Just when he had spotted a likely candidate - a portly old fellow, entirely encased in lace-edged red velvet, who could probably be propelled right into the punchbowl - a diversion took place without his help.
On the far side of the ballroom four men came in through the front door at once, crowding considerably to do it. The first one was neatly bearded and had his back to Shandy most of the time - he seemed to be the host, for he was waving his arms and protesting about something; next to him was a burly giant of a man, watching with evident amusement and puffing on a thin black cigar - he was elegantly dressed but wore no wig, a peculiar omission since his head was completely bald; and behind them, obviously insisting on entering, came two British Naval officers.
"It's for your own safety, and that of your guests," one of the officers said loudly, and the man who Shandy guessed was Hicks finally shrugged and waved the two Navy men inside. Shandy inconspicuously stepped back so as to be behind the fat fellow in red velvet - and, just in case, closer to the window.
The bald giant moved aside to let the two officers get past, and his grin behind the little cigar was so sly and knowing that Shandy stared at him curiously. Abruptly it seemed to Shandy that he'd seen this man before, been in awe of him ... though the broad, unlined face was certainly not familiar.
He didn't get time to ponder it, though, for the nearest Navy man at once began speaking to the company. "My name is Lieutenant MacKinlay," he said loudly. "We won't prolong our interruption of your dinner longer than to warn you all that the pirate Jack Shandy was briefly apprehended in Kingston today; he escaped, though, and is at large in the island."
There was a stir of interest at this, and even in his sudden fright Shandy noticed that the bald giant raised his bushy eyebrows and took the cigar from his mouth in order to closely scrutinize the diners. The amusement was gone from his face, replaced by a look of watchful caution.
"The reason we feel you should be apprised of this," MacKinlay went on, "is that, after purchasing new clothes, he made several inquiries as to the location of this house. He is described as being well dressed, but wearing white kid leather gloves that show bloodstains at the seams."
The portly old man in front of Shandy hitched ponderously around and pointed at Shandy's gloved hands. He was spitting excitedly and trying to produce words.
Lieutenant MacKinlay hadn't yet noticed the old man's consternation - though people near Shandy were craning their necks curiously - and he continued his speech. "It seems clear to us that Shandy has heard about this dinner, and intends to come here for the purpose of committing some robbery or kidnap. A group of armed Navy men is even now being mustered to come here and apprehend him, and in the meantime my companion and I - "
Hicks had noticed the commotion at the back of the crowd, and he peered alertly in that direction - and then the spitting old man fell to his knees, and Shandy found himself staring straight across the room at Hicks, meeting his gaze.
Both Shandy and Hicks flinched from what seemed the sight of a ghost.
After the first moment of shock, Shandy knew it wasn't his father - the face was too pudgy, and the mouth too pursed - but the eyes, the nose, the cheekbones, the forehead, were all his father's, and just for a moment he marveled that chance could have produced such a resemblance in a stranger; but in the next moment he realized who it must be, and what must have been the real story of the "suicide" of Sebastian Chandagnac.
"My God!" exclaimed a woman near Shandy. "That's him there!"
Several men among the guests frowned and slapped the hilts of their dress swords, but somehow getting room to draw their blades involved moving quickly away from the pirate.
Suddenly and jarringly, the bald man laughed, a deep, booming mirth like storm surf crashing on rocks, and Shandy recognized him.
Then the two Navy officers had drawn pistols and were shouting for the guests to move aside, and a number of men were reluctantly moving in on Shandy, waving the sort of swords one orders from a tailor, and Sebastian Chandagnac was loudly demanding that the officers shoot the pirate instantly.
Women screamed, men tripped over chairs, and Shandy leaped up onto the table, drawing his saber in midair, and he kicked the punchbowl onto the floor as he sprinted down the table toward the front door; MacKinlay's pistol banged deafeningly, but the ball splintered the wall paneling above Shandy's head, and then he had leaped off the end of the table. MacKinlay's companion was pointing a pistol of his own directly at Shandy's chest, and Shandy, helpless to do anything else, lunged at him, caught the long pistol barrel with his saber blade and got a fast corkscrewing bind on it that sent it flying out of the officer's hand before he could fire.
Men were slipping and cursing on the wet floor behind him, and a couple of swords were noisily dropped, and Shandy leaped to the side, whipped his blade around, and put his point against MacKinlay's chest. Everyone froze. The pistol finished clattering across the floor and clanked against the wall.
"I believe I'll surrender," Shandy said into the sudden silence, "but before I do, I want to tell you who Joshua Hicks is. He's - "
Sebastian Chandagnac had dived for the dropped pistol and now came up with it; sitting, he fired it at Shandy.
The ball exploded the head of Lieutenant MacKinlay - and as the body cartwheeled away and the screaming and crashing resumed, louder, Shandy's uncle scrambled up, drew his own dress sword and ran at him. Shandy parried the blade easily, though his white gloves were gleaming red along the seams, and he rushed in and, one-handed, grabbed his uncle by the throat.
"Beth Hurwood, the girl you're holding," he snarled. "Where is she?"
The bald man Morcilla had stepped forward as if to interfere, but at this he paused.
"Upstairs," wept Sebastian Chandagnac, his eyes closed, "locked room."
Women were sobbing and several men stood nearby with drawn swords, glancing at one another uncertainly. The second Navy officer had drawn his sword but seemed reluctant to approach while Shandy was apparently holding a hostage.
Shandy's left thumb was on his uncle's larynx, and he knew he could crush it as easily as he could break an egg; but he was sick of deaths, and didn't think he'd derive any sense of fulfillment from watching this scared little man flop around on the floor choking to death on his own throat bones. He switched his grip to the man's collar.
"Who ... are you?" Sebastian Chandagnac croaked, his eyes wide with horror.
Suddenly Shandy realized that, clean-shaven and with all the new lines of age and weariness in his face, he must look very much like his father had when Sebastian would have seen him last ... and of course this man didn't know that his nephew John Chandagnac had come to the Caribbean.
Having decided not to kill him, Shandy found that he could not refrain from stirring up the man's guilt. "Look me in the eye," he whispered chokingly.
The old man did, though with much trembling and moaning.
"I'm your brother, Sebastian," Shandy said through clenched teeth. "I'm Francois."
The old man's face was nearly purple. "I heard you had ... died. Really died, I mean."
Shandy grinned ferociously. "I did - but haven't you ever heard of vodun? - I've only come back from Hell tonight to fetch you, dear brother."
Apparently Sebastian had heard of vodun, and found Shandy's claim all too plausible; his eyes rolled back in his head and, with as sharp an exhalation as if he'd been punched in the belly, he went limp.
Surprised but not really dismayed, Shandy let the body tumble to the floor.
Then, almost side by side, Shandy and the bald man sprang for the stairs; presumably Edmund Morcilla was pursuing the pirate, but it was hard to be sure they weren't both racing toward some common goal. A few men with swords leaped quickly into their path, and then even more quickly out of it, and a moment later Shandy was bounding up the stairs three at a time, panting and praying that he wouldn't pass out quite yet.
At the top of the stairs was a corridor, and he paused there, his chest heaving, and turned to face the man who called himself Morcilla, who had stopped two steps short of the landing. His eyes were level with Shandy's.
"What ... do you want?" Shandy gasped.
The giant's smile looked cherubic on his smooth face. "The young woman."
There was more shouting and crashing below, and Shandy shook his head impatiently. "No. Forget it. Go back downstairs."
"I've earned her - I've been monitoring this house all day, ready to step in and interfere at the first indication of soul-eviction magic - "
"Which didn't take place because I undid Hurwood's plan," said Shandy. "Get out of here."
The bald man raised his sword. "I'd rather not kill you, Jack, but I promise I will if I have to in order to get her."
Shandy let his shoulders slump defeatedly and let his face relax into lines of exhaustion and despair - and then he flung himself forward, slamming the giant's sword against the wall with his left forearm while his right hand punched his saber into the man's chest. Only the fact that the bald man stood his ground stopped Shandy from pitching head first down the stairs. Shandy caught his balance, raised his right foot and planted it on the man's broad breast next to where the blade transfixed it, and then kicked, bringing himself back upright on the landing and propelling the bald man in a backward tumble down the stairs. Exclamations of horror and surprise erupted above the general clamor below.
Shandy turned and looked down the corridor. One of the doorknobs was wooden, and he reeled to it. It was locked, so he wearily braced himself against the wall it faced, lifted his foot, and with a repetition of the move that had freed his blade from Morcilla's chest, drove his foot at the door. The wooden lock splintered and the door flew inward and Shandy dropped his saber as he fell forward into the room.
He looked up from his hands and knees. There was a lamp lit in the room, but the scene it showed him was far from reassuring: nasty-smelling leaves were all over the floor, someone had hung several severed dog heads on the walls, an obviously long-dead black woman was tumbled carelessly in the corner, and Beth Hurwood was crouched by the window apparently trying to eat the woodwork.
But Beth looked around in alarm, and her eyes were clear and alert. "John!" she said hoarsely when she saw who it was. "My God, I'd almost given up praying for you! Bring that sword over here and chop this wooden bolt in half - my teeth aren't making any progress at all."
He got up and hurried over to her, slipping only once on the leaves, and he squinted blearily at the bolt. He raised his sword carefully. "I'm surprised you recognize me," he remarked inanely.
"Of course I do, though you do look thrashed. When did you sleep last?"
" ... I don't remember." He brought the sword down. It cut the bolt, barely. Beth fumbled the pieces out of the brackets and pushed the window open, and the cool night air sluiced away the room's stale smells and brought in the cries of tropical birds out in the jungle.
"There's a roof out here," she said. "At the north end of the house the hill catches up with it enough for us to jump safely. Now listen, John, I - "
"Us?" Shandy interrupted. "No, you're safe now. My uncle - Joshua Hicks - is dead. You're - "
"Don't be silly, of course I'm coming with you. But listen, please! That creature in the corner pitched over dead - dead again, I should say - last night, and so I haven't had to eat any more of those damned plants since then, but I'm terribly weak and I have spells of ... I don't know, disorientation. I sort of fall asleep with my eyes open. I don't know how long it lasts, but it's tapering off - so if I do it, if I go blank-eyed on you, don't worry, just keep me moving. I'll come out of it."
"Uh ... very well." Shandy stepped through the window, out onto the roof. "You're sure you want to come with me?"
"Yes." She followed him out, swayed and grabbed his shoulder, then took a deep breath and nodded. "Yes. Let's go."
Through the open window behind them he could hear people hesitantly but noisily advancing up the stairs, so he took her elbow and led her as quickly as he dared toward the north end of the roof.
It faded on the crowing of the cock.
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit can walk abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
- William Shakespeare
They walked for hours, avoiding the wider, better-maintained roads because of the bands of mounted, torch-carrying soldiers who were riding back and forth, it seemed, through all of Spanish Town; Shandy led Beth over low stone walls and along narrow footpaths and between rows of sugarcane. Twice dogs barked at them, but both times Shandy was able to silence the alarm by crimping the breeze with a gesture and whistling a certain tune. He wasn't able to deal as easily with the mosquitoes, though, and had to make do with smearing mud on his face and Beth's. He could judge directions and even make a fair guess at the hour by studying the sky whenever their way wasn't roofed with vegetation ... but he didn't throw away the compass he had bought that afternoon, even though it was an awkward, bulky weight in his coat pocket.
Several times Beth did seem to be sleepwalking, and would walk straight into trees if he didn't lead her carefully by the hand, and for a while she just slept, and he had to carry her, enviously, in his arms; but she was awake and lucid during most of the walk, and she and Shandy occupied the long miles by conversing in whispers. She told him about her years in the Scottish convent, and he described traveling with his father and the marionettes. She asked him about Ann Bonny in a tone so carefully casual that he could feel his heart thudding in his chest. Drunk with exhaustion and happiness, he let himself answer the question with a long, disjointed monologue that he didn't even bother to listen to - vaguely he knew that it dealt with love and loss and maturity and death and birth and the rest of their lives. Whatever he had said, she didn't seem displeased by it; and even though she wasn't sleepwalking he took her hand.
P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com