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come, I adored Carlos, and Veronica liked him, and laughed at him, till one day he said good-by and rode off along the London road, followed by his Tomas Castro. I had an intense longing to go with him out into the great world that brooded all round our foothills.
You are to remember that I knew nothing whatever of that great world. I had never been further away from our farm than just to Canterbury school, to Hythe market, to Romney market. Our farm nestled down under the steep, brown downs, just beside the Roman road to Canterbury; Stone Street—the Street-we called it. Ralph's land was just on the other side of the Street, and the shepherds on the downs used to see of nights a dead-and-gone Rooksby, Sir Peter that was, ride upon it past the quarry with his head under his arm. I don't think I believed in him, but I believed in the smugglers who shared the highway with that horrible ghost. It is impossible for any one nowadays to conceive the effect these smugglers had upon life thereabouts and then. They were the power to which everything else deferred. They used to overrun the country in great bands, and brooked no interference with their business. Not long before they had defeated regular troops in a pitched battle on the Marsh, and on the very day I went away I remember we couldn't do our carting because the smugglers had given us notice they would need our horses in the evening. They were a power in the land where there was violence enough without them, God knows! Our position on that Street put us in the midst of it all. At dusk we shut our doors, pulled down our blinds, sat round the fire, and knew pretty well what was going on outside. There would be long whistles in the dark, and when we found men lurking in our barns we feigned not to see them
it was safer so. The smugglers——the Free Traders, they called themselves were as well organized for helping malefactors out of the country as for running goods in; so it came about that we used to have coiners and forgers, murderers and French spies—all sorts of malefactors—hiding in our straw throughout the day, waitfor the whistle to blow from the Street at dusk. I, born with my century, was familiar with these things; but my mother forbade my meddling with them. I expect she knew enough herself—all the resident gentry did. But Ralph—though he was to some extent of the new school, and used to boast that, if applied to, he would grant a warrant against any Free Trader-never did, as a matter of fact, or not for many years.
Carlos, then, Rooksby's Spanish kinsman, had come and gone, and I envied him his going, with his air of mystery, to some far-off lawless adventures—perhaps over there in Spain, where there were war and rebellion. Shortly afterwards Rooksby proposed for the hand of Veronica and was accepted-by my mother. Veronica went about looking happy. That upset me, too. It seemed unjust that she should go out into the great world—to Bath, to Brighton, should see the Prince Regent and the great fights on Hounslow Heath —whilst I was to remain forever a farmer's boy. That afternoon I was upstairs, looking at the reflection of myself in the tall glass, wondering miserably why I seemed to be such an oaf.
The voice of Rooksby hailed me suddenly from downstairs. “Hey, John John Kemp; come down, I say!” I:
I started away from the glass as if I had been taken in an act of folly. Rooksby was flicking his leg with his switch in the doorway, at the bottom of the narrow flight of stairs.
He wanted to talk to me, he said, and I followed him
out through the yard on to the soft road that climbs the hill to westward. The evening was falling slowly and mournfully; it was dark already in the folds of the sombre downs.
We passed the corner of the orchard.
"I know what you've got to tell me,” I said. “You're going to marry Veronica. Well, you've no need of my blessing. Some people have all the luck. Here am I . . look at me!”
Ralph walked with his head bent down.
“Confound it," I said, “I shall run away to sea! I tell you, I'm rotting, rotting! There! I say, Ralph, give me Carlos' direction. . . .” I caught hold of his arm. “I'll go after him. He'd show me a little life. He said he would.”
Ralph remained lost in a kind of gloomy abstraction, while I went on worrying him for Carlos' address.
“Carlos is the only soul I know outside five miles from here. Besides, he's friends in the Indies. That's where I want to go, and he could give me a cast. You remember what Tomas Castro said. . . .”
Rooksby came to a sudden halt, and began furiously to switch his corded legs. -*"Curse Carlos, and his Castro, too. They'll have me in jail betwixt them. They're both in my red barn, if you want their direction. ... Birnen He hurried on suddenly up the hill, leaving me gazing upwards at him. When I caught him up he was swearing—as one did in those days—and stamping his foot in the middle of the road.
“I tell you,” he said violently, “it's the most accursed business! That Castro, with his Cuba, is nothing but a blasted buccaneer . . . and Carlos is no better. They go to Liverpool for a passage to Jamaica, and see what comes of it!"
It seems that on Liverpool docks, in the owl-light, they fell in with an elderly hunks just returned from West Indies, who asks the time at the door of a shipping agent. Castro pulls out a watch, and the old fellow jumps on it, vows it's his own, taken from him years before by some picaroons on his outward voyage. Out from the agent's comes another, and swears that Castro is one of the self-same crew. He himself purported to be the master of the very ship. Afterwards—in the solitary dusk among the ropes and bales—there had evidently been some play with knives, and it ended with a flight to London, and then down to Rooksby's red barn, with the runners in full cry after them.
“Think of it,” Rooksby said, “and me a justice, and ... oh, it drives me wild, this hole-andcorner work! There's a filthy muddle with the Free Traders—a whistle to blow after dark at the quarry. To-night of all nights, and me a justice ... and as good as a married man!”
I looked at him wonderingly in the dusk; his high coat collar almost hid his face, and his hat was pressed down over his eyes. The thing seemed incredible to me. Here was an adventure, and I was shocked to see that Rooksby was in a pitiable state about it.
“But, Ralph,” I said, “I would help Carlos.”
“Oh, you,” he said fretfully. “You want to run your head into a noose; that's what it comes to. Why, I may have to flee the country. There's the red-breasts poking their noses into every cottage on the Ashford road.” He strode on again. A wisp of mist came stealing down the hill. “I can't give my cousin up. He could be smuggled out, right enough. But then I should have to get across salt water, too, for at least a year. Why— '
He seemed ready to tear his hair, and then I put in
my say. He needed a little persuasion, though, in spite of Veronica.
I should have to meet Carlos Riego and Castro in a little fir-wood above the quarry, in half an hour's time. All I had to do was to whistle three bars of “Lillibulero," as a signal. A connection had been already arranged with the Free Traders on the road beside the quarry, and they were coming down that night, as we knew well enough, both of us. They were coming in force from Canterbury way down to the Marsh. It had cost Ralph a pretty penny; but, once in the hands of the smugglers, his cousin and Castro would be safe enough from the runners; it would have needed a troop of horse to take them. The difficulty was that of late the smugglers themselves had become demoralized. There were ugly rumours of it; and there was a danger that Castro and Carlos, if not looked after, might end their days in some marsh-dyke. It was desirable that someone well known in our parts should see them to the seashore. A boat, there, was to take them out into the bay, where an outward-bound West Indiaman would pick them up. But for Ralph's fear for his neck, which had increased in value since its devotion to Veronica, he would have squired his cousin. As it was, he fluttered round the idea of letting me take his place. Finally he settled it; and I embarked on a long adventure.