruelty which existed in such a man as Manuel Nunez. Presently I thought of Pharaoh Nanjulian.
"And yourself?" I said. "What will he do with you?"
"I am to share your fate, master. Senor Nunez is a good and pious son of Mother Church, and he will wipe out a score or two of sins by presenting the stake with two English heretics."
After that I thought again for a time.
"Pharaoh," I said at last, "we will not die very willingly. I have a good deal to live for. There is my sweetheart and my uncle to go back to, and also I have an account to settle with Jasper Stapleton. I will make an effort to do all this before my time comes."
"I am with you, master," said he.
"Have you thought of anything?" I asked.
"Nothing, but that we must escape," he answered.
"Could we manage that after the ship reaches Vera Cruz?"
"No, for a surety. We shall be watched as cats watch mice. If we ever set foot on a quay-side in that accursed port, master, we are dead men. God help us! I know what the mercies of these Spaniards are. I stood in the City of Mexico and saw two Englishmen burnt. That was ten years ago. But more of that anon. Let us see to the present. We are dead men, I say, if we set foot in Vera Cruz, or any port of that cruel region."
"Then there is but one thing for us," I said.
"And that, master?"
"We must leave this ship before she drops anchor."
"That is a good notion," said he, "a right good notion; but the thing is, how to do it?"
"Could we not take one of the boats some night, and get away in it?"
"Aye, but there are many things to consider. We should have to victual it, and then we might run short, for we should have no compass, and no notion, or very little, of our direction. We might starve to death, or die of thirst."
"I had as soon die of thirst or hunger, as of fire and torture."
"Marry, and so would I. Yea, it were better to die here on the wide ocean than in the market-place of Mexico or Vera Cruz."
"Let us try it, Pharaoh. Devise some plan. I will not fail to help if I can be of any use."
"I will think," he said; "I will think till I find a means of escape. I reckon that we have still a month before us. It shall go hard if our English brains cannot devise some method whereby we may outwit these Spanish devils."
So we began to plot and plan, spurred on by the knowledge of what awaited us in Mexico.
WE ESCAPE THE SPANIARDS.
Now that I knew his real sentiments towards me, it was very difficult to preserve my composure and indifference in the presence of Captain Manuel Nunez. As I sat at table with him, or talked with him on deck or in his cabin, I had hard work to keep from telling him my real thoughts of his wicked nature. Nay, sometimes I was sore put to it to keep my hands from his throat. Nothing would have pleased me better than to find either him or my cousin Jasper in some lonely spot where no odds could have favored them or me. Then my wrongs should have received full vengeance, and none would have blamed me for meting it out to these two villains. Judge how hard it was for me to have to associate, week after week, with one of the men who had so deeply wronged me, and, moreover, to have to preserve towards him a certain degree of cordiality. Try as I would, however, I could not give Nunez as much in the way of politeness as Nunez gave me. My manners were surly at the best, and I had much ado to preserve them at all.
Getting in the way of fair winds, we sighted the Bahamas, and passed the north-west coast of Cuba somewhere about the beginning of September. We were then some five hundred miles from Vera Cruz, but it was not until Christmas week that we bore down upon the Mexican coast. It was, I think, on Christmas morning that I first saw the shores of that beautiful land, whose natural loveliness served but to make more evident the horrible cruelties of the men who had seized and possessed it. Fair and wonderful it was as the mists lifted under the sun's warmth to see the giant peak of Orizaba lifting its head, snow-white and awful, into the clear air, while full seventeen thousand feet below it the land lay dim and indistinct, nothing more than a bank of gray cloud.
"You would think a country with such a mountain as that would be a place of much delight, master, would you not?" said Pharaoh Nanjulian, pointing to the great white peak. "It looks fair and innocent enough, but it is a very devil's land, this Mexico, since the Spaniards overran it; and yonder peak is an emblem of nothing in it, except it be the innocence of those who are murdered in God's name."
"What mountain is that?" I inquired.
"Orizaba, master. It lies some sixty miles beyond Vera Cruz, and is of a height scarcely credible to us Englishmen. God be thanked that there is so little wind to-day! With a fair breeze we should have been in port ere nightfall. As it is, we must take our chance to-night, master, or fall into the hands of the Inquisition."
"I am ready for aught," said I. "But have you thought of a plan?"
"Aye, trust me for that. Marry! I have thought of naught else since we came through the Bahamas. Certainly our chances are exceedingly small, for we must needs land in a country that is infested with our enemies, but we will do our best."
"Tell me your plan, Pharaoh."
"'Tis simplicity itself, master. To-night it is my watch. When the captain is asleep in his cabin, do you come on deck and go aft. You will find a boat alongside, and into it you must contrive to get as you best can. Hide yourself there so that no one can see you from the deck. When the watch is changed, instead of going forward I shall make for the boat. No one will see me, I promise you. When I am with you we shall cut the boat adrift and let the vessel outsail us. Then we must make for the coast in the direction of Tuxtla. We shall know which way to steer because of the volcano. But after that—why, I know not what we shall do."
"Have you no plan?"
"Marry, I have ideas. We might go across country to Acapulco, hoping to find there an English ship; but 'tis a long and weary way, and what with Indians and wild beasts I fear we should never get there. Howbeit let us tackle one danger at a time."
Being then called to dinner I went below, and was perforce once more obliged to sit at meat with my jailer, who, now that his charge of me was coming to an end, was more polite than ever, and treated me with exceeding great courtesy.
"You have been on deck, Master Salkeld," said he, "and have doubtless perceived that we are in sight of land."
"I have seen the great mountain, Senor," I answered.
"True, the land is yet little more than a line. If the wind had been fair we should have dropped anchor ere midnight. Your voyage has been a long one, but I trust you have not been inconvenienced."
"Only as a man may be by the loss of his liberty, Senor."
"You will soon be free," he answered, giving me one of his strange, mocking smiles. "And I trust that when we part it will be with a full recognition on your side of the way in which I have carried out our bargain."
"As I do not remember our bargain, Senor, I am afraid that is hardly possible," I made answer.
"Chut! your memory is certainly at fault. However, the facts will probably occur to you—later."
"Part of the bargain, if I remember your first mention of it, Senor, was that you should carry me to the West Indies."
"You are right in that," said he.
"Are we approaching the West Indies?"
"The West Indies is a wide term, Master Salkeld. We are certainly not approaching the West India islands. We are, in fact, off the coast of Mexico, and the mountain you see in the distance is the famed peak of Orizaba. To-morrow morning we shall drop anchor in the port of Vera Cruz."
"And what shall I do there, Senor?"
He smiled at the question—a mysterious smile, which had a grim meaning behind it.
"Who knows, Senor? There are many occupations for a young and active gentleman."
Now, for the life of me I could not help asking him a very pertinent question before I left the cabin to return on deck.
"Senor," I said, "seeing that we are to part so soon you will perhaps not object to giving me some information. How much did my cousin, Master Jasper Stapleton, pay you for your share in this matter?"
He gave me a curious glance out of his eye corners.
"The amount of your passage-money, Master Salkeld, was two hundred English guineas. I hope you consider the poor accommodation which I have been able to give you in accordance with that sum."
"I have no fault to find with the accommodation, Senor," I replied. "So far as the bodily comfort of your prisoner was concerned you have proved yourself a good jailer."
"Let us hope you will never find a worse, Master Salkeld," he answered, with another mocking smile. "But, indeed, you wrong me in speaking of me as a jailer. Say rather a kind and considerate host."
I repressed the words which lay on the tip of my tongue ready to fling at him, and went on deck. The wind was still against us, and the ship made little progress, for which both Pharaoh and I were devoutly thankful, neither of us being minded to make Vera Cruz ere night fell. Certainly there was little to choose between the two courses open to us. If we were handed over to the Inquisitors by Nunez, we should certainly be burned at the stake, or, at any rate, racked, tortured, and turned over to a slave-master. If we reached shore we should have to undergo many privations and face all manner of perils, with every probability of ultimately falling into the hands of the Spaniards once more. Indeed, so certain did it seem that we should eventually meet our fate at the stake, or the rack, that more than once I doubted whether it was worth our while to attempt an escape.
But life is sweet, however dark its prospects may be, and a true man will always fight for it, though the odds against him are great. And, moreover, when a man knows what manner of death it is that awaits him, he will make the most desperate efforts to escape it, if it be such a death as that intended for us by the Spaniards. Now, although I had lived in such an out-of-the-way part of England, I had heard many a fearful story of the wrongs and cruelties practiced by the Inquisitors in Mexico. Tales came across the wide ocean of rackings and tormentings and burnings, of men given over to slavery, wearing their San-benitos for many a weary year, and perhaps dying of torture in the end. We would do something to escape a fate like that, God helping us!
Late that night Captain Nunez stood by my side on deck. The wind now blew from the north-west, and the ship was making headway towards land. To the south-east, through the darkness, glimmered the volcanic fire of Tuxtla, but the giant peak of Orizaba had disappeared.
"To-morrow at sunrise, Master Salkeld, we shall be in the port of Vera Cruz," said Nunez. "I have some friends there to whom I will give you an introduction. Till then, Senor, sleep well."
He smiled at me in the dim lantern light and went below. I remained pacing the deck for another hour. Once or twice I looked over the side and saw the boat swinging below our stern. Now, the poop of the Spanish ship was of a more than usual height, and I foresaw that I should have some difficulty in getting into the boat, and run a fair chance of drowning. Better drown, I thought, than burn; and so, after a time, the deck being quiet, I climbed over the side and managed to drop into the boat, where I made haste to hide myself as I best could.
It was some two hours after that when Pharaoh Nanjulian joined me, and immediately cut us adrift.
The ship seemed to glide away from us into the darkness.
AN UNKNOWN LAND.
Now, although we were adrift in a perilous sea, and had no hope of making land, save in a wild and savage country, where there was more hope of mercy from the Indians than from the civilized Spaniards, I was yet so thankful to find myself free of the ship and of Senor Manuel Nunez, that for some moments I could scarcely believe in my freedom.
"I could swear that I am but dreaming and shall presently awake to find myself a prisoner," I said to Pharaoh, who was busily engaged in examining the boat.
"'Tis no dream, master," said he. "This is a very stern reality, as you shall quickly find. Nor is it time for dreaming. If we mean to come out of this adventure with whole skins, we shall have to acquit ourselves like true men."
"I am ready," said I. "Tell me what to do, and I will do it."
"Well said," he answered approvingly. "But I could see from the outset that you had the true spirit in you. You are a Yorkshireman, master, and I am a sea-dog of Cornwall; but, marry, we are both Englishmen, and we will come out of this scrape yet. 'Tis not the worst I have been in—but more of that anon. Now to begin with, we will discuss our present situation, and then, having determined our course of action, we will put it into execution."
So we talked things over, and eventually came to these conclusions. We were, so far as Pharaoh could reckon, about ten miles from land, and we must reach the coast during the night if we wished to escape observation. That accomplished, we must strike across country for Acapulco, where it was possible we might meet with an English ship. The distance was some three hundred miles in a bee-line, and the character of the country rough; but that mattered little, for we should of necessity be obliged to keep away from the roads and bridges. There was no considerable town on our way, save Oaxaca, and that we must leave to our left. If we fell in with Spaniards we were lost men, for they would certainly carry us to Vera Cruz or to Mexico, and there hand us over to the Inquisitors. As for wild beasts and Indians, we must take our chance, trusting in God's mercy for protection and help.
We now examined the boat, which was but a small craft that had been unstrung the day before, in order that the ship's carpenter might examine some fancied defect in the rudder. Fortunately a pair of oars had been left in her, and these Pharaoh now took in hand, bidding me steer for the volcanic flame, which played over the peak of Tuxtla, immediately before us.
"I can pull ten miles in this sea," said he, "and I warrant you have had little experience in that line, master. Now, you see that the wind has drifted us due south until to-night, and therefore Nunez has come some five-and-thirty miles out of his course for Vera Cruz. He will now beat up along the coast, heading north and west, and so if we steer south-by-east he will have hard work to catch us when he finds that we are gone, as he will ere morning. And now to work."
Thereupon he fell to the oars, and with such good-will, that the light craft, her nose kept towards the volcanic fire, began to shoot through the regular swell of the placid ocean at a comfortable rate. Hour after hour he toiled, and would hear naught of my relieving him, though his throat grew dry with thirst and his arms ached. Gradually the coast loomed higher and higher through the gloom, and at length Pharaoh pulled in his oars, and stood up in the bow to look around him.
"When I was off this coast ten years ago," said he, "I remember a spot hereabouts where a boat might land with safety and ease. We will lie quiet till the light comes, master, and then attempt a landing."
"But suppose Nunez should see us?"
"He could not catch us ere we land if he did, unless by some strange chance he has gotten to the east of us—and that's not possible," said Pharaoh. "I reckon that by this time he is twenty miles to westward of us, and therefore we are well out of his reach."
So we hove-to until the morning began to break, when, spying a convenient creek, we ran the boat ashore, and so set foot on Mexican soil, wondering what was to befall us next.
Now, to me, who had never seen aught of any land save England, these new surroundings were exceeding strange and wonderful. Although it was yet but a half-light all round us on shore, the giant peak of Orizaba, rising high and magnificent across the land to the north-west, was already blazing in the saffron-colored tints of early morning, while directly above us the lower heights of Tuxtla also reflected the rays of the rising sun. Once away from the shore the vegetation surprised and delighted me exceedingly. Great trees, such as I had never seen or heard of, sprang from the rocks and towered above us like gigantic ferns; the undergrowth was thick and luxurious, and the grass under foot was soft and heavy as velvet. Also, though it was winter, there were flowers and plants blossoming in the open such as never blossom in our English glass-houses, so that altogether I was amazed at the richness and prodigality of the land, and said so to my companion.
"Aye," said he, "'tis indeed a fair land, master, and would be very well if these murderous Spaniards had left it alone. As it is, they have simply turned it into a pandemonium, such as all lands, fair or foul, become when men go a-lusting for gold and treasure. Yea, not even the Indians, with all their heathenish practices, were half so cruel as these Spaniards with their racks and thumb-screws, their stakes and daggers. And therefore the more reason why we should avoid them."
Having somewhat refreshed ourselves by a brief rest, and armed ourselves with two stout cudgels cut from a neighboring tree by Pharaoh's knife, which was the only weapon we had, we set forth through the woods, he leading the way. By that time we were faint with hunger and could well have done with a meal, but though there were, doubtless, Indian villages close at hand we dare enter none of them, and so went forward with empty stomachs. In the woods, however, we came upon prickly pears, which there grow wild, and these we essayed to eat; but had great difficulty in stripping them of the prickles, which, if they enter the tongue, do cause an unpleasantness that is not soon forgot. Our hunger growing very keen we sought to capture or slay some bird or animal, and Pharaoh being accustomed to this sort of hunting—for he had known many adventures—presently succeeded in knocking down a wild turkey, flocks of which bird we constantly encountered. We lighted a fire by means of his flint and steel, and cooked our quarry, and so went forward again refreshed by the food, which was pleasant enough to hungry men.
We pressed on for two days through the woods, living as we best could upon such animals as Pharaoh was able to knock down, and on the pears, which were all the more aggravating to our hunger because of their sharp spines. During those two days we did not come in contact with human beings, though we thrice saw parties of Indians and had to conceal ourselves from them. We followed no path, and if we chanced to cross one we immediately left it and plunged deeper into the woods. By the end of the first day our clothes were torn to rags, and hung in strips from our backs; by the end of the second our shoes had been cut to pieces, and so we looked as wretched and lost a couple of vagabonds as you ever saw.
On the evening of the second day we came to the verge of the wooded heights, and saw before us the wide plain of Orizaba, which lay between us and Acapulco, and must needs be crossed if we meant to reach the Pacific coast.
"It is here that I see most reason to be a-feared," said Pharaoh, as we halted and looked out across the plain. "There is precious little cover or shelter on this plain, and it will be a miracle if we escape observation in crossing it. Moreover, there are constantly traversing it bodies of Spaniards, going to and from Oaxaca and Mexico, so that we shall be liable to capture at any moment, having nowhere to hide ourselves."
"How would it do to hide ourselves as we best can by day, and to go forward by night?" said I.
"'Tis a good notion, master, and we will try it," he answered. "But I fear me there is little in which we can hide, and as for food, I do not see how we are to manage. Howbeit, we will not despair yet awhile, having managed so far."
That night we accordingly made our way across the wide and lonely plain, having for our guide the constellation Virgo, which Pharaoh Nanjulian knew and pointed out to me with some learning.
"Them that go down to the sea in ships," said he, "must needs learn a good deal if they would prosper. I have studied the heavens somewhat, because more than once it has been my lot to find myself at sea without a compass, and in a plight like that a knowledge of the stars and planets is a good thing for a man to have at his command. Now, if we do but set our faces to yonder constellation we shall keep in a straight line for Acapulco—and God send we may land there safely!"
We made fairly good progress across the plain, but when morning broke from the eastern horizon we were still many a long mile from the great terrace of mountainous land which divides Mexico from Oaxaca and the Pacific coast. Therefore we had to cast about us for some shelter. This we had great difficulty in securing, for the plain at that part was entirely barren of shrub or tree, and there was not even a water-course at which we could slack our parched throats. But coming upon a half-ruined hut, which had evidently been the home of some Mexican Indian, tending his sheep in those wild parts, we took refuge in it and lay down to sleep, hoping that no one passing that way would feel curious enough to stop and examine our shelter.
This sort of life continued to be our lot for another day and night, during which we had scarcely anything in the way of food, and also suffered severely from thirst. And what with this, and with our fear of meeting Indians and Spaniards materially increased, our condition was by no means a happy one. But we still continued to hope, and to cheer each other onward.
AN ADVENTURE OF SOME IMPORTANCE.
We traveled in this fashion, sleeping in the daytime and pressing forward during the night, until the sixth day after our departure from the ship. By that time we were both considerably changed in health and appearance. Our clothes were torn to rags, our feet and arms were torn and bleeding, and our vagabond air increased with every mile we covered. Of our looks, however, we thought nothing; but we were perforce obliged to think a good deal of our unfortunate stomachs, which had not been either filled or reasonably satisfied since we set foot in those regions. Hunger and privation, in short, were doing their work upon us, and we were doubtful if we should manage to hold out until we had crossed the country and made Acapulco.
Towards evening of the sixth day of our travels, we were lying asleep in a little gully formed by the descent of a mountain stream into the plain which we were then quitting. We had arrived at this spot early that morning, and finding sweet and fresh water there had drunk heartily of it and lain down to sleep in a sheltered spot. We were both well-nigh exhausted that morning, and our hunger was exceeding fierce; but sharp-set as we were our limbs refused to carry us on any foraging expedition, and therefore we sank to sleep, and slept despite our hunger and danger. It was well towards evening when I suddenly awoke. I know not what it was that made me open my eyes so suddenly, but there flashed through my mind at that moment a notion that we were being watched. It was a strange feeling, and one that occasioned me considerable discomposure, not to say fright, and it seemed to enter my brain with the same ray of sunlight that lifted my eyelids. And so strong was this feeling, that I experienced no surprise or astonishment when I saw two eyes looking straight into mine from over the top of a rock which rose immediately in front.
Nevertheless it was a hideous and fearful sight that I looked upon. The eyes shone, not out of a human face foul or fair, but out of the slits in a black cowl, drawn so tightly over its wearer's head that nothing of him was to be seen from forehead to chin. There was this horrible black thing, a blot upon the bright sunlit sky behind, peeping at me from over the rock, and out of its eye-holes gleamed two eyes, as keen and bright as those of a wild animal. If I had not just then been parched with thirst I should have screamed in my terror. As it was, I gave a feeble cry, and the black head instantly vanished. I leapt to my feet and ran forward to the rock. Below it the ground was broken and rocky, and at a few yards' distance was a belt of wood which stretched down to the plain. I fancied I could see a black robe disappearing amongst the trees, but though I waited a few moments I saw no further signs of a human being.
I returned to Pharaoh Nanjulian and woke him up. He was sound asleep when I touched him, but started to his feet as soon as I laid my hand on his shoulder.
"What is it, master?" he asked, scanning my face narrowly, as if he saw some sign of disturbance there. "You look alarmed."
"I have seen a man watching us."
"What kind of a man? Where has he gone?"
"Nay, that I know not. When I opened my eyes just now they fell full upon him. He stood behind that rock, peering over it at me. I saw naught of him but his head, and that was hidden in a black cowl with eye-slits, through which his eyes gleamed like fire."
Pharaoh shook his head.
"'Tis a Familiar," said he. "One of those accursed fanatics, master, that dog and pry after honest men like sleuth-hounds, and leave them not until the flame licks their bodies. This is bad news, i' faith. Which way went he?"
I told him that I thought I had seen a black robe vanishing among the trees below, but could not be certain. At that he seized his staff and went down the slope himself, examining all the likely places in which a man might have concealed himself. But he found naught, and so came back to me, shaking his head.
"You are sure you were not dreaming?" he asked. "Men dream of strange things when hunger is on them."
"How could I dream of what I never saw in my life?" said I.
"You mean the black hood, master? Alas! I have seen it, and so has many a good man, to his sorrow. Those accursed fanatics! They creep about in God's blessed sunlight like reptiles. You should see them walk the streets. Close to the walls they go, their hands meekly folded, their cowled heads bent to the ground, and yet their eyes note everything. God is on their lips—yea, but the devil is in their hearts."
"What shall we do, Pharaoh?" I asked him.
"Marry, all we can do is to leave this spot and push forward up the mountains. There are yet two hours of daylight, but we must chance that. If we can escape this fellow until darkness sets in, we may yet give him the slip altogether."
So we set out once more, our bodies refreshed by our long sleep, but the hunger still fiercely gnawing within us. We were driven to plucking the prickly pears again, troublesome as was the peeling of them, for we could eat them as we walked, whereas if we had gone a-hunting for wild turkeys or rabbits we should have had to light a fire, and that would have attracted attention to our whereabouts. However, we were successful in knocking down one or two birds, and these we took along with us, intending to cook them as soon as we considered ourselves in safety.
As night fell we emerged from the wooded slope up which we had painfully traveled, and found ourselves on a good road, evidently much used for traffic.
"This must be the highway that leads from Oaxaca to Vera Cruz," said Pharaoh, looking out upon it from a sheltering tree; "and lo! yonder is a post-house. We must bide awhile where we are or we shall be seen."
So we sat down amongst the undergrowth, which was there thick and luxurious, as it was in every wood we had yet crossed, and served to conceal us very well from observation. More than once, as we stayed there, we heard the voices of people passing along the highroad above, and we judged from that, that if we ventured to show ourselves upon it before nightfall we should certainly be seen and stopped. Therefore, apart from our usual hunger and discomfort, we were very well content to remain hidden until such time as the coast cleared.
Now about dark, and just as we were making up our minds to a fresh start, and wondering how we should fare in the mountainous range which we had yet to cross, there arose not far away along the highroad a chorus of shouts and screams of such exceeding bitterness, that we felt sure murder was being done. We leapt to our feet and advanced to the edge of the highway, but feared to go further lest we should be seen.
"'Tis some footpad affray," said Pharaoh, "and none of our business."
But just then came still shriller cries of entreaty for help, and they were so pleading and full of agony, that we both leapt into the road with one accord.
"That is a woman's voice," said Pharaoh. "We must needs go to her assistance, come what will. Have your staff in readiness, master, and if there is need, strike hard."
We ran swiftly down the road for some fifty yards, and then, turning a sharp corner, came suddenly upon the cause of the disturbance. In the middle of the highway stood a coach, drawn by two mules, and on either side of it were two tall fellows of ferocious aspect, striving to drag from it the occupants, who screamed for help without ceasing. There was no driver or servant visible; the rogues had doubtless escaped to the woods at the first sign of danger.
"Take the two on the left," said Pharaoh, "and get in the first blow, master. Look out for their daggers."
Now I had never been engaged in a fight since the days when Jasper and I occasionally came to fisticuffs with the village boys at Beechcot, but I felt my blood warm at the notion of combat, and so I sprang in between the two desperadoes who were busy at the left side of the coach, and laid my staff about their ears with hearty good-will. They were trying to drag an old man from the coach when we came up, and were threatening him with what I took to be the most horrible of curses. I hit one of them fair and square on the shoulder before he knew of my presence, and he immediately turned and fled, howling like a beaten dog. The other turned on me with a cruel-looking knife, but I knocked it out of his hand with a blow that must have broken his wrist, and he too fled into the woods with a fearful imprecation. Meanwhile, Pharaoh had beaten off his men on the other side; one was limping along the highway howling with pain, and the other lay on the ground senseless. We had carried the fight with sharp and startling effect.
Inside the coach sat an old gentleman and a young girl, and both were so frightened, that when we assisted them to alight they were nearly speechless, and could only sigh and moan. Presently, however, the young lady found her tongue, and began to pour out an astonishingly rapid flow of words to me, none of which I understood, but which I took to be expressions of gratitude.
"Say naught," whispered Pharaoh in my ear, "I will talk to them in their own lingo. Do not let them see that we are English."
"Noble gentlemen," said the old man, presently recovering his speech, "I know not how to thank you for this valuable assistance. Caramba! if you had not appeared when you did we should certainly have had our throats cut. Isabella mia, art thou safe? Did those knaves lay finger on thee?"
"They did but seize me by the wrist, father," answered the young lady. "But yourself—you are not hurt?"
"Nay, child, I called too loudly for that. But certainly another moment would have been our last. Senor, is yonder villain dead?"
"Nay," said Pharaoh in his best Spanish, "he breathes, Senor, and will come to presently."
"I am beholden, deeply beholden to you both, gentlemen. Dios! to think that I should be unable to travel on even so short a journey with safety! And my own servants—where are they, rascals and poltroons that they are. Ho! Pedro, Chispa, Antonio! I warrant me the knaves are hiding in these woods."
This was exactly the truth, for at the old gentleman's call three serving-men came forward from the trees and advanced tremblingly towards the coach. At sight of them their master flew into a terrible rage, and scolded them with a vigor which at any other time would have amused me highly.
"Cowards and knaves that ye are!" quoth he. "A pretty body-guard, indeed. What, ye pitiful rogues, did I not fit ye all out with pikes and pistols before quitting Mexico in case we met with ventures of this sort? Oh, ye poltroons, to fly me at the first glimpse of danger! And thou, Pedro Gomez, my coachman these ten years, fie upon thee!"
"Most noble Senor," said the man, trembling and bowing, "I did but run to find assistance."
"Thou liest, knave. Thou didst run to save thine own skin. But I will remember ye when we are safe in Oaxaca. I will have a convoy of soldiers over these mountains, and trust not to pitiful cowards like ye three. Tie me up this robber who lies there in the road, and fasten him behind the coach. We will see justice done on him at Oaxaca."