'Oh, we are, are we?' he cried, in a mocking voice; 'you are sure of it eh? You are certain we are not going to France? We have a mast and sail there, I see, and water in the beaker. All we want are a few fish, which I hear are plentiful in these waters, and we might make a push for Barfleur.'
'We are going down Langston Bay,' I repeated coldly.
'You see might is right upon the waters,' he explained, with a smile which broke his whole face up into crinkles. 'I am an old soldier, a tough fighting man, and you are two raw lads. I have a knife, and you are unarmed. D'ye see the line of argument? The question now is, Where are we to go?'
I faced round upon him with the oar in my hand. 'You boasted that you could swim to Portsmouth,' said I, 'and so you shall. Into the water with you, you sea-viper, or I'll push you in as sure as my name is Micah Clarke.'
'Throw your knife down, or I'll drive the boat hook through you,' cried Reuben, pushing it forward to within a few inches of the man's throat.
'Sink me, but this is most commendable!' he said, sheathing his weapon, and laughing softly to himself. 'I love to draw spirit out of the young fellows. I am the steel, d'ye see, which knocks the valour out of your flint. A notable simile, and one in every way worthy of that most witty of mankind, Samuel Butler. This,' he continued, tapping a protuberance which I had remarked over his chest, 'is not a natural deformity, but is a copy of that inestimable "Hudibras," which combines the light touch of Horace with the broader mirth of Catullus. Heh! what think you of the criticism?'
'Give up that knife,' said I sternly.
'Certainly,' he replied, handing it over to me with a polite bow. 'Is there any other reasonable matter in which I can oblige ye? I will give up anything to do ye pleasure-save only my good name and soldierly repute, or this same copy of "Hudibras," which, together with a Latin treatise upon the usages of war, written by a Fleming and printed in Liege in the Lowlands, I do ever bear in my bosom.'
I sat down beside him with the knife in my hand. 'You pull both oars,' I said to Reuben; 'I'll keep guard over the fellow and see that he plays us no trick. I believe that you are right, and that he is nothing better than a pirate. He shall be given over to the justices when we get to Havant.'
I thought that our passenger's coolness deserted him for a moment, and that a look of annoyance passed over his face.
'Wait a bit!' he said; 'your name, I gather is Clarke, and your home is Havant. Are you a kinsman of Joseph Clarke, the old Roundhead of that town?'
'He is my father,' I answered.
'Hark to that, now!' he cried, with a throb of laughter; 'I have a trick of falling on my feet. Look at this, lad! Look at this!' He drew a packet of letters from his inside pocket, wrapped in a bit of tarred cloth, and opening it he picked one out and placed it upon my knee. 'Read!' said he, pointing at it with his long thin finger.
It was inscribed in large plain characters, 'To Joseph Clarke, leather merchant of Havant, by the hand of Master Decimus Saxon, part-owner of the ship _Providence_, from Amsterdam to Portsmouth.' At each side it was sealed with a massive red seal, and was additionally secured with a broad band of silk.
'I have three-and-twenty of them to deliver in the neighbourhood,' he remarked. 'That shows what folk think of Decimus Saxon. Three-and-twenty lives and liberties are in my hands. Ah, lad, invoices and bills of lading are not done up in that fashion. It is not a cargo of Flemish skins that is coming for the old man. The skins have good English hearts in them; ay, and English swords in their fists to strike out for freedom and for conscience. I risk my life in carrying this letter to your father; and you, his son, threaten to hand me over to the justices! For shame! For shame! I blush for you!'
'I don't know what you are hinting at,' I answered. 'You must speak plainer if I am to understand you.'
'Can we trust him?' he asked, jerking his head in the direction of Reuben.