Hopitutuqaiki

The Hopi School

PO Box 56
Hotevilla, Arizona 86030

928-734-2433
www.hopischool.net

Scholar’s Library


Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Test

Title: Black'erchief Dick
Author: Allingham, Margery
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Black'erchief Dick" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



                          BLACK’ERCHIEF DICK



                          BLACK’ERCHIEF DICK

                                  BY
                           MARGERY ALLINGHAM

                        WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
                             WILLIAM McFEE

                            [Illustration]


                         GARDEN CITY NEW YORK
                       DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
                                 1923


                          COPYRIGHT, 1923, BY
                           MARGERY ALLINGHAM
          ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION
          INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN

                     PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES
                                  AT
              THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.

                            _First Edition_



                               DEDICATED
                                  TO
                               HAL GRAME

     IN THE HOPE THAT HE WILL BE SATISFIED THAT I HAVE DONE MY BEST TO
     FULFIL THE PROMISE I MADE TO HIM TO TELL THE STORY OF ANNY AND TO
     “TELL TRUE”



INTRODUCTION


In the sense of requiring elucidation or apology, this novel needs no
introduction. The young lady who wrote it about two years ago, when she
was eighteen, has already abandoned this work to publishers and other
grown-ups, and with admirable professional good sense, is working upon
fresh enterprises.

In this, indeed, she is a genuine artist. Nothing is more clear from her
correspondence with the writer of this introduction, than that she is,
without ever becoming conscious of the fact, a genuine artist. Speaking
of the intellectuals who occasionally impinge upon the family circle she
says: “They have a horrid habit of---- oh, I can’t spell it, but it
means pulling their minds to pieces and finding out how they are made,
and they do that with their emotions, too.”

Nothing of the sort is to be found in this tale of eastern England
during the Restoration. And yet, while we may accept the unusual
spectacle of a modern schoolgirl writing a red-blooded adventure story
and privately poking fun at psychoanalysts and their dupes, we are
justified in a certain curiosity as to the genesis of such a book. That
curiosity the introduction is designed to assuage.

Margery Allingham, whom the writer first met at the early age of two,
comes of literary stock. Her grandparents were publishers in the days
before the big combinations made an independent weekly paper a hopeless
hazard. Her parents are journalists and writers of fiction. The business
aspects of literature, the philosophy of art, and the technical problems
of serial fiction have been commonplaces of the domestic atmosphere
which the future novelist breathed during her childhood. It was as
natural for Margery to sit down and “write a story” as for a
shopkeeper’s child to play at keeping a shop. It was inevitable also
that she should start a magazine. I remember it well. It was called _The
Wag-tail_, and the founder was about eight years old. I was foreign
correspondent, a rank imposed because of my being on a ship and so
bringing news of distant shores. Margery herself, however, was mainly
responsible for the publication. It was written in a penny exercise
book, and editorial, short-story, serial, answers to correspondents and
advertisements were entirely by the founder. Our collaboration on this
long-defunct organ laid the foundation of an enduring friendship. When
she was eleven, Margery was graciously pleased to accept the dedication
of one of my novels, in the spirit in which it was offered. It was a
gesture neither of condescension nor of derision, but rather a sincere
and, let us hope, successful attempt on the part of a man a good way up
the hill to give a friendly and affectionate signal to a child already
breasting the lower reaches.

And as the years followed one another in that peculiar progression which
is neither arithmetical nor geometrical, but rather telescopic, whereby
the young close up upon us and make us uneasily aware of our own
slothful deficiencies, it became increasingly evident that in spite of
the secret discouragement of wise parents, who did their best to hold
themselves up as Awful Warnings, Margery Allingham would sooner or later
express herself in one of the arts. Which art she would choose seemed
equally certain until the family circle learned that she proposed to “go
in” for elocution.

The present writer, hearing of this in foreign parts, was at first
nonplussed. With the lack of intelligence that seems to distinguish so
many grown-up males, he feared there would be “dirty work at the
cross-roads” when his lady friend discovered the real nature of a
theatrical career. He might have saved himself the trouble. The lady
friend, gleefully reporting progress, was evidently too preoccupied with
the spectacle of grown-ups in action to bother about the future at all.
She regarded elocution as a means rather than an end. It was perfectly
natural for her, when she failed to find pieces suitable for recitation,
to write them herself. It was a simple step, it appears, when the class
at the Polytechnic sought for a play in which to reveal their virtuosity
to friends and parents, for Margery Allingham to write that play, to
stage-manage it, to design the costumes, and to assume the principal
rôle herself. It was, in short, the little old _Wag-tail_ magazine upon
a somewhat larger scale. One might be pardoned for supposing that the
advice of a large and talented family circle would be invoked on behalf
of a favourite daughter. On the contrary, they are pictured in many
letters as standing around in helpless admiration while a
seventeen-year-old maiden carries through her plans with the precision
of an experienced and ruthless impresario. The play, a blank-verse
tragedy entitled “Dido, Queen of Carthage”, is rehearsed and ultimately
performed with such astonishing success that additional performances
have to be scheduled and the public permitted to pay for admission.

All this, even though it included illustrated interviews in the London
press, was regarded by the chief protagonist as the inept reaction of
grown-ups to a very ordinary achievement of modern youth. For it should
be borne in mind that modern youth, while it is not particularly
impressed with the performances or the philosophies of the preceding
generation, is perfectly willing to abide by the rules of the economic
game. The activities enumerated above were by no means the spectacular
antics of a pampered parasite. Money was being earned in a highly
diverting fashion. It appears that not only are films adapted from
books, but books and stories are redistilled back from the films. Should
money be necessary for scenery or costumes, it was Margery Allingham’s
habit to witness a few pictures, transmute them into fiction and send
them to the weekly journals that publish such stories. The picture
evoked by a series of engaging letters written over the past three years
is that of a shrewd and competent being from another world struggling
with the stupidities and prejudices of a crowd of tottering half-wits
upon the verge of dissolution. Youth seems to be having a tough time of
it in England, as well as in America. There is nothing new about this,
according to our novelist. “The modern girl is simply Miss 1840 without
her petticoats,” is her definition, based on an attentive study of Jane
Austen’s heroines. The trouble lies, not with youth, but with middle
age, whose intellect tends to ossify more rapidly than of yore. It is an
interesting theory, though evidently not designed to placate either
publishers or the writers of introductions.

To come to grips with the question of the origin of this particular
novel, however, is a delicate matter. We find ourselves on enchanted
ground. When a young lady of eighteen writes a novel in four months and
calmly asserts that the story came to her out of the air, as it were,
communicated by so-called automatic writing, the average grown-up
hesitates. He has a foolish predilection for sober realities, and is
reluctant to admit familiar spirits, as it were, to the family circle.
Modern youth, dragging her family after her, calls up the ghosts of
departed rapscallions, witches, and serving-wenches, and forthwith sits
down to fashion a stirring tale.

The novel, then, is a story within a story. The latter has for me a
peculiar fascination. Knowing the characters who sat round that table in
the house on Mersea Island, knowing the Island itself and the
surrounding fenland, I wanted to write a story about them. I have
repressed this desire, contenting myself with recounting to occasional
groups of friends the amazing facts. Now that the novel has been
written, and published in England and America by people who know little
and care nothing about its origins, judging it merely as a piece of
fiction commercially available, the opportunity arrives to reveal
briefly the unusual circumstances out of which the tale was born.

That part of England called East Anglia has preserved through many
centuries the salient features of the landscape. As Charles Dickens said
of the French-Flemish country, it is neither bold nor diversified, being
in fact a sort of continuation of that country on the other side of the
shallow and recent North Sea. And indeed what Dickens went on to say of
his Flemish-French country, that it was three parts Flemish and one part
French, might be paraphrased for East Anglia as three parts English and
one part Low Country, or three parts land and one part water. The shores
emerge imperceptibly from the gray waste of the North Sea, with
stretches of low-tide mud that shine with a metallic lustre beyond the
dunes. The sea is loth to retreat, winding in and out among the fields,
so that one is startled, driving along the road from Colchester towards
Mersea, to see a huge brown wherry aground behind the dikes, many miles
from the sea-lanes outside. And from Canvey Island, which is fairly in
the Thames Estuary below Tilbury, to Aldeburgh, on the Suffolk Coast,
the sea interpenetrates the land so deeply and with so many loops and
backwaters, that the whole coast, to high tide, is compacted of lonely
islands, with here and there a house and the square tower of an ancient
little Saxon church showing above some weather-worn trees on the
landward side. Bleak and perishing cold in the winter, there is a quiet
loveliness in the summers there appealing strongly to unfashionable folk
who seek the elemental sanctuaries of remote harbours and salt winds
driving the thick white clouds athwart a sky of palest azure.

In such surroundings and with a practicable house for sleep, you come
close to England. In such surroundings, on a fare of beef and cheese and
beer, an English family might conceivably become so homogeneously
identified with the spirit of the place that they could move at will up
and down the centuries, assuming the thoughts and memories of any
disembodied intelligences still anchored to their earthly haunts. So at
least it emerges, reading the sober evidence before us, as those four
set it down, signing it with their several names and styles, and
asserting their right as truthful subjects to be believed.

And what they say is this: In August, 1920, being in their cottage on
Mersea Island, on an evening that had turned to rain, the time hung
heavily and it was suggested they pass an hour with the glass. The
ordinary materials were soon provided, being no more than the alphabet
on paper slips, arranged in a circle on the table with a common tumbler,
from which ale is drunk in those parts, inverted in the middle. Nothing
remained save to select some feasible subject.

One lay to their hand. While none of the company had practised the
historical method in their fictions, since they lacked the special
knowledge of bygone ways and speech such work demands, they had often
discussed a legend persisting in the island, that a near-by tavern, long
since destroyed, had been the scene of a tragedy. Old people in the
village said they had seen the ghost, which haunted a house known as The
Myth. “Let us,” said someone, “call up the landlord of the Ship Inn.
Perhaps,” they added amidst some laughter, “he will reply.”

He did! Amid great yet repressed excitement, the mysterious glass slid
to and fro, spelling out a name. As far as can be ascertained, for once
the exact requirements of time and place and method came together, and
some sort of communication was established across the “gateless barrier”
that separates us from the souls who linger near the scenes of their
earthly existence, loth to wander far from their native air. Night after
night, for long hours, these inexperienced folk sat round their table
holding converse with the spirits that syllable men’s names, piecing
together the fragments, evoking new witnesses to check up obscure
allusions, puzzling over the illiterate and archaic words and phrases
which none of them, by any possible chance, could have heard before.

No provision, however, is made in modern publishing for works produced
by authors after they are dead. It is absolutely necessary, when it
comes to publishing, to have some representative this side of the grave,
and Margery Allingham, whose mortal hand wrote the following novel, is
compelled by the hidebound rules of a material and grown-up world to
assume the authorship. Publishers, it seems, from an inspection of our
correspondence, are grown-ups.

It cannot be said that they have, in this particular case, failed in
their obligations to the public. There is one notable feature about this
novel, which the present writer did not read until it had been accepted
for publication, and that is the clean and workmanlike characterization.
Here is no fine writing, no groping for “style.” With crisp hammer-blows
the tale is told. A realistic romance, if you please, in the sense that
no one stands between us and the characters of _Black’erchief Dick_. It
is the realism of Defoe’s _Captain Singleton_ and the _Plague Year_,
where the author achieves a magical invisibility. So far from leading
his characters forward and leaving them to speak, and so revealing
themselves as the children of his brain, the realistic romanticist never
appears at all. Unlike the romantic realist, who passes everything
through the spectrum of his own personality, his story must stand by its
own inherent quality. There are some who would deny him the rank of
artist, claiming that title exclusively for the introspective
specialists. The present writer cannot subscribe to that narrow creed.
He can even imagine a votary of introspection casting envious eyes upon
this stirring tale of love and piracy in seventeenth-century England,
and wondering whether something may not be said for the objective method
after all, where you begin at the beginning and end at the end, where
something is allowed for the picturesque, and the artist works within
the ancient and honourable conventions that are accepted, and loved, and
comprehended by the crowd.

                                                         WILLIAM MCFEE.



BLACK’ERCHIEF DICK



CHAPTER I


“Dangerous! Why, there’s no trade from here to the Indies more dangerous
than ours. I’ve been about a bit, and mind you I know.”

Mat Turnby shifted his large body to a position of greater ease, tilted
slightly the rum cask on which he was sitting, and leaned back against
the fully rigged mast, balancing himself carefully in accordance with
the gentle roll of the ship.

“Oh, I don’t know about that, Mat,” remarked a wiry, black-bearded man,
who squatted on a coil of rope some six feet away. “I’ve been on this
ship two years now, and how many fights have I had with the Preventative
folk? Three! How many hands did we lose in the lot? Eleven! That’s not
danger!”

“Ah!” said the other, wisely nodding his head, “maybe, maybe, Blueneck,
but it’s some nine months since we last went foul them coastguards and
since then we’ve been coming and going as though the damned old Channel
belonged to us. Such scatter-brained tricks don’t pay in the end.”

“You be careful what you’re saying, Mat Turnby,” piped a shivering,
miserable, little man, who was trying to protect himself from the
cutting February wind with a ragged, parti-coloured blanket which he
continually wrapped and unwrapped about his skeleton-like shoulders,
“you be careful what you’re saying. All kinds o’ things on this ship
have ears,” and he nodded once or twice significantly.

The big man moved uneasily on his unstable seat, but he answered boldly
enough:

“I saying? Here, you mind what you’re saying, you snivelling rat!
Saying? I’m not saying aught as I am ashamed of--I say these daring
tricks don’t pay in the end--and--and--they don’t,” he finished
abruptly.

“Oh! it’s not for the likes o’ us to talk about what the Captain does,”
said the little man whiningly. He snuffled noisily and unwrapped and
wrapped his blanket again. “Not for the likes o’ us,” he repeated.

“Who’s saying aught of the Cap’n?” roared Mat, bringing the cask to the
deck with a thud. “Who’s saying aught of the Cap’n?”

“Oh! no one, no one at all,” said the shiverer, considerably startled.
Then he added, as the big man slid back against the mast once more: “But
if no one did--that’s all right, ain’t it? If no one did, I say.”

Mat swore a round of obscene oaths under his breath and there was
silence for a minute or two.

They were nearly at the end of the trip. Indeed, another two hours or so
would see them safely at anchor in the safest of all smugglers’
havens--the mouth of the River Blackwater, and their cargo easily and
openly landed on Mersea Marsh Island.

The shivering little man smiled to himself at the thought of it. The
warm kitchen at the Victory Inn, the smoking rum-cup, and the pleasant
sallies of the fair Eliza appealed to his present mood, and he sniffled
again and rearranged his blanket.

The green, white-splashed water lapped against the boat and a big
saddle-backed gull flew over, screaming plaintively.

Mat began to talk again.

“I wonder why we do it,” he said slowly. “There ain’t anything in him--a
weak, ugly little Spaniard, no----”

Blueneck interrupted sharply.

“Hush,” he said. “No good ever comes of talking about Black’erchief
Dick, whatever is said.”

“Who said I was talking of the Cap’n?” said Mat quickly.

Blueneck looked uncomfortable, but he replied steadily: “Ah! Mat Turnby,
you be careful!”

Mat laughed.

“I reckon you’ve got enough to do lookin’ after yerself--wi’out worrying
about me, master Spaniard,” he said good-naturedly.

Blueneck shifted his position slightly.

“I reckon we git paid more than most sea-faring folk,” he said.

Mat snorted.

“Oh, yes!” he growled, “paid! We’re paid, all right, but how are we
treated?”

Blueneck grinned.

“Like princes of the blood on the island,” he laughed.

“Oh! yes, on the island,” Mat’s voice rose, “but I say--on the brig? How
then? Like dogs, men--like dirty, heathen, black-skinned dogs! And what
I ask is, why do we do it? Are we men to be afraid of a brown-skinned,
drunken little pirate of a Spaniard? Just because he owns a brig or two
and smuggles as much rum in a year as any other man in the trade? What
has he got about him that we should turn wenches and follow him, like
the scum he thinks us? Save that he has a mighty plaguey way of turning
fine words and----”

“The knife!”

The little man who had spoken huddled his blanket closer and shuddered
again. The wind dropped for a moment and a tremor ran through the full
sails, as though they also had shivered.

Mat Turnby laughed, albeit somewhat uneasily.

“The knife?” he said. “Lord, what’s a knife to a man who holds one of
these?” He pulled a heavy flintlock pistol out of a pocket in the
voluminous skirts of the sleeveless and brightly coloured coat which he
wore over a rough homespun guernsey and held it on the palm of his open
hand.

Blueneck smiled grimly.

“A precious great deal when the hand that holds the knife is
Black’erchief Dick’s,” he said.

Mat Turnby laughed again contemptuously.

“Are you flesh and good red blood, or mud and pond slime, that you fear
the foolish word of a Spanish sot? I tell you no knife held in a mortal
hand can stand against a bullet from this.”

“Ay, in a mortal hand,” said he of the blanket, fearfully looking behind
him.

The big sailor swore.

“Lord,” he said, “I knew not that I had come aboard a ship manned with a
crew of beldames. I tell you this great captain of yours would be laid
as flat as Mersea mud with one little lead ball from this.”

He stroked the pistol lovingly.

“Maybe,” said Blueneck stubbornly. “But whoever fired that shot would
die by--the knife.”

“Ah! that’s tremendous likely,” sneered the other; “him on his back with
a good ounce of lead in that wicked head of his.”

Blueneck shrugged his shoulders.

“You can laugh now, Mat Turnby,” he said, “but you won’t always laugh at
what I tell you. No, not by a long way, that you won’t.”

He hugged his knees to his chin, and let the heavy lids fall over his
eyes.

This apparent indifference seemed to irritate Mat more than words for,
bringing his hand down on his knee with a mighty slap, he swore loudly
for several seconds. Then suddenly breaking off short he burst into a
short, sharp laugh.

“Well!” he said. “It’s time the Spanish swine knew that there’s someone
aboard who ain’t afraid of him, no, neither him nor his knife. S’truth!
am I to cower down to a Spaniard?”

He stretched his huge limbs and showed his large yellow teeth as he
smiled rather sourly.

“No, by the Lord, not I,” he went on. “Let him cross me if he dare, and
he’ll see good _Suffolk_ blood is a match for thin Spanish sap any day.
Ho! ho! ho! let him cross me if he dare. Ho! ho!”

The laugh died away on his lips as from just behind his ear came
another. It was soft, rich, musical, and wholly unpleasant.

At the first sound of it the three men sat rigid, and when it had ceased
there was no sound for several seconds save for the water lapping
against the side and the scream of the gulls overhead.

Blueneck was the first of the sailors to recover. He lifted his eyes
cautiously to the direction from which the laugh had come.

He saw what he feared and expected. Up against the other side of the
mast, directly behind Mat Turnby, stood a slight figure dressed
extravagantly in the French style of the day, a dandy from the Brussels
frill at his throat to the great silver buckles of rich workmanship
which adorned his tanned shoes. But it was not these things which
stopped the three sailors so suddenly in their talk and caused them to
sit aghast.

The most remarkable thing about the newcomer was his face--long, lean,
brown, and unhandsome, it yet had a character at once interesting and
repulsive. The finely marked eyebrows met across the low, well-tanned
brow in an almost straight line, and the hair--oiled and curled--showed
as black as the silk kerchief which covered the greater part of head and
neck. The eyes beneath the lids, fringed with heavy lashes, smiled and
glittered disconcertingly. The whole face was smiling now, viciously,
almost fiendishly, but yet smiling and with some enjoyment.

Blueneck’s eyes dropped before that terrible smile and, as they
travelled slowly downward, suddenly dilated, and he shivered as though a
snake had touched him.

The figure by the mast had moved a little more round and his hand was
visible. It was at this that Blueneck stared.

Among the small, white, much-beringed fingers, and round the slender
wrist from which the lace ruffle had been pushed back a little, slid the
thin blue blade of a Spanish stiletto. Through the thumb and first
finger it slipped, over the blue vein of the white forearm, mingled its
brightness with the flashing jewels on the third and fourth fingers--and
so round again, all without any apparent effort or even movement of the
hand. It was an exhibition to be admired and praised, yet Blueneck and
the shivering little man at his side shuddered and looked away.

Mat Turnby, on the other hand, had not seen anything. He sat quite
still, the pistol lying idly in the palm of his great hand, staring
fixedly in front of him.

A hand, white and slender, slid over his left shoulder and away
again--the pistol vanished. Still Mat did not move.

“A very pretty toy, and a useful, my friend,” said the same soft voice,
just behind Mat’s ear.

The big sailor pulled himself together with an effort, stood up, then
turned toward his captain.

Blueneck and the little man in the blanket also rose.

Black’erchief Dick had not changed his position. The big pistol and the
slender knife lay side by side on his small white palm, and he still
smiled as he spoke again:

“Now my noble son of an ox,” he began pleasantly, his white teeth
shining, “if it so happened that this day you had to die----” A hasty
flush spread over the giant’s face, but otherwise he made no sign.
Black’erchief Dick continued, “If, I say,” he repeated, “that this day
you had to die, which of these beautiful toys would you choose as a
means to death?”

He held his open hand a little nearer to the sailor.

Blueneck stared at him, fascinated, and the little man with the blanket
sniffed audibly.

Black’erchief Dick’s eyes left Mat Turnby for a moment and rested on the
shivering little creature. “Sniff thy way aft, Habakkuk Coot,” he said
quietly. The little man stared at him, shivered, sniffed again, and
seemed unable to move.

Slowly the Spaniard’s arm lifted the pistol in his hand.

Habakkuk sniffed again and his eyes dilated with terror; a white finger
raised crooked round the trigger, and pressed. There was an explosion.
Habakkuk remained standing for a second, then fled down the hatchway, a
jagged hole through his blanket.

Black’erchief Dick smiled and, turning to Mat, continued: “As I said,
Matthew Turnby, if this day thou hadst to die, which of these weapons
wouldst thou choose? Thou seest I know the manner of either,” he added,
and, suddenly darting out his hand, he plunged the knife between the big
sailor’s arm and body, so that the sleeve of the man’s guernsey was
skewered to the body of his coat. Still Mat Turnby neither moved nor
spoke. Laughing slightly, the Spaniard drew out the knife and resumed
the one-sided conversation.

“Nay, Matthew Turnby, you do but jest in keeping the thin Spanish sap in
my veins so long waiting for an answer,” he said with a sneer and a
smile. The sailor swallowed noisily, but said nothing.

“The drunken sot of a pirate must be taught not to cross thee, Matthew,”
went on the Captain, and his smile had vanished, leaving only a weary
expression on the lean features. “Lord! man, if thou wilt not choose,
faith, I must for thee.”

“Surely, Capt’n--you jest--surely.”

The words came like a flood from the big man’s open mouth.

An expression of surprise spread over the Spaniard’s face. “I jest?” he
said. “Nay, faith, good Matthew, I jest?” he repeated. “Lord, man, when
didst thou get that into thy ass’s pate--nay, nay, of a certainty I do
not jest--which wilt thou have?”

Mat Turnby’s face grew purple, but he did not speak; his tongue
protruded slightly from his lips.

Black’erchief Dick looked at the weapons critically as they lay side by
side in his hand.

“Ah,” he said at last, holding the pistol in his left hand. “This we
see, Matthew, is discharged. I beg thy pardon, señor, for pressing a
choice I could not give thee. As it is, you see, but the knife remains,”
and he dropped the pistol into a capacious pocket.

Mat Turnby’s hand clutched at his throat and he stepped back a pace or
two.

Black’erchief Dick followed him, the knife swinging lightly between his
thumb and forefinger. Blueneck stood watching, his eyes fixed on the
Spaniard in unholy fascination. Farther and farther back stepped the big
sailor, Dick keeping always the same distance from him, until he reached
the side of the boat. There he stayed, breathless with fear. Slowly the
Spaniard came nearer and nearer to him, and the thin blue blade ceased
to swing.

“So thou wouldst teach that ‘drunken pirate’ that all men are not afraid
of him? Eh? Is that so? The voice seemed to grow more caressing at
every word and the big sailor’s eyes shut. Suddenly they opened again
and looked down.

“Look!” Dick was saying. “Look, Matthew, son of _Suffolk_ clay, see how
fair my blade looks against thy fur-grown hide.” He tore at the guernsey
and pulled it open, showing the great hairy chest beneath. The terrified
sailor made one lunge forward, as though to grasp the lean brown throat,
but he was too late. Swift as lightning the small white hand shot back
and then forward, and the thin blue blade vanished in the wretched man’s
body just over the collar-bone, cutting the jugular vein. The great body
stiffened and then, gradually relaxing, dropped at the Spaniard’s feet.

Blueneck stifled a cry and stepped forward.

Slowly the Spaniard pulled out the steel, wiped it carefully on the
brightly coloured sleeveless coat, then slipped it into his belt.

“Over with the dog,” he said shortly to Blueneck, as he walked off
quietly up the deck.

Blueneck hailed one of the frightened crew who had watched the scene
from the deck-house roof, and in silence the two lifted up all that was
left of the great sailor and pushed it over the side. The body splashed
in the green water and somewhere near a cormorant shrieked to his kind
the news of fresh prey, and the ship, her sails bellying out to the
wind, sped on toward the island.



CHAPTER II


“Anny.”

“Ay, Hal.”

“Do you love me, lass?”

“Oh! now why will you keep plaguing me, Hal? How many times have I told
you so on this same wall? You know I do.”

“Can I kiss you again, then?”

“Ay, Hal.”

There was silence for a minute or so, and the gulls fishing for eels in
the soft black mud came in closer to the shingle-strewn strip of beach,
taking no notice of the two figures on the sea wall, so still they
stood.

“When we get married, lass”--the young voice sounded clearly in the
quietness and the gulls flew screaming--“we might keep the Ship
ourselves.”

The girl at his side cut him short with a bitter little laugh.

“Ay, Hal,” she said sadly, “when we get married--that’s a tremendous
long way off, I’m thinking.”

The boy put his arm round her waist unchecked.

“I don’t know,” he said, and his voice sounded hopeful, “I don’t know,
lass. Gilbot’s leaving the place in my hands more than ever, and who
knows but what some day he’ll be handing it over to me altogether.”

Anny joined in his laugh and her hand slid up and caressed his broad,
scarlet-shirted shoulder.

“Ay, and then I’ll be serving our own rum, and you and Captain Fen de
Witt will settle the price yourselves---- Oh, Hal! lad, that’ll be
happiness.”

“Why, Anny, girl, ain’t you happy now? Gilbot’s been more than good to
both of us. It isn’t every landlord who’d bring up a couple of orphans
in his inn and look after them the way he has us.”

The girl pouted her full red lips.

“It isn’t as if we didn’t work for him,” she said.

“Oh, Anny!”--Hal’s honest blue eyes clouded for a moment--“you didn’t
serve the liquor till you were fourteen, you know, and he even let me
study a bit before I started to help.”

“Ay, may be, but your folk left some money to him, didn’t they?”

“Nay, lass. They died aboard Fen de Witt’s schooner, the _Dark Blood_,
coming down from the North. You know that; I’ve told you so some twenty
times.”

“Ay, you have, but I like to hear you praise Gilbot, Hal, your eyes
shine so, and you seem almost angry with me--I like you angry, Hal.”

The boy laughed.

“Saucy minion! When we are married you will not wish me angry. Faith,
lass, you would not make another Ben Farran of me--surely?”

The girl shuddered.

“Peace, prithee,” she said. “I do not like to hear you jest so. Oh, that
he had died with my father.”

“Marry, sweetheart, fie upon thee speaking of thy grandsire so,” Hal
laughed merrily.

The girl looked about her uneasily.

“Hush!” she said. “I would not have him hear us.”

The boy’s laugh rang out again and he bent as he kissed her, although
her height was unusual in the island, for he was very tall.

“Look, Anny, lass,” he said laughingly. “See how far we are from the
_Pet_,” and he pointed ahead of them to where an old mastless hull lay
moored in a little bay about a quarter of a mile from where they stood.

Anny glanced up at him and he stopped to look at her. Although they had
lived in the same house since they could remember, he was never tired of
gazing at that wonderful face of hers, and praising it till it reddened
to the colour of the rough canvas shirt to which he pressed it.

It was plump and oval in shape, white, but delicately touched with a
colour in the cheeks, and her hair, of that intense blackness which
seems to absorb the light, curled over her low forehead. But her eyes
were wonderful. Of a deep sea-green, they caught light and shadow from
her surroundings. The girl was certainly a beauty and of no common
type.

Hal caught his breath.

“Anny,” he said, his young eyes regarding her solemnly, “you are as
beautiful as the sea at five o’clock on a summer’s morning. Look,
sweetheart, over there, see--your eyes are as green as that sea, and
your hair black as yon breakwater that starts out of it.”

The girl laughed, well pleased, but she looked over at the old hull
again quickly.

“Will we go back now?” she asked at last.

The boy looked at her, astonished.

“Go back!” he said. “Why, what for--art not tired, surely?”

The girl shook her head.

“Nay,” she said, “but----” She stopped and looked at the hull again.

Hal followed the direction of her eyes before he spoke again. Then he
laughed.

“Why, Anny, you are afraid to pass your grandsire’s boat.”

Then, as she did not speak, he took her little chin in his brown hand
and raised her face to his.

“What are you feared of when I am with you, sweetheart?” he asked.

The girl shivered slightly.

“They say,” she began hesitatingly, “that Pet Salt is a witch.”

Hal’s face became grave.

“Ay,” he said, “they do say so, but, Lord,” and he smiled, “they said
the same of Nan Swayle.”

“Ah! but that’s a lie,” said the girl hotly.

Hal laughed.

“Ay,” he said, “and maybe so is the tale of Pet Salt. Anyway, thy
grandsire seems to thrive beneath her care, be she witch or no. Fie,
Anny, for shame,” he added, “you would not haste back yet. Master French
will not thank us if we get in so soon, stopping his love-talk with
Mistress Sue.”

Anny wrapped her shawl a little closer about her head and shoulders, and
slipped her arm through the boy’s, and they walked on for a while
without speaking.

About three hundred yards from the old hull Anny stopped.

“Look!” she said, “he’s on deck.”

Hal looked in the direction in which she pointed and saw the stubby
figure of old Ben Farran, a long telescope to his eye, leaning against
the remnant of what had once been a neat deck-house. Lumber of different
kinds--mostly empty rum kegs--lay strewn all round him, while from the
shattered stump of the main-mast to the painted ear of the fearsome
green-and-red dragon, which served as a figurehead, was stretched a
clothes-line, on which a few rags leaped and fought in the cold breeze.

Hal studied him critically for a few moments.

“He’s not so deep in liquor as usual,” he said at last.

“Oh! poor Pet Salt!” exclaimed the girl involuntarily. “I wonder where
she is?”

“Stowed away safely under hatches, I reckon,” said Hal, with a laugh.

“You should not jest, Hal. I have not known him able to stand so these
three months. I fear he may have kilt her. He would if she could beg him
no more rum.”

“Oh! what a soft heart it is,” said the boy gently. “How long ago was it
that thou shivered when I spoke her name, and now you fear for her.
Shall we go back?”

The girl hesitated for a moment, then she said: “Nay, she may have need
of help, poor soul. Come with me, Hal.”

“Come with thee, lass! Think you I’d let you go alone--thy grandsire
sobered?” His voice rose in indignation as he put his arm about her
shoulders protectingly.

They came within twenty yards of the boat before the swaying figure on
the deck became aware of them. Then, however, to their extreme surprise
he hailed them affably and called to Hal.

“Hey, you boy there, be your eyes good?”

“Ay, none so bad, sir.”

“Ah, I doubt it. Come up here, will ’ee, and see if you can make out
this craft.” Then, his eyes falling on the girl, “Is it that slut Anny
you have with you?”

“‘Tis Anny Farren, sir,” she said, speaking for herself.

“Ah! you run down to Pet Salt, girl, she may need thee.”

Anny climbed up the rope ladder which dangled over the side, and Hal
after her.

“Is Pet Salt sick, Grandsire?” she ventured timidly.

Anny had been a serving-maid at the Ship Tavern some three years and her
acquaintance with profane language was not limited, but she quailed
visibly and the red blood mounted from her throat to the ebony curls on
her forehead before the stream of abuse levelled at the head of the
unfortunate woman in the hold. She fled down the hatchway, and Hal stood
looking after her, undecided whether to follow his love and protect her
from the aged witch below deck, or to remain and attempt to pacify the
wrathful man by the deck-house.

Ben decided for him.

“Here you are,” he said fiercely, “take this telescope. Now”--as Hal
took it from the old man’s unsteady fingers--“what do you see?”

The young Norseman, his yellow hair curling over his ears and one dark
blue eye screwed to the rim, swept the glass to and fro once or twice,
then he held it still.

“She’s a brig,” he said at last.

“Ah!” assented the old man.

Hal looked again. “Light’s very bad,” he remarked.

“I could ha’ told you that--here, give me the thing.” Ben regained
possession of the glass and, unable to hold it steady, broke into
another flood of profane language, cursing the woman, Pet Salt, again
and again.

“She has vexed thee, sir?”

The young man put the question timidly.

“The ronyon burnt my rum-cup,” Ben Farran gulped with rage. “Oh, lad!
the defiling of good, Heaven-sent rum with burnt eggs and honey!”

He spat on the deck at the thought of it.

The boy grinned, but he said nothing.

Once again the old man handed him the telescope.

“Now look! Be she Captain Fen de Witt’s _Dark Blood_?”

Hal began to understand the old drunkard’s interest in the brig. If this
was the _Dark Blood_, the whole of the east end of the Island would run
rum for a night or so, and, as he guessed, Ben’s stock was getting low.

“Nay,” he said at last, “‘tis not she. Why, Master Farran, Captain Fen
de Witt, isn’t expected for a week or more.”

The old man mumbled curses for a while before he spoke.

“Ah! but who be she?” he said, pointing out to the horizon.

“Why,” said the boy in some surprise, “‘tis someone making for the
West.”

The old man seized the glass.

“‘Tis impossible, with the tide out like this,” he said.

Hal strained his eyes.

“Ay,” he said, “but she’s trying it.”

“But I tell thee, lad,” Ben’s voice rose shrilly, “‘tis impossible. Why,
down there in the fleet there ain’t no more ’an four feet o’ water when
the tide’s like this.”

“Ay,” said Hal. “I know there ain’t, but she’s trying it,” he added
stubbornly.

“Why, so she be.” Ben Farran put the glass at last safely to his eye and
spoke in amazement. “But she won’t do it,” he added with a certain
enjoyment. “She can’t do it. There’s only one man as I’ve heard of who’d
try it,” he continued, “and it ain’t likely to be him at this time o’
day.”

“Ah!” said Hal, “and who’s that?”

“Dick Delfazio--him as they call Black’erchief Dick--but it ain’t likely
to be him, as I said.”

Hal nodded.

“I’ve heard of him,” he said. “Lands his stuff at the Victory, don’t
he?”

The old man grunted.

“I don’t know that,” he said. “All I know is I don’t see any of it.
Lord,” he added, as he had another look through the glass, “‘tis the
_Coldlight_, though--sithering fool. He’ll lead the Preventative men on
the Island after him one o’ these days.”

“He’ll never get down to the fleet with the tide like this, whoever he
is,” said the boy, staring out curiously at the white-sailed craft.

“Ah! you’re right there,” said Ben. “Curse the fool, he’ll get her stuck
fast in the mud and have to stay all night. Lord!” he added, “when
these wars be over there’ll be a deal more care taken in the trade, take
my word for it. Why, this ain’t smuggling, it’s free trading.”

But the boy was not listening to him; his eyes were fixed on the
_Coldlight_, now well in view.

“Look!” he said suddenly, “look, she’s turning.”

“Eh? What? Eh? So she is!” ejaculated the old man in a frenzy of
excitement. “Do ’ee think she be coming here--eh?”

Hal spoke slowly, his eyes on the brig.

“Ay,” he said, “you’re right, she’s making for East--who did you say she
was?”

“The _Coldlight_--the _Coldlight_, lad, commanded by the finest man in
the trade--oh, my boy, the Island will swim in good Jamaica this night,”
and he dropped the telescope, which fell clattering to the boards.

Hal picked it up and turned to give it to the old man, but he was off,
tottering to the hatchway. There, kneeling on the deck and poking his
head down, he called whiningly, “Pet! Pet! my own, will you come up and
hear what I have to tell you? Great--great news, Pet.” Receiving no
answer he tried again while the boy stood looking at him.

“Pretty old Pet, queen of my heart, Pet, my Pet, come up.”

Still no answer, save for the patter of raindrops on the boat.

“I’m sorry I beat you, Pet--although I’m damned if I am, the ronyon!”
he added to himself. Still all beneath the hatches was silent as the
grave.

Swearing softly, the old man crawled over to the ladder and began to
descend.

Hal heard him reach the bottom and stumble off.

The boy looked out to sea, where the brig was making slowly for the
Eastern Creek. He stood looking at her for a second or two and then
sprang round suddenly as though someone had called him.

Where was Anny? In the excitement of watching the brig he had forgotten
her. His face flushing with remorse he raced to the hatchway and was
just in time to help his sweetheart, pale and frightened, up on to the
deck.

“Oh, Hal, how he has beaten her!” she said, as she moved quickly over to
the rope ladder and climbed hastily down without once looking behind.

“Could she speak to thee?” he asked as he slid to the ground after her.

“Ay,” she nodded her head fearfully.

“Did she curse thee much?”

“Ay,” she nodded again.

Hal smiled.

“Art afraid?” he enquired tenderly.

Anny looked up at him before she pulled his arm about her waist.

“Nay,” she said, “not while I have thee, Hal.”

He kissed her before he spoke again.

“I suppose Ben was plaguing her to meet the _Coldlight_ and beg a keg?”
he said.

Anny nodded again. Then she said quickly: “Come, lad, we must back to
the Ship if company be expected.”

“Wouldst rather serve rum to the company than walk to the shore with me,
lass?”

The grip round her waist tightened and she laughed.

“If thou wert a wench, Hal, thou wouldst be a jade,” she said. “Come,
Master Gilbot will be scuttering this way and that, and Mistress Sue,
loath to leave Big French, will have the skin flayed off everyone in the
place if we’re not there to help her.”

“Thou’rt a great lass, Anny,” said the boy, smiling. “When we are
married there’ll not be an inn in the country to equal ours.”

The girl laughed happily.

“Ay, when we are married, Hal,” she said.



CHAPTER III

    “Oh, I called her Mary Loo,
     And she shwore that she’d be true,
     Until I took to rum and went to shea;
     Then she goed along wi’ he,
     And forgot all love for me,
     Sho I stayed wi’ me rum and me shea,
     Sho I stayed wi’ me rum and me shea.”


Gilbot, landlord of the Ship, sat before a roaring fire in his
comfortable kitchen, singing in a quavering, tipsy voice, and beating
out the accompaniment with an empty pot on one podgy knee.

It was six o’clock in the evening, and already the tallow dips had been
lighted. They cast a flickering, friendly glow over the scene, the long,
low room, stone-flagged and small-windowed, the ale barrels and rum kegs
neatly arranged side by side on a form which ran nearly all the way
round the wall, and the two long, trestled tables, flanked with
high-backed seats which were now unoccupied, but were presently to be
filled with the best company that the east of the Island could provide.

Besides Gilbot, who appeared happily oblivious of all around him, four
other persons sat in the Ship kitchen: two old men threw dice for pence
in one corner, while in another, between two rum kegs, sat a girl. She
was about twenty-three years of age, and, although her appearance was
not of that uncommon type so marked in Anny Farran, yet she had a
certain quiet comeliness and gentle expression which made her almost
beautiful. At least the handsome young giant who lounged near her in an
ecstasy of shyness appeared to think so, for he eyed her so intently,
his mouth partly open, that she was forced to pay more attention to the
garment she was patching than was strictly necessary. They sat in
perfect silence for some ten minutes before the young man plucked up
courage to speak. When he did, his voice came uncomfortably from his
throat, and he reddened to the roots of his hair.

“I reckon I’ll be going up west now, Mistress Sue,” he said, as he half
rose to his feet and looked toward the door.

“Oh!”--there was a note of real regret in the girl’s voice--“must you go
so early, Master French?”

Big French sat down again quickly.

“Nay,” he said shortly, and there was silence again for another minute
or so.

She stitched busily the while.

“Is it great business you have in the west, Master French?” she said at
last, her eyes still on her work.

French discovered suddenly that it was easier to talk to her if she was
not looking at him.

“Ay,” he said. “Black’erchief Dick will get in to-morrow.”

Sue sighed.

“Ah!” she said, “you have a fine life, Master French, travelling to and
fro the way you do.”

Big French beamed delightedly.

“Ay,” he said, “a fine life, but dangerous,” he added quickly, “very
dangerous.”

The girl looked at him appraisingly.

“But you are so strong, Master French, what have you to fear from
footpads--you’re in more danger from pretty wenches, I warrant,” she
said, as she shot a sidelong glance at him.

French reddened and smiled sheepishly; then he suddenly grew grave and
his gray eyes regarded her earnestly.

“Wenches? Mistress Sue,” he said, “nay! One wench--that’s all.”

It was Sue’s turn to redden now and she did so very charmingly, and
French, noting her confusion, immediately bethought him of his own, and
he sat fidgeting, his eyes on the tips of his untanned leather boots.

“I’ll be forth to Tiptree market this week if Black’erchief Dick’s
brought aught but rum from Brest,” he said at last, “and if there be
aught you may be wanting from thence, Mistress----?” His voice trailed
off on the question as he studied his boot-toe attentively.

She smiled as she laid a brown hand on his arm, thereby causing him much
nervous disquietude.

“Come back before you go--er--Ezekiel”--Big French started pleasurably
at the sound of his Christian name--“and if I have bethought me of aught
we need from Tiptree, I will be glad if you will get it for me,” she
said.

Big French took the hand that was resting on his sleeve in one big fist
and his other arm slid round the girl’s waist unhindered.

“Sue,” he said softly, “will ye----”

    “_Sho I stayed wi’ me rum and me shea_,”

sang Gilbot, suddenly waking up from the doze he had fallen into.
“Shue,” he called, “more rum, lass.”

The girl jumped up to obey him, and Big French swore softly under his
breath.

Two or three seamen entered the kitchen at this moment, and, after
saluting Gilbot, called for drinks and settled themselves in the
high-backed seats on either side of the fire. They began to talk noisily
of their own affairs.

Sue opened an inner door and called for more lights. Gilbot, happy with
his rum, continued to sing.

Big French rose slowly to his feet. He was an enormous figure, some six
feet five inches tall and proportionately broad; his face as the light
from the dripping candles fell on it showed clearly cut and very
handsome. He wore his hair long and his chin had never been shaved, so
that his beard was as silky as his hair, curly and of the colour of
clear honey. He walked over to the door after exchanging greetings with
the rowdy crew at the fireside, and lifted the latch. On the threshold
he was met by Hal and Anny.

They had walked briskly, and the cool air had brought the colour to the
girl’s face and, as she stood there, the men at the fireside, instead of
clamouring for the door to be shut and the draught stayed, sat looking
at her in silent admiration.

Hal Grame, standing just behind her, was the first to speak. He stepped
forward, shutting the door behind him.

“Black’erchief Dick, aboard the _Coldlight_, will be putting into the
Creek inside of an hour,” he said.

Big French looked at him for a moment.

“Black’erchief Dick coming here?” he said at last.

Sue came forward to listen, and several men left the fireplace and
joined the little group near the door.

“Ay,” said Hal, “he couldn’t get down the fleet with the tide like
this.”

“Ah!” said French.

“He couldn’t rest in the Channel for twelve hours or so, now could he?”
continued Hal.

“Ah, you’re right there, lad,” said one of the men, pressing forward.
“Black’erchief Dick would risk most things, but he’s no fool.”

Big French scratched his head thoughtfully.

“Ah,” he said slowly, “he’s no fool, that’s right enough.” Then he
looked at Sue furtively out of the corner of his eye. “He’ll be coming
up here I reckon,” he said.

Sue shrugged her shoulders.

“Well,” she said, “we’ve rum enough for any foreigner, and, if we ain’t
as fine as the Victory, our liquor’s as good.”

“Eh, what’s that?” Old Gilbot pricked up his ears, the pewter-pot
halfway to his lips. “Not as fine as the Victory, lass? Who says we
ain’t as fine as the Victory, any day? Eh? Anywaysh,” he added, his face
hidden in the nearly empty tankard, “anywaysh, we’ve prettier wenches.”

“You’re right, host--here, rum all round and drink to the wenches.” Big
French, his hand in his breeches pocket, spoke loudly and the coins
jingled as he planked them down on the table, and the two girls hastened
to draw the rum.

“The wenches!” shouted French, one big foot on the form and his tankard
held high above his head.

“The wenches!” roared the company.

“The wenches!” piped Gilbot happily from his corner.

This pleasant ceremony took some minutes, and Sue and Anny stood
together smiling at each other, neither giving a thought to the little
dark-skinned, white-handed Spaniard who was sailing under full canvas
toward their home.

“I’ll go down to the hard to meet Black’erchief,” said French at last,
wiping his beard with a green handkerchief.

“I’ll with you.” “And I.” “And I.” Most of the company rose and followed
the young Goliath to the door.

“Goo’-bye,” said Gilbot, waving his pot. “Come back soon.”

The men laughed and promised.

“The owd devil,” said one man to another as he shut the door behind
them. “The owd devil hasn’t been sober these four years.” And they went
off laughing.

“What manner of fellow is that they call Black’erchief Dick’?” said
Anny, as she collected the empty tankards from the tables.

“A devil,” said one of the men at the fireside.

“Oh!” Anny was not impressed. She had met many strangers who had been
described to her as devils, and not one to her mind had lived up to the
description.

“Oh!” said Hal, as he piled fresh logs in the open grate. “‘Tis only a
foreigner, some Spanish dog or other.”

The man who had spoken before shook his head.

“Ah, you be careful, lad. Dick ain’t the chap to make a foe of in a
hurry,” he said.

Anny paused for a moment.

“Is he a big man, sir?” she asked.

Sue interposed quickly.

“Not as big as Master French, I reckon,” she said defiantly.

The man laughed.

“Big as French?” he said. “Lord! he ain’t no bigger than you, Anny.”

“Oh!” the two girls looked at one another and laughed.

“Marry, I reckon he’s a devil without horns then, Master Granger,” said
Sue.

Granger spat before he spoke again.

“I don’t know about horns, Mistress,” he said, “but I reckon his knife
is good enough for him--ah, and for me, too, for that matter,” he added.

Anny laughed again.

“‘Twould not be enough for me anyway,” she said, fixing a stray curl
over her ear as she spoke.

Sue looked at her strangely. It was impossible not to like this
beautiful wild little creature, in whom her uncle, Gilbot, had taken
such an interest. Yet she could not help wishing that the younger girl
had been more careful. She was so young, so very beautiful, and the
company which came to the Ship was not the best in the world.

Sue shrugged her shoulders. It was not her business, she told herself,
but her eyes followed Anny almost pityingly as the little maid moved
across the room to speak to Gilbot.

“Master Gilbot,” Anny said, “should we prepare a bedchamber for the
gentleman?”

Old Gilbot looked at her over the rim of the tankard; then he took one
of her hands.

“Thou art a pretty wench, Anny,” he observed solemnly. “Will ’ee fetch
me another stoup of liquor, lass?” he added, brightening up in
anticipation.

Anny did as she was told and then repeated her question.

“Eh? Bedchamber? Eh? What?” said the old man, his brows screwed into
knotted lines, and he seemed troubled; after a few minutes, however,
“Oh! ashk Hal,” he said, his face clearing. “Ashk Hal everything.”

He looked across at the boy affectionately.

“Shly dog,” he murmured, “keepsh me in liquor all day long sho he can
get the Ship. Ho-ho-ho!” he laughed, shaking all over. “Shly dog--shly
dog.”

Hal laughed with him and then discussed with Anny and Sue the various
arrangements for the reception of the visitors. Having settled
everything to their satisfaction they joined the group about the fire,
where the talk was still running on the Spaniard.

“Wonderful fighter,” one man was saying. “Oh, a wonderful fighter, take
my word for it.”

“Ah, you’re right,” said another. “I saw him kill a man with a knife
throw one time. From right the other side of the room it was. That was
in a house in Brest, in ’59,” he added reminiscently.

“How old do you reckon him?” said the first man curiously. “I’ve not
known him more’n a year or so.”

“Well,” the other man’s tone was dubious. “He says he’s thirty and I
shouldn’t say more. No, I shouldn’t say so much--though it’s wonderful
the way he manages them foreign dogs he mans his brig with.”

Hal joined in the conversation.

“They’re a rough lot, I expect,” he said.

The men round the fire laughed.

“You’re right there, lad,” said one. “Keep your eye on the rum and
lasses to-night. Wonderful rough lot they are,” he added. “Oh, wonderful
rough!”

Hal flushed.

“I reckon the lasses can look after theirselves,” he said gruffly.

Anny put her hand on his shoulder.

“Ay,” she said, “maybe we can, but where’s the need of us troubling when
you’re by?”

“Bravo, Anny, lass. The girl has wit as well as beauty,” said the man
addressed as Granger from his seat in the chimney corner, whence he had
moved to make room for Sue.

“Ay, a fine wench,” said Gilbot, waking for a moment; the others laughed
and the talk continued cheerily.

“Evening to you all.” The speaker was a man dressed in the usual
fisherman’s guernsey and breeches. He stood in the doorway, looking in
on the company round the fire and smiling affably.

Hal looked up quickly and seeing who it was rose at once to meet him.

“Evening, Joe,” he said cheerily. “Come, sit down; what’ll you drink?”

Joseph Pullen smiled and took the seat offered him, and named his
choice.

Anny was up in a moment to serve him, and his eyes followed her as she
flitted hither and thither, with a smile for one and a jest for another,
laughing happily the while. He looked across at Hal.

“Ah, you’re a lucky one, mate,” he observed in a hoarse whisper.

The boy smiled.

“Amy been at you again?” he enquired.

It was well known that Joe and his wife, Amy, were not a happy couple.

The other looked round him.

“She’s a shrew and no mistake, Hal,” he said softly.

Hal laughed.

“You’re right,” he said. “But cheer thyself,” he added, as Anny brought
a tankard. “Look’ee, Joe, did ever you set eyes on a man called
Black’erchief Dick?”

“I did that”--Joe’s face appeared red above the pot--“and I set eyes on
one of his mange-struck crew as well,” he said fiercely.

“Ah, and who might that be?” Granger inquired.

“A black-bearded old Spanish villain called Blueneck. Yes, and what’s
more, I set eyes on him kissing my wife.”

A roar of laughter greeted this outburst, and Joe looked discomforted.

“I stopped it, of course,” he remarked.

Another roar shook the building. Joe reddened again.

“I don’t see why you’re a-laughing,” he said gruffly.

The men round the fire laughed again.

“I can manage my wife better nor any man here and I’m willing to prove
it with these,” he said, putting up two bony fists.

The laughter died away and no one spoke for a moment or so. Then Joe,
all his anger vanished as suddenly as it had come, remarked,
“Black’erchief Dick, eh? Where did you hear of him? I didn’t know he
ever came up east.”

“Nor don’t he as a rule,” said Hal, “but he has had to put in here owing
to the tide. I reckon he’ll be up here soon.”

“Ah, will he now?” Joe’s eyebrows rose expressively, then he put down
his mug. “Did you say he was putting in here--crew and all?” he asked,
wiping his mouth.

“Ay,” said Hal, “I reckon so.”

“Ah,” said Joe again, “I’ll be going back to home,” he announced
suddenly.

Then, as some knowing smiles appeared on the faces in the firelight, he
added, “Ah, you can laugh, but take my word for it, you keep your
wenches clear of Spaniards. They have wonderful ways with women.” He
walked to the door. “See you afore the night’s over, Hal,” he called
cheerily as he went out.

Under cover of the laughter which burst out as he shut the door behind
him, Anny whispered to Hal, who was making up the fire, “I would not
change thee for the King o’ the Spaniards, lad,” and he, turning
suddenly to look at her, knew that she spoke truth.



CHAPTER IV


“Marry! Fortune favours her lovers! Greetings, Master French. Damn my
knife! there is not another on the Island I would rather see than thee
at this moment.”

Black’erchief Dick stepped out of the open rowboat which had conveyed
him from the _Coldlight_ and gave a small white hand to Big French, who
assisted him on to the board pathway which was laid over the soft mud.

“Greetings to you, Captain,” said the young man, and then added slowly,
“you’re somewhat before your time, ain’t you?”

Black’erchief Dick broke into a storm of curses.

“Ay,” he said at last, “ay, too early for the tide and so forsooth
compelled--I, Dick Delfazio, compelled, mark you--to put in at this
God-forsaken corner”--he took in the marshland with a comprehensive wave
of a graceful arm, and continued sneering--“which is as flat and empty
as a new-washed platter.”

The big man at his side smiled.

“Nay, prithee, Captain,” he said, “‘tis none so bad.”

The Spaniard turned to him fiercely, but Big French went on quietly: “If
you be a wanting to stay the brig here for the next tide,” he said,
“best to take her up the Pyfleet round to the back o’ the Ship--plenty
o’ water up there,” he added.

Black’erchief Dick shrugged his shoulders.

“The Pyfleet?” he said. “Surely that is Captain Fen de Witt’s haven? I
would not take advantage of his hiding-place.”

The smile on the big man’s face vanished.

“Lord, Captain!” he said quickly, “you cannot leave the brig in open
channel all the night. The Preventative folk may not be very spry
hereabouts, but they ain’t all dead yet--no, not by a long way they
ain’t.”

The Spaniard replied with another shrug.

“As you wish,” he said, and then with a smile, his teeth flashing in the
dusk, he added: “But that I need thee to-night, Master Hercules, I would
not so easily have yielded.”

Big French flushed but he spoke quietly.

“Ah, and what will you be wanting to-night, Captain?” he said.

“Passage in thy cart to the Victory, friend,” replied the Spaniard.

“Oh!” Big French spoke dubiously. “Why do you not rest at the Ship?” he
enquired.

“The Ship?” the thin lips curled in contempt. “Dick Delfazio stay at a
wayside tavern? This moon hath made thee mad, friend French.”

Big French sighed involuntarily and the Spaniard laughed.

“A wench?” he asked.

“Nay,” the blood suffused the young man’s handsome face and he spoke
shortly.

“Well, take me to the Victory,” repeated the Spaniard.

An anxious snuff sounded at his elbow as he spoke. He turned quickly
just in time to seize Habakkuk Coot by the neck of his guernsey.

“You evil-smelling son of a rat,” he began slowly, giving the little man
a shake at every word, “get thee back to the brig and tell Blueneck I
would speak to him.”

With the final word he jerked the wretch off the board pathway and
watched him flounder in the deep oozing mud.

“Haste thee, dog,” he said, touching him lightly with the blade of his
knife.

Habakkuk screamed and floundered on for the rowboat, where he was hauled
in by several of his comrades. The boat then pushed off for the brig.

“You have a wonderful way with your crew, Captain,” said French, looking
after the boat.

“Ay, of a truth,” the Spaniard laughed. “Cannot Dick Delfazio rule a
pack of mangy dogs?”

French looked at him narrowly, and then took up the conversation where
he had left it.

“The Ship is no wayside tavern,” he said. “The folk be simple but the
liquor good and the wenches pretty, and they are waiting for you to
come--the maids in their best caps, and the canary warming on the
hearth.”

Dick looked at him for a moment.

“Master French,” he said, keeping his glittering eyes on the other’s
face. “Master French, ’tis strange that thou should’st be in this part
of the Island so ready for my coming, Master French,” he added, his
voice assuming the soft caressing quality for which it was so
remarkable. “Dare I suppose that it was not to meet me that thou camest
to the East? That it was to the Ship thou camest, eh, Master French?”

Once again the big man blushed to his ears but he laughed.

“Ay, Captain,” he said, “you are right there. ’Twas not to meet you I
came to the East. Prithee tell your men to take the brig down the
Pyfleet and come with me to the Ship.”

The Spaniard laughed strangely.

“Friend French,” he said, “are thy horses lame?”

The young man looked at him for a moment before he spoke.

“Ay,” he said at last. “Wonderful lame.”

Black’erchief Dick threw back his head and laughed heartily.

“Thou art a brave man, French,” he said, but continued quickly: “There
is such a lameness as can be cured to-morrow for a trip to Tiptree, eh,
friend?”

“Ah!” said the big man, nodding his head sagely, “‘tis a wonderful
strange lameness that they have.”

Dick nodded.

By this time the rowboat had once more come to the plank across the mud.
Blueneck, a shadowy figure in the darkness, stepped out and came toward
them.

Dick gave his orders briefly.

“Take the brig up the Pyfleet,” he said. “Any of these fellows will
pilot thee,” he added, pointing to the group of Mersea men on the wall.
Then as an afterthought, “and bring five kegs from the hold to me at the
Ship Tavern.”

A certain amount of enthusiasm among the volunteer pilots was noticeable
after this last remark, and Blueneck smiled as he replied, “Ay, ay,
Cap’n.”

Black’erchief Dick and his friend Big French, the smuggler’s carter,
turned, climbed the wall, and walked together down the lonely road to
the Ship Tavern without speaking.

“Marry!” said Dick, stopping after they had walked for some five
minutes, his hand feeling for his knife. “What’s that?”

Big French stopped also and, standing side by side in the middle of the
road, they listened intently. Apparently just behind the hedge on their
right a human voice, deep and throaty, said clearly,
“Rum--rum--rum--rum,” the sound trailing off weirdly on the last word.

The Spaniard crossed himself, but his hand was steady.

“Is’t a spirit?” he said.

“Nay,” Big French’s voice came stifled from his mouth.

The Spaniard drew his knife. “Then I’ll have at it,” he said.

Once again the stifled monosyllable broke from the younger man’s lips.

Black’erchief Dick looked at his guide quickly. By the faint light of
the winter moon he saw the man’s face was distorted strangely--once
again the ghostly voice behind the hedge said distinctly,
“Rum--rum--ru----.”

“Ho! ho! ho!” roared French, his laughter suddenly breaking forth.
“Peace, Mother Swayle,” he shouted, “by our lakin! you had us well-nigh
feared with your greeting.”

The Spaniard sheathed his knife.

“If ’tis a friend of thine, Master French,” he said, shrugging his
shoulders, “‘tis of no offence to me. Though by my faith,” he added, as
a dark figure in flowing garments bounded over the hedge and stood by
the roadside, “‘tis strange company you keep.”

The tall gaunt woman addressed as Mother Swayle shrank back into the
hedge.

“Who is it with thee, Big French?” she said in her deep, tired voice.

“Black’erchief Dick, new landed by the wall,” said French.

“Ah! I know naught of him--Peace, good swine--farewell, Rum!”

There was a note of finality in the last word and Big French started to
walk on. “Rum,” he said over his shoulder, and added to Dick in an
undertone, “‘Tis only a poor crone--peace to her--her wit’s diseased.”

“Oh!” the Spaniard felt the pocket of his coat and pulled out a silver
dollar. “Here, mother of sin,” he said as he tossed it to her, “buy
thyself rum withal. Almsgiving is a noble virtue,” he added piously to
French as they prepared to walk on. Hardly had the words left his lips
when his silver dollar hit him on the back of the head with considerable
force.

“May you burn, you mange-struck ronyon,” the deep voice grew shrill in
its intensity. “All men are villains and you are a king among them.”

With a foreign oath the Spaniard turned about.

“Rum--rum--r-u-m,” the voice faded away and they heard the patter of
feet down the road.

Black’erchief Dick laughed sharply.

“It is well for Mother Swayle that she lives in the East,” he said, his
eyes glittering. “Were she in the West she would take my bounty, if
not----” He laughed unpleasantly.

Big French looked at him anxiously, uncertain how the fiery Spaniard had
taken the old woman’s vagaries.

“The old one was ducked as a witch in the merrymaking at the Restoring
of the King,” he said at last. “She was not quite drowned,” he
continued, “so the folk--wenches mostly--look up to her and as I said,
Captain, her wit’s diseased.”

Dick shrugged his silken-coated shoulders.

“‘Tis no matter,” he said with a wave of his hand.

Big French sighed in relief and they walked on in silence for a minute
or so. They were now some four hundred yards from the Ship. The high
building with its great thatch showed a dark outline against the cold
starlight, but all the uncurtained lower windows showed the warm glow
within and from the partly open door the sound of singing came out to
them on the cold breeze.

The two unconsciously hastened their steps. When they reached the gate
of the courtyard the words of the song could be heard clearly above the
noise of laughter and banging of pewter.

    “_Pretty Poll she loved a sailor_”

Gilbot’s voice was piping a little in advance of the rest.

    “_And well she loved he,_
     _But he sailed to the mouth_
     _Of a stream in the South_
     _And was losht in the rolling sea._
     _And was losht in the rolling sea._”

Dick straightened his lace ruffles at his throat.

“The dogs seem merry,” he observed as he kicked open the door and
stepped into the candle-lit kitchen of the Ship.

All eyes were immediately turned on him, and he stood perfectly still
for some seconds enjoying to the full the impression he was making.

The Ship’s company was used to the simple finery of Captain Fen de Witt
and his men, and most of them had been to the western end of the Island
and had seen strangers who had come, it was whispered, from London
itself, but Dick’s magnificence was wholly new to most of them, while
even those who had seen him before were surprised at the contrast which
his glistening figure made with the sombre background of the Ship
kitchen’s smoke-blackened walls.

Hal stood staring at him as long as any of the others, and Mistress Sue
let the rum she was drawing fill up one of the great pewter tankards and
spill over on to the stones before she noticed it, so intently did she
look at the stranger in the doorway.

Gilbot alone took no notice of the visitor. He sat happily in his place
by the fireside, his head thrown back a little and his eyes closed,
beating time to imaginary singing with his empty pot.

Joe Pullen was the first to speak. He had just entered by a side door
and apparently was entirely unimpressed by the Spaniard or any one else.

“Evening,” he remarked, as he walked over to the most comfortable seat
in the chimney-corner and sat down. “Evening to you too, sir,” he said,
noticing Dick for the first time--and then he added, peering out of the
fireplace, “Mistress Sue, a rum if you please.”

Black’erchief Dick, noting that the spell was broken, swaggered forward
into the firelight.

“Greeting, friends,” he said courteously, and then after looking round
curiously his eyes rested on Gilbot. “Is this mine host?” he asked.

Gilbot’s eyes opened slowly and his jaw dropped as he saw for the first
time the splendidly garbed figure.

“Eh?” he said at last. “Washt?” He tried to rise but gave it up as an
impossibility, his brow clouded, and he turned his tankard upside down
on his knee.

Dick stood looking at him, a slight smile hovering round his mouth and
twitching the sides of his big Jewish nose.

Gilbot’s face cleared as suddenly as it had clouded.

“Ashk Hal,” he said triumphantly, and leaning back once more he closed
his eyes.

The Spaniard shrugged his shoulders.

“You mistress?” he said, turning to Sue who dropped a curtsey. “Can I
have a bedchamber here this night?”

Sue replied that all was ready for him, and Dick, having assured himself
that everything was to his liking, put his hand into his pocket and
drawing out a handful of gold and silver coins tossed them lightly on
the table.

“Drinks all round, I pray you, mistress,” he said.

There was a slight stir among the company, and the Spaniard was regarded
with still more respect.

Sue stood looking at the coins, her hands on her hips. “‘Tis much too
much,” she murmured.

Black’erchief Dick laughed.

“Marry! Then, mistress, ’twill do for the next lot. I pray thee haste,
my throat is parched,” he said.

Sue, her eyes round with admiration, curtseyed again and ran to the
inner door.

“Anny, lass, come hither I prithee,” she called, and then hastened to
obey the Spaniard.

Anny stepped in unnoticed a moment or two later, and busied herself with
the tankards.

Dick was sitting with his back toward her and she did not see him.

“Here, lass,” said Sue, seeing her, “the foreigner would drink
sack--wilt get it for him?”

There was not much call for Canary sack at the Ship, so Anny was some
minutes finding and tapping a cask. When she returned from the cellar, a
flagon in her hand, the talk had become more animated and one or two
lively spirits had started a song, but above the noise a voice
penetrating although musical was saying loudly, “Marry, Master French,
do you never drink aught but rum in the East that a gentleman is kept
waiting ten minutes for a cup of sack?”

French’s deep tones replied slowly:

“Nay, Captain, very little else but rum; sack be only for gentlefolk.”

Anny hastened forward.

“Here’s for you, sir,” she said briskly, and then stopped, awe-struck
before the Spaniard, dazzled by his appearance.

Black’erchief Dick stretched out a white jewelled hand for the tankard
without looking at the girl.

“Thank thee, mistress,” he said carelessly, lifting it to his lips.

Still Anny did not move and Hal Grame, looking up from the rum keg which
he was tapping, cursed the Spaniard’s clothes with that honest venom
which is only known to youth.

“Ah, a good draught!” The Spaniard put down the pot and touched his lips
with a lace-edged handkerchief.

“Mistress, another by your leave,” he said suddenly. Then his gaze, too,
became fixed, his dark eyes taking in every detail of her face.

“God’s Fool!” he exclaimed. “Mistress, you are wondrous fair.”

Anny blushed and, her senses returning to her, she curtseyed and taking
up the empty tankard tripped off with a gentle--“As you wish,” as she
went.

Black’erchief Dick stared after her for a second or two before he turned
to French.

“By my faith, Master French, you have no poor skill in choosing a
wench,” he said.

Big French laughed and reddened.

“Oh!” he said carelessly. “‘Tis not she but the other I would have
favour from.”

The Spaniard darted a look of misbelief at his big companion, but he
said nothing, for Anny had returned and was standing before him, a
brimming tankard in her hand.

Black’erchief Dick took the wine and set it by untasted, but retained
the brown hand which was even smaller than his own and held it firmly.

“Mistress,” he said, and Anny thought she had never seen such bright
merry eyes, “would you deem it an offence if I asked you your name?”

Anny smiled and curtseyed as she pulled away her hand.

“There be no more offence in asking my name than in holding my hand,
sir,” she said. “‘Tis Anny Farren, an you please so.”

“Anny, a good name and a simple,” said the Spaniard, choosing to ignore
the first remark. “Now tell me, fair Anny,” he continued, “hast ever
been told how beautiful thou art?”

The girl looked round. No one in the noisy company round the fire was
listening to them and a gleam of mischief twinkled in her eyes before
she dropped them as she turned again to the Spaniard.

“Nay, sir,” she said. “Neither has my mirror.”

“Then ’tis a right vile and lying thing, mistress,” said Dick, “for by
my knife”--here he drew the slender thing from his chased silver belt
and held it up to the light--“I never saw a comelier lass than thee.”

Anny looked at the knife curiously.

“‘Tis a pretty weapon you have, sir,” she said innocently.

Dick laughed.

“Pretty!” he said. “Ah, fair Anny, I would not send the blood from those
bright cheeks of thine by telling thee what this same dagger and this
right hand have together accomplished.”

“Oh, never mind the wenches, Captain, let’s have the story,” said one of
the group at the fire, the company’s attention having been drawn to the
Spaniard on the appearance of the knife. Black’erchief Dick stood up.

“Sack for everyone,” he said grandiloquently as he threw another handful
of coins on the tressled table. And then as the tankards were passed
round, “To the fairest wench on the Island, Fair Anny of the Ship,” he
said, lifting his tankard above his head.

The toast was given with a will. The Spaniard was in a fair way to win
popularity.

“‘Tis a fine gentleman, Hal,” whispered Anny to her sweetheart under
cover of the general hub-bub.

“Ay, a deal too fine,” replied the boy, putting a pot down with such
violence that all the others rattled and clinked against one another
with the shock.

Anny laughed.

“Thou art very foolish, O Hal o’ mine,” she said softly.

“There be more tales to tell o’ this dagger than will suffice for one
evening.”

The Spaniard’s voice was once more raised in a flaunting tone. “Let it
be enough,” he continued, “to say that it hath some ninety lives to
answer for.”

There was a general gasp at this information and a slow smile spread
over Black’erchief Dick’s face as he noted their amazement.

“It will be wonderful old I reckon?” Joe Pullen put the question
quietly, but as though he expected an answer in the affirmative.

“Nay,” the Spaniard smiled again, “‘twas of my own killings I was
talking,” he said.

“Oh!” Joe Pullen leant back and closed his eyes as though bored with the
conversation.

This procedure seemed to irritate the Spaniard, for he said suddenly,
“Look, friend, ’tis a fair weapon,” and he threw the glittering thing at
the man in the high-backed seat with a seemingly careless jerk of the
wrist. The dagger shot through the air, a streak of glistening steel,
and fastened itself in the wood half an inch above Joe’s head.

Sue shrieked, but there was a murmur of admiration at the feat from the
men looking on.

Lazily Joe Pullen sat up and wrenched the blade out of the soft wood; he
studied the dagger carefully.

“Ah!” he said at last, an expression of polite interest on his face, “a
wonderful fine throw that, sir,” and then added, the knife poised
delicately between a clumsy thumb and forefinger, “I wonder now could I
do that?” He raised his hand and appeared to be taking aim directly at
the Spaniard’s head.

    “_And was losht in the rolling sea_,”

murmured Gilbot, his head fell forward on his chest and his pot,
slipping off his knee, fell clattering on the stones. The noise woke
him, and he looked up just in time to see Pullen, knife in hand,
standing in the middle of the room.

“Eh? eh?” the old man’s voice had the remnant of a note of authority in
it. “Put down t’ knife, lad. Ain’t no good in knives.” His head fell
forward on his chest again. “Why not shing happy shong?” he mumbled.

Joe grinned. “Ah,” he said slowly, “maybe the old’n’s right.” He handed
the knife to the Spaniard who took it without a word. “I might have hit
you--I ain’t a very good hand wi’ knives,” he said pleasantly.

The Spaniard smiled graciously. “Doubtless you will learn,” he said, his
jauntiness returning, and then continuing, “Fair Mistress Anny, will you
see these tapped?” and he pointed to five rum kegs which Blueneck,
Habakkuk Coot, and one or two others of the _Coldlight’s_ crew had just
brought in. “Rum all round,” he said, “and the charge to me.”

By the time his last command had been obeyed, the company in the Ship
was more noisy than before, and, answering to the call for a song, old
Gilbot, having been assisted to his feet, leaned his back against the
nearest ale barrel and quavered forth in a voice which evidently had
once been very tuneful:

    “_Oh, no one remembers poor Will_
     _Who shtayed by hish mate at the mill;_
     _He ground up more bonesh_
     _Than barley or stonesh,_
     _And more than old Rowley could kill._”

“More bones, more bones,” roared the company as the rum flowed more
freely.

    “_More bones! more bones!_
     _And more than old Rowley could kill._”

“Ah, ha, may the Lord bless ye, fine gentlemen, and could ye spare a
drop o’ rum for a poor woman to take to her man who’s dying o’ the
cold?”

This request, uttered in a high-pitched whining voice coming from just
behind the half-opened door, startled the revellers and they paused to
listen, all eyes being fastened on the door. They watched it open a
little farther, and round it just below the latch appeared the head of
an old woman. The face, red and coarse, smiled leeringly, and the gray
elf locks above it were matted and ill-kempt.

Anny, who was standing near Black’erchief Dick, caught her breath.

“Lord! ’Tis Pet Salt,” she whispered as she shrank against the table.

The Spaniard dropped a hand over hers unnoticed by any one save
Hal--“Why shudderest thou, wench?” he said softly. Anny slipped her hand
away.

“‘Tis naught,” she said.

“Will ’ee spare a little rum, fair gentlemen?”

The old woman came a little farther into the room, disclosing a body so
bent and twisted as to be hardly human. She came nearer, the firelight
flickered on her, and a murmur rose from the company, she was so ragged
and scarred. The Spaniard looked at her critically, then he turned to
French.

“You have strange crones up this part of the Island, friend,” he
observed.

French laughed.

“Oh, this one won’t treat your almsgiving the way Nan Swayle did,” he
said.

At the sound of the name, Nan Swayle, an extraordinary change came over
the terrible old figure in the firelight. She straightened herself with
a fearful effort and, her small eyes blazing with fury, broke forth into
such a stream of horrible epithets that the rough company of the Ship
looked at one another shamefacedly.

“Peace, hag,” the Spaniard strode out from the crowd and touched the old
woman with the tip of his forefinger.

Pet Salt stopped, and, seeing the gaudy figure in front of her, fell on
her knees and holding up a fat, begrimed hand recommenced her whining.

Dick stood there for a second or two, and then turned his head.
“Blueneck,” he said, “bring out a small rum keg.”

The old woman fell snivelling at his feet.

The Spaniard kicked her gently.

“O mother of many evils,” he said, “get thee out of this room with thy
keg, methinks the air stinks with thee.”

Blueneck stepped forward, jerked the woman to her feet, and put the rum
on the floor beside her. Mumbling blessings, thanks, and curses, she
stumbled out of the open door, the keg clasped in her arms.

Dick watched her go and then turning to Sue: “Mistress, I would wash my
hands,” he said, looking at the tip of his forefinger.

Sue ran to get water and the company began to break up for the night.

“Good-night to ’ee,” shouted Hal, as Joe Pullen went out, “may thy wife
be sleeping sound.”

“Would she were sleeping with a heavenly soundness, mate,” replied the
other as he shut the door behind him.

The crew of the _Coldlight_ went off in a body to their ship, rolling
and singing happily.

Sue and Hal assisted the old landlord to his room, a nightly duty of
theirs, and Anny flitted about getting candles for the visitors.

Dick looked at Big French as they stood for a moment alone together
before the dying fire.

“Methinks thy horses will not have recovered from their lameness by
to-morrow, friend French,” he said, as Anny, two lighted candles in her
hand, appeared at an inner doorway.

French followed the direction of the other’s eyes, then he shrugged his
broad shoulders.

“As you wish, Captain,” he said carelessly, and wondered why the
Spaniard should laugh so triumphantly at his answer.

Some minutes later all was still in the Ship Tavern. Hal Grame alone
stood before the fast-graying embers in the kitchen, thinking miserably.
For the first time since he could remember, his childhood’s sweetheart
had forgotten to kiss him as she bade him good-night.



CHAPTER V


“An excellent repast, fair mistress, and one I warrant you well
appreciated.”

Black’erchief Dick pushed the empty platter from before him, leaned back
in his seat, and looked round the room with approval.

It was six o’clock in the morning; and although only a faint grayish
light was beginning to steal in the windows and the air was cool and
slightly rum-tainted, the kitchen in the old Ship Inn presented a
cheerful and lively scene of domestic bustle. The fire, though newly
lighted, blazed brightly and the logs, some with the hoar-frost still
glittering on them, crackled and spat merrily.

Hal, his boyish face glowing after a hasty splash at the well-nigh
frozen pump, hastened to and fro from the scullery to the kitchen,
bearing great trays of newly washed tankards, while Sue, a little paler
than on the preceding night, but all the same retaining most of her
usual good humour, her sleeves rolled high above her elbows and a
sail-cloth apron tied about her waist, appeared from time to time in the
open doorway between the kitchen and the back scullery, whence the
pleasant smell of cooking emerged.

Gilbot was yet abed but his seat with its old hay-stuffed cushions was
put in readiness for his coming, in his favourite corner by the
fireplace.

One of the long tressle-tables had been pulled out into the wider part
of the room clear of the high-backed seats and it was here, one at
either end of the table, that Black’erchief Dick and Big French sat in
tall, wooden, box-like chairs, finishing the first meal of the day.

Anny waited on them.

This morning she was more beautiful than on the evening before. At least
so thought the Spaniard as he watched her trip to and fro with a wooden
platter or an earthen pitcher of home-brewed ale in her hands. Her
cheeks seemed to him to have more colour in them, her little bare feet,
as they pattered over the stones, more elasticity and lightness of
touch, and her wonderful, shadowed green eyes, more mirth and gaiety
than he had noticed before. As she moved about she sang little snatches
of old songs in a lulling, childish voice, tuneful and sweet.

    “_My father’s gone a-roving--a-roving--a-roving,_
     _My father’s gone a-roving across the raging sea,_
     _With a feather in his stocking cap,_
     _A new son on his rocking lap,_
     _My father’s gone a-roving and never thinks o’ me._”

The Spaniard’s white fingers kept time to the simple refrain almost
without his knowing it; he caught himself silently repeating the words
after her, and he laughed abruptly and then looked round him so fiercely
that none dared ask the jest.

It was absurd, he told himself, he, Black’erchief Dick, smuggler, chief
of all the Eastern coast, Captain of the _Coldlight_, and owner of six
other good sailing-vessels in the trade, to waste his time humming tunes
after a serving-wench, a pretty lass of some seventeen years, who served
rum to a pack of greasy fishermen in a wayside tavern on the almost
uninhabited end of a mud island, when there were women in France, in
Spain--he shrugged his shoulders, and to take his thoughts off the girl
he ran his mind over the events of the preceding night.

“Friend,” he said suddenly, wiping his lips with a dainty handkerchief,
“that same woman who so vilely returned my alms yesternight, what say’st
thou is her name?”

Big French sat up and yawned.

“Oh!” he said, “that was Nan Swayle.”

At the sound of his voice Anny, who had been attending to the fire on
the other side of the room, came forward and stood at the end of the
table, looking at the pair with wide-open, serious eyes.

“Nan Swayle,” the Spaniard rolled the name round his tongue
thoughtfully. “Ah, didst say she had been ducked as a witch?”

Big French laughed.

“Ay,” he said, “at the Restoration of the King, and a mirthful figure
she made, Captain, her thumbs and great toes tied crossways--so,” and he
chuckled at the thought of it.

Anny leant forward, her face flushed and her eyes bright. “A cruel jest,
Master French, to so ill-treat a poor woman as far from being a witch as
you an angel.”

Black’erchief Dick regarded her excited little form and earnest eyes
with open admiration.

“Marry, Mistress,” he said, “what a friend thou art to Mother Swayle!
May I ask what she has done for thee?”

Anny dropped her eyes before the Spaniard’s smile.

“She was ever good to me, sir,” she said.

Big French grinned.

“Ay, Anny,” he said, “Nan Swayle’s good will is about all which thy
grandsire has ever given you, isn’t it?”

The girl flushed and Sue and Hal stepped forward to listen.

Dick looked puzzled.

“Thy grandsire, Mistress?” he enquired.

Anny reddened again.

“‘Tis an old story, sir,” she murmured.

“Prithee, Master French,” the Spaniard turned lazily and looked at the
young man. “Prithee tell it.”

French shrugged his shoulders.

“‘Tis naught,” he said carelessly, “save that in their youth old Ben
Farran--the lass’s grandsire--and Nan Swayle, a sweet wench they say she
was then--’tis strange what the rum will do to a woman’s face--well,
Captain, they were--as you might say, sweethearts.”

He raised his eyes to Sue at the last word, but she was engrossed in the
Spaniard, and looking away again he went on: “Well, Captain--Ben was a
sailor--on the _Eliza_ he was--and there he got the taste for rum pretty
bad, and Nan, she couldn’t get the stuff for him so when Pet Salt came
along--Pet o’ the Saltings she was then--with her begging tricks, the
old devil left the one for the other. That’s all,” he concluded.

“Ah!” the Spaniard smiled, “a pretty story,” and then turning to Anny,
“And so, Mistress, Nan Swayle hath a soft heart for thee, eh?”

“Ay, sir, she is very good to Red and me,” Anny said demurely.

“Red? And who might Red be?” The Spaniard looked up quickly. “A lover?”

Anny blushed again.

“Nay, sir, my little brother,” she said softly. “He lives with Mother
Swayle.”

“So!” The thin, straight eyebrows on the olive brow rose in two arches.
“I thought thy mother died when thou wast born?”

Big French broke in quickly.

“Ay,” he said, “she did. The lad, Red, a fine child and one I love, was
brought home from the South by young Ruddy, the wench’s father, the trip
before his last--drowned he was, peace to him.”

“Oh!” the eyebrows straightened themselves. Black’erchief Dick turned
once more to Anny. “And so my little beauty hath only Nan Swayle to take
care of her,” he said, smiling at her kindly as though she had been a
child.

“Nay!” The word escaped from Hal Grame’s lips before he had time to stop
it. Immediately the Spaniard’s glittering black eyes were turned on the
young Norseman. They took in every detail of his appearance, the coarse
scarlet homespun shirt, the white throat, and girlish pink and white
face crowned with golden-yellow elf locks, and the deep blue eyes which
faltered and fell before the Spaniard’s as they bent on the boy in an
amused stare.

“Indeed, sir, and who else?” Black’erchief Dick spoke negligently, the
smile still on his lips.

The boy blushed and would not meet the other’s eyes.

“We look after our wenches at the Ship,” he said gruffly.

Dick laughed.

“Of course you do, O knight of the Spigot,” he said genially. “Believe
me, sir, I had no meaning to cast a slur upon the fame of your house.”

“Ah, ’tis well, then,” and without looking up Hal began to clear away
the delf from the now dismantled table.

Dick watched him march off with a tray of dirty crockery in his hands,
then he shrugged his shoulders.

“Marry, what a joskin!” he said at last.

Anny opened her mouth to speak but checked herself and laughed instead.

Dick looked up at her.

“Mistress,” he said, “might I beg thee to hie to the gate and tell me if
thou see’st aught of my rapscallion mate, Master Blueneck?”

“Ay, sir.”

Anny was halfway to the door when Sue ran after her.

“I’ll with thee,” she said.

Dick looked after them.

“A marvellous pretty wench but wondrous evilly clothed,” he said.

“What, Sue?” Big French spoke in great surprise. The Spaniard smiled.

“Cunning dog!” he said under his breath. “Nay, ’twas the other I meant,”
he said quietly.

“Oh!” Big French laughed. “The lass has to wear her mistress’s
cast-off,” he said.

“Indeed. Her mistress? Is Sue then mistress of the Ship?”

“Mistress Sue,” said French, laying stress on the first word, “is niece
to Master Gilbot.”

“Eh? eh? What’s that?” said Gilbot, who had just come in, looking up at
the sound of his name. “Plague on you all disturbing me,” And then
looking round, “Where’s Hal?”

“You are out of humour this morning, host,” observed the Spaniard
good-humouredly.

“No,” Gilbot’s voice quavered more than ever. “Ain’t had time to get
happy yet, that’s all.”

“Oh!” Dick looked up, his eyes twinkling merrily. “Will you drink a
stoup of sack with me, mine host?”

Gilbot brightened visibly.

“Be happy to,” he said quickly and then called loudly for Hal, who
presently came in flushed and still a little sulky.

Dick gave the order, and the boy obeyed sullenly, slopping a good gill
of the wine over the side of the tankard as he handed it to the
Spaniard. Then suddenly, as though realizing the absurdity of his
childishness, he drew it back, and, mumbling something about not quite
the full measure, filled it up again, wiped the pewter with the skirt of
his sacking apron before he once more offered it to the Spaniard, who
stood looking through the open door without apparently having noticed
the boy at all. Now, however, he took the tankard, drained it at a
draught and threw down a silver coin by way of payment.

“Marry, master tapster,” he said approvingly, “I do not look to find a
sweeter cup of sack any place from here to the New World--another, I
prithee,” and added, as Hal set it before him, “An I grow this
partiality for sweet sack, Hal, methinks I shall needs have to borrow
the belt of that merry knight, John Falstaff, whom I saw in a foolish
piece at the playhouse when last I visited London, that city of evil
stenches.”

Hal did not follow the jest, but in spite of this and his present
ill-humour, he was forced to laugh with the spry little Spaniard who
chuckled so mirthfully, and whose bright sparkling eyes were dancing as
they glanced at him over the tankard’s rim.

At this moment Anny entered the kitchen and Dick, seeing her, raised his
rumkin.

“To the health of Mother Swayle’s charge,” he said, smiling.

Gilbot looked up suddenly.

“Mother Swayle?” he said in surprise, and then added confidentially to
Dick, “Terrible old woman--in liquor nearly all the day--oh,
disgusting.” He finished his draught, smacked his lips, and wiped them
with the back of his hand. “Ah, you’re right, sir, wonderful sack we
sells,” he remarked.

The Spaniard suggested that he should take another and Gilbot cheerfully
accepted.

“Master Blueneck is coming up the road, an it please you, sir,” said
Sue, coming in from the courtyard.

“Ah, I thank thee, Mistress,” said the Spaniard courteously as he turned
to help Anny lift an unusually heavy log on to the cracking fire, but
Sue curtseyed and blushed as though he had looked at her with the same
fire in his glance as lurked in the one which he bestowed on the younger
girl, and her lip trembled as he turned away. All this which he saw and
a great deal more which he thought he saw made Master Ezekiel French
bite his honey-coloured beard and swear many oaths and curses against
the slim white-handed little foreigner who chatted so gallantly with the
wenches of the Ship.

Blueneck, entering at this moment, was surprised to see his master
talking so earnestly with a chit of a child who as he rightly guessed
had not more than seventeen years to her credit.

“The brig is due to start in five minutes if we mean to catch the tide,
Captain,” he said.

“Ah, Master Blueneck,” the Spaniard turned affably, “and if we missed
the tide what terrible mishap would that be?”

The sailor shuffled uneasily.

“You’re merry, Captain,” he said.

“Ay, Blueneck, I am, indeed, so merry that I cannot abear to have a man
with a face as long as the yard-arm about me. Here, my young host,” he
hailed Hal from the fireplace. “Give this dog some of thy famous sack,
make him light-hearted as I,” and he turned once more to the two girls
and Big French.

“Master French,” he said, “I trust to meet thee at the Victory this
even, with thy three horses in the courtyard, and a trip to Tiptree in
thy mind.”

French looked pleased and would have entered into business details with
the Captain, but the other cut him short.

“Marry, Master French,” the Spaniard’s tone was reproachful, “you would
not pester me with tales of rum kegs and silk bales when I have but
three minutes to bid farewell to two fair beauties even though it be but
for three days?”

“Three days?” Sue spoke in pleasure, French in surprise, and Blueneck in
genuine alarm.

The Spaniard looked up.

“Yes,” he said carelessly, “methinks this eastern end of the Island more
suited to my needs than the west. In three days’ time I shall return,
and rest me at the sign of the Ship for a while.”

Big French looked at him in amazement and Blueneck swore under his
breath at his master’s eccentricities.

Sue smiled.

“All will be ready for you, sir,” she said. “I thank you.”

The Spaniard bowed, sweeping the floor with his big hat. “Farewell,
Mistresses,” he said gallantly as they curtseyed, rather abashed at his
Spanish courtesy.

“And now Master French,” he continued, “if thou wilt accompany me to the
wall we will discuss that little matter of a trip to Tiptree.”

French looked at the debonair little figure half-irritated by the
underlying note of command in his voice, but on the other hand half
charmed by an indescribable air of perfect freedom which seemed to be
exhaled from him.

“I’m coming, Captain,” he said, and nodded to the girls before he turned
to follow Black’erchief Dick, who with another bow marched out of the
open door, Blueneck after him.

Sue went to the door and watched them going down the road; Big French, a
handsome figure in his blue coat, strode beside the slight, gaudily clad
little Spaniard whose head hardly reached a foot above the carter’s
belt, while Blueneck trudged alone behind. “Ah,” said she, her eyes
fixed on the small, almost insignificant figure in the distance, “what a
gallant gentleman!”

Anny laughed.

“Maybe,” she said, “but I don’t hold with gentlefolk,” and she walked
across the room to where Hal was adding up the yesterday’s reckonings.

“Hal,” she said as she sat down beside him, “I did not kiss thee last
night when you bade me good-night.”

Hal kept his eyes fixed on the slate in front of him, but he ceased to
take any account of the figures thereon.

“Hal,” said Anny again coaxingly. “Thou didst not kiss me when I said
good-night to thee.”

The boy did not raise his eyes and the girl moved a little closer to
him.

“Hal,” she said plaintively. Still he did not move. “Hal,” said Anny
again. “O, very well,” she added, a catch in her voice, “if thou wilt
not----” And she rose to her feet.

“What do you want, maid?” said Hal gruffly, albeit somewhat hastily.

Anny sat down again.

“I owe you a kiss, Hal,” she said softly, twisting her fingers together
as they lay on her lap.

“Well?” Hal’s tone was still gruff.

“You owe me a kiss, Hal,” she said without looking at him.

“Well?” the boy drew crosses and rings round the side of the slate.

Anny sighed.

“You were adding the reckonings, Hal, and I want to pay mine,” she said.

“I’m sorry I doubted thee, Anny, but the Spaniard is so fine,” said Hal,
a moment or two later, all debts having been squared.

Anny laughed happily.

“‘Tis not you but Big French who should be afeared of the Spaniard,” she
said, looking over toward Sue, who was still staring through the open
door. As though aware that she was being spoken of the girl turned
round.

“Anny, lass,” she called. “Come, I would talk to thee.”

Anny rose.

“Foolish one,” she whispered to Hal as her lips brushed his ear.

Hal watched her go lightly across the room and then returned to his
reckoning much comforted, but he reflected as he worked that whether she
had paid him back or not Anny Farren had certainly forgotten to kiss him
on the night that Dick Delfazio, the Spaniard, first came to the Ship
Inn.

Meanwhile, Sue and Anny stood together in the doorway deep in talk.

“But, Anny,” Sue was saying, as she held out the skirt of her gown for
the other’s inspection, “think you ’twill serve another winter?”

Anny looked at it for a moment; then she displayed her own. “‘Tis much
better than mine, Mistress Sue,” she said.

“Oh! but you need not look so neat as I,” Sue spoke quickly and without
thinking. But, seeing the other girl’s lip tremble, she put an arm round
her slim shoulders.

“Nay, I did not mean to speak so,” she said kindly. “I was thinking but
of myself; see, lass, when Master French next goes to Tiptree he shall
bring me a new length of flannel from the market, and I will give thee
this gown, for, truly, thine is very old.”

Anny looked up and smiled; the gift of one of Sue’s old gowns was an
event for her.

“Thank thee kindly, mistress,” she said, as Sue shook out the folds of
the faded purple homespun frock and tightened the lacing of the corsage.
“‘Tis not so bad,” she said.

Anny looked at it with pleasure and she laughed happily. “Nay,” she
said, “it will suit me well, I thank you, mistress.”

Sue bent and kissed her.

“You’re a good wench, Anny,” she said, “in spite of yourself.”



CHAPTER VI


“Sit where you are, Joseph Pullen, and hold your peace, and be thankful
you have a wife who knows your mind without you for ever speaking of
it.”

Mistress Amy Pullen, her kirtle hitched up at one side to give her
greater freedom in the discharge of her household duties, strode across
her small kitchen, an earthenware bowl of cold fatty broth in her hands
and two small children hanging at her petticoats.

The kitchen, which was very small, served also as a general living room
for the Pullen family, and this evening, four or five days after Captain
Dick had first left the Ship Inn, it was crowded. Joe, debarred from his
favourite seat by his wife, who liked the whole of the fire to cook at,
sat in a corner on a heap of miscellaneous lumber, a net which he was
mending spread around him. In addition to the two little mites who hung
on to their mother as though life itself depended on it, three other
children were in the room, one baby of a year or so was nursed by
another, a pretty fair-haired little girl of eight or nine, who sat on a
roughly made-up bed built into the wall opposite the fireplace. She
amused the child by making quaint shadows on the wall with her hand in
the flickering firelight, and save for the clatter of the cooking, the
baby’s happy gurgles and half-spoken words of delight were the only
sounds in the warm little room. The third child, a boy of ten, even now
remarkably like his father, sat on the lowest rung of a wide wooden
ladder which led to two little rooms above the kitchen, with a skep of
small onions at his side and a knife in his hand. As he peeled the
onions the tears ran down his cheeks and he sniffed at intervals.

Joe looked up over his net at the boy.

“Tant, hold thy peace,” he said.

The child sniffed again.

“I can’t hold it, ’tis these,” he said, wiping his eyes on his jersey
sleeve, and indicating the skep with one dirty little foot. Joe grunted,
and the child went on peeling, his tears falling faster and his sniffs
becoming more and more frequent. At last Joe looked up again.

“Put down the knife, lad, and leave the onions if you can’t peel them
without setting up a snort like a hog every other second.”

The boy, only too glad to be relieved of his task, obeyed with alacrity,
and got up looking lovingly at the unlatched door that led out on to the
road. He had not made a step in that direction, however, before his
mother, who had been listening, turned from the fire. “Tant, sit down
and finish them onions,” she said sharply, and then turning to her
husband who was assiduously attending to his net, she said, “Isn’t it
enough, Joe Pullen, for me to wear myself to skin and bone feeding you,
looking after your children, cleaning your home? Isn’t it enough, I say,
for me to do everything for you, to work like a common drudge, to keep
you idle, without you forbidding my son to help me?”

Her voice grew more and more shrill and her words came faster and faster
until her speech became almost unintelligible.

Joe looked up cautiously from his work.

“O peace with ye, Amy,” he said impatiently, the easily called colour
mounting up to his fair hair and his blue eyes growing darker.

“Ay, that’s it.”

Mistress Pullen was a tall, well-made woman, and her eyes screwed
themselves into slits of fury as she swung round, platter in hand,
upsetting both children at her skirts, who began at once to whimper with
fear.

“Ay, that’s it, I must hold my peace! I, who slave day and night to make
you happy, must hold my peace! Hold my peace forsooth!” she continued,
breaking into a sharp laugh. “Look you, Joe Pullen, where would you and
your children be without me? Tell me that. Oh! you sithering rat, you
ungrateful mass of rum-sodden food, where would you be without me?”

Joe vouchsafed no answer and the good lady, her wrath abating as
suddenly as it had arisen, contented herself with a few muttered
questions as to the possibility of Joe and his family remaining for an
instant on the earth without her, turned again to the fire, shaking off
the yelping little ones who tried to clasp her knees.

Tant continued to sniff over his onion peeling unmolested.

Called by her mother, the little fair-haired girl, who played so happily
with the baby, left her game and, placing her charge carefully on the
bed, set out six earthen bowls on the plain boarded table, which took up
most of the space in the middle of the little room, and summoned the
family to supper. Not until everyone was seated did Mistress Pullen lift
the great iron pot off the hook on the chimney beam and, resting it on
the edge of the table, dole out to each person an allowance, which
varied in quantity according to age. In the same way she distributed
chunks of coarse home-made bread, and then seeing everyone served,
finally she sat down to her own meal.

The Pullens ate without speaking, quickly, noisily, and with evident
relish, dipping the bread in the broth and eating the sodden lumps with
their fingers. Mistress Amy held the baby on her lap, feeding the little
creature with sops from her own bowl.

When all the broth had been disposed of, more bread and an earthen jar
of honey were brought out and the meal continued.

Inside the little kitchen all was warm, one might almost say stuffy,
for, in spite of the big fire and the number of people inside, the door
was shut fast and the one little window which the room possessed was not
made to open. However, the noise that the rain, swiftly driven over the
marshlands by a fierce wind, made on the glass, and the hissing drops
that descended the wide chimney, all helped to make the kitchen as
desirable as it could be.

“Joan Bellamie was a-saying that the Captain of the _Coldlight_ hath
come back to the Ship, Joseph. Have ye heard aught of it?” Mistress
Pullen looked across the table at her husband as she spoke.

Joe dropped his eyes before her gaze.

“Oh, yes,” he said casually.

“Oh, yes, indeed!” Amy’s voice rose again, “and ye did not think to tell
me, did ye? Here I work the live-long day, and you so surly that you
will not tell me the common gossip of the Island! I’d like to meet
another woman who’d rest with ye.” Then she added more quietly. “Did any
of his crew return with him, perchance?”

Joe shifted uneasily in his chair, and reached out for another piece of
bread before he spoke.

“They did not,” he said shortly.

Mistress Pullen took a deep breath.

“And to think I have lived with a liar fit for the burning all these
years!” she exclaimed. “For it was only this very day that I saw Master
Coot (and if ever there was a snivelling sucking-pig ’tis he)--with my
very own eyes and he told me that the brig was that minute moored in the
Pyfleet, and every man of her crew aboard. A’m ashamed of ye, Joseph,
to lie before the children the way you do.”

Joe shrugged his shoulders.

“Ah, well, my girl,” he said significantly, “as far as we’re concerned
they ain’t on the Island, see?” And he rose to his feet and stepped
across to the fireplace.

Mistress Pullen opened her mouth to reply, but at this moment a violent
knocking at the door interrupted her.

Joe looked across at his wife.

“Whoever will it be?” he said.

“If you had any sense at all you’d go and see instead of standing like a
sheep thunderstruck,” said the lady, getting up from her seat, her baby
on her arm. Striding over to the door, she opened it wide and then
stepped back in astonishment, letting a blast of cold wind and rain into
the over-heated room.

“Well, come in, whatever you are,” she said at last to someone outside
as she held the door wide open to let them pass. “If you’re not welcome
ye can always go again.”

A strange bedraggled little figure stepped into the candle-lit room. He
was about nine years old, scantily clothed in a pair of sail-cloth
breeches so large for him that the waist was fastened about his neck
with a coarse string, and the knee-latchets flapped loosely over his
little bare muddy feet, which were torn and scratched with thorns, and
blue with cold. Round his shoulders he hugged what appeared to be the
remains of a woman’s kirtle, the ragged hem hanging down to his knees
and little rivulets of water dripping off the frayed ends on to the
bricks. His face was like his feet, blue and muddy, but two sparkling
blue eyes and a shock of red hair gave a certain charm to an otherwise
insignificant countenance.

Mistress Pullen shut the door behind him before she turned to look at
her visitor. As soon as she had done so, however, she whisked her baby
over to the other side of the room, exclaiming as she did so: “Mother of
Heaven! ’Tis Red Farren, the Witch’s brat. Out of the house with him. He
can’t stay here bewitching the whole of us.”

The little creature looked up at her, his face puckering. “Not a witch’s
brat,” he said, and then putting his grimy little fists to his eyes
began to cry bitterly.

Joe Pullen’s fair-haired daughter made a step toward the pitiful little
figure, but her father’s hand on her arm restrained her.

“You stay still, Alice, unless you want to wake up one day and find
yourself a gray girl or a coney,” he said.

Alice, rather frightened, obeyed, and Tant stood by her, his arm round
her, while the two smaller children hung as usual to their mother’s
skirts. The whole Pullen family entrenched behind the table stood
looking at the weeping little stranger for some seconds before any one
spoke again. At last Joe, his natural kindliness overcoming his
superstitious fears, stepped round the table and took the child by the
hand.

“Why did ye leave Nan’s cabin this time o’ night, lad?” he asked him.

The boy looked fearfully behind him, and Joe, noting the movement,
himself turned round in some apprehension. However, nothing untoward
being there, Red began to speak through his sobs.

“Pet Salt and Nan is fightin’ horrid,” he said.

Mistress Pullen, her curiosity getting the better of her discretion,
came a little nearer.

“Pet Salt?” she said. “How did Pet Salt come to be up there?”

“She comed to beg some meal cake,” the child began. “She said she wanted
it for Ben.”

“Oh!” Mistress Pullen sniffed and looked at her husband significantly.
“And wasn’t it for Ben, manikin?” she said.

The child looked up.

“No,” he said eagerly. “No, that’s why they is fighting, mistress,
because ’twas not for my grandsire. No, Nan saw the old ronyon eating it
herself.”

Joe threw back his head and began to laugh.

“Oh! ho! and did you run away because the two crones were fighting,
lad?” he said.

The child nodded, and his tears began to flow again. “And they’s hurt
Win!” he blurted out.

“Win? Who’s Win?” said Joe curiously.

“Oh, peace with you worrying the brat,” said Amy. “Prithee, child, did
Nan Swayle lay hands on Pet Salt because she had eaten the meal-cake Nan
had made for thy grandsire?” she questioned eagerly.

The child shook his head.

“No mistress, ’twas was not made for Grandsire, ’twas all we had left,
but Nan said that if Ben wanted it he must have it and we go hungry. So
she was vexed at the ronyon’s eating of it herself.”

“Oh! art hungry now?” The question escaped Joe’s lips before he had time
to stop it.

The child looked up eagerly.

“Ay,” he said, his eyes straying to the remains of the food on the
table. “Ay, will ye give me some?”

Joe immediately stretched his hand for the remnant of the loaf of bread
and the child’s face brightened with expectation, but Mistress Pullen
stepped forward.

“Mother of Saints! have I wedded a loon? Would ye have the household
entirely bewitched, Joseph Pullen, that you’d feed a witch-child under
our very roof?” she said, as she snatched the bread from his hand and
replaced it on the table.

Joe looked sheepish and little Red began to cry again. Mistress Pullen
reddened and sniffed fiercely.

“If he hungers he better go to his sister at the Ship,” she said tartly.
“Heaven knows what with her Captain and her other men she ought to glean
enough to look after her brother.”

Joe turned on his wife in honest indignation.

“Amy! how dare ye speak so of Hal Grame’s lass?” he said. “I’m not going
to have my mate’s sweetheart spoke of so.”

Mistress Pullen shrugged her shoulders.

“Maybe you like the lass yourself,” she sneered, and then added
fiercely, “anyway, you ought to be ashamed of yourself letting a witch’s
brat stay in the room with your own children. Out of the house with him,
you loony.”

Joe looked at the forlorn little boy and then at his wife.

“Maybe I better go with the child,” he suggested casually.

Mistress Pullen turned on him, withering contempt in her glance.

“Ay,” she said, “maybe you had. Lord, what an unnatural beast you are,
preferring to go to a rum-shop in the company of a bastard brat than to
rest in peace at your own fireside. Oh, go by all means, and the devil
with you. You fool, do you think Nan Swayle has forgiven the ducking you
gave her at the Restoring of the King?”

And with this parting shaft, Mistress Pullen, baby on arm, strode across
the kitchen and climbed up the wide ladder to the rooms above.

Joe looked about him undecidedly. Then his glance fell on the boy.

“Who’s Win?” he asked, suddenly remembering his question of a minute or
two before.

The little boy began to cry again and opening his kirtle-cloak
disclosed to the fisherman’s astounded eyes a little black kitten nearly
dead with fright and drenched with rain.

“This is Win,” said Red. “Him’s hurt!”

Joe stepped back in horror.

“The witch’s cat,” he ejaculated.

Red looked up.

“No!” he said, “only a little one, look, only a very little one.” He
held it up for Joe’s inspection. It certainly looked a very small, and
young, harmless animal. It was much too frightened to move, and the wet
fur clung closely to its emaciated body.

Joe came a little nearer and then reached for his coat and cap which
hung behind the door.

“Come, lad,” he said gruffly, “we must get on to the Ship.”

The child looked round the warm, bright room longingly, but he followed
Joe out into the rain without a word.

The man carefully latched the door behind him, and they walked on in
silence for a minute or so, fighting their way against the storm.

It was bitterly cold and Joe looked down at his little companion
anxiously; the child was stumbling along, the kitten tightly clasped in
his arms; once or twice he nearly fell.

Joe looked round him cautiously, although had there been any one by they
could not have been seen, then he bent down.

“You’ll not tell Nan if I carry ye a bit, lad?” he asked. The child
promised eagerly, and Joe swung him up in his arms.

“Here,” he said, pressing a soft lump into the child’s hands. “Even if
you’re a witch’s brat ye mustn’t be hungered.”

Red bit into the bread that Joe had slipped into his pocket in his
wife’s absence, and hugged the well-nigh suffocated kitten a little
closer to his breast, while Joe, his head bent before the wind and rain,
pushed on to the Ship.



CHAPTER VII


A little more than an hour after Joe Pullen and little Red Farren left
the cottage, Mistress Amy sat by the fireside, sewing. The five children
were asleep upstairs and everything was quiet. Opposite her in the
chimney corner, his heavy rain-sodden boots smoking in the heat, sat
Blueneck, his unshaven chin resting in his hands. On the table lay the
woollen cap and heavy coat which he had thrown off on entering. The
water which dripped off the skirts of the coat made a little puddle on
the clean red and yellow bricks of the floor.

“You’re a kind man, Master Blueneck, to come trudging all this way in
the soaking rain to cheer a poor woman whose husband is too surly to
tell her of the doings of the Island,” said the lady, looking up from
her mending, after a silence of a few minutes.

“Ah, señora.”

Mistress Pullen blushed with pleasure at the sound of the foreign
address.

“Where on the Island is better company than yourself?” said the sailor
gallantly, leaning a little forward so that the firelight played on the
brass earrings that shone amongst the short oily curls hanging down the
sides of his face.

Mistress Pullen giggled and applied herself industriously to her
needlework.

“I warrant me you’re not so well served at the Ship as you were at the
Victory, Master Blueneck?” she said without looking up.

Blueneck laughed bitterly.

“You’re right, mistress,” he said, forgetting the “señora” to Amy’s
disappointment. “The Ship is none so bad a tavern, as taverns are
nowadays, but ’tis of a truth much inferior to the Victory.”

“I wonder that the Captain rests him there then?” said Mistress Amy,
glancing under her lashes at her visitor.

“Marry, so do I.” Blueneck’s tone was almost querulous. “Why look you,
mistress,” he added, “is it not bad for our trade for us to tarry so
long at one place, ay, more especially when ’tis here in the East where
the creeks are as unknown to us as to the excise men themselves?”

“Of a truth ’tis bad indeed,” Mistress Pullen spoke with conviction. “I
wonder the Captain has it so,” she remarked again glancing sideways at
him.

Blueneck looked into the fire for a moment before he spoke. “Methinks
the Captain is bewitched,” he said at last.

“Bewitched!” Mistress Amy, her thoughts flying at once to her other
visitor of the evening, spoke in some alarm.

Blueneck shrugged his shoulders.

“Anyway, I never saw him so before,” he said, “and I’ve sailed aboard
his ship these ten years.”

“But whoever would bewitch him?” asked Mistress Pullen, looking up
innocently, as though no hint of the affairs of the Ship had reached
her.

“A marvellous pretty wench,” said Blueneck, and then he added hastily,
“but of no comparison with thee, señora.”

Mistress Amy laughed.

“‘Tis a flatterer you are,” she said, “but I never heard of a pretty
wench of the Ship, Master Blueneck; will she be one of the Island
girls?”

Blueneck looked up.

“Ay,” he said, “‘tis a lass called Anny Farran.”

“Oh!” Mistress Pullen’s eyebrows rose, and she pursed up her lips. “That
child!”

Blueneck looked at her curiously.

“Hast heard aught against the lass?” he asked.

Amy looked about her carefully, then leaning a little forward opened her
mouth as though to speak, but as though another thought had crossed her
mind she drew back and, shaking her head, said piously, “But who am I to
take away a poor slut’s character? ’Tis not my nature, and I pray you,
Master Blueneck, that you will not urge me, for my very conscience
revolts against it.” She paused. “Though, mind you, I could an I would,”
she went on, “but then, as I said, the story will do the lass no good.”

“You make me curious, señora,” said the sailor in his best manner.

But Mistress Pullen for a very good reason, namely, that she could not
think of a convincing story on the spot, was not to be prevailed on, and
the conversation flagged for a time. At last she broke the silence.

“Then the Captain of the _Coldlight_ is much attracted by this--this,
this wench?” she asked.

“Attracted!” Blueneck looked up excitedly. “I tell you, mistress, I
never saw him so before--of course, you will understand, señora, there
have been other women--how could there not be? But never has it been so
that he has lost his delight in the trade. No,” he added, “it has not
been like this these last ten years, and before then he was but a lad.
Without doubt the maid has bewitched him.”

Mistress Pullen began to be interested.

“Have there been very many other women who loved the gallant Captain?”
she said, her respect for the Spaniard growing at every word.

Blueneck threw up his hands.

“So many, mistress, I could not name them all.”

Mistress Amy thrilled with interest, but her face fell at her next
thought.

“And now he is enamoured with an Island wench?” she said, feeling that
the Captain had somehow lowered his standard of romance.

“Ay,” said Blueneck, “but ’tis a new affair this time; before, it was
the wenches who sighed for the Captain and the Captain who laughed and
was merry, but this time it is the wench who is merry and the
Captain”--he laughed--“oh, the Captain is bewitched,” he said.

“Indeed!” Mistress Pullen looked surprised. “I wonder that Mistress Sue
would brook the affair in her uncle’s house.”

“Ho! ho! ho!” Blueneck laughed, his earrings glittering in the
firelight. “Mistress Sue? Why, Mistress Amy, that lass would give her
ears to get a fair look from Black’erchief Dick. I warrant you Master
French is well-nigh mad at her neglect.”

Mistress Pullen sighed at the waywardness of youth and went on with her
sewing.

“Ah, and that’s another thing,” said Blueneck. “Did you know that Master
French was prevented from going to Tiptree last Tuesday?”

“Prevented! Were there excise men on the Stroud?” Mistress Amy spoke
quickly, voicing the fear of all the Island smugglers.

The Stroud, a narrow, bridge-like road across the mud, was the one
connection the Island had with the mainland, and once the officers of
the law held it, there was no telling what dangers would be involved.

Blueneck smiled.

“Nay,” he said, “they will be as foolish as ever they were. Nay, there
was some talk about the goods, and the Captain swore that he would not
rest another night at the Victory, and that if Master French wanted
aught from him he must come to the Ship and fetch it. So he had to
return.”

“Indeed, and when will he be going again, Master Blueneck, for I was
wishing to get me a piece of ribbon for my new kirtle-top?” said
Mistress Pullen, her interest reviving.

The Spaniard looked at her, smiling. “Would you allow me to get it for
you, señora?” he said in as exact imitation as he could manage of the
Captain’s manner.

Mistress Amy looked at him in surprise.

“Why, surely you’re not going to Tiptree, Master Blueneck, are you?” she
said.

“I would go to London, if you wished aught from thence, mistress,” said
the sailor loftily.

Amy looked at him in admiration. “If only Joe would speak so,” she
reflected.

The sailor, seeing the impression he had made, rose to his feet,
narrowly escaping the chimney beam.

“To-morrow,” he said, “I shall ride to Tiptree and bring the fairest
dame in the Island a ribbon.” He reached for his cap and coat, and
buttoning them on, made for the door.

Amy followed him, thanking him. They exchanged farewells, Mistress
Pullen blushingly consenting to a kiss, and parted.

As soon as his footsteps had died away, Mistress Pullen slipped a cloak
over her head and moved to the window, through which she could see a
faint patch of light about two hundred yards away.

“Ah!” she said to herself, “Joan Bellamie will be yet awake, what a deal
I have to tell the ronyon.” And she slipped out, shutting the door
behind her.



CHAPTER VIII


“Anny, lass, I would speak with thee; wilt harken?”

Hal put the question timidly as he looked across at his sweetheart.

They were alone in the Ship’s kitchen; Hal re-sanded the floor while
Anny sat on the window-ledge cleaning a pair of old brass candlesticks.
It was four o’clock in the afternoon, and the cold, watery sun shot a
few last rays of yellow light over the Island before it sank down behind
the mainland. Inside the kitchen it was warm and beginning to get dark,
for the fire had been allowed to die down to a few smouldering red and
white embers, and it was yet too early to light the dips. Outside in the
yard Anny could see her little brother talking to old Gilbot, who had
wrapped himself up in a seaman’s jacket, and had stepped out to taste
the air.

The old man was fond of children, and Anny sighed with relief as she saw
the strange pair--Red still wore his costume of the night before--take
hands and after some animated talk walk off together down the road in
the direction of the sea, laughing as they went.

Hal made up the fire with logs which he had been drying on the hearth,
and crossed the room and stood beside the window-ledge just in front of
the girl, before he spoke again.

“Will you harken to me?” he repeated.

Anny looked up, smiling. “Harken to thee, Hal?” she said. “Why, certes,
thou needst not look so solemnly; why should I not harken to thee?”

The boy did not speak for a moment but stood fidgeting before her.

Anny put down the candlestick which she was cleaning, and slipping off
the window-ledge led him over to the fireplace, where she sat down on
one of the long, high-backed seats and pulled him down beside her.

“Do you want to tell me you don’t want to marry me?” she asked half
jestingly, half anxiously, as she leaned her little round head with its
long black plaits on his shoulder.

Hal turned to her in great astonishment.

“Marry, lass! How can ye be so cruel as to judge me so?” he said. “Of
course not!”

“Oh, the saints be praised for that,” said the girl quaintly. “Lord, how
you fear’d me, Hal,” she added, kneeling up on the seat to kiss him.

The boy put his arm round her.

“Anny,” he said quietly, his face grave and old for one of his years,
“you’re terrible young yet, seventeen ain’t you?” The girl nodded,
uncertain as to what was coming yet. “Ah, well, you ain’t had time to
grow wise, have you?” he continued, still holding her on the seat beside
him.

“I reckon you ain’t had much more, Hal,” she said, laughing. “You’re but
eighteen, ain’t you?”

Hal blushed.

“Ay, maybe,” he said. “But I know what I’m telling you.”

Anny kissed him lightly on the forehead.

“I’m harkening,” she said.

Hal opened his mouth to speak and then shut it again; then he withdrew
his arm from about her waist and stood up.

Anny looked at him in astonishment not unmixed with fear.

“Why, what in the world is the matter with ye, lad?” she said. “You
don’t want to go for a sailor, do you?”

The boy shook his head violently, and Anny began to feel alarmed.

“Whatever will you be worrying about next?” she said.

Hal stepped toward her, and putting a hand on her forehead pushed her
head back until she looked into his eyes.

“You--you--you’re not loving the Spaniard, lass?” he blurted out,
ashamed of the words as soon as he had spoken them.

Anny looked at him for a moment, uncertain whether to be offended or to
laugh.

“Hal, I’m ashamed that you should be such a child,” she said, a little
smile hovering round her mouth. “Why should I love any one but you?”

The boy appeared to be satisfied, for he laughed and kissed her, but
then he added, “I don’t like the Spaniard, lass. I wish you wouldn’t
hark to his swaggerings.”

Anny turned round.

“Hal, you wouldn’t have me ill-tempered to the customers?” she said as
she picked up the half-cleaned candlestick and set to work on it again.

Hal thrust his hands into his pockets and shifted his weight from one
foot to the other.

“Nay, lass, of course not. I would not bid you be uncivil, but, truth, I
thought you liked the foreigner’s big talk and notice of you. I----”

“He is a pleasant gentleman,” said the girl, “but, Lord! I mark not half
he says.”

“You’d not let him kiss you, Anny?”

Hal spoke sharply and Anny looked up in amazement.

“Mother of Grace,” she ejaculated, “for what do you take me?”

The boy was beside her in a moment.

“Forgive me, lass,” he said, “I did but want ye to promise to have no
dealings with the foreigner--I--love you so, see?”

“Oh!” said Anny, laughing as she straightened her hair after his
embrace. “No one would suspect you of kissing a lass before, Hal. You
can’t be knowing how strong you are.”

“That’s as may be, but will you promise to have no truck with the
Spaniard?” the boy persisted.

“Ay, of course I promise,” Anny sighed at his distrust as she spoke. Hal
kissed her again, then walked over to the fireplace and stood for some
moments, resting his head on the wooden ledge below the chimney-piece
and staring down into the smoky crackling fire.

He felt that he had appeared ridiculous in Anny’s eyes, and his young
blood revolted at the thought. In vain he tried to comfort himself with
the thought that it was only his love for her which made him so anxious,
but the idea that she must think him merely jealous would force itself
on his mind, making him uncomfortable. However, he knew that the Captain
might be a formidable rival so he said nothing else at the time.

Anny sat on the window-ledge, rubbing the candlestick with more energy
than was necessary.

She was hurt that Hal should think her such a light-o’-love, but all the
same she thrilled with pleasure to think that he was jealous of anybody
because of her. It gave her such a pleasant feeling of ownership and, as
she reflected happily, she was very fond of him.

Suddenly she paused to listen. Coming down the road she could hear the
scrunching of heavy wagon wheels. She looked up at the old horologe on
the chimney-piece.

“That won’t be Master French yet awhile, will it?” she said.

“Eh?” Hal pushed his hand over his forehead and turned to her. “I don’t
hear any one,” he said, “and it wouldn’t be him yet; the roads ain’t
safe before dark nowadays.”

Anny sat still for a moment.

“There is someone,” she cried, as a tumbril drawn by a piebald gelding
turned into the yard.

Hal stepped across to the window and looked out over the girl’s head.

“Oh! ’tis Cip de Musset,” he said, as the man in the tumbril climbed out
and pushed back the oiled flaps of his head-covering from his face. “I
warrant he brings the rum from the brig.” He opened the door and went
out bare-headed into the yard.

Anny watched him through the window, saw him greet the man heartily, and
then look into the cart at the other’s invitation.

“Right!” she heard him say, “six of rum and three of Canary. Here, John
Pattern.”

A man came out of one of the stables. Hal said something to him which
she could not catch. The man nodded and led the horse into a corner of
the yard, where he proceeded to unload the cart.

The man of whom Hal had spoken as Cip de Musset was tall, long-legged,
and loosely built, with a black beard which curled down onto his chest.
He stepped up to the inner door with Hal, and then stopped and went back
to the cart as though he had forgotten something. After groping under
the sacking coverings for a while he pulled out a fair-sized bundle tied
up in a piece of sail-cloth, and with this under his arm, came back to
the door where Hal was waiting for him. As he crossed the yard he caught
sight of Anny peering through the window and smiled at her, showing a
set of enormous yellow teeth.

Anny tossed her head and turned away from the window, and picking up the
two candlesticks carried them off to the first guest-chamber where they
belonged.

When she returned, the sail-cloth bundle was lying on the table, and Hal
and Cip de Musset were sitting together by the fire, the latter drinking
hot rum.

“Good-morrow, fair one,” grinned the visitor as he looked up, “there’s
somewhat on the table for thee.”

His clothes proclaimed him a sailor, and his manners were free and easy.

“For me?” Anny looked first at the bundle and then over at Hal who was
watching her covertly.

“And--er--and who will it be sent from, Master de Musset?” she said at
last.

Cip de Musset laughed.

“Open it, lassie,” he said, “open it and see.”

Anny, nothing loath, pulled at the knots, and pushed back the
sail-cloth; underneath was a white linen covering.

Hal rose to his feet and in spite of himself craned his neck to see.

The other man got up and stood beside the girl, looking down at the
bundle. The arrival of a parcel was an unusual occurrence at the Ship.

Anny fingered the linen for a moment, and then with a deft movement of
her little brown hand switched it off. She gave a gasp of surprise, and
putting out her hands held up a piece of Lyons silk. It was of a pale
honey colour and of a texture not unlike taffeta. She shook out the
glistening sheet and held the piece high up to her chin. The effect made
even Hal gasp. Cip de Musset put his tankard down on the table and
stepped back a few paces to look at her.

“That’s right, lassie, just a bit nearer the window,” he said.

Anny obeyed, as proud as a snake of its new skin, and stood so that the
little remaining light might fall upon her.

Cip rested his huge hairy hands on his hips and leant back a little, his
head on one side, and one eye shut.

“By the Lord, but you’re as fair as a new figurehead, lass,” he said
approvingly.

Anny looked down and laughed with delight. She had never seen such stuff
before, and the blood rushed to her face as she saw Hal’s expression of
amazed admiration as he stared at her. With a little sigh she folded up
the silk and returned to the bundle. It contained a letter, a piece of
green frieze, and a little carved box. Anny laid aside the letter and
the box, and looked at the frieze; there seemed to be a great deal of
it.

Cip stepped forward to help her, and taking one end walked over to the
door, while she, holding her side, went to the fireplace, yet the strip
sagged in the middle to the floor.

“Two new kirtles and a pair of galligaskins for Red,” thought the girl,
as she wound up the cloth, and turned her attention to the box.

Cip de Musset nudged Hal, and jerked his thumb in her direction.

“Look how the lassie plays with new toys,” he whispered.

Hal turned away sharply, frowning angrily.

Cip stared at him in amazement and then, shrugging his shoulders, looked
across at the girl.

Anny had not noticed Hal’s expression, and Cip’s face broke into smiles
again as he watched her. She was trying to open the little wooden box,
her face was flushed, and she was breathing quickly with childish
excitement. At last she gave it up, and, turning to Cip, offered it for
him to open. The sailor wiped his hands carefully on his
green-and-yellow neckerchief before he took the box gingerly between his
thumb and forefinger. After turning it over once or twice he tried his
strength on the tightly fitting lid and jerked it off, and held it out
to the girl.

Anny took it eagerly and gave a little cry of delight as she examined
the contents.

“Marry! Hal, I prithee, see!” she laughed as she pulled out a long
string of polished amber beads and put them over her head. “And, oh,
look you! look you!” she exclaimed, holding out a brooch about the size
of a large oyster, which was of painted porcelain with a silver border
studded with brilliants. “Oh, and see! Look, look, Hal! why don’t you
look?” she went on as she pulled first one trinket after another out of
the little wooden box and held it up for their inspection. Suddenly she
paused, and putting in her hand very carefully brought out a little
carved-wood elephant, brought no doubt from the East by some traveller.

“Oh, what a mannikin,” she exclaimed, fingering the exquisite
workmanship in wonderment. “Look ’ee, Hal, whatever will it be?”

Hal looked down at the little figure as she stood before him, the carved
bauble lying in the palm of her small brown hand, and sighed.

“Oh!” he said, as he picked up the elephant and looked at it
quizzically. “I reckon ’tis some heathen image.”

Anny snatched it away from him and held it tightly.

“Oh! nay,” she said almost pleadingly, “‘tis not, indeed, or anyway ’tis
marvellous dainty.”

Cip stepped forward heavily and looked over her shoulder.

“Oh! nay,” he said at last, “‘tis not a heathen image; ’tis a moulding
of a beast.”

Anny looked pleased.

“What fine little beasts they must be,” she observed.

“Ah, yes,” said Cip, nodding his head sagely, “wonderful fine little
beasts.”

Anny laughed happily, and turned to the silk-and trinket-strewn table.

“Oh, won’t I be fine!” she exclaimed, flinging out her arms as though to
embrace the table’s load.

Hal grunted.

“Hadn’t you better look at the sealed paper?” he said sulkily.

But Anny was too overjoyed to notice his tone.

“O marry! I forgot,” she exclaimed with a little excited giggle, as she
picked up the square envelope and broke open the red seal.

“Ah!” said she, as she studied the large flourishing script within.

Cip shot a covert glance at Hal and then hid his smile in his tankard.

“Ah!” said Anny again, turning the paper over.

Hal became impatient.

“Well, lass?” he said, rising.

Anny blushed, and then thrust the paper in his hand.

“Thou knowest I cannot read, Hal?” she said. “Wilt decipher it for me?”

Hal took it willingly, although with some show of indifference, and
holding the paper at arms’ length, read it carefully through to himself.

“Plague upon it all!” he exclaimed.

Anny looked at him anxiously.

“What does it say?” she said, looking over his shoulder.

Hal flushed.

“I’ll not tell thee,” he said angrily.

“Oh!” Anny’s tone expressed disappointment, and old Cip de Musset, who
had been preparing himself to hear another man’s letter, looked up.

“Oh! nay, lad, nay,” he said solemnly, “tell the lass her own letter.
Ay, marry, now you must, to be honest.”

Hal frowned.

“To be honest?” he said, puzzled.

“Ay, to be honest.” Cip was emphatic. “For if you don’t, lad, you alone
will know the matter in the letter, which, look you, is not yours but
the lass’s. Taking is taking whether it be goods or fine phrases,” he
concluded, wagging his head sagely.

Hal shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, then, harken,” he said, and began to read sulkily and at a great
pace:

     “Into the lap of the fair lady who holdeth the whole heart of a
     great sailor in her sweet keeping, these fineries and divers other
     useful objects are munificently poured.

     “Prithee deck thyself, wench, for the delight of thy noble and
     honourable admirer--Dick Delfazio, Captain of the _Coldlight_.”

“Did ever you hear such sithering foolishness?” he concluded.

But neither Anny nor Cip was looking at him; at the last words of the
letter they had turned to each other in mutual surprise and admiration.

“Ah!” said old Cip, leaning back on his bench. “Wonderful way he has wi’
words and wenches. Damn me if they two don’t go pretty well together,”
he added thoughtfully.

Anny sighed with delight and turned to Hal.

“Oh! isn’t it a fine letter,” she exclaimed happily. “Will I have to
write one back?”

Hal looked up, and the expression on his boyish face made her pause in
her happiness, and turn to him anxiously.

“Anny Farran, what are you making of yourself?” he began slowly, his
young imagination magnifying the occasion until he felt himself the
injured lover leading his frail betrothed away from the pretty walks of
folly.

Anny looked at him in wonderment and he went on:

“Anny, are you tending to accept these--these fripperies, like a common
serving-wench, and worse?”

Anny blushed and started; then she looked from her lover to the table
and back again.

“Not take them?” she said, her mouth drooping a little at the corners
and her eyes growing larger and very bright.

“Of course not!”

Wrapped in the blanket of his youthful virtue the boy felt no sympathy
for the despairing glance which the pathetic little girl in front of him
cast at her shabby, much-stained kirtle and well-mended bodice.

Anny swallowed something in her throat and blinked her eyes once or
twice, her long dark lashes becoming spiky and blacker than before. Then
she laughed a little unnaturally and rubbed her hand awkwardly down the
sides of her skirt.

“Oh, of course not,” she said, laughing still on a strange high pitch,
as she gathered up the finery and put it carefully back into the
sail-cloth covering. “Of course not,” she repeated mechanically, never
allowing her fingers to stray over the smooth soft surface of the silk
or to play amongst the amber beads or ivory ornaments. “There,” she said
at last as the last trinket was slipped into the little box, and she
looked round, the bright colour still in her cheeks and the forced smile
on her lips. “Oh! and the little beast?” she said half questioningly,
half agreeing, as she picked up the little carved elephant and looked at
it wistfully.

“And the little beast,” said Hal firmly.

Anny sighed and slipped it in with the others, then tied up the
sail-cloth with a firm hand.

“Master de Musset,” she said a little unsteadily, “would you be kind
enough to--to take this back to the Captain and say I can’t accept it?
Say--say of course not,” she added.

Cip de Musset rose to his feet, bewilderment on his face as he looked
from one to the other of the two young people.

“Say you sent it back?” he said at last, turning to the girl. “Nay, say
he sent it back,” he added, jerking his thumb in Hal’s direction.

Anny stepped forward quickly and laid her hand on his arm, anxiety
written in her very posture.

“Oh, nay! I pray you, Master de Musset, say I sent it back,” she said
eagerly. “I beg of you to tell my message rightly.”

Cip looked into her earnest little face and smiled.

“All right, lassie,” he said. “But,” he added, his voice and face
becoming suddenly grave, “you have a care how you anger Black’erchief
Dick. You young ones--you’re sweethearts, too, ain’t you?”

“Yes, but you won’t say,” Anny spoke quickly and Cip shook his head.

“Oh, no!” he said, grinning. “I won’t say. I be going.”

He moved over to the window and looked out.

“Here be Ezekiel French just drove up,” he remarked.

Anny looked up at the clock.

“Mother o’ Grace!” she ejaculated, “I have forgot to call Mistress Sue,”
and she ran out of the door and up the stairs to the little room which
she and Sue shared.

Hal picked up the sail-cloth bundle and handed it to Cip, who took it
without a word and went out into the yard. He stood talking to French
some minutes and then walked over to his cart.

“Poor little lassie,” he muttered as he climbed into the tumbril and
turned the piebald gelding out of the gate. “Poor little lassie,” he
repeated. “Lord, ain’t we particular when we’re young.” He looked at the
bundle on the floor behind him and shrugged his shoulders. “This here
Black’erchief Dick and all,” he concluded, sighing and whipping up his
horse.

       *       *       *       *       *

Big French stood in the Ship yard talking to Hal and old John Pattern,
the ostler. He leaned lazily against the shaft of his wagon, an arm
stretched out over the back of one of the horses. The wagon was half
full of mysterious sacking-covered bales and little round casks, the
first containing silk and the other tobacco.

“Have ye got them ten trusses’ straw I bespoke, Hal?” French was saying,
the barley stalk he was chewing moving up and down in his mouth.

“Ay, in the barn; that on the right is yourn,” Hal replied readily.

Big French looked at John Pattern enquiringly. The old man grinned.
“That’ll be all right, sir,” he said, pocketing the coin which the big
man had given him.

“You’ll cover the stuff well up?” French enquired. “Undo the first five
truss and spread it over the stuff and then put the rest, bound up,
atop, you know how.”

The man nodded.

“Ain’t been on the Island for sixty-seven years for nothing,” he said,
winking one bright blue eye.

French laughed.

“Maybe,” he said, “but you never can tell when the roads will get
dangerous again. What with footpads whom I fear not and excise folk
whom I do--you never know,” and he shrugged his shoulders, and soon
added, a smile breaking over his handsome face, “but, Lord, it’s all in
the trade, so what’s the use of talking?”

He turned away with Hal, and John touching his cap went off to the
barn--a long low building on the left of the Ship.

“I’m taking that dog Blueneck and his mate Coot along wi’ me,” French
remarked, as he and Hal neared the kitchen door. “You ain’t seen them up
here yet, I suppose?”

Hal shook his head as he lifted the latch.

“No,” he said, “but they’ll come, don’t you fear, the sniffling Spanish
rats.”

French laughed and was about to reply, but as his eyes fell upon
Mistress Sue who had stepped to the door to meet them, the words died on
his lips, and he grinned sheepishly.

In the kitchen the dips had been lighted, the fire had got up, and all
round the hearth was bright and cheerful.

Sue followed and stood in front of him.

Anny sat in her usual place at the window. She was sewing the buttons on
an old coat of Gilbot’s, and several times she pricked her fingers, and
then hastily dashed the back of her hand across her eyes, but otherwise
she was very still and no one else in the room noticed her.

Hal went to draw a noggin of rum for French, and while he was away, the
door opened, and Blueneck and Habakkuk Coot came in.

French, who had just formed a complete sentence to open conversation
with Sue, scowled at the intruders, turned his back on the astonished
girl, and stared into the fire. Perhaps it was the wisest thing he could
have done, for Sue, as she bustled off to attend to the two sailors,
began to think about him, a thing she had not done seriously since that
evening when Black’erchief Dick first came to the Ship.

It was strange, she thought. Usually Big French seemed so pleased to see
her, so ready to laugh with her, so childishly shy when she spoke
directly to him, and she found herself thinking with pleasure of that
evening when Gilbot had interrupted him in a most important question.
She laughed to herself. Ah! that was before the advent of the Spaniard.
Ah! the Spaniard! she sighed, and then flushed hotly at her own
thoughts. What was the Spaniard to her? A man who was not even
interested in her. She tossed her head, but all the same she sighed
again before she put the tankards down before the two shipmates of the
_Coldlight_, and returned once more to the young giant at the fireside.

“Master French,” she said, planting herself before him, “would you get
me a thing or two at the market?”

French beamed at her.

“Anything,” he said jerkily, as though the word had been released from
captivity, “or everything,” he added suddenly and earnestly.

Sue did not understand him and she looked down in surprise.

“Everything?” she repeated.

French blushed, opened his mouth, shut it again, then he cleared his
throat noisily. “Everything you wish, mistress,” he said finally,
inwardly cursing his shyness.

Sue perched herself on the table in front of him and enumerated the odds
and ends that the Ship required.

Anny looked at the pair shyly from out her corner.

“Ah! but how much of the flannel, mistress?” French was saying.

“Six ells an it pleases you,” Sue replied.

Anny gulped and applied herself industriously to her sewing.

Just then the door opened and John Pattern put in his smiling head.

“Master French,” he called.

French, who had just begun to enjoy himself, looked up with another
scowl.

“All’s ready,” said John, “and, if you’s going to get to Tiptree afore
eleven, ye better start.”

“Right!” French rose to his feet with a sigh and walked to the door.
“Come on,” he said to the two sailors who were looking round anxiously.

Habakkuk sniffed noisily and happily, his pale, bilious little face
positively shining with excitement as he got up hastily and trotted to
the door, Blueneck following.

The rest of the company followed out into the yard to see the
adventurers safely off the premises.

It was a sharply cold, clear frosty night, with a mist hanging low over
the marshes. There was no wind and the place was very silent. The sky
was clear and thickly sprinkled with stars and the moon, nearly full,
shed a white ghostly glow over the countryside.

Old John Pattern, a large box lantern in his hand, hovered hither and
thither like some old and bluff will-o’-the-wisp.

French walked round the wagon to make sure that everything was in order.
Then he climbed up on to the shaft and perched himself on the
driving-seat, which consisted of a board nailed flat on the front of the
wagon.

“Come on, if you are coming at all,” he called to Blueneck, who
scrambled into the one remaining seat beside him.

“Hi, where shall I go?” said Habakkuk, sniffing and hopping about in his
anxiety.

French shrugged his shoulders.

“Best get up on to the straw atop,” he said.

Habakkuk climbed on to the hub of the wheel and with Hal’s help got
safely on to the straw where he lay quite still.

“Ready?” said French, and then turned the horses about without waiting
for an answer, and drove out of the gate amidst the jests and farewells
of the onlookers.

“You won’t forget the flannel?” Sue called after him.

French’s deep, pleasant voice rang back through the thin, cold air:
“Rather would I forget the wagon, mistress.”

Sue laughed.

“There’s a new gown on the way,” she said with a sigh of satisfaction as
she went back to the kitchen.

Anny gulped and Hal, turning at that moment, saw her disappointed little
face in the moonlight. She looked at him so sorrowfully without
speaking, and then went into the Inn.

He was about to follow her but checked himself; he began to realize a
little how much she cared for pretty things and what she had given up
with the sail-cloth bundle. Pushing his hands into his pockets he walked
out of the gate and down the road to the sea, his chin on his breast. He
had not gone very far before he met old Gilbot stumping along alone.

The old man hailed him cheerily and bade him go down to fetch little Red
who, he averred, was scooning stones on the clear sea. “No one obeys
me,” he concluded with a chuckle. “I can’t make the young one come. Go
fetch him, Hal.”

He waddled off, smiling and talking to himself.

Hal walked on in deep thought, kicking the stones in the road with his
clogs.

Anny was fond of pretty fripperies and ornaments; she liked to be
admired and looked at, and would have kept the sail-cloth bundle for its
own worth, without a thought for the giver.

Hal kicked at a stone savagely, and swore loudly. He was eighteen and as
bitter against the world as it is possible to be at that age. He
remembered Anny’s little white face in the moonlight as Big French drove
off, Sue’s request in his ears, and her disappointed, sorrowful glance
at him before she returned to the kitchen. He had reached the sea by
this time and he stood for a moment peering out over the mist-ridden
water. “If only I had money,” he thought. “Lord!”

Staring out into the white moonlit vapour he saw Anny in her
honey-coloured silk, her eyes bright and her lips a little parted, just
as he had seen her that afternoon. Then he saw himself beside her, no
longer a deputy landlord and everybody’s errand boy, but a man of
importance in a new blue cloth coat with silver buttons and a ruffle in
the sleeves. He was holding her hand and they were married.

“Oh! if only I had money!” the words escaped from his mouth like a
groan, and he shivered involuntarily, almost afraid of his own voice;
everything around him was so shadowy and unreal.

“Hal Grame, is that you? Oh! how you frightened me.” The voice seemed to
start from the pebbles at his feet and he sprang back in alarm, crossing
himself.

“Who’s there?” he said sharply.

“Only me and Win.” Red Farran got up from the bank of seaweed where he
had been sitting and put a little wet hand into Hal’s.

“Why do you want money?” he said. “Win an’ me want money, too.”

Hal looked down at the fantastical little figure before he answered:

“Why do I want money----?” he began, his voice rising with silly, sweet,
half-theatrical boyish passion; then he checked himself and shrugged his
shoulders. “Oh, nothing,” he said.

Red looked at the sea.

“It’s too dark to scoon stones,” he remarked. “How many times can you
make one hop? I made one go nine times once in smooth water,” he added
modestly.

Hal vouchsafed no answer, and Red sat down again on a bank of seaweed.

“Here’s Win,” he said softly as he fumbled in his ragged clothes and
brought out the kitten, now quite dry but very sleepy, and hugged it up
to his neck.

“If we had money wouldn’t we eat a lot and be happy?” He squeezed the
kitten a little harder and the unhappy animal squealed sleepily. Red
laughed. “Yes,” he said, “I think so, too.”

There was silence for a few minutes save for the gentle lapping of the
water and the scrape of moving pebbles as the waves rolled them up and
down on the shore.

“Money’s very useful, isn’t it?” said Red at last.

“Ay,” Hal replied fervently.

“Master Gilbot said that, too,” went on the child as he pitched a stone
and waited to hear the gentle “plop” which it made as it reached the
water.

Hal looked up.

“What did he say?” he asked.

Red screwed up his face in thought.

“I forget,” he said, “it was something about leaving the Ship to a man
who had money.” He tossed another stone, then turned his attention to
the kitten.

“A man with money,” said Hal. “What man?”

“Oh! any man, I suppose,” said Red vaguely, stroking the cat’s fur up
the wrong way.

“Any man with money,” repeated Hal to himself; then he began to laugh
loudly, unnaturally, and very high.

Red clapped his hands over his ears and the kitten snuggled into his
chest.

“Don’t do that, Hal,” he said imploringly, “it’s just like Nan when she
sees Pet Salt.”

Hal stopped and pulled himself together.

“Best be getting back,” he said, and started off along the lane.

The child got up without a word and trotted after him, the kitten
wrapped safely in the folds of his kirtle-cloak.

Hal did not think about the boy; he strode along, his eyes on the
ground.

“I will get money,” he whispered to himself. “I’ve never had any. I’ve
never had aught to give her, and women be capricious and whimsical. They
care for that foolery. Before God I swear some day I’ll own the Ship,
and, oh, you holy Saints, let me keep her till then.”



CHAPTER IX


About nine o’clock on the following morning, when the hoar-frost was
still on the ragged grass and leafless trees, Anny hurried down the road
which led to the Ship. She had been to see Nan Swayle, and was returning
from her cabin with a large skep of onions which the old woman had
insisted on sending to Gilbot in return for the half keg of rum which he
had given her.

It was bitterly cold, and Anny hugged the threadbare shawl very tightly
about her shoulders as she hastened on, her head bent before the driving
wind.

“Well met, mistress,” said a musical voice behind her. “Prithee, may I
carry thy basket?”

Anny’s heart sank as she turned her head.

Black’erchief Dick came forward, a smile on his face, and stretched out
a pair of dainty white hands for the skep.

Anny blushed and withheld it from him.

“Nay, I would not dream of letting you trouble, sir,” she said. “I--I
would rather carry it myself.”

Dick laughed.

“And I would rather carry it myself,” he said. “Faith, mistress, I
warrant me we’ll have to bear it together.”

So saying he gaily caught hold of the handle nearest him and they walked
on, he chatting merrily and she alternately laughing at his sallies,
blushing, and smirking at his well-seasoned stories. They made strange
contrast as they went, the skep swinging between them, the girl, her
shabby green kirtle and torn black bodice, her heavy clogs sinking in
the deep slushy mud of the road, and the Spaniard newly clothed in
shining brocaded satin, with point-lace collar and ruffled cuffs, his
fashionable short surcoat displaying a tucked embroidered shirt
marvellously laundered; his cloak of the finest Amsterdam cloth a little
open in the front showing the hilt of his famous knife as it hung in his
gem-studded belt.

“Mistress, prithee why didst thou return my gifts yestere’en?” said Dick
at last as they neared the Ship.

Anny, who had been waiting for this, took a deep breath.

“For what do you take me, sir?” she said, turning her big innocent eyes
upon him.

Dick looked at her curiously. Was it possible that this little country
drudge was different from all the other women he had met? He nearly
dropped his side of the skep in his surprise.

“I crave thy pardon, mistress,” he said dazedly, and they walked on in
silence till they reached the Ship.

Then Dick spoke again:

“I will come in for a stoup of mine host’s sweet sack,” he said, and
then added softly, for the door was open, “and I would speak seriously
with thee.”

Anny went into the kitchen rather self-consciously and looked round. No
one was there and she went out to the scullery with the onions.

When she returned the Spaniard was sitting by the fireside, his daintily
shod feet resting on the hearthstone. He did not look up as she came in,
so she tripped across to the shelves to get him a tankard, and then
unearthed a flagon of sack from under the cask form.

“Prithee set it here to warm, child,” said Dick, pointing to the hob.

Anny did as she was told. He touched her hand lightly as she passed him.

“And now, mistress, will it please you to sit before me?” he said.

Anny sat down, and the Spaniard looked at her in admiration for a moment
before he spoke.

“Hast heard much said of Dick Delfazio?” he continued, smiling at her,
and leaning forward a little, his elbow on his knee and one hand
supporting his chin and shielding his face from the fire.

Anny dropped her eyes, not quite certain what to say.

But as he waited for an answer, she stammered, “Ay, a great deal an it
please you.”

“Aught to my discredit?” The Spaniard spoke sharply and frowned.

“Oh, nay, sir, nay.” Anny spoke hastily as she noted his displeasure.
“Rather the other way.”

A smile spread over the man’s face for a moment, and he looked at her.

“Yet, mistress, you refused my gifts,” he said softly.

An expression of pain passed over the girl’s face but she said steadily:
“Ay, sir. And I would not have any one think I would take them. Methinks
you mistake me, sir,” she added proudly.

The Spaniard did not speak; he sat looking at her steadfastly without
moving his position, his glittering deep black eyes fixed on her face,
and an inscrutable expression on his lips.

Anny did not look up, and at last the Spaniard leaned back in his seat,
new interest in his face and a twinkle of pleasure in his eyes.

“Mistress, you mistake me,” he said gently. “Believe me I never thought
you aught but a maiden as fair in reputation as in face. What villain
can have read anything else but pure admiration in my small offerings to
you?”

Anny looked up quickly, her face glowing with confusion. She thought
angrily of Hal’s outburst and opened her mouth to speak, but at that
moment her eye caught the Spaniard’s white hand playing with the hilt of
his knife, and she looked at him again, as he sat smiling at her, his
full red lips curled back a little, showing the white teeth within.

“I thought it myself,” she said almost defiantly, as she rose to go
about her work.

Dick put out a hand to restrain her.

“Prithee sit down, fair one, I would speak with thee,” he said firmly,
his eyes commanding her with their momentary fierceness, and continued
as she reseated herself: “Hast ever been off this Island, mistress?”

“Nay, sir,” Anny shook her head. “Not even to the West,” she added.

Dick threw up his hands in mock surprise, and the girl could not help
thinking how beautiful they looked, rising so waxen-like from out the
delicate lace ruffles which surrounded his wrists.

“The pity of it, mistress, O, the pity of it, that you should be wasted
here on this desolate mud flat,” Dick was saying, “which is only visited
by a gentleman once in two or three months, and then only for a
sennight. No, the jewel of your beauty is little suited to so drab a
setting as the mud-beslimed shores of Mersea Marsh Island.”

Anny looked at him, uncertain whether he was laughing at her or not, but
she could get no hint of his mood from his face, which was nearly
expressionless save for the eyes which regarded her almost mournfully.

“What would I find fairer than the marshes in another country?” she said
at last.

The Spaniard laughed.

“The marshes?” he said. “Oh! Mistress, what have you known of beauty
that you look on gray and purple marshes and call them fair?”

Anny frowned.

“Marry!” she said, tossing her head. “They’re good enough for me.”

“Nay, fair one, there you mistake, it’s because they are not good enough
for thee that I would quarrel with thee loving them.”

The Spaniard leaned a little forward as he spoke.

Anny laughed uneasily and rose to her feet.

“Ah, well!” she said, “‘tis of no account what I think fair or ugly, see
how late it is; I must be about my business.”

Dick got up also.

“Look ye, mistress,” he said, “I had almost forgot what I came to see
thee for. I sail again for France on Wednesday even.” He paused and
looked at the girl for any hint of surprise or disappointment which she
might show, but Anny did not look up and betrayed no other interest
beyond polite attention.

The Spaniard smiled and his eyes began to sparkle again.

“And, little one,” he went on, “when I sail it will not be on the
_Coldlight_, but the _Anny_ if you will permit me to rename the ship
after thee.”

Anny gasped. She knew a little about the importance which sailors in
general, and smugglers in particular, attached to the names of their
vessels, and was fully sensible of the honour which the Spaniard was
conferring upon her. She began to feel flattered.

“You honour me too much, sir,” she said, bobbing and smiling.

The Spaniard made a stately bow.

“Mistress, I thank you for deigning to accept so small a tribute,” he
said in his grand manner. “And may I beg of you two more favours,
namely, that you will honour my ship with your presence, and will
yourself bless the brig and proclaim thyself its guardian and patron?”

Anny blushed and laughed happily.

“Ay,” she said, “and gladly if you can trust my blessings.”

The Spaniard bowed again.

“What blessings might I trust in if not in yours?” he said gallantly. “I
will come myself to bring thee there. Au revoir, fair one.” He picked up
his big-brimmed hat and, taking the little brown hand in his soft white
one, respectfully raised it to his lips.

Anny smiled shyly as she drew it slowly away and put it behind her back.

Dick looked into her little face, so very little lower than his own.

“Might I dare to salute your lips, Anny of the Island?” he said softly.

Anny’s smile vanished and she drew back stiffly.

“Methinks you mistake me for some other wench, sir,” she said.

“Pardon, I prithee, fairest of prudes.” Dick’s tone was really penitent.
“For but one moment I dreamed--shall I tell thee my dream?”

Anny looked at him in astonishment and in spite of her vexation drew a
little nearer.

“Whatever----” she began.

Dick interrupted her.

“All in one moment I dreamt I was dead and in hell, and, as I trod on
the burning stones, a sudden ease fell upon me and I looked up and
beheld the fairest face in all the world before me, the lips put up to
meet mine--and I--well, mistress, then you woke me.”

Anny looked at him in amazement, wondering if the Spanish gentleman had
suddenly become bewitched. Then she conjured up in her childish mind a
picture which his words suggested to her of the fastidious little man
hopping and dancing over hot paving bricks, and she began to laugh so
heartily that she had to support herself by leaning against the
door-post. Although this was hardly the way in which he wished his
excuse to be taken, the Spaniard was pleased to have the girl so
completely mollified and began to laugh himself with her.

“Oh, go along with ye,” said Anny at last, as she wiped away the tears
of laughter with the back of her hand and held open the door for him.

Dick bowed again and Anny smiled as she watched him out of the yard.

“Oh!” she said to herself, “he’s a mighty pleasing gentleman, very fine
to look upon, very bravely spoken, and I’ll bless his ship for him
gladly, but you can’t love two lads at once.”

Dick went off down the road toward the sea, deep in thought. He had not
gone very far before he was overtaken by Blueneck, who was just back
from Tiptree. They fell into that easy kind of conversation which often
takes place between master and his confidential inferior.

“We’re renaming the brig to _Anny_ on the evening of Wednesday,”
remarked Dick, as they went along.

Blueneck looked at his captain and opened his mouth to protest, but
thought better of it and held his peace.

“What think you, Blueneck, the wench will have naught to do with me!”
went on Delfazio.

The other man looked at him disbelievingly and laughed.

“Marry, ’tis so,” Dick said, laughing. “Faith, she sends back my presents
and scorns my kisses.”

Blueneck looked down at his master in surprise, then he shrugged his
shoulders.

“You will not trouble with the lass further, sir, surely?” he said.

Dick smiled again.

“Hast ever known me denied aught I desired?” he said, his voice pleasant
and smooth.

Blueneck shook his head.

“Nay,” he said, “but, Lord, what’s a silly wench, sir? She can have no
interest for thee.”

“Ah, thou hast hit it, dog, ’tis that exactly which the lass has for
me--interest--interest greater than I ever felt for any other woman.”

Blueneck laughed and turned the laugh into a cough.

Dick looked at him, smiling shyly.

“Ah! you may laugh, friend of the unshaven neck,” he said, “but as I
told you this is so. Never have I been denied so much by any woman, and
at last I find a game that makes the prize worth having. The end of a
certainty will be the same but the wooing is half the pleasure, eh,
dog?”

Blueneck grinned as he fingered the ribbon, which he had brought from
Tiptree, and they went on together down to the brig where Dick gave
orders for the ceremony for renaming the _Coldlight_.

Meanwhile, up at the Ship everything was bustle. French had returned and
was entertaining the company with the story of the night’s adventures,
and Anny and Sue were kept busy serving rums and preparing the midday
meal.

It was then that Big French remembered the flannel he had bought and
handed it to Sue with another little bundle which he had bought from a
gypsy.

Sue hastened away to open it, and it being dinnertime the company slowly
dwindled off until there was only the usual household and the young
giant left to partake of the meal together. This was speedily served by
Anny and Hal, who were now on the best of terms.

Sue came downstairs a few seconds later, blushing and smiling, with a
string of blue beads round her neck, and French shuffled, reddened, and
choked over his broth when he saw her so that everyone looked at him and
then at her and smiled at one another knowingly.

Old Gilbot began to sing “Mary Loo,” but soon gave it up and took to his
rumkin.

After dinner, the delf being cleared away, Anny went up to her room,
which was also Sue’s, and sat down on her bed. She thought of
Black’erchief Dick and his brig and began to picture to herself the
scene on board the _Coldlight_ when she would change its name to her
own. Then she sighed. She looked down at her shabby kirtle and passed
her hand over its holes and stains. Downstairs she could hear Big
French’s deep voice raised as though pleadingly and could catch Sue’s
high, sweet, giggling replies. She turned over on the bed and lay face
downward for a few seconds, then she sat up and began hastily to
re-arrange her hair. On Sue’s bed she saw the flannel spread out, and
she went over softly to have a look at it. It seemed very coarse and
ugly when she mentally compared it to the honey-coloured silk or the
wide green frieze which she had sent back to Dick in the sail-cloth
bundle. And she found herself wishing that Hal had money like French and
Dick, but she checked herself and blushed at her own greediness, as she
termed it. She sat down on her bed again, sighing as she did so, and
Sue, coming up some while later, finding her still there, took pity on
her shabbiness and gave her the purple gown that Anny had wished for so
long, and was then amazed to see the usually so grateful, peaceable
little girl cast the old garment from her and, throwing herself on the
bare boards, sob till the elder girl feared for her health.



CHAPTER X


After his conversation with Black’erchief Dick, Blueneck found leisure
to attend to his own amours. He first retired to the brig where, with
the help of Habakkuk Coot, he arrayed himself in his best clothes, tied
the knee-latchets of his breeches with bright-coloured tapes, and
borrowed a brilliant red-and-green kerchief from out poor Mat Turnby’s
bundle, and then, after carefully tying the length of cherry ribbon,
which had cost him much time and trouble to procure, in a piece of
muslin, he stowed the packet in one of his big side pockets and started
out for Joe Pullen’s house.

He had some little way to go, as the Pullens’ cottage was situated
slightly to the north of the church, and that was about a mile and a
half from the point where the brig was moored. He walked along
cheerfully, whistling a chanty, and mentally rehearsing the speech which
he intended to make to Mistress Amy when presenting the ribbon.

In spite of the time of year, the late afternoon sun shone brightly on
the wet grass and there was a touch of spring in the air.

On nearing the cottage he stopped to see if he still had the little
muslin packet, and, feeling it still there, strolled nonchalantly up to
the door and knocked loudly.

Mistress Pullen opened it herself, and seeing him, put her finger to her
lips.

Blueneck stood still looking at her, very disappointed and a little
foolish. Inside the cottage he could hear deep rafter-shaking snores and
soon understood that the lady’s husband was within. He opened his mouth
to speak but Amy shook her head violently and he shut it again with a
snap; however, he did not move, and Mistress Pullen had to push him off
the door-step and whisper, “This evening,” before he fully realized that
he was not wanted. Fumbling in his pocket, he hastily found the ribbon,
and snatching it out crammed it into her hand, then tiptoed off down the
path feeling that he had been cheated.

Amy took the parcel without looking up and quickly slipped back,
shutting the door carefully behind her.

Blueneck returned along the way he had come, in a much less cheerful
frame of mind than when he started out. He no longer whistled but
lurched along, his head bent and his hands thrust deep in his pockets.

On passing the Ship sounds of cheerfulness came out to him through the
open door and, yielding to the impulse of the moment, he went in.

As usual the scene in the Ship kitchen was cheering even to look at. The
roaring fire in the open grate, the glinting lights on the pewter, and
the shadowy, dusky corners in which faint outlines of casks and strings
of drying onions could just be distinguished, all gave it a cosy,
comforting appearance. At least Blueneck thought so as he joined the
circle round the fire and called for hot rum to be served to him.

Old Gilbot was in a lively mood; he sat in his corner, his blue eyes
twinkling from out huge creases of fat, singing, laughing, and drinking
with the best will in the world, and keeping the company in a continual
roar of laughter.

Big French sat on the other side of the fireplace, playing with little
Red Farran and his kitten. The little boy was a favourite of the big man
and they chatted together with an equal share of enjoyment.

Sue leaned over the back of the seat, and from time to time joined in
their conversation. At these times French smiled contentedly and almost
as easily as he did on the days before the little dark-eyed white-handed
Spaniard landed east instead of west of Mersea Marsh Island.

Anny and Hal were talking together in the background as they polished up
the tankards. She was telling him about the Spaniard’s desire to rename
the brig, and clearing away with her gentle cajolery all his little
jealous fears and doubts.

Several other men were sitting round the fire. They were Habakkuk Coot,
sniffing as usual and drinking spiced ale; Old Master Granger,
guffawing at Gilbot, and sipping his neat rum with obvious relish; Cip
de Musset, chewing a chunk of coarse black tobacco, a habit much
disapproved of by the Islanders who thought the weed a dangerous,
new-fangled drug, and of no use save to sell to other people; and one or
two others. All very merry and cheerful and good company to each other.

Blueneck drank his rum and, beginning to feel more cheerful, he leaned
forward a little to join in the talk.

“Ah! a wonderful funny thing that be,” Granger was saying, as he shook
his head sagely. “You’re right, a wonderful funny thing.”

“Ah! and what’s more, it ain’t the first time it’s happened,” put in
another man casually.

“What?”

In an instant the company’s attention was fixed on the new speaker and
he looked round as though he were going to say something very secret.

“Six months ago on Ray Island,” he said.

“Oh, everyone knows that, Tom Fish. Go home with your old stories!”

There was a note of disappointment in their voices and they all laughed.
The man muttered something about there being old and old, and subsided.

Blueneck came a little nearer.

“Might I ask what you are talking about?” he said.

Cip de Musset rolled his quid into his cheek and spat before he replied.

“A rowboat load o’ rum and two men lost going from here to Bradwell,” he
said laconically.

“Ah,” said Granger, “wonderful strange.”

“What, ain’t the boat been washed up?” said Blueneck, glad to enter into
the conversation.

“No, nothing found at all,” said Granger eagerly, as he shifted his
position slightly. “Nothing at all. But, ah, well,” he added, “I don’t
know what’s come to them.”

“Would the Preventative men have catched them, think you?” remarked Cip,
chewing.

“Now that are likely,” said Granger sarcastically. “Ain’t ’it? There not
being a sign of a Preventative man these nine months! Oh, yes, Master de
Musset, it are likely they’d be spry enough to catch two chaps in a
rowboat in the middle of the Blackwater without a soul on the Island or
the mainland knowing aught. Lord, you ought to ha’ been an excise man
yourself, you ought.”

“Maybe, Granger, maybe,” said Cip de Musset placidly and without ceasing
to chew.

“Maybe they drank the liquor and then pulled out the bung and sunk her
theirselves,” suggested Habakkuk, sniffing violently.

Granger turned slowly in his seat and let his gaze fall upon the nervous
little man for a second or two before he spoke.

“Ah! Master Rheum-in-the-head, maybe they did,” he said, “and maybe the
devil come along and carried them off in a thunder-cloud, or maybe a
sea-serpent swallowed them. Eh?”

Habakkuk looked into the others’ unsmiling faces and sniffed, while a
weak, ineffectual little smile spread over his bilious, pimply face, and
then, as Granger betrayed no amusement, it struck him that he must have
said something sensible, so he answered, “Ay, most likely,” wagging his
head sagely.

The company burst into a roar of laughter, and Habakkuk, feeling that
this time he had been witty, joined with them happily.

“Ah, no, but it is unnatural,” continued Granger thoughtfully after the
laughter had subsided. “And ye know it ain’t the first time a rowboat o’
rum and two chaps have been lost,” he went on. “Just in the same way,
too, started off after dawn and never seen no more. Ah, unnatural,
that’s what it is.”

“The currents be plaguey strong out i’ the channel,” said French,
looking up for a moment.

Granger was up in arms at once.

“Currents!” he ejaculated. “Now tell me, just tell me, Master French, do
you think either Clarry Kidley or Gustave Norton would be likely to run
into anything like that, an’ if they did, to stay in it? Just tell me!”

French shrugged his shoulders and continued to explain to Red the
kitten’s natural objection to being stroked from tail to the ears.

Granger looked round triumphantly. “Ah, I don’t know, I don’t know,” he
said at last.

“More do we,” said Habakkuk with a sniff, and the talk drifted to other
channels.

Blueneck was feeling that perhaps the world was not so dreary a place
as he had imagined, when the door burst open, and young Tant Pullen
rushed in without a hat and very breathless. He looked round the room
for a moment as though searching for someone. At last his quick bright
eyes fell upon Blueneck and he darted over to him.

“Look out you, get out of here and hide quick,” he gasped as well as he
could for lack of breath.

The Spanish sailor looked at him in surprise, and the rest of the
company, seeing that something was afoot, turned to listen.

Tant took the sailor by the collar when he saw that the man did not
move.

“Quick, hurry, or he’ll get you,” he said.

Blueneck opened his mouth in astonishment.

“Why--what?” he ejaculated.

Tant took a deep breath.

“My mother’s bin beatin’ my father, because he said that she’d took
presents from strangers,” he volunteered. The company began to laugh and
Blueneck still looked bewildered.

Tant gave one anxious look at the door.

“Mother says I was to come and tell you,” he said.

Again the circle rocked and the mystified Blueneck looked up.

“Well?” he said.

Tant sighed.

“You best come,” he said, “my father’s wonderfully riled after he’s been
beat by my mother, an’ he’s coming up here to beat you now.”

“Oh!” The company went off into another paroxysm of laughter, and
Blueneck began to see a little more light in the matter. “Let him come,”
he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Hal stepped forward from the dresser where he had been arranging
tankards.

“You better go, Master Blueneck,” he said. “Joe’s wonderfully strong,
and after he’s bin beat by his wife there’s no holding him.”

Blueneck hesitated. Then he shrugged his shoulders. Whatever he was,
Dick Delfazio’s mate was no coward and he stood his ground.

“I’m not feared,” he said; “let him come.”

Hal looked at Gilbot who had been watching the scene attentively.

“Ohsh he’sh all right,” said the old man. “Let him come, Hal.”

Hal shrugged his shoulders, and sent Anny upstairs to look to the
guest’s room. Then he quietly and unobtrusively moved everything movable
to the sides of the room, so leaving a clear space in the centre.

The company also shrugged their shoulders and edged a little away from
Blueneck so that the sailor found himself sitting alone on a bench. He
looked round him uneasily, but did not move.

Suddenly Tant, who had been looking out of the window, remarked in a
stage whisper, “Here he come,” and then dived under a pile of sacking in
a far corner.

Nobody spoke and the silence was almost uncomfortable. Little Red
noticed it, and after looking about put his arms round French’s neck and
climbed on to his knee.

“Put Win into your pocket,” he whispered, “she got hurt last time Nan
and Pet fought.”

French obeyed and, moving a little farther into the chimney corner, he
looked up shyly at Sue, who smiled and came round the high seat to sit
beside him.

French made room for her on the inside of the bench, and she took Red
from him and held the child herself.

By this time heavy footsteps could be heard coming across the yard, and
the Ship waited in a silence only broken by Habakkuk’s sniffs and the
plaintive mews of Red’s little kitten who was shut in the darkness of
French’s big pocket.

Then the door was kicked open with such a clatter that Habakkuk nearly
fell off his seat with nervousness, and Joe stalked into the room. All
his usual good humour was gone and he seemed to Blueneck, at least, to
have got quite six inches taller. He stood for a moment looking round,
his face flushed and his eyes dark with fury; a long, livid weal ran
from his left eye to the corner of his mouth, and he trembled with anger
as he stood there breathing heavily. Then, as he caught sight of
Blueneck, he gave one whoop of exultation and leapt across the room,
landing on the top of the unfortunate man, whom he proceeded to punch
with all his might.

Blueneck was no indifferent fighter himself, and as Joe’s first blow
landed in his ribs a dull light of anger kindled in his eyes and he
forced his way to his feet, and then the greatest fight that the old
Ship Tavern had ever witnessed began. They closed in, and Blueneck tried
to take advantage of his superior strength by grasping his opponent
round the body and swinging him over his head, but Joe was too wiry for
that. Seizing his opportunity he dropped low, and throwing his arms
round the sailor’s knees he suddenly crouched so that the man fell over
and stretched his body full length on the floor. Before he could again
regain his feet Joe was upon him and they rolled over and over together
kicking, the Spaniard swearing softly. Joe said nothing but grit his
teeth and fought steadily and swiftly, always making for the man’s
throat. At last he got there; the Spaniard lay on his back and Joe,
making a desperate dive between his clawing hands, grasped at the hairy
throat and held on tightly.

Blueneck’s mouth opened and his eyes bulged; slowly his movements grew
less effectual and more convulsive. Joe held on grimly and without a
word; finally he stood up.

“Give him a rum,” he said. “I’ve not done with him yet by a long way.”

Nobody spoke, but Hal stepped forward with the rum. He had drawn it in
readiness, and between them he and Joe raised the half-strangled man to
his feet and forced the spirit down his throat. Then, as he grew
stronger, Joe took him firmly by the collar and dragged him out of the
Inn, without a word or a glance behind him.

Sue was on her feet in an instant.

“Will he kill him?” she cried.

Hal shrugged his shoulders.

“No,” he said, “I don’t reckon so--and if he does, what’s a Spaniard,
anyway?”

“Yesh,” said Gilbot, holding out his rumkin to be refilled. “What’s a
Spaniard, anyway? Let’sh have a shong.”

And as Joe, his wrath hardly one whit abated, dragged the
half-suffocated Blueneck down the road to the sea, he heard the jovial
strains of “Pretty Poll” roared out in lively chorus from the Ship’s
kitchen:

    “_Pretty Poll she loved a sailor_
      _And well she loved he,_
     _But he sailed to the mouth_
     _Of a stream in the South,_
      _And was lost in the rolling sea,_
      _Lost in the rolling sea!_”

“Ah, ha,” said Joe between his teeth as he shook his unfortunate captive
by the collar. “And that’s what you’re goin’ to be, my lad, ‘lost in the
rolling sea’.”

Blueneck opened his mouth to expostulate, but Joe swung him round like a
meal sack and tightened his neckerchief, so that it was all he could do
to breathe, and they hurried on.

Joe strode over the ground at a tremendous pace, dragging the Spaniard
after him. And not one other word did he speak till they came to the
waterside, where Joe’s little rowboat, the _Amy_, flopped and see-sawed
on the rising tide.

Still keeping one hand on Blueneck’s collar, Joe stopped, caught at the
riding-line, and pulled it in.

“Get in,” he commanded.

Blueneck obeyed as meekly as a lamb, and Joe stepped in after him, and
pushed off. He rowed steadily for some seconds and, as the water was
very calm, made good progress. About twenty-five yards from the shore he
pulled in the oars and sat looking at the other man a full minute. Then
he spoke sharply.

“Change places and row a bit,” he said.

Blueneck shrugged his shoulders and did not move.

Joe’s eyes began to sparkle and a dull flash suffused his neck and face.

“Do as I say,” he said quietly.

The fresh air and the rum had revived Blueneck and he began to feel
angry again. Still he did not move. Joe seized an oar, holding it in
both hands; he wielded it above his head; it was a clumsy weapon,
however, and the boat rocked dangerously. Instinctively Blueneck drew
back, and before he knew what he was doing raised himself to a sitting
position on the gunwale; this was Joe’s opportunity, and he grasped it.
Lowering the oar as swiftly as possible he hove it sharply into the
Spaniard’s stomach, who immediately doubled up and fell backward into
the water.

Joe crawled along the boat and looked over the side. Blueneck came up a
little to the left and seized hold of the side; Joe pushed him off, and
he sank again and tried to strike out for the shore, but his wind was
gone and he floundered, gasping.

Joe looked at him critically.

“You won’t come near my wife no more,” he observed, as he threw the
helpless man a line. “Oh, no, you can’t come in my boat dripping as ye
are,” he said cheerily as the other, wild-eyed and half-drowned, clawed
at the boat. “You hang on that there line and I’ll tow ye in,” Joe
continued, and suiting the action to the word picked up both oars and
struck out.

When at last the keel grated on the soft shingle, Joe got out and after
first dropping his anchor looked round for Blueneck. The man lay still
in the water, both hands tightly grasping the line, the ripple of the
waves tossing him to and fro.

Joe dragged him in, threw him down on a bank of dry seaweed, and stood
looking at him for a minute or two.

“Ah, I wonder if he be dead now,” he said to himself, and he bent down
to lift the sailor’s eyelids. He tore open the wet remains of Blueneck’s
best surcoat and put his hand in the left side.

Then he stood up and shrugged his shoulders.

“Ah, well!” he said, addressing the unconscious body, “seeing that you
ain’t dead, you may as well live, but you don’t come round my house in a
hurry again, or there won’t be any not quite dead about it--see?”

Blueneck opened his eyes for a second and then fell back again into
unconsciousness.

Joe looked round him, heaved a sigh of relief and, as he strolled off up
to the Ship, his face assumed once more its wonted good humour, his
heavy sandy lashes fell half over his eyes as usual, and, thrusting his
thumbs in his belt, he whistled as clearly, happily, and tunefully as a
linnet in May.



CHAPTER XI


Everything on the shore was very dark and very silent when Blueneck
regained consciousness and sat up. His head ached and his body was stiff
and cold while his clothes, still wet and sticky with brine, clung to
him uncomfortably.

He peered round in the darkness, striving to remember where he was and
what had happened to him. There was no moon, or at least if there was it
was so hidden behind the clouds as to be of no use to any one, and he
could only faintly distinguish a kind of haze some quarter of a mile in
front of him which he supposed was the sea. Behind him he could see
nothing at all, only blackness. He put out a cold, trembling hand and
felt cautiously about; the first thing he touched was the dry, crumbly
seaweed. Not sure what it was he grasped a handful of it and pulled it
up. Immediately the sickening stench of stale salt water arose and he
spat and swore aloud. Then he reached out his other hand and touched
still more seaweed. He groaned with stiffness and pain and threw himself
back on the heap. As he did so his shoulders encountered something hard
and he almost screamed aloud, so much did it jar him. Changing to a
sitting posture again, he felt for the obstacle and found that whatever
it was it lay beneath the seaweed. Wearily he pushed the stuff aside and
thrust his hand into the clammy depths beneath. The hard thing was lower
down still and he burrowed feverishly in a tired, thoughtless way,
hardly knowing what he did or why he did it.

Suddenly he paused, and felt more gingerly, yes--surely he could not be
mistaken, he was running his hand over the hard round belly of a rum
keg. He twisted round quickly and winced as his stiffened muscles
twinged at the movement. Beside the first keg he felt another; and yet
another at the side of that. He lay back exhausted by the effort and
wondered at his find. He had no doubt it was some smuggler’s private
store, but was surprised that on such a lawless coast such secrecy
should be resorted to. He knew that in Mersea everyone was more or less
his own master and thought that it was therefore a rather unnecessary
precaution.

When he had arrived thus far in his thoughts, however, he felt a return
of the giddiness which he had before experienced and lay back, his eyes
open, staring in front of him.

He had not lain so many minutes before he caught the glimmer of a light
in the distance and he stared at it in surprise. It was not coming from
the sea and was therefore not the riding light of a boat, neither was it
coming from the direction of the brig or the Ship Inn, but from the
west, from the lonely strip of coast between the little villages of East
Mersea and West Mersea.

Nearer and nearer it came, till he could see how it jogged and danced
along the beach, swaying from side to side, pausing a minute here, and
then darting off again, sometimes vanishing completely only to reappear
considerably nearer.

Blueneck watched it, fascinated, a strange, uncanny fear creeping over
him; everywhere was so dark and lonely, and he strained his eyes peering
at the light, fancying that he saw sometimes a man behind it, sometimes
a beast, or a fiend. This fear grew upon him every moment, and he tried
to struggle to his feet, but his legs were too benumbed to bear him and
he sank back again.

The light came nearer and nearer, dancing and swaying more than ever. In
a flash the story of the lost rowboat ran through his mind and his flesh
began to creep.

Like most sailors, and Spaniards especially, Blueneck was very
superstitious; he shuddered and his teeth chattered as he imagined the
thing that was holding the lantern to be first a blue swollen corpse
with dead sightless eyes, then a rampaging devil with swinging tail and
ram’s horns, and then a mermaid whose white teeth were adder’s fangs and
whose lips were the nightshade’s berries.

His hand crept up to his neck where a little silver crucifix usually
hung, but it was gone; he must have lost it in the fight with Joe. He
trembled and mouthed a prayer.

The light seemed to be making straight for him, and as it came nearer,
wild, unearthly crooning noises came from it.

Blueneck gulped, and his eyes started from his head and the blood
tingled and danced in his veins.

The noise--it was certainly not a song nor yet the cry of an animal, but
a sort of long-drawn-out sighing on a high quavering note--came nearer
and grew louder. Now the light was within fifteen paces of him and he
held his breath. Nearer it came.

“Doña Maria, let it pass,” he prayed. Now it was within five yards of
him, and came nearer still. Straining his eyes, he could make out a
fearful bundle-like figure behind the lantern. The noise grew louder;
nearer it came till the light stopped three feet away from him, and fell
on the most evil and half-human face the terrified sailor had ever seen.

This was the last straw, and Blueneck screamed. The sound rang out high
and short as he dropped back on the weed, half insensible. However much
the thing with the lantern had frightened him, he certainly frightened
it with his yell, for it sprang back and emitted a howl which started
the echoes and woke the sea-birds who screamed also as they flapped
sleepily away.

Blueneck shut his eyes and waited during three seconds of horrible
suspense. Then he felt the light beating on his eyelids, and heard a
cracked human voice very near him say:

“Oh! ye would be spying on me, would ye, ye hell-traitor?”

The words reassured Blueneck more than perhaps anything else would have
done and he opened his eyes. The terrible old face was very near his
own, and hot spirit-tainted breath blew into his nostrils, but what
fixed his attention was the glitter of steel above the figure’s head.

Blueneck rose to the situation now that he was assured of the old
woman’s mortality (he decided that it must be an old woman). He was not
the man to be frightened of a knife other than his captain’s.

“Pity a poor sailor; so stiff with the cold that his legs will not bear
him,” he moaned, in a pitiful pleading whine.

The old woman laughed horribly.

“You don’t catch birds like Pet Salt with chaff, hell-rat,” she said.

“Pet Salt!” Blueneck began to understand. “Mistress,” he said, “what are
you about?”

“Killing a spying knave,” was the reply, and the blade descended until
its point pricked his throat.

Things were turning out more seriously than Blueneck had expected, and
he spoke quickly.

“Is it rum you want, lady?” he said as steadily as he could, the blade
pricking deeper as the words moved the muscle of his throat.

“It is, hell-rat, it is.” Pet Salt bent nearer. “And no spying dog
shall stop me from getting it. Ye waited out here till you were too
stiff to move, did you? Ah, you blue-livered pike, the devil looks after
his own.”

“Then I’m the man to get it for thee. I’m the mate of the _Coldlight_.”

Blueneck had just time to get out the words or she would have killed
him.

“How do I know you be not?” she said shrewdly, though visibly shaken at
his words, as she withdrew the knife.

“I swear,” began the sailor.

Pet Salt stopped him.

“Swear!” she screamed. “What’s a seaman’s oath to me?”

“Look at my garments,” said the anxious Blueneck. “Are they those of a
common man or one befitting my station?”

Pet, like many other women before and since, was moved at the sight of
the bright colours and good stuffs.

“They be ruined with salt water,” she remarked. “What happened to you,
hell-rat?”

Blueneck paused before he spoke. His pride forbade him to tell the
truth, and his prudence warned him against a lie. Finally he made a
compromise between the two and told a fairly plausible story of two men
setting upon him, of a fearful fight, and finished up with a faithful
account of the ducking which he had received.

Pet seemed satisfied. How much she believed is another matter but, as
she often told Ben Farran, she understood sea-folk and all their tricks.

She put up the knife somewhere in her rags and set down the lantern.

“Try and stand,” she commanded.

Blueneck obeyed as one in a dream; slowly and painfully he staggered to
his feet, only to drop again almost immediately.

Pet waddled after him.

“Rub your legs,” she said, “and hurry. You’ve got to work for me before
the cocks crow.”

Wearily Blueneck did as he was bid, and the old woman hobbled to the
bank of seaweed where she set to work unearthing the kegs. With a grunt
of satisfaction she set the last one beside the others and turned to the
sailor.

“Come on,” she said.

Blueneck staggered to his feet; he was still very unsteady, but the
rubbing had partially restored his circulation and he was just able to
stumble along.

Pet pointed to the three kegs.

“Carry two,” she said shortly.

Blueneck looked around him hopelessly. It was still dark and lonely and
some of the horror he had felt when he first saw Pet Salt returned to
him. He shuddered; the bent old figure in front of him clad in dirty,
evil-smelling rags seemed again to take on some of the fear-inspiring
qualities of a fiend or marsh-goblin. He struggled on to where the kegs
were lying and with great difficulty hoisted one onto his shoulder.

Pet lifted up another.

“Put this under your other arm,” she said, “and mind your stepping; it’s
heavy.”

Blueneck took it without a word.

Pet picked up the last keg and turned to him, her ugly bulbous face
showing red with exertion in the lantern’s flickering light.

“Now follow after me,” she said, and hobbled off.

Long afterward Blueneck described this journey from the bank of seaweed
to Ben Farran’s boat as a walk through hell itself.

Time after time the keg under his arm slipped and fell in the soft
powdery shingle, and he had to bend his stiffened and aching body to
pick it up again, while the terrible cracked voice of Pet Salt, railing
in the most fearful language, rang in his ears.

But he went on. Once he fell and cut his head on a breakwater stone, and
the old woman kicked him with her wood-shod foot and bade him rise in a
tone that had fear in it as well as command.

Once they saw a lantern in the far distance and Pet made him crouch and
wait silent till it passed on. Again and again he felt that he must
break away and regain his lost courage, but always the fear of the dark
desolateness and the awful old woman prevented him, and he went on
meekly.

How at last he managed to climb up the rope ladder and scramble on to
the deck of the _Pet_ and then down the hatchway to the stifling cabin
and bunk-room below he did not know. However, he did it and fell through
the doorway into Ben Farran’s presence in a fainting condition.

When he recovered himself the air was full of a strange sickening odour
mixed with the fumes of steaming rum.

He looked round him curiously. The room was very small even for a boat
and marvellously dirty and untidy.

A few rags were bundled together in a corner, forming a rude sort of
bed, and an old iron stove smoked and spat in another. On the top of
this stood an iron bowl, and it was from this Blueneck decided that the
strange smell came.

In a corner by the stove lay Ben Farran, snoring loudly with his mouth
open.

Blueneck looked at him curiously. He had been a fine big man, he judged,
and had had some strength and comeliness, but much rum had changed him
and he sprawled there a most ungainly, loathsome figure. His shoulders
were bent till he lost any pretension to height, his jaw was weak and
drooping, and great blue pouches of flesh hung under his eyes. This,
combined with an enormous stomach and bent podgy legs, gave him a great
resemblance to a fat toad.

Blueneck looked away and turned his attentions to himself. He found that
his outer garments had been removed and that his arms and legs were
covered with a black-greenish paste. He looked at them in surprise and
disgust and began to rub off the caked mixture as fast as he could. But
he noticed that his stiffness had left him and that he felt as well and
strong as he had done the night before he had his fight with Joe Pullen.

Pet came in presently and he saw that she was growing fast like Ben,
rum-sodden and old. She smiled when she saw him and he thought how
horribly pale her toothless gums showed across the flaming purple
redness of her face.

“Now, master, mate of the _Coldlight_, I bargain with thee,” she began
as she handed him his clothes newly dried and motioned him to dress.

Blueneck said nothing but took his garments and began to put them on.

“Methinks your captain, the Spanish Dick, has set eyes on a pretty
wench,” she said slowly.

The sailor did not look up; he was mournfully regarding his best doublet
coat stained and faded with salt water.

“Oh, there be many pretty wenches who have had his eyes upon them,” he
said carelessly.

Pet swore roundly and with such vehemence that he glanced at her.

“But one particular wench?” she went on, relapsing again into quietness.
“I have long ears.”

Blueneck, who was slow of comprehension, looked at her in surprise; her
remark struck him as being strangely irrelevant.

“I hear what is said on the Island,” the old woman continued. “I know
your captain hath a great liking for Ann Farran, Ben’s gran’daughter.”

Blueneck looked even more puzzled.

“Ay, and if it be so, what then?” he said.

Pet smiled again.

“Your captain carries much rum,” she observed.

Blueneck nodded and pulled on his boots.

“This Ann Farran hath but one kinsman in the world save her bastard
half-brother,” Pet went on crooningly.

Blueneck stood up and began to see what she was leading up to.

“There would be none to look for the wench, or hark to the wench if one
were quieted,” she went on suggestively.

“And that one loves rum!” observed Blueneck.

Pet smiled again.

“And that one loves rum!” she repeated.

Blueneck stood thinking for a moment or two, his hands in his pockets.

“For this news, mistress, I will say naught of what has passed this
evening, nor of the three rum kegs,” he said.

Pet nodded; the man seemed intelligent.

“Nor will I say aught of a lost boat,” continued the sailor, darting his
bright black eyes upon her.

Pet blinked. This man was too intelligent, she told herself.

“I will tell the Captain of your bargain,” Blueneck went on. “It may be
he will hear. Meanwhile”--he looked at the array of little kegs on the
floor--“you will not die of thirst, mistress.”

Pet shrugged her shoulders and looked across at the slovenly figure by
the stove.

“We both drink well,” she said.

Blueneck looked from one to the other.

“Of that I have no doubt,” he sneered, and walked out up the hatchway.
“I will tell the Captain,” he called back, as he climbed down the rope
ladder and on to the now sunlit wall.

He walked along, talking to himself in a whisper. Now and again he
paused and made as though to go back. Then he recovered himself and went
on, still muttering. Finally he shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, it won’t be the first time rum has bought a fair lass, anyway,”
he said aloud, “and it ain’t a right thing in a man to go against old
habits.”

And lifting his head he began to whistle blithely.



CHAPTER XII


It was seven o’clock on the following Wednesday evening and there was an
air of expectation in the Ship’s kitchen.

The _Coldlight_ was due to sail under a new name at the late tide.

Anny was upstairs preparing herself for Dick’s coming, while in the room
below the talk ran high and many conjectures as to the Captain’s
intentions were put forward and withdrawn as the company drank round the
fire.

“Osh, where’s the man as can withstand a pretty lass?” said Gilbot,
smiling and hiccoughing over his sack.

“Ah, maybe, maybe, but ’tis a wonderful risky thing, this changing names
o’ crafts,” put in Granger, wagging his head. “I don’t hold with it
myself.”

“Ah, I reckon the Captain knows what he’s about; there ain’t many like
him to a mile,” remarked another man.

“You’re right there,” said old Cip de Musset, who had been sitting
silently in a corner for some time. “He ain’t no crab, but I’d not let a
lass o’ mine have much to do with him.”

“What do you mean?” said Hal, firing up and coming over from the
doorway where he had been standing.

Old Gilbot began to laugh.

“Hark to th’ lad,” he gurgled. “One would think he loved her hisself.”

Hal turned away from the light before he spoke, and no one saw the deep
flush which crept up over his features even to the roots of his hair,
making his scalp tingle uncomfortably.

“We look after our wenches at the Ship, Master Gilbot,” he said hastily.

Gilbot nodded happily.

“Ay,” he said, “wesh do, wesh do!” And the talk continued.

Just as the clock by the chimney-piece struck the quarter steps were
heard coming across the yard, and Black’erchief Dick, flanked by
Blueneck and Habakkuk Coot, and backed by some nine or ten hardy
ruffians, marched in at the door.

In an instant the little Spaniard was the centre of an enthusiastic
group, for, since his first coming to the Ship, Dick had done much to
make himself popular, and now his deep musical voice was raised
good-naturedly above the din calling for rum all round and sack for
those who wished for it.

Hal and Sue darted about in obedience to his order and soon the company
stood, silent, mugs in hand, waiting for the toast. At this moment the
inner door opened and Anny, dressed in the purple gown that Sue had
given her, stepped into the kitchen.

Dick was at her side in a moment, and respectfully taking her hand led
her into the centre of the room.

“Ann of the Island, her health and beauty for ever!” he shouted, his
tankard high above his head. The toast was given boisterously, and Anny
blushed and smiled shyly.

Old Gilbot was enjoying himself thoroughly and took advantage of a lull
in the conversation to exclaim:

“Let’sh have a shong,” and then without any more ado began to quaver
“Pretty Poll” at the top of his voice.

The company took up the burden and the final “Lost in the rolling sea”
was bellowed till the rafters shook.

“More rum,” called Dick, and then as though obeying an impulse of the
moment he sprang upon one of the forms and resting one foot on the
tresselled table, exclaimed,

“Hark ye, dogs, here is a new song, mine own song, a song of Dick
Delfazio’s own composing.”

And then throwing back his head he began to sing in a remarkably true
tenor voice, swaying his body in tune to his own music:

    “_Fair as a seagull and proud as the sea,_
     _As naught in the world is fair Anny to me,_
     _So gentle, so tender, so wise without guile,_
     _Oh! Where is another like Ann of the Isle?_
     _Ann! oh! Ann of the Island,_
     _Where is another like Ann of the Isle?_”

By this time the rumkins were all replenished and the chorus of the song
was taken up and repeated to the accompaniment of jingling pewter.

Dick still kept his position and took up the song again, his dark eyes
flashing and smiling at the girl who watched him, fascinated.

    “_Avaunt ye fine ladies of France and of Spain,_
     _So wayward, so wanton, so proud, and so vain._
     _No sweet pleading look, no trick, or no wile,_
     _Shall ever more tempt me from Ann of the Isle._
     _Ann! oh! Ann of the Island,_
     _Where is another like Ann of the Isle?_”

And then he added before any one could speak, “To the brig, dogs,” and
skipping lightly off the table he offered his hand to Anny and led the
way out into the yard, the whole company following, roaring as they
went,

    “_Ann! oh! Ann of the Island,_
     _Where is another like Ann of the Isle?_”

Anny looked up shyly at the Spaniard, her heart beating quickly with
excitement. He was strolling jauntily along, her hand lightly held in
his own; the starlight touched the jewelled hilt of his knife, and his
big mournful black eyes winked and smiled happily.

He loved display, pageant, parade; she could see that by the way his men
marched around him in regulated order, and by his gorgeous clothes, and
she herself became a little intoxicated by the air of excitement and the
singing of the laughing, jostling crowd.

Glancing at him under her lashes, she slipped her hand through his arm
and laughed a little self-consciously.

A curious, self-satisfied, but half-regretful smile passed over his face
and he bent toward her.

“Give me a kiss, little one,” he said softly.

A wave of cold water seemed to dash over Anny’s pleasure and she drew
her arm away stiffly, saying, “Prithee, sir, I would return to the
Ship.”

Again the curious smile spread over Dick’s lips but this time there was
no regret.

“Pardon, mistress, methinks thy beauty and mine own singing hath made my
brain whirl. Prithee, prithee, fair one, give me thy hand again.”

Anny looked at him and held out her hand without a word. He seemed so
debonair, so gracious, such a fine gentleman, and his soft eyes sought
hers almost beseechingly, she thought.

    “_Ann! oh! Ann of the Island_
     _Where is another like Ann of the Isle?_”

sang the company as the little procession neared the waterside.

Sue, who walked between French and Cip de Musset, looked at the two
small figures and sighed involuntarily. She also thought the Spaniard
was a fine gentleman and she also had seen his dark eyes fixed
mournfully on the other girl’s face, and she began to laugh and talk
noisily to hide her vexation.

Gallantly Black’erchief Dick led the little serving-wench down over the
planked way to the rowboat, helped her in, and then stepped lightly
after her. Several of the company crowded in behind them and they pushed
off. The rest of the band seized other boats that were anchored near the
shore and followed as best they could.

Once on board the brig, Anny looked about her with delight; the shrouded
sails and spiderweb-like rigging pleased her immensely; the swinging
lanterns overhead showed the clean boards and newly painted sides, and
she laughed with satisfaction as she noted first one thing and then
another.

Dick was no less pleased; he loved his boat and derived more pleasure
from showing it off than from anything else in the world. He took her
from end to end, telling her tales of hairbreadth escapes and secret
cargoes of papers and documents. Indeed, carried away by his own
enthusiasm he even hinted that good King Charles owed more to Dick
Delfazio’s courage than His Majesty was aware of.

Anny listened to him open-mouthed, as he talked on, embroidering his
tales with a network of fine and polished phrases, and interrupting them
here and there to shout an order or swear at an unhandy sailor as the
man hurried to obey him.

When at last the greater part of the company which had followed Dick
from the Ship stood on the deck of the _Coldlight_, he opened the
proceedings after the custom of the Island by calling for rum all round.

After the toast, the whole crowd, which was by this time very
boisterous, congregated in the forepart of the ship to inspect the
figurehead which was at the moment covered with a piece of sail-cloth.

Dick with his inborn love of dramatic effect had seen to this, and now
stepping forward he whipped it off with a flourish and stepped back,
observing with delight the impression it was making.

Old Ned Hutton, the ship’s carpenter, was certainly not an artist, but
he had done his best, and all that paint and a chunk of rough-hewn wood
could do had been done. The figure was undoubtedly meant to represent
Anny and that was enough for Mersea folk. Everybody cheered loudly, and
Dick called for more rum. Then he and the girl went forward to examine
the figurehead more closely.

The ugly awkward thing was profusely decorated with gold paint; so much
Anny could see by the light of the lantern which Dick gallantly held for
her, and her name, “ANNY,” was painted on the bright blue band that went
round the figure’s black head.

“‘Tis lovely,” she whispered half to herself as she ran her fingers over
the great arms and breasts on which the paint was hardly dry.

Dick smiled and made her the obvious compliment, and they went down to
the bows and leaned over the gunwale so as to see the four great white
letters, “ANNY,” painted on the smooth brown sides.

The girl was delighted, and her infectious gurgling laugh rang out
clearly several times on the cold air as she listened to Dick’s
sparkling conversation.

“Tide’s full and wind fair,” sang out a voice suddenly from the
watch-tower.

Instantly there was confusion: Dick shouted orders here and there but
did not take his hand from Anny’s arm. Everyone made for the boats
shouting farewells to the crew which responded cheerfully.

Dick bent nearer to the girl.

“I will come again,” he said softly.

Anny smiled and nodded.

“We are ever pleased to see company at the Ship,” she said demurely,
slipping her arm out of his grasp and moving over to the side where
French, Sue, and Hal waited for her.

Dick followed her.

“Give us your blessing, mistress,” he said loudly. There was silence at
once: the sailors attached much importance to a blessing and they stood
quietly.

Anny looked round desperately; she had never had a blessing in her life,
much less given one, and for a moment she was entirely at a loss. No one
spoke, however, so at last she crossed herself devoutly and said as
clearly as her nervousness would permit, “I pray God bless this ship,
Amen.”

“Amen,” repeated the crew solemnly, and then dashed off on their
business and the bustle recommenced.

Sue climbed over the side of the boat, French followed her, and then
Hal.

“Farewell, Ann of the Island,” said the Spaniard softly. “I will return
to thee.”

Anny looked at him and he seemed to her very comely. She held out her
hand and he raised it to his lips.

“Farewell, sir,” she said, and then followed her lover into the little
boat.

“Farewell!” came the deep and almost beautiful voice again; there was
the clink of chains and the anchor was weighed, and then the brig, her
sails all set, glided out into the channel.

Hal bent his back to the oar he was plying and spoke to the other three
in the little rowboat without looking up.

“There goes a damned nuisance off the Isle for a bit,” he said.

French grunted and pulled hard. Sue sighed and looked out to sea, while
Anny laughed a little ruefully, and patted Hal’s broad shoulders with
her little brown hand.



CHAPTER XIII


“Anny, are you gone to sleep yet?” Sue sat up in her bed and peered
through the darkness to where the other girl lay in a far corner. Her
hair was unbound and fell over her coarse night garment like a soft
black shawl as she leant forward, speaking almost in a whisper.

It was nearly a month since Dick had sailed away from the Island, and
the quiet country life had flowed peacefully on at the Ship without
interruption. But Sue had not forgotten the little Spaniard. It was a
continual source of amazement to her that she could have entertained a
liking for him or even a thought when big handsome Ezekiel French was
by, but she was not sure about Anny.

Sue had an observant eye, and she noticed that Hal and the girl were not
so often together as they had used to be, and she drew her own
conclusions. She had a kind heart, and she felt herself Anny’s guardian
in a sense.

Poor, quaint, foolish little Anny, she thought, so fond of admiration,
so willing to love and be loved, so pretty and so gentle; and then she
thought of the Spaniard, with his bright, devil-may-care eyes, and full
red lips, and she nodded her head into the darkness and leaned forward
again.

“Anny,” she said distinctly.

“Ay.” Anny’s voice came clearly out of the dark corner.

“Have you been asleep yet?” whispered Sue.

“Nay.” Anny turned over on her side.

“Did you not hear me speak before?” the other girl persisted.

Anny sighed and turned back again.

“Nay, I have lain long a-thinking,” she said.

Sue drew her knees up to her chin and clasped them with her arms before
she spoke again.

“Do you ever think of the Spaniard?” she said at last, and then added as
Anny vouchsafed no answer: “Black’erchief Dick?”

Anny moved in her bed.

“Oh, him!” she said with a note of contempt in her pretty childlike
voice. “Oh, nay!”

Sue sighed again, and when she spoke her tone had a certain tenderness
in it.

“Why do you lie to me, Anny Farran?” she said.

Anny sighed softly.

“Oh! Mistress Sue,” she said, “what would you have me tell you? How many
times he begged a kiss of me, or held my hand, or bore my onions with
his fair white hands?”

Sue flushed.

“Sure he never carried onions for thee!” she said.

“Marry! did he not?” said Anny quickly. “Ay, with his thin white
fingers cracking under their weight, and the muddied side o’ the skep
rubbing on his silken hose, did he carry onions for me, and I stumbling
along at his side for all the world like a Hythe oyster wench. Oh! Lord,
the tales he did tell,” and she broke off into a little chuckle, and Sue
frowned.

“I would speak seriously with you, Anny,” she began.

Anny sighed and tossed like a naughty child and then resigned herself to
the lecture she felt was coming.

“I am listening,” she said.

Sue spoke earnestly and sincerely.

“Methinks you care too much for the Spaniard, lass,” she said.

Anny gasped audibly but said nothing, and Sue, mistaking the sound for a
sigh of confession, went on:

“He is a dangerous man for a young wench to think on,” she said. “I
would not trust a man who looked so boldly at every smirking lass who
chanced to stand in his way as he walked from the yard to the brig. Ah!
you may laugh, but I know; I served in this inn long before you came,
and I’ve seen men and wenches, time and again. Remember what befell
Maria Turnby when her husband left for the Indies. There’s a thing for
him to hear when he comes back again, poor fellow--his own children left
to starve that sweetbreads may be served for another man’s brats. Oh,
Anny, lass,” Sue’s voice shook in its earnestness, “have a care, have a
care. Men be eels wi’ maids. And this Delfazio, as he is pleased to call
himself, is a deal more eel-like than many other menfish. What with his
soft laughter, and hands like white and polished bone, together with
black wanton eyes! Oh! have a care, I know tales of him; they say no one
ever dares to come between him and his wishes, and that never since he
was a squalling brat has he been stayed from getting what he wants.
Anny, perchance he wants you, and perchance you will be bewitched into
letting him get his way.”

Anny sat up on her straw mattress, her bright eyes glittering in the ray
of starlight which shone in through the uncurtained window, and her
little white teeth clenched.

“Methinks you wrong me, mistress,” she said, restraining her voice with
difficulty. “I have no love for any crawling foreigner. What if he do
eat and talk like the quality; I tell thee there are thirty other men I
would rather marry than a brown-skinned Spaniard.”

“Marry?” Sue laughed and Anny flushed.

“Methinks,” she went on, her voice becoming colder at every word, “that
not to me so much as to thee, Mistress Sue, should such talk be
addressed. Is your heart so free from thoughts of this same Dick that
you can hold him up to me as dangerous? What was it made thee lose thy
taste for Master French’s talk so suddenly? Oh! truth! you make me sick
to see you take me for so senseless a wench that you think I do not see
your cleverness. Mistress, beware of jealousy.”

Sue gasped. She had never considered the possibility of her words being
taken in this way, and she could think of no adequate reply at that
moment save a reproachful, “Anny!”

There was silence for a moment or two and then Anny spoke again over her
shoulder.

“Rest assured,” she said, “‘tis not thoughts of thy pesky little
cheap-jack that keeps me awake o’ nights. There be many here better than
he, and one amongst them whom I love.”

Then she buried her head under the blankets and did not speak again, in
spite of Sue’s protestations of dislike for Dick, and the elder girl,
getting tired of talking to seemingly deaf ears, lay down also and
beguiled herself to sleep with thoughts of her own lover.

The next day broke fine and fresh after the heavy rainfall of the
preceding three weeks, but Sue went about her work with a certain
nervous fidgetiness which irritated Anny and sent her out over the
fields with Hal.

Several times when they were out Sue went up to her room and there
peered into the cracked mirror, putting a curl back here, another
forward there, smoothing down her eyelashes with a moistened thumb and
forefinger, and biting her lips till the red blood suffused them
glowingly. More often did she go to the window, however, and stand there
for minutes on end, staring out into the new begreened landscape, where
the young leaves danced like lambkins in the cool, strong sea breeze,
the sun on their wet surfaces lending them some of the splendour of
jewels.

Sue had made up her mind. Nobody came to the Ship all the morning, and
by three o’clock she was in no pleasant humour, so old Gilbot found when
he asked her to sing for him, for she was up and off in a moment with
the sharp remark, “that there was more to do in the world than sing and
get deep in liquor.”

Gilbot was amazed; his little blue eyes stared surprisedly in front of
him, and he absent-mindedly put his rumkin upside down on the stove and
it was some minutes before he discovered that the kitchen was reeking
with burnt rum dregs.

This made Sue angrier still, and she bustled about, throwing open the
doors, muttering the while that she was ashamed to let visitors into a
room that smelt like Pet Salt’s boat and looked like a sty.

Little Red Farran, however, found her in a very different mood, for when
he came creeping into the scullery with his kitten (now wellnigh a cat)
tucked under his cape, she caught him up in her arms and kissed him and
then to his astonishment gave him a large slice of oatmeal cake
high-heaped with quince jelly and sent him off on his way rejoicing.

Her charity was well rewarded, for some two minutes later the kitchen
door was kicked open and Red and French came in together.

Sue began at once to bustle about with unnatural gaiety, and Gilbot
regarded her with still greater astonishment, until he suddenly looked
round and saw French. Then he nodded his head sagely once or twice, and,
getting up with difficulty, tottered to get his coat which hung behind
the door.

“Redsh an’ Ish goin’ foa walk,” he announced.

Red gave a whoop of delight and ran after him happily.

French looked after them in surprise.

“Whatever made him go off like that, now?” he said, as he sat down at
the table.

Sue blushed and clanged the pots together noisily.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” she said almost sharply.

French turned to her, his handsome boyish face blank with astonishment.

“Why, what’s the matter with you?” he said.

Sue shrugged her shoulders and bit her lips. Why was he so different
to-day, she wondered?

“Me--oh, nothing; is there aught in my face that should make you ask
that?”

Sue turned a fiery cheek toward the young giant, and then moved away.

French got up.

“I don’t know what’s taken you all,” he said, puzzled. “When I first
comes in, Master Gilbot flies out wi’ the young lad, and now you look at
me as though I’d done some mortal wrong. What is it?”

“Oh! go to with ye.” Sue’s back was toward him and he could not see her
face but her voice sounded sharp. “I’m getting your rum as fast as may
be.”

“What need you be worrying about rum?”

French looked round him miserably.

“I’m sorry,” he said, changing his weight from one foot to the other and
his hands becoming noticeable and awkward.

Sue only sighed impatiently and busied herself with the rum.

French turned on his heel.

“All’s well then,” he said finally. “I’ll be getting down West. I reckon
I knows when I’m welcome or not, Mistress--Mistress Susan Gilbot,” and
he strode to the door. “There’s other inns,” he said meaningly.

Sue turned about in a moment.

“Oh, wait for your rum, Master French,” she said.

French did not move but stood straddle-legged in the doorway looking out
into the yard.

“Rum? Oh, that don’t matter; an inn’s got more uses than just to sell
rum, mistress,” he said.

“Indeed, to provide wenches for any man to insult, I reckon,” said Sue,
tossing her head and dashing her hand across her eyes.

French turned round quickly.

“Why, who’s been insulting you, lass?” he said sharply.

Sue laughed and turned her head away.

“What’s that to you?” she said.

French shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m going,” he remarked, and stepped down the stone stair into the
yard.

Sue swallowed once and then ran after him.

“Prithee wait while I hot your rum, sir,” she said.

French turned willingly.

“I’d do aught for you when you ask me like that, Sue,” he said gently,
as he followed her back into the kitchen and sat down while she bustled
around with a tankard, hardly knowing what she did.

French watched her critically.

“Aught been upsetting you, mistress?” he asked.

“Nay.” Sue blushed again and stumbled over a form.

The big man sighed and looked into the fire.

“Been thinking of the Spaniard?” he asked half between his teeth.

“No,” said Sue so vehemently that he jumped. “I have not, nor am like
to.”

French smiled on her.

“Well, that’s all right, then, ain’t it?” he said cheerfully.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said stiffly.

French’s smile faded.

“No, that’s right,” he said almost mournfully, “that’s right.”

And there was silence for a few moments. He drank his rum, and after
opening and shutting his mouth once or twice, rose to go.

Sue watched him to the door and then in spite of herself the tears
began to trickle down the side of her nose, and she sobbed once audibly.

French was at her side in a moment.

“What is the matter, lassie?” he said kindly, all his shyness vanishing
as he whipped out a large yellow handkerchief and began to wipe her eyes
hastily. “Are you ill?”

Sue sobbed violently.

“No,” she said angrily, and then snatching the handkerchief out of his
hand buried her face in it.

French put a big hand on each of her shoulders and shook her gently.

“If I asked you for something would you give it to me?” he said.

Sue still covered her face with her hands.

“Oh! why don’t you ask me?” she sobbed.

French lifted her up in his arms to kiss her, and she stopped crying and
began to blush as he carried her over to the chimney corner where they
sat, laughing and whispering, till Gilbot and Red, driven in by the
rain, which had restarted with as much violence as ever, came for their
tea.

“I thought you watched that damned Spaniard a deal too much,
sweetheart,” said French, as he and Sue walked to the end of the lane
together, although the rain came down in torrents.

“Oh! go along with you. Would I not rather have a man to love than a
live knife?” said Sue, as she stood on tiptoe to kiss him.



CHAPTER XIV


Master Francis Myddleton leaned back in his chair and gently stuffed a
wad of coarse Virginia into the slightly blackened bowl of his stubby
clay pipe, and lifted his gouty foot on to one of the bronzed firedogs
which ornamented his spacious hearth, and then after pulling once or
twice at the short stem, he took out a bundle of letters from one of his
capacious pockets and began to read them. They were from his son who
held a fairly responsible place at the Court of His Gracious Majesty
King Charles II, and from time to time a low wheezing chuckle broke from
the old man’s lips and he coughed and spat, the tears of laughter
starting to his eyes as he read.

“The sly devil,” he muttered, laughing, “bribed her serving-wench with a
kiss, did he?”

“Oh! dearie, dearie me--Good King Jamie was more particular. What a
thing it is to be young and to have a king to serve,” and he laughed
again, this time quite loudly.

A female voice called shrilly from the room above:

“What’s ailing you, Francis?”

Master Myddleton put the letters hastily into his pocket.

“‘Tis naught, Eliza, my foot doth trouble me somewhat.”

“Marry,” came the high, strident voice from the other room, “‘tis
strange that a gouty foot should make you laugh like a moon-struck
lunatic.”

Master Myddleton made no reply, and after a moment’s pause the voice
went on again:

“‘Tis a wonder you can laugh when we have a man coming to take the very
bread out of our mouths. You should be praying the Lord to succour your
wife and daughter, not laughing yourself daft by the fireside.”

The old man sighed and shook the ashes from his pipe and began slowly to
refill it.

“What’s o’clock?” he called out after a minute or so’s silence.

“Half after eight; he should be here by now if the river ain’t high over
the bridle path at Tenpenny Heath.”

“Ay,” said Master Myddleton reflectively.

There was the sound of a chair being pushed back and of heavy steps on
the stairs, and Mistress Eliza Myddleton entered the dining room where
her husband sat.

She was a big fair woman who still preserved a remnant of the great
beauty which had once been hers, but as she often told her neighbours
when she was in a confidential mood, what with having a rapscallion
stepson and a pretty daughter to look after, an excise man for a
husband, and also being a staunch, God-fearing woman and a puritan at
that, lines and wrinkles would come and they had--as indeed any one
might note for himself.

Now as she came into the room, her thin face pale with worry, Francis
looked at her, and old villain that he was, he wondered why he had ever
married her.

“What are you going to say to him?” began the lady, planting herself
before him, her bony arms akimbo.

Master Francis shrugged his shoulders.

“Say?” he said. “Why, naught!”

Mistress Eliza threw her hands above her head in a gesture of despair.

“You would,” she said. “I don’t believe you realize the state we are in.
I don’t believe you care if your wife and child are thrown into the
streets. I don’t believe you could say a word to save yourself hanging.
In God’s truth, I don’t believe you have your wits about you, Master
Myddleton.”

Francis sat still puffing at his pipe and his wife went on:

“Had you only done your duty, and gone out after the Mersea smugglers, I
might be a fine lady this day, or at least----”

“A widow!” put in Francis, without removing the pipe from his mouth.

“Oh!” Mistress Eliza gasped. “For shame, Master Myddleton, are you a
coward?”

“No more ’an others, but, Lord, Eliza, you wouldn’t have me trapesing
about i’ the dusk hunting rum kegs?”

Francis took the pipe from his mouth and looked at his wife, a quizzical
expression in his little gray eyes.

“‘Tis what you’re paid for,” said Mistress Myddleton, lifting her eyes
to the low-raftered ceiling.

Master Myddleton coughed explosively, and his face grew red with anger.

“God’s body! Isn’t that just like a woman,” he shouted, dashing his hand
so violently on the arm of his chair that his pipe flew into shivers,
whereupon he swore an oath which made his wife shudder. “Just like a
woman sweet as honey till aught goes wrong,” he continued, getting more
and more angry at every word. “Did you ever talk of hunting smugglers
before the Mayor of Colchester must needs appoint an assistant to me?
Lord! woman, you drink smuggled tea every day of your life so as to be
i’ the fashion--don’t talk to me!”

“It’s very well for you to call this Thomas Playle an assistant, Master
Myddleton,” observed his wife with asperity. “‘Tis you are to be his
assistant, I’m thinking. That will be a nice thing for the neighbours to
hear--now if only our Matilda and he could----”

Francis Myddleton fairly roared with fury.

“Peace with ye, designing woman,” he shouted. “Will I have my only
daughter disposed of before my eyes? Unfeeling mother! Elizabeth, I am
amazed at ye.”

Mistress Myddleton gulped with indignation.

“Francis, I am surprised at you. I disposing of your daughter! Oh, you
scandalous man! Why ever was I married to such a lump of lying perfidy?”

“God knows!” said Master Myddleton bitterly.

Mistress Elizabeth’s answering outbreak was checked by the sound of
horses’ hoofs in the cobbled yard outside.

“There he is--God help us,” she had time to whisper, and then composing
her features into an amiable smile went out to meet their unwelcome
guest.

Master Myddleton sat looking down at the fragments of his pipe: then he
felt in his pocket and drew out a twist of tobacco which he smelt and
rolled lovingly round his fingers.

He sighed.

“Drat women and work,” he said to the roaring fire which blazed,
crackled, and spat as though it quite agreed with him.

Master Thomas Playle sprang out of his saddle and threw his bridle rein
to the grinning ostler who ran out to meet him, and then marched up to
the front door and pulled the bell sharply.

Mistress Myddleton was before him in an instant and so overwhelmed him
with welcome and motherly concern for his wet, muddy condition that he
had nothing to say for himself for a minute or so.

The candlelight in the stone-flagged hall showed the newcomer to be a
tall, rather handsome man, some seven and twenty years of age.

Mistress Myddleton regarded him with approval and mentally summed up her
daughter Matilda’s attractive qualities: the result seemed to please
her, for she smiled and conducted him to the dining room.

“My husband hath a troubled foot,” she was at some pains to explain,
“and prays you to pardon him for not being on the steps to meet you.”

Playle bowed coldly and followed his voluble hostess in silence.

Master Myddleton looked up casually as they entered, and after returning
the younger man’s bow without rising he bade his wife hasten the supper,
and, after waiting until she was out of the room, motioned his guest to
a comfortable chair on the opposite side of the hearth.

“His worship, the Mayor and his----” began the young man sententiously
as he sat down and stretched out his high mud-caked boots to the
friendly fire.

Master Myddleton waved his hand.

“After we have eaten, I pray you. The morning will do,” he said. “Until
then I would like to speak of this heinous crime of smuggling as carried
on in this town and on the Island over the Fleet.”

Playle felt disquieted. Here he was in this old gentleman’s house,
drying himself at his fire and making himself generally comfortable. How
could he boldly announce that these affairs would be his care in future,
and that Master Myddleton need trouble himself no further? He decided to
put it off till supper was over. After all, he considered the old man
must know something of use to him in his future work.

Master Playle was a very conscientious young man and one who had
ambitions. He had fought for this appointment and meant to show his
ability. He had served for a time in one of His Majesty’s own regiments
and still held a commission.

Master Myddleton began to speak.

“We have a very difficult task before us, Master Playle,” he began in
the deep pompous voice which he used on all official occasions. “I think
I can truthfully say that on no other part of the coast is King Charles’
law--God bless him--more persistently and I might almost say
courageously violated.”

He paused, and his little gray eyes sought a flicker of surprise on the
young man’s face, but they were disappointed. Playle’s easy smile still
played round his thin lips as he listened with polite attention.

Master Myddleton began again.

“With such violent, all-daring, cut-throat gang against me, I
have--er--yes, to be plain with you, Master Playle--I have--er--felt it
unwise--not to say foolhardy--to take more than preliminary measures
against these unruly vagabonds until I received assistance from
headquarters.”

Playle’s smile deepened and Francis, looking up suddenly, saw it.
Instantly his manner changed.

“Ah, I see you know something of their customs, Master Playle,” he said,
laughing wheezily.

Playle looked up a little disconcerted, but he laughed with the old man
and nodded his head.

“I can see I can be quite plain with you,” went on Francis, his eyes
scanning the other’s face.

Playle was a simple, straightforward soldier, and he felt rather at a
disadvantage with this quick-witted old villain with the gouty foot.
However, he deemed it prudent to make some remark.

“Oh, yes, of a certainty, of a certainty!” he said as intelligently as
possible. “I am determined to abolish this illegal trading.”

Master Myddleton sighed; he began to see a little more clearly how the
land lay.

“Very right, an excellent spirit in youth,” he said heartily. “Go in and
conquer--sweep all before you. That’s how I like to hear young people
talk. It is for the old with our gouty feet and long experience to sit
at home and think out campaigns, and for you, the young and healthful in
body, to carry them out gloriously.”

He slapped his knee in applause at his own words, and then, as the young
man said nothing, but sat still smiling into the fire, he continued, his
voice resuming the pompous note.

“But believe me, you have a difficult task, as I said before--a
difficult task indeed. Now let me advise you first to attack the
smuggling here on the mainland. Had you half a troop of infantry it
would be madness to attempt to quieten Mersea Island.”

Playle sat up and became interested.

“The Island,” he said. “Yes, I’ve heard of the smuggling there; the
block-house there was well-guarded in the war, I know.”

Master Myddleton waved him silent, and continued to talk. “There are two
principal smuggling vessels,” he said casually. “The first, _The Dark
Blood_, belongs to a man called de Witt, and then the _Coldlight_, which
belongs to a mysterious Spaniard.”

Young Playle gasped. That the old man should know all this and yet take
no measures to stop it amazed him, and his youthful imagination began to
play round his old ambitions until he saw himself lord of the customs
and His Majesty’s right-hand man.

“Why not stop all vessels that enter the river?” he said.

“I had thought of it--I had thought of it,” said Myddleton, wagging his
head sagely.

“Well, I’m going to do it,” replied Playle quickly.

Old Francis laughed deprecatingly and was about to answer him when
Mistress Eliza, her daughter, a tall girl fair like her mother and
buxomly beautiful, with their little maid, Betsey, entered with the
supper.

During the meal, Mistress Eliza talked almost incessantly, and her
husband filled up the few pauses in her streams of conversation with
lurid stories of the smugglers’ cruelty. Once after a more vivid one
than usual, Mistress Matilda looked archly at the young soldier.

“If only it could be stopped!” she said, while her mother made some
remark about poor little Matty’s childishness.

Thomas Playle looked up from the lump of boiled fish he was eating.

“It shall be stopped, mistress,” he said. “Such flagrant crime is a
disgrace to the glorious court of His Gracious Majesty.”

While Francis felt the bundle of letters in his pocket and grinned
wickedly to himself.

“You have some men in your pay and arms for them, I suppose, Master
Myddleton?” observed Playle a little later on in the evening.

“About five,” said Francis, and then, noting the other’s surprise, he
added: “But some twenty more trustworthy men can be called out at a
moment’s notice, if you find it necessary.”

Playle could hardly repress a smile of pleasure; life seemed suddenly to
have opened up to him. Twenty-five men at his orders, a gang of
ferocious smugglers to attack, and a pretty girl to stand by and admire
at the proper time. His smile broadened.

His ambitions flew away with him and he sat staring at his plate, his
brown eyes twinkling with pleasure, until Mistress Myddleton had to
touch him on the shoulder and give him a candle, before he realized that
Betsey, the little maid, waited to show him his room.

Once in their room Mistress Eliza and her husband argued over the
situation until both were exhausted.

“He’s a handsome man, anyway,” said the lady at last, as she brushed her
little wisp of gray-yellow hair before the oval mirror. “I wonder if
Matilda----?”

Francis, who was already tucked in his side of the huge four-poster bed,
growled through the curtains, and Mistress Eliza bit her lip.

“He’ll make a difference to the price of tea hereabouts, I’ll warrant,”
she said, after a minute’s silence, as she blew out the candles and
opened the casement.

Francis grunted.

“Methinks he’ll be a deal of nuisance to the trade,” he said bitterly.
“No more cheap tabac--God help us.”

Mistress Eliza echoed his sigh, and they settled themselves to sleep.



CHAPTER XV


“There, look, there now, will that be the _Coldlight_--_Anny_, I mean?”

Anny paused in her walk and stared out across the bay. Hal followed the
direction of her hand and then shook his head.

“Nay,” he said, “‘tis too small.”

Anny sighed and moved on, but the boy still stared out at the
white-sailed boat on the horizon.

“Last time I saw a craft like that,” he began reflectively, “was when
the Preventative folk chased Fen de Witt halfway up the Pyfleet and then
got stuck.”

Anny stopped quickly.

“Lord! It won’t be them, will it?” she said, a note of fear creeping
into her voice.

Hal shrugged his shoulders.

“Like as not,” he said carelessly.

The girl stared, fascinated, at the white speck in the distance.

“And the captain coming back this very day!” she said.

Hal reddened at her words, and wheeled round fiercely, but she was not
looking at him and he turned away again.

“Hal, what if the Preventative folk got any one?” she asked.

“They’d die, that’s all,” he replied laconically.

The girl looked round at the early summer landscape and shuddered.

“Look again, are you sure about the boat?” she commanded anxiously.

Hal threw a casual glance over his shoulder.

“Sure? Sure of what?” he asked gruffly.

“That it’s the Preventative folk!” Anny shook his sleeve as she spoke.

Hal wrenched his arm out of her grasp, and replied irritably:

“No, of course I’m not sure; don’t be stupid, girl; I only said ’twas
like one.”

Anny looked at him in surprise.

“What’s the matter?” she laughed; they had come to a part where the wall
melts into the high-lying fields and the path is very wide, and Hal
stepped back a pace or two and turned a red and angry face toward the
girl.

“Look here, Anny,” he said, his voice shaking with anger. “I’m tired of
this hankering and whining after that dirty little Spaniard. You know
we’re going to be married as soon as I can get some money; then I’ll be
able to give you things--better things than him--aren’t you going to
wait for me? See here, I won’t have this carrying on with the
foreigner.”

Anny’s blood was up and she turned to her lover as fierce as a
tiger-cat.

“Indeed, and will you not, Master Hal Grame?” she said bitingly. “I’ll
have you know that you have no authority over me you--you tapster!”

Hal blinked; he had never seen Anny like this before and he stood
staring at her in amazement, his mouth half open.

“I have not hankered after the Spaniard, as you call it.”

Anny’s eyes were bright with tears at his injustice, but she spoke
firmly, and with great intensity.

“And as for you being tired, master Lord of the Island, so is Anny
Farran, your servant--very, very tired of this fooling. Lord! you
child--is it me that hankers,” the word seemed to have stuck in her
mind, for she repeated it, “hankers for the Captain? Is it me? Oh, Hal
Grame--I--I hate you.”

Hal stepped back another pace or two and looked round him vaguely. This
was a new departure of Anny’s. He had never seen her so indignant, and
he thrust his hands in his pockets and turned on his heel.

“I hope that is the Preventative folk then,” he remarked, jerking his
thumb over his shoulder, “then they’ll catch the little dog.”

Anny reddened.

“Hal Grame, you’re a jealous coward,” she said clearly, and then her
tears began to fall and she sat down on the grass, looking out over the
cloud-shadowed water.

Hal did not speak but stood idly kicking the dust with his foot.

“You’re not saying that you don’t love me?” he said confidently.

Anny bit her lip.

“I’ve told you I hate you,” she said clearly; she was still very angry
for the boy’s mistrust had hurt her.

He turned round slowly.

“Don’t be silly, Anny,” he said not unkindly.

Anny furtively wiped her eyes; his confident attitude annoyed her, and
she spoke clearly.

“Go away, Hal Grame; I won’t ever marry you.”

Hal gasped.

“Anny, you’re bewitched,” he exclaimed. He couldn’t have chosen a more
unfortunate remark, for Anny was more irritated than ever.

“Nay, not now, but I was, ever to think at all on the likes of you,” she
snapped. “Oh, go away.”

Hal wavered; his little sweetheart sat on the grass, her face turned
away from him, but he felt that she was crying, so came a little nearer.

“Give me a kiss,” he said, laughing. “You’re a smart little wench,” and
kneeling down behind her he bent to kiss her cheek.

Before he realized what had happened he felt a smart blow across the
mouth, and Anny sprang to her feet and walked off quickly.

Hal sat back on his heels and passed his hand across his lips.

“You little vixen,” he gasped.

Anny laughed, a bitter, angry little laugh, and went on.

Hal looked after her anxiously for a moment or two, and then as she did
not turn back he scrambled to his feet and followed her.

“Anny, you’re not angry,” he said, as soon as he was near enough to
speak softly. The words came shamefacedly from his mouth and he slurred
them one into another.

Anny gulped; she was very angry, and Hal’s attitude annoyed her.

“Indeed I am,” she said, “and turning a slobbering calf won’t make me
any better. Oh! go home, Hal Grame.”

Hal was amazed.

“Anny!” he ejaculated.

Anny repressed a howl of disappointment and contented herself with
saying wearily:

“Oh, go home--go home!”

The boy looked at her for a moment or two.

“Anny,” he said at last, “are you trying to leave me for the Spaniard?”

This was more than she could stand, and turning to him she broke out
into a stream of angry, incoherent abuse and denial.

“Why are you for ever plaguing me about the Spaniard? Why does everyone
talk of him? I’m sick of hearing his name--if you’re jealous of him go
to him, not to me.”

Hal shrugged his shoulders and said with irritating calmness:

“Then there is that for me to go to him about, eh?”

Anny raised her little clenched fists above her head and cried aloud:

“You make me mad, Hal Grame. Of course there isn’t,” and then, as she
saw that he didn’t believe her, she went on, “Of course not, of course!
Oh, Hal! if you were a man you’d do other things than worry a poor lass
dead with your foolishness.”

Hal flushed.

“Ah, that’s like a wench!” he said. “What if I haven’t a golden jacobus
to my name! I shouldn’t think you’d throw that at me if you loved me.”

Anny did not speak and he went on, “If I were a man--yes, that’s it, if
I were a dirty, sneaking, knife-throwing Spaniard, with a fleet of
rat-ridden cockle-boats and a crew of mangy dogs behind me, you’d be
content--then I could do other things--bring you gauds and laced
petticoats. Faugh! I’m glad I’ve seen you thus; I wouldn’t wed a
cormorant and a shrew.”

His anger had carried him away with it, for like most Norsemen he had a
strain of bitterness under his usually sunny, peaceful disposition.

Anny winced at his words.

“It’s not that--you know it’s not that, Hal,” she said piteously. “But
why worry me? If you’re jealous of him, fight him.”

Hal looked at her in astonishment; he was no coward, but neither was he
a hot-head, and he knew something of Dick’s reputation as a swordsman
and a knife-fighter.

Anny shrugged her shoulders.

“Fight him,” she repeated mechanically.

A sneer played round the boy’s mouth when he next spoke, and his eyes
had grown cold.

“Marry, Anny Farran, I did not think you capable of it,” he said. “You
would have me die on the Spaniard’s knife and so rid of for ever.”

Anny began to cry hopelessly. She felt there was no use in saying
anything to him while he was in this mood, but she was very fond of him
and he hurt her much more than he knew.

Hal turned on his heel, and, as he strode off, began to realize how much
he loved the wayward beauty. A great wave of self-pity swept over him.
He was very young, barely nineteen, and once or twice he bit his lip
convulsively, as he imagined the future loneliness, the constraint at
the Ship, old Gilbot’s sallies, and then, as he stayed to look out over
the glancing, shimmering water, he noticed that the little white-sailed
ship was still hovering about the mouth of the Mersea River, and he
laughed wildly.

“May you sink the Spanish weasel,” he exclaimed aloud, and then went on,
and every step he took he became more miserable and angry with himself
and the girl.

“Oh! I’ll go and see Joe,” he thought, as he turned into the lane. “It’s
a fine thing to have a mate, so it is, when your lass leaves you for a
yellow heathen.” And he turned down toward Pullen’s cottage.

Anny sat on the bank where he had left her. She was very sorry for
herself, too, and she looked round her through tearful eyes.

No one was in sight. Behind her the bright sun lit up the countryside
with beautiful green and yellow light, while in front, the sea, clear
and smooth as glass, sparkled and glittered peacefully. She got up
slowly, and started back for the Ship, and for the first time a sense of
insecurity came upon her, and she realized rather fearfully that she was
very much alone. Hitherto, she had always relied on Hal to take care of
her, but now he was angry, very angry, she could see that; perhaps he
would never forgive her. She shivered involuntarily. Old Ben was her
only relative, and the thought of him and Pet Salt frightened her. Sue
and Gilbot were very kind, but would they trouble themselves to protect
a little serving-wench from a wealthy customer?

All these questions ran through her head, and the image of the dark,
wanton-eyed, debonair little captain rose up in her mind like a spectre.
She knew now that she did not like him, and she began to be afraid. She
remembered the times he had tried to kiss her; and how each time at the
thought of Hal she had repulsed him successfully. Now Hal would be
indifferent. A sob stuck in her throat, and she swallowed painfully.

Then an idea struck her. There was always Nan Swayle--poor, disappointed
Mother Swayle had always a soft spot in her hard-crusted heart for
little Anny Farran, her old lover’s grandchild. She would go to
Nan--but then the picture of the lonely old woman living with her cats
in a tumble-down shed on one of the many small dyke-surrounded islands
in the marshes presented itself to her, and she began to cry afresh as
she walked wearily up to the Ship.

Meanwhile, out in the river’s mouth, alone between sea and sky, the
little white-sailed craft patrolled steadily to and fro, as Master
Thomas Playle, a telescope to his eye, swept the horizon anxiously and
impatiently.



CHAPTER XVI


The sun was just about to set over the Island in a blaze of glorious
colour when the _Anny_, sailing peacefully under half canvas, came in
sight of Bradwell Point.

Blueneck and Habakkuk Coot were below deck in a little bunk-hole which
they had fitted up as a sort of wash-house. It was one of Black’erchief
Dick’s fads to have his linen always spotless and marvellously
laundered, and, as this was a luxury hardly dreamed of on the Island,
during his visits to England the valiant Captain had to have his washing
done aboard. The job of laundryman had almost naturally fallen to
Habakkuk, who had accepted the office joyfully, and he now stood, clad
in nothing but his breeches, in front of an emptied Canary tub immersed
up to the elbows in soapy water.

Blueneck leaned against the doorway watching him.

“Santa Maria! what an occupation,” he remarked contemptuously.

Habakkuk sniffed.

“It’s very nice when you’re used to it,” he said without looking up from
the garment he was pounding and squeezing with a kind of vicious
delight.

Blueneck shrugged his shoulders.

“Maybe,” he said, “anyway, I’m going on deck; this here rat-hole’s too
stinking for me.”

Habakkuk sniffed again but took no other notice of his friend, who
presently lumbered off up the hatchway.

The water was very green and the waves rolled lazily after one another
as though it were hot even for them, while the _Anny_ dipped and rolled
gently among them at about one third her usual speed.

They were early, and, careless though he was, Dick did not like landing
until it was at least dusk.

Blueneck strode across the deck and stood staring toward the Island, now
just a streak on the flaming horizon.

Suddenly he started, and, speaking sharply, ordered one of the sailors
who was sprawling on the deck to bring him a telescope.

The man went off at once and returned in a second, bringing a long brass
spy-glass with him.

As the mate of the _Anny_ clapped it to his eye an exclamation of
surprise escaped him.

“Mother of Heaven, what will that be?” he murmured, and putting the
glass under his arm went down the deck in search of the Captain.

As usual the little Spaniard was standing against the main mast, his
arms folded across his chest, and his heavy-lidded eyes half closed.

Blueneck approached him deferentially and reported--“Ship ahead,
Capt’n.”

The deeply sunken eyes opened at once and Dick put out one delicately
scented hand for the glass.

“She’s sighted us, dogs,” he remarked calmly a second or so later.

Blueneck gasped.

“I’ll go and head her round, Capt’n,” he said at once.

Dick lowered the telescope and looked over it in quiet surprise.

“That you will not, son of a snipe,” he said, his soft voice playing
musically with the words.

Blueneck began to expostulate.

“The Preventative folk?” he said fearfully.

Dick swore.

“And since when have you been feared of the Preventative folk, dog?” he
asked, and his fingers played round the hilt of his knife.

Blueneck flushed.

“I’m not feared,” he said stoutly, “but ’tis madness to go on.”

Dick laughed happily, putting the glass up again. Suddenly his whole
manner changed. His bright black eyes lost their sleepy indifference and
became alight with interest and excitement, his slender white hand
ceased to play with his knife, and his voice, no longer caressing,
adopted a note of command as he wheeled round and strode off down the
deck shouting orders here and there.

“Put on full canvas and keep her straight,” Blueneck heard him say, and
he groaned inwardly.

Under the extra load of canvas the _Anny_ plunged and righted herself,
speeding through the water at her full speed.

The other brig was well in sight now, and she hailed the smugglers
several times.

Dick took the wheel himself and shouted an order for the cannon to be
looked to.

The other brig had turned her head straight for the _Anny_ as soon as
she saw that her salute was ignored, and now a ball from one of her
several brass cannon fell some two yards short of the smuggler’s bows.

“Fire!” shouted Dick, and Noah Goody, the _Anny’s_ old gunner, lit the
match; the shot cleared the pursuing brig and Noah loaded again.

Nearer and nearer came the brig until Blueneck could read the name on
her bows, the _Royal Charles_.

Faster and faster went the _Anny_, but the _Charles_ gained on her every
second. They were well inside the bay by this time, but escape seemed
impossible, for the tide was barely past the turn and between them and
the Island lay a great gray field of soft slushing mud. Any moment they
might strike a bank of it and be compelled to stay there, an easy prey
to the Preventative men.

Dick looked behind; the _Charles_ was very near. For a moment he
hesitated. He knew the Western creeks like the back of his hand, but in
order to reach that side of the Island he would have to cross in front
of the enemy, and although he was a daring little man Black’erchief
Dick was no fool. The only course left open to him, then, was to make
for the East. He knew there were two creeks that were deep enough to
take the brig, but they were no more than thirty feet in their widest
part and that was dangerous going. Besides, he was not nearly so
familiar with these as with those on the Western side.

At this moment a ball from the _Charles_ dropped through the little
deck-house and then rolled off the deck harmlessly.

Dick made up his mind.

“Send Habakkuk Coot hither,” he shouted, for he remembered that the man
had spent his boyhood in the East of the Island.

Everyone had forgotten Habakkuk in the excitement of the moment and now
he was nowhere to be found.

Dick cursed him for a skulking rat and in other terms.

Blueneck went down the hatchway to look for him; the smell of steaming
soap and water still came from the dirty little hole where he had left
him.

Blueneck looked in; Habakkuk was there, his arms still in the soapy
water. He was singing in a high nasal voice and sniffing at frequent
intervals.

He listened to Blueneck’s incoherent account of the chase in profound
astonishment, but nevertheless went steadily on with his washing, and
refused to leave it until Blueneck in desperation took him by the scruff
of the neck and the seat of the breeches and carried him before the
Captain, his arms still wet and soapy, and a dripping shirt clutched in
his hand.

But the situation was too serious for Dick, or, indeed, any one else, to
notice any little irregularities of this sort.

The _Royal Charles_ was within a musket shot of the _Anny’s_ bows and
every second the mud flat in front grew nearer.

Habakkuk, however, had a very good memory, and under his guidance the
_Anny_ shot down a wide, river-like stream of water, the mud forming
banks on either side.

Dick looked at it in surprise.

“I did not know that there were any creeks as wide as this on the East,”
he said.

“Ah,” said Habakkuk wisely, “this ain’t no more ’an twenty foot
wide--it’s very deceiving. Look over the side, Captain, there’s about
six inches of water on the starboard--an’--they don’t know that, do
they?” he chuckled, jerking his thumb over his shoulder to where the
_Royal Charles_ had just turned after them. “It’s only about twenty wide
a bit farther along,” he announced cheerfully a little later. “I hopes I
ain’t forgot where.”

Dick stood watching the _Charles_ as she followed them down the
treacherous creek. She must have a pilot who knows the place, he
thought, for she still gained on them.

At last, when they were within five hundred yards of the shore, Habakkuk
gave a short exclamation.

“We’re stuck,” he cried.

“What?” Dick sprang round on his heel.

Habakkuk grinned foolishly.

“Little tiny channel’s silted up, I reckon,” he said. “We’re aground.”

Dick struck him off his feet with an oath.

“Out with your knives,” he shouted.

It was beginning to get dusk and the _Charles_ bore down upon the _Anny_
like a great gray tower; nearer she came and nearer until they could
plainly hear the voices of the men on her deck.

And then it happened. In his excitement the man at her tiller let it
swerve a little, a very little, but enough; there was a soft swishing
sound, and the _Charles’s_ nose cut deep into the soft cheesy mud--she
also was aground.

Exciseman Thomas Playle swore with disappointment as he ran forward and
saw the very little distance between the two brigs, but he loosened the
broad-bladed cutlass at his hip and, shouting to his men to follow,
swung himself into one of the boats.

“Maria! they’re trying to board us,” shouted Blueneck, whipping out his
knife and running to the side.

Instantly there was confusion, the greater portion of the crew running
after their mate to the still floating side of the brig.

This sudden change of weight saved the situation. With a lurch, a roll,
and a quiver, the _Anny_ jerked off the mud, Habakkuk seized the tiller
just in time, and the brig slid on down the creek.

A yell of disappointment rang out from the first boatload of
Preventative men and echoed over the fast-darkening mud-flats. The tide
was coming in like a mill-stream, and any moment the _Charles_ might
also swing clear, but Playle would not wait; springing into a second
boat, he urged his men to row the faster in a vain attempt to catch the
_Anny_.

Old Noah Goody did his best with the cannon, but the progress of the
little rowboats was so irregular that he could never get the exact
range.

The _Anny_ shot away from the boats at first, but as she came nearer
into the shore the channel grew narrower and narrower and she was forced
to take in most of her canvas.

Dick stood on the bows looking at the fast-gaining boats, and thinking.
If on reaching the shore he abandoned the brig and he and his men ran to
hide on the Island, the Preventative men would scuttle the _Anny_ and
confiscate her cargo, which was an extra valuable one of Jamaica rum and
fine Brussels lace. His only alternative was to fight.

By this time the brig was within twenty yards of the beach, and in
another moment her keel grated on the muddy shingle.

The excise men were not far behind.

Dick seemed suddenly to come to life; leaping out into the centre deck,
he shouted:

“To the shore, lads, and fight the liverish dogs on land!” Then, agile
as a monkey, he slid down the hawser and pulled in a boat--the crew
followed, some wading through the shallow water and others in the
boats.

Once on shore they ranged themselves in a double line along the beach,
waiting, with drawn knives, for the boats. It had grown almost dark by
now, and one by one the stars had come out in the fast-deepening sky,
but there was a big moon and the line of rugged, rum-stamped faces on
the shore showed clearly in the yellow light. Their brutal expressions
and the flicker of steel about their belts might have frightened many a
man older and more tried than Master Playle, but the little boats came
on undaunted, and just as the first keel touched the shingle a musket
shot rang out and the man next to Blueneck dropped silently.

Dick swore in Spanish and, raising his pistol--the one he had taken from
Mat Turnby--fired at the man nearest him, a fat elderly servant of
Master Francis Myddleton’s. The man was almost out of range, but the
shot wounded him, for he screamed and dropped into the water. For half a
second there was no sound, and then with a yell the crew of the
_Charles_ charged over the soft, slithering mud at the solid line of
grim, taut figures who awaited them.

“Pick out your men!” Dick rapped out the order, and as he spoke the
handle of his knife slipped into the hollow of his soft white palm as if
it had suddenly grown there, and the slender hand and delicate weapon
quivered as one living thing.

There were fully ten more excise men than smugglers and they came on
with such a rush that the crew of the _Anny_ was forced to give way a
little, but they rallied immediately, and although the Preventative folk
had the advantage of numbers Dick’s people had the priceless knowledge
of the ground they were fighting on. The wiry grass which covered the
unlevel saltings that lay the other side of the narrow beach was very
slippery, and in the pale light the ridges and dykes were almost
invisible.

Dick soon realized that if the fight was to be fought to a finish the
sooner they got to level ground the better, as his own people found the
light deceptive. So he worked his way round to Blueneck, slashing right
and left as he went.

Blueneck was apparently enjoying himself for, although the moonlight
showed a gash across his temples about six inches long, from which the
blood poured freely, it also showed a smile on his ragged mouth and a
dripping cutlass in his sinewy hand.

Dick spoke to him quickly, just a few muttered words, and almost
immediately the smugglers began to give way. Back, back, they went until
they were flying across the saltings over the meadows and straight for
the Ship, with the Preventative men in full pursuit.

Once the mocking voice of Playle called out to the _Anny’s_ crew to
surrender, and the flying smugglers paused and half-turned with many
oaths, but Dick’s voice dragged them on again with, “On, dogs, on, for
your damned lives,” and the chase continued.

Suddenly, as they reached the Ship yard, Dick vanished: Blueneck,
looking round for further orders, could not see him, and his heart sank.
Was it possible that a knife-thrust from behind had killed the Captain?
He dismissed that idea almost as soon as it came to him. The Spaniard
was too wary to be the victim of such a mishap. The only other
alternative was that he had deserted his crew.

Blueneck feared Dick, but he had no love for him, and this last seemed
to be the only possible explanation. He spat on the ground
contemptuously.

But by this time the Preventative folk were well upon them and Blueneck
realized that it was a case of each man for himself, so calling a halt
he turned on the oncoming force.

The smugglers were only too glad to obey, and with a redoubled force
they turned on their enemy and hewed their way into them.

The Preventative men were not sorry to fight, however, and young Playle
threw himself into the thick of the scrap with something very like
pleasure.

The smugglers fought like wild beasts, preferring to close in and kill,
but the others liked to thrust and parry, pricking and wounding, giving
way here and pressing there, and as they had longer weapons than the
smugglers they found their method an excellent one.

Back went the smugglers down the Ship yard, Blueneck slashing wildly,
Noah Goody defending himself only, and little Habakkuk, his bare chest
and shoulders a perfect network of cuts, darting here and there like a
robin.

Onward pressed young Playle until he had the smugglers with their backs
against the kitchen door, which opened suddenly from the inside.

Blueneck put himself on the step in the way of the excise men and
shouted to his mates to get into the kitchen and form a guard. When the
last man was in he retired also, but the excise men pressed on; first
one of their men fell, on attempting to enter the kitchen, then a
second, and a third, but before the fourth was struck down in response
to a great crush behind him he broke through the smugglers’ guard and
the Preventative men swarmed in.

Hal Grame suddenly darted forward out of the darkness. He carried an old
sword which had hung over the kitchen shelf for years, and he now laid
about him with great strokes, but a certain recklessness distinguished
his fighting, and his red shirt was soon dyed a still deeper shade.

In spite of his help, however, the excise men drove on.

“God! if the Captain was only here!” groaned Blueneck aloud. The man
next him caught his words and looked round, so did his neighbour, and in
a moment all that was left of the _Anny’s_ crew realized that their
captain had deserted them, and a certain hopelessness crept into the
fighting from that time on, and in a minute or two the smugglers
retreated in a body, knocking over the barrels and benches as they
went. They scuttled into the inner room and then slammed the heavy oak
door behind them.

Habakkuk alone was left behind and he, finding the door shut upon him,
turned to fly through the other door into the yard, but a Preventative
man’s sword ran him through just as he reached the threshold, and with
one last sniff the brave little laundryman fell prone in a pool of his
own blood.

The kitchen was very dark, there being no fire, as it was summer-time,
and the only light was the moonlight which showed in through the windows
and fell on the floor in two bright patches.

So when the door slammed on them, Thomas Playle took the opportunity of
counting his forces. He found to his deep disappointment that he had
lost a great many more men than he had dreamed, and those around him in
the kitchen numbered at the most no more than six or seven.

“We must get them yet,” he said, speaking to his few remaining followers
in a low tone. “An you two stay here and I and Jacques go round to the
other door we----” Suddenly he caught his breath, his voice trailed away
into silence, and he started back, his drawn sword put up to shield his
body.

The man to whom he had been principally speaking had quietly dropped
without a cry, and as he touched the ground his head and shoulders
rolled into the patch of moonlight, and his horrified comrades saw a
thin spurt of blood shooting out from a clean small wound in his neck
just over the collar-bone.

Before they could collect their wits after this shock there was a faint
patter of feet behind them and another man staggered, tried to speak,
reeled, and fell.

Instantly there was confusion; men slashed about in the darkness
striking anything and any one, shouting, and screaming. A terrible fear
of something unknown and horrible possessed them and each man made for
the yard, but one by one as they approached the doorway the unseen
terror caught them and they fell. At last there were but three left,
young Playle himself, his mate, Jacques, and the _Charles’s_ gunner, a
tall, powerful man called Rilp.

These three stood back to back in the centre of the kitchen, making a
triangle, their swords drawn before them, so that it was practically
impossible for anything to harm them from behind.

They stood there for some moments holding their breath; everything was
silent. Then there was a light patter of feet again and a small bent
shape darted through the patch of moonlight. It seemed to Playle’s
terrified eyes to be an evil spirit not three feet high from the ground
and to have its head almost level with its waist while its back was bent
into a monstrous hump. Instinctively he put up his sword to shield his
head and at that moment something brushed passed him; he slashed at it
and fancied that he had wounded it, but the next moment he felt Jacques
grunt and stumble. He was just going to spring away when he felt the man
right himself and once again a man’s back was firm against his own.

Then there was silence again for a second.

Suddenly Rilp staggered, shivered, and dropped.

Playle immediately darted forward, when to his amazement and horror the
man whom he thought was Jacques darted after him; something sprang on
his shoulders from behind, a streak of silver light darted before his
eyes and plunged down into his neck; he felt the blood well up in his
throat, his breath failed him, a dark cloud passed over his eyes, and he
died, crashing face downward into the little patch of moonlight.

In the scullery Blueneck, his shoulders against the door, turned to his
comrades and urged them to pull themselves together; put forward every
excuse for Black’erchief Dick’s extraordinary behaviour and besought
them to get ready to fight again.

Inside the kitchen they could hear the Preventative men talking
together, and by their low tones came to the conclusion that they were
planning the next attack.

Suddenly Blueneck started.

“Marry! they’re fighting among themselves,” he whispered. “Hark!”

From inside the kitchen came the sounds of clashing steel, and angry
oaths and ejaculations, followed by screams and groans. Then there was
silence for a while immediately followed by footsteps, mutterings, and
one terrible yell.

Then all was silent again.

“Shall we go in?” whispered Hal.

“Nay, ’tis a trap,” said another man, whose hand and cutlass were one
red mass.

“Nay, I’ll go,” said Hal stubbornly.

“I shouldn’t, lad,” said Blueneck, staunching the bleeding wound on his
forehead as best he could.

Hal put his hand to a dark patch at his side and brought it away wet and
sticky.

“Oh, what does it matter?” he said; taking a candle from the table he
opened the door, holding the light above his head. Then he gasped and
threw the door wide.

“Mother o’ God!” he exclaimed weakly. “Look!”

Blueneck and the others crowded behind him and they, too, gasped and
fell back in astonishment.

In the centre of the room the flickering light showed a terrible bent
little figure; it was a man, but the crouching attitude in which he
stood suggested rather a beast of prey. He was literally surrounded with
bodies, and he looked down at them with an almost ghoulish delight which
was terrible to see. But only for a second; as soon as he became
conscious of the little group in the doorway he straightened himself and
stood smiling at them.

He was clothed only in his breeches and immaculate white shirt; his
black kerchief was half off, showing the black curls beneath, while his
white hands were clean and undyed.

Dick Delfazio smiled again and then began to clean his knife on a dainty
lace-edged handkerchief.

Then his crew entered, and he looked up casually as they filed in and
turning to the least wounded man he pointed to a chair over the back of
which his black silk coat was hung.

“Prithee, friend, help me into my surcoat,” he said, his voice caressing
and honey-like as ever. “For see,” he added, turning round, “I am much
hampered.”

The crew started.

The sleeve of the white shirt was split from the shoulder to the elbow,
displaying a terrible ragged wound which at one place had laid bare the
bone, and from the bend in the elbow the warm blood trickled on to the
floor.

This was the last act of Thomas Playle’s hand and he had done his best.

Dick slipped into his coat and then surveyed the crew.

“Wash yourselves, friends,” he admonished, “the wenches will come down
now and may be feared at the sight of blood.” He staggered a little and
his face grew ashy pale, but he rallied himself and with some of his
usual jauntiness said loudly, “Bring me some wine.” Already the black
silk sleeve of his coat was sodden and sticky, and the arm inside it
hung limply from its socket; once again he staggered, tried to recover
himself and failed, and then, very faint from loss of blood,
Black’erchief Dick rolled over on his side, unconscious.

Blueneck picked him up like a child and stripping off the coat called
loudly for Anny.

“Surely the girl knows somewhat of physicking. The Captain may bleed to
death,” he said sharply in answer to Hal’s suggestion that they didn’t
want wenches about the place.

Hal put his hand over his own wound and, shrugging his shoulders, a
gesture which cost him a great deal of blood, went off to find Anny and
beseech her to attend to his rival’s arm.

       *       *       *       *       *

Late the same evening a tumbril borrowed from a neighbouring farmer
carried a gruesome burden from the Ship door down to the beach, and
along the road it stopped from time to time to collect additions to its
load.

A little later a party of men in three rowing-boats loaded a terrible
cargo into a lonely ship which rode at anchor not far from the shore
where a brig lay aground, and then that same lonely ship sailed off out
of the bay, and later, after three boats had left her side, broke into
flames.

And later still widows and children in Brightlingsea wept to see charred
spars and planks cast up on the beach outside their homes.



CHAPTER XVII


“There, there, Master Dick, don’t fluster yourself so; ’twill only smart
your arm the more.”

Anny spoke timidly and shrank behind one of the high-backed seats in the
old Ship’s kitchen as Black’erchief Dick, his eyes dark with anger,
raved up and down the room. It was some three weeks after the affair
with the Preventative folk and the Island had once more regained its
usual serenity.

“You are bewitched, girl; what are you to refuse the love of a man like
me?” Dick said angrily, and then as she did not answer, he continued
more softly, “Why not come with me, beautiful Ann of the Island? We will
leave this God-forsaken mud heap and sail away to Spain, cross the great
river to the beautiful country beyond, where all the grass is green and
all the plants have bright flowers. What is there about this rum-sodden
drinking hut that you will not leave it for Utopia?”

“I never heard of Utopia and Mersea is good enough for me,” said Anny
stolidly. “Besides, if you want to marry me, why not tell everybody and
have a proper wedding by the parson from the West, but even then I
wouldn’t marry you; I don’t love you, sir!”

The Spaniard paused suddenly in his walk up and down and looked at her.

“Never has a woman said so much to me before,” he said slowly, his voice
soft and smooth as ever.

Anny shrugged her shoulders.

“‘Tis time then one should,” she laughed. “Rest your arm, sir, and leave
worrying a poor girl that has work and enough to do, now that Mistress
Sue be for ever out along the beach with Big French.” She turned away.

The Spaniard was beside her in a second and his slim white fingers
fastened round her wrist.

“Oh, you silly little wench,” he said with a laugh in his voice, “do you
think you can turn off Dick Delfazio easily like that? Mistress, I am of
some account on the Island. Is a man who kills six Preventative folk
single-handed to be stayed in his heart’s desire by a little
serving-maid, think you?”

“What would you do?” Anny, her big green eyes wide with apprehension,
and her back against the wall, jerked out the question fearfully.

Black’erchief Dick looked at her in admiration, and, swinging her toward
him, he put his arm round her waist, and Hal, passing the window at that
moment, suddenly changed his mind about entering the kitchen and marched
off down the garden coughing and swearing to himself.

Anny freed herself in a moment and stood with her arms akimbo.

“An you were not wounded and a customer, I should smack you across the
mouth,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

Dick laughed.

“Come, we should not quarrel, sweetheart,” he said. “When you are aboard
the _Anny_----”

“I pray God I shall be dead before,” the girl interrupted angrily, her
tears overflowing and rolling down her cheeks.

Dick caught her hand again and looked at her fiercely.

“I have played enough, lass,” he said. “You must come off secretly with
me or----”

Anny laughed.

“Must?” she said. “Must, indeed! And whyfore? I tell you, sir, I hate
you, and if you pursue me more I’ll have the landlord at you.”

“The landlord!” Dick sneered.

Anny was desperate.

“Or Hal Grame,” she said.

Dick threw back his head and laughed aloud.

“A tapster! Oh, pretty, pretty little wench, you are very amusing!”

The girl wrenched her hand away.

“Master Black’erchief Dick,” she said slowly, her little face very white
and grave, “will you understand please that I do not love you, I do not
even like you, and I will never go anywhere with you of my own will?”

The Spaniard stepped back a pace or two. He seemed to have realized at
last that she was speaking the truth, for he looked at the earnest
little face in front of him with a mixture of amazement and anger.

“You do not like me?” he said, his voice losing all its music and
becoming almost childish in its extreme surprise.

Anny nodded.

“No, I don’t like you. Will you please go away and leave me to my work,
sir?”

Dick’s anger rose up and boiled over in a moment.

“I tell you, you shall come, you pretty little fool,” he swore. “Or----”
he paused suddenly. “Is there some other man you love? Tell me, tell
me!”

Anny cowered before his angry, distorted face.

“No, sir, of course not, no, sir!” she lied vehemently. “Let go my
wrist, sir. Marry, how you hurt me!”

“This great hulking French, now, have you set your heart on him? Speak
out, girl!”

“No, sir, of course not!” Anny’s amazement was too genuine to be
mistaken.

“Yet you will not marry me?” Dick spoke sharply.

“No--no--no, sir! Go away!”

Dick turned on his heel and went to the door.

“By this knife,” he said, turning on the threshold, “you shall come with
me. I wish it, and never yet have I been prevented from my desires.”

“Lord! you’re mad!” Anny flung after him.

“Ay, mad for you, mistress.”

Dick’s voice had grown soft again and he laughed unpleasantly as he
strolled off down the yard. Anny watched him go and then turned back to
her work.

“Now I wonder will I ever be married at all?” she said to herself, as
she picked up a broom from the chimney-corner and began to sweep away
the dirty sand which lay all over the floor.

Blueneck was sitting on the sea-wall, thinking regretfully of Habakkuk
Coot, when Black’erchief Dick strode up and without speaking dropped
down beside him.

Blueneck looked at his captain slily and without turning his head.

Dick was smiling sardonically and his knife slid in and out the slim
white fingers of his right hand.

Blueneck considered it prudent to sit still and say nothing.

Dick did not speak for some time, and Blueneck began to get uneasy.
Finally he rose to his feet as nonchalantly as he was able and started
to stroll off down the beach.

Dick raised his eyes.

“Sit where you are, dog!” he said sharply.

Blueneck slid back to his place without a murmur.

The silence continued. At last, however, Dick put the knife back in his
belt and turned his sharp eyes on his mate.

“The lass refuses me,” he said.

Blueneck shrugged his shoulders.

“These country wenches be mighty particular about marrying their
husbands and so forth,” he observed.

Dick raised his eyebrows.

“I have said I will wed her,” he said stiffly.

Blueneck’s jaw dropped.

“Wed her?” he ejaculated. “Why, Cap’n, you must----” He broke off
lamely.

Dick snapped out the question, “Must what?”

Blueneck did not vouchsafe an answer, and they sat in silence for a
minute or two.

Dick began to speak, slowly and carefully, as though he was thinking out
each word separately.

“There is a thing on this earth, my friend, called love. And a very vile
and evil thing it is. It descends upon a man unawares like a shower of
rain, and soaks through to his very marrow. It takes away his energy,
his pride in his work and person,” he looked down at the lace ruffles at
his cuff and stroked them lovingly, and then added, “and I have reason
to think that great men feel it more sharply than others.”

Blueneck glanced quickly at the dapper little figure by his side, and
shrugged his shoulders.

The Captain was showing signs of strain, he thought.

“Must the wench be willing?” he asked. “Why not carry her off?”

Dick shrugged his shoulders.

“I would rather she were willing,” he said.

Blueneck looked at him, exasperated.

“Well, if you can’t persuade her I don’t know who can,” he muttered, but
Dick did not hear him. He was smiling, his eyes half shut.

Blueneck spat.

“Bewitched!” he commented silently to himself. Then an idea struck him
and he turned to the Captain.

“There’s Pet Salt,” he said. “She might do much.”

“Pet Salt?” Dick turned to him quickly. “Who’s she?”

Blueneck told the story of his night on Ben Farran’s boat with as much
credit to himself as was possible.

Dick listened in silence until he had finished; then he rose to his
feet.

“I will go to see this crone,” he said grandiloquently. “Lead me, dog!”

Pet Salt sat on the deck of her boat mending a net. She was mumbling to
herself, and her old knotted finger-joints cracked as she fumbled about
with the rough twine she was using. Beneath the hatches she could hear
old Ben swearing loudly as he hunted among the empty rum kegs for one
that still contained a little of the precious stuff. To judge from his
language he had been so far unsuccessful and the woman shifted uneasily
as she sat thinking of the beating he would give her if he found
nothing.

It was then that she heard a voice calling her from the beach.

“Pet Salt! Pet Salt!”

Noisily she scrambled to her feet and hobbled over to the side of the
hull, and looked down.

Dick and his mate stood together staring up at her.

“Good morning, mistress,” Dick began in his best manner.

Pet stared at him open-mouthed, her yellow teeth looking like fangs. She
had never seen such finery.

Dick, although himself rather taken aback at Pet’s appearance, could not
but feel flattered at her evident approval of his own.

Pet’s bleared eyes now fell on Blueneck and a shade of recognition
passed over her wrinkled, spirit-sodden face.

“Oh! it’s you again, ronyon, hey?” she cried in her cracked crooning
voice into which an eager note had crept. “You have no rum kegs slung
about you, eh?”

Blueneck waved his hand impatiently.

“Throw down the ladder, that we may come up and talk with thee, hag,” he
ordered peremptorily.

Pet hobbled off to obey him without a word, and Dick turned to his mate
in something like admiration.

“You have been well schooled, friend,” he said approvingly. “Yours is an
excellent way of dealing with crones.”

“Have a care!” called Pet from above as she threw the rope ladder over
the side. The end passed within an inch of Blueneck’s shoulders and he
looked up angrily.

Pet was leering at him from the deck.

“Come up, ronyon,” she said coaxingly.

Blueneck scaled the ladder in a minute and clambered on to the rolling
deck beside her.

Dick followed, more dignified but not a whit less agile.

Once on deck he looked about him in disgust. The worm-eaten boards, the
empty kegs and other lumber, and the general filthiness of the place
disgusted the little Spaniard. His own brig was always kept neat and
fastidiously clean.

He shrugged his shoulders.

“A very vile place in truth,” he observed, and then, turning to Pet, he
raised his hat as gallantly as if she had been a duenna.

“I would descend and talk with thee on the shore, if you please,
mistress,” he said. “This ship distresses me.”

He went again to the ladder, picking his way daintily across the dirty
deck; slowly he climbed down again. Pet and Blueneck followed him
without a word on to the sand again.

“Prithee, mistress, be seated,” said Dick, indicating a bank of seaweed
and seating himself on a breakwater some four feet away.

Pet sat down heavily and looked from Dick to Blueneck in a half-witted,
puzzled way, her big loose mouth sagging open, on one side showing the
large yellow teeth, which so irritated Blueneck.

Suddenly she stretched out a bony hand toward Black’erchief Dick and
began in a droning whine:

“May the Lord bless ye, fine gentleman; could ye spare a drop o’ rum for
a poor woman to take to her man who is dying of cold? Old Pet Salt knows
you, pretty sir. Old Pet don’t forget a generous face when she sees one.
Pet remembers when she came to the Ship and you gave her a keg. Could
you spare a little, fine gentleman?”

Dick stared at her; he remembered her now, and instinctively drew a
little farther away.

“Hold thy peace, hag, and hark to me,” he said sharply, “and much rum
may come of it--nay,” he continued as the old woman struggled to get to
her feet and come toward him, “keep thy distance and let thy dull wit
take in as much of this as it can. You have a granddaughter?”

A cunning light crept into the old bleared eyes.

“Ah!” she said, putting on a pathetic whine. “I have, God bless her pure
heart and body. One my man loves dearly! What would you have with her,
fine gentleman?”

Dick waved his hand.

“Woman,” he said softly, his voice taking on that musical quality which
his enemies knew so well. “It would be well if thou and I knew each
other’s mind a little more clearly--rum is a precious thing to you,
eh?”

Pet’s eyes glistened and her lips moved without sound.

“I have much rum,” Dick went on, looking at the old woman steadily, “and
I would wed your granddaughter.”

“Wed?” The exclamation escaped her before she could stop it.

Dick went on as though he had not heard her.

“At your boat and by a priest that I shall bring with me, I would wed
her.”

“Oh!” Pet said, and smiled knowingly.

“But so far the lass will have none of me,” Dick continued, noting Pet’s
amazement, “and so, mistress, I would wish you to persuade her to wed me
here secretly.”

“Ay, and if I do?” Pet broke in.

“If you do, you earn enough rum to keep you and your husband in liquor
for the rest of your life.”

Dick put his hands on his belt and looked at the old wretch quizzically.

Pet began to laugh. It was a terrible sound, half a wheeze and half a
choke.

“I’ll persuade her,” she muttered.

Dick quickly put up one white beringed hand.

“Nay, mistress, you must use no violence on her,” he said, “neither must
you harm her with spirit charms or other bedevilments; I would not have
her hurt.”

Pet Salt looked at him out of the corner of her eye.

“I’ll not hurt your love, master,” she laughed. “She shall marry
thee--and by a priest you bring--ha--ha!”

Blueneck had never seen his captain blush before and he now regarded the
little Spaniard with great interest. The usually sallow skin was stained
with a vermilion as he turned on the woman in anger.

“Keep to your promise then and be silent,” he said softly, “or by Heaven
I’ll blow your pig-sty of a rat-ridden hulk off the Island.”

The woman looked at him, frightened for a moment, but soon she began to
laugh.

“She shall wed thee, my pretty, fine gentleman, she shall wed thee--I’ll
see to that,” she said, scrambling to her feet--“and the rum shall be
paid, you promise, master?”

Dick nodded.

“I swear it,” he said. Then he got up and beckoned to Blueneck to follow
him.

“Good-morrow, mistress,” he said, taking off his hat.

Pet stood looking after them.

“I’ll coax her,” the woman called. “I’ll coax her,” and all the way as
they went down the beach they could hear her cracked, horrible
laughter.



CHAPTER XVIII


“Rum! rum! ru-u-m-m!”

Nan Swayle sat in her miserable little cabin with her knees drawn up to
her chin; her cat was perched on a rum keg beside her and there was no
light save for the cold gleam of stars coming in from the open door. She
sat there, a tall, gaunt figure steadily rocking herself to and fro as
though keeping time to some monotonous rhyme. She was talking to herself
in a deep, weary voice, and the words she uttered were always the same,
“Rum--rum--ru-u-m-m!”

Outside on the marshes everything was very quiet, and she rocked on,
undisturbed for a while. Then from the direction of the Stroud she heard
the squeak of a frightened gull as it flew up, disturbed from its rest,
and then another a little nearer, and again nearer still.

The woman did not cease her rocking; she knew someone was coming over
the dykes to see her, but what mattered that?

Suddenly she stopped, however, leaned her head forward to listen, and
then sprang from her chair with surprising agility and hurried to the
door.

“Nan--Nan, where are you?” called a girlish voice out of the darkness.

“Stay where ye are, Anny lass, till I get ye a light.”

Nan’s stentorian tones boomed over the flat bogs. Hurriedly she crossed
to the darkest corner of the little hut where she fumbled for a minute
or two. There was the sound of soft scraping of flint on steel then the
tinder caught fire and Nan lit a tallow dip and carried it to the door,
holding it high above her head.

There was no breath of wind in the cloudless night and the flame burned
steadily.

“Oh! Nan, I’m so glad ye’re here,” came the same voice out of the
darkness, this time a good deal nearer.

“Why, lass, wherever else would I be? What’s ailing ye, my girl?”

Anny scrambled over the last dyke and staggered breathless into the
circle of light thrown by the little flame of the dip.

“Let me come in and talk with ye, Mother,” she said, clutching hold of
the elder woman’s ragged kirtle.

Nan put a strong bony arm round the girl’s shoulders, and when she spoke
her deep voice had a softer quality in it than before.

“Sit down, lass, sit down, and get your breath, and then I’ll listen to
ye as long as my eyes will keep open,” she said kindly.

Anny sat down on the upturned rum keg, after first displacing the cat,
who spat at her viciously.

Nan snatched a leather thong from the wall and lashed at the cat
savagely, whereupon it slunk into a corner and lay down on a heap of
onions, keeping one baleful eye fixed on his mistress’s visitor.

Nan sat down on a three-legged stool, the only other article in the room
save for a huge iron bowl which hung on chains over the now empty grate,
and several bunches of dried herbs hanging from the roof, and looked at
the girl critically.

Anny’s face was very white and drawn, and she looked about her with a
hunted expression in her wild green eyes. She had evidently been crying
as she came along, for there were tear-marks on her white cheeks.

Nan said nothing, but sat looking at her, her strong, rugged face
absolutely expressionless.

“I’ve got to marry Black’erchief Dick, Nan,” Anny said at last. “What
will I do?”

Nan’s eyes flickered.

“Got to? Who says Anny Farran’s got to do aught she don’t want to?”

“Pet Salt said----”

“What!” Nan’s face blazed with fury. “That blue-livered, mange-struck
ronyon! Truth, lass, you’re mad to think on her! The louse-ridden,
thieving, man-stealing, spirit-sodden devil,” she muttered to herself.

Anny shook her head.

“She says I’ll be took to the Castle if I don’t do as she bids,” she
said hurriedly.

Nan lashed the earthen floor with her strip of leather.

“The woman’s a lying fiend,” she said quickly and intensely.

The girl laid her hand on the other woman’s trembling arm.

“I know she is, Mother, I know she is, but what will I do?” she said
softly.

Nan looked up impatiently.

“Do? Why, do naught, the old hell-kite, the sithering----”

“Ay, but listen, Mother! Listen!” The girl’s voice was so insistent that
the older woman allowed her voice to die away to a muttering.

Anny went on.

“If I don’t wed Master Dick, Nan, Pet Salt--” Nan began to mumble again,
but Anny took no notice--“saith that he will carry me off without him
marrying me--and, Mother, I would be wed.”

Nan paused in her muttered imprecations to look at the girl. This was a
new side of the affair, and she realized the importance to the girl’s
mind. She began to consider it carefully, while Anny watched her face
with almost painful eagerness.

But Nan’s hatred for Pet Salt was too great to allow her to think
clearly on any subject connected with her old enemy for more than two
minutes at a time, and she soon broke forth into low, tense reviling.

“Look!” she said, suddenly springing up and standing between Anny and
the open doorway, a tall black figure against a background of stars.
“Look at me, child--do you know how old I am?--forty-three! You’re
surprised? Of course, I look sixty, don’t I?--tell me--tell me.”

Anny looked at the rugged face that had evidently once been so
beautiful; the light from the dip flickered over it and accentuated each
wrinkle and hollow. She nodded.

“Ah!” Nan lifted her clenched fist above her head. “That is her work,
the woman of hell. Once my cabin was the sweetest, cleanest, and neatest
on the Island, my lips were the reddest, my hair the blackest, my smile
the most prized---- Oh, that crawling filcher, would I might feel these
hands about her scabby neck!”

Anny sighed. She knew it was no use to attempt to stop Mistress Swayle
in this mood, so she crouched back in her corner, while the cat, which
had at first objected to her, now came to hide in the folds of her
kirtle. He also knew his mistress’s vagaries.

Nan went on, her voice rising higher and higher, and her words coming
faster and faster until she seemed to be repeating some frenzied chant.

“She took my man--your grandsire--she stole him from me with promises of
rum to rot his soul with--God curse her. I, a sweet milk lass working
all day in my dairy with a flowered kirtle to my back and shoes to my
feet--and she a dirty, mange-eaten quean. Oh! may the red-plague fall
on her and her rat-eaten boat. And he a simple, kind-hearted lad with a
liking for the spirit! Oh! that kite shall go through torments in her
time! But he loved me--not her, devil baste her.”

Anny rose to her feet and the cat ran away squealing.

“Mother Swayle,” she said pleadingly, “what will I say to her?”

Nan seemed to come to herself again, for she patted the girl kindly on
the shoulder.

“You run back to the Ship, lass. I’ll see the ronyon,” she said.

Anny took her hand.

“You’re good to me, Mother,” she said.

Nan pulled her hand away sharply.

“Go off with you, child,” she ordered harshly, and as Anny sped over the
marshes, she heard the deep voice behind her getting fainter and fainter
calling--“Rum--rum--rum!”

Early on the next morning Mistress Swayle set out for Pet Salt’s boat.
The sun, rising red out of the sea, tinged her black gown and flying
elf-locks with a certain rustiness as she bent her head before the salt
morning wind and strode down the ill-made road. She walked along with
sweeping strides, a five-foot bramble stick in her hand. On either side
of her stretched the gray-green, dyke-patterned saltings, while ahead
gleamed fields of ripening wheat and blue vetches.

She was murmuring to herself as she went along and often paused to shake
her stick at some unseen adversary.

Her cat followed her at a respectful distance, always keeping one eye on
the bramble stick.

As it was some way to Pet Salt’s boat, Nan was tired by the time she
reached the Ship and would have gone in and rested there had she not
been beset by a pack of young urchins, Tant Pullen and little Red among
them, who danced round her in a ring calling “Witch!” and “Devil’s
Aunt!” and so forth.

The old woman--for she looked old--laid about her vigorously with her
stick and as she was very strong soon prevented them from barring her
way, but they followed her for a long distance along the wall.

Pet Salt lifted a tousled head above the hatchway, sniffed the cool
clean salt air, and shivered. Then hastily wrapping a piece of old
sail-cloth round her mouth and nose she scrambled on to the dirty deck
and hurried across to a heap of kegs piled up high. Under these she at
last unearthed a partially full one and hugging it to her bosom ran back
to the hatchway, her bare feet sounding oddly on the rotten boards.

It was at this moment that Nan tapped on the side of the boat with her
stick and shouted in tones loud enough to awaken the seven sleepers.

“Ho, there, you dirty ronyon, come out, come out, Pet Salt, Heaven blast
ye!”

At the sound of her voice Pet dropped the keg she was carrying and
tearing the sail-cloth from her face hobbled over to the side and looked
down.

“What! you round here, you hell-cat, sneaking a look at your love, I
suppose, you old----”

A stream of unprintable language broke from her ragged lips.

Nan, leaning heavily on her long stick, gazed upward and when Pet paused
for breath she began to talk in her big booming voice.

“What have ye been doing with my god-daughter, you stealer of loves?”
she shouted.

Pet began to laugh.

“Your god-daughter!” she shrieked. “And who is she, you mother of
witches? You’re not talking of my granddaughter, are you--you tike?”

Nan shook her stick at her fiercely.

“Your granddaughter! You mange-struck man-stealer!” she ejaculated.

“Man-stealer!” Pet shrieked in her fury. “You jade, you miserable,
jealous jade--still whining about your lover as you call him, you old
she-goat. My Ben never loved you--your lover! You’re as old as the
Island. What do you want with lovers?”

Nan stood there, a tall, imposing figure, her black rags gently stirring
in the wind.

“You lie, Pet Salt! In your rotting throat you lie,” she said calmly. “I
am not so old as you say, not so old as Ben--and he loved me well--and
would have wed me had not you stolen him----”

“I stole? Marry, hell-kite, I stole in truth! I stole when he came
begging to my door and beseeching me to save him from you? I stole, you
vile devil!”

“He did not!” Nan spoke hotly.

“Indeed, did he not, ronyon?” Pet was foaming at the mouth in her anger.
“Ay, he did, he crawled to my boat and said on his knees: ‘Oh, save me,
my own Pet o’ the saltings, save me from yon scabby wanton who waits for
me!’”

“May the green grass turn to ashes in your way for that lie, Pet Salt,”
said Nan slowly.

Pet put up her hands.

“Ye’re not to curse me, Nan Swayle,” she shrieked, “ye witch of
darkness, ye’re not to curse me, or by Heaven I’ll call Ben up to ye.”

Nan laughed a hard, crackling laugh in her throat.

“You daren’t, you slut,” she said. “Ben may not have forgotten his old
love!”

Pet grew purple with rage.

“I dare not let him see you!” she screamed. “What! you ronyon--I dare
not let him---- Oh! you’re mad!”

Nan laughed again.

“Still I say you dare not,” she said.

Pet choked with anger; then a crafty look came into her eyes.

“Oh, I see your mind, Mistress Nancy Swayle,” she said with a scornful
laugh. “I did not think you would be so cunning--do you then long so
much for a sight of your old love that you walk five miles in the early
dawning to beg for a look?”

Nan’s rugged features twitched convulsively, but in a moment she was
laughing again.

“Still I say you dare not, slut,” she said.

Without another word Pet turned away from the side and called down the
hatchway.

Nan waited on the beach below, quite still and leaning on her stick, a
proud smile playing round her wide, humorous mouth.

Two or three minutes later Pet reappeared supporting Ben, who in spite
of the early hour was very unsteady on his feet.

He lurched forward and sprawled over the side of the hull looking down
at Nan. She was evidently much surprised at the change in him, for she
started back a little.

Pet laughed derisively.

“Ain’t he a pretty one?” she said.

Nan gulped and came forward.

“Hail to ye, Benny,” she said softly.

Ben looked at her vaguely.

“Hail!” he said, and then after a moment added abruptly, “Whosh you?”

Pet shrieked with laughter, and settled herself down beside him.

“Who are you, old one?” she screamed.

Nan went nearer.

“Do you not remember Nan Swayle, Ben?” she said pleadingly.

“Ah, yesh! I remembers Nan Swayle,” said Ben cheerfully.

“That’s her, ducky,” said Pet, her face red with laughter.

Ben leant farther over the side to look at Nan, then he drew himself up
and turned to Pet.

“Slut, you lie,” he said, as clearly as he could. “That’s”--he pointed
to Nan--“an old hag--but Nan Swayle--no, Nan Swayle was a shweet lash--a
shweet milk lash--an’,” he went on very seriously, “a very pretty lash.”

He leaned over the side and had one more look at Nan, who stood beneath
him, her arms outstretched and her bright eyes brighter than usual.

“No,” he said. “No, no, nosh--that ish not a bit like Nan Swayle. Nan
Swayle is a pretty lash, a shweet, pretty lash.”

Pet rocked herself to and fro in a paroxysm of laughter.

Ben stood looking at Nan.

“Go away, hag,” he said, “find Nan Swayle and send her to me and I’ll go
with her, but yoush not Nan Swayle, or, anywaysh,” he went on, “not Nan
Swayle I knowsh, you ugly old hagsh.”

And he began to laugh. “That’s not Nan Shwayle,” he giggled, poking
Pet’s fat side with his fingers.

Pet rolled over on the gunwale in a fit of laughter.

“No, ducky,” she roared, “that’s not Nan Swayle. That’s a witch telling
us she’s her.”

“Ah! she couldn’t cheat me!” Ben chuckled. “I knowsh Nan Shwayle, a
pretty lash.”

“Pet Salt, the time will come when you shall pay!”

Nan’s voice drowned their laughter for a moment. She stood there on the
shingle, the waves lapping up to her feet and the newly risen sun
lighting her wrinkled face where two tears sparkled on her yellow
cheeks, but her eyes were bright and hard.

Then she turned away and strode off, holding her head high, and as she
went the wind carried after her the sound of their derisive laughter.

And it was not until she reached her cabin that she remembered she had
said no word to Pet of the business on which she had set out, Anny’s
marriage.



CHAPTER XIX


“Pet Salt, are you sure all this is so? I wouldn’t wed with him if I
could help it.”

Anny spoke anxiously, her little face white with apprehension.

She and Pet Salt were alone together on the deck of Ben’s old boat. The
tide was well up and the waves leaped against the stern with a gurgling
sound.

It was late in the evening, the wind was rising, and the sun was setting
over the Island in a blaze of red and green light.

On board the _Pet_ there was the customary muddle: empty kegs, rotting
sail-cloth, torn fishing nets, and derelict baskets lay strewn about the
decaying deck in endless confusion.

Pet was leaning against the stump of the main-mast, her red arms akimbo
and her tousled gray head cocked on one side, while Anny stood looking
on to the darkening water with her back to the old woman.

“Sure? Why, girl, certain I’m sure. As sure as this boat’s a vile hell,
Master Black’erchief Dick will have you one way or another--wed or
unwed. Which way lies with you?”

Pet’s harsh voice broke the warm quietness of the summer evening
unpleasantly.

Anny caught her breath, and shrugging her shoulders turned toward the
old woman. Then she laughed.

“Lord! you must be mad, Pet Salt, how could Master Dick carry me off
from the Ship, the whole village there to stay him?” she said,
brightening.

Pet laughed unpleasantly.

“You think too much of yourself, lass,” she said. “To stay him? And why
should any one stay him?”

Anny’s eyes grew big with surprise and fear.

“What do you mean?” she said as slowly as she could. “Why, Gilbot----”

Pet began to laugh.

“You, lass, have less wit than most girls, if you think any one would
turn away a moneyed captain because of a little serving slut,” she said.

Anny looked round her helplessly.

“Did you see Mother Nan yesterday?” she asked suddenly.

Pet began to swear.

“I did,” she said viciously. “The old ronyon! Come prowling around here
for a look at your grandsire, like an old hen clucking for its chick.”

“Did--did she not speak with you of me?” Anny’s voice trembled.

Pet laughed again.

“Lord, girl! the whole Island don’t spend its time thinking and talking
o’ you,” she said. “I heard naught of you from her----”

Anny looked round her hopelessly, the tears welling into her eyes. The
sun had sunk out of sight behind the belt of oaks on the Island and
everything around had grown gray and cool.

Suddenly she turned and threw herself before the old woman.

“Grandam, what will I do? What will I do?” she sobbed.

Pet kicked her away hastily and spat on the deck.

“Get up and behave yerself, Anny Farran,” she said sharply. “What should
ye do but marry the handsome Spaniard and sail off with him? Such a
chance don’t come to every dirty serving-maid.”

Anny sprang to her feet.

“I’ll not wed him,” she said, her voice clear and loud. “I’ll not if he
kills me.”

Pet Salt’s smile vanished and a crafty, anxious light crept into her
watery eyes. She crossed over to the girl with a peculiar smooth
movement and stood very close to her, her villainous face very near to
the young girl’s frightened one.

“Anny Farran,” she said, her harsh, high voice growing more and more
uncanny, “there be some as say Pet Salt is a witch.”

Anny started involuntarily. The light was fading, and faint shadows were
creeping fast all round the boat.

Away over the fields a corn-crake called plaintively once or twice and
then, quite near, an owl screamed loudly.

Pet’s face grew distorted in the shade.

Anny shuddered; she shared in all the superstitions of the day, and
witches and the evil eye were well known to her.

“Ay, they do!” she faltered, “but what say you?”

“I say--naught!”

Pet came a little nearer and her voice sank to a whisper.

Anny shrieked and started back.

“Holy Mother of God, defend me!” she muttered.

Pet laughed weirdly.

“Prayers don’t frighten Pet Salt,” she whispered, coming still nearer to
the terrified Anny, who clung to the gunwale.

“What will you do?” The girl’s voice was so low that Pet could hardly
hear it.

“Nay! What will you do, ronyon? Shall the handsome captain lie by you or
no?”

Anny clenched her little brown hands so that the nails cut into her
palms. The vision of Hal’s hurt and angry face kept rising up before
her.

“And if I do not wed him what will you do?” she said at last.

“Bewitch you, girl, so that even your young slave, Hal, may loathe you,”
Pet began in a slow sing-song voice. “So that your beautiful black hair
may fall off on the sand like seaweed, leaving you old and hairless--so
that your eyes may burn up and grow dim and the sight of the sea never
more be seen in them--so that your teeth may grow black and ache with
the pain of ten thousand devils tearing at their roots--so that your
nails may drop off and lie on the floor like shells, and your fingers
wither and grow black, and their knuckles decay and the joints drop off,
and----”

Anny covered her eyes.

“Oh, peace--peace, I pray you,” she screamed. “I will do anything. Oh,
peace----”

Pet began to laugh.

“Have a care, Anny, how you tell this,” she said, “or I will bewitch
thee certainly.”

Anny looked at the woman curiously.

“Yet I will not wed,” she announced suddenly. “I mind me when you vowed
that Master Pattern should have a blister grow on his skin to the size
of an egg, and I mind me that he had no such thing at all.”

Pet began to swear heartily.

“The hell-kite went to the priest at West,” she explained.

Anny’s eyes lighted.

“Then so will I,” she said promptly.

“That you shall not.” Pet laughed raucously. “Look you, Ann Farran,” she
said, “if you do so there’s other things that Pet can do. Send Hal Grame
and you to Colchester to the Castle to rot your lives out in the foul
dungeons they have there.”

This was the last. Anny, who was by this time thoroughly frightened, had
been brought up along with the other Island children to fear Colchester
Castle worse than death, and, indeed, the stories of the dungeons
current at that time were very terrible, the civil war being only just
over. She began to cry.

“I will wed with him,” she said.

“Secretly on this boat to-morrow night?”

Anny gasped. Nevertheless, she shrugged her shoulders and nodded.

“Yes.”

“Good! The Captain comes to-night to hear of it; will you wait to see
him?”

“Nay.” The word broke from her lips like a sob, and she ran over to the
rope ladder.

“If you fail----” Pet’s voice grew threatening.

Anny’s voice trembled.

“I will not fail,” she said, and then added beneath her breath, “Oh,
Hal, what will I say to you?”

As she ran back to the Ship across the fast-darkening saltings Anny
began to realize the situation a little more clearly. She had bound
herself to marry Dick on the morrow; that was terrible enough in itself,
but after she was married, what then? The girl stopped in her stride to
think on it.

“After I am wed I can go back to the Ship,” she said, half aloud, “but
why be wed first? Oh! whatever will I do?”

Two weeks ago she would have gone to Hal naturally. Now she swallowed
uneasily in her throat.

Hal had hardly spoken to her of late; he had grown strangely sullen and
taciturn, and spent all his spare time in a fishing-boat with Joe
Pullen. She knew that they took the fish they caught up the Colne and
sold it in the little inland villages. She had tried to speak to him
several times, but he had always looked at her so fiercely that she had
abandoned the attempt.

Alone on the wild, wind-swept marshes, the girl sank down on her knees
on the damp spiky grass and covered her face with her hands. She
remained quite still for several seconds and then sprang up with a
little cry. Hastily she passed her hands over her shining plaits as
though to make sure that they were still there, and examined her nails
anxiously. Then she sighed with relief and with one fearful backward
glance at the _Pet_, set off to the Ship, her skirts flying out behind
her as she ran.



CHAPTER XX


The same evening Hal Grame and Joe Pullen walked up the Ship lane
together in silence. They had just returned from one of their fishing
expeditions and Joe carried the catch in a dripping basket on his
shoulder.

Hal strode along beside him, his hands in his pockets and his eyes fixed
moodily on the ground.

No word of Anny had passed between them since the night a fortnight
before, when Hal had stumbled into Joe’s cottage and told the story of
his quarrel with her. Ever since, with natural delicacy, Joe had
carefully avoided the subject, and had carried his mate off fishing as
often as he could, thinking that this would take his mind off the girl.

Suddenly Hal stopped.

“How much had we from the sale of yesterday’s fishing?” he asked
abruptly.

“Four groats,” replied Joe promptly.

“Wilt thou give me two, mate?”

Joe looked at his friend in surprise; Hal was not wont to want money,
but he answered readily enough:

“Certes, lad, certes,” and setting his basket down he brought out the
two coins almost reverently from his pocket and held them to Hal, who
took them thoughtfully, weighed them in his hand, and then looked up at
his mate questioningly.

“How much silk can I buy with these at Tiptree?” he asked slowly.

Joe looked at him in astonishment.

“Silk? Why, Hal Grame, what in heaven and earth do you want with----” He
broke off abruptly, a wave of understanding passing over his face.

“She’s not worth your troubling, mate,” he said at last.

A dull flush of anger spread over the younger man’s face and he broke
out impetuously:

“Not worth my troubling! Lord save you, Joe Pullen, if it was any other
man who said as much, I’d----”

Joe put a huge paw on the boy’s shoulder.

“That’s right, lad, that’s right,” he said kindly. “The lass is your
love when all’s said an’ done--pray Heaven you may not be as fooled as I
was, though,” he added mournfully, the thought of Mistress Amy flashing
through his mind.

Hal smiled in spite of himself at his friend’s lugubrious expression,
but he soon became serious again.

“Joe,” he said hesitatingly.

“Ay!”

“You have had a deal of truck with women?”

Joe grunted.

“Wi’ one woman, you mean,” he said savagely.

Hal looked at him curiously before he spoke.

“What will I do about Anny?” he said at last.

Joe cleared his throat; he had very strong views on this subject.

“You make too much ado about her,” he said.

“But for these last two weeks I have said naught to her,” Hal objected.

Joe knew this was true and he shrugged his shoulders.

“I should be sharp with her, lad,” he said at last. “Tell her there be
other lasses you could love, and she’ll come round in no time.”

Hal nodded.

“I had thought as much myself,” he said.

“Depend on it, I’m right,” said Joe, shaking his head sagely, and
reshouldering the basket, and they continued thoughtfully up the dusty
road.

On turning into the Ship yard they saw the usual company seated on
benches before the kitchen door, drinking beer and rum, each man to his
fancy.

Old Gilbot’s chair had been moved out into the porch, and he sat in it
drunk and happy, singing to his heart’s content.

The two mates were greeted cheerily; Joe sat down and called for rum,
but Hal, seeing Blueneck and one or two others of the _Anny’s_ crew
among the company, walked into the kitchen, put his cap and coat by, and
looked about for Anny.

She was not in the kitchen or the scullery, so presently he wandered out
into the garden where the evening shadows lay deep over the plants and
shrubs. He sat down on an upturned barrel, his elbows resting on his
knees and his chin on his hands.

Hardly had he been there a moment when there was a rustling in the
shrubbery at the end of the garden and Anny, her plaits flying out
behind her, sped up the path toward him. She did not notice him, and
would have passed had not he put out an arm to stay her.

At his touch the girl gave a little terrified scream and started back
like a frightened animal. When she saw who it was, however, she gave a
little sigh of relief and a smile crept into her face, while her heart
beat faster.

Hal was going to make friends with her at last, she thought, and as she
smiled up at him she felt that here was the solution of her
difficulties.

Hal on his side felt a glow of pleasure at her obvious friendliness and
a warm impulse to take her in his arms. However, he remembered Joe’s
advice and the smile died on his lips as he said sharply:

“Where have you been, Ann Farran? And why come you in so quickly by the
back way?”

The eager, happy light died out of the girl’s eyes in a moment, and a
flush of anger spread over her cheeks.

“And what will that matter to you, Master Hal Grame?” she said, pertly
tossing her head.

Hal’s young face grew hard and he laid a hand on her arm.

“Indeed, it has a great deal to do with me, Ann Farran. What duty am I
paying to Master Gilbot if I let his serving wenches go flying about
the Island at all hours of the day, and besides, Anny, don’t forget that
you--you----” His voice had grown much softer and even trembled a
little, but Anny was too angry to notice it.

“Indeed, I think you take too much on your shoulders, master--master
tapster,” she burst out.

Hal gasped, and then as his anger rose, his grip on her arm tightened
and he shook her violently.

“Take care, Anny, take care,” he said between his teeth, “don’t forget
that you were to wed me!”

Anny tried to wrench her hand away.

“Were? Ay, you’re right, Hal Grame,” she said proudly. “Marry! I would
not wed you now if you and I were the last to be on earth.”

Hal blinked and let go his grip on her wrist; then a smile broke over
his boyish features, and he said half laughing:

“Lord, you’re daft, Anny, you know you love me. Come, say I lie, you
can’t!”

Anny’s black brows came down on her white forehead until they made one
straight line across her brow and her big green eyes blazed.

“I say you lie, Hal Grame,” she said very quietly and distinctly. “I say
you lie and that you are an over-weening puppy and think yourself too
fine.”

Hal was stung into replying sharply:

“Lord preserve you, silly wench, who do you think would marry you, a
little serving slut, without a portion, or even a father, for that
matter?”

Anny tossed her head and looked at him disdainfully.

“I could be wed to-morrow to a finer man than you,” she said, forgetting
prudence in her irritation.

Hal laughed savagely.

“Oh, you fool, you fool, Anny,” he said bitterly. “Do you think your
little sea-rat will wed you?”

Anny looked at him with child-like surprise.

“I do not think at all,” she said, and added under her breath: “I know.”

Hal looked at her hopelessly. He felt that Joe’s advice had not been
altogether helpful, and as she stood there, a wild, free-looking little
creature in the dim light, he could not help feeling that if he had
coaxed her instead of attempting to drive her into his arms things might
have gone better with him, and Anny as she stood looking at him felt a
pang in her heart when she thought of the old Hal, the Hal whom she had
loved, who had been so different from this new Hal who seemed to be
deliberately trying to make her hate him.

For two seconds they stood looking at one another, each hoping against
hope that all would yet come right; yet neither of them spoke. At last
Anny turned away and went slowly into the house, her mind made up about
her marriage and her thoughts on Black’erchief Dick.

Hal watched her go and then sat down again, his head on his hands.
Presently he put his hand into his pocket and brought out the two
groats, and looked at them as they lay shining in his palm, and then
made a gesture as though to fling them from him away into the bushes,
but thought better of it and repocketed them.

“The lass may love me still,” he muttered to himself. “I’ll get the
present for her. Lasses are slippery catches. I would I knew the way of
them.”

Then, thrusting his hands deep into his pockets, he got up heavily and
strolled slowly up the path, kicking savagely at the loose gravel as he
went.



CHAPTER XXI


“Ho, there, you mange-struck dogs, broach a keg and drink to your
captain’s lady!”

Black’erchief Dick, his eyes flashing and his face showing bright and
triumphant in the flickering lantern light, shouted the words over the
side of Ben’s boat to a little knot of picked men of the _Anny’s_ crew,
who were ranged on the sand below.

They were present to witness their captain’s marriage to Anny Farran,
and incidentally to carry the rum which was the price of his bride.

The worn deck of the _Pet_ had been cleaned and partially cleared for
the occasion. Dick had insisted on this, and, in spite of the
protestations of the two old people, Ben and Pet, the work had been done
and the place presented a fairly tidy aspect.

The empty kegs were ranged in neat rows round the gunwale, the
clothes-line had been removed and the rest of the litter swept down the
hatchway.

It was almost dark, and the cloudless sky was a pale blue shading off to
rose and green in the west where the first two or three stars shone
faintly.

On deck a big ship’s lantern stood on the stump of the main-mast while
two smaller ones hung on each side of it; they showed sick and yellow
in the half-light.

Standing before this improvised altar was a man dressed as a priest. He
held a book in his hand and was mumbling to himself nervously in a
foreign tongue. On either side of him were Blueneck and Noah Goody;
their knives were drawn and their faces set like wooden masks.

Before them, in a gorgeous ill-fitting gown of yellow Lyons silk which
Dick had brought and insisted on her wearing, stood Anny. Her cheeks
were flushed and her eyes dancing with excitement. Round her neck hung a
great silver pendant studded with garnets, and every now and then her
hand would stray up to this and her fingers caress it lovingly, half
wonderingly. On the little brown hand shone a ring; it was an
extraordinary jewel, consisting of a little gold hoop supporting a large
flower, each petal of which was a different kind of stone: diamond,
ruby, emerald, onyx, pearl, and sapphire, with a little piece of amber
for the centre.

Dick had told her that it was very old when he had put it on her finger,
and she looked at it with something very like awe.

Behind her stood Ben and Pet; the old man swayed to and fro drunkenly,
taking little or no interest in the proceedings, but the old woman
watched eagerly, half enviously, her bleared eyes following Anny’s every
movement and each gleam of the jewels, her quick ears catching each word
that was spoken. Nothing escaped her, and she noticed that the priest’s
garments were made for a much larger man, and that his book was upside
down, but she said nothing and merely smiled wickedly to herself as the
ceremony went on.

The men on the beach below were not long in obeying their captain’s
order, and in a minute the toast was given.

“Health and good fortune to the Captain’s lady!”

Everybody drank heartily, the priest more than any one, and Dick, his
brocaded coat and soft lace ruffles shining in the dim light, and his
black curls showing a little more than usual from under his black
kerchief, raised his glass above his head and taking Anny by the hand
threw back his head and laughed joyously. He had once again got his own
way in spite of difficulties. He drained off his liquor, and throwing
the empty glass over his head began to sing:

    “_Fair as the Island, and proud as the sea,_
     _As naught in the world is sweet Anny to me._”

The rich musical voice echoed round the old boat and floated out over
the marshes.

Anny caught her breath and her grip on the Spaniard’s pulsing white hand
tightened. She was carried out of herself by the excitement of the
moment, the wonderful frock, the jewels, and above all the singing.

Dick felt her emotion, and his arm slid round her waist much like a
snake slips round a tree stem, and, as her pretty head fell back on his
shoulder, the song grew louder, sweeter, and a triumphant note crept
into it.

    “_So gentle, so tender, so wise without guile,_
     _Oh, where is another like Ann of the Isle?_”

Anny sighed deliriously and she shivered with pure excitement; the
Spaniard’s full red lips brushed her hair before the wonderful voice
rang out again in the chorus:

    “_Ann, Oh! Ann of the Island,_
     _Where is another like Ann of the Isle?_”

The crew took up the strain, and Dick and Anny stood together in a
circle of singing men, each with his rumkin held high above his head and
his foot keeping time to the rhythm.

Old Pet spat on the deck and an envious light came into her evil old
face. All her life she had longed to be the centre of a scene like this,
the magnet of an admiring crowd of hard-drinking, hard-fighting,
hard-loving men. All her youth had been spent in dreams of a night like
this. Now in her age it was bitter to see it come to another woman.

As for Anny, she was intoxicated with it all; any sense of prudence had
left her. She was supremely happy. Now and again a faint regret that she
could not marry Hal rose in her mind, but she dismissed it promptly.

The future had no being for her, and the past was a dream; the thing
that counted was the present, the laughing, pulsing, living present.

And as the _Anny’s_ crew roared out their captain’s own love-song, and
Dick, his Spanish blood on fire with love triumphant, kissed her hair,
her eyes, and mouth, she laughed as freely and as joyously as he had
done.

The shadows were deepening by this time and the deep blue sky was
studded with stars, and Anny, looking up from the Captain’s shoulder,
said suddenly:

“It is late, sir; I must go back to the Ship now.”

Dick looked at her in astonishment for a moment, and a contemptuous
cackling laugh broke from between Pet Salt’s thin, blackened lips.

At the sound of it Anny shuddered involuntarily and drew a little closer
to the Spaniard, who, noting her agitation, turned on the old woman
angrily, his eyes suddenly losing their dreamy love-heaviness, and
becoming hard and bright.

“Peace, hag!” he rapped out, “get thee down thy rat-hole, and take thy
sodden man with thee, or nothing shall you see of me or my cargoes from
this night on.”

Pet began to mumble and curse under her breath, but nevertheless she
obediently hobbled across the deck toward the hatchway, half carrying,
half dragging the drunken Ben along with her. The company watched them
in silence and Anny, as with fascinated eyes she followed them to the
dark hole down which they disappeared, could not help being reminded of
one big muddy crab dragging its prey after it into its noisome hole,
there to feast.

Dick, too, watched them and shrugged his shoulders.

“So may all evil creatures drag themselves out of thy path, my Ann of
the Island,” he said, and then as though a new idea had struck him:
“Thou art right, dear heart, get thee back to the Ship. That will be the
best way, and then I will come for thee. Until then say nothing of
this.”

Anny smiled happily and ran to the hatchway to change her frock again,
and as she laid by the soft silk she felt in her childish,
happy-go-lucky way that she had laid by the whole evening’s business
with it.

She had been half afraid that Dick would not let her go back to the
Ship. Now it seemed that he wanted her to. She had some sort of vague
idea that she was to be his wife on the Island only, when she would see
him in the ordinary way at the Ship.

She sighed relievedly; the matter did not seem to be as important as she
had imagined.

When she came on the deck again dressed in her usual kirtle and bodice,
the crew were rolling several unopened kegs onto the deck, and the
priest was helping them, but Anny did not notice this, for Dick was
waiting for her.

“I will go with thee along the way,” he said gallantly, his soft eyes
seeking hers and his slim white hand closing on her little brown one.

Anny smiled at him and he helped her down the rope ladder and on to the
beach. Once again his silk-sleeved arm slid round her, and she laid her
head on his shoulder. They walked on in silence.

Suddenly the Spaniard stopped and his other arm encircled her, pulling
back her head and raising her little white face to his.

Anny could see him strangely earnest and grave in the moonlight.

“You are my first love, Ann of the Island, though there be many others I
have sported with,” he said in a strangely quiet, even voice, “and I am
a strange man; take care how you use me.”

Anny looked at him with frank, innocent eyes; he was very handsome, she
thought.

“I pray you kiss me, sir,” she said softly.

They did not move for a second or so, and the wind rose over the sea and
whistled through the long grass at the sides of the path, and rustled
the seaweed at their feet. Suddenly they became aware that someone was
coming toward them.

Anny grew suddenly rigid; it was a step she knew.

Dick looked up quickly, and they began to walk on.

The figure came nearer and nearer. Dick strained his eyes to see who it
was, but the man was in the shadow, and he passed without speaking.

When they had gone on a little way, Dick paused.

“Didst see who ’twas passed us, Ann?” he asked.

Anny swallowed, and then said as carelessly as she could:

“Oh! ’twas no one of any account; ’twas the tapster from the Ship.”



CHAPTER XXII


“Nan, are you within? I’ve come to beg a thing of ye, Mother.”

Anny stood outside Nan Swayle’s little cabin and knocked at the door. It
was early afternoon and the hot sun poured down on the gray purplish
saltings, but in spite of the heat the hut was shut up.

Anny began to be afraid that the old woman had gone away, and a sudden
feeling of terrible loneliness seized her; she knocked again
frantically.

There was silence for a moment or so and then Nan’s great booming voice
came out to the waiting girl like a welcome peal of thunder after a
lightning flash:

“Good swine, peace to ye, whoever you are. What do you want wi’ old
Mother Swayle?”

“‘Tis I, Mother--Anny Farran, and in great need.” The girl spoke eagerly
and her voice shook unsteadily.

There was the sound of someone moving hastily across the hut; the door
flung open and Nan’s great gaunt form appeared in the opening.

“Come in, child, in,” she said kindly, her shrewd, keen eyes taking in
the girl’s white, haggard face and miserable expression.

Anny looked up at her for a moment, and then her mouth twitched
convulsively at the corners, her eyes filled with tears, and she flung
herself in the old woman’s arms, sobbing hysterically.

Nan led her into the little dark hut and sat on an empty keg, gently
pulling the girl down beside her. Then she began to rock herself gently
to and fro. She said nothing for some minutes, during which Anny’s sobs
grew less and less violent.

“Now what’s the matter, my daughter?” said Nan, after the girl’s grief
had somewhat abated.

Anny began to cry afresh.

“Oh, Nan, what will I do?” she sobbed. “What will I do?”

The older woman put her hands on the girl’s shoulders and held her firm.

“Cry till ye can cry no more, lass, and then tell your story; ’tis the
best way; crying eases the heart. The Lord gave women tears that their
hearts might not break every day,” she said, her great kindly voice
echoing round and about the little shanty.

Anny lifted up her tear-stained face from the old woman’s knee, and,
carefully avoiding her piercing brown eyes, began to speak in a
half-whisper, stopping here and there to wipe her eyes.

“When I came home from the wedding wi’ Master Dick,” she began--Nan
started at her words and carefully suppressed an exclamation of
horrified surprise--“we passed--Hal--on the way--and, when I got to the
Ship, no one was in the kitchen, so I sat down on the long seat and
thought on the Captain, and after a while Hal comes in, and----” She
paused.

Nan said nothing but sat staring in front of her.

Anny looked up quickly.

“You knew that we had quarrelled, Mother?” she said.

Nan nodded.

The girl paused, and when she spoke again her voice had sunk into a
murmur.

“He did not see me at first for the kitchen was dark and I in the
corner. I watched him, Nan, I watched him come in, sit down before the
counting-table, and take down the slate, and I saw him push it away, and
then draw it to him again, and I saw him put his hand through his hair,
and I heard him breathe loudly and slowly, and as though it somewhat
hurt him, and I--oh, Mother--I heard him call me: ‘Anny, Anny, Anny,’ he
said as though he was speaking from a long way off; then he laid his
head on his arms there on the counting-table and I heard him breathing
again, loud and fast.”

Her voice died away and there was no sound in the coolness of the little
hut; then she began to cry again.

Suddenly Nan spoke, and her voice sounded sharp after Anny’s impassioned
murmuring.

“And you were married to the Spanish captain?” she asked.

Anny sat up, her beautiful green eyes brimming with tears.

“Yes,” she said pitifully, “and I love him.”

“Who? Black’erchief Dick?”

“Nay, oh, nay, Mother; nay, Hal, Hal Grame--my love!” A sob rose in her
throat but she swallowed it down and continued almost eagerly, “And as
he sat there, and I watching, I knew ’twas he I loved, for all his
foolings, and I wondered would I creep behind and put my arms about his
neck, and put my face to his hair, but I minded I was married to the
Spaniard, and I knew I could not wed with Hal, and I wondered what would
I do, and then, as I was watching him, he looked up and saw me. His face
was very pale, and I have never seen any one but the dead so pale. I
thought he would have cried out, for his mouth opened and his lips
moved, but he said naught; then he stood up and came toward me, slowly,
as though I had been a spirit, and his eyes were so dark and full of
something, I know not what--that I put up my hands to hide my face.”

She broke off abruptly and looked round her, and brushed the hair off
her forehead before she spoke again--all the time Nan rocked silently to
and fro.

“Then I heard him speaking below his breath, and his voice hurt me, Nan;
his voice hurt me. ‘Anny,’ he said, ‘Anny, are you come back to me, my
love?’ and I heard him fall on his knees at my feet, and I felt his head
in my lap and his arms about my waist--and I loved him. Oh, Nan! I loved
him so!”

Her hands clutched at the older woman’s gown convulsively.

“Mother, will you tell him? Will you tell him?” she broke out suddenly.
“I couldn’t, I couldn’t, not when he was kneeling there more like a
young lad than a man.”

Nan stopped rocking and faced the pleading, frantic little girl before
her.

“You did not tell him?” she said slowly.

Anny shook her head.

“Nay, I could not tell him--I love him so,” she said. “I got up and ran
away to bed, leaving him there, his head on the seat I had left, and,
oh, Nan! all night long I dreamed I could still hear him breathing
heavily like that and calling ‘Anny, Anny, Anny.’ Oh, Nan! tell him for
me, tell him for me! I could not stay in the Ship and he there not
knowing. Both our hearts would break.”

Nan looked at her curiously.

“I will tell him,” she said.

A sigh of relief broke from Anny’s lips and Nan went on: “I did not know
you had wedded with the Spaniard, lass; why did you so? You must have
been mad; what will ye do now?”

Anny looked at her in astonishment.

“I had no choice,” she said. “Pet----”

A light of understanding swept over Nan’s expressive face and she sprang
to her feet.

“Miserable hell-cat that I am,” she exclaimed, her great voice shaking
with fury, “to be turned aside by Pet’s damned witchcraft, and sent
home without having done aught. Oh, why did ye do it, lass, why did ye
do it?”

Anny shrugged her shoulders.

“‘Tis nothing, Mother, nothing,” she said wearily. “I shall not be known
as his wife. There will be no difference, save that I cannot wed with
Hal.” Once again her voice broke on the name.

Nan stared at the girl incredulously.

“Did he say so?” she gasped.

Anny shrugged again. “Nay, not in words,” she said carelessly, “but he
said, ‘Go back to the Ship and I will come,’ so you see nothing will
change.”

The elder woman seized the girl by the shoulders.

“You’re mad, Anny,” she said fiercely. “Don’t you see he’ll take you
away? When the Spaniard comes to the Ship, he comes for you.”

Anny sprang to her feet, her eyes wide with fear and amazement. This
view of the affair had not presented itself to her before.

“Take me away?” she repeated wonderingly, and then, as the full meaning
of the words came to her, a little terrified scream escaped her. “I
won’t go,” she said quickly, “I won’t go--leave this Island? Leave the
Ship? Leave Hal? No, I won’t go--I----” She stopped suddenly and turned
to the old woman, an expression of horror on her face.

“There was none who could stay him wedding me,” she said slowly, her
eyes growing larger and more frightened at every word. “There was none
who could stay him wedding me; there will be none to stay him taking me
away. Oh!----”

She dropped down on the beaten earth floor, shuddering violently.

Nan looked down at her for a few seconds and then out of the door over
the flat marshes to the hilly wooded island beyond.

“The witchcraft of Pet Salt--blast her--stayed me once, Anny,” she said,
“but none shall stay me the second time, my daughter.”



CHAPTER XXIII


As Anny ran back to the Ship her mind was full of one thing only--fear
of leaving the Island.

Nan’s few words had thrown an entirely new light on the situation.
Before hearing them she had thought of the future as simply a
continuation of her present life. She could hardly imagine a world in
which the Ship, the Island, and Hal had no part. They had become
necessary to her; and the thought of losing them terrified her. She had
been somewhat reassured by Nan’s promise to prevent her from going with
the Spaniard, but as she thought of Dick, with his determined air and
ready knife, her heart sank again, and she hurried on, her head full of
troubles.

That evening the usual company gathered together in the old kitchen of
the Ship, and Anny was kept busy serving liquor; she had no one to help
her. Sue was down walking on the beach with Big French, and Anny felt
half envious when she thought of the other girl’s smooth love affair
compared with her own. Hal, too, was away; he had gone off to a
mysterious summons which had been brought to him some two hours ago and
had not yet returned.

Old Gilbot was very merry, and as the time drew on he called for the
candles to be lighted and then leaning back in his chair, treated the
company to one of his favourite songs--“Pretty Poll, she loved a
sailor,” and soon had the rafters shaking with his music and their
laughter.

No one noticed Anny, and the girl went about her duties quietly, almost
dreamily. Often she would pause to listen, and stand waiting, her eyes
on the door for some seconds, before she went on with her work again,
her face set and white.

Just when the chorus of “Pretty Poll” was at its height, however, there
was the sound of footsteps on the cobbles outside and the door opened
suddenly. No one noticed it save Anny, and she stood silent.

Hal came into the kitchen slowly, screwing up his eyes until they should
have got used to the light. The girl watched him, fascinated. His face
seemed to have suddenly grown very grave and quiet. A man’s face, she
thought, and she looked at him wonderingly!

Suddenly he turned and saw her.

Anny met his eyes with difficulty, and then dropped them before his
gaze, so reproachful and yet so kind. She shivered a little.

Nan had kept her promise.

For the next two days Anny saw nothing of the Spaniard and her spirits
began to revive. Like all the Island folk, she took life very casually,
and, as the days slipped on uneventfully, the event of her marriage,
although barely a week past, grew more and more like a rather exciting
dream.

She was thinking like this as she sat alone in the kitchen’s open
doorway, stitching a seam in one of Sue’s new kirtles, when she saw
Blueneck coming across the yard toward her. Instantly all her fears
returned and her fingers trembled as she pushed the needle to and fro
through the coarse flannel.

He came up and saluted her courteously, as became one addressing the
Captain’s lady.

“Mistress, I have a message for thee,” he said, looking about him
cautiously.

Anny glanced up quickly.

“There is none with us,” she said, jerking her head toward the kitchen.

Blueneck looked round the yard hastily, and then bent a little nearer to
the girl.

“Mistress, the Captain bids me tell you that we sail to-morrow night,”
he said softly.

Anny caught her breath and the sailor went on:

“And, mistress, he bids me tell you to be ready to go with him when he
comes for you.”

Anny’s sewing slid off her lap onto the ground unheeded.

Blueneck noticed her confusion and, dropping his voice to a whisper,
said kindly:

“Take heart, lass, if ever the Captain kissed a woman, he loves you,”
and then, recovering his respectful manner, he added, “and the Captain
prays you to be secret for a while.”

Then with a smile and cheerful wave of his hand he turned and left her.

Anny sat spellbound.

It had come.

Immediately her thoughts flew to Nan. She must tell Nan at once for,
whether the old woman could help her or not, the girl realized that she
was the only person on the Island who was willing to do so.

She got up to get her shawl and then remembered that she dared not leave
the Ship.

Sue and Hal were out in the fields and Gilbot had walked down to the
sea. The Inn could not be left unattended; suddenly she remembered Red.

The child was playing happily in the garden; he came rather unwillingly
when she called him and stood before her, a quaint, bedraggled little
figure biting his nails, but he was fond of his sister and listened to
her instructions with great attention.

“Red, will ye run along to Nan for me?” she said as calmly as she could.

The child’s face fell but he nodded all the same.

“And will ye tell her this? Now do keep it in your head, Reddy”--she was
trembling in her agitation--“tell her this--he wants Anny to go
to-morrow and none can stay him.”

She spoke very distinctly, as though she were trying to imprint each
word on the child’s mind.

Red screwed up his eyes in a great mental effort.

“He wants Anny to go to-morrow, and none can stay him,” he repeated at
last. Then he turned to his sister. “Who wants you, Anny?” he asked
curiously.

Anny frowned.

“Oh, go along, dear, go along, hurry!” she almost sobbed.

Red looked at her in mild surprise, and then trotted off obediently,
muttering to himself as he ran and letting the words keep tune to the
soft pad of his feet. “He--wants--An--ny--to--go--to--morrow--and
no--one--will--stay--him.”

He was very hot and breathless by the time he reached Nan’s hut, and he
stammered out the words to the old woman, who listened eagerly, a
strange light in her eyes.

“To-morrow?” she said as the boy sank down on the floor panting and
gasping.

Red looked up.

“Yes,” he said, and added: “And no one will stay him.” He repeated the
words as though they held no meaning for him.

A fierce expression grew on Nan’s rugged face and she bent down to the
little fellow and shook him half-angrily.

“You lie, boy, you lie,” she said, her face very close to his. “Do you
hear?--you lie--for there is one who will stay him, nay, who shall. Get
back to your sister--tell her not to fear.”



CHAPTER XXIV


“Ah, Master Gilbot, ’twill be a deal quieter than this to-morrow night,
I reckon.”

Master Granger leaned across from his seat in the chimney corner and
jerked his head in the direction of the body of the room where
everything was in commotion.

The _Anny_ was due to sail on the night tide and her crew were
celebrating its departure with rum and song.

One of the long tables had been pulled out, and round this some ten or
twelve men sprawled in more or less comfortable attitudes. Behind these
were others sitting on rum kegs or leaning against the walls. They were
all very merry, and from time to time loud shrieks of laughter shook the
old Ship’s rafters and made them echo again and again.

Round the flickering fire, the first of the season, but a bright one,
sat the Islanders, Joe Pullen, French, Cip de Musset, Granger, Gilbot,
and a few others. They did not mix with the roaring, yelling crowd of
seamen, but sat stolidly, drinking slowly, talking slowly, and enjoying
themselves after their own quiet fashion. Now and again, perhaps, a
young man would leave his seat to go over and split a joke and a pint
with a sailor, but the majority kept themselves to themselves, neither
objecting to, nor wholly approving, the noisy pleasure of the smugglers.

Hal, especially, was very taciturn. He stood quietly in a candlelit
corner, cleaning pewter, and spoke hardly at all. Sue, however, was in a
very good humour; in her best kirtle, and her hair tied with a bow of
scarlet ribbon which French had given her, she flew hither and thither
carrying the liquor.

Anny had not yet appeared, and Blueneck nudged Noah Goody as they sat at
the long table, when the time crept on, and still she did not come.

Little Red sat on French’s knee keeping very still and listening to the
conversation with the utmost interest.

Granger’s remark called forth a chorus of “Ay’s,” some disconsolate, but
mostly cheerful.

Gilbot looked at the reeling crowd out of the corners of his little
red-rimmed eyes; then he chuckled:

“Nish,” he said thickly, a weak, happy smile playing over his big puffy
face. “Nish, oh! very nish indeed. Letsh have a song,” and he struck up
“Mary Loo” in a thin, quavering voice.

At this moment the door was flung open and a wave of cold air blew round
the stifling kitchen; several men from the table turned to swear at the
intruder, but their mouths shut silently and they rose to their feet as
they saw who it was.

Black’erchief Dick stepped lightly into the room, and, shutting the
door behind him, stood smiling on the company, a slim, dapper little
figure in black velvet.

Then he removed his black beaver and called loudly for liquor all round.
His words were received with cheers, and once again the talk broke out,
and the singing restarted.

Dick perched himself on the end of one of the empty tables and looked
about for Anny. The smile faded from his face when he saw she was not
there, and a look of disappointment took its place. He had no doubt she
was preparing to fly with him, but he had expected to see her waiting
for him, her big eyes and wistful little face alight with expectation,
and, he flattered himself, love. His vanity was hurt at her neglect. So
his astonishment and anger when he saw her come in a few minutes later,
in her usual kirtle and serving apron, an unwonted colour in her cheeks
and a sparkle in her eyes as she fluttered to and fro from one knot of
seamen to another, leaving a smile here and a jest there, and a pert,
stinging remark somewhere else, knew no bounds. He looked at her in
amazement; she had not even glanced his way. The disappointed expression
left his face and a smile returned, but it was not the same smile.

In the next half hour Anny surpassed herself for gaiety. Her laugh rang
out loud and clear almost every other second, and the whole company was
at her feet in ten minutes.

Even old Gilbot noticed her and, wagging his head sagely, said that
“good lashes” were “good business.”

But for Dick she had no eyes, not once did she meet his glance, bring
his liquor, or come within five feet of him.

At first his surprise kept him silent and grave, so that Blueneck
observed in a whisper to Goody that it was wont to be the lasses and not
the Captain who were grave when sailing time came, and that times had
changed, but after a while Dick’s smile grew more and more pronounced
and he called for rum again and again.

Still Anny took no notice of him. Louder and louder grew her laugh,
quicker and quicker her retorts, brighter her smile, and more numerous
her admirers.

Hal looked up from his pewter cleaning and sighed.

“She was never so happy when we were sweethearts,” he muttered.

Only Sue looked at Anny strangely; she was a woman and she knew that
there was a false note in the girl’s laughter, and that the light in her
eyes was an almost desperate one. But she was an Islander, and therefore
another lass’s business was none of hers, and she said nothing to her
nor to any one else.

At last the Spaniard could bear this lack of notice no longer, and
raising his voice called pleasantly enough:

“Mistress Anny!”

The girl started, and the tray of mugs which she was carrying rattled
nervously, but she recovered herself in a second, and smiled radiantly
at him.

“Will your lordship wait till I put these down?” she said gaily, with
mock deference.

Dick’s smile grew broader, and Blueneck, who was watching him, whistled
softly between his teeth and nudged Goody again.

“Not at all,” Dick was saying, his voice very soft and caressing.

Anny put down the tray with a clatter.

“Oh! there now,” she exclaimed brightly, “if I haven’t spilt one half of
Master French’s sack; I must fill it up. Here, Hal, will ye go to the
Captain for me while I do this? I know he likes being served quickly.”

Hal went over to him obediently.

The Spaniard’s eyelids flickered and his smile broadened as he ordered
more rum, planking down a jacobus in payment.

The time went on, and Gilbot and his customers grew more and more
lively; still Anny avoided the Spaniard, and still he sat on the table
steadily drinking rum.

Suddenly in the middle of a song Dick looked at the clock, and then
rising to his feet shouted:

“Get aboard, dogs!”

The singing died away immediately and all eyes were turned on the clock.
The hands pointed to 8.15.

Then a murmur rose among the crew and one bolder than the rest said
something about orders being a quarter to nine.

Dick sprang to his feet and his hand played round the hilt of his knife.

“A mutiny?” he asked softly.

Instantly there was a shuffle toward the door and they filed out one by
one, and Gilbot, his fuddled brain just realizing that the merriment had
suddenly died down, began to pipe cheerfully:

    “_Oh, no one remembers poor Will_
     _Who stuck by hish mate at the mill._”

Dick laughed and took it up, and the crew, glad to find him so easily
recovered, joined in eagerly and they filed off down the road singing in
chorus:

    “_He ground up more bones_
     _Than barley or stones,_
     _And more than old Rowley could kill._
     _More bones, more bones,_
     _More bones, more bones,_
     _More bones than old Rowley could kill._”

“Ah, well!” said Joe, rising to his feet, as the last man reeled
drunkenly out of the doorway. “I reckon I’ll be getting down to look to
my boat.”

The others laughed; it was well known that the smugglers would
commandeer any rowing-boat that might come their way to take them to the
brig, and like as not would set it adrift to be carried out to sea.

“I’ll go with ye, lad,” said Granger, and they went out together.

Most of the others followed, leaving only French, Red, and Cip de Musset
sitting with Gilbot round the fire.

Anny and Sue stood by the door talking together, their backs to the
Spaniard, while Hal went on cleaning pewter.

Dick swaggered over to French.

“Master French,” he said softly, his beautiful voice very even and
clear, “hadst thou not better go down to the brig and see to thy goods?”

French looked up, puzzled.

“Goods?” he said wonderingly, and then added as he met the Spaniard’s
steady gaze, “Oh! ah! maybe I had, maybe I had,” and got up hastily.

Red caught hold of his hand.

“Take me,” he whispered.

French looked down at him and laughed as he stroked his honey-coloured
beard.

“Come on, then, young ’un,” he said kindly.

Red whooped joyfully, and the big man and the little boy went to the
door together.

Sue slipped her arm into French’s as he passed her.

“I’ll come a little way with ye, Ezekiel,” she murmured.

French put his arm about her and they went out.

Cip de Musset then rose to his feet.

“Are you coming, Captain?” he said, as he picked up his stick.

Anny caught her breath as she edged round behind the empty table.

Dick smiled sardonically.

“I shall follow,” he said.

Cip looked about him, and then smiled knowingly, and putting on his hat,
went over to the door and out into the dark.

Black’erchief Dick waited until he had gone and then turned and faced
Anny, who was watching him, fascinated. She felt that the time had come
at last when she must shake him off for ever or else go with him.

She had not heard from Nan since Red had taken her message, and she
remembered the old woman’s promise as the one gleam of hope on her
horizon, and every moment she expected to see her hobble into the
kitchen, but it was getting late, and Nan had not come.

Dick walked over to the table behind which she stood and seated himself
upon it without speaking.

The desperate light crept into the girl’s eyes again and she began to
laugh. At least she must keep him in as good a temper as possible. She
realized that. So, dropping a curtsey, she came a little nearer and
leaning over the table she asked him would he drink again. To her
surprise he answered her very pleasantly that he would, and ordered rum.

Hal, who was still cleaning pewter, looked up from his work, and watched
the little scene with a growing sense of despair.

To know that his love was lost to him was bitter enough, he told
himself, but to see her happy in the Spaniard’s company, to see her
hang upon the Spaniard’s words, and wait for his smile, was too much; he
turned away quickly.

When Anny came back with the rum, Dick caught her wrist and held her
firm with one hand while he raised the tankard to his lips with the
other.

“Why are you not ready to come with me?” he whispered as he set down the
empty rumkin.

Anny began to laugh again.

“Lord! how you talk, Captain!” she said, trying to pull her arm from out
his grasp.

The Spaniard’s grip tightened, and his smile grew more grim.

“Ann, this is not the time to jest,” he said, his voice growing softer
and more musical at every word. “The brig waits us.”

Anny noticed that his voice was gentle, and began to giggle again.

“Well, Master Dick, let it wait,” she said, tossing her head. “It can
wait till Doomsday before you’ll see me aboard,” and she broke into a
little nervous laugh.

To her surprise Dick joined in with her, and his long, low laugh echoed
through the kitchen.

Hal looked up quickly and then turned away as though the sight had stung
him, while Gilbot, thinking that it was a signal for general joyfulness,
began to sing again:

    “_Pretty Poll, she loved a sailor,_
     _And well she loved he---- _”

“Peace, damn you, peace,” roared Dick, suddenly gripping Anny’s arm so
hard that she cried out.

Gilbot sat spellbound. Never had any one so spoken to him in his life
before, and he was about to reply, but one look at the furious face of
the little Spaniard calmed him and he subsided, muttering:

“No offensh, no offensh.”

This outburst had surprised Anny quite as much as Gilbot, and she looked
at Dick with new fear. If only Nan would come, she thought, if only Nan
would come!

At this moment the door opened and she turned eagerly, her eyes alight
with hope, but it was Sue who came in softly and sat down quietly by the
fireside opposite her uncle.

Dick turned his head without letting Anny go, and called for more rum.

Hal brought it, without looking at either of them, and set it on the
table.

The Spaniard drained it at a gulp.

“So you will not come with me, my beautiful one?” he said, still
smiling, and leaning across the table toward the girl.

Anny looked at him and her spirits rose; he was only playing with her,
after all, she thought, as she saw his dark eyes smiling at her.

Yet she wished that Nan would come, although she was still vague in her
mind as to what she expected the old woman to do when she did come.

“Nay, sir,” she said, smiling, “not this time.”

The Spaniard laughed again.

“Not this time, my Ann? Not this time?” he questioned in an almost
threatening note, which crept into his laughing tone.

“Here, boy, more rum,” he called over his shoulder.

Hal brought the liquor; the Spaniard drew his knife from his belt and
held it up by the blade so that the flickering light fell on its
jewelled hilt.

“‘Tis a fair blade,” he said admiringly.

“Ay, it is,” agreed Anny, as she took the rum from Hal, who nearly cried
out as he saw her bright, eager face lifted to the foreigner’s.

Dick took the tankard and drained it; then he began to smile again and
to twist the knife through and about his fingers with that peculiar,
smooth movement his crew knew so well.

The girl watched him for a second and then looked up at the clock. Why
had not Nan come, she wondered?

“‘Tis late, Captain, you will miss the tide an you do not hasten,” she
said.

Dick’s eyelids dropped a little lower over his dark eyes, but his knife
slipped through his fingers with a faster motion than before. Yet still
he smiled, and when he spoke Anny thought that she had never heard so
beautiful a voice.

“Ah! señora, I would not leave the Island without that jewel which is
mine by right,” he said softly.

“Oh! I had forgot,” said Anny, feeling in her apron pocket, “here is the
ring, sir, I had it ready for you,” and she drew out a little muslin
packet, and unfolding it disclosed the flowered ring which he had given
her. She held it out to him.

Sue, who had been watching them, gasped at the sight of such a jewel,
and looked at Anny wonderingly.

The girl was over-lucky, she thought.

Dick took the ring and slipped it over the blade of his knife; it slid
up to the hilt and there stuck, a band of gold and gems round the blue
steel.

“You give it back to me?” he said, half to himself. “You give it back to
me? No other woman has done so much,” he added suddenly, looking at her
with that peculiar smile playing round his lips. Then his voice dropped,
and he said as though he had just realized something: “But to no other
woman have I given so much,” and he laughed again, unpleasantly and yet
so musically--while the knife fairly sped through his slim, delicate
fingers.

Anny began to feel fairly sure of herself. Why should she wait for Nan
to defy him, she thought? Here he was, laughing and playing; surely
there would be no danger in telling him the truth.

She leaned a little nearer to him and said very softly so that none of
the others could hear:

“I would you would go, sir; you have your ring; what else remains?”

The knife paused for a moment in its unending circle round the thin
white hand, the dark lids flickered, and the thin twisted smile
vanished, but only for a second; then the soft voice said smoothly:

“One thing, Ann, my Ann of the Island, one thing remains that must come
with me; that is my wife.”

Anny began to laugh again nervously, but conquering herself she said
sharply:

“Pest on ye, sir, will ye never stop teasing a poor girl’s life out? I
tell you, I hate you, sir.”

Dick laughed softly, and there was a new note in his voice which no one
could mistake, and Anny drew back a little.

“You said so once before, sweet Ann,” he said, “and I did not believe
you then, as I do not now.”

Anny felt strangely irritated by his attitude, and bending still closer
to him, said in a sharp half-whisper:

“Oh! but, sir, you should; a man who woos unloved is a foolish sight in
my eyes.”

Dick slipped his arm round her waist and held her fast; he was beginning
to realize that he had at last come up against a will which would not
bend before his own, and a wave of uncontrollable anger surged over him;
his smile almost vanished for a moment and the knife quivered in his
hand.

Anny took his silence as a sign that her words were prevailing with him
and determined to play her last card.

“I love another one,” she said softly, drawing away from him as she
spoke.

A ripple of laughter burst from the Spaniard’s lips and he held her
closer to him.

Hal looked up at the sound with a fierce light in his eyes; he made a
step forward, but drew back again almost immediately.

“The lass likes it,” he thought mournfully. “The lass likes it.”

Yet he could not keep his eyes off the two.

Anny pointed to the knife, which was hanging before her, and looked into
the dark smiling face so near her own.

“Put by thy knife, sir,” she said pettishly. “It fears me.”

Once again Dick laughed.

“Nay, ’tis a beautiful thing,” he said, holding it in the palm of his
hand, the point toward her. “Think you not so?”

The girl shrank away and he bent toward her. “You said you loved
another, mistress,” he said suddenly, fiercely. “Is it truth?”

Anny smiled at him fearlessly.

“Ay, sir, truth!” she said quietly.

The Spaniard’s smile returned, and the blue knife with the gold band on
it seemed suddenly to have become part of his hand as with a deft
movement he laid the bright steel against the girl’s bosom.

Hal and Sue leaned forward to see this new foolery of the Captain’s,
each thinking that his love-making was a little too open to be decent.

“Oh! my sweet one, how fair my blade looks against thy white breast,”
said Dick, his eyes holding Anny’s. “You gave me back my ring, but I am
generous; see, I give it back to you.” With the last words the knife
seemed suddenly to quicken and spring from his hand, and Anny staggered
back from the table, her hand clasped to her breast.

“Oh! how you hurt me, sir,” she said simply, the smile still on her lips
and her cheeks still bright with the excitement of a moment before. Then
her eyes closed and she dropped on to the floor, the little thud her
body made on the stone flags echoing all round the kitchen like a
thunder-clap, and the knife Black’erchief Dick held was red blood up to
the hilt.

He looked at it dazedly, a horrified expression on his usually
inscrutable face.

“Dead!” he said hoarsely, his voice sounding old and strained in the
intense silence. “She is sure to be dead; we have never struck twice,
but,” his voice sank to a whisper, “at last we have struck too soon.”

He passed his hand over his forehead and gazed fixedly in front of him;
some of the blood which had spurted off the knife on to his hand now
smeared his forehead. Save for this, his face was ashy pale--then with
slow, deliberate steps he walked to the door, opened it, and went out.

For a second the kitchen was in perfect silence, and then a scream as
high and despairing as a woman’s rang out loud and clear in the suddenly
cold room, and Hal Grame his boyish face distorted with rage and horror,
flung himself across the kitchen and out after the Spaniard.

The night was an exceedingly dark one, and Nan Swayle stumbled once or
twice over the loose stones in her path as she strode over the rough
track which ran from her shanty to the Ship.

Many strange thoughts came to her as she passed on through the darkness,
her tall, gaunt figure straining against the wind and her ragged
garments flying like streamers out behind her.

The bitter memory of her last encounter with Pet Salt still rankled with
her, and the thought of Anny’s enforced marriage to the Spaniard made
her hate the other old woman more deeply than before. She had sworn to
Anny that she would prevent her sailing with Dick, and it was to fulfil
this promise that she was striding through the night.

To prevent Dick from carrying off Anny!

Nan had thought over her self-allotted task very carefully, and to her
there seemed but one way to accomplish it. She had decided to take that
way. And as she hastened on, her thin brown fingers gripped her long
staff fiercely and from time to time she stopped to feel the heavy round
stone which was bound to the top of it, making a once-harmless
walking-stick a formidable weapon.

On she went, her head held high, and her sharp eyes fixed ahead as if
she were seeking to pierce the blackness which closed in all around her.

“They do not sail till eleven,” she muttered, “and she would not go at
once. I shall be in time to catch them as they come out of the yard.
Ay, that is it, as they come out of the yard; it is dark there,” and,
mumbling to herself, she clambered through a gap in the hedge and
stumbled out into the Ship lane.

She had now a very little way to go, and her grip on her staff tightened
as she hurried on.

A sharp bend in the road brought her in sight of the Ship. She could see
the lights from the kitchen gleaming through the trees. She pressed on
for a few more yards and then stopped suddenly and, holding her breath,
stood rigid for a second, listening.

There was silence everywhere and the old woman shifted uneasily.

“No noise?” she muttered. “No noise? What has come to the Ship on
sailing night that all should be so still?”

Keeping her eyes fixed on the lighted window, she hastened on to the
yard gates. There she paused again. The Ship was silent as before, and
then, as she stood there watching, the door opened and a slim figure
stood silhouetted against the bright background for a second and then
staggered out toward her.

Without further thought Nan strode forward, her staff upraised.

Hardly had she moved, however, when Hal’s terrible scream rang out
through the open doorway.

The old woman sprang forward, a faint inkling of what had happened
flashing through her mind.

Dick did not see her until she was almost on top of him. He came across
the yard dazed and horrified, conscious of one thing only--that in a fit
of rage he had killed the one woman he had ever loved.

The knife, still sticky and uncleaned, hung from his fingers, and the
light from the window fell upon it as Nan came up to him.

When he saw her dark form and shining eyes rising up before him out of
the darkness, he started back, bringing his hands up before his face.

Nan seized her opportunity and without a thought of the possible
consequences dropped her staff and darting forward wrenched the knife
out of his nerveless grasp and plunged at his throat.

Nan was a strong woman, and the knife, glancing on the Spaniard’s
collar-bone, turned and slipped down into his neck, cutting the jugular
vein.

A choking exclamation, “Doña Maria,” fell from his lips, a rush of blood
stifled all other words, and he dropped on the dry stones as dead as the
girl he had left in the Ship’s kitchen.

Nan heard them and laughed bitterly.

“Maria!” she muttered. “You may well call on her. Here, this is thine;
take that with thee to hell, you slithering coward,” and bending down
she slipped the twice-stained knife into the slim white fingers.

Then she straightened her back and looking up, became aware of Hal
Grame’s tall figure standing not two feet away, his eyes fixed upon her.

They stood quite still for several seconds, neither speaking, and then
Gilbot hurried out of the door. The shock had sobered him for once in
his life.

Seeing Hal, he broke out excitedly:

“Have you seen him, lad? Have you caught him? Where is the ruffian?”

Still Hal did not speak, but catching the old man by the arm he pointed
silently to the still figure at their feet; the stream of light from the
open doorway fell across the Spaniard’s face and the white hand which
held the knife.

Gilbot bent down for a moment, and when he looked up his face was even
paler than the boy’s.

“Who?---- What--what happened?” he whispered.

Hal looked silently at Nan.

The old woman faced him without flinching.

“As I come up the road, I see him come out o’ the door waving his arms,
and then suddenly drop like a sack; when I come up to him he was like
this,” she said. “He killed hisself, I reckon,” she added carelessly.

Old Gilbot looked down at the huddled form.

“Twas just what I feared when I come to the door,” he muttered. “Lord!
what things men do because o’ wenches--and in my house, too! What’s to
happen now?”



CHAPTER XXV


Ten minutes later, Joe Pullen, who stood on the beach watching the
_Anny’s_ red lantern swing to and fro in the sharp breeze, was startled
by the sudden appearance of Hal at his elbow. The boy’s face showed
livid in the faint light, and his eyes seemed to have turned dead and
dull like those of a corpse. When he spoke, his voice was strangely high
and uncontrolled.

“Where’s Blueneck?” he said nervously, clutching the other man’s arm.

Joe jerked his thumb over his shoulder to where a little group of men
could just be distinguished in the darkness.

Hal gasped with relief and turned to go to them, still keeping his hold
on Joe’s arm.

The elder man suffered himself to be dragged after the boy without a
murmur. He saw that something had happened but, until Hal volunteered
the information, he was not the one to enquire for it.

Hal pushed unceremoniously through the little crowd, still pulling Joe
behind him.

“Master Blueneck, will ye come up to the Ship at once?” he said, tapping
the Spanish sailor on the shoulder and speaking in a whisper. Something
in his tone caused the man to back away from his fellows, and step aside
with the boy, and after a few muttered words of conversation the three
set off up the lane at a brisk run.

A few seconds later they turned into the Ship yard; the door was still
open, and a bright light shone from within the kitchen while all around
was dark and very silent.

Running all round the paved yard, which was long and very narrow, was a
wider one of beaten earth, and, as the three men turned into the gate,
they could just make out the form of a tall woman standing well on their
left. She was digging.

Old Gilbot met them in the doorway; he was very excited but quite sober.

On seeing Blueneck, he seized him by the arm and dragged him into the
room.

Joe and Hal followed slowly.

Inside the kitchen everything seemed dead and quiet; the atmosphere was
cold and damp and smelt of stale rum; the fire had died down to a few
smouldering embers, and the steady ticking of the clock was the only
sound.

Sue crouched in a corner shivering, her eyes wild with horror, and her
teeth chattering. The two long tables had been dragged together, and on
this rough bier Dick and Anny lay side by side, the knife between them.

There had not been time to wash the tables even, had any one desired to
do so, and the two lay among the dregs and sloppings of the night’s
drinking.

Blueneck walked across the kitchen and stood looking down at the bodies
without uncovering.

Gilbot followed nervously.

“What are you going to do?” he whispered anxiously.

The sailor said nothing for a moment or two but continued to stare down
at the limp, blood-stained figure whose white fingers held the thin red
knife.

Gilbot stood trembling behind him, a picture of a wild crowd of
captainless seamen sacking his inn rising up in his mind.

A strange light began to break over the Spanish sailor’s face, and he
stroked his ill-shaven chin thoughtfully.

“Do?” he said slowly.

Gilbot swallowed painfully, his fat, podgy knees shaking under him and
his little reddened eyes shifting uneasily.

“He killed hisself,” he muttered.

Blueneck bent over the table for a second and with his finger and thumb
lifted one of the dark eyelids. He appeared satisfied, and straightening
his back looked at the two critically.

“I knew it wasn’t no usual affair with him,” he said almost
complacently. Then he turned to Gilbot. “She was a pretty wench,” he
said, nodding at the little, white, still smiling face on the table.

Gilbot did not speak, and the man went on: “I never thought he’d do for
himself, though,” he muttered, “but it’s his stroke right enough,
see”--he dragged the lace ruffles from the small gushing wound, “right
over the collar-bone and down to the neck--he was a wonder with that
knife of his; there wasn’t another man in the country who could try that
stroke on himself and hit so clean.”

Gilbot nodded.

“Ay, he was a wonderful little fellow,” he said, “though I never took
much notice of him. But what are you going to do, sir?”

Blueneck faced the three men steadily, a smile breaking out on his lips.

“Put to sea!” he said deliberately. “The men are a mangy lot, God knows,
but if they’d sail under him they’ll sail under me, and be glad of the
change.”

He paused, and Gilbot heaved a sigh of relief, and Blueneck, seeing that
his decision was approved of, added: “And if ever I come near this
accursed, God-forsaken island again the devil scuttle my brig and carry
off my canvas,” and so saying he turned on his heel and strode to the
door. “Good-night, good people,” he said, turning on the threshold.

Hal stepped forward and took the little knife from out the fingers that
were still warm.

“Will you take this?” he said, holding it out to the sailor. “It served
him well and may you.”

Blueneck drew back.

“Nay!” he said hastily, “I’ll have none of it, and, mark my words, lad,
you put it down; the thing is evil. The man there was harmless enough
without it, but together, by God, they were devils. Put it down. Fare
you well, my masters,” he added, and went out.

They heard his footsteps die away down the road before any one spoke;
then Gilbot wiped his beaded forehead and turned to the two friends.

“You must get them out of here; get them buried,” he said jerkily,
pointing to the table. “Sink them in the mud,” he added, an idea coming
to him.

Hal sprang suddenly forward, a light in his dulled eyes and his mouth
half open--but his words died on his lips, for at that moment Nan
Swayle, spade in hand, appeared in the open doorway.

“It is done,” she said, her big booming voice sounding strangely hollow
in the silent room. “Susan, are you ready? Come help me.”

The frightened girl crept out of her corner and went toward the table;
the old woman followed.

Gilbot put his hand on her arm.

“What are you doing, woman?” he said.

“Burying my gran’daughter,” replied Nan laconically.

“Not in my land,” said the old man quickly. “I’ll have no graves in my
land.”

Mother Swayle turned and looked at him steadily.

“The lass shall be buried in good Island earth, near the only home she
ever had,” she said determinedly, “and the grave is dug, and, thy land
or no, Master Gilbot, there she shall lie.”

The man hesitated for a moment, but little by little his wavering eyes
dropped before Nan’s bright ones, and shrugging his shoulders he drew
back to let her pass.

Hal, who had stood motionless watching them, now stepped forward.

“I--I’ll carry her for you, Mother,” he said without looking up.

Nan stared contemptuously at him for a moment, her bright eyes growing
suddenly hard.

“Had you carried her off ere now all had been well,” she said abruptly.

The boy winced, and something like a sob escaped him, but he turned and
faced the old woman dry-eyed.

“May I take her?” he said again.

Nan made a gesture of impatience.

“Ay, take her, take her, boy, take her,” she said bitterly. “None of
your carelessness can hurt her now.”

Joe, who had been watching the whole proceedings, now came forward and
caught the old woman’s sleeve, and drew her away, then whispered:

“The lad is wonderful over-wrought, witch; leave taunting him.”

Nan looked at him fiercely, but she drew back, and the boy, stepping
past her, picked up the light cold form of his love and, holding her in
his arms, her blood-stained corsage pressed against his breast and her
pretty head with its long black plaits lolling heavily on his shoulder,
carried her quickly out of the room.

Sue began to cry softly, and Nan stood leaning on her spade and looking
down into the fast whitening embers in the open grate.

In two or three minutes Hal came back; he was very pale and there was
blood upon his hands and clothes. “I have left her to you, Mother,” he
said rather unsteadily as he stood in the doorway looking across at the
old woman.

Nan turned from the fire without a word, and beckoning to Sue, who
followed her, still weeping, she went out and shut the door behind her.

Gilbot looked after her.

“‘Tis a wonderful strange woman she is,” he said thoughtfully, “talking
about granddaughters and such like, and her never having had a child.”

He shook his head and then turned to the table. “We must get him out of
here,” he said, suddenly growing nervous again, as he looked at the dead
Spaniard.

“Here, Hal, Joe, take him down to the mud. It will do the old place no
good if folk get to know he’s lying here,” and he began to drag the limp
mass on to the floor.

Joe looked up at the clock.

“Half-past twelve,” he said thoughtfully. “‘Twill be full dawn at five.”

Then he turned to Hal.

“In four hours I’ll risk going out with him, lad,” he said. “Will you
wait till then?”

Hal nodded.

Gilbot looked up.

“I had forgot,” he said. “I had forgot; it is a long time since I went
out on the mud--ah, well! Hal, bring me some rum.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The sky was a pale gray in which two or three late stars still shone
faintly, and there was a sharp twang of frost in the air, when two men,
carrying the body of a third between them, four great weights slung over
their shoulders, stumbled out of the old Ship’s kitchen, leaving behind
them a girl asleep by the empty grate and an old man lying drunk
upstairs.

As they came out into the yard they both turned instinctively to a patch
of newly disturbed earth on their right from the side of which rose a
dark figure, who glided off into the grayness beyond.

The shorter of the two men spoke gruffly.

“The witch was fond enough of the lass,” he said. “I wonder she didn’t
do more to save her.”

The other answered him bitterly:

“It wasn’t her place, Joe. ’Twas mine. And I did naught. God knows I--I
thought she loved him,” he added, giving the slim little figure whose
shoulders he held a violent shake.

Pullen shook his head, and a drop of pure sentiment crept into his
bright blue eyes.

“‘Tis a wonderful pity,” he said slowly, “a wonderful pity--poor little
lass--and him, too--he must have loved her, or he’d never have killed
hisself.”

The memory of Nan’s upstretched arm and fierce blow came clearly to Hal,
and he opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it, and they
trudged on in silence.

The mud looked very black, cold, and sinister when they at last reached
the shore; the tide was well out, and the sea seemed a full mile the
other side of the soft greenish belt.

Joe dropped the Spaniard’s feet and stood staring in front of him for a
moment; then he stooped down and lifted them again.

“It’s a bit farther up,” he said shortly, and they went on.

Presently he stopped again.

“Here we are,” he remarked, as he sat down on the shingle, and, taking
off his back a pair of boards specially cut for the purpose, he
proceeded to tie them on to his feet.

Hal did the like, and the two set out over the black, evil-smelling
ooze.

The boards prevented them from sinking more than a few inches at each
step, but it was not easy going, for the limp body of the Spaniard,
although not heavy, was yet not light.

The two slipped often, sometimes almost falling.

After some fifteen minutes of this Joe paused.

“This’ll do,” he said, nodding to a circular patch of smooth grayish mud
which lay just in front of them.

Hal looked at it and at the white face of the Spaniard; then he
shuddered.

“It’s horrible,” he said.

Joe grunted.

“Give us them weights, lad,” he demanded, holding out his hand.

Hal slung them over.

Hastily, and with perfect calmness, Joe tied them to the Spaniard’s
feet. He had to bend nearly double to do this, as to kneel with the
boards on was impossible, and he straightened his back with some relief
on finishing.

“That’s enough; now in with him,” he said briskly, wiping his hands on
his jersey. Then his eyes fell on the silver buttons on the black velvet
coat and the rings on the white hands, and he pulled out his knife.

“‘Twould be a pity to leave him these,” he said practically, bending
down again.

“Let be, Joe Pullen,” Hal’s voice rang out clear over the wind-swept
flats. “We’ll have naught of his. Let the devil keep his own.” He drew
from his belt the thin two-edged knife, now brown and clotted with dry
blood, round which was still the flower-ring, and threw it into the
centre of the gray circle. It sank almost immediately.

Pullen watched him.

“Ay, maybe the knife, but not the buttons; there’s no evil in them.”

Hal shook his head.

“Nay,” he said determinedly, “evil in everything he touched, everything
he owned--sink it deep, Joe, sink it deep.”

Pullen sighed and shrugged his shoulders.

“Maybe you’re right, lad,” he said, “maybe you’re right,” and added
cheerfully, “and I don’t know who’d buy them, anyway. Come, then, heave
him in.”

Hal bent down and together they lifted the once so gallant little
figure, still clad in all its bravery, and dropped it gently into the
gray patch; the weights hit the mud first and sank quickly out of sight,
dragging the silk-stockinged feet with them; the ooze clicked and
chuckled to itself as it sucked down its prey. Farther and farther in
sank the body of the great little captain, who twelve hours before was
so gay, so sure of himself, so debonair.

The dawn breeze came stealing across the sea, and a sea-gull screamed
lazily near by, while a faint yellow light began to glow over the
mainland the other side of the bay. Now the mud had reached the
Spaniard’s breast; his head, still bound with his famous black kerchief,
had fallen forward and his limp arms lay loosely on the soft slime.

Joe looked at him critically.

“I wonder now has he struck the hard?” he said thoughtfully, and leaning
forward he put his foot on the black-coated shoulder and pushed
vigorously. The mud sucked noisily and the body vanished rapidly. Now
only the head and one arm were visible. Now the head was gone. The dark
eyes, the terrible crooked smile, the white flashing teeth--the cold
silent mud had them all. Now only a hand was left; it lay for a second
on the gray background, white and shapely, and then it, too, vanished,
leaving the gray circle as quiet and untroubled as before.

Joe turned away.

“Come,” he said slowly, “it’s all over now.”

Hal looked up.

“Ay,” he said, and his voice was heavy and toneless. “It is all
over--Joe, all over in one night. Come.”

And they toiled, slipped, and struggled back to their homes again.

The yellow light over the mainland grew brighter and brighter, turned to
gold, and then to crimson, and the sun rose once more over an Island as
quiet and peaceful as if the Spaniard and his love had never been.



CHAPTER XXVI


One evening two or three years later, Big French and Sue, his wife,
their young daughter, and little Red Farran, whom they had taken to live
with them, sat round the fire in the Ship kitchen.

Gilbot was dead. It was said in the village that he had died singing
“Pretty Poll,” and he had left the old Inn to Hal Grame, who proved
himself a very able landlord. He had grown very taciturn, however, since
the affair of the Spaniard and the girl, which had by this time been
almost forgotten by the easy-going Islanders, and he had taken to
tobacco, with which Fen de Witt was well able to supply him at a cheap
rate, and he sat now in a haze of smoke on the opposite side of the
fireplace to French, his pipe in his mouth and his head thrown back as
though in earnest contemplation of the rafters.

Joe sat at his elbow drinking ale; they two were as friendly as ever,
but Pullen had been known to aver that no word of Anny or the Spaniard
had been exchanged between them since that cold September morning long
ago when black mud had swallowed the last trace of the affair.

It was late and all the other company had gone; the dips were beginning
to die out one by one, and tall shadows began to creep over the
oak-beamed ceiling and dark, rum-fumed walls.

Presently French rose to his feet.

“Ah, well,” he said, “I reckon we’ll go home, Sue. Good rest to you,
Hal.”

The landlord nodded.

“Same to you, Master French, and you, too, mistress,” he said, without
taking his pipe out of his mouth.

Sue smiled and picked up her baby who was crawling on the long seat
beside her.

“Good-night, Hal,” she said, and then added, looking round the room
affectionately: “It’s almost like the old days to be all here together
again.”

“All?” murmured Hal bitterly.

Sue did not hear him but went on gaily.

“Yet I would not change,” she said. “These days are happier, I with my
man and my little one.”

Hal winced, and French, who was watching, put an arm affectionately
round his wife’s shoulders.

“Come, lass, we stay too long a-talking,” he said, gently drawing her to
him.

Sue looked up at him, a smile on her lips. She was very proud of her
handsome husband, and they went out together, little Red following, his
hand clutching French’s big coat skirts.

After they had gone there was silence in the room for a second or two,
while Pullen helped himself to more ale from a pitcher at his elbow.

Hal stared into the blazing fire.

“Like the old days?” he said at last, half to himself. “Like the old
days? My God!”

Joe put down his tankard and wiped his lips.

“I reckon I’ll be going home to Amy--damn her,” he said, getting up.

Hal looked up, frowning.

“Must ye so, mate?” he said wistfully.

“No, no, er--no, lad, no need,” and Joe sat down again and re-filled his
pot.

The silence continued.

Suddenly Hal rose and, standing on tiptoe, reached down one of the old
cups on the high mantel shelf, and emptied its contents into his hand.

Joe heard the clink of coins and looked up.

His friend was leaning against the chimney-piece, his face half hidden,
and in his hand which he held open before him were two little coins.

Presently the younger man turned away from the fire and held out his
hand to Pullen.

“Do you remember these, mate?” he said rather abruptly.

Joe looked at the money curiously.

“Groats?” he said. “Well, now, I can’t say as I do, but----” He broke
off suddenly. “That day we’d bin after fish?” he enquired.

Hal nodded.

Joe looked at him in astonishment.

“Why, lad, you don’t go thinking o’ that now, surely?” he said.

Hal clinked the coins together and looked round the kitchen ruefully.
“I couldn’t give her aught then--but now--if only----” His voice trailed
off and ceased.

Joe shifted uneasily in his seat.

“Don’t think on it, lad, don’t think on it,” he advised.

Hal laughed bitterly.

“You know not what you say, Joe Pullen,” he said, “I must think on it.
’Tis all I have to think on,” and he puffed at his pipe almost fiercely.

Joe did not speak, and after a while the other went on again; he spoke
jerkily, and his voice was very low:

“Sometimes I think I see her come in crying and him after her. That’s
when I try to forget, but it’s no use, I can’t; she loved him, I reckon;
I can’t forget that.”

Joe cleared his throat noisily.

“Why trouble yourself, lad?” he muttered. “She’s gone and he with her,
and you’re here----”

“More’s the pity,” interrupted the other. “I have naught to make me want
to stay.”

Joe leaned back and crossed his legs.

“Oh! I don’t know,” he said, “there’s the Ship; she’s your
love--after--after Anny.”

Hal looked up quickly.

“The Ship?” he repeated slowly. “The Ship my love after Anny? Ay, maybe
you’re right, mate, maybe you’re right; I had forgot her--ay, the Ship.”
A slow smile spread over his face and he forgot to smoke.

“My love after Anny,” he kept repeating softly. “My love after Anny.”

And after Joe had gone home he sat long, looking into the fire, the slow
smile still on his lips, but later still, when his eyes fell again on
the two groats, he picked them up tenderly and put them back in the
cracked cup upon the mantel-shelf, and then after carefully bolting the
door he took his candle and went up to bed.

On their way home Big French and Sue had to pass Nan Swayle’s cabin,
and, as they came toward it, Red noticed the red baleful eyes of Ben,
the old tom-cat, peering at them from behind the shed.

“Nan’s at home,” he said, hugging French’s hand. “And Ben’s bin whip’t.”

The big man looked across at the lonely shanty.

“God be wi’ ye, Nan,” he shouted; his voice resounded over the silent
marshes and echoed round about the hut, but there was no reply.

French went nearer and knocked at the door.

“Are ye well, Nan?” he called.

Nan’s big booming voice replied, and her usual greetings rang out
through the door:

“Ay, God be wi’ ye, good swine.”

French laughed and they went on, and as they crossed the dark saltings
to their home they heard her hail, expressing approval and friendliness,
following them over the flats, loud, then soft, and finally trailing off
into a long-drawn-out wail:

“Rum, rum, rum--m--m.”





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Black'erchief Dick" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home