The Well-House

For those thou mayest not look upon
Are gathering fast round the yawning stone - Scott
It wanted yet half an hour of midnight when I found myself at the shaft of the marble quarry, and before I had well set foot on the steps to descend, heard Elzevir's voice challenging out of the darkness below. I gave back "Prosper the Bonaventure", and so came home again to sleep the last time in our cave.

The next night was well suited to flight. There was a spring-tide with fall moon, and a light breeze setting off the land which left the water smooth under the cliff We saw the Bonaventure cruising in the Channel before sundown, and after the darkness fell she lay close in and took us off in her boat. There were several men on board of her that I knew, and they greeted us kindly, and made much of us. I was indeed glad to be among them again, and yet felt a pang at leaving our dear Dorset coast, and the old cave that had been hospital and home to me for two months.

The wind set us up-Channel, and by daybreak they put us ashore at Cowes, so we walked to Newport and came there before many were stirring. Such as we saw in the street paid no heed to us but took us doubtless for some carter and his boy who had brought corn in from the country for the Southampton packet, and were about early to lead the team home again. "'tis a little place enough this Newport, and we soon found the Bugle; but Elzevir made so good a carter that the landlord did not know him, though he had his acquaintance before. So they fenced a little with one another.

"Have you bed and victuals for a plain country man and his boy?" says Elzevir.

"Nay, that I have not," says the landlord, looking him up and down, and not liking to take in strangers who might use their eyes inside, and perhaps get on the trail of the Contraband. "'Tis near the Summer Statute and the place over full already. I cannot move my gentlemen, and would bid you try the Wheatsheaf, which is a good house, and not so full as this."

"Ay, 'tis a busy time, and 'tis these fairs that make things prosper," and Elzevir marked the last word a little as he said it.

The man looked harder at him, and asked, prosper what?" as if he were hard of hearing.

"Prosper the Bonaventure," was the answer, and then the landlord caught Elzevir by the hand, shaking it hard and saying, "Why, you are Master Block, and I expecting you this morn, and never knew you." He laughed as he stared at us again, and Elzevir smiled too. Then the landlord led us in. "And this is?" he said, looking at me.

"This is a well-licked whelp," replied Elzevir, "who got a bullet in the leg two months ago in that touch under Hoar Head; and is worth more than he looks, for they have put twenty golden guineas on his head - so have a care of such a precious top-knot."

So long as we stopped at the Bugle we had the best of lodging and the choicest meat and drink, and all the while the landlord treated Elzevir as though he were a prince. And so he was indeed a prince among the contrabandiers, and held, as I found out long afterwards, for captain of all landers between start and Solent. At first the landlord would take no money of us, saying that he was in our debt, and had received many a good turn from Master Block in the past, but Elzevir had got gold from Dorchester before we left the cave and forced him to take payment. I was glad enough to lie between clean sweet sheets at night instead of on a heap of sand, and sit once more knife and fork in hand before a well- filled trencher. "'twas thought best I should show myself as little as possible, so I was content to pass my time in a room at the back of the house whilst Elzevir went abroad to make inquiries how we could find entrance to the Castle at Carisbrooke. Nor did the time hang heavy on my hands, for I found some old books in the Bugle, and among them several to my taste, especially a History of Corfe Castle, which set forth how there was a secret passage from the ruins to some of the old marble quarries, and perhaps to that very one that sheltered us.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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