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A Set of Rogues by Frank Barrett

Part 6 out of 6

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manner of the Turks, had been strangled and cast overboard.

And now follows a much longer period of silence, but at length that
comes to an end, and we hear Groves' voice again whispering us to come.
At the first sound of his voice his three comrades rush forward; but
Groves, recognising them, says hoarsely, "Back, every one of you but
those I called, or I'll brain you! There's room but for six in the boat,
and those who helped us shall go first, as I ordered. The rest must wait
their time."

So these fellows, who would have ousted us, give way, grumbling, and Mr.
Godwin carrying Moll to the boat, Dawson and I wade in after him, and
so, with great gratitude, take our places as Groves directs. We being
in, he and his mate lay to their oars, and pull out to the felucca,
guided by the lanthorn on her bulwarks.

Having put us aboard safely, Groves and his mate fetch the three fellows
that remained ashore, and now all being embarked, they abandon the small
boat, slip the anchor, and get out their long sweeps, all in desperate
haste; for that absence of wind, which I at first took to be a blessing,
appeared now to be a curse, and our main hope of escape lay in pulling
far out to sea before Mohand discovered the trick put upon him, and gave
chase. All night long we toiled with most savage energy, dividing our
number into two batches, so that one might go to the oars as the other
tired, turn and turn about. Not one of us but did his utmost--nay, even
Moll would stand by her husband, and strain like any man at this work.
But for all our labour, Alger was yet in sight when the break of day
gave us light to see it. Then was every eye searching the waters for
sign of a sail, be it to save or to undo us. Sail saw we none, but about
nine o'clock Groves, scanning the waters over against Alger, perceived
something which he took to be a galley; nor were we kept long in
uncertainty, for by ten it was obvious to us all, showing that it had
gained considerably upon us in spite of our frantic exertions, which
convinced us that this was Mohand, and that he had discovered us with
the help of a spy-glass, maybe.

At the prospect of being overtaken and carried back to slavery, a sort
of madness possessed those at the oars, the first oar pulling with such
a fury of violence that it snapped at the rowlock, and was of no further
use. Still we made good progress, but what could we with three oars do
against the galley which maybe was mounted with a dozen? Some were for
cutting down the mast and throwing spars, sails, and every useless thing
overboard to lighten our ship, but Groves would not hear of this, seeing
by a slant in the rain that a breeze was to be expected; and surely
enough, the rain presently smote us on the cheek smartly, whereupon
Groves ran up our sail, which, to our infinite delight, did presently
swell out fairly, careening us so that the oar on t'other side was
useless.

But that which favoured us favoured also our enemies, and shortly after
we saw two sails go up to match our one. Then Groves called a council of
us and his fellows, and his advice was this: that ere the galley drew
nigh enough for our number to be sighted, he and his fellows should
bestow themselves away in the stern cabin, and lie there with such arms
of knives and spikes as they had brought with them ready to their hands,
and that, on Mohand boarding us with his men, we four should retire
towards the cabin, when he and his comrades would spring forth and fight
every man to the death for freedom. And he held out good promise of a
successful issue. "For," says he, "knowing you four" (meaning us) "are
unarmed, 'tis not likely he will have furnished himself with any great
force; and as his main purpose is to possess this lady, he will not
suffer his men to use their firepieces to the risk of her destruction;
therefore," adds he, "if you have the stomach for your part of this
business, which is but to hold the helm as I direct, all must go well.
But for the lady, if she hath any fear, we may find a place in the cabin
for her."

This proposal was accepted by all with gladness, except Moll, who would
on no account leave her husband's side; but had he not been there, I
believe she would have been the last aboard to feel fear, or play a
cowardly part.

So without further parley, the fellows crept into the little cabin, each
fingering his naked weapon, which made me feel very sick with
apprehension of bloodshed. The air of wind freshening, we kept on at a
spanking rate for another hour, Groves lying on the deck with his eyes
just over the bulwarks and giving orders to Dawson and me, who kept the
helm; then the galley, being within a quarter of a mile of us, fired a
shot as a signal to us to haul down our sail, and this having no effect,
he soon after fires another, which, striking us in the stern, sent great
splinters flying up from the bulwarks there.

"Hold her helm, stiff," whispers Groves, and then he backs cautiously
into the cabin without rising from his belly, for the men aboard the
galley were now clearly distinguishable.

Presently bang goes another gun, and the same moment, its shot taking
our mast a yard or so above the deck, our lateen falls over upon the
water with a great slap, and so are we brought to at once.

Dropping her sail, the galley sweeps up alongside us, and casting out
divers hooks and tackle they held ready for their purpose, they grappled
us securely. My heart sank within me as I perceived the number of our
enemies, thirty or forty, as I reckon (but happily not above half a
dozen armed men), and Mohand ou Mohand amongst them with a scimitar in
his hand; for now I foresaw the carnage which must ensue when we were
boarded.

Mohand ou Mohand was the first to spring upon our deck, and behind came
his janizaries and half a score of seamen. We four, Mr. Godwin holding
Moll's hand in his, stood in a group betwixt Mohand and his men and the
cabin where Joe Groves lay with his fellows, biding his time. One of the
janizaries was drawing his scimitar, but Mohand bade him put it up, and
making an obeisance to Moll, he told us we should suffer no hurt if we
surrendered peaceably.

"Never, you Turkish thief!" cries Dawson, shaking his fist at him.

Mohand makes a gesture of regret, and turning to his men tells them to
take us, but to use no weapons, since we had none. Then, he himself
leading, with his eyes fixed hungrily upon Moll, the rest came on, and
we fell back towards the cabin.

The next instant, with a wild yell of fury, the hidden men burst out of
the cabin, and then followed a scene of butchery which I pray Heaven it
may nevermore be my fate to witness.

Groves was the first to spill blood. Leaping upon Mohand, he buried a
long curved knife right up to the hilt in his neck striking downwards
just over the collar bone, and he fell, the blood spurting from his
mouth upon the deck. At the same time our men, falling upon the
janizaries, did most horrid battle--nay, 'twas no battle, but sheer
butchery; for these men, being taken so suddenly, had no time to draw
their weapons, and could only fly to the fore end of the boat for
escape, where, by reason of their number and the narrow confines of the
deck, they were so packed and huddled together that none could raise his
hand to ward a blow even, and so stood, a writhing, shrieking mass of
humanity, to be hacked and stabbed and ripped and cut down to their
death.

And their butchers had no mercy. They could think only of their past
wrongs, and of satiating the thirst for vengeance, which had grown to a
madness by previous restraint.

"There's for thirteen years of misery," cries one, driving his spike
into the heart of one. "Take that for hanging of my brother," screams a
second, cleaving a Moor's skull with his hatchet. "Quits for turning an
honest lad into a devil," calls a third, drawing his knife across the
throat of a shrieking wretch, and so forth, till not one of all the
crowd was left to murder.

Then still devoured by their lust for blood, they swarmed over the side
of the galley to finish this massacre--Groves leading with a shout of
"No quarter," and all echoing these words with a roar of joy. But here
they were met with some sort of resistance, for the Moors aboard, seeing
the fate of their comrades, forewarning them of theirs, had turned their
swivel gun about and now fired--the ball carrying off the head of Joe
Groves, the best man of all that crew, if one were better than another.
But this only served to incense the rest the more, and so they went at
their cruel work again, and ceased not till the last of their enemies
was dead. Then, with a wild hurrah, they signal their triumph, and one
fellow, holding up his bloody hands, smears them over his face with a
devilish scream of laughter.

And now, caring no more for us or what might befall us, than for the
Turks who lay all mangled on our deck, one cuts away the tackle that
lashes their galley to us, while the rest haul up the sail, and so they
go their way, leaving us to shift for ourselves.

CHAPTER XLI.

_How Dawson counts himself an unlucky man who were best dead; and so he
quits us, and I, the reader._

The galley bent over to the wind and sped away, and I watched her go
without regret, not thinking of our own hapless condition, but only of
the brutal ferocity of that mad crew aboard her.

Their shouts of joy and diabolical laughter died away, and there was no
sound but the lapping of the waves against the felucca's side. They had
done their work thoroughly; not a moan arose from the heaps of butchered
men, not a limb moved, but all were rigid, some lying in grotesque
postures as the death agony had drawn them. And after the tumult that
had prevailed this stillness of death was terrific. From looking over
this ghastly picture I turned and clutched at Dawson's hand for some
comforting sense of life and humanity.

We were startled at this moment by a light laugh from the cabin, whither
Mr. Godwin had carried Moll, fainting with the horror of this bloody
business, and going in there we found her now lying in a little crib,
light-headed,--clean out of her wits indeed, for she fancied herself on
the dusty road to Valencia, taking her first lesson in the fandango from
Don Sanchez. Mr. Godwin knelt by the cot side, with his arm supporting
her head, and soothing her the best he could. We found a little cask of
water and a cup, that he might give her drink, and then, seeing we could
be of no further service, Dawson and I went from the cabin, our thoughts
awaking now to the peril of our position, without sail in mid-sea.

And first we cast our eyes all round about the sea, but we could descry
no sail save the galley (and that at a great distance), nor any sign of
land. Next, casting our eyes upon the deck, we perceived that the thick
stream of blood that lay along that side bent over by the broken mast,
was greatly spread, and not so black, but redder, which was only to be
explained by the mingling of water; and this was our first notice that
the felucca was filling and we going down.

Recovering presently from the stupor into which this suspicion threw us,
we pulled up a hatch, and looking down into the hold perceived that this
was indeed true, a puncheon floating on the water there within arms'
reach. Thence, making our way quickly over the dead bodies, which failed
now to terrify us, to the fore part of our felucca, we discovered that
the shot which had hit us had started a plank, and that the water leaked
in with every lap of a wave. So now, our wits quickened by our peril, we
took a scimitar and a dirk from a dead janizary, to cut away the cordage
that lashed us to the fallen mast, to free us of that burden and right
the ship if we might. But ere we did this, Dawson, spying the great sail
lying out on the water, bethought him to hack out a great sheet as far
as we could reach, and this he took to lay over the started plank and
staunch the leakage, while I severed the tackle and freed us from the
great weight of the hanging mast and long spar. And certainly we thought
ourselves safe when this was done, for the hull lifted at once and
righted itself upon the water. Nevertheless, we were not easy, for we
knew not what other planks below the water line were injured, nor how to
sink our sheet or bind it over the faulty part. So, still further to
lighten us, we mastered our qualms and set to work casting the dead
bodies overboard. This horrid business, at another time, would have made
me sick as any dog, but there was no time to yield to mawkish
susceptibilities in the face of such danger as menaced us. Only when all
was done, I did feel very weakened and shaky, and my gorge rising at the
look of my jerkin, all filthy with clotted blood, I tore it off and cast
it in the sea, as also did Dawson; and so, to turn our thoughts (after
washing of our hands and cleaning our feet), we looked over the side,
and agreed that we were no lower than we were, but rather higher for
having lightened our burden. But no sail anywhere on the wide sea to add
to our comfort.

Going into the cabin, we found that our dear Moll had fallen into a
sleep, but was yet very feverish, as we could see by her frequent
turning, her sudden starts, and the dreamy, vacant look in her eyes,
when she opened them and begged for water. We would not add to Mr.
Godwin's trouble by telling him of ours (our minds being still restless
with apprehensions of the leak), but searching about, and discovering
two small, dry loaves, we gave him one, and took the other to divide
betwixt us, Dawson and I. And truly we needed this refreshment (as our
feeble, shaking limbs testified), after all our exertions of the night
and day (it being now high noon), having eaten nothing since supper the
night before. But, famished as we were, we must needs steal to the side
and look over to mark where the water rose; and neither of us dared say
the hull was no lower, for we perceived full well it had sunk somewhat
in the last hour.

Jack took a bite of his loaf, and offered me the rest, saying he had no
stomach for food; but I could not eat my own, and so we thrust the bread
in our breeches pockets and set to work, heaving everything overboard
that might lighten us, and for ever a-straining our eyes to sight a
ship. Then we set to devising means to make the sheet cling over the
damaged planks, but to little purpose, and so Dawson essayed to get at
it from the inside by going below, but the water was risen so high there
was no room between it and the deck to breathe, and so again to wedging
the canvas in from the outside till the sun sank. And by that time the
water was beginning to lap up through the hatchway. Then no longer able
to blink the truth, Jack turns to me and asks:

"How long shall we last?"

"Why," says I, "we have sunk no more than a foot these last six hours,
and at this slow pace we may well last out eight or nine more ere the
water comes over the bulwarks."

He shook his head ruefully, and, pointing to a sluice hole in the side,
said he judged it must be all over with us when the water entered there.

"Why, in that case," says I, "let us find something to fill the sluice
hole."

So having nothing left on deck, we went into the cabin on a pretence of
seeing how Moll fared, and Jack sneaked away an old jacket and I a stone
bottle, and with these we stopped the sluice hole the best we could.

By the time we had made a job of this 'twas quite dark, and having
nothing more to do but to await the end, we stood side by side, too
dejected to speak for some time, thinking of the cruelty of fate which
rescued us from one evil only to plunge us in a worse. At length, Jack
fell to talking in a low tone of his past life, showing how things had
ever gone ill with him and those he loved.

"I think," says he in conclusion, "I am an unlucky man, Kit. One of
those who are born to be a curse against their will to others rather
than a blessing."

"Fie, Jack," says I, "'tis an idle superstition."

"Nay," says he, "I am convinced 'tis the truth. Not one of us here but
would have been the happier had I died a dozen years ago. 'Tis all
through me that we drown to-night."

"Nay, 'tis a blessing that we die all together, and none left to mourn."

"That may be for you and me who have lived the best years of our life,
but for those in there but just tasting the sweets of life, with years
of joy unspent, 'tis another matter."

Then we were silent for a while, till feeling the water laving my feet,
I asked if we should not now tell Mr. Godwin of our condition.

"'Twas in my mind, Kit," answers he; "I will send him out to you."

He went into the cabin, and Mr. Godwin coming out, I showed him our
state. But 'twas no surprise to him. Only, it being now about three in
the morning, and the moon risen fair and full in the heavens, he casts
his eyes along the silver path on the water in the hope of rescue, and
finding none, he grasps my hand and says:

"God's will be done! 'Tis a mercy that my dear love is spared this last
terror. Our pain will not be long."

A shaft of moonlight entered the cabin, and there we perceived Dawson
kneeling by the crib, with his head laid upon the pillow beside his
daughter.

He rose and came out without again turning to look on Moll, and Mr.
Godwin took his place.

"I feel more happy, Kit," says Jack, laying his hand upon my shoulder.
"I do think God will be merciful to us."

"Aye, surely," says I, wilfully mistaking his meaning. "I think the
water hath risen no higher this last hour."

"I'll see how our sheet hangs; do you look if the water comes in yet at
the sluice hole."

And so, giving my arm a squeeze as he slips his hand from my shoulder,
he went to the fore part of the vessel, while I crossed to the sluice
hole, where the water was spurting through a chink.

I rose after jamming the jacket to staunch the leak, and turning towards
Jack I perceived him standing by the bulwark, with the moon beyond. And
the next moment he was gone. And so ended the life of this poor, loving,
unlucky man.

I know not whether it was this lightening of our burden, or whether at
that time some accident of a fold in the sail sucking into the leaking
planks, stayed the further ingress of waters, but certain it is that
after this we sank no deeper to any perceptible degree; and so it came
about that we were sighted by a fishing-boat from Carthagena, a little
after daybreak, and were saved--we three who were left.

* * * * *

I have spent the last week at Hurst Court, where Moll and her husband
have lived ever since Lady Godwin's death. They are making of hay in the
meadows there; and 'twas sweet to see Moll and her husband, with their
two boys, cocking the sweet grass. And all very merry at supper; only
one sad memory cast me down as I thought of poor Jack, sorrowing to
think he could not see the happiness which, as much as our past
troubles, was due to him.

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