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Chapter 25


CHAPTER VI - ARBLASTER AGAIN


When Dick and Lawless were suffered to steal, by a back way, out of
the house where Lord Risingham held his garrison, the evening had
already come.

They paused in shelter of the garden wall to consult on their best
course.  The danger was extreme.  If one of Sir Daniel's men caught
sight of them and raised the view-hallo, they would be run down and
butchered instantly.  And not only was the town of Shoreby a mere
net of peril for their lives, but to make for the open country was
to run the risk of the patrols.

A little way off, upon some open ground, they spied a windmill
standing; and hard by that, a very large granary with open doors.

"How if we lay there until the night fall?" Dick proposed.

And Lawless having no better suggestion to offer, they made a
straight push for the granary at a run, and concealed themselves
behind the door among some straw.  The daylight rapidly departed;
and presently the moon was silvering the frozen snow.  Now or never
was their opportunity to gain the Goat and Bagpipes unobserved and
change their tell-tale garments.  Yet even then it was advisable to
go round by the outskirts, and not run the gauntlet of the market-
place, where, in the concourse of people, they stood the more
imminent peril to be recognised and slain.

This course was a long one.  It took them not far from the house by
the beach, now lying dark and silent, and brought them forth at
last by the margin of the harbour.  Many of the ships, as they
could see by the clear moonshine, had weighed anchor, and,
profiting by the calm sky, proceeded for more distant parts;
answerably to this, the rude alehouses along the beach (although in
defiance of the curfew law, they still shone with fire and candle)
were no longer thronged with customers, and no longer echoed to the
chorus of sea-songs.

Hastily, half-running, with their monkish raiment kilted to the
knee, they plunged through the deep snow and threaded the labyrinth
of marine lumber; and they were already more than half way round
the harbour when, as they were passing close before an alehouse,
the door suddenly opened and let out a gush of light upon their
fleeting figures.

Instantly they stopped, and made believe to be engaged in earnest
conversation.

Three men, one after another, came out of the ale-house, and the
last closed the door behind him.  All three were unsteady upon
their feet, as if they had passed the day in deep potations, and
they now stood wavering in the moonlight, like men who knew not
what they would be after.  The tallest of the three was talking in
a loud, lamentable voice.

"Seven pieces of as good Gascony as ever a tapster broached," he
was saying, "the best ship out o' the port o' Dartmouth, a Virgin
Mary parcel-gilt, thirteen pounds of good gold money - "

"I have bad losses, too," interrupted one of the others.  "I have
had losses of mine own, gossip Arblaster.  I was robbed at
Martinmas of five shillings and a leather wallet well worth
ninepence farthing."

Dick's heart smote him at what he heard.  Until that moment he had
not perhaps thought twice of the poor skipper who had been ruined
by the loss of the Good Hope; so careless, in those days, were men
who wore arms of the goods and interests of their inferiors.  But
this sudden encounter reminded him sharply of the high-handed
manner and ill-ending of his enterprise; and both he and Lawless
turned their heads the other way, to avoid the chance of
recognition.

The ship's dog had, however, made his escape from the wreck and
found his way back again to Shoreby.  He was now at Arblaster's
heels, and suddenly sniffing and pricking his ears, he darted
forward and began to bark furiously at the two sham friars.

His master unsteadily followed him.

"Hey, shipmates!" he cried.  "Have ye ever a penny pie for a poor
old shipman, clean destroyed by pirates?  I am a man that would
have paid for you both o' Thursday morning; and now here I be, o'
Saturday night, begging for a flagon of ale!  Ask my man Tom, if ye
misdoubt me.  Seven pieces of good Gascon wine, a ship that was
mine own, and was my father's before me, a Blessed Mary of plane-
tree wood and parcel-gilt, and thirteen pounds in gold and silver.
Hey! what say ye?  A man that fought the French, too; for I have
fought the French; I have cut more French throats upon the high
seas than ever a man that sails out of Dartmouth.  Come, a penny
piece."

Neither Dick nor Lawless durst answer him a word, lest he should
recognise their voices; and they stood there as helpless as a ship
ashore, not knowing where to turn nor what to hope.

"Are ye dumb, boy?" inquired the skipper.  "Mates," he added, with
a hiccup, "they be dumb.  I like not this manner of discourtesy;
for an a man be dumb, so be as he's courteous, he will still speak
when he was spoken to, methinks."

By this time the sailor, Tom, who was a man of great personal
strength, seemed to have conceived some suspicion of these two
speechless figures; and being soberer than his captain, stepped
suddenly before him, took Lawless roughly by the shoulder, and
asked him, with an oath, what ailed him that he held his tongue.
To this the outlaw, thinking all was over, made answer by a
wrestling feint that stretched the sailor on the sand, and, calling
upon Dick to follow him, took to his heels among the lumber.

The affair passed in a second.  Before Dick could run at all,
Arblaster had him in his arms; Tom, crawling on his face, had
caught him by one foot, and the third man had a drawn cutlass
brandishing above his head.

It was not so much the danger, it was not so much the annoyance,
that now bowed down the spirits of young Shelton; it was the
profound humiliation to have escaped Sir Daniel, convinced Lord
Risingham, and now fall helpless in the hands of this old, drunken
sailor; and not merely helpless, but, as his conscience loudly told
him when it was too late, actually guilty - actually the bankrupt
debtor of the man whose ship he had stolen and lost.

"Bring me him back into the alehouse, till I see his face," said
Arblaster.

"Nay, nay," returned Tom; "but let us first unload his wallet, lest
the other lads cry share."

But though he was searched from head to foot, not a penny was found
upon him; nothing but Lord Foxham's signet, which they plucked
savagely from his finger.

"Turn me him to the moon," said the skipper; and taking Dick by the
chin, he cruelly jerked his head into the air.  "Blessed Virgin!"
he cried, "it is the pirate!"

"Hey!" cried Tom.

"By the Virgin of Bordeaux, it is the man himself!" repeated
Arblaster.  "What, sea-thief, do I hold you?" he cried.  "Where is
my ship?  Where is my wine?  Hey! have I you in my hands?  Tom,
give me one end of a cord here; I will so truss me this sea-thief,
hand and foot together, like a basting turkey - marry, I will so
bind him up - and thereafter I will so beat - so beat him!"

And so he ran on, winding the cord meanwhile about Dick's limbs
with the dexterity peculiar to seamen, and at every turn and cross
securing it with a knot, and tightening the whole fabric with a
savage pull.

When he had done, the lad was a mere package in his hands - as
helpless as the dead.  The skipper held him at arm's length, and
laughed aloud.  Then he fetched him a stunning buffet on the ear;
and then turned him about, and furiously kicked and kicked him.
Anger rose up in Dick's bosom like a storm; anger strangled him,
and he thought to have died; but when the sailor, tired of this
cruel play, dropped him all his length upon the sand and turned to
consult with his companions, he instantly regained command of his
temper.  Here was a momentary respite; ere they began again to
torture him, he might have found some method to escape from this
degrading and fatal misadventure.

Presently, sure enough, and while his captors were still discussing
what to do with him, he took heart of grace, and, with a pretty
steady voice, addressed them.

"My masters," he began, "are ye gone clean foolish?  Here hath
Heaven put into your hands as pretty an occasion to grow rich as
ever shipman had - such as ye might make thirty over-sea adventures
and not find again - and, by the mass I what do ye?  Beat me? -
nay; so would an angry child!  But for long-headed tarry-Johns,
that fear not fire nor water, and that love gold as they love beef,
methinks ye are not wise."

"Ay," said Tom, "now y' are trussed ye would cozen us."

"Cozen you!" repeated Dick.  "Nay, if ye be fools, it would be
easy.  But if ye be shrewd fellows, as I trow ye are, ye can see
plainly where your interest lies.  When I took your ship from you,
we were many, we were well clad and armed; but now, bethink you a
little, who mustered that array?  One incontestably that hath much
gold.  And if he, being already rich, continueth to hunt after more
even in the face of storms - bethink you once more - shall there
not be a treasure somewhere hidden?"

"What meaneth he?" asked one of the men.

"Why, if ye have lost an old skiff and a few jugs of vinegary
wine," continued Dick, "forget them, for the trash they are; and do
ye rather buckle to an adventure worth the name, that shall, in
twelve hours, make or mar you for ever.  But take me up from where
I lie, and let us go somewhere near at hand and talk across a
flagon, for I am sore and frozen, and my mouth is half among the
snow."

"He seeks but to cozen us," said Tom, contemptuously.

"Cozen! cozen!" cried the third man.  "I would I could see the man
that could cozen me!  He were a cozener indeed!  Nay, I was not
born yesterday.  I can see a church when it hath a steeple on it;
and for my part, gossip Arblaster, methinks there is some sense in
this young man.  Shall we go hear him, indeed?  Say, shall we go
hear him?"

"I would look gladly on a pottle of strong ale, good Master
Pirret," returned Arblaster.  "How say ye, Tom?  But then the
wallet is empty."

"I will pay," said the other - "I will pay.  I would fain see this
matter out; I do believe, upon my conscience, there is gold in it."

"Nay, if ye get again to drinking, all is lost!" cried Tom.

"Gossip Arblaster, ye suffer your fellow to have too much liberty,"
returned Master Pirret.  "Would ye be led by a hired man?  Fy, fy!"

"Peace, fellow!" said Arblaster, addressing Tom.  "Will ye put your
oar in?  Truly a fine pass, when the crew is to correct the
skipper!"

"Well, then, go your way," said Tom; "I wash my hands of you."

"Set him, then, upon his feet," said Master Pirret.  "I know a
privy place where we may drink and discourse."

"If I am to walk, my friends, ye must set my feet at liberty," said
Dick, when he had been once more planted upright like a post.

"He saith true," laughed Pirret.  "Truly, he could not walk
accoutred as he is.  Give it a slit - out with your knife and slit
it, gossip."

Even Arblaster paused at this proposal; but as his companion
continued to insist, and Dick had the sense to keep the merest
wooden indifference of expression, and only shrugged his shoulders
over the delay, the skipper consented at last, and cut the cords
which tied his prisoner's feet and legs.  Not only did this enable
Dick to walk; but the whole network of his bonds being
proportionately loosened, he felt the arm behind his back begin to
move more freely, and could hope, with time and trouble, to
entirely disengage it.  So much he owed already to the owlish
silliness and greed of Master Pirret.

That worthy now assumed the lead, and conducted them to the very
same rude alehouse where Lawless had taken Arblaster on the day of
the gale.  It was now quite deserted; the fire was a pile of red
embers, radiating the most ardent heat; and when they had chosen
their places, and the landlord had set before them a measure of
mulled ale, both Pirret and Arblaster stretched forth their legs
and squared their elbows like men bent upon a pleasant hour.

The table at which they sat, like all the others in the alehouse,
consisted of a heavy, square board, set on a pair of barrels; and
each of the four curiously-assorted cronies sat at one side of the
square, Pirret facing Arblaster, and Dick opposite to the common
sailor.

"And now, young man," said Pirret, "to your tale.  It doth appear,
indeed, that ye have somewhat abused our gossip Arblaster; but what
then?  Make it up to him - show him but this chance to become
wealthy - and I will go pledge he will forgive you."

So far Dick had spoken pretty much at random; but it was now
necessary, under the supervision of six eyes, to invent and tell
some marvellous story, and, if it were possible, get back into his
hands the all-important signet.  To squander time was the first
necessity.  The longer his stay lasted, the more would his captors
drink, and the surer should he be when he attempted his escape.

Well, Dick was not much of an inventor, and what he told was pretty
much the tale of Ali Baba, with Shoreby and Tunstall Forest
substituted for the East, and the treasures of the cavern rather
exaggerated than diminished.  As the reader is aware, it is an
excellent story, and has but one drawback - that it is not true;
and so, as these three simple shipmen now heard it for the first
time, their eyes stood out of their faces, and their mouths gaped
like codfish at a fishmonger's.

Pretty soon a second measure of mulled ale was called for; and
while Dick was still artfully spinning out the incidents a third
followed the second.

Here was the position of the parties towards the end:  Arblaster,
three-parts drunk and one-half asleep, hung helpless on his stool.
Even Tom had been much delighted with the tale, and his vigilance
had abated in proportion.  Meanwhile, Dick had gradually wormed his
right arm clear of its bonds, and was ready to risk all.

"And so," said Pirret, "y' are one of these?"

"I was made so," replied Dick, "against my will; but an I could but
get a sack or two of gold coin to my share, I should be a fool
indeed to continue dwelling in a filthy cave, and standing shot and
buffet like a soldier.  Here be we four; good!  Let us, then, go
forth into the forest to-morrow ere the sun be up.  Could we come
honestly by a donkey, it were better; but an we cannot, we have our
four strong backs, and I warrant me we shall come home staggering."

Pirret licked his lips.

"And this magic," he said - "this password, whereby the cave is
opened - how call ye it, friend?"

"Nay, none know the word but the three chiefs," returned Dick; "but
here is your great good fortune, that, on this very evening, I
should be the bearer of a spell to open it.  It is a thing not
trusted twice a year beyond the captain's wallet."

"A spell!" said Arblaster, half awakening, and squinting upon Dick
with one eye.  "Aroint thee! no spells!  I be a good Christian.
Ask my man Tom, else."

"Nay, but this is white magic," said Dick.  "It doth naught with
the devil; only the powers of numbers, herbs, and planets."

"Ay, ay," said Pirret; "'tis but white magic, gossip.  There is no
sin therein, I do assure you.  But proceed, good youth.  This spell
- in what should it consist?"

"Nay, that I will incontinently show you," answered Dick.  "Have ye
there the ring ye took from my finger?  Good!  Now hold it forth
before you by the extreme finger-ends, at the arm's-length, and
over against the shining of these embers.  'Tis so exactly.  Thus,
then, is the spell."

With a haggard glance, Dick saw the coast was clear between him and
the door.  He put up an internal prayer.  Then whipping forth his
arm, he made but one snatch of the ring, and at the same instant,
levering up the table, he sent it bodily over upon the seaman Tom.
He, poor soul, went down bawling under the ruins; and before
Arblaster understood that anything was wrong, or Pirret could
collect his dazzled wits, Dick had run to the door and escaped into
the moonlit night.

The moon, which now rode in the mid-heavens, and the extreme
whiteness of the snow, made the open ground about the harbour
bright as day; and young Shelton leaping, with kilted robe, among
the lumber, was a conspicuous figure from afar.

Tom and Pirret followed him with shouts; from every drinking-shop
they were joined by others whom their cries aroused; and presently
a whole fleet of sailors was in full pursuit.  But Jack ashore was
a bad runner, even in the fifteenth century, and Dick, besides, had
a start, which he rapidly improved, until, as he drew near the
entrance of a narrow lane, he even paused and looked laughingly
behind him.

Upon the white floor of snow, all the shipmen of Shoreby came
clustering in an inky mass, and tailing out rearward in isolated
clumps.  Every man was shouting or screaming; every man was
gesticulating with both arms in air; some one was continually
falling; and to complete the picture, when one fell, a dozen would
fall upon the top of him.

The confused mass of sound which they rolled up as high as to the
moon was partly comical and partly terrifying to the fugitive whom
they were hunting.  In itself, it was impotent, for he made sure no
seaman in the port could run him down.  But the mere volume of
noise, in so far as it must awake all the sleepers in Shoreby and
bring all the skulking sentries to the street, did really threaten
him with danger in the front.  So, spying a dark doorway at a
corner, he whipped briskly into it, and let the uncouth hunt go by
him, still shouting and gesticulating, and all red with hurry and
white with tumbles in the snow.

It was a long while, indeed, before this great invasion of the town
by the harbour came to an end, and it was long before silence was
restored.  For long, lost sailors were still to be heard pounding
and shouting through the streets in all directions and in every
quarter of the town.  Quarrels followed, sometimes among
themselves, sometimes with the men of the patrols; knives were
drawn, blows given and received, and more than one dead body
remained behind upon the snow.

When, a full hour later, the last seaman returned grumblingly to
the harbour side and his particular tavern, it may fairly be
questioned if he had ever known what manner of man he was pursuing,
but it was absolutely sure that he had now forgotten.  By next
morning there were many strange stories flying; and a little while
after, the legend of the devil's nocturnal visit was an article of
faith with all the lads of Shoreby.

But the return of the last seaman did not, even yet, set free young
Shelton from his cold imprisonment in the doorway.

For some time after, there was a great activity of patrols; and
special parties came forth to make the round of the place and
report to one or other of the great lords, whose slumbers had been
thus unusually broken.

The night was already well spent before Dick ventured from his
hiding-place and came, safe and sound, but aching with cold and
bruises, to the door of the Goat and Bagpipes.  As the law
required, there was neither fire nor candle in the house; but he
groped his way into a corner of the icy guest-room, found an end of
a blanket, which he hitched around his shoulders, and creeping
close to the nearest sleeper, was soon lost in slumber.

Robert Louis Stevenson