The Ruby of Kishmoor by Howard Pyle
V. The Unexpected Encounter with the Sea-captain with the Broken Nose
If our hero had been distracted and bedazed by the first catastrophe that had befallen, this second and even more dreadful and violent occurrence appeared to take away from him, for the moment, every power of thought and of sensation. All that perturbation of emotion that had before convulsed him he discovered to have disappeared, and in its stead a benumbed and blinded intelligence alone remained to him. As he stood in the presence of this second death, of which he had been as innocent and as unwilling an instrument as he had of the first, he could observe no signs either of remorse or of horror within him. He picked up his hat, which had fallen upon the floor in the first encounter, and, brushing away the dust with the cuff of his coat sleeve with extraordinary care, adjusted the beaver upon his head with the utmost nicety. Then turning, still stupefied as with the fumes of some powerful drug, he prepared to quit the scene of tragic terrors that had thus unexpectedly accumulated upon him.
But ere he could put his design into execution his ears were startled by the sound of loud and hurried footsteps which, coming from below, ascended the stairs with a prodigious clatter and bustle of speed. At the landing these footsteps paused for a while, and then approached, more cautious and deliberate, toward the room where the double tragedy had been enacted, and where our hero yet stood silent and inert.
All this while Jonathan made no endeavor to escape, but stood passive and submissive to what might occur. He felt himself the victim of circumstances over which he himself had no control. Gazing at the partly opened door, he awaited for whatever adventure might next befall him. Once again the footsteps paused, this time at the very threshold, and then the door was slowly pushed open from without.
As our hero gazed at the aperture there presently became disclosed to his view the strong and robust figure of one who was evidently of a seafaring habit. From the gold braid upon his hat, the seals dangling from the ribbon at his fob, and a certain particularity of custom, he was evidently one of no small consideration in his profession. He was of a strong and powerful build, with a head set close to his shoulders, and upon a round, short bull neck. He wore a black cravat, loosely tied into a knot, and a red waistcoat elaborately trimmed with gold braid; a leather belt with a brass buckle and hanger, and huge sea-boots completed a costume singularly suggestive of his occupation in life. His face was round and broad, like that of a cat, and a complexion stained, by constant exposure to the sun and wind, to a color of newly polished mahogany. But a countenance which otherwise might have been humorous, in this case was rendered singularly repulsive by the fact that his nose had been broken so flat to his face that all that remained to distinguish that feature were two circular orifices where the nostrils should have been. His eyes were by no means so sinister as the rest of his visage, being of a light-gray color and exceedingly vivacious--even good-natured in the merry restlessness of their glance--albeit they were well-nigh hidden beneath a black bush of overhanging eyebrows. When he spoke, his voice was so deep and resonant that it was as though it issued from a barrel rather than from the breast of a human being.
"How now, my hearty!" cried he, in stentorian tones, so loud that they seemed to stun the tensely drawn drums of our hero's ears. "How now, my hearty! What's to-do here? Who is shooting pistols at this hour of the night?" Then, catching sight of the figures lying in a huddle upon the floor, his great, thick lips parted into a gape of wonder and his gray eyes rolled in his head like two balls, so that what with his flat face and the round holes of his nostrils he presented an appearance which, under other circumstances, would have been at once ludicrous and grotesque.
"By the blood!" cried he, "to be sure it is murder that has happened here."
"Not murder!" cried Jonathan, in a shrill and panting voice. "Not murder! It was all an accident, and I am as innocent as a baby."
The new-comer looked at him and then at the two figures upon the floor, and then back at him again with eyes at once quizzical and cunning. Then his face broke into a grin that might hardly be called of drollery. "Accident!" quoth he. "By the blood! d'ye see 'tis a strange accident, indeed, that lays two men by the heels and lets the third go without a scratch!" Delivering himself thus, he came forward into the room, and, taking the last victim of Jonathan's adventure by the arm, with as little compunction as he would have handled a sack of grain he dragged the limp and helpless figure from where it lay to the floor beside the first victim. Then, lifting the lighted candle, he bent over the two prostrate bodies, holding the illumination close to the lineaments first of one and then of the other. He looked at them very carefully for a long while, with the closest and most intent scrutiny, and in perfect silence. "They are both as dead," says he, "as Davy Jones, and, whoever you be, I protest that you have done your business the most completest that I ever saw in all of my life."
Indeed," cried Jonathan, in the same shrill and panting voice, "it was themselves who did it. First one of them attacked me and then the other, and I did but try to keep them from murdering me. This one fell on his knife, and that one shot himself in his efforts to destroy me."
"That," says the seaman, "you may very well tell to a dry-lander, and maybe he will believe you; but you cannot so easily pull the wool over the eyes of Captain Benny Willitts. And what, if I may be so bold as for to ask you, was the reason for their attacking so harmless a man as you proclaim yourself to be?"
"That I know not," cried Jonathan; "but I am entirely willing to tell thee all the circumstances. Thou must know that I am a member of the Society of Friends. This day I landed here in Kingston, and met a young woman of very comely appearance, who intrusted me with this little ivory ball, which she requested me to keep for her a few days. The sight of this ball--in which I can detect nothing that could be likely to arouse any feelings of violence--appears to have driven these two men entirely mad, so that they instantly made the most ferocious and murderous assault upon me. See! wouldst thou have believed that so small a thing as this would have caused so much trouble?" And as he spoke he held up to the gaze of the other the cause of the double tragedy that had befallen. But no sooner had Captain Willitts's eyes lighted upon the ball than the most singular change passed over his countenance. The color appeared to grow dull and yellow in his ruddy cheeks, his fat lips dropped apart, and his eyes stared with a fixed and glassy glare. He arose to his feet and, still with the expression of astonishment and wonder upon his face, gazed first at our hero and then at the ivory ball in his hands, as though he were deprived both of reason and of speech. At last, as our hero slipped the trifle back in his pocket again, the mariner slowly recovered himself, though with a prodigious effort, and drew a deep and profound breath as to the very bottom of his lungs. He wiped, with the corner of his black silk cravat, his brow, upon which the sweat appeared to have gathered. "Well, messmate," says he, at last, with a sudden change of voice, "you have, indeed, had a most wonderful adventure." Then with another deep breath: "Well, by the blood! I may tell you plainly that I am no poor hand at the reading of faces. Well, I think you to be honest, and I am inclined to believe every word you tell me. By the blood! I am prodigiously sorry for you, and am inclined to help you out of your scrape.
"The first thing to do," he continued, "is to get rid of these two dead men, and that is an affair I believe we shall have no trouble in handling. One of them we will wrap up in the carpet here, and t'other we can roll into yonder bed-curtain. You shall carry the one and I the other, and, the harbor being at no great distance, we can easily bring them thither and tumble them overboard, and no one will be the wiser of what has happened. For your own safety, as you may easily see, you can hardly go away and leave these objects here to be found by the first-comer, and to arise up in evidence against you."
This reasoning, in our hero's present bewildered state, appeared to him to be so extremely just that he raised not the least objection to it. Accordingly, each of the two silent, voiceless victims of the evening's occurrences were wrapped into a bundle that from without appeared to be neither portentous nor terrible in appearance.
Thereupon, Jonathan shouldering the rug containing the little gentleman in black, and the sea-captain doing the like for the other, they presently made their way down the stairs through the darkness, and so out into the street. Here the sea-captain became the conductor of the expedition, and leading the way down several alleys and along certain by-streets--now and then stopping to rest, for the burdens were both heavy and clumsy to carry--they both came out at last to the harbor front, without any one having questioned them or having appeared to suspect them of anything wrong. At the water-side was an open wharf extending a pretty good distance out into the harbor. Thither the captain led the way and Jonathan followed. So they made their way out along the wharf or pier, stumbling now and then over loose boards, until they came at last to where the water was of a sufficient depth for their purpose. Here the captain, bending his shoulders, shot his burden out into the dark, mysterious waters, and Jonathan, following his example, did the same. Each body sank with a sullen and leaden splash into the element where, the casings which swathed them becoming loosened, the rug and the curtain rose to the surface and drifted slowly away with the tide.
As Jonathan stood gazing dully at the disappearance of these last evidences of his two inadvertent murders, he was suddenly and vehemently aroused by feeling a pair of arms of enormous strength flung about him from behind. In their embrace his elbows were instantly pinned tight to his side, and he stood for a moment helpless and astounded, while the voice of the sea-captain, rumbling in his very ear, exclaimed: "Ye bloody, murthering Quaker, I'll have that ivory ball, or I'll have your life!"
These words produced the same effect upon Jonathan as though a douche of cold water had suddenly been flung over him. He began instantly to struggle to free himself, and that with a frantic and vehement violence begotten at once of terror and despair. So prodigious were his efforts that more than once he had nearly torn himself free, but still the powerful arms of his captor held him as in a vise of iron. Meantime, our hero's assailant made frequent though ineffectual attempts to thrust a hand into the breeches-pocket where the ivory ball was hidden, swearing the while under his breath with a terrifying and monstrous string of oaths. At last, finding himself foiled in every such attempt, and losing all patience at the struggles of his victim, he endeavored to lift Jonathan off of his feet, as though to dash him bodily upon the ground. In this he would doubtless have succeeded had he not caught his heel in the crack of a loose board of the wharf. Instantly they both fell, violently prostrate, the captain beneath and Jonathan above him, though still encircled in his iron embrace. Our hero felt the back of his head strike violently upon the flat face of the other, and he heard the captain's skull sound with a terrific crack like that of a breaking egg upon some post or billet of wood, against which he must have struck. In their frantic struggles they had approached extremely near the edge of the wharf, so that the next instant, with an enormous and thunderous splash, Jonathan found himself plunged into the waters of the harbor, and the arms of his assailant loosened from about his body.
The shock of the water brought him instantly to his senses, and, being a fairly good swimmer, he had not the least difficulty in reaching and clutching the cross-piece of a wooden ladder that, coated with slimy sea-moss, led from the water-level to the wharf above.
After reaching the safety of the dry land once more, Jonathan gazed about him as though to discern whence the next attack might be delivered upon him. But he stood entirely alone upon the dock--not another living soul was in sight. The surface of the water exhibited some commotion, as though disturbed by something struggling beneath; but the sea-captain, who had doubtless been stunned by the tremendous crack upon his head, never arose again out of the element that had engulfed him.
The moonlight shone with a peaceful and resplendent illumination, and, excepting certain remote noises from the distant town not a sound broke the silence and the peacefulness of the balmy, tropical night. The limpid water, illuminated by the resplendent moonlight, lapped against the wharf. All the world was calm, serene, and enveloped in a profound and entire repose.
Jonathan looked up at the round and brilliant globe of light floating in the sky above his head, and wondered whether it were, indeed, possible that all that had befallen him was a reality and not some tremendous hallucination. Then suddenly arousing himself to a renewed realization of that which had occurred, he turned and ran like one possessed, up along the wharf, and so into the moonlit town once more.