The arrogant young captain from the New World, the blustering Barnaby whose pride was stung, and the last of the freebooting pirate - all their lives were woven into the web of bloody intrigue around the
LADY IN THE CELESTE
SHIP CAPTAINS, by and large, are as vain as cock pheasants and when some of them are ashore they are likely to assume that their footspace on the street cobbles are planks of their own quarterdeck. Take this Captain Audel, for instance, a Yankee whose three-master was being fitted at Gravesend, almost ready for the Boston-Liverpool trade. He was both young and foreign and, because of his ship-waiting, restless as a maggot and petulant as a prince. It is the way of foreigners to become blustery and hard when on a strange shore. Had Barnaby not crumpled him, the young pinchface would have made him a cabin boy in his own tavern. As for Barnaby’s London reputation, it had not come to the ears of Captain John Audel.
In Barnaby’s tavern there had been no memory of a shipmaster who did not accord its proprietor deference. For one thing, Barnaby had the look of a sea lord. He was a great frigate of a man, small in nothing but the comical shortness of his lively muscular arms. And he was bald as the drumhead of a capstan, his smooth head canted back haughtily, like a clipper mast. His Sea Captain’s Tavern had an air which resisted, with the snub of a dock piling, anything like a seafaring looby. There was no place in it for a noisy forecastle hand, and prerogatives, ballasts, tonnages and appetites were respected. Occasionally the Tavern’s patronage included rivermen and coasters, cheeky
smugglers and manifest men, owners and speculators who came there to rendezvous with the masters, and Barnaby, demanding only cabin manners, let them whisper and have their bottles and their privacy.
They deferred to the ship captains and the ship captains deferred to Barnaby. They accorded him the courtesies of a ranking mariner, not because of the excellent food and wines which came out of his galley but because he was a remarkable authority on pilotage of the Seven Seas, London’s most valued Sea Informer. He gathered nuggets of information not elsewhere available, from far-riding captains and mates, from clerks and runners, from lookouts and fishermen, from dock-wallopers and smugglers. None better than Barnaby Gutt. had the shrewd estimates of foreign port conditions, of surpluses and scarcities and markets and shoals and uncharted reefs. Shipmasters freely confessed their humble need of Barnaby’s cautions. They depended on him. They respected him, and Barnaby’s comfort and life-pride lay in that respect.
Respect, however, was not forthcoming from the stiff-necked New Englander, John Audel. The American withheld it from the instant of their first meeting, which was not in the Tavern but on a pierhead near the Old dockyard on a May Sunday noon. Barnaby was
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PAT E. O’NEILL
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there to see the maiden sailing of the Celeste, a blockade-runner making for the Carolina ports with a fabulous cargo of Enfield rifles, Fawcett cannon and army shoes. To see the sailing clearly and so talk with authority — Barnaby towered in the crowd on Redpath’s Jetty, a pompous ball of a man with a pink moon face topped by his Sunday hat of wide-brimmed black felt. Even away from his Tavern he was not unconscious of his reputation as London’s best Sea Informer and, when he observed the near presence of a dapper seafaring man, he unobtrusively adjusted the wings of his whitelinen shirt collar which stood out under his ears like fallen staysails. He flicked at his frock coat which glistened like black iron and distinguished him in the crowd.
At first Barnaby took Audel for a hiffh-blown mate, he was that young and truculent. He had not seen him before, which in itself was strange, and he moved inauspiciously toward him. A small, very old man standing in his way was taken by Barnaby’s look of authority. The oldster touched his coat skirt.
“Wot be yu’m a-lookin’?”
Both Audel and Barnaby looked down at the old man. He was frail and shrunken and napless. He wore dusty trousers and a once-lavender coat.
“The Clipper,” said Barnaby. “She goes out.”
“Gaffer, you been in London and not know this clipper?”
The old man took on the cranky hauteur of senility. “Aye, I be in Lunnon three-and-eighty, an’ that he a day longer nor yu! On Sundays reg’lar 1 cum to the River to spit, but this I never see!” He made an impatient half-gesture toward the women and children. Audel followed his gesture with a smirk.
“There’s more of them than these,” said Barnaby, laughing lightly. “Look ye at every wharf ’tween here and Woolwich! Look upriver to Blackwall! Over there at Hook Ness! What are they hut to see the clipper? The Celeste that’s the name of the craft! She’s going out and there’s a Newnited States man-o’-war waitin’ to sink her with cannon. And she without a pistol on her! These are here to give a cheer. And why? Dave and Goliath that’s what it. is, gaffer.”
The old man stared up at him confused. “Wot’s the sinse of yu an’ yur talk?”
“Here she comes plain. She walks like a fine lady.”
The old man craned and watched. “Yu’m know ’er?”
“Summat,” said Barnaby. “I know her master.” There was pleasure in his voice.
The gaffer was pleased too, and his glance at Barnaby was admiring. “Yur not think in’ o’ danger?”
“None. He’ll take her there and bring her back.” Barnaby turned slightly so that Audel might hear him. “The master of yon ship is my son, gaffer.”
“She be try in’ wi’ no guns?”
“No guns. Nothing but her canvas and her engines and the wits of her humans. That will be enough.”
Audel snorted and looked away.
“She be game,” said the gaffer. “These a’gatherin’ had no cheer.” “You don’t always cheer, gaffer. Sometimes you pays only respect.” The old man looked blandly at Audel. “ ’E pays no cheer an’ no respeck.”
“Like you, he may not know the clipper,” mollified Barnaby.
“I know the vessel,” said Audel sharply. “I know her to be a freebooting pirate carrying nothing more than profit for speculators. Who papped her master for command? An English moneybags who holds her charter? It’s England’s shame that permits this sailing, old man, for she’s doing nothing more than arming common rebels. But she’ll be taken. She’ll be taken like twenty others that sailed since January. Don’t let a landlubbing tradesman who has a cheese in her make you think she deserves better than she’ll get.”
Barnaby bristled, and the old man stepped back amazed and confused by the stranger’s violent bitterness. He looked up at Barnaby. “ ’Ear ’im now!”
Here was a toplofty bantling that needed reefing! Barnaby at once put him down for a self-esteemed New Englander and possibly one of the many Yankee waterfront spies who begrudged any sailing to the Confederacy. He was a challenge to a man of Barnaby’s proportion and the innkeeper feinted for an opening. The Yankee was hardly more than thirty and topped in clothes of foreign cut, like his throat-fluff of double-faced satin. His frock coat was of dove broadcloth and his trousers were strapped under soft-leathered shoes.
“Are you a seafaring man?” asked Barnaby.
The American looked at him coldly and twitched himself erect in an aloof silence. The snub stirred Barnaby’s anger and, hands aback, he fronted the man. “Now I’ll take it that you know nothing of ships or sailings. However, if this sailing concerns you. I’ll stanch your talk with fifty pounds that she’ll anchor in the Thames before the first of July. I’ll give you fifty more that her passage will be quick and safe enough to be named one of the bullion-carriers that carry Confederate gold to the Bank of England. Have you nerve to say you dare?”
Audel glared at him. Heads in the crowd turned anxiously, and rough tradesmen, cordwainers and blacksmiths in their stiff Sunday clothes peered quarrelsomely at the American and backed the challenge.
Audel unconcernedly jutted his head. “And who will fund you when you lose? Who are you, man?”
“Walk the docks and ask the whereabouts of the Sea Captain’s Tavern,” said Barnaby. “Ask for the Sea Informer. If you come in July with a hundred pounds to pay the wagers I’ll present you to my son, master of yonder ship.”
Audel smiled. “To see such a master adds a fillip to the wager. Of course I’ll take it! I’ll come in July for my hundred pounds and find you in mourning. The ship will he part of the Federal Navy and your son, without a command, will come back from jail to carry the Christmas slops for you ”
I^APTAIN AUDEL came to the Sea * j Captain’s Tavern before the first of July. He came in late June and the premature sight of him roused Barnaby’s consternation. Did it mean that the Celeste had been taken?
“Have you news of the Celeste?”
Barnaby was surprised and relieved. Plainly, the American had none. “Not since she sailed from Charleston. She made Nassau the twenty-eighth on her out-cruise, tracked the whole passage by a Federal said to be the Fort Jackson which almost closed with her in the Sargasso. She went into Charleston without trouble. She sailed on the night of four June, carrying twelve passengers and cotton, and a cargo of
bullion which, the London papers say, is fifteen million dollars. There is no report the Federáis got her and she hasn’t been spoken since. She should be nearing England.”
It was a fair sample of the Sea Informer’s service but the young captain showed no apple-cheeked gratitude for the information. “She had better be!” he said.
Barnaby was nonplussed by the remark that sounded like a vague threat, and by the astounding oddness of Audel hoping for the safe return of the Celeste. Before he could properly ! assess either, Audel walked out.
But he came again the next day, and [ every day thereafter. He was fidgety and brooding and he chose for himself a table in one of the far bays.
Each passing day it became more plain that Audel wanted the Celeste to arrive and, adding to that topsy-turvy, the look of tyranny in his eyes indicated that he was insanely holding the innkeeper responsible for her safe arrival.
“You are uncommonly interested in the Celeste, Cappun,” said Barnaby after he reported that the Sea King had sighted the clipper off the south coast of France. “You wagered that she would not arrive. Now what?”
“I’ll pay your wager,” said Audel. He looked up with sullen sheepishness. “I have cargo aboard. A passenger.” “Oh. The passenger is a lady?”
“To be my wife within an hour after she arrives. She was taken off a United States ship hy a Confederate privateer and landed in Charleston.”
“Oh. So that’s it! Luck, sir!”
“Luck? Luck for you!” Like a man daft, like an unreasonable tyrant on his quarterdeck ordering the impossible, Audel pointed his finger at Barnaby. “You said your son was her master. If you’ve bred something less than a firstclass sailorman I’ll have your neck for it! I, personally, here in this tavern, will have it if news comes that she has been taken. Understand?” He stared threateningly at the innkeeper like a reasonless mastiff.
It was a foolish threat, and that time the man may have been touched with his rum, but the news of the ladylove made a wake of quiet water. Barnaby afterwards approached him with humorous contempt and when, the next day, word came through one of the Sea Informer’s many channels that the Celeste had been sighted off Contentin being chased to sea by a Federal, he gave Audel the news with teasing cheerfulness.
“I have no fret for her,” said Barnaby elated that he could now humble the American with paternal soothing. “She’s as good as in the Thames. She’ll come ’tween Herrn and Sark in the Guernseys and, with luck and darkness, she’ll be anchoring within two days. Your ladylove will disembark safely and you’ll have your comfort.”
Captain Audel frowned darkly. “Keep your legs and your advices in your galley, mughouse keeper!”
With intent to belittle the man for his impudence, Barnaby led four hardcaulked Irishmen into the bay and put them within irritable distance at a table near the American. They were rough mariners of Dingle and Bolus and Bantry, masters all, who ever stood to sea without hope of peace from God or crews. Their leathery faces regarded the young captain indifferently, each drinking his poteen from the bottle without the kiss of a glass. And a Dundee Scotsman came in, and Barnaby put him at another table in the bay, sitting him where the Scot could stare—dour and aloof—holding his glass like a skean dhu, matching the American’s arrogance. When old
Captain Sanches providentially appeared, Barnaby’s whimsy was complete.
He recognized the eccentric mariner as he stalked in the door with the air of a grandee. His snow-white hair, spiked beard and the patrician gauntness of his face gave him a fading sovereign tone. His apparel looked somewhat rough-handled, but he carried his cane with the flair of a rapier. Barnaby met him at the bar counter.
“Welcome board, Cappun Sanches.” “You know me!”
“Aye! No sail once clears this bar and comes again without my knowing her, Cappun. A shame for the reef off Terceira.”
“You know that too?”
With the neck of a bottle of amontillado in one hand and a glass in the other, his elbows extended like studding booms, Barnaby piloted the old captain into the bay and sat him at the very closest table to Captain Audel. Sanches first looked at the Irishmen delightedly and smiled at Barnaby.
“Cut-throats, God bless them!”
His eyes twinkled at the Scotsman sitting alone. “He is wanting two or three of his Tay countrymen to blow away his sadness.” He pointed at Audel. “Who is that, Barnaby?” he said loudly.
The Sea Informer waved his hand downward cordially. “Cappun Sanches Cappun Audel!”
“Captain of what? A river boat? He’s a boy!”
Audel frowned in silence, fingering his glass.
Barnaby answered Sanches. “Of the Sharspur, a clipper building at Gravesend. No small craft. She’s a threemaster. Steam and sail. One of the new iron hulls. For the BostonLiverpool trade.”
“Oh God!” said Sanches disdainfully, turning away.
He applied himself to the amontillado and, with lips and gullet wet, showed his pleasure that he had the attention of everyone in the bay. He spoke out confidently. “The stout of the sea are gone. No wars. No seas for piracy. And why? Because the damned merchants have stopped it! To win riches with a cutlass was too much for their landlubber chicken hearts. Look at yon Harp men, Barnaby! Their stock is dying out. Call them robbers, thieves, smugglers, but—they sail for themselves! Not in the hire of a shipowner! Stout buccaneers, Barnaby! And yonder boy-captain? You say he has master’s papers! Scut! He looks more like a swain looking for a lady.” The lucky thrust delighted Barnaby He folded the fat spars of his forearms across the bulge of his chest and looked around innocently. “Perhaps! Perhaps he is, Cappun Sanches, and that is claim on your gallantry. Before the week is out his lady will come in and there will be a marriage before his own ship is ready for canvas.”
Captain Sanches was taken aback. He smiled and raised his glass to the American. He spoke gently now, kindling friendship. “Taking a wife is a strange unreasoning thing for a sailorman. Mad as the dance of a godwit ! But--I wish you luck, sir!” The Irish masters grinned, raised their bottles an inch and thumped them down. The Scot nodded his head, his eyes twinkling at the sullen embarrassment in the American’s face. Sanches held their whole agreeable attention as if they were mesmerized, and Barnaby was pleased by Audel’s obvious annoyance which he showed by continuing bis pigheaded silence. Sanches baited him further.
“Your lady comes from Carolina? That’s in the South. Is she a spy?
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Hmmm. A master in the Boston trade takes a wife out of the slave-owning Confederacy. I like that! I can see you’re not bound by the foolhardy notions of politicians that an enemy wench is no wench at all, that there is nothing beyond the battle trenches but rifles and cannon, horses and men.” Sanches laughed and raised his glass again. “I toast your hold on variety, sir! You have the makings of a pirate.” The lunacy plainly stung Audel but it was childish talk and he gave it nothing than more of his contemptuous
silence. Barnaby was disappointed that the bantering had not roused him. He left them.
The amontillado was almost gone when Barnaby came into the bay again. Sanches was talking in a fervid monotone and the innkeeper was at once taken by his friendly earnestness which seemed to warmly include Audel rather than harass him. 'The Irishman, the Scot, and the stony Audel attended the old mariner’s liquid voice and none of them looked up. Barnaby resented the deep intrigue which held them to the madcap’s phrasings, to the witless
story of his voyages. It was a gay reverie of departed heroism.
“The Fleet of Nelson is reduced to chasing common blackbirders! Scut! British merchantmen scurrying before Lincoln’s ships because they carry a box of shoes for Lee’s army ! Where are the ships that sailed for gold? They’re gone! Now men ship for pay—for pounds and shillings and pence agreed before they raise a sail.”
The meanderings startled Barnaby and, petulantly, he folded his arms and grudgingly listened. The talk of the old fool was feverish and nonsensical and
getting out of hand. Barnaby had brought his oddest patrons to the bay to embarrass and discomfort the haughty Audel—and now the hounds were entertaining the fox! Was this an alehouse? Or was it the tavern of London’s most respectable Sea Informer? Barnaby listened grumpily.
“It takes gold to lure adventure,” continued Sanches, his eyes rifled on the Irish and the Scot. “Not gold paid out by a merchant at the end of a voyage, but uncounted gold in bars and chests, swirling in red and green jewels. Did I sail to carry a merchant’s cheese to market? Scut! I and my mate Bonnel were pirates, the last aristocracy of the sea! We robbed heartily without quarter of lives or ships. Piracy made England great and gave her empire! But now, for a merchant’s avarice a pirate is hanged!”
The Irish masters gawped. 'The Scotsman washed his mouth meditatively with his whisky, his eyes fixed on the old man. Even Captain Audel seemed drawn into the spell of the daft talk. It was high time for Barnaby to put in a check. He was resolved to let the gull-cub Audel see who held the tiller in the tavern. He broke into the conversation with feathering ridicule. “If your pirates were as brave as you say, Cappun, why have they scurried off the seas like rats before a terry dog?”
Sanches glanced up at him, startled.
“Mind you the Third Fancy of a man, Cappun?” Barnaby went on. “The First Fancy is the call of the sea. 'The Second is the call of a wife such as has touched Cappun Audel. 'The Third Fancy touches a man like yourself when he comes ashore and his ship goes out without him. With his last ship gone and old age gripping him the Third Fancy brings the wishful fire of things that never carne true while he was sailing. It starts as a scheming to tell himself that his greatest voyage is yet to be sailed. It comes out of dying pride and rises like.' a whirling to gather him and all fools about him, raising his sights to new and greater heights. Now, I’ll give you your 'Third Fancy, Cappun Sanches. In this week the clipper ship Celeste will be making the Goodwyn Sands and coming in tin; Thames. She’s ready for ripe piracy, reputed to be cargoed with millions in bullion from the Confederate 'Treasury at Richmond, carrying it to the English banks for cargoes going out in the runners. She’s unarmed. Now, there’s a galleon for you! She’ll have thrice the gold of a Spaniard two centuries ago. All that is needed is a crew that is worth its salt, to take her. 'Take her in the Swatchway off Sheerness! Better, there’s the quiet and lee of 'The Warp. 'Take her when she hauls to for a pilot within 'The Shingles! 'Tie up her master and crew and passengers, and take off the little kegs of Con federate gold. You can set it ashore and hide. Or you can make for the French coast. Or to America where the Yankees will medal you for the deed. It will be a fine thing to see the face of England when t he news is spread ! 'There’ll be great hilarity from Land’s End to the Border. Only Queen Vic will not smile. 'The Cabinet will fall for sure, and Palmerston will go down. Cappun Sanches will be the new mischief of history! Your 'Third Fancy! Here it is. It has touched you,Cappun.”
Barnaby’s mockery was cruel. Had he not done it so haughtily, with his head high and his eyes drifting in vanity to the far reaches of his inn he would have seen there was no amusement, no pleasure in the eyes of either the Irish or the Scot. If anything their eyes held steady on Sanches, hoping he would ignore him. But the old mariner sat straight to the table,
erect in a pitiful wounded dignity, his slim hands resting on the arms of his chair. It was his black eyes that betrayed his wounding, that the shaft of the innkeeper’s sarcasm had pierced through the amontillado. He arose silently, took his hat and gloves, and wearily walked across the open space to the door. Captain Audel looked up at Barnaby. The Irishmen stared at their bottles. The Scot sat fingering his glass, twisting it in the pool of its sweat.
In the evening when all of them were gone, and during the night and next morning, Barnaby tasted his failure. He knew he had woefully mismanaged, proved to be less than the peer of his shipmaster patrons. London’s most respected Sea Informer had been wholly a common innkeeper. The blunder rankled, seared his pride and nagged at his prestige unmercifully. His spirit was still louring when, at noon, he saw Captain Audel facing him across the bar.
“Have you further news of the Celeste?” he asked.
“None. Channel fishermen may sight her today.”
Audel stared at him, looked down at Barnaby’s energetic glass-washing. “You stirred trouble yesterday, Barnaby Gutt.”
“If Cappun Sanches is offended, it is wholly his own collision,” said Barnaby stoutly. “A respectable proprietor must keep a sharp lookout for a man’s megrims.”
“Offend him? The offense is nothing.”
The innkeeper was puzzled. “What then?”
“You made a most attractive offer of piracy. Dolts and rogues need somebody to show them the way and you did it nicely. 1 have long heard • that Barnaby Gutt, the Sea Informer, could see more of the oceans than any master from his quarterdeck. Your sailing informations are widely known, but it startles me that you furnish data for the pillage of British ships. Even the command of your own son!”
Barnaby looked up, appalled. “A storm is brewing in your own mind, Cappun.”
“And in the minds of the Irishmen and the Scot!”
“No. They have already sailed.
They know the man is daft, almost blind.” Barnaby calmed. “Your
anxiety for your lady forgets that the frigate Sandspur patrols The Warp and the entrances.”
“I’m aware of that,” said Audel quietly. His cavalier pause irritated Barnaby. “The Irish and the Scot had clearance for this morning, but they canceled. The Scot’s vessel is the MacAlice. She moved down the River and is anchored below Woolwich.”
“Probably waiting for delayed cargo,” said Barnaby.
“Both the Irish and the Scot? The Irish barque is down there too.” It burred Barnaby that this man knew so much, small facts which the Sea Informer should have had firsthand. As he rubbed at a tankard glass he could not ever recall having been so repeatedly mauled by a patron. Then the young captain’s voice sliced deeper.
“The frigate Sandspur is not on patrol at the mouth of the Thames. She anchored in Black wall last night. She was fired by river pirates! Small damage, but she’ll be at the dockyard —not in The Warp—for a week!”
Barnaby tried to hide his consternation at this news and he kept his head down. At most, he tried to tell himself, these events were peculiar; t hey were coincidences, and the insinuations were the American’s. He felt a gorge of exasperation. “Those fuddleheads are not capable of piracy,” he said desperately.
“But you made it so ridiculously easy! You showed all of us how vulnerable is the Celeste. Canny of you to think of it.” Audel paused and looked down at his glass. “Why you have done this to your son is no concern of mine, but if my Betsy is troubled or hurt, may God have mercy on your soul !”
At noon the Irish masters came again, lumbering in with a sham of carelessness. Barnaby tried to lead them off to a table in another bay but they ignored him. They bullishly walked to their chairs of yesterday.
Presently the Scot came. Captain Audel, at his table, watched these in-sailings grimly. Passing. Barnaby mustered a wishful thought and whispered it down to him. “Cockerels without heads, Cappun. I don't look for Sanches.”
But Sanches came, and this time there was no posing on the dais, no waiting at the bar for his amontillado. He came to his table with the directness of a prime minister and nodded to everyone before he sat down. He leaned forward eagerly.
“The Celeste was sighted in the lee
of St. Helier at dawn,” he announced. “She’s lying to, hiding from two Federáis. One of them is waiting for her in the Channel, the other feeling for her along the French coast. Our plan is worth a try! Worth a try indeed!” His face had a maniacal glistening.
Barnaby broke into the conversation. “The Warp is patrolled!”
The Irish masters looked up and laughed and the Scot smiled. Sanches regarded him as if marking him for a fool. He ignored the remark and sat up to the table.
1 “She will not come into the Channel until nightfall. She’ll come round the Goodwyns in the moonlight and come into The Cut on the tide before dawn. She will lie to then, and wait for daylight. Then!" He half rose from his chair, his eyes firing. His voice shook off its stealth and he talked on through a rippling of mirth. “What a surprise for England ! What laughter in the land with our brave admirals off in the South Atlantic! And mind Queen Vic, Captain Audel! Her wig and crown will slip down over her eye! And you, innkeeper, will have a crowded tavern. Crowded with police poking into the nest of Sanches, the last pirate of England!”
A shiver trembled Rarnaby. The plot was preposterous but, helplessly, he saw idiocy transforming itself into reality. He watched the face of Sanches become suddenly sober and the old mariner reached for his glass. He raised it before his eyes, gave it prayerful attention, and downed it. He pushed back his chair and arose. “We’ll meet here at six. Sharpen your cutlasses! See that every craft is provided with boarding hooks! I’ll have the charts.” j He left the Tavern. It was not yet ; two o’clock. The Irish masters went out shortly thereafter, and the Scot dallied and muttered whispers for another half hour.
When they had gone Captain Audel brought his glass to the bar, and stood there in tantalizing silence.
“ ’Tis no concern of mine,” said Rarnaby sulkily.
“Your plot isa good one,” said Audel. I “I cannot see how it will fail.”
“It is not my plot!” protested j Rarnaby hotly.
“You set them on their course. That the officials will quickly discover. And i you’ll hang! However, your memory will be green in sea tales. No father ever scuttled the vessel of his own son !”
Audel’s nagging was persecution and Rarnaby, exasperated, put on his widebrimmed hat and iron-black coat and went out into the street. He walked slowly in the dock lanes, hands aback, mulling the fine predicament of London’s most prolific Sea Informer. With a thousand winds of information whispering dangers to his ears, he was on a lee shore. Oh, but wait! Hold now! Was he? The Sea Informer’s winds of information could blow both ways! A scheme to save himself limned in his mind.
THE USUAL patronage of masters, Fleet officers and shipowners passed the bar counter that evening. Rarnaby had less than the usual attention for them. His counsel to departing ship captains was hasty and distracted. The Irish masters arrived. Sanches came in with a fold of charts in his hand and the Scot came minutes afterwards. The far bay of tables was again occupied as it had been in the afternoon, each at his own. No other patrons intruded except an unassuming pair of odd hurry-browed creatures who looked like an unmatched brace of sheepdogs. They were dressed in rough weathered tweeds, each with his jaw perched in a jut, quarreling with each other in a hoarse rasping as if they were talking in a gale. They sat at the remaining table, well away.
Sanches spread a chart before him on the table. Rarnaby at once saw the little telltale takings of a man whose eyesight was almost gone, for his finger traced a course that ran without sense across coastal markings, meandered to starboard and larboard where the black outline of the Thames made no turn at all. Then the mariner, satisfied, folded the chart and poured a glass ; of wine. “First, we’ll agree on our departures and rendezvous.”
Everyone quickened and even the tweedy characters looked up from their quarreling. Arms folded, Barnaby stood close to Captain Audel’s table. He stood calmly, once again the unharassed Sea Informer. Under him he was amused by the pulsing flare of the young captain’s nostrils. The cockatoo was alarmed, and his eyes were sharp and wild. Here was the measure of the Gascon! He was close to panic. And fear. The gale of moonshine piracy was too much for the cardboard quarterdecker. Barnaby watched him and prized his crumbling.
Stooping, he spoke softly into his ear. “Pity the man is daft, Cappun. The Third Fancy is on him.”
“Fancy be damned!” Audel looked up furiously. “They have already formed their plan!”
“It won’t come to pass,” said Barnaby serenely. “I am not a man to allow piracy under my nose.”
Enraged by the innkeeper’s apparent dullness, Audel jumped to his feet in a temper. With his violent rising the tableau was shattered. One of the pair of tweedy men, half-rising and with his body tensely sprung on the balls of his feet, whipped a knife through the air.
It struck Sanches fairly high in the chest. An explosion of shouting and commotion brought all the patrons in the tavern to their feet. The homespun rivermen leaped over chairs and tables and ran for the door. The Irishmen tried vainly to cut them off in an unearthly crashing of bottles and barkings of Gaelic blasphemy. Then, for no reason except the clear escape of the rivermen, a murderous brawl broke out bet ween the Scot and the Irish.
In the confusion Sanches sat stiffly to the table. His head was lowered in a wistful pitiful dignity, his eyes blackly limpid as if daydreaming, as if the tavern were deathly quiet. His long gentle fingers touched the haft of the knife in his reddening throat-silk. Barnaby and Captain Audel slipped him to the floor.
“Only a pink, Captain,” he said sleepily. “No harm. I can breathe and spit and talk.” His eyes fired happily. “I should have had that man for my crew! Bonnel would have had him! A man who can throw a knife like that deserves a share. Get him to join! Ask the innkeeper who the knifeman is, Captain!”
With an accent of pride Barnaby spoke down to him. “Known to the coasters as The Sheep, Cappun. He’s a tide-trader who does night-sailing in laces and wines without the blessed stamp of the customs. Dependable with dispatches too, for them that have secrets. And gold transfer. It’s in The Warp of the Thames that he hides his craft.”
“How did he happen to be here?” asked Audel frowning.
Barnaby drew himself up. “Service of the Sea Captain’s Tavern, Cappun. I let The Sheep know that an attempt at piracy in The Warp would ruin his trade and privacy. Perhaps I told him that he would be first suspected. But, as I told you from the start, Cappun, there was no need for it. The piracy would never have come off. The Celeste slipped into Southampton this afternoon. Your lady is here—or t here!”
Audel quickly settled Sanches to the floor and got to his feet. “I must he off!”
“Avast! There’s the wager owing me.”
Frowning and hesitating, Audel reached for his wallet. Barnaby stooped to Sanches and, with a high-handed mien meant for Audel, he stuffed the pound notes into the pocket of the old mariner. ★