The Sea Wolves/Chapter 30

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When Fisher awoke by the banks of the silent pool, it was with a start and an exclamation upon his lips. A hand had touched him gently upon the shoulder, and he sprang to his feet, thinking that the soldiers had entrapped him while he slept. But he met the gaze only of a white-haired old man, whose cassock and bands proclaimed him to be a priest; and he heard a gentle voice speaking quickly in bad French.

"Ne vous dérangez pas," cried the old fellow, as he put his hand upon the lad's shoulder; "et taisez vous. I did know Madame—sans doute; sans doute." And then, with an attempt, exceedingly poor, to speak English, he continued: "Trust upon me, I come for friend—the soldiers, ah, no good, no good, no good!" and he shook his head as though the conviction was painful to him.

Messenger had started up at the first word he spoke; and when he found that Fisher was not near him his distress was uncontrollable. He shouted loudly, with a very bitter cry, and when the lad ran up to him, he began to ask many questions at a breath.

"Why do you leave me?" said he savagely. "You know I can't move a hand. Who were you talking to? I heard another voice."

At this the old priest spoke for himself, much as he had done to Fisher; but he gave a cry when he saw that the man was blind, and gabbled sympathy in Spanish. To this Messenger answered in French, asking—

"Why have you come here; is it to help us?"

"I heard of the trouble at the castle, and of the presence of Englishmen there," said the priest, speaking in the same tongue. "Madame was very kind to me. Her friends are my friends. An hour ago one of my people saw you sleeping here, and came running to my house. And I am here. Consider me your servant as I was hers."

"We want food and rest, and shelter from these sharks in sandals," said Messenger none too pleasantly; "will you give us that?"

"I will do to you as I would to a son," cried the old man; "I am the servant of God and the brother of the outcast; if you trust me, you shall come out of Spain. If you stay here, the troopers will pass in a few hours, and you will go to Madrid with them. The choice must be yours. What I do is done for Madame. I have lost a great friend; no man had a greater. She was such a woman as we shall not see again, my children. God rest her soul!"

Messenger heard the tale through, and bit his nails.

"What's he like to look at?" he asked Fisher in a whisper. "Can you read him at all?"

"He seems to me to be about eighty, and has the whitest hair I ever saw. It's a face to trust. And we've no choice that I see," said he again, as the other still thought upon it. "We'll be taken here for a certainty before noon tomorrow."

"Very well; that seems sense, and we may as well face this risk as another. But keep your eyes open, and call out if you see anything. I'm just dying for want of food."

With this he turned to the old man who had appeared in their path so strangely, and he answered with less of brusqueness.

"We accept your offer," said he, "and put our lives in your hands. When you give them back to us, we shall find means to thank you substantially. If, on the other hand, you have come here with a tale, we shall be equally ready in settling the account. We are both near gone for want of food and drink, and we'll thank you to hurry."

"As I do to you, so may God do to me," said the old man with fervent benevolence; and at that he tucked his skirts about his legs, and set a brisk pace down the woodland path. A very short walk brought them to the head of the thicket; but the priest kept the shelter of its outskirts for some ten minutes before he struck across a marshy meadow, and came upon the back of a village which was almost hid in a clump of chestnuts. His own house was not a road's breadth from the little spire which stuck up among the green of the trees; and when he entered it, he did so by the garden, bringing the men ultimately to his sitting-room without observance from any one. But he showed them at the window of the apartment how much they owed to him. A company of lancers was about the door of the venta; and, at a later hour, carabineers passed through the village on the road to Ferrol.

In this old priest's house the fugitives were sheltered for three weeks, receiving from him a simple hospitality and a large sympathy. At the end of the second week, there was brought to them the girl Inez, who looked to this old man alone for shelter, and who was being sent by him to a convent at Cadiz. The child had many hours of better happiness than she had ever known as she walked with Fisher in the high-walled garden near the church; and while in the spell of her company, and telling her that their hope could lie only in a future which should begin after years had sped, the lad built up the purpose of his life, it was yet his greatest bitterness that friendship must drive him alike from her and from civilisation. And she, clinging to him as one drawn suddenly from the outer world to befriend her, urged upon him the claim of the blind man; and even with kisses upon her lips, he held himself straight in the difficult paths he had chosen.

Thus weeks of a delicious happiness passed all too quickly; and when the time was ripe, Hal brushing away with his lips the childish tears which fell abundantly, went with the priest and Messenger; and the two being disguised as peasants, they came safely to Vigo, where their money and his influence procured them passage to Monte-Video.

In that city I met them, two months after they had landed; and there had this story from them, as I have set it out. The man was still blind; the lad waited on him like a brother.

"I could not leave him now," said he. "He has no eyes but mine."

Yet no writing could convey the note of pity in his voice as he spoke the words.

THE END


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