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I pulled my horse's head round and galloped down the hill. The main body had halted before setting out over the shingle to the shore. Rangsley was waiting to conduct us into the town, where we should find a man to take us three fugitives out to the expected ship. We rode clattering aggressively through the silence of the long, narrow main street. Every now and then Carlos Riego coughed lamentably, but Tomas Castro rode in gloomy silence. There was a light here and there in a window, but not a soul stirring abroad. On the blind of an inn the shadow of a bearded man held the shadow of a rummer to its mouth.
“That 'll be my uncle,” Rangsley said. “He'll be the man to do your errand.” He called to one of the men behind. “Here, Joe Pilcher, do you go into the White Hart and drag my Uncle Tom out. Bring un up to me to the nest.”
Three doors further on we came to a halt, and got down from our horses.
Rangsley knocked on a shutter-panel, two hard knocks with the crop and three with the naked fist. Then a lock clicked, heavy bars rumbled, and a chain rattled. Rangsley pushed me through the doorway. A side door opened, and I saw into a lighted room filled with wreaths of smoke. A paunchy man in a bob wig, with a blue coat and Windsor buttons, holding a churchwarden pipe in his right hand and a pewter quart in his left, came towards us.
“Hullo, captain," he said, "you'll be too late with the lights, won't you?” He had a deprecatory air.
"Your watch is fast, Mr. Mayor,” Rangsley answered surlily; “the tide won't serve for half an hour yet."
“Cht, cht," the other wheezed. “No offense. We respect you. But still, when one has a stake, one likes to know.”
"My stake's all I have, and my neck,” Rangsley said impatiently; “what's yours? A matter of fifty pun ten? ... Why don't you make them bring they lanthorns?”
A couple of dark lanthorns were passed to Rangsley, who halfuncovered one, and lit the way up steep wooden stairs. We climbed up to a tiny cock-loft, of which the side towards the sea was all glazed.
“Now you sit there, on the floor," Rangsley commanded;" can't leave you below; the runners will be coming to the mayor for new
of data thing thos himsense power signals
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more. A thing that was “ unnatural ” to Jack Rangsley—the man of darkness, who lived forever as if in the shadow of the gallows, was a thing to be avoided. He was for me nearly as romantic a figure as Carlos himself, but for his forbidding darkness, and he was a person of immense power. The silent Aittings of lights that I had just seen, the answering signals from the luggers far out to sea, the enforced sleep of the towns and countryside whilst his plans were working out at night, had impressed me with a sense of awe. And his words sank into my spirit, and made me afraid for my future.
We followed the others downwards into a ground-floor room that was fitted up as a barber's shop. A rushlight was burning on a table. Rangsley took hold of a piece of wainscoting, part of the frame of a panel; he pulled it towards him, and, at the same moment, a glazed show-case full of razors and brushes swung noiselessly forward with an effect of the supernatural. A small opening, just big enough to take a man's body, revealed itself. We passed through it and up a sort of tunnel. The door at the other end, which was formed of panels, had a manger and straw crib attached to it on the outside, and let us into a horse's stall. We found ourselves in the stable of the inn.
“We don't use this passage for ourselves," Rangsley said. “ Only the most looked up to need to—the justices and such like. But gallus birds like you and your company, it's best for us not to be seen in company with. Follow my uncle now. Goodnight."
We went into the yard, under the pillars of the town hall, across the silent street, through a narrow passage, and down to the sea. Old Rangsley reeled ahead of us swiftly, muttering, “Three men to be set aboard of the Thames . . . quarter past eleven. Three men to be set aboard . . .” and in a few minutes we stood upon the shingle beside the idle sea, that was nearly at the full.
TT was, I suppose, what I demanded of Fate-to be gently
wafted into the position of a hero of romance, without rough
hands at my throat. It is what we all ask, I suppose; and we get it sometimes in ten-minute snatches. I didn't know where I was going. It was enough for me to sail in and out of the patches of shadow that fell from the moon right above our heads.
We embarked, and, as we drew further out, the land turned to a shadow, spotted here and there with little lights. Behind us a cock crowed. The shingle crashed at intervals beneath the feet of a large body of men. I remembered the smugglers; but it was as if I had remembered them only to forget them forever. Old Rangsley, who steered with the sheet in his hand, kept up an unintelligible babble. Carlos and Castro talked under their breaths. Along the gunwale there was a constant ripple and gurgle. Suddenly old Rangsley began to sing; his voice was hoarse and drunken.
" When Harol' war inva-a-ded,
An' fallin', lost his crownd,
An' Normun Williuni wa-a-ded." The water murmured without a pause, as if it had a million tiny facts to communicate in very little time. And then old Rangsley hove to, to wait for the ship, and sat half asleep, lurching over the tiller. He was a very unreliable scoundrel. The boat leaked like a sieve. The wind freshened, and we three began to ask ourselves how it was going to end. There were no lights upon the sea.
At last, well out, a blue gleam caught our eyes; but by this time old Rangsley was helpless, and it fell to me to manage the boat. Carlos was of no use he knew it, and, without saying a word, busied himself in bailing the water out. But Castro, I was surprised to notice, knew more than I did about a boat, and, maimed as he was, made himself useful.
“To me it looks as if we should drown,” Carlos said at one point, very quietly. “I am sorry for you, Juan."
“And for yourself, too,” I answered, feeling very hopeless, and with a dogged grimness.
“Just now, my young cousin, I feel as if I should not mind dying under the water," he remarked with a sigh, but without ceasing to bail for a moment.
“Ah, you are sorry to be leaving home, and your friends, and Spain, and your fine adventures," I answered.
The blue flare showed a very little nearer. There was nothing to be done but talk and wait.
“No; England,” he answered in a tone full of meaning" things in England-people there. One person at least.”
To me his words and his smile seemed to imply a bitter irony; but they were said very earnestly.
Castro had hauled the helpless form of old Rangsley forward. I caught him muttering savagely:
"I could kill that old man!”
He did not want to be drowned; neither assuredly did I. But it was not fear so much as a feeling of dreariness and disappointment that had come over me, the sudden feeling that I was going not to adventure, but to death; that here was not romance, but an enda disenchanted surprise that it should so soon be all over.
We kept a grim silence. Further out in the bay, we were caught in a heavy squall. Sitting by the tiller, I got as much out of her as I knew how. We would go as far as we could before the run was over. Carlos bailed unceasingly, and without a word of complaint, sticking to his self-appointed task as if in very truth he were careless of life. A feeling came over me that this, indeed, was the elevated and the romantic. Perhaps he was tired of his life; perhaps he really regretted what he left behind him in England, or somewhere else—some association, some woman. But he, at least, if we went down together, would go gallantly, and without complaint, at the end of a life with associations, movements, having lived and regretted. I should disappear ingloriously on the very threshold.
Castro, standing up unsteadily, growled, “We may do it yet! See, señor!”
The blue gleam was much larger-it flared smokily right up towards the sky. I made out ghastly parallelograms of a ship's sails high above us, and at last many faces peering unseeingly over the rail in our direction. We all shouted together.
I may say that it was thanks to me that we reached the ship. Our boat went down under us whilst I was tying a rope under Carlos' arms. He was standing up with the bailer still in his hand. On board, the women passengers were screaming, and as I clung desperately to the rope that was thrown me, it struck me oddly that I had never before heard so many women's voices at the same time. Afterwards, when I stood on the deck, they began laughing at old Rangsley, who held forth in a thunderous voice, punctuated by hiccoughs:
“They carried I aboord-a-cop-theer lugger and sinks I in the cold, co-old sea."
It mortified me excessively that I should be tacked to his tail and exhibited to a number of people, and I had a sudden conviction of my small importance. I had expected something altogether different-an audience sympathetically interested in my desire for a passage to the West Indies; instead of which people laughed while I spoke in panting jerks, and the water dripped out of my clothes. After I had made it clear that I wanted to go with Carlos, and could pay for my passage, I was handed down into the steerage, where a tallow candle burnt in a thick, blue atmosphere. I was stripped and filled with some fiery liquid, and fell asleep. Old Rangsley was sent ashore with the pilot.
It was a new and strange life to me, opening there suddenly enough. The Thames was one of the usual West Indiamen; but to me even the very ropes and spars, the sea, and the unbroken dome of the sky, had a rich strangeness. Time passed lazily and gliding. I made more fully the acquaintance of my companions, but seemed to know them no better. I lived with Carlos in the cabin-Castro in the half-deck; but we were all three pretty constantly together, and they being the only Spaniards on board, we were more or less isolated from the other passengers.
Looking at my companions at times, I had vague misgivings. It was as if these two had fascinated me to the verge of some danger. Sometimes Castro, looking up, uttered vague ejaculations.
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