« PreviousContinue »
betwixt them. They're both in my red barn, if you want their direction.
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-and-corner 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 firwood above the quarry, in half an hour's time. All I had to do was to whistle three bars of Lillibullero," as a signal. nection 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 rumors of it; and there was a danger that Castro and Carlos, if not looked after, might end their days in some marshdyke. 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.
ETWEEN moonrise and sunset I was stumbling through the bracken of the little copse that was like a tuft of hair
on the brow of the great white quarry. It was quite dark, in among the trees. I made the circuit of the copse, whistling softly my three bars of “ Lillibullero." Then I plunged into it. The bracken underfoot rustled and rustled. I came to a halt. A little bar of light lay on the horizon in front of me, almost colorless. It was crossed again and again by the small fir-trunks that were little more than wands. A woodpigeon rose with a sudden crash of sound, Aapping away against the branches. My pulse was dancing with delight-my heart, too. It was like a game of hide-and-seek, and yet it was life at last. Everything grew silent again, and I began to think I had missed my time. Down below in the plain, a great way off, a dog was barking continuously. I moved forward a few paces and whistled. The glow of adventure began to die away. There was nothing at all—a little mystery of light on the tree-trunks.
I moved forward again, getting back towards the road. Against the glimmer of dead light I thought I caught the outlines of a man's hat down among the tossing lines of the bracken. I whispered loudly:
Carlos! Carlos!" There was a moment of hoarse whispering; a sudden gruff sound. A shaft of blazing yellow light darted from the level of the ground into
eyes. A man sprang at me and thrust something cold and knobby into my neckcloth. The light continued to blaze into my eyes; it moved upwards and shone on a red waistcoat dashed with gilt buttons. I was being arrested.. .. “ In the King's name.
It was a most sudden catastrophe. A hand was clutching my windpipe.
"Don't you so much as squeak, Mr. Castro," a voice whispered in my ear.
The lanthorn light suddenly died out, and I heard whispers. Get him out on to the road.
I'll tackle the other .. Darbies. ... Mind his knife.”
I was like a confounded rabbit in their hands. One of them had his fist on my collar and jerked me out upon the hard road. We rolled down the embankment, but he was on the top. It seemed an abominable episode, a piece of bad faith on the part of fate. I ought to have been exempt from these sordid haps, but the man's hot leathery hand on my throat was like a foretaste of the other collar. And I was horribly afraid-horribly-of the sort of mysterious potency of the laws that these men represented, and I could think of nothing to do.
We stood in a little slanting cutting in the shadow. A watery light before the moon's rising slanted downwards from the hilltop along the opposite bank. We stood in utter silence.
“If you stir a hair," my captor said coolly, “ I'll squeeze the blood out of your throat, like a rotten orange.”
He had the calmness of one dealing with an every-day incident; yet the incident was—it should have been—tremendous. We stood waiting silently for an eternity, as one waits for a hare to break covert before the beaters. From down the long hill came a small sound of horses' hoofs—a sound like the beating of the heart, intermittent -a muffled thud on turf, and a faint clink of iron. It seemed to die away unheard by the runner beside me. Presently there was a crackling of the short pine branches, a rustle, and a hoarse whisper said from above: "Other's cleared, Thoms. Got that one safe?”
The man from above dropped down into the road, a clumsy, cloaked figure. He turned his lantern upon me, in a painful yellow glare.
What! 'Tis the young 'un," he grunted, after a moment. "Read the warrant, Thoms."
My captor began to fumble in his pocket, pulled out a paper, and bent down into the light. Suddenly he paused and looked up
“This aint - Mr. Lillywhite, I don't believe this aint a Jack Spaniard."
The clinks of bits and stirrup-irons came down in a waft again.
That be hanged for a tale, Thoms,” the man with the lanthorn said sharply. “If this here aint Riego-or the otherI'll I began to come out of my stupor. My name's John Kemp,” I said. The other grunted. “Hurry up, Thoms.” “But, Mr. Lillywhite," Thoms reasoned, “he don't speak like a Dago. Split me if he do! And we aint in a friendly country either, you know that. We can't afford to rile the gentry!” I plucked up courage.
You'll get your heads broke,” I said, “if you wait much longer. Hark to that!”
The approaching horses had turned off the turf on to the hard road; the steps of first one and then another sounded out down the silent hill. I knew it was the Free Traders from that; for except between banks they kept to the soft roadsides as if it were an article of faith. The noise of hoofs became that of an army.
The runners began to consult. The shadow called Thoms was for bolting across country; but Lillywhite was not built for speed. Besides he did not know the lie of the land, and believed the Free Traders were mere bogeys.
They'll never touch us,” Lillywhite grumbled. “We've a warrant
King's name. ." He was flashing his lanthorn aimlessly up the hill.
“Besides," he began again, “ we've got this gallus bird. If he's not a Spaniard, he knows all about them. I heard him. Kemp he may be, but he spoke Spanish up there. . and we've got something for our trouble. He'll swing, I'll lay you a
From far above us came a shout, then a confused noise of voices. The moon began to get up; above the cutting the clouds had a fringe of sudden silver. A horseman, cloaked and muffled to the ears, trotted warily towards us.
"What's up?" he hailed from a matter of ten yards. What re you showing that glim for? Anything wrong below?" The runners kept silence; we heard the click of a pistol lock.
In the king's name," Lillywhite shouted, “get off that nag and lend a hand! We've a prisoner."