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The Quest of the 'Golden Hope': A Seventeenth Century Story of Adventure By Percy F. Westerman Characters: 9595

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Captain Jeremy's Surprise.

"What hath befallen you?" asked my father anxiously, as we crossed the threshold of the house. "Ye are both as pale as ghosts, and your clothes, Clifford, are smothered in dust. Hath Trotter thrown you?"

For answer, Constance sat down upon a settle and sobbed hysterically, while my father, stopping abruptly his task of questioning us, bestirred himself to comfort her.

"Two dragoons have molested us," I announced. "They were in pursuit of Captain Miles."

"Have they hurt you?" he asked.

"Nay, but little--thanks to the Captain." In a few words I related the incidents that had terminated in the death of the two villains. My father looked grave.

"And Jeremy?" he asked. "Hath he gone to Lymington?"

"Nay, he awaits me by the Beaulieu bridle path."

"'Tis well for him, though I am loath to risk His Majesty's displeasure in succouring rebels. Yet, especially as he did befriend you, I'll do my best to repay Jeremy's kindness. He must not go to Lymington, Clifford."

"He doth not intend to do so," said I. "He is making for Pitt's Deep."

"Equally as rash as if he journeyed to Lymington. I, too, heard the news this morning soon after you left. The dragoons watch every mile of this part of the coast, and at every little port a watch is set, so that no strangers dare set foot on shipboard without being closely questioned. My son, I take the risk even of harbouring a rebel. I'll go with thee and speak my mind with friend Jeremy."

Bidding Martha, our housekeeper, stay with Constance, and impressing upon her the necessity for silence as to what had occurred, my father, taking a mattock in his hand, set out to the scene of the encounter, I accompanying him, and carrying the spades over my shoulder.

"Where is the package I bade you bring from Lyndhurst?" he asked, as we left the outskirts of the village.

I searched the pockets of my doublet without success, though I was certain that the article had been safely placed in one of them.

"It must have fallen out on the road," I replied.

"'Tis a grave matter," he said, with a look of anxiety and a gesture of impatience. "How can I--but there! if 't comes to the worst, I must journey into Southampton myself. 'Tis the fortune of war."

No more was said, for we were already in sight of the cross-roads, and Captain Miles was sitting on the bracken-covered bank awaiting us.

"Good day to you, Cap'n Hammond!" he exclaimed as we approached. "'Tis a sad business dragging you and yours into this bickering."

"Yet, thanks to Heaven and your aid, my children were saved from the clutches of those rogues."

"Had it not been for me the rascals would not have been here," replied Captain Miles apologetically. "Yet I thank you, sir, for coming to my assistance, though 'tis to the advantage of this part of the countryside that we hide this carrion," and he pointed with his finger to the bodies of the two dragoons.

We set to work with a will, and in less than a quarter of an hour a shallow trench was dug sufficiently deep to receive the corpses of the ruffianly soldiers.

"Egad! 'tis warm work," exclaimed my father, leaning on his mattock as the first part of the task was completed.

"I'm right sorry I've no rum to offer you," said Captain Miles, wiping his heated brow. "You see, we're not aboard the old Venture, otherwise 'twould be different."

"I, too, regret that I brought not my flask of cordials," replied my father.

"There is a bottle of strong waters that I found close to the body of one of these villains," remarked Jeremy; "but though I did make three good attempts at it, 'twas more than I could stomach. It smells aright, but the taste--faugh! I have it in my mouth yet. Try it, Captain Hammond, and see if it suit thy palate."

So saying, he produced a bottle and handed it to my father, who gave an exclamation of surprise, quickly followed by a hearty laugh.

"Why, what's amiss?" asked the astonished Captain, as my father thrust the bottle into his pocket.

"Hist! I'll tell thee anon," said my sire mysteriously. "Now, let's resume our task."

The carcasses of the troopers' horses, the victims of Captain Miles's self-preservation, were next interred; while, to make doubly sure, the mount that Jeremy had borrowed from the Ringwood farmer was also buried.

This done, I happened to cross the highway, where, to my surprise, I found the wrappings of the package for which we had journeyed into Lyndhurst on that eventful morning.

"See! here is the covering of your packet," I exclaimed, holding it up to my father's view.

"Aye, Clifford, I know it. Say no more on this matter."

Inwardly wondering, I obeyed. Whatever the package contained, I now felt certain that 'twas the same stuff as Jeremy Miles h

ad attempted to swallow.

"Now, look you, Captain Miles," said my father, as we prepared to return homewards, "neither Lymington nor Pitt's Deep offers an asylum for you. To go to either place is to set your head in a trap. I have made up my mind that you must tarry with us at Brockenhurst till this storm has blown over."

"Nay, 'tis unfair to saddle you with the presence of a proclaimed rebel," objected Captain Jeremy stoutly. "The service I rendered your children does not warrant such a generous payment. I'll accept your hospitality for this night, and at sunrise to-morrow I'll make my way into Sussex. I know of an old shipmate at Shoreham who'll gladly set me across to France."

"You'll never get out of Hampshire, my friend," interrupted my father; "at least, not yet awhile. Perchance the tide of monarchy will change again, though, mark you, I'd far rather have James Stuart as my lawful sovereign than James Walters. No, no, I say; further flight is out of the question. At Brockenhurst you will stay till I give you leave to go farther afield."

'Twas no light matter to smuggle the fugitive into our home; but we did it, and for the next week or more Captain Miles remained within doors, my father having pointed out to him the secret panel in case of an emergency. This surprised me not a little, for he was usually very reticent about this matter. True, I had been told of the existence of the hiding-place, but even Constance was kept in ignorance of it. The person who contrived the sliding panel must have done his work well, for no one unacquainted with its mechanism could cause it to move. But I've said enough concerning this matter, for although 'tis well known that our home does possess such a contrivance, its position and the method of working it still remain a secret locked in the breast of a trusted few, and 'twould not be doing my duty towards the Hammonds that are to come were I to say more.

Yet there was no reason for alarm. Though troops of horse often passed through Brockenhurst on their way to and from Lymington, none stopped to search for rebels. Neither did the disappearance of two of Cornbury's Dragoons cause any trouble, for we learnt that they were set down as deserters, while, as good fortune would have it, a report came in that two men answering their description had been seen riding northwards out of Salisbury.

One morning I was seated with Captain Jeremy in the little room where he was wont to spend most of his time. Often I would go thither to be regaled with stories of his voyage to the Indies and his adventures in foreign parts, till my young blood coursed madly through my veins; and so strange were some of the tales he told that I'm afraid his share of imagination must have been a double one.

In the midst of his narrative on this particular day, my father entered, having just returned from Lymington Town.

"I have bad news for you," he announced.

"'Tis not the first time, Captain Hammond," replied Jeremy composedly. "What is it this time?"

"The sheriff hath taken possession of your house, and it and all its contents are to be sold by candle auction."[1]

"'Tis the fortune of war," said Captain Miles, removing his long clay pipe from his lips and puffing out a thick cloud of smoke. "I expected it, and provided for it ere I left for Monmouth's camp. What money I possess, beyond what I require for my present disbursements, I have stowed away in the hold of the good ship 'Never-Sink'--to wit, Mother Earth. But there is one thing I'd be glad to lay my hands on. Wouldst be willing to buy a certain article out of my house?"

"Would I could buy the lot!"

"Nay, 'tis but a picture--a painting of my good barque the Venture, done in oils by a rascally Neapolitan, for which he charged me five ducats, though he did place the chain plates too far aft, and the spritsail yard above the bowsprit."

"'Tis a common fault with a landlubber," said my parent. "Nevertheless, I'll see to it."

"I prize the painting but lightly," continued Jeremy; "but there's more in it than meets the eye."

"I do not understand."

"Captain Hammond, you've treated me right nobly, and 'twould ill become me were I not to repay you to the utmost of my power. I'll be straightforward in this matter. Listen!"

My father motioned to me to leave them, but, perceiving the gesture, Captain Jeremy exclaimed:

"No, no, let the lad remain, for 'tis also to his advantage to hear. That picture contains the true and only clue to the lost treasure ship Madre de Dios."

[1] This custom appears to be fairly common in south-coast ports. In September, 1628, the Mayor of Portsmouth reported to the Admiralty that "The The Gift of God", prize, was sold on the last day of August by the burning of a candle.

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