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How Rebecca Returned To Newington







From: The Panchronicon

Within the palace all was confusion and dismay. Only a very few knew the
cause of this riot which had burst so suddenly upon the wonted peace of
the place, and those few never in all their lives gave utterance to what
they had learned.

Within the presence chamber Elizabeth lay on the floor in a swoon,
surrounded by her women only. Among these was Rebecca, whose one thought
was now to devise some plan for overtaking Droop. From the window she
had witnessed his flight, and she had guessed his destination. She felt
sure that if Droop reached the Panchronicon alone, he would depart
alone, and then what was to become of Phoebe and herself?

Just as the Queen's eyes were opening and her face began to show a
return of her passion with recollection of its cause, Rebecca had an
inspiration, and with the promptitude of a desperate resolution, she
acted upon it.

"Look a-here, your Majesty!" she said, vigorously, "let me speak alone
with you a minute and I'll save you a lot of trouble. I know where that
man keeps more of them machines."

This was a new idea to Elizabeth, who had destroyed, as she supposed,
the only existing specimen of the malignant instrument.

With a gesture she sent her attendants to the opposite end of the room.

"Now speak, woman! What would you counsel?" she said.

"Why, this," said Rebecca, hurriedly. "You don't want any more o' them
things talkin' all over London, I'm sure."

A groan that was half a growl broke from the sorely tried sovereign.

"Of course you don't. Well--I told you him and I come from America
together. I know where he keeps all his phonograph things, and I know
how to get there. But you must be quick or else he'll get there fust and
take 'em away."

"You speak truly, Lady Rebecca," said the Queen. "How would you go--by
what conveyance? Will you have horses--men-at-arms?"

"No, indeed!" was the reply. "Jest let me hev a swift boat, with plenty
o' men to row it, so's to go real fast. Then I'll want a carryall or a
buggy in Southwark----"

"A carryall--a buggy!" Elizabeth broke in. "What may these be?"

"Oh, any kind of a carriage, you know, 'cause I'll hev to ride some
distance into the country."

"But why such haste?" asked the Queen. "Had this American a horse?"

"He had a bicycle an' that's wuss," said Rebecca. "But ef I can start
right away and take a short cut by the river while he finds his way
through all them dirty, dark streets, I'll get there fust an' get the
rest of his phonographs."

"Your wit is nimble and methinks most sound," said the Queen,
decisively. Then, turning to the group of ladies, she continued:

"Send us our chamberlain, my Lady Temple, and delay not, we charge you!"

In ten minutes Rebecca found herself once more upon the dark, still
river, watching the slippery writhings of the moonbeams' path. She was
alone, save for the ten stalwart rowers and two officers; but in one
hand was her faithful umbrella, while in the other she felt the welcome
weight of her precious satchel.

The barge cut its way swiftly up the river in silence save for the
occasional exclamations of the officers urging the willing oarsmen to
their utmost speed.

Far ahead to the right the huge bulk of the Tower of London loomed in
clumsy power against the deep dark blue of the moonlit sky. Rebecca knew
that London Bridge lay not far beyond that landmark, although it was as
yet invisible. For London Bridge she was bound, and it seemed to her
impatience that the lumbering vessel would never reach that goal.

She stood up and strained her eyes through the darkness, trying to see
the laboring forms of the rowers in the shadow of the boat's side, but
only the creak of the thole-pins and the steady recurrent splash and
tinkle from the dripping oars told of their labor.

"Air ye goin' as fast as ye can?" she called. "Mr. Droop'll get there
fust ef ye ain't real spry."

"If spry be active, mistress," said a voice from the darkness aft, "then
should you find naught here amiss. Right lusty workers, these, I promise
you! Roundly, men, and a shilling each if we do win the race!"

"Ay--ay, sir!" came the willing response, and Rebecca, satisfied that
they could do no more, seated herself again, to wait as best she might.

At length, to her great delight, there arose from the darkness ahead an
uneven line of denser black, and at a warning from one of the officers
the boat proceeded more cautiously. Rebecca's heart beat high as they
passed under one of the low stone arches of the famous bridge and their
strokes resounded in ringing echoes from every side.

Having passed to the upper side of the bridge, the boat was headed for
the south shore, and in a few moments Rebecca saw that they had reached
the side of a wooden wharf which stood a little higher than their deck.
One of the officers leaped ashore with the end of a rope in his hand,
and quickly secured the vessel. As he did so a faint light was seen
proceeding toward them, and they heard the steps of a half dozen men
advancing on the sounding planks. It was the watch, and the light shone
from a primitive lantern with sides of horn scraped thin.

"Who goes there?" cried a gruff voice.

"The Queen's barge--in the service of her Majesty," was the reply.

The watchman who carried the lantern satisfied himself that this account
was correct, and then asked if he could be of service.

"Tell me, fellow," said he who had landed, "hast seen one pass the
bridge to-night astride of two wheels, one before the other, riding
post-haste?"

There was a long pause as the watchman sought to comprehend this
extraordinary question.

"Come--come!" cried the officer, who had remained on the boat. "Canst
not say yes or no, man?"

"Ay, can I, master!" was the reply. "But you had as well ask had I seen
a witch riding across the moon on a broomstick. We have no been asleep
to dream of flying wheels."

"Well--well!" said he who had landed. "Go you now straight and stand at
the bridge head. We shall follow anon."

The watch moved slowly away and Rebecca was helped ashore by the last
speaker.

"Our speed hath brought us hither in advance, my lady," he said. "Now
shall we doubtless come in before the fugitive."

"Well, I hope so!" said Rebecca. Then, with a smothered cry: "Oh, Land
o' Goshen! I've dropped my umbrella!"

They stooped together and groped about on the wharf in silence for a few
moments. The landing was encumbered with lumber and stones for building,
and, as the moon was just then covered by a thick cloud, the search was
difficult.

"I declare, ain't this provokin'!" Rebecca cried, at length.

"These beams and blocks impede us," said the officer. "We must have
light, perforce. Ho there! The watch, ho! Bring your lanthorn!"

"Why, 'tain't worth while to trouble the watchman," said Rebecca. "I'll
jest strike a light myself."

She fumbled in her satchel and found a card of old-fashioned silent
country matches, well tipped with odorous sulphur. The officer at her
side saw nothing of her movements, and his first knowledge of her
intention was the sudden and mysterious appearance of a bluish flame
close beside him and the tingle of burning brimstone in his nostrils.

With a wild yell, he leaped into the air and then, half crazed by fear,
tumbled into the boat and cut the mooring-rope with his sword.

"Cast off--cast off!" he screamed. "Give way, lads, in God's name! A
witch--a witch! Cast off!"

A gentle breeze off the shore carried the sulphurous fumes directly over
the boat, and these, together with their officer's terror-stricken tones
and the sight of that uncanny, sourceless light, struck the crew with
panic. Fiercely and in sad confusion did they push and pull with
boat-hook and oar to escape from that unhallowed vicinity, and, even
after they were well out in the stream, it was with the frenzy of
superstitious horror that they bent their stout backs to their oars and
glided swiftly down stream toward Greenwich.

As for Rebecca--comprehending nothing of the cause of this commotion at
first--she stood with open mouth, immovable as a statue, watching the
departure of her escort until the flame reached her fingers. Then, with
a little shriek of pain, she flicked the burnt wood into the river.

"Well, if I ever!" she exclaimed. "I'm blest ef I don't b'lieve those
ninnies was scared at a match!"

Shaking her head, she broke a second match from her card, struck it, and
when it burned clear, stooped to seek her umbrella. It was lying between
two beams almost at her feet, and she grasped it thankfully just as her
light was blown out by the breeze.

Then, with groping feet, she made her way carefully toward the inshore
end of the wharf, and soon found herself in the streets of Southwark,
between London Bridge and the pillory. From this point she knew her way
to the grove where the Panchronicon had landed, and thither she now
turned a resolute face, walking as swiftly as she dared by the light of
the now unobscured moon.

"If Copernicus Droop ketches up with me," she muttered, "I'll make him
stop ef I hev to poke my umbrella in his spokes."





Next: How Sir Guy Kept His Tryst

Previous: The Fate Of Sir Percevall's Suit



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