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Chapter 3

The spirit of the age has changed; everything has changed so utterly
that one can hardly believe in the existence of one's earlier self. But
I can still remember how, at that moment, I made the acquaintance of
my heart--a thing that bounded and leapt within my chest, a little
sickeningly. The other details I forget.

Jack Rangsley was a tall, big-boned, thin man, with something sinister
in the lines of his horseman's cloak, and something reckless in the way
he set his spurred heel on the ground. He was the son of an old Marsh
squire. Old Rangsley had been head of the last of the Owlers--the
aristocracy of export smugglers--and Jack had sunk a little in becoming
the head of the Old Bourne Tap importers. But he was hard enough,
tyrannical enough, and had nerve enough to keep Free-trading alive in
our parts until long after it had become an anachronism. He ended his
days on the gallows, of course, but that was long afterwards.

"I'd give a dollar to know what's going on in those runners' heads,"
Rangsley said, pointing back with his crop. He laughed gayly. The great
white face of the quarry rose up pale in the moonlight; the dusky red
fires of the limekilns glowed at the base, sending up a blood-red dust
of sullen smoke. "I'll swear they think they've dropped straight into
hell.

"You'll have to cut the country, John," he added suddenly, "they'll have
got your name uncommon pat. I did my best for you." He had had me tied
up like that before the runners' eyes in order to take their suspicions
off me. He had made a pretence to murder me with the same idea. But
he didn't believe they were taken in. "There'll be warrants out before
morning, if they ain't too shaken. But what were you doing in the
business? The two Spaniards were lying in the fern looking on when you
come blundering your clumsy nose in. If it hadn't been for Rooksby you
might have------ Hullo, there!" he broke off.

An answer came from the black shadow of a clump of roadside elms. I
made out the forms of three or four horses standing with their heads
together.

"Come along," Rangsley said; "up with you. We'll talk as we go."

Someone helped me into a saddle; my legs trembled in the stirrups as
if I had ridden a thousand miles on end already. I imagine I must have
fallen into a stupor; for I have only a vague impression of somebody's
exculpating himself to me. As a matter of fact, Ralph, after having
egged me on, in the intention of staying at home, had had qualms of
conscience, and had come to the quarry. It was he who had cried
the watchword, "Snuff and enough," and who had held the whispered
consultation. Carlos and Castro had waited in their hiding-place, having
been spectators of the arrival of the runners and of my capture. I
gathered this long afterwards. At that moment I was conscious only of
the motion of the horse beneath me, of intense weariness, and of the
voice of Ralph, who was lamenting his own cowardice.

"If it had come at any other time!" he kept on repeating. "But now, with
Veronica to think of!------ You take me, Johnny, don't you?"

My companions rode silently. After we had passed the houses of a little
village a heavy mist fell upon us, white, damp, and clogging. Ralph
reined his horse beside mine.

"I'm sorry," he began again, "I'm miserably sorry I got you into this
scrape. I swear I wouldn't have had it happen, not for a thousand
pounds--not for ten."

"It doesn't matter," I said cheerfully.

"Ah, but," Rooksby said, "you'll have to leave the country for a time.
Until I can arrange. I will. You can trust me."

"Oh, he'll have to leave the country, for sure," Rangsley said jovially,
"if he wants to live it down. There's five-and-forty warrants out
against me--but they dursent serve 'em. But he's not me."

"It's a miserable business," Ralph said. He had an air of the
profoundest dejection. In the misty light he looked like a man mortally
wounded, riding from a battle-field.

"Let him come with us," the musical voice of Carlos came through the
mist in front of us. "He shall see the world a little."

"For God's sake hold your tongue!" Ralph answered him. "There's mischief
enough. He shall go to France."

"Oh, let the young blade rip about the world for a year or two, squire,"
Rangsley's voice said from behind us.

In the end Ralph let me go with Carlos--actually across the sea, and to
the West Indies. I begged and implored him; it seemed that now there was
a chance for me to find my world of romance. And Ralph, who, though one
of the most law-respecting of men, was not for the moment one of the
most valorous, was wild to wash his hands of the whole business. He did
his best for me; he borrowed a goodly number of guineas from Rangsley,
who travelled with a bag of them at his saddle-bow, ready to pay his men
their seven shillings a head for the run.

Ralph remembered, too--or I remembered for him--that he had estates and
an agent in Jamaica, and he turned into the big inn at the junction of
the London road to write a letter to his agent bidding him house me and
employ me as an improver. For fear of compromising him we waited in the
shadow of trees a furlong or two down the road. He came at a trot, gave
me the letter, drew me aside, and began upbraiding himself again. The
others rode onwards.

"Oh, it's all right," I said. "It's fine--it's fine. I'd have given
fifty guineas for this chance this morning--and, Ralph, I say, you may
tell Veronica why I'm going, but keep a shut mouth to my mother. Let her
think I've run away--eh? Don't spoil your chance."

He was in such a state of repentance and flutter that he could not let
me take a decent farewell. The sound of the others' horses had long died
away down the hill when he began to tell me what he ought to have done.

"I knew it at once after I'd let you go. I ought to have kept you out
of it. You came near being murdered. And to think of it--you, her
brother--to be------"

"Oh, it's all right," I said gayly, "it's all right. You've to stand by
Veronica. I've no one to my back. Good-night, good-by."

I pulled my horse's head round and galloped down the hill. The main body
had halted before setting out over the shingle to the shore. Rangsley
was waiting to conduct us into the town, where we should find a man to
take us three fugitives out to the expected ship. We rode clattering
aggressively through the silence of the long, narrow main street. Every
now and then Carlos Riego coughed lamentably, but Tomas Castro rode in
gloomy silence. There was a light here and there in a window, but not a
soul stirring abroad. On the blind of an inn the shadow of a bearded man
held the shadow of a rummer to its mouth.

"That'll be my uncle," Rangsley said. "He'll be the man to do your
errand." He called to one of the men behind. "Here, Joe Pilcher, do you
go into the White Hart and drag my Uncle Tom out. Bring 'un up to me--to
the nest."

Three doors further on we came to a halt, and got down from our horses.

Rangsley knocked on a shutter-panel, two hard knocks with the crop and
three with the naked fist. Then a lock clicked, heavy bars rumbled, and
a chain rattled. Rangsley pushed me through the doorway. A side door
opened, and I saw into a lighted room filled with wreaths of smoke. A
paunchy man in a bob wig, with a blue coat and Windsor buttons, holding
a churchwarden pipe in his right hand and a pewter quart in his left,
came towards us.

"Hullo, captain," he said, "you'll be too late with the lights, won't
you?" He had a deprecatory air.

"Your watch is fast, Mr. Mayor," Rangsley answered surlily; "the tide
won't serve for half an hour yet."

"Cht, cht," the other wheezed. "No offence. We respect you. But still,
when one has a stake, one likes to know."

"My stake's all I have, and my neck," Rangsley said impatiently; "what's
yours? A matter of fifty pun ten?... Why don't you make them bring they
lanthorns?"

A couple of dark lanthorns were passed to Rangsley, who half-uncovered
one, and lit the way up steep wooden stairs. We climbed up to a tiny
cock-loft, of which the side towards the sea was all glazed.

"Now you sit there, on the floor," Rangsley commanded; "can't leave
you below; the runners will be coming to the mayor for new warrants
to-morrow, and he'd not like to have spent the night in your company."

He threw a casement open. The moon was hidden from us by clouds, but,
a long way off, over the distant sea, there was an irregular patch of
silver light, against which the chimneys of the opposite houses were
silhouetted. The church clock began muffledly to chime the quarters
behind us; then the hour struck--ten strokes.

Rangsley set one of his lanthorns on the window and twisted the top. He
sent beams of yellow light shooting out to seawards. His hands quivered,
and he was mumbling to himself under the influence of ungovernable
excitement. His stakes were very large, and all depended on the flicker
of those lanthorns out towards the men on the luggers that were hidden
in the black expanse of the sea. Then he waited, and against the light
of the window I could see him mopping his forehead with the sleeve
of his coat; my heart began to beat softly and insistently--out of
sympathy.

Suddenly, from the deep shadow of the cloud above the sea, a yellow
light flashed silently cut--very small, very distant, very short-lived.
Rangsley heaved a deep sigh and slapped me heavily on the shoulder.

"All serene, my buck," he said; "now let's see after you. I've half an
hour. What's the ship?"

I was at a loss, but Carlos said out of the darkness, "The ship the
_Thames_. My friend Seņor Ortiz, of the Minories, said you would know."

"Oh, I know, I know," Rangsley said softly; and, indeed, he did know
all that was to be known about smuggling out of the southern counties of
people who could no longer inhabit them. The trade was a survival of the
days of Jacobite plots. "And it's a hanging job, too. But it's no affair
of mine." He stopped and reflected for an instant.

I could feel Carlos' eyes upon us, looking out of the thick darkness. A
slight rustling came from the corner that hid Castro.

"She passes down channel to-night, then?" Rangsley said. "With this wind
you'll want to be well out in the Bay at a quarter after eleven."

An abnormal scuffling, intermingled with snatches of jovial
remonstrance, made itself heard from the bottom of the ladder. A voice
called up through the hatch, "Here's your uncle, Squahre Jack," and a
husky murmur corroborated.

"Be you drunk again, you old sinner?" Rangsley asked. "Listen to me....
Here's three men to be set aboard the _Thames_ at a quarter after
eleven."

A grunt came in reply.

Rangsley repeated slowly.

The grunt answered again.

"Here's three men to be set aboard the _Thames_ at a quarter after
eleven. . . ." Rangsley said again.

"Here's... a-cop... three men to be set aboard _Thames_ at quarter after
eleven," a voice hiccoughed back to us.

"Well, see you do it," Rangsley said. "He's as drunk as a king,"
he commented to us; "but when you've said a thing three times, he
remembers--hark to him."

The drunken voice from below kept up a constant babble of, "Three men to
be set aboard _Thames_... three men to be set . . ."

"He'll not stop saying that till he has you safe aboard," Rangsley
said. He showed a glimmer of light down the ladder--Carlos and Castro
descended. I caught sight below me of the silver head and the deep
red ears of the drunken uncle of Rangsley. He had been one of the most
redoubtable of the family, a man of immense strength and cunning, but a
confirmed habit of consuming a pint and a half of gin a night had made
him disinclined for the more arduous tasks of the trade. He limited his
energies to working the underground passage, to the success of which his
fox-like cunning, and intimate knowledge of the passing shipping, were
indispensable. I was preparing to follow the others down the ladder when
Rangsley touched my arm.

"I don't like your company," he said close behind my ear. "I know who
they are. There were bills out for them this morning. I'd blow them,
and take the reward, but for you and Squahre Rooksby. They're handy with
their knives, too, I fancy. You mind me, and look to yourself with them.
There's something unnatural."

His words had a certain effect upon me, and his manner perhaps more. A
thing that was "unnatural" to Jack Rangsley--the man of darkness, who
lived forever as if in the shadow of the gallows--was a thing to be
avoided. He was for me nearly as romantic a figure as Carlos himself,
but for his forbidding darkness, and he was a person of immense power.
The silent flittings of lights that I had just seen, the answering
signals from the luggers far out to sea, the enforced sleep of the
towns and countryside whilst his plans were working out at night, had
impressed me with a sense of awe. And his words sank into my spirit, and
made me afraid for my future.

We followed the others downwards into a ground-floor room that was
fitted up as a barber's shop. A rushlight was burning on a table.
Rangsley took hold of a piece of wainscotting, part of the frame of
a panel; he pulled it towards him, and, at the same moment, a glazed
show-case full of razors and brushes swung noiselessly forward with an
effect of the supernatural. A small opening, just big enough to take
a man's body, revealed itself. We passed through it and up a sort of
tunnel. The door at the other end, which was formed of panels, had a
manger and straw crib attached to it on the outside, and let us into a
horse's stall. We found ourselves in the stable of the inn.

"We don't use this passage for ourselves," Rangsley said. "Only the most
looked up to need to--the justices and such like. But gallus birds like
you and your company, it's best for us not to be seen in company with.
Follow my uncle now. Good-night."

We went into the yard, under the pillars of the town hall, across
the silent street, through a narrow passage, and down to the sea. Old
Rangsley reeled ahead of us swiftly, muttering, "Three men to be
set aboard the _Thames_... quarter past eleven. Three men to be set
aboard..." and in a few minutes we stood upon the shingle beside the
idle sea, that was nearly at the full.


Joseph Conrad

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