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Chapter 19 IN WHICH WE HAVE UNEXPECTED COMPANY

  • THE wind, which had heretofore come in fierce blasts, was now steadying to _ale. What with the flying of the heaped clouds, the slanting, groaning pines, and the rushing of the river, the whole earth seemed a fugitive, fleein_reathless to the sea. From across the neck of land came the long-drawn how_f wolves, and in the wood beyond the church a catamount screamed an_creamed. The town before us lay as dark and as still as the grave; from th_arden where we were we could not see the Governor's house.
  • "I will carry madam's bundle," said a voice behind us.
  • It was the minister who had spoken, and he now stood beside us. There was _oment's silence, then I said, with a laugh: "We are not going upon a summe_aunt, friend Sparrow. There is a warm fire in the great room, to which you_everence had best betake yourself out of this windy night."
  • As he made no movement to depart, but instead possessed himself of Mistres_ercy's bundle, I spoke again, with some impatience: "We are no longer of you_old, reverend sir, but are bound for another parish. We give you heart_hanks for your hospitality, and wish you a very good night."
  • As I spoke I would have taken the bundle from him, but he tucked it under hi_rm, and, passing us, opened the garden gate. "Did I forget to tell you," h_aid, "that worthy Master Bucke is well of the fever, and returns to his ow_o-morrow? His house and church are no longer mine. I have no charge anywhere.
  • I am free and footloose. May I not go with you, madam? There may be dragons t_lay, and two can guard a distressed princess better than one. Will you tak_e for your squire, Captain Percy?"
  • He held out his great hand, and after a moment I put my own in it.
  • We left the garden and struck into a lane. "The river, then, instead of th_orest?" he asked in a low voice.
  • "Ay," I answered. "Of the two evils it seems the lesser."
  • "How about a boat?"
  • "My own is fastened to the piles of the old deserted wharf."
  • "You have with you neither food nor water."
  • "Both are in the boat. I have kept her victualed for a week or more."
  • He laughed in the darkness, and I heard my wife beside me utter a stifle_xclamation.
  • The lane that we were now in ran parallel to the street to within fifty yard_f the guest house, when it bent sharply down to the river. We moved silentl_nd with caution, for some night bird might accost us or the watch come upo_s. In the guest house all was darkness save one room,—the upper room,—fro_hich came a very pale light. When we had turned with the lane there were n_ouses to pass; only gaunt pines and copses of sumach. I took my wife by th_and and hurried her on. A hundred yards before us ran the river, dark an_urbulent, and between us and it rose an old, unsafe, and abandoned landing.
  • Sparrow laid his hand upon my arm. "Footsteps behind us," he whispered.
  • Without slackening pace I turned my head and looked. The clouds, high aroun_he horizon, were thinning overhead, and the moon, herself invisible, ye_ightened the darkness below. The sandy lane stretched behind us like a ribbo_f twilight,—nothing to be seen but it and the ebony mass of bush and tre_ining it on either side. We hastened on. A minute later and we heard behin_s a sound like the winding of a small horn, clear, shrill, and sweet. Sparro_nd I wheeled—and saw nothing. The trees ran down to the very edge of th_harf, upon whose rotten, loosened, and noisy boards we now trod. Suddenly th_louds above us broke, and the moon shone forth, whitening the mountainou_louds, the ridged and angry river, and the low, tree-fringed shore. Below us, fastened to the piles and rocking with the waves, was the open boat in whic_e were to embark. A few broken steps led from the boards above to the wate_elow. Descending these I sprang into the boat and held out my arms fo_istress Percy. Sparrow gave her to me, and I lifted her down beside me; the_urned to give what aid I might to the minister, who was halfway down th_teps—and faced my Lord Carnal.
  • What devil had led him forth on such a night; why he, whom with my own eyes, three hours agone, I had seen drunken, should have chosen, after his carouse, cold air and his own company rather than sleep; when and where he first spie_s, how long he had followed us, I have never known. Perhaps he could no_leep for triumph, had heard of my impending arrest, had come forth to add t_he bitterness of my cup by his presence, and so had happened upon us. H_ould only have guessed at those he followed, until he reached the edge of th_harf and looked down upon us in the moonlight. For a moment he stood withou_oving; then he raised his hand to his lips, and the shrill call that ha_efore startled us rang out again. At the far end of the lane lights appeared.
  • Men were coming down the lane at a run; whether they were the watch, or m_ord's own rogues, we tarried not to see. There was not time to loosen th_ope from the piles, so I drew my knife to cut it. My lord saw the movement, and sprang down the steps, at the same time shouting to the men behind t_asten. Sparrow, grappling with him, locked him in a giant's embrace, lifte_im bodily from the steps, and flung him into the boat. His head struc_gainst a thwart, and he lay, huddled beneath it, quiet enough. The ministe_prang after him, and I cut the rope. By now the wharf shook with runnin_eet, and the backward-streaming flame of the torches reddened its boards an_he black water beneath; but each instant the water widened between us and ou_ursuers. Wind and current swept us out, and at that wharf there were no boat_o follow us.
  • Those whom my lord's whistle had brought were now upon the very edge of th_harf. The marshal's voice called upon us in the name of the King to return.
  • Finding that we vouchsafed no answer, he pulled out a pistol and fired, th_all going through my hat; then whipped out its fellow and fired again.
  • Mistress Percy, whose behavior had been that of an angel, stirred in her seat.
  • I did not know until the day broke that the ball had grazed her arm, drenchin_er sleeve with blood.
  • "It is time we were away," I said, with a laugh. "If your reverence will kee_our hand upon the tiller and your eye upon the gentleman whom you have mad_ur traveling companion, I'll put up the sail."
  • I was on my way to the foremast, when the boom lying prone before me rose.
  • Slowly and majestically the sail ascended, tapering upward, silvered by th_oon,—the great white pinion which should bear us we knew not whither. _topped short in my tracks, Mistress Percy drew a sobbing breath, and th_inister gasped with admiration. We all three stared as though the white clot_ad veritably been a monster wing endowed with life.
  • "Sails don't rise of themselves!" I exclaimed, and was at the mast before th_ords were out of my lips. Crouched behind it was a man. I should have know_im even without the aid of the moon. Often enough, God knows, I had seen hi_rouched like this beside me, ourselves in ambush awaiting some unwary foe, brute or human; or ourselves in hiding, holding our breath lest it shoul_etray us. The minister who had been a player, the rival who would hav_oisoned me, the servant who would have stabbed me, the wife who was wife i_ame only,—mine were strange shipmates.
  • He rose to his feet and stood there against the mast, in the old half- submissive, half-defiant attitude, with his head thrown back in the old way.
  • "If you order me, sir, I will swim ashore," he said, half sullenly, half—_now not how.
  • "You would never reach the shore," I replied. "And you know that I will neve_rder you again. Stay here if you please, or come aft if you please."
  • I went back and took the tiller from Sparrow. We were now in mid-river, an_he swollen stream and the strong wind bore us on with them like a leaf befor_he gale. We left behind the lights and the clamor, the dark town and th_ilent fort, the weary Due Return and the shipping about the lower wharf.
  • Before us loomed the Santa Teresa; we passed so close beneath her huge blac_ides that we heard the wind whistling through her rigging. When she, too, wa_one, the river lay bare before us; silver when the moon shone, of an ink_lackness when it was obscured by one of the many flying clouds.
  • My wife wrapped her mantle closer about her, and, leaning back in her seat i_he stern beside me, raised her face to the wild and solemn heavens. Dicco_at apart in the bow and held his tongue. The minister bent over, and, liftin_he man that lay in the bottom of the boat, laid him at full length upon th_hwart before us. The moonlight streamed down upon the prostrate figure. _hink it could never have shone upon a more handsome or a more wicked man. H_ay there in his splendid dress and dark beauty, Endymion-like, beneath th_oon. The King's ward turned her eyes upon him, kept them there a moment, the_lanced away, and looked at him no more.
  • "There's a parlous lump upon his forehead where it struck the thwart," sai_he minister, "but the life's yet in him. He'll shame honest men for many _ay to come. Your Platonists, who from a goodly outside argue as fair a soul, could never have been acquainted with this gentleman."
  • The subject of his discourse moaned and stirred. The minister raised one o_he hanging hands and felt for the pulse. "Faint enough," he went on. "_ittle more and the King might have waited for his minion forever and a day.
  • It would have been the better for us, who have now, indeed, a strange fis_pon our hands, but I am glad I killed him not."
  • I tossed him a flask. "It's good aqua vitae, and the flask is honest. Give hi_o drink of it."
  • He forced the liquor between my lord's teeth, then dashed water in his face.
  • Another minute and the King's favorite sat up and looked around him. Dazed a_et, he stared, with no comprehension in his eyes, at the clouds, the sail, the rushing water, the dark figures about him. "Nicolo!" he cried sharply.
  • "He's not here, my lord," I said.
  • At the sound of my voice he sprang to his feet.
  • "I should advise your lordship to sit still," I said. "The wind is ver_oisterous, and we are not under bare poles. If you exert yourself, you ma_apsize the boat."
  • He sat down mechanically, and put his hand to his forehead. I watched hi_uriously. It was the strangest trick that fortune had played him.
  • His hand dropped at last, and he straightened himself, with a long breath.
  • "Who threw me into the boat?" he demanded.
  • "The honor was mine," declared the minister.
  • The King's minion lacked not the courage of the body, nor, when passionat_ction had brought him naught, a certain reserve force of philosophy. He no_id the best thing he could have done,—burst into a roar of laughter. "Zooks!"
  • he cried. "It's as good a comedy as ever I saw! How's the play to end, captain? Are we to go off laughing, or is the end to be bloody after all? Fo_nstance, is there murder to be done?" He looked at me boldly, one hand on hi_ip, the other twirling his mustaches.
  • "We are not all murderers, my lord," I told him. "For the present you are i_o danger other than that which is common to us all."
  • He looked at the clouds piling behind us, thicker and thicker, higher an_igher, at the bending mast, at the black water swirling now and again ove_he gunwales. "It's enough," he muttered.
  • I beckoned to Diccon, and putting the tiller into his hands went forward t_eef the sail. When it was done and I was back in my place, my lord spok_gain.
  • "Where are we going, captain?"
  • "I don't know."
  • "If you leave that sail up much longer, you will land us at the bottom of th_iver."
  • "There are worse places," I replied.
  • He left his seat, and moved, though with caution, to one nearer Mistres_ercy. "Are cold and storm and peril sweeter to you, lady, than warmth an_afety, and a love that would guard you from, not run you into, danger?" h_aid in a whisper. "Do you not wish this boat the Santa Teresa, these rud_oards the velvet cushions of her state cabin, this darkness her many lights, this cold her warmth, with the night shut out and love shut in?"
  • His audacity, if it angered me, yet made me laugh. Not so with the King'_ard. She shrank from him until she pressed against the tiller. Our flight, the pursuing feet, the struggle at the wharf, her wounded arm of which she ha_ot told, the terror of the white sail rising as if by magic, the vision o_he man she hated lying as one dead before her in the moonlight, the cold, th_urry of the night,—small wonder if her spirit failed her for some time. _elt her hand touch mine where it rested upon the tiller. "Captain Percy," sh_urmured, with a little sobbing breath.
  • I leaned across the tiller and addressed the favorite. "My lord," I said,
  • "courtesy to prisoners is one thing, and freedom from restraint and license o_ongue is another. Here at the stern the boat is somewhat heavily freighted.
  • Your lordship will oblige me if you will go forward where there is room enoug_nd to spare."
  • His black brows drew together. "And what if I refuse, sir?" he demande_aughtily.
  • "I have rope here," I answered, "and to aid me the gentleman who once befor_o-night, and in despite of your struggles, lifted you in his arms like a_nfant. We will tie you hand and foot, and lay you in the bottom of the boat.
  • If you make too much trouble, there is always the river. My lord, you are no_ow at Whitehall. You are with desperate men, outlaws who have no king, and s_ear no king's minions. Will you go free, or will you go bound? Go you shall, one way or the other."
  • He looked at me with rage and hatred in his face. Then, with a laugh that wa_ot good to hear and a shrug of the shoulders, he went forward to bear Dicco_ompany in the bow.