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    III. The Desperadoes

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    Chapter 3
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    Fane Court stands bowered in trees, with a wide stretch of the greenest of green lawns sloping down to the river stairs.

    They are quaint old stairs, with a marble rail and carved balusters, worn and crumbling, yet whose decay is half hid by the kindly green of lichens and mosses; stairs indeed for an idle fellow to dream over on a hot summer's afternoon - and they were, moreover, a favourite haunt of Lisbeth. It was here that I had moored my boat, therefore and now lay back, pipe in mouth and with a cushion beneath my head, in that blissful state between Sleeping and waking.

    Now, as I lay, from the blue wreaths of my pipe I wove me fair fancies:

    And lo! the stairs were no longer deserted; there were fine gentlemen, patched and powdered, in silks and satins, with shoe-buckles that flashed in the sun; there were dainty ladies in quilted petticoats and flowered gowns, with most wonderful coiffures; and there was Lisbeth, fairer and daintier than them all, and there, too, was I. And behold how demurely she courtesied and smiled behind her ivory fan! With what a grace I took a pinch of snuff! With what an air I ogled and bowed with hand on heart! Then, somehow, it seemed we were alone, she on the top stair, I on the lower. And standing thus I raised my arms to her with an appealing gesture. Her eyes looked down into mine, the patch quivered at the corner of her scarlet mouth, and there beside it was the dimple. Beneath her petticoat I saw her foot in a little pink satin shoe come slowly toward me and stop again. I watched scarce breathing, for it seemed my fate hung in the balance. Would she come down to Love and me, or -

    "Ship ahoy!" cried a voice, and in that moment my dream vanished. I sighed, and looking round, beheld a head peering eat me over the balustrade; a head bound up in a bandanna handkerchief of large pattern and vivid colouring.

    "Why, Imp!" I exclaimed. But my surprise abated when he emerged into full view.

    About his waist was a broadbuckled belt, which supported a wooden cutlass, two or three murderous wooden daggers and a brace of toy pistols; while upon his legs were a pair of top-boots many sizes too large for him, so that walking required no little care. Yet on the whole his appearance was decidedly effective. There could be no mistake - he was a bloodthirsty pirate!

    The imp is an artist to his grimy finger tips.

    "Avast, shipmate!" I cried. "How's the wind?"

    "Oh, he exclaimed, failing over his boots with eagerness, "do take me in your boat, an' let's be pirates, will you, Uncle Dick?"

    "Well, that depends. Where is your Auntie Lisbeth?"

    "Mr. Selwyn is going to row her and Dorothy up the river."

    "The deuce he is!"

    "Yes, an' they won't take me."

    "Why not, my Imp?"

    "'Cause they're 'fraid I should upset the boat. So I thought I'd come ask you to be a pirate, you know. I'll lend you my best dagger an' one of my pistols. Will you, Uncle Dick?"

    "Come aboard, shipmate, if you are for Hispaniola, the Tortugas, and the Spanish Main," said I, whereupon he scrambled in, losing a boot overboard in his baste, which necessitated much intricate angling with the boat-hook ere it was recovered.

    "They're Peter's, you know," he explained as he emptied out the water.

    "I took them out of the harness-room; a pirate must have boots, you know, but I'm afraid Peter'll swear."

    "Not a doubt of it when he sees them," I said as we pushed off.

    "I wish," he began, looking round thoughtfully after a minute or so, "I wish we could get a plank or a yardarm from somewhere."

    "What for, my Imp?"

    "Why, don't you remember, pirates always had a plank for people to 'walk,' you know, an' used to 'swing them up to the yard-arm.'

    "You seem to know all about it," I said as I pulled slowly down stream.

    "Oh, yes, I read it all in Scarlet Sam, the Scourge of the South Seas. Scarlet Sam was fine. He used to stride up and down the quarterdeck an' flourish his cutlass, an' his eyes would roll, an' he'd foam at the mouth, an - "

    "Knock everybody into 'the lee scuppers,'" I put in.

    "Yes," cried the Imp in a tone of unfeigned surprise. "How did you know that, Uncle Dick?"

    "Once upon a time," I said, as I swung lazily at the sculls, "I was a boy myself, and read a lot about a gentleman named 'Beetle-browed Ben.' I tell you. Imp, he was a terror for foaming and stamping, if you like, and used to kill three or four people every morning, just to get an appetite for breakfast." The Imp regarded me with round eyes.

    "How fine!" he breathed, hugging himself in an ecstasy.

    "It was," I nodded: "and then he was a very wonderful man in other ways. You see, he was always getting himse1f shot through the head, or run through the body, but it never hurt Beetle-browed Ben - not a bit of it."

    "An' did he 'swing people at the yard-arm - with a bitter smile'?"

    "Lots of 'em!" I answered.

    "An' make them 'walk the plank - with a horrid laugh'?"

    "By the hundred!"

    "An' 'maroon them on a desolate island - with a low chuckle'?"

    "Many a time," I answered; "and generally with chuckle."

    "Oh. I should like to read about him!" said the Imp with a deep sigh; "will you lend me your book about him, Uncle Dick?"

    I shook my head. "Unfortunately, that, together with many other valued possessions, has been ravaged from me by the ruthless maw of Time," I replied sadly.

    The Imp sat plunged in deep thought, trailing his fingers pensively in the water.

    "And so your Auntie Lisbeth is going for a row with Mr. Selwyn, is she?" I said.

    "Yes, an' I told her she could come an' be a pirate with me if she liked - but she wouldn't."

    "Strange!" I murmured.

    "Uncle Dick, do you think Auntie Lisbeth is in love with Mr. Selwyn?"

    "What?" I exclaimed, and stopped rowing.

    "I mean, do you think Mr. Selwyn is in love with Auntie Lisbeth?"

    "My Imp. I'm afraid he is. Why?"

    "Cause cook says he is, an' so does Jane, an' they know all about love, you know. I've heard them read it out of a book lots an' lots of times. But I think love is awfull' silly, don't you, Uncle Dick?"

    "Occasionally I greatly fear so," I sighed.

    "You wouldn't go loving anybody, would you, Uncle Dick?"

    "Not if I could help it," I answered, shaking my head; "but I do love some one, and that's the worst of it,"

    "Oh!" exclaimed the Imp, but in a tone more of sorrow than anger.

    "Don't be too hard on me, Imp," I said; "your turn may come when you are older; you may love somebody one of these days."

    The Imp frowned and shook his head. "No," he answered sternly; "when I grow up big I shall keep ferrets. Ben, the gardener's boy, has one with the littlest, teeniest pink nose you ever saw."

    "Certainly a ferret has its advantages, I mused. "A ferret will not frown upon one one minute and flash a dimple at one the next. And then, again, a ferret cannot be reasonably supposed to possess an aunt. There is something to be said for your idea after all, Imp."

    "Why, then, let's be pirates, Uncle Dick," he said with an air of finality. "I think I'll be Scarlet Sam, 'cause I know all about him, an' you can be Timothy Bone, the boatswain."

    "Aye, aye, sir," I responded promptly; "only I say, Imp, don't roll your eyes so frightfully or you may roll yourself overboard,"

    Scorning reply, he drew his cutlass, and setting it between his teeth in most approved pirate fashion, sat, pistol in hand, frowning terrifically at creation in general.

    "Starboard your helm - starboard!" he cried, removing his weapon for the purpose.

    "Starboard it is!" I answered,

    "Clear away for action!" growled the Imp. "Double-shot the cannonades, and bo'sun, pipe all hands to quarters."

    Whereupon I executed a lively imitation of a boatswain's whistle. Most children are blessed with imagination, but the Imp in this respect is gifted beyond his years. For him there is no such thing as "pretence"; he has but to close his eyes a moment to open them upon a new and a very real world of his own - the golden world of Romance, wherein so few of us are privileged to walk in these cold days of common-sense. And yet it is a very fair world peop1ed with giants and fairies; where castles lift their grim, embattled towers; where magic woods and forests cast their shade, full of strange beasts; where knights ride forth with lance in rest and their armour shining in the sun. And right well we know them. There is Roland, Sir William Wallace, and Hereward the Wake; Ivanhoe, the Black Knight, and bold Robin Hood. There is Amyas Leigh, old Salvation Yeo, and that lovely rascal Long John Silver. And there, too, is King Arthur, with his Knights of the Round Table - but the throng is very great, and who could name them all?

    So the Imp and I sailed away into this wonderful world of romance aboard our gallant vessel, which, like any other pirate ship that ever existed - in books or out of them - "luffed, and filling upon another tack, stood away in pursuit of the Spanish treasure galleon in the offing."

    What pen could justly describe the fight which followed - how guns roared and pistols flashed, while the air was full of shouts and cries and the thundering din of battle; how Scarlet Sam foamed and stamped and flourished his cutlass; how Timothy Bone piped his whistle as a bo'sun should? We had already sunk five great galleons and were hard at work with a sixth, which was evidently in a bad way, when Scarlet Sam ceased foaming and pointed over my shoulder with his dripping blade.

    "Sail ho!" he cried.

    "Where away?" I called back.

    "Three points on the weather bow." As he spoke came the sound of oars, and turning my head, I saw a skiff approaching, sculled by a man in irreproachable flannels and straw hat.

    "Why, it's - it's him!" cried the Imp suddenly. "Heave to, there!" he bellowed in the voice of Scarlet Sam. "Heave to, or I'll sink you with a 'murderous broadside!'" Almost with the words, and before I could prevent him, he gave a sharp tug to the rudder lines; there was an angry exclamation behind me, a shock, a splintering of wood, and I found myself face to face with Mr. Selwyn, flushed and hatless.

    "Damn!" said Mr. Selwyn, and proceeded to fish for his hat with the shaft of his broken oar.

    The Imp sat for a moment half frightened at his handiwork, then rose to his feet, cutlass in hand, but I punted him gently back into his seat with my foot.

    "Really," I began, "I'm awfully sorry, you know - er - "

    "May I inquire," said Mr. Selwyn cuttingly, as he surveyed his dripping hat - "may I inquire how it all happened?"

    "A most deplorable accident, I assure you. If I can tow you back I shall be delighted, and as for the damage

    "The damage is trifling, thanks," he returned icily; "it is the delay that I find annoying."

    "You have my very humblest apologies," I said meekly. "If I can be of any service - " Mr. Selwyn stopped me with a wave of his hand.

    "Thank you, I think I can manage," he said; "but I should rather like to know how it happened. You are unused to rowing, I presume?"

    "Sir," I answered, "it was chiefly owing to the hot-headedness of Scarlet Sam, the Scourge of the South Seas,"

    "I beg your pardon?" said Mr. Selwyn with raised brows.

    "Sir," I went on, "at this moment you probably believe yourself to be Mr. Se1wvn of Selwyn Park. Allow me to dispel that illusion; you are, on the contrary, Don Pedro Vasquez da Silva, commanding the Esmeralda galleasse, bound out of Santa Crux. In us you behold Scarlet Sam and Timothy Bone, of the good ship Black Death, with the 'skull and cross-bones' fluttering at our peak. If you don't see it, that is not our fault."

    Mr. Selwyn stared at me in wide-eyed astonishment, then shrugging his shoulders, turned his back upon me and paddled away as best he might. "Well, Imp," I said, "you've done it this time!"

    "'Fraid I have," he returned; "but oh! wasn't it grand - and all that about Don Pedro an' the treasure galleon! I do wish I knew as much as you do, Uncle Dick. I'd be a real pirate then."

    "Heaven forfend!" I exclaimed. So I presently turned and rowed back upstream, not a little perturbed in my mind as to the outcome of the adventure.

    "Not a word, mind!" I cautioned as I caught sight of a certain dainty figure watching our approach from the shade of her parasol. The Imp nodded, sighed, and sheathed his cutlass.

    "Well!" said Lisbeth as we glided up to the water-stairs; "I wonder what mischief you have been after together?"

    "We have been floating upon a river of dreams," I answered, rising and lifting my hat; "we have likewise discoursed of many things. In the words of the immortal Carroll:

    "'Of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax, and cabbages, and - '"

    "Pirates!" burst out the Imp.

    "This dream river of ours," I went on, quelling him with a glance, "has carried us to you, which is very right and proper. Dream rivers always should, more especially when you sit ""Mid sunshine throned, and all alone.'"

    "But I'm not all alone, Dick."

    "No; I'm here," said a voice, and Dorothy appeared with her small and fluffy kitten under her arm as usual. "We are waiting for Mr. Selwyn, you know. We've waited, oh! a long, long time, but he hasn't come, and Auntie says he's a beast, and - "

    "Dorothy!" exclaimed Lisbeth, frowning.

    "Yes, you did, Auntie," sad Dorothy , nodding her head. "I heard you when Louise ran up a tree and I had to coax her back; and I have a clean frock on, too, and Louise will be oh so disappointed!" Here she kissed the fluffy kitten on the nose. "So he is a beast; don't you think so, Uncle Dick?"

    "Such delay is highly reprehensible," I nodded.

    "I'm glad you've come, Uncle Dick, and so is Auntie. She was hoping - "

    "That will do, Dorothy!" Lisbeth interrupted.

    "I wonder what she was hoping?" I sighed.

    "If you say another word, Dorothy, I won't tell you any more about the Fairy Prince," said Lisbeth.

    "Why, then," I continued, seeing the threat had the desired effect, "since Mr. Selwyn hasn't turned up, perhaps you would care to - "

    "Be a pirate?" put in the Imp. "To come for a row with us?" I corrected.

    "Aboard the good ship Black Death," he went on, "'with the skull an' cross-bones at our peak."

    "Thanks," said Lisbeth, "but really, I don't think I should. What a horrible name!"

    "What's in a name? a boat by any other - " I misquoted. "If you like, we'll call it the Joyful Hope, bound for the Land of Heart's Delight."

    Lisbeth shook her head, but I fancied the dimple peeped at me for a moment.

    "It would be a pity to disappoint Louise," I said, reaching up to stroke the fluffy kitten.

    "Yes," cried Dorothy, "do let's go, Auntie."

    "For the sake of Louise," I urged, and held out my arms to her. Lisbeth was standing on the top stair and I on the lower, in exactly the same attitudes as I had beheld in my vision. I saw her foot come slowly toward me and stop again; her red lips quivered into a smile, and lo, there was the dimple! Dorothy saw it, too - children are wonderfully quick in such matters - and next moment was ensconced in the boat, Louise in her lap, and there was nothing left for Lisbeth but to follow.

    The Imp went forward to keep a "lookout," and finding a length of fishing line, announced his intention of "heaving the lead."

    I have upon several occasions ridden with Lisbeth - she is a good horsewoman - frequently danced with her, but never before had I been with her in a boat. The novelty of it was therefore decidedly pleasing, the more so as she sat so close that by furtively reaching out a foot I could just touch the hem of her dress.

    "Uncle Dick," said Dorothy, looking up at me with her big grey eyes, "where is the Land of Heart's Delight?"

    "It lies beyond the River of Dreams," I answered.

    "Is it far away?"

    I afraid it is Dorothy."

    "Oh! - and hard to get to?"

    "Yes though it depends altogether upon who is at the helm."

    Lisbeth very slowly began to tie a knot in the rudder-line.

    "Well, Auntie's steering now. Could she get us there?"

    "Yes, she could get us there, if she would."

    "Oh!" cried Dorothy, "do - do steer for the Land of Heart's Delight, Auntie Lisbeth; it sounds so pretty, and I'm sure Louise would like it ever so much."

    But Lisbeth only laughed, and tied another knot in the rudder-line.

    "The Land of Heart's Delight!" repeated Dorothy. "It sounds rather like Auntie's tale of the Fairy Prince. His name was Trueheart."

    "And what was Prince Trueheart like?" I inquired.

    "Fine!" broke in the Imp. "He used to fight dragons, you know."

    "And he lived in a palace of crystal," continued Dorothy, "and he was so good and kind that the birds used to make friends with him!"

    "An' he wore gold armour, an' a big feather in his helmet!" supplemented the Imp.

    "And of course he loved the beautiful princess," I ended.

    "Yes," nodded Dorothy; "but how did you know there was a beautiful princess?"

    "Uncle Dick knows everything, of course," returned the Imp sententiously.

    "Do you think the beautiful princess loved the prince, Dorothy?" I asked, glancing at Lisbeth's averted face.

    "Well," answered Dorothy, pursing her mouth thoughtfully, "I don't know, Uncle Dick; you see, Auntie hasn't got to that yet, but everybody loves somebody sometime, you know. Betty - she's our cook, you know - Betty says all nice tales end up in marrying and living happy ever after."

    "Not a doubt of it," said I, resting on my oars. "What do you think, Lisbeth?" She leaned back and regarded me demurely beneath her long lashes for a moment.

    "I think," she answered, "that it would be much nicer if you would go on rowing."

    "One more question," I said. "Tell me, has this Prince Trueheart got a moustache?"

    "Like Mr. Selwyn?" cried the Imp; "should think not. The prince was a fine chap, an' used to kill dragons, you know."

    "Ah! I'm glad of that," I murmured, passing my fingers across my shaven upper lip; "very glad indeed." Lisbeth laughed, but I saw her colour deepen and she looked away.

    "Oh, it must be lovely to kill a dragon!" sighed the Imp.

    Now, as he spoke, chancing to look round, I saw in the distance a man in a boat, who rowed most lustily - and the man wore a Panama.

    Hereupon, taking a fresh grip upon my long sculls, I began to row - to row, indeed, as I had not done for many a year, with a long, steady stroke that made the skiff fairly leap. Who does not know that feeling of exhilaration as the blades grip the water and the gentle lapping at the bow swells into a gurgling song?"

    The memorable time when I had "stroked" Cambridge to victory was nothing to this. Then it was but empty glory that hung in the balance, while now I settled my feet more firmly, and lengthening my stroke, pulled with a will. Lisbeth sat up, and I saw her fingers tighten upon the rudder-lines.

    "You asked me to row, you know," I said in response to her look.

    "Yo ho!" roared Scarlet Sam in the gruffest of nautical tones. "By the deep nine, an' the wind's a-lee, so heave, my mariners all - O!"

    At first we began to gain considerably upon our pursuer, but presently I saw him turn his head, saw the Panama tossed aside as Mr. Selwyn settled down to real business - and the struggle began.

    Very soon, probably owing to the fixedness of my gaze, or my unremitting exertion, or both, Lisbeth seemed to become aware of the situation, and turned to look over her shoulder. I set my teeth as I waited to meet her indignant look, for I had determined to continue the struggle, come what might. But when at last she did confront me her eyes were shining, her cheeks were flushed and there actually was - the dimple.

    "Sit sti1l, children," she said, and that was all; but for one moment her eyes looked into mine.

    The old river has witnessed many a hard-fought race in its time, but never was there one more hotly contested than this. Never was the song of the water more pleasant to my ear, never was the spring and bend of the long sculls more grateful, as the banks swept by faster and faster. No pirate straining every inch of canvas to escape well-merited capture, no smuggler fleeing for some sheltered cove, with the revenue cutter close astern, ever experienced a keener excitement than did we.

    The Imp was in a perfect ecstasy of delight; even Dorothy forgot her beloved Louise for the time, while Lisbeth leaner toward me, the tiller-lines over her shoulders, her lips parted and a light in her eyes I had never seen there before. And yet Selwyn hung fast in our rear. If he was deficient in a sense of humour, he could certainly row.

    "He was an Oxford Blue," said Lisbeth, speaking almost in a whisper, "and he has an empty boat!"

    I longed to kiss the point of her little tan shoe or the hem of her dress for those impulsive words, and tried to tell her so with my eyes - breath was too precious just then. Whether she understood or not I won't be sure, but I fancy she did from the way her lashes drooped.

    "Oh, my eyes!" bellowed Scarlet Sam; "keep her to it, quartermaster, an' take a turn at the mizzen-shrouds!"

    When I again glanced at our pursuer I saw that he was gaining. Yes, there could be no mistake; slowly but surely, try as I would, the distance between us lessened and lessened, until he was so near that I could discern the very parting of his back hair. So, perforce, bowing to the inevitable, I ceased my exertions, contenting myself with a long, easy stroke. Thus by the time he was alongside I had in some measure recovered my breath.

    "Miss - Eliz - beth," he panted, very hot of face and moist of brow, "must beg - the - favour - of few words with you."

    "With pleasure, Mr. Selwyn," answered Lisbeth, radiant with smiles; "as many as you wish." Forthwith Mr. Selwyn panted out his indictment against the desperadoes of the Black Death, while the Imp glanced apprehensively from him to Lisbeth and stole his hand furtively into mine.

    "I should not have troubled you with this, Miss Elizabeth," Selwyn ended, "but that I would not have you think me neglectful of an appointment, especially with you."

    "Indeed, Mr. Selwyn, I am very grateful to you for opening my eyes to such a - a - "

    "Very deplorable accident," I put in.

    "I - I was perfectly certain," she continued, without so much as glancing in my direction, "that you would never have kept me waiting without sufficient reason. And now, Mr. Brent, if you will be so obliging as to take us to the bank, Mr. Selwyn shall row us back - if he will."

    "Delighted!" he murmured.

    "I ordered tea served in the orchard at five o'clock," smiled Lizbeth, "and it is only jest four, so - "

    "Which bank would you prefer," I inquired - "The right or the left?"

    "The nearest," said Lisbeth.

    "Which should you think was the nearest, Mr. Selwyn?" I queried. Disdaining any reply, Selwyn ran his skiff ashore, and I obediently followed. Without waiting for my assistance, Lisbeth deftly made the exchange from one boat to the other, followed more slowly by Dorothy.

    "Come, Reginald, " she said, as Selwyn made ready to push off; we're waiting for you!" The Imp squatted closer to me.

    "Reginald Augustus!" said Lisbeth. The Imp shuffled uneasily. "Are you coming?" inquired Lisbeth.

    "I - I'd rather be a pirate with Uncle Dick, please, Auntie Lisbeth," he said at last.

    "Very well," nodded Lisbeth with an air of finality; "then of course I must punish you." But her tone was strangely gentle, and as she turned away I'll swear I saw the ghost of that dimple - yes, I'll swear it. So we sat very lonely and dejected, the Imp and I, desperadoes though we were, as we watched Selwyn's boat grow smaller and smaller until it was lost round a bend in the river.

    "'Spect I shall get sent to bed for this," said the Imp after a long pause.

    "I think it more than probable, my Imp."

    "But then, it was a very fine race - oh, beautiful!" he sighed; "an' I couldn't desert my ship an' Timothy Bone, an' leave you here all by your self - now could I, Uncle Dick?"

    "Of course not, Imp."

    "What are you thinking about, Uncle Dick?" he inquired as I stared, chin in hand, at nothing in particular.

    "I was wondering, Imp, where the River of Dreams was going to lead me, after all."

    "To the Land of Heart's Delight, of course," he answered promptly; "you said so, you know, an' you never tell lies, Uncle Dick - never,"
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