An hour thereafter, Dick was back at the Goat and Bagpipes, breaking his fast, and receiving the report of his messengers and sentries. Duckworth was stil_bsent from Shoreby; and this was frequently the case, for he played man_arts in the world, shared many different interests, and conducted man_arious affairs. He had founded that fellowship of the Black Arrow, as _uined man longing for vengeance and money; and yet among those who knew hi_est, he was thought to be the agent and emissary of the great King-maker o_ngland, Richard, Earl of Warwick.
In his absence, at any rate, it fell upon Richard Shelton to command affair_n Shoreby; and, as he sat at meat, his mind was full of care, and his fac_eavy with consideration. It had been determined, between him and the Lor_oxham, to make one bold stroke that evening, and, by brute force, to se_oanna free. The obstacles, however, were many; and as one after another o_is scouts arrived, each brought him more discomfortable news.
Sir Daniel was alarmed by the skirmish of the night before. He had increase_he garrison of the house in the garden; but not content with that, he ha_tationed horsemen in all the neighbouring lanes, so that he might hav_nstant word of any movement. Meanwhile, in the court of his mansion, steed_tood saddled, and the riders, armed at every point, awaited but the signal t_ide.
The adventure of the night appeared more and more difficult of execution, til_uddenly Dick’s countenance lightened.
“Lawless!” he cried, “you that were a shipman, can ye steal me a ship?”
“Master Dick,” replied Lawless, “if ye would back me, I would agree to stea_ork Minster.”
Presently after, these two set forth and descended to the harbour. It was _onsiderable basin, lying among sand hills, and surrounded with patches o_own, ancient ruinous lumber, and tumble-down slums of the town. Many decke_hips and many open boats either lay there at anchor, or had been drawn up o_he beach. A long duration of bad weather had driven them from the high sea_nto the shelter of the port; and the great trooping of black clouds, and th_old squalls that followed one another, now with a sprinkling of dry snow, no_n a mere swoop of wind, promised no improvement but rather threatened a mor_erious storm in the immediate future.
The seamen, in view of the cold and the wind, had for the most part slun_shore, and were now roaring and singing in the shoreside taverns. Many of th_hips already rode unguarded at their anchors; and as the day wore on, and th_eather offered no appearance of improvement, the number was continually bein_ugmented. It was to these deserted ships, and, above all, to those of the_hat lay far out, that Lawless directed his attention; while Dick, seated upo_n anchor that was half embedded in the sand, and giving ear, now to the rude, potent, and boding voices of the gale, and now to the hoarse singing of th_hipmen in a neighbouring tavern, soon forgot his immediate surroundings an_oncerns in the agreeable recollection of Lord Foxham’s promise.
He was disturbed by a touch upon his shoulder. It was Lawless, pointing to _mall ship that lay somewhat by itself, and within but a little of the harbou_outh, where it heaved regularly and smoothly on the entering swell. A pal_leam of winter sunshine fell, at that moment, on the vessel’s deck, relievin_er against a bank of scowling cloud; and in this momentary glitter Dick coul_ee a couple of men hauling the skiff alongside.
“There, sir,” said Lawless, “mark ye it well! There is the ship for to-night.”
Presently the skiff put out from the vessel’s side, and the two men, keepin_er head well to the wind, pulled lustily for shore. Lawless turned to _oiterer.
“How call ye her?” he asked, pointing to the little vessel.
“They call her the Good Hope, of Dartmouth,” replied the loiterer. “He_aptain, Arblaster by name. He pulleth the bow oar in yon skiff.”
This was all that Lawless wanted. Hurriedly thanking the man, he moved roun_he shore to a certain sandy creek, for which the skiff was heading. There h_ook up his position, and as soon as they were within earshot, opened fire o_he sailors of the Good Hope.
“What! Gossip Arblaster!” he cried. “Why, ye be well met; nay, gossip, ye b_ight well met, upon the rood! And is that the Good Hope? Ay, I would know he_mong ten thousand! - a sweet shear, a sweet boat! But marry come up, m_ossip, will ye drink? I have come into mine estate which doubtless y_emember to have heard on. I am now rich; I have left to sail upon the sea; _o sail now, for the most part, upon spiced ale. Come, fellow; thy hand upon ’t! Come, drink with an old shipfellow!”
Skipper Arblaster, a long-faced, elderly, weather-beaten man, with a knif_anging about his neck by a plaited cord, and for all the world like an_odern seaman in his gait and bearing, had hung back in obvious amazement an_istrust. But the name of an estate, and a certain air of tipsified simplicit_nd good-fellowship which Lawless very well affected, combined to conquer hi_uspicious jealousy; his countenance relaxed, and he at once extended his ope_and and squeezed that of the outlaw in a formidable grasp.
“Nay,” he said, “I cannot mind you. But what o’ that? I would drink with an_an, gossip, and so would my man Tom. Man Tom,” he added, addressing hi_ollower, “here is my gossip, whose name I cannot mind, but no doubt a ver_ood seaman. Let’s go drink with him and his shore friend.”
Lawless led the way, and they were soon seated in an alehouse, which, as i_as very new, and stood in an exposed and solitary station, was less crowde_han those nearer to the centre of the port. It was but a shed of timber, muc_ike a blockhouse in the backwoods of to-day, and was coarsely furnished wit_ press or two, a number of naked benches, and boards set upon barrels to pla_he part of tables. In the middle, and besieged by half a hundred violen_raughts, a fire of wreck-wood blazed and vomited thick smoke.
“Ay, now,” said Lawless, “here is a shipman’s joy - a good fire and a goo_tiff cup ashore, with foul weather without and an off-sea gale a-snoring i_he roof ! Here’s to the Good Hope! May she ride easy!”
“Ay,” said Skipper Arblaster, “’tis good weather to be ashore in, that i_ooth. Man Tom, how say ye to that? Gossip, ye speak well, though I can neve_hink upon your name; but ye speak very well. May the Good Hope ride easy!
“Friend Dickon,” resumed Lawless, addressing his commander, “ye have certai_atters on hand, unless I err? Well, prithee be about them incontinently. Fo_ere I be with the choice of all good company, two tough old shipmen; and til_hat ye return I will go warrant these brave fellows will bide here and drin_e cup for cup. We are not like shore-men, we old, tough tarry-Johns!”
“It is well meant,” returned the skipper. “Ye can go, boy; for I will kee_our good friend and my good gossip company till curfew - ay, and by St. Mary, till the sun get up again! For, look ye, when a man hath been long enough a_ea, the salt getteth me into the clay upon his bones; and let him drink _raw-well, he will never be quenched.”
Thus encouraged upon all hands, Dick rose, saluted his company, and goin_orth again into the gusty afternoon, got him as speedily as he might to th_oat and Bagpipes. Thence he sent word to my Lord Foxham that, so soon as eve_he evening closed, they would have a stout boat to keep the sea in. And the_eading along with him a couple of outlaws who had some experience of the sea, he returned himself to the harbour and the little sandy creek.
The skiff of the Good Hope lay among many others, from which it was easil_istinguished by its extreme smallness and fragility. Indeed, when Dick an_is two men had taken their places, and begun to put forth out of the cree_nto the open harbour, the little cockle dipped into the swell and staggere_nder every gust of wind, like a thing upon the point of sinking.
The Good Hope, as we have said, was anchored far out, where the swell wa_eaviest. No other vessel lay nearer than several cables’ length; those tha_ere the nearest were themselves entirely deserted; and as the skif_pproached, a thick flurry of snow and a sudden darkening of the weathe_urther concealed the movements of the outlaws from all possible espial. In _rice they had leaped upon the heaving deck, and the skiff was dancing at th_tern. The Good Hope was captured.
She was a good stout boat, decked in the bows and amidships, but open in th_tern. She carried one mast, and was rigged between a felucca and a lugger. I_ould seem that Skipper Arblaster had made an excellent venture, for the hol_as full of pieces of French wine; and in the little cabin, besides the Virgi_ary in the bulkhead which proved the captain’s piety, there were man_ockfast chests and cupboards, which showed him to be rich and careful.
A dog, who was the sole occupant of the vessel, furiously barked and bit th_eels of the boarders; but he was soon kicked into the cabin, and the doo_hut upon his just resentment. A lamp was lit and fixed in the shrouds to mar_he vessel clearly from the shore; one of the wine pieces in the hold wa_roached, and a cup of excellent Gascony emptied to the adventure of th_vening; and then, while one of the outlaws began to get ready his bow an_rrows and prepare to hold the ship against all comers, the other hauled i_he skiff and got overboard, where he held on, waiting for Dick.
“Well, Jack, keep me a good watch,” said the young commander, preparing t_ollow his subordinate. “Ye will do right well.”
“Why,” returned Jack, “I shall do excellent well indeed, so long as we li_ere; but once we put the nose of this poor ship outside the harbour - See, there she trembles! Nay, the poor shrew heard the words, and the heart misgav_er in her oak-tree ribs. But look, Master Dick! how black the weathe_athers!”
The darkness ahead was, indeed, astonishing. Great billows heaved up out o_he blackness, one after another; and one after another the Good Hop_uoyantly climbed, and giddily plunged upon the further side. A thin sprinkl_f snow and thin flakes of foam came flying, and powdered the deck; and th_ind harped dismally among the rigging.
“In sooth, it looketh evilly,” said Dick. “But what cheer! ’Tis but a squall, and presently it will blow over.” But, in spite of his words, he wa_epressingly affected by the bleak disorder of the sky and the wailing an_luting of the wind; and as he got over the side of the Good Hope and mad_nce more for the landing-creek with the best speed of oars, he crosse_imself devoutly, and recommended to Heaven the lives of all who shoul_dventure on the sea.
At the landing-creek there had already gathered about a dozen of the outlaws.
To these the skiff was left, and they were bidden embark without delay.
A little further up the beach Dick found Lord Foxham hurrying in quest of him, his face concealed with a dark hood, and his bright armour covered by a lon_usset mantle of a poor appearance.
“Young Shelton,” he said, “are ye for sea, then, truly?”
“My lord,” replied Richard, “they lie about the house with horsemen; it ma_ot be reached from the land side without alarum; and Sir Daniel onc_dvertised of our adventure, we can no more carry it to a good end than, saving your presence, we could ride upon the wind. Now, in going round by sea, we do run some peril by the elements; but, what much outweighteth all, we hav_ chance to make good our purpose and bear off the maid.”
“Well,” returned Lord Foxham, “lead on. I will, in some sort, follow you fo_hame’s sake; but I own I would I were in bed.”
“Here, then,” said Dick. “Hither we go to fetch our pilot.”
And he led the way to the rude alehouse where he had given rendezvous to _ortion of his men. Some of these he found lingering round the door outside; others had pushed more boldly in, and, choosing places as near as possible t_here they saw their comrade, gathered close about Lawless and the tw_hipmen. These, to judge by the distempered countenance and cloudy eye, ha_ong since gone beyond the boundaries of moderation; and as Richard entered, closely followed by Lord Foxham, they were all three tuning up an old, pitifu_ea-ditty, to the chorus of the wailing of the gale.
The young leader cast a rapid glance about the shed. The fire had just bee_eplenished, and gave forth volumes of black smoke, so that it was difficul_o see clearly in the further corners. It was plain, however, that the outlaw_ery largely outnumbered the remainder of the guests. Satisfied upon thi_oint, in case of any failure in the operation of his plan, Dick strode up t_he table and resumed his place upon the bench.
“Hey?” cried the skipper, tipsily, “who are ye, hey?”
“I want a word with you without, Master Arblaster,” returned Dick; “and her_s what we shall talk of.” And he showed him a gold noble in the glimmer o_he firelight.
The shipman’s eyes burned, although he still failed to recognise our hero.
“Ay, boy,” he said, “I am with you. Gossip, I will be back anon. Drink fair, gossip;” and, taking Dick’s arm to steady his uneven steps, he walked to th_oor of the alehouse.
As soon as he was over the threshold, ten strong arms had seized and boun_im; and in two minutes more, with his limbs trussed one to another, and _ood gag in his mouth, he had been tumbled neck and crop into a neighbourin_ay-barn. Presently, his man Tom, similarly secured, was tossed beside him, and the pair were left to their uncouth reflections for the night.
And now, as the time for concealment had gone by, Lord Foxham’s followers wer_ummoned by a preconcerted signal, and the party, boldly taking possession o_s many boats as their numbers required, pulled in a flotilla for the light i_he rigging of the ship. Long before the last man had climbed to the deck o_he Good Hope, the sound of furious shouting from the shore showed that _art, at least, of the seamen had discovered the loss of their skiffs.
But it was now too late, whether for recovery or revenge. Out of some fort_ighting men now mustered in the stolen ship, eight had been to sea, and coul_lay the part of mariners. With the aid of these, a slice of sail was got upo_er. The cable was cut. Lawless, vacillating on his feet, and still shoutin_he chorus of sea-ballads, took the long tiller in his hands: and the Goo_ope began to flit forward into the darkness of the night, and to face th_reat waves beyond the harbour bar.
Richard took his place beside the weather rigging. Except for the ship’s ow_antern, and for some lights in Shoreby town, that were already fading t_eeward, the whole world of air was as black as in a pit. Only from time t_ime, as the Good Hope swooped dizzily down into the valley of the rollers, _rest would break - a great cataract of snowy foam would leap in one instan_nto being \- and, in an instant more, would stream into the wake and vanish.
Many of the men lay holding on and praying aloud; many more were sick, and ha_rept into the bottom, where they sprawled among the cargo. And what with th_xtreme violence of the motion, and the continued drunken bravado of Lawless, still shouting and singing at the helm, the stoutest heart on board may hav_ourished a shrewd misgiving as to the result.
But Lawless, as if guided by an instinct, steered the ship across th_reakers, struck the lee of a great sandbank, where they sailed for awhile i_mooth water, and presently after laid her alongside a rude, stone pier, wher_he was hastily made fast, and lay ducking and grinding in the dark.