Dead Men Tell No Tales
My Lady's Bidding
Scribbled in sore haste, by a very tremulous little hand, with a pencil, on the
flyleaf of some book, my darling's message is still difficult to read; it was doubly
so in the moonlight, five-and-forty autumns ago. My eyesight, however, was then
perhaps the soundest thing about me, and in a little I had deciphered enough to
guess correctly (as it proved) at the whole: -
"You say you heard everything just now, and there is no time for further
explanations. I am in the hands of villains, but not ill-treated, though they are one
as bad as the other. You will not find it easy to rescue me. I don't see how it is to
be done. You have promised not to do anything I ask you not to do, and I implore
you not to tell a soul until you have seen me again and heard more. You might
just as well kill me as come back now with help.
"You see you know nothing, though I told them you knew all. And so you shall as
soon as I can see you for five minutes face to face. In the meantime do nothing -
know nothing when you see Mr. Rattray - unless you wish to be my death.
"It would have been possible last night, and it may be again to-morrow night.
They all go out every night when they can, except Jose, who is left in charge.
They are out from nine or ten till two or three; if they are out to-morrow night my
candle will be close to the window as I shall put it when I have finished this. You
can see my window from over the wall. If the light is in front you must climb the
wall, for they will leave the gate locked. I shall see you and will bribe Jose to let
me out for a turn. He has done it before for a bottle of wine. I can manage him.
Can I trust to you? If you break your promise - but you will not? One of them
would as soon kill me as smoke a cigarette, and the rest are under his thumb. I
dare not write more. But my life is in your hands.
"Oh! beware of the woman Braithwaite; she is about the worst of the gang."
I could have burst out crying in my bitter discomfiture, mortification, and alarm: to
think that her life was in my hands, and that it depended, not on that prompt
action which was the one course I had contemplated, but on twenty-four hours of
resolute inactivity! I would not think it. I refused the condition. It took away my
one prop, my one stay, that prospect of immediate measures which alone
preserved in me such coolness as I had retained until now. I was cool no longer;
where I had relied on practical direction I was baffled and hindered and driven
mad; on my honor believe I was little less for some moments, groaning, cursing,
and beating the air with impotent fists - in one of them my poor love's letter
crushed already to a ball.
Danger and difficulty I had been prepared to face; but the task that I was set was
a hundred-fold harder than any that had whirled through my teeming brain. To sit
still; to do nothing; to pretend I knew nothing; an hour of it would destroy my
reason - and I was invited to wait twenty-four!
No; my word was passed; keep it I must. She knew the men, she must know
best; and her life depended on my obedience: she made that so plain. Obey I
must and would; to make a start, I tottered over the plank that spanned the beck,