Chapter XV

Fox Hunt

Here I must relate details that I did not actually witness but were given me after the fact.

Holmes and Sparrow closed in on Smets who had sprawled across the drawing room floor. Seeing his predicament and certainly understanding that the game was up Smets scrambled to his feet and bolted across to a panel near the fireplace. A latch concealed there opened the panel onto a low tunnel and in he went closing the panel behind him. Holmes and Sparrow wasted little time trying to locate the latch for it was well hid and they knew he would try for an escape across country.

"Quickly, man!" Holmes cried turning for the door. "To the stables!"

Sparrow was hot on his heels as they pelted down the short hall and out of the front door. Holmes gave his brief instructions to Mr. Hawkins and collected Mr. Gibbs with a gesture. The three men ran for the stable yard where the other pirates were still engaged against the Carbonari. Holmes and Gibbs balked at the gunfire but Sparrow moved into it with a seeming lack of concern. Bullets smacked into stone near him. Brawling pairs tumbled about him but he strode through the melee untouched. Holmes and Gibbs followed in his wake and they must have been living charmed lives for no bullet found them and no tough accosted them. Just as they entered the main doors to the stable they caught sight of Smets as he rode out through a side door. Quickly they took horses and soon had them saddled. By that time Captain Barbossa had joined them. Once mounted the four were off.

At some distance they could see Smets cantering through the moonlit fields unaware of their pursuit. Barbossa pulled ahead and levelled his pistol. It is a difficult thing to fire a steady shot from a galloping horse and there is no doubt at all that most of Barbossa's shots were wide of his mark. But the great advantage of the new magazine fed pistol is its rapidity of fire. One need not cock back its hammer but merely pull the trigger. Barbossa laid in a fusillade of which at least one bullet struck the fleeing horse for they saw the animal jerk in its stride and nearly topple the rider. Holmes and the pirates steadily gained upon their quarry as they sped across the fields.

Smets had the advantage of them not only in the lead he had gained but in his intimate knowledge of the fields. Even with his horse wounded they soon lost sight of the man. He had dodged into a clump of trees and disappeared into the shadows beneath their bows. Coming to the border of this little wood Holmes drew to a halt with the pirates coming along side of him. They strained their eyes peering into the dense shadows but no sign could they see.

"Listen," Holmes whispered to them. "His horse is that way. Not very far."

"Go carefully, Mr. Holmes," Mr. Gibbs warned. "He be armed, I reckon."

They moved into the dark under the trees cautiously with weapons drawn. After a brief interval they found the horse with its head hanging low and weak from loss of blood. As they neared the poor animal collapsed and soon expired. One of Barbossa's rounds had struck home in a vital spot. Seeing that their quarry was now afoot, Holmes and the pirates dismounted and lead their horses through the shadowed wood with their ears keen for any sound that might betray the presence of the man they hunted.

"He'll be makin' fer his boat," Barbossa said in a low voice.

"Then he won't get far, Cap'n," said Mr. Gibbs.

"Wait, gentlemen," said Holmes. "Smets is a resourceful man."

"Aye," said Sparrow. "And ruthless."

"Then would he actually make for his boat?" Holmes queried.

The pirates paused in their hunt to look at Holmes. Captain Barbossa fixed him with a gimlet stare.

"What is it yer gettin' at, Mr. Holmes?" asked Barbossa.

"Put yourself in his shoes, Captain," replied Holmes. "The man has just seen his stronghold assaulted by your crew. He was even struck in the face by you, Captain Sparrow. He must realise that the men sent to despatch you have been dealt with in some fashion. Wherever they are, they are not at his boat. Therefore, he must understand that his boat is no refuge. What would you do in such a situation?"

"Go to ground," Barbossa nodded his agreement.

"Mr. Gibbs," Sparrow asked his bosun. "Where is the nearest farm?"

"'Bout half a mile towards the inn, sir," said Mr. Gibbs.

As one they remounted their horses and rode out towards the farm. They broke from the wood into the fields again and to their satisfaction they spotted a dark figure moving at a run towards another copse of trees. They spurred their mounts into a gallop hoping to overtake him before he could dodge into cover again. How ironic that Smets had hunted fox upon these rolling downs only to be hunted much the same way. Like a fox Smets was sly and cunning. Before they could cut him off or even close the distance much he had dodged into the trees again. They reined in once more. Leaving Mr. Gibbs with the horses Holmes, Sparrow and Barbossa dismounted and crept into the woods. They moved as silently as possible through the undergrowth again listening for any telltale sound. Barbossa made a signal for the party to halt and using gestures communicated that they should spread out to cover more ground. Believing that any of them was at least a match for Smets, Holmes complied and moved off to the right. They continued their search for several minutes. Holmes was able to keep track of the other two from the slight noises they made. Suddenly there came a shout of warning and a shot. Fearing for his companions Holmes turned towards the sound of the shot and had taken a few steps when the Belgian flew at him through the trees. It was not by design that Smets ran into Holmes. Rather it was in his desperation to flee from the pirates. Both men were flung to ground in the collision and Holmes lost his revolver. Smets was first to his feet but Holmes latched onto his ankle and threw him down again. Kicking and clawing like a fiend Smets tried to break free from Holmes's grasp. It was to no avail. Holmes struck and grappled with the man and kept him on the ground. Smets beat at Holmes and struggled out of his grip only to be tripped and punched for his effort. When the pirate captains came upon them Holmes had thrown Smets into an arm lock that was likely to dislocate the man's shoulder joint if the fight continued. Seeing there was no escape from the three of them, Smets relented.

"Nice work, Mr. Holmes," Sparrow said laying hands on Smets and dragging him to his feet.

"An excellent catch, sir," Barbossa complimented my friend as he gave him a hand up.

"Now for it, I think," said Sparrow turning the man about and tying his hands. "Let us take this pestilent, yeasty codpiece to where he'll trouble us no more."

"Gentlemen," said Holmes between panting breaths. "I really must protest. We must turn him over to the proper authorities."

"We've already been through this, Mr. Holmes," Barbossa admonished. "Smets is far too dangerous."

"I am not convinced of that, sir," Holmes insisted. "We should arrest him and remand him into the custody of Scotland Yard or perhaps even the Home Office."

"I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Mr. Holmes," said a cool feminine voice from the shadows.

Irene Adler strode from the surrounding trees with a pistol in her hand. Smets's eyes formerly down cast now flared with hope.

"Well done, my dear!" the Belgian said and shrugged out of Sparrow's grip. "Get these ropes off me and let's get out of here."

"I'm afraid that won't be happening either, my dear," Adler's voice held a heavy note of scorn mingled with contempt. "Do you remember a lawyer named Norton, Guillaume? He practiced in Ontario."

"Norton?" Smets asked bewildered. "The lawyer who was in charge of investigating my affairs?"

"He got close to the truth," Miss Adler said bitterly. "Too close for your comfort."

"He was meddling in things he had no right to," Smets spit back.

"It was his duty," Miss Adler said with pride. "And this is mine."

With the last word she pulled the trigger and the pistol barked once. Smets was struck in the heart and fell at her feet. All went quiet. For a long moment the four of them stood looking down upon the lifeless form in the dirt. Sparrow stepped to Miss Adler and took the weapon from her hand. Barbossa rolled the lifeless man onto his back and rifled his pockets. He drew from an inner fold of Smets's waistcoat the clasp knife taken from the Benbow Inn. They returned to where Mr. Gibbs held the horses and rode back to the manor where the pirates under Captain Tai Huang had finally eliminated the remaining Carbonari.

It was a subdued group that rode to the gates of the stable yard. I met them ready to render any medical aid but fortunately my services were not needed. Holmes said nothing at that time of what had happened in the woods. We were all very busy in our need to escape before the local constabulary should arrive.

It was the next day when, sitting in Mr. Hawkins's study, Holmes told me the tale of their pursuit of Smets and the dramatic ending. We heard over lunch that Scotland Yard had been called in to investigate the brutal attack at the estate. Our old friend Gregson was the investigator in charge. Holmes recommended to him that he concentrate on the Carbonari and further advised that it was likely a matter internal to that organisation. He explained to Gregson how Smets had fallen out of favour with his superiors nearly a year prior and this was perhaps their way of tying up loose ends.

In the afternoon we received an invitation to attend a party at Trelawney House. Reluctantly we agreed to go. Holmes would have declined but Miss Worth wheedled until he finally gave in with a smile in spite of himself.

The party was held in the gardens behind the old manor and I must say that it was quite magnificent. Captain Sparrow had spared no expense. With his French doors restored to their former grandeur and the flowers in bloom there seemed nothing wanting. He had hired a troupe of Gypsies to entertain with juggling and music and the meal had been prepared by the good Miss Charlotte Hughes of the Benbow quite recovered from her distress. He had invited not only us but all of his men who had been along on the raid. To our surprise Mr. Cotton was there and it was only then that we learned that he too had been among Sparrow's crew all those years ago. We spent a boisterous evening of dancing and cocktails with exhibitions of shooting, tests of skill with thrown knives and an improbable contest of rope climbing which, to my amazement, Holmes joined in on.

After night had spread its curtain and the garden was lit by torches I strolled among the flower beds with Miss Tia Dalma upon my arm. We found Captain Sparrow leaning against a tree with a very pleased smile glinting gold. We spoke politely about nothing for a few minutes until I finally had to ask a question of some little importance to me.

"Why did you do all of this, Captain?" I asked.

"Had to stop Smets, Doctor," he replied nonchalantly.

"That's not what I mean," I said. "Why defend the Chest? Why fight so hard to keep the pieces of eight safe? Captain Barbossa said that the Brethren Court was extinct save for you three captains. So why do all of this?"

Sparrow was silent for a time and I thought he would not answer when finally his smile returned. He said, "Me father told me once, Doctor, that it's not livin' forever that matters. It's livin' with yerself forever."

"Vita Vacuus Voluntas est Non Vita," I said.

"Just so," Sparrow stood and clapped me on the shoulder and went to dance with one of the Gypsy girls.

"Der were t'ree hundr'd o' dem when dis all began, Doctor," Tia Dalma said watching him go. "Now der are fewer."

"So they are not truly immortal?" I asked.

"So long as life is in dem dey live," she said. "Der is much life in Jack."

"One day even he will run out," I said.

"Perhaps," was her reply.

"Who will guard the chest then?" I asked.

"From time to time dey take new memba's into de fam'ly." She squeezed my arm and smiled. "Der is Syn, Dontess, Crockett, Blankney. Why not Watson or Holmes?"

It was my turn to be silent a moment. But I shook my head.

"No," I said. "Mary is waiting. I do not wish to be as Captain Barbossa. And I doubt Holmes would wish to either. One lifetime is enough."

Tia Dalma smiled sweetly and there was just a hint of disappointment in it. She leaned in and kissed me upon the cheek then drew me to the dance floor.

The next day Sherlock Holmes and myself were summoned to Trelawney House and were required to take an oath never to reveal what we had witnessed. Sitting astride the barrel of the little ship's gun with a Bible in one hand and a human skull in the other we did so upon pain of death. We never saw Captain Barbossa again after that.

Holmes and I returned to Black Hill Cove a month latter to attend the wedding of Mr. James Alexander Hawkins and Miss Abigail Worth. It was a small affair compared to what one might have expected for a man of Hawkins's position. The ceremony was presided over by Parson MacKenzie with Captain Sparrow as the best man. They raised five children: Jack, John, Sherlock, Hector and Tia.

The murder at St. James Church was never solved though the burglary was resolved to the satisfaction of the Yard.

Inspector Phineas Morgan retired a year after these events and sadly passed away quietly during a fishing trip in Ireland two months later.

I have not visited Holmes in several months. He has, of course, his bees and his chemical experiments to occupy him. Though, of late I believe he has done less of either. My last visit he seemed somewhat distracted. Very unlike himself. He grew vaguely agitated when I inquired about his beard. Perhaps I should not have said that it made him look older. He has also taken to walking with a cane for support though he seems to set it aside in his own home and stride about quite as ever he did, at least he did so when he thought I was not watching.

I wonder about my old friend more now that my days are dragging. I have long been retired and have more time on my hands than I know what to do with. I worry about him and I can not sleep. I have nightmares and I wake grasping my heart and I wonder if that other heart is safe. I feel that I shall see Mary again before too much longer. I wonder what Holmes shall do when I have gone. There was Syn, Dontess, Crockett and Blankney. Perhaps there will be Holmes. There was certainly Adler.

A.N. For those of you who are wondering and perhaps do not recognize the names of the more recent additions to the pirate's family of immortals I include this list.

Syn: Doctor Syn or The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh was created by Russell Thorndike.

Dontess: Edmond Dontess who became the Count of Monte Cristo was created by Alexandre Dumas.

Crockett: Colonel and later Congressman and a true to life folk hero in his own time and legend there after David Crockett of Tennessee, USA who died among other heroes at the Battle of the Alamo in Texas. I am taking a bit of a liberty with this gentleman but I feel that it is not so much of one. You see, there was a letter that he supposedly sent to his family several months after the battle and his death. It claimed that he was hunting and that he was quite well and would see them soon. In the reality of this story Crockett fought the battle after meeting Hector Barbossa.

Blankney: Sir Percy Blankney or The Scarlet Pimpernel was created by Baroness Emmuske Orczy.

I wish to thank you all for reading this tale of mine. It was great fun doing the research and working out the plot. I hope you all enjoyed the story as much as I did. I also wish to thank all of you who reviewed. Aside from the pleasure of writing these stories reviews are really the only reward we fan authors get. I feel that I have been more than justly reward by you all.

Stutley Constable