"Oh, loot." Shandy nodded. "Yeah, there's that. Plenty of it, just like I said. I think I sprung a gut moving chest of gold ingots around down there. You can all ... go roll in it. But first, hoist me up a bucket of sea water, will you? And see if you can't find ... fire, a candle or something ... somewhere. I'll be in there with him."
A little disconcerted, Skank stepped back. "Uh, sure, cap'n. Sure."
Shandy shook his head unhappily as he limped to the cabin door and went inside. Hurwood lay on the deck planks unconscious, his breath sounding like slow strokes of a saw in dry wood. His shirt was more dark than white, and spatters of blood, nearly dry, blackened the deck around his shoulder, but the bleeding seemed to have been stopped.
Shandy stood over him and wondered who the man really was. The Oxford don, author of A Vindication of Free Will? Beth's father? Husband of the unbearably dead Margaret? Ulysse Segundo the pirate? The bones were prominent in the open-mouthed face, and Shandy tried to imagine what Hurwood had looked like as a young man. He couldn't imagine it.
Shandy knelt down beside him and shook him by his good shoulder. "Mr. Hurwood. Wake up."
The pace of the breathing didn't change, the wrinkled eyelids didn't flutter.
"Mr. Hurwood. It's important. Please wake up."
There was no response.
Shandy knelt there, staring at the devastated old man and trying not to think, until Skank clumped in. New orange light contended weakly with the sunlight from outside.
"Water," Skank said, letting a sloshing bucket clank onto the deck, "and a lamp." After looking around uncertainly he set that too on the deck.
"Fine," Shandy whispered. "Thank you."
Skank left, closing the door, and the lamp's agitated flame became the room's illumination.
Shandy dipped up a handful of cold brine and tossed it across Hurwood's closed eyes. The old man frowned faintly, but that was all. "God damn it," Shandy burst out, almost sobbing, "don't force me!" He grabbed one of Hurwood's ears and twisted it savagely ... to no effect. In horror as much as rage Shandy stood up, pushing the lamp away with his foot, then lifted the bucket and flung the entire contents onto Hurwood's head. The weight of water turned the old man's face away and plastered the white hair out like a crown, but the breathing continued as steadily as before, without even any choking.
Genuinely sobbing now, Shandy turned away and reached for the lamp ... and then breathed a prayer of thanks when he heard spitting and groaning behind him.
He crouched beside Hurwood. "Wake up," he said urgently. "You'll never get better advice."
Hurwood's eyes opened. "I'm ... hurt," he said softly.
"Yes." Shandy brushed the tears out of his eyes to see the old man more clearly. "But you'll probably live. You survived it once. Where's Beth, Elizabeth, your daughter?"
"Oh ... it's all over, isn't it? All done now." His eyes met Shandy's. "You! You destroyed it ... Margaret's head ... I could feel her spirit go out of it. A mere sword!" His voice was gentle, as if he was discussing events in a play they'd both seen. "Not just because it was cold iron ... ?"
"And linked to my blood. Yes." Shandy tried to match Hurwood's quiet, conversational tone. "Where have you got your daughter hid?"
"Jamaica. In Spanish Town."
"Ah!" Shandy nodded and smiled. "Where in Spanish Town?"
"Nice house. She's restrained, of course. A prisoner. But in comfort."
"Uh ... Joshua Hicks." Hurwood seemed childishly proud of being able to remember the name.
Shandy's shoulders drooped with relief.
"Do you have any chocolates?" Hurwood asked politely. "I haven't any."
"Uh, no." Shandy stood up. "We can get you some in Jamaica."
"We're going to Jamaica?"
"You're damn right we are. As soon as we get this old hulk a little more seaworthy. We can afford to relax a little, now that I know where she is. Beth will keep for another day or two while we make some repairs."
"Oh, aye, Hicks will take very good care of her. I've given him the strictest instructions, and given him a nurse to make sure he does everything right."
A nurse? thought Shandy. I can't quite imagine a nurse ordering around a member of the landed gentry. "Well, fine. We'll - "
"In fact, what day is it today?"
"Christmas Eve." Can't you tell by everybody's festive manner? he thought.
"Maybe I should wave to him tomorrow."
Shandy, still smiling with relief, cocked his head. "Wave at who?"
"Hicks. He'll be on a cliff at Portland Point, tomorrow at dawn, with a telescope." Hurwood chuckled. "He doesn't like the idea - he's giving a big dinner party tomorrow night, and he'd far rather be home preparing for it - but he'll be there. He fears me. I told him to watch for this ship and make sure he sees me out on deck, and sees me wave to him."
"We won't be anywhere near Jamaica by tomorrow dawn," said Shandy. "I don't think this ship could be."
"Oh." Hurwood closed his eyes. "Then I won't wave to him."
Shandy had been about to leave, but now he paused, staring down at the old man. "Why were you going to wave to him? Why will he be out there watching?"
"I want to sleep now."
"Tell me." Shandy's eyes darted to, then away from, the lamp. "Or no chocolates."
Hurwood pursed his lips pettishly, but answered. "If I don't sail past and wave, he'll assume I'm not going to arrive in time, and so he'll do the first part of the magic. The part that has to be done on Christmas day. I meant to be in Jamaica today, to save him the trouble of even going out there, but the storm yesterday and you today ... " Hurwood opened his eyes, though not wide. "I just thought if we were going to be near there tomorrow, I'd wave to him and save everybody the trouble. After all, you've made the full procedure impossible by destroying the head." He closed his eyes again.
"What's this ... first part of the magic?" Shandy asked, feeling the first faint webs of anxiety falling over him again.
"The part that can be done on land. The big part, which I would have had to do, has to take place at sea. Tomorrow noon he'll do the first part. He'd rather I did it. He'll be unhappy not to see me sail past."
"He'll do what? God damn it, what is this first part?"
Hurwood opened his eyes again and stared wonderingly at Shandy. "Why ... the dumping of her mind. Elizabeth's mind - her soul. He'll drive it out of her body, with magic. I showed him how. Though," he added with a yawn, "it's a waste of time now. Now there's nobody to put in her place."
Sudden pain in his kneecaps let Shandy know he'd fallen to his knees. "Will she come back, then?" he asked, forcing himself not to shout. "Will Beth's soul go back into her body then?"
Hurwood laughed, the light, carefree laughter of a child. "Come back? No. When she's gone, she'll be ... gone."
Shandy restrained himself from hitting or strangling the old man, and he didn't speak until he was sure he could again match Hurwood's casual tone. "Well," he began, but there was a rough edge in his voice, so he started again. "Well, you know what? I'm going to see to it that this ship does get to Jamaica by tomorrow dawn. And then you'll wave at your ... friend, this Hicks, won't you?" He was smiling, but his maimed hands were clenched into fists as tight as stressed knots.
"Very well." Hurwood yawned again. "I'd like to sleep now." Shandy stood up. "Good idea. We'll be getting up damned early tomorrow."
Peering from the corners of his eyes - he was supposed to look as if he were deep in prayer - the altar boy had to admit that the church really was getting darker. And while he was afraid of the dry, dusty birdlike things that would be free to come out when all the light was gone, he was hoping that total dark would come soon - for after the wedding ceremony the minister would dispense communion, and the altar boy knew he had sinned too direly to take it, and so he wanted to be able to slip away unseen ... even if that meant becoming one of the cobwebby birdlike creatures himself. He shivered, and wondered unhappily what had become of all the nice things. There had been friends, a wife, scholarship, the respect of colleagues, the respect of himself ... Perhaps they had only been a tormenting dream, and there had never really been anything but darkness and cold and the slow in-creeping of imbecility.
He took comfort in the thought.
The wedding couple finally came together in the shadows below the altar and linked arms, slowly, like lengths of seaweed tangled by listless sea-bottom currents. Then they began ascending the steps, and the altar boy realized that the absolute darkness had held off too long.
The bride was just an empty but animate dress; that wasn't so bad - it was always reassuring to find only an absence where it had seemed there might be a presence - but the groom was present and alive: it was impossible to be sure that it was human, for the skinned, bleeding flesh it consisted of might be manlike in form only because of the constriction of the clothes. If it had eyes they were closed, but the altar boy could tell the thing was alive because blood kept running out of it everywhere, and its mouth, albeit silently, was opening wide and clamping shut over and over again.
All at once the altar boy realized that the flayed thing there was himself, but the knowledge carried no horror, because now he knew too that he could move out of himself: all the way, if he was ready to let go of every thing, to non-being.
This, with profound relief, he did.
When the first hints of the dawn's glow began to dim the brightness of Sirius and the three bright stars in Lepus, Shandy called for the telescope and scanned the faint contrast in dark grays that was the southeast horizon - and then, though after the night-long labor he was too exhausted and hoarse to shout, he bared his teeth in pleasure, for he could see the irregularity that couldn't be anything but Jamaica.
"We're there, Skank," he said quietly to the man beside him as he handed the telescope back. "Ten hours of night sailing and navigating our course by the stars, on one reach because we couldn't tack, and the pre-dawn shows us sitting squarely where we wanted to be! By God, I wish Davies could have seen it."
"Aye," Skank croaked dully.
"Have one of the lads go fetch Hurwood up here. It's nearly time for him to step onstage."
"Aye, cap'n." Skank lurched away into the darkness, leaving Shandy alone on the bow.
Shandy stared out at the dim horizon, trying to spot Jamaica again without the telescope's aid, but after going two nights without sleep, focusing his eyes was a physical effort, and all he could see were illusory transparencies that swirled in different directions every time he moved his eyes. He was desperately looking forward to rescuing Beth, but more because he could then relax and go to sleep somewhere than because of any glory or fulfillment he might derive from accomplishing it.
With the numb objectivity that follows total, all-consuming effort, he wondered if he would be captured in Jamaica ... and what might ensue if he was. It could be argued that he hadn't violated his pardon, since the only ship he had taken was this one, and Hurwood was certainly not the legal captain. Is stealing stolen property less reprehensible than plain stealing? Well, even if he were captured, and the judgment went against him, he'd free Beth Hurwood first ... and make her listen to the story her father had to tell, and show her that things were ... different from the way she thought they were.
He rubbed his aching eyes and, again with no particular feeling, thought of all the things this summer and fall had cost him: his righteous convictions, his legal standing, his skepticism, his youth, his heart ... and he grinned into the chilly darkness when he realized that, nearly as much as all the dead innocence and friends, he missed the old, battered, slipshod, jury-rigged loyal sloop called the Jenny. With no one to man the bilge pumps during yesterday's fighting and recuperation, she had filled and foundered, so that the grappling lines were stretched taut and were making the Carmichael list perceptibly to port. Sadly he had ordered her to be cut free, and there had been tears in his eyes as he had watched the mast and the patched sails slowly lean down to the water as the hulk receded away astern ... and though his hearing was still bad, or perhaps because of it, it had seemed to him that for a few moments he faintly heard a babble of diminishing voices, one still insisting that he was not a dog ...
Footsteps scuffed on the deck behind him now, and Skank tapped him on the shoulder. "Uh, cap'n?"
Shandy turned around. "Yes? Where's Hurwood? I don't care if he's ill, he's got to - "
"Cap'n," said Skank, "he's dead."
Shandy felt tears of rage welling up in his eyes. "Dead? What? No he's not, the son of a bitch, he can't be, he - "
"Cap'n, he's cold and he ain't breathing - and he don't bleed if you prod him with a knife."
Shandy fell back against the rail and slid down until he was sitting on the deck. "God damn the man," he was whispering shrilly, "God damn him, am I supposed to swim ashore and climb
the cliffs and find this Hicks person? How in hell am I to - " He lowered his head into his hands, and for several seconds the appalled Skank thought he was weeping; but when Shandy finally raised his head and spoke, his voice was harsh but level.
P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com