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That afternoon Captain Dave went down to the Bridewell, and had an interview with Tom Frost, in the presence of the Master of the prison.
"Well, Tom, I never expected to have to come to see you in a place like this."
"I am glad I am here, master," the boy said earnestly, with tears in his eyes. "I don't mind if they hang me; I would rather anything than go on as I have been doing. I knew it must come, and whenever I heard anyone walk into the shop I made sure it was a constable. I am ready to tell everything, master; I know I deserve whatever I shall get, but that won't hurt me half as much as it has done, having to go on living in the house with you, and knowing I was helping to rob you all along."
"Anything that you say must be taken down," the officer said; "and I can't promise that it will make any difference in your sentence."
"I do not care anything about that; I am going to tell the truth."
"Very well, then, I will take down anything you say. But wait a minute."
He went to the door of the room and called.
"Is the Chief Constable in?" he asked a man who came up. "If he is, ask him to step here."
A minute later the Chief Constable came in.
"This prisoner wishes to make a confession, Master Holmes. I thought it best that you should be here. You can hear what he says then, and it may help you in your inquiry. Besides, you may think of questions on points he may not mention; he understands that he is speaking entirely of his own free will, and that I have given him no promise whatever that his so doing will alter his sentence, although no doubt it will be taken into consideration."
"Quite so," the constable said. "This is not a case where one prisoner would be ordinarily permitted to turn King's evidence against the others, because, as they were caught in the act, no such evidence is necessary. We know all about how the thing was done, and who did it."
"I want to tell how I first came to rob my master," the boy said. "I never thought of robbing him. When I came up to London, my father said to me, 'Whatever you do, Tom, be honest. They say there are rogues up in London; don't you have anything to do with them.' One evening, about a year ago I went out with Robert, and we went to a shop near the wall at Aldgate. I had never been there before, but Robert knew the master, who was the old man that was taken in the lane. Robert said the man was a relation of his father's, and had been kind to him. We sat down and talked for a time, and then Robert, who was sitting close to me, moved for something, and put his hand against my pocket.
"'Hullo!' he said; 'what have you got there?'
"'Nothing,' I said.
"'Oh, haven't you?' and he put his hand in my pocket, and brought out ten guineas. 'Hullo!' he said; 'where did you get these? You told me yesterday you had not got a groat. Why, you young villain, you must have been robbing the till!'
"I was so frightened that I could not say anything, except that I did not know how they came there and I could swear that I had not touched the till. I was too frightened to think then, but I have since thought that the guineas were never in my pocket at all, but were in Robert's hand.
"'That won't do, boy,' the man said. 'It is clear that you are a thief. I saw Robert take them from your pocket, and, as an honest man, it is my duty to take you to your master and tell him what sort of an apprentice he has. You are young, and you will get off with a whipping at the pillory, and that will teach you that honesty is the best policy.'
"So he got his hat and put it on, and took me by the collar as if to haul me out into the street. I went down on my knees to beg for mercy, and at last he said that he would keep the matter quiet if I would swear to do everything that Robert told me; and I was so frightened that I swore to do so.
"For a bit there wasn't any stealing, but Robert used to take me out over the roof, and we used to go out together and go to places where there were two or three men, and they gave us wine. Then Robert proposed that we should have a look through the warehouse. I did not know what he meant, but as we went through he filled his pockets with things and told me to take some too. I said I would not. Then he threatened to raise the alarm, and said that when Captain Dave came down he should say he heard me get up to come down by the rope on to the warehouse, and that he had followed me to see what I was doing, and had found me in the act of taking goods, and that, as he had before caught me with money stolen from the till, as a friend of his could testify, he felt that it was his duty to summon you at once. I know I ought to have refused, and to have let him call you down, but I was too frightened. At last I agreed to do what he told me, and ever since then we have been robbing you."
"What have you done with the money you got for the things?" the constable asked.
"I had a groat sometimes," the boy said, "but that is all. Robert said first that I should have a share, but I said I would have nothing to do with it. I did as he ordered me because I could not help it. Though I have taken a groat or two sometimes, that is all I have had."
"Do you know anything about how much Robert had?"
"No, sir; I never saw him paid any money. I supposed that he had some because he has said sometimes he should set up a shop for himself, down at some seaport town, when he was out of his apprenticeship; but I have never seen him with any money beyond a little silver. I don't know what he used to do when we had given the things to the men that met us in the lane. I used always to come straight back to bed, but generally he went out with them. I used to fasten the gate after him, and he got back over the wall by a rope. Most times he didn't come in till a little before daybreak."
"Were they always the same men that met you in the lane?"
"No, sir. The master of the shop was very seldom there. The big man has come for the last three or four months, and there were two other men. They used to be waiting for us together until the big man came, but since then one or other of them came with him, except when the master of the shop was there himself."
"Describe them to me."
The boy described them as well as he could.
"Could you swear to them if you saw them?"
"I think so. Of course, sometimes it was moonlight, and I could see their faces well; and besides, the light of the lantern often fell upon their faces."
The constable nodded.
"The descriptions answer exactly," he said to Captain Dave, "to the two men we found in the shop. The place was evidently the headquarters of a gang of thieves."
"Please, sir," the boy said, "would you have me shut up in another place? I am afraid of being with the others. They have sworn they will kill me if I say a word, and when I get back they will ask me who I have seen and what I have said."
Captain Dave took the other two men aside.
"Could you not let the boy come home with me?" he said. "I believe his story is a true one. He has been terrified into helping that rascal, Robert Ashford. Of course he himself was of no good to them, but they were obliged to force him into it, as otherwise he would have found out Robert's absences and might have reported them to me. I will give what bail you like, and will undertake to produce him whenever he is required."
"I could not do that myself," the constable said, "but I will go round to the Court now with the boy's confession, and I have no doubt the Alderman will let him go. But let me give you a word of advice: don't let him stir out of the house after dark. We have no doubt that there is a big gang concerned in this robbery, and the others of which we found the booty at the receiver's. They would not know how much this boy could tell about them, but if he went back to you they would guess that he had peached. If he went out after dark, the chances would be against his ever coming back again. No, now I think of it, I am sure you had better let him stay where he is. The Master will put him apart from the others, and make him comfortable. You see, at present we have no clue as to the men concerned in the robberies. You may be sure that they are watching every move on our part, and if they knew that this boy was out, they might take the alarm and make off."
"Well, if you think so, I will leave him here."
"I am sure that it would be the best plan."
"You will make him comfortable, Master Holroyd?"
"Yes; you need not worry about him, Captain Dowsett."
They then turned to the boy.
"You will be moved away from the others, Tom," Captain Dave said, "and Mr. Holroyd has promised to make you comfortable."
"Oh, Captain Dave," the boy burst out, "will you forgive me? I don't mind being punished, but if you knew how awfully miserable I have been all this time, knowing that I was robbing you while you were so kind to me, I think you would forgive me."
"I forgive you, Tom," Captain Dave said, putting his hand on the boy's shoulder. "I hope that this will be a lesson to you, all your life. You see all this has come upon you because you were a coward. If you had been a brave lad you would have said, 'Take me to my master.' You might have been sure that I would have heard your story as well as theirs, and I don't think I should have decided against you under the circumstances. It was only your word against Robert's; and his taking you to this man's, and finding the money in your pocket in so unlikely a way, would certainly have caused me to have suspicions. There is nothing so bad as cowardice; it is the father of all faults. A coward is certain to be a liar, for he will not hesitate to tell any falsehood to shelter him from the consequences of a fault. In your case, you see, cowardice has made you a thief; and in some cases it might drive a man to commit a murder. However, lad, I forgive you freely. You have been weak, and your weakness has made you a criminal; but it has been against your own will. When all this is over, I will see what can be done for you. You may live to be an honest man and a good citizen yet."
Two days later Cyril was returning home late in the evening after being engaged longer than usual in making up a number of accounts for one of his customers. He had come through Leadenhall Street, and had entered the lane where the capture of the thieves had been made, when he heard a footstep behind him. He turned half round to see who was following him, when he received a tremendous blow on the head which struck him senseless to the ground.
After a time he was dimly conscious that he was being carried along. He was unable to move; there was something in his mouth that prevented him from calling out, and his head was muffled in a cloak. He felt too weak and confused to struggle. A minute later he heard a voice, that sounded below him, say,--
"Have you got him?"
"I have got him all right," was the answer of the man who was carrying him.
Then he felt that he was being carried down some stairs.
Someone took him, and he was thrown roughly down; then there was a slight rattling noise, followed by a regular sound. He wondered vaguely what it was, but as his senses came back it flashed upon him; it was the sound of oars; he was in a boat. It was some time before he could think why he should be in a boat. He had doubtless been carried off by some of the friends of the prisoners', partly, perhaps, to prevent his giving evidence against them, partly from revenge for the part he had played in the discovery of the crime.
In a few minutes the sound of oars ceased, and there was a bump as the boat struck against something hard. Then he was lifted up, and someone took hold of him from above. He was carried a few steps and roughly thrust in somewhere. There was a sound of something heavy being thrown down above him, and then for a long time he knew nothing more.
When he became conscious again, he was able, as he lay there, to come to a distinct conclusion as to where he was. He had been kidnapped, carried off, taken out in a boat to some craft anchored in the river, and was now in the hold. He felt almost suffocated. The wrap round his head prevented his breathing freely, the gag in his mouth pressed on his tongue, and gave him severe pain, while his head ached acutely from the effects of the blow.
The first thing to do was, if possible, to free his hands, so as to relieve himself from the gag and muffling. An effort or two soon showed him that he was but loosely bound. Doubtless the man who had attacked him had not wasted much time in securing his arms, believing that the blow would be sufficient to keep him quiet until he was safe on board ship. It was, therefore, without much difficulty that he managed to free one of his hands, and it was then an easy task to get rid of the rope altogether. The cloak was pulled from his face, and, feeling for his knife, he cut the lashings of the gag and removed it from his mouth. He lay quiet for a few minutes, panting from his exhaustion. Putting up his hand he felt a beam about a foot above his body. He was, then, in a hold already stored with cargo. The next thing was to shift his position among the barrels and bales upon which he was lying, until he found a comparatively level spot. He was in too great pain to think of sleep; his head throbbed fiercely, and he suffered from intense thirst.
From time to time heavy footsteps passed overhead. Presently he heard a sudden rattling of blocks, and the flapping of a sail. Then he noticed that there was a slight change in the level of his position, and knew that the craft was under way on her voyage down the river.
It seemed an immense time to him before he saw a faint gleam of light, and edging himself along, found himself again under the hatchway, through a crack in which the light was shining. It was some hours before the hatch was lifted off, and he saw two men looking down.
"Water!" he said. "I am dying of thirst."
"Bring a pannikin of water," one of the men said, "but first give us a hand, and we will have him on deck."
Stooping down, they took Cyril by the shoulders and hoisted him out.
"He is a decent-looking young chap," the speaker went on. "I would have seen to him before, if I had known him to be so bad. Those fellows didn't tell us they had hurt him. Here is the water, young fellow. Can you sit up to drink it?"
Cyril sat up and drank off the contents of the pannikin.
"Why, the back of your head is all covered with blood!" the man who had before spoken said. "You must have had an ugly knock?"
"I don't care so much for that," Cyril replied. "It's the gag that hurt me. My tongue is so much swollen I can hardly speak."
"Well, you can stay here on deck if you will give me your promise not to hail any craft we may pass. If you won't do that I must put you down under hatches again."
"I will promise that willingly," Cyril said; "the more so that I can scarce speak above a whisper."
"Mind, if you as much as wave a hand, or do anything to bring an eye on us, down you go into the hold again, and when you come up next time it will be to go overboard. Now just put your head over the rail, and I will pour a few buckets of water over it. I agreed to get you out of the way, but I have got no grudge against you, and don't want to do you harm."
Getting a bucket with a rope tied to the handle, he dipped it into the river, and poured half-a-dozen pailfuls over Cyril's head. The lad felt greatly refreshed, and, sitting down on the deck, was able to look round. The craft was a coaster of about twenty tons burden. There were three men on deck besides the man who had spoken to him, and who was evidently the skipper. Besides these a boy occasionally put up his head from a hatchway forward. There was a pile of barrels and empty baskets amidship, and the men presently began to wash down the decks and to tidy up the ropes and gear lying about. The shore on both sides was flat, and Cyril was surprised at the width of the river. Behind them was a small town, standing on higher ground.
"What place is that?" he asked a sailor who passed near him.
"That is Gravesend."
A few minutes afterwards the boy again put his head out of the hatchway and shouted,--
"Can you eat anything, youngster?" the skipper asked Cyril.
"No, thank you, my head aches too much; and my mouth is so sore I am sure I could not get anything down."
"Well, you had best lie down, then, with your head on that coil of rope; I allow you did not sleep much last night."
In a few minutes Cyril was sound asleep, and when he awoke the sun was setting.
"You have had a good bout of it, lad," the skipper said, as he raised himself on his elbow and looked round. "How are you feeling now?"
"A great deal better," Cyril said, as he rose to his feet.
"Supper will be ready in a few minutes, and if you can manage to get a bit down it will do you good."
"I will try, anyhow," Cyril said. "I think that I feel hungry."
The land was now but a faint line on either hand. A gentle breeze was blowing from the south-west, and the craft was running along over the smooth water at the rate of three or four miles an hour. Cyril wondered where he was being taken to, and what was going to be done with him, but determined to ask no questions. The skipper was evidently a kind-hearted man, although he might be engaged in lawless business, but it was as well to wait until he chose to open the subject.
As soon as the boy hailed, the captain led the way to the hatchway. They descended a short ladder into the fo'castle, which was low, but roomy. Supper consisted of boiled skate--a fish Cyril had never tasted before--oaten bread, and beer. His mouth was still sore, but he managed to make a hearty meal of fish, though he could not manage the hard bread. One of the men was engaged at the helm, but the other two shared the meal, all being seated on lockers that ran round the cabin. The fish were placed on an earthenware dish, each man cutting off slices with his jack-knife, and using his bread as a platter. Little was said while the meal went on; but when they went on deck again, the skipper, having put another man at the tiller, while the man released went forward to get his supper, said,--
"Well, I think you are in luck, lad."
Cyril opened his eyes in surprise.
"You don't think so?" the man went on. "I don't mean that you are in luck in being knocked about and carried off, but that you are not floating down the river at present instead of walking the deck here. I can only suppose that they thought your body might be picked up, and that it would go all the harder with the prisoners, if it were proved that you had been put out of the way. You don't look like an informer either!"
"I am not an informer," Cyril said indignantly. "I found that my employer was being robbed, and I aided him to catch the thieves. I don't call that informing. That is when a man betrays others engaged in the same work as himself."
"Well, well, it makes no difference to me," the skipper said. "I was engaged by a man, with whom I do business sometimes, to take a fellow who had been troublesome out of the way, and to see that he did not come back again for some time. I bargained that there was to be no foul play; I don't hold with things of that sort. As to carrying down a bale of goods sometimes, or taking a few kegs of spirits from a French lugger, I see no harm in it; but when it comes to cutting throats, I wash my hands of it. I am sorry now I brought you off, though maybe if I had refused they would have put a knife into you, and chucked you into the river. However, now that I have got you I must go through with it. I ain't a man to go back from my word, and what I says I always sticks to. Still, I am sorry I had anything to do with the business. You look to me a decent young gentleman, though your looks and your clothes have not been improved by what you have gone through. Well, at any rate, I promise you that no harm shall come to you as long as you are in my hands."
"And how long is that likely to be, captain?"
"Ah! that is more than I can tell you. I don't want to do you harm, lad, and more than that, I will prevent other people from doing you harm as long as you are on board this craft. But more than that I can't say. It is likely enough I shall have trouble in keeping that promise, and I can't go a step farther. There is many a man who would have chucked you overboard, and so have got rid of the trouble altogether, and of the risk of its being afterwards proved that he had a hand in getting you out of the way."
"I feel that, captain," Cyril said, "and I thank you heartily for your kind treatment of me. I promise you that if at any time I am set ashore and find my way back to London, I will say no word which can get you into trouble."
"There is Tom coming upon deck. You had better turn in. You have had a good sleep, but I have no doubt you can do with some more, and a night's rest will set you up. You take the left-hand locker. The boy sleeps on the right hand, and we have bunks overhead."
Cyril was soon soundly asleep, and did not wake when the others turned in. He was alone in the cabin when he opened his eyes, but the sun was shining brightly through the open hatchway. He sprang up and went on deck. The craft was at anchor. No land could be seen to the south, but to the north a low shore stretched away three or four miles distant. There was scarcely a breath of wind.
"Well, you have had a good sleep, lad," the captain said. "You had best dip that bucket overboard and have a wash; you will feel better after it. Now, boy, slip down and get your fire going; we shall be ready for breakfast as soon as it is ready for us."
Cyril soused his head with the cold water, and felt, as the captain had said, all the better for it, for the air in the little cabin was close and stuffy, and he had felt hot and feverish before his wash.
"The wind died out, you see," the captain said, "and we had to anchor when tide turned at two o'clock. There is a dark line behind us, and as soon as the wind reaches us, we will up anchor. The force of the tide is spent."
The wind, however, continued very light, and the vessel did little more than drift with the tide, and when it turned at two o'clock they had to drop anchor again close under some high land, on the top of which stood a lofty tower.
"That is a land-mark," the captain said. "There are some bad sands outside us, and that stands as a mark for vessels coming through."
Cyril had enjoyed the quiet passage much. The wound at the back of his head still smarted, and he had felt disinclined for any exertion. More than once, in spite of the good allowance of sleep he had had, he dozed off as he sat on the deck with his back against the bulwark, watching the shore as they drifted slowly past it, and wondering vaguely, how it would all end. They had been anchored but half an hour when the captain ordered the men to the windlass.
"There is a breeze coming, lads," he said; "and even if it only lasts for an hour, it will take us round the head and far enough into the bay to get into the tide running up the rivers."
The breeze, however, when it came, held steadily, and in two hours they were off Harwich; but on coming opposite the town they turned off up the Orwell, and anchored, after dark, at a small village some six miles up the river.
"If you will give me your word, lad, that you will not try to escape, and will not communicate with anyone who may come off from the shore, I will continue to treat you as a passenger; but if not, I must fasten you up in the cabin, and keep a watch over you."
"I will promise, captain. I should not know where to go if I landed. I heard you say, 'There is Harwich steeple,' when we first came in sight of it, but where that is I have no idea, nor how far we are from London. As I have not a penny in my pocket, I should find it well-nigh impossible to make my way to town, which may, for aught I know, be a hundred miles away; for, in truth, I know but little of the geography of England, having been brought up in France, and not having been out of sight of London since I came over."
Just as he was speaking, the splash of an oar was heard close by.
"Up, men," the captain said in a low tone to those in the fo'castle. "Bring up the cutlasses. Who is that?" he called, hailing the boat.
"Merry men all," was the reply.
"All right. Come alongside. You saw our signal, then?"
"Ay, ay, we saw it; but there is an officer with a boat-load of sailors ashore from the King's ship at Harwich. He is spending the evening with the revenue captain here, and we had to wait until the two men left in charge of the boat went up to join their comrades at the tavern. What have you got for us?"
"Six boxes and a lot of dunnage, such as cables, chains, and some small anchors."
"Well, you had better wait for an hour before you take the hatches off. You will hear the gig with the sailors row past soon. The tide has begun to run down strong, and I expect the officer won't be long before he moves. As soon as he has gone we will come out again. We shall take the goods up half a mile farther. The revenue man on that beat has been paid to keep his eyes shut, and we shall get them all stored in a hut, a mile away in the woods, before daybreak. You know the landing-place; there will be water enough for us to row in there for another two hours."
The boat rowed away to the shore, which was not more than a hundred yards distant. A little later they heard a stir on the strand, then came the sound of oars, and two minutes later a boat shot past close to them, and then, bearing away, rowed down the river.
"Now, lads," the captain said, "get the hatches off. The wind is coming more offshore, which is all the better for us, but do not make more noise than you can help."
The hatches were taken off, and the men proceeded to get up a number of barrels and bales, some sail-cloth being thrown on the deck to deaden the sound. Lanterns, passed down into the hold, gave them light for their operations.
"This is the lot," one of the sailors said presently.
Six large boxes were then passed up and put apart from the others. Then followed eight or ten coils of rope, a quantity of chain, some kedge anchors, a number of blocks, five rolls of canvas, and some heavy bags that, by the sound they made when they were laid down, Cyril judged to contain metal articles of some sort. Then the other goods were lowered into the hold and the hatches replaced. The work had scarcely concluded when the boat again came alongside, this time with four men on board. Scarcely a word was spoken as the goods were transferred to the boat.
"You will be going to-morrow?" one of the men in the boat asked.
"Yes, I shall get up to Ipswich on the top of the tide--that is, if I don't stick fast in this crooked channel. My cargo is all either for Ipswich or Aldborough. Now let us turn in," as the boatmen made their way up the river. "We must be under way before daylight, or else we shall not save the tide down to-morrow evening. I am glad we have got that lot safely off. I always feel uncomfortable until we get rid of that part of the cargo. If it wasn't that it paid better than all the rest together I would not have anything to do with it."
Cyril was very glad to lie down on the locker, while the men turned into their berths overhead. He had not yet fully recovered from the effects of the blow he had received, but in spite of the aching of his head he was soon sound asleep. It seemed to him that he had scarcely closed his eyes when he was roused by the captain's voice,--
"Tumble up, lads. The light is beginning to show."
Ten minutes later they were under way. The breeze had almost died out, and after sailing for some two miles in nearly a straight course, the boat was thrown over, two men got into it, and, fastening a rope to the ketch's bow, proceeded to tow her along, the captain taking the helm.
To Cyril's surprise, they turned off almost at right angles to the course they had before been following, and made straight for the opposite shore. They approached it so closely that Cyril expected that in another moment the craft would take ground, when, at a shout from the captain, the men in the boat started off parallel with the shore, taking the craft's head round. For the next three-quarters of an hour they pursued a serpentine course, the boy standing in the chains and heaving the lead continually. At last the captain shouted,--"You can come on board now, lads. We are in the straight channel at last." Twenty minutes later they again dropped their anchor opposite a town of considerable size.
"That is Ipswich, lad," the captain said. "It is as nasty a place to get into as there is in England, unless you have got the wind due aft."
The work of unloading began at once, and was carried on until after dark.
"That is the last of them," the captain said, to Cyril's satisfaction. "We can be off now when the tide turns, and if we hadn't got clear to-night we might have lost hours, for there is no getting these people on shore to understand that the loss of a tide means the loss of a day, and that it is no harder to get up and do your work at one hour than it is at another. I shall have a clean up, now, and go ashore. I have got your promise, lad, that you won't try to escape?"
Cyril assented. Standing on the deck there, with the river bank but twenty yards away, it seemed hard that he should not be able to escape. But, as he told himself, he would not have been standing there if it had not been for that promise, but would have been lying, tightly bound, down in the hold.
Cyril and the men were asleep when the captain came aboard, the boy alone remaining up to fetch him off in the boat when he hailed.
"There is no wind, captain," Cyril said, as the anchor was got up.
"No, lad, I am glad there is not. We can drop down with the tide and the boat towing us, but if there was a head wind we might have to stop here till it either dropped or shifted. I have been here three weeks at a spell. I got some news ashore," he went on, as he took his place at the helm, while the three men rowed the boat ahead. "A man I sometimes bring things to told me that he heard there had been an attempt to rescue the men concerned in that robbery. I heard, before I left London, it was likely that it would be attempted."
There were a lot of people concerned in that affair, one way and another, and I knew they would move heaven and earth to get them out, for if any of them peached there would be such a haul as the constables never made in the city before. Word was passed to the prisoners to be ready, and as they were being taken from the Guildhall to Newgate there was a sudden rush made. The constables were not caught napping, and there was a tough fight, till the citizens ran out of their shops and took part with them, and the men, who were sailors, watermen, 'longshore-men, and rascals of all sorts, bolted.
"But two of the prisoners were missing. One was, I heard, an apprentice who was mixed up in the affair, and no one saw him go. They say he must have stooped down and wriggled away into the crowd. The other was a man they called Black Dick; he struck down two constables, broke through the crowd, and got clean away. There is a great hue and cry, but so far nothing has been heard of them. They will be kept in hiding somewhere till there is a chance of getting them through the gates or on board a craft lying in the river. Our men made a mess of it, or they would have got them all off. I hear that they are all in a fine taking that Marner is safely lodged in Newgate with the others taken in his house; he knows so much that if he chose to peach he could hang a score of men. Black Dick could tell a good deal, but he wasn't in all the secrets, and they say Marner is really the head of the band and had a finger in pretty nigh every robbery through the country. All those taken in his place are also in Newgate, and they say the constables are searching the city like ferrets in a rabbit-warren, and that several other arrests have been made."
"I am not sorry the apprentice got away," Cyril said. "He is a bad fellow, there is no doubt, and, by the look he gave me, he would do me harm if he got a chance, but I suppose that is only natural. As to the other man, he looked to me to be a desperate villain, and he also gave me so evil a look that, though he was in the dock with a constable on either side of him, I felt horribly uncomfortable, especially when I heard what sort of man he was."
"What did they say of him?"
"They said they believed he was a man named Ephraim Fowler, who had murdered the skipper and mate of a coaster and then went off in the boat."
"Is that the man? Then truly do I regret that he has escaped. I knew both John Moore, the master, and George Monson, the mate, and many a flagon of beer we have emptied together. If I had known the fellow's whereabouts, I would have put the constables on his track. I am heartily sorry now, boy, that I had a hand in carrying you off, though maybe it is best for you that it has been so. If I hadn't taken you someone else would, and more than likely you would not have fared so well as you have done, for some of them would have saved themselves all further trouble and risk, by chucking you overboard as soon as they were well out of the Pool."
"Can't you put me ashore now, captain?"
"No, boy; I have given my word and taken my money, and I am not one to fail to carry out a bargain because I find that I have made a bad one. They have trusted me with thousands of pounds' worth of goods, and I have no reason to complain of their pay, and am not going to turn my back on them now they have got into trouble; besides, though I would trust you not to round upon me, I would not trust them. If you were to turn up in London they would know that I had sold them, and Marner would soon hear of it. There is a way of getting messages to a man even in prison. Then you may be sure that, if he said nothing else, he would take good care to let out that I was the man who used to carry their booty away, sometimes to quiet places on the coast, and sometimes across to Holland, and the first time I dropped anchor in the Pool I should find myself seized and thrown into limbo. No, lad; I must carry out my agreement--which is that I am not to land you in England, but that I am to take you across to Holland or elsewhere--the elsewhere meaning that if you fall overboard by the way there will be no complaints as to the breach of the agreement. That is, in fact, what they really meant, though they did not actually put it into words. They said, 'We have a boy who is an informer, and has been the means of Marner being seized and his place broken up, and there is no saying that a score of us may not get a rope round our necks. In consequence, we want him carried away. What you do with him is nothing to us so long as he don't set foot in England again.' 'Will Holland suit you? I am going across there,' I said, 'after touching at Ipswich and Aldborough.' 'It would be much safer for you and everyone else if it happen that he falls over before he gets there. However, we will call it Holland.'"
"Then if I were to fall overboard," Cyril said, with a smile, "you would not be breaking your agreement, captain? I might fall overboard to-night, you know."
"I would not advise it, lad. You had much better stay where you are. I don't say I mightn't anchor off Harwich, and that if you fell overboard you couldn't manage to swim ashore, but I tell you I would not give twopence for your life when you got back to London. It is to the interest of a score of men to keep Marner's mouth shut. They have shown their willingness to help him as far as they could, by getting you out of the way, and if you got back they would have your life the first time you ventured out of doors after dark; they would be afraid Marner would suppose they had sold him if you were to turn up at his trial, and as like as not he would round on the whole lot. Besides, I don't think it would be over safe for me the first time I showed myself in London afterwards, for, though I never said that I would do it, I have no doubt they reckoned that I should chuck you overboard, and if you were to make your appearance in London they would certainly put it down that I had sold them. You keep yourself quiet, and I will land you in Holland, but not as they would expect, without a penny or a friend; I will put you into good hands, and arrange that you shall be sent back again as soon as the trial is over."
"Thank you very much, captain. I have no relations in London, and no friends, except my employer, Captain David Dowsett, and by this time he will have made up his mind that I am dead, and it won't make much difference whether I return in four or five days or as many weeks."
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