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.”
“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.