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.