Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 14

“ON deck for your lives!” cried Dodd, forgetting in that awful moment he was not the captain; and drove them all up, Robarts included, and caught hold of Mrs. Beresford and Freddy at their cabin door and half carried them with him. Just as they got on deck the third wave, a high one, struck the ship and lifted her bodily up, canted her round, and dashed her down again some yards to leeward, throwing them down on the hard and streaming deck.

At this tremendous shock the ship seemed a live thing, shrieking and wailing, as well as quivering with the blow.

But one voice dissented loudly from the general dismay. “All right men,” cried Dodd, firm and trumpet-like. “She is broadside on now. Captain Robarts, look alive, sir; speak to the men! don’t go to sleep!”

Robarts was in a lethargy of fear. At this appeal he started into a fury of ephemeral courage. “Stick to the ship,” he yelled; “there is no danger if you stick to the ship,” and with this snatched a life-buoy, and hurled himself into the sea.

Dodd caught up the trumpet that fell from his hand and roared, “I command this ship. Officers come round me! Men to your quarters! Come, bear a hand here and fire a gun. That will show us where we are, and let the Frenchmen know.”

The carronade was fired, and its momentary flash revealed that the ship was ashore in a little bay; the land abeam was low and some eighty yards off; but there was something black and rugged nearer the ship’s stern.

Their situation was awful. To windward huge black waves rose like tremendous ruins, and came rolling, fringed with devouring fire; and each wave as it charged them, curled up to an incredible height and dashed down on the doomed ship — solid to crush, liquid to drown — with a ponderous stroke that made the poor souls stagger, and sent a sheet of water so clean over her that part fell to leeward, and only part came down on deck, foretaste of a watery death; and each of these fearful blows drove the groaning, trembling vessel farther on the sand, bumping her along as if she had been but a skiff.

Now it was men showed their inner selves.

Seeing Death so near on one hand, and a chance of escape on the other, seven men proved unable to resist the two great passions of Fear and Hope on a scale so gigantic and side by side. Bayliss, a midshipman, and five sailors stole the only available boat and lowered her.

She was swamped in a moment

Many of the crew got to the rum, and stupefied themselves to their destruction.

Others rallied round their old captain, and recovered their native courage at the brave and hopeful bearing he wore over a heart full of anguish. He worked like a horse, encouraging, commanding, doing; he loaded a carronade with a pound of powder and a coil of rope, with an iron bar attached to a cable, and shot the rope and bar ashore.

A gun was now fired from the guard-house, whose light Robarts had taken for a ship. But no light being shown any nearer on the coast, and the ship expected every minute to go to pieces, Dodd asked if any one would try to swim ashore with a line made fast to a hawser on board.

A sailor offered to go if any other man would risk his life along with him. Instantly Fullalove stripped, and Vespasian next

“Two is enough on such a desperate errand,” said Dodd with a groan.

But now emulation was up, and neither Briton, Yankee, nor negro would give way. A line was made fast to the sailor’s waist, and he was lowered to leeward; his venturesome rivals followed. The sea swallowed those three heroes like crumbs, and small was the hope of life for them.

The three heroes being first-rate swimmers and divers, and going with the tide, soon neared the shore on the ship’s lee quarter; but a sight of it was enough: to attempt to land on that rock with such a sea on was to get their skulls smashed like eggshells in a moment. They had to coast it, looking out for a soft place.

They found one, and tried to land; but so irresistible was the suction of the retiring wave, that, whenever they got foot on the sand, and tried to run, they were wrenched out to sea again, and pounded black and blue and breathless by the curling breaker they met coming in.

After a score of vain efforts, the negro, throwing himself on his back, went in with a high wave, and, on touching the sand, turned, dug all his ten claws into it clenched his teeth, and scrambled like a cat at a wall. Having more power in his toes than the Europeans, and luckily getting one hand on a firm stone, his prodigious strength just enabled him to stick first while the wave went back; and then, seizing the moment, he tore himself ashore, but bleeding and bruised all over, and with a tooth actually broken by clenching in the convulsive struggle.

He found some natives dancing about in violent agitation with a rope, but afraid to go in and help him; and no wonder, not being seagulls. By the light of their lanterns, he saw Fullalove washing in and out like a log. He seized one end of the rope, and dashed in and grabbed his friend, and they were hauled ashore together, both breathless, and Fullalove speechless

The negro looked round for the sailor, but could not see him. Soon, however, there was a cry from some more natives about fifty yards off and laterns held up; away he dashed with the rope just in time to see Jack make a last gallant attempt to land. It ended in his being flung up like a straw into the air on the very crest of a wave fifteen feet high, and out to sea with his arms whirling, and a death shriek which was echoed by every woman within hearing.

In dashed Vespasian with the rope, and gripped the drowning man’s long hair with his teeth: then jerked the rope, and they were both pulled ashore with infinite difficulty. The good-natured Frenchmen gave them all three lots of vivats and brandy and pats on the back, and carried the line for them to a flagstaff on the rocks nearer the stern of the ship.

The ship began to show the first signs of breaking up: hammered to death by the sea, she discharged the oakum from her opening seams, and her decks began to gape and grin fore and aft. Corpses of drunken sailors drowned between decks now floated up amidships, and washed and rolled about among the survivors’ feet These, seeing no hope, went about making up all quarrels, and shaking hands in token of a Christian end. One or two came to Dodd with their hands out.

“Avast ye lubbers!” said he angrily; “do you think I have time for nonsense? Foksel ahoy! axes, and cut the weather shrouds!”

It was done; the foremast went by the board directly, and fell to leeward: a few blows of the axe from Dodd’s own hand sent the mainmast after it.

The Agra rose a streak; and the next wave carried her a little farther on shore.

And now the man in charge of the hawser reported with joy that there was a strain on it.

This gave those on board a hope of life. Dodd bustled and had the hawser carefully payed out by two men, while he himself secured the other end in the mizen top: he had left that mast standing on purpose.

There was no fog here; but great heavy black clouds flying about with amazing swiftness extinguished the moon at intervals: at others she glimmered through a dull mist in which she was veiled, and gave the poor souls on the Agra a dim peep of the frail and narrow bridge they must pass to live. A thing like a black snake went down from the mizen-top, bellying towards the yawning sea, and soon lost to sight: it was seen rising again among some lanterns on the rock ashore: but what became of it in the middle? The darkness seemed to cut it in two; the sea to swallow it. Yet, to get from a ship going to pieces under them, the sailors precipitated themselves eagerly on that black thread bellying to the sea and flickering in the wind. They went down it, one after another, and anxious eyes straining after them saw them no more: but this was seen, that scarce one in three emerged into the lights ashore.

Then Dodd got an axe, and stood in the top, and threatened to brain the first man who attempted to go on the rope.

“We must make it taut first,” said he; “bear a hand here with a tackle.”

Even while this was being done, the other rope, whose end he had fired ashore, was seen moving to windward. The natives, it seems, had found it, half buried in sand.

Dodd unlashed the end from the bulwarks and carried it into the top, and made it fast: and soon there were two black snakes dipping shrorewards and waving in the air side by side.

The sailors scrambled for a place, and some of them were lost by their own rashness. Kenealy waited coolly, and went by himself.

Finally, Dodd was left in the ship with Mr. Sharpe and the women, and little Murphy, and Ramgolam, whom Robarts had liberated to show his contempt of Dodd.

He now advised Mrs. Beresford to be lashed to Sharpe and himself, and venture the passage; but she screamed and clung to him, and said, “I dare not! oh I dare not!”

“Then I must lash you to a spar,” said he, “for she can’t last much longer.” He ordered Sharpe ashore. Sharpe shook hands with him, and went on the rope with tears in his eyes.

Dodd went hard to work, lashed Mrs. Beresford to a piece of broken water-butt: filled Fred’s pockets with corks and sewed them up (you never caught Dodd without a needle; only, unlike the women’s, it was always kept threaded). Mrs. Beresford threw her arms round his neck and kissed him wildly: a way women have in mortal peril: it is but their homage to courage. “All right!” said Dodd, interpreting it as appeal to his protection, and affecting cheerfulness: “we’ll get ashore together on the poop awning, or somehow; never you fear. I’d give a thousand pounds to know where high water is.”

At this moment, with a report like a cannon, the lower decks burst fore and aft: another still louder, and the Agra’s back broke. She parted amidships with a fearful yawn, and the waves went toppling and curling clean through her.

At this appalling sound and sight, the few creatures left on the poop cowered screaming and clinging at Dodd’s knees, and fought for a bit of him.

Yes, as a flood brings incongruous animals together on some little isle in brotherhood of fear — creatures who never met before without one eating the other; and there they cuddle — so the thief Ramgolam clung to the man he had tried to rob; the Hindoo Ayan and the English maid hustled their mistress, the haughty Mrs. Beresford, and were hustled by her, for a bit of this human pillar; and little Murphy and Fred Beresford wriggled in at him where they could: and the poor goat crept into the quivering mass trembling like an aspen, and not a butt left either in his head or his heart. Dodd stood in the middle of these tremblers, a rock of manhood: and when he was silent and they heard only the voice of the waves, they despaired; and whenever he spoke, they started at the astounding calmness of his voice and words, and life sounded possible.

“Come,” said he, “this won’t do any longer. All hands into the mizen-top!”

He helped them all up, and stood on the ratlines himself: and, if you will believe me, the poor goat wailed like a child below. He found in that new terror and anguish a voice goat was never heard to speak in before. But they had to leave him on deck: no help for it. Dodd advised Mrs. Beresford once more to attempt the rope: she declined. “I dare not! I dare not!” she cried, but she begged Dodd hard to go on it and save himself.

It was a strong temptation: he clutched the treasure in his bosom, and one sob burst from the strong man.

That sob was but the tax paid by Nature; for pride, humanity, and manhood stood staunch in spite of it. “No, no, I can’t,” said he “I mustn’t. Don’t tempt me to leave you in this plight, and be a cur! Live or die, I must be the last man on her. Here’s something coming out to us, the Lord in Heaven be praised!”

A bright light was seen moving down the black line that held them to the shore; it descended slowly within a foot of the billows, and lighting them up showed their fearful proximity to the rope in mid-passage: they had washed off many a poor fellow at that part.

“Look at that! Thank Heaven you did not try it!” said Dodd to Mrs. Beresford.

At tins moment a higher wave than usual swallowed up the light: there was a loud cry of dismay from the shore, and a wail of despair from the ship.

No! not lost after all! The light emerged, and mounted, and mounted towards the ship.

It came near, and showed the black shiny body of Vespasian, with very little on but a handkerchief and a lantern — the former round his waist, and the latter lashed to his back: he arrived with a “Yah! yah!” and showed his white teeth in a grin.

Mrs. Beresford clutched his shoulder, and whimpered, “ Oh, Mr. Black!”

“Iss, Missy, dis child bring good news. Cap’n! Massah Fullalove send you his congratulations, and the compliments of the season; and take the liberty to observe the tide am turn in twenty minutes.”

The good news thus quaintly announced caused an outburst of joy from Dodd, and, sailor-like, he insisted on all hands joining in a cheer. The shore reechoed it directly. And this encouraged the forlorn band still more; to hear other hearts beating for them so near. Even the intervening waves could not quite annul the sustaining power of sympathy.

At this moment came the first faint streaks of welcome dawn, and revealed their situation more fully.

The vessel lay on the edge of a sandbank. She was clean in two, the stern lying somewhat higher than the stem. The sea rolled through her amidships six feet broad, frightful to look at, and made a clean breach over her forward, all except the bowsprit to the end of which the poor sailors were now discovered to be clinging. The afterpart of the poop was out of water, and in a corner of it the goat crouched like a rabbit: four dead bodies washed about beneath the party trembling in the mizen-top, and one had got jammed in the wheel, face uppermost and glared up at them, gazing terror-stricken down.

No sign of the tide turning yet, and much reason to fear it would turn too late for them and the poor fellows shivering on the bowsprit.

These fears were well founded.

A huge sea rolled in, and turned the forepart of the vessel half over, buried the bowsprit, and washed the men off into the breakers.

Mrs. Beresford sank down, and prayed, holding Vespasian by the knee.

Fortunately, as in that vessel wrecked long syne on Melita, “the hind part of the ship stuck fast and remained immovable.”

But for how long?

Each wave now struck the ship’s weather quarter with a sound like a cannon fired in a church, and sent the water clear into the mizen-top. It hit them like strokes of a whip. They were drenched to the skin, chilled to the bone, and frozen to the heart with fear. They made acquaintance that hour with Death. Ay, Death itself has no bitterness that forlorn cluster did not feel: only the insensibility that ends that bitterness was wanting.

Now the sea, you must know, was literally strewed with things out of the Agra; masts, rigging, furniture, tea-chests, bundles of canes, chairs, tables; but of all this jetsam, Dodd’s eye had been for some little time fixed on one object: a live sailor drifting ashore on a great wooden case. It struck him after a while that the man made very little way, and at last seemed to go up and down in one place. By-and-bye he saw him nearer and nearer, and recognised him. It was one of the three washed off the bowsprit.

He cried joyfully, “The tide has turned! here’s Thompson coming out to sea.”

Then there ensued a dialogue, incredible to landsmen, between these two sailors, the captain of the ship and the captain of the foretop, one perched on a stationary fragment of that vessel, the other drifting on a pianoforte, and both bawling at one another across the jaws of death.

“Thompson ahoy!”

“Hal-lo!”

“Whither bound?”

“Going out with the tide, and be d —— d to me.”

“What, can’t ye swim?”

“Like a brass figure-head. It’s all over with poor Jack, sir.”

“All over! Don’t tell me! Look out now as you drift under our stern, and we’ll lower you the four-inch hawser.”

“Lord bless you, sir, do, pray!” cried Thompson, losing his recklessness with the chance of life.

By this time the shore was black with people, and a boat was brought down to the beach, but to attempt to launch it was to be sucked out to sea.

At present all eyes were fixed on Thompson drifting to destruction.

Dodd cut the four-inch hawser, and Vespasian, on deck, lowered it with a line, so that Thompson presently drifted right athwart it. “All right, sir!” said he, grasping it, and, amidst thundering acclamations, was drawn to land full of salt water and all but insensible. The piano landed at Dunkirk three weeks later.

In the bustle of this good and smart action the tide retired perceptibly.

By-and-bye the sea struck lower and with less weight.

At 9 P. M. Dodd took his little party down on deck again, being now the safest place; for the mast might go.

It was a sad scene: the deck was now dry, and the dead bodies lay quiet around them with glassy eyes; and, grotesquely horrible, the long hair of two or three was stiff and crystallised with the saltpetre in the ship.

Mrs. Beresford clung to Vespasian: she held his bare black shoulder with one white and jewelled hand, and his wrist with the other, tight. “Oh, Mr. Black,” said she, “how brave you are! It is incredible. Why, you came back! I must feel a brave man with both my hands or I shall die. Your skin is nice and soft, too. I shall never outlive this dreadful day.”

And now that the water was too low to wash them off the hawser, several of the ship’s company came back to the ship to help the women down.

By noon the Agra’s deck was thirty feet from the sand. The rescued ones wanted to break their legs and necks, but Dodd would not permit even that. He superintended the whole manoeuvre, and lowered, first the dead, then the living, not omitting the poor goat, who was motionless and limp with fright.

When they were all safe on the sand, Dodd stood alone upon the poop a minute, cheered by all the sailors, French and English, ashore, then slid down a rope and rejoined his companions.

To their infinite surprise, the undaunted one was found to be snivelling.

“Oh, dear! what is the matter?” said Mrs. Beresford tenderly.

“The poor Agra, ma’am! She was such a beautiful sea-boat: and just look at her now! Never sail again: never! never! She was a little crank in beating, I can’t deny it; but how she did fly with the wind abaft. She sank a pirate in the straits, and weathered a hurricane off the Mauritius; and after all for a lubber to go and lay her bones ashore in a fair wind: poor dear beauty!”

He maundered thus, and kept turning back to look at the wreck, till he happened to lay his hand on his breast He stopped in the middle of his ridiculous lament wore a look of self-reproach, and cast his eyes upward in heartfelt gratitude.

The companions of so many adventures dispersed.

A hospitable mayoress entertained Mrs. Beresford and suite; and she took to her bed, for she fell seriously ill as soon as ever she could do it with impunity.

Colonel Kenealy went off to Paris: “I’ll gain that, any way, by being wrecked,” said he.

If there be a lover of quadrupeds here, let him know that Billy’s weakness proved his strength. Being brandied by a good-natured French sailor, he winked his eye; being brandied greatly, he staggered up and butted his benefactor like a man.

Fullalove had dry clothes and a blazing fire ready for Dodd at a little rude auberge. He sat over it and dried a few bank-notes. he had loose about him, and examined his greater treasure, his children’s. The pocket-book was much stained, but no harm whatever done to the contents.

In the midst of this employment the shadow of an enormous head was projected right upon his treasure.

Turning with a start, he saw a face at the window: one of those vile mugs which are found to perfection amongst the canaille of the French nation — bloated, blear-eyed, grizzly, and wild-beast like. The ugly thing, on being confronted, passed slowly out of the sun, and Dodd thought no more of it.

The owner of this sinister visage was Andre Thibout, of whom it might be said, like face like life; for he was one of those ill-omened creatures who feed upon the misfortunes of their kind, and stand on shore in foul weather hoping the worst, instead of praying for the best: briefly, a wrecker. He and his comrade, Jacques Moinard, had heard the Agra’s gun fired, and came down to batten on the wreck: but ho! at the turn of the tide, there were gensdarmes and soldiers lining the beach, and the Bayonet interposed between Theft and Misfortune. So now the desperate pair were prowling about like hungry, baffled wolves, curses on their lips and rage at their hearts.

Dodd was extremely anxious to get to Barkington before the news of the wreck; for otherwise he knew his wife and children would suffer a year’s agony in a single day. The only chance he saw was to get to Boulogne in time to catch the Nancy sailing packet; for it was her day. But then Boulogne was eight leagues distant, and there was no public conveyance going. Fullalove, entering heartily into his feelings, was gone to look for horses to hire, aided by the British Consul. The black hero was upstairs clearing out with a pin two holes that had fallen into decay for want of use. These holes were in his ears.

And now, worn out by anxiety and hard work, Dodd began to nod in his chair by the fire.

He had not been long asleep when the hideous face of Thibout reappeared at the window and watched him. Presently a low whistle was uttered outside, and soon the two ruffians entered the room, and, finding the landlady there as well as Dodd, called for a little glass apiece of absinthe. While drinking it, they cast furtive glances towards Dodd, and waited till she should go about her business, and leave them alone with him.

But the good woman surmised their looks, and knowing the character of the men, poured out a cup of coffee from a great metal reservoir by the fire, and waked Dodd without ceremony: “Voici votre cafe, Monsieur!” making believe he had ordered it.

“Merci, Madame!” replied he, for his wife had taught him a little French.

“One may sleep mal a propos,” muttered the woman in his ear. “My man is at the fair, and there are people here who are not worth any great things.”

Dodd rubbed his eyes and saw those two foul faces at the end of the kitchen: for such it was, though called salle a manger. “Humph!” said he; and instinctively buttoned his coat

At that Thibout touched Moinard’s knee under the table.

Fullalove came in soon after to say he had got two horses, and they would be here in a quarter of an hour.

“Well, but Vespasian? how is he to go?” inquired Dodd.

“Oh, we’ll send him on ahead, and then ride and tie.”

“No, no,” said Dodd, “I’ll go ahead. That will shake me up. I think I should tumble off a horse; I’m so dead sleepy.”

Accordingly he started to walk on the road to Boulogne.

He had not been gone three minutes when Moinard sauntered out.

Moinard had not been gone two minutes when Thibout strolled out.

Moinard kept Dodd in sight and Thibout kept Moinard.

The horses were brought soon after, but unfortunately the pair did not start immediately, though, had they known it, every moment was precious. They wasted time in argument. Vespasian had come down with a diamond ring in one ear, and a ruby in the other. Fullalove saw this retrograde step, and said grimly, “Have you washed but half your face, or is this a return to savagery?”

Vespasian wore an air of offended dignity. “No, sar; these yar decorations come off a lady ob i cibilisation: Missy Beresford donated ’em me. Says she, ‘Massah Black’— yah! yah! She always nick-nominates dis child Massa Black — ‘while I was praying Goramighty for self and pickaninny, I seen you out of one corner of my eye admirationing my rings; den just you take ’em,’ says dat ar aristocracy: ‘for I don’t admirationise ’em none: I’ve been shipwrecked.’ So I took ’em wid incredible condescension; and dat ar beautiful lady says to me, ‘Oh, get along wid your nonsense about coloured skins! I have inspectionated your conduct, Massa Black, and likewise your performances on the slack rope,’ says she, ‘in time of shipwreck: and darn me,’ says she, ‘but you are a man, you are.’ ‘No, Missy,’ says I superciliously, ‘dis child am not a man, if you please, but a coloured gemman.’” He added, he had put them in his ears because the biggest would not go on his little finger.

Fullalove groaned. “And of course, the next thing, you’ll ring your snout like a pig or a Patagonian. There, come along, ye darn’d — Anomaly.”

He was going to say “Cuss,” but remembering his pupil’s late heroic conduct, softened it down to Anomaly.

But Vespasian always measured the force of words by their length or obscurity. “Anomaly” cut him to the heart: he rode off in moody silence and dejection, asking himself sorrowfully what he had done that such a mountain of vituperation should fall on him. “Anomaly!!”

They cantered along in silence; for Fullalove was digesting this new trait in his pupil, and asking himself could he train it out, or must he cross it out. Just outside the town they met Captain Robarts walking in; he had landed three miles off down the coast. “Hallo!” said Fullalove.

“I suppose you thought I was drowned?” said Robarts spitefully; “but you see I’m alive still.”

Fullalove replied, “Well, captain, that is only one mistake more you’ve made, I reckon.”

About two English miles from the town they came to a long straight slope up and down, where they could see a league before them; and there they caught sight of David Dodd’s tall figure mounting the opposite rise.

Behind him at some little distance were two men going the same way, but on the grass by the roadside, whereas David was on the middle of the road.

“He walks well for Jacky Tar,” said Fullalove.

“Iss, sar,” said Vespasian sulkily; “but dis ‘Analogy’ tink he not walk so fast as those two behind him, cos they catch him up.”

Now Vespasian had hardly uttered these words when a thing occurred, so sudden and alarming, that the speaker’s eyes protruded, and he was dumfounded a moment; the next a loud cry burst from both him and his companion at once, and they lashed their horses to the gallop and went tearing down the hill in a fury of rage and apprehension.

Mr. Fullalove was right, I think: a sailor is seldom a smart walker; but Dodd was a cricketer, you know, as well. He swung along at a good pace and in high spirits. He had lost nothing but a few clothes, and a quadrant, and a chronometer; it was a cheap wreck to him, and a joyful one: for peril past is present delight. He had saved his life, and what he valued more, his children’s money. Never was that dear companion of his perils so precious to him as now. One might almost fancy that, by some strange sympathy, he felt the immediate happiness of his daughter depended on it. Many in my day believe that human minds can thus communicate, overleaping material distances. Not knowing, I can’t say. However, no such solution is really needed here. All the members of a united and loving family feel together and work together — without specific concert — though hemispheres lie between: it is one of the beautiful traits of true family affection. Now the Dodds, father, mother, sister, brother, were more one in heart and love than any other family I ever saw: woe to them if they had not.

David, then, walked towards Boulogne that afternoon a happy man. Already he tasted by anticipation the warm caresses of his wife and children, and saw himself seated at the hearth, with those beloved ones clustering close round him. How would he tell them Its adventures — Its dangers from pirates — Its loss at sea — Its recovery — Its wreck — Its coming ashore dry as a bone; and conclude by taking It out of his bosom and dropping It in his wife’s lap with “Cheer, boys, cheer!”

Trudging on in this delightful reverie, his ear detected a pitpat at some distance behind him: he looked round with very slight curiosity and saw two men coming up. Even in that hasty glance he recognised the foulface of Andre Tiribout, a face not to be forgotten in a day. I don’t know how it was, but he saw in a moment that face was after him to rob him, and he naturally enough concluded It was their object.

And he was without a weapon, and they were doubtless armed. Indeed, Thibout was swinging a heavy cudgel.

Poor Dodd’s mind went into a whirl and his body into a cold sweat. In such moments men live a year. To gain a little time he walked swiftly on, pretending not to have noticed them: but oh! his eyes roved wildly to each side of the road for a chance of escape. He saw none. To his right was a precipitous rock; to his left a profound ravine with a torrent below, and the sides scantily clothed with fir-trees and bushes: he was, in fact, near the top of a long rising ground called “La Mauvaise Cote,” on account of a murder committed there two hundred years ago.

Presently he heard the men close behind him. At the same moment he saw at the side of the ravine a flint stone about the size of two fists: he made but three swift strides, snatched it up, and turned to meet the robbers, drawing himself up high, and showing fight in every inch.

The men were upon him. His change of attitude was so sudden and fiery that they recoiled a step. But it was only for a moment: they had gone too far to retreat; they divided, and Thibout attacked him on his left with uplifted cudgel, and Moinard on his right with a long glittering knife. The latter, to guard his head from the stone, whipped off his hat and held it before his head: but Dodd was what is called “left handed:” “ambidexter” would be nearer the mark (he carved and wrote with his right hand, heaved weights and flung cricket-balls with his left). He stepped forward, flung the stone in Thibout’s face with perfect precision, and that bitter impetus a good thrower lends at the moment of delivery, and almost at the same moment shot out his right hand and caught Moinard by the throat. Sharper and fiercer collision was never seen than of these three.

Thibout’s face crashed; his blood squirted all round the stone, and eight yards off lay that assailant on his back.

Moinard was more fortunate: he got two inches of his knife into Dodd’s left shoulder, at the very moment Dodd caught him in his right-hand vice. And now one vengeful hand of iron grasped him felly by the throat; another seized his knife arm and twisted it back like a child’s. He kicked and struggled furiously, but in half a minute the mighty English arm and iron fingers held the limp body of Jacques Moinard with its knees knocking, temples bursting, throat relaxed, eyes protruding, and livid tongue lolling down to his chin. A few seconds more, and, with the same stalwart arm that kept his relaxed and sinking body from falling, Dodd gave him one fierce whirl round to the edge of the road, then put a foot to his middle, and spurned his carcase with amazing force and fury down the precipice. Crunch! crunch! it plunged from tree to tree, from bush to bush, and at last rolled into a thick bramble, and there stuck in the form of a crescent But Dodd had no sooner sent him headlong by that mighty effort, than his own sight darkened, his head swam, and, after staggering a little way, he sank down in a state bordering on insensibility. Meantime Fullalove and Vespasian were galloping down the opposite hill to his rescue.

Unfortunately, Andre Thibout was not dead, nor even mortally wounded. He was struck on the nose and mouth; that nose was flat for the rest of his life, and half of his front teeth were battered out of their sockets, but he fell, not from the brain being stunned, but the body driven to earth by the mere physical force of so momentous a blow, knocked down like a ninepin. He now sat up bewildered, and found himself in a pool of blood, his own. He had little sensation of pain, but he put his hand to his face, and found scarce a trace of his features, and his hand came away gory. He groaned.

Rising to his feet, he saw Dodd sitting at some distance; his first impulse was to fly from so terrible an antagonist, but, as he made for the ravine, he observed that Dodd was in a helpless condition, wounded perhaps by Moinard. And where was Moinard?

Nothing visible of him but his knife: that lay glittering in the road.

Thibout with anxious eye turned towards Dodd, kneeled to pick it up, and in the act a drop of his own blood fell on the dust beside it. He snarled like a wounded tiger, spat out half-a-dozen teeth, and crept on tiptoe to his safe revenge.

Awake from your lethargy or you are a dead man!

No! Thibout got to him unperceived, and the knife glittered over his head.

At this moment the air seemed to fill with clattering hoofs and voices, and a pistol-shot rang. Dodd heard and started, and so saw his peril. He put up his left hand to parry the blow, but feebly. Luckily for him Thibout’s eyes were now turned another way, and glaring with stupid terror out of his mutilated visage: a gigantic mounted fiend, with black face and white gleaming, rolling eyes was coming at him like the wind, uttering horrid howls. Thibout launched himself at the precipice with a shriek of dismay, and went rolling after his comrade; but ere he had gone ten yards he fell across a young larch-tree and hung balanced. Up came the foaming horses: Fullalove dismounted hastily and fired three deliberate shots down at Thibout from his revolver. He rolled off, and never stopped again till he splashed into the torrent, and lay there staining it with blood from his battered face and perforated shoulder.

Vespasian jumped off, and with glistening eyes administered some good brandy to Dodd. He, unconscious of his wound, a slight one, relieved their anxiety by assuring them somewhat faintly he was not hurt, but that, ever since that “tap on the head” he got in the Straits of Gaspar, any angry excitement told on him, made his head swim, and his temples seem to swell from the inside.

“I should have come off second-best but for you, my dear friends. Shake hands over it, do! O, Lord bless you! Lord bless you both. As for you, Vespasian, I do think you are my guardian angel. Why, this is the second time you’ve saved my life. No, it isn’t: for it’s the third.”

“Now you git along, Massa Cap’n,” said Vespasian. “You berry good man, ridicalous good man; and dis child ar’nt no gardening angel at all; he ar a darned Anatomy” (with such a look of offended dignity at Fullalove).

After examining the field of battle and comparing notes, they mounted Dodd on Vespasian’s horse, and walked quietly till Dodd’s head got better; and then they cantered on three abreast, Vespasian in the middle with one sinewy hand on each horse’s mane; and such was his muscular power, that he often relieved his feet by lifting himself clean into the air, and the rest of the time his toe but touched the ground, and he sailed like an ostrich and grinned and chattered like a monkey.

Sad to relate, neither Thibout nor Moinard was ended. The guillotine stood on its rights. Meantime, what was left of them crawled back to the town stiff and sore, and supped together — Moinard on liquids only — and vowed revenge on all wrecked people.

The three reached Boulogne in time for the Nancy, and put Dodd on board: the pair decided to go to the Yankee Paradise — Paris.

They parted with regret and tenderly, like old tried friends; and Vespasian told Dodd, with tears in his eyes, that though he was in point of fact only a darned Anemo, he felt like a coloured gemman at parting from his dear old Captain.

The master of the Nancy knew Dodd well, and gave him a nice cot to sleep in. He tumbled in with a bad headache and quite worn out, and never woke for fifteen hours.

And when he did wake, he was safe at Barkington.

He and It landed on the quay. He made for home.

On the way he passed Hardie’s bank, a firm synonymous in his mind with the Bank of England.

A thrill of joy went through him. Now it was safe. When he first sewed It on in China, It seemed secure nowhere except on his own person. But since then, the manifold perils by sea and land It had encountered through being on him, had caused a strong reaction in his mind on that point. He longed to see It safe out of his own hands and in good custody.

He made for Hardie’s door with a joyful rush, waved his cap over his head in triumph, and entered the bank with It.

Ah!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/hard-cash/chapter13.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33