THE DUKE'S MESSENGER
by John Masefield
I. I LEAVE HOME II. I LEAVE HOME AGAIN III. I LEAVE HOME A THIRD TIME IV. I LEAVE HOME FOR THE LAST TIME V. I GO TO SEA VI. THE SEA! THE SEA! VII. LAND RATS AND WATER RATS VIII. I MEET MY FRIEND IX. I SEE MORE OF MY FRIEND X. SOUNDS IN THE NIGHT XI. AURELIA XII. BRAVE CAPTAIN BARLOW XIII. IT BREEZES UP XIV. A DRINK OF SHERBET XV. THE ROAD TO LYME XVI. THE LANDING XVII. A VOICE AT DAWN XVIII. I SPEAK WITH AURELIA XIX. I MEET THE CLUB MEN XX. THE SQUIRE'S HOUSE XXI. MY FRIEND AURELIA AND HER UNCLE XXII. THE PRIEST'S HOLE XXIII. FREE XXIV THE END
THE DUKE'S MESSENGER
CHAPTER I. I LEAVE HOME
I was born at Oulton, in Suffolk, in the year 1672. I know not the day of my birth, but it was in March, a day or two after the Dutch war began. I know this, because my father, who was the clergyman at Oulton, once told me that in the night of my birth a horseman called upon him, at the rectory, to ask the way to Lowestoft. He was riding from London with letters for the Admiral, he said; but had missed his way somewhere beyond Beccles. He was mud from head to foot (it had been a wet March) but he would not stay to dry himself. He reined in at the door, just as I was born, as though he were some ghost, bringing my life in his saddle bags. Then he shook up his horse, through the mud, towards Lowestoft, so that the splashing of the horse's hoofs must have been the first sound heard by me. The Admiral was gone when he reached Lowestoft, poor man, so all his trouble was wasted. War wastes more energy, I suppose, than any other form of folly. I know that on the East Coast, during all the years of my childhood, this Dutch war wasted the energies of thousands. The villages had to drill men, each village according to its size, to make an army in case the Dutch should land. Long after the war was over, they drilled thus. I remember them on the field outside the church, drilling after Sunday service, firing at a stump of a tree. Once some wag rang the alarm-bell at night, to fetch them out of their beds. Then there were the smugglers; they, too, were caused by the war. After the fighting there was a bitter feeling against the Dutch. Dutch goods were taxed heavily (spice, I remember, was made very dear thus) to pay for the war. The smugglers began then to land their goods secretly, all along the coast, so that they might avoid the payment of the duty. The farmers were their friends; for they liked to have their gin cheap. Indeed, they used to say that in an agueish place like the fens, gin was a necessity, if one would avoid fever. Often, at night, in the winter, when I was walking home from Lowestoft school, I would see the farmers riding to the rendezvous in the dark, with their horses' hoofs all wrapped up in sacks, to make no noise.
I lived for twelve years at Oulton. I learned how to handle a boat there, how to swim, how to skate, how to find the eggs of the many wild fowl in the reeds. In those days the Broad country was a very wild land, half of it swamp. My father gave me a coracle on my tenth birthday. In this little boat I used to explore the country for many miles, pushing up creeks among the reeds, then watching, in the pools (far out of the world it seemed) for ruffs or wild duck. I was a hardy boy, much older than my years, like so many only children. I used to go away, sometimes, for two or three days together, with my friend John Halmer, Captain Halmer's son, taking some bread, with a blanket or two, as my ship's stores. We used to paddle far up the Waveney to an island hidden in reeds. We were the only persons who knew of that island. We were like little kings there. We built a rough sort of tent-hut there every summer. Then we would pass the time there deliciously, now bathing, now fishing, but always living on what we caught. John, who was a wild lad, much older than I, used to go among the gipsies in their great winter camp at Oulton. He learned many strange tricks from them. He was a good camp-companion. I think that the last two years of my life at Oulton were the happiest years of my life. I have never cared for dry or hilly countries since. Wherever I have been in the world, I have always longed for the Broads, where the rivers wander among reeds for miles, losing themselves in thickets of reeds. I have always thought tenderly of the flat land, where windmills or churches are the only landmarks, standing up above the mist, in the loneliness of the fens. But when I was nearly thirteen years old (just after the death of Charles the Second) my father died, leaving me an orphan. My uncle, Gabriel Hyde, a man about town, was my only relative. The vicar of Lowestoft wrote to him, on my behalf. A fortnight later (the ways were always very foul in the winter) my uncle's man came to fetch me to London. There was a sale of my father's furniture. His books were sent off to his college at Cambridge by the Lowestoft carrier. Then the valet took me by wherry to Norwich, where we caught a weekly coach to town. That was the last time I ever sailed on the Waveney as a boy, that journey to Norwich. When I next saw the Broads, I was a man of thirty-five. I remember how strangely small the country seemed to me when I saw it after my wanderings. But this is away from my tale. All that I remember of the coach-ride was my arrival late at night at the London inn, a dark house full of smells, from which the valet led me to my uncle's house.
I lay awake, that first night, much puzzled by the noise, fearing that London would be all streets, a dismal place. When I fell asleep, I was waked continually by chiming bells. In the morning, early, I was roused by the musical calling made by milkmen on their rounds, with that morning's milk for sale. At breakfast my uncle told me not to go into the street without Ephraim, his man; for without a guide, he said, I should get lost. He warned me that there were people in London who made a living by seizing children ("kidnapping" or "trepanning" them, as it was called) to sell to merchant-captains bound for the plantations. "So be very careful, Martin," he said. "Do not talk to strangers." He went for his morning walk after this, telling me that I might run out to play in the garden.
I went out of doors feeling that London must be a very terrible place, if the folk there went about counting all who met them as possible enemies. I was homesick for the Broads, where everybody, even bad men, like the worst of the smugglers, was friendly to me. I hated all this noisy city, so full of dirty jumbled houses. I longed to be in my coracle on the Waveney, paddling along among the reeds, chucking pebbles at the water-rats. But when I went out into the garden I found that even London held something for me, not so good as the Broads, perhaps, but pleasant in its way.
Now before I go further, I must tell you that my uncle's house was one of the old houses in Billingsgate. It stood in a narrow, crowded lane, at the western end of Thames Street, close to the river. Few of the houses thereabouts were old; for the fire of London had nearly destroyed that part of the city, but my uncle's house, with a few more in the same lane, being built of brick, had escaped. The bricks of some of the houses were scorched black. I remember, also, at the corner house, three doors from my uncle's house, the melted end of a water pipe, hanging from the roof like a long leaden icicle, just as it had run from the heat eighteen years before. I used to long for that icicle: it would have made such fine bullets for my sling. I have said that Fish Lane, where my uncle lived, was narrow. It was very narrow. The upper stories of the houses opposite could be touched from my bed-room window with an eight-foot fishing rod. If one leaned well out, one could see right into their upper rooms. You could even hear the people talking in them.
At the back of the house there was a garden of potherbs. It sloped down to the river-bank, where there were stairs to the water. The stairs were covered in, so as to form a boat-house, in which (as I learned afterwards) my uncle's skiffs were kept. You may be sure that I lost no time in getting down to the water, after I had breakfasted with my uncle, on the morning after my arrival.
A low stone parapet, topped by iron rails, shut off the garden from the beach. Just beyond the parapet, within slingshot, as I soon proved, was the famous Pool of London, full of ships of all sorts, some with flags flying. The mild spring sun (it was early in April) made the sight glorious. There must have been a hundred ships there, all marshalled in ranks, at double-moorings, head to flood. Boats full of merchandise were pulling to the wharves by the Custom House. Men were working aloft on the yards, bending or unbending sails. In some ships the sails hung loose, drying in the sun. In others, the men were singing out as they walked round the capstan, hoisting goods from the hold. One of the ships close to me was a beautiful little Spanish schooner, with her name La Reina in big gold letters on her transom. She was evidently one of those very fast fruit boats, from the Canary Islands, of which I had heard the seamen at Oulton speak. She was discharging oranges into a lighter, when I first saw her. The sweet, heavy smell of the bruised peels scented the river for many yards.
I was looking at this schooner, wishing that I could pass an hour in her hold, among those delicious boxes, when a bearded man came on deck from her cabin. He looked at the shore, straight at myself as I thought, raising his hand swiftly as though to beckon me to him. A boat pushed out instantly, in answer to the hand, from the garden next to the one in which I stood. The waterman, pulling to the schooner, talked with the man for a moment, evidently settling the amount of his fare. After the haggling, my gentleman climbed into the boat by a little rope-ladder at the stern. Then the boatman pulled away upstream, going on the last of the flood, within twenty yards of where I stood.
I had watched them idly, attracted, in the beginning, by that sudden raising of the hand. But as they passed me, there came a sudden puff of wind, strong enough to flurry the water into wrinkles. It lifted the gentleman's hat, so that he saved it only by a violent snatch which made the boat rock. As he jammed the hat down he broke or displaced some string or clip near his ears. At any rate his beard came adrift on the side nearest to me. The man was wearing a false beard. He remedied the matter at once, very cleverly, so that I may have been the only witness; but I saw that the boatman was in the man's secret, whatever it was. He pulled hard on his starboard oar, bringing the boat partly across the current, thus screening him from everybody except the workers in the ships. It must have seemed to all who saw him that he was merely pulling to another arch of London Bridge.
I was not sure of the man's face. It seemed handsome; that was all that I could say of it. But I was fascinated by the mystery. I wondered why he was wearing a false beard. I wondered what he was doing in the schooner. I imagined all sorts of romantic plots in which he was taking part. I watched his boat go through the Bridge with the feeling that I was sharing in all sorts of adventures already. There was a fall of water at the Bridge which made the river dangerous there even on a flood tide. I could see that the waves there would be quite enough for such a boat without the most tender handling. I watched to see how they would pass through. Both men stood up, facing forwards, each taking an oar. They worked her through, out of sight, in a very clever fashion; which set me wondering again what this handsome gentleman might be, who worked a boat so well.
I hung about at the end of the garden until dinner time, hoping that they would return. I watched every boat which came downstream, finding a great pleasure in the watermen's skill, for indeed the water at the Bridge was frightful; only a strong nerve could venture on it. But the boat did not come back, though one or two other boats brought people, or goods, to the stairs of the garden beside me. I could not see into the garden; that party wall was too high.
I did not go indoors again till Ephraim came to fetch me, saying that it was time I washed my hands for dinner. I went to my room; but instead of washing my hands, I leaned out of the window to watch a dancing bear which was sidling about in the lane, just below, while his keeper made a noise on the panpipes. A little crowd of idlers was gathered round the bear. Some of them were laughing at the bear, some at his keeper. I saw two boys sneaking about among the company; they were evil-looking little ruffians, with that hard look in the eyes which always marks the thoroughly wicked. As I watched, one of them slipped his hand into a man's pocket, then withdrew it, passing something swiftly to his companion, who walked unconcernedly away. I ran out of doors at once, to the man who had been robbed.
"Sir," I said, when he had drawn away from the little crowd. "Have you not been robbed of something?"
He turned to look down on me, searching his pockets with both hands. It gave me a start to see him, for he was the bearded man who had passed me in the boat that morning. You may be sure that I took a good note of him. He was a handsome, melancholy-looking man, with a beard designed to make him look fairer than he really was.
"Robbed of something?" he repeated in a quiet voice. "Yes, I have been robbed of something." It seemed to me that he turned pale, when he found that he had been robbed. "Did you see it?" he asked. "Don't point. Just describe him to me. No. Don't look round, boy. Tell me without looking round."
"Sir," I said, "do you see two little boys moving about among the people there?"
"Yes," he said.
"It's the boy with the bit of broken pipe in his hat who has the, whatever it was, sir, I'm sure. I saw it all."
"I see," he said. "That's the coveter. Let this be a warning to you, boy, never to stop in a crowd to watch these street-performers. Where were you, when you saw it?"
"Up above there, sir. In that house."
"In Mr. Hyde's house. Do you live there?"
"Since when? Not for long, surely?"
"No, sir. Only since yesterday. I'm Mr. Hyde's nephew."
"Ah! Indeed. And that is your room up there?"
"Where do you come from then? You've not been in town before. What is your father?"
"My father's dead, sir. I come from Oulton. My father was rector there."
"Ah," he said quietly. "Now give this penny to the bear-ward."
While I was giving the penny to the keeper, the strange man edged among the lookers-on, apparently watching the bear's antics, till he was just behind the pickpocket's accomplice. Watching his time, he seized the boy from behind by both wrists.
"This boy's a pickpocket," he cried aloud. "Stop that other boy. He's an accomplice." The other boy, who had just taken a purse, started to run, letting the booty drop. A boatman who was going towards the river, tripped him up with an oar so that he fell heavily. He lay still where he had fallen (all the wind was knocked out of him) so that he was easily secured. The boy who had been seized by the bearded man made no attempt to get away. He was too firmly held. Both boys were then marched off to the nearest constable where (after a strict search), they were locked into a cellar till the morrow. The crowd deserted the bear-ward when the cry of pickpockets was raised. They followed my mysterious friend to the constable's house, hoping, no doubt, that they would be able to crowd in to hear the constable bully the boys as he searched them. One or two, who pretended to have missed things, managed to get in. The bearded man told me to come in, as he said that I should be needed as a witness. The others were driven out into the street, where, I suppose, their monkey-minds soon found other game, a horse fallen down, or a drunken woman in the gutter, to divert their idleness. Such sights seem to attract a London crowd at once.
The boys were strictly searched by the constable. The booty from their pockets was turned out upon the table.
"Now, sir," said the constable to the bearded man, after he had made a note of my story. "What is it they 'ad of you, sir?"
"A shagreen leather pocket-book," said the man. "There it is."
"This one?" said the constable.
"Oh," said the constable, opening the clasps, so that he could examine the writing on the leaves. "What's inside?"
"A lot of figures," said the man. "Sums. Problems in arithmetic."
"Right," said the constable, handing over the book.
"Here you are, sir. What name, sir?"
"Edward German," the constable repeated.
"Where d' you live, sir?"
"At Mr. Scott's in Fish Lane."
"Right, sir," said the constable, writing down the address, "You must appear tomorrow at ten before Mr. Garry, the magistrate. You, too, young master, to give your evidence."
At this the boys burst out crying, begging us not to appear, using all those deceptive arts which the London thieves practise from childhood. I, who was new to the world's deceits, was touched to the marrow by their seeming misery. The constable roughly silenced them. "I know you," he said. "I had my eye on you two ever since Christmas. Now you'll go abroad to do a bit of honest work, instead of nickin' pockets. Stow your blubbering now, or I'll give you Mogador Jack." He produced "Mogador Jack," a supple shark's backbone, from behind the door. The tears stopped on the instant.
After this, the bearded man showed me the way back to Fish Lane, where Ephraim, who was at the door, looking out for me, gave me a shrewd scolding, for venturing out without a guide.
Mr. Jermyn silenced him by giving him a shilling. The next day, Mr. Jermyn took me to the magistrate's house, where the two thieves were formally committed for trial. Mr. Jermyn told me that they would probably be transported for seven years, on conviction at the Assizes; but that, as they were young, the honest work abroad, in the plantations, might be the saving of them. "So do not be so sad, Mr. Martin," he said. "You do not know how good a thing you did when you looked out of the window yesterday. Do you know, by the way, how much my book is worth?"
"No, sir," I said.
"Well. It's worth more than the King's crown," he said.
"But I thought it was only sums, sir."
"Yes," he said, with a strange smile. "But some sums have to do with a great deal of money. Now I want you to think tonight of something to the value of twenty pounds or so. I want to give you something as a reward for your smartness. Don't decide at once. Think it over. Here we are at our homes, you see. We live just opposite to each other."
We were standing at this moment in the narrow lane at my uncle's door. As he spoke, he raised his hand in a farewell salute with that dignity of gesture which was in all his movements. On the instant, to my surprise, the door of the house opposite opened slowly, till it was about half open. No one opened it, as I could see; it swung back of itself. After my friend had stepped across the threshold it swung to with a click in the same mysterious way. It was as though it had a knowledge of Mr. Jermyn's mind, as though the raised hand had had a magical power over it. When I went indoors to my uncle's house I was excited. I felt that I was in the presence of something romantic, something mysterious. I liked Mr. Jermyn. He had been very kind. But I kept wondering why he wore a false beard, why his door opened so mysteriously, why he valued a book of sums above the worth of a King's crown. As for his offer of a present, I did not like it, though he had not given me time to say as much. I remembered how indignant the Oulton wherrymen had been when a gentleman offered them money for saving his daughter's life. I had seen the man robbed, what else could I have done? I could have done no less than tell him. I resolved that I would refuse the gift when next I saw him.
At dinner that day, I was full of Mr. Jermyn, much to my uncle's annoyance.
"Who is this Mr. Jermyn, Martin?" he asked. "I don't know him. Is he a gentleman?"
"Do you know him, Ephraim?"
"No, sir. I know him by sight, sir. Gentleman who lives over the way, Mr. Hyde."
"That's Mr. Scott's, though."
"No, sir. Mr. Jermyn's been there ever since February."
"But the house is empty."
"The lower floor is furnished, sir."
"Do you know anything of him? Do you know his man?"
"They say he's in the fruit way, sir. In the Spanish trade. His men are Spaniards. They do say he's not quite to be trusted."
"Who says this?" my uncle asked.
"I don't like to mention names, sir," Ephraim said.
"Quite right. Quite right. But what do they say?"
"Very queer things goes on in that 'ouse," said Ephraim. "I don't 'ardly like to say. But they think 'e raises the devil, sir. Awful noises goes on there. I seen some things myself there, as I don't like to talk of. Well. I saw a black bird as big as a man stand flapping in the window. Then I seen eyes glaring out at the door. They give the 'ouse a bad name, sir; everyone."
"H'm," said my uncle. "What's he like, Martin, this Mr. Jermyn?"
"A tall man, with a beard," I answered. I thought it wrong to mention that I knew the beard to be false. "He's always stroking the bridge of his nose with his hand."
"Ha," my uncle said, as though recognizing the trait. "But with a beard, you tell me?"
"Yes, sir. With a beard."
"H'm," he answered, musing, "I must have a look at this Mr. Jermyn. Remember, Martin, you're to have nothing more to do with him, till I know a little more of what he is. You understand?"
"One cannot be too careful in this town. I won't allow you in the streets, Martin. No matter who has his pockets picked. I told you that before."
"Please, uncle, may I go on the river, then, if I'm not to go into the street? I'm used to boats."
"Yes. You may do that. But you're not to go on board the ships, mind."
"Beg pardon, sir," Ephraim put in. "The fall at the Bridge is very risky, sir."
"It is?" said my uncle, testily. "Then of course you can't go in a boat, Martin. You must play in the garden, or read."
CHAPTER II. I LEAVE HOME AGAIN
I thought Ephraim a pig for putting in that word about the fall. Though I had only known Ephraim for a few days I disliked him perhaps as much as he disliked me. He was angry (I could feel it) at having a boy in the house, after many years of quiet alone with my uncle. I know that when he had occasion to speak to me, he always went away muttering about my being a charity brat who ought to be in the poor-house. Still, like most servants, he vented most of his malice indirectly, as in this hint of his about the river. I rose up from the dinner-table full of rebellion. I would go on the river, I said to myself, fall or no fall. I would see more of Mr. Jermyn, too. I would find out what went on in that house. I would find out everything. In all this, of course, I was very wrong, but having made sure that I was being treated unjustly I felt that I was only doing right in rebelling. So after waiting till Ephraim was in the pantry, washing up the dinner-things with the housemaid, I slipped down the garden to the boat-house. The door was padlocked, as I had feared; but with an old hammer-head I managed to pry off the staple. I felt like a burglar when the lock came off in my hand. I felt that I was acting deceitfully. Then the thought of Ephraim came over me, making me rebellious to my finger-tips. I would go on the river, I said to myself, I would go aboard all the ships in the Pool. I would show them all that I could handle a boat anywhere. So in a moment my good angel was beaten. I was in the boat-house, prying at the staple of the outer door, like the young rogue that I was. Well, I paid a heavy price for that day of disobedience. It was the most dearly bought day's row I ever heard of.
It took me a few moments to open the outer door. Then, with a thrill of pleasure, such as only those who love the water can fed, I thrust out into the river, on to the last of the ebb, then fast ebbing. The fall under the bridge at that state of the tide was truly terrifying. It roared so loudly that I could hear nothing else. It boiled about the bridge piers so fiercely that I was scared to see it. I had seen the sea in storm; but then one does not put to sea in a storm. This waterfall tumbled daily, even in a calm. I shuddered to think of small boats, caught in the current above it, being drawn down, slowly at first, then with a whirl, till all was whelmed in the tumble below the arches. I saw how hatefully the back wash seemed to saunter back to the fall along the banks. I thought that if I was not careful I might be caught in the back wash, drawn slowly along it by the undertow, till the cataract sank me. As I watched the fall, fascinated, yet scared by it, there came a shooting rush, with shouts of triumph. A four-oared wherry with two passengers shot through the arch over the worst of the water into the quiet of the midstream. They waved to me, evidently very pleased with their exploit. That set me wondering whether the water were really as bad as it looked. My first feat was to back up cautiously almost to the fall, till my boat was dancing so vigorously that I was spattered all over. Standing up in the boat there, I could see the oily water, like a great arched snake's back, swirl past the arch towards me, bubbleless, almost without a ripple, till it showed all its teeth at once in breaking down. The piers of the arches jutted far out below the fall, like pointed islands. I was about to try to climb on the top of one from the boat, a piece of madness which would probably have ended in my death, but some boys in one of the houses on the bridge began to pelt me with pebbles, so that I had to sheer off. I pulled down among the shipping, examining every vessel in the Pool. Then I pulled down the stream, with the ebb, as far as Wapping, where I was much shocked by the sight of the pirates' gallows, with seven dead men hung in chains together there, for taking the ship Delight, so a waterman told me, on the Guinea Coast, the year before. I left my boat at Wapping Stairs, while I went into a pastry-cook's shop to buy cake; for I was now hungry. The pastry-cook was also a vintner. His tables were pretty well crowded with men, mostly seafaring men, who were drinking wine together, talking of politics. I knew nothing whatever about politics, but hearing the Duke of Monmouth named I pricked up my ears to listen. My father had told me, in his last illness, when the news of the death of Charles the Second reached us, that trouble would come to England through this Duke, because, he said, "he will never agree with King James." Many people (the Duke himself being one of them) believed that this James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, was the son of a very beautiful woman by Charles the Second, who (so the tale went) had married her in his wanderings abroad, while Cromwell ruled in England here. I myself shall ever believe this story. I am quite sure, now, in my own mind, that Monmouth was our rightful King. I have heard accounts of this marriage of Charles the Second from people who were with him in his wanderings. When Charles the Second died (being poisoned, some said, by his brother James, who wished to seize the throne while Monmouth was abroad, unable to claim his rights) James succeeded to the crown. At the time of which I write he had been King for about two months. I did not know anything about his merits as a King; but hearing the name of Monmouth I felt sure, from the first, that I should hear more of what my father had told me.
One of the seamen, a sour-looking, pale-faced man, was saying that Holland was full of talk that the Duke was coming over, to try for the Kingdom. Another said that it wasn't the Duke of Monmouth but the Duke of Argyle that was coming, to try, not for England, but for Scotland. A third said that all this was talk, for how could a single man, without twenty friends in the world, get through a cruising fleet? "How could he do anything, even if he did land?"
"Ah," said another man. "They say that the West is ready to rally around him. That's what they say."
"Well," said the first, raising his cup. "Here's to King James, I say. England's had enough of civil troubles." The other men drank the toast with applause. It is curious to remember how cautious people were in those troublous days. One could never be sure of your friend's true opinion. It was a time when there were so many spies abroad that everybody was suspicious of his neighbour. I am sure that a good half of that company was disloyal; yet they drank that toast, stamping their feet, as though they would have shed their blood for King James with all the pleasure in life. "Are you for King James, young waterman?" said one of the men to me. "Yes," I said, "I am for the rightful King." At this they all laughed. One of the men said that if there were many like me the Duke of Monmouth might spare himself the trouble of coming over.
I finished my cake quietly, after that. Then, as the tide was not yet making, to help me back up the river, I wandered into Wapping fields, where a gang of beggars camped. They were a dirtier, more troublesome company than the worst of the Oulton gipsies. They crowded round me, whining about their miseries, with the fawning smiles of professional beggars. There were children among them who lied about their wants as glibly as their parents lied. The Oulton beggars had taught me to refuse such people, as being, nearly always, knaves; so I said that I had nothing for them. I felt the hands of these thieves lightly feeling the outsides of my pockets for something worth taking. One of them with a sudden thrust upon me snatched my handkerchief. He tossed it to a friend. As he started to run from me, a young man with an evil, weak face pushed me backwards with a violent shove. I staggered back, from the push, to fall over a boy who had crouched behind me there, ready to upset me. When I got up, rather shaken from my fall, the dirty gang was scattering to its burrow; for they lived, like beasts, in holes scratched in the ground, thatched over with sacks or old clothes. I hurried back toward Wapping in the hope of finding a constable to recover my handkerchief for me. The constable (when I found him) refused to stir until I made it worth his while. Sixpence was his fee, he said, but he was sure that a handsome young gentleman like myself would not grudge a sixpence to recover a handkerchief. On searching for my purse (in which I had about two shillings) I found that that had gone, too, "nicked" by these thieves. I told the Constable that my purse had been stolen.
"Oh," he said. "How much was in it?" I told him.
"Could you describe the man who took it?"
"No." I said. "I did not see the man take it."
"Then how do you know that anybody took it?"
Of course I did not know that anybody had taken it but thought it highly probable. "That won't do here," he said, settling down in his chair to his tobacco. "I'll look into it. If I hear of it, why, next time you come here, you shall have it."
"But my handkerchief," I said.
"Sixpence is my fee," the brute answered. "Do you want to rob a poor man of his earnings? Why, what a rogue you must be, young master." I tried to move him to recover my handkerchief, but without success. At last, growing weary of the sound of my pipe, as he said, he rounded on me.
"If you don't run away 'ome," he said, "I'll commit you for a nuisance. Think I'm goin' to be bothered by yer. Be off, now."
At that, I set off down to the river. There I found two dirty little boys in my uncle's boat, busy with the dipper, trying to fill her with water. I boxed the ears of one of them, when the other, coming behind me, hit me over the head with the stretcher. I turned sharply, giving him a punch which made his nose bleed. The other, seeing his chance (my back being turned) promptly soused me with the dipper. I saw that I would have to settle one of them at a time, so, paying no attention to the dipper, I followed up my blow on the nose with one or two more, which drove the stretcher-boy out of the boat. The other was a harder lad; who would, perhaps, have beaten me, had not a waterman on the stairs taken my part. He took my enemy by the ear. "Get out of that," he said, giving him a kick. "If I catch you messing boats again, I'll give you Mogador Jack." I pushed off from the stairs then, glad to get away with both oars. My enemies, running along the banks, flung stones at me as long as I was in range. If I had had my sling with me, would have warmed their legs for them. When was out of range of their shot, I laid in my oars, so that I could bail. The boys had poured about six inches of water into the boat. If the plug had been less tightly hammered in, they would no doubt have sunk her at her painter by pulling it out. Then should have been indeed in difficulty. It took me about twenty minutes to bail the boat clear. As I bailed her, I thought that Londoners must be the most unpleasant people in the world, since, already, in two days, I had met so many knaves. It did not occur to me at the time that I was a young knave, too, to be out in a stolen boat, against orders. I never once thought how well I had been served for my disobedience.
I had an uncomfortable journey upstream, for I was very wet from my sousing. I loitered at the Tower to watch the garrison drilling with the big guns. Then I loitered about among the ships, reading their names, or even climbing their gangways to look at their decks. I lingered a long time at the schooner La Reina, partly because she was much the prettiest ship in the Pool, but partly because I was beginning to dread Ephraim. I wondered whether Mr. Jermyn was on board of her. I was half tempted to climb aboard to find out. I clambered partly up her gangway, so that I could peer over the rail. To my surprise, I found that her hatches were battened down as in ships ready for the sea. Her cargo of oranges, that had smelt so sweetly, must have been a blind, for no ship, discharging cargo the day before, could be loaded, ready for sea, within twenty-four hours. Indeed, she was in excellent trim. She was not too light to put to sea. No doubt, I said to myself, she has taken in ballast to equal the weight of oranges sent ashore. But I knew just enough of ships to know that there was some mystery in the business. The schooner could not be the plain fruit-trader for which men took her. As I looked over her rail, noting this, I said to myself that "here is another mystery with which Mr. Jermyn has to do." I felt a thrill of excitement go through me. I was touching mysterious adventure at half a dozen different points. I felt inclined to creep to the hatchway of the little cabin, to listen there if any plots were being hatched. It was getting duskish by this time, it must have been nearly seven o'clock. Two men came up the cabin hatch together. One of them was Mr. Jermyn, the other a shorter fellow, to whom Mr. Jermyn seemed extremely respectful. I wished not to be seen, so I ducked down nimbly into my boat, drawing her forward by a guess-warp, till I could row without being heard by them. I heard Mr. Jermyn calling to a waterman; so very swiftly I paddled behind other ships in the tier, without being observed. Then I paddled back to my uncle's boat-house, the door of which, to my horror, was firmly fastened against me.
CHAPTER III. I LEAVE HOME A THIRD TIME
I must have made some little noise at the door, trying to get in. At any rate, Ephraim, who was waiting for such a signal, came forward with a churlish glee to rate me.
"So you're come back, Mr. Martin," he said. "These are nice carryings-on for a young gentleman." I thought that I might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb. Ephraim's tone jarred me, so I told him to shut up, as I didn't want any of his jaw. This rather staggered him, so I told him further to open the boat-house, instead of standing like a stock, as I wanted to moor the boat. He opened the door for me, glowering at me moodily. "Mr. Hyde shall know of this," he said when all was secured. He caught me by the arm to drag me out of the boat-house; so I, expecting this, rapped him shrewdly with the stretcher on the elbow. I thought for a moment that he would beat me. I could see his face very fierce in the dusk. I heard his teeth gritting. Then fear of my uncle restrained him. All that he said was, "If I 'ad my way I'd 'ave it out of you for this. A good sound whippin's what you want."
"Is it?" I asked contemptuously. "Lock the door."
Ephraim left me in the sitting-room while he made his report to my uncle. It was not a long report. He returned in a few minutes to say that I was to be locked into my room without supper. "Mr. 'Ide is in a fine taking," he said. "Per'aps 'e'll knock some of your pride out of you." I made no answer, but let him march me to my room, to the execution of the sentence. "There," he said, through the door, as he turned the key on me. "Per'aps that'll bring you to your senses."
"Ephraim the stiff-neck!" I answered loudly; "Old Ephraim Stiff-neck! Stiff-neck!"
"Ah," he answered, clumping down the corridor. He was thinking how small I should sing when, in the morning, he gave me the option of apologizing to him, or going without breakfast.
It was pretty dark by this time. Fish Lane was as quiet as a country road. No one was stirring there. I thought that, as my uncle would shortly go to supper, I might soon venture out by the window, high up as it was, to buy myself some food in the town. I liked the notion; but when I came to look down from the window it seemed a giddy height from the pavement. Going down would be easy; but getting back would be quite another matter. Thinking it over, I remembered that I had seen a short gardener's ladder hooked to the garden wall. If I could make a rope, by which to let myself down, I could, I thought, make use of this ladder to get back by, for it would cover nearly half the height to my window sill, a full thirty feet from the ground. If, by standing on the upper rungs, could reach within five yards of the window, I knew that I should be able to scramble up so far by a rope. There was no difficulty about a rope. I had a good eighteen yards of choice stout rope there in the room with me, the lashings of my two trunks. I was about to pay this out into the lane, when I thought that would be far more effective if I fashioned a ladder for myself, using the two trunk lashings as the uprights. This was a glorious thought. I tied the lashings together behind the wooden bed-post which was to be my support in midair. Then I rummaged out a hank of sailor's spunyarn, a kind of very strong tarred string, with which to make my steps, or rungs, did not do this very well, for I was working in the dark, but you may be sure that I made those steps with all my strength, since my bones were to depend upon them. I ran short of spunyarn before I had finished, so my last three steps were made of the fire-irons. They made a good finish to the whole; for, being heavy, they kept the ladder steady. At least thought that they would keep the ladder steady, in the innocence of my heart.
I was so excited, when I finished the tying of the tongs, that I almost forgot to take some money from the little store which I kept locked up in my trunk. A shilling would be ample, I thought; but I took rather more than that, so as to be on the safe side. I took the precaution, before leaving, of bolting my door from the inside, lest Ephraim should visit me in my absence.
Then, having tested all my knots, I paid out my ladder from the window. No one was within sight along the lane. Downstairs they were at supper, for I heard the dining-room bell ring. Very cautiously I swung myself over the window ledge on my adventure. Now a rope ladder is an unsteady thing at the best of times; but when I swung myself on to this one it jumped about like a wild colt, banging the fire-irons against the wall, making noise enough to raise the town. I had to climb down it on the inner side, or I should have had Ephraim out to see what the matter was. Even so, my heart was in my mouth, with fright, as I stepped on to the pavement. After making sure that no one saw, I hooked up the lower ends of my ladder as far as I could reach, so that a passer-by might run less chance of seeing them. Then I scuttled off to the delights of Eastcheap, thinking what glorious sport I could have with this ladder in time to come. I thought of the moonlight adventures on the river, skulking along in my boat, like a pirate on a night attack. I thought how, perhaps, I should overhear gangs of highwaymen making their plans, or robbers in their dens, carousing after a victory. It seemed to me that London might be a wonderful place, to one with such a means of getting out at night.
I ate a good supper at a cook-shop, sauntered about the streets for awhile, then sauntered slowly home, after buying a tinder box, with which to light my candies. I found my ladder dangling unnoticed, so I nimbly climbed to my room, pulling it up after me, like the savages in Polynesia. I lit my candles, intending to read; but I found that I was far too well inclined to mischief to pay much heed to my book. Casting about for something to do, I thought that I would open a little locked door which led to some (apparently disused) room beyond my own. I had some difficulty in breaking the lock of this door; but a naughty boy is generally very patient. I opened it at last, with some misgivings as to what my uncle might say on the morrow, though with the feeling that I was a sort of conspirator, or, shall we say, a man haunting a house, playing ghost, coming at night to his secret chamber. I was disappointed with the room. Like my own room, it was nothing more than a long, bare attic. It had a false floor, like many houses of the time, but there was no thought of concealment here. Half a dozen of the long flooring planks were stored in a stack against the wall, so that anyone could see what lay in the hollow below. There was nothing romantic there. A long array of docketed, ticketed bundles of receipts filled more than half the space. I suppose that nearly every bill which my uncle had ever paid lay there, gathering dust. The rest of the space was filled with Ephraim's dirty old account books, jumbled higgledy-piggledy with collections of printed, unbound sermons, such as used to be sold forty years before, in the great Puritan time. I examined a few of the sermons, hoping to find some lighter fare among them. I examined also a few of the old account books, in the same hope. Other rubbish lay scattered in the corners of the room; old mouse-eaten saddle-bags mostly. There were one or two empty baskets, which had once been lined with silk. In one of them, I can't think why, there was an old empty, dusty powder-horn, the only thing in that room at all to my taste. I stuck it into my belt with a scrap of spunyarn, feeling that it made me a wonderful piratical figure. If I had had a lantern I should have been a very king there.
As I sat among the rubbish there, with my pistol (a sailmaker's fid) in my belt, it occurred to me that I would sit up till everyone had gone to bed. Then, at eleven or twelve o'clock, I would, I thought, creep downstairs, to explore all over the house, down even to the cellars. It shocked me when I remembered that I was locked in. I dared not pick the lock of that door. My scheme (after all) would have to wait for another night, when the difficulties would be less. That scheme of mine has waited until the present time. Though I never thought it, that was the last hour I was to spend in my uncle's house. I walked past it, only the other day, thinking how strange my life has been, feeling sad, too, that I should never know to what room a door at the end of the upper passage led. Well, I never shall know, now. I was a wild, disobedient young rogue. Read on.
When I decided not to pick the lock of my door I thought of the mysterious Mr. Jermyn as an alternative excitement. I crept to my window to look out at the house, watching it with a sort of terrified pleasure, half expecting to see a ghost flapping his wings, outside the window.
I was surprised to see that the window of the upper floor (which I knew to be uninhabited) was open. I watched it, (it was just opposite) hoping that something would happen. Presently two men came quickly up the lane from the river. As they neared the house they seemed to me to shuffle in their walk rather more than vas necessary. It must have been a signal, for, as they came opposite the door, I saw it swing back upon its hinges, as it had swung that morning, with Mr. Jermyn. Both men entered the house swiftly, just as the city churches, one after the other, chimed half-past nine o'clock. Almost directly afterwards I got the start of my life. I was looking into the dark upper room across the lane, expecting nothing, when suddenly, out of the darkness, so terribly that I was scared beyond screaming, two large red eyes glowed, over a mouth that trembled in fire. I started back in my seat, sick with fright, but I could not take my eyes away. I watched that horrid thing, with my hair stiffening on my head. Then in the room below it, the luminous figure of an owl gleamed out. That was not the worst, either. I heard that savage, "chacking" noise which brown owls make when they are perched. This great gleaming owl, five times greater than any earthly owl, was making that chacking noise, as though it would soon spread its wings, to swoop on some such wretched mouse as myself. I could see its eyes roll. I thought I saw the feathers stiffen on its breast. Then, as the sweat rolled down my face, both the horrible things vanished as suddenly as they had appeared. They were gone for more than a minute, then they appeared again, only to disappear a second time. They were exactly alike at each appearance. Soon my horror left me, for I saw that the things disappeared at regular intervals. I found that I could time each reappearance by counting ninety slowly from the instant the things vanished. That calmed me. "I believe they're only clock-work," I said to myself. A moment later I saw Mr. Jermyn's head in sharp outline against the brightness of the owl. He seemed to be fixing something with his hand. It made me burst into a cackle of laughter, to find how easily I had been scared. "Why, it's only clock-work," I said aloud. "They're carved turnips with candles inside them, fixed to a revolving pole, like those we used to play with at Oulton, on the 5th of November." My fear was gone in an instant. I thought to myself how fine it would be if I could get into that house, to stop the works, in revenge for the scare they had given me. I wondered how I could do that.
CHAPTER IV. I LEAVE HOME FOR THE LAST TIME
I was thoroughly ripe for mischief of any kind; my scare had driven away all desire for sleep. I looked at the window, wondering if it would be best to go down my ladder again, to get the ladder in the garden. I was about to do thus, when I remembered the planks in the box-room. How splendid it would be, I thought, if I could get a couple of those long planks across the lane as a sort of bridge. They were strong, thick planks not likely to sag in the middle if I could only get them across. Getting them across was the difficulty; for though I was strong for my age, I found the first plank very contrary. After blowing out my candles I fixed one end of the board under my heavy four-post bed, pointing the other end out through the window, slanting upwards. Straddling across it, I very gingerly edged it out, a hand's breadth at a time, till I had some ten feet wagging about in the air over the lane. It was as much as I could do unaided, to aim the thing. It seemed to have a wild, contrary kind of life in it. Once or twice I came near to dropping it into the lane, which would have been the end of everything. When I got it across, the end caught on the window ledge for about ten perilous minutes.
I was quite tired out before I got it properly across with two feet of the end in the other house. I did not at all look forward to the job of getting it back again after my trip. One plank was hardly safe, I thought; so I slid a second over it, without much trouble. It seemed firm enough then for anybody, no matter how heavy. So carefully I straddled across it, hopping forward a little at a time, as though I were playing leap-frog. When once I had started, I was much too nervous to go back. My head was strong enough. I was well used to being high up in trees. But the danger of this adventure made me dizzy. At every hop the two planks clacked together. I could feel the upper plank shaking out behind me a little to one side of the other. Then a tired waterman shambled slowly up from the river, carrying his oars. He passed underneath me, while I was in mid-air. It was lucky for me, I thought, that few people when walking look above their own heads. He passed on without seeing me. I waited up aloft till he had gone, feeling my head grow dizzier at each second. I was, I trust, truly thankful when I was able to dive down over the window-sill into the strange house. When I had rested for a moment, I felt that it was not so difficult after all. "Going back," I said to myself, "will be much less ticklish." Turning my head, I saw the eyes of the devil-face glaring at me. They smelt very strongly of kitchen tallow.
I was not in the least frightened. I crept cautiously along the floor, on tip-toe, to examine the contrivance. A hollow shaft of light wood, a sort of big wooden pipe, led down through the floor, probably to the ground-floor or basement, much as a mast goes down through a ship's decks into the hold. It was slowly revolving, being worked by some simple, not very strong mill-contrivance downstairs. A shelf had been fixed up inside the pipe. On the shelf (as I could see by looking in) was a tallow candle in a sconce. Two oval bits of red glass, let into the wood, made the eyes of this lantern-devil. The mouth was a smear of some gleaming stuff, evidently some chemical. This was all the monster which had frightened me. The clacking noise was made by the machine which moved it round. As for the owl, that was probably painted with the same chemical. People were more superstitious then than now. I have no doubt that an ignorant person like Ephraim, who had lived all his life in London, had been scared out of his wits by this machine. Like most ignorant people, he probably reckoned the thing as devilish, merely because he did not understand it. One or two neighbours, a housemaid or so, perhaps, had seen it, too. On the strength of their reports the house had gotten a bad name. The two unoccupied floors had failed to get tenants, while Mr. Jermyn, the contriver of the whole, had been left alone, as no doubt he had planned. I thought that Londoners must be a very foolish people to be so easily misled. Now that I am older, I see that Londoners often live in very narrow grooves. They are apt to be frightened at anything to which they have not been accustomed; unless, of course, it is a war, when they can scream about themselves so loudly that they forget that they are screaming.
I examined the machine critically, by its own candle, which I removed for the purpose. I meant to fix up one very like it in Ephraim's bed-room as soon as I found an opportunity. Then I looked about the room for some other toy, feeling in a fine state of excitement with the success of my adventure. The room was quite bare. But for this ghost-machine, there was nothing which could interest me, except a curious drawing, done with a burnt stick on the plaster of the wall, of a man-of-war under sail. After examining this drawing, I listened carefully at the door lest my faint footsteps should have roused someone below. I could hear no one stirring; the house was silent. "I must be careful," I said to myself. "They all may have gone to bed." Understand, I did not know then what I was doing. I was merely a wrong-headed boy, up to a prank, begun in a moment of rebellion. When I paused in the landing, outside the ghost-room, shading the candle with my hand, I was not aware that I was doing wrong. I was only thinking how fine it would be to find out about Mr. Jermyn, before crawling back, over the plank, to my bed. I wanted to steal about these deserted floors, like a conspirator; then, having, perhaps, found out about the mystery, to go back home. It did not enter my head that I might be shot as a burglar. My original intention, you must remember, had only been to stop the works of the ghost. It was later on that my intention became criminal, instead of merely boyish, or, in other words, crack-brained. As to stopping the ghost, I could not stop the revolving pipe. I could do no more than take away the light from the ghost-face. As for the owl on the lower floor, when I came to it, could not do so much, for it was a great big picture on board, done in some shining paint. I had nothing with which I could smear it over, nor could I reach the head. As for stopping the machine, that I dared not attempt to do, lest I should bring someone up to me, from the works, wherever they were. Standing by the ghost of the owl, hearing the chack-chack of the machine at intervals below me, I became aware of voices in the room downstairs. When the chack-chack stopped, I could hear men talking. I could hear what they said, for they were talking in the ordinary tone of conversation. There was an open space as it happened, all around the great pipe, where it passed through the floor. I could peep through this into the room below, getting a good sight of what was going on. It was very wicked of me, for there is nothing quite so contemptible as an eavesdropper, but I could not resist the temptation to look down. When once I had looked down I am ashamed to say that I listened to what the men were saying. But first of all, I put out my candle, lest anyone looking up should see the light through the open space.
At the head of the table, there was a very handsome man, dressed all in black, as though in mourning. His beauty was so great that afterwards it passed into a proverb. Later in the year, when I saw this gentleman nearly every day, I noticed that people (even those who did not know who he was) would look after him when he passed them. I will say only this about his handsomeness. It was a bodily kind of beauty, of colour rather than of form; there was not much character in it. Had he lived, I daresay he would have become ugly like the rest of his family, none of whom, except his great-great-grandmother, was accounted much for looks.
Next to this handsome man, on the right, sat Mr. Jermyn, looking fifteen years younger without his false beard. Then came a very black-looking man, with a face all eyebrows. Then a soldier in uniform. Then a little, wiry man, who jumped about as though excited—I could only see him when he jumped: he had an unpleasant, saturnine face, which frightened me. That, as far as I could see, was the whole company. When I first began to listen, the man in uniform was speaking to the handsome man at the head of the table. I knew at once, when he said Your Majesty, that he was talking to James, the Duke of Monmouth, of whom I had heard that afternoon.
"No, your Majesty," he said. "No, your Majesty," he repeated, "I can't answer for the army. If things had been different in February" (he meant, "if you had been in England when Charles II died") "there would have been another King in England. As it is, I'm against a rising."
"Don't you think his Majesty could succeed by raising an army in the West?" said Mr. Jermyn. "The present usurper (he meant James II) is a great coward. The West is ripe to rebel. Any strong demonstration there would paralyse him. Besides, the army wouldn't fire on their own countrymen. We'd enough of that in the Civil War. What do you think of a Western rising?"
The soldier smiled. "Ah no," he said. "No, your Majesty. Whatever you do, Sire, don't do it with untrained men. A rising in the West would only put you at the head of a mob. A regiment of steady trained men in good discipline can destroy any mob in twenty minutes. No, your Majesty. No. Don't try. it, Sire."
"Then what do you advise, Lane?" said the Duke.
"I would say wait, your Majesty. Wait till the usurper, the poisoner, commits himself with the Papists. When he's made himself thoroughly unpopular throughout the country, then sound a few regiments. It's only a matter of a year or two. If you'll wait for a year or two you'll see yourself invited over. Besides, a sudden rising in the West must fail, sir. Your Majesty would be in between two great garrisons, Bristol and Portsmouth. We can't be sure that either would be true to us."
"Yes," the Duke answered. "Yes, Lane. But as I plan it, the army will be tempted north. Argyle will make a strong feint in Scotland, with the great clans, just when the Western gentry declare for us."
"I take it," Lane answered, "that Argyle has sounded the clans. He knows, I suppose, what force of drilled men will rally to him. You know nothing, sir, about the West. You know that many men are for you; but you know not how many nor how good. You will need mounted men, sir, if you are to dash down upon London with any speed. You cannot raise cavalry in a week. All that you will get in the West will be squireens, or dashing young farmers, both kinds unaccustomed to being ordered; both kinds totally unfitted for war."
"Yes," said the saturnine little man. "But a rising in the West would have this natural effect. Argyle will draw troops to the north, as his Majesty has explained. Very well, then. Let Devon declare for the King, the business will be done. The usurper will not dare to send the few troops left to him out of the capital, lest the town should rise on him."
"Very true. True. A good point," said the man with the eyebrows.
"I think that disposes of your argument, Lane," said the Duke, with a smile.
"It's a supposition, sir, against a certainty. I've told you of a military danger. Falk, there, only tells you of a bare, military possibility."
"But it's as certain as anything can be," said the man with the eyebrows. "You can see. That's just what must happen."
"It is what may happen if you wait for a year or two, your Majesty," Lane replied. "But a newly crowned King is always popular. I doubt if you will find public opinion so much on your side, your Majesty. No for a year or two, till he's made himself disliked. They've settled down now to this usurper. They'll resent an interruption. The trades-men will resent an interruption."
"I think you over-rate the difficulties, Lane," said Mr. Jermyn.
"Yes," said the Duke, "I'm a great believer in putting a matter to the test. Much must necessarily be left to chance. If we wait, we may not find public opinion turning against our enemies. We may even lose the good opinion of the West by waiting. Besides, by waiting, Lane, we should lose the extraordinary: help of Argyle's diversion in the north."
"Yes," the others said in chorus. "We mustn't lose that. A rising this early summer, when the roads are good. A rising as soon as Argyle is ready."
"Well, your Majesty," said Lane, shaking his head. "I see you're resolved. You shall not find me backward when the time comes, for all my doubts at this meeting. To your Majesty's happy success." They all drank the toast; but I noticed that Mr. Lane looked melancholy, as though he foresaw something of what actually happened in that terrible June.
"Very good," said the Duke, "I thank you, gentlemen. Now, Jermyn. We two shall have to be off to the Low Countries in another half hour. How about messengers to the West? You, Lane, are tied here to your regiment. Falk, how about you, Falk?"
"No, your Majesty," said Falk. "There's danger in sending me. I'm suspected. I'm known to be in your interests."
"You, then, Candlish," said the Duke to the man with the eyebrows.
"Not me, Sire," said Candlish. "I can't disguise myself. I'm stamped by nature for the paths of virtue."
"It would be a good thing," said Falk, "if we could get some Western carrier."
"The Western carriers are all watched," Lane replied. "They are followed, wherever they go, as on as they arrive at their inns here."
"Haven't you found some more gipsies, Falk?" Candlish asked. "The last gipsy we had was very good."
"He was caught by a press-gang," said Falk, "Gipsies aren't to be trusted, though. They would sell us at once if they had the chance. Ramon was an exception."
Mr. Jermyn had risen at the Duke's last speech as though to put on his coat, ready to leave the house.. The Duke was listening to the conversation, making 'idle sketches, as he listened, on the paper before him, I think I hardly realised, as I craned over the open space, that I had been listening to a conversation which would have condemned all present to death for treason. I repeated to myself, in a dazed sort of way, that the West was ready to rise. "King James is an usurper," I said softly. "These men are going to rebel against him. There's going to be a civil war in England about it." I had hardly repeated this to myself, when it came over me with a shock that I was in terrible personal danger. The men were just leaving the house. They would probably look up, on leaving, to see what sort of a night it was. They would see my wonderful bridge. It would be all over with me then. I was so I could hardly stand up. I took a few cautious steps towards the door, saying to myself that I would never again be disobedient if I might escape this once. I was at the door, just about to open it, when I heard a step upon the landing just outside, coming towards me. I gave up hope then; but I had just sense enough to step to my left, so that, when the door should open (if the stranger entered) it might, possibly, screen me from him. Then I heard the Duke's voice from down below calling to Mr. Jermyn.
"Jermyn," he called. "Bring down my books, will you. They're on my bed. What are you doing up there?"
"Just seeing to the ghosts, your Majesty. I won't keep you waiting."
"I'll come, too," he answered. "I'd like to see your ghosts again." Then I heard Mr. Jermyn loitering at the stair-head while the Duke left the council-room. My hair was rising on my scalp; there was cold sweat on my forehead; it was as much as I could do to keep my teeth from chattering. I heard the Duke's feet upon the stairs; there were eleven stairs, I counted them. Presently I heard him say, "Now, Jermyn." Then came Jermyn's answer of "This way, your Majesty." He flung the door wide open, so that the Duke might enter. The two men passed into the room to examine the horrible owl. The Duke chuckled as the machine moved round to him. "How bright he keeps," he said. "Yes," Jermyn answered. "He won't need painting for a long while yet." "No," the Duke answered, "I hear, Jermyn, he's given you a most uncanny reputation." "Yes," said Jermyn, "the house has a bad name. What in the world is this?" In walking round the owl his foot had struck upon the unlucky tin candle-sconce which I had brought from the room above. "Sounds like a tin candle-stick," said the Duke. "Yes," said Mr. Jermyn, groping. "That's what it is. Now how in the world did it get here? It's the candle-stick from the dragon's head in the room above." "Are you sure, Jermyn?" the Duke asked, in a voice which showed that he was agitated. "Yes, sir. Quite sure. But no one's been up there." "There must be a spy," said the Duke. The two voices spoke together for a moment in whispers. I could not hear what they said; but a moment later I heard the rasping, clinking noise of two swords being drawn. "Come out of that," said Mr. Jermyn's voice. I felt that I was discovered; but I dared not stir from my covert. I heard the two men walking swiftly to the door. A hand plucked it from in front of me. I shrank back into the wall, covering my eyes with my hands, so that I should not see the two long sword-blades pointing at my throat. "Make no sound. Make no sound, now," said the Duke, pressing his sword-point on my chest, so that I could feel it thrust hard upon me, as though it needed very little force to send it through. I made no sound.
"Who are you?" said Mr. Jermyn, backing to the opening in the floor. "Kill him if he moves, sir. Candlish, Candlish. Bring a light. Bring a light. We've caught a moth."
I tried to swallow, but my throat seemed choked with dust. I heard the people downstairs bustling out of the room with candles. I tried to speak; but I could not. I was too much scared. I stood pressed hard against the wall, with the Duke's sword-point still in place.
"Bring it in here, Candlish," said Mr. Jermyn. There came a clattering noise from the window. Mr. Jermyn had released some heavy rolled up curtain-blinds, which covered the whole window. There was no chance, now, of being seen from the street, or from my uncle's house. Candlish entered carrying a candle.
The others followed at his heels.
"A boy. Eh?" he said.
"What do you do here?" the Duke asked, staring hard at me.
"He's frightened out of his wits, sir," said Lane. "We aren't going to hurt you, boy, if you'll only tell the truth."
"Why," said Mr. Jermyn. "It's Martin Hyde, nephew to old Hyde across the way."
"But he's overheard us," put in Falk. "He's overheard us."
"Come on downstairs. Bring him with you," said the Duke. Lane took me by one arm. Mr. Jermyn took me by the other. They marched me downstairs to the council-room.
"Here, boy," said Candlish, not unkindly. "Drink this wine." He made me swallow a glass of Burgundy, which certainly did me a great deal of good. I was able to speak after drinking it.
"Now, Mr. Hyde," said Mr. Jermyn. "How do you come to be in this house?"
"Take your time, boy," said Lane.
"He's not a London boy?" said the Duke to Mr. Jermyn.
"No, sir," he answered in a whisper. "Just come here from the country."
"Please, your Majesty," I began.
"So you're a young rebel," said the Duke. "That shows he overheard us," said Falk.
"Let him alone, Falk," the Duke said.
"He'll tell the truth. No use in frightening him."
"Please, your Majesty," I said again, "I was locked up in my room for taking my uncle's boat this afternoon." One of two of them smiled when I said this: it gave me confidence.
"But how did you get into this house?" Mr. Jermyn asked.
"Please, sir," I answered, "I saw your upper window open. So I laid a couple of planks across the lane from my window. Then I just straddled across, sir."
"Are you used to burglary, may I ask?" said the Duke.
"No, your Majesty. But I saw the ghosts. I wanted to see how they were made."
"Well. That's one for you, Jermyn," said Lane. "Your ghosts haven't frightened this one."
"Sir," I answered. "They frightened me horribly. I wanted to be revenged for that. But after a bit I was sure they were only clockwork. I wanted to stop them. I did stop the devil upstairs, sir."
"So you stopped the devil upstairs," the Duke said. "What did you do then?"
"I came down to this room, sir. I looked at the owl. But I couldn't see how to stop the owl, sir. I saw you all sitting round the room. I'm afraid I listened, sir."
"That was not a gentlemanly thing to do," said Lane. "Was it now?"
"You understood all that was said. Eh, boy?" said Candlish.
"Yes, sir. I understood it all."
"Well, young man," said Falk. "You'll be sorry you did."
"Be quiet, Falk," said the Duke. "No one shall bully the boy. What's your name, boy?"
"Martin Hyde, sir."
"A very smart lad too, sir," said Jermyn. "He saved my book of cipher correspondence yesterday. We should have been in trouble if that had got into the wrong hands."
"You understand," said the Duke, "that what you have heard might get us all, perhaps many more besides ourselves, into very terrible danger if repeated?"
"Yes, your Majesty, I understand," I answered. "Lock him into the pantry, Jermyn," said the Duke, "while we decide what to do with him. Go with Mr. Jermyn, boy. We sha'n't hurt you. Don't be frightened. Give him some oranges, Jermyn."
CHAPTER V. I GO TO SEA
Mr. Jermyn led me to the pantry (a little room on the ground floor), where he placed a plate of oranges before me.
"See how many you can eat," he said. "But don't try to burgle yourself free. This is a strong room." He locked the heavy door, leaving me alone with a well-filled pantry, which seemed to be without a window. A little iron grating near the ceiling served as a ventilator. There was no chance of getting out through that. The door was plated with iron. The floor was of concrete. I was a prisoner now in good earnest. I was no longer frightened; but I had had such scares that night that I had little stomach for the fruit. I was only anxious to be allowed to go back to my bed. I heard a dull noise in the upper part of the house, followed by the falling of a plank. "There goes my bridge," I thought. "Are they going to be so mean as to call my uncle out of bed, to show him what I've been doing?" I thought that perhaps they would do this, as my uncle (for all that I knew) might be in their plot. "Well," I said to myself, "I shall get a good thrashing. Perhaps that brute Ephraim will be told to thrash me. But thrashing or no, I've had enough of going out at night. I'll ask my uncle not to thrash me, but to put me into the Navy. I should love that. I know that I shall never get on in London." This sudden plan of the Navy, about which I had never before thought, seemed to me to be a good way of getting out of my deserts. I felt sure that my uncle would be charmed to be rid of me; while I knew very well that boys of that generation often entered the Navy, in the care of the captains, as naval cadets (or, as they were then called, "captain's servants") at the ages of eight or nine. I wondered why the debate lasted so long. Naturally, in that gloomy little prison, lit by a single tallow candle, with all my anxieties heavy on my mind, the time passed slowly. But they were so long in making up their minds that it seemed as though they had forgotten me. I began to remember horrible tales of people shut up in secret rooms until they starved to death, or till the rats ate them. I remembered the tale of the nun being walled up in a vault of her convent, brick by brick, till the last brick shut off the last glimmer of the bricklayer's lantern, till the last layer of mortar made for her the last sound she would hear, the patting clink of the trowel on the brick, before it was all horrible dark silence for ever. I wondered how many people had been silenced in that way. I wondered how long I should live, if that was what these men decided.
My fears were ended by the opening of the door. "Come on," said Mr. Lane. "This way," He led me back to the council-room, where all the conspirators sat at their places by the table. I noticed that Mr. Jermyn (cloaked now, as for travel) was wearing his false beard again.
"Mr. Hyde," the Duke said. "I understand that you are well disposed to my cause."
"Yes, your Majesty," I answered; though indeed I only followed what my father had told me. I had no real knowledge about it, one way or the other. I knew only what others had told me. Still, in this instance, as far as I have been able to judge by what I learned long afterwards, I was right. The Duke had truly a claim to the throne; he was also a better man than that disgraceful king who took his place.
"Very well, Mr. Hyde," the Duke answered. "Have you any objections to entering my service?"
I was not very sure of what he meant; it came rather suddenly upon me, so I stammered, without replying.
"His Majesty means, would you like to join our party?" said Mr. Lane. "To be one of us. To serve him abroad."
I was flushed with pleasure at the thought of going abroad, among a company of conspirators. I had no knowledge of what the consequences might be, except that I should escape a sound whipping from my uncle or from Ephraim. I did not like the thought of living on in London, with the prospect of entering a merchant's office at the end of my boyhood. I thought that in the Duke's service I should soon become a general, so that I might return to my uncle, very splendidly dressed, to show him how well I had managed my own life for myself. I thought that life was always like that to the adventurous man. Besides I hoped that I should escape school, the very thought of which I hated. Looking at the matter in that secret council-room, it seemed so very attractive. It seemed to give me a pathway of escape, whichever way I looked at it, from all that I most disliked.
"Yes, your Majesty," I said, "I should very much like to enter your service."
"You understand, Hyde," said Mr. Jermyn, "that we are engaged in a very dangerous work. It is so dangerous that we should not be justified in allowing you to go free after what you have heard tonight. But its very danger makes it necessary that we should tell you something of what your work under his Majesty will be, before you decide finally to throw in your lot with us. It is one thing to be a prisoner among us, Hyde; but quite another to be what is called a rebel, engaged in treasonable practices against a ruling King."
"Still," said Lane, "don't think that your imprisonment with us would be unpleasant. If you would rather not join us, you have only to say so. We shall then send you over to Holland, where you will, no doubt, find plenty of boats with which to amuse yourself. You will be kept in Holland till a certain much-wished event takes place, about the middle of June. After that you will be brought back here to your uncle who, by that time, will have forgiven you."
"That's a very pretty ladder you made," said the Duke. "You've evidently lived among sailors."
"Among fishermen mostly, your Majesty," I said "My father was rector in the Broads country." I knew from his remark that someone had been across to my uncle's house to remove all traces of my bridge. My ladder, I knew, would now be dangling from my window, to show by which way I had escaped.
"We want you, Hyde," Mr. Jermyn said. "That is—we shall want you in the event of your joining us, to be our messenger to the West. You will travel continually from Holland to the West of England, generally to the country near Taunton, but sometimes to Exeter, sometimes still further to the West. You will carry letters sewn into the flap of your leather travelling satchel. You will travel alone by your own name, giving out, in case any one should ask you, that you are going to one of certain people, whose names will be given to you. There will be no danger to yourself; for the persons to whom you will be sent are not suspected; indeed one of them is a clergyman. We think that a boy will have less difficulty in getting about the country in its present state than any man, provided, of course, that you travel by different routes on each journey. If, however, by some extraordinary chance, you should be caught with these letters in your wallet, we shall take steps to bring you off; for we have a good deal of power, in one way or another, by which we get things done. Still, it may well fall out, Hyde, in spite of all our care, that you will come into the hands of men with whom we have no influence. If you should, (remember, it is quite possible) you will be transported to serve in one of the Virginian or West Indian plantations. That will be the end of you as far as we are concerned. We shan't be able to help you then. If you think the cause is right, join us, provided that you do not think the risks too great."
"If all goes well," said the Duke, "if the summer should prove prosperous, I may be able to reward a faithful servant, even if he is only a boy."
"I will serve your Majesty gladly," I answered. "I should like to join your service."
"Very well then, Jermyn," he said, rising swiftly on his way to the door; "bring him on board at once."
"We're off to Holland tonight, in the schooner there," said Mr. Jermyn. "So put these biscuits in your pocket. Give him another glass of wine, Falk. Now, then. Good-bye, Lane. Good-bye everybody."
"Good-bye," they said. "Good-bye, boy." In another minute we were in the narrow road, within earshot of the tumbling water, going down to the stairs at the lane end, to take boat. The last that I saw of my uncle's house was the white of my ladder ropes, swinging about against the darkness of the bricks.
"Remember, Hyde," said Mr. Jermyn in a low voice, "that his Majesty is always plain Mr. Scott. Remember that. Remember, too, that you are never to speak to him unless he speaks to you. But you won't have much to do with him. Were you ever at sea, before?"
"No, sir. Only about the Broads in a coracle."
"You'll find it very interesting, then. If you're not seasick. Here we are at the boat. Now, jump in. Get into the bows."
"Mr. Scott" was already snug under a boat-cloak in the sternsheets. As soon as we had stepped in, the boatman shoved off. The boat rippled the water into a gleaming track as she gathered way. We were off. I was on my way to Holland. I was a conspirator, travelling with a King. There ahead of me was the fine hull of the schooner La Reina, waiting to carry us to all sorts of adventure, none of them (as I planned them then) so strange, or so terrible, as those which happened to me. As we drew up alongside her, I heard the clack-clack of the sailors heaving at the windlass. They were getting up the anchor, so that we might sail from this horrible city to all the wonderful romance which awaited me, as I thought, beyond, in the great world. Five minutes after I had stepped upon her deck we were gliding down on the ebb, bound for Holland.
"Hyde," said Mr. Jermyn, as we drew past the battery on the Tower platform, "do you see the high ground, beyond the towers there?"
"Yes, sir," I said.
"Do you know what that is?"
"That's Tower Hill," he answered, "where traitors, I mean conspirators like you or me, are beheaded. Do you know what that means?"
"Yes, sir," I replied. "To have your head cut off."
"Yes," he said. "With all that hill black with people. The scaffold hung with black making a sort of platform in the middle. Then soldiers, with drums, all round. You put your head over a block, so that your neck rests on the wood. Then the executioner comes at you with an axe. Then your head is shown to the people. 'This is the head of a traitor.' We may all end in that way, on that little hill there. You must be very careful how you carry the letters, Hyde."
After this hint, he showed me a hammock in the schooner's 'tweendecks, telling me that I should soon be accustomed to that kind of bed. "It is a little awkward at first," he said, "especially the getting in part; but, when once snugly in, it is the most comfortable kind of bed in the world." After undressing by the light of a huge ship's lantern, which Mr. Jermyn called a battle-lantern, I turned into my hammock, rather glad to be alone. Now that I was pledged to this conspiracy business, with some knowledge of what it might lead to, I half wished myself well out of it. The 'tweendecks was much less comfortable than the bedroom which I had left so gaily such a very little time before. I had exchanged a good prison for a bad one. The smell of oranges, so near to the hold in which they were stored, was overpowering, mixed, as it was, with the horrible ship-smell of decaying water (known as bilge-water) which flopped about at each roll a few feet below me. My hammock was slung in a draught from the main hatchway. People came down the hatchway during the night to fetch coils of rope or tackles. Tired as I was, I slept very badly that first night on board ship. The schooner seemed to be full of queer, unrelated movements. The noise of the water slipping past was like somebody talking. The striking of the bells kept me from sleeping. I did not get to sleep till well into the middle watch (about two in the morning) after which I slept brokenly until a rough voice bawled in my ear to get up out of that, as it was time to wash down.
I put my clothes on hurriedly, wondering where I should find a basin in which to wash myself. I could see none in the 'tweendecks; but I supposed that there would be some in the cabins, which opened off the 'tweendecks on each side. Now a 'tweendecks (I may as well tell you here) is nothing more than a deck of a ship below the upper deck. If some of my readers have never been in a ship, let them try to imagine themselves descending from the upper deck—where all the masts stand—by a ladder fixed in a square opening known as a hatchway. About six feet down this ladder is the 'tweendecks, a long narrow room, with a ceiling so low that unless you bend, you bump your head against the beams.
If you will imagine a long narrow room, only six feet high, you will know what a 'tweendecks is like. Only in a real 'tween-decks it is always rather dark, for the windows (if you care to call them so) are thick glass bull's-eyes which let in very little light. A glare of light comes down the hatchways. Away from the hatchways a few battle-lanterns are hung, to keep up some pretence of light in the darkest corners. At one end of this long narrow room in La Reina a wooden partition, running right across from side to side, made a biggish chamber called "the cabin," where the officers took their meals. A little further along the room, one on each side of it, were two tiny partitioned cabins, about seven feet square, in which the officers slept, two in each cabin one above the other, in shelf-beds, or bunks. My hammock had been slung between these cabins, a little forward of them. When I turned out, I saw that the rest of the 'tweendecks was piled with stores of all kinds, lashed down firmly to ringbolts. Right forward, in the darkness of the ship's bows, I saw other hammocks where the sailors slept.
I was wondering what I was to do about washing, when the rough man who had called me a few minutes before came down to ask me why I was not up on deck. I said that I was wondering where I could wash myself.
"Wash yourself," he said. "You haven't made yourself dirty yet. You don't wash at sea till your work's done for the day. Why, haven't you lashed your hammock yet?"
"Please, sir," I said, "I don't know how."
"Well, for once," he said, "I'll show you how. Tomorrow you'll do it for yourself."
"There," he said, when he had lashed up the hammock, by what seemed to me to be art-magic, "don't you say you don't know how to lash a 'ammick. I've showed you once. Now shove it in the rack there. Up on deck with you."
I ran up the ladder to the deck, thinking that this was not at all the kind of service which I had expected. When I got to the deck I felt happier; for it was a lovely bright morning. The schooner was under all sail, tearing along at what seemed to me to be great speed. We were out at sea now. England lay behind us, some miles away. I could see the windows gleaming in a little town on the shore. Ships were in sight, with rollers of foam whitening under them. Gulls dipped after fish. The clouds drove past. A fishing boat piled with fish was labouring up to London, her sails dark with spray. On the deck of the schooner some barefooted sailors were filling the wash-deck tubs at a hand-pump. One man was at work high aloft on the topsail yard, sitting across the yard with his legs dangling down, keeping his seat (as I thought) by balance. I found the scene so delightful that I gazed at it like a boy in a trance, was still staring, when the surly boor who had called me (he was the schooner's mate it seemed) came up behind me.
"Well," he said, in the rough, bullying speech of a sailor, "do ye see it?"
"See what, sir?"
"What you're looking at."
"Yes, sir," I answered.
"Then you got no butter in your eyes, then. Why ain't you at work?"
"What am I to do, sir?"
"Do," he said. "Ain't you Mr. Scott's servant?"
"Then get a bucket of fresh water out of the cask there. Take this scrubber. You'll find some soap in the locker there. Now scrub out the cabin as quick as you know how."
He showed me down to the cabin. It was a dingy, dirty little room about twelve feet square over all, but made, in reality, much smaller by the lockers which ran along each side.
It was lighted by two large wooden ports, known as "chase ports," through which the chase guns or "stern-chasers pointed. Only one gun (a long three pounder on a swivel) was mounted; for guns take up a lot of room. With two guns in that little cabin there would not have been room enough to swing a cat. You need six feet for the proper swinging of a cat, so a man-of-war boatswain told me. The cat meant is the cat of nine tails with which they used to flog seamen. To flog properly one needs a good swing, so my friend said.
"There you are," said the mate of the schooner. "Now down on your knees. Scrub the floor here. See you get it mucho blanco."
He left me feeling much ashamed at having to work like a common ship's boy, instead of like a prince's page, which is what I had thought myself. Like many middle-class English boys I had been brought up to look on manual work as degrading. I was filled with shame at having to scrub this dirty deck. I, who, only yesterday, had lorded it over Ephraim, as though I were a superior being. You boys who go to good schools try to learn a little humbleness. You may think your parents very fine gentlefolk; but in the world, outside a narrow class, the having gentle parents will not help one much. It may be that you, for all your birth, have neither the instincts nor the intellect to preserve the gentility your parents made for you. You are no gentleman till you have proved it. Your right level may be the level of the betting publican, or of the sneak-thief, or of things even lower than these. It is nothing to be proud of that your parents are rich enough to keep your hands clean of joyless, killing toil, at an age when many better men are old in slavery. Try to be thankful for it; not proud. Leisure is the most sacred thing life has. A wise man would give his left hand for leisure. You that have it given to you by the mercy of gentle birth, regard it as a trust; make noble use of it. Many great men waste half their energies in the struggle for that which you regard, poor fools, as your right, as something to brag of.
I had never scrubbed a floor in my life; but I had seen it done, without taking much account of the art in it. I set to work, feeling more degraded each moment, as the hardness of the deck began to make my knees sore. When I had done about half of the cabin (in a lazy, neglectful way, leaving patches unscrubbed, only just wetted over, so as to seem clean to a chance observer) I thought that I would do no more; but wait till Mr. Jermyn came to me. I would tell him that I wished to go home, that I was not going to be a common sailor, but a trusted messenger, with a lot more to the same tune, meaning, really, that I hated this job of washing decks like poison. I dare say, if the truth were known, the sudden change in my fortunes had made me a little homesick. But even so, I was skulking work which had been given to me. What was worse, I was being dishonest. For I was pretending to do the work, even when I took least trouble with it. At last I took it into my head to wet the whole floor with water, meaning to do no more to it. While I was doing this the mate came into the cabin.