The Rebels; or, Boston before the Revolution/Chapter VI
"Soh," thought Mr. Glossin, "here is one finger in, at least; and that I
will make the means of introducing my whole hand."
We must now call the attention of our readers to the miser whom we introduced in our second chapter. A day or two after the riot in Friezel Court, he was engaged in earnest conversation with a desperate-looking man, to whom he was bound by those terribly galling chains, which link the guilty in unhallowed communion.
In tones of whining entreaty, Mr. Townsend began by saying, "So, after helping me to these Fitzherbert papers, and after forging letters to the widow, you say you will leave me in the lurch, if I get into any trouble by this deuced East India uncle's coming to life again. I heard all the name were dead and gone; and my heart has been at rest about 'em many a year."
"When it is known that Mrs. Fitzherbert's letters never reached England, you will be suspected of course, but there is no witness to prove any thing against you, but myself,---and you know well enough what will buy me."
"I have told you, a thousand times, that you should be remembered in my will."
"So the bird promised his wings to the mouse, that gnawed open the door of his cage; but the first thing the poor mouse knew, was that his wings had borne him off to the skies. I don't mean, by the way, that there is any danger of your taking an upward journey. Nevertheless, you may die shortly, and what good will your promises do me then? I want no legacy for myself. I have already told you that every penny of your property must be left to the one I shall name to you, unless you are willing to have your life left at the mercy of the law."
The miser groaned in all the various tones of distressed dotage.
"There is no use in bewailing the matter thus," said his rought companion. "The will must be drawn, signed, and attested, before this night. Else I will tell all."
"You ha'n't any proof," rejoined the trembling miser; "and who is going to believe your word?"
"The devil, I ha'n't!" exclaimed Wilson. "Hav'nt I all the Captain's papers, and the widow's letters, locked fast in my chest?"
The features of the old man were convulsed with rage and fear.
"You told me," said he, "that you lost them in the street, the night of the fracas."
"I lied for sport," replied Wilson. "Do you think I would carry such papers in my pocket, when I went into the midst of a mob."
"You stole 'em from me, with false keys," murmured Townsend.
"That's neither here nor there, so long as I have got them, and there are marks enough on their white faces to hang you high and dry."
"I can prove to the Lieutenant Governor, that you were among the rioters," growled the miser.
"And much good may it do him and you. Tell him to send a warrant after the fly that bites him in harvest time. Gibbet-making will be a profitable trade, if all who committed that offence are to be hung. Send him word that I was in the mob, and as an offset, I will let him know of the bank notes you picked up in his library, and thrust into your pocket."
"The evil one helps you!" exclaimed he. "How could you know that?"
"If he finds time to help me, it is because you have learned out," said Wilson. "I found it out by my eyes, which have helped me to many a useful thing in my day. You see I have evidence enough to do what I have a mind to; and I promise you I will make use of it, if this day closes without your making a will in favour of my daughter."
"Daughter! I never heard you had a wife."
An agonized expression passed over Wilson's face. "I have a daughter," said he,---"as lovely a creature as man ever looked on. Oh---"
He stooped down and covered his face with his hands.
Mr. Townsend gazed at him in a perfect stupor of surprise; for it was long since he had witnessed any thing like human emotion.
Wilson rose and walked across the room several times. "Why have I betrayed the sorrows of a bursting heart to such a wretch as he is?" thought he. He stopped before Mr. Townsend, and with a mixture of sadness and decision, said, "I have no earthly hopes or wishes, but for this child. If you will leave her all your property, it will be well for you. If not, I put the match to a mine that will blow you up in its explosion."
"There an't a charge of powder in the house," rejoined the old man. "I never buy things I don't want."
"Fool!" exclaimed Wilson, "The powder I blow up, will be your own knavery. Will you, or will you not, comply with my directions?"
The miser groaned deeply. "It is hard to toil the best of one's days, and then throw the money away upon strangers," said he. "My nephew often sends me a pretty letter and a bottle of wine, free of expense, and he is the only one that cares for the poor old man. Besides, I don't know but I may change my situation. One of the first ladies in the place did the same as tell me she would marry me."
"She would send to the dissection room for a bridegroom, as soon," replied Wilson, with a look indicating the deepest contempt. "Shall I send for a lawyer about this business?"
"If I could be sure about that box of silver," said the old man, hesitatingly.
"You may be sure of it; if you will follow my directions. I know where it is."
"And why don't you get it yourself?" asked the miser, with a look that he intended should be extremely arch.
"It would be ill work digging that depth alone; and there must be numbers for the charm, they say."
"How did you first know about it?" said the old man, drawing his chair close to the speaker.
"When I was on board the pirate ship, we overtook a richly freighted vessel a little off Cuba. We boarded her, and seized all her cargo. A small iron chest, directed to Halifax, was taken out of the cabin. Two rolls of parchment were found on the top, containing the name of the owner, and mentioning the Captain to whose care it was entrusted, the destination of the vessel, and so forth. On a strip of canvass were spread twelve ingots of gold; and beneath this, the Spanish silver lay in piles. This treasure belonged to Captain Fitzherbert, who had left it in the care of a friend at Cuba, with directions to send it to his widow at Halifax, in case of his death. The Captain and mate took the strong box to themselves, dividing the remainder of the prize (and a noble one she was) among us sailors. To make a long story short, we made for Boston; and when we came within sight of the island, the Captain despatched a boat with three men and a negro toward the castle, about midnight. I heard them whisper, `Place it where the shadows of the two elms meet at twelve o'clock.'
`We know how to do the business,' was the answer; and presently the dead silence was disturbed by the loud dash of their oars, as they manfully rowed towards land.
`Muffle your oars,' said the mate. `D**n you, you 'll wake the castle guard, at this rate.'
`Keep in the shade, as you pass the garrison,' said the Captain.
"The commands were obeyed; and the trickling of the water was all I heard. The boat swept round to the back part of the island, and I saw it no more. The next day, the three men returned; but the negro was not with them."
"What had become of him?" asked Mr. Townsend.
"He was sacrificed to the devil. They always put a corpse under their treasure."
"And is the box there now?"
"No doubt. It is no easy work to get money that is left in the grip of Satan, unless one knows how to loosen his fingers."
"And can that be done?" eagerly inquired the miser.
"There is a woman, called Molly the Witch, who they say knows the art. I will go to her for information if you will pay the men for digging, and give me a hundred crowns for my trouble; and as for this affair about the will, if you do as I tell you, the negro buried under that iron chest could not keep your secret better than I will."
"If I was sure there would be the valee of ---"
"Not less than ten thousand pounds, I promise you," interrupted Wilson.
The old man paused, before he ventured to say, "I have not long to live; but nobody cares for that. I shall neither be missed nor moaned. This nephew is the only being that has a drop of my father's blood in his veins. I cannot disinherit him."
"You have been playing a game of selfishness and guilt all your life," responded Wilson; "and now that you are completely in the nine-holes, you will not throw your knave of trumps on the last lift."
For the first time, Wilson perceived some emotion on the face of that lonely mortal. "Old as I am, I must expect to die soon," said he; but I would not dangle from a halter. I should not think you would have the heart to tumble this old carcass into the grave."
"I have been familiar with blood," replied his desperate associate; "but I don't want your wretched life, if you will give your bags of gold instead."
The miser leaned his hands upon his knees, rocked vehemently from side to side, and heaved his accustomed groan,---but said nothing.
"Tell me instantly what you will do!" said Wilson, seizing his shoulder with a fierceness that made him quake beneath his grasp.
"Shall I go to Hutchinson, and procure a Tyburn tippet for you? Or will you provide for my daughter?"
Half frightened out of his senses, the old man muttered, "If the young folks would but marry ---"
"A bright thought, by Jove," exclaimed Wilson;--- and he went on talking to himself, in an under tone, "Clever fellow too; as much better than this old fool as Gertrude is better than I am. But," continued he, aloud, "what will you do for me, if the young man has some boyish freak, and chooses to marry another?"
"I will leave something to the young woman. May be five thousand crowns."
"The whole, the whole, every farthing of your money," exclaimed Wilson. "All that you have, must you give for your life."
"Take all, then," said the miser. "Oh, the day that I knew you was an unlucky one for me."
A lawyer and witnesses were immediately called. Emboldened by their presence, the covetous old man was about to recant what he had promised; but a glance from the terrible eye of Wilson intimidated him; and amid sighs, and groans, and tears, a deed of gift was at length written, which made Gertrude Wilson heiress to his large fortune, in case Edward Percival refused to marry her.
A long and earnest conversation respecting the chest of silver ensued,---and about four o'clock, P. M. an upright vehicle, studded with brass nails, and adorned with wings that looked like any thing but flying, conveyed Mr. Townsend and his accomplice to the dwelling of the "spae wife." After travelling a few miles, they turned into a sequestered path, obviously unfrequented. They had not proceeded far, when two half-starved hounds sprung from the thicket, and set up a most hideous yell.
"Whist, Mars! Down with you, Hecate!" exclaimed a voice, the shrillness of which alone indicated that it came from woman.
The travellers looked toward the place whence the sound proceeded, and saw a tall, athletic female, clearing the bushes, and coming towards them with rapid strides. Her masculine figure, of such uncommon height and rigid outline; the grey hair, that hung in confused masses about her haggard countenance, and the frenzied look of her large blue eyes, would have struck the stoutest heart with something like dread. When asked where Molly Bradstreet resided, she answered, "In that hut at the foot of Rattlesnake Hill. What's your want? I am the woman."
She looked at Wilson as she spoke, with an expression that made him shudder. Had he ever known the strange being, he would have thought it indicated personal hatred, deep, settled, and rancorous; and though he was sure she was a stranger, and that he could not of course be an object of animosity, that look haunted him for days after, like a frightful dream. Recovering from his momentary embarrassment, he briefly explained his errand.
"Follow me," she replied; "but you must leave the horse here. You'll find no footing for the beast."
Complying with her directions, they pursued a crooked path, occasionally intercepted by brake and briar, until they stood before the wretched hovel.
"Walk in," said she, lowering her gigantic stature as she led the way. "What questions would you ask?" she added, as she seated herself on the bed, and pointed to a rude stool, that constituted her whole furniture.
"Tell us what we come for," said the old miser. "If you don't know that, we won't give you a copper."
"You are a cunning one," rejoined she, with a hollow laugh.
After learning the days of the month on which they were born, she looked in an almanac, and ascertained through what sign the sun was then travelling, marked it down, pressed her hand against her forehead for a few moments,---and then carefully examined two large, dirty folios, covered, within and without, with strange and apparently unintelligible characters. Some tea-grounds were next deposited in a cup, which Wilson was ordered silently to whirl round three times three. This operation being performed with the most portentous solemnity, she looked alternately at the cup and the books, till Wilson, weary of the process, exclaimed, "What answer, woman?"
"There is gold, hidden gold," responded the oracle.
Mr. Townsend, who had from the beginning been the personification of extreme fear, now stole toward the door, muttering, "She has to do with the spirits of darkness."
The sybil grinned, and showed her loosened, yellow teeth.
"What more, witch?" said the impatient Wilson.
"Witch!" echoed she, with a malignant scowl.
"Mrs. Bradstreet, then," said the inquirer, in a more soothing tone.
"In your cup, there is crime," she cried. "Here is the corpse of a woman, whom you would give worlds to see alive, and beautiful, and innocent as she was before she knew you."
A withering glance accompanied these words, and Wilson, springing forward, shook her in the intensity of his anxiety and rage. "Hag! where did you learn that?" shouted he.
With strength that almost equalled his own, she threw him from her, and replied with affected calmness, "I have read to you what the fates have written,--- nothing more." Ashamed of having thus betrayed himself, he asked her to proceed.
"I tell you there is blood in the cup," said she. "Your right arm hath been familiar with the sword, and the pistol has not been quiet in your hand. Good luck is near you now, and it comes in the form of a wedding ring; but the circle of fortune is broken before it reaches the centre of the cup, and tears lie at the bottom. A death of agony is not far distant."
Without answering a word, the person to whom she had spoken, walked to the door, and breathed the fresh air, as if he needed its strengthening influence; for, though ashamed of his weakness, he could not but give his reluctant faith to a being, who had thus unaccountably read his blood-stained page of life. With a trembling hand, the miser took the cup, and performed the mystic ceremony.
"There is but little to tell you, sir," said the witch. "You have loved gold, and gained it,---and you will keep it till you die. A sword hangs over your head; but it will not drop. Your sand is almost run out, and until the last grain is shaken through, your deeds will be kept secret."
"Let us go hence," said Mr. Townsend, as he staggered toward the door; "for if ever the wicked one was in human shape ---."
"But what of the money?" inquired Wilson.
"There is money hid," was the laconic answer.
"And how is it to be found?"
"If the sea-robber buried it, let three, or nine, or fifteen men seek for it. He who bears the witch-hazel rod, must carry it upright till it bows down in spite of his strength. At that spot let them dig; and let not a word be spoken within hearing of it. Perhaps the meeting of two shadows at twelve o'clock may mark the place; for the pirates were ever particular about that. Every man must fasten a Bible on his neck with a silken cord. If none speak within a circle of nine yards, you 'll find the treasure."
Wilson laid two Spanish dollars on the table.
"It is too much," said the covetous old man, seizing hold of one of them. "Breath costs nothing."
"Don't it?" said the wrinkled dame, forcing open the skinny fingers that had closed over the money. "You will think it is worth more two months hence."
"Farewell, witch," said Wilson, who had recovered the bold and savage manner most natural to him.
"Farewell," muttered she, as they plunged into the thicket; and take an old mother's curse. I know ye well, though you know not me."
A savage exultation lighted up her eyes for a moment, and she shook her head toward them, as she added, "I 'll have my revenge"