Previously there was trouble on board the S. S. Twit.
Poor Quills. Had he bit off more than he could chew, leaving his father on Gibraltar and heading off to God-knows-where? Cause Quills sure didn’t know.
“Quills” Loopsey found himself face down on a deserted Spanish beach, his mouth buried in the sand. It was a Spanish sand with a kind of paella taste: Valencian paella with white rice, green vegetables, meat, beans and seasoning. Since Quills was hungry after three days of Mediterranean Sea, it tasted pretty good. For sand, that is.
He rolled over and sat upright. Gazing at the sunrise in the distance, he contemplated his next move. And it was not England. Anyplace but England and its English society for the middle child of Sir Hackle Loopsey, the Governor-Commissioner of Gibraltar. His father was important in society. All you had to do was mention Sir Hackle and his lessers would swoon. He wanted his children to be important too. To rise high in English society, that had always been a Loopsey’s raison d’être. It had been decreed since the beginning of King John’s reign, and it was still decreed.
“When you believe in your own import,” his father often said, “anything is possible. You too can rise high, even to a governor-commissionership of Gibraltar.” When his father said that, all Quills could think of was what a dead piece of rock Gibraltar was, guarding the entrance to the Meds.
Unlike his older brother, the fop’s fop Cheslewick, Quills did not want import. He wanted was his freedom. Now, that he had it, his stomach growled with hunger. Quills stood up and began the trek north off the beach. His bare feet hurt on the cobblestone road. But he was determined.
A mile or so up the road, a man on a white stallion mare rode out of the brush behind the Englishman. He halted his horse and pulled a pistol.
“Halt, Señor,” the man pointed his pistol straight at Quills.
Quills whipped around to see a man, dressed in black, holding a gun aimed straight at his heart.
“What is it you want?” Quills asked matter-of-factly.
“You are not afraid of me?” the man asked. “I am a highwayman. You have to be afraid of me.”
“Do not.” Quills placed his hands on his hips.
“This is a pistol. It is loaded.”
“So you’re a big bad bandido. Whoop-de-doo. Big whoop.”
“I am not a bandito,” the man, sitting astride his horse, said. “I am a highwayman.”
“There’s a difference?” Quills said.
“Si, Señor,” the highwayman said.
“And what is that?” Quills said, then sat down in the dirt. He’d decided that if he were about to be robbed, he might as well be robbed sitting down. Not that he had anything to rob but it was the principle of the thing.
“A highwayman has honor. He does not harm women and children and he gives generously. My generosity is known all over Spain.”
“It’s easy to be generous with other people’s money.”
“That is true,” the highwayman smiled.
“If you are a highwayman, how come there is no highway along here. There’s barely a dirt road.”
“I come here because this is where I find all the Englishmen.”
“Englishmen come to this desolate-looking place?”
“I know it is strange but you Englishmen seem to like the place. And where there is an Englishmen there is other people’s money.”
“Not with this Englishman,” Quills said.
“What do you mean, Señor?”
“I mean that you can ransom me all you want. But my father will never pay. Now, if you had kidnapped his firstborn, that would be a different story.”
“Ah, Señor, I think you are very wrong. Your father will pay well for you.”
“My father loves money and position more than he loves his children. Especially the second son. Haven’t you heard of the Curse of the Second Son?”
The highwayman was finding this Englishman interesting. He jumped down from his horse and walked over and sat down beside Quills. He looked down the dusty road and out to the sea. He loved the sea, especially where the land met the water.
“What is the Curse of the Second Son?” the highwayman asked.
“The first son inherits everything. The second son inherits the shaft. The only way out of this position is to marry well. But, since I am titleless, I am not likely to marry a rich American woman. My father has talked about a parish out in the country. But I’m not cut out for church life. I can’t be quiet as church mouse, keeping my mouth shut when I see the wrong in things.”
“This Curse of the Second Son,” the highwayman said, “I know this curse. I am a product of this curse. I am a second son.”
“Then you understand that I am not worth a hoot.”
“I’m afraid ‘tis true,” the highwayman said, pointing his pistol at Quills. “Unfortunately so. I like you.”
“I like you too,” Quills said. “For a bandit … I mean, for a highwayman you seem like a right sort of fellow.”
“Even though I like you, I still have to shoot you. I am sorry. I hate shooting people I like but it’s the nature of the business I am in.”
Quills looked stunned. “Now hold off, old chap. Just because you can’t ransom me off doesn’t me you have to shoot me.”
“Those are my choices, Señor. What other choice do I have?”
“You and I are sitting here. Like we are friends, and you about to put a bullet into me.”
“I am afraid so. I will aim for the heart. You will not suffer.”
“That’s not the point. You can’t shoot me.”
“Why can’t I? I’ve shot others. Not many. But I have shot others.”
“Why would you want to shoot me? I haven’t done anything.”
The highwayman’s white stallion walked over and nudged its nose against Quills’ forehead.
“Even your horse likes me.” Quills stroked the horse’s nose. The horse whinnied, then strolled over to stand under a tree and graze.
“If I let you go, you will tell the policia. They will come here and look for me. And I have to tell you, Señor, I am not hard to find.”
“Suppose you ransomed me? Wouldn’t I talk to the policia when I was released?”
“No, Señor,” the highwayman said. “After the ransom was paid, I would ship you off to England and never hear from you again.”
“I promise that, if you don’t shoot me, you will never hear from me again. Besides I can’t go to the policia.”
“You can’t go to the policia?”
“That is right. If I go to the policia, they will contact my father. And he will come and get me. Then I will be enslaved to some sort of boring life forever. I had one chance, and I took it. So, you see. No policia for me-a.”
“Hmmm,” the highwayman said. “Let me say that again. Hmmmm.”
“It must be a two-hmmmm day,” Quills said, rubbing his chin, trying to come up with a solution to the situation the two found themselves situated in. “What we in England call a real hmmm-dunger. Just what are we going to do, you and I?
“I don’t really want to kill you, Señor. I like you.”
“And I like you,” Quills said.
“I think we’ve said that a couple of times,” said the highwayman. “Pretty soon the reader is going to get bored.”
“I see your point. You are not going to ransom me. There’s no money in that. You are not going to shoot me. I would be on your conscience. You do have a conscience?”
“Si, I do have a conscience.”
“Because you are a highwayman. If you were a bandito, I would be a dead man.”
“That is true. Very true, Señor. So the only solution is that I let you live and you go on your way as if you never saw a highwayman.”
“That’s right,” Quills said. “On second thought.”
“There is a second thought?”
“Why don’t I join you?”
“What do you mean? I don’t have a gang. I don’t share with anyone. Now I am going to have to shoot you.”
“Just hold onto your pistolla there,” Quills said. “What if we joined up together. Like they say, two is better than one any day.”
“What makes you so sure we can trust each other?” the highwayman wanted to know.
“Did I say that we can trust each other?” Quills waved the thought away. “Of course, we can’t. But think. It may be that it is you and me against the world. Two Second Sons getting what’s rightfully ours.”
“So where should we start our new life together?”
“I’ve always wanted to see Barcelona.”
“Barcelona, it is. My name is Hector Umberto Alacia.”
“You can call me Quills.”
The two men stood up, dusted the dirt off their pants and shook hands.
“Partners,” Quills said.
“Partners, Señor?” the highwayman said. “By the way, do you know how to use a weapon, Señor Quills?”
“Do I know how to use a weapon, Hector? You name the weapon and I can use it. Swords, fists, pistols, I’ve learned them all.”
“But have you ever killed another man, or injured him?”
“No, can’t say that I have,” Quills said.
“Señor Quills, it is different when you have killed a man. It turns you inside out and outside in. You may not be ready for that when trouble comes, and trouble always comes.”
“You might be right. But I’ll never know until it happens. Right now, I am ready for anything.”
“Even highway robbery?”
“Even highway robbery.”
Hector Unberto Alacia smiled. “Well, Quills, we shall see.”
“Yes, we shall see.”
“First we must acquire you new clothes, clothes that will befitting of your new profession. Then we will need to get you a pistolla and a horse. What kind of horse would you like?”
“A black one will do,” Quills said.
The two walked over to Hector’s horse. Hector stopped. “I think I hear your first employment arriving. Let us hide and watch.”
Hector led the horse behind a large tree. Quills followed. The two waited. Soon there was the carriage of a well-off nobleman passing their tree. Hector jumped into the saddle and raced past the carriage and its horses. Then he turned and faced the oncoming vehicle. He pulled his pistolla. He fired into the air. The carriage stopped.
“Señors, Señoras, Señoritas, if you will step from the carriage I would most appreciate it. And you, driver, throw down the luggage please.”
“Señor,” the driver protested. “This is the carriage of the Capitan of the King’s Guards. You do not—.”
Hector fired into the air. “The luggage please.”
“Si, Señor.” The driver nervously reached over and tossed the luggage to the ground. Only one man stepped out of the carriage. He was dressed in very fine clothes. He wore several expensive rings around his fingers.
The man had a snarl on his face. “Who would dare—”
“Me, Señor,” Hector said as his horse reared. “Now face the carriage and do not move or you will be a dead Capitan.”
Fancy turned and faced the carriage.
“Now, driver, you step down to the ground please,” Hector said. He called to Quills, “Mi amigo, come and tie these two up and blindfold them. Then we shall see what we have.”
The haul was very lucrative. Hector took the gold coins in the bag that the man was carrying. There was enough there for a horse, a pistolla and clothes for his new companion. In the meantime, Quills took the man’s rings and opened his luggage. His clothes would fit Quills quite nicely until he could acquire new duds for his new career.
This was his first robbery. It was not his last.
Next Week: The Ghosts with the Mostest are back.