Wild Life in the Land of the Giants - novelonlinefree.info
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"But you will not bring Aunt Serapheema!"
I felt angry at the time for speaking thus, but I could not help it. To have been dragged back now would have broken both our hearts, of this I am convinced.
"No," said the convict. "As I am a good Catholic--no."
This was enough for me. I took out once more my little writing-case, and feeling more happy and hopeful now, I wrote a long letter to auntie.
It might have been but a repetition of the last, but it breathed even more emphatically than before our firm determination not to return till we had been to sea, adding that if this dream--that is the very word I used--were denied to us, we would work for our daily bread with the sweat of our brow.
It may have been a foolish boyish letter, and I dare say was, but it spoke our feelings, and no letter can do more than that.
This I entrusted to our friend the Spaniard, and he put it in his breast.
We kept close to the cave all that day, and several times heard voices in the distance, but no one came near us.
At night, as soon as the stars shone out, the convict left us, and we now felt very lonely indeed, but made the best of it, eating a hearty supper and talking till long past midnight.
As I write, poor Auntie Serapheema's diary lies before me, and as the following entry refers to Jill and me, I take the liberty of transcribing it in full.
"_July_ 25, 18--. Last night, being the fourth since the disappearance of the dear foolish boys, and just as Sarah was bringing the Book, there came a knock to the hall door. Poor Mattie and I both started. Every knock makes us start now. It was only Robert, but he came to say a strange man wanted to see me on business. I made Sarah re-light the lamp in the drawing-room and retire. He stood near the mantelpiece as I entered, and bowed with almost stage politeness. I could see at once he was a foreigner. Englishmen are not urbane. He was clean shaved with the exception of the moustache, which was long and tinged with grey like his hair--also long. His eyes were very dark and piercing, and he looked altogether interesting and like a man who had come through some grievous sorrow. He handed me the bill of the reward of 50 pounds for the dear lads. 'Yes, it was I who offered it,' I said. Speaking in broken English, he told me I must take the bills in to-morrow, and issue others saying the lads were found. _He_ knew where they were, and could arrange for me to meet them.
'Where?'--'At Bristol.'--'No, nearer?'--'Not a mile,' he said. Did he want the reward then? I said this to try him. He did not speak. He appeared about to faint. I made him sit down, and caused Sarah to bring wine and a little food. While he ate he handed me a letter from my most foolish of lads. I watched him while he refreshed himself.
Strange to say, a little mouse he called Roderigo came from his sleeve and sat in his hand, and he fed it. It then retired. I knew then I had a strange being to deal with, but I also felt I could trust him.
But he would give me none of his own history; yet if he had asked me then for the whole of the money I would have handed it over. He only asked for twenty pounds to carry out his plans on the morrow. Yes, in answer to his question, he could sleep under my roof and welcome.
Would I forgive him if he retired soon. Yes, again; he looked tired and was so polite. He said, was I the boys' eldest sister. I am often taken to be very young. While we talked Mattie came in. I was surprised to see the child turn red and white by turns as he looked at her. Then she advanced and held out her hand. She said, 'I am glad you have come.' I said, 'What do you say, child?' Her reply was a strange one as she gazed from my face to the man's. 'Is that not--oh, I cannot call you to name. But I saw you--and oh, it must have been in a dream.' She looked half in a dream now, and I was about to call Sarah, fearing she might be ill, when she smiled, and was soon after talking with the mysterious stranger as if they had long known each other. She marvelled much at the little mouse. He called it his friend, his mate, his brother, and though she laughed, she seemed to understand him.
"This morning he went away, and soon returned improved in habiliment.
Poor fellow, he does not look well off. Now he has gone, and to-morrow I start for Bristol. But though Mattie would fain come, I must go all alone. That is the agreement."
Here the extract ends.
On the day after the Spaniard left us, nothing occurred till near evening, when we were much frightened by the sudden appearance at the cave mouth of a huge dog. We thought it was a bloodhound, and that we were to be tracked thus, or our friend the Spaniard. The dog gave one startled look and retired, and presently, on venturing to look through the bushes, we found, much to our relief, he was running behind a man on horseback.
Nothing happened all that night, and next day we felt very uneasy as hour after hour went by and our new friend never returned. What could have occurred? False I felt he would not prove. But was he re-taken or dead? Oh, that would indeed have been dreadful.
The time went wearily, wearily on. We never ventured out of the cave, lest we might be seen, for once again we saw soldiers pass and repass.
When the evening star appeared shining bright and clear over the valley far beneath us, we felt more safe. Then the bats went wheeling past and past, and the mournful cry of the brown owl sounded drearily over the moor again.
We thought we should pray for our friend. We did this, lit our candle, and read from the Book, as dear auntie always called it. While we were yet reading we heard the distant sound of wheels, and speedily put the light out lest it might betray us.
We were badly frightened again when the carriage stopped down on the bridge. We ran inside the cave, for we had come out to look, but just then we heard the owl's cry three times repeated, and this was the signal.
We got our bag and ran down the brook-side, and there stood the Spaniard--for he spoke--but so changed we did not know him.
We were so happy then. And we had more questions to ask than the faithful man could easily answer.
A MIDNIGHT DRIVE--ARRIVAL AT BRISTOL--THE GOOD SHIP "SALAMANDER"--HOW TOM MORLEY DIED.
My brother and I jumped up into the dog-cart, I making Jill sit in front for safety's sake, he being the younger, and the roads being hilly in parts. Then up jumped our Jehu as I may now call our friend the Spaniard, all the more truly in that he was arrayed from chin to knee in a double breasted buff-coloured coachman's coat with buttons of brass.
The coat, when daylight came, looked a little the worse for wear, but, to use a paradox, this was all the better for the part he was playing.
I had only time to press Adriano's hand and ask for auntie and Mattie before we started. They were well and it was all right, and aunt would meet me at Bristol.
I should have liked to have asked many more questions, but the noise and jolting of the cart prevented me. Besides, Adriano seemed but little inclined to talk, and I noticed that he gave frequent glances from side to side, scanning as well as he could that portion of the moor which could be seen in the starlight.
Jill put his hand over the back of the seat and I placed it in my bosom, and thus felt I had my brother's company and he mine. There was no need to speak to him then. Jill and I understood each other's thoughts by touch as well as by talk. But indeed I was myself but in small humour for conversing. I felt safe--that was enough for the present; but why Adriano had brought a cart, or where he was driving us to, I had no desire to be informed.
In about half an hour, far away on the horizon to the right, I thought I could perceive the reflection of a great fire behind the hills. The flames looked increasing every minute. Surely, I thought, some forest must be on fire away over yonder. But soon the moon rose red and round, and apparently laughing at the trick it had played me. I watched it mount higher and higher, getting paler and more silvery, fighting its way through the clouds, and changing their blackness into beauty and brightness, just as our souls may change sorrows and afflictions, if we but have true faith in the Father.
Ere long, the moon ruled queen of the heavens' blue arch, and the very stars seemed to pale before its glory.
I could not help thinking as we jogged along, how very differently things had all turned out from the morning--very far away it seemed-- when poor Jill and I had left the ship with, figuratively speaking, rope around our necks. So true is it that we cannot even guess from hour to hour what is before us. You may try the experiment, if you please, of imagining what some place you are going to will be like, or some person you are going to meet for the first time. Your imagination will be very far out indeed. Still, I am certain of one thing, that if we do our duty simply and well, and leave the rest in the hands of the Providence we entrust with our life-guidance, all will turn out for the best. Who could have dreamt of our meeting the "terrible" convict, or of his giving us such honest, fatherly advice. With our heads full of silly romance, and our purses brimming over with three pounds ten each, where would Jill and I have landed. We would soon have been poor little ragged, bare-footed boys, with never a penny to buy bread or a postage-stamp, and oh, I tremble now to think what we might not have come to.
As I was musing thus, the road began rapidly to descend till we found ourselves in a deep, wooded ravine and on a bridge.
Adriano had quick eyes. He saw two men spring from the bank a little ahead before I did, and slackened speed. One stood at each side of the road as we drove very slowly past.
Adriano simply raised his whip hand as Jehus do by way of salute, but spoke no word. A moment afterwards, however, he raised his cap as if to scratch his head and the moon glinted on his grey hair--which _I_ knew was a wig.
The men were very upright and soldierly in their bearing, but dressed in dark clothes tightly fitting.
One caught the back-board of the dog-cart, and walked some little way, helping himself along up the hill by the hold he had taken, which was only natural. But my heart began to jump and flicker, and my mouth grew suddenly dry with dread. Luckily I did not lose the power of speaking, nor did I falter much.
"You're late out, my lad?"
"Y-es, very far. Going to see my poor aunt."
I had taken my handkerchief out, for what reason I do not know. But a sudden inspiration made me raise it momentarily to my face.
The man noticed it.
"Ah! poor boy," he said; "I hope you'll find her better than you expect."
"I hope so," I said, and in my heart of hearts I did.
"Death comes sooner or later to us all, lad," he added. "Good-night."
Not a word was spoken by any of us in the trap, till we were a good mile past the place. Then Adriano turned round.