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[-90-]

CHAPTER CLXIX.

THE PURSUIT

We must now return to the Blossom — the lighter which had only arrived at Mossop's wharf the night before the incidents of the last chapter occurred.
    When the boat which conveyed the pirates to Gravesend had pushed away from the Fairy at daybreak, as already described, the Black, who was cleaning the deck of the Blossom, cast from beneath his brows a rapid and scrutinising glance at the countenances of the four men who were seated in that skiff.
    As soon as the boat was out of sight, the Black hastened down into the after-cabin of the Blossom, where a person was lying fast asleep in bed.
    The Black shook this person violently by the shoulder, and awoke him.
    "I have found him, sir, — I have found him!" cried the Black.
    "Indeed!" cried Markham, starting up, and rubbing his eyes. "Where? where?"
    "He has just gone with three other men in a boat, down the river," answered Morcar; "and one of these men is him that spoke to Benstead lost night."
    "Then they both belong to the Fairy?" exclaimed Richard.
    "Both," replied Morcar; "at least they both came from it just now."
    "Go and rouse Benstead," said Markham; "and in the meantime I will get up."
    The gipsy, who had so well disguised himself as a man of colour, hastened to the caddy where Benstead was wrapped in the arms of Morpheus.
    The police-officer was delighted, when awakened and made acquainted with Morcar's discovery, to find that the Resurrection Man had been thus recognised; and he lost no time in dressing himself.
    The gipsy and Benstead afterwards proceeded to Richard's cabin, where they found our hero just completing his hasty toilet.
    "Thus far our aims are accomplished," said Markham, when they were all three assembled. "It has turned out exactly as I anticipated. Morcar, by aid of his disguised appearance, was enabled to keep a sharp look out on all the vessels; while the report which you circulated that he was deaf and dumb prevented him from being questioned. Had Tidkins himself seen Morcar as closely as we are to him now, he would not have known him."
    "My suspicions, too, are fully confirmed," observed Benstead. "The moment I saw that feller hanging about us last night, I suspected he was up to no good. But how I managed to pump him, when he doubtless thought that I was the soft-pated one? By my short, evasive, or mysterious answers, I allowed him to think that the Blossom was no better than she should be; and then I saw by his manners and language at once, that he was a pirate. But when I dropped a hint about wanting two or three hands for a good thing which I had in view, how eager the chap was to enlist himself and his pal in the business!"
    "And to-morrow night they are coming to talk over the matter with you?" said Richard, half interrogatively.
    "To-morrow night, or the night after," returned Benstead. "The pal that the man spoke of is sure to be Tidkins, since our friend Morcar saw the villains leave the Fairy together."
    "But there were two other men in the boat," observed the gipsy.
    "You say that they sculled the boat round to the Fairy, from some place higher up the river?" said Richard.
    "Yes. But I could not see where they came from, as it was nearly dark when they got alongside the Fairy."
    Well," exclaimed Benstead, "it is very clear that those two men who came in the boat, do n't belong to the Fairy; but that Tidkins and the person who spoke to me last night do. I should think there's no doubt about Tidkins being the pal that the man alluded to."
    "Not the slightest," said Markham. "And yet, to make assurance doubly sure, we will not alter the plan which we laid down yesterday afternoon when we first came on board the lighter. You, Benstead, must remain spokesman — the master, in fact, of the Blossom; you, Morcar, will continue a deaf and dumb Black," continued Richard, with a smile; "and I must keep close in this cabin until the moment of action arrives. If, to-morrow night or the night after, that man should bring Tidkins with him, our object is accomplished at once: if he bring a stranger, our precautions must be strictly preserved, and we must devise a means of seizing the miscreant on board the Fairy or any other lighter to which we can trace him."
    This advice was agreed to by Benstead and Morcar; and while Richard remained below, the others took their turns in watching upon the deck.
    But all that day passed; and the pirates did not come back to the Fairy — they being occupied in the manner related in the last chapter.
    Morcar undertook to keep watch during the night; but hour after hour stole away, — another day dawned, and still the Fairy was occupied only by the woman whom th pirates had left behind. [-91-]
    That day also passed; and it was not until midnight that Morcar's attention was attracted towards the Patsy. Then a boat rowed alongside of the pirate-barge.
    The night was pitch dark — so dark that Morcar could not see what was going on in the direction of the Fairy: but his ears were all attention.
    He was enabled to discover, by means of those organs, that the boat transferred one or more of its living freight (but he could not tell how many) to the Fairy: then a brief conversation was carried on in low whispers, but not a distinct word of which reached the gipsy. At length the boat pushed off, and rowed away up the river.
    Morcar stood upon the deck of the Blossom for a few minutes, attentively listening to catch a sound of any thing that might be passing on board the pirate lighter: but all continued silent in that quarter.
    Then Morcar descended to the cabin, where Richard and the policeman were waiting.
    To them he communicated the few particulars just narrated.
    "It is clear that the pirates have returned from their expedition, whatever it might be," said our hero; "and most probably Tidkins and his friend have just been put on board their lighter. We must contrive to watch their motions; and should they keep their appointment with you, Benstead, to-morrow night, our enterprise will speedily be brought to a conclusion."
    "I will keep my watch now on deck till three o'clock," said the policeman; "and Morcar may turn in."
    This was done; Richard also retired to rest; and the night passed away without any further adventure.
    But at day-break Morcar, who had again resumed the watch, observed some activity on board the Fairy. The Buffer and his wife were in fact making evident preparations for departure. They raised the mast by means of the windlass; they shook out the sail; fixed the tiller in the rudder, and performed the various preliminaries in a most business-like manner.
    Morcar speedily communicated these circumstances to Benstead and Markham; and these three held a rapid consultation in the after-cabin of the Blossom.
    "You are certain you saw no one but that man who first spoke to Benstead, and the woman?" asked Markham.
    "Not a soul," answered Morcar. "But that is no reason why Tidkins should not be below."
    "Certainly not. He has numerous reasons to conceal himself."
    "But what is to be done?" said Morcar.
    "Benstead must go and speak to the man," observed Richard, after a pause.
    The policeman immediately left the cabin.
    He crossed the barges and approached the Fairy, which was just ready to put off.
    "Holloa! my friend," cried Benstead: "you seem busy this morning?"
    "Yes — we're going up above bridge a short way," answered the Buffer: "the tide is just turning in our favour now, and we have n't a moment to spare.
    "And the appointment with me?"
    "Oh! that must stand over for a day or two. How long do you mean to remain here!"
    "Till I get a couple of good hands to help me in the matter I alluded to the night before last," answered Benstead.
    "Well, I do n't like to disappoint a good feller — and that you seem to be," said the Buffer. "but I really can't say whether I shall be able to do any thing with you or not. I've something else on hand now — and I think I shall leave the river altogether."
    "You speak openly at all events," said Benstead. "It's very annoying, though; for I relied upon you. Can't your pal — the man that you spoke of, you know — have a hand in this matter with me!"
    "No," answered the Buffer shortly. "But I'll tell you who'll put you up to getting the assistance you want: — and that's Mossop's foreman. He's a cautious man, and won't meet you half way in your conversation; but you can make a confidant of him, and if he can't help you, he's sure not to sell you. So now good bye, old feller; and good luck to you."
    With these words the Buffer loosened the rope that held the Fairy alongside the barge next to it; and then by means of a boat-hook he pushed the lighter off.
    "Good bye," exclaimed Benstead; and he hastened back to the Blossom.
    "Now what must be done!" asked Morcar, when these particulars were communicated to him and Richard.
    "It seems clear to me that these men have endangered themselves by something they have just been doing," observed Benstead; "and so they're sheering off as fast as they can."
    "And most likely the Resurrection Man is concealed on board the Fairy," added Markham. "We must follow them — we must follow them, at any rate!"
    "If we take our skiff and pursue them, they will immediately entertain some suspicion," said Ben-stead; "and if you go, sir, the Resurrection Man will recognise you the moment he catches a glimpse of you."
    "We have no alternative, my good friends," observed Richard. "Let us all three follow them in our skiff: we will dog them — we will watch them; and If they attempt to land, we will board them."
    "Be it so," said Benstead.
    This plan was immediately put into operation.
    The skiff was lowered: Markham, the policeman, and the gipsy leapt into it; the two latter pulled the oars; and our hero, muffled in a pilot coat, with the collar of which he concealed his countenance as much as possible, sate in the stern.
    "Just keep the lighter in view — and that's all," said Richard. "So long as it does not show signs of touching at any place on shore, we had better content ourselves with following it, till we are assured that Tidkins is actually on board."
    "Certainly, sir," answered Benstead. "We might only get ourselves into trouble by forcibly entering the Fairy, unless we knew that we should catch the game we're in search of."
    The rowers had therefore little more to do than just play with their oars, as the tide bore the skiff along with even a greater rapidity than the lighter, although the latter proceeded with tolerable speed, in consequence of being empty, and having a fair breeze with it. Thus, when the boat drew too near the barge, the towers backed their oars; and by this manœuvring they maintained a convenient distance. [-92-]
    On board the lighter, the Buffer and his wife were too busy with the management of their vessel — a task to which they were not altogether equal — to notice the watch and pursuit instituted by the little boat.
    In the manner described, the two parties pursued their way up the narrow space left by the crowds of shipping for the passage of vessels.
    The Tower was passed — that gloomy fortalice which has known sighs as full of anguish and hearts as oppressed with bitter woe as ever did the prisons of the Inquisition, or the dungeons of the Bastille.
    Then the Custom House was slowly left behind; and Billingsgate, world-renowned for its slang, was passed by the pursued and the pursuer.
    To avoid the arch of London Bridge the Buffer lowered his mast; and then mid-way between that and Southwark Bridge his intentions became apparent.
    He was about to put in at a wharf on the Surrey side, where a large board on the building announced that lighters were bought or sold.
    "Pull alongside the Fairy," cried Markham: "we must board her before she reaches the wharf, or our prey may escape."
    Benstead and Morcar plied the oars with a vigour which soon brought the boat within a few yards of the Fairy. The Buffer's attention was now attracted to it for the first time; but he did not immediately recognise the two rowers, because they had their backs turned towards the lighter.
    "I should know that man!" suddenly exclaimed Richard, as he contemplated the Buffer, who was standing at the tiller, and who had his eyes fixed with some anxiety upon the boat, which was evidently pulling towards him.
    "Who?" asked Benstead.
    "That man on board the lighter," was the reply. Benstead cast a glance behind him, and said, "he's the man that spoke to me."
    "I remember him — the villain! — I recollect him now!" cried Richard. "Yes — he is a companion in iniquity of Anthony Tidkins: it was he who brought me that false message concerning my brother, which nearly cost me my life at Twig Folly!"
    These words Richard spoke aloud; but they were unintelligible to his two companions, who were unacquainted with the incident referred to.
    They had no time to question him, nor had he leisure to explain his meaning to them; for at that moment the boat shot alongside of the lighter.
    "Markham!" cried the Buffer, in alarm, as he recognised our hero who immediately sprang upon the deck.
    "You know me?" said Richard: "and I have ample reason to remember you. But my present business regards another; and if you offer no resistance I will not harm you."
    "Who do you want?" asked the Buffer, somewhat reassured by these words.
    "Your companion," replied Richard.
    "What! my wife?" ejaculated the Buffer, with a hoarse laugh. "Do you know this gen'leman, Moll?"
    "Cease this jesting," cried Richard sternly; "and remain where you are. Benstead, take care that he does not move from the deck: Morcar, come you with me."
    The Buffer cast looks of surprise and curiosity upon Richard's companions, who, having made the boat fast to the lighter, had leapt upon the deck.
    "What! you, my fine feller!" cried Wicks, addressing himself to Benstead. "I suppose, then, this is all a reg'lar plant; — and you're — 
    "I am a police officer," answered Benstead coolly. "But, as far as I know, we have no business with either you or your wife — since you say that this woman is your wife."
    "Well — so much the better," remarked the Buffer. "And I also suppose your negro is about as deaf and dumb as I am!"
    "About," replied Benstead, unable to suppress a smile. "Keep quiet, and no harm will happen to you."
    "But who is it that you do want!" asked the Buffer.
    "Your friend Tidkins — better known as the Resurrection Man."
    "Then you won't find him here."
    In the meantime, Richard and the gipsy had descended into the after-cabin; and they now reappeared upon the deck, their search having been fruitless.
    "He is not there," said Richard. "Let us look forward."
    He and Morcar visited the cuddy; but the Resurrection Man was evidently not in the lighter.
    They returned to the after deck, and questioned, the Buffer.
    "I do n't know where Tidkins is," was the reply of that individual, who did not dare reveal the truth relative to the expedition to the plague ship, and its result; "and even if I did, it is not likely that I should blab any thing that would get us both into a scrape, since I see that the whole thing with you is a trap, and that man there," he added, pointing to Benstead, "is a policeman."
    "Now, listen," exclaimed Richard. "It is in my power to have you arrested this moment for being concerned in a plot against my life — you know how and when; but I pledge you my honour that if you will satisfy me relative to Anthony Tidkins, we will depart, and leave you unmolested. I scorn treachery, even among men of your description; and I will not offer you a bribe. But I require to know how he came to separate from you — for I am convinced that he was with you a day or two ago."
    "Well, sir," said the Buffer, who had found time, while Richard thus spoke, to collect his ideas and invent a tale, "Tidkins, me, and some other pals went on a little excursion the night afore last — you do n't want me to get myself into a scrape by saying what the business was; but we fell in with a Thames police boat some way down the river; and Tidkins had a swim for it."
    "Did he escape?" demanded Richard.
    "Yes," answered the Buffer, boldly. "I saw him get safe on land; and then of course he took to his heels."
    "This looks like the truth, sir," said Benstead aside to our hero. "These fellows have been baulked in some scheme — the river-police have got scent of 'em — and that's the reason why this man gets off so quick with his lighter."
    "And as I do not wish to punish this man for the injury he has done me," said Richard, glancing towards the Buffer, — "as I can afford to forgive him — our expedition seems to have arrived at its close."
    "Without success, too, sir," added Morcar.[-93-]
    "We shall now leave you," continued Richard, turning towards the Buffer; "but rest well assured that, though we forbear from molesting you, justice will some day overtake you in your evil and wayward courses."
    "That's my look out," cried the Buffer, brutally. Markham turned away in disgust, and descended to the boat, followed by Morcar and Benstead.
    "We will now proceed to the wharf where I hired the Blossom," said Richard, when they had pushed off from the Fairy; "and, my good friends, there I shall dispense with your further services. The owner of the lighter can send his men to Rotherhithe to bring it up, and thus save us a task which is somewhat beyond our skill."
    "It is a great pity we have failed to capture the miscreant," observed Morcar.
    "But your reward has not been the less fairly and honestly earned," replied Richard; "as I will prove to you when we land."

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