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Chapter 6 SCHEMES AND STRATAGEMS.

  • I was not minded to let Captain Nunez and the crew—every man of which wa_ither Spaniard or Portugee—see that I had any knowledge of the man whom the_ad rescued, and therefore I presently went below and kept out of the way fo_ while. Somehow I felt a considerable sense of gratification at the though_f the Cornishman’s presence on board. He seemed to me a man of resource an_f courage, and I no sooner set eyes on him in this remarkable fashion, than _egan to think how he might aid me in making my escape from my presen_osition.
  • After a time Nunez came down into the cabin where I sat, and began to tal_ith me.
  • “We have fallen in with a countryman of yours, Master Salkeld,” said he, regarding me closely, as if he wished to see how I took the news.
  • “Indeed!” said I. “The man just come aboard?”
  • “The same. A native of Cornwall, with an outlandish name, and an appetite a_arge as his body, judging by the way he eats.”
  • “He is no doubt hungry, Senor,” I said. “Perhaps he has been tossing about fo_ while.”
  • “A day and a night. One additional mouth, Master Salkeld, is what I did no_argain for.”
  • “But you would not have allowed the man to drift away to starvation an_eath?” I said.
  • “His life was no concern of mine, Master Salkeld. But I can make him useful; therefore he was worth saving. I shall enroll him as one of my crew, and carr_im to the Indies.”
  • “And then?”
  • “Then he will go ashore with you, unless he prefers to go back with me t_adiz—which he probably will not do.”
  • He left me then, and I sat wondering what he meant by saying that the Englis_ailor would probably not care to go back to Spain with him. There seeme_omething sinister in his meaning. But I gave over thinking about it, for _as by that time firmly convinced that Captain Manuel Nunez was a thorough- paced scoundrel, and well fitted to undertake all manner of villainy, despit_is polished manners and fine words. Also, I was certain that there was i_tore for me some unpleasant and possibly terrible fate, which I was powerles_o avoid and which was certain to come. Therefore I had resigned myself to m_onditions, and only hoped to show myself a true Englishman when my time o_rouble came.
  • Nevertheless, many a sad hour and day did I spend, looking across the grea_ild waste of gray water and wondering what they were doing at Beechcot. In m_ad thoughts and in my dreams I could see the little hamlet nestling agains_he purple Wold; the brown leaves piled high about the shivering hedgerows; the autumn sunlight shining over the close-cropped fields; and in the manor- house the good knight, my uncle, seated by his wood-fire, wondering what ha_ecome of me. Also I could see the old vicarage and the vicar, good Maste_imotheus, thumbing his well-loved folios, and occasionally pushing hi_pectacles from his nose to look round and inquire whether there was yet new_f the boy Humphrey. But more than these, I saw my sweetheart’s face, sad an_eary with fear, and her eyes seemed as if they looked for something and wer_nsatisfied. And then would come worse thoughts—thoughts of Jasper and hi_illainy, and of what it might have prompted him to in the way of lies. H_ould carry home a straight and an ingenious tale—I was very sure of that. H_ould tell them I was drowned or kidnaped, and nobody would doubt his story.
  • That was the worst thought of all—that my dear ones should be thinking of m_s one dead while I was simply a prisoner, being carried I knew not where, no_o what fate.
  • On the evening of the second day after the Cornish sailor came aboard, th_eather having moderated and the ship making good progress, I was leaning ove_he port bulwarks moodily gazing at the sea, when I felt a touch on my hand.
  • Looking round, I saw the Englishman engaged in coiling a rope close to me. H_ontinued his task and spoke in a low voice.
  • “I recognized you, master,” said he. “I looked through the skylight last nigh_s you talked with the captain, and I knew you again. I know not how you cam_ere, nor why, but it is strange company for a young English gentleman.”
  • “I was trapped on board,” I said.
  • “I thought so,” he responded. “But speak low, master, and take no heed of me.
  • We can converse while I work, but it will not do for us to be seen talking to_uch. The less we are noticed together the better for our necks. How came yo_ere, master? I had no thought of seeing you in such company.”
  • I told him as briefly as possible while he continued to coil the rope.
  • “Aye,” said he, when I had finished my story, “I expected something of tha_ort. Well, I am glad that the old Hawthorn left me swimming, though sorr_nough that all her merry men are gone down below. But what! death must come.
  • Now, young master, what can we do? I swore a solemn oath when your good uncl_efriended me that I would serve you. This is the time. What can I do?”
  • “Alas,” said I, “I know not.”
  • “Do you know whither we are bound?” he asked.
  • “The Captain says to the West Indies. But I do not know if that be true o_alse.”
  • “More likely to be false than true, master. Now, then, hearken to me, youn_ir. I have seen a deal of life, and have been a mariner this thirty year o_ore. We must use our wits. Can you, do you think, find out what ou_estination really is?”
  • “I am afraid not,” I replied. “Nunez will not tell me more than he has alread_old me.”
  • “True,” said he; “true—you will get naught out of him. But I have a bette_hance. I can talk to the men—well it is that I know their lingo sufficientl_or that. But nay, I will not talk to them, I will listen instead. They do no_now that I understand Spanish. There are three of them speak broke_nglish—they shall do the talking. I will keep my ears open for thei_panish—peradventure I shall hear something worth my trouble. You see, master, if we only know where we are going, and what we have to expect when we ge_here, we shall be in a much better position than we are now. For now we ar_s men that walk in a fog, not knowing where the next step will take them.”
  • “I will do whatever you wish,” said I.
  • “Then be careful not to have over-much converse with me, master. Yon Nunez ha_he eye of a hawk and the stealth of a viper, and if he does but suspect tha_ou and I are in treaty together, he will throw me overboard with a dagge_ound under my shoulder-blade.”
  • “How shall we hold converse, then?”
  • “As we are now doing. If I have aught to tell you I will give you a sign whe_ou are near me. A wink, or a nod, or a cough—either will do. And what I hav_o say I will say quickly, so that whoever watches us will think we do no mor_han pass the time of day.”
  • So for that time we parted, and during the next few days I watched for Pharao_anjulian’s sign eagerly, and was sadly disappointed when I received it not.
  • Indeed, for nearly a week he took no notice of me whatever, giving me not eve_ sign of recognition as I passed him on the deck, so that Nunez was minded t_emark upon his indifference.
  • “Your countryman seems but a surly dog,” said he. “I should have thought h_ould have sought your company, Master Salkeld, but he seems to care no mor_or it than for that of the ship’s dog.”
  • “He is a Cornishman and a sailor, and I am a Yorkshireman and a gentleman,” said I. “In England we should not associate one with the other, so wherefor_hould we here?”
  • “Nay, true, unless that you are companions in adversity, and that make_trange bedfellows,” said he. “But you English are not given to talking.”
  • I hoped that he really thought so, and that he had no idea of the thought_ithin me. I was ready enough to talk when Pharaoh Nanjulian gave the signal.
  • It came at last as he stood at the wheel one night, and I stood near, apparently idling away my time.
  • “Now, master,” said he, “continue looking over the side and I will talk. _ave found out where we are going.”
  • “Well?” I said, eager enough for his news.
  • “We are bound for Vera Cruz, master.”
  • “Where is that? In the West Indies?”
  • “It is a port of Mexico, master, and in the possession of the Spaniards, wh_re devils in human shape.”
  • “And what will they do with us there?”
  • “That I have also found out. It seems that your good cousin, Master Stapleton, did make a bargain with this noble Spanish gentleman, Captain Nunez, fo_etting you out of the way. The bo’s’n, Pedro, says that your cousin suggeste_hat Nunez should sail you out to sea, and then knock you on the head an_eave you overboard. But Nunez would have none of that, and decided that h_ould carry you with him to Vera Cruz.”
  • “And what will befall me at Vera Cruz?”
  • “He, being a pious man, will hand you over to the Holy Office.”
  • “To the Holy Office! You mean the Inquisitors? And they——”
  • “They will burn you for a Lutheran dog, master.”
  • We were both silent for awhile. I was thinking of naught but the fiendis_ruelty which existed in such a man as Manuel Nunez. Presently I thought o_haraoh Nanjulian.
  • “And yourself?” I said. “What will he do with you?”
  • “I am to share your fate, master. Senor Nunez is a good and pious son o_other Church, and he will wipe out a score or two of sins by presenting th_take with two English heretics.”
  • After that I thought again for a time.
  • “Pharaoh,” I said at last, “we will not die very willingly. I have a good dea_o live for. There is my sweetheart and my uncle to go back to, and also _ave an account to settle with Jasper Stapleton. I will make an effort to d_ll this before my time comes.”
  • “I am with you, master,” said he.
  • “Have you thought of anything?” I asked.
  • “Nothing, but that we must escape,” he answered.
  • “Could we manage that after the ship reaches Vera Cruz?”
  • “No, for a surety. We shall be watched as cats watch mice. If we ever set foo_n a quay-side in that accursed port, master, we are dead men. God help us! _now what the mercies of these Spaniards are. I stood in the City of Mexic_nd saw two Englishmen burnt. That was ten years ago. But more of that anon.
  • Let us see to the present. We are dead men, I say, if we set foot in Ver_ruz, or any port of that cruel region.”
  • “Then there is but one thing for us,” I said.
  • “And that, master?”
  • “We must leave this ship before she drops anchor.”
  • “That is a good notion,” said he, “a right good notion; but the thing is, ho_o do it?”
  • “Could we not take one of the boats some night, and get away in it?”
  • “Aye, but there are many things to consider. We should have to victual it, an_hen we might run short, for we should have no compass, and no notion, or ver_ittle, of our direction. We might starve to death, or die of thirst.”
  • “I had as soon die of thirst or hunger, as of fire and torture.”
  • “Marry, and so would I. Yea, it were better to die here on the wide ocean tha_n the market-place of Mexico or Vera Cruz.”
  • “Let us try it, Pharaoh. Devise some plan. I will not fail to help if I can b_f any use.”
  • “I will think,” he said; “I will think till I find a means of escape. I recko_hat we have still a month before us. It shall go hard if our English brain_annot devise some method whereby we may outwit these Spanish devils.”
  • So we began to plot and plan, spurred on by the knowledge of what awaited u_n Mexico.