'BYNG' of Bristol
A modern knight-errant in war-torn Spain —and the danger that beset him in the dark streets of Valencia
JAMES FRANCIS DWYER
CAPTAIN JOHN BYNG, running swiftly, turned from the Calle Zaragoza into a dark side street. A black trench between shabby houses, filled with the sluggish dank air that breeds deviltry. It had been, and of this Byng was certain, the scene of holdups, assaults and murders. Thieves, thugs and skilful users of the Spanish dagger had lured their victims into its unholy shadows.
Quite conscious of its fearful malevolence, Byng ran down the black gut. The street was the only way of escape from his attackers. He had broken off a battle by a quick and unexpected retreat, and the evil thoroughfare had the quality of a smoke screen.
A knife point had reached his shoulder in the melee. The wound was bleeding, but he was indifferent. The consoling hand, moving toward the shoulder, was deflected to pat the place beneath his shirt where the shagreen pouch hung from a strip of Cordovan leather passed around his neck. The devils! They had thought to take the precious pouch from him by a murderous onslaught.
As he ran he wondered if her prayers—she had said that she would pray nightly for him —had helped him. Personally he had no great confidence in prayer, but if any prayers should be heard on high they should certainly be hers. Byng saw her face in the thick murk through which he ran. Her large dark eyes, the sweet pallor of her highborn features; he heard in fancy the whispering vowel-blessed voice. He recalled the terror that had come upon her face when he suggested that he would seek to recover the things within the shagreen pouch. The treasure that was hers.
THE STREET, to Byng’s dismay, ended in a high wall. It was a cul-de-sac. Hurriedly his hands went over the plastered surface, seeking an opening. There was none. If the quartet who attacked him liad found his trail, he was trapped.
He listened intently. Suddenly the evil expectancy that was upon the street -an expectancy that suggested a waiting mortar into which the elements of crime could be poured—was swept away. The thoroughfare was alive. Whispers leapt from one side of the gut to the other. Thick whispers; commanding, adjuring, threatening.
Captain Byng found a doorway.
In that tense moment he remembered the dark doorways of Mary-le-Port Street in Bristol. He had hidden in them many times as a boy. For an instant his mental eyes saw the queer inscription in old English above the door on the house where the Byngs of Bristol once lived. Two carven lines from the “Booke of the Byngs” that can still be seen in St. Peter’s Church. They ran:
“It is nat gude a sleping dogge to wake.
So do nat rouse a Byng unless there’s lyfe at staik.”
Across the narrow gulch the shoe of an invisible person made a slurring sound. Byng’s memory hitched the hardly audible sound to the clubfooted devil who had led the attack. He gummed himself tighter against the door. High above the city a plane droned, jabbing the black night with a silvery javelin.
A man, breathing heavily, fingering the walls as he moved, was approaching. A fellow impressed with the importance of the hunt. Pausing at times, so that Byng heard the fellow’s vagrant hands moving over plaster and wood.
The searcher was within ten feet of the doorway when Byng’s protective tentacles searching the street were snapped back to his own immediate person. The door against which he had jammed his tall, muscular form was moving away from him !
Slowly, noiselessly, it receded, replacing the warm comfort of its presence with the cold dread brought by an unprotected back. He thrust out a hand to find the disappearing door; he winnowed emptiness. The happening was unexplainable, mystifying, sinister.
The searcher was close now. Byng made a quick decision. He stepped back into the darkness of the hallway. A movement of air informed him that the door had closed after his entry; he heard the faint sound of a bolt snuggling into its engaging socket. Immediately, in the stillness that followed, there came from without the rasping hands of the street searcher pawing the protective timber.
Now Byng knew that there was life close to him. An invisible hand touched his arm; fingers closed on his sleeve and drew him into the gloom. He followed obediently.
IN THE small room at the rear of the long hall, Byng’s guide turned up the wick of an oil lamp. She was a stout woman in the thirties, padded plentifully in the manner of old-time barmaids. Face and figure suggested unrestrained eating and drinking.
She stared for a moment at Byng, made two fruitless efforts to speak, then managed it with a gasp. “Eet ees zee Capitán Byng!” she cried. “Madre de Dios! E! Capitón Byng!”
She seemed a trifle hysterical. She pointed to a large black cat that had climbed hastily upon a bracket as if wishing a closer view of the visitor. “Zee cat feel you when you push against zee door. He tell me someone ees zere.” “Nice of him,” said Byng quietly. “Clever. I’m thankful. Might I ask how you know my name?”
The woman smiled. “Eet ees known to me for a long time.” she said. ‘‘One night—one cold night on zee Rambla at Barcelona I speak wit’ you. I say zat I am starving. You say nothin’ but give me a bit of paper. A bit of paper zat ees one hundred pesetas! Si! Un billete de ciento pesetas! You give it to me for nothin’!
“I am crazy wit’ joy. I follow you to zee Gran Hotel Colon. I ask zee doorman your name. He say eet ees Capitán John Byng.”
The cat sprang from his perch and ran along the dark corridor to the street door. The woman, hands pressed to her breast, awaited his return. There was a great silence in the room. Byng studied the lady.
The cat returned with a wild scurry. The woman placed a finger on her lips. She came close to Byng. Her breath was heavy with the odor of cognac. “Zere ees someone at zee door,” she whispered.
The sound of discreet knocking drifted in from the corridor. The woman made a step forward, Byng seized her arm. “Back door or roof?” he asked.
“Zere ees a beeg iron beam from zis roof to another roof,” she breathed. “Some fool might cross eet. A fall ees death.”
The knocking grew louder. A voice came down the stairs, calling the attention of the woman to the banging. She explained to Byng that the speaker was a lodger. She rented rooms.
“I will look,” she gasped. “No, no! I will not let anyone in!” The fat arm slipped from his grip; she ran noiselessly along the passage. Byng stared at a colored oleograph. It was titled “The Flight into Egypt.” Again he patted the place where the shagreen pouch rested.
The woman was terror incarnate when she crept back. Her face was distorted with dread. Her black eyes overflowed; they were wells from which poured panic unbelievable.
A word came bulletlike from her dry throat. “El Lobo!" she gasped. “Zee Wolf!”
Byng moved for the stairway. The knocking was louder, more insistent. It was time to go.
The woman caught up with Byng on the third landing. She clawed at his coat. “ Uno momento!” she cried. “What have you got zat he seeks? What does El Lobo want? Tell!”
Byng broke away from her. He ran by doors from which were thrust the heads of lodgers startled by the pounding below. The woman, stirred to extraordinary efforts by greed, pounded after him.
The roof door was locked. Byng was struggling with it when she caught up with him. “Tell me!” she cried. “You have somethin’! I know! El Lobo knows! Give me an’ I give you zee key !”
Byng tore the key from her hand. She screamed; the clatter of lodgers came from below. Byng was through the door. He banged it and locked it from the outside.
THE IRON beam bridged a pit of jade. In the depths the darkness moved in sections like great bronze gongs dilating and contracting. The roof that supported the far end of the girder was invisible. The beam sprang out from the wall and seemed to melt into the murk.
Byng straddled it. Legs knotted beneath its cold stomach, he moved forward. So El Lobo was the name of the clubfooted devil who was on his track. The Wolf of Valencia ! Byng grinned as he wriggled along. He had no love for wolves.
He had covered some ten feet when he jerked himself to a halt. He could see nothing, but his ears checked the splinters of sound that came to him. Terrifying splinters. The dry rasp of denim on iron, the crisp rustle of sandalled feet locking and interlocking. A person was approaching from the other roof!
Now the sounds ceased. The unknown had halted. Invisible to each other, they waited, each on guard. To Byng of Bristol there was no doubt that the person on the girder was an enemy. In that harassed city of Valencia he had no friends.
Again the slither of cloth on iron. Byng leaned forward in an effort to pierce the gloom. He had a belief that the other had thrown himself flat on the beam and was moving forward, serpentlike, to attack.
Byng was weaponless. In the fight in the Calle Zaragoza
his revolver had been knocked from his hand. Now he had but his bare fists.
Ah! Byng Hung himself backward in the nick of time. The other had hurled himself forward and lunged.
A knife tore the shirt of Captain Byng. Horribly close to the shagreen pouch. The sweep of the arm and long blade seemed to rip the darkness.
They were locked together now. Two lïuman monkeys, legs twisted beneath the beam, cold fingers of death clawing at them. Reaching up from the throbbing depths.
The patrolling plane droned over them. They did not see it. They did not hear it. To the ears of each came only the grunts of the other. The hosts of heaven could fly above them unnoticed.
Byng clutched the other’s knife hand. He had to get rid of that blade. He twisted the wrist of the fellow till the agony brought squeals.
Hah, the knife had fallen, but why no clatter of steel from the courtyard? Why did—Lord of Heaven ! It came! What a depth ! The clank of the weapon on the stones sent an icy thrill down the spine of Captain Byng.
Now it was a wrestling match pure and simple. Byng saw the face of the other. Brutal, demoniacal, queerly deformed.
Byng broke a throat grip, sent a powerful jab into the ribs of the other, then swung back swiftly as if desirous of beating a retreat.
His antagonist was fooled. The fellow unhooked his legs from the bar to move forward, and the fluttering claw of death tapped his shoulder. Byng had struck with all his force. There was a yelp of horror, a cry to a long-forgotten God, then the unbelievable wait for the sound from below.
Captain John Byng took a great breath of the night air and moved forward.
NOW7, AS HE groped across the roof of the house to which the bridge of death had brought him, he was filled with a strange belief. That which he carried in the shagreen pouch was sending out vibrations. The things were alive. They had absorbed life. Possibly the stone shelter in which they had been hidden had, in a manner, muzzled them, but now, so it seemed to Byng, they were proclaiming their presence to the city of Valencia.
He was so impressed with this belief that he found himself holding his right hand against the pouch as if to quiet them. The clubfooted devil. Et Lobo, knew that he, Byng, carried them, the woman sensed them, and now he thought that the occupants of the military plane had some idea of his precious load. A ray of light from the plane skewered him as he plunged across the roof.
The searchlight trailed him as he ran from one roof-door to another. Each door was locked. He was in the land of bolts and bars. In Spain each house is a prison.
Stampeded by the plane, he flung himself against the roof-door of the fifth house. It gave beneath the tremendous pressure. He stumbled within; the stair-well was dimly lit by a lamp slung midway down the depths. Byng dived down the steep flights.
He was tiptoeing across the landing from which the lamp swung when a door opened in his face. A girl of twenty or less, with a scarlet shawl flung over her nightgown blocked his way.
The expected scream was choked back, and Byng’s pleading words kept it from escaping. He wasn’t a burglar! No, no! He wasn’t an assassin! Quick came his words to soothe her. He was an Englishman on an errand, and he had used the roof-door to get to the street.
The blessed calm of good women who have faith. “Ingles?" she whispered, then, after a pause, “The English are good. They are kind. But why are you here in Valencia?”
Did the things within the shagreen pouch prompt him to tell her? He thought they did. They wished the girl to admire them. From her, Byng thought, came the perfume of wild rose and honeybine that took him on fancy’s wings to England.
In quick hot whispers he told. The woman he served was akin to this girl. In manner, in purity, in the sweet calm that enveloped her.
To prove his story, he tore the shagreen pouch from beneath his shirt. He pulled the drawstring. The light from the swinging lamp dived into the pouch and turned it into a small caldron of fire. From it leapt shafts of witch-flame. Little lances of scarlet, citrine, azure, garter-blue, and gridelin.
They struck the face of the girl as she leaned forward, illuminating it, bringing to it a beauty that startled Byng. In her eyes was an adoration that he had never seen; her words had the quality of an orison.
“Oh, they weep for her!” she breathed. “You must get them to her! They are alive! They starve for love!”
She ran before him down the flights of stairs. A soft angel of sweetness in that city of trouble. Byng, following swiftly, thought that the jewels were momentarily appeased by her quick obeisance.
Her delicate hands pushed back the big bolts from off the street door. She peei>ed without. She made a sign to Byng and stepped aside. “May God walk with you,” she whispered. “Give her my love.”
For the first few yards Byng thought that the perfume of wfild rose and honeybine went with him. Comforting, protective, encouraging. Again came a scrap from that old record of his tribe.
“For women give to men the swetely gifts of flaterie,
And these to Clan of Byngs is more than fine philosophie.”
HE WAS back now in the Calle Zaragoza. The mist, under the broom of a dawn breeze, was being swept toward the harbor of Grao. Byng thought of Grao.
There in the port were ships. English. French. Russian. He had a hunger for ships as he hurried along the street. In a cell far back in his mind was stored the slurring sound made by a dragging foot. He tried to put it out but he couldn’t. The foot of El Lobo.
Far up the street a boil of commotion gathered and broke. Byng halted as a patrol sent the human atoms flying in all directions. Tattered wretches fled by him. screaming warnings as they ran. The hoofs of the cavalry horses beat a tattoo of death on the cobblestones.
Captain Byng joined the fleeing mob. In fancy he felt the big hands of the patrol going over his body in search of arms. Pawing at the shagreen pouch. “Hah! What’s this? Look! Juan, Mateo. Diego! The English dog has found the eyes of all the saints in heaven!”
Byng, running on the heels of a flying beggar, saw the fellow drop to his knees and disappear. A hole close to the sidewalk had received him. Galloping horses, screams of fear, curses and revolver shots made a quick decision imperative. Feet first Byng went into the hole, let go his grip on the pavement and slid.
The refugio was packed. There was barely landing space at the bottom of the chute. All the human lice of Valencia were there. The mendicants of the church doors, the whining wretches of the Mercado. Small trickles of dirt came from the roof of the cellar as the horses went by overhead.
The mangy crowd examined Byng. He was not of their guild. They commenced to mill around him like evil animals into whose filthy pen something clean and lithe had fallen. Hot whispers came from dribbling lips. Eyes filled with the cunning of ancient billygoats showed the flames of greed. The bunch of beggars knew! Knew that he carried something of great value. The knowledge was written on their leathery faces.
A lean devil, as thin as a walking cane and with a yellow face that had the scant width of a duro, made a little speech. To Byng’s surprise it finished with the name of the clubfooted one. El Lobo. And that word was the signal to attack.
They came in a clawing mass. Catfighters. Filthy hands outspread. Spitting, scratching, yelling. Byng’s fists bowled them over. Fed on garbage, they lacked strength. But the treasure they sensed called to them and they whined as they stumbled to their feet.
Three fugitives came down the chute with so small an interval between their arrival that they piled up on each other, making for the moment a sort of human ladder up the slippery funnel.
Byng seized the opportunity to escape. Hurriedly he climbed them in spite of their howls of protest. From the stomach of the lowest to the shoulders of the second, hitting back at the clawing mob. The bare bullet head of the third made the top rung for the feet of Byng. The white glare of the opening was within reach. Kicking fiercely, he seized the edge of the pavement and drew himself clear.
Running now. Blindly. A little afraid of the jewels. Afraid of their efforts to make themselves known to worshippers. From far to seaward came the sounds of' firing. Sirens were screaming; a pillàr of smoke rose from the Calle de Sorolla.-
BYNG HEADED eastward. There was a tramway running the two and a half miles to Grao. Grao was paradise. In Grao were the dark holds of tramps, friendly English sailors, fellows who knew’ the Avon, and the Floating Harbor, men who had looked from the Cabot Tower on Brandon Hill at the glory of Bristol Town. More soldiers. Filling the narrow street.
Wild devils out of control. Byng dived into a dirty restaurant. There was" no chance of getting through thaDfnÖbï They would pick the filling from the teeth of anyone who made the attempt.
Byng ordered a plate of garbanzos and a glass of wine. The regiment went by, chanting. Gay devils snapping their fingers at death.
The fat proprietor of the restaurant circed the table at which Byng sat. At last he announced the reason for his scrutiny. He breathed it softly.
‘There is blood on the face of the señor.”
Ee made further observations. It was dangerous to have blood on one’s face. Si. It suggested fights, robberies, murders. There was a room at the rear of the restaurant where the señor could wash himself.
Ee followed Byng into the rear room, his tongue wagging. Life was a bother; police, soldiers, holdup men, assassins. Where, he asked, was the noble señor heading when he stepped aside for the soldiers? He, the proprietor, had noticed that the noble señor did not wish to meet the solders. No person of blood would want to meet the rabble.
Captain Byng examining three deep scratches down his left cheek received in the battle in the refugio, admitted that he might be making for Grao and he might not It was just a whim on his part. As a master of fact he might change his mind and walk across La Mancha, the country of Don Quixote, to Madrid.
The fellow grinned knowingly. He quoted Cervantes. “Quanda una puerta se cierra, otra se abre." When one door closes, another opens.
There was silence in the gloomy room. Byng stared at the scratches. They made him conspicuous. This sly wretch who talked was suggesting a shelter for the moment.
The soft Spanish of the restaurant keeper flowed into the silence. If the señor wished, he could sit there in the room and sip wine till the night came. Night was a woman. He paused and regarded the man from Bristol.
Byng felt the sly eyes go over him, searching, prying. They were fixed on his chest, on the shirt front beneath which hung the shagreen pouch. Were the jewels calling to the fellow? Were they making their presence known to him?
A startling phrase fell from the lips of the Spaniard. “ Haceos miel, y paparos han moscas." Make yourself honey and the flies will devour you.
“What do you mean?” snapped Byng.
“Nada, señor. Nada." He bowed himself out, closing the door behind him. Byng heard the tramp of passing soldiers. The street was close to the barracks, the Cuartel de Ste. Domingo that lay close to the Turia.
Captain John Byng flung himself into a chair. It seemed as if the flies had a notion that he was honey, although the honeycomb was hidden from their eyes.
THROUGH the long hours the restaurant keeper returned from time to time and spoke with his guest. There was no agreement. Byng ordered a small bottle of wine, gave a note of twenty-five pesetas in payment and received no change. He didn’t mention the omission.
The fat Spaniard chattered. He gathered information from each customer and carried scraps to Byng. Rumors. A thousand and one rumors. Mad tales bred by the hot winds that dry the brains of the people and bring visions. For Spain is the land of visionaries. The land of splendid madness.
Byng listened. He had a belief that this fat man was probing continuously, that each tale he told was a verbal hook put out to bring results. He saw the sly eyes watching the result of each morsel of gossip.
It was in the late afternoon that Byng was put under full fire. The fat man came in with a story that he had just heard. There had been a killing in a lane leading from the Calle Zaragoza. A man had been
flung from‘ a roof. Dios! A fall of six stories.
It was said that he was the lieutenant of El Lobo. Did the señor ever hear of El Lobo? No! May the blessed saints keep him from ever hearing of him. He was the ‘ Wolf of Valencia. “El Lobo Malo!” This man —this lieutenant who was killed (the restaurant owner crossed himself and mumbled a prayer) was pursuing a man thought to have the Treasure of the House of Doves. El tesoro de la Casa de las Palomas.
Did he not know of the Treasure of the House of Doves? The greatest treasure of Valencia ! Si, si! It was in the possession of an old miser, and. when the great trouble started, assassins killed the old man and searched the house. They could find nothing, yet, and this was curious, they felt that the treasure was there. No one could explain the feeling. They knew it was there and that it was trying to tell them where it j was hidden. It was whispering from some j cranny in the walls.
The fellow paused and stared at Captain John Byng. Byng had a feeling that the fat man was listening, listening in the manner of the assassins who had searched the house of the old man who was the | father of the sweet woman that Captain Byng served.
“Each day they searched,” continued the restaurant keeper. “Day after day, week after week. Hundreds came and watched. Thousands. And each felt that the treasure was there. They heard it, they felt it, they smelt it. Treasure, great treasure, is like that. It cannot be hidden.”
Again he paused. Byng, with much selfcontrol, put a question. “And now?” he asked.
The fat man made a wry face. “It is i gone,” he said.
“Where?” asked Byng.
The other smiled. “That is what El Lobo wishes to know,” he said softly. “That is why his lieutenant was thrown from the roof. That is—” He paused and stood up.
A customer had come into the restaurant.
He waddled into the outer room, glancing j curiously at Byng as he passed through the j door.
The close air of the gloomy room, toI gether with the fact that he had not slept j for forty-eight hours made Byng forget for | a few moments the danger that threatened ! him. He closed his eyes and dozed.
BYNG WOKE with a feeling that he had, in a dream, heard a noise that chilled his blood. A strange noise that had awakj ened some unpleasant memory within his brain. An evil sound that had slipped into j his brain and found a stored counterpart. | The room was dark. He stood up and ¡ tiptoed to the partition that separated the ! rear chamber from the restaurant. Light showed through a small crevice in the j shrunken boards. He placed his eye to | this and surveyed the eating room.
The fat proprietor was leaning over the counter, his pudgy hand on the shoulder of a customer. He was whispering into an ear, or more correctly, where an ear had ¡ once been, and as Byng watched, he under| stood why he had heard that slurring sound of the dragging leg. The restaurant owner was telling his suspicions to the Wolf of Valencia!
The frame of the window in the rear of the room was nailed down. Byng peered through the dirty panes. There was a small yard, enclosed by a stone wall. Beyond the wall, so Byng thought, was a lane. He picked up the chair on which he had been sitting and swung a smashing blow at the window. Before the shattered glass had touched the floor, he had dived through the opening.
The wall was a small hindrance. He took it in his stride. A dark lane, running northward toward the Turia, was before him. He needed no spur. The slurring sound of the dragging foot was a seemingly undying whisper within his brain.
Heading for Grao through the soft Valencian night. Through dark side streets running parallel with the Camino del Grao. Swiftly and with cunning, Byng covered the two miles between the restaurant and the port. Before him was the harbor and the Mediterranean. The business now was to find a departing ship into which he could stow nimself.
Choking with thirst he entered a small café, took a seat in the shadow, and ordered a bottle of beer. He was as watchful as a dog fox crossing an open field. He had to get away that night. Now he was certain that the things within the shagreen pouch sent out vibrations that covetous persons felt. The story of the restaurant keeper supported his belief. The thieves that daily searched the Casa de las Palomas had been aware of the departure of the treasure when he, Byng, had cleverly abstracted it. They had felt the void created by its removal.
At a near-by table sat a tall man in naval uniform who was the possessor of a thirst not easily appeased. He drank with a fierce insistence that puzzled Byng. One strong Spanish cognac followed another, the amused camarero trotting between the bar and the table of the thirsty one.
Byng had a faculty for introducing himself. He passed a laughing comment upon the naval man’s ability, and the drinker bowed and explained.
"Tonight 1 drink, tomorrow I am dead,” said the man softly. "The señor speaks well the Spanish. We say, La muerta es sorda.”
Captain Byng moved his chair closer. Politely he agreed with the statement that death is deaf. But why get in the way of it?
The naval man paused in his wild drinki ing to explain his position. He was going ! back to his ship to be murdered. Murdered by his crew. Dogs, bandits, mutineers! He spat his hatred for them.
"Then why go back?” demanded Byng.
The black eyes of the naval man snapped. "I am a Spaniard !” he cried.
Byng considered the situation. Surely the prayers of the one he served were with him. Here was an opportunity to escape. He waited till the Spaniard had downed another cognac, then he spoke. “I hate to brag,” he began, "but 1 am considered a rather tough person. I am a good boxer. You might take me along as valet, secretary, cabin boy, or any old thing.”
The Spaniard studied the lean tanned face of the man from Bristol. He murmured the word Pugil that Byng had used to describe himself. It seemed to please him. Si, si, the English were all pugils. He looked at the hard fists of Byng and smiled softly. He had a vision of those fists at work on the features of his crew.
He rose with difficulty. “Bueno!” he cried. "Vamos, entonces!”
THE BOAT from the Bobadilla was waiting for the Spanish captain. The three i sailors saw him approaching, supported by I the strong arm of the man from Bristol,
I and they found the sight amusing. They laughed uproariously, and it was plain to Byng that his work commenced right there I on the muelle. Softly, oh, so softly, he ! asked the sailor in charge of the boat why he didn’t salute his superior.
The fellow burst into a loud guffaw. Salute? Why, no one saluted the captain.
Byng waited till the guffaw died away, then, without a word, he knocked the fellow into the harbor. His two mates dragged the half-drowned one into the boat with some difficulty. Terror struck them.
The Spanish captain laughed softly. He and Byng stepped over the body of the stunned sailor, the two others laid to the oars and pulled toward the Bobadilla. Byng, in the soft darkness, patted the shagreen pouch. Luck was with him.
The Bobadilla was a small, dirty coasting steamer. Her fuddled captain climbed aboard her with difficulty, Byng at his heels. A sailor in the shore boat called out a warning to the first officer on the deck, but the officer didn't hear. Hands in pockets, he stood and laughed at his drunken superior when the latter stumbled on deck.
Byng floored the first officer. The fellow-
picked himself up and rushed. Something that the officer thought later was an iron stanchion smashed him on the chin and he dropped. A sailor who pulled a knife went down on top of him. The Spanish captain took heart. He shouted orders. The Bobadilla was going to sea at once.
It was then that the sharp ears of Byng picked up the sound. He wheeled quickly and looked around him. It couldn’t be possible. Yet the freshly registered sound that he had captured above the uproar matched with the record held within his brain.
He had surely heard the slurring sound made by the dragged foot of El Lobo!
A fat engineer came running, pursued by three firemen. The firemen had revolted. They wished to be put ashore.
The captain of the Bobadilla was enjoying himself now. He made a courtly gesture and referred them to Byng. He was beginning to admire the Englishman.
Byng knocked down the most talkative of the three and chased the other two down the ladder to the engine room. On deck again, he watched for proof of what his ears had told him. Another boat had reached the steamer after he and the Spanish captain had come aboard. Was it possible that the Wolf had tracked him to Grao and had boarded the Bobadilla? It seemed unbelievable, but then Valencia was filled with spying eyes and listening ears.
TheBobadilla was under way. The Spanish captain, recovering from his drinking bout, was screaming orders from the bridge. There was no sign of a mutiny. The hard fists of Byng had worked wonders. The crew whispered of the devilish force behind the knuckles. The first officer had taken to his bunk with a broken jaw.
Byng, back to the rail, watched the shuffling crew. The sound of that dragged foot was still with him. Each minute that passed made him more certain that El Lobo was aboard.
The Bobadilla was out of the harbor now. Into the gulf. Swinging her blunt snout northward, her engines kicking her at their best speed in the direction of Barcelona. She quivered as if she knew the dangers of the night when giant birds of death patrolled the Mediterranean.
They were off Sagunto when the plane appeared. The Bobadilla doused her lights; the captain howled for speed. The plane circled, swung shoreward, then came back in a terrifying dive and dropped a bomb as it passed.
Byng turned his head to look at the spot to leeward where the bomb fell, and, as he did so, his ears again picked up that slurring sound that carried all the elements of terror. It was coming toward him in the smothering darkness. Ten feet away, five, now it was beside him.
Byng ducked and the thrown knife missed his throat. He clinched with the thrower. Huge hands were clawing at his throat; the breath of the Wolf of Valencia was on his cheek. His brain registered exceptional danger. The fellow was possessed of enormous strength. Force that should have gone to the withered leg had been gathered into the huge arms that scratched blindly for the shagreen pouch.
Byng had a belief that he was combating a monster. A strange unreal thing possessed of inhuman strength. A man if man he was—who was by his beastlike qualities able to overcome any ordinary person who struggled with him. Some queer left-over who had come in from the bad lands of La Mancha to prey on a weakened race.
The plane roared eastward. Byng, struggling madly, was possessed of a queer belief that his safety depended on the plane. The grunting snarling monster with whom he struggled was suffocating him by the very odor he emitted. The “Wolf of Valencia” was well named.
The plane swooped so that it nearly touched the smokestack of the Bobadilla, then, as it swerved northward, unloosed a bomb. The missile hit the foredeck of the steamer. The force of the explosion was terrifie. Byng and El Lobo, still locked together, were lifted up on a great cushion of air. Lifted clear of the rail and tossed into the sea.
CAPTAIN JOHN BYNG came slowly back to full consciousness. He had a belief that it was late afternoon. He was lying in a rough and uncomfortable bunk, and he breathed the suffocating odor of fish. From the floor beneath his bunk came noises that, in the first few seconds of awaking, disturbed him by their similarity to a frightening sound record within his brain.
Then he realized what created the disturbance. He was on a fishing smack, and the noises around him were made by the uneasy movements of a big catch of langoustes, the lobster of the Mediterranean.
His arms were at his sides, and a terrible fear held them there. A fear that brought beads of perspiration to his forehead. Fearfully he queried his condition as to clothing. His fingers touched his bare legs, crept slowly upward. He was naked beneath the brown blanket.
The fear made him gasp. Naked! In the long struggle in the sea when he had torn off his clothing, had he, in a halfconscious state, rid himself of the shagreen pouch? He couldn’t sense the cord around his neck. He was certain that it wasn’t there. Quite certain.
Slowly the groping fingers came upward. They touched his neck. Spitefully they
clawed at it. Angrily they went round and round. They Hung reports into his brain. Nothing! Nothing! Nothing at all !
Byng was still clutching his neck when a heavy step roused him. A figure in oilskins was bending over the bunk. A grinning Frenchman with bright blue eyes.
“Ah, vous cherchez le gri-gri?" he cried.
“Gri-gri?" muttered Byng.
"Oui! Zee bonne-chance bag you wear. In Afrique dans la Légion I wear zee gri-gri autour du cou. Je n’ai jamais été blessé."
“And mine?’’ gasped Byng.
“Ici,” said the man, reaching down the shagreen pouch from a nail above the bunk. “I no look. Eet is—what you say? —bad luck to look at le gri-gri d'un autre. Pardonnez-moi. Nous entrons dans Port Vend res.”
Captain John Byng, grasping the shagreen pouch between his hands, thought of a comforting passage from that “Booke of the Byngs” that was the saga of his race.
“Though alle be lost, no Byng should hold despaire,
For He who rules this world to Byngs is alwayes faire.”
The smack was in the pleasant little harbor now. Byng, listening to the shouts of greeting from the shore, had thrilling mental pictures of how he would present the Tesoro de la Casa de las Palomas to the wonder woman whose sweet face had sent him searching. He smiled softly as he fondled the pouch.