Frank Barrett.

A Set of Rogues online

. (page 4 of 22)
Online LibraryFrank BarrettA Set of Rogues → online text (page 4 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


learn, I suppose, señor."

"It will not be amiss to teach her the manners of a lady," replies the
Don, rising and knitting his brows together unpleasantly, "and
especially to keep her feet under her chair at table."

With this he rings the bell for our reckoning, and so ends our
discussion, neither Dawson nor I having a word to say in answer to this
last hit, which showed us pretty plainly that in reaching round with her
long leg for our shins, Moll had caught the Don's shanks a kick that
night she was seized with a cough.

So to horse again and a long jog back to Greenwich, where Dawson and I
would fain have rested the night (being unused to the saddle and very
raw with our journey), but the Don would not for prudence, and
therefore, after changing our clothes, we make a shift to mount once
more, and thence another long horrid jolt to Edmonton very painfully.

Coming to the Bell (more dead than alive) about eight, and pitch dark,
we were greatly surprised that we could make no one hear to take our
horses, and further, having turned the brutes into the stable ourselves,
to find never a soul in the common room or parlour, so that the place
seemed quite forsaken. But hearing a loud guffaw of laughter from below,
we go downstairs to the kitchen, which we could scarce enter for the
crowd in the doorway. And here all darkness, save for a sheet hung at
the further end, and lit from behind, on which a kind of phantasmagory
play of Jack and the Giant was being acted by shadow characters cut out
of paper, the performer being hid by a board that served as a stage for
the puppets. And who should this performer be but our Moll, as we knew
by her voice, and most admirably she did it, setting all in a roar one
minute with some merry joke, and enchanting 'em the next with a pretty
song for the maid in distress.

We learnt afterwards that Moll, who could never rest still two minutes
together, but must for ever be a-doing something new, had cut out her
images and devised the show to entertain the servants in the kitchen,
and that the guests above hearing their merriment had come down in time
to get the fag end, which pleased them so vastly that they would have
her play it all over again.

"This may undo us," says Don Sanchez, in a low voice of displeasure,
drawing us away. "Here are a dozen visitors who will presently be
examining Moll as a marvel. Who can say but that one of them may know
her again hereafter to our confusion? We must be seen together no more
than is necessary, until we are out of this country. I shall leave here
in the morning, and you will meet me next at the Turk, in Gracious
Street, to-morrow afternoon." Therewith he goes up to his room, leaving
us to shift for ourselves; and we into the parlour to warm our feet at
the fire till we may be served with some victuals, both very silent and
surly, being still sore, and as tired as any dogs with our day's
jolting.

While we are in this mood, Moll, having finished her play, comes to us
in amazing high spirits, and all aglow with pleasure shows us a handful
of silver given her by the gentry; then, pulling up a chair betwixt us,
she asks us a dozen questions of a string as to where we have been, what
we have done, etc., since we left her. Getting no answer, she presently
stops, looks first at one, then at the other, and bursting into a fit of
laughter, cries: "Why, what ails you both to be so grumpy?"

"In the first place, Moll," says Jack, "I'll have you to know that I am
your father, and will not be spoken to save with becoming respect."

"Why, I did but ask you where you have been."

"Children of your age should not ask questions, but do as they're bid,
and there's an end of it."

"La, I'm not to ask any questions. Is there nothing else I am not to
do?"

"Yes; I'll not have you playing of Galimaufray to cook wenches and such
stuff. I'll have you behave with more decency. Take your feet off the
hearth, and put 'em under your chair. Let me have no more of these
galanty-shows. Why, 'twill be said I cannot give you a basin of
porridge, that you must go a-begging of sixpences like this!"

"Oh, if you begrudge me a little pocket-money," cries she, springing up
with the tears in her eyes, "I'll have none of it."

And with that she empties her pocket on the chair, and out roll her
sixpences together with a couple of silver spoons.

"What," cries Jack, after glancing round to see we were alone. "You have
filched a couple of spoons, Moll?"

"And why not?" asks she, her little nose turning quite white with
passion. "If I am to ask no questions, how shall I know but we may have
never a spoon to-morrow for your precious basin of porridge?"




CHAPTER VII.


_Of our journey through France to a very horrid pass in the Pyraneans._


Skipping over many unimportant particulars of our leaving Edmonton, of
our finding Don Sanchez at the Turk in Gracious Street, of our going
thence (the next day) to Gravesend, of our preparation there for voyage,
I come now to our embarking, the 10th March, in the Rose, for Bordeaux
in France. Nor shall I dwell long on that journey, neither, which was
exceedingly long and painful, by reason of our nearing the equinoctials,
which dashed us from our course to that degree that it was the 26th
before we reached our port and cast anchor in still water. And all those
days we were prostrated with sickness, and especially Jack Dawson,
because of his full habit, so that he declared he would rather ride
a-horseback to the end of the earth than go another mile on sea.

We stayed in Bordeaux, which is a noble town, but dirty, four days to
refresh ourselves, and here the Don lodged us in a fine inn and fed us
on the best; and also he made us buy new clothes and linen (which we
sadly needed after the pickle we had lain in a fortnight) and cast away
our old; but no more than was necessary, saying 'twould be better to
furnish ourselves with fresh linen as we needed it, than carry baggage,
etc. "And let all you buy be good goods," says he, "for in this country
a man is valued at what he seems, and the innkeepers do go in such fear
of their seigneurs that they will charge him less for entertainment than
if he were a mean fellow who could ill afford to pay."

So not to displease him we dressed ourselves in the French fashion, more
richly than ever we had been clad in our lives, and especially Moll did
profit by this occasion to furnish herself like any duchess; so that
Dawson and I drew lots to decide which of us should present the bill to
Don Sanchez, thinking he would certainly take exception to our
extravagance; but he did not so much as raise his eyebrows at the total,
but paid it without ever a glance at the items. Nay, when Moll presents
herself in her new equipment, he makes her a low reverence and pays her
a most handsome compliment, but in his serious humour and without a
smile. He himself wore a new suit all of black, not so fine as ours, but
very noble and becoming, by reason of his easy, graceful manner and his
majestic, high carriage.

On the last day of March we set forth for Toulouse. At our starting Don
Sanchez bade Moll ride by his side, and so we, not being bid, fell
behind; and, feeling awkward in our new clothes, we might very well have
been taken for their servants, or a pair of ill-bred friends at the
best, for our Moll carried herself not a whit less magnificent than the
Don, to the admiration of all who looked at her.

To see these grand airs of hers charmed Jack Dawson.

"You see, Kit," whispers he, "what an apt scholar the minx is, and what
an obedient, dutiful, good girl. One word from me is as good as six
months' schooling, for all this comes of that lecture I gave her the
last night we were at Edmonton."

I would not deny him the satisfaction of this belief, but I felt pretty
sure that had she been riding betwixt us in her old gown, instead of
beside the Don as his daughter, all her father's preaching would not
have stayed her from behaving herself like an orange wench.

We journey by easy stages ten days through Toulouse, on the road to
Perpignan, and being favoured with remarkably fine weather, a blue sky,
and a bright sun above us, and at every turn something strange or
beautiful to admire, no pleasure jaunt in the world could have been more
delightful. At every inn (which here they call hotels) we found good
beds, good food, excellent wine, and were treated like princes, so that
Dawson and I would gladly have given up our promise of a fortune to have
lived in this manner to the end of our days. But Don Sanchez professed
to hold all on this side of the Pyrenese Mountains in great contempt,
saying these hotels were as nothing to the Spanish posadas, that the
people here would rob you if they dared, whereas, on t'other side, not a
Spaniard would take so much as the hair of your horse's tail, though he
were at the last extremity, that the food was not fit for aught but a
Frenchman, and so forth. And our Moll, catching this humour, did also
turn up her nose at everything she was offered, and would send away a
bottle of wine from the table because 'twas not ripe enough, though but
a few weeks before she had been drinking penny ale with a relish, and
that as sour as verjuice. And, indeed, she did carry it mighty high and
artificial, wherever respect and humility were to be commanded. But it
was pretty to see how she would unbend and become her natural self where
her heart was touched by some tender sentiment. How she would empty her
pockets to give to any one with a piteous tale, how she would get from
her horse to pluck wild-flowers by the roadside, and how, one day,
overtaking a poor woman carrying a child painfully on her back, she must
have the little one up on her lap and carry it till we reached the
hamlet where the woman lived, etc. On the fifteenth day we stayed at St.
Denys, and going thence the next morning, had travelled but a couple of
hours when we were caught in a violent storm of hailstones as big as
peas, that was swept with incredible force by a wind rushing through a
deep ravine in the mountains, so that 'twas as much as we could make
headway through it and gain a village which lay but a little distance
from us. And here we were forced to stay all day by another storm of
rain, that followed the hail and continued till nightfall. Many others
besides ourselves were compelled to seek refuge at our inn, and amongst
them a company of Spanish muleteers, for it seems we were come to a pass
leading through the mountains into Spain. These were the first Spaniards
we had yet seen (save the Don), and for all we had heard to their
credit, we could not admire them greatly, being a low-browed,
coarse-featured, ragged crew, and more picturesque than cleanly, besides
stinking intolerably of garlic. By nightfall there was more company than
the inn could accommodate; nevertheless, in respect to our quality, we
were given the best rooms in the house to ourselves.

About eight o'clock, as we were about to sit down to supper, our
innkeeper's wife comes in to tell us that a Spanish grandee is below,
who has been travelling for hours in the storm, and then she asked very
humbly if our excellencies will permit her to lay him a bed in our room
when we have done with it, as she can bestow him nowhere else (the
muleteers filling her house to the very cock loft), and has not the
heart to send him on to St. Denys in this pitiless driving rain. To this
Don Sanchez replies, that a Spanish gentleman is welcome to all we can
offer him, and therewith sends down a mighty civil message, begging his
company at our table.

Moll has just time to whip on a piece of finery, and we to put on our
best manners, when the landlady returns, followed by a stout, robust
Spaniard, in an old coat several times too small for him, whom she
introduced as Señor Don Lopez de Calvados.

Don Lopez makes us a reverence, and then, with his shoulders up to his
ears and like gestures, gives us an harangue at some length, but this
being in Spanish, is as heathen Greek to our ears. However, Don Sanchez
explains that our visitor is excusing his appearance as being forced to
change his wet clothes for what the innkeeper can lend him, and so we,
grinning to express our amiability, all sit down to table and set
to - Moll with her most finicking, delicate airs and graces, and Dawson
and I silent as frogs, with understanding nothing of the Dons'
conversation. This, we learn from Don Sanchez after supper, has turned
chiefly on the best means of crossing into Spain, from which it appears
there are two passes through the mountains, both leading to the same
town, but one more circuitous than the other. Don Lopez has come by the
latter, because the former is used by the muleteers, who are not always
the most pleasant companions one can have in a dangerous road; and for
this reason he recommends us to take his way, especially as we have a
young lady with us, which will be the more practicable, as the same
guides who conducted him will be only too glad to serve us on their
return the next morning. To this proposition we very readily agree, and
supper being ended, Don Sanchez sends for the guides, two hardy
mountaineers, who very readily agree to take us this way the next
morning, if the weather permits. And so we all, wishing Don Lopez a
good-night, to our several chambers.

I was awoke in the middle of the night, as it seemed to me, by a great
commotion below of Spanish shouting and roaring with much jingling of
bells; and looking out of window I perceived lanterns hanging here and
there in the courtyard, and the muleteers packing their goods to depart,
with a fine clear sky full of stars overhead. And scarce had I turned
into my warm bed again, thanking God I was no muleteer, when in comes
the Don with a candle, to say the guide will have us moving at once if
we would reach Ravellos (our Spanish town) before night. So I to
Dawson's chamber, and he to Moll's, and in a little while we all
shivering down to the great kitchen, where is never a muleteer left, but
only a great stench of garlic, to eat a mess of soup, very hot and
comforting. And after that out into the dark (there being as yet but a
faint flush of green and primrose colour over towards the east), where
four fresh mules (which Don Sanchez overnight had bargained to exchange
against our horses, as being the only kind of cattle fit for this
service) are waiting for us with other two mules, belonging to our
guides, all very curiously trapped out with a network of wool and little
jingling bells. Then when Don Sanchez had solemnly debated whether we
should not awake Don Lopez to say farewell, and we had persuaded him
that it would be kinder to let him sleep on, we mounted into our high,
fantastic saddles, and set out towards the mountains, our guides
leading, and we following close upon their heels as our mules could get,
but by no guidance of ours, though we held the reins, for these
creatures are very sagacious and so pertinacious and opiniastre that I
believe though you pulled their heads off they would yet go their own
way.

Our road at first lay across a rising plain, very wild and scrubby, as I
imagine, by the frequent deviations of our beast, and then through a
forest of cork oaks, which keep their leaves all the year through, and
here, by reason of the great shade, we went, not knowing whither, as if
blindfold, only we were conscious of being on rough, rising ground, by
the jolting of our mules and the clatter of their hoofs upon stones; but
after a wearisome, long spell of this business, the trees growing more
scattered and a thin grey light creeping through, we could make out that
we were all together, which was some comfort. From these oaks, we passed
into a wood of chestnuts, and still going up and up, but by such
devious, unseen ways, that I think no man, stranger to these parts,
could pick it out for himself in broad daylight, we came thence into a
great stretch of pine trees, with great rocks scattered amongst them, as
if some mountain had been blown up and fallen in a huge shower of
fragments.

And so, still for ever toiling and scambling upwards, we found ourselves
about seven o'clock, as I should judge by the light beyond the trees and
upon the side of the mountain, with the whole champaign laid out like a
carpet under us on one side, prodigious slopes of rock on either hand,
with only a shrub or a twisted fir here and there, and on the further
side a horrid stark ravine with a cascade of water thundering down in
its midst, and a peak rising beyond, covered with snow, which glittered
in the sunlight like a monstrous heap of white salt.

After resting at this point half an hour to breathe our mules, the
guides got into their saddles, and we did likewise, and so on again
along the side of the ravine, only not of a cluster as heretofore, but
one behind the other in a long line, the mules falling into this order
of themselves as if they had travelled the path an hundred times; but
there was no means of going otherwise, the path being atrociously narrow
and steep, and only fit for wild goats, there being no landrail, coping,
or anything in the world to stay one from being hurled down a thousand
feet, and the mountain sides so inclined that 'twas a miracle the mules
could find foothold and keep their balance. From the bottom of the
ravine came a constant roar of falling water, though we could spy it
only now and then leaping down from one chasm to another; and more than
once our guides would cry to us to stop (and that where our mules had to
keep shifting their feet to get a hold) while some huge boulder,
loosened by the night's rain, flew down across our path in terrific
bounds from the heights above, making the very mountain tremble with the
shock. Not a word spoke we; nay, we had scarce courage at times to draw
breath, for two hours and more of this fearful passage, with no
encouragement from our guides save that one of them did coolly take out
a knife and peel an onion as though he had been on a level, broad road;
and then, reaching a flat space, we came to a stand again before an
ascent that promised to be worse than that we had done. Here we got
down, Moll clinging to our hands and looking around her with large,
frighted eyes.

"Shall we soon be there?" she asked.

And the Don, putting this question in Spanish to the guides, they
pointed upwards to a gap filled with snow, and answered that was the
highest point. This was some consolation, though we could not regard the
rugged way that lay betwixt us and that without quaking. Indeed, I
thought that even Don Sanchez, despite the calm, unmoved countenance he
ever kept, did look about him with a certain kind of uneasiness.
However, taking example from our guides, we unloosed our saddle bags,
and laid out our store of victuals with a hogskin of wine which
rekindled our spirits prodigiously.

While we were at this repast, our guides, starting as if they had caught
a sound (though we heard none save the horrid bursting of water), looked
down, and one of them, clapping two dirty fingers in his mouth, made a
shrill whistle. Then we, looking down, presently spied two mules far
below on the path we had come, but at such a distance that we could
scarce make out whether they were mounted or not.

"Who are they?" asks Don Sanchez, sternly, as I managed to understand.

"Friends," replies one of the fellows, with a grin that seemed to lay
his face in two halves.




CHAPTER VIII.


_How we were entertained in the mountains, and stand in a fair way to
have our throats cut._


"We will go on when you are ready," says Don Sanchez, turning to us.

"Aye," growled Jack in my ear, "with all my heart. For if these friends
be of the same kidney as Don Lopez, we may be persuaded to take a better
road, which God forbid if this be a sample of their preference."

So being in our saddles forth we set once more and on a path no easier
than before, but worse - like a very housetop for steepness, without a
tinge of any living thing for succour if one fell, but only sharp,
jagged rocks, and that which now added to our peril was here and there a
patch of snow, so that the mules must cock their ears and feel their way
before advancing a step, now halting for dread, and now scuttling on
with their tails betwixt their legs as the stones rolled under them.

But the longest road hath an end, and so at length reaching that gap we
had seen from below, to our great content we beheld through an angle in
the mountain a tract of open country below, looking mighty green and
sweet in the distance. And at the sight of this, Moll clapt her hands
and cried out with joy; indeed, we were all as mad as children with the
thought that our task was half done. Only the Don kept his gravity. But
turning to Moll, he stretches out his hand towards the plain and says
with prodigious pride, "My country!"

And now we began the descent, which was actually more perilous than the
ascent, but we made light of it, being very much enlivened by the high
mountain air and the relief from dread uncertainty, shouting out our
reflections one to another as we jolted down the rugged path.

"After all, Jack," says I to him at the top of my voice, being in
advance and next to Don Sanchez; "after all, Don Lopez was not such a
bad friend to us."

Upon which, the Don, stopping his mule at the risk of being cast down
the abyss, turns in his saddle, and says:

"Fellow, Don Lopez is a Spaniard. A Castilian of noble birth - " but here
his mule deciding that this was no fit place for halting, bundled onward
at a trot to overtake the guides, and obliged his rider to turn his
attention to other matters.

By the look of the sun it must have been about two in the afternoon
when, rounding a great bluff of rock, we came upon a kind of tableland
which commanded a wide view of the plain below, most dazzling to our
eyes after the gloomy recesses of the pass; and here we found trees
growing and some rude attempt at cultivation, but all very poor and
stunted, being still very high and exposed to the bleak winds issuing
from the gorges.

Our guides, throwing themselves on the ground, repaired once more to
their store of onions, and we, nothing loath to follow their examples,
opened our saddle bags, and with our cold meat and the hogskin of wine
made another good repast and very merry. And the Don, falling into
discourse with the guides, pointed out to us a little white patch on the
plain below, and told us that was Ravellos, where we should find one of
the best posadas in the world, which added to our satisfaction. "But"
says he, "'tis yet four hours' march ere we reach it, so we had best be
packing quickly."

Thereupon we finished our meal in haste, the guides still lying on the
ground eating onions, and when we were prepared to start they still lay
there and would not budge. On this ensued another discussion, very
indignant and passionate on the part of Don Sanchez, and as cool and
phlegmatic on the side of the guides, the upshot of which was, as we
learned from Don, that these rascals maintained they had fulfilled their
bargain in bringing us over into Spain, but as to carrying us to
Ravellos they would by no means do that without the permission of their
zefe, who was one of those they had whistled to from our last halting
place, and whom they were now staying for.

Then, beginning to quake a bit at the strangeness of this treatment, we
looked about us to see if we might venture to continue our journey
alone. But Lord! one might as easily have found a needle in a bundle of
hay as a path amidst this labyrinth of rocks and horrid fissures that
environed us; and this was so obvious that the guides, though not yet
paid for their service, made no attempt to follow or to stay us, as
knowing full well we must come back in despair. So there was no choice
but to wait the coming up of the zefe, the Don standing with his legs
astride and his arms folded, with a very storm of passion in his face,
in readiness to confront the tardy zefe with his reproaches for this
delay and the affront offered to himself, we casting our eye longingly
down at Ravellos, and the guides silently munching their onions. Thus we
waited until the fine ear of our guides catching a sound, they rose to
their feet muttering the word "zefe," and pull off their hats as two men
mounted on mules tricked out like our own, came round the corner and
pulled up before us. But what was our surprise to see that the foremost
of these fellows was none other than the Don Lopez de Calvados we had
entertained to supper the night before, and of whose noble family Don


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryFrank BarrettA Set of Rogues → online text (page 4 of 22)