Plans to rescue Rowley
‘I am so sorry for this afternoon’s misunderstanding.’ purred Luther Speke. And whilst my esteemed Commander considers with you our future, and how additionally you should be recompensed, I can assure all here this evening that I am totally at your service, and you can entirely depend on me to instantly set in hand the most efficient and effective operation for the return of those goods and artefacts so erroneously removed from your lovely town.’
He was addressing those gathered in the Town Hall, desperately trying to ingratiate himself, licking his lips, wringing his hands, and hopelessly seeking to force what he thought was an amiable expression up as far as his eyes.
‘Furthermore, not subsequent upon this urgent work, but concurrent with it, I shall immediately arrange to assess all damage done, and tomorrow initiate replacement and repair measures that will bring back to their previous state, nay even enhance the attractions and comforts of your delightful dwellings and places of business. You need not be burdened with any of this arduous and stressful work and may therefore henceforth proceed about your normal affairs and enjoy your well deserved pleasures without any cares, exertions, nor concerns about the difficulty of the tasks before me. Leave all to me. I shall not spare myself, nor rest my weary limbs until you are satisfied and all has been made good once more… May I take it we can proceed on this basis? You have my word on it – what do you say?’
‘Bollocks.’ said Will Nudd, for whom, like most of those present, this address had gone down like a mug of lukewarm vomit.
‘Mr Speke,’ said Jasper sternly. ‘I think our captors will require more than a verbal undertaking. We shall have to prepare a written programme of work, showing priorities, responsibilities, timings and much else for discussion and agreement.’
‘I have such a proposal.’ said Speke triumphantly, pulling a document out of his coat. ‘ I laboured over it whilst others were enjoying their supper.’ He gave it to Jasper who scanned it and then handed it to Mr Bagley.
‘ “I have in my hand a piece of paper signed by Herr Hitler.” ‘ squawked Tantamount.
Speke shot him a glance of puzzled venom and then forced the leer back on to his features. ‘Of course, if our industrious captors would prefer to oversee operations, indeed provide labour, be party to detailed plans and construction, be more or totally involved, howsoever… Then, well – yes, what can I say? I am here but to serve you as you wish, to ensure no further mistakes are made, and simply, good people, to do my best for you, as would, in other circumstances, have always been my prime desire…’
‘Don’t over slime it…’ hissed Rathbone.
‘You’re the one who wanted to torture us.’ accused Nathan Boon.
‘No, no – you must have misunderstood…’ said Speke.
‘You were in charge of them as guarded us, weren’t you?’
‘Well, er yes, perhaps I was.’
‘You owe me a meal then. I never did get a proper supper.’ said the hungry one.
‘Please, I promise you – all that is in the past.’
‘How do we know we can trust him?’ asked Will.
‘We don’t have to.’ said Professor Paragon. ‘I shall remain with you until all is resolved and shall ensure that all members of the pirate crew do as we require.’
The sound of Magnus chiming the hour of eight o’clock could now be heard in the Council Chamber.
‘That reminds me – some pirates are still in the cage. Stand aside from the door please, Mr Speke…’ He snapped his fingers and a bolt of fire shot through the Chamber and out into the square. There was the sound of clanging metal, followed by a muted cheer.
‘You see,’ said the Professor, ‘I can reach out wherever I wish. Now let us get on. Perhaps Will, you and Barney could examine his proposals with Mr Speke, and then direct him in the most urgent tasks, while some of us adjourn with Sir Jasper to discuss the matter of Mr Buckram.’
‘What are we going to do with this?’ asked Jasper, pointing to his tarpaulin covered treasure chest on which Will Nudd was sitting. ‘With respect, I hope that you do not propose to lock it away in one of the Town hall cellars. They leak like colanders in my experience, and are about as effective as a gossamer corset.’
‘No, no.’ said the Professor. ‘That will be most securely confined. And believe me, I have the very place in mind, it being the Autumn Equinox, the moon about to wane, and the chest’s protection so important…’ He raised his eyebrows and looked at Aunt Hetty and Mr Bagley.
Speke bent earnestly over his document, looking down, but biting his lip, with his ears twitching.
‘Oh, yes!’ Aunt Hetty said, smiling smugly.
‘Er…? Ah! Oh… Right. Just so.’ agreed Mr Bagley. ‘Ideal, absolutely ideal.’
‘Are you content for us to take care of this matter?’ asked the Professor.
‘Certainly.’ said Jasper rather ruefully. ‘Provided you can obtain access to it should you so require?’
‘No problem, sweetheart.’ said Aunt Hetty. ‘We will be able to obtain access to it, and you too, with our help, but others might be in for a nasty surprise if they got too nosy.’
Speke, apparently totally occupied with his proposal but with his mind racing, almost managed to keep smiling as he silently ground his teeth together.
In the Mayor’s parlour Jasper was told about the capture of Rowley Buckram by the outlaws.
‘Their leader recognised him as a rich merchant from when he was with the East India Company.’ said Mr Bagley. ‘They want a thousand guineas ransom.’
‘Then they shall have it.’ said Jasper. ‘The contents of my chest are worth very much more than that – although as to actual English guineas… I believe I have rather less than a thousand. Would they accept other gold specie? Spanish doubloons? Maria Theresa dollars? Ducats? Pieces of eight? Pistoles? Gold bullion perhaps…?’
‘Thank you, Sir Jasper.’ said Esme Trundle. ‘But I am Mr Buckram’s sister, and hold most of his capital at the farm. The actual guineas will not be a problem.’
‘I see…’ said Jasper. ‘So Richpickings is not a ruin?’
‘By no means. Its real name is High Furlong Farm, but Elisabeth thought Richpickings sounded more enticing, and it is very fertile and prosperous. The Buckrams have owned it for centuries. Most of my brother’s possessions are there. Your men will have found very little money at the bookshop.’
‘But, please forgive me, I am a little confused – your surname is Trundle, is it not?’
‘She is my aunt twice over.’ explained Elisabeth. ‘There were two Buckram sisters. One is my mother who married my father, George Trundle, and Aunt Esme married his brother, Harry.’
‘But now I am a widow Sir Jasper.’ said Esme rather softly. ‘I trust you are no longer confused?’
‘I am so sorry.’
‘There is no need to be. My husband died many years ago.’
‘I see. Er, yes. Well, with regard to the ransom – even if you provide the actual guineas, you must allow me to compensate you for their value.’
‘But that is only part of the problem.’ said Mr Bagley. ‘The outlaws demanded the ransom within the week so they will be expecting it in the next few days.’
‘And if we try to rescue him they told me they’d kill him.’ said Nathan Boon. ‘And they will.’
‘What’s to stop them killing him even if they get the ransom?’ asked Rathbone. ‘That’s got to be considered. He will know their faces and could give evidence against them if they’re ever caught.’
‘Yes, yes.’ sighed Professor Paragon. ‘We are aware of that danger.’
‘What is known about this gang?’ asked Jasper.
‘Not a lot.’ said Mr Bagley. ‘We didn’t even know they were there.’
‘I think they may be escaped prisoners.’ said Nathan. ‘Some still had bits of shackles on. They were a rough looking lot and pretty desperate. They called their leader Charnock. He was a great greasy bloke with only one eye and scars down the side of his face. He smelt like a fish. Well, they all smelt pretty horrible. And gave me a right going over, they did.’
‘I’ve heard of this creature.’ said Jasper grimly. ‘Charnock the slaver. Fearsome reputation for murder and extortion. Used to boast that no gaol could hold him. I’m surprised he hasn’t been hung by now.’
‘Sounds like a nice boy.’ said Aunt Hetty.
‘How many of them were there?’ asked Rathbone. ‘And how were they armed?’
‘Well, about ten, a dozen perhaps, I suppose.’ said Nathan. ‘Only a few had guns, but the rest had clubs and daggers and that – yes pretty well armed I’d say. And they looked hungry. There was the remains of a deer and some rabbit skins lying about, but they took our supplies and pretty well polished them off before they sent me back.’
‘Did they say anything about their plans?’
‘Well, they seemed to argue a lot, but, no, nothing specific. Although this Charnock did ask me about Summerdale.’
‘Did he indeed?’ said Jasper.
‘Oh, no.’ sighed Mr Bagley. ‘Not another load of villains thinking of raiding us. Begging your pardon, but you know what I mean.’
‘A perfectly reasonable observation, Mr Mayor.’ smiled Jasper. ‘Only this time we would be on your side if they attacked.’ He turned to Doctor Johnson and Boswell. ‘Gentlemen, I expect you had planned to return by this now threatened route?’
‘That had been our original intention sir.’ said Doctor Johnson. ‘Although that pack-horse path is already difficult enough. I understand that even itinerant preachers on their missions, men proud of mortification, shun Summerdale because of the difficulty of access. And I am much loathe to commit myself once more to the perils of a sea voyage in these blustery waters, either in these brave people’s tiny fishing vessels, particularly at this time of year when we can expect the weather to worsen, or, for different reasons, without your protection on board the Black Leopard.’
‘In the quarters we normally frequent we will not yet have been missed.’ said Boswell. ‘But we should soon show ourselves again to allay any fears or speculation, and so would not wish to wait for the next packet boat in November.’
‘But with this intelligence the way by land now excites painful apprehension.’ said Doctor Johnson. ‘Even though Mr Boswell is not altogether untinctured with martial competence, as was evinced in this afternoon’s engagement. No, such a journey with the possibility of confrontation by these bandits would be reckless, nay, foolhardy indeed.’
‘Dodgy by boat and deadly by land. But what about this magic caper?’ said Rathbone to Professor Paragon and Aunt Hetty. ‘You’ve totally trounced forty eight of the toughest and most experienced pirates in the western hemisphere. Surely you can make mincemeat of a clutch of mangy outlaws?’
‘It’s not that simple Percival.’ said Aunt Hetty.
‘You have only seen and experienced the effects – the reality is far more complicated.’ said the Professor.
‘Using our power is like being a swimming swan.’ said Aunt Hetty. ‘All appearing serene and calm and beautiful on the surface, but having to paddle away like buggery underneath in order to get anywhere. And what we have to work with depends on where we are.’
‘And the principal strength of the bells of Goldcaster extends only as far as they can be heard.’ said the Professor. ‘As the church is situated on top of the hill, and because of the prevailing south west wind and the high range of mountains on the east, the chimes often reach far up the vale of Summerdale. I have installed concealed amplifiers along the ley line that runs to Castle Crab in order to harness the power. There I have an arrangement of batteries from which I draw extra energy for certain complex major activities. But the high hills to the south limit the range of the bells in that direction. To achieve the same effects elsewhere it is often necessary to work with other ley lines, standing stones, and that sort of thing, in which the earth energy has accumulated because of continuous use and cultivation.’
‘But immediately to the south there’s hardly anything to work with at the moment.’ said Aunt Hetty. ‘Plenty of circles and stones and water and that, but the power has seeped right back into the earth and takes a hell of a lot of raising. What with the Lancashire Pendle business and the persecutions elsewhere in Cumberland and Westmoreland there’s scarcely any witching been done, nor proper use been made of things for years. And if you don’t look after your garden, it won’t look after you.’ said Aunt Hetty. ‘That’s not to say that I couldn’t get up to plenty of mischief if needed, but no huge effects down there at present, no, I have to admit it. I’d have to go far further afield to even get me broomstick airborne.’
‘And there are other limitations.’ sighed Professor Paragon. ‘It is damned hard work, and we do not always get results totally as planned, as I think you may have realised. (There’s no need to nod quite so vigorously, Aunt Hetty.) Generally we have to take great precautions when using our powers because of what is known as the Triple Effect.’
‘It’s quite simple, so don’t look so puzzled Percy – sorry, sorry – Mr Rathbone.’ said Aunt Hetty ‘It works like this – think of a pond and bung a brick in it… Waves spread out don’t they? Your stone may have clouted a trout in the middle, but your drinking dog got his nose splashed on one side, and you got your feet wet on the other. Same with magic. It splashes about something terrible if you’re not careful. Use it to help and there will be some pleasant unpredictable side effects, however small. But if you use it to hinder or hurt (and we often have to), then you and your mates had best watch out, unless you’ve got it completely harnessed – but no one can never think of everything, and one of the problems with magic is that if you get too cocky and abuse it, it can turn on you…’
‘But in Summerdale there are huge advantages because of the totally positive effect of the regular ringing of the bells. That virtually nullifies the Triple Effect.’ said the Professor.
‘I now understand your craft a little better.’ said Jasper. ‘But even with the limitations you have explained, it would still be a great advantage to have your help in any enterprise against these outlaws, would it not? And of course I appreciate that you, Professor, must remain in Goldcaster to ensure all here proceeds properly, but would you, Mistress Paragon, be able to accompany such an expedition if undertaken by myself? Not just to ensure my good behaviour, but primarily as an invaluable, if even slightly limited, resource?’
‘Well, I suppose I can spare a bit more time away from home. Me cat’s in charge of the cottage so no one dare go near it, and the kitchen garden harvest is mostly gathered – just a few mandrake roots need pulling, and the crab apples to get off. The eyebright and feverfew are long since in and sit as juice and syrups in my potions larder. The salamander seeds didn’t germinate this year so I won’t have to catch the little devils when the buds burst – no, nothing will hurt for waiting a bit longer for my return. I have to give a lecture to the local W.I. at the end of October though…’
‘What’s the W.I.?’ asked Elisabeth.
‘The Witch’s Institute dear. Oh, and my cousin Aquilegia is coming for her annual visit soon so I’ll have to get the spare bedroom weeded – unreasonably particular she is. But I’ve still got a couple of weeks to spare to help Alfred out.’
‘Oh, good.’ sighed Professor Paragon.
‘Well, there are two very urgent reasons to go south over that pass as I see it.’ said Jasper. We have to rescue Mr Buckram, and to deliver Doctor Johnson and Mr Boswell past danger and set them safely on their homeward journey. I think that these two tasks are not incompatible. We need to convince this Charnock creature and his gang that we are no threat to him, to steer proceedings to suit us by taking advantage of their hunger, curiosity, and greed, to show that we have the ransom but that it is in his interest not to harm neither us nor Mr Buckram, and to capture them and deliver them to the authorities without arousing suspicion as to the identity of myself or any of my crew involved.’
‘Is that all Cap’n?’ said Rathbone. ‘Easy-Peasy then.’
‘How is all this to be accomplished?’ asked Doctor Johnson.
‘Well, with Mistress Paragon’s assistance I think it can be done. Your reference to itinerant preachers prompted my plan. But we shall need real gunpowder rather than pepper in our pistols. This is what I propose…’
* * *
‘I’m surprised they let you and me back on board tonight.’ said Rathbone. ‘Are they testing us?’
‘I shouldn’t think so. We can hardly sail away can we, even if we were prepared to break our parole and abandon our life savings?’ said Jasper. ‘And we’ve only the team getting prepared for tomorrow with us. Our wounded have all been made comfortable in the infirmary set up by Doctor Johnson and that Mrs. Tupman woman in the Harbour Inn, and the rest of the crew are bedded down in the Town Hall.’
‘Speke didn’t look too happy, having to muck in with the others.’
‘ “His body looks, a mind distracted show, and envy sits engraved upon his brow.” ’ said Tantamount, now returned to his master, rather reluctantly, by Tom.
‘He’ll just have to put up with it and do what they tell him. He has no choice.’
‘You didn’t believe him – about your treasure, did you?’
‘Not for a minute.’
‘What do you think will happen when the job’s done and things are made right again in Summerdale?’
‘That will be largely up to the victors, won’t it? said Jasper. ‘I think that they trust you and me, anyway. This outlaw problem has given us the chance to do a bit of community service. I hope that we can then reach a stage where they will be sufficiently satisfied to allow the crew to leave, empty handed maybe, but alive and not yet facing trial. Some might care to settle down here if they were allowed. There are far worse places to finish up.’
‘Yeah, true enough. I might consider giving it a go myself. You that way inclined Cap’n?’
‘I certainly might be. Not too cold for you then?
‘Well, now you mention it, no. Pleasantly surprised – quite sheltered really, isn’t it? And nice enough people, when you’re not robbing them. Then there’s this special power they can call on – does give a bit more security than most places… And what are the alternatives?’
‘Well, a management restructuring programme would be pointless – there’s only you, me, and Speke. There’s no need to give the stakeholders a profits warning – they’ve already lost everything. And I can hardly sell the business can I? Even if it wasn’t a co-operative there’s not a lot of goodwill left in an empty pirate ship with no weapons and a disaffected crew, and as we know already it’s quite high on the search and destroy list of half a dozen navies.
And suppose, by some strange chance and initiative we carried on and were able to prosper again? What would be our future with the navy after us? Admittedly piracy has given us certain life skills that we would not otherwise have been able to acquire in any other single profession – seamanship, gunnery, combat, lying, theft, robbery, grand larceny, kidnapping, exploitation, murder, criminal deception, and travel administration, to mention but a few. My life so far has been one of steady career development, progressing from being a mercenary in wars, invasions, and other forms of tourism, to fraud, highway robbery, smuggling, gun running, privateering, and so to piracy. What next I wonder? How low can a man sink? Slave trading? Politics? Or even worse, the ultimate betrayal of one’s fellow man – privatised Public Service Management?’
‘Or finishing up half flayed, covered with wild honey and staked out for the ants outside a primitive spiked stockade garnished with mouldering heads in the Madagascar jungle?’ suggested Tantamount helpfully.
‘Alright, alright!’ said Jasper. ‘But you get the point? The way things are these days, and with now so few prospects, it is very unlikely that any one of us will end our days full of years, lord of all we survey, surrounded by weeping naked dusky maidens on some beautiful unspoiled south seas island, is it? Is it, Rathbone?’
‘What? Sorry – sorry, I was miles away there for a minute. No, no, very unlikely. Pity, though.’
‘I had hoped to totter into my dotage with some dignity in my land of birth, but the laws of England are somewhat prejudiced against those of our persuasion. There are a hundred or so minor and not so minor unresolved legal issues which a little time, a century perhaps, might straighten out, but being a proscribed pirate is rather a total bummer, I must confess. But here in Summerdale, with a new identity, and even possibly the remote chance of finding someone with whom to spend one’s declining years… Well, perhaps…’
Author of Dangerous Chimes, read more about Michael Macauley over here.