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´╗┐Title: A Middy of the King - A Romance of the Old British Navy
Author: Collingwood, Harry, 1851-1922
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A Middy of the King, by Harry Collingwood.

________________________________________________________________________
The young hero of this tale is Dick Delamere, who was already a
midshipman, on leave, but who receives a letter from the Captain of the
Europa, recalling him to join the ship at Portsmouth.  The date of the
events that ensue is the very late eighteenth century.

The first few chapters cover the events while the Europa is on patrol in
the Chops of the Channel and the Bay of Biscay.  The British are hostile
to the French and to the Dutch, and there are engagements with vessels
of these nations.  Thereafter the vessel sails to the West Indies, where
one of the problems is to exterminate the pirates infesting those
waters.  The book describes, possibly fairly accurately, the life of a
midshipman of those days and in those waters.  At one point Dick
receives a very serious head-wound, but recovers with good treatment in
the Naval Hospital.  On the whole the book has echoes of the immortal
works of Captain Marryat, which I am sure our author had studied very
carefully.

Collingwood has exceptional powers of description, and this book makes
a good read, and, of course, a good audiobook.

_______________________________________________________________________
A MIDDY OF THE KING, BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD.



CHAPTER ONE.

H.M.S. EUROPA.

I had just dismounted before the rather imposing main entrance to
Delamere Hall, situate close to the west Dorset coast, and had handed
over my horse to Tom Biddlecome, the groom who had accompanied me in my
before-breakfast ride down to the beach for my morning dip, when my
father appeared in the portico.

"Good morning, Dick," he greeted me.  "I suppose you have been for your
swim, as usual.  How did you find the water?"

"Grand, sir," I replied; "just the right temperature to put new life
into one.  Another week, at this rate, ought to see me as well as ever I
was."

"Well, your present appearance is scarcely that of an invalid, I must
confess," he remarked laughingly.  "If you were called upon to submit to
a medical examination, I fancy the verdict would be that there is not
very much the matter with you.  And I am very glad that it is so; for I
have just received a letter from my friend Vavassour, in which he
informs me that he has been posted to the new frigate _Europa_, launched
last week at Portsmouth and now fitting-out; that he has entered your
name on her books; and that, if you feel sufficiently recovered to
resume duty, he would very strongly advise you to proceed to Portsmouth
at once and assist in the operation of fitting-out, as he is of opinion
that by doing so you will gain a considerable amount of knowledge that
will be of the utmost value to you when you come to sit for your
examination.  Now, what is your opinion?  Do you think you are
sufficiently recovered to do as Vavassour suggests; or should I write
and ask him to--"

"By no means, my dear father," I interrupted hastily.  "I am quite well,
and perfectly fit for duty in every respect; indeed, I feel sure that,
having advanced so far along the road to recovery, a return to a life of
greater activity than that which I have been living of late will be
positively beneficial to me.  Of course I shall be very sorry to leave
you again to a life of solitude."

"Do not think of that, Dick," interrupted my father in his turn.  "I
assure you that my life here is not nearly so lonely as you seem to
imagine.  True, there are not many neighbours, but what there are, are
eminently satisfactory; also I have my horses, my dogs, my gun, and my
rod for outdoor companions, and books to exorcise the loneliness of my
evenings; so that you see I am not at all badly off.  No doubt I shall
miss you after you are gone, my son; but this is not the time to study
one's own feelings.  Britain just now needs every one of her sons who
can strike a blow in her defence; and when I look at your empty chair I
shall at least have the pride and satisfaction of knowing that, wherever
you may be, you are upholding the honour of your country and your name.
Well, well," he sighed, "let us get indoors and to breakfast.  There is
a letter also for you from Vavassour, and you will be curious to learn
what he has to say to you."

Whereupon, linked arm in arm, my father and I entered and made our way
to the breakfast room, where we seated ourselves, and were soon busy
with the viands placed before us.  The letter to which my father had
referred lay beside my plate; and, having obtained his permission, I at
once broke the seal and glanced at its contents, for I was full of
curiosity to learn in detail the splendid news which my father had
outlined to me as he stood in the portico.

But before proceeding further with this veracious history it will be
well that I should say a word or two about myself, by way of formally
introducing myself as it were to the reader, in order that if he feels
inclined to follow my fortunes, as set forth in the following pages, he
may know just who I am and how matters were standing with me at the
moment when this story opens.

To begin, then, I was the only son of Sir Richard Delamere, of Delamere
Hall, in the county of Dorsetshire; Baronet, Justice of the Peace,
etcetera, etcetera, etcetera; and some sixteen and a half years before
the date at which this story starts I had received the name of Richard,
after my father, at the baptismal font in the fine old church in the
village of Delamere, that nestles snugly in the valley about a mile to
the north-eastward of the Hall.

I never knew my mother, for she died in giving me birth; and my father,
who adored her living, and revered her memory, was some years older
before he fully forgave me for being the unwitting cause of her
premature departure from this world.  And in this I could sympathise
with him as soon as I came to years of understanding, for she was not
only, as everybody who had known her asserted, of a most amiable and
loveable disposition, but--as her portrait in the big library bore
witness--a most lovely woman.

But although I was unfortunate enough never to have known a mother's
love, I do not think I was actually very much the worse for the loss;
for upon my mother's death her place was most ably and conscientiously
filled by my aunt Griselda, my father's maiden sister, who faithfully
did her duty both by my father and me until she too passed away when I
was about eleven years old, by which time my father had completely
conquered his original resentment toward me, and we had become all that
father and son ought to be to each other.

Then, after receiving the best education that it was at that time
possible for a lad to receive, I had entered the navy as a midshipman,
at the age of fourteen, and had gone out to the Mediterranean in the old
_Colossus_, two-decker, under the command of Sir Percy Fitzgerald,
where, for some two and a half years, we spent our time partly in
chasing the French up and down the great inland sea, and partly in
blockading the port of Toulon, under Sir John Jervis.  It was while
engaged upon this latter service that I was so seriously wounded in the
head by a flying splinter that I was invalided home to recover, the
_Colossus_ being opportunely ordered to England at the same time to
undergo a general overhaul and refit.

Of course I had not been in the navy for more than two years without
making a few friends, among the staunchest of whom I reckoned Mr Henry
Vavassour, the first lieutenant of the _Colossus_, and also a friend of
my father.  This officer was a very dashing fellow, a prime seaman, and
a cool, courageous, resolute leader of men--he had frequently been
mentioned in dispatches--and I was therefore not at all surprised to
learn, as I now did, that he had gained his post rank and had been given
the command of a fine ship.  His letter to me ran as follows:

  "My dear Delamere--I think you will be glad to learn that their
  Lordships have been pleased to promote me, bestow upon me post rank,
  and give me the command of the new frigate _Europa_, just launched at
  Portsmouth.  She is an exceedingly fine ship of 1216 tons, mounting 38
  guns; and, with smart officers and a good crew, I think she ought,
  given ordinary luck, to render an excellent account of herself.

  "I have been allowed to nominate all my own officers, and I have
  therefore entered you on the ship's books, not only for your father's
  sake, but also on account of your excellent behaviour while aboard the
  _Colossus_; and if, as I hope, you have sufficiently recovered to
  join, you will again meet one or two of your former shipmates on the
  quarter-deck of the new ship.

  "If you feel fit for duty I would very strongly advise you to join at
  the earliest possible moment, as at present the _Europa_ has only her
  three lower-masts stepped.  She is in the hands of the riggers, and I
  am of opinion that it would be of the utmost service to you if you
  could be on the spot to witness the process of rigging; you would thus
  obtain at first hand an insight into details, which will assuredly
  stand you in good stead when you come to present yourself for
  examination.  I ought, perhaps, to inform you that in the event of
  your deciding to act upon my advice it will be necessary for you to
  take up your quarters temporarily aboard the receiving hulk, but this
  inconvenience will be more than compensated by the knowledge that you
  will gain.  For myself, I am putting up at the `George' in the High
  Street, and it will be well for you to report yourself to me there
  upon your arrival.  I have written to your father, explaining
  everything; I need therefore add nothing to this beyond the expression
  of the hope that you may be able to avail yourself to the fullest
  extent of this splendid opportunity for gaining a great deal of most
  useful knowledge in a very short time.--Yours sincerely, Henry
  Vavassour."

When I had finished the perusal of this exceedingly kind and friendly
letter I passed it over to my father, who in his turn read it carefully
through, and then passed it back to me with the question:

"Well, Dick, my boy, what do you think of it?"

"Simply, sir, that if you approve I will at once write to Captain
Vavassour, thanking him heartily for his very great kindness, and
telling him that I will start for Portsmouth to-morrow," I said.

My father regarded me, rather wistfully I thought, for a few moments,
and then said:

"Very well; be it so.  Write your letter, by all means, and I will
enclose a few lines in it.  And,"--suddenly, in a much more cheerful
tone of voice, as an idea seemed to suggest itself to him--"I'll tell
you what I'll do, Dick, I'll run over to Portsmouth with you, and stay
for a few days.  A little change will do me good; and I should like very
much to see this new ship of yours, as well as to meet Vavassour again,
whom I have not seen for quite a number of years.  Yes, certainly, I
will go over with you."

Thus it was arranged.  We wrote and dispatched our letters, spent the
remainder of the day in making our preparations, and started on our
journey soon after ten o'clock the next morning, posting it all the way
to Portsmouth, where we arrived at six o'clock the same evening, and put
up at the "George," where Captain Vavassour had established himself.  Of
course, it was scarcely in accordance with strict naval etiquette for
me, a mere midshipman, to presume to quarter myself in the hotel that my
captain honoured with his patronage, but the circumstances were
exceptional in so far as that I was with my father; moreover, it was to
be for but one night, and the skipper was far too fine and manly a
fellow to take notice of so insignificant a breach of the unwritten law
as I was committing.  My father and I dined with him that night,
incidentally making the acquaintance of Mr Malcolm Adair, the
_Europa's_ first lieutenant; and on the following morning, immediately
after breakfast, I proceeded on board the receiving hulk, reported
myself, then returned to the shore and made my way to Number 3 basin, in
which the frigate was undergoing the process of being rigged and
prepared for sea.

I had not served for two and a half years in the Mediterranean without
learning something of what constituted a good model of a ship, and I no
sooner set eyes upon the _Europa_ than I fell violently in love with
her.  She had been launched flying light, and then had been hauled under
the masting-sheers to have her three lower-masts stepped, after which it
had been necessary to move her to another part of the basin in order to
make way for another ship.  She had occupied her new berth five days
when I first saw her, during which the carpenters, joiners, and painters
had been busily employed in finishing off her internal fittings; and
when first I beheld her the dockyard people were in the act of warping
her across the basin to still another berth, where she was to receive
her ballast; thus when my eyes first rested upon her she was floating
high out of the water, and I was afforded an excellent opportunity to
view and criticise her lines.  She was somewhat shallow of hull and flat
in the floor, to give her a light draught of water, but to compensate
for this she was extraordinarily "beamy," which had the twofold effect
of imparting great stiffness under canvas, and affording fine roomy
decks.  Her sides were as round as an apple--not an inch of "straight"
anywhere in them--and, despite her unusual breadth, her lines were the
finest and most beautiful that I had ever seen.  She carried a full
poop, the interior of which constituted the captain's quarters--roomy,
light, and airy; and as I noted the length and solidity of her
lower-masts the idea occurred to me that, if the remainder of her spars
were to be in proportion, her sail-spread, combined with her perfect
lines, ought to give her such exceptional speed as would enable her to
do just as she pleased with an adversary.

As soon as she was alongside and made fast I went on board and had a
good look at her interior, not forgetting to inscribe my name legibly on
the most conveniently situated locker in the midshipmen's berth, after
which I watched the operation of shipping and stowing her ballast.
There was not much of interest or instruction in this part of the work,
but when, on the following day, I witnessed the execution of the
apparently impossible task of getting the tops aloft and over the
mastheads, and was afterwards initiated into the mysteries of measuring
for and laying off rigging, getting it into position and setting it up;
and beheld the rapidity and assured certainty with which the three bare
lower spars were equipped with shrouds, stays, caps, etcetera; the
topmasts rose into place, were rigged and fidded; how the yards were
sent aloft and secured; and how, in short, the entire fabric became
rapidly converted from a mere empty shell into a complicated yet
marvellously perfect structure that needed but smart officers, a
well-disciplined crew, and the breathing of the winds of heaven to make
of her, not only the most beautiful and wonderful product of human
skill, but also a formidable self-contained engine of warfare, I
mentally confessed that not only was seamanship a most fascinating
science, but also that sailors were the most ingenious and adaptable
specimens of the entire human race.

The work of fitting-out was pushed forward with all possible expedition.
A bare three weeks, therefore, from the day of my arrival in
Portsmouth, saw the _Europa_ all ataunt, with royal-yards across, sails
bent, stores of all descriptions on board and stowed, water-tanks
filled, guns mounted, and, in fact, ready for sea in every respect,
except that her crew were not on board, and her magazines were empty.
Then she was warped out of the basin, her crew turned over to her from
the receiving hulk, and she was taken out to Spithead to receive her
powder.  During all this time my father had remained at Portsmouth,
quartered at the "George," spending as much as possible of his time with
me in the dockyard; and after the work of the day was over I generally--
by favour of Mr Adair, the first lieutenant--dined and spent the
evening with him, the discipline of the receiving hulk not being very
severe, and nobody caring much at what time I went aboard at night so
long as I was present at muster next morning.  But on the day that the
crew were turned over, and the ship was taken out to Spithead, these
little indulgences came to an end; for the frigate was no sooner at
anchor than, before the powder hoy arrived alongside, Captain Vavassour
came off, the crew were mustered, and he read his commission and hoisted
his pennant, from which moment the strictest naval discipline became the
order of the day.  Nevertheless, when at the conclusion of the
above-mentioned ceremony the skipper ordered his gig and returned to the
shore, I obtained leave to accompany him, upon condition that I reported
myself on board again by eight o'clock.  I therefore again, and for the
last time during that cruise, dined with my father, after which he
accompanied me to the Hard, bade me a most affectionate good-bye, and
stood watching the wherry which was conveying me off to the ship, until
the boat passed out of the harbour and we vanished from his sight.  Not
until long afterward did I know that, instead of starting for home the
next morning, as he had talked of doing, he crossed over to Gosport the
first thing after breakfast, walked to Haslar, and stationed himself on
the beach at Gilkicker Point, watching the frigate until she had got
under way and passed out of sight to the southward and eastward.

The next morning, at daylight, Blue Peter was hoisted at the fore-royal
masthead and a gun fired as a signal that the ship was about to sail;
boats were hoisted in and stowed, stock was brought alongside, and the
order was given to clear the ship of strangers--sailors' wives and
sweethearts who had come off to say a last good-bye, bumboat women who
were making a final desperate effort to obtain a settlement of their
accounts, and tradesmen of all kinds engaged upon the same errand or
intent upon palming off upon the men otherwise unsaleable stock.

Shortly after ten o'clock Captain Vavassour came on board, immediately
after which the hands were piped to "up anchor"; and within half-an-hour
we were under way and standing out toward Saint Helens, under all plain
sail, before a light northerly breeze.

We had not been under way a quarter of an hour before it became apparent
to everybody on board that the _Europa_ was going to more than justify
the exceedingly favourable opinion that we had already formed of her;
for, light as was the wind, she slid through the water at a speed that
fairly astonished us, her keen stem cleaving the short Channel surges
cleanly and with very little noise or fuss, and leaving behind her a
wake so smooth and so little disturbed that at a distance of a quarter
of a mile it vanished altogether.  And when, an hour or so later, having
made a good offing, the skipper ordered her to be hauled to the wind on
a taut bowline for a short time, to test her speed under those
conditions, and then put her about, she went to windward and tacked like
a yacht.

Our cruising-ground was a fairly extensive one, stretching from the
longitude of Cape la Hague on the one hand to longitude 10 degrees West
on the other, and from latitude 50 degrees North to Cape Finisterre; in
other words, it embraced the chops of the Channel and the whole of the
Bay of Biscay; and our duty was to protect British commerce on the high
seas, and harry the enemy generally.  The wide limits of our
cruising-ground, and the fact that, for the moment at least, we were
free to go whither we pleased within those limits, was a source of the
keenest gratification to all hands, for it was just within that area
that the privateers of the enemy were then displaying the most activity
and doing the greatest amount of mischief; and we were all looking
forward hopefully to the prospect of making plenty of captures and
recaptures.  But those of us who had been shipmates together in the old
_Colossus_ found an additional source of gratification in the speed of
our new craft; for whereas in the _Colossus_--which was possibly the
slowest ship ever launched--we had done plenty of chasing, we had never
been able to catch anything unless all the conditions were strongly in
our favour; while now we hoped to find the state of affairs very much
the opposite.

It was not only upon the speed of the _Europa_, however, that we built
our hopes of success; for not only was she an unusually fast vessel, but
she carried an exceptionally heavy armament for a ship of her class,
namely, twenty-four long 24-pounders on her main-deck, and fourteen long
8-pounders on her quarter-deck and forecastle; while, to crown all, her
crew consisted of two hundred and ninety-two men--every one of whom had
voluntarily entered.  Furthermore, of those two hundred and ninety-two
men, no less than one hundred and sixty-five had been aboard the
_Colossus_, and had joined after being paid off from that craft; while,
on the quarter-deck, the skipper, Mr Galway the second lieutenant, Mr
Trimble the master, Maxwell the master's-mate, Gascoigne a midshipman,
Mr Purvis the gunner, and myself had all been shipmates together in the
same craft.

Having manoeuvred the ship for close upon two hours, with the view of
testing her speed and handiness in varying circumstances, so far as was
possible under the existing conditions of wind and sea, we bore up and
shaped a course for Cape la Hague, which we made just before nightfall.
Then, as the breeze seemed inclined to freshen a trifle, rendering the
ship more manageable in the strong tides that sweep that part of the
coast, the Captain determined to search the bight at the bottom of which
lies the French port of Saint Malo, just then notorious for the number
of privateers which it fitted out and sent to sea.  We accordingly
passed in about half-way between Alderney and the mainland, maintaining
an offing from the latter of about eight miles, and took in our royals
and topgallantsails.

Passing inside the Chausey Islands, breakfast-time the next morning
found us off the town, in the harbour of which we saw a number of small
fishing and coasting craft, but nothing of importance; we therefore
hauled up to the westward, set our topgallantsails, and boarded the fore
and main tacks, in order to work out clear of Brehat and secure a good
offing; for the glass was dropping, the breeze freshening, there was a
"greasy" look about the sky to windward that seemed to portend a blow,
and we were on a lee-shore.

As the morning advanced the portents became more pronounced; the wind
increased to such an extent that we first had to stow our
topgallantsails again and then single-reef the topsails, and a very
nasty short, choppy sea quickly got up, into which the frigate plunged
viciously to the height of her figurehead, sending deluges of spray over
her weather cathead and into the hollow of her foresail until the canvas
was darkened with wet half-way up to the yard, while it thickened up
away to windward until it became impossible to distinguish anything
beyond the distance of a mile, and the wind backed on us until it was
out from about North-North-West, with the result that, when at length we
made the land, it stretched right athwart our hawse and reached away to
windward, as far as the eye could penetrate the mist.

There was nothing for it but to 'bout ship and haul off on the other
tack; the crew were therefore piped to stations and the helm eased down,
when the ship swept grandly up into the wind and went round like a top,
holding her way in a style that delighted as much as it surprised us,
and staying almost as quickly as the men could swing the yards.

Eight bells of the afternoon watch had just struck when, the weather
clearing suddenly, we made the island of Guernsey, some eight miles
ahead, and Jersey somewhat more distant, two points before our starboard
beam; and at the same moment two craft were made out, about six miles
away from us and broad on our weather-beam, coming down before the wind
under a heavy press of sail, and heading as though bound for Saint Malo.
They were within half a mile of each other, and appeared to be in
company.

The instant that they were seen there was a general rush for telescopes
on the part of all the officers on deck; and after a protracted scrutiny
of them the general consensus of opinion was that they were a French
privateer and a British merchantman which she had captured.  Coming down
toward us, end-on as they were, it was not easy at first to determine
their rig, but both were large ships, one of them being of about six
hundred tons, while the other appeared to be fully as big as ourselves.
That their eyes were as sharp as our own very soon became evident; for
while we were still peering at them through our glasses, we saw a string
of flags go soaring aloft on board the smaller craft of the two, and
immediately afterward both vessels slightly altered their course, the
bigger of the two hauling up a couple of points to the southward and
shaping a course that would carry her across our stern at a distance of
about two miles, while the other very smartly clewed up her
topgallantsails, took a single-reef in her topsails, and slightly hauled
her wind, as though with the purpose of intercepting us.  This action on
their part at once confirmed our suspicions as to their respective
characters, and at the same time enabled us to determine that they were
both full-rigged ships.

"The smaller will be the privateer, and, therefore, in all probability
the faster vessel of the two, Mr Adair," said the skipper.  "We will
accordingly tackle him first; for I think we can polish him off in time
to catch the other fellow before he can get into port.  Beat to
quarters, if you please, sir, and show our colours."

The first lieutenant gave the order, the drum rattled out its summons,
and the ship at once became a hive of activity; the decks were cleared
of everything that could possibly interfere with the efficient working
of the guns; the guns themselves were cast loose, the half-ports knocked
out, screens put up, the magazine opened, powder and shot passed up on
deck, cutlasses and pistols served out to the crew, and, in short, every
preparation made for battle.  Our ensign was streaming out in the
breeze, as flat as a board, from the mizen peak, but neither of the
strangers had thus far condescended to show us the colour of their
bunting.  They had now definitely parted company, the larger of the two
edging in for the land with the evident intention of reaching a port,
while the other, having hauled her wind, was as evidently preparing to
cover the retreat of her prize by engaging us in a running fight and
drawing us off-shore to the northward.



CHAPTER TWO.

THE PRIVATEER AND HER PRIZE.

The smaller of the two craft, having hauled close to the wind, upon the
same tack as ourselves, and about two miles dead to windward of us, now
hoisted French colours, and fired a gun of defiance, the shot from
which, however, fell a long way short of us.  We did not attempt to
reply to this challenge, for although our long 24-pounders would
probably have reached the other ship, the skipper considered the
distance too great for our fire to be effective, while the motion of the
frigate was so violent that the chances were against our being able to
make a hit at all, and Captain Vavassour was noted for the strength of
his objection to the wasteful firing away of ammunition.  For the
moment, therefore, he contented himself with testing the respective
speed and weatherliness of the two ships.

We very soon discovered that, so far as these two qualities were
concerned, we had caught a Tartar; for although within the first ten
minutes of the test it became apparent that we were head-reaching upon
the craft to windward, our advantage was so slight that we could
scarcely hope to get within effective range of her in less than two
hours at least, while during the whole of that time the bigger of the
two strangers would be proceeding in the opposite direction at such a
rate as would render her ultimate escape a practical certainty.

The skipper looked long and anxiously, first at one craft, then at the
other, and finally at the barometer; then he rejoined the first
lieutenant, who was giving his attention almost exclusively to the chase
to windward.

"This won't do at all, Mr Adair," he said.  "That fellow is going
through the water almost as fast as we are, and is holding as good a
luff.  At this rate we shall not get to grips with him before dark,
which will probably mean losing the big fellow, if not both of them.  I
see that the barometer is inclined to rise; we will, therefore, shake
the reef out of the topsails, and set the fore and main-topgallant
sails.  If it becomes a question of `carrying-on,' I think we ought to
have the best of it by a long way."

"Ay, I'm no sayin' ye may no be richt, sir," answered the first
lieutenant; "but it'll be an unco strain upon the spars to set thae
to'gallants'ls; our new rigging has stretched until it's all hangin' in
bights, as ye may see for yoursel' by lookin' at it.  Still, it may be
worth the tryin': but will ye no see what we can do under whole topsails
before settin' the to'gallants'ls?"

"I think not," said the skipper.  "We have not the time to spare for
tentative measures; and although, as you truly say, the rigging has
badly stretched, I think it has scarcely stretched sufficiently
seriously to imperil the spars.  We shall sail all the better for a
little spring and whip in the masts, unless I am greatly mistaken;
therefore have the goodness to make sail at once, sir, if you please."

In the face of so decided an opinion as this there was of course nothing
further to be said, and five minutes later the _Europa_ was leaping and
plunging madly through the short, choppy Channel seas, with her topmasts
and topgallant-masts whipping like fishing rods under the strain of the
increased canvas, while the whole of her fore-deck was deluged with the
spray that came in over the weather cathead, in cataracts that leapt
almost as high as the foreyard.  The chase lost not a moment in
following our example, and setting the same canvas as ourselves; but
scarcely ten minutes had elapsed before the correctness of the Captain's
judgment became manifest, for within that brief space of time it was
seen that we were fast head-reaching and weathering upon the Frenchman,
who was evidently overpowered by his too heavy press of canvas.

A quarter-of-an-hour later Captain Vavassour gave the order to tack; and
while the frigate was in stays, plunging bows under, and quivering to
her keel with the furious slatting of her canvas as she swept up into
the wind, we had the satisfaction of seeing the Frenchman's
mizen-topmast go over the side.

"Now we have him!" ejaculated the Captain, in a tone of exultation.
"With his mizen-topsail gone he will no longer be able to maintain so
close a luff as ourselves, and within half-an-hour we shall be able to
do as we please with him."

That the stranger was strong-handed, and that she carried a thoroughly
well-disciplined crew was evident; for by the time that we had paid off
on the other tack and had swung our foreyard, her mizen rigging was full
of men busy upon the task of clearing away the wreck of the topmast,
while others were equally busy in clewing-up and furling the
fore-topgallantsail and hauling down and stowing her flying-jib, to
enable her to maintain as good a luff as possible.  But desperate as
were their efforts they could do nothing with us now, at least upon a
wind; therefore when we next tacked--which was the moment that we were
fairly in her wake--she suddenly put up her helm, squared away dead
before the wind, and proceeded to set studdingsails on both sides.

The Captain rubbed his hands and chuckled with delight as he saw this.

"Up helm and after her, Mr Adair," he exclaimed.  "It is the very thing
I could have wished for; she must be a veritable witch at sailing, if
she can beat us before the wind.  But we will set our port studdingsails
only, to start with, if you please; for if, as I expect, we have the
heels of her, I will haul up a point or two and endeavour to close with
her to point-blank range."

Another three minutes saw us both sweeping away to leeward like meteors,
the chase about a mile distant, broad on our port beam, with
studdingsails set on both sides, from her royals down; while we, with
studdingsails set to port only, were edging rapidly in upon her, while
fully holding our own with her in other respects.  And, oh, what a
relief it was to feel the long, easy, floating motion and the level keel
of a ship running before wind and sea, in exchange for the short, savage
digging into a head sea, with its accompaniments of drenching showers of
spray, sickening lee lurches, and a whole gale of wind buffeting one in
the face and doing its utmost to drive one's teeth down one's throat.

The Captain's expectations relative to the frigate's behaviour on the
new point of sailing were quickly verified; so quickly, indeed, that
within a quarter of an hour we found ourselves within easy range of the
chase--a fact which was brought home to us by a shot from her passing
within a foot of our hammock rail and whizzing between our fore and
mainmast.

"Now, Mr Adair," said the skipper, "you may see what you can do with
her.  Let the captains of the guns try their hands upon her
individually, doing their best to cut up her spars and rigging.  We want
to capture, not to sink her; she is far too fine a ship to be sent to
the bottom, therefore spare her hull as much as possible."

The first lieutenant went down on the main-deck and personally repeated
the Captain's instructions; and before he returned to the quarter-deck
the first of our long 24-pounders spoke its message, the shot passing
through the stranger's foresail and narrowly missing the mast.  Then our
8-pounders got to work, and very soon we saw loose ropes'-ends streaming
out on board her, showing that our fire had not been wholly in vain,
although, so far, no damage worth speaking of had been done.  Nor were
the Frenchmen idle; on the contrary, they fired about four guns to every
one of ours, but after that first shot of theirs they appeared to have
become flurried and excited, and their aim correspondingly wild; at all
events, although some of their shot came near us, while one or two
actually flew over us, not one of them came near enough to do us a
ropeyarn's worth of damage.

With our own men it was very different; the more often they fired the
cooler did they seem to become; and it was amusing to see the eagerness
with which, after firing, they watched the effect of each shot, with the
evident purpose of correcting their aim next time.  The result of this
caution on their part soon became apparent, for we had scarcely fired a
dozen shots when we saw the stranger's fore-topmast go swooping over
the bows; and the next minute she broached-to, losing her
main-topgallant-mast and snapping every one of her studdingsail booms in
the process.

"Cease firing!" shouted the skipper.  "In studdingsails, Mr Adair; clew
up and furl your royals and topgallantsails; in flying-jib; and then
haul your wind, if you please.  The fellow will surely not hold out any
longer."

He did, though, pluckily maintaining a fire upon us with two guns run
out through his stern ports--evidently hoping to disable us, while his
crew worked like demons in their efforts to clear away the wreckage; and
it was not until we ranged up on his weather quarter, within
biscuit-toss, and threatened him with the whole of our starboard
broadside, that he hauled down his colours and surrendered.

The heavy sea that was now running rendered the task of taking
possession of the prize exceedingly difficult; nevertheless, by the
exercise of the utmost skill and care, the first and second cutters,
under the command of Mr Howard, our second lieutenant, and O'Brien, one
of the midshipmen, at length managed to get alongside and put a
prize-crew of thirty-two men on board her.  The boats quickly returned
to the ship with the intelligence that the prize was the twenty-six-gun
privateer _Belle Marie_ of Saint Malo, carrying a total crew of two
hundred and thirty men, of whom eighty-seven were at the moment away in
prizes, forty of them being on board the British East Indiaman
_Masulipatam_--the ship which had by this time passed out of sight in
the southern board.  The weather conditions being unfavourable for the
transfer of the Frenchmen from the prize to the frigate, without the
loss of a great deal of valuable time, Captain Vavassour hailed Mr
Howard, instructing him to confine the prisoners below, and then, with
the aid of the carpenter's crew which we were about to send him, to
repair damages as well as he could, and make the best of his way to
Portsmouth.  It was almost dark by the time that all the necessary
arrangements were completed and the boats once more hoisted in, when we
wore round and shaped a course which we hoped would enable us to
intercept and recapture the Indiaman before she could reach Saint Malo.

This course brought the wind about three points abaft the starboard
beam; it was consequently a leading wind, therefore, the business being
pressing, we not only showed all plain sail, to our topgallantsails, but
also set topmast and lower studdingsails to windward, the yards being
braced slightly forward.  This was a heavy press of canvas to pile upon
the ship, with the wind where it was, and so heavy a sea running, but
the Captain evidently considered--as, indeed, did we all--that the
circumstances justified a certain measure of recklessness, for we had
all observed that the _Masulipatam_ was, at all events when going free,
almost as fast a ship as the _Belle Marie_; and haste was necessary if
we would overtake her before she reached her port.

By four bells in the first watch the wind had moderated sufficiently to
permit of our setting all three royals, as well as the weather
topgallant studdingsails; and half-an-hour later we sighted the craft of
which we were in pursuit about four points on our starboard-bow.  She
was then about twelve miles distant, and only just distinguishable with
the aid of our best night glasses; and the fact that we were still so
far astern of her seemed to render it exceedingly doubtful whether she
would not, after all, make good her escape.  The fear that she would do
so was still further strengthened when at midnight we made Cape Frehel
light, with the chase still leading by a full eight miles; the only
chance in our favour being that, as the bearing of the light proved, the
Indiaman was some three miles to windward of her course, and would have
to bear away for it, while we were heading for Saint Malo as straight as
we could go.  As the night passed on, however, our hopes rose somewhat,
for the weather cleared, while the wind softened down; and with the
softening of the wind it became apparent that we were gaining more
rapidly.

As the time wore on so did the chase grow increasingly exciting, our
hopes every moment strengthening, until at length, by three bells in the
middle watch, they had merged into a conviction that nothing short of a
miracle could save the Indiaman from recapture.  Some such conviction
must also have forced itself upon the mind of the officer in charge of
her, for just after four bells had been struck we saw him suddenly take
in his studdingsails and haul his wind, having apparently decided that
he must inevitably be taken if he persisted in his endeavour to get into
Saint Malo.  By the direction in which he was now steering it seemed
probable that he had determined to seek shelter in one of the
indentations to the westward of Frehel, many of which were at that time
defended by earthwork batteries for the protection of the French
coasting craft from our cruisers and privateers.

This move on the part of the Indiaman's prizemaster proved the man to be
possessed of both sagacity and foresight, for it threw us at once some
four miles to leeward of him and compelled us forthwith to take in our
studdingsails and brace sharp up in order to follow him, while he was
now so close to the land that there was every prospect of his being able
to get in and anchor under the shelter of a battery before we could
overtake him.  And that, in the end, was precisely what occurred; for
when at length we weathered Cape Frehel we were just in time to see him
entering Pleher Bay, where he presently rounded-to, clewed up his
canvas, and let go his anchor.

Naturally, Captain Vavassour was not the sort of man to see a possible
rich prize riding at anchor in the enemy's waters without making a
determined attempt to secure possession of her; we therefore stood
boldly in after the Indiaman until we arrived within half a mile of the
entrance of the bay--at that point about two miles across--when two
batteries of six guns each, built upon opposite headlands forming the
entrance to the bay, opened fire upon us, and with such effect that
within five minutes we had been hulled seven times, and had lost two men
killed and five wounded.  This afforded the skipper all the information
that he just then required, namely, the fact that batteries existed, and
also the exact position and strength of them--it now appearing that they
were armed with 32-pounders.  We therefore hove about and got out of
range again as quickly as possible; for, as the Captain said, it was no
good returning the fire of earthwork batteries; we might have plumped
into them every shot we had on board without doing them a
farthing's-worth of damage, while, had we attempted to force a passage
into the bay with the frigate, they might easily have sunk us.

But the fun was not yet over; as a matter of fact it had really not
begun--the affair of the batteries was merely the overture of the little
drama which was taking shape in the skipper's brain.  We stretched off
the land until we were about three miles distant from the mouth of the
bay, and then the ship was hove-to and preparation was made for the
dispatch of a cutting-out expedition; that is to say, an attack upon the
Indiaman by the frigate's boats, with the object of overpowering her
prize-crew, cutting her cables, and bringing her out of the harbour.

The launch, yawl, and the two cutters were the boats told off by the
Captain for this service, and as soon as the frigate was hove-to the
fighting crews of these boats--consisting of the very pick of the ship's
crew--were piped away, the boats hoisted out, and the preparation of the
craft for the service which they were about to undertake proceeded with.
Each of the boats named possessed, as part of her fighting equipment, a
gun mounted in the bows upon fore-and-aft slides, those belonging to the
launch and yawl being 18-pounder carronades, while the first and second
cutters each mounted a 12-pounder.  As soon as the boats were in the
water they were taken charge of temporarily by their respective
coxswains--the best four men in the ship--who at once proceeded to
supervise the shipping and mounting of the guns, each coxswain assuring
himself, by personal inspection, that this important piece of work was
properly executed.  The amount of shot likely to be required was next
passed down into the boats and carefully stowed upon the bottom-boards,
every precaution being taken to provide against it breaking adrift with
the rolling and pitching of the boats.  The chests containing cartridges
for the guns and ammunition for the small-arms were next passed in and
stowed, and finally a couple of beakers of water were placed in each
boat, together with a small quantity of spirits for use, if necessary,
in reviving the wounded.  This completed the preparation of the boats
for the projected expedition, and was done by the ordinary crews of the
boats, the fighting crews meanwhile busying themselves in examining the
flints of their pistols, fitting new ones where necessary, loading the
pistols and sharpening their cutlasses.

At length the coxswains reported the boats ready, whereupon the officers
told off to command them went down the side and carefully inspected
them, satisfying themselves that nothing had been forgotten.  Then the
members of the expedition were mustered on the quarter-deck and
inspected by the first lieutenant, who examined each man's weapons and
equipment before passing him for service.  The officers appointed to
proceed upon the expedition were Mr Adair, the first lieutenant, in
charge of the launch and in supreme command of the entire expedition;
Mr Trimble, the master, in charge of the yawl; Mr Purvis, the gunner,
in the first cutter; and Mr O'Donnel, the boatswain, in the second.  In
addition to these there also went Mr Burroughs, the assistant surgeon,
and myself in the launch, and a midshipman in each of the other boats.
As I anticipated the possibility of hot work before all was done, I took
the precaution to discard my dirk and to provide myself, in place
thereof, with a ship's cutlass and a pair of loaded pistols.

The inspection at length satisfactorily ended, the first lieutenant
reported to the Captain that all was ready; the Captain--who had already
arranged his plans with the officers commanding--gave the word to man
boats and shove off, and in another couple of minutes we had started,
and the frigate had filled away and was heading to seaward.

Not so the boats.  The Captain and Mr Adair, discussing together the
plan of operations, had come to the conclusion that it would not be of
the slightest use to attempt to bring out the Indiaman in the face of
those two batteries which had already given us so convincing a taste of
their quality; it had therefore been arranged that, upon shoving off,
the boats should be formed into two divisions for the purpose of
attacking the batteries and spiking the guns.  This, accordingly, was
now done, the launch and first cutter forming the starboard division,
destined to attack the battery on the western headland, while the yawl
and the second cutter, led by the master, constituted the port division,
the mission of which was to silence effectively the battery on the
eastern headland of the harbour.  The first lieutenant and the master
made a few brief final arrangements, and then the divisions separated,
each steering for its own proper headland, the senior officer leading
and the other following close behind, so as to show as inconspicuously
as might be on the dark surface of the water, and thus, if luck favoured
us, take the Frenchmen unawares.

Meanwhile, the night was passing rapidly away; for we had scarcely got
clear of the frigate when seven bells of the middle watch was struck,
and, it being then the middle of August, we might expect daylight very
shortly, when a surprise would at once become an impossibility; the word
was therefore passed for the oarsmen to give way at top speed, and away
we all went, as if for a wager, the two divisions heading respectively
south-west and south-east, in the hope that we might get close enough in
with the land to escape detection, and even possibly to land, before the
coming dawn betrayed us.

Now, although we were travelling at racing pace, our progress was
practically noiseless, the only sounds being the dip of oars in the
water and the lap and gurgle of the water about the boats' bows, Captain
Vavassour having already had the oars of these boats fitted to work in
rope grummets shipping over a single stout pin, instead of in the usual
rowlocks, and since much care had been used to render the grummets
tight-fitting, while the leathers had been well greased, there was none
of the usual rattle of oars in rowlocks,--a sound which in quiet weather
may often be heard at an almost incredible distance,--nor, thanks to the
greasing of the leathers, was there any creaking or grinding of the oars
against the pins; and of course no conversation was permitted beyond an
occasional whispered order to the coxswain.

In this fashion, then, we pulled shoreward, the distance to be traversed
being about three miles; and when at length the dawn broke and there was
light enough to enable us to see where we were, we--the starboard
division--found ourselves about a quarter of a mile distant from the
beach, with both batteries shut out from our view by a slightly
projecting bluff; and, thus far, nothing had occurred to lead us to
suppose that we had been either heard or seen.  As for the frigate, she
had disappeared, probably behind Cape Frehel; there was nothing,
therefore, so far as we could see, to put the French on the alert, or to
alarm them in any way.  We, therefore, now headed the boats straight in
for the beach, catching a momentary glimpse as we did so of the other
division, apparently doing the same thing.

The beach for which we were heading was composed of firm red sand,
sloping rather steeply down into the water, and the sea was smooth; we,
therefore, rushed them in until they were high and dry for nearly a
quarter of their length, the men leapt out over the bows on to the dry
sand, and then, with two boat-keepers in each boat to look after them,
they were shoved off again, with orders to keep afloat, and, if
threatened, to pull off to a safe distance and await our return.

Our little party, officers included, mustered forty-one men, the second
division consisting of three less; and no sooner were we all landed than
Mr Adair led us right up to the foot of the low cliffs that bordered
the beach, so that it was impossible for any one to detect our presence
unless by standing on the very verge of the cliff and looking directly
down upon us.

The next thing to be done was to reconnoitre the battery that we
intended to attack, and ascertain the easiest way to get inside it.
This duty was confided to me, I being the youngest and, presumably, the
most active of the party, while--as I afterwards learned--the Captain
had assured Mr Adair that both my courage and my discretion might be
relied upon.

"Ye clearly understan', noo, Maister Delamere, precisely what ye hae to
dae?" observed the first luff, when concluding his instructions to me.
"Oor business is tae tak' yon wee bit battery, and to spike the guns.
But we're to dae't wi'oot loss o' life on oor ain part, if possible;
ye'll therefore approach the place cannily and get as close up to it as
maybe wi'oot bein' discovert; and, that done, ye'll be pleased tae keek
roun' and ascertain if there's ony way o' gettin' intil it wi'oot haein'
to stor-r-m it.  If we can creep up and tak' the gairrison by surprise,
sae muckle the better.  Noo, gang awa' wi' ye, laddie; tak' care o'
yersel! and get back as soon as ye can, no forgettin' that if ye fin'
yoursel' in trouble, ye're to fire a pistol, and we'll come to your
help."

I touched my hat and, turning upon my heel, proceeded forthwith to
scramble up the steep face of the cliff, helping myself up by driving my
drawn cutlass deep into the stiff clay soil of which the cliff was
composed.  Reaching the top without much difficulty, I found myself upon
somewhat uneven ground, the surface of which sloped slightly down toward
the land.  The soil was clothed with short, thick grass and closely
overgrown with dense clumps of furze bushes, which I at once perceived
would afford excellent cover for the approach of our men.  Somewhat to
my discomfiture, however, I saw a flock of sheep grazing at no great
distance inland, while about a mile away to the south-west was a small
village, in the single street of which I could perceive people already
moving about.  Clearly, we had no time to lose if we wished to take our
friends the enemy by surprise; availing myself, therefore, to the utmost
extent of the cover of the furze bushes, I set off in the direction of
the battery, which I presently sighted about half a mile away.  Stooping
low as I ran from bush to bush, and peering cautiously round each before
venturing to start for the next, I soon found myself within about thirty
yards of the battery, which I saw to be a crescent-shaped affair, facing
eastward and thus in conjunction with the battery on the opposite point,
completely commanding the entrance of the bay.  It was in reality a
brick-work structure, consisting of four chambers with arched roofs
supporting a gun platform protected by a parapet pierced with
embrasures, the brick-work in its turn being protected by an earth-bank
thrown up in front of it in the form of a glacis.  It mounted six
64-pounders; and the chambers beneath the gun platform I took to be the
magazine, general store-room, and soldiers' quarters.  The gun platform
was approached at either end by a good wide flight of steps; and beside
each gun was a goodly pile of shot, while sponges, rammers, handspikes,
and the rest of the paraphernalia for loading and training the guns
reposed in brackets fixed to the inner face of the parapet.  Two
sentries were stationed upon the gun platform, pacing to and fro, and
evidently keeping a sharp lookout to seaward, and a number of
artillerymen were performing their morning ablutions, brushing their
clothes, etcetera, in the paved space before the chambers.  Strangely
enough, the back of the battery was left perfectly open and unprotected
by either wall or fence; there was therefore absolutely nothing to
prevent its being rushed from the land side.  I counted the men in sight
to the number of thirty-three, but concluded that there must be others
somewhere inside the chambers; and then, having acquired all the
information possible under the circumstances, made the best of my way
back to where Mr Adair and the rest of our party impatiently awaited
me.



CHAPTER THREE.

A CUTTING-OUT EXPEDITION.

In as few words as possible I reported to the first lieutenant the
extent of my discoveries, and, in return, received his tersely-expressed
commendation of my efforts; after which he briefly addressed his
followers, explaining to them the importance of making the attack as
complete a surprise as possible, and pointing out the necessity for
availing ourselves to the utmost possible extent of the cover afforded
us by the gorse bushes while approaching the battery.  Then, having told
off six of the men for the especial duty of spiking the guns--one man to
each gun--he directed me to lead the way, stationing himself alongside
me.

Three minutes later the entire party were on top of the cliffs, where we
paused for a moment to reconnoitre the ground afresh, and get our breath
after the exertion of climbing; then we moved slowly and cautiously
forward again, allowing plenty of time for each man to creep across the
open spaces from one patch of cover to the next, until in the course of
some twenty-five minutes all hands of us were lying down behind a large
clump of bushes, some twenty yards from the battery, which I had
previously fixed upon as a convenient point from which to start our
final rush.  Here another brief pause was made, which Mr Adair,
kneeling behind a bush, utilised to count heads and make sure that all
hands had come up; when, having satisfied himself upon this point, he
drew his sword, flourished it over his head as a signal, and, springing
to his feet, led us all at top speed in a charge upon the unprotected
rear of the battery.

The wild cheer of our lads as they broke cover and rushed across the
narrow open space which still separated them from the battery was
evidently the first intimation to the garrison that anything was wrong,
for our sudden appearance seemed to take them absolutely by surprise,
with the result that something very like a panic ensued among them.  A
few, after staring at us agape and motionless for a second or two, as
though unable to comprehend what we were after, came to life and took to
their heels, attempting to bolt out of the battery before we could reach
it.  But our lads quickly stopped them by spreading out in front of them
and driving them back at the point of the cutlass; others, seeing the
impossibility of retreat in that direction, dashed into one of the
chambers beneath the gun platform, slamming the door behind them,
regardless of the fact that they were shutting out many of their
comrades, and barricading themselves against attack, as we could hear by
the sounds proceeding from the inside; while, as for the two sentries on
the platform, they simply fired their muskets in the air, flung them
down, and vaulted over the parapet on to the glacis, thus making good
their escape.  The six men charged with the duty of spiking the guns
dashed straightway up the steps leading to the gun platform, and at once
proceeded to the execution of their task, leaving their comrades below
to deal with the garrison; and in less than five minutes the battery was
in our possession, and the six guns effectually spiked.  True, a few of
the artillerymen who had retreated to the interior of the structure
thrust muskets through the windows of the chamber and snapped them off
at us; but they speedily gave that up and surrendered at discretion upon
my approaching a broken window and shouting through it, by Mr Adair's
orders, the information that we were about to explode the magazine, and
that they had better come out if they did not wish to perish amid the
ruins.

When all hands upon both sides were mustered it was found that we had
gained possession of the battery without the least injury to either
side.  The French officer was then directed to march his men--who were
of course disarmed--to the village which I had seen earlier in the
morning, and which we now learned was called Erquy; and as soon as they
were fairly out of the battery the magazine was broken open, the powder
barrels rolled together in the middle of the room, the heads knocked
out, and a train laid from barrel to barrel, while another party of our
men was busily engaged in bringing the six spiked guns together in a
cluster immediately over the magazine.  A quarter-of-an-hour sufficed to
complete these preparations, when one end of a long fuse was buried in
one of the barrels of powder, the remainder of the fuse being carried as
far as it would go across the paved yard.  The men then fell in and,
under my command, marched out of the yard and took the way along the
cliffs toward the boats, while Mr Adair and the gunner remained behind
to fire the fuse and ensure the destruction of the battery.  We had been
gone about ten minutes, and had almost reached the spot where we were to
make our descent to the beach, when the earth shook and jarred violently
beneath our feet, a dull, heavy _boom_ burst upon the morning silence, a
fierce gust of wind suddenly swept over us, and, looking back, we saw an
enormous dim-coloured cloud, heavily charged with hurtling debris,
dismounted cannon, and masses of shattered brick-work, hovering over the
spot where the battery had been.  Two minutes later the first luff and
the gunner, breathless and panting, came running up to us, and we all
plunged down the cliff-face together.  The boat-keepers, seeing us
coming, headed the boats in toward the beach; and within another five
minutes we were once more afloat and pulling quietly alongshore toward
the mouth of the bay, intently watching, meanwhile, for some indication
of the whereabouts of the other division.  We had not long to wait, for
we had scarcely pulled a quarter of a mile when the battery on the other
headland blew up; and presently the yawl and second cutter came into
view from behind the point, pulling hard for the mouth of the bay.

There was, of course, no possibility of further secrecy in regard to our
movements, for the blowing-up of the two batteries would sufficiently
advertise the presence of an enemy in the neighbourhood, while the fact
of having been chased by the frigate during the preceding night would
give the Indiaman's prize-crew a tolerably accurate idea of where we
came from, and what were our ultimate intentions.  We, therefore, made
no pretence of concealing ourselves, but--a nice little westerly breeze
having sprung up with the rising of the sun--boldly laid in our oars,
stepped the boats' masts, and hoisted the sails, by doing which we
reckoned upon getting over the ground at greater speed while conserving
the strength of our contingent for the attack upon the Indiaman.  The
master and his party were unable to follow our lead in this respect, for
the wind which was fair for us was dead in their teeth; but, on the
other hand, we had about two miles more than they to cover.  It thus
happened that the two divisions of boats arrived at the entrance
practically at the same instant, the port division leading only by just
barely time enough to step their masts and set their canvas for the run
into the bay before we joined them.

The Indiaman was anchored well inshore, about a mile and a half inside
the headlands; and as we reached along toward her under sail, with the
boats in line abreast, and about thirty fathoms apart, we saw that the
prize-crew were busily engaged in preparing to resist our attack, the
guns being all run out, while an attempt was being made to fix up a
boarding netting on the ship's starboard, or seaward, side.  I had
brought my telescope along with me in the boat, believing that it might
possibly prove useful, and I now focussed it upon the Indiaman with the
object of getting some definite idea of the extent of the preparations
being made against us.  I had no sooner done so than I made the
discovery that there was no netting triced up on the port or shoreward
side of the vessel, the Frenchmen apparently taking it for granted that
we should dash alongside on the side nearest to us.  I immediately
reported this discovery to the first lieutenant, at the same time
mentioning my idea as to the explanation of the omission, whereupon,
having first satisfied himself as to the accuracy of my statement, he
hailed the other boats, ordering them all to board the ship on her port
side.

When we had arrived within about three-quarters of a mile of our quarry
she opened fire upon us with round and grape, first firing single guns,
and finally whole broadsides, whereupon we diverged well to port and
starboard, compelling her to train her guns so far fore and aft, that at
length only her two bow guns could be brought effectively to bear, and
although a few shot passed through our sails, while the first cutter's
mast was shot away, the boats themselves were untouched, and finally the
two divisions passed respectively athwart her bows and stern, and shot
up alongside her on her inshore side without a single casualty.

The launch hooked on under her bows, and the first cutter made fast to
her fore chains, while the yawl grappled her by the mizen chains, and
the second cutter by the main.  She stood high out of the water, though
not so high but that one way or another we were all able to scramble
into her channels, from whence it was not difficult to make our way
inboard.  The French must have felt very foolish when they found us
attacking them upon their unprotected side, yet they defended their
prize with the utmost gallantry, and for nearly ten minutes the fight
raged with great fury.  But when once our lads had all contrived to
scale the ship's high bulwarks and establish themselves upon her decks
they would take no refusal; there was a tremendous popping of pistols
and muskets for the first minute or two, and a good deal of smoke
drifting hither and thither; then, with wild hurrahs, the Europas dashed
forward, cutlass in hand, cutting, slashing, and pointing; the air
resounded with cheers, oaths, execrations, and shrill screams of pain;
the decks grew slippery with blood, prostrate bodies tripped us up here
and there, and then, suddenly, the Frenchmen flung away their weapons
and dived below, leaving us the victors of the fight and in undisputed
possession of the ship.

To disarm those prisoners who had not already abandoned their weapons,
and to secure them in the forecastle, was the work of but a few minutes,
after which our boats were veered astern and secured by their painters;
the hands jumped aloft and loosed the canvas, then slid down to the deck
by way of the backstays to sheet home and hoist away; the cable was cut,
and a few minutes later the ship had canted and was standing out to
seaward under topsails, topgallantsails, jib, and spanker, while the
wounded were being separated from the dead and carefully tended by
Burroughs, the assistant surgeon, and a small party told off to help
him.

Then came the question of the "butcher's bill," upon going into which we
found that we had one man killed and five wounded--two of them rather
seriously; while the French casualties amounted to four killed and
eleven wounded--three of the latter so seriously that Burroughs
questioned whether they would outlast the day.

A few minutes after we had cleared the harbour the frigate appeared in
sight from behind Cape Frehel, and half-an-hour later our prize--the
H.E.I. Company's ship, _Masulipatam_, of 1196 tons register, with a full
cargo of Indian produce, homeward-bound from Bombay to London--was
hove-to under her lee quarter, while Mr Adair had gone on board to make
his report.  Previous to this, however, I had gone below into the ship's
saloons, at the first luff's order, to see how the passengers fared, we
having gathered, from the crew of the _Belle Marie_, that they had been
left on board.  I found them all, to the number of forty-three, men,
women, and children, including some half-dozen native nurses, securely
locked in their several cabins; and glad enough were they to be
released, and to learn that the ship was once more in British hands.  It
appeared that they had been captured three days before in the Bay of
Biscay, and had been not too well treated by their captors, having been
robbed by them of all their money, jewellery, and other valuables, to
say nothing of other indignities to which they had been subjected.  So
far, however, as their stolen property was concerned, I was able to
reassure them with the statement that Captain Vavassour would
undoubtedly take immediate steps to have it found and restored to them.
Having done which, and excused myself upon the plea of urgent business--
coupled with a suggestion that the ladies should remain below until the
more gruesome evidences of the recent conflict could be effaced--I
hurried away to the other end of the ship and effected the release of
her officers and crew, who at once ascended to the deck and assisted our
own lads to put matters to rights.  Fortunately, there were no damages
to make good; within half-an-hour, therefore, of joining the frigate,
Captain Vavassour had made all his dispositions, placing the prize in
charge of Mr Galway, the third lieutenant, with a small prize-crew, in
addition to the vessel's own officers and crew; and we made sail in
company for Portsmouth, the skipper having decided to see our valuable
prize safe into a British port before losing sight of her.  This we
happily accomplished, anchoring at Spithead shortly after ten o'clock in
the morning of the following day, without having sighted anything in the
shape of an enemy.  We fell in, however, with the _Belle Marie_, off the
Needles, Mr Howard having contrived to get up and rig excellent jury
fore and mizen-topmasts during the passage; thus, by shortening sail
somewhat upon the frigate and the Indiaman, we were enabled to complete
the run to Spithead in company, the _Europa_ making a brave show as she
glided along to the anchorage, escorting her two valuable prizes, both
captured within one short week from the beginning of our cruise.

The moment that the anchors were down Captain Vavassour ordered his gig,
and went ashore to deliver his dispatches and make his report to the
admiral, and I went with him, in charge of the boat, taking with me a
letter which I had found time to write to my father, acquainting him
with the good fortune that had befallen us.  I walked up from the
Sallyport to the admiral's office with the skipper, carrying his
dispatch-box for him, and leaving the boat in charge of the coxswain;
for although, under ordinary circumstances, such a proceeding would
probably have resulted in the loss of the whole boat's crew, the amount
of prize-money which we had made within the last two days completely
banished all thought of desertion in the minds of the men.

Of course the fame of our brilliant double exploit soon spread all over
the towns of Portsmouth and Gosport, and although men were at that
moment very hard to get, several of the ships in harbour being so
short-handed as to be unable to go to sea, it was no sooner made known
that we required a few more hands to complete our complement than we had
more offers than we had room for.  We remained at Spithead only three
days, during which we replenished our stock of water, provisions, and
ammunition, and then we were once more dispatched by the admiral to our
former cruising-ground.

But during that brief interval one or two interesting changes had
occurred.  In the first place the _Belle Marie_, having been surveyed,
was reported to be a practically new ship, perfectly sound, and in every
respect admirably adapted for service in the navy; she was therefore
purchased by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, and ordered at
once into harbour to undergo such alterations as were deemed necessary,
and to refit.  Next, Captain Vavassour had spoken so highly in his
dispatches of the admirable tact and ability displayed by Mr Adair in
his conduct of the expedition against the French batteries, and
afterward in the cutting-out of the Indiaman, that our first luff had at
once received his promotion and been appointed to the command of the
prize--renamed the _Sparta_.  This of course created a vacancy on board
the _Europa_, which was filled by Mr Howard, who became our new first
luff, while Mr Galway also stepped up a ratline and became second.  The
vacancy created by the promotion of Mr Galway was not filled, but we
had no doubt that it would ultimately fall to O'Brien, our senior mid,
who was within a month of having served his full time, and to whom an
acting order was given.  These several changes were in the highest
degree satisfactory to all hands of us, for it obviated the necessity
for the introduction of strangers among us, while we felt that promotion
had gone to the right persons, namely, those who had actually earned it.
It is true that, short as our acquaintance with him had been, we were
all exceedingly sorry to lose Mr Adair, but our sorrow in this respect
was quite counterbalanced by our pleasure in the knowledge that he
thoroughly deserved his promotion, and that one more ship's company
would be made happy under the rule of a good captain.  In this
connection I must not omit to mention that, thanks to the highly
favourable report that Mr Adair had made of my conduct in the matter of
reconnoitring the battery, and afterwards, Captain Vavassour had been
pleased to name me in his dispatches, much to the delight of my father,
as I subsequently learned.

We sailed again from Spithead on the fourth day after our arrival, and
nothing of importance occurred for quite a fortnight, during which we
were kicking about in the chops of the Channel, keeping a bright lookout
all the while for anything that might chance to come in our way, whether
in the shape of captured British merchantmen, privateers, French
merchantmen, or otherwise.  But luck seemed to be against us, for we
sighted nothing but craft flying the British flag, and most of those
were men-o'-war.  At length, however, the skipper grew disgusted, and
determined to see whether better fortune awaited us farther afield.
Accordingly, having sighted Ushant broad on the lee-bow, and some ten
miles distant, at eight o'clock on a certain morning, with the wind out
at about North-West, we stood on until we had brought the island well
over our lee quarter, when the helm was shifted, the ship kept away a
couple of points, a small pull taken upon the weather braces, and away
we went booming into the Bay of Biscay, heading toward Cape Finisterre.
We had experienced fresh breezes, but fine, clear weather, from the
moment when we had left the Isle of Wight astern; but on this particular
day, shortly after noon, the sky became overcast and gloomy, with a
thick, murky appearance to windward that portended a change for the
worse.  This, however, did not greatly trouble us, for with Ushant out
of sight astern, the ship heading South-West by compass, and the wind
two points free, we had nothing to fear beyond such discomfort as was
inseparable from the heavy sea that was now fast getting up.  As the day
wore on, however, the mercury began to drop rather rapidly; the
thickness to windward increased, and it began to rain; the wind
freshened steadily, a high, steep sea got up, and everything appeared to
threaten a particularly dirty and unpleasant night.  By the end of the
first dog-watch the wind had increased to half a gale, the sea had drawn
abeam, and the ship was rolling her lee hammock-rails under.  The
Captain, therefore, ordered the topgallantsails to be clewed up and
furled, the flying-jib to be stowed, and a couple of reefs to be taken
in the topsails; for, as he remarked, we were not bound anywhere in
particular, were in no hurry, and might as well snug the ship down for
the night while we had daylight enough left to see what we were doing.

The night closed down upon us early, and so dark that we could not see
as far as the length of the ship, there being no moon, while the light
of the stars was completely obscured by the dense canopy of storm-wrack
that overshadowed us, the only objects visible outside the bulwarks
being the faintly phosphorescent heads of the breaking seas as they
swept down menacingly upon us from to windward; the air was raw and
chill, although it was only the first week in September; the decks were
wet and sloppy with the driving rain and spray; and those of us who were
on watch looked thoroughly miserable as, encased from head to foot in
oilskins and sou'westers, we paced to and fro, availing ourselves to the
utmost of such shelter as was afforded by the bulwarks and the boats
stowed on the booms.  By midnight the wind had further increased to such
an extent that sail was still further reduced, the courses being taken
off the ship, the jib stowed, and the mizen brailed in, leaving nothing
set but the three double-reefed topsails and the fore and main-topmast
staysails.  Yet, unpleasant as was the weather, we had at least one
consolation: the ship behaved splendidly, sailing fast through the
water, and going along as dry as a bone, save for the spray that was
blown from the crests of the waves and came driving athwart our decks in
blinding and drenching showers.

When at length the day broke, it revealed the ship hove-to under
close-reefed fore and main topsails, and fore-topmast staysail, the
central object in the midst of a grey and desolate picture, the dreary
character of which it would be difficult to surpass.  It was now blowing
a whole gale from the South-West, the wind having backed during the
night; the sky was an unbroken expanse of dark, slate-coloured cloud
athwart the face of which tattered shreds of dirty grey vapour rapidly
swept; the sea, of an opaque greyish-green tint, ran high and steep,
crested with great curling heads of pallid froth, flecked here and there
with fragments of seaweed, and our horizon was restricted to a circle of
little more than a mile in diameter by the driving mist and rain.  It
was, in short, a thoroughly disagreeable day, and I was by no means
sorry that it was my forenoon watch below.

I had just finished breakfast when a cry of some sort from the deck
reached us in the midshipmen's berth; but the straining of the ship, the
howling of the wind through the rigging, and the constant crash and
gurgle of the water outside rendered it indistinguishable.  We heard the
answering call of the officer of the watch--also indistinguishable--and
were beginning to arrive at the conclusion that the matter, whatever it
might be, did not concern us, when the shrilling of the boatswains'
pipes, followed by the hoarse bellow of "Hands, make sail!" caused a
general stampede for the deck, upon reaching which we learned that
during a momentary clearance of the atmosphere a brief glimpse had been
caught of a large ship, about a mile to leeward, steering north, under
topgallantsails, and that from her general appearance, brief though the
sight of her had been, she had been judged to be French.  The officer of
the watch had, of course, as in duty bound, reported the matter to the
Captain, who was at the moment in his cabin, taking breakfast; and the
skipper, having heard Mr Galway's story, had promptly given the order
to bear up and make sail in chase.

The decks, which but a few minutes earlier had presented such a dreary,
deserted appearance, now became in a moment a scene of the most animated
bustle and activity.  The Captain and first lieutenant--the latter with
a speaking-trumpet in his hand--were both on deck, the skipper on the
poop gazing eagerly into the thickness to leeward under the sharp of his
hand in search of the now invisible stranger; barefooted seamen sprang
nimbly hither and thither, some to the braces, some out on to the
jib-booms, and others into the rigging on their way aloft to loose the
furled canvas; the helm was put up, the fore yard swung, and the after
yards squared as the ship paid off; and in less than a minute the yards
were alive with men casting off gaskets, untying reef-points,
overhauling gear, and generally preparing to clothe the frigate with
canvas.  By the time that she had paid square off before the wind all
was ready, the loosened canvas was bellying out as though impatient to
be doing its duty once more, loosened ropes were streaming in the gale,
the men had laid in off the yards, and the three topsails went soaring
away to the mastheads simultaneously; the fore and main tacks were
boarded and the sheets hauled aft; the topgallantsails were in like
manner all sheeted home and hoisted at the same instant, the two jibs
went sliding up their stays, slatting thunderously the while and
threatening to snap the booms, until their sheets were tautened, and
away flew the _Europa_, like a started fawn, leaping and plunging
through and over the mountainous seas, with a bow-wave roaring and
foaming to the height of her hawse-pipes, and with the wind broad over
her larboard quarter.

To any one unaccustomed to the sea the change thus wrought in the course
of a few short minutes would have seemed marvellous, almost miraculous,
indeed; for whereas while we were hove-to, head to wind and sea, the
plunging of the ship had been so furious that it was only with the
utmost difficulty even the most seasoned among us could maintain our
footing; while the howling and shrieking of the wind aloft, and the
savage force with which it struck us when the frigate rolled to
windward, irresistibly suggested the idea that we were in the grip of a
hurricane; now, when we were scudding away almost dead before it, the
gale seemed to have suddenly softened to the strength of no more than a
moderate breeze; there were no repetitions of those sickening lee
lurches as the ship was flung aloft on the steep breast of a
mountainous, swift-running sea, but, in place of it, a gentle,
rhythmical, pendulum-like swinging roll, and a long, easy, gliding rush
forward, with an acre of foam seething and hissing about our bows as
those same steep, mountainous seas caught us under the quarter and
hurled us headlong forward with our bow-wave roaring and boiling ahead
of us, glass-smooth, and clear as crystal.

There were but two drawbacks to our satisfaction, one of which was that
the weather still remained so exasperatingly thick that we had not been
able to get a further glimpse of the strange ship, while the other was
that we only knew our position very approximately, and that by dead
reckoning only.  This last would have given us no concern at all had we
been heading to the southward, for in that direction there was plenty of
sea room; but we had now turned round and were rushing back northward--
north-north-east by compass, to be exact; and we knew that somewhere
ahead of us--whether on the port or the starboard-bow we were not at all
certain--were the terrible Penmarks; and, beyond them, the jutting
Pointe du Raz, Douarnenez Bay, Pointe de Saint Mathieu, and the dangers
that lurk between Ushant and the mainland, all bad enough in themselves,
but with an added terror due to the furious currents that swirl round
that part of the coast, and of the direction of which one can never be
quite certain.

That some such thoughts as these were disturbing the skipper's
equanimity soon became apparent, for after pacing the deck thoughtfully
for some time he suddenly looked up, and seeing me standing half-way up
the poop-ladder, straining my eyes into the thickness ahead in a vain
endeavour to get a glimpse of the chase, he called me to him.

"Is it your watch, Mr Delamere?" said he.

"No, sir," answered I, touching my hat, "but I thought I should like to
get a sight of the fellow we're after before going below."

"Thank you," he said; "your zeal is very commendable; but I daresay we
can muster eyes enough to maintain a lookout without keeping you on deck
in your watch below.  However, since you are here, perhaps you will
oblige me by finding the master and asking him if he has made up his
reckoning to eight bells.  If he has, request him to be good enough to
bring it, with the chart, to me, here, on the quarter-deck.  If he has
not, say that I shall be obliged if he will do so at once."

"Ay, ay, sir," answered I, touching my hat again as I turned away to
descend the hatchway.



CHAPTER FOUR.

THE FRENCH 50-GUN SHIP.

I found Mr Trimble in his cabin, in the very act of laying off the
ship's position on the chart, after working up his reckoning.  I
delivered my message, and by way of reply the master rolled up his
chart, tucked it under his arm, seized pencil, dividers, and parallel
ruler, and started for the deck, with me close in his wake--for I shared
the skipper's anxiety to know whereabout we were.

"Ah! here you are, Mr Trimble," exclaimed the Captain, as the master's
head and shoulders rose above the combings of the hatchway.  "Have you
made up your reckoning?"

"Yes, sir," answered the master, "and pricked her off.  We are just
about here, by dead reckoning."  And he made an effort to spread open
the chart on the capstan-head.  But the paper was stiff from being
almost continuously rolled up; moreover, the wind was troublesome--the
two circumstances combining to render it almost impossible for the good
man to do as he wished unaided.  I saw his difficulty, and, stepping
forward, seized the two top corners of the chart and held them down,
while the skipper gripped the third corner, and Trimble the fourth.

"There we are, sir--or thereabout," explained the master, pointing with
his pencil to a dot surrounded by a small circle, on the paper, with the
date written alongside it.

"I see," remarked the skipper thoughtfully, as he intently studied the
open chart.  "I suppose," he said presently, "you have made ample
allowance for leeway, and for our drift while hove-to?"

"Yes, sir," answered the master.  "I have allowed a point and a half for
leeway, and three knots drift, both of which I reckon are above rather
than below the mark."

"Y-e-es," agreed the skipper reflectively; "yes, she will not have made
more than that, I should think.  And you have, of course, also allowed
for tide and current."

"For both, sir," assented the master; "but, of course, you clearly
understand, Captain Vavassour, that the currents hereabout are very
irregular.  I therefore wish you to accept the position of the ship, as
there laid down, as merely approximate."

"Yes, I quite understand," answered the skipper.  "Now, assuming that
position to be correct, Mr Trimble--and we can do nothing else, I
think--how far are we from the Penmarks, and how do they bear?"

The master took his dividers, measured the distance, applied the
instrument to the margin of the chart, and announced the
distance--"Seventy-six miles."

"Good!" ejaculated the skipper.  "And their bearing?"

The master laid his parallel ruler down on the chart, with its edge
passing through the dot representing the ship's position, and also
through the Penmarks; then he carefully slid the ruler along the surface
of the chart until that same edge passed through the centre of the
compass diagram, and read off the bearing--"No'th-east, half east."

The skipper turned sharply round to the quartermaster.

"How's her head, quartermaster?" he demanded.

The quartermaster glanced into the compass-bowl and answered,
"No'-no'th-east, sir!"

"Excellent!" exclaimed the skipper.  "Why, at that rate, Mr Trimble, we
shall pass outside Ushant, if we keep on as we are going now."

"No doubt, sir," answered the master.  "But in my opinion," he
continued, "that's where the fellow we sighted a while ago is bound to,"
and he laid his forefinger on that part of the chart where the word
Brest was legibly printed.

"Ah!" ejaculated the skipper, "you are likely enough to be right.  But
he shall never get there, even if I have to drive the frigate under
water to stop him.  Hang it!  I wish the weather would clear, if only
for a moment, and allow us to get a sight of him.  Thank you, Mr
Trimble; that will do."  And he released his hold upon the chart,
allowing the corner he had been holding to spring back and curl up.  I
did the same, and, as the ship took a somewhat heavier roll than usual,
glanced out over the bulwarks at the racing, foam-capped surges that
reared themselves alongside; and at that moment, as if in direct
response to the skipper's forcibly expressed wish, the haze thinned away
somewhat to starboard, revealing, square abeam, and apparently about a
mile away, a dim, misty, grey shape faintly showing up through the
thickness to starboard.

"Sail ho!"  I cried excitedly, pointing her out; "there she is, sir."
And even as the words passed my lips there came a shout from the lookout
on the forecastle of "Sail ho!  A large ship, broad on our starboard
beam."

"Ay, ay, I see her--the glass, quick, Mr Delamere," answered the
skipper.  I jumped for the telescope, drew the tube, and handed it over
to the impatient hand outstretched to receive it.  By a piece of good
fortune the atmosphere inshore of us just then thinned away still more
for a few minutes, enabling us to get a tolerably distinct view of the
stranger.  Captain Vavassour, glass in hand, sprang up the poop-ladder,
and, with feet planted wide apart to give himself a good grip of the
heaving deck, applied the telescope to his eye.  I followed him, that I
might be at hand if required.  For a long two minutes he stood intently
studying the stranger, and speaking to himself the while.  "A 50-gun
ship," I heard him mutter, "and a Frenchman at that--steering a parallel
course to ourselves; yes, very likely making for Brest.  Rather a stiff
customer to tackle, perhaps, but I'll not let that stop me."

He removed the instrument from his eye, and, seeing me at his elbow,
handed it back to me.  "Thank you, Mr Delamere," he said.  "I shall not
require you again, so you had better go below, especially as there is a
probability that we may have a busy afternoon."  Then he descended to
the quarter-deck, where the second lieutenant and the master were
standing talking together near the capstan, and gave the quartermaster
the order to keep away a point to the eastward, which would have the
effect of causing us to converge gradually upon the Frenchman.

When I went on deck at eight bells it was to find that the atmosphere
had thickened again, to such an extent, indeed, that although it was
estimated that we must now be within half a mile of the French ship,
there was not the faintest trace of her to be seen.  The skipper,
however, considered that he was now as close to her as he desired to be;
he therefore ordered the course to be changed back to North-North-East,
and, at the moment when I gained the deck, was giving Mr Howard
instructions to let the men have their dinner, and then to put out the
fires and clear for action.

The keenness of the crew to get to work was evidenced by the fact that
although the men's dinner was now ready, it was with the utmost
difficulty that they could be persuaded to go below and eat it; and when
at length they went, in obedience to the Captain's imperative orders,
they returned to the deck in less than ten minutes, and at once set to
work of their own accord to put the ship into fighting trim.

It was evident to me that the master was greatly disappointed at not
having been able to get a sight of the sun at noon, and I could not help
thinking that, as the time passed on, he was not only disappointed but
was beginning to grow more than a trifle anxious, especially as shortly
after midday the weather became more gloomy and the wind freshened very
considerably.  He betook himself to the poop, up and down which he paced
rapidly, with his hands behind his back, and his eyes fixed abstractedly
on the deck, except when he raised them from time to time to gaze long
and piercingly ahead.

At length four bells struck, and almost immediately afterward, with a
further freshening of the wind, the atmosphere cleared sufficiently to
afford us another glimpse of the French ship, which suddenly appeared,
with almost startling distinctness, about three-quarters of a mile
distant, bearing one point before our starboard beam.  A dozen eager
voices at the same moment reported her reappearance, and the Captain
sprang up on the poop to get another look at her.  He was immediately
joined by the master, who seemed to be making some very earnest
representation to him; but what it was I could not hear, for I was now
down on the quarter-deck and had no valid excuse for approaching any
nearer.  However, whatever it may have been, Captain Vavassour was
evidently disinclined to listen to it, for I saw him once or twice shake
his head most determinedly, pointing at the same time at the French
ship, which still remained distinctly in view.  Finally the skipper left
the poop and joined Mr Howard on the quarter-deck, conversing very
animatedly with him for about five minutes.  It was while he was thus
engaged that the master suddenly called down to him the intelligence
that the stranger had hoisted French colours, upon which he gave the
order for our own colours to be hoisted, and, jumping up on the poop, I
went to the flag-locker, drew out our big ensign, bent it on to the
halliards, and, with the assistance of the master, ran it up to the
mizen peak.

Meanwhile, our men had long been at quarters, and the ship ready for
action.  I was, therefore, not surprised to see the first lieutenant
descending to the main-deck, evidently for the purpose of conveying the
skipper's final instructions to the captains of the guns.  It was going
to be a running fight, and we were about to open the ball.  But the
Frenchmen snatched that honour from us, for as I was descending from the
poop to the quarter-deck after having hoisted the ensign, I saw a jet of
flame and a cloud of smoke burst from the stranger's port side, and
immediately afterwards a heavy shot flew humming high over our
mastheads.  Almost immediately afterward three of our starboard
main-deck guns spoke simultaneously, and, as the smoke from them swept
away ahead of us, I heard the captain of the aftermost quarter-deck gun
cry out that all three shots had hulled the French ship, for he had seen
the splinters fly in three distinct places.  Then, at brief intervals,
the remaining guns of our starboard main-deck battery were fired; but
seemingly without doing very much damage.

The firing now became brisk on both sides, but the French fired much
quicker than we did, the reason being--as I afterward learned--that our
Captain had given the most imperative orders to the first lieutenant
that the gun-captains were not to fire until they had made sure of their
aim; and the wisdom of this soon became manifest; for while the French
fired upon an average three shots to our one, the damage sustained by us
was very trifling, while it was not long before the French ship's sails
and rigging became a good deal cut up--to such an extent, indeed, that
we were obliged to clew up our topgallantsails, in order to avoid
running too far ahead of our adversary.

Suddenly, the simultaneous discharge of three or four of our main-deck
guns was followed by a cheer of delight from our lads, and, jumping upon
the carriage of one of the quarter-deck guns, I was just in time to see
the French ship's mizenmast fall forward, dragging down the
main-topgallant-mast with it and passing through the main topsail and
mainsail in its fall, splitting them from head to foot.  There was at
once great confusion on board the Frenchman, and, being thus deprived in
a moment of all her after-sail, she immediately fell square off before
the wind, or about three points more to the eastward than the course we
were steering.

"Hurrah! we have her now," exclaimed the skipper, delightedly rubbing
his hands.  "Up with your helm, quartermaster, and follow her.  Weather
braces, Mr Galway; square the yards, and set your topgallantsails
again.  The land cannot be far off, and now she must strike or we will
drive her ashore.  Jump down on to the main-deck, Mr Delamere, and
request Mr Howard to train his starboard guns as far forward as they
will go, and then to rake her every time we luff."  (The change in the
relative positions of the two vessels caused by both of us squaring away
dead before the wind was that the French ship was now almost stern-on to
us, broad on our starboard-bow, and about half a mile distant.)

I sprang down the ladder on to the main-deck, and there found the first
luff superintending the working of our heavy guns.  The men had all
stripped to the waist to obtain the utmost possible freedom of movement
while hauling upon the tackles and flourishing their handspikes,
sponges, and rammers, and, generally speaking, had discarded their hats,
knotting bandanna handkerchiefs round their heads in place of them.
They were all eager to get to closer quarters with the enemy, and were
as merry as crickets, bandying jests with each other in the intervals of
toiling at the guns.  I delivered my message, and at the same time
seized the opportunity to inquire whether any casualties had occurred on
that deck.  Mr Howard informed me that there had been none thus far;
and with this information I returned to the quarter-deck and reported to
the Captain.

Brief as had been my visit below, I found upon my return from it that a
material alteration had occurred in the relative positions of the two
vessels during the interval; we were gaining upon the chase hand over
hand, and had shortened the distance between her and ourselves to a
short quarter of a mile, which was as close as we wished to go, the
skipper having now determined to keep to windward--that is to say,
astern--of the Frenchman, and alternately to luff and bear away, passing
athwart and athwart her stern on opposite tacks, raking her first with
one broadside and then the other, pouring in both round shot and grape.
He was in the act of giving orders to clew up the topgallantsails and to
haul down a couple of reefs in the topsails, so that we might not gain
any farther upon the chase, when I went up to him to make my report, and
as soon as he had finished I delivered it, and was again sent down to
Mr Howard to acquaint him with Captain Vavassour's plan, at which he
expressed the utmost satisfaction, immediately ordering the men in the
port battery, which had not yet been engaged, to stand to their guns.

Upon my return to the quarter-deck, after this second visit below, the
men were laying in off the yards, after having hauled down a couple of
reefs in the topsails, and as soon as they were down on deck the
sail-trimmers were sent to the braces, the helm was gently ported, and
the frigate was gradually brought to the wind on the starboard tack,
exposing her port broadside to the French ship, and as we went surging
athwart the enemy's stern the whole of our port battery, both main and
quarter-deck guns, was discharged into her, raking her fore and aft.
Then our helm was eased up; the frigate paid off, came gradually to the
wind on the port tack, and as we again crossed her stern the French ship
got the full contents of our starboard battery, with destructive effect,
if one might judge by the battered appearance of her stern, her
quarter-gallery being shot to pieces and every one of her stern windows
broken; thus showing that pretty nearly the whole discharge must have
entered her hull and raked her decks from aft forward.

But now that we had adopted the plan of alternately coming to the wind
and bearing away again, we began to realise, for the first time, how
hard it was blowing; for, when hauled to the wind, the ship was so
heavily pressed down by her canvas that at every lee-roll the main-deck
port sills were brought down to within a few inches of the boiling sea,
and the task of working the guns effectively taxed the skill of the
seamen to the utmost; so much so that Mr Howard presently sent up a
message to the skipper to ask whether it would be possible to relieve
the ship to the extent of taking the mainsail off her.

Captain Vavassour immediately issued the necessary orders; the
clew-garnets, buntlines, and leech-lines were manned at the moment that
the ship was running off the wind, the tack and sheet were eased up, and
the great sail, the most powerful in the ship, was handsomely clewed up,
as the men appointed to furl it made their way aloft.  The relief to the
frigate was immediately apparent; she at once became more lively and
buoyant, and, if her speed was decreased at all, the decrease was
inappreciable.

This manoeuvre was executed during the time that the frigate's head was
being directed to the southward, for the purpose of giving the French
ship the contents of our port battery for the second time; and the guns
had just been discharged when, as the smoke blew away, we saw that our
antagonist had put her helm down and was trying to come to the wind upon
the port tack, with the object, as we supposed, of returning our fire.
But as her head swept sluggishly round and she began, with apparent
difficulty, to come-to, her mainmast went over the side, and she fell
off again without having fired a single gun.  The sight of the falling
mast was greeted by our lads with an enthusiastic cheer, and then our
helm was put up to wear round upon the other tack, when the master--who
all this time had been anxiously pacing the poop--suddenly ran to the
head of the poop-ladder and shouted, "She strikes, sir! she strikes!"
and jumping upon the breech of a gun, I saw the tricolour being slowly
hauled down from the ensign staff upon which it had been hoisted when
her mizenmast fell.  The Captain, too, sprang up beside me in time to
see the flag go fluttering in over the taffrail as it was hauled down.

A tremendous volley of cheering greeted the intelligence of our success;
but our joy was short-lived, for the cheering had scarcely died away and
the men turned to secure the guns, when the master came rushing down the
poop-ladder and, addressing the skipper, said:

"It is no wonder that the fellow has hauled down his colours, sir.  He
has made the land, and will be ashore in ten minutes!  See, sir, if you
will look intently past him you will catch occasional glimpses of
leaping whiteness--there, it clears somewhat--do you see the breakers
inshore of him?  Ay, and now you may also see the loom of the land
through the haze!"

The skipper sprang half-way up the poop-ladder, glanced ahead, and
finally ascended to the poop, from whence he could get a clear and
uninterrupted view ahead and to leeward; then, holding on his hat with
one hand while he shaded his eyes with the other, he stared intently to
leeward.

"By Jove!  Trimble," he exclaimed to the master, who had followed him,
"you are right; those are breakers, and that is the land yonder without
a doubt.  But where in the world are we, man?  We must be miles to
leeward of your reckoning."

"Yes, sir," answered the master; "there is no denying that.  But you
must remember, if you please, that the wind headed us and broke us off a
couple of points some hours ago, which has made a lot of difference.
Then there is no doubt that this strong breeze, blowing dead on shore,
has created a powerful in-set, sending us bodily to leeward.  I have
been exceedingly anxious for the last hour or two, for I know this part
of the French coast well, and am fully aware of its extremely
treacherous character."

"But where are we, man; where are we?" demanded the Captain, with more
than a trace of anxiety and impatience in the tones of his voice.

"Ah, sir, I could tell you better if it would only clear enough to let
us see some of the details of the coast more distinctly," answered the
master, in tones of anxiety equal to the Captain's own.  "But," he
continued, "although I cannot say, to within a few miles, precisely
where we are, I have not the slightest doubt that we are somewhere
within the limits of Audierne Bay."

"Audierne Bay! and the wind blowing half a gale from the sou'-west!"
ejaculated the skipper, with a note of something approaching to dismay.

"Yes, sir, Audierne Bay," repeated the master.  "It is only there that
we could possibly have come within sight of the land at this hour of the
day.  Perhaps you would like me to bring up the chart, Captain
Vavassour."

"Yes; pray do so," answered the skipper.

The master had scarcely disappeared down the hatchway, on his way to his
cabin, when the French ship--which, having made an ineffectual effort to
round-to, had fallen off again and had continued to run dead to
leeward--suddenly broached-to; a terrific sea struck her on her port
quarter, turning her broadside-on to us, and her foremast went over the
side.  Instantly a dozen voices shouted excitedly--"The Frenchman is
ashore, sir!"

Yes, there was no doubt about it; for now every sea as it rolled in made
a clean breach over her, and we could see her lift to it, rolling over
at every blow almost to her beam-ends.

"Ay," muttered the skipper--I was close at his elbow, having followed
him that I might be at hand if required--"ay, she is ashore, fast
enough, and she will never come off again, for an hour of such pounding
as she is now getting will make an end of her.  We shall be very lucky
indeed if we do not follow.  Hillo!  Mr Delamere, is that you?  Just
find Mr Howard, and say I shall be obliged if he can come to me on the
quarter-deck."

"Ay, ay, sir," I answered, touching my hat as I started down the
poop-ladder.  I guessed that I should find the first lieutenant on the
gun deck, and there he was, superintending the securing of the guns--a
task which needed to be done very carefully and thoroughly; for now that
the ship had been brought to the wind she was rolling and pitching most
furiously, and if one of our long 24-pounders should chance to strike
adrift, the consequences might very easily be disastrous.  I delivered
the Captain's message, and then followed the first lieutenant on deck,
where he joined the skipper and the master, who were already standing at
the capstan, with the chart spread open before them on its head.  I had
no good and sufficient excuse for lingering near them, and therefore
passed over to the lee-side of the deck, as became a well-trained
midshipman; consequently I only caught a word here and there as I
staggered fore and aft in the lee scuppers.  I heard the Captain say
something about "Audierne Bay," and then, a little later, the master
said something about "land takes a westerly trend--Penmarks;" and,
finally, the Captain, as though closing a discussion, said, "Very well,
then, we will try her, while there is still room, and the sooner the
better.  Get the mainsail on her again at once, Mr Howard."

I surmised, from this last remark on the part of the Captain, that we
were about to make an attempt to tack ship; and indeed it was full time
for something to be done, for the breakers were now distinctly visible
for a space of about two miles on the lee beam, and they seemed to be
rather trending out athwart our bows.  It would, therefore, soon be
necessary to get the ship round on the other tack, either by staying or
wearing, so it would be wise to make the attempt while there was still
room to resort to the second expedient, should the first fail.

A few minutes later the mainsail was once more set; and no sooner was
the tack boarded and the sheet dragged aft than we felt the difference,
which was tremendous.  For whereas we had before been going along
comfortably enough, despite the heavy rolling and pitching, the moment
that she felt the extra pressure, due to the expansion of this large
area of canvas to the gale, she lay down to it, until at every lee-roll
the muzzles of the quarter-deck guns were buried in the boiling yeast
that foamed and swirled giddily past to leeward, and sometimes surged in
through the ports, filling the lee-scuppers knee-deep with water.  And
whereas we had before ridden buoyantly over the head seas, with nothing
worse than an occasional shower of spray flying in over the weather
cathead, the frigate now plunged her bows savagely right into the very
heart of them, quivering to her keel with the violence of the shock,
raising a very hurricane of foam and spray about her figurehead, and
shipping the green seas in tons over her forecastle at every dive, while
the main tack groaned like a giant in torment as it seemed to strive to
tear up the very deck of the ship.

"Keep her clean full, quartermaster, and let her go through it," ordered
the skipper.

"Ay, ay, sir; clean full it is," answered the quartermaster, as he gave
her an extra spoke of the wheel, while the Captain and the first
lieutenant stood together close by the weather bulwarks watching her
behaviour, the latter grasping a speaking-trumpet in his hand.

At length, after some eight or ten minutes of suspense, the skipper
spoke.  "Here comes a `smooth,' and now I think you may try her, Mr
Howard."

"Ay, ay, sir," answered the first luff, and, placing the trumpet to his
lips, he shouted, "Hands, 'bout ship!"

_Wee-wee-wee-wheetle-eetle-eetle-we-e-e_, shrilled the boatswains'
pipes, followed by the hoarse bellow of "Hands, 'bout ship!" and up came
the men, hurrying to their several stations.  The first lieutenant
paused an instant, flinging a lightning glance fore and aft the deck,
cried "Ready ho!" through his trumpet, then turned to the quartermaster
and said:

"Ease your helm down gently to start with, quartermaster; we will sail
her round as far as we can."  Then, keenly watching the behaviour of the
ship as she swept up into the wind, he presently signed with his hand,
"Hard down!" and cried through his trumpet, "Helm's a-lee!" whereupon
the fore and fore staysail sheets were let go and overhauled.  Meanwhile
a party of men on the poop had dragged the spankerboom as nearly
amidships as they could get it.  Presently the square canvas was all
a-shiver, slatting furiously and causing the ship to tremble to her
keel.  "Raise tacks and sheets!" was the next order; and now came the
critical moment and the question--Would she hold her way long enough to
cant in the proper direction?  And, as luck would have it, just then
there came hissing and foaming down upon us a particularly heavy sea,
into which the frigate dived until she was all a-smother for'ard.  Yet,
notwithstanding this, her head continued to sweep round--slowly, it is
true; still--"Mainsail haul!" bellowed the first luff through his
trumpet, and round swung the after yards, the men bracing them well up
and rounding in on the main-sheet.  Now her head was beginning to pay
off, but slowly.  The first lieutenant dashes up on the poop and looks
over the side--she has begun to gather stern-way.

"Shift over your helm, quartermaster," he shouts; "over with it!" and
stands breathless, awaiting the result.  "Ah! that's better, now she
pays off freely," and presently the main topsail fills with a loud flap.
"Fore tack--head bowlines--of all haul!" yells Mr Howard, and the head
yards sweep round and are braced hard up, the fore and main tacks are
boarded, the weather braces steadied taut, the weather lifts bowsed up,
the bowlines hauled, and away goes the saucy _Europa_ on the other tack,
having stayed triumphantly in a wind and sea that would have compelled
most ships to wear.



CHAPTER FIVE.

THE EUROPA HAS A NARROW ESCAPE.

"Splendidly done, Mr Howard; a very fine bit of seamanship!" exclaimed
Captain Vavassour, when at length the frigate was fairly round, and was
once more going through the water; "you must allow me to compliment you;
to tack ship successfully in such a wind and sea as this is no mean
feat, in my opinion, and the slightest error of judgment, a single
second of hesitation, must have resulted in failure."

"Thank you, Captain Vavassour," answered the first luff, flushing with
pleasure at the skipper's praise.  "I feel intensely gratified at your
appreciation.  But you really make too much of it, sir; it is not I to
whom the merit actually belongs, but to the ship herself--she works as
handily as a little boat; and I had such perfect confidence in her that
I really longed to try the experiment; although I grant you that I do
not know another ship with which I should care to make the same attempt
under similar conditions."

"No, indeed," agreed the Captain.  "Still, it is only by making these
experiments with a new ship that we can learn just how far she may be
depended upon to do a certain thing at a critical moment, and the lesson
is a most useful one to learn.  It seems inclined to clear a bit, I
think, for surely that is the French ship I see yonder--there, just
clear of the fore-rigging."

"Yes, sir, that is she, beyond a doubt," answered the first lieutenant.
"And I fancy we shall see her a good deal more distinctly a few minutes
hence, when we bring her more abeam.  The driving of a big chap like
that ashore, without so much as a single casualty on our part, ought to
be a feather in our cap, I think, for she is as good as a lost ship; she
will never again leave that berth."

"No," agreed the skipper, "I do not believe she will; indeed it appears
to me that--The glass if you please, Mr Delamere."

I handed him the instrument and he applied it to his eye for a full
minute or more.

"Yes," he continued, handing over the telescope to Mr Howard, "I think
I am not mistaken; take a squint at her yourself, Howard, and tell me
whether she does not look as though her back had already broken."

In his turn the first luff peered long and earnestly through the tube.
At length, lowering it from his eye, he said:

"It is rather difficult to speak with absolute assurance, sir, for the
sea breaks so violently over her that it is almost impossible to get a
sight of the whole of her hull at any given moment; still I am inclined
to say that not only is her back broken, but that she has actually
parted in two amidships.  If you will look at her very carefully I think
you will agree with me that her hull shows a distinct twist, and that
her after-end has a much heavier list than her bows."

At this moment eight bells struck, and as the midshipman who was to
relieve me was already on deck, and as I was pretty nearly wet through
with the spray that the frigate was now throwing over herself in
drenching showers, I went below to change and to get a cup of hot
coffee.

The two succeeding hours, constituting the first dog-watch, brought a
material change for the worse in the condition of the weather; for while
the haze had cleared away, enabling us to see the land distinctly to
leeward, some six miles distant, the wind had increased to such an
extent that sail had been reduced to close-reefed topsails and reefed
courses, while the sea had risen in proportion and was now so heavy that
the frigate was literally smothering herself forward at every plunge.
The fact was that she was being terribly over-driven; yet the skipper
had no alternative.  He dared not relieve the ship of another inch of
canvas, for we were on a lee-shore, and embayed, the land astern curving
out to windward so far that its farthest visible projection bore a full
point on our weather quarter, while our charts told us that beyond that
point the dreaded Penmarks stretched out still farther to windward.
Moreover it was almost as bad ahead, for although Point du Raz, some
seven miles distant, then bore nearly three points on the lee-bow, we
knew that stretching out to seaward from that point there was a
dangerous reef, with only a comparatively narrow passage between it and
the equally dangerous reef stretching out to the southward and eastward
from the Isle de Seins, and it was an open question whether we should be
able to fetch that passage and pass through it.  To all appearance
Captain Vavassour was perfectly calm and collected, yet he looked
decidedly grave, and I thought it seemed rather portentous that the
master should be his companion.  The latter appeared to be doing most of
the talking, and it was clear to see that he at least was distinctly
anxious.  At length, apparently by way of reply to a few words from the
Captain, he went below and, a minute or two later, returned to the deck
with his chart under his arm; then, with a long look into the binnacle,
he and the skipper passed into the cabin together.  I immediately seized
the opportunity to take a squint myself at the compass, noting the exact
bearing of the point on the lee-bow and the direction in which the ship
was heading.  Then I went down below into the midshipmen's berth, where
Maxwell, the master's-mate, was laboriously endeavouring to translate
some French book with the aid of a grammar and a dictionary.

"Here, drop that, Maxwell," I exclaimed, "and let us have a look at your
chart, that we may see what the next hour or two has in store for us.
If I am anything of a physiognomist the master is fervently wishing that
he was at home with his wife and family to-night, instead of where he
is, while the skipper, too, looks anything but cheerful.  They have both
gone into the cabin, and Trimble has taken his chart with him."

"Well, there is no particular reason why he should not do that, is
there?" demanded Maxwell.  "And why should he be especially anxious now,
more than at any other time?  Things are all right on deck, aren't
they?"

"Ay," answered I, "up to a certain point they are.  But reach down your
chart, and produce your parallel ruler and dividers, my hearty; I want
to get some sort of notion of what is ahead of us."

"What, are you frightened too, then?" demanded Maxwell, as he pushed
away his books and reached up for the chart.

"No, certainly not," answered I.  "But it is indisputable that the ship
is embayed on a lee-shore, and that it is blowing a whole gale of wind.
If, therefore, there is a prospect of our being obliged to swim for our
lives presently, I should like to know it."

"Oh, hang it all, man, it surely is not nearly so bad as that, is it?"
demanded the mate, as he spread the chart out on the table.

"Oh, isn't it?" retorted Gascoigne, another midshipman, who had just
come below in time to hear the tail-end of my remark and Maxwell's reply
to it.  "It is evident that you have not been on deck within the last
hour, or you wouldn't say that.  Why, man alive, if you would just pull
yourself together enough to become conscious of the antics of the hooker
you would understand that she is being driven as no ship ought to be
driven without good and sufficient cause.  There,"--as the frigate
plunged dizzily, rolling at the same moment almost over on her beam-ends
and quivering violently throughout her whole fabric at the shock of the
sea that had struck her, while plates, pannikins, cups and saucers,
knives and forks, books, candles, and a heterogeneous assortment of
sundries flew from the racks and shelves with a clattering crash, and
constituted a very pretty "general average" on the deck--"what d'ye
think of that, my noble knight of the sextant?"

"You just gather up that wreckage, my son, and put the unbroken things
back into their places," exclaimed Maxwell.  "Also, clap a stopper upon
your jawing tackle, younker; you have altogether too much too say, for a
little 'un.  Here, you Fleming--" to another mid, who was lying upon a
locker with his hands clasped under his head by way of a pillow--"rouse
and bitt, my hearty, and make yourself useful for once in a way; grab
the corners of this chart and hold them down to the table until I give
you a spell.  That's it.  Now then, Delamere, what is it that you want
to know?"

"First of all," I said, "prick off the ship's position as it was a
quarter of an hour ago.  There is Point du Raz.  Very well: when I came
below it bore exactly North 3 quarters East by compass, distant, say,
seven miles.  Mark off that bearing and distance, to start with."

Maxwell did so, making a little dot with his pencil on the chart.

"There you are," he said.  "Now, what next?"

"The ship was heading North-North-West," I said.  "What I want to know
is, Are we going to weather that point; and, if so, what lies beyond
it?"

"Ah!" exclaimed Maxwell, as the critical nature of our situation began
to dawn upon him, "I see--or, rather, we shall see in a minute or two.
Gascoigne, were you on deck when the log was last hove?  If you were
not, you ought to have been, you know, and--"

"I was," interrupted Gascoigne.  "She was doing a bare seven, and making
two and a half points leeway."

"Whew!" whistled Maxwell; "two and a half points!  That's bad.  The old
girl ought to be ashamed of herself.  No self-respecting frigate ought
ever to make more than two points leeway."

"Oh, oughtn't she!" jeered Gascoigne.  "You just go up on deck and see
how every sea that hits her knocks her bodily to leeward, and you'll
tell a different story, my friend."

"Well, well, I'll take your word for it this time, young man, just to
encourage you a bit, you know.  Now, let's see how that works out.  How
did you say she was heading, Delamere?"

"Nor'-nor'-west," I repeated.

"Nor'-nor'-west," echoed Maxwell, seizing his parallel ruler and
applying it to the chart.  "And two and a half points of leeway, applied
to the right, makes it north, half east; while Point du Raz bears--or
bore--north, three-quarters east.  Um!  It's going to be `touch and go'
with us, I am afraid, at that rate; for while she will doubtless weather
the point itself all right, there is that out-jutting reef, which is as
likely as not to bring us up with a round turn."

"And supposing we should be lucky enough to scrape past," I inquired,
"is there anything beyond that we need worry about?  I am almost certain
that I heard the master say something about `Les Stevenets,' or some
such name."

"Les Stevenets," repeated Maxwell--"yes, of course; there they are,
about two and a half miles to the nor'-west of the point.  But I don't
see why old Trimble need worry about them, for if we can't weather them
there is plenty of room for us to pass them to leeward, after having
done which we shall have plenty of time to decide upon our next move.
That is our critical point."  And he put his finger on Point du Raz.
"I'm going on deck to see how things look."

So saying, Maxwell rolled up his chart, put it and his instruments away,
turned up the collar of his jacket, and sprang up the ladder, Gascoigne,
Fleming, and I following him.

Upon our arrival the first thing I noticed was that the Captain, the
first luff, and the master were all standing together close under the
shelter of the weather bulwarks, apparently holding a sort of council of
war.  The weather, I thought, looked somewhat more promising than it had
done when I went below; for the sky to windward had broken, displaying a
very wild and stormy sunset, it is true, yet the fact that the heavy,
lowering canopy of cloud had broken up at all seemed to indicate that
the worst would soon be over.  But it was still blowing very heavily,
and while the atmosphere was now quite clear of mist, permitting us a
view to the extreme confines of the horizon, everything--the wild,
tumultuously heaving sea to windward, and the land ahead and to
leeward--showed a preternaturally hard outline.  Point du Raz was now
about three miles distant and bore about a point, or maybe a trifle more
on the lee-bow, with the surf breaking furiously upon the reef which
projected beyond it, while the leeward extremity of the reef jutting out
from the easternmost extremity of the Isle de Seins lay dead ahead,
smothered in boiling surf, the passage between the two reefs now looking
alarmingly narrow.  And it was through that passage we must win safety!

I was of course on the lee-side of the deck, so I could only catch an
occasional disconnected word of what passed between the trio to
windward, but I presently gathered that the master seemed to be
endeavouring to persuade the skipper to wear ship while we still had
room enough to execute that manoeuvre; but Captain Vavassour appeared to
be objecting, upon the plea that, once on the other side of the point,
we had nothing more to fear, whereas, should we wear ship now, we should
be heading for the Penmarks as soon as we got round upon the other tack,
and should reach them, and be faced with the task of weathering them
during the hours of darkness.  The skipper, it was evident, was all for
grappling with the nearest danger, for the reason that we should at
least have light enough to see what we were doing; and Mr Howard seemed
to side with him.

"But, sir," remonstrated the master desperately, "have you considered
what must inevitably happen if a flaw of wind should come round that
point, at the critical moment, and break us off, as it is likely enough
to do?"

"Well, n-o," answered the Captain slowly, "I had not thought of that, I
must confess, for I do not believe that such a thing is at all likely to
happen.  But I am very much obliged to you for mentioning it, Mr
Trimble, for `forewarned is forearmed,' and in circumstances like the
present it is our bounden duty to take every possible precaution for the
safety of the ship.  I am still of opinion that unless something
unforeseen--such, for instance, as the occurrence which you have just
suggested--should happen, we shall weather the point, and go clear; but,
to provide against anything of that sort, Mr Howard," turning to the
first luff, "be good enough to see everything ready for club-hauling the
ship.  Have the best bower-cable ranged, double-bitt it, and stopper it
at, say, thirty fathoms.  Mr Galway--where is Mr Galway?  Mr
Delamere, be good enough to find Mr Galway, and say I want him--or--no,
tell him that it may be necessary to club-haul the ship, and request him
to muster the carpenter and his mates below, ready to cut away the best
bower at the instant that I give the word.  Then come back to me; I may
want you."

"Ay, ay, sir," I answered, touching my hat; and away I went, heading for
the second lieutenant's cabin.  I met him just coming out, somebody
having already passed the word that the Captain wanted him.  I delivered
the skipper's message, received his assurance that all should be ready,
and then returned to the quarter-deck.

Presently Mr Howard returned to inform Captain Vavassour that his
orders had been carried out.

"Very well, sir," answered the skipper.  "Let the men go to their
stations for tacking ship.  Hands by the best bower-anchor!  Oblige me,
Mr Howard, by seeing personally that the anchor is all ready for
letting go, and also that it is let go on the instant, should I give the
order.  If at the last moment it should become necessary to club-haul, I
will personally take charge.  Mr Delamere, find one of the boatswain's
mates and station him below at the main hatchway, in such a position
that he can see you on deck here, with instructions to wind his call to
cut the cable the moment that he receives the signal which I will pass
on to you."

The critical moment was now close at hand; the point which we were
endeavouring to weather was less than a mile ahead, and still far enough
on the lee-bow to justify the hope that we might yet go clear.  But the
scene, generally, was of so alarming a character, and our situation was
so critical, that even the bravest man there might well have been
excused if he failed to regard it altogether without apprehension.  For
it was now blowing harder than ever, the sea was breaking with
absolutely appalling fury on the reef--speaking eloquently of the fate
that awaited us all in the event of failure--and the over-driven ship,
so heavily pressed down by her canvas that the lee-side of her
quarter-deck and waist was all afloat, groaned and complained in every
timber as she literally fought her way through the opposing seas,
smothering herself forward so completely at every mad plunge that those
who were standing by to let go the anchor had been compelled to lash
themselves firmly at their posts to avoid being washed overboard.  Add
to all this the fierce shriek and howl of the wind through the rigging
aloft, the groaning of the masts in their partners, and of the main
tack, as the ship rolled to windward, the thunderous shocks of the seas
as they smote our bows and shattered into blinding sheets of spray that
flew as high as the foretop and drenched the lee clew of the topsail,
and the sight of the spars bending and whipping to the terrific strain
that they were called upon to bear,--remembering, too, that if anything
should carry away just then it would mean the utter destruction of the
ship and the loss of all hands,--and the reader may be able dimly to
picture the feelings that animated the ship's company of the _Europa_ on
that occasion.

Even the skipper looked a shade paler than usual as he slowly brought
the speaking-trumpet from behind him and prepared to raise it to his
lips.  We were now so near the reef that we could hear the hollow
booming thunder and crash of the sea breaking upon it; its outer
extremity was within half-a-cable's length of our lee-bow, and it was
evident that, even if all went well, it was going to be "touch and go"
with us, when suddenly the ship came upright and the sails flapped with
a report like the discharge of a 32-pounder!  That fatal flaw of wind
round the Point, which the master had foreseen, had come upon us.

Up went the trumpet to the Captain's lips, and from it issued the
bellowing call of--"Hands, 'bout ship!  Ready oh, ready!  Down helm,
quartermaster!  Stand by to let go at the word, Mr Howard!"

"Ay, ay, sir!" came the response, faintly heard above the howl of the
wind, the thunder of the surf on the rocks to leeward, the heavy "slosh"
of a sea in over the bows, and the hair-raising slatting of the canvas
overhead.

The ship, in obedience to her lee-helm, had come up about a point, still
forging ahead, and bringing the outer extremity of the reef broad on our
lee-bow, when suddenly the canvas, with a terrific report, filled again,
and the ship careened to her bearings.

"Up helm, quartermaster, hard up with it, and let her go off again!  We
shall do it yet, by Jupiter!" ejaculated the skipper, in a voice that
quivered with excitement, while the master, who had been standing close
by all the while, sprang to the wheel and lent his strength to put it
over.

"Steady the wheel," was the next order, as the ship paid off again, and
once more began to gather way; "thus and no nearer, quartermaster; keep
her full, and let her go through the water!  What are you about, sir?"--
as the ship suddenly griped and the weather leach of the fore-topsail
shook.

"It is the undertow--the recoil of the surf from the reef that is
hawsing her bows up into the wind, sir," explained the master, as he
strained at the wheel, with the sweat trickling down from underneath the
rim of his hat.  "There--now she falls off again--steady as you go."

As the master let go the wheel, took off his hat, and drew forth a
pocket-handkerchief to wipe his streaming visage, the end of the reef
drew fair abeam, and so close that I could almost have leaped from the
main rigging into the boil of surf that seethed and hissed and swirled
about the black fangs of rock that showed here and there above water.
But the danger was over, for as the ship went plunging and surging past
one could see how, every time she lifted, she was, as it were, dragged
bodily to windward by the strong undertow, and a minute later the reef
was astern, but fast working out on the weather quarter, showing quite
clearly how exceedingly narrow had been our escape.

"Hold on there with the anchor, Mr Howard!" shouted the skipper.  The
first lieutenant waved his hand and came aft, wet to the skin, and his
clothes streaming with water as though he had been overboard--as indeed
he had, to all intents and purposes; for while standing on the
forecastle, waiting for the order to let go the anchor, he had been
quite as much under water as above it.

"That is as narrow a squeak as I have ever beheld, sir," he exclaimed,
as he joined the skipper.  "If it had not been for that half-board that
we involuntarily made, we should never have done it."

"No," agreed the skipper; "I believe that not even the undertow would
have saved us.  However, `all's well that ends well,' so we will first
take the mainsail off her, Mr Howard, and then you may splice the
main-brace and call the watch.  Let her go along clean full,
quartermaster; there is nothing to leeward now that we need be afraid
of.  How's her head?"

"Nor'-nor'-west, sir," answered the quartermaster.

The clewing-up and stowing of the mainsail, without allowing it to
thresh itself to ribbons, was a task of no little difficulty,
considering the violence with which the gale was still blowing; but our
first luff was seaman enough to accomplish it without mishap.  No sooner
was it off the ship than she once more resumed her former buoyancy of
motion, lifting easily over the seas, with only an occasional sprinkling
of spray upon the forecastle, instead of ploughing furiously through
them and drowning the whole of the fore-deck, as she had been doing
during her endeavour to work out to windward of Point du Raz; so great,
indeed, was the improvement in our condition generally that, although it
was still blowing very heavily, we all felt as though we had suddenly
passed into fine weather after our recent buffeting.

Some three-quarters of an hour later we passed Les Stevenets.  I believe
we might have weathered them had we really made a serious effort to do
so, but there was no need.  In this case, unlike that of Point du Raz,
we had the option of going to leeward if we chose, and the skipper _did_
choose.  He had evidently had enough of close shaves for one day, and
the moment he recognised that we should have another if he made the
attempt to weather that group of rocks, he ordered the helm to be put
up, and we passed to leeward of them, giving them a good wide berth.  We
had no stomach for again viewing surf-washed rocks at such close
quarters as we had been fated to do that day.

By the time that we were well clear of Les Stevenets night had fallen;
but for the previous hour the sky had been gradually clearing, so that
by the end of the second dog-watch it was a fine, clear, star-lit night.
The wind, too, was distinctly moderating; while the sea, although still
very high, was longer, more regular, and not quite so steep as it had
been; in a word, the gale had broken, and by midnight we were once more
under courses and single-reefed topsails.  By the end of the middle
watch we were able to shake out the reefs in our topsails and set the
topgallantsails, after which we hove about and headed south once more,
passing well to windward of the Isle de Seins and its outlying reefs
about noon next day.



CHAPTER SIX.

WE CAPTURE A DUTCH FRIGATE.

About a fortnight later, being at the time off Cape Ortegal, cruising
under short canvas, we sighted at daybreak a brig in the offing, to
windward, steering south, under a press of sail.  She was, at the moment
of discovery, some eight miles distant, and from her general appearance,
and especially from the cut of her canvas, we judged her to be French,
and a man-o'-war.  We accordingly at once made sail, and hoisted the
private signal, of which no notice was taken; we therefore concluded
that our suspicions relative to her nationality were well founded, and
crowded all sail in chase.  No sooner was this act of ours perceived by
the stranger than--the weather being fine, and the wind a moderate
breeze from West--she hauled her wind and, bracing sharp up, endeavoured
to make her escape to windward; the weather conditions, however, were
ideal for the frigate, and we overhauled the brig so rapidly that by ten
o'clock in the forenoon we were within gunshot of her; whereupon we
hoisted our colours and fired a shot across her forefoot as a polite
hint to her to heave-to.  Her reply to this was to pour in her broadside
of seven 8-pounders, the shot from which flew over and between our
masts, doing us no damage whatever.  Upon perceiving which, and noticing
also that we were about to return the compliment by firing our starboard
broadside at her, she hurriedly ran up the French ensign and as
hurriedly hauled it down again, at the same time backing her mainyard in
token of surrender.  We thereupon closed with her and took possession,
our prize proving to be the fourteen-gun brig _Gironde_, bound from
Brest to Toulon.  We transferred her crew of seventy to the frigate, and
sent her home in charge of Mr Galway, the second lieutenant, and a
prize-crew; but before parting company we learned, from certain papers
on board her, that on the 19th of the previous month (August) a treaty
of alliance, offensive and defensive, between France and Spain, had been
signed at Madrid.  We were thus at war with Spain, as well as with the
Dutch and the French--a piece of news which our lads greeted with cheers
of delight when it was communicated to them, for it gave them another
enemy to fight--and to conquer.

We were now at practically the southern extremity of our
cruising-ground, with the land plainly in view to leeward.  Captain
Vavassour--who seemed of late to have contracted a marked dislike for
anything resembling a lee-shore--therefore decided to work well off the
land, until the frigate had gained the track of homeward-bound ships;
and there to lie in wait for anything that Dame Fortune might be
disposed to send us; in pursuance of which resolution we made sail, upon
a taut bowline, as soon as the _Gironde_ had parted company, cracking
on, and working out an offing of about a hundred miles by daylight the
next morning.

The day dawned fresh and clear, with an almost cloudless sky, a moderate
breeze from about West by South, and very little sea overrunning the
long, regular Biscay swell; it was, in short, perfect Atlantic weather,
and about as complete a contrast as could well be imagined to the
conditions which had prevailed during our late experience in Audierne
Bay.

The weather being of so fine and settled a character, we had been
carrying our royals all through the night; but shortly after the Captain
made his appearance on deck, at eight bells in the morning watch, the
breeze freshened up perceptibly; whereupon, a good offing having been
secured, the word was given to clew up and furl all three royals; and a
minute or two later the hands were aloft and out on the yards, rolling
up the canvas.  It was while they were thus engaged--the ship being at
the time on the starboard tack, and consequently heading to the
southward--that a hail came down simultaneously from the fore and main
royal-yards to the effect that a couple of sail were in sight, broad on
the lee-bow.  To an inquiry on the part of the first lieutenant as to
what they looked like, the answer was returned that it was impossible to
say just then, as the strangers were so far away that, even from the
lofty elevation of the observers, the heads of their royals were only
just clear of the horizon.

Mr Howard cast an inquiring eye about him, and his gaze fell upon me.

"Mr Delamere," he said, "you have a good glass.  Just jump below and
get it, if you please, and then shin up as far as the main royal-yard
and see what you can make out concerning those strangers."

I did as directed, the hands who had been aloft meeting me in the
maintop on their way down.

"What do the strange craft look like, Simmons?"  I asked of the smartest
of the party.

"Well, sir," he replied, "as we told Mr Howard, a few minutes ago, we
can't make much out of 'em as yet; they'm too far off for that.  But
I've got pretty good eyes, Mr Delamere, and I think when you brings
that glass o' yours to bear on 'em that you'll find one on 'em's got her
r'yals stowed, while t'other has hers set.  Likewise I've a sort of a
notion that if you stays aloft for a matter o' ten minutes or so you'll
find that there's three on 'em, instead o' two; at all events just as I
was layin' 'im off the yard I thought I catched a glimpse of somethin'
showin' now and again that looked like the canvas of another craft just
liftin' over the 'orizon."

"Thanks, Simmons," said I, "I'll keep a lookout for number three.  If
she really exists, she ought to declare herself unmistakably within the
next few minutes.  By the bye, I suppose they are heading this way?"

"To the best o' my knowledge and belief they be, sir," the man answered.
"We wasn't on the yard long enough to make exactly sure, but it seemed
to me that, even durin' the minute or two that elapsed after we first
catched sight of 'em, they lifted a bit."

"Thanks," I said again.  "We shall soon see."  And I sprang into the
topmast rigging and proceeded on my way aloft, while Simmons swung
himself down over the rim of the top.

I soon reached my destination and seated myself comfortably on the
royal-yard, with my back resting against the mast under my lee.  From
this elevation the strangers were distinctly visible to the naked eye,
for the atmosphere was as clear as crystal; and, even before I had
established myself to my liking, my unaided sight had assured me that
Simmons' supposition was correct, and that there were three sail,
instead of two, to the southward; for the object that the topman had
only believed he saw elusively appearing and vanishing on the verge of
the distant horizon now stood out clear and sharp as a tiny patch of
canvas, showing milk-white in the morning sun, well clear of the other
two.  I soon brought my telescope--an exceptionally powerful
instrument--to bear upon the three patches of canvas that gleamed like
tiny shreds of fleecy, summer cloud upon the sharply-ruled edge of the
dark-blue sea, and at once discovered that Simmons had been so far right
that one of the craft had indeed her royals stowed, and not only that
but her topgallantsails also, while the other two appeared to be showing
every cloth they could possibly spread, including--as I soon made out--
topgallant studdingsails.

Presently, when I had been working away with my telescope for a minute
or two, a hail came floating up to me from the deck below of--

"Royal-yard, there! what have you been able to make out respecting the
two strange sail to leeward?"

Looking down past my left shoulder, I saw the skipper and the first
lieutenant both gazing upward at me.  It was the latter who had hailed.

"There are three of them, instead of two, sir," I answered.  "And while
two of them are carrying royals and topgallant-studding sails, the third
has her royals and topgallantsails stowed; from which I infer that two
of them are merchantmen, while the third is a man-o'-war--probably a
frigate."

A short confab between the Captain and Mr Howard ensued upon the
communication of this bit of information; then the skipper hailed:

"How do they bear, now, Mr Delamere?  Do they seem to be drawing out
athwart our hawse at all?"

"They bear about two and a half points on our lee-bow, at this moment,
sir," I replied.  "And I think that, if we hold all on as we are going
now, we shall weather the leading ship--the one that I take to be a
frigate--by about half a mile.  They are rising fast, sir--the heads of
the leader's topsails are just beginning to show; and if the breeze
continues as fresh as it is now we ought to be abreast of them in
about,"--I made a rapid calculation--"an hour and a half from this."

Another brief interchange of remarks between the Captain and the first
luff followed this communication, then the latter hailed again--

"Thank you, Mr Delamere.  That will do for the present.  You had better
come down and get your breakfast."

My estimate as to the time at which we should close with the strangers
was not far out; for when, having snatched a hasty breakfast, I again
went on deck, the heads of the leading stranger's topsails were visible
above the horizon, she having made sail about a quarter-of-an-hour
earlier and hauled to the wind a trifle, as though to intercept us; and
as I emerged from the hatchway the drummers began to beat to quarters,
Mr Percival, the third lieutenant, having gone into the fore-topmast
crosstrees to reconnoitre, and from that lofty outlook having not only
confirmed my conjecture as to the leading ship being undoubtedly a
frigate, but also expressed his conviction that she was a foreigner.

By the time that we were all ready to engage, if need were, the strange
frigate was hull-up; and as she had hauled her wind still farther, and
threatened to weather us if we did not mind what we were about, we
tacked ship, when it soon became apparent that the _Europa_ was much the
faster vessel of the two; we, therefore, stood on until we were sure of
our ability to pass across the other vessel's bows upon the next tack,
when we went about again, and at the same time hoisted our colours.  To
this challenge the stranger promptly replied by hoisting Dutch colours,
thus declaring herself to be an enemy, which declaration our lads
greeted with three mighty cheers.

Both ships were now close-hauled, on opposite tacks, the Dutchman
heading to the northward upon the port tack, while the _Europa_, on the
starboard tack, was heading up high enough to render it certain that we
should be able to cross his bows at about the distance of a cable's
length.  It was Captain Vavassour's intention to do this, if he could,
pouring in a raking broadside at the proper moment; but the Dutchman
soon let us know that he was not to be caught so easily, for when he
arrived at about four points on our lee-bow he suddenly went in stays,
giving us his starboard broadside as he did so, and the next moment a
storm of 32-pound shot came hurtling about our ears, crashing through
our bulwarks, killing two men and wounding five poor fellows, besides
cutting up our rigging a good deal.  We immediately luffed and returned
the compliment, giving him the whole of our port broadside, main-deck
and upper-deck guns; and when the smoke blew away we had the
satisfaction of seeing that we had shot away his jib-booms, thus
depriving him of a considerable amount of head-sail at a most critical
moment.  Moreover, the loss of his jibs caused him to miss stays and
hang in the wind so long that, taking advantage of the opportunity,
Captain Vavassour bore up, and, passing close athwart his stern, raked
him most effectively with our starboard broadside, receiving only four
shot from the Dutchman's stern-chasers in return.

Meanwhile, the Dutch crew went to work with most praiseworthy courage
and activity to clear away the wreck, and so to reduce the amount of
their after-sail as to get their ship once more under command; but
before they could succeed in doing this we had kept away far enough to
give ourselves room to tack, had gone about again, and once more crossed
our antagonist's stern, raking him a second time most destructively, at
close quarters, with our port broadside, double-shotted.  This discharge
must have played havoc with his crew, for when at length he had paid off
sufficiently to bring his starboard broadside to bear, he was only able
to fire a little more than half his guns, while they were so
indifferently aimed that only three or four of the shot struck us.

We now had a very great advantage over our antagonist, from the fact
that all our spars were intact, while he was greatly hampered by the
loss of so much head-sail; but the advantage did not remain with us very
long, for at the next exchange of broadsides down came our fore-topmast,
at the same instant that the Dutchman's mizenmast went over the side.
This put us both upon nearly equal terms, the advantage being rather on
the side of our antagonist, if anything; and now we went at it, hammer
and tongs, making a running fight of it, broadside to broadside, as fast
as the men could load and fire.  Now, too, it began to dawn upon us that
we had caught a Tartar, for the Dutchman mounted forty guns--32-pound
and 28-pound carronades--against our 24-pounders and 8-pounders, while
the close range at which we were fighting--about a pistol-shot
distance--enabled her heavier metal to punish us severely.  But our lads
cared very little about this, it appeared, one of them remarking to
another in my hearing that an 8-pounder could kill quite as effectively
as a 32 at short range, and for his part he would as soon be killed by
one as the other.  This appeared to be the spirit animating all hands,
for they toiled away at their guns, loading and firing with the utmost
rapidity, and cheering at every broadside, whether of their own or the
enemy.  But the work was too hot to last very long.  When we had been
engaged about half-an-hour we noticed that our antagonist's fire was
perceptibly slackening, and when at length we contrived again to pass
across her stern, and deliver another raking double-shotted broadside,
she hauled down her colours and hailed that she surrendered.  The word
was at once passed to cease firing, and the battle ended, for which I,
at any rate, was not at all sorry; for there had been moments when it
appeared to me as though we were both bent upon emulating the famous
Kilkenny cats, who fought until nothing but their tails remained!

Now came the task of taking possession of the prize.  Investigation
revealed the fact that, out of all our boats, only two were in a fit
state for immediate service, namely, the second cutter and the Captain's
gig, the others having been all more or less damaged by the enemy's
shot; the skipper therefore ordered the former to be lowered, directing
Mr Percival, the third lieutenant, to go away in her, taking with him
as many men as she would carry.

"Mr Delamere," continued Captain Vavassour, "you had better accompany
Mr Percival, bringing back the boat with a couple of hands as soon as
you have obtained all the essential information.  Be as quick as you
can, if you please, because I want to be off after those other two
craft."

"Ay, ay, sir," answered I, as I turned away to go below and fetch my
dirk; and a couple of minutes later we were clear of the _Europa_ and
pulling away toward the Dutchman, the skipper's injunction to me to
hurry being emphasised by the fact that as I passed through the gangway
I caught sight of the carpenter and his mates busily engaged upon the
task of routing out a new topmast from among the assortment of spare
spars that we carried.  Meanwhile the other two craft of which the
skipper had spoken, and which had all the appearance of being Dutch
Indiamen under the convoy of the frigate, had hauled their wind as soon
as the action began, and were now some four miles dead to windward,
heading about North-West, and cracking on with the evident intention of
getting out of sight, if possible, before we could repair damages
sufficiently to proceed in pursuit.

Five minutes sufficed us to span the narrow stretch of water that
separated us from our late antagonist; and upon climbing the side we
were received at the gangway by an officer of some twenty-five years of
age, whose head was swathed in a blood-stained bandage, and who handed
his sword to Percival with a dignified bow.  This officer, who spoke
English quite well, informed us that the ship which we had captured was
the Dutch frigate _Gelderland_, of forty guns, homeward-bound from the
East Indies with the two ships in sight under convoy.  He further
informed us that his name was Van Halst, and that at the beginning of
the action he had been third lieutenant, whereas, in consequence of the
heavy loss inflicted by our raking broadsides, he was now the ship's
commanding officer.

Indeed, it appeared that our fire had been fearfully destructive, for in
addition to the damage that had been apparent from the _Europa's_ decks,
we now beheld dismounted guns, shattered, blood-splashed bulwarks, cut
rigging hanging everywhere in bights, and shot-scored decks cumbered
with dead and dying men--a veritable shambles.  Mynheer Van Halst could
not tell us the precise extent of the ship's losses in killed and
wounded, for there had been no time thus far to ascertain it.  The sound
members of the crew were still busily engaged in the terrible task of
separating the wounded from the slain, and conveying the former below to
be attended to by the surgeon; but he told us that she had begun the
action with a complement of three hundred and ten officers and men, and
that he believed, from what he had seen, quite half of them must have
been put _hors de combat_.

Now that the fight was over and his ship taken, poor Van Halst began to
show signs of the stress and strain of the engagement; he gradually
turned ghastly pale; his lips quivered from time to time to such an
extent that, for the few seconds during which the paroxysm lasted, he
was scarcely able to articulate.  He staggered as he stood talking to
us, and at length Percival, who could ill afford to waste time in
conversation, gently led him into the handsome cabin under the poop,
deposited him on a sofa, found a decanter of brandy and gave him a good
stiff dose to revive him, and left him there, with a kindly injunction
that he was not to attempt to move until he, Percival, returned.

Having thus disposed, for the time being, of our principal prisoner
without, as we hoped, hurting his feelings, the third lieutenant and I
took rapid stock of the condition of our prize, Percival mentioning such
items of information as he wished to have reported to the skipper, while
I jotted them down in my pocket-book, together with such other notes as
I believed might be found of interest.  Thus, we examined the boats and
found three of them absolutely intact, while a fourth could be rendered
serviceable in about half-an-hour by the carpenter--our shot having
taken effect for the most part on the main-deck.  Then we quickly
surveyed her stock of spare spars, and came to the conclusion that all
her damages in that direction might be made good, except so far as her
mizenmast was concerned; she would consequently have to go home
brig-rigged, or at best as a barque.

Meanwhile, from the moment when our people first set foot upon her deck
they had fallen to upon the work of clearing away the wreckage, saving
all that was worth saving, and knotting and splicing rigging, leaving
the Dutch crew to look after their wounded comrades and convey them
below to the surgeon.  At length, after I had been aboard about
half-an-hour, I was ready to return to our own ship; I therefore ordered
two hands down into the boat alongside, and shoved off for the _Europa_,
noting, with great satisfaction as I did so, that the breeze was fast
dropping, and that the two Indiamen were still hull-up, not having made
very much progress to windward during the time that I had been aboard
the prize.

Upon regaining the _Europa's_ deck I found it a scene of feverish yet
perfectly ordered activity.  Everybody was busily engaged in one way or
another upon the task of making good the damage to our spars and rigging
by the enemy's shot; a strong gang upon the forecastle had already
cleared away the wreck of the fore-topmast, having removed from it,
practically uninjured, everything that had been attached to it in the
shape of other spars, rigging, and so on--such, for example, as the
topgallant-masts and royal-masts, with their sails, yards, and rigging,
the topsail-yard and topsail, the cap, crosstrees, and topmast rigging;
and the carpenter and his mates had already got the new spar fitted and
ready for pointing; while practically all our cut gear had been either
knotted or spliced.  As for our casualties, I was delighted to learn
that they were very light, taking into consideration the determination
with which our adversary had fought, our loss in killed and wounded
amounting to eight of the former and twenty-two of the latter, of which
only seven cases were regarded by the surgeon as really serious.

Captain Vavassour was up on the poop, talking to the master, when I
passed in through the gangway.  I, therefore, at once made my way to him
and, having reported myself in due form as "Come on board, sir,"
proceeded forthwith to make my report, referring from time to time to my
pocket-book in order to assure myself that I was omitting nothing.

"Thank you, Mr Delamere," the skipper said when I had finished; "you
seem to have brought me a very full and complete report--complete
enough, at all events, to give me a pretty clear idea of the state of
affairs aboard the prize.  From what you tell me, I judge that Mr
Percival will have his hands full for some hours to come; is not that
so?"

I answered that that was precisely how the matter appeared to me.

"Very well," he said.  "Then as soon as the carpenter has finished here
he must go aboard the prize, taking with him as many men as Mr Howard
can spare.  You shall go with him, remaining aboard the _Gelderland_
until the able-bodied portion of her crew can be transferred to this
ship, when you will undertake that piece of work, using, if need be, to
facilitate the operation, such of the prize's boats as will float.  You
had better find Mr Howard and acquaint him with this arrangement, and
then tell the carpenter what I want him to do.  It appears to me that
Mr Lucas is now almost, if not quite, ready to turn over to the prize.
If so, you had better take him across."

Away I trotted, and presently found the first lieutenant on the
forecastle, supervising the labours of the boatswain and the carpenter,
the latter of whom was just putting the finishing touches to his part of
the work.  I delivered both my messages, picked out fifteen more men to
go aboard the prize,--that being all that Mr Howard could spare,--
hustled them, with the carpenter and his crew, down the side, and
presently found myself again aboard the prize.

Here, short as had been the duration of my absence, I found a great
improvement in the appearance of things.  Mr Percival and his gang had
been working like demons, and had made great advances toward a general
clearance of the wreckage--so much so, indeed, that he was quite ready
for the Carpenter to start work at once; while, as for the Dutch crew,
they had completed their task of carrying below their killed and
wounded, and were busily engaged in washing down the main-deck and
otherwise obliterating, as far as might be, the evidences of the recent
battle.  I allowed them to finish this job--although I knew the skipper
to be very anxious to be off in chase of the two Indiamen--for I had
noticed, while crossing over to the prize on the last occasion, that the
wind had fined away to a mere zephyr, and that the Indiamen were still
hull-up; while there was every appearance of the weather falling stark
calm within the next hour or two.  I, therefore, told myself that,
taking everything into consideration, there was really no great need for
hurry.  But I had not to wait very long, for within half-an-hour the
Dutchmen had done all that was possible for them to do; and by noon I
had completed my somewhat disagreeable task of transferring all the
prisoners to the _Europa_, taking with me, on my last trip, the Dutch
surgeon's report upon the losses incurred by the _Gelderland_ during the
action.  These, as anticipated by Van Halst, were exceedingly heavy, the
killed numbering thirty-two, while the wounded totalled no less than one
hundred and thirty-one, of whom at least ten were so desperately hurt
that there was little hope of their outlasting the night.

By the time that all this was done, Mr Howard had got our new
fore-topmast on end and rigged, the topsail-yard aloft and secured, and
the topsail, fore-topmast staysail, and jib set, when we at once filled
on the ship and hauled our wind in pursuit of the Indiamen, Mr Percival
having received orders to follow us as soon as he could make sail.  Then
we piped to dinner, all hands having spent a most strenuously busy
morning.

At four bells in the afternoon watch the wind had fined down to such an
extent that the frigate was making no more than a bare four knots
through the water, although we had by this time got up the
fore-topgallant and royal-masts again and were once more under all plain
sail; while, as for the two Indiamen, built as cargo-carriers rather
than for speed, they appeared to scarcely have steerage-way, and seemed
to maintain their luff only with the utmost difficulty--indeed, there
were times when they fell so broad off as to present their full
broadsides to us.  But although their capture might now be regarded as
practically certain, they were evidently not disposed to yield without
making some sort of a struggle for liberty, for they were on opposite
tacks, one of them having gone about; the idea, of course, being to
separate and widen their distance as much as possible in the hope that
by so doing one of them at least might escape, even if the other were
captured.  Captain Vavassour, however, did not allow these tactics to
disconcert him in the least; he fixed upon one of them as the object of
his pursuit--altogether disregarding the movements of the other,
meanwhile--and devoted all his efforts to close with her, with the
result that by two bells in the first dog-watch we were within gunshot
of our quarry, when a shot was pitched across his forefoot as a gentle
hint to him to heave-to.  But he declined to take the hint, and it was
not until we sent a shot whistling between his masts that the sturdy old
Mynheer could be convinced of the impossibility of escape, when he
hoisted his colours to the peak only to instantly haul them down again
and back his mainyard in token of surrender.

"Mr Delamere," said the Captain, "I shall be obliged to send you to
take possession of that ship.  Take the cutter, therefore, with a dozen
men--armed, of course--and proceed on board at once.  You may take Mr
Millet (another midshipman) with you, who, with a couple of hands, can
bring back the boat and any message which you may find it necessary to
send.  You will have to depend upon the Dutch crew, principally, to work
the ship for you until I can make further arrangements.  As soon as you
have shoved off I shall proceed in pursuit of the other ship, and you
had better follow me, so long as there is wind enough for you to do so;
and you must use your own judgment as to the most opportune moment for
sending away Mr Millet and the boat."

A quarter of an hour later, followed by Jack Millet and my crew of
twelve, I clambered in over the bulwarks of the motherly old craft that
we had brought-to, and formally took possession of the _Haarlem_, Dutch
East Indiaman, of 965 tons, homeward-bound from Batavia, full to the
hatches with a rich cargo of Eastern produce, and a cuddy-full of
passengers who seemed to take their capture very philosophically,
especially when I explained to them that they might rely upon being left
in undisturbed possession of all their strictly personal effects.  With
the skipper, however,--a most dignified old fellow, white-haired, and
bronzed by nearly half a century of the sea life,--it was different.  It
appeared that he was part-owner of the ship, having sunk the entire
savings of a lifetime in the purchase of fifty shares and a quantity of
the cargo in her hold; and although he did his utmost to face his
misfortune as a brave man should, the tears started to his eyes as he
explained to me that the capture of the ship would leave him and his
_frau_ absolutely penniless in their old age.  I endeavoured to soften
the blow to him as much as possible by sympathetically murmuring some
idiotic platitude about "the fortune of war," but of course it was no
good; the poor old fellow simply shook his head and ejaculated--"Ay--the
fortune of war!  It is all very well for you, young sir, who depend upon
war to provide you with a career, to talk like that; but think of the
thousands who are ruined and whose hearts are left desolate by war;
think of the parents who have to mourn the loss of sons cut down by war
in the very flower of their manhood, and all because our rulers cannot
agree!  I tell you, sir, that if all men were what they should be--
honourable, honest, upright, and faithful followers of Christ--there
need be no war."

To which I replied that doubtless this was true; but that if we should
be compelled to wait for the abolition of war until mankind became
perfect, I had a conviction that neither he nor I would live to see it.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

WESTWARD HO!

When, through the captain of the _Haarlem_, as interpreter, I explained
to the Dutch crew that it was my intention to call upon them to continue
to work the ship, they seemed disposed at the outset to refuse; but I
soon brought them to a more reasonable frame of mind by giving them the
choice of remaining in their own forecastle and enjoying the liberty of
the _Haarlem's_ deck, on the one hand, and being transferred to the
frigate and confined below, on the other, when it took them but a few
minutes to make up their minds that the first alternative was by far the
more desirable of the two.

Having arrived at this understanding I filled away, and, with the cutter
in tow, stood after the _Europa_, which was now in full pursuit of the
second Indiaman--the _Schelde_, of 950 tons, also from Batavia, and with
an even more valuable cargo than that carried by the _Haarlem_, as I now
learned from the chief mate of the latter.  But oh, it was weary work to
attempt to turn to windward in a light breeze in the deep, bluff-bowed,
squat-sterned, Dutch-built _Haarlem_, after my experience of the smart,
lively, swift-sailing British frigate; it was, therefore, with a feeling
of the utmost satisfaction that shortly before the end of the second
dog-watch I heard the _Europa_ once more booming out her summons to
surrender, and saw the mainyard of the _Schelde_ swing slowly aback in
response.  For now, the business of taking possession of this third
prize once over, we could at least bear up and crowd sail for home, with
a free wind to help us over the ground; for by this time Mr Percival
had so far made good the damage sustained by the _Gelderland_ that he
once more had the vessel under command, and was working out toward us on
the port tack.  And from what I could see of the behaviour of the ship
it appeared to me that, even in the guise of a brig, she would be quite
able to hold her own with the slow-moving Indiamen.

The _Schelde_ and the frigate having hove-to, we were able to close with
them in the course of about an hour, when I sent away Jack Millet and
two men in the cutter with my report to Captain Vavassour, giving him
the name, tonnage, and nature of the cargo of the _Haarlem_, together
with such other particulars as I thought he would like to know, and also
acquainting him with the fact that the Dutch crew had consented to work
the ship.  Meanwhile the _Europa_ had taken in all her light sails and
clewed up her courses, with the evident intention of keeping close
company with her prizes.

As soon as the _Schelde_ had been taken possession of, and a prize-crew
put on board her, Captain Vavassour sent away his gig to me, in charge
of young Millet, with written instructions that I was to remain in
charge of the _Haarlem_, retaining Jack to help me, and to crowd all
sail for Plymouth, taking care to keep in close touch with the rest of
the squadron.  Jack--good boy--upon receiving his instructions to join
me, had had the sense and forethought not only to bring along his own
dunnage but mine also; and as soon as we had hoisted in the two chests I
sent back the gig, and we proceeded to make ourselves comfortable by
taking possession of two staterooms in the cuddy that by good fortune
happened to be vacant.

It was close upon four bells in the first watch when at length, all
arrangements being completed, the _Europa_ hoisted the night signal for
us to make sail, upon which, the wind having meanwhile freshened up
again a trifle, we wore round and, crowding all sail upon the two
Indiamen, shaped a course for Ushant.  I remained on deck until I had
seen the topgallant, topmast, and lower studdingsails set aboard my
command, and then, having had a busy and very tiring day, turned over
the charge of the deck to Bateman, a steady old quartermaster who had
been spared to me by Mr Howard, laying strict injunctions upon him to
keep a very sharp eye upon the Dutch crew, and then turned-in.  Five
days later, at daylight, we made the land, and came safely to anchor in
Plymouth Sound, just as the breakfast-bell was being rung on board the
two Indiamen.

The appearance of the _Europa_ in the Sound, accompanied by three
prizes, one of which was a more powerful vessel than herself, created
great excitement ashore, and we were speedily surrounded by a whole
flotilla of boats, the occupants of which clamorously besought
permission to come on board and dispose of, either by sale or barter,
the varied assortment of goods and commodities that they had brought
off; but the strictest orders had been given that no strangers were on
any account to be allowed on board, and that no boats or other craft
were to be permitted to come alongside, or even approach the prizes; we
were, therefore, obliged to possess our souls in patience, and see fresh
meat, soft tack, and many other dainties that we would gladly have
purchased, taken back to the shore again.  Two days later, however, the
prizes were taken into the Hamoase and their crews landed, after which
the prize-crews returned to the _Europa_, where the joyous news was
communicated to us that we were to proceed at once to Portsmouth to
refit.  We weighed forthwith and stood up channel with a slashing
westerly breeze, arriving at Portsmouth on the following day, when all
hands were turned over to the guardship, and the frigate was taken into
dock.

I obtained leave, without the slightest difficulty, and spent a very
happy month with my father, at the expiration of which I was notified
that the _Europa_ was once more ready for sea, and was requested to join
forthwith.

On this occasion I left home and journeyed down to Portsmouth alone, my
father happening at the time to be suffering from an attack of gout
which, while not sufficiently serious to be alarming, was nevertheless
painful enough to preclude travelling.  Upon arriving at my destination
I called at the George Hotel, where Captain Vavassour usually put up,
with the intention of reporting myself to him, but, learning that he was
on board the frigate, I at once proceeded to the harbour and, engaging a
wherry, transported myself and my belongings to Spithead, where the
_Europa_ lay at anchor.  I was just in time to catch the Captain and
report myself before he left the ship for the night, and then I
descended to the midshipmen's berth, where I was joyously welcomed by my
former shipmates.

Upon inquiring for the latest news, it appeared that certain changes had
occurred in the personnel of the ship since we had last all met
together.  For instance, Mr Howard had most deservedly obtained his
promotion and been given a command, while Mr Galway now reigned in his
stead aboard the _Europa_.  As second and third lieutenants we had two
new men, namely, Mr William Gadsby and Mr Edward Sutcliffe, both of
whom seemed to have made a fairly favourable impression, on the whole,
although--as was, perhaps, only natural--the occupants of the
midshipmen's berth seemed just a little inclined to regard them askance
as newcomers of whom but little was thus far known.  But when, an hour
or so later, I again went up on deck and, through Mr Galway, made the
acquaintance of the new men, I speedily came to the conclusion that
though our new second luff might possibly turn out to be rather a "taut
hand," and perhaps a little inclined to be intolerant of the practical
joking to which midshipmen are so prone, yet, on the whole, we should
not have much cause to regret the arrival of either himself or Mr
Sutcliffe among us, for both of them impressed me as being exceedingly
well-bred men.  Whether or not they would turn out to be capable seamen,
however, was a matter which only time and more intimate association
would prove.

As I have already intimated, the frigate had been reported as ready for
sea when I received orders to join her; and so she was, save in one most
important particular, namely, that she was short-handed.  For although,
upon our arrival home, all hands had been turned over to the guardship
and placed upon her books while our own ship was in the hands of the
dockyard people, the admiral had drawn upon them pretty freely, in order
to enable other ships to complete their complement and go to sea; so
that when the time came for the _Europa_ to receive back her crew, it
was found that she was nearly fifty men short of her full number.  This
was all the more unfortunate, in that we had very little time left us in
which to make up the deficiency; for we were to sail in three days' time
for Plymouth, there to form part of the escort of a large fleet of
merchantmen and transports bound to the West Indies under convoy.  But
now it was that our new second and third lieutenants showed their
mettle, for on the very night of my arrival on board they organised two
formidable pressgangs, which they led ashore, one party landing at
Portsmouth and the other at Gosport; and between them they managed to
make a clean sweep of pretty nearly all the crimps' houses within a
radius of four miles of the harbour, returning to the ship shortly
before daylight the next morning considerably battered and the worse for
wear--for they had been engaged in a series of desperate hand-to-hand
fights--but bringing with them sixty-three fine, able-bodied merchant
seamen, who had been in close hiding while awaiting a berth.  A few of
these men had already served on board a man-o'-war, and they did not
need very much persuasion to induce them to enter again; when the ball
having once been set rolling, as it were, the rest followed suit in
little batches of twos and threes until by midday the whole of them had
"volunteered," and we had completed our complement.

At daylight, on the third morning after my arrival on board, Blue Peter
was hoisted, the fore-topsail was loosed, and a gun was fired as a
signal that we were about to proceed to sea; and from that moment until
the anchor was lifted all was bustle and confusion--hoisting in and
securing the boats, stowing away stock of all descriptions, and clearing
the ship of women--wives and sweethearts of the crew--and traders who
were anxious to obtain a settlement of accounts.  The Captain's gig had
been sent ashore immediately after breakfast; and about ten o'clock she
returned, bringing off Captain Vavassour; the boatswains piped "All
hands up anchor!" and half-an-hour later we were bowling away down the
Solent before a fine easterly breeze.

We arrived in Plymouth Sound the next morning, and found assembled there
about one hundred and twenty sail of merchantmen bound to various ports
on the other side of the Atlantic, in the safe convoy of which to their
destination we were to take part.  We also found my old ship _Colossus_,
the frigate _Astarte_, of thirty-six guns, and two 14-gun-brigs--the
_Hebe_ and the _Naiad_--at anchor outside the merchant fleet, being the
remaining ships of the squadron detailed for convoy duty.

On the day following our arrival at Plymouth the wind shifted and blew
hard from the south-west, with almost continuous rain.  As these weather
conditions prevailed for eight consecutive days, we remained at anchor,
awaiting a change of wind, since it was useless to take to sea a fleet
of merchantmen, the greater number of which were so deeply laden and
such poor sailers that it would have been impossible for them to make
any progress against a wind that was blowing dead in their teeth.
During this period of inaction some thirty additional sail arrived at
the rendezvous, anxious to avail themselves of the protection of convoy;
when, therefore, on the ninth day the weather cleared and the wind
hauled round from the south-east, the merchant fleet of which we were to
take care during their passage across the Atlantic numbered in all
exactly one hundred and fifty-four sail.

The change of weather occurred shortly after midnight, with a steadily
rising barometer; at daylight, therefore, the commodore fired a gun and
hoisted the signal to weigh, and by eight o'clock the leading ships in
the fleet were under way and beating out to sea, led by the _Colossus_,
their departure being hastened by much firing of guns and continuous
displays of signal flags.  The two gun-brigs went out with the first of
the fleet, their duty being to marshal the merchantmen into something
like order when they got outside; but the _Astarte_ and ourselves
remained at anchor to quicken up the movements of the laggards and
expedite matters generally; and a hard time we had of it, for so
short-handed were some of the vessels that we were obliged to send
working-parties on board them to assist in making sail and breaking
their anchors out of the ground.  But by noon the last of them were
fairly under way, and as soon as they had passed outside of us we too
weighed and stood out after them, flitting hither and thither, hailing
first this ship and then that, with imperative orders for them to crowd
sail.  But oh, what weary, heart-breaking work was this business of
whipping-in; for so sluggish were some of the craft that it seemed as
though they would never be able to make their way out to the main fleet,
which was by this time hove-to in the offing.  However, by eight bells
in the afternoon watch we had contrived to hustle the last one out to
windward of the Eddystone, when the commodore made the signal to fill
away; and off we all went, with the wind a couple of points free, the
weather braces checked, and the slower coaches among the merchantmen
with all their larboard studdingsails set.  Then came a signal from the
commodore to regulate rate of sailing by that of the slowest craft in
the fleet and to keep as close together as prudence would permit; and,
finally, a signal to the men-of-war to take the stations assigned to
them and to keep a sharp lookout for marauders.  This last signal was
made purely as a matter of form and duty, and not because it was
actually necessary; for although none of us had sighted any
suspicious-looking craft on our way round to Plymouth, we felt pretty
certain that news of the assembling of the convoy, and of its probable
sailing date, would find its way across the Channel, and that, sooner or
later, we should discover that a few enterprising privateers were
hovering upon its skirts, watching for a favourable opportunity to cut
in and secure a prize or two.

The south-easterly wind held long enough to enable us and our charges to
get well clear of the Channel and to the southward of Ushant before it
changed, and then it gradually veered round until it came out strong
from the north-west, when away we all went for Madeira, the slowest
ships carrying every rag of canvas that they could stagger under, while
the faster craft were unwillingly compelled to shorten down in order
that all might keep together, while as for ourselves and the _Astarte_,
the utmost that we could show, without running ahead of our station, was
double-reefed topsails.

We sighted and passed Madeira on the eighth day out from Plymouth, and
two days later, to our great joy, picked up the "Trades," blowing fresh;
and thus far we had not sighted a single suspicious sail.  Most of us
were of opinion that, having been permitted to come thus far without
interference, we were now safe, and that with a strong trade-wind
wafting along even the slowest coaches among us, at a pace of from six
to seven knots an hour, our troubles were all over.  But the more
knowing ones shook their heads, smiled compassionately at our ignorance,
and said, "Wait a bit!"

And they were right.  For at daylight on a certain lovely morning, when
we were, by our reckoning, some three hundred and twenty miles from the
island of Barbadoes, upon going up to the main-topmast crosstrees to
take a look round generally, and count the number of sail in sight, I
discovered that at last the wolves had entered our fold and were already
playing havoc with it.  For, to start with, one of our finest and
fastest merchantmen had hauled out from the main body, and under a heavy
press of canvas was already hull-down in the south-eastern board, being
evidently in possession of a prize-crew, while, in the thickest of the
ruck, was a very large brigantine, under exceedingly short canvas, yet
keeping pace with the slow-sailing merchantmen, first sheering alongside
one and hugging her affectionately for a few minutes, and then turning
her attention to another and doing likewise.  But this was not all, for
on the northern flank of the convoy there was a small full-rigged ship,
which I felt certain was a stranger, apparently pursuing the same
tactics as the brigantine; while far away to the north were both our
man-o'-war brigs cracking on in chase of five craft--whether a portion
of our convoy or not, I could not at the moment say--which seemed to be
manoeuvring with the deliberate purpose of drawing the brigs away from
the convoy and so affording the brigantine and the ship an opportunity
to put in a good morning's work unmolested.

"On deck, there!"  I hailed.  "There are two strange sail astern which
seem to be running alongside and taking possession of a number of our
craft; one large ship is heading south-east and already hull-down from
the crosstrees here; and the two brigs--the _Hebe_ and the _Naiad_--are
about fifteen miles off, in the northern board, chasing five other
craft."

"Thank you, Mr Delamere," answered the first lieutenant.  "Can you
count the number of merchantmen in sight?"

"I'll try to do so, sir," I replied; "but I'm afraid it will be a little
difficult, for they are all bunching together, astern, as though for
mutual protection, in a manner that is very confusing."

"Still, I shall be glad if you will do your best to get the
information," hailed the first luff; to which I replied, as in duty
bound--"Ay, ay, sir; I'll have a try."

Therewith I set to work upon my somewhat awkward task, in the middle of
which some of the merchantmen began firing their signal guns to attract
our attention.  The example seemed contagious, for in about five minutes
the popping of their 4-pounders was almost continuous, and the smoke
became as thick as though a small battle were raging, while ship after
ship hoisted the signal for "Enemy in sight!"  At length, after being
compelled to begin my work all over again two or three times, I managed
to complete my count, making of them one hundred and forty-eight.  This
number I reported to the first lieutenant, down on deck.

"Does that include the six craft which appear to have parted company,
Mr Delamere?" hailed Mr Galway.

"No, sir," I replied; "it is the number which are still sailing in
convoy."

The first lieutenant conferred for a few minutes with the Captain, who
had meanwhile been sent for, and had come on deck, and then hailed
again, directing me to come down.

Meanwhile a good deal of signalling had been proceeding between the
_Colossus_, ourselves, and the _Astarte_; and just as I reached the deck
the order was given to make sail, the two frigates having been
instructed to chase the strangers, and for us, in addition, to pursue
and recapture the large ship which had by this time vanished altogether
in the south-eastern board.

We at once hauled our wind and, acknowledging the signal from the
commodore, crowded sail, standing to the southward upon the port tack.
We set everything to our royals, although the moment that the ship was
brought upon a wind, and the yards braced sharp up, we became conscious
of the fact that the Trades were blowing quite strong enough to justify
us, under ordinary circumstances, in keeping our topgallantsails stowed.
But this was no time for prudence; valuable property was being stolen
under our very noses--ay, and murder being committed, too, for aught
that we could tell to the contrary--and the marauders must be caught and
punished; we therefore cracked on, pressing the beautiful frigate to the
utmost limit of her endurance.

And, oh, what a joyous, exhilarating sensation it was to feel the ship
alive once more, as it were, heeling steeply over to the shrill piping
of the strong salt breeze, bounding from wave to wave, plunging her
sharp stem deep into the heart of each oncoming surge, and cleaving its
indigo crest asunder in a perfect storm of sparkling foam above which
played a miniature rainbow, after being compelled for weeks to moderate
our paces to those of the sluggish merchantmen!

Our shift of helm brought that portion of the convoy, in the midst of
which the big brigantine was pursuing her nefarious trade, square upon
our weather-beam, but as we were now going off practically at right
angles to the course steered by the convoy, and as both they and we were
sailing at a good rate, our relative positions very quickly altered; and
as the brigantine had not yet seen fit to haul out from among the
merchantmen, we were beginning to hope that she was too busily employed
to notice our movements, and that, before she did so and took the alarm,
we should gain the weather-gage of her.  But no, they were not going to
be quite so easily caught as all that!  It happened, however, that at
the precise moment when we hauled out from the main body she had run
alongside a large transport, carrying troops out to the West Indies; and
the officers on board her, having got timely notice of what was
happening, had prepared for her visit by turning up the soldiers, some
five hundred in number, serving out ball cartridge to them, and causing
them to crouch low behind the bulwarks.  Then, just as the brigantine
ranged up alongside to board, the soldiers at a blast from the bugle had
poured in a fire of musketry that had literally swept her crowded decks
and filled them with killed and wounded, causing her to haul off in a
tremendous hurry, the soldiers continuing to gall her until she
contrived to escape by hauling her wind and interposing some of the
other ships between herself and the transport.  But, even as it was,
when at length she hauled out clear of the convoy, and proceeded to make
sail, she was a good three miles to windward of us, though about three
points abaft the beam.

Of course we heard faintly the rattling crash of the musketry volleys,
and were thus able to make a pretty shrewd guess as to what was
happening, but it was not until the brigantine had cleared the convoy,
and began to make sail, that we could form any idea of the extent to
which she had been punished by the soldiers.  For these picarooning
craft usually go as heavily manned, in proportion to their tonnage, as a
man-of-war, and are generally able to make sail quite as smartly.  But
now sail was made as slowly aboard her as though she had been a
short-handed merchantman, seven hands only--for I counted them through
my glass--going aloft to shake out the reefs from her topsail, and to
loose her topgallantsail and royal, while two more appeared to be as
many as could be spared to lay out and loose her standing and
flying-jibs.  But when at length she was under all plain sail, like
ourselves, we saw that we should have our work cut out to catch her, for
she developed a most extraordinary turn of speed, although the strong
breeze and heavy sea were all in our favour.

By the time that she had got the reefs out of her immense mainsail, and
had set an enormous gaff-topsail above it, we had drawn so far ahead of
her as to bring her a couple of points upon our weather quarter,
whereupon we tacked, the advantage gained being solely due, I imagined,
to the slowness of her crew in making sail.  When we were round, and
full upon the other tack, she was still quite three miles distant, and
bore about a point on our lee-bow; but of course she very soon drew out
athwart our hawse, and now everything seemed to depend upon which was
the more weatherly craft of the two.  Seen from the fore-topmast
crosstrees--to which I ascended for the purpose of getting a good look
at her--she appeared to be one of those immensely beamy, shallow craft,
copied from the slavers; and those vessels, I knew, although they
generally sailed like witches, were often anything but weatherly.  Yet I
had heard of vessels thus modelled for the sake of securing speed, and
fitted with a very deep keel to ensure weatherliness, where light
draught of water was not a consideration; and it remained to be seen
whether the brigantine was a craft of this class.

Now that all her canvas was at length set, the heavy loss of men that
she had sustained was no very serious disadvantage to her; for with one
good man to steer her, she would sail as well with a dozen hands as with
a hundred on deck, and there could be no doubt that she was going very
fast through the water.  The point now was whether, as we converged
toward each other--as we were now doing, the two craft being on opposite
tacks--we could persuade her, by means of our bow guns, to give in, and
so save us the time that would be consumed in a long stern-chase.

Mr Purvis, the gunner, believed that we could, and, having obtained
permission from the Captain to try his hand, soon proved himself right
by shooting away the chase's fore-topgallant-mast, when the loss of
topgallantsail, royal, and flying-jib so far reduced her speed that it
quickly became evident she must either strike or run the gauntlet of our
entire broadside.  She wisely chose the former alternative; and twenty
minutes later she was hove-to, with her topsail aback, on the _Europa's_
lee quarter.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE AUDACIEUSE PRIVATEER.

"Mr Delamere," said Captain Vavassour, "take a dozen men, and Mr
Gascoigne, and secure possession of that brigantine, if you please.
Stay a moment,"--as, touching my hat, I was about to dive below for my
chest--"you had better have with you Simmons and Henderson, as two out
of your dozen, to take charge of the watches, and take also two extra
hands to bring back the boat.  I will remain hove-to until you have
secured your prisoners below--I have not time to tranship them now; and
when you have done that you will be pleased to bear up and join the
convoy.  Now, be as quick as you can, young gentleman, for I am anxious
to be off after that merchantman yonder."

"Ay, ay, sir," I answered, touching my hat and turning away to secure my
crew.  I first found Simmons, the carpenter's mate, and Henderson, a
quartermaster, and informing them of the Captain's arrangement, desired
them to pick out the best ten men they could lay hands upon, arm them,
and get them into the cutter with their bags and hammocks, and then make
their own preparations,--by which time Gascoigne and I would be ready,--
then I bundled below, found Gascoigne, and set to work to get my own
chest and bedding ready.

Ten minutes later the boat was lowered and at the lee gangway; and in
another ten minutes we were aboard the prize.

We were received at the brigantine's gangway by a most ruffianly-looking
individual, with his left arm in a sling, and his otherwise bare head
bound up in bandages through which the blood was even then oozing.  As
he proffered his sheathed sword he introduced himself as Monsieur Jules
Despard, chief mate of the French privateer brigantine _Audacieuse_, of
Dunquerque, mounting sixteen long 18-pounders, and a long 32-pounder on
her forecastle, and originally carrying a crew of one hundred and
fifty-six men, of whom twenty-five were away in the Indiaman that had
vanished in the southern board, while twelve more were aboard one of the
vessels of which the gun-brigs were in chase.  "Of the remainder,
monsieur," he said, "there are but fourteen, beside myself, who are fit
for duty.  The others, including Captain Le Mesurier, have either been
killed outright or severely wounded in the murder-trap which that
dastardly transport of yours set for us.  It was a base, cowardly act of
theirs to permit us to approach them within biscuit-toss, and then shoot
us down like--"

"Do you think it was more cowardly than for so heavily armed and manned
a vessel as this to range up alongside of and attack a perfectly
defenceless craft like the Indiaman which you surprised in the darkness,
monsieur?" demanded I.  "But," I continued, "I have no time to argue the
point just now.  Henderson,"--to the quartermaster--"just jump below and
see if you can find a spot where the prisoners may be safely confined."

"Ay, ay, sir," answered Henderson, touching his hat, as he turned away
to inspect the forecastle.  Our friend, Monsieur Jules Despard, appeared
to understand English quite well, for as soon as Henderson had vanished
he said:

"I presume, monsieur, you have full authority from your captain to
accept the parole of such of us as are willing to give it?  For myself,
I--"

"No, monsieur," I answered, "I have received no such authority; on the
contrary, my orders are to confine you all below, for the present at all
events and until an opportunity shall occur to transfer you to the
frigate."

"But, monsieur, that order surely does not apply to the officers of the
ship, as well as the men?" remonstrated the Frenchman.  "It is usual to
make a distinction--"

"Pardon me, monsieur," I interrupted, "but you do not appear to
understand.  Is this ship a man-o'-war, or is she merely a privateer?
Do you or do you not hold a commission?"

"The ship, of course, is a privateer--a letter-of-marque, as I have
already had the honour to inform you," answered Despard; "therefore--"

"Precisely," I cut in.  "Doubtless you recognise the difference.  But
whether you do or not matters nothing; my orders are definite and
precise, and it is my duty to carry them out.  Should you desire to make
any representation to Captain Vavassour, when the frigate rejoins, I
shall be happy to transmit it to him; but meanwhile--" and I shrugged my
shoulders expressively.

"Very well, Monsieur Enseigne de bateau," he returned, glowering at me
savagely, "if you are determined to inflict upon me the indignity of
confinement, instead of accepting my proffered parole, I cannot help it.
But possibly we may meet again under reversed conditions, and should we
do so you will find that my memory for injuries is a good one."  And he
turned and walked forward, wearing a most ferocious scowl, and hissing
execrations between his set teeth.

A minute or two later Henderson returned to the deck with the
intelligence that he had found a fine store-room abaft the fore-peak
which could be cleared out in a few minutes, and which would afford
ample room for such of the prisoners as it would be necessary to put
under restraint.  Upon hearing this I went down below with him, leaving
Simmons in charge of the deck, and personally inspected the place, which
appeared to be excellent in every way for the proposed purpose.  I,
therefore, gave him orders to take five men and clear the place out
forthwith, after which he was to get the prisoners below and secure
them.  And while he was doing this I went aft to the cabin in search of
writing materials wherewith to pen a brief report to Captain Vavassour.

The brigantine was built with a monkey poop, extending from the taffrail
to within about eight feet of her enormous mainmast, and the main cabin,
with the captain's and first and second mates' staterooms, as also the
steward's pantry, lay beneath this.  This was a most excellent
arrangement, for otherwise, the vessel being extraordinarily beamy and
very shallow, there would have been scarcely head-room enough abaft in
the ship's run for cabins; whereas the addition of the four-feet height
of poop afforded delightfully lofty and airy cabins for the size of the
vessel.  I found, upon going below, that the chief and second mates'
staterooms were situated respectively on the starboard and port sides of
the ship, forward of the foot of the companion ladder, with the
steward's pantry between them, a window in each cabin, pierced through
the front of the poop, affording the occupant an excellent view of
whatever might be happening out on deck.

About three feet abaft the foot of the companion ladder a transverse
bulkhead extended for the entire width of the ship, and in the centre of
this bulkhead was a door which gave access to the cabin.  Opening this
door and passing on, I found myself in the main cabin, which was an
exceedingly roomy and pleasant little apartment, of the full width of
the ship, well lighted by a large skylight in the deck above as well as
by half-a-dozen large circular ports in the sides.  The furniture
consisted of a handsomely carved sideboard on one side of the door,
balanced by a well-stocked book-case on the other; there were cushioned
lockers running fore and aft along the sides of the ship, and a
beautifully polished mahogany table, draped with a handsome tablecloth,
occupied the centre of the cabin.  In one part of the book-case I found
a massive inkstand well supplied with pens, and also an abundant supply
of stationery; I accordingly sat down and penned my report to Captain
Vavassour.

I had but just completed this document when Henderson came down to
acquaint me with the fact that all the prisoners who were in the least
likely to give trouble were securely lodged below; I, therefore, sealed
my report and, taking it on deck, handed it over to one of the two men
who were to take the boat back to the frigate, and dispatched them; and
a few minutes later--the _Europa_ having meanwhile shifted her berth and
hove-to again close to leeward of us--the boat passed under the
frigate's stern and disappeared from our view.  Seeing the boat coming,
Mr Galway had manned the tackle-falls in readiness, and a minute later
she was run up to the davits, the boatswain's pipe shrilled out, the
mainyard was swung, and away went the beautiful craft, like a hound
released from the leash, in pursuit of the vanished Indiaman, leaving us
to our own devices.

Now we had time to look about us and note the effects of the
brigantine's disastrous encounter with the transport.  Truly these were
terrible enough, in all conscience; for although as soon as the
uninjured portion of the crew had made sail upon the vessel, in their
unavailing effort to escape, they had employed themselves in separating
the wounded from the dead and carrying the former below to the cockpit--
where the ship's surgeon was then busily engaged in attending to their
hurts--there had not been time enough for them to complete their task,
and the slain and wounded still cumbered the decks to such an extent
that when, upon the departure of the frigate, I gave the order to bear
up and stand after the convoy, our lads could scarcely get at the sheets
and braces without trampling some of them under foot.  They were
everywhere--between the guns, about the hatchways, and especially on the
forecastle and in the wake of the port fore-rigging, where they had
grouped themselves thickly preparatory to boarding, and where they lay
literally in heaps, while the bulwarks were splashed with blood from end
to end of the ship, and the lee scuppers were still running with it.
She had ranged up on the starboard side of the transport, consequently
the dead and wounded lay thickest on the port side of the brigantine;
but a few of the crew had apparently run round to shelter themselves
under the lee of the longboat--which was stowed on the main hatch--after
receiving the first or second volley, and the closeness and deadly
character of those volleys was borne witness to by the fact that the
boat was literally riddled with bullet-holes, the missiles having
evidently passed through and through her and probably laid low every one
of those that we found on her starboard side.  And if further evidence
were needed it was to be found in the fact that the starboard bulwarks--
almost as high and solid as those of a man-o'-war--were pitted with
bullets, "a long way closer together than the raisins in a sailor's
plum-duff," as Henderson caustically remarked.

Our first duty was of course to aid the wounded who had not already been
attended to; therefore, while Simmons and three hands busied themselves
aloft in clearing away the wreck of the fore-topgallant-mast, the
remainder of the prize-crew set about their gruesome task, even
Gascoigne lending a hand, while I took the wheel.  But the dead were out
of all proportion to the wounded, as we soon discovered, for when every
individual exhibiting the slightest sign of life had been found and
carried below, it proved that they numbered altogether only thirty-three
out of a total of one hundred and nineteen, which was the ship's
complement when she attempted to capture the transport.  Deducting the
fourteen prisoners whom we had confined below, the remainder,
representing the killed, amounted to no less than seventy-two!  These
the hard necessities of the case demanded that we should launch
overboard without delay, and this we did, getting rid of the whole of
them before closing with the convoy.

This done, and the wounded all conveyed below, we had time to think of
ourselves, and make arrangements for our own comfort during the coming
night.  There was no difficulty about this, Gascoigne and I arranging to
sling our hammocks in the late captain's stateroom, which left the chief
and second mates' staterooms available for Simmons and Henderson.  As
for the men, they simply screened off a portion of the mess-deck near
the main hatchway, and slung their hammocks there, the wounded being
accommodated in that portion of the mess-deck forward of the screen.
The ship had no hold, in the usual acceptation of the term; that is to
say, there was no space for the stowage of cargo, she having been built
as a fighting ship pure and simple, the space below the mess-deck being
only comfortably sufficient to accommodate the ballast, water-tanks,
provisions, and stores generally; thus, although so heavily manned,
there was ample room aboard her for the whole of her crew.

The captain's stateroom, wherein Gascoigne and I took up our quarters,
was an exceedingly comfortable apartment--a perfect palace, indeed,
compared with the midshipmen's berth aboard the _Europa_.  It was
situated abaft the main cabin; was, like the latter, the full width of
the ship, and measured about twelve feet fore and aft.  It was lighted
by windows reaching right athwart the stern, as well as by a small
skylight in the deck above, the combination of the two affording
admirable facilities for ventilation.  It was very neatly and
comfortably, though not extravagantly, furnished--a standing bedplace,
with a commodious chest of drawers beneath it, on the starboard side,
being balanced by a book-case with drawers for charts on the port side,
together with a sort of cabinet in which the ship's chronometers and the
captain's sextant were kept.  A set of cushioned lockers ran athwart the
after-end of the cabin, between the bedplace and the book-case; there
was a wash-stand and toilet-table at the foot of the bunk, and a table
occupied the centre of the apartment immediately beneath a handsome
shaded lamp which hung, suspended by brass chains, from the skylight.
The deck was comfortably carpeted; the chest of drawers was well-stocked
with clothing; and a few garments, together with an oilskin coat,
leggings, and sou'wester, hung from brass hooks screwed to the fore
bulkhead.

When I went on deck again after a brief sojourn below, I was met at the
head of the companion ladder by Simmons, who, touching his hat, said:

"What about breakfast, Mr Delamere?  We've been too busy to think about
it, up to the present; but I believe we can find time to snatch a
mouthful of food and drink now; and the men are beginnin' to ask what's
the latest news from the galley."

"Ay, to be sure," I answered.  "I was just wondering what is the matter
with me; but, now that you come to mention it, it means that, like the
men, I want my breakfast.  Is the galley fire lighted?"

"Yes, sir," answered Simmons, "and the coppers full of cocoa.  But we
don't know where to find the eatables; and Henderson an' I have been
thinkin' that it wouldn't be a bad plan to have the ship's cook and
steward up from below and make 'em work for their livin'."

"Certainly," I agreed; "have them up at once, Simmons, by all means, and
tell them--No, they will probably not understand you; send them aft to
me, and I will tell them what I want done."

A few minutes later the two Frenchmen were brought up on deck to me, and
I explained to them that I wanted them to exercise their usual
functions,--at which they seemed highly pleased; and small wonder,
either, for it was certainly more pleasant to work and be free, than to
be cooped up below in idleness.  Half-an-hour later we piped to a
somewhat belated breakfast, and a very excellent one it was, too--far
better than what we had been accustomed to aboard the frigate; and we
came to the unanimous conclusion that in whatever other respect the
French might be ignorant, they at least understood the art of living
well.

Breakfast over, Simmons went to work and routed out a spare
fore-topgallant-mast, which he prepared for sending aloft, while the
rest of the watch were busy clearing away the wreck forward; and by the
time that the new spar was ready for swaying aloft we had overtaken the
rest of the convoy, when the commodore sent away a boat, with the first
lieutenant of the _Colossus_ in her, to receive my report.  This I wrote
out and handed to him, retaining a copy to be handed to Captain
Vavassour; and after a little chat together our visitor instructed me to
retain command of the prize until the return of the _Europa_, and
meanwhile to take the place of that ship to assist in the protection of
the convoy.  He also informed me that during our absence the _Astarte_
had captured the ship privateer that had been so busy on the outskirts
of the convoy a few hours before, while the boats of the _Colossus_ and
the _Astarte_ had recaptured no less than five merchantmen that had been
taken possession of by the marauders.  As for the _Hebe_ and the
_Naiad_, they had vanished in the northern board, and as yet there were
no signs of their return.

Two days later we arrived at Carlisle Bay, Barbadoes, the _Europa_
overtaking us in the offing, in company with the recaptured merchantman
of which she had gone in pursuit; while on the evening of the same day
the two gun-brigs also arrived, bringing in with them the five vessels
which they had started to recapture; thus the little squadron of
privateers which had waylaid us, and had made such a bold bid for booty,
not only gained nothing but lost their own ships as well, together with
a good many lives.  But the heaviest loss of all was that sustained by
the unfortunate _Audacieuse_ in her blundering attack upon the
transport; for in addition to the seventy-two killed which we found on
board her when we took possession, nine more had died of their wounds
before we anchored in Carlisle Bay.  The remaining twenty-four wounded,
together with those who had been hurt on board the other prizes, were
taken ashore and lodged in the hospital at Bridgetown, while the whole
of the prisoners were transferred to the _Colossus_.  Gascoigne and I
fully expected that we should now be ordered to rejoin the _Europa_, but
instead of this, to our great delight, we were ordered to remain on
board, our crew being increased to twenty-six--that being as many as
Captain Vavassour could possibly spare us.

We remained in Carlisle Bay just twenty-four hours; which period we
utilised by refilling our water-tanks, laying in a bountiful stock of
fruit, vegetables, and poultry, together with as much fresh meat as we
believed we could possibly consume before it went bad; and then, leaving
in the bay such ships as were bound for Barbadoes, we sailed again for
the various islands to which our charges were bound, leaving some at
every halting-place, until in the fulness of time we arrived at Port
Royal, and the thirty sail or so that remained under our protection were
safely moored in Kingston harbour.

We remained at anchor in Port Royal harbour a full week, during which
the first lieutenant was more than generous to me in the matter of
leave, whereby I was enabled to twice dine and spend the night at the
Admiral's Pen, meeting there and making the acquaintance of several
military officers from Up Park Camp as well as a number of exceedingly
jovial, hearty, hospitable civilians--planters, merchants, and so on,
from Kingston and the surrounding neighbourhood.  This was my first
experience of the West Indies, and after the glorious scenery of the
island and the marvellous luxuriance, beauty, and strangeness of the
tropical vegetation which everywhere clothed it, I think that what
impressed me most was the amazing hospitality of its inhabitants, who
positively seemed to vie with each other in their efforts to show us
kindness.  Did any of us want the loan of a horse or vehicle to make an
excursion into the country, we had but to hint at our requirements and
we might take our choice of a dozen which were instantly placed at our
service; while invitations to dine and spend the night or longer, to
join picnics and shooting parties, were literally showered upon us in
such abundance that it would have needed at least six months' leave to
have enabled me to avail myself of them all.  Thus, in addition to the
two nights I spent under the Admiral's hospitable roof, I passed one
night--and might have passed many more--at Up Park Camp, and three whole
days and nights visiting sugar plantations at Saint Thomas-in-the-Vale
in the centre of the island.  Then came our orders to sail, and I was
obliged to bid a regretful farewell to my many kind friends; not,
however, until they had extorted from me more promises than I could ever
hope to fulfil that I would visit them and make a long stay when next I
found myself in the island.

Our orders were to cruise in the Caribbean generally, and among the
Lesser Antilles, for the protection of our own commerce and the
destruction of that of the enemy; and during the succeeding six months
we performed this duty, varied by occasional brief visits to Port Royal
and Barbadoes, making a few unimportant captures, but meeting with no
adventures worth recording.  It was through one of these captures that
we first got news of the surrender of the island of Trinidad (on the
17th of February 1797) to the combined naval and military forces under
Rear-Admiral John Harvey and Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby.

It was some six weeks after the occurrence of the above event that,
while cruising off Cape Gallinas, on the Costa Firme, with our head to
the westward, we found ourselves so nearly becalmed that it became
necessary for us to set all our flying kites in order to retain
steerage-way.  The night fell intensely dark, for the moon, well
advanced toward her third quarter, rose late, while the sky had
gradually become overcast, great masses of heavy cloud having worked up
against the wind, threatening one of those violent thunderstorms which
are so frequent in this particular part of the world.

The storm gathered slowly, and when I put in an appearance on deck to
stand my watch, at eight bells of the second dog-watch, it had not yet
broken, although an occasional faint flicker of sheet-lightning, away to
the eastward, warned us that we might expect it to do so within the next
hour or so.  At the moment of my appearance on deck, however, there was
no very immediate prospect of an outbreak, for the wind although light
was steady, and the frigate, close-hauled on the port tack, was creeping
along at the rate of about three knots per hour, while the gleams of
sheet-lightning were exceedingly faint and infrequent, occurring at
about ten-minutes' intervals.  Very gradually the brilliancy of the
flashes, as well as their frequency and duration, increased, until, by
two bells, the glimmer of some of them endured for perhaps as long as
three seconds, during which the entire sky, with its enormous, fantastic
cloud-shapes, from horizon to zenith, was lit up with a faint sulphurous
blue glare, strongly suggestive of the idea that we were afloat in the
heart of an enormous cavern, momentarily illuminated by the burning of a
port-fire.

It was during the flickering of one of these somewhat prolonged gleams
that the lookout on the forecastle-head reported:

"A small sail, three points on the weather-bow, headin' to the east'ard,
close under the land."

Mr Galway at once sprang up on the poop, and I followed, both of us
intently staring in the direction indicated by the lookout; but the
transient gleam had by this time flickered itself out, and we might as
well have been staring at a vast curtain of black velvet, for all that
we could see.  However, by patiently waiting, and persistently staring
in the proper direction until the next flash came, we at length
contrived to get a momentary glimpse of her, a dozen voices at least
exclaiming at the same instant:

"There she is!"

"Did you see her, Mr Delamere?" demanded the first luff, as the
darkness again enwrapped us.

"Yes, sir," I answered.  "I caught a momentary glimpse of her."

"And what did you make her out to be?" he asked.

Now, it is surprising how much detail the trained eye of a sailor will
grasp, even in the brief space of time occupied by a gleam of
sheet-lightning; it is due in part, I think, though certainly not
wholly, to what scientists describe as "persistency of vision," or the
phenomenon which causes an image to remain imprinted upon the retina of
the eye for a quite appreciable period after the object has vanished.
But I am certain that there is more in it than that, though precisely
what it may be I cannot tell; suffice it to say that I was able to
answer unhesitatingly:

"A brigantine, sir, of about two hundred tons, under all plain sail.
Very low in the water, and a decidedly suspicious-looking customer."

"Just so," answered Galway.  "Exactly what I made her out to be.  Have
the goodness to step down and report the matter to Captain Vavassour, if
you please."

There was no need, however; for the Captain, who had been reading in his
cabin, had heard voices, and had come up on deck to see what was the
matter.  Then ensued another brief but intensely exasperating period of
waiting until another flash came and once more betrayed the stranger's
whereabouts.  It came at length, and revealed her still standing to the
eastward, and so close under the land that, but for the momentary
illumination of her sails by the lightning, she would undoubtedly have
slipped past us unseen.

"Ah, yes, there she is; I see her!" exclaimed the skipper.  "Wait until
we are abreast of her, and then tack, Mr Galway," he continued.  "No
doubt they can see us a great deal more distinctly than we can see them,
and if we tack now, they will doubtless do the same, with the result
that they will be both to windward and ahead of us.  But if we wait
until she gets fairly past us, it will be a point in our favour, because
if she stands on we can gradually edge down upon her."

"She seems to be moving through the water very fast, light as is the
wind," remarked the first lieutenant.  "Ten minutes ago she was broad on
our weather-bow, while now she is almost abeam.  I expect we shall find
that she is quite as fast as ourselves."



CHAPTER NINE.

THE PIRATE BRIGANTINE.

We watched the stranger as she was revealed at uncertain but decreasing
intervals by the silent sheet-lightning, which was now flickering up all
round the horizon, affording us momentary glimpses of the great lowering
cloud-masses that overhung our mastheads as though ready to fall and
crush us, the shining undulations of the swell, with the small
overrunning ripples caused by the faint breathing of the breeze, the
distant land, and the brigantine sliding furtively along within its
shadow.  When at length she had drawn to a bearing two points abaft our
beam, the Captain gave the word to tack; and when, three minutes later,
we were fairly round, the yards braced up, sheets hauled aft, and the
frigate gathering way on the starboard tack, the stranger lay straight
ahead of us.

Of course, we had taken the precaution to wait until immediately after a
lightning flash before putting our helm down, and, as it happened, the
next gleam did not occur until several minutes after we had tacked; the
probability, therefore, was that the stranger would know nothing about
our manoeuvre until the scene was again illuminated.  The question that
now interested us was--how would her people act when they made the
discovery that we had shifted our helm and were standing in their
direction?  There were three alternatives open to them.  First, they
might follow our example--tack, and endeavour to escape to windward if
they believed their vessel speedy enough to succeed.  Secondly, they
might haul their wind and enter the Gulf of Venezuela, along the shores
of which there are two or three shallow inlets, in one or the other of
which they might take refuge and anchor, in the hope of being able to
defend their ship successfully against a boat attack.  And, thirdly, if
they were perfectly honest--of which we had our doubts--they might
proceed steadily on their way, taking no notice of us and our movements.
When we next got a sight of them the third alternative seemed to be
their intention, for, so far as we could discover, they had started
neither tack nor sheet; we therefore proceeded to edge down very
cautiously and very gradually toward her, keeping her about a point on
our lee-bow.

Now we discovered that our task was not going to be nearly so easy as we
had at first thought, for in the very light breath of wind that was then
blowing--and which was wholly insufficient to keep our lower canvas
"asleep"--the stranger undoubtedly had the heels of us, slipping along
so fast, indeed, that within a quarter of an hour of tacking we were
running off with the wind abeam and our weather braces checked, instead
of being upon a taut bowline, as we had been at the beginning of the
chase.

Meanwhile the expected storm, though it had been brewing long, showed
unmistakable signs that it was not going to keep us waiting very much
longer, for the sheet--lightning was flickering almost incessantly,
while a low, deep muttering of distant thunder occasionally made itself
heard.  The storm seemed to be working up astern of us, for presently a
dazzlingly vivid flash of chain-lightning rent the darkness over our
weather quarter, quickly followed by a deep, hollow, reverberating peal
of thunder that rumbled like the echo of a seventy-four's broadside.
Another and another quickly followed, each nearer than that which had
preceded it; and presently, far away astern of us, we saw advancing
toward us a sort of wall of vapour, the lower edge of which gleamed
white and phosphorescent as the wind in it lashed the surface of the
water into foam.

"Hands, shorten sail!" was now the word.  The watch sprang to their
stations, coils of rope were lifted off their pins and flung to the
deck; then in rapid succession followed the orders:--"Royal and
topgallant halliards and sheets let go; clew up and furl!  Hands by the
weather braces; square the yards!  Raise main tack and sheet; man the
main clew-garnets, buntlines, and leech-lines; clew up cheerily, lads!
Up helm, quartermaster, and let her go off.  So; steady as you go.
Hands by the topsail halliards!  Brail in the mizen!  Haul down the
flying-jib!  Here it comes!"

The squall swooped down upon us with a weird, shrieking howl, and a dash
of wet that was half rain and half spray; and the next moment, with a
tremendous creaking and groaning of timbers and gear, with all three
topsail-yards on the caps, and with the chain bobstay half-buried in the
foam that heaped itself up about our bows, away went the frigate, like a
startled sea-bird, speeding down-wind upon the wings of the squall,
enveloped in a sheet of rain that was more than half salt water, with
the lightning flickering and darting all round her, and the thunder
crashing overhead in a continuous booming roar.

The squall lasted very nearly three-quarters of an hour; but long before
that time had elapsed the weather ahead had cleared sufficiently to
enable us again to catch sight of the brigantine, now about two points
on our starboard-bow, running dead before it, like ourselves, under
nothing but a close-reefed topsail and reefed foresail.  She was still
maintaining her distance from us in the most wonderful manner; but was
now--possibly in consequence of having been compelled by the squall to
bear up--steering as though to enter the Gulf of Venezuela.  We
contrived to gain a little upon her by carefully watching our
opportunities and making sail by degrees as the squall blew itself out;
but in that respect her people were fully as wide awake as we were, and
made sail with a boldness and rapidity which most conclusively proved
that she was very strongly manned, and, therefore, not in the least
likely to be the harmless, innocent trader that they would doubtless
have liked to persuade us she was.  She was hugging the land so closely
that some of us were of opinion that her skipper intended to run her
ashore and take to his boats if it should prove impossible to avoid
capture in any other way; but the Captain did not believe this, and the
master also seemed to be of his opinion.

"His object," said Trimble, "is undoubtedly to get round Point Espada
and fairly into the Gulf.  If he can succeed in that, there are plenty
of little coves, especially along the western shore, in which he might
anchor and, sheltered from our guns, bid defiance to a boat attack."

"Ah!" observed the skipper, with much meaning.  "Well, we shall see.  It
is perfectly evident that he is anxious to keep out of our clutches,
which desire argues a guilty conscience on his part, and only makes me
the more determined to overhaul him.  Confound it, here comes the rain
again!  Mr Gascoigne, have the goodness to slip into my cabin and
desire my steward to bring my oilskins on deck.  Or, stay, the fellow
will have turned-in by this time; I will get them myself."

The rain came swooping down upon us with the tail-end of the squall, and
for a quarter of an hour it was so thick that we could see nothing a
couple of ships'-lengths outside the bulwarks.  Then it cleared away,
the clouds dispersed, the stars came out, the wind dropped to a moderate
breeze, and presently the moon, with nearly half her disc in shadow,
crept up above the horizon, flooding the heaving waters with ruddy gold
that quickly changed to silver as the satellite climbed high enough to
clear herself of the vapours that distorted her shape and imparted to
her the colour of burnished copper.

But where was the brigantine?  Ahead, abeam, on our quarter we looked,
but nowhere could we discern the faintest trace of her.  We had lost
sight of her a bare quarter of an hour, and in that brief space of time
she had contrived to vanish as completely as though she had gone to the
bottom in deep-water, leaving not so much as a fragment of floating
wreckage to furnish a clue to her fate.

The skipper was as much puzzled as he was annoyed, and in his perplexity
he turned to the master.

"What do you think has become of her, Mr Trimble?" he demanded.  "She
cannot have gone ashore and broken up so completely in a quarter of an
hour that no sign of her would remain.  We should see something at least
in the nature of wreckage to give us a hint of what had happened.  Yet I
see nothing; although if she had been stranded, either purposely or by
accident, her wreck ought to be away in there somewhere about abreast of
us.  And there are no off-shore dangers, are there?"

"The nearest that I know of are The Monks, away out here, some
twenty-five miles to the nor'ard and east'ard of us," answered the
master.  "The coast inshore of us is, of course, a bit rocky, but there
is nothing, so far as I know, in the nature of hidden dangers to cause
the wreck of the brigantine.  No, sir, it is my belief that there is
some snug little secret cove, known to the skipper of that brigantine,
and that he took advantage of the rain squall to slip into it, in the
hope of dodging us."

"Ah!" said the skipper, "yes; that is, after all, the only feasible
explanation of his disappearance.  He is neither ahead nor astern nor to
seaward of us; therefore he must be hidden somewhere inshore.  Mr
Galway,"--to the first lieutenant--"we will shorten sail, if you please,
with the ship's head off the land, remaining in sight of the coast until
daylight, when we shall perhaps be able to discover the hiding-place of
that brigantine."

This was done, and during the remainder of the night the _Europa_, under
her three topsails, jib and spanker, stood off and on, never going
farther from the shore than a distance of six miles, and very gradually
working her way back to--as nearly as we could guess it--the spot where
we had lost sight of the brigantine.  As the night wore on all traces of
the recent storm passed away; the sky cleared, the moon and stars beamed
down upon us in tropical splendour, affording us an ample sufficiency of
light to enable us to maintain an effective watch upon the coast, and
ensure that the stranger did not creep out from her place of concealment
and give us the slip.  The _terral_, or land wind, overpowered by the
recent squall, once more resumed its sway and piped up strongly,
bringing off to us the warm, fragrant odour of land and vegetation.

At length the day dawned, the sun soared into view above the eastern
horizon, and with the coming of the light some half-dozen of the best
telescopes in the ship were brought to bear upon the line of coast that
lay about five miles distant on our port beam.  I happened to be the
lucky possessor of an exceptionally good instrument--a present from my
father--and I had not been long at work with it when I discovered what
was unmistakably a small indentation in the coast-line, sheltered and
all but concealed by two headlands which approached each other so
closely that, viewed from a distance, they appeared almost to overlap.
I immediately directed the first lieutenant's attention to the spot, at
the same time handing him my glass, and he presently picked it up.  He
agreed with me that it was undoubtedly a cove, or tiny bay of some sort,
but was rather of the opinion that it was too small to afford shelter to
a vessel of the dimensions of the missing brigantine.  Nevertheless,
since it was the only opening that we could discover, and was, moreover,
about the spot where the stranger had disappeared, it was determined to
give the place an overhaul, and the helm was accordingly eased down, the
yards braced in, and we began to work in toward it.  Then the fighting
boats' crews were told off to overhaul the boats and prepare them for
service, yard and stay tackles were got aloft for the purpose of
hoisting out the launch, the boat-guns were slung all ready for lowering
over the side as soon as the boats should be brought alongside,
ammunition boxes were brought on deck, and, in short, every preparation
was made for a boat expedition; after which all hands were piped to
breakfast.

By the time that this meal was finished the frigate had worked in to
within about a mile from the shore, at which point she ran into a calm,
the land-breeze having died away.  The boats were then got into the
water and brought to the gangway, the guns were lowered down and secured
to platforms in the bows of the launch and the two cutters, shot was
passed down and stowed on the bottom-boards on either side of the keel,
the ammunition boxes were stowed in the stern-sheets, and then, all else
being ready, those who were to take part in the expedition were mustered
for inspection prior to being dispatched on what was likely enough to
prove a dangerous errand.  But little recked any of us of possible
danger; on the contrary, if an onlooker had judged only by the satisfied
smirk which our countenances wore, it might have been supposed that we
were all bound ashore for a day's holiday in the woods.

The expedition was to be under the command of Mr Gadsby, the second
lieutenant, who would go in the launch; the first cutter was to be
commanded by Mr O'Donnel, the boatswain, and the command of the second
cutter was entrusted to me.  We mustered fifty altogether, including
marines; and when at length, after having been carefully inspected by
the first lieutenant, we were given the word to shove off, the men who
were left behind sprang into the rigging and sped us on our way with a
hearty cheer.

We took it very easily as we pulled shoreward, in line abreast, for it
was by this time scorching hot, and it was important that the men's
strength should be husbanded to the utmost extent, in view of the
possible fight that might be awaiting us at the end of our journey; but
I kept a sharp lookout ahead, for, although the country in sight showed
no sign of habitations, there was no knowing how soon a masked battery
on one, or perhaps each, of the headlands might declare itself by
dropping a few shot among us.  Nothing, however, happened to hinder our
progress over the glass-smooth surface of the water, and in the course
of about twenty minutes we reached the opening between the two
headlands, and found ourselves in the mouth of a small, practically
land-locked cove of some twenty acres in area, with our friend the
brigantine in the very centre of it, with four anchors down--two ahead
and two astern--with boarding nettings triced up, ports open, guns run
out--eight long 12-pounders in each battery--and her starboard broadside
bearing full upon the entrance!

"There she is!" exclaimed a dozen eager voices in chorus; and, while the
words were still upon our lips, eight jets of flame burst from her side,
followed by eight wreaths of whirling white smoke that instantly
commingled, forming a curtain that completely hid her long low black
hull from us, and as a shower of grape came hurtling about our ears I
saw a big black flag go slowly soaring up to her main truck!

"A self-confessed pirate, by the Piper!" exclaimed Fred Gascoigne, who
had calmly crawled out from under the bow-sheets of my boat when we were
half-way between the frigate and the shore.  "Now--"

"Give way, men!" shouted Gadsby, springing to his feet in the
stern-sheets of the launch, and waving his sword above his head.  "Give
way, and get alongside before they can fire again.  Gunners, fire slap
at his bulwarks, and we'll board in the smoke.  Marines, fire in through
the open ports.  Hurrah, lads, put your backs into it!"

At that moment, as the smoke of the brigantine's broadside thinned away
and permitted us again to catch a glimpse of her hull, I noticed a
peculiarity about the craft that seemed to offer us a very important
advantage; her captain had, in fact, committed the same oversight as the
Frenchman in Pleher Bay, and I instantly hailed:

"Launch ahoy!  Do you notice, Mr Gadsby, that she has no nettings
triced up on her port side?  Apparently they are making certain that we
intend to go alongside on her starboard side, and--"

"By Jove!  Yes, you are right, Delamere," answered Gadsby.  "We will
board her on the port side.  First cutter on the port quarter; second
cutter on her port bow.  Keep up your fire, marines.  Now, gunners, as
soon as you are ready, blaze away!"

The three boat-guns spoke at almost the same instant, and so close were
we now to our quarry that our grape-shot literally tore her starboard
bulwarks to pieces, and a terrific outburst of shrieks and yells that
instantly followed upon the discharge bore eloquent evidence to the
terrible havoc that it had wrought among her crew.  The moment that we
had fired the boats separated, the first cutter making a wide sweep to
port in order to pass under the brigantine's counter, while we sheered
away to starboard to get under her bows, the launch passing outside of
us in order to get a fair run for the brigantine's waist.

Another minute and we were all alongside and hooked on, and then began a
most terrific struggle; for the brigantine seemed crowded with men.  We
had evidently taken them all a little by surprise, by boarding on her
inshore side instead of that side which was presented to us upon
entering the cove.  It was clear that, like the prize-crew of the
Indiaman in Pleher Bay, they had never expected us to think of pulling
round under her bows and stern, instead of dashing straight alongside;
but of course it was a very easy matter for the pirates to cross the
deck from one side to the other as soon as they discovered our
intention; and this they did, lining her bulwarks from her head-rails to
her taffrail, popping at us with muskets and pistols, thrusting at us
with pikes and cutlasses, and hacking at our hands and heads as we
endeavoured to climb her side and force our way over her bulwarks and in
on deck.  But our lads were not to be daunted by any resistance, however
desperate.  As we surged up alongside they dropped their oars, allowing
them to slide overboard and tow by the lanyards, and drawing pistol and
cutlass, leapt to their feet and, with a wild cheer, sprang on to the
boats' gunwales and thence to any foothold that they could find,
snapping their pistols in the faces of any who dared to show their heads
above the rail; while the marines thrust their bayonets through the open
ports into the legs of any individual who happened to be within their
reach, thus disconcerting the aim of many an otherwise deadly stroke.
For a few breathless seconds all was fire, smoke, and fury, pistols
cracking, steel rasping upon steel, cheers, execrations, groans, the
dull crunching sound of cutlasses sheering through muscle and bone, the
heavy fall of the stricken on deck, the scuffling of feet, and shouts of
defiance exchanged between the contending parties; then a few of us
contrived to get in on deck, forcing back the pirates and making room
for those who followed us, until all who were not too severely hurt to
climb the ship's side were inboard.  There ensued a deadly hand-to-hand
fight in which quarter was neither asked for nor given.  The pirates
seemed to number about three times as many as ourselves, and were a
truly desperate set of ruffians, fighting--as they well knew--with
halters round their necks, and doubtless preferring to die in the heat
of battle rather than perish ignominiously upon the scaffold.

For a few minutes we had all our work cut out to retain the slight
advantage that we had gained.  But gradually our lads drove their
antagonists back until the latter were all grouped together in a dense
mass round the mainmast, with our people hemming them in on every side
and pressing them into such a compact crowd that at least half of them
were unable to strike an effective blow.  They did what they could,
however, by hurling their empty pistols into our faces over the heads of
their comrades, and I was busily engaged in defending myself from the
attack of a herculean negro when one of these heavy missiles struck me,
the hammer taking me fairly in the centre of the forehead and so nearly
stunning me that for a moment I all but lost consciousness and was
completely thrown off my guard.  The next second a terrific blow crashed
down upon my bare head--my hat having been lost earlier in the melee--
and I fell to the deck, my last conscious sensation being that I was
being trampled upon and by, as it seemed to me, an innumerable crowd of
people.  Then I swooned.

When I recovered consciousness I found myself in my hammock, in the
sick-bay aboard the frigate, with a number of companions in misfortune
around me.  At first I felt too utterly miserable to take much interest
in anything, for my head, swathed in bandages, was aching and smarting
so consumedly that for the first quarter of an hour or so I could not
bear even the subdued light that entered through the open ports, and was
obliged to keep my eyes closed; moreover, I was parched and burnt-up
with fever, as weak as a cat, and consumed with an intolerable thirst.
I attempted to turn in my hammock, but was unable to do so, and as I
still struggled one of the sick-bay attendants came to my side and asked
if he could do anything for me.  I gasped out something to the effect
that I was perishing of thirst, whereupon he brought me a pannikin of
tepid water, dipped from a bucket that stood near one of the open ports,
and, raising me in my hammock, placed it to my lips.  Tepid and insipid
as it actually was, I thought I had never tasted anything half so
delicious, and I not only drained it to the last drop, but asked for
more.  This, however, he declined to give me without the surgeon's
direct permission, having, as he explained to me, been warned that when
I awoke I should probably be suffering severely from thirst, but that I
was only to be given a very limited quantity of liquid at the outset and
until the surgeon had had an opportunity to examine further into my
condition.  The man, however, reported the fact of my return to
consciousness; and shortly afterward Wilson, the surgeon, came down to
see me.

Wilson's "bedside manner" was somewhat bluff, but, nevertheless,
judicious; for I had once heard him say, in a confidential moment, that
he always, upon principle, made light of his patients' aches and
ailments, as he had discovered, by long experience, that this had a good
effect upon the invalids, causing them to believe that there was never
anything very seriously wrong with them, and thus calling in the aid of
their imagination to assist in the curative process.  This was
illustrated in his behaviour toward me upon the occasion of which I am
now speaking.  He came and stood by the side of my hammock, looking down
upon me with a whimsical expression as he took my wrist in his hand and
pressed his fingers lightly upon my pulse.

"Put out your tongue," he ordered abruptly, and I did so obediently.  He
glanced at it for a few seconds, then remarked:

"Humph! not much the matter with you, I see.  How d'ye feel?"

I explained that my head was giving me excruciating pain, and that I
felt burnt-up with fever and thirst; at which he laughed.

"Pooh! pooh!" he exclaimed, "that's nothing.  Thank your lucky stars
that you have got off so lightly as you have.  Some of the poor fellows
here have lost a limb or two, while others of the boarding party have
lost the number of their mess altogether.  Yours is simply a broken
head; and, since your skull appears to be abnormally thick, I daresay it
will very soon mend again.  Aches badly, does it?  Ah, well, that is an
excellent sign; but perhaps you had better remain on the sick list for a
few days, and keep to your hammock until the pain passes off--no good
going on duty while you are blind with headache, you know.  And--yes,
now that I am here and you are awake I may as well look at your wound
again."

He walked over to the screen, put his head round the end of it, and
called sharply:

"Sentry, pass the word for Mr Burroughs to come to me; and ask him to
bring a basin of hot water, a sponge, a roll of bandage, and anything
else he thinks I am likely to want.  Tell him that I am going to dress
Mr Delamere's head."

Then, returning to my side, he drew out his penknife and with quick,
gentle fingers proceeded to cut away a number of stitches that kept the
bandage in place, and when at length he had unwound it he flung it
deftly away behind him, though not so deftly but that I caught a glimpse
of it out of the corner of my eye and saw that it was drenched with
blood.  By the time that he had removed the bandage, gently clipping
away, with a pair of scissors, the hair that stuck to it here and there,
Burroughs, the assistant surgeon, had turned up with hot water and a
number of odds and ends, and Wilson took the sponge in his hand, saying:

"Now, I shall probably hurt you a little; but don't yell, if you can
help it, because if you do you will disturb the poor fellows around you.
So set your teeth and, if you feel anything, just grin and bear it.  I
will be as gentle as I can."

And he was gentle--no man could have been more so; nevertheless, during
the next quarter of an hour he inflicted so much agony upon me as he
extracted little splinters of bone with his forceps, and so on, that
long before he had finished I was drenched with perspiration, and felt
so sick that I finally swooned again; and he completed his operation
upon my senseless body.

That night, I afterward learned, I passed in a state of high delirium,
and for several days I had only a very vague idea of where I was and
what was happening around me; my predominating sensations being that the
top of my head was on fire and blazing furiously, while I was consumed
by fever and a thirst that was almost as exquisite a torture as the pain
of my head.  The only radical difference between the two was that when I
was permitted to quench my thirst that particular form of torture was
alleviated for a few brief seconds, while the other was continuous and
distracting almost to the point of being unendurable.  It seemed to me
that I lay for an age in that suffocating sick-bay, every moment of the
time being heavy with indescribable torment; but as a matter of fact I
was there little more than forty-eight hours, the skipper cracking on
for Jamaica, in order that several bad cases--of which I was one of the
worst--might have the advantage of the lofty, airy wards of the naval
hospital at Port Royal, where we arrived on the morning but one after
our attack upon the pirate brigantine.  I may as well complete the story
of that adventure by saying--what I only learned afterward--that we
captured the vessel, with a loss to ourselves of five killed, and
eighteen wounded, of whom seven--including myself--were so badly hurt
that Wilson gravely doubted whether we should ever pull round.  As for
the pirates, out of a crew of one hundred and twenty-six men,
twenty-three were found dead on her deck after we had taken her, and
fifty-four were wounded, some of them so desperately that no less than
eleven of them died before we anchored in Port Royal harbour.  The
remainder were in due course brought to trial for piracy, and found
guilty.  Five of them were hanged at Gallows Point, while the rest were
condemned to work on the roads in chains for the remainder of their
miserable lives.



CHAPTER TEN.

ASHORE--INVALIDED.

I have a hazy recollection of suddenly finding myself on deck, still in
my hammock; and then, a few minutes later, of being in a boat.  Finally,
when I next came to myself I discovered that I was no longer in my
hammock, but in a bed--a delightful spacious comfortable bed in which
there was room for one to stretch oneself, change from one side to the
other, and otherwise obtain a little temporary relief when lying long in
one posture had become wearisome.  Then, instead of being enveloped in
stiflingly hot blankets, I lay upon one fragrant, cool, snow-white
sheet, with another over me, the bed enclosed by mosquito-netting, and a
deliciously cool breeze streaming into the long ward through several
wide-open, lofty windows, one of which, immediately opposite the foot of
my bed, afforded me an excellent view of a considerable portion of Port
Royal harbour, with the Apostles' Battery, crouching at the foot of the
Salt Pond Hills, almost immediately opposite, on the other side of the
water.  One of the hospital orderlies, who was on duty in the ward, came
to the side of my bed at once upon finding that I was awake, and gave me
a long, satisfying draught of lemonade, cool and exquisitely refreshing,
after which I think he must have summoned the doctor to me, for a few
minutes later that individual came lightly to the side of my bed, thrust
his hand beneath the sheet and felt my pulse.

I afterward learned that this was Dr Loder, chief of the medical staff
in the Port Royal Naval Hospital.  And oh! what a difference there was
between him and Wilson, the _Europa's_ surgeon.  The latter was bluff,
hearty, and slightly inclined to be boisterous in manner; while Dr
Loder's every word and every movement, nay his whole appearance,
suggested peace, quietness, and perfect restfulness, as well as--by some
subtlety of manner--a vague but none the less distinct impression that
things were going well with one.  He was a tall and rather thin man,
with dark-brown hair, beard, and moustache; he was bald on the top of
his head, and wore gold-rimmed spectacles through which his fine dark
eyes beamed down upon his patients with an expression of sympathy that
was in itself as good as a tonic.  He asked me a few questions in a
quiet, almost caressing tone of voice, gave the orderly who had me in
charge certain instructions, and then, patting me gently upon the
shoulder, assured me that I should soon be all right again, in a tone of
voice that, quiet as it was, somehow seemed to carry absolute conviction
with it.

As a matter of fact I really did begin to mend practically from that
moment--so rapidly indeed that on the twenty-third day after my
admission the wound in my head had so far healed that the bandages were
discarded--and three weeks later I was discharged into the guardship
cured, the _Europa_ having gone to sea again some time before.

But the guardship was no place for me, weak and shaken as I then was by
my long and serious spell of illness; and although the Admiral might
well, in the press of daily affairs, have been excused had he forgotten
so unimportant a detail as the state of my health, he did not; on the
contrary, he invited me to spend a week at the Pen, to recuperate,
during which his wife, Lady Agnes, was a second mother to me and a
hospital nurse combined.  From that moment there was no lack of
invitations for me to go into the country and regain my strength, my
former acquaintances one and all hunting me up and reminding me of
several almost forgotten promises that I would visit them.

As the frigate was not expected to return to Port Royal for at least two
months, and as, although discharged from the hospital, I was as yet by
no means fit for duty, I had not the slightest difficulty in obtaining a
month's leave, which I spent most enjoyably with friends whose estates
were situated in Saint Thomas-in-the-East and on the northern slopes of
the Blue Mountain Range.  It is no part of my purpose to enter into a
detailed description of life on a Jamaican sugar plantation, nor will I
attempt to convey to the reader any definite idea of the Jamaicans'
hospitality.  Let it suffice to say that I never spent a happier month
anywhere, and that the planters, with all their jollity,
light-heartedness, and love of fun, were the most genial, kindly,
hospitable folk I ever met with, each of them vieing with all the rest
in an amicable contest who should show me the most kindness and
attention.  I went among them an almost total stranger; when I left, I
felt as though I were parting with as many brothers and sisters.

Upon reporting myself to the Admiral, at his office, he received me very
kindly, asked whether I felt fit to return to duty--to which I replied
with a most emphatic Yes--informed me that the _Europa_ was not expected
for another month at least; then invited me to dine with him that
evening at the Pen, and spend the night there.

His table was, as usual, well filled with guests, but they were all
civilians, excepting some three or four military officers over from Up
Park Camp.  The navy was entirely unrepresented, save by myself, the
reason being, as I soon learned, that the French, Dutch, and Spanish
were all exceedingly active in and about the Caribbean, and there were
not enough of our own ships to cope with them; consequently every
available craft of any sort flying the British pennant had been sent to
sea, and was being kept there.

At length, when all the guests had left the Pen, and Lady Agnes had
retired for the night, Sir Peter invited me to accompany him to the
broad gallery, covered by a veranda, which stretched right athwart the
front of the house, from end to end, and directed one of his negro
servants to carry out to it a small table, a box of cigars, a jug of
sangaree, and two wicker basket-chairs wherein we seated ourselves
preparatory, as I surmised, to a more or less confidential chat of some
sort, though what, of such a nature, so important a personage as the
Port Admiral could possibly have to say to an insignificant mid like
myself, I could not divine.

Sir Peter, however, was not the sort of man to beat about the bush; if
he had anything to say he generally said it without any circumlocution,
and he did so now.  Selecting with care a cigar for himself, lighting
it, and pouring out a couple of tumblers of sangaree, he settled himself
in his chair, and began by remarking:

"Well, young gentleman, so you have quite recovered from the effects of
your wound, eh?--and feel fit and ready for duty once more?"

"Yes, to both questions, Sir Peter," I answered.  "But I think I
understood you to say that the _Europa_ is not expected to return to
Port Royal for at least another month--"

"So I did," interrupted the Admiral; "and the question is, What are you
going to do with yourself meanwhile?  This is no time for an officer to
idle about ashore, you know."

"No, sir," I responded, "it certainly is not, and I am exceedingly glad
that you have broached the subject, for it affords me an early
opportunity to do what I have had it in my mind to do, namely, to ask
you whether you cannot find me some better employment than kicking my
heels aboard the guardship until the frigate returns."

"Ah!" commented Sir Peter, "so that was what you had in your mind, was
it?  Have you served your time yet?"

"Yes, sir," I replied, "with nearly three months to spare."

"Good!" remarked my companion.  "But of course you have not passed yet?
You have not had an opportunity.  Have you your log-books with you?"

"Yes, sir," I answered.  "When I was sent ashore to the hospital,
Captain Vavassour was good enough to send with me all my belongings."

"Where are they--the log-books, I mean--now?" demanded Sir Peter.

"They are aboard the guardship, with the rest of my things," I answered.

"Very well," returned my companion.  "You had better go down to Port
Royal with me in the morning, and bring your log-books ashore for me to
look at.  I have a scheme in my head for employing you, but I am not at
all sure whether you are fit to undertake a duty of so exceedingly
responsible a character as that which I have in my mind; although I
don't hesitate to tell you, youngster, that Captain Vavassour gave you a
most excellent character in every respect.  What sort of a navigator are
you?  I suppose, like most other young gentlemen, you can fudge a day's
work well enough to pass muster, eh?"

I laughed.  "I am afraid, sir," I replied, "that too many of us would
rather fudge than take the trouble to do our day's work properly.  But I
got out of that lazy trick some time ago; and now I will not turn my
back upon any lad of my own age, whether midshipman, or master's-mate,
where navigation is concerned."

"Ah!" he remarked, "that sounds all right.  Tell me, what can you do in
navigation problems?"

"I can do Plane, Traverse, Middle-Latitude, and Mercator's Sailing," I
answered.  "I can also do a Day's Work; I can use my quadrant with
accuracy; can find the Latitude by a meridian altitude of the sun, moon,
or a star; can find the error and rate of the chronometer, and also the
longitude by it; can determine the variation of the compass; can find
the longitude by a `lunar'; can do the Pole Star problem; and--well, I
think that is about all, sir, thus far."

"And a very creditable `all,' too," answered the Admiral, evidently well
pleased.  "And what about your seamanship?" he continued.

"I believe I am pretty good at that too, sir," I said.  "I was at
Portsmouth, in the dockyard, every day during the fitting-out of the
frigate, and watched the whole process of rigging her.  When I first saw
her she had nothing standing but her three lower-masts."

"Well," remarked Sir Peter, "you ought to have picked up a little
knowledge relative to the spars and rigging of a ship during that time.
But _did_ you?  That is the question.  Come, I'll put you through your
facings a bit, if you are not too sleepy.  Supposing that it became
necessary for you to get the maintop over the masthead, how would you go
to work?"

I considered a moment, recalled the operation as I had witnessed it, and
then proceeded to describe what I had seen.

"Yes; very good," commented my companion.  "Now, get your lower rigging
into place, and set it up."

I described how I would do that; and also answered several other
questions, apparently to his satisfaction.

"Very well," he said, "that's all rigger's work; exceedingly important
to know, of course, but still not exactly seamanship.  Now, young
gentleman, suppose yourself to be in command of a fine frigate--as I
hope you will be some day, please God.  You are turning to windward in a
fresh breeze, under all plain sail, and it becomes necessary to tack.
Describe the various evolutions."

I did so; and then the old gentleman gradually took me, still aboard my
suppositious frigate, through a rapidly freshening breeze into a regular
hurricane, until I had got the ship hove-to under bare poles, with a
tarpaulin lashed in the weather mizen rigging, and then he shook hands
with me and dismissed me to my room.

The next morning, immediately after first breakfast, we got under way in
the Admiral's ketureen--a sort of gig with a roof to it--and drove down
to the wharf at Kingston, where the barge, a fine boat, was waiting for
us.  The sea-breeze had set in and was piping up merrily, and in about
three-quarters of an hour we were alongside the dockyard wall at Port
Royal.  Here the Admiral left me, with instructions to go off aboard the
guardship at once, and bring my log-books ashore for his inspection.
This I did, but it was nearly noon before Sir Peter was ready to attend
to me, and even then it was after all but a cursory glance that he
bestowed upon my books.  But, cursory though it was, what he saw
appeared to satisfy him, for he was good enough to express his approval
as he closed the books and pushed them across the table to me.

"Very good, very good indeed," he remarked; "far more creditable than
mine were when I was your age, I am afraid.  I consider you a most
promising young officer, and am going to take you under my wing, because
I believe you will do me credit.  Nay, boy, I want no thanks,"--as I
broke in somewhat incoherently in an attempt to express my
gratitude--"at least, not in the form of words," he continued; "words
are often spoken under the influence of a strong momentary impulse, and
forgotten almost immediately afterward.  But if you should desire to
show that you are grateful to me for what I intend to do for you, you
cannot exhibit it more acceptably than by justifying the very great
trust that I am about to repose in you.  And I believe you will, for,
young as you are, you have proved yourself to be made of the right
stuff; you have made good use of your time, and have as much knowledge
in that curly pate of yours as many officers of twice your length of
service possess.  Now, I am not telling you this because I want to make
you conceited--far from it; it is simply because I want you to
understand that I have formed a very high opinion of you, and that I
expect you to live up to it.  D'ye understand that, youngster?"

"Quite clearly, Sir Peter," I answered.  "It is exceedingly kind, and
most encouraging on your part that you have spoken so frankly as you
have, and I can assure you that I am not in the least likely to
entertain an unduly high opinion of myself in consequence of it.  On the
contrary, I am afraid that you have formed altogether too favourable an
opinion of me and my qualities; but I shall remember that opinion, and
will do my utmost to justify it."

"Very well," he answered; "no man can say more than that, and if you
fulfil your promise I shall be perfectly satisfied.  And now, as to the
work upon which I propose to employ you.  You must know that there is
more work--a good deal more work--to be done on this station than there
are ships to do it; consequently, although every ship at my disposal is
now at sea, I am continually receiving complaints that the commerce in
West Indian waters is inadequately protected.  I have applied for
additional ships, but have been told that there are none to spare, and
that I must do the best I can with what I have.  The fact is that the
Caribbean and its approaches are not only swarming with privateers, but
I have too much reason to believe that there is a strong gang of
out-and-out pirates at work as well.  I was in hopes that the capture of
that pirate brigantine by the _Europa_ would put an end to all that kind
of work, but it has not; indeed, it has scarcely made any appreciable
impression upon the number of outrages of a distinctly piratical
character that are being constantly reported to me.  I am, of course,
not now alluding to vessels that have gone temporarily missing, for they
may in most cases be traced to the operations of the enemy; but I refer
to those which vanish utterly, leaving no trace of any kind behind them
to hint at their fate; and also to those other craft which are fallen in
with, derelict, from time to time, plundered, and bearing indications
that an attempt has been made to destroy them, either by scuttling them,
or setting them on fire.  Privateers don't do that sort of thing, you
know.  If they capture a ship they generally put a prize-crew aboard her
and send her into the nearest port belonging to them.  Pirates, however,
endeavour to escape identification by destroying all traces of their
handiwork and butchering the unfortunate crews of the vessels.

"A case of this kind came to light only last week.  The _Kingston
Trader_ of Bristol, with a very valuable cargo and five thousand pounds
in specie, has been overdue about a month, and her consignees have been
worrying me accordingly.  Last Friday a small turtling schooner arrived
from the Windward Passages, reporting that they had seen a wreck ashore
near Tete de Chien on the island of Tortuga, off the north-west coast of
Saint Domingo.  They launched their pirogue, and succeeded in getting
close enough to the wreck to identify her as the missing _Kingston
Trader_, and also to ascertain that she had been on fire, most of her
upper works having been consumed.  That is the third case of an almost
identical kind that has occurred within the last two months, and I am
convinced that it is the work of pirates.

"Now, young gentleman, I am going to give you the job of finding those
pirates and bringing them to book.  It is work for a _man_, I know, but
I have not a man to spare; and I am convinced, from the way in which you
answered my questions last night, and from the character which Captain
Vavassour has given you, not only that you are a very capable young
officer, but also that you have your full share of sound common sense
and self-reliance--that you are, in fact, quite as likely to give a good
account of yourself over this business as would many a much older man.

"Therefore, since you are certain to pass with flying colours as soon as
an opportunity to present yourself for examination offers itself, I
intend to give you an acting order as lieutenant, to place you in
command of a small schooner with a good strong crew, and to send you off
upon a roving commission to do your best to put down these piratical
outrages that are so frequently occurring under our very noses.  Now,
what d'ye think of my scheme, youngster?  Is the job too big for you to
tackle?"

"No, sir," I answered; "certainly not too big.  The only thing I fear is
that I may not be sufficiently experienced to execute so responsible a
duty as efficiently as it ought to be executed.  But I will do my very
utmost, Sir Peter, I can promise you that; and if I can only have with
me one or two thoroughly steady, reliable men to help me with an
occasional word of advice, I believe we shall be able to give a very
good account of ourselves."

"Yes," returned Sir Peter, "I believe so too, otherwise I would not
dream of sending you.  As to experience, well, there is only one way of
gaining it, and that is by actually doing a thing; it is rather a rough
school, perhaps, but it is the only one in which you can thoroughly
learn your lesson, and I am glad to see that you have no idea of
shirking it.

"And now, as to this seventy-four of yours.  She is a fore-and-aft
schooner of one hundred and ten tons, said to have been built at
Baltimore.  She is something of a freak, her designer having apparently
turned his lines end for end and put his bows where his stern should be,
and _vice versa_.  Nevertheless, his theory seems to have been sound,
for I'm told that she is a perfect witch for speed, especially in light
weather, and speed is one of the qualities which you must have.  She was
caught smuggling, and was condemned to be sawn in two; but I thought we
might perhaps be able to find a better use for her than that, so I have
postponed the operation.  She is called the _Wasp_, and if you have as
much enterprise as I give you credit for, you ought to make her sting to
some purpose.  You will find her in Hulk Hole, and--Stop a minute."  He
rang a bell and a messenger entered.

"Jones," said Sir Peter, "have you any idea where the master-attendant
is?"

"Yes, sir," answered the man, "he was outside on the wharf not half a
minute ago."

"Then, please, see if you can find him," said the Admiral, "and request
him to come here to me.  Carline is a very decent fellow," he continued,
as soon as the messenger had vanished.  "I'll get him to take you aboard
and show you the craft--he has the keys of the companion and
fore-scuttle, I believe--and you and he can talk matters over together
and decide what she will need to fit her for service.  Ah! here is
Carline.  Good morning, Mr Carline.  This is Mr Delamere, whom I am
going to send out in charge of the _Wasp_, to see what he can do toward
putting a stop to these repeated piracies.  I want you to take him
aboard and let him have a thorough good look at the schooner; after
which you and he can draw up a list of what is needed to render her fit
for the work which she will have to do.  And now, good morning, Mr
Delamere.  Come up to the Pen to dinner to-night; then you can report to
me what you think the craft requires."

"So the Admiral's going to fit out that smugglin' schooner and send you
to sea in her, eh?" remarked the master-attendant as soon as we got
outside.

I replied that I quite understood that to be Sir Peter's intention.

"Oh, well," he observed, "I don't know how you'll get on with her; she's
a queer one to look at, and I expect she'll want some learnin' before
you'll be able to handle her properly.  Have you had any experience in a
fore-and-after?"

"Only in boats," I replied.  "The barge of my old ship, the _Colossus_,
was rigged as a fore-and-aft schooner, and I've sailed her many's the
time; and I suppose all fore-and-afters are handled in pretty much the
same way.  The matter of mere size won't make very much difference, I
imagine."

"Well, I expect you'll find the _Wasp_ a bit different," observed my
companion; "she's such a queer model, you see--everything about her is
exactly the opposite of what we think it should be.  She has tremendous
beam, and no draught of water worth speakin' of; an outrageously long
tapering bow, and a short, squat stern--But there, you'll see her
presently.  But there's no doubt about it, she can sail--there's nothing
in this harbour that can look at her; and as for working, why, I've been
told that she has been known to be round and full on the other tack
twenty seconds after puttin' the helm down!"

"Well, that is good news at all events," I remarked.  "I like a nice,
smart-working ship--Why, Henderson, where in the world did you spring
from? and how is it that you are not away in the frigate?"  I exclaimed,
as we encountered a figure that was perfectly familiar to me.

"For the same reason as yourself, Mr Delamere," answered the man,
touching his hat.  "I was on my beam-ends in the hospital when she went
to sea--bowled over in the scrimmage wi' that brigantine, same as you
was."

"And where are you, and what doing now?"  I demanded.

"Why, sir, I'm aboard the guardship, along wi' another or two of our
chaps as was discharged from the hospital about the same time as I was,"
answered the man--formerly one of the _Europa's_ quartermasters.

"Oh, indeed," I replied, very much surprised, for I had not known that
there were others as well as myself put ashore from the frigate; "and
are you all ready for duty again?"  I asked.

"Ay, that we are, sir," answered Henderson, "and shall be glad enough to
get to sea and have a mouthful of fresh air once more.  This bein' in
harbour is all very well for a change, but a man soon gets enough of it;
and, a'ter all, it ain't half so comfortable as bein' at sea."

"Then in that case," said I, seeing my way to getting one good hand, at
least, "perhaps you may be willing to volunteer for a little schooner
that the Admiral is going to give me to go pirate-hunting in?"

"Ay, that indeed I will, Mr Delamere, and glad of the chance," answered
Henderson heartily; "and perhaps, sir," he added, "I could help you to
two or three more good men, if so be as you happen to want 'em."

"Well, I think it more than likely that I shall," said I, "so just keep
your eyes open in that direction.  I shall no doubt see you again
to-morrow or next day, when we can have a further chat."

Henderson touched his hat and turned away, and the master-attendant and
I made our way along the wharf to the landing-steps.  Here he directed
four men to jump down into his gig and spread the cushions in the
stern-sheets, while he went into his office to procure the keys which
were to afford us access to the interior of my "seventy-four," as the
Admiral had jestingly called her.  Then, descending the steps and taking
our places in the gig, Carline seized the yoke-lines, gave the word to
shove off, and away we went, across the upper end of the harbour and
through the boat channel, past Gallows Point, whereon stood the stout
posts and beam from which the five ringleaders of the pirates taken
aboard the brigantine had been launched into eternity.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

H.M.S. WASP.

We sighted the _Wasp_ immediately upon rounding Gallows Point.  She was
lying quite by herself, down in the most southerly bight of the Hole,
and little more than a cable's length from the beach; consequently we
had a clear, uninterrupted view of her the moment that we cleared the
Point; and she was lying broadside-on to us, with her head pointing to
the southward.

The first thing that impressed me about her was her diminutiveness; in
comparison with some of the craft lying in the Hole she looked little
more than a mere boat, and the idea of actually going to sea and
attempting serious work in such a cockle-shell struck me as little short
of an absurdity.  But that feeling wore off a bit as we closed with her;
and the next thing to attract my attention was the great beauty of her
outline.  She sat very low upon the water; had an abnormally long,
overhanging counter; and her spring, or sheer, was so great that, low as
she sat, her bow stood high and dominant above the water.  She was
painted black from her rail to her copper, the top edge of which was
about six inches above her load-line; and she had only her two
lower-masts and her bowsprit standing.  But her masts were magnificent
sticks, lofty enough, apparently, to spread all the canvas that she
could possibly carry, without any need of topmasts, and both spars were
stepped well forward; the mainmast, indeed, seemed to be almost
amidships, giving one a very clear idea of the enormous area which her
mainsail would present when fully set.  It was not, however, until we
got close to her, and Carline caused his boatmen to pull slowly round
her, that I detected what the Admiral and the master-attendant meant
when they had spoken of the freakish peculiarities of her model; then,
indeed, it became apparent that her designer had, as Sir Peter had said,
literally turned her lines end for end, as it were.  For she had
absolutely no "straight of breadth" at all; her sides were as round as
an apple, and her long bow, shaped like a wedge with curved instead of
straight sides, with just a suggestion of hollowness of the water-line
as it approached the stem, started almost as far aft as the point where
her mainmast was stepped; while her run, instead of fining away toward
the stern-post like the tail of a fish, was quite full, sweeping round
under her counter in a semicircle.  Then it was that I understood why
her counter was so abnormally long; it was not merely a fancy on the
part of her designer, intended to give her a smart, rakish appearance,
it was for the purpose of giving her, despite the fulness of her run, a
clean, easy delivery.  Yes, as I looked at her critically, studying her
lines from every possible point of view, I could believe that she would
prove a quite extraordinary sailer; for there was nothing in that long,
keen bow for the water to grip, the knifelike stem would sheer into it,
and the gently expanding sides would shoulder it aside with scarcely any
resistance, leaving it to close in again aft about her stern-post with a
nip that would add to her speed, just as one may make a nut spring from
one's fingers by merely pressing upon it.  And she would be a good
sea-boat, too, for the bow flared out over the water in such a fashion
as to lift her over any sea, however steep.  Yes, I liked the outside
look of her amazingly, and no longer thought the idea of going to sea in
such a craft mere folly; on the contrary, I longed for the moment when I
should have the opportunity to test her capabilities.

Having scrutinised the exterior of my new command to my heart's content,
we went alongside and boarded her.  Her gangway was open; and so little
freeboard did she show at this point--Carline measured it and found it
to be exactly four-feet--that we were able to spring from the boat's
gunwale to the schooner's deck without difficulty, and without the need
for a side-ladder.  I had by this time quite forgotten my first
impression of diminutiveness in connection with the craft, and the
moment that I passed through the gangway and stood upon her deck I
gained a new impression, namely that of spaciousness.  For she was
extraordinarily beamy; her hatchways were small, and there was nothing
in the way of fittings of any kind to cumber up her decks; indeed, so
far as actual room to move about upon was concerned, her quarter-deck
seemed to be quite as spacious as that of the _Europa_.  She was
flush-decked fore and aft, and abaft the immensely lofty mainmast there
was nothing but the companion, with a seat and lockers on either side of
it, a fine big skylight, a very handsome brass binnacle, and the wheel.
Her bulwarks were only three feet high, with a fine, solid teak rail;
and she was built of hard wood--oak and elm--throughout, and copper
fastened.

Carline having unlocked the companion doors, we went below, and found
ourselves in a really beautiful little cabin, elegantly fitted up,
painted white and gold, well lighted and ventilated from above by the
big skylight, and with three large, circular ports on each side as well.
There were nice wide, comfortable lockers on each side, running fore
and aft, and a fine, solid, handsomely carved mahogany table in the
centre; but the cabin looked bare, for all the fittings of every kind
had been removed and put into store.  Then, abaft the main cabin, there
was a small but exceedingly comfortable-looking stateroom, with standing
bedplace, drawers beneath, wash-stand, etcetera, and lighted by two
circular ports, one at the head and one at the foot of the bedplace,
which ran athwartships.

From the cabin we passed into the main hold; and I saw at once that this
could easily be fitted up and converted into a berth-deck for all hands
by merely running a few deck beams across, laying a deck, and running up
a bulkhead.  We spent the whole morning aboard, making voluminous notes
of the various alterations that would be needed to fit the little vessel
for the new service to which she was destined; and that same afternoon
she was unmoored, taken alongside the wharf, and a strong gang of
dockyard workmen went aboard to begin upon the most obviously necessary
work, such as taking out her ballast prior to giving her interior a
thorough cleaning, and so on.

That night, at the Pen, after the guests had all left, Sir Peter called
upon me to give an account of my day's doings, to tell him what I
thought of the _Wasp_, and to produce and read my list of alterations
needed to complete the equipment of the schooner.  Of all of these he
graciously approved, adding a few suggestions of his own; and on the
following morning, after going on board the hooker with me and examining
her inside and out, he gave orders for the whole of the work to be
proceeded with forthwith.  As there were no other ships in port
refitting at the moment, it was a slack time at the dockyard, and almost
the whole of its resources were available to expedite the work, in
consequence of which the schooner was ready for sea a fortnight from the
day on which I first boarded her.

Meanwhile, the Admiral had made out and presented to me my acting order;
while, for my own part, I had been busy all day and every day, either at
the dockyard, superintending the work being done to the _Wasp_, or in
hunting up a crew for her.  And as I attached very considerable
importance to the quality of my crew, and was quite determined to have
the very best I could obtain, a large proportion of my time was spent in
hunting for good men.  Here it was that I found the services of
Henderson, late quartermaster of the _Europa_, of especial value, for
not only did he enter for the schooner, as he had promised he would when
I ran up against him as I was on my way to pay my first visit to the
_Wasp_, but, being equally as anxious as myself to have the little
vessel well manned, he had persuaded four good men--like himself
formerly of the _Europa_, wounded in our fight with the brigantine and
now convalescent--to join, thus forming at a stroke the nucleus of a
first-rate crew.  But he had done a good deal more than this; for in
addition to the four men above referred to there were aboard the
guardship about a dozen others recently discharged from the hospital and
only requiring a few days of pure ocean air to set them on their pins
again, and he had persuaded these also to enter.  Even this, however,
did not complete my obligations to the guardship, for there were aboard
her three midshipmen, an assistant surgeon, and a captain's clerk, all
of whom had been separated from their ships from some chance cause, and
I secured them all; the eldest of the midshipmen--named Willoughby--as
master, while the other two, very quiet, respectable lads, named
respectively Dundas and Hinton, I took more for their health's sake than
for any other reason.  The assistant surgeon was named Saunders--him I
shipped as surgeon--while Millar, the captain's clerk, came with me as
purser; I obtained a gunner's warrant for Henderson, to his great
delight; and my remaining officers consisted of a fine, smart
boatswain's mate, named Pearce, who came as boatswain, and a carpenter's
mate named Mills, who came as carpenter.  In addition to these, I had a
cabin steward, a cook, and a crew of forty-four men and four boys; I
therefore regarded myself as excellently equipped, so far as my crew
were concerned.  Unfortunately, the schooner was too small to carry an
armament to which such a fine crew could do full justice, the utmost
that she would carry, with anything like safety, being six long
expounders; and even with the weight of these on her deck she seemed to
be just a trifle more tender than I altogether liked.  It was, however,
the best that we could do with her, and with that I had to be content.

Having reported the schooner as ready for sea, and received my orders
from the Admiral, we slipped from Number 9 buoy on a certain morning,
immediately after breakfast, and proceeded to work out to sea, under
single-reefed mainsail, foresail, fore staysail, and Number 2 jib, in
the teeth of a fiery sea-breeze that made the palms at Port Royal Point
assume the aspect of so many umbrellas turned inside-out, and whirled
the sand up from the Palisades in blinding clouds to deposit it again in
the harbour and add to the magnitude of the shoal that is steadily
encroaching upon the deep-water area.

The little hooker became lively and began to pull at her cable, as
though impatient to be off, the moment that the hands tailed on to the
throat and peak-halliards of her immense mainsail, and proceeded to
hoist away; and when, having set the sail--which, by the way, was
beautifully cut, and stood as flat as a board--we slipped, and hauled
aft the jib-sheet, she heeled to the pressure of the wind as though
preparing to spring, and, with a little swirl of water about her sharp
stem as she paid off, proceeded to gather way, and the next moment was
sheering through the smooth water of the harbour like a hungry dolphin
in pursuit of a shoal of flying-fish.  With all her sheets flattened-in
she came-to until she was looking up within three points of the wind,
careening to her bearings and sweeping as rapidly and almost as
noiselessly as a wreath of mist driving to leeward, the only sound she
made being a soft hissing at her cutwater as her sharp bow clove the
ripples and ploughed up a glass-like sheet of water on either side of
it.  So closely did she hug the wind that we were able to shave close
past the red buoy which marks the edge of Church shoal, handsomely
weathering Number 2 buoy, skimming across the De Horsey Patch, and
shaving past the buoy on the Harbour shoal.  By this time we were out
from under the shelter of Port Royal Point, and were beginning to feel
the first of the jump that the sea-breeze was kicking up outside; but it
appeared to make practically no difference in our speed, our abnormally
long, keen, wedge-like bow seemed to cleave the seas without effort or
resistance as they came at us, while the flaring overhang lifted the
little craft buoyantly over them, with nothing worse than a small
playful flash and patter of spray in over the weather cathead to tell of
the encounter.  It would be difficult to say whether astonishment or
delight was the feeling that predominated in the breasts of all hands of
us, fore and aft, as we stood watching the really marvellous performance
of the little clipper while beating out of harbour.  It was not her
speed only--although that seemed phenomenal, for she swept past every
other craft that was going our way as though they had been at anchor;
her weatherliness astounded us quite as much as did her speed, for she
looked up a good three points higher than did our square-rigged
neighbours, while her oil-smooth wake trailed away astern as straight as
a ruled line, with no apparent inclination to trend a hairbreadth
towards her weather quarter.  She seemed to make no leeway at all!

"Well!" exclaimed Henderson, who was standing by me, close abaft the
weather main rigging, watching--as I was--the rapid sliding past us of
the various objects ashore, "I've heard people speak of a ship as
sailin' like a witch, but I'm only now comin' to rightly understand just
exactly what that expression means; it means goin' along precisely as if
you was shot out of a gun!  Why, Mr Delamere, I don't believe as
there's anything afloat that can touch us--not, at all events, in
moderately smooth water.  What we shall do in a heavy sea remains to be
seen; and we shall soon find that out, I reckon, for it's all foamin'
white away out there in the offing; but I've a notion that she'll go
over it all like a duck, provided that we don't drive her too hard.
Look at that, sir,"--as the schooner leapt from the crest of a sea into
the hollow beyond, and the foam buzzed and boiled to the level of her
lee head-rail and then went glancing away dizzily aft--"ain't that just
perfectly beautiful?  Never shipped a drop, she didn't!  And there
again!  My eyes! but she _is_ a beauty, and no mistake."

"She is certainly behaving wonderfully well," I admitted, my voice all
a-quiver with pride.  "How does she steer?  Is she easy on her helm?"  I
demanded of the man at the wheel.

"Gripes just the leastest bit in the world, sir, but nothin' worth
speakin' about.  I could steer her wi' one hand," answered the man; and
to prove his words he placed one hand behind him and kept it there for a
minute or two while he grasped a spoke of the wheel with the other.

We had by this time brought the Beacon shoal about one point abaft the
weather-beam, and I was of opinion that we could weather it on the next
tack; I therefore gave the word, "Ready about--Helm's a-lee!" and
directed the helmsman to ease down the helm.  He let go the wheel for a
moment, and the little hooker at once came to the wind with her
head-sails slatting and threshing as she spilled the wind out of them;
then he began to pull the wheel over toward him, and with one terrific
dive into a sea that came rushing at her, and which she split into two
showers of diamond spray that leapt half as high as her foremast before
it came driving aft in a shower that nearly drenched us to the skin,
round she swept like a gun upon its pivot, and was full again upon the
other tack almost before we could blink our eyelids.  The beauty of a
fore-and-after is that she practically works herself, all that is needed
being three or four hands on the forecastle to trim over the jib and
fore sheets as she comes round.  It was simply child's play compared
with the complicated manoeuvres that attend the working of a full-rigged
ship, and Henderson laughed aloud in his delight at the simplicity of
it.

"Why, Mr Delamere," he declared, "it's like sailin' the _Europa's_
launch, only easier.  The launch never stayed as smartly as that, not so
long as I've knowed her!"

We weathered the Beacon shoal, with room to spare, as I expected we
should; and then kept away, with slightly eased sheets, for the passage
between Gun and Rackum Cays, after negotiating which we shaped a course
for Cow Bay and Yallah Points, off the latter of which we arrived
shortly after six bells in the forenoon watch had struck.  Still hugging
the coast as closely as possible, we arrived off Port Morant about four
bells in the afternoon watch, about which time we found the sea-breeze
to be merging gradually into the Trade-wind and heading us so badly that
at length we were obliged to heave about and head off-shore.  Here we
soon got into such a boil of a sea that the little hooker threatened to
smother herself, and it became necessary for us to haul down a second
and a third reef, and to take the jib off her, after which she went
along quite comfortably, shipping nothing worse than an occasional
sprinkling of spray over her weather-bow.  At eight bells of the second
dog-watch we handsomely weathered Morant Point on our way out through
the Windward Channel, it being my purpose to work out through the Caycos
Passage, and then cruise to and fro athwart and to windward of the
Windward Passages--that being the cruising-ground which I believed the
pirates would be most likely to haunt.

Shortly before daybreak, on the third morning after leaving Port Royal,
we found ourselves rapidly drawing into smooth water--so rapidly,
indeed, that Pearce, the boatswain, whose watch it was, came down in
some alarm and roused me out, fearing that Willoughby, the midshipman
who was acting as master, had made a mistake in his reckoning, and that
we were about to blunder on to some danger or another.  I was able,
however, to set the good man's mind at rest by explaining that we were
doubtless drawing in under the lee of the Caycos Bank, and that
therefore the water might naturally be expected to smoothen.
Nevertheless, feeling that I had had a good night's rest, and
understanding from Pearce that day would dawn in less than
half-an-hour's time, I turned out and, slipping into my trousers and
jacket, went up on deck.  And very glad I was that I had done so, for I
was thus enabled to observe a very curious natural phenomenon, which one
might knock about in those seas for years without seeing, for the simple
reason that the circumstances must be favourable or the phenomenon is
not visible.

The Caycos Bank is a shoal lying some sixty-eight miles off Monte
Christi, on the north coast of Hayti.  It measures about the same
distance from its north-western to its south-eastern extremity, and is
about sixty-two miles across from east to west at its widest point; it
is consequently of considerable extent, and from the fact that the depth
of water over it ranges from six feet to eighteen feet it is not without
its dangers, and must be approached with due caution, especially during
the hours of darkness.  In daylight the danger is not nearly so great,
because the north-eastern and north-western edges of the shoal are
fringed by a number of cays among which the sea breaks heavily, while
the whole surface of the shoal is white water.  And it is this same
white water which gives rise to the phenomenon above referred to,
locally known as "Bank Blink."  It is simply the reflection of the
phosphorescence of the water in the clouds above; and the darker and
more overcast the night, the more distinctly is the reflection seen.
The phenomenon is, of course, quite natural and easily to be accounted
for, yet its occurrence can scarcely be regarded as less than
providential; for there can be no doubt whatever that its appearance in
the sky has often been the means of warning navigators that they were
approaching this danger, and so causing them to haul off in time to
avoid shipwreck.

Upon the night in question, when I first saw it, I found, upon going on
deck, that the darkness was profound, the sky being so completely
obscured by clouds that not so much as a single star was visible.  But
away to windward, ranging from about two points on the weather-bow round
to square abeam, the clouds from almost overhead to within some fifteen
degrees of the horizon were faintly yet quite perceptibly tinged
greenish hue, the tinge being strongest about midway between our
weather-bow and beam.  Pearce had noticed it, it appeared, when I came
to question him about it, and had thought that it might possibly portend
a change of weather until he had looked at the barometer and found it
inclined to rise; then he had become alarmed by the smoothing of the
water, which seemed to him far more portentous than the light on the
clouds.

I had not been on deck more than a quarter of an hour when the blackness
under the lower edge of the bank blink away over our starboard cathead
began to pale, first to a cold slaty-grey, and from that, by rapid
gradations, to a rich purple, then to crimson, and from crimson to an
orange tint so deep as to be almost scarlet, beneath which the horizon
loomed out black as ink, the intervening space of water lightening, as
it swept toward us, until at the distance of a couple of miles it became
a livid bluish-white.  This marked the western edge of the shoal, and
sufficiently accounted for the smoothing of the deep-water in which we
were sailing.

As the orange light spread north and south from the point at which it
had originated, at the same time reaching upward from the horizon, the
bank blink began to fade, or rather to become merged in and overpowered
by it; and the shapes of the heavy, lowering clouds that overhung us
began to reveal themselves, their lower edges here and there suddenly
flushing into hues of the richest yet most delicate rose that rapidly
strengthened first into scarlet and then to burning gold as the rays of
the yet unrisen sun smote upon them.  Presently, in the midst of the
rich orange light that was now flashing up on the eastern and
north-eastern horizon, there emerged a shape of indigo, practically
flat-topped, but with two small protuberances, one at each end, which,
by a stretch of the imagination, might be termed hills, rising to a
height of perhaps sixty or seventy feet.  This was the island of West
Caycos, the most westerly of the cays on the bank, and ten minutes later
we were under its lee and within less than a cable's length from the
beach.

But what a change had taken place in the aspect of sea and sky during
those ten minutes!  As we stood, spellbound, watching the gorgeous
changes of colour that were taking place along the eastern horizon, a
broad ray of white light, the edges slightly tinged with violet,
suddenly shot vertically aloft from the horizon, piercing the
cloud-masses as though with the thrust of a spear; and as though there
had been magic in the touch those cloud-masses at once began to break up
and melt away, assuming, ere they vanished, every conceivable tint of
the rainbow, from the deepest and richest hue of purple, through crimson
and scarlet, to purest molten gold.  And while these wonderful changes
of colour were taking place, shaft after shaft of living, quivering
light flashed into the sky, radiating like the spokes of a wheel against
the warm primrose tints of the horizon--merging by imperceptible degrees
into the pure, delicate azure of the sky revealed by the breaking up and
dissolution of the clouds--to be followed, a few seconds later, by the
appearance above the horizon of a great rim of blazing, palpitating
golden fire, the level rays from which shot along the tumbling surface
of the ocean, splashing it with a million scintillating points of
dazzling light, as the crests of the tiny wavelets curled over and broke
under the whipping of the freshening breeze.  Then, while we still stood
watching, a gauzy veil of rain--"the pride of the morning"--swept down
upon us, blotting out the glories of the sunrise for a brief minute or
two, then driving away to leeward, leaving our sails and deck dark with
wet, and revealing the sun, now fully risen, and the sky clear and pure
to windward.

With the freshening of the breeze we rapidly brought West Caycos first
abeam and then on our weather quarter, while the high land of
Providenciales grew upon the weather-bow.  Here we were very nearly
getting into an exceedingly awkward scrape, for while I went below to
prepare for my morning bath under the head-pump, after witnessing the
magnificent sunrise that I have endeavoured to describe, the wind
suddenly fell light and died away; and then, while I was dressing after
my bath, the sea-breeze suddenly sprang up, blowing half a gale; and
there were we, not three miles from the land, with as dangerous a
stretch of lee-shore as is to be found in all this region abeam of us.
Fortunately the schooner's extraordinary weatherliness stood us in good
stead, and enabled us to claw off, but for which we should probably have
left her bones, if not our own, there.  Our mid-afternoon observations
showed us to be in latitude 22 degrees 21 minutes North, and longitude
71 degrees 57 minutes West, which position I considered far enough out
for our purpose; we therefore hove about and, under short canvas,
proceeded to work our way slowly to the southward and eastward, on the
lookout for anything that might chance to come our way.

For several days after this nothing of moment occurred.  Finally we
found ourselves some two hundred miles to the northward and eastward of
the Mona Passage, and I was debating within myself whether to bear up
and go back over the ground which I had just traversed, or to continue
on and have a look at Porto Rico.  But while I was thinking over the
question, the lookout in the fore crosstrees reported a sail to
windward, quickly succeeded by several others, whereupon we made sail
and shaped a course that would enable us to get a somewhat clearer view
of them, and, if necessary, to intercept them.

The lookout aloft soon reported that the leading ship was under short
canvas, while those which immediately followed her were covered to their
trucks, and showing studdingsails as well, from which piece of
information it was not difficult for me to guess that the strangers to
windward consisted of a convoy of merchantmen, with its escort of
men-o'-war.  This conjecture of mine soon proved to be correct, for
within half-an-hour of their first appearance the leading ships were in
sight from the deck, and we made out the biggest of them to be a 74-gun
ship, the others in sight obviously being merchantmen.  As we closed,
with ensign and pennant hoisted, the commodore signalled me to come
alongside and send a boat aboard, which I did, going in the boat myself
to see what news I could pick up.  I thus learned that the ship I had
boarded was the _Goliath_, the captain of which was the commodore of the
squadron of convoying ships, consisting of--in addition to the
_Goliath_--the frigates _Tourmaline_ and _Spartiate_, and the gun-brigs
_Vulcan, Wolverine, Spitfire_, and _Tortoise_; the convoy consisting of
three hundred and eighty-seven sail of all sorts, bound to the various
West Indian ports.  I informed the commodore of the nature of the duty
upon which I had been sent out by the Admiral on the station, and
inquired whether any suspicious craft had been sighted during the
passage; to which he grimly replied in the affirmative, but added that
they had all been accounted for, and would be found, with prize-crews
aboard them, in the main body of the fleet.  I stayed on board the
seventy-four for a couple of hours, gathering what news the inmates of
the ward-room could give me; during which the _Wasp_, under
boom-foresail and fore-staysail only, easily kept company with the
ponderous two-decker, looking in comparison with her "no bigger as my
thumb," as the negroes would say.  She excited a great deal of
curiosity, on account of her very peculiar model, and likewise a very
considerable amount of admiration as she swept along lightly and
buoyantly as a seagull over the long undulations of the heavy swell that
was running.  It was the first time that I had ever beheld her under
sail, from outside her own bulwarks, and although, looked down upon from
the lofty poop of the _Goliath_, she seemed to be the merest
cockle-shell, small enough to be hoisted inboard and stowed upon the
two-decker's main hatch, there was still a look of staunchness about her
that, coupled with the beauty of her form and the rakish sauciness of
her entire appearance, made me feel very proud of the fact that I
commanded her, as well as very anxious for an opportunity to show of
what she and her crew were capable.

Having extracted all the information I could obtain--which, after all,
was not very much--I made my adieux, descended the side, stepped into my
boat, and returned to the schooner.  Upon rejoining her, we made sail
and hauled to the wind, in the hope of finding some picarooning craft
hanging on to the skirts of the convoy; but although we hovered in the
wake of the latter until the very last of them had disappeared beneath
the southern horizon, our hopes were vain; and, finally, I decided to
bear up for the Navidad, or Ship Bank, proceed through the Sea of Hayti
as far as the entrance of the Windward Channel, and then, if still
unsuccessful in my search for traces of the pirate, to work my way back
to the Atlantic by the Crooked Island Passage, exploring some of the
cays in Austral Bay on the way, they seeming to me to afford
considerable facilities for the establishment of a pirate depot.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

WHAT THE GUNNER SAW.

Two mornings later--the _Wasp_ being at the time off Ysabelica Point,
which is the most northerly point of the island of Hayti--I was awakened
by young Dundas, one of the two midshipmen whom I had on board.  He
entered my cabin, laid his hand lightly on my shoulder, and, as I
started up at his touch, said:

"I beg your pardon, Mr Delamere, for entering your cabin, but I knocked
twice and you did not seem to hear me.  The gunner is sorry to have you
disturbed, sir, but he would be very much obliged if you would come on
deck for a minute or two."

"Very well," said I; "I will be up in a brace of shakes.  Just turn up
the lamp, if you please, youngster, and let us have a little more light
on the subject.  Ah! that's better, thanks.  Kindly hand me those
unmentionables.  I say, Mr Dundas, there doesn't seem to be very much
wind.  What's the weather like?"

"Stark calm, sir; smooth water, and as dark as the inside of a cow,"
answered the lad.

"Does the weather look threatening, then; or what does--?  But never
mind; those shoes, if you please.  Thanks.  That will do.  Now I am
ready.  Away you go, youngster."

Preceded by the lad, I passed into the fore-cabin and thence up on deck,
where, as Dundas had picturesquely intimated, the darkness was profound
and the air breathless, save for the small draughts created by the
flapping of the great mainsail to the gentle movements of the schooner
upon the low undulations of the swell.

As I stepped out on deck I heard Henderson's voice close at my elbow,
although the man himself was invisible.

"Sorry to have been obliged to disturb you, Mr Delamere," he said, "but
something's happened that I thought you ought to know about."

"Yes?"  I remarked interrogatively.  "Well, what was it, Henderson?"

"Well, it's like this here, sir," he replied.  "We've been becalmed this
last hour or more, durin' which the schooner have been boxin' the
compass, while it's been that close and muggy that one don't seem to
have been able to get air enough to breathe.  And the closeness made me
feel so drowsy that, to prevent myself from droppin' off to sleep, I've
been obliged to keep on my feet, pacing fore and aft atween the main
cabin skylight and the main riggin'.  The watch have coiled theirselves
away somewheres, and I don't doubt but what they're snatchin' a
cat-nap--and I haven't troubled to disturb 'em, sir, for the lookout on
the fo'c's'le is keepin' his eyes skinned.

"Well, a few minutes ago--it may be five, or it may be ten--I'd just
swung round to walk aft from the main riggin' when, as my eyes travelled
away out here over the port quarter, I got the notion into my head that
there was somethin' goin' on down there, for it seemed to me that I'd
got a glimpse--out of the corner of my eye, as it might be--of a small
sparkin', like--like--well, hang me if I know what it was like, unless
it might be twenty or thirty pistols or muskets all being fired close
after one another."

"Ah!"  I ejaculated.  "And did you hear any sound, Henderson--anything
like that of distant firing, for instance?"

"No, Mr Delamere; not a sound, sir," answered the gunner.  "But then,"
he continued, "that ain't very surprisin' when you comes to think of it,
for just listen to what's goin' on aboard here--the old hooker ain't so
very noisy, I'll allow; still, what with the rustlin' of the canvas
overhead, the patter of the reef-points, the creakin' of the jaws o' the
mainboom, the clank o' the wheel-chains, and the wash and gurgle of the
water alongside with the roll of her, there's not much chance of pickin'
up sounds comin' from a distance, is there, sir?"

"No, that is true, there is not," I admitted.  "Did you see, or hear,
anything else, Henderson?"  I asked.

"No, sir; never another thing," answered the gunner.  "And I'd like ye
to understand, Mr Delamere, that I wouldn't care actually to stand up
in court and swear that I really saw what I told ye; for, as I
explained, I only caught the thing out o' the tail-end of my eye, as it
might be, and then 'twas gone again, and I saw nothin' more.  But the
impression that I really had seen something was so strong that I felt it
was my duty to report it."

"Of course; you did perfectly right," I agreed; "particularly in view of
the task that has been given us to do.  Did the lookout see anything of
this appearance of flashes?"

"No, sir," answered Henderson; "he didn't.  Nat'rally he wouldn't, for
he was keepin' a lookout ahead and on either bow, while this here
flashin' showed--if it really did show at all, and wasn't my
imagination--out there over the port quarter."

"Quite so," I concurred.  "Under those circumstances he would not be in
the least likely to see the appearance.  Did it occur to you to take the
bearing of the spot where you thought you saw those flashes?"

"Yes, sir, it did," answered Henderson.  "I stood, just for a second or
two, to see if there was any more comin': and then, not seein' anything,
I went straight to the binnacle and took the bearin', which I found to
be nor'-west and by west, half west."

With one consent we both walked aft to the binnacle and peered into it.
The schooner had swung several points while the gunner had been spinning
his somewhat long-winded yarn, for the bearing which he gave now lay
about a point over the starboard quarter.  I stared into the blackness
in that direction, but could see nothing.  Then I got the night glass
and, setting it to my focus, raised it to my eye, pointing it out over
the starboard quarter and sweeping it slowly and carefully to right and
left.  For a minute or two I saw nothing; then, as I swept the tube
along what I judged to be the line of the horizon, a tiny smudge of
radiance--so dim as to be scarcely more than a suggestion--seemed to
float athwart the lenses and was gone again.  There is probably nothing
in ordinary life much more difficult than to pick up and retain in the
lenses of a telescope, levelled by hand, a spark of light so minute and
faint as to be invisible to the unaided eye in the midst of the
surrounding darkness, and the difficulty is enhanced when the attempt is
made from the deck of a small vessel oscillating though ever so gently
on the ridges of a long, low-running swell, and for the life of me I
could not again find the feeble glimmer that had seemed to swim athwart
the instrument, try as I would.

"It is no good, Henderson," I said at last, abandoning the attempt in
despair, and handing the telescope over to him.  "I am almost certain
that for a single instant I caught a faint blur of light away out there;
but I cannot find it now.  Take the glass, and see if you can meet with
any better success.  But verify your bearing before you do so."

The schooner had swung a point or two further round by this time, and
the bearing now lay broad over the starboard beam, in which direction
Henderson pointed his glass.  Meanwhile Dundas, the midshipman who had
called me, had slipped down below and brought his own telescope on deck,
and was working away with it, but neither he nor the gunner met with any
luck; and I was about to try my hand again when a slight lessening of
the intensity of the darkness away down in the eastern quarter indicated
the approach of dawn.  In those low latitudes the transition from night
to day, and _vice versa_, is extraordinarily rapid, occupying but a few
minutes; and, even as we stood watching, the pallor strengthened and
spread to right and left and upward, suggesting the stealthy but rapid
withdrawal of an infinite number of dark gauze curtains from the face of
the firmament, until presently the eastern quadrant of the horizon
became visible, the pallid sea showing like a surface of molten lead,
sluggishly undulating like the coils of a sleeping snake, while overhead
stretched an unbroken pall of dark grey cloud that seemed to promise a
drenching downpour of rain before long.

The light from the east stole upward among the clouds and westward along
the surface of the sea with amazing rapidity, yet to our impatience its
progress seemed exasperatingly slow, for away down in the west the
darkness was still profound.  And yet, even as we gazed, that darkness
seemed to become diluted, as it were, with the advancing light that we
could almost see sliding along the surface of the water, until suddenly,
as though emerging from an invisible mist, a ghostly object appeared,
grey and elusive, against the background of darkness, and with one voice
we all three shouted:

"There she is?"

Yes, there she was--a large ship, about seven miles away, lying
becalmed, like ourselves, with all plain sail set, to her royals and
flying-jib.  For perhaps half a minute after our first sight of her the
light was too weak and uncertain to enable us to discern details; but as
we kept our telescopes persistently bearing upon her, first one
distinctive feature and then another became revealed.

"She's a full-rigged ship, lying broadside-on to us, Mr Delamere,"
announced young Dundas.

"So I perceive," I returned somewhat dryly.  "And I notice, also, that
she has swung with her head to the southward."

"She's a big lump of a craft, not very far short of 900 tons, I should
say," commented Henderson, with his eye still glued to the eye-piece of
the schooner's glass.  "And," he continued, after a slight pause, "I
reckon she's a foreigner; that high poop and them deep-curvin'
headboards never took shape in a British shipyard, I'm prepared to swear
to that.  Looks to me like a Dutchman.  What do you think, Mr
Delamere?"

"I agree with you that she is undoubtedly a foreigner," answered I; "but
I don't think she is Dutch--there is too much gilding and
gingerbread-work about her quarters for that.  There,"--as the sun broke
through the clouds and showed his upper rim above the horizon, flashing
a long, level beam along the surface of the water, striking the stranger
and causing the stern of her to blaze into a sudden flame of glittering
radiance--"do you see that, Henderson?  Her quarter is a solid mass of
painted and gilded carving.  The Dutchman is too economical, too fond of
the dollars to lavish so much gold-leaf as that on the adornment of his
ship; he prefers to put the money into extra bolts and fastenings.  No;
that fellow is a Spaniard, or I'm greatly mistaken!"

"Spaniard, or Dutch, or French, it don't make much difference to us, Mr
Delamere," answered the gunner, as he replaced the telescope in the
beckets; "she'll give us a nice little bit o' prize-money as soon as the
breeze comes and enables us to run down alongside her."

"Ay, that she will--if she doesn't happen to be a man-o'-war--and I
don't believe she is," I answered, as I again levelled my glass at her.
"No," I continued, "she is no man-o'-war, although I see she shows a set
of teeth; but there are not many of them, they are all small pieces, and
half of them may be quakers, for what we can tell to the contrary.  She
is a Spanish West Indiaman, I believe, bound, no doubt, to Cartagena, or
some other port on the Main; and she has probably come in through the
Handkerchief, or Turks Islands Passage.  Well, there does not seem to be
much chance of the wind coming just yet, Henderson, so you had better
get your head-pump rigged and muster your scrubbers; meanwhile I will
have my bath, as usual, and then get dressed, so as to be all ready by
the time that the breeze comes."

When eight o'clock and breakfast-time arrived there was no perceptible
change in the aspect of the weather, which remained stark calm; while
the heavy pall of cloud that had shrouded the night sky had thinned away
to a kind of dense haze in the midst of which the sun throbbed--a great
shapeless splotch of misty light that, notwithstanding its partial
veiling, still contrived to impart a scorching quality to the breathless
atmosphere.

As I ascended to the deck after breakfast I found Pearce, the boatswain,
whose watch it now was, apparently waiting for my reappearance.  He held
the schooner's glass in his hand, and had evidently spent practically
the whole time since eight bells in watching the stranger.

"I've been thinkin', Mr Delamere," he began, "how would it be to get
the boats out and go after that chap?  We could do it quite
comfortable--take possession of her, leave a prize-crew aboard her, and
get back to the schooner again before dinner."

"No doubt," I agreed.  "But why should we trouble to get the boats into
the water and fatigue the men by a long pull in this sweltering heat?
That ship can't get away from us without wind; and if I am any judge of
the looks of a vessel we shall walk up to her as if she were at anchor
as soon as the breeze comes.  She is a good seven miles away, a pull of
an hour and a half at the least in this weather, and at the end of it
the men would be too tired to face resistance effectively, if it were
offered--as it very possibly might be.  No, I really do not see any
necessity to dispatch the boats, just yet at least; do you?"

"Well, 'pon my word, Mr Delamere, I don't know," answered Pearce,
scratching his head with a puzzled air.  "The way you puts it there
don't seem to be no sense at all in doin' of it.  And yet, I don't know,
sir.  The fact is, I'm a bit puzzled about that there ship.  Here are
we, regularly boxin' the compass, our jibboom pointin' first this way,
then that, and then t'other, while that ship haven't veered nothin' to
speak of all the time that I've been on deck; she've pointed steady to
the south'ard ever since I first set eyes on her, and it seems to me
that she've altered her bearin's a bit.  I suppose it ain't likely that
she've got her boats into the water, towin' on t'other side of her, have
she?"

"Good gracious, man, no, surely not!"  I ejaculated.  "What in the world
should they do such a mad thing as that for?  What effect would two, or
even three, boats have on a big heavy ship like that?  They could never
hope to tow her below the horizon and out of sight of us before the wind
comes; and, if not, why should they tire themselves to death by making
such an attempt?  I admit that it is rather strange that her head should
point so steadily in one direction while we are boxing the compass; but
she probably draws twice as much water as we do, and that may have
something to do with it."

I took the telescope from Pearce's hands and again levelled it at the
stranger.  She was still lying broadside-on to us, showing us her port
side, and her yards were braced sharp up on the starboard tack, as
though--assuming her to have come in through one of the passages--she
had had a wind from the westward, while the breeze which had brought us
where we were had been from the eastward.  The peculiarity of this now
struck me for the first time, but it carried no particular significance
to my mind beyond the suggestion that possibly she might, after all, be
homeward instead of outward bound.  But as I stood scanning her through
the lenses it gradually dawned upon me that her people seemed to be
extraordinarily busy, for I could detect indications that quite a large
number of men were actively moving about her decks; and presently, to my
astonishment, I noticed that she had a tackle at her mainyard-arm; and
while I was still wondering what this might be for, I saw a large case
rise slowly above the level of her bulwark and then vanish again,
apparently over her rail.

Then, in a second, illumination came to me and I understood everything.
There was a craft of some sort alongside her, completely hidden from our
view by her hull and canvas, braced as sharp up as possible, and
undoubtedly there were boats in the water on the other side of her,
employed to keep her broadside-on to us and thus keep the other craft
hidden from us; moreover, certain portions of her cargo were being
hoisted out and transferred to the hidden vessel.  The inference was
obvious: the hidden craft was a pirate which had somehow managed to
sneak up alongside and surprise her in the pitchy darkness of the early
hours of the morning--Henderson had actually caught a glimpse of the
very act of capture--and now she was being plundered by the audacious
scoundrels under our very eyes.

I laid down the glass and looked sharply round the horizon.  The
atmosphere was distinctly thickening, to such an extent, indeed, that
the sun was now almost blotted out, and there was a greasy look about
the sky that seemed to portend bad weather.  The sea was still
glass-smooth, not the faintest suggestion of a catspaw to be seen in any
direction; but there was a certain gloomy, lowering appearance over the
western horizon that appeared to promise a breeze before long.  It might
be hours, however, before it came, and we could not wait for it; for
robbery, and very possibly violence, ay, even cold-blooded murder, was
being perpetrated at that moment, and speedy intervention was
imperative.  I felt horribly vexed that we should all have allowed
ourselves to be hoodwinked so completely; for although the device was
undoubtedly quite clever, the conviction would insist upon forcing
itself upon me that I had attached altogether too little importance to
the gunner's story of those mysterious flashes, seen "out of the corner
of his eye."  I told myself that that story ought to have aroused my
suspicions, ought to have conveyed a distinct suggestion to my mind; and
that, if it had, we should have detected the ruse almost with the first
appearance of daylight.  This, however, was not the moment for
reproaches, either of myself or others, it was the moment for action;
and I turned sharply upon the boatswain.

"Mr Pearce," I said, "on the starboard side of that ship there is
another craft, completely hidden from us by the hull and canvas of the
stranger, and cargo is being hoisted out of the one and transferred to
the other.  That means that an act of piracy is being perpetrated; and
we have been commissioned for the express purpose of suppressing piracy.
It is as likely as not that the hidden craft is the identical vessel
that we have been sent out to capture, but in any case our duty is
clear; we must get up within striking distance and interfere without a
moment's loss of time.  Now, the question in my mind is this: Should we
man and arm boats, and send them away; or should we rig out our sweeps
and attempt to sweep the schooner up to the scene of action?  Under
ordinary circumstances I should be for dispatching the boats; but I
don't quite know what to make of the weather.  There is no sign of a
breeze in any direction at the present moment, but that lowering
appearance away to the westward may mean wind; and if it does, it may
come down very strong.  Should it do so, it would bother the boats, and
enable the pirates to slip away; on the other hand, the wind may not
come away for several hours yet.  This is one of those occasions when
experience is valuable, and I shall be glad to have your opinion as to
which plan is the better."

Pearce, meanwhile, had been peering through the glass again; but when I
finished speaking he laid it down and turned to me.

"'Pon my word, Mr Delamere, it's very difficult to say," he answered.
"While you've been talkin' I've been lookin' at that ship away yonder,
and I believe, sir, as you're right about there bein' another craft
alongside of her, although they've so managed things that they might ha'
stayed all day as they are without our bein' any the wiser, if we hadn't
kept on watchin' 'em.  Yes; it's a hact of piracy, right enough, I
haven't a doubt; and, as you says--what's the best thing to be done?"

He paused and gazed earnestly toward the increasing appearance of
thickness and greasiness in the western quarter, carefully studying its
aspect for a full minute or more; then he turned to me again.

"I don't like the look of it at all, Mr Delamere," he said.  "There's
bad weather brewin' yonder--I'm sure of it--but how long it'll be before
it comes no man can say; it may be hours, or it may be on us within the
next half-hour or so.  What does the barometer say?"

We both stepped to the open skylight and peered down through it at the
barometer, which hung in gimbals from the fore transom.  The mercury was
falling rather rapidly.

"Yes," Pearce continued, "I don't like the look of it, sir, and I
shouldn't like to take the responsibility of advisin' of you to send the
boats away.  For, ye see, Mr--"

"Yes," I interrupted, cutting ruthlessly in upon the man's speech, "I
see quite clearly, boatswain, that you and I are of one mind upon that
point, therefore there is no need to discuss it further, and we will at
once proceed to action.  Call all hands if you please, Mr Pearce."

The next moment the shrill chirruping of Pearce's pipe and his gruff
bellow of "All hands ahoy!" resounded throughout the little vessel, and
our decks at once became a scene of animation.  The galley fire was
extinguished, although the cook was by this time busy upon the
preparation of the men's dinner; screens were fastened up round the
hatchways, the magazine was opened, powder and shot were passed up on
deck, and the guns were cast loose and loaded, the men dancing about the
decks with the glee and activity of schoolboys preparing for a day's
amusement.  Then, as soon as we were all ready for action, the heavy
sweeps were rigged out, four men to each sweep, and the schooner's bows
were pointed straight for the stranger.  To overcome the inertia of the
little vessel, and get way upon her, was laborious work, and the men,
stripped to their waists, were soon streaming with perspiration; but
after the first five minutes' toil, during which we worked up a speed of
about three knots, it proved a comparatively easy matter to keep her
going.

It soon became evident that a keen watch upon our movements was being
maintained by the pirates; for no sooner had it been made apparent that
we intended to close with the strangers than all attempts at further
concealment were abandoned, the ship's courses were clewed up, her yards
were squared; to facilitate the hoisting out of cargo, additional
tackles were got aloft, and all the signs of greatly increased activity
on board her at once became manifest.  It now also became apparent that
some means had been resorted to for the purpose of keeping her broadside
presented to us and her hull interposed between us and the pirate
vessel, and that these means had now been abandoned as of no further
avail; for within the next ten minutes she swung stem-on to us, and we
saw that there was indeed another craft alongside her--a slashing big
topsail schooner, immensely beamy, with all her canvas clewed up and
furled, and her decks cumbered with bales and packages of all sizes and
descriptions, which were being hoisted out of the big ship's hold and
lowered over the side with feverish activity.  As the two craft swung
round, revealing the presence of the second vessel, our lads gave a
cheer of delight and exultation, and applied themselves with such fierce
energy to the toil of working the heavy sweeps that they churned the
glassy surface of the ocean into a long double row of miniature
whirlpools, that went swirling and frothing away from the blades of the
sweeps into the wake of the schooner, to the distance of a full quarter
of a mile.

Fortunately, however, they were not compelled to toil very long at this
exhausting labour; for when we had progressed about a mile a few
catspaws came stealing along the surface of the water from the westward,
while a dark line gradually extended along the western horizon and
advanced steadily in our direction, the catspaws meanwhile multiplying
and spreading until, within a quarter of an hour of their first
appearance, the sails of the strange ship were wrinkling and flapping to
quite a pleasant little breeze.  The moment that this happened the
pirate schooner cast off and made sail with the rapidity and precision
of a man-o'-war, thus demonstrating that she was manned by an
exceptionally strong and efficient crew.  As soon as she was clear of
the ship she was brought to the wind, under an enormous spread of
exquisitely cut canvas, and away she went, close-hauled on the port
tack, heading to the northward at a pace which made us gape with
astonishment; while the ship, with squared yards, gathered stern-way and
first fell broadside-on to us, then gradually paid off until she was
before the wind, when down she came driving toward us, yawing so broadly
to port and starboard that it was easy to see she had nobody at her
helm, which seemed to point pretty clearly toward the presumption of
tragedy.  A quarter of an hour later the catspaws were ruffling the
surface of the water here and there all round us, and stirring our
canvas at rapidly decreasing intervals, with the true breeze coming fast
and close behind them; we, therefore, laid in our sweeps, put the helm
up, trimmed our sheets on the port tack, took a long pull and a strong
pull upon the halliards all round, and paid off just in time to receive
the first of the true breeze into the hollows of our canvas, when,
heeling over to the extent of a strake or so, away we too went, with a
merry buzzing and seething of water under our bows and along our bends.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

THE WASP FIGHTS THE PIRATE SCHOONER.

The pirate schooner--a craft of apparently two hundred tons or more,
very long and low on the water, painted dead black, with immensely tall,
wand-like masts, and an enormous spread of canvas--was now slipping
along fast through the water, heading to the northward, and some six
miles dead to windward of us.  It was a long start, and I foresaw that,
fast as the little _Wasp_ undoubtedly was, unless something quite
unforeseen occurred, a good many things might happen before we could get
alongside the enemy.  Why such a big powerful vessel--she showed seven
ports of a side, and there was something suspiciously like a long
32-pounder on her forecastle--should turn tail so ignominiously and run
from a little shrimp of a craft like the _Wasp_ I could not imagine,
though I was to receive enlightenment upon that point before long.  Our
immediate business, however, was not with her, but with the big ship
that was coming yawing down the wind toward us.

She was now about five miles distant, and as she came driving along, now
stem-on, with her square canvas full, and anon sweeping round until she
presented one or the other of her broadsides to us, with only her
fore-and-aft canvas drawing, we were enabled to get a very good view of
her.  She was a big craft, of from nine hundred to a thousand tons,
perhaps, and at a distance might very well have been mistaken for a
man-o'-war.  But she was evidently not that, for she showed only four
guns of a side upon her upper-deck, and they were but small, apparently
not more than 6-pounders.  She was very heavily rigged, with a wide
spread to her lower yards, but the heads of her square sails narrowed
away to such an extent that her royal-yards looked to be scarcely more
than ten feet long.  Her hull was painted bright yellowish-brown, with a
broad white ribbon round it, and her bottom was painted white, with a
black stripe between it and the brown, but below the water-line the
white paint was foul with barnacles and sea grass, as we could see when
she rolled.  She carried, by way of figurehead, the image of a female
saint, very elaborately painted and gilded, with a good deal of gilded
scroll-work round about it, and her stern and quarters were also
elaborately carved and gilded.  Her topsides tumbled home enormously,
her width on deck being little more than half that at her water-line.
Surmounting her stern there was a great poop lantern, almost big enough
for a man to stand in.  A rough painting of the Crucifixion adorned her
fore-topsail.  She showed no colours; but she was Spanish, beyond a
doubt, and most probably, as I had at first surmised, a West Indiaman.

We manoeuvred the _Wasp_ in such a manner as to close with the stranger,
as nearly as possible without incurring the risk of being run into and
sunk by her in one of her wild sheers, and at the proper moment the
schooner was hove-to, the quarter-boat lowered, and with four hands in
her, armed with pistols and cutlasses, I jumped in and pulled away for
the other craft.

Carefully watching her movements, we contrived to get alongside and hook
on without very much difficulty; and then all hands of us swarmed up her
towering side and tumbled in on deck, with our drawn pistols in our
hands, for there was never any knowing what ghastly trick a pirate might
play, or what fiendish trap he might set--they were capable of anything
and everything--therefore it behoved us to be wary; but nothing
happened.  There was not a soul on deck to interfere with us, or to
demand our business; and the first thing we did was to put the helm hard
over and lay the mainyard aback as she came to the wind.  Then I
ascended to the poop and took a comprehensive glance round me.

The circumstance that thrust itself most obtrusively forward, demanding
immediate notice, was that the main hatchway was gaping wide-open, with
a tackle dangling down it from the main-stay, evidently for the purpose
of hoisting cargo out of the hold.  All round the hatchway the deck was
littered with bales and cases of every description, some of them intact,
as they had come up out of the hold, while others had been ripped or
wrenched open and their contents scattered hither and thither about the
decks.  There was a cask lying on its bilge, its head knocked out, and
perhaps a gallon or so of port wine still in it, while all round about
it the deck was dark, wet, and reeking with the fumes of the spilt wine.
But there were other and more sinister stains than those of wine on the
planks--there were great splashes of blood here and there on bulwarks
and deck, much of which was partially hidden by the scattered cargo; but
the scene was not nearly so sanguinary or revolting as I had expected to
find it, for there were no ensanguined, mutilated corpses to shock the
eye, or harrow the imagination, by the sight of their hurts.

Nor, for that matter, were there any living people on board the ship,
either in cabins or forecastle, although there was abundant evidence
that both had had their full complement of occupants.  The forecastle,
for example, was lumbered up with the chests of the seamen, boots, caps,
and various other articles of clothing lying scattered about the deck,
while oilskins, sou'westers, and more clothing hung from pegs and nails
driven into the timber walls; the bedding in the bunks also was
disarranged, as though the men had just rolled out of them; and a large
copper slush lamp, suspended from a deck beam, still burned, smoking and
flaring to the roll of the ship upon the swell.  The confusion here was
merely normal, and such as is always to be found in a ship's forecastle;
but the grand saloon presented a very different and terribly suggestive
appearance.  The whole place was a scene of dreadful disorder and
violence, a carouse seeming to have been succeeded by a life and death
struggle.  For the massive mahogany table was bare, while the cloth that
should have covered it lay upon the carpeted deck in a confused heap in
the midst of a medley of smashed decanters, glasses, and viands of
various descriptions, while the reek of spilled wine, mingled with the
odour of gunpowder and tobacco smoke, filled the air; one or two of the
handsome mirrors that adorned the cabin were smashed, the cracks
radiating from the point of fracture right out to the frame; two or
three discharged pistols and a broken sword lay among the debris on the
carpet; some of the rich velvet cushions had been torn off the locker
and then kicked under the table; and a number of men's, women's, and
children's garments lay scattered about the apartment.  Nor was this
all.  The doors of the staterooms on either side of the saloon stood
wide-open, hooked back to the bulkheads; and here again the bedding was
all in disorder, as though the occupants had leapt hurriedly from the
bunks under the influence of some sudden alarm; trunks and boxes were
standing open--some of them overturned--and their contents scattered all
over the cabin, as though the receptacles had been rummaged in search of
jewellery or money, or both.  And the soft white linen sheets that
formed part of the bedding in one of the cabins was deeply and horribly
smeared with scarcely dry blood, with which also the mattress underneath
seemed to be soaked!  The captain's cabin--or what I took to be such--
had likewise been rifled, the charts having been taken from the racks,
the chronometer from its padded well in the book-case, and the sextant
had vanished, as well as the ship's papers.  But we were able to
ascertain her name and port of registry, for it was engraved upon the
broad brass rim of her steering wheel, and upon her bell: "_Santa
Brigitta_, Santander."

It was evident that there were no living persons on board this fine but
ruthlessly despoiled ship, or if there were, they must be in hiding; and
with the view of testing this latter point I now swung myself down
through the open hatchway leading to the lazarette, believing that that
would be the part of the ship wherein a person might most successfully
hide and evade capture.  I was no sooner down in this gloomy receptacle,
devoted to the stowage of the ship's cabin stores, than I saw that it
too had been rummaged, if not actually rifled; but I could detect no
sign indicative of the presence of a person, or persons, in hiding; and
although I shouted until I was hoarse, no sound save the furtive
scurrying of rats reached me by way of reply.  But presently, as I stood
listening, and my ears became accustomed to the subdued creaking and
groaning of the vessel's framework and cargo, another sound came to me--
the sound of gurgling, bubbling water; and making my way toward it as
best I could down between the casks and cases that cumbered the place, I
suddenly dropped down into a void, and found water--salt water, surging
and washing to and fro with the movements of the ship, to the height of
my knees.  I tried to find the source of the inflow, but I was now down
in the ship's run, standing upon her steeply sloping side, and I
speedily realised that the points of influx were already so far beneath
the surface as to be entirely beyond my reach; and the water was coming
in fast, too, for even as I stood there I could feel it creeping
insidiously up my legs.  The scoundrels had evidently followed their
usual custom and had scuttled the ship, in order that no tangible
evidences of their crime might remain.

Until I made this discovery it had been my intention to put a prize-crew
on board her and send her into Port Royal; but with one or more--
probably half-a-dozen--bad leaks below the water-level, and utterly
beyond our reach, this plan was no longer feasible; and now the only
thing to be done was to leave the unfortunate craft to her fate, proceed
in chase of the authors of the mischief, and do our utmost to bring them
to book.  I therefore scrambled up out of the lazarette into the main
saloon, made my way out on deck again, and, summoning my boat's crew,
descended the deserted ship's side, and pushed off on my way back to the
_Wasp_.

But it was with something akin to shock that I looked back at the _Santa
Brigitta_, as the boat sped across the short space of water that
separated her from the schooner.  For although we had only been aboard
her a short half-hour, she had settled perceptibly during that time; so
deeply, indeed, that as I looked at her I felt convinced she must have
been scuttled forward as well as aft, and that the water must be pouring
into her from at least a dozen auger-holes.  At that rate she would sink
long before we could get out of sight of her, although the breeze was
now perceptibly stronger than it had been when I boarded the ill-fated
ship.

By the time that I had regained the deck of the _Wasp_, and that craft
was once more under way, the pirate schooner was hull-down on the
north-western horizon, nearly ten miles away.  But light breezes and
smooth water, such as we had at the moment, constituted absolutely ideal
weather for the _Wasp_; it was under precisely such conditions that her
marvellous sailing powers showed to the utmost advantage, and, smart as
the other schooner had revealed herself to be, I had very little doubt
as to our ability to overhaul her and bring her to account.  We
therefore piled upon the little hooker every rag that we could find a
spar or stay for, brought her to the wind, flattened-in her sheets until
her mainboom was almost amidships, and generally made all our
preparations for a long chase to windward.

But although the weather was at the moment everything that could be
desired, from our point of view, I did not by any means like the look of
it; the hazy appearance of the atmosphere, far from clearing, was
steadily increasing in density, the sun had by this time vanished
altogether, and the appearance of gloom away down to the westward was
now deepening and, at the same time, working round into the northern
quarter of the heavens.  Also, the mercury was dropping quite rapidly.

My chief anxiety now was to overhaul the pirate schooner and bring her
to action before nightfall; for, with bad weather threatening, unless we
could succeed in doing this, there was every likelihood of her giving us
the slip during the hours of darkness.  A stern-chase is proverbially a
long chase, and a chase to windward is apt to be even longer, while a
start of some ten miles, under such circumstances, must necessarily
prove a heavy handicap to the pursuing vessel; nevertheless I was not
without hope that, difficult as our task threatened to be, we might yet
accomplish it.  For it still wanted nearly an hour to noon, the _Wasp_
was slipping along through the water like a racer, and was looking up a
full point nearer the wind than our antagonist, and, early as it yet was
to form such a conclusion, I felt almost certain that we were
head-reaching as well as weathering upon the chase.

As soon as it became apparent that some hours would probably elapse
before we could go into action, I gave orders for the guns to be secured
and the galley fire to be lighted again, in order that the men might not
be deprived of their usual dinner; and this meal was just nicely over
when, to our utter amazement, the chase suddenly hoisted the black flag,
bore up, and with squared yards came running down with the obvious
intention of coming to close quarters with us; whereupon we once more
made ready for battle, at the same time shortening sail to our ordinary
working canvas.  At first I was distinctly puzzled to account for or
understand this sudden change of tactics upon the part of the pirates;
but a remark of Henderson's seemed to offer a tolerably plausible
explanation of it.

"Depend upon it, sir," he suggested, "they only hauled off to give
themselves time to stow away the plunder that cumbered their decks when
they shoved off from the Spaniard.  They wouldn't want to go into action
with a lot of bales and cases hamperin' their movements; but now that
they've got everything snugly stowed under hatches, they're comin' down
to try conclusions with us; and if they really mean business we've a
very tidy little job afore us."

"Ay," I assented; "that schooner will prove a very tough nut to crack,
Henderson; she carries more than twice our weight of metal, even if I am
mistaken in supposing that I saw a long gun on her forecastle; and she
appears to be very strongly manned.  Our only chance will be to engage
her at close quarters, lay her aboard, and carry her by boarding."

"D'ye think they'll be such fools as to let us do that, sir?"
caustically demanded the gunner, chewing hard upon his quid, in his
evident perplexity.

"N-o," I returned dubiously; "I don't suppose they will--if they can
help it.  But that is our only chance, all the same, and we must bend
all our energies to accomplish it.  And there is no particular reason
why we should not, so far as I can see, unless of course we are
unfortunate enough to have a spar or two knocked away.  Good shooting is
what is going to decide this fight, Henderson; and we must hope that
ours will be better than theirs."

"Ay," agreed the gunner, "there's no harm in hopin' that; but--" He
shook his head, and spat vigorously over the side by way of expressing
the doubts that were worrying him.

As it turned out, his doubts and apprehensions were by no means without
foundation, for when our antagonist arrived within range of her long
32--I was not mistaken as to that matter--she hauled her wind, and
opened fire upon us with it, making very excellent practice, too;
although it was not until she had fired six shots at us that any of them
actually came near enough to do us any damage, and then the shot only
passed through our foresail, making a neat hole in the canvas, but doing
no further mischief.  Her previous attempts, however, had come close
enough to us to prove that she had at least one excellent gunner on
board her, for every one of the shot fell within two or three fathoms of
us at the utmost; and when a man shoots so well at long range he is
bound to score a few hits, sooner or later.  And this was precisely what
Henderson and I most feared; for so long as the pirates chose to play
the game of long bowls they might blaze away at us at their leisure, and
in perfect safety, their 32-pound shot flying over and over us at a
distance far beyond the range of our 9-pounders.

What we now had to do was to shorten the distance between ourselves and
our antagonist as quickly as possible, and bring her within reach of our
guns before we sustained any very serious damage from her long gun, if
fortune would so far favour us; and I thought that possibly I might here
be able to make one of the _Wasp's_ peculiarities very useful.  This
peculiarity consisted in the fact--which we had by this time had many
opportunities of observing--that, in smooth water, such as then
prevailed, the little vessel would, if properly handled, shoot quite an
extraordinary distance to windward while in stays; and I had it in my
mind to utilise this peculiarity now by making a series of very short
boards, getting good way upon her, and then easing her helm very gently
down, allowing her to shoot the maximum possible distance to windward
every time that we hove about.  I mentioned the idea to Henderson, but
he had not very much faith in it; his idea being that of most old salts,
that the best way to work to windward was to break tacks as seldom as
possible; he agreed, however, that it might perhaps be worth while to
make the experiment and see what the result would be.  We accordingly
put my plan into practice, with such good effect that half-an-hour later
we had actually succeeded in working up near enough to the pirate to
bring her within range of our own guns.  But meanwhile she had been most
assiduously pegging away at us, in the first instance with her long gun
only, but latterly with her 12-pounders--of which she mounted seven in
each battery--as well, and we had by no means come off scathless, having
been hulled three times, and losing two men killed and five wounded
before a single shot of ours had reached her, though our spars had thus
far escaped, and our rigging had not suffered to any very serious
extent.

With our arrival within range of our own guns, however, matters began to
be a little more lively; we were fortunate enough to have some
half-a-dozen very excellent shots among us, and these men now began to
make play, each man being evidently anxious to win for himself the proud
distinction of being the champion shot of the ship, with the result that
daylight began to show here and there through the pirate schooner's
canvas, severed ropes streamed out from the spars, and the splinters
began to fly on board her.  Then a particularly lucky shot struck her
main-masthead fair, just above the nip of her lower rigging, and the
next moment down came her main-topmast, with its huge gaff-topsail,
while the peak of her mainsail drooped until the gaff hung almost up and
down.

"Hurrah, lads!"  I cried exultantly; "now we have her.  See how she pays
off!  She is bound to come to leeward now; she cannot help herself.
Down helm, Mr Willoughby, and let her go round.  Stand by to give her
our starboard broadside as we cross her bows.  Slap it right into the
eyes of her--Phew! that's a nasty one," as a shot from her 32-pounder
came along, smashing right through both our quarter-boats, cutting their
keels clean in half, tearing a great gap in the bottom planking of each,
filling the air in the immediate neighbourhood with splinters, and
whizzing so close past my head that the wind of it whipped my hat off
and overboard.

The two craft were now not more than a short half-mile distant, and fast
approaching each other, the pirate's loss of after-sail causing her to
fall broad off and come foaming down toward us, despite obvious efforts
to keep her to the wind, while we on our side were making the most
desperate efforts to get to windward and thus secure the advantage of
the weather-gage, which, in a sea-fight, often means so much.  Conned by
Willoughby, who was acting master, the lively little _Wasp_ swept round
into the wind, fore-reaching magnificently in stays, and then paying
smartly off on the starboard tack; and as she did so our three starboard
pop-guns barked out, one after the other, and I saw the splinters fly
white as the shot struck, close together, about half-way between her
starboard hawse-pipe and her cathead, just at the precise moment when
she was dead end-on to us.  The shot must have raked her from end to
end, and quite a small uproar of yells and shrieks that came floating
down from her to us on the wings of the freshening breeze told us that
they had wrought a very fair amount of execution on board her.  But it
was evident that her captain knew his business, for the next moment
several hands sprang into her fore-rigging; her topsail, topgallantsail
and royal were clewed up and furled with exemplary celerity; her jib was
hauled down and stowed, and she was again brought to the wind, while
half-a-dozen hands swarmed aloft to her mainmast-head to clear away the
wreck of her topmast and to pass strops round the shattered stump, to
hook the peak-halliard blocks to, and enable them to sway away the peak
of the mainsail again.  And all the while that this was doing they
maintained their fire upon us with the most ferocious energy, and alas!
with very deplorable results to the little _Wasp_ and her crew, for we
were by this time so close to each other that it was practically
impossible for either side to miss; and now it was that her superior
weight of metal began to tell.

Our casualties were by this time becoming serious, for we had already
lost nine men killed outright, while every moment more wounded were
being taken down into my cabin, where Saunders, the surgeon, was working
like a nigger, affording temporary relief--he could do no more just
then--to the injured.  We were still devoting all our energies to the
task of getting to windward of our antagonist, and firing at her as fast
as our leaping guns could be loaded, in the endeavour to disable her,
when they succeeded in bringing her again to the wind, and as she
rounded-to they gave us their whole broadside of seven 12-pounders, with
a shot from their long 32-pounder by way of make-weight.  The result was
absolutely disastrous, for as the iron shower hurtled about our ears
there was a crashing, tearing sound aloft, and away went both our masts
over the side, the foremast shot away close to the deck, while the
mainmast went about half-way up its length.  Nor, bad as this was, was
it all, for poor Willoughby, who was standing by my side, had the top of
his skull literally shot away, and fell dead into my arms.  The next
moment the carpenter came to me with the report that we had been hit
between wind and water by a 32-pound shot, and that the schooner was
making water fast.

The pirates cheered with ferocious glee as they saw the plight to which
they had reduced us, and their captain--a tall, handsome scoundrel, with
a very Spanish-looking cast of countenance--had the impudence to leap up
on the rail of his vessel and hail us, demanding to know whether we had
struck!

"No!"  I shouted back fiercely; "and we never will to such a hang-dog,
murderous set of scoundrels as man that schooner.  Do your worst, you
villains.  You have the advantage of us this time, but when next we meet
it will be my turn!"

"You crow loudly, young cockerel," retorted the pirate captain
scornfully, "but if your men are wise they will leave their guns and go
below, for I swear to you that if they fire another shot I will sink
you!"

"Sink us, then, and be hanged to you!"  I yelled back in reply.  Then in
my exasperation I whipped a pistol out of my belt, and levelling it at
him, pulled the trigger.  But he did not mean to be shot if he could
help it,--preferring, I suppose, to take the risk of being hanged later
on,--and the moment that he saw what I would be at he sprang off his
perch so hurriedly that he fell headlong to the deck, while our lads
sent up a howl of savage derision.

"Put a charge of grape in on top of your round shot, lads," I ordered,
"and blaze away as fast as you can load.  The _Wasp_ has lost her wings,
but her sting remains, and we'll make those scoundrels feel it yet
before we have done with them!"

The men responded to this with a loud, fierce hurrah, and turned to
their guns again as cheerfully as though they were still certain of
victory, although there was probably not a man there who did not by that
time realise that the chances were all against the gallant little
schooner ever reaching port again.

The battle now raged with absolutely maniacal fury, the two schooners
being by this time within biscuit-toss of each other, the pirate
schooner lying on our weather-beam.  The guns--so hot that they
threatened to leap over the low rail into the sea--were loaded and fired
as fast as the men could serve them, and, fighting at such close
quarters, the carnage on both sides was frightful, the bulwarks of both
vessels being practically shot away, and the guns and those who served
them left absolutely defenceless.  Our deck was like a shambles--there
seemed to be more dead than living upon it--and the scuppers were all
spouting blood, while the pirates were in scarcely better case, although
it was now apparent that they had originally outnumbered us by something
like three to one.  How long the matter would have continued in this
fashion it is impossible to say, but after we had thus been fighting
almost hand to hand for about a quarter of an hour, during which the
pirate schooner gradually drew ahead of us, a lucky shot from one of our
guns brought down her mainmast, when she fell broad off, passed across
our bows, raking us severely as she went, and then drove rapidly away to
leeward, her people having apparently at length come to the conclusion
that they had had all that they wanted in the way of fighting.

The moment it became certain that the fight was over I sank down upon
the breech of the nearest gun, mopped the blood and perspiration from my
face, and tried to understand the scene of ruin and carnage that
surrounded me; for, with the cessation of the turmoil and excitement of
battle, everything seemed suddenly to assume the inconsequence and
unreality of a dream.  I could not quite realise that the shot-torn,
blood-bespattered wreck over which my gaze wandered wonderingly was the
erstwhile smart and dainty little schooner of which I had been so proud,
or that those maimed and disfigured forms lying broadcast about the deck
were really dead men; also, my head ached most consumedly, there was a
loud buzzing in my ears, the silence--or rather the comparative silence
that succeeded to the continuous, sharp explosions of the guns, the
excited shouts of the men, and the cries of the wounded--seemed weird,
uncanny, unnatural; for now there were no sounds save the wash of the
water alongside, an intermittent groaning--cut into now and then by the
sharp cry of a man under the hands of the surgeon--coming up through the
smashed skylight, and the low murmur of the men speaking to each other
from time to time where they had flung themselves down exhausted between
the guns.  The fact was that I was suffering from the reaction that was
inevitable after so fierce and protracted a fight--the battle having
lasted for over an hour--and I felt that I must bestir myself or I
should become light-headed, or hysterical, or something equally foolish.
I, therefore, rose to my feet, called to the steward to bring me a
glass of water--the water-cask which usually stood on deck having been
smashed to staves early in the fight--and then gave orders for the men
to secure the guns.  I also sent young Hinton down below to ascertain
and bring me the particulars of our casualties.

Thus far we had all been much too strenuously engaged, and our attention
too fully occupied, to take note of the weather; but now, as I glanced
round at the lowering heavens and observed their threatening aspect, I
bethought me that, fatigued though we all were, there still remained an
abundance of work to be done in preparation for the storm that was
evidently brewing.  For the sky was now completely overcast with a pall
of dense, livid, purplish, slate-coloured cloud that clearly portended a
gale; the wind was coming in hot, fierce, intermittent puffs that
scourged the sea into miniature foam-flecked waves for a few seconds at
a time and then dropped almost to a calm again, and upon looking at the
barometer I saw that the mercury had fallen almost half-an-inch since I
had last looked at it shortly before the commencement of the fight.  The
Spaniard had vanished, and the pirate schooner was still running away to
leeward.

Presently young Hinton, the midshipman whom I had sent below to
ascertain the extent of our casualties, came up to me with a list in his
hand which he had himself prepared, Saunders, the surgeon, being at that
moment far too busy to spare time for the making up of returns; and from
this list I learned the appalling news that, of our entire complement of
fifty-eight, all told, we had lost no less than seventeen killed, and
thirty-two more or less severely wounded, leaving only a poor paltry
nine of us untouched, of whom I was one.  Fortunately, of the thirty-two
wounded only about half of them were hurt severely enough to be rendered
totally unfit for duty; but that was bad enough in all conscience, with
the ship dismantled and leaking, and something very like a gale
threatening.

I had just finished the perusal of young Hinton's list when Henderson
and the carpenter came up on deck, the former bringing with him the keys
of the magazine, which he had secured, in accordance with an order which
I had sent down below to him, while Mills was fresh from his examination
of the ship's interior.  His report was anything but reassuring, for the
news he brought was to the effect that we had been hulled no less than
seventeen times, four of the shot that had hulled us being 32-pounders,
one of which and two of the pirate's 12-pounders had struck us between
wind and water.  He added that he had plugged the holes as well as he
could, but that there was nearly three feet of water in the hold, that
the little ship was very severely strained, and that she was making
water at the rate of nearly eight inches an hour!



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

THE END OF THE WASP.

It was clear that in the face of such a report as that, and the
threatening sky that frowned down upon us, it was not a moment in which
to indulge in thoughts of rest, however loudly our poor aching bodies
might clamour for it.  There was much to be done to secure our own
safety and that of our injured and helpless comrades, and very little
time in which to do it; I therefore directed Pearce, the boatswain, to
pipe all hands to splice the main-brace; and when this had been done the
little band who were still capable of doing duty were divided into three
parties--one of which, under Henderson, was stationed at the pumps, with
orders to work at them until they sucked; while a second and much
smaller party, under the leadership and guidance of the carpenter, was
given the task of temporarily securing the various openings in the deck
against the possible influx of water--both the skylight and the
companion having been completely wrecked by shot; the third party, under
Pearce, the boatswain, devoting itself to the task of clearing away the
wreck of the spars, and securing as much as possible of the wreckage in
order that we might have the wherewithal to give the schooner a jury rig
that would enable us to take her into port.  The pirate schooner,
meanwhile, had continued to run away to leeward upon a course that would
carry her to the northern coast of Hayti in a few hours.

The work went slowly forward--it could not be otherwise with men so
utterly exhausted as were the little moiety of the _Wasp's_ crew who
survived that desperate fight, many of them smarting with the wounds
that they had received--and meanwhile the weather grew ever more
threatening, stimulating us all to exertions of which I am confident we
should have been utterly incapable under more placable circumstances.
Not that there was very much to find fault with at the moment, for it
was not exactly blowing hard; but the gusts, which for the last hour or
more had been sweeping over us, now from this quarter and anon from
that, were steadily growing more frequent and stronger, while the sky
had become black as night.  But before night actually fell we had made
shift to pump the schooner dry, the hatches were battened down, the
skylight and companion openings had been protected, after a fashion, and
we had cleared away the wreck of the mainmast, saving the spar and all
attached; and, having done this, the men declared that they must have a
meal and some rest before they could again turn-to.  And I felt that
their claim was just; for indeed they had done wonders, taking all
things into consideration.  I had not the heart to spur them to further
effort just then, for I had worked with them and, therefore, knew from
personal experience how utterly exhausted they must feel, and how
impossible it would be to get further useful work out of them until they
had rested for an hour or two.  Indeed, there did not appear to be any
good and sufficient reason why I should call upon them for more hard
work just then.  It is true that much that I intended to do still
remained undone, the most important task of all being the getting up of
something in the nature of a jury rig; but, short-handed as we now were,
that would prove a very formidable task--much too formidable and too
protracted to justify the hope that it could be accomplished before the
expected gale came; and as I considered the question, and talked it over
with Henderson and the boatswain, it seemed that if it could not be
completed beforehand, it would really be better on the whole to defer it
until after the gale had blown over; I, therefore, gave the order to
knock off work and get supper and a rest.  Two minutes later the decks
were deserted, save by myself, and I was bracing myself up to keep a
lookout as best I might.

I felt bound to acknowledge to myself that our situation was very much
the reverse of satisfactory; for there we were, totally dismasted,
strained and leaking badly, our crew exhausted, and only nine of us
unwounded, the land barely twenty-five miles to leeward of us, and, to
crown all, a heavy gale springing up.  Fortunately, we had been able to
make all the provision that was possible to meet the impending
struggle--for the wreck of our mainmast was now inboard, while the
lanyards of the fore-rigging had been cut away on both sides; and the
wreckage of the foremast was now under the schooner's bows, attached to
the hull by the stays only, so that it served as a floating anchor, to
which the little vessel was already riding head to wind.

I allowed the men two hours in which to rest and refresh themselves, and
then once more summoned them on deck; for upon sounding the well I found
that, although the schooner had been pumped dry before we had cried
"Spell-ho!" there was now eighteen inches of water in her; and I was
determined that this leak should be kept down by frequent spells of
pumping.  It would never do to have the little hooker waterlogged while
battling for life in a gale, as there was little doubt that she would be
in the course of the next few hours.

In fact, while the men were still toiling at the pumps we got our first
real taste of it.  For up to that moment the wind had been coming in a
steadily-increasing succession of scuffling gusts, each more fierce than
its predecessor, first from this quarter of the compass, and then from
that, with quite moderate breezes in between, mostly from a northerly
direction, that sometimes moderated almost to a calm.  But now, after a
somewhat longer spell than usual of the moderate breeze, the wind quite
suddenly increased in force to that of a full gale, swooping down upon
us in a mad scuffle that twirled the little craft about like a teetotum
for a minute or two as it howled and raved around us, lashing the whole
surface of the sea into one unbroken sheet of foam and spray, and then
it settled down and began to blow great guns from the northward,
whipping up a nasty short, choppy sea into which, within ten minutes,
the little schooner was plunging to the height of her hawse-holes.

This however, as it turned out, was only the beginning of it; for when
once the gale had fairly broken loose it steadily grew more furious,
with the result that in about half-an-hour we were plunging bows under,
while, to add to our difficulties, the violent motion strained the
little vessel and opened her seams to such an extent that, so far from
getting the pumps to suck, it needed the utmost exertions of all hands,
working in quick relays, to keep the leak from gaining upon us.

Clearly, it would never do to permit such a state of things as that to
continue, for the only partially rested men would soon become exhausted
by the laborious toil of the pumps; and then what would become of us?
I, therefore, summoned a council of war, consisting of the gunner, the
carpenter, and the boatswain, to whom I explained my view of the
situation, and asked their advice.  It was my opinion--founded upon our
experiences during the recent fight--that if the pirate schooner was to
be tackled successfully, it would have to be by a bigger craft than the
_Wasp_, or, at all events, that if the _Wasp_ was to be again employed
against the pirates, she would certainly have to be equipped with a very
much heavier armament; her insignificant little array of six 9-pounders
could never be expected to cope successfully with the other craft's
fourteen 12-pounders and her long 32.  Therefore, I argued, since our
present armament could never be of further use to us, so far as the
pirates were concerned, while at the present moment they were doing much
to make the schooner strain herself to pieces, and were indeed actually
imperilling her safety and that of all on board her, why not throw them
overboard, and so relieve the little vessel of their weight and give her
the best possible chance to weather the gale?  Henderson and the
boatswain were rather opposed to this plan, the gunner suggesting, as an
alternative, that we should cut adrift from the wreckage that was
holding us head to wind, and endeavour to get before the wind and scud;
and to this view they still adhered, even after I had pointed out to
them that the island of Hayti constituted a lee-shore only some
twenty-five miles distant, upon which we must inevitably be dashed
before morning if we adopted their plan.  The carpenter, however, took
my view that we must lose the guns in any case if the schooner went
ashore, and probably the ship and our lives as well; while by making a
timely sacrifice of the guns there was at least a possibility of saving
the ship.  We were thus two to two; and as I was absolutely convinced
that the plan advocated by the gunner and the boatswain involved the
destruction of the ship and the drowning of at least as many of the poor
fellows below as were too seriously injured to be capable of taking care
of themselves, I unhesitatingly decided in favour of my own alternative,
and at once gave the order to throw the guns overboard without further
ado.

Watching our opportunity, therefore, and taking advantage of the roll of
the ship, we launched our 9-pounders overboard, one after the other,
until all six of them had vanished in the ocean depths; and the
increased liveliness of the little vessel at once demonstrated her
relief at the loss of so much weight from her deck.

The carpenter had just sounded the well, and had announced the joyous
news that at last the pumps were gaining upon the leak--which
announcement was greeted with a feeble cheer from the now utterly
exhausted men, who had for so long been toiling at the almost hopeless
task of clearing the ship of the inflowing water--when a sudden and
dreadful change occurred in the weather.  The wind, which had been
blowing a whole gale a moment before, fell dead in an instant, an
appalling darkness overspread the firmament, and the atmosphere suddenly
became so rarefied that it seemed impossible for one to draw a full
breath; the sea, which a moment earlier had been breaking furiously,
ceased to do so, and instead began to leap high into the air, falling
back with a splash that, in the sudden stillness, seemed positively
terrifying, and the schooner, swinging broadside-on, rolled so furiously
that she momentarily threatened to turn bottom-up, while those of us who
were on deck had to seize hurriedly the first fixed portion of the
vessel's framework that we could lay hands on, to save ourselves from
being pitched overboard like a shot out of a catapult.  To continue
pumping under such circumstances was impossible, for it needed both
hands and all one's strength to merely hold on.

"Now what's goin' to happen, I wonder!" growled the gunner, who was
clinging with me to a belaying-pin in a part of the rail that still
remained intact in the wake of the main rigging.  "I can understand a
gale o' wind, Mr Delamere, but this here sudden calm don't seem natural
to me."

"It is not natural," said I; "the mere look of the sky is sufficient to
assure us of that.  There is something behind it, you may be certain,
though what it is I am sure I cannot say; possibly it may be a fresh
outfly from some other point of the compass, or it may end up with a
violent thunderstorm, though I do not think it will; that sky--"

"No, no," interrupted Henderson, "there's no thunder there, sir, ye may
take my word for it.  Listen, Mr Delamere!  D'ye hear that?"

I thought for an instant that he was directing my attention to the
pitiful cries and moans that were being extorted from the unhappy
wounded down below as they were flung hither and thither by the furious
lurches of the schooner, and I was about to make some sort of reply when
a low moaning smote upon my ear, increasing with appalling rapidity to a
fierce medley of sounds, in which the savage roars of maddened beasts
and the shrieks and wailings of mortally terrified human beings seemed
to be about equally mingled; a long line of phosphorescent white
appeared upon the northern horizon, showing up with ghastly distinctness
against the background of black scowling sky; a fierce scuffle of hot
wet wind swept over us and was gone again, leaving a taste of salt upon
our lips, and with a deafening howl, as of concentrated fury, the
tempest leapt upon us, filling the air with drenching spindrift and
scudwater, while, taking the schooner fair abeam, it heeled her over
until the water was up nearly level with the coamings of her hatchways.
For nearly a minute she lay thus, and despite the fact that she was
dismasted I believed that she was about to turn turtle with us, when
gradually, as the drag of the wreckage ahead brought her round head to
wind again, she righted to an even keel once more and rode almost as
still as though she were in harbour, while the spindrift and scudwater
raked her decks fore and aft like a continuous tempest of small shot,
which stung our faces and hands so severely that it was literally
impossible to face it, and turning our backs to it and dropping upon our
hands and knees, we were driven to creep for shelter wherever we could
find it.

The sea had gone down as though by magic, for such was the power of the
wind that the slightest irregularity of surface, the slightest lift of a
wave, was at once torn off and swept away to leeward in the form of
spray so dense that it was impossible to see farther than a few yards in
any direction.  And perhaps the worst and most terrifying feature of the
whole experience was that there was nothing to be done--nothing that we
could possibly do to abate the peril of our situation; we were as
absolutely helpless as though we had been bound hand and foot, and could
merely crouch impotently waiting for the end, whatever it might be.

But it was not possible for matters to continue very long as they were;
the hurricane endured only for about twenty minutes, and then moderated
to the strength of a heavy gale, whereupon the sea began to rise again
with frightful rapidity; and half-an-hour after the first stroke of the
hurricane the schooner was pitching bows under, and shipping increasing
quantities of water at every plunge.  And now, as we once more bestirred
ourselves, we were confronted with a fresh calamity.  For our makeshift
protection of the damaged companion and skylight, as well as the
fore-scuttle, had been swept away, probably at the first stroke of the
hurricane, although not one of us had observed it, and already vast
quantities of water were pouring into the little vessel's interior,
principally through the fore-scuttle.  We had scarcely made this
alarming discovery when Saunders, the surgeon, who had remained below
through all the hubbub, busily engaged in attending to the wounded, came
up on deck and confirmed our worst fears by informing us that the
schooner was rapidly filling, the water having already risen to the
level of the cabin floor!

It was now obvious that the little ship was doomed; the hurricane,
coming so close upon the heels of the fight, and smiting us before we
had had time to repair our damages, was proving too much for her; she
was strained and battered all to pieces, and nothing that we could do
out there, short-handed, and buffeted by that pitiless wind and sea,
could avail to save her.  She was doomed, and now the utmost that lay in
our power to do was to make some sort of provision for our own safety
and that of our wounded shipmates.

Yet, when one came to consider the question, what could we do?  Our
boats, badly damaged by the shot of the pirates in the first place, had
been utterly destroyed and swept away by the first furious stroke of the
hurricane; while by the same agency our decks had been swept clear and
clean of everything not actually bolted down, except the wreckage of the
mainmast, which we had lashed firmly to ring bolts in the deck before
the gale arose.  There was that wreckage, it is true, and also the
wreckage of the foremast under the bows; if it could possibly be got
alongside, a raft of sorts might perhaps be constructed out of that, and
there our resources would end.  But there was no time for pondering and
consideration, whatever was done would have to be done at once; I
therefore called the gunner, the carpenter, and the boatswain to me,
hastily explained to them my ideas as to the construction of a raft, and
bade them muster all available hands and get to work forthwith, while
Millar (the purser) and the cabin steward were instructed to get
together as large a quantity of provisions and water as possible,
wherewith to stock the structure when finished.

Now that the wind had moderated from hurricane force to that of a heavy
gale, the sea rose with really startling rapidity, and was already
running so high that when we came to set about the task of cutting
adrift the wreckage of the foremast, with the idea of hauling it
alongside and utilising it in the construction of a raft, it at once
became evident that the time for undertaking such a piece of work was
already past; for even alongside the schooner, and partially under her
lee, the wreckage would be swept so violently by the breaking seas that
it would be impossible for men to go over the side and work upon it
without being washed off and drowned; we were, therefore, compelled to
abandon that part of our plan and turn our attention to the construction
of a raft on deck which would float clear when the battered hull sank
from under our feet.  But alas I even that was not to be; for we had
scarcely got the wreckage of the mainmast cut adrift from its lashings,
and were busily engaged in arranging it, with the topmast and the
mainboom, in the form of a triangle as a base upon which to construct a
platform, when it happened that the schooner, having just surmounted a
sea, got pinned down by the head, in consequence of all the water in her
rushing forward as she settled down, stem-on, into the succeeding
trough.  At this critical moment a yell of dismay from the carpenter
caused us all to look up from our work, and we beheld him, with his eyes
almost starting from their sockets, glaring and pointing ahead.  A
single glance in that direction sufficed to account for his terror.  For
there, sweeping down upon us with deadly implacability, towered a
perfect mountain of a sea, its front almost as steep as the side of a
house, and its foaming, hissing crest reared threateningly aloft as high
as our lower-mastheads--had they been standing.  It was at once apparent
to us all that, pinned down as the schooner was at that moment, by the
bulk of the water in her interior having concentrated itself in the fore
part of her, she could not possibly lift in time to rise over the summit
of that on-sweeping sea, it must inevitably break on board her, sweep
her from stem to stern, and send her to the bottom!  For a second we all
stood, petrified with consternation; then, with a yell of "Hold on
everybody for your lives!"  I dashed to the companion opening and
shouted to those below, "On deck, all hands of you; up you come, men,
this instant; you have not a second to lose!"

A dreadful, wailing cry of despair floated upward from below in response
to my warning, and was echoed by the people on deck as that awful liquid
mountain hovered above us, seeming to pause for an instant, as though in
sentient enjoyment of our helplessness and terror.  The next moment its
crest curled over and the whole mass of water seemed to hurl itself
headlong upon the hapless schooner, foaming in over her bows and burying
them fathoms deep in its heart.  I felt the poor shattered hull quiver
and tremble beneath me like a frightened thing as the giant wave smote
her, and then I was seized by the on-rushing water, swept off my feet,
overwhelmed, whirled helplessly hither and thither in the midst of a
medley of whirling wreckage, flying ropes'-ends, and struggling men.
Opening my eyes I beheld the hull of the schooner, a short distance
away, standing almost perpendicular, and slowly gliding downwards, bows
first.  Even as I looked she vanished into the dark profundity beneath,
and then I directed my glances above me.  It seemed that I was fathoms
deep, for the phosphorescent foam that boiled overhead looked almost as
far aloft as a frigate's lower yard; and by the same ghastly
phosphorescent light I could distinguish vaguely a number of swirling
objects, some of which appeared to be merely inanimate wreckage, while
others looked like struggling human beings.  Then, suddenly conscious of
the fact that I was within the influence of the downward draught of the
sinking schooner, and was being dragged down after her, I instinctively
struck upward desperately with hands and feet, fighting to return to the
surface.  I must have been dragged down to a very considerable depth,
for I presently lost sight of the phosphorescent light on the surface
caused by the breaking of the seas, and found myself involved in pitchy
darkness, struggling madly, and with my lungs almost bursting.  How long
this awful struggle lasted I have no means of determining; probably it
was much less than a minute, but the time seemed to drag itself out
first to minutes, then to hours, and finally I lost all idea of time,
all sense of my terrible situation, all recollection of the dreadful
catastrophe that had just happened, and found myself, as in a vivid
dream, re-enacting many a long-forgotten episode of earlier days.  Then,
in a moment, all these scenes vanished, and I was suddenly--I knew not
how--on the surface, gasping for breath, half smothered with the seas
that were breaking over my head, and convulsively clutching a rope that
had somehow found its way into my grasp.  Gradually it dawned upon me
that this rope must be fast to something--for it alternately tautened
and slackened with the sweep and swirl of the sea--thereupon I proceeded
to haul cautiously upon it, with the result that I presently found
myself alongside the floating wreckage of the mainmast.  With some
difficulty I at length managed to drag myself up and get astride this
substantial spar; and then, finding that it did not roll over and throw
me off, as I more than half feared it would, I gradually worked my way
along it until I found myself close up against the crosstrees.  And then
I thought I perceived the reason why the spar maintained its stability
so well.  The mainsail had been set when the mast was shot away, and the
gaff, with the sail attached, still retained its position on the mast,
the main halliards having somehow jammed in the block, and this it
evidently was that prevented the spar from capsizing.  The rope by which
I had hauled myself alongside the spar proved to be the end of the
peak-halliards, and I thought that if I made this fast, and so prevented
the peak from sagging, I should secure still further the stability of
the wreckage; I accordingly did so, knotting the bight round one arm of
the crosstrees, and then firmly lashing myself to the same arm with the
loose end of the halliard.

I was now much better off than when I first found myself overboard, for
I had a stout spar to support me, and might remain afloat until I fell
off from exhaustion; moreover, even when my end of the spar was
submerged--as of course it very frequently was--I was never buried
deeper than my armpits, while there were moments when I was hove up
clear out of the water altogether.  Besides, the water was quite warm.
I was therefore by no means uncomfortable, notwithstanding my situation.

Having made myself secure, I next began to look about me with the view
of ascertaining how many of my companions in misfortune had survived the
catastrophe; for I had not a doubt that a few at least would be as lucky
as myself.  But to my horror I found that I was the sole occupant of
this particular mass of wreckage; and although I shouted at the full
power of my lungs until I was hoarse, in the hope that if there were any
more survivors they would hear me and thus be guided to the same refuge
that I had gained, the sole response was the howling of the gale and the
hissing wash of the breaking seas.  True, there was a moment when I
fancied that I heard a faint shout in reply to my cries, but I concluded
that it was only imaginary, for I did not hear--or fancy that I heard--
it again.  Then, as opportunity offered, I looked about me in quest of
other wreckage, thinking that possibly there might be a few fragments to
some of which one or more of my shipmates might be clinging, but the
darkness was so intense that I could not see farther than some two or
three fathoms in either direction; and indeed it was only the faint
phosphorescent light given off by the breaking seas that enabled me to
see anything at all, even at that short distance.  The thought occurred
to me that, as whatever floating wreckage there might be would all drive
in the same direction, possibly I might be more fortunate in the
morning; and with this reflection I composed myself as well as I could
to rest, for I was by this time literally half-dead with fatigue.

So utterly exhausted was I that, despite my desperate plight, I believe
I actually did lose consciousness in sleep at brief intervals during
that terrible night, for the dawn came very much more speedily than I
had dared to hope, and with its appearance the gale broke, the wind
perceptibly moderating with the rising of the sun.  As soon as it was
light enough to permit objects to be distinguished I aroused myself from
the lethargy that seemed to have gripped me, and proceeded to search the
heaving surface of the ocean as well as my aching eyes would allow.

As a matter of fact, there actually were a few small scattered fragments
of wreckage floating at no great distance from me, but there was no sign
of a human being, far or near.  Then I scanned very carefully the
horizon in every direction, but particularly to the northward, in the
hope of discovering a sail of some sort heading toward me; but the
horizon was bare, save to the southward, where the high land of Hayti
loomed up with startling and quite deceptive distinctness.  Although I
had hoped that I might perchance be so fortunate as to sight a sail, the
hope was a very feeble one, and my disappointment by no means acute, for
I was perfectly well aware that I was many miles too far to the eastward
to render the appearance of a sail of any sort in the least degree
probable.

With the pangs of hunger beginning to assail me, and not the smallest
fragment of any kind of food wherewith to relieve them, I began for the
first time to realise fully the exceeding awkwardness of my situation,
and to realise, too, that if deliverance was to come to me I must bestir
myself and do what might be possible to meet it, for to remain passively
lashed to that inert piece of drifting wreckage might very well mean a
slow and agonising death by starvation.  Yet, after all, what could I
do?  The land was my nearest refuge, and that, I considered, must be at
least twenty miles distant, altogether too far to dream of swimming to
it, although I rather prided myself upon my prowess as a long-distance
swimmer.  But twenty miles!  The idea was ridiculous, especially in that
heavy sea, in my exhausted condition, without food, and with no means of
getting any.  I looked rather longingly at the smaller fragments of
wreckage floating in my neighbourhood; if I could but secure one of them
of sufficient size to support me partially, yet not large enough
materially to hamper my progress through the water, I might perhaps with
its aid be able to accomplish the distance, great though it was, before
my strength entirely gave out.  But the run of the sea and their greater
buoyancy were already widening the distance between them and the
comparatively massive piece to which I had lashed myself, and I
regretted that it had not occurred to me earlier to abandon the mainmast
in favour of one of them the moment that the light of dawn revealed them
to me.

I struggled into a standing position on the spar that supported me,
steadying myself upon my somewhat precarious perch by grasping the arms
of the crosstrees, and carefully examined such fragments as came within
my ken with the heave of the sea.  The detached pieces, which seemed to
consist mostly of pieces of planking, with what looked very like a
hatch, were all floating together, pretty much in a bunch, with only a
few fathoms of water separating any two pieces; I thought that if I
could but get in among them surely I ought to be able to find a piece
that would serve my purpose.  The point that worried me was whether, in
my exhausted state, and in so heavy a sea, I dared make the attempt to
swim unaided the comparatively short distance that separated me from
those coveted fragments; but I reflected that, if I had not the strength
to achieve so simple a feat as that, I should certainly never be able to
accomplish the longer swim, even with the advantage of a support; the
choice seemed therefore to lie between the risk of drowning on the one
hand, and that of starvation upon the other; and it took me but a moment
to decide in favour of the former.  Yes, I told myself, better in every
way to drown than to starve, and the sooner the matter was decided, the
better.

To give myself the best possible chance I flung off my jacket and kicked
off my shoes, retaining only my shirt and trousers.  Then, casting off
the lashings by which I had secured myself to the shattered mainmast, I
stood up, and carefully took the bearings of the _flotsam_ relative to
the sun, to guide me when swimming.  This done, I poised myself upon the
spar preparatory to diving off the mast, and had raised my hands above
my head, when not half-a-dozen fathoms away, and immediately between me
and the spot for which I was bound, I saw the dorsal fins of two
enormous sharks sculling quietly to and fro, as though to blockade me
and cut me off from my only hope of escape.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

MY VOYAGE ON THE HATCH.

I pulled myself up just in the nick of time, for in another second I
should have made the plunge, and that would have meant death, a horrible
death; for the splash which I should have made upon entering the water
must have inevitably attracted the attention of the monsters and brought
them upon me with a rush.  It almost appeared as though some malicious
influence was at work to prevent my escape, as though fate was against
me!  Yet, after all, it was not fate that was to blame, but my own
dullness in not perceiving my chance and availing myself of it the
moment that it presented itself.  If instead of vacillating, as I had
done, I had promptly taken the plunge, I should have accomplished my
short swim before the sharks had made their appearance and cut off my
retreat.  When I first sighted the detached fragments of wreckage the
distance which separated them from me was trifling; now it was at least
double as far, and was increasing rapidly; soon it would pass out of
sight altogether and my last hope would be gone.

I stood watching those two sharks as they swam lazily to and fro between
me and the fast receding wreckage.  It really looked as though they were
aware of my presence, had divined my purpose, and were determined to
frustrate it.  For what seemed at least half-an-hour, but was probably
not more than ten minutes, the voracious fish tacked this way and that,
approaching me a little nearer every tack, until at length they were so
close that I could have leapt upon the back of the nearer one, so close
that I could distinctly see their entire bulk; and the sight turned my
blood cold, for they were veritable monsters, one of them being fully
twenty feet long from snout to the tip of the unevenly fluked tail,
while the other was perhaps three feet shorter.  And there was now no
room to doubt that they were fully aware of my existence, for every time
that they passed me their great goggle eyes glared at me hungrily with
an expression which seemed to say--"All right, my boy; you may hold on
there as long as you like: but we will wait for you, and get you at
last."

I began to cast about in my mind for some means by which I might drive
the creatures away.  I had a knife with a long, strong, sharp blade,
attached to my neck by a lanyard, and I looked about me to see if there
was anything available which I could convert into a spear by lashing the
knife to it; but there was nothing; and I was still puzzling my brain
when suddenly the two fish paused in their patrol, swung quickly round,
and the next instant made sail dead to windward, as though they had just
caught the scent of some especially tempting morsel.

Now, if ever, was my time, I told myself; the brutes had undoubtedly
left me, there were no other sharks in sight, and every second was
precious; therefore, without allowing myself an instant for pause and
hesitation, I quietly slid off the mainmast into the water and struck
out smoothly and steadily for a certain knoll ashore, in line with which
I had last seen the floating fragments that I desired to reach.

It was still blowing quite fresh, and there was a very heavy sea
running; but it no longer broke badly, and it was in my favour, every
sea that overtook me flinging me forward at least a couple of fathoms,
so that I made excellent progress, as I ascertained when I turned for a
moment to glance back at the mass of wreckage that I had just abandoned.
I saw also that, whatever happened, I must keep on, there must be no
thought of turning back, for while the run of the sea was helping me
grandly in my progress to leeward, it was powerful enough to render
return to my late refuge an impossibility; I, therefore, set my teeth
and, with my eyes fixed upon the distant knoll which was to serve me as
a guide, struck out with a long, quiet, steady stroke that I knew from
experience I could maintain for hours on end, if need were.  Of course,
I kept a very sharp lookout for the wreckage that I was aiming for, but
saw nothing of it for a long time, and more than once a qualm of
something very nearly approaching terror seized me, as the idea
suggested itself that possibly I had missed my goal, and was every
moment leaving it farther behind me.  I was fast approaching a state of
panic that might very easily have resulted in fatal consequences, when
it suddenly occurred to me that, of course, it would be quite impossible
for me to see those insignificant fragments of flotsam, unless they and
I each happened to be hove up on the crest of a wave at precisely the
same moment, and the reflection so far steadied my nerves that I was
able successfully to combat the almost irresistible impulse to put forth
my whole strength in a frantic struggle to increase my speed through the
water and quickly settle the question one way or the other.  My reward
came to me some ten minutes later when, as I went soaring up on the
breast of an unusually high wave, I caught a momentary glimpse of what
was undoubtedly a small piece of plank of some sort floating in the
midst of a lacework of foam on the crest of a wave immediately in line
with the knoll by which I was directing my course, and which, like
everything else at a greater distance than some fifty or sixty fathoms,
I could only see when on the summit of a wave.  But the fragment of
plank still seemed to be a terribly long way off, my strength was
beginning to flag, and despair was again gripping at my heart when, as I
rose upon the next sea, I was cheered by the quite unexpected sight of a
considerable quantity of wreckage not more than a hundred fathoms
distant.  The sight renewed my courage, my composure returned; I was
once more calm enough to be able to husband my remaining strength and
employ it to the best advantage; I found myself steadily gaining upon
the objects of my pursuit; and finally, after a long and dreadfully
exhausting struggle, I arrived in the midst of the wreckage.

The first thing I came to happened to be a seaman's chest, which had
undoubtedly floated up through the hatchway when the schooner foundered.
It floated deep, for in addition to being full of water it evidently
contained several articles of the usual kind which a sailor takes to sea
with him; but it had a sufficient reserve of buoyancy to afford me an
appreciable measure of support, and I clung to it while recovering my
breath and resting my wearied limbs after my long swim; it also enabled
me to look round at my leisure and make up my mind as to which of the
objects in sight would best serve my purpose.  There was one of the
halves of the wheel grating floating at no great distance from me, but
it was a small, thin affair, made of oak, possessing no very great
amount of buoyancy, and, although it would undoubtedly be better than
nothing at all, I quickly came to the conclusion that there were other
pieces that would serve my purpose better.  There was, for instance, a
hatch--probably one of the main hatches; and after some consideration I
decided that I could not do better than secure possession of it.  But I
wanted something else as well; I could not resign myself to the idea of
merely supporting myself upon it and passively allowing the wind and sea
to take me whithersoever they would; there was land in sight, and it was
my purpose to reach it, if possible, therefore I required something in
the nature of a paddle wherewith to propel my hatch and guide it in the
right direction; and presently I saw a piece of splintered plank, about
four-feet long and six inches wide, which looked more suited to my
purpose than anything else in sight.  I had by this time quite recovered
my breath, and was also somewhat rested; I, therefore, abandoned the
chest without more ado, and, swimming first to the piece of plank,
secured possession of it, and then, pushing it before me, headed for the
hatch, which I soon reached.

To climb up on the hatch was a very much more difficult feat than I had
imagined it would be, for my first efforts merely resulted in causing it
to turn over; but at length, having considered the matter a little, I
managed partly to guide it under me, and partly to climb up on it, until
I had it fairly under me, when, to my great delight, I found that it was
just buoyant enough to support my weight, and that by carefully seating
myself cross-legged, tailor fashion, in the exact centre of it, I could
keep it right side up.  I next experimented with my makeshift paddle,
and although the hatch proved so terribly crank that I was several times
in imminent danger of capsizing by the mere sway of my body from side to
side, I presently acquired the trick of keeping my balance, and found,
to my great delight, that I could actually progress, although only
slowly and at the cost of great exertion.

Strangely enough, I had not thus far suffered very greatly from thirst,
although something like eighteen hours had elapsed since the last
draught had passed my lips; but my sense of hunger was by this time
painfully acute.  I had no means, however, of satisfying my gnawing
craving for food, and I, therefore, addressed myself to the task of
paddling my tiny raft shoreward, fully convinced that the only hope of
saving my life lay in reaching the land before the scanty remains of my
strength became exhausted.

I estimated, from the height of the sun above the horizon, that it was
about nine o'clock in the morning when I fairly started upon my
shoreward voyage, and the exasperating slowness with which I drew away
from the rest of the wreckage caused me to put my speed through the
water at not more than a mile an hour at the utmost, while the grey
misty appearance of the land for which I was making convinced me that it
must be at least twenty miles distant; I had, therefore, something like
another twenty-four hours of continuous laborious paddling before me
before I might once more hope to feel the solid earth beneath my feet,
and find something--were it no more than a little wild fruit--wherewith
to stay my hunger.  But this was not all: the skin of my hands had
become so exceedingly soft and tender through long immersion in the
water that the sharp edges of the board which I was using as a paddle
quickly caused them to blister, and although I paused long enough in my
labours to enable me to trim those sharp edges away with my knife, and
to work the board into somewhat more convenient shape, the blistering
process continued until within about an hour my palms were quite raw,
and smarting most atrociously from the salt in the water.  Moreover, I
had lost my hat, and the sun struck down so fiercely upon my unprotected
head that I was soon nearly delirious with headache and the throbbing of
my old wound, received in the attack upon the pirate brigantine on the
Costa Firme.  Still, headache or no headache, blisters or no blisters,
there was the land, yet a long distance off, and it had to be reached
before my strength gave out, or my life would pay the forfeit; so I set
my teeth and paddled doggedly on, hour after hour, my hunger ever
growing keener, while now I began to experience in addition the torments
of thirst, my whole body became racked with aches and pains as though I
had been unmercifully bruised and beaten, my head throbbed until it
seemed as if it would burst open, and, as for my hands, they at length
felt as though the rough paddle were white-hot iron; I had certainly
never in all my life before experienced such a complication of agonising
pains.  And, despite it all, the land seemed to draw never an inch
nearer.

I think I must at length have become light-headed, for gradually a
feeling stole over me that everything--my surroundings, my situation,
and my suffering--was unreal; that I was the victim of a peculiarly
ghastly and horrible nightmare; and that I should by and by be wakened
fortunately to find that I was in my own bunk, and that the events of
the past twenty-four hours had been nothing more than an exceptionally
vivid and realistic dream.  From this state I was partially aroused by
seeing a number of glittering objects start out of the sea all round me,
while at the same instant I was conscious of receiving a sharp blow on
the chest, when, on looking down into my lap, I saw a fine flying-fish
wriggling and flapping there, making a gallant but ineffectual effort to
hoist himself out of the hollow formed by my crossed legs, and return to
the water.  For a second or two I stared stupidly down at the struggling
creature, and then it seemed to dawn upon my dazed faculties that here
at last was food, something that would at least mitigate for a time the
fierce pangs of my gnawing hunger, and in a very frenzy of eagerness I
clutched the unfortunate fish and bit savagely into its writhing body!

Yes, I know that the idea is inexpressibly repugnant, even revolting,
yet I solemnly declare that never in my life before had I tasted
anything so exquisitely delicious as that raw fish, never had I so
keenly enjoyed a meal.  I am glad to believe that there will be very few
who can sympathise with or appreciate my enjoyment; for, reader, you
must have experienced the first agonies of starvation--which are the
worst--before you can do so.  But, revolting or not, I am profoundly
convinced that I owe my life to that meal, for my senses returned to me
at once upon its completion; and although with them there also returned
a full appreciation of the acuteness of my physical discomfort, I felt
distinctly revived and reinvigorated.  Moreover, with the full return of
my senses I became aware that, after all, my painful efforts had not
been nearly so ineffectual as I had imagined them to be, the land being
now appreciably nearer than it had been at daylight that morning, a few
of its bolder details being now visible.

And now once more I was sufficiently rational to take cognisance of the
flight of time.  I was not at all certain of my bearings, but I felt
that the sun must certainly have crossed the meridian--that the eternity
of suffering through which I had passed could never have been compressed
into a short half-hour or so--and if I was correct in this surmise the
hour must be somewhere about three o'clock in the afternoon.

Three o'clock in the afternoon!  And the land still so far away that
many further hours of toil and agony must be endured ere I might hope to
reach it!  My brain reeled again at the mere prospect of it, and in a
perfect frenzy of despair I resumed my paddle, crying aloud mad,
incoherent prayers to God that He would either send me help in my
extremity, or mercifully put an immediate end to my sufferings.  Then
another thought came to torment me: in something like three hours the
sun would set, darkness would encompass me about, and if the sky should
become obscured with clouds and the stars be hidden, how should I
continue to find my way?  At that idea I looked about me--my mind had
been too confused, and too busily occupied with other matters to take
intelligent note of the weather during the last few hours--and I was
somewhat relieved to observe that the sky was now clear, save for a few
scattered, solemnly drifting clouds, that the weather had a tolerably
settled appearance, that the wind had moderated to quite a gentle
breeze, and that the sea had gone down very considerably and was no
longer breaking.  This certainly was a point in my favour, since I was
not any longer in momentary peril of being capsized or washed off my
frail ark; but the advantage was to a certain extent counterbalanced by
the fact that the run of the sea was not materially helping me.

Wearily yet desperately I continued to ply my clumsy paddle, first on
this side and then on the other, and with alarming rapidity my
sufferings seemed to grow in acuteness until I found myself moaning and
uttering short, sharp cries of distress with every movement of my body,
ay, and with every breath I drew; for now, to add to my discomfort, I
suddenly became aware that my lungs were in some way affected, and that
the mere act of breathing seemed to tear them asunder.  Yet, though my
situation appeared to be so utterly hopeless, I doggedly persevered in
my efforts, telling myself over and over again, out loud, that if I
would but hold out long enough I must, in the natural order of things,
eventually reach the shore and succour.  I think it was about this time
that I finally lost control of myself, for thenceforward I was conscious
that I was continually talking to myself--in a hoarse, guttural croak,
that even now I shudder to call to mind--now arguing, now encouraging,
now reproaching myself, until at length my ideas wandered away to all
sorts of incongruous subjects; and by turns I detected myself laughing,
singing, praying, apostrophising the sun, the clouds, the distant land,
and even the spirits of my drowned companions, whom I imagined to be
crowding round me and trying to drag me off the floating hatch.  I was
aware, in a vague, impersonal fashion, of the gradual decline of the sun
toward the west, of his disappearance beneath the horizon, and of the
fact that just as the outlines of the land ahead were fading into the
gathering darkness a small spark of light sprang into view somewhere in
the direction that I was steering for, and then suddenly all grew black
about me, there was a singing in my ears--and oblivion.

When consciousness returned, and I opened my eyes, I found myself
stretched upon a bed in a large and lofty room, very barely furnished,
there being nothing in the apartment save the bed upon which I lay, a
large old-fashioned wardrobe, a dressing-table, a small round table by
my bedside, and two massive carved chairs upholstered in stamped leather
which showed signs of having seen many years of service.  It was night,
apparently, for the only illumination came from a large handsome lamp
that had the appearance of being wrought out of silver.  One of the two
chairs in the room stood by the side of my bed, and was occupied by a
very respectable-looking negress of some forty years of age, or
thereabout, sound asleep.  Two jugs, one of porcelain and one of cut
glass, stood on the table, in company with a large tumbler and a cup
with a spoon in it.  The glass jug was three-parts full of lemonade, if
my eyes did not deceive me, and the sight of it suddenly caused me to
become acutely conscious of the fact that I was athirst.  Had the
negress been awake I would have asked her to give me a drink, but seeing
that she was sleeping the sleep of the just I decided to help myself,
and with that intent essayed to raise myself in bed.  But I might as
well have attempted to lift the house itself, for when I came to move I
discerned, to my consternation, that I was so weak I could scarcely stir
hand or foot, much less raise my entire body.  In my alarm and distress
I unwittingly gave vent to a feeble groan, which, faint as it was,
proved sufficient to arouse my attendant, who stirred in her chair,
adjusted her turban, and then, rising to her feet, leaned over the bed
and peered down into my face.  For some seconds she stood thus, when--
her eyes having adjusted themselves to the rather dim light of the
lamp--she perceived that I was awake.

"Ah!" she murmured, in a half whisper, in Spanish, "the Senor is at
length himself again, thanks be to all the blessed saints!  And how are
you feeling, Senor?"

"Very thirsty," I replied, in the same language, which I spoke fairly
well, and to my amazement, though I had intended to speak out loud, my
voice was no more than a scarcely audible whisper, which the negress had
to bend her head to catch.

"_Bueno_!" she ejaculated, with every evidence of keen satisfaction;
"the Senor is thirsty--and he has the Spanish.  He shall drink, and
then,"--she laid her hand upon my forehead, and I now discovered, to my
further astonishment, that my head was swathed in bandages--"yes, then
the medicine, and more sleep."

So saying, she filled the big tumbler with lemonade--how delicious it
looked with the thin shreds of lemon and the leaves of mint floating on
its surface!--passed her arm very gently beneath my shoulders, raised me
to a semi-sitting posture, and applied the tumbler to my lips.

Oh! how good, how delicious, how refreshing was that long, cool draught;
how grateful to the parched palate its exquisite acidity of flavour!
You talk of nectar; but my belief at that moment was that nectar was
merely lemonade under another name!  I smacked my lips audibly as I
gasped for breath after emptying the tumbler, and my sable friend smiled
with satisfaction.  Then, still holding me, she poured about a
wine-glassful of very dark-brown--almost black--liquid from the
porcelain jug into the cup and presented it to me.  This, too, I drank,
for I was still thirsty; but the "medicine" was by no means so palatable
as the lemonade, being of an exceedingly pungent, bitter taste, and I am
afraid I made a rather wry face as the negress removed the cup from my
lips.

"Ah!" she murmured smilingly, "the Senor does not like that so well as
the lemonade, but it is nevertheless the better drink of the two, for it
will kill the fever in his blood and give him back his strength, while
the lemonade merely refreshes."

Then, as she gently laid me back on my pillow, and adjusted the sheet--
my only covering--about my throat, she continued: "Now the Senor must
sleep; and when he awakes Mama Elisa will have some nice nourishing
broth ready for him--very good, ah! very good indeed, to make him strong
again."

Whether it was the comfort and refreshment that followed the slaking of
my thirst, the effect of the medicine which my kind-hearted nurse had
administered, or the cooling night breeze that swept in through the open
window and played freely over me, I cannot say,--possibly it might have
been a combination of the three,--but, whatever the cause, true it is
that my head was scarcely back on the pillow before I sank into a
profound and most refreshing sleep, refreshing both to mind and body;
for during the hours of unconsciousness that followed my brain remained
absolutely quiescent, and I was no longer disturbed or harassed by the
vague yet terrifying phantasies, dim memories of which had haunted me
during the few minutes of my wakefulness.

When I next opened my eyes the room in which I lay was flooded with
brilliant sunshine, that streamed in through a large open window in the
wall that faced me, and which also freely admitted an indescribably
refreshing breeze, richly laden with the mingled perfumes of a tropical
garden.  A spray of rose bush, laden with magnificent crimson blooms,
swished to and fro before the window, swayed by the breeze, and wafted
dashes of its scent-laden breath toward me; and beyond it there
stretched a vista of flowering shrubs, orange and banana trees, the
straight smooth stems of palms, part of the gigantic trunk of a
silk-cotton tree springing from a smooth sward of guinea grass; and
beyond it again a thicket of bamboo, the delicate feathery foliage of
which closed the view.  Splendid butterflies flitted hither and thither,
a few humming-birds, poised upon their swiftly-fanning wings, hung over
the flowering plants, like living gems, sipping the nectar of the
blooms; and occasionally a brilliant green lizard would dart along the
broad window-sill in chase of a fly.

For several minutes I lay quite motionless, lost in admiration of the
beauty of the picture upon which my eyes rested, and inhaling long
breaths of the perfumed air that played about me; then a swiftly awaking
consciousness that I was distinctly hungry caused me to turn my head
toward the chair which Mama Elisa had occupied when I fell asleep.  The
chair was still occupied, not by Mama Elisa, however, but by a quadroon
girl of about seventeen years of age, clad in the usual garb of the
coloured women, namely, a sort of loose chemise of white cotton, and a
petticoat, printed in a kind of Paisley pattern, which reached to a
little below her knees.  Her long black hair hung in two thick plaits
down far below her waist; she wore massive gold earrings in her small
shapely ears; a necklace of big amber beads encircled her
finely-modelled neck, and her otherwise bare feet were shod in low-cut
crimson morocco slippers.  When I first glimpsed her she was leaning
back in a chair, idly waving a palm-leaf fan, while her fine dark eyes
gazed abstractedly, and with a somewhat sad expression, methought, upon
the brilliant picture presented by the open window; but as I stared she
started to her feet and bent over me, gazing intently into my eyes; then
she laid her soft, shapely hand for a moment upon my brow, withdrew it
again, and murmured, in pure, rich Castilian:

"The Senor is better.  He has slept long and well.  His skin is cool;
the fever has gone.  And he is hungry; is it not so?"

I nodded.

"Good!" she exclaimed, with a smile of satisfaction that disclosed two
rows of small, perfectly-shaped teeth.  "I will go and tell Mama Elisa."

And before I could say a word, or ask a question, she had vanished
through a door in the wall against which stood the head of my bed.

A minute later in came Mama Elisa, smiling all over her honest, still
good-looking face, bearing in her hands a large, massive tray, which
looked as though it might be solid silver.  This tray was draped with a
cloth of snow-white damask, upon which were symmetrically arranged a
small silver bowl, the steaming contents of which emitted a most
savoury, appetising odour, a spoon, a small cruet, a plate upon which
lay a slice of white bread and another of dry toast, and a wine-glass
containing some liquid of a rich ruby colour, that might possibly be
port wine.

"Aha!" she cheerily exclaimed, as she placed the tray and its contents
upon the table by the side of the bed, "it is easy to see that the Senor
is better; his eyes are brighter; the long sleep has done him good.  And
now he needs only plenty of nourishing food and careful nursing to set
him again upon his feet.  Teresita tells me that you are hungry, Senor--
which is another good sign.  Do you think you could take a little broth,
Senor?"

I replied that I had very little doubt upon that point, whereupon the
good soul proceeded to crumble a small quantity of the bread into the
steaming bowl, after which, slipping her arm under my shoulder and very
tenderly raising me, she supported my body against her ample bosom as
she fed me from the bowl, a spoonful at a time, coaxing me between
whiles to nibble at the toast.  The broth was delicious, whatever it
might have been made of--I was in no mood to ask the question--and to my
own surprise and Mama's intense gratification I consumed it--in quantity
about half-a-pint--to the last drop, and also ate about half a slice of
toast.  Then came the wine-glass of ruby-coloured liquid, which proved
to be, as I had anticipated, port wine, rich and generous, seeming to
fill me with new life.  And when I had finished my meal and had drained
another bumper of lemonade, Teresita was summoned to assist in the
process of washing my face and hands and inducting me into clean linen,
after which followed another long sleep.

My progress toward recovery was now rapid, although I soon learned that
my escape from death had been little short of miraculous.  Naturally, as
soon as my reason returned to me, and I was strong enough to engage in
conversation, I began to inquire where I was, and how I came to be
there; but for the first three or four days after the events above
described my nurses, Mama Elisa and Teresita, refused to tell me
anything save that I was with friends.  But at length, when I had so far
recovered as to be able to sit up in bed without assistance, Mama Elisa
took compassion upon me and proceeded to satisfy my curiosity.  She
informed me first, that the gale in which the _Wasp_ foundered had
occurred more than three weeks previously!  Then she proceeded to say
that on the second day after the gale had moderated, the sea having by
that time gone down sufficiently to permit the fishermen once more to
proceed to sea in their canoes, one Tomasso, a negro--formerly a slave
but now a freeman, in the service of Senor Don Luis Fernando Maria
Calderon y Albuquerque, owner of the Bella Vista estate--had sallied
forth from a certain small cove on the estate for the purpose of
procuring a supply of fish, as usual.  After having been thus engaged
for some hours, with very scant success, Tomasso had decided to try his
luck farther out; and while padding to seaward his attention had been
attracted by the appearance of something floating about a mile away.
Paddling in that direction, in the hope that what he saw might be worth
picking up, he had at length come alongside the hatchway, with me upon
it, in a state of collapse.  The negroes on the island had risen in
insurrection against the whites only some six years previously, while
slavery had been abolished only about four years, the relations between
the blacks and the whites on the island were consequently still greatly
strained, and many a negro, finding one in that helpless state, would
have callously left me to die.  Tomasso, however, luckily for me, was
not one of that sort: he had always been well treated by his master, and
therefore felt no animus against the whites; consequently as soon as he
found that a spark of life still remained in my body, he transferred me
to his canoe and, abandoning for the moment all further thought of
fishing, paddled back to the shore.  Then, hauling his canoe up on the
beach, he had hastened to the house and acquainted his master, Don Luis,
with his find.  The latter, a generous, humane, high-spirited fellow,
and as noble a specimen of the Spanish hidalgo as one need wish to meet,
at once hastened down to the cove and, upon perceiving my condition,
gave immediate orders that I was to be carried up to the house, put to
bed, and everything possible done to save my life.  The nearest reliable
doctor being at Santiago, over forty miles distant, on the other side of
the mountains, he had quickly decided to put me in the hands of Mama
Elisa, born upon his estate, of amply proved fidelity, and marvellously
skilled in the use of herbs and the treatment of disease, with the
result that, having battled for a fortnight with the raging fever that
almost immediately developed itself, she had at length triumphantly
brought me to the point of convalescence.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

A NIGHT ALARM.

Having heard Mama Elisa's story, the next thing I wanted was, naturally,
to see Don Luis and thank him for his extraordinary kindness to me, a
stranger, and more than that, an enemy.  Accordingly, upon being
informed of my desire, and learning from Mama Elisa that I was now well
enough to receive a visitor, my host presented himself at my bedside
that same evening, and expressed the very great pleasure he felt at
finding me making such good progress toward recovery.  He accepted my
expressions of gratitude with much graciousness, professed himself happy
to have been the means of saving the life of a fellow creature, begged
me to regard himself, his house, and everything that belonged to him as
entirely at my service for as long as I might be pleased to make use of
them, and then said he would be glad to learn how I came to be in the
plight in which Tomasso had found me, if I felt equal to the task of
telling the story.  I thought that, for a moment, he looked a trifle
disconcerted when I mentioned the fact that I was a British naval
officer; but, if so, the expression was quickly suppressed, and he
listened with deep attention and much sympathy to my story of our
falling in with and boarding the _Santa Brigitta_, our subsequent fight
with the pirate schooner, and the foundering of the _Wasp_ during the
gale.

Somewhat to my surprise, he was quite a young man, scarcely more than
thirty years of age.  I had somehow got it into my head that, being the
owner of so fine an estate as Bella Vista, he must of necessity be at
least a middle-aged, if not an elderly man; but I understood when he
explained that the estate had originally been purchased, and afterwards
developed, by his father, who, I now learned, had perished in the
insurrection of 1791.

At length, after we had been chatting together for fully an hour, Mama
Elisa intervened, protesting that I had been sufficiently excited for
one day, and quite unceremoniously ordered her master out of the room;
upon which Don Luis, laughing heartily at his favourite servant's
brusqueness, shook me cordially by the hand, hoped I should soon be well
enough to quit my sick chamber, and informed me that he would now do
himself the pleasure to visit me for a few minutes daily, if only for
the purpose of assuring himself that Mama Elisa had not poisoned me with
any of her vile concoctions.  After which parting shot at Mama he
effected a masterly retreat.

From this time onward I mended rapidly, and on the sixth day after Don
Luis's first visit I was well enough to rise from my bed and leave my
room for an hour or two.  And now I should have been in a ludicrous
difficulty in the matter of clothes--for the scanty garments in which I
had come ashore were not only ruined by long immersion in sea water, but
were also in rags--had it not been for the fortunate circumstance that
Don Luis and I were, as nearly as possible of the same height, which
enabled him generously to place his wardrobe at my disposal.  But while
Don Luis was a fine, square-shouldered, well-built fellow, I had shrunk
to little more than a skeleton, so that although the clothes fitted me
well enough as to their lateral dimensions, in other respects they made
me look pretty much of a scarecrow, and I could not avoid seeing the
ghost of a smile flickering in Don Luis's eyes when, upon my first
appearance in public, so to speak, he presented me in due form to his
wife, Dona Inez.  But there was no smile on that sweet lady's lips, nor
in her eyes as they fell upon me and noted the evidences of suffering in
my hollow cheeks and wasted form; on the contrary, she was at once all
commiseration and sympathy as she expressed her gratification that it
had fallen to the lot of one of her people to find me in the hour of my
need, and to bring me to the shelter of her roof instead of leaving me
to perish, as might very well have happened had the fisherman who found
me been any other than Tomasso.

She was quite a young woman, not more than twenty-five, I thought; a
typical Spaniard, with dark melting eyes shaded by very long, curving
lashes, an immense quantity of black glossy hair, a clear colourless
skin, _petite_, handsome, and exceedingly graceful in her every
movement; but, even better than all that, she was kind, gentle in her
manner, tender-hearted and sympathetic, and appeared to be absolutely
idolised by every man, woman, and child upon the estate.

She received me in her drawing-room, a fine, lofty, spacious apartment
occupying approximately half the width of the front part of the house,
the other half being occupied by the dining-room, between which and the
drawing-room there was a fine hall, roomy enough to be used as a lounge,
and very cool and pleasant, since the house stood on the slope of a
hill, facing north, and overlooking the sea, while the wide front door
stood always open, freely admitting the sea-breeze.  The drawing-room
was a really handsome room, the floor being of some very beautiful
native wood, polished to the brilliancy of a mirror, and covered here
and there with mats, rugs, and skins; the walls, of polished satin-wood,
arranged in panels, were hung with a few very fine pictures; a few small
tables, loaded with miniatures and native curiosities, were arranged
apparently haphazard about the room; there was a large, low couch, and
about a dozen lounging chairs, and a piece of fancy work and a very
handsome guitar lay upon the couch.

The large French casement was wide-open, giving access to a wide gallery
reaching right athwart the house from side to side, and shaded from the
direct rays of the sun by an overhanging veranda; and into this gallery
I was taken, inducted into a low, spacious basket chair, well equipped
with cushions, and made thoroughly comfortable: the Senora seating
herself on one side of me, and Don Luis establishing himself on the
other, each of them obviously doing their utmost to make me feel
thoroughly at home.  And oh! it was good to sit out there feeling the
soft, warm breeze playing about me, to drink in the perfume-laden air,
and to gaze abroad upon the sun-bathed, gently sloping lawns
interspersed here and there with neat, symmetrically shaped flower-beds,
gay with luxuriant, rainbow-tinted blooms, to watch the tall palms
swaying as the wind swept through their clashing fronds, to note the
magnificent butterflies and the brilliant-plumaged birds flitting hither
and thither, with the blue foam-flecked sea, mottled with rich purple
cloud shadows, stretching away to the far horizon.  I was allowed to sit
there for two hours, drawing in renewed health with every breath; and
then Mama Elisa and Teresita, her lieutenant, swooped down upon me,
declaring that I must not be further fatigued, and marched me back to my
room, put me to bed, gave me a dainty little meal of broth and the
breast of a roasted chicken, administered a stiff dose of some new
concoction, characterised chiefly by its superlative nastiness, and then
left me to go to sleep, which I did with amazing promptitude.

This sort of thing continued for a fortnight, my "sitting-up" time being
gradually extended until on the fourteenth day Mama Elisa, my
medico-in-chief, pronounced me well enough to turn out for second
breakfast and to stay up for the remainder of the day.  Then, as I
gradually recovered my strength, came little walks in the company of Don
Luis, Dona Inez, or perhaps both together, at first for a few yards
only, as far as a certain flower-bed and back, then to some point near
at hand from which a specially charming vista was to be obtained, and
finally up into the mountains for a distance of a mile or so.

By the time that this stage of my convalescence was reached I had
arrived at the conclusion that it was high time I should think of
relieving my kind benefactors of my company, and return to duty, and on
a certain day I took advantage of the circumstance of being alone with
my host to mention the matter, and to ask him if he could put me in the
way of obtaining a passage back to Jamaica, explaining that although, as
he was aware, I had not a single coin in my possession, I could pay my
passage-money immediately upon my arrival at Port Royal.

"My dear fellow," said Don Luis, laying his hand almost affectionately
upon my shoulder, "I knew of course that this must come, sooner or
later; we could not reasonably expect to keep you with us always--you
naturally desire to return to your profession and your duty as early as
possible; but do you not think that you are just a little hasty, a
little over-eager, in mentioning this matter to me so soon?  After all,
you know, you are by no means well, as yet; your strength is no doubt
equal to a leisurely walk of two or three miles about the neighbourhood;
but do you really think that you are strong enough to return at once to
the hardship and exposure of a sailor's life?"

"Yes," I said; "I certainly think so; indeed, I believe I am a great
deal stronger than you seem to imagine.  Besides, it is quite possible
that I may not be sent to sea again immediately upon my return; there
may be no ship for me just at the moment when I next turn up at Port
Royal, and in that case I may have a short spell of shore duty before
again going afloat.  But, in any case, I am anxious to return and report
to the Admiral the unfortunate result of my encounter with the pirates,
and undergo my trial by court-martial for the loss of the _Wasp_."

"Your trial by court-martial?" he gasped.  "Surely you do not mean to
say that your countrymen will be so cruel as to treat you as a criminal,
simply because you were inadequately equipped to cope with an
overwhelmingly superior force, and because, after beating off that
force, a storm happened to arise ere you had time to make suitable
preparation for it?  The idea is monstrous, absolutely monstrous!"

I was about to explain to Don Luis that it is a custom of the British
Navy to try the officers who are unfortunate enough to lose their ship,
no matter what the circumstances may be, but he would not let me speak;
he was so full of indignation at what he evidently considered the rank
injustice of the thing, and so eager to avail himself of the lever which
it seemed to afford for pressing home upon me a certain proposition
which he now sprang upon me, that he would not suffer me to utter a
single word by way of explanation.

"Wait, my dear fellow, wait!" he exclaimed.  "What you have just told me
affords me the opportunity to mention what Dona Inez and I have
discussed together more than once, without any real hope, however, of
being able to bring it to pass.  Now, however, I find that if you go
back you must surrender yourself a prisoner, and be tried as a criminal
for what was certainly no fault of yours, I will speak what is in my
mind.  Why go back at all?  Why not give up the sea, remain here, and be
my trusted friend and right-hand man in the management of the estate?  I
very badly need some one like yourself, some one in whom I can place the
most absolute trust; for the estate is altogether too big for me to
manage single-handed; and my overseers, while they are good enough men
in their way, and no doubt understand their business, are scarcely the
kind of men whom I could put upon an equality with myself, or admit to
the house and to intimacy with Dona Inez.  You, however, are different;
you are a gentleman, and although an Englishman--"

"Thanks, Don Luis; a thousand thanks for your extraordinarily friendly
and generous proposal," I interrupted; "but what you suggest is
impossible.  I must return to Port Royal, at all costs; my honour
demands it.  And, as to your exceedingly kind offer, all I can say is
that not even to accept it would I give up a profession to which I am so
greatly attached, and of which I am so inexpressibly proud.  I am afraid
I shall never be able to make you and the Senora understand how deeply
moved I am, how profoundly grateful for this really remarkable proof of
your kindly feeling toward me, but--"

"Quite so," interrupted my companion, again laying his hand upon my
shoulder; "you need say no more; I think I understand.  Since you feel
that you really must go I will not make any further effort to tempt you,
but, on the contrary, will do everything I possibly can to assist your
wishes.  I will ask you, however, my dear young friend, not to make any
reference to this conversation in the presence of Dona Inez; for I am
convinced that if she were to become aware that I had actually made this
proposal to you, and that you had felt yourself bound to reject it, she
would be profoundly disappointed."

We then changed the subject, Don Luis promising to send one of his
negroes into the little town of Puerto Plata, some twenty miles distant,
to make inquiry as to the possibility of my being able to obtain passage
on board one of the small vessels that occasionally traded between that
port and Kingston.  At the same time the generous fellow gave me to
understand that his purse was entirely at my disposal for the purpose of
defraying all necessary expenses, and that the loan could be repaid at
my own convenience.

The negro messenger was duly dispatched on the following morning; and
then, as he was not expected back until the evening of the third day, I
had to possess my soul in patience; meanwhile Don Luis, who seemed to
have taken a most extraordinary liking for me, allowed matters on the
estate practically to look after themselves while he and Dona Inez gave
themselves up almost entirely to me, taking me short walks into the
adjacent country, and showing me as much as possible of its beauties.

It was on the second night after the occurrence of the above-recorded
conversation--or rather in the early hours of the following morning--
that I was awakened out of a deep sleep by the sound of galloping hoofs,
evidently approaching the house, and before I had found time to rub the
sleep out of my eyes and sit up in bed, wondering meanwhile what such
unusual sounds might portend, I heard the animals sweep past the end of
the house and pull up, with much snorting and scattering of gravel,
before the front door; and the next moment footsteps--apparently of
several people--were heard ascending the front steps, crossing the wide
gallery running along the front of the house, and entering the hall by
way of the front door, which stood open day and night, except in bad
weather.  Then a strong voice pealed out, in Spanish--and methought
there was a note of panic in it--

"Hola, there!  Don Luis--Don Luis, where are you, man?  Arise, I pray
you, and at once.  I have momentous news for you."

"Who is it?  What is it?"  I heard Don Luis exclaim, and then came the
creak of the bedstead in the adjoining room as the good man leapt from
it; and I heard him busy with the flint and steel, endeavouring to
obtain a light.

"It is I--de Mendouca," answered the strange voice, "I and my family.
The negroes from the mountains are out again, and, being warned that
they were making for Montpelier, I abandoned the place, took horse, and
came on here to warn you."

"_Ave Maria_!"  Don Luis exclaimed, as he seemed to be scrambling into
his clothes.  "The negroes out again!  I heard that they were showing
signs of unrest.  I will be with you in a moment.  Nay, do not be
alarmed, _carissima_, the danger is certainly not immediate; you will
have ample time to rise and dress at your leisure."

"Oho!" thought I.  "Danger, eh?  It is time for me to be making a
muster."  I therefore rolled out of bed and, without waiting to strike a
light, felt for my clothes, scrambled into them, and made my way to the
entrance hall just as Don Luis, having joined his unexpected visitors,
had succeeded in lighting the great hall lamp.

The strangers were five in number, and I was hurriedly presented to each
of them in turn.  First, there was Don Esteban de Mendouca, a tall,
thin, cadaverous-looking man, with intensely dark eyes, a thin crop of
hair, exceedingly long moustache with thin, drooping ends, and a pointed
Vandyke beard, all dark, but beginning to be sprinkled with grey.  Then
there was Dona Christina, his wife, a small woman, as dark as her
husband, but with a perfectly preserved complexion--fat, and fifty if a
day.  Next there was Don Pedro de Mendouca, Don Esteban's elder son, a
very proud and haughty-looking man of about twenty-seven years of age;
Don Silvio, his brother, some three years younger, and exceedingly like
his elder brother, but with a much more agreeable expression of
countenance; and lastly, but by no means least in attractiveness,
Senorita Eugenia, Don Esteban's daughter, a most lovely young woman of
about seventeen years of age, exquisitely fair, and with a pair of
melting blue eyes.  They all acknowledged the introduction with that
stately courtesy which seems natural to the Spaniard; and then, as Don
Esteban began his brief story, I had time to take a good look at them
all.  It was easy enough to see that they had risen from their beds and
fled in the utmost haste, for the toilette of each had been very
inadequately performed; but despite this the predominating impression
which they produced upon me was distinctly favourable.  Indeed, the only
thing of which I in the least disapproved was the demeanour of Don Pedro
de Mendouca, which struck me as being a good deal more haughty and
arrogant than there was any excuse for.  The circumstance that, I think,
surprised me most was that these people should have fled in such
apparent unreasoning panic, abandoning a fine property and absolutely
all that they possessed, excepting the horses they had ridden and the
clothes they stood up in, to a parcel of lawless negroes.  I was soon to
learn, however, that it was not lack of courage that had inspired their
flight.

"I have no doubt, Don Luis," began Don Esteban, "that you, like myself,
have heard rumours of late that the negroes up in the mountains were
again beginning to show signs of unrest.  But, so far at least as I was
concerned, those rumours have been so exceedingly vague and
contradictory that I paid little or no attention to them; for, as you
are, of course, aware, scarcely a month passes over our heads but some
story of an impending outbreak reaches us.  Yet it has never come, and I
think we have at last all grown to regard the rumours as mere idle talk,
without foundation or justification.  Consequently I was not only very
greatly surprised, but also distinctly incredulous, when one of my house
boys aroused me shortly after midnight to-night with the intelligence
that the negroes were actually out, and that practically all my own
people had abandoned their huts and gone forth to join them!  It was
this latter circumstance which alarmed me; and when, a little later, I
had verified the statement I came to the conclusion that the time for
action had arrived, and accordingly we saddled up and came away without
further ado.  As we came along my sons and I discussed the situation,
and ultimately decided that the proper thing, and also the best thing,
would be to make for Bella Vista in the first instance, inform you of
the facts, and learn your views as to the situation."

"Were you able to learn in what strength the blacks have turned out?"
demanded Don Luis.

"No," answered Don Esteban, "I was not; but we know from experience that
when they begin these raids they usually divide themselves into a number
of small bands, attacking in several directions simultaneously, and
depending upon being reinforced by the negroes on the estates which they
purpose to attack.  Thus, for example, whatever may have been the
original strength of the band which set out to attack Montpelier, they
have already been augmented by two hundred of my people.  Probably they
now muster about two hundred and fifty altogether--not more, I should
say.  Ah! look yonder.  Do you see that blaze?  That is Montpelier.
They have already plundered the house and set it on fire, so you see we
did not get away from it any too early."

Looking out through the open door at the back of the house, which could
be seen from the hall, we beheld a small, flickering spark of fire, well
up on the lower slopes of the mountain, which, even as we gazed, waxed
in size and brilliancy.  Snatching up a powerful telescope that always
hung ready to hand in the hall, and bringing it to bear upon the spark,
I was able to make out that it was indeed a large house, from the
windows and thatched roof of which flames were bursting in momentarily
increasing volumes, while round about it a crowd of negroes were
apparently dancing a dance of savage delight at the destruction which
they were effecting.

"Yes," I said, as I laid down the glass, "that is undoubtedly your
house, Don Esteban; I distinctly remember Dona Inez pointing it out to
me while we were out for a walk about a week ago."

At this moment Dona Inez, fully attired, emerged from her room, and
there was instantly a cordial interchange of salutations between her and
our visitors.  Then she turned to me and asked:

"What was that I heard you say just now, Don Ricardo?  Surely not that
Montpelier is in flames?"

"I deeply regret to say that you heard aright, Senora.  Look yonder; you
may see the blaze for yourself.  And the blacks are dancing round it
like so many demons," I answered.

Dona Inez clasped her hands together and wrung them in distress.

"Oh, Don Esteban--Dona Christina--I am so sorry for you all," she
exclaimed.  "It is horrible; and they will be here next.  What do you
intend to do, Luis?  Must we really run away and leave this beautiful
place to be destroyed and ourselves ruined?  Is there nothing that can
be done to save it?"

"I will not go so far as to say that," answered Don Luis; "on the
contrary, I am strongly indisposed to abandon it without a struggle.
What say you, Don Ricardo?" turning to me.  "You are a fighting man; do
you think this house is capable of being defended successfully against
an armed but undisciplined rabble of some three hundred blacks?"

"That depends entirely upon how strong a garrison you can muster, my
dear friend," answered I.  "So far as the house itself is concerned I
believe that, given, say, a couple of hours for preparation, it might be
put into a very excellent state of defence; but that would be no good at
all unless you could raise a garrison of, let us say, thirty fighting
men, and at least as many non-combatants to act as loaders, ambulance
party, and so on."

"Thirty fighters, and thirty non-combatants," returned Don Luis.
"Surely that might be managed.  Why, my `boys' number more than three
hundred, nine-tenths of whom were born and bred upon the estate.  A few
of them might possibly desert--perhaps twenty-five per cent of them, to
put the figure at its very highest; but I feel certain that the bulk of
them would stand by me through thick and thin; they have everything to
lose and nothing to gain by going over to the outlaws.  Oh yes, I am
convinced that there should be no difficulty in the matter of raising a
sufficient number of fighters."

"So far, then, so good," said I.  "The next question is that of
weapons--firearms especially.  I am afraid, my dear Don Luis, you will
scarcely be able to raise thirty guns, with adequate ammunition for the
same."

"Ah, true," answered Don Luis, "I had not thought of that.  Still--now,
let me think a moment--"

"I may as well tell you here," cut in Don Esteban, "that although we
could not see our way to defend Montpelier successfully, my sons and I
have each brought our guns with us, and they of course will be
available, should you decide to make a stand and defend the house."

"But, my dear Don Esteban, you will need them for your own protection on
your way to--to--wherever you propose to make for; unless, of course,
you choose to throw in your lot with us, which would perhaps be scarcely
more dangerous than the attempt to reach one of the towns.  For the news
of this rising will spread among the negroes like wildfire, and--"

"Precisely," cut in Don Esteban again.  "That is exactly my own thought.
Therefore, if our presence here will not embarrass you we will gladly
remain and take our chance with you."

"My dear Don Esteban," exclaimed Don Luis, "let me hasten to assure you
that nothing could possibly give me greater satisfaction than to have
the assistance of yourself and your two gallant sons at this critical
juncture in my fortunes."

"Then that is settled," exclaimed I, breaking in rather ruthlessly, I am
afraid, upon Don Luis' compliments, for which, I considered, there was
scant time just then.  "That makes three guns to start with.  Now, how
many more can we muster?"

"Four of my overseers have two guns each, while the remaining two have
one each," answered Don Luis.  "And each of them possesses a brace of
good serviceable pistols in addition.  Then, as for me, you must know,
my dear Don Ricardo, that firearms are rather a weakness of mine;
whenever I see an especially good gun I buy it, if I can, consequently I
have a very fair selection in my gun-room, probably about twenty in all,
as well as a few brace of pistols, duelling and otherwise."

"Oh, but that is excellent," I exclaimed; "far better than I dared
expect.  And as to ammunition?"

"I think you will find that we have as much of that as we are at all
likely to need, for I always make a point of keeping an ample supply in
stock," answered Don Luis.

"Good!" answered I.  "The next point to determine is the identity of
your garrison.  First, there is Don Esteban and his two sons; that makes
three.  Then there is you and myself--five.  Will your six overseers
fight, think you, Don Luis?"

"Oh yes, without a doubt," answered Don Luis.  "They are most excellent
fellows, and devoted to me."

"Then, so far, we muster eleven," said I.  "We want nineteen more
fighters, and at least thirty good, steady non-fighters, men who can be
depended upon to retain their coolness and do exactly as they are told
during the confusion and excitement of a fiercely contested fight.  Now,
Don Luis, can you lay your hand upon forty-nine men of the kind I have
indicated--men who are trustworthy enough to be admitted inside these
walls at a moment when treachery on the part of any one of them would
probably be fatal to us all?"

Don Luis flushed and looked almost angrily at me as I suggested the
possibility of treachery on the part of any of his people.

"Really, Don Ricardo," he exclaimed, "put as you put it, you almost make
me tremble at the vastness of the responsibility that I am about to
undertake.  But you shall see.  I will at once go down to the huts,
choose my men, and bring them up here for your approval."  And with that
shot at me he walked out at the back door and disappeared into the
darkness, while Don Silvio, at his father's request, went out to lead
the horses round to the stables, and bring in the guns.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

THE ATTACK ON BELLA VISTA.

Some twenty-five minutes later Don Luis returned; and so colourless were
his lips, so wild his eyes, so dreadfully agitated his entire appearance
that I saw in a moment something had gone very radically wrong
somewhere.  Dona Inez saw it too, and approaching, laid her hand
soothingly upon his arm as she anxiously asked:

"What is it, Luis?  What is the matter, _mi querido_?  Tell me; I can
bear it."

"I could never have believed it!" ejaculated Don Luis, clasping his
hands in front of him and wringing them, in his distress and
disappointment.  "I have always believed every one of my negroes to be
absolutely faithful to me; yet now, upon the news that the outlaws are
out, more than half of them have left me, and quite possibly will, an
hour or two hence, be joining in the attack upon this house.  The
ungrateful wretches, the--!"

"Precisely," I cut in; "they are all that and more.  But what about
those who remain?  Are any of them trustworthy enough to be permitted to
assist us; or must we do the best we can without them?"

"Oh no," answered Don Luis emphatically.  "Thank God, I can trust every
one of those who remain.  And, as for the forty-nine whom I have chosen
to come into the house to help us--well, I am going to demonstrate the
extent of my faith in them by placing all our lives at their mercy.  Oh
yes; I have no shadow of doubt, so far as they are concerned."

"Very well, then," said I; "in that case they had better be admitted at
once, for all our defences have still to be made.  What are you going to
do with those who are not wanted?"

"I have given them instructions to go away and conceal themselves in the
woods until we have beaten off the attack," answered Don Luis.  "Then
they will return and help us to put right whatever damage may have been
done during the fight."

"Will they?" thought I.  "I very much doubt it!"  But I kept my doubts
to myself, and turned instead to another matter.

"The next thing that we have to consider is the safety of the ladies,"
said I.  "What is to be done with them during the fight?"

Don Luis looked at me rather blankly.

"The ladies!" he ejaculated.  "But surely, my dear Don Ricardo, they
will be more safe in this house than anywhere else, will they not?"

"It all depends," I answered.  "If you think it would be safe for them
to start on horseback for the nearest town, either alone or escorted by
a few of the most trusty of your negroes--"

"Oh no, no!" exclaimed Dona Inez and Dona Christina in the same breath;
"you must not propose anything of that kind, Don Ricardo.  We will not
be separated from our husbands.  If they are to face danger, we will
face danger with them."

Then Don Luis broke in.  "I do not altogether like your suggestion that
the ladies should attempt to make their way to the nearest town," he
said.  "For, you see, we have no means of knowing what is the state of
the intervening country.  An hour ago I might have deemed the suggestion
an excellent one, but now, after the shameless desertion of half my own
`boys,' I know not what to think."

"I suppose there is no snug, secret place of concealment, such as a
cave, or something of that sort, the existence of which is known only to
yourselves?"  I suggested.

"The very thing!" exclaimed Don Luis enthusiastically.  "There _is_ such
a place, and its existence and locality are known to absolutely no one
but Dona Inez and myself--"

"It is useless to speak of it," interrupted Dona Inez in a tone of
finality.  "I will not go there, or anywhere else; I remain here with
you, Luis.  If Dona Christina, or Dona Eugenia would like to go, let
them do so by all means."

But Dona Christina and Dona Eugenia were quite as emphatic as their
hostess in their determination not to be separated from their men-folk;
so that question was very soon settled.  After that there was nothing to
be done but to call up our black auxiliaries, and put the house in as
efficient a state of defence as the means at our disposal permitted; and
this we at once proceeded to do.

Don Luis seemed naturally to look to me to take the lead in our warlike
preparations; and this I as naturally did, finding that he had only very
hazy notions of how to set to work.  In the first place, the house
itself was excellently adapted for defence, the outside walls being
built of stone, and about two feet thick, to keep out the heat, while
the roof was tiled; there was consequently very little danger of the
place being set on fire from the outside, and ourselves burnt out of it.
Its chief weakness consisted in the exceptionally large size of the
door and window openings; but I thought I could see a way to minimise
that evil.  While out walking with Don Luis and his wife, I had noticed
a spot that I remarked at the time might be very easily converted into
an excellent sand and gravel pit; while only a few days prior to the
eventful morning when Don Esteban de Mendouca and his party had burst in
upon us with the news of the negro outbreak, Don Luis had received a
large consignment of new sacks destined to receive the crop of coffee,
cocoa, and other products that were at that moment coming forward upon
the estate.

Now, the moment that the question of defending the house was raised,
these sacks and the sand pit came into my mind.  The first thing I did,
therefore, was to get hold of the six overseers, instruct them to
organise into gangs the blacks who still remained on the estate: equip
one party of them with pick and shovel; set a second party to bring the
sacks from the store, as required; a third party to fill the sacks with
the gravel and sand as excavated; and the remainder to carry the filled
sacks up to the house on hand-barrows and arrange them in the door and
window openings under my direction.  While this was being done, Don Luis
produced his stock of firearms and ammunition; then he, Don Esteban, and
Don Pedro set to work to clean them, oil the locks, and generally put
the weapons in reliable working order; while Don Silvio, aided by his
sister and Dona Inez, lighted a fire in the dining-room and went to work
upon the task of casting bullets for the pistols, it proving upon
examination that only a very small stock of these remained on hand.
And, lastly, while Mama Elisa and Teresita busied themselves in the
detached kitchen, cooking an ample supply of food for the little
garrison, Dona Christina so far laid aside her dignity as to prepare the
dining-room table and set it for breakfast; for day was by this time
breaking, and we had decided that it would be sound policy to snatch a
meal, if possible, before the fight began.

My scheme of defence consisted in blocking up all the door and window
openings throughout the building with a good substantial wall of
sand-bags, leaving here and there small loopholes just wide enough to
admit of a musket being pointed through them.  My musketrymen would be
stationed at these loopholes, each man having an assistant who would
stand by to pass him a fresh cartridge and bullet as soon as his weapon
was discharged; and of course the musketrymen and their assistants would
be moved from room to room as required, according to the point against
which the attack was most strongly directed.  I considered that we ought
to stand a very good chance of making an effective defence, because it
would be exceedingly difficult for our assailants to force a way into
the building so long as our sand-bag walls stood firmly, and I believed
it would require more courage than a negro possessed to charge home to
them and overthrow them in the face of such a fire as we could direct
upon them from the advantageous position which we should occupy.
Moreover, we should possess the important advantage of being almost
completely protected from their fire, and consequently should be able to
take aim coolly and collectedly, while they would be fully exposed,
there being no better cover for them than a few scattered bushes here
and there, which I determined to remove, should there be time after our
more important defences were complete.

At length, after some two hours of the most strenuous work that those
negroes had ever performed in their lives, we had done everything that
it was possible to do; so, first stationing a dozen of our best men at
various commanding points, to act as pickets and give us timely warning
of the approach of the enemy, we went to breakfast, most of us with
excellent appetites, although I am bound to admit that the ladies did
not eat much.  When the meal was over, without any news from our
pickets, I went out through an opening that we had purposely left in the
front door barricade, and took a good look round.  Passing from picket
to picket, I questioned each man closely as to whether he had seen any
signs of the enemy; but they all replied in the negative.  Indeed,
although I carefully scanned every open space I could see, even
examining it with the telescope, not the faintest indication of lurking
danger could I anywhere discover, although Montpelier was by this time a
mere smouldering ruin, to all appearance utterly deserted.

I was about to return to the house to inquire whether, after all, we
might not have taken too much for granted in assuming as a certainty
that Bella Vista would be attacked, when one of the pickets uttered a
shout and, raising his hand, pointed.  I looked in the direction
indicated, and there, sure enough, I beheld a party of negroes marching
confidently toward the house.  How many there were I could not tell--for
they were just then winding their way through thick detached masses of
scrub beyond the boundaries of the estate--but the confident manner of
their approach led me to suppose that they believed they were quite
strong enough to achieve an easy conquest of the place.

Raising a whistle to my lips, I blew a shrill call, not only as a
warning to those in the house to be on the _qui vive_, but also as a
signal for the pickets to fall back; then, when I had made sure that the
latter were all on the run toward the house, I brought my telescope to
bear upon the approaching party, with the view of learning a little more
concerning their equipment and, if possible, their numbers.

The first thing that impressed me with regard to them was that they were
a remarkably fine, stalwart-looking set of men, hard, wiry, and full of
endurance, as indeed might be expected from the history of them which I
had gathered by snatches from Don Luis during our preparations that
morning.  It appeared that they were practically all runaway slaves, or
the descendants of such, who had made good their escape from the various
plantations on the island before slavery was abolished a few years prior
to the date of this story.  These men had established themselves in
mountain fastnesses, so difficult of approach and so easy to defend
that, although the attempt had often been made, it had been found
impossible to dislodge them.  In those mountain fastnesses they had
increased and multiplied prodigiously, raising their own cattle, growing
their own corn, and supporting themselves generally in a state of
comfort, if not of actual luxury, that to those who had not seen it,
seemed incredible.  To them fled every criminal, for every desperate
character in the island found welcome and a safe sanctuary among them.
Of course, they were all outlaws; their hand against every man, and
every man's hand against them; and of late--that is to say, within a
year or so of the time of which I am now writing--they had adopted a
policy of sallying forth from their mountain retreats at irregular
intervals, attacking isolated plantations, looting and destroying the
buildings, and either murdering or carrying off captive the whites;
their avowed intention being to terrorise and drive every white person
off the island and make it their own.  Although most of them had been
brought up in the Catholic religion, it was said that they had all
reverted to heathenism, and were addicted to the practice of voodooism,
snake worship, and other hideous barbaric rites.

But although the physique of the men was good enough, I did not think
very much of their equipment.  It appeared that about every fourth man
of them carried a firearm of some kind, with powder flask suspended by a
cord round his neck, and bullet pouch attached to his belt, while the
remainder carried cutlasses, pikes, and, in some cases, axes, cane
knives, or even scythe blades lashed to the end of long poles.

Having learned as much of the approaching enemy as it was possible for
me to ascertain without exposing myself to the risk of capture by having
my retreat cut off, I retired in good order to the house, pausing at the
detached kitchen on my way, and ordering Mama Elisa and Teresita to
hasten at once to the house, with such provisions as they had been able
to prepare.  I waited until they were fairly on the way, and then set
fire to the place, for it was within about sixty yards of the house, and
would have afforded excellent cover for a dozen sharpshooters who, from
its shelter, might have galled us rather severely.  It was a flimsy
structure, the walls built of wattles plastered with mud, while the roof
was of thatch; by the time, therefore, that I reached the house it was
blazing furiously, and a quarter of an hour later was a mere heap of
smouldering ashes.

The sight of the blazing kitchen caused the approaching outlaws to raise
a shout of triumph--possibly they were under the impression that the
building had been fired by some of the negroes belonging to the estate
who were about to join forces with them and had already begun the work
of destruction--but when they saw me retiring toward the house their
shouts quickly changed their note from triumph to anger, and several of
them who carried guns halted, dropped on one knee, and proceeded to take
pot shots at me.  A few of their bullets came quite near--indeed, much
too near to be pleasant; but the bulk of them flew wide, and I made good
my retreat to the house, untouched, and was at once admitted by my
friends, who immediately proceeded to block up with sand-bags the
aperture by which I had entered.

The moment that the motley army of our assailants came close enough to
the house to enable them to see that it had been put into a state of
defence, they halted, and some half-a-dozen of them clustered about an
immensely tall and powerful-looking negro who was attired in the stained
and somewhat tattered uniform of a Spanish infantry colonel, and wore a
sword buckled about his waist, with a pair of big horse pistols thrust
into his belt.  Apparently they were conferring together as to what was
to be done under the unexpected circumstances; for it now appeared that,
so completely had they succeeded in terrorising the whites, serious
resistance to their raids had practically become a thing of the past.

The appearance among the attacking force of the big negro
above-mentioned seemed to fill Don Luis and Don Esteban with
consternation, for they recognised him at once as the chief of the
outlaws, and a man with a reputation for ruthless savagery that had
caused his name to become a word of terror among the whites on the
island, only to be mentioned with bated breath.

"It is Petion himself!" gasped Don Esteban in accents of dismay, "and if
we should be so unfortunate as to fall into his hands after resisting
him, our fate will be too dreadful for description!  Would it not be
better," he suggested, with quivering ashen lips, "that we should
surrender at discretion, without attempting resistance?  If we do so we
shall probably be shot, out of hand; but even that would be preferable
to being carried off into the mountains, and there dying a lingering
death by torture, as we know that many other whites have done who have
dared to resist Petion."

"No, certainly not!" answered Don Luis with decision.  "I will never
agree to it.  Our young friend, Don Ricardo, here, seems to be of
opinion that the house is capable of being defended effectively, and he
ought to know, since fighting is his trade.  And I do not suppose that
the mere fact of Petion's appearance among our assailants is going to
make him alter his opinion.  Is it, Don Ricardo?"

"By no means," said I.  "Rather the other way about.  For if we can only
contrive to bowl over Mister Petion--"

Don Esteban uttered an ejaculation of horror.  "Kill Petion!" he
exclaimed.  "My good sir, I most fervently hope that no one in this
house will be so ill-advised as to attempt Petion's life.  For if
anything were to happen to him his followers would be so incensed, so
utterly maddened with fury, that they would simply pull the place down
about our ears, and drag us out from among the ruins to die a death of
unimaginable horror!"

"My dear Don Esteban," I retorted, "do you really believe that those
fellows will fight any the more courageously if their leader happens to
be slain?  Because I do not; on the contrary, I am firmly convinced that
if the head is destroyed the body will also lose vitality, and very
speedily collapse.  Therefore I, for one, shall make it a point of
honour to do my best to kill Petion, if he will only afford me the
chance, and I very strongly recommend that the rest should do the same.
If Petion falls, his followers will very soon be discouraged."

"Yes, yes, I quite agree with you, Don Ricardo," exclaimed Don Luis.
"Nothing is so likely to discourage those fellows as to see their leader
fall, therefore let us kill Petion, if we can--although he is popularly
believed to bear a charmed life."

"It will need a very much more potent charm than any that he is at all
likely to possess to stop a bullet, if I can only get a fair shot at
him," I exclaimed.  "But, come, gentlemen, let us get back to our posts.
We must watch their every move now, or they may take us unawares and
play us some very ugly trick."

Our dialogue had lasted less than five minutes; but, brief as it was, it
had outlasted the consultation between Petion and his lieutenants, who,
I was annoyed to find upon returning to my point of observation, had
retired and were now out of sight.

A period of suspense lasting nearly ten minutes now ensued, at the end
of which a whistle sounded shrilly from somewhere, and at the sound of
it the whole band of outlaws, numbering somewhere about four hundred,
suddenly broke cover and, with a yell, came charging down upon all sides
of the house, firing as they ran.  Their aim was not bad, considering
that none of them paused to bring their pieces up to the shoulder, but
just pointed the weapon in the direction of the house and pulled the
trigger while still on the run.  But although we heard several of the
bullets strike the walls and roof, not one came through our loopholes,
or penetrated to the interior of the house, and none of us were hit.
The next second an irregular, straggling sort of volley rattled out from
the house by way of reply; but I could not see that anybody was a penny
the worse for it, at least on that side of the house where I was
stationed.  So far as I was concerned, I had not attempted to fire,
having made up my mind that I would not pull trigger during the fight
until I could be certain of making a hit; but the negro who had been
told off to help in the defence of the window at which I was stationed
had simply thrust his musket through his loophole and blazed away,
apparently without taking the trouble even to sight along the barrel.

"My friend," I said, digging him savagely in the ribs, "which of those
fellows was it that you aimed at?"

"Which of them, Senor?" he echoed in astonishment.  "I did not aim at
any one in particular; I simply fired my piece, believing that the
bullet would be certain to hit some one."

"Just so," I retorted.  "Well, that is not at all the way to win a
fight, for, you see, your bullet has hit no one.  Next time you shoot,
aim straight at some particular individual, and make sure that your gun
is pointing straight before you pull the trigger.  For example--you see
that big man running straight toward us, the man with the scythe on the
end of a pole?  Well, keep your eye on him for a moment, and see what
happens."

The man in question was coming straight for our window, with the
intention, probably, of attempting to dislodge some of the sand-bags and
force his way into the house.  He was only about ten yards away when,
having carefully covered his chest with my two sights, I gently pressed
the trigger.  When the smoke blew away the fellow was lying motionless
upon his face, and some twenty others who had been following him had
come to an abrupt halt, and were gazing with indecision, first at the
house and next at him.

"Another cartridge, quick!"  I whispered, thrusting my hand out behind
me.  A small, soft hand met mine, thrusting a cartridge between my
fingers, and glancing hastily over my shoulder, in some surprise, I saw
that it was Teresita who had established herself as my assistant.  The
next moment I had bitten off the end of the cartridge, poured the powder
down the barrel, thrust the empty paper after it by way of a wad, and
was ramming a bullet home on top of all.  Then, peeping through the
loophole as I cocked the lock, I saw that a party of four of his
comrades had picked up the stricken man, and were just about to carry
him away, while the others were in full retreat for a clump of bushes
not very far away, probably for the purpose of securing cover while they
reloaded their weapons.  The four bearers, however, were still within
easy range, and, taking careful aim for a moment, I caught one of them
fair between the shoulders, and down he went on top of the man who was
being carried away.  The other three at once took to their heels and
ran, but did not finally get away scot free, for I snatched the now
reloaded musket from my assistant's hand and was lucky enough to bring
one of them down with a shot in the leg, though he was up and limping
away the next instant.

"There," I said to the negro who was supposed to be helping me; "you see
how it is done?  Very well; see to it, my friend, that you make no more
misses."  And he did not; or, at least, not very often.  Meanwhile, the
firing from the other rooms had been proceeding pretty briskly, though
with what results, so far as the other three sides of the house were
concerned, I could not tell.  But it had been fairly effective on my
side of the building; for, in addition to the three men for whom I had
accounted, there were five motionless figures lying on the grass within
view of my loophole, while I had seen others go staggering away palpably
hit.  I imagined that the outlaws were somewhat disconcerted at finding
so many guns in the house, and had not very much stomach for a fight,
wherein it was possible that a good many of them might get very
seriously hurt.  Hitherto, it appeared, the utmost resistance which they
had met with had amounted to nothing more formidable than a few hasty,
ill-aimed shots, followed by the immediate retreat of the defending
party.  But this adventure upon which they were now engaged was quite a
different matter.  Here was a good, solidly built house, constructed of
materials which it was scarcely possible to set fire to from the
outside, well barricaded, and evidently full of resolute men quite
determined to sell their lives dearly.  Oh yes, this was quite
different, and it looked as though they did not half like it, for,
having failed in that first rush, they had now withdrawn out of range
and were apparently discussing some new scheme of operations.  During
this pause I visited the other rooms in succession to see how the
occupants had been faring, and what measure of success they had met
with.  The result of my inspection was the discovery that twenty-seven
of the attacking party had lost that number of their mess, while nearly
double as many had been more or less seriously hurt in that first rush;
which was quite as good as could reasonably have been expected; and it
seemed fully to account for the shyness which the enemy was now
exhibiting.  I stated what had happened at my own window, urged every
man individually to keep quite cool, and to take careful aim before
pulling trigger; and then returned to my post, just in time to see some
sixty negroes emerge from the bush bearing the trunk of a palm-tree
which they had cut down, and which they were apparently about to employ
as a battering-ram with which to batter in some of our defences.  The
men in the adjoining room saw it at the same moment, and instantly, in
spite of the warning which I had so recently given, two shots rang out
from the window at which they were stationed.  The range, however, was
too long, and nobody was hurt.  Hurrying from my own room into the one
from which the shots had come, I found that it was occupied by one of
the overseers and a negro.  I was engaged in giving them as severe a
lecture as my knowledge of Spanish permitted, when there was a sudden
call for all hands from the front of the house, and, rushing round, I
saw that a party of about a hundred of the enemy were charging across
the lawns in open order, leaping from side to side as they came, in a
manner admirably adapted to render our aim utterly ineffective.  A man
was crouching at every loophole in the room, with the barrel of his
piece projecting through it, and even as I entered one of the pieces
spoke, ineffectively.  The man who fired was Don Pedro, and he turned
from the loophole with a savage execration at his failure.

"It is not of the slightest use to attempt to pick them off at long
range while they are jumping about in that fashion," I exclaimed.  "Wait
until they are so close that you can make sure of them, and then shoot.
To drop them at twenty yards, or even ten, or five, is just as effective
as though you bowled them over at a hundred.  And as each man fires, let
him step aside and make room for another."

While I was thus exhorting my companions I stepped to the loophole which
had just been vacated by Don Pedro, and thrust the muzzle of my weapon
through it, sighting along the barrel.  There was an individual coming
toward me, jumping from side to side like the rest, first to the right,
then to the left.  I watched him for a moment or two, and noticed that
each spring of his to the left brought him exactly in line with a tall,
slender tree stem, some distance in his rear; I, therefore, aimed
straight for this stem, and then waited until he made his next spring to
the left, when I pulled the trigger, and down he toppled.  Almost at the
same instant three or four other shots rang out, and each proved
sufficiently well aimed to reach its mark.  A few seconds later another
half-dozen shots followed, and down went four more of the charging
negroes.  The effect was instantaneous; at least half of them halted, in
manifest indecision, some wheeled abruptly round and fled, and only
about a dozen of the boldest maintained their rush.  Another quick
discharge brought even these to a halt, with the loss of four of their
number; and while they stood, hesitating whether to advance or retreat,
we peppered them again, to their manifest astonishment and
consternation--possibly they thought that, with our guns empty, they
were reasonably safe for a minute or so--whereupon they turned and fled,
leaving six of their comrades prostrate on the ground.  At this moment a
cry from Teresita sent us all with a rush, helter-skelter, to the room
which I had originally undertaken to defend; and here we found a
critical state of affairs indeed.  For while we had all been engaged in
checking the rush upon the front of the house, the party with the
palm-tree battering-ram had, under cover of various patches of
vegetation, stolen up to within a hundred yards of the side, and were
now manifestly preparing to make a rush across the open, bearing their
battering-ram with them.  Thanks, however, to Teresita's warning cry, we
were just in good time to pour in a brisk fire upon them almost before
they had fairly started upon their rush, and three or four men went
down, throwing the others into momentary confusion, which afforded us
the opportunity to treat them to a second volley.  As this second volley
crashed out I, having reloaded my weapon, stepped forward to take my
place at a loophole just vacated by some one else, and as I did so I
observed that the whole party had been thrown into great confusion by
the second volley, the tree trunk having fallen to the ground, or been
dropped.  That, however, was not all; the negro dressed in Spanish
infantry uniform had come to the front and was standing stock still,
with his back toward the house, haranguing the battering-ram contingent
and apparently urging them to pick up the tree again and make another
attempt.  The opportunity was too good to be lost, for he was within
long range, and it was quite worth while to throw away a shot on the
chance of hitting him; I therefore levelled my piece, aiming steadily at
an imaginary point about two inches immediately above his head--feeling
certain that, with this amount of elevation, I should get him
somewhere--and pulled the trigger.  The smoke of the discharge obscured
my view for a second or two, but a wild shout of triumph from those in
the next room told me that my shot had been successful; and then, as the
smoke drifted away, I saw the fellow lying prone on the ground, with his
men standing staring at him, as though fascinated, yet seemingly afraid
to approach and attempt to raise him.  As I stood, still peering through
the loophole at the scene, my empty piece was gently withdrawn from my
hand by some one behind me, and a loaded one substituted for it,
whereupon I chose another mark and fired, bringing that man down also.
This second casualty, at such long range, seemed to galvanise the party
into sudden life; for, raising their weapons, they poured in a
straggling, irregular, but ineffective volley, as though in obedience to
an order, and then turned and raced for the nearest cover, followed by a
few dropping shots, which at least served to freshen their way, if it
did nothing else.

The entire attacking party now took cover, and opened fire upon the
house at long range.  Apparently they possessed little or no skill in
the use of firearms, for, although a few shots struck the house, not one
of them came anywhere near the loopholes, and every one of the garrison
remained unscathed.  Our foes were amply strong enough to have carried
the building by assault had they but possessed the courage and
resolution to charge across the open, right up to the house, and tear
down but a single one of our barricades; but they had already learned by
experience that this meant certain death to some of them; and while, if
report did not belie them, they were all ready enough to take the lives
of others with every accompaniment of the most atrocious cruelty, there
was apparently none among them willing to contribute to the success of
his party by sacrificing his own.  This innocuous fusillade of the house
continued for nearly two hours, during which we made no pretence of
reply except when some individual, in a temporary access of courage,
attempted to slip across from one piece of cover to another situated a
few yards nearer the house, when he was immediately subjected to a
volley that either laid him low, or sent him scuttling back, like a
scared rabbit, to his former place of refuge.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

CAPTURED BY THE NEGRO OUTLAWS.

At length, about ten o'clock in the forenoon, the fire of the outlaws
ceased, and for aught that we could tell to the contrary they might have
abandoned the attack altogether and retired.  But the situation was one
of far too much peril to permit us to take anything for granted; while,
therefore, the main body of our party, so to speak, seized the
opportunity thus afforded to snatch a hasty but much-needed meal, a
watcher, with loaded weapon, was stationed at each door and window of
the house, with instructions to maintain a sharp lookout, and
immediately to report any movement that he might detect on the part of
the enemy.

But the minutes passed, the meal was concluded, and still everything
remained tranquil; so perfectly tranquil, indeed, that at length we
could come to but one of two conclusions--either the outlaws had
withdrawn altogether, or they were elaborating some scheme for a renewed
attack of a particularly deep and cunning character, of the nature of
which it behoved us to secure some hint of information, by hook or by
crook.

I suggested that I should go forth alone, and, keeping well in the open
in order that I might be effectively covered by the guns of the others
in the event of anything in the nature of treachery being attempted,
take a look round in the immediate neighbourhood of the house, and
endeavour to ascertain what the outlaws were doing, or, if they had
gone, what had become of them.  At first no one would listen to the
suggestion; it was denounced as too utterly hazardous to be entertained
for a moment; and when I pointed out that it could only be hazardous if
the enemy still remained upon the ground, Don Silvio proposed, by way of
amendment, that the men should all sally forth in a body, for mutual
protection.  But to this I would not agree, arguing--very reasonably, I
think--that if the outlaws had departed it would be as safe for me to go
forth as for the whole of us; while, if treachery happened to be afoot,
the safety of the female portion of the party absolutely depended upon
the men remaining in the house ready to defend it in the event of a
renewed attack.  These arguments of mine, coupled with the necessity,
which everybody at length recognised, for us to make a move of some
sort, finally prevailed; and about noon I left the house, armed with a
musket and a brace of pistols, all loaded, and fortified by some item of
advice from each of my companions.

My first act was to examine carefully the bodies that lay round about
the house, taking those that lay nearest at hand, and then passing on to
the others.  The result of this examination was the discovery that the
fallen numbered in all sixty-seven, fourteen of whom were still alive,
but so seriously injured that they had been unable to withdraw to the
safety of cover.  I inquired of each of these men what had become of
their companions, but they were unable to answer me; they could but
groan--"_Agua, agua, por amor de Dios_!"

I informed them that they should be supplied with water, and otherwise
looked after, as soon as I had satisfied myself that their friends had
retired and that no further danger from them was to be apprehended; but
I at the same time reminded them that they could scarcely expect much
consideration from people whom they had so wantonly attacked.  When at
length I came to the body of Petion I found that life was extinct, the
fellow having been shot clean through the heart I was somewhat surprised
that his followers had made no attempt to carry off his body; and that
they had not done so I took to be a sign of pretty thorough
demoralisation on their part I conducted my examination of the ground
with the utmost circumspection; for I knew not at what moment a volley
might rattle out at me from one or another of the large clumps of
ornamental shrubs that were scattered about here and there upon the
lawns, or the still larger masses of bamboo, palmetto, and other wild
vegetation that at one particular spot was still allowed to flourish
almost within musket-shot of the house; but nothing happened, and no
sign of the enemy was to be discovered; I, therefore, at length came to
the conclusion that, finding the house was not to be captured except at
the sacrifice of a very considerable number of lives, the outlaws had
withdrawn, and were now on their way to attack some estate, the owners
of which were incapable of making so resolute and effective a defence as
ourselves.

I began to wonder in which direction our assailants had gone,
remembering that much of the effectiveness of the defence of Bella Vista
had been due to the early warning given by Don Esteban de Mendouca,
which had afforded us the time to make the necessary preparations; and
it occurred to me that if the route taken by the outlaws could be
determined, it might be possible to pass on the warning, and so enable
somebody else to prepare a warm reception for them.  I, therefore,
proceeded to examine the ground carefully, quartering it now in this
direction and now in the other, in search of some mark or sign which
should furnish us with a clue.  Nor was my search by any means barren of
results, for after a time I came to a spot where the guinea grass had
been well trampled, indicating, to my mind, that this was the point
where the various divisions of the attacking party, including their
wounded, had rallied, and from which they had begun their retreat.  And
in this belief I was fully confirmed, a little later, by finding that
the footmarks led away in a direction that gradually trended round
toward the back of the house, past the coffee plantation, and so back
toward the mountains.

Now, if they had decided to retreat to their mountain fastnesses, there
was no need to trouble further about them, at least for the moment.  But
in my walks in the same direction with Don Luis I had noticed several
paths which, I had been informed, led to certain plantations in the
neighbourhood; and it was of course quite possible that the brigands
might be making for one of these; I, therefore, determined to follow up
the trail while it was fresh, and endeavour to obtain some definite clue
to their actual destination.  My first idea was to return to the house,
acquaint the occupants with the result of my investigations thus far,
inform them as to my further plans, and then retrace my steps to the
spot where I at that moment stood; but I reflected that to do all this
meant the loss of some twenty minutes or more, which might make all the
difference between success and failure to my plan, so I determined to
push on at once, and immediately proceeded to do so.

I had not proceeded very far before I had conclusive evidence that I was
on the right track by coming upon a wounded negro, who lay fair in the
middle of the path, groaning piteously as he clasped his head, swathed
in a blood-stained bandage, between his hands.  I asked him if he was
badly hurt.

"_Si, senor_," he answered; "hurt to the death, I fear, unless I can
obtain speedy help.  I could walk no farther, and my companions have
abandoned me.  Take me to the house, I pray you, Senor, and let my hurt
be attended to.  It will be horrible to die here alone in the open;
moreover, the ants will find me before long, and consider what my fate
will then be."

Dreadful enough, no doubt, if the man were as bad as he considered
himself to be.  But I did not believe he was; for though his voice
seemed feeble enough when he began to speak it distinctly gained in
strength as he went on, and I very speedily came to the conclusion that
his weakness was more than half imaginary; also I was not very greatly
disposed to be tender-hearted over the sufferings of such fiends as
these negro outlaws had proved themselves to be; instead, therefore, of
responding to his appeal I asked him curtly:

"Which way have your companions gone?"

"Straight up toward the mountains," he answered, pointing upward along
the path in which I was standing.

"Very well," I said.  "It is necessary that I should verify your
statement; I am, therefore, going on a little farther.  But I shall soon
be back; and I will then help you to the house and have your wound
attended to, although that will avail you little, for I warn you that
you and the rest of the wounded will be handed over to the authorities
forthwith.  And that means for you, death upon the gallows."

The fellow grunted.  "Even that will be less disagreeable than being
devoured alive by the ants," he answered.

Without bandying further words with him I continued my way up the path,
which took a rather sharp turn a few yards farther on.  As I rounded the
bend I was somewhat surprised to see two more men lying in the road: one
of whom seemed to be either dead or in a swoon, while the other appeared
to be almost in a state of collapse.

"The inhuman villains," I thought, "to abandon their wounded in this
heartless fashion!  Surely they might have somehow made shift to carry
off their injured comrades with them, for they must be fully aware that
if the unfortunate wretches fall into the hands of the authorities they
will meet with short shrift.  Well, we seem to have punished them rather
more severely than I had thought; I should not be very greatly surprised
if I find a few more poor beggars in the same plight before I have
finished my walk."

With these thoughts uppermost in my mind I approached the prostrate
figures, one of whom was moaning most piteously, while the other lay
still, with half-closed eyes staring upward at the sky.

"Well, _picaro_," I said to the man who was moaning, "what is the matter
with you?"

"Oh, Senor," he gasped, "for the love of God help me to get into the
shadow of yonder bush.  I am perishing of thirst, and this scorching sun
is adding to my torments.  If you will raise me to my knees perhaps I
can manage to crawl to--Ah, good!  I have him!  Quick, Jose, help me!
He is strong as a horse, and--So, that is right; now kneel upon him
while I lash his wrists together.  And Miguel,"--as the man I had left
in the road a minute before came running up--"take the gun and those
pistols, they will be safer in your hands than in his."

The surprise was perfectly managed.  Completely taken off my guard by
the admirably assumed helplessness of the three scoundrels, I was easily
captured.  For as I incautiously laid down my gun for a moment to place
my hands under the arms of the moaning hypocrite who had begged me to
assist him, the rascal flung his arms and legs round me, pinning me in a
grip that for the moment held me helpless, and dragged me to the ground,
rolling over on top of me, while the other, springing with equal
suddenness into vigorous life and activity, also flung himself upon me
and held me face downward in the sandy soil while his comrade swiftly
bound my hands behind my back with the long silken sash which he had
rapidly unwound from his waist.  While he was doing this up came the
third man, who had been so dreadfully afraid of being devoured alive by
the ants, and took possession of my weapons.  Now, when it was too late,
the truth dawned upon me; the villains, far from being seriously hurt,
were as sound as I was, and had simply been left behind in feigned
helplessness upon the off-chance that some one of the whites might
incautiously venture out, as I had done, with the object of ascertaining
where the retreating brigands were actually going, and thus be captured.

Oh! how I execrated my folly, now that it was too late, and I was being
hurried along the rough path by the jubilant trio who had captured me
and who were in a great hurry to rejoin the main body of outlaws.  And
how fervently I hoped and prayed that none of the rest of the whites at
Bella Vista might be as foolish as I had been.  My thoughts went back to
the wounded men lying scattered here and there round the house and
within musket-shot of it, and for a moment my soul sickened with dread
as I thought of what might happen if they too were merely shamming.  But
the fear was only momentary; I remembered that the hurts of every one of
them were visibly, indisputably real, serious enough to disable and
render them harmless; and I hoped that my failure to return would put
the whole household upon its guard and, by demonstrating to them my
imprudence, open their eyes to the fact that all danger was not
necessarily over because the brigands had withdrawn.

My companions were in high feather at having achieved my capture, and
extolled the shrewdness of a certain Mateo--who, I gathered from their
remarks, was their new chief, in place of the deceased Petion--in having
devised so ingenious a trap as the one into which I had unsuspectingly
fallen.  Moreover, they endeavoured to beguile the way by drawing vivid
word-pictures--presumably in the hope of frightening me and enjoying my
terror--of the unspeakable torments that would be inflicted upon me by
way of appeasing the manes of those of their comrades who had fallen in
the attack upon the house.  Truly I might very well have been excused
had I blenched at the prospect which, according to them, lay before me;
for if they were to be believed, it was not an hour or two, but several
days of excruciating suffering which I might expect.  However, I did not
by any means believe all that they said.  They might be clever enough
actors, so far as shamming being wounded was concerned, but in the finer
art of inflicting suffering in anticipation they were mere clumsy
bunglers, for they lacked that finer sense of dissimulation which endows
a man with the power of lying with conviction; they allowed their motive
to become apparent; and, seeing this, I disappointed them by laughing in
their faces.  Besides, whether what they said was truth or falsehood, I
was not going to afford a trio of sable outlaws the satisfaction of
boasting that they had succeeded in frightening an Englishman.

Enlivening the way with such conversation as I have hinted at, we
trudged along the upward path for a distance of about a mile and a half,
when we suddenly came upon a wide-open space where the main body of the
outlaws had halted to rest and refresh themselves, and also, as I soon
became aware by the trend of the general conversation, to determine
whether they should return to their head-quarters, or proceed to attack
some other estate in the immediate neighbourhood.

My appearance, in the character of a prisoner, was the signal for a
great yell of ferocious delight on the part of the outlaws, immediately
followed by a brisk fusillade of scurrilous, ribald jests concerning the
sport that they would have with me upon their return to their mountain
stronghold; and so bloodcurdling were the suggestions thrown out by some
of those fiends that I confess a qualm of fear surged over me for a
second or two; for I saw at once that, unlike my captors, these ruffians
were not endeavouring merely to frighten me, but were in deadly earnest.
Not that I feared death; no man who ever knew me could dub me coward.
In the heat of battle, or under most ordinary circumstances I can face
death--ay, and have faced it a hundred times--without a tremor; but to
be triced up, helpless, and to have one's strength sapped and one's life
slowly drained away by a long drawn-out succession of unspeakable
torments is a prospect that I venture to say few can bring themselves to
face without some manifestation of discomposure.  Although my cheeks and
lips may have blanched for a moment, I permitted no further and greater
sign of fear to escape me.  I returned their glances of fiendish
ferocity with an unquailing eye, and listened to their diabolical jests
in apparently unruffled silence, as I was conducted through their ranks
by my captors toward a small hillock, overshadowed by a gigantic _bois
immortelle_, upon which sat a negro in solitary state, appeasing his
hunger by wolfishly tearing, with his strong white teeth, the flesh from
three or four roast ribs of goat which he grasped with both hands.

I do not think I ever encountered a lower, or more bestial type of
humanity than was this man.  He was a pure-blooded black, of almost
herculean proportions, and evidently of enormous strength, as are many
of the pure-blooded West African negroes; but one completely lost sight
of his splendid physique in contemplation of the expression of low
cunning and ferocious cruelty that blazed out of his small, narrow eyes
and contorted his wide, flat nostrils, his thick, blubber lips, and his
unnaturally prominent chin and jaws; he was the very embodiment and
picture of all the most savage and debasing passions that characterise
the worst specimens of humanity, and reminded me of nothing so much as a
combination of snake, tiger, and monkey clothed in the outward semblance
of a human form.  "Heaven have mercy upon the unfortunate who stirs this
brute to anger!" thought I.  He was undoubtedly well aware of the
feelings of horror and repulsion that he inspired in the breasts of
others, and seemed rather to pride himself upon it, I thought; for as I
was led forward into his presence he paused in his wolfish feeding and
glared upon me with an expression of concentrated malignity that seemed
to freeze the very marrow in my bones.  But I believed that he was
deliberately striving to frighten me, and horrified though I actually
was, I was determined he should not have the satisfaction of feeling
that he had succeeded.  I, therefore, steadily returned his stare with
all the coolness and nonchalance I could summon to my aid, and after the
lapse of a full minute or more he turned his glance aside to one of the
men who held me, and said:

"Well, Carlos, my ruse succeeded, it would appear.  But it is a poor
sort of capture that you have made; I hoped you would contrive to get
hold of Don Luis, or at least of Don Esteban, or one of his sons; but
who is this?  He is a mere boy!"

"True, he is," answered the man addressed as Carlos--the scoundrel who
had taken advantage of an appeal to my humanity to catch me unawares.
"But," he continued, "boy though he is, he is as strong as a young lion,
and will afford us sport for three or four days, if things are carefully
managed; and after that--" He added a few words in some language that I
did not understand.

"But who is he, and what is he?" snarled the other.  "He does not look
like a Spaniard."

"He is not a Spaniard," answered Carlos.  "Pepe, one of the Bella Vista
`boys' who joined us last night, told me that there was a young
Englishman in the house who had been found by old Tomasso, Don Luis'
fisherman, floating about on a piece of wreckage, nearly dead, and had
been brought ashore by him and, at Don Luis' orders, taken up to the
house and nursed back to health by Mama Elisa; and without doubt this is
he."

"Is this so?" demanded the quintessence of ugliness, turning his gaze
upon me.

"It is," answered I.  "And perhaps it may prevent misunderstanding and
attachment of blame to the wrong people if I explain that it is I who am
responsible for the defence of Bella Vista and the losses that you have
sustained.  It was I who supervised the erection of the barricades, and
who also arranged the plan upon which we fought."

"A-h!" he breathed, and the note of diabolical malignity with which he
contrived to imbue that single word sent a shudder of fear through me,
so intense was it.  "Then, perhaps," he continued, "you may be able to
tell us whose hand it was who slew Petion, our late leader?"

"As well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb," thought I, and answered at
once "Yes.  As a matter of fact I am responsible for that, too; and I am
glad of it.  It was my finger that pulled the trigger that sent the
bullet through his heart; and my only regret is that you did not stay
long enough to enable me to send a few more of you after him."

Carlos, my captor, actually released my arm and stepped a pace away, the
better to gaze upon me, so astounded was he at the unimaginable rashness
of my speech.  And, to speak truth, I was astounded at myself; I knew
perfectly well that I was in all probability only adding fuel to the
flame which would ultimately consume me, yet some perverse influence
altogether beyond my control seemed to urge me to speak as I did,
whether I would or no.  And, strangest circumstance of all, my words,
instead of evoking from my questioner the white-hot explosion of wrath
that I fully expected, seemed to gratify the man rather than otherwise,
for he grinned appreciation as he gazed into my flashing eyes.  Then a
thought seemed to suddenly strike him.

"You were picked up floating upon a piece of wreckage, you say?" he
remarked.  "Now, I wonder whether, by any chance, that piece of wreckage
happened to belong to the British man-o'-war schooner that engaged a
pirate schooner a few miles in the offing, about a month or two ago?"

"It did," I answered.  "It belonged to His Britannic Majesty's schooner
_Wasp_, which foundered in the gale that sprang up immediately after the
engagement; and I, her commander, was, so far as I know, the only person
saved."

"You her commander!" he reiterated incredulously.  "Why, you are only a
boy!"

"Nevertheless, what I have told you is the truth," I answered.

The fellow sat considering this statement for so long a time that I
began to wonder whether perchance it was destined to affect my fate in
any way.  At length, however, he appeared to have arrived at a decision,
for, drawing a greasy notebook from one pocket and a stub of pencil from
another, he proceeded with much labour to indite a communication of some
kind upon it, which, when completed, he folded in a peculiar way and
handed to Carlos, at the same time giving him, in a tongue with which I
had no acquaintance, what I took to be certain instructions.  Whatever
the nature of the communication may have been it appeared to meet with
Carlos' emphatic disapproval, for he began to argue strenuously with the
other, the argument lasting some ten minutes and rapidly growing more
heated, until finally something was said that apparently convinced him
of the futility of further dispute on his part.  Then he suddenly
desisted and, seizing me by the arm, dragged me away to a spot where we
were somewhat isolated from the rest of the camp, where he left me in
charge of his companions Jose and Miguel while he went off elsewhere.
His absence, however, was of but brief duration, for presently he
returned, followed by two other negroes who bore in a large calabash an
ample supply of boiled rice, roasted yams, and substantial portions of
roast goat mutton, which they deposited on the ground within easy reach
of us before they departed and left us to ourselves.

As soon as they had gone fairly out of ear-shot Carlos turned to me and,
pointing to the provisions, said, as he released me from my bonds:

"Help yourself, and eat freely, Senor Englishman, for we have a long
march before we are likely to again see a decent meal."

"Indeed!"  I exclaimed.  "Is your camp, or head-quarters, or whatever
you call it, so far off, then, as that would seem to imply?"

"We are not going to head-quarters," he replied rather tartly; "and you
may thank the good God that it is so; for, whatever may be your mode of
death, you may accept my assurance that it will not be anything like so
protracted or unpleasant as that which awaited you among the mountains
yonder."

"Well," said I, "that at least is good hearing.  But if we are not going
to head-quarters, pray where are we going?"

"My orders from Mateo, our new chief--whose beauty doubtless impressed
you," he replied, with a grin, "are to conduct you down to the coast and
deliver you over to his very good friend Manuel Garcia, the pirate,
whose schooner _Tiburon_ you and your crew punished so severely when--
according to your own admission, mind--you engaged her some little time
ago.  Mateo is under the impression that Garcia would be peculiarly
gratified to find in his power the officer who commanded the schooner
which mauled the _Tiburon_ so severely; so, as you have confessed that
you are the man, he has decided to make a present of you to his friend,
and to take the risk of the rumpus that will certainly arise when the
band learns that it is not to have the pleasure of amusing itself with
you."

"And how far is your friend Garcia's lair from here?"  I demanded.

"Not very far," was the answer.  "But it will take us until close upon
sunset to do the distance, because Mateo prefers that we should not
start until the rest of the band are on the move.  He fears that if you
were seen going toward the sea, instead of up into the mountains, some
of our `lambs' might begin to ask awkward questions, and insist upon
your accompanying them.  Therefore, if you feel at all tired, you had
better avail yourself of the present opportunity to snatch a little
sleep."

As a matter of fact I did not feel in the least tired, but I wanted an
opportunity to think quietly over this change in my prospects; I,
therefore, gladly accepted the suggestion made by Carlos and, stretching
myself out beneath the shade of an adjacent clump of bush, closed my
eyes and, before I knew it, was fast asleep.

I was awakened by the sound of many voices and the stir of many feet,
and sat up to see that the whole band of marauders was in motion; and
ten minutes later there was nothing to betray their presence save a
cloud of dun-coloured dust rising into the air over the tops of the
bushes.  It appeared to me, however, that instead of wending their way
toward the mountains they were bearing away in a westerly direction
toward a spot where, at a distance of some eight or ten miles, I knew a
group of extensive and prosperous plantations existed.  As soon as the
last of the stragglers had vanished, Carlos rose to his feet and said:

"Now, Senor Englishman, if you are sufficiently rested we will be
moving; because, if it should be noticed that you are not among them,
some of our people might return to look for you; and it would be very
bad indeed for you if they should do that--and find you."

"I am quite ready," I answered, as I sprang to my feet; and in another
minute our little party also--consisting of Carlos, Jose, Miguel, and
myself--had disappeared from the scene.

Our way lay in precisely the opposite direction to that taken by the
raiders; that is to say, while they marched toward the west, we followed
a narrow, winding footpath that, if it could be said to have any
definite direction at all, trended toward the east.  For three hours we
trudged steadily onward, Carlos, with one of my pistols in his belt, in
addition to his own weapons, walking on one side of me, with Jose,
similarly equipped, on the other, while Miguel, with my gun upon his
shoulder, brought up the rear.  For several miles we traversed the lower
slopes of the range, winding hither and thither but steadily working our
way eastward, now passing over sterile, rocky ground, sparsely dotted
here and there with clumps of thorny scrub, and anon opening out a
glorious prospect of gently undulating, fertile country, dotted with
plantations,--the smoke-blackened roofless walls of some of the mansions
built on them clearly suggesting a recent visit from the late Petion and
his fellow-outlaws,--and, beyond all, the grand old ocean, blue, save
where darkened by the drifting cloud shadows, and flecked here and there
with white from the scourging of the trade-wind.  At length, however,
when the sun had declined to within a span's length of the western
horizon, we bore away sharply toward the north, and presently came in
sight of an indentation in the coast which, at the first glimpse, had
the appearance of being land-locked; but which, as we approached it more
closely, I saw was really a nearly circular bay about a mile in
diameter, the entrance of which was most effectively masked by a small
islet stretching completely across it and leaving only two narrow
passages, one to the east and the other to the west of it.  A small
felucca lay at anchor a cable's length from the shore; and when at
length we reached the lip of the basin-like depression, the bottom of
which formed the bay, or cove rather, I perceived, to my amazement, that
a sort of village of quite respectable extent had been built along its
southern margin, some of the buildings being so large that I at once set
them down as storehouses.  A number of people were moving about the
buildings; and quite a dozen boats were hauled up on the beach above
high-water mark.

And now I noticed a very remarkable peculiarity in connection with the
cove: the sides of the basin wherein it lay consisted everywhere of
perfectly vertical cliffs, some two hundred feet high, so that, look
where I would, I could at first discover no way down into it.  Looking a
little closer, however, I presently became aware of an exceedingly
narrow and dangerous zigzag path traversing the cliff-face, about a
quarter of a mile farther on, and toward this we at once made our way.
A quarter of an hour later, having first encountered a sentry at the
upper end of the path, to whom Carlos whispered some password which I
could not catch, we found ourselves safely at the base of the cliff and
at the extreme end of the village.  Arrived here, we directed our steps
toward the most important-looking house in the place, at the door of
which Carlos knocked.  An ancient, frosty-headed negro responded to the
knock and, in reply to Carlos' question, stated that Don Manuel Garcia
was at the moment away in the schooner, but that Senor Fernandez was, as
usual, in charge of the settlement, and possibly might do as well; to
which suggestion Carlos assented, whereupon we were ushered into a large
bare room, furnished in such a manner as to suggest the idea that it was
chiefly used as a council chamber, and the door was shut upon us.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

IN THE PIRATE'S STRONGHOLD.

Here we waited nearly half-an-hour, at the conclusion of which a door at
the upper end of the chamber opened, and a tall, rather good-looking
man, dressed entirely in white, entered.  At his appearance Carlos
sprang to his feet and, saluting, handed over the note which Mateo had
scrawled.  The stranger, who was none other than "Don" Victor Fernandez,
Captain Manuel Garcia's second-in-command, took the note, read it,
glanced at me curiously, and then nodded curtly to Carlos and his
companions.

"Good!" he ejaculated.  "The Captain will highly appreciate the
thoughtfulness of your new chief, Mateo, in sending him this Englishman.
In his name I desire to tender his warmest thanks to Mateo, and request
you to convey them, with every expression of his highest consideration.
Do you leave us to-night, or will you remain until the morning?  If the
latter--"

"_Mille gracias, senor_!" answered Carlos; "we should greatly like to
stay here for the night, and rest, for this day has been an
exceptionally trying and fatiguing one for us; but Mateo's instructions
that we should rejoin him at the earliest possible moment were
imperative and must not be neglected.  But if we may be permitted to
stay long enough to share your people's supper, we will gladly do so."

"So be it," answered Fernandez.  "Find Pacheco, and tell him that you
will sup in the great hall with the rest of the hands, and then request
him to come to me."  Whereupon Carlos and his two fellow-cut-throats
saluted and retired.

For a minute or two after the departure of the trio, Fernandez sat
meditatively regarding me in silence, twisting and turning Mateo's note
in his fingers meanwhile.  At length, with just the ghost of a smile
flickering over his features, he said, tapping the note in his hand:

"The worthy Mateo tells me that you were the officer in command of the
little schooner that gave the _Tiburon_ such a severe dressing down a
little while ago.  Is that really the fact?"

"Yes," I answered, "I am proud to say that it is."

"Well," he returned, "I can scarcely credit it.  Why, you are only a
boy!"

"So people are constantly reminding me," I retorted.  "But in the
British Navy boys soon learn to do men's work."

"So it would appear," assented my interlocutor, apparently in nowise
offended at my brusque method of answering him.  "And you are an
Englishman, of course.  What is your name?"

I told him.

"Well, Senor Delamere," he said, "it is perhaps a lucky thing for you
that Captain Garcia went to sea four days ago in the refitted _Tiburon_,
and that he may possibly not return for nearly a month.  Had he been
here at this moment I do not for an instant believe that he would have
given you the chance that I am going to offer you; for he has vowed that
if ever he can lay hands upon you he will make such an example of you as
will strike terror to the heart of his every enemy.  Of course I
sympathise with him to a great extent, for he has never in his life had
such a trouncing as you gave him with that ridiculous little schooner of
yours; and, apart from other considerations, his self-love has been very
severely wounded.  Therefore, being a man who never forgets nor forgives
an injury, he will not be satisfied until he has salved his wounded
pride by making you pay in full in a manner that will cause every sailor
in West Indian waters to shudder with horror.  But I am not vindictive--
as he is; I am always willing to subordinate revenge to the good of the
community, by which, of course, I mean our community, the little
republic which at present is bounded by the cliffs which enclose this
cove, but which in process of time is destined to include the whole of
this magnificent island of Hayti and--who knows?--possibly the entire
group of islands now known as the West Indies.  And you, young as you
are, have proved yourself to be a formidable enemy; you have courage,
resolution, and apparently all the other qualities that go to the making
of a successful leader; therefore I think it a thousand pities that you
should be wasted, uselessly expended, in the mere gratification of a
petty revenge which will benefit nobody anything; on the contrary, I am
convinced that we should gain immensely by making you one of ourselves--
Nay, do not interrupt me, please; hear me to the end before you attempt
to reply.  In the absence of Garcia I am supreme here; I can secure your
election as a member of our band, and once a member, you are absolutely
safe from Garcia, for it is one of the rules of our brotherhood that
`One is for all, and all are for one;' private jealousies and
animosities are absolutely forbidden, and the punishment for
transgressing this law is _death_, let the offender be who he will.

"Now, that is one argument in favour of your joining us.  But there are
others.  We are weak, as yet, it is true; but that is because, as a
community, we are still very young.  We are, however, gaining strength
almost daily; every capture we make adds to our numbers, because we give
our prisoners the choice between joining us, and--death; and nine of
every ten choose the former.  Also, we are rapidly accumulating wealth,
which is power; and with the power which unlimited wealth will give us,
added to the power of constantly increasing numbers, all things are
possible to us, even to the conquest of the world!  Now, a lad of your
intelligence ought to be able to see, without much persuasion, how
tremendous an advantage it will be to belong to such a formidable band
as we shall soon become, therefore I put it to you in a nutshell--Will
you join us?"

Upon discovering the direction in which my companion's arguments were
trending, my first impulse had been to interrupt him indignantly by
declaring that I saw through his purpose, and would have naught to do
with it.  But he would not permit me to do this; he insisted upon saying
his say to the end; and while he was doing this I had time for
reflection.  I perceived that the man was an enthusiastic visionary
possessed of such boundless ambition that he was able to see nothing
except the impossible goal which he and his fellow-leaders had set
before themselves.  I saw that this fellow Fernandez, at all events, had
dwelt upon the mad scheme of conquest, first of Hayti, then of the West
Indian Islands, and ultimately, as he had declared, of the whole world,
until it had become an obsession with him in which all difficulties were
swept away and his gorgeous dream had seemed to be a thing already
almost within reach.  It occurred to me that by pretending to listen to
this dreamer, to appear to treat his dreams as though it was possible
for them to eventually materialise, and to seem to weigh the proposal
seriously which he had made to me, I might gain time enough to mature
some plan of escape, and to put it into effect before the return of the
_Tiburon_ and my arch-enemy Garcia; and while, as a general rule, I most
emphatically disapprove of everything that savours of deception, I felt
that, taking all the circumstances of the case into consideration, I
should be perfectly justified in practising such dissimulation as might
be necessary to extricate myself from the exceedingly awkward situation
in which I now found myself.

Therefore when, with eyes ablaze with enthusiasm, Fernandez flashed the
question at me, "Will you join us?"  I hesitated just for a second or
two, and then replied:

"I suppose you hardly expect me to answer offhand so momentous a
question as that, do you?  It is all very well, of course, for you, who
have given the matter much careful thought, to feel so confident as you
do that your plans are capable of realisation, but with me it is very
different; the entire idea is absolutely new to me, and--if I may be
permitted to say so--looks little short of chimerical."

"But it is _not_ chimerical," Fernandez impatiently insisted; "on the
contrary, it is perfectly feasible and, as we have planned it,
absolutely certain of realisation."

There is no need for me to repeat at length all the arguments that this
man adduced in support of his contention; let it suffice me to say that
I listened to him with deep attention--for I wanted to learn as many
particulars as I possibly could concerning the plans of this
extraordinary band, with a view to future contingencies--and when at
length I left his presence I believe I also left him under the
impression that he had more than half convinced me of the advisability
of acceding to his proposal.

Meanwhile the man Pacheco, in obedience to the command conveyed through
Carlos, had been patiently waiting in the antechamber for the summons to
appear and receive the commands of Fernandez concerning me; and now, the
interview being at an end, the former was called into the room.

"Pacheco," said Fernandez, "this young gentleman is Senor Delamere, the
officer who commanded the small British man-o'-war schooner that lately
attacked the _Tiburon_.  His vessel foundered in the gale that sprang up
immediately after the action, and he contrived somehow to make his way
to the shore, where he was nursed back to health and strength in the
hacienda of Bella Vista, belonging to Senor Don Luis Calderon y
Albuquerque.  That hacienda was attacked by Petion and his band in the
early hours of this morning, and--as Carlos has doubtless already told
you--Petion was killed during the attack, while Senor Delamere
subsequently fell into the hands of Mateo, Petion's second-in-command,
who very thoughtfully sent him on to us.

"Now, Senor Delamere, being, although still very young, a naval officer
of considerable experience and undoubted courage, will be an acquisition
of the utmost value to us if we can but succeed in inducing him to join
us--and I have hopes, very great hopes of doing so.  I, therefore, want
you to take him in charge for the present, showing him the utmost
consideration, and allowing him free range of the settlement,--since it
will be impossible for him to escape,--because I desire him to become
thoroughly acquainted with all our resources, and to see for himself the
perfection of all our arrangements for securing the success of our great
enterprise."

I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard Fernandez give this
extraordinary and, as I deemed it, most imprudent order.  It seemed too
good to be true!  Why, if the foolish man had but known it, there was
nothing I could possibly have more ardently wished for than liberty to
range freely the settlement and become fully acquainted with all its
resources!  If I had ever dreamed of such a possibility as this it would
not have needed that I should be brought a prisoner to the place; I
should have been but too eager to make my way to it voluntarily.  But,
of course, it was much better as it was, for now all that I had to do
was to keep my eyes and ears wide-open, learn everything I possibly
could, and, generally, make the very best use of my time before the
return of Garcia, while humouring Fernandez to the top of his bent in
his delusion that he would ultimately convince me of the advantage of
joining the band.  Moreover, I believed I should not have much
difficulty in accomplishing this last; for, although I was at first
somewhat at a loss to understand his great eagerness to secure me as a
recruit, it became perfectly intelligible when I learned a little later
on that the only weak point in the entire scheme consisted in the
extreme scarcity of trained sailors capable of undertaking the more
important executive duties.  Seamen, of the kind to be found in a ship's
forecastle, they possessed, not exactly in abundance, but sufficient for
their ordinary necessities; but it appeared that, apart from Garcia, his
first lieutenant, and one other, they had not a single navigator among
them; and it was easy to understand that, if anything untoward should
happen to either of these men, the activities of the brotherhood would
be seriously crippled, while a fatality that swept the whole of them
away might well mean the utter ruin of all their hopes.  I did not learn
this quite at once, for it seemed to be the one item of information upon
which Fernandez desired me to remain ignorant; but, mingling freely with
everybody, as I was permitted to do, it was impossible for them to
prevent the secret from ultimately leaking out, and I had not been in
the settlement more than three days before I became acquainted with it,
and with a good many other things as well.

For instance, I learned that of the three navigators which the community
boasted, two--namely, Garcia and another--were on board the _Tiburon_,
while the third was in command of a most respectable-looking brig,
which, provided with a complete set of false papers, was engaged in
conveying to various ports such portions of the cargoes of plundered
ships as were not needed by the pirates themselves, disposing of the
same for cash, and procuring with that cash such commodities as were
required from time to time.  The felucca that lay at anchor in the bay
had also been similarly employed; but she was now idle, the man who had
commanded her being with Garcia in the _Tiburon_, in place of an officer
who had been killed in the action with the _Wasp_.

At the time of my arrival this extraordinary pirate settlement, or
community, consisted of some forty seamen of various nationalities--
except Englishmen--who had thrown in their lot with Garcia, Fernandez,
and the rest; and about a hundred others who, although not seamen, were
most useful for the performance of such strictly shore duty as the
erection of houses, the loading and discharging of the trading brig, the
storage of the various commodities needed by the community, the working
up of rough spars into spare masts, yards, booms, etcetera, for the brig
and schooner, the making of spare sails for the same, and, in short, the
execution of all those multitudinous kinds of work that are essential to
the comfort of man in his civilised condition.  And exceedingly
comfortable the rascals made themselves, for the houses were well-built,
and in many cases beautifully furnished; also they enjoyed many
luxuries, procured either from the cargoes of plundered ships, or
purchased out of the proceeds of the sale of such plunder as they did
not require for their own use.

It was not long before I discovered that there was a mystery of some
sort attaching to the felucca that lay at anchor in the bay.  I had made
more than one attempt to go on board her, with the object of giving her
an overhaul, but each attempt had been quietly met and frustrated in
such a way that I soon grew to understand I could not persist further
without exciting grave suspicion, which was the one thing of all others
that I most desired to avoid.  For it was this felucca that I regarded
as my only possible means of escape from the pirates, and, that being
the case, it was of the utmost importance that I should do nothing to
betray the thought that lurked at the back of my mind.  She was a fine,
sturdy-looking little craft, measuring somewhere about sixty tons; and I
felt that if I could but once get aboard her, and get enough sail
hoisted to take me out to sea, the most difficult part of my adventure
would be over; for Jamaica lay to leeward, and I could not very well
lose my way, even if I were compelled to go to sea without a chart.  It
is true that the rig of a felucca--namely, a single latteen-sail, its
head stretched along an enormously long, tapering yard, hoisted to the
top of a stout, stumpy mast raking well forward--is not precisely the
rig that I would willingly choose to go to sea alone with; but beggars
must not be choosers, and it seemed to me to be Hobson's choice--that or
nothing.  I must therefore make up my mind to face the difficulties of
the rig and do the best I could with it, or remain until Garcia's
return, and so miss my only chance.  Of course, there was just the bare
possibility that I might find a man, or even two or three, willing to
share the adventure with me--for I could scarcely believe that every
member of the community had quite willingly joined it without compulsion
of any kind--but I had no intention of jeopardising my chances of
success by making inquiries, of however cautious a character.  If such
men were to be found it would have to be almost by pure accident;
meanwhile it was for me to make my plans in such a manner that, if
necessary, they could be carried out single-handed.

But it was imperative that I should visit the felucca, by hook or by
crook; and since I had already discovered that it could not be managed
during the day, there was nothing for it but to make the attempt at
night.  Now, I was in Pacheco's charge, he was responsible for me, and
although I was nominally free to come and go as I would, it was not long
before I discovered that it was practically impossible for me to get out
of his sight for more than five or ten minutes at a time, except at
night time, when I was granted the privilege of a small room to myself
in his house.  Even then, for the first week of my sojourn, I could
scarcely stir in my bed but at the creaking of it he would be at my
door, inquiring why I was moving, and whether I required anything, the
questioning being, I fancied, simply for the purpose of assuring himself
that I was still in the room.  But as the days--or rather the nights--
went on his vigilance gradually relaxed, for I so shaped my speech as to
convey the impression that, at least in my own mind, I had practically
decided to join the band.  It was this, perhaps, that so far threw him
off his guard as to betray him, on a certain night, into the indulgence
of his favourite vice, which was a too-marked devotion to the rum
bottle.  For several nights in succession--ever since I had been placed
in his charge, in fact--he had been perforce compelled to remain
perfectly sober in order that he might keep a strict watch upon me, but
at length when, while we were sitting at table together, taking supper,
I allowed him to believe that I had finally decided to go to Fernandez
the next morning and take the oath, he ventured to celebrate my
conversion by drinking my health in a stiff nor'wester of rum and
water--rather more rum than water.  That act of weakness was his
undoing, for at the first taste of the spirit after his forced
abstention he completely lost all control of himself, and could no more
refrain from taking a second tumbler than he could have flown.  The
second naturally led to a third, and the third to a fourth; whereupon,
recognising that my chance was at hand, I yawned twice or thrice most
portentously, complained of fatigue, and retired to my room, he
following as far as the door and locking me in, as was his custom before
going to his own room.  But that troubled me not a whit, for the house
was of one story only, and to slip out of it by way of the open window
was almost as easy as walking out through the door, once my gaoler
became so deeply wrapped in sleep that my stealthy movements would not
awake him.

I moved quite carelessly about the room for a minute or two, and then
flung myself heavily upon the bed, fully dressed; and as I did so I
heard Pacheco go tiptoeing clumsily back to the table, stumbling against
a chair on the way, and muttering imprecations at his own clumsiness as
he went.  A further gurgling of liquor being poured into a glass
followed, then a deep sigh of satisfaction as the glass was emptied, the
bang of it as it was noisily replaced on the table, and finally the
man's staggering footsteps along the floor as he made his way to his own
room.  Then came the kicking off of his shoes, followed by other sounds
indicative of the fact that he was undressing, a heavy creaking of the
bedstead as he flung himself upon it, and, a minute or two later, deep
snoring.

But it was still much too early for me to think of making a move, for
sounds reached me from the outside which told me that quite a number of
people were still up and about; I therefore waited, with such patience
as I could muster, until these had all ceased, and then allowed
something like another half-hour to elapse, in order to make all sure--
for this was a case where it were better to be half-an-hour late than
half-a-minute too early, and by undue haste spoil everything.

At length, however, the complete absence of all sound suggestive, of
human movement outside, and the steady, regular, resonant snore of
Pacheco in the next room, encouraged me to make my preliminary move,
which I did by rising, slowly and with infinite caution, to a sitting
position on my bed.  This done, I next got off the bed altogether, not,
however, without causing the thing to give forth sundry most alarming
creaks, each of which brought my heart into my mouth.  But the snoring
in the next room went on steadily, without pause or break, and two
minutes later I found myself standing, barefooted, outside my window,
ready to scramble back into the room upon the first suggestion of
danger.  Nothing happened, however; and with my shoes in my hand I next
proceeded to creep very cautiously round to the front of the house.

The night was clear, with no moon, but the sky was brilliant with stars
affording even more light than I really wanted; and at length, having
peered cautiously round me and noted that the buildings were all dark,
showing that the inhabitants had retired to rest, I stole slowly,
crouching, across the open and so down to the beach.  Among the boats
drawn up on the sand there was a small Norwegian boat, much used as a
dinghy, and consequently not drawn as far up on the beach as the others;
this was the craft that I was on the lookout for, and by and by I found
her, half afloat, and secured by her painter to a small anchor dug well
into the sand.  Lifting the anchor with the utmost care, I noiselessly
deposited it in her bows, and then, making sure that her oars were in
her, I lifted her bow and slid her off the sand until she was fairly
afloat, when I gently turned her round, gave her a vigorous push, and
scrambled in over her stern, taking care to do everything without noise.
Then, throwing out an oar over the stern, I headed the boat in the
direction of the scarcely visible felucca, and proceeded to scull off to
her.

Thus far everything had gone smoothly and without the ghost of a hitch,
but the really difficult part of my enterprise was still to come.  I
estimated that a good four hundred miles lay between the cove and Port
Royal harbour, which distance, at an average speed of six knots, would
take me the best part of three days and nights to cover, under the most
favourable conditions.  To do this, I should need both food and water,
and I had not the most remote idea whether either was to be found on
board the felucca, although I hoped they might be, for I had seen
half-a-dozen men go off to her regularly every day, for some purpose
which I could not divine, unless perchance it were to pump her out.  But
food and water were absolutely necessary to ensure my success, and
unless I could find at least a sufficiency to last me three days, I must
return and take measures to provide a supply; for to start without would
be simply courting disaster.  That, however, was a point which could
only be settled upon my arrival on board.

Taking the matter very easily, husbanding all my strength for the
exceedingly difficult task of getting the felucca under way
single-handed--in the event of all things conspiring to render such a
decided step justifiable--and sculling so gently that I scarcely raised
a ripple on the highly phosphorescent water, I at length glided quietly
up alongside the felucca and, taking the end of the boat's painter with
me, climbed in over the vessel's low bulwarks, passed the dinghy astern,
made her fast, and forthwith proceeded to overhaul the craft which I had
thus surreptitiously visited.

My first visit was to her tiny cabin, the companion door of which I
found unlocked.  But when I got below it was so intensely dark that I
could see nothing, and I felt that at all costs I must have a light, or
it would be morning, and my flight would be discovered long before I
could learn all that I wanted to ascertain.  I, therefore, went on deck
again, loosed the immense sail, and spread a fold of it over the small
skylight in order to mask the light in the cabin--should I be fortunate
enough to obtain one--and then went forward to the forecastle to hunt
for a lantern of some sort.  I found the fore-scuttle not only closed,
but also secured by a stout iron bar, the slotted end of which was
passed over a staple and secured by a padlock.  Fortunately, however,
the individual who had last visited the little vessel had been too
careless or too lazy to remove the key from the lock, therefore all I
had to do was to turn the key, remove the padlock from the staple, throw
back the bar, lift off the cover, and my way down into the forecastle
was clear.  But I had no sooner lifted off the hatch cover and was
preparing to descend than, to my utter consternation, I became aware of
the fact that the forecastle was inhabited.  For as I flung my leg in
over the coamings I distinctly heard a sound of stirring, followed, to
my amazement, by the drowsy muttering of a voice in English, grumbling:

"What the blazes do they want now; and who comes off here at this time
o' night?  'Taint time to turn out yet, I'll swear, for I don't seem to
have been asleep more'n five minutes!"

English!  Then the speaker must certainly be a friend, and without more
ado I dropped down into the little forecastle, exclaiming:

"Hillo, there!  Who are you, my friend; and what the dickens are you
doing locked up here in this forecastle?"

"Who am I?" retorted the voice.  "Why, I'm an Englishman; my name's Tom
Brown, and the name of my mate here is Joe Cutler; both of us late of
His Britannic Majesty's schooner _Wasp_, what foundered in a gale o'
wind somewheres off this here coast a while since.  We was picked up off
a bit of wreckage by the crew of this here hooker--what turned out to be
something in the piratical line--and brought into harbour.  And since
we've been here we've been made to work like niggers because we wouldn't
jine the `brotherhood,' as they calls theirselves.  Latterly we've been
kept aboard this here feluccer, because it appears that there's some
chap ashore there as they don't want to see us.  Ay, and if it comes to
that, perhaps you're the chap.  Seems to me as I've heard your voice
before.  Who are you at all, gov'nor?"

"My name is Delamere," I replied, "and I commanded--"

"Of course, of course," interrupted Brown; "Mr Delamere it is!  I
knowed that I knowed that voice of yours, sir.  Here, you Joe, rouse and
bitt, man; here's the skipper come to life again.  Half a minute, sir,
and we'll have a light.  Joe, you lighted the `glim' last; what did ye
do wi' the tinder-box?"

The two men were broad awake, out of their bunks, and bustling about
almost before one could draw a breath, and the next moment they had
lighted a lantern, in the dim glimmer of which they stood up side by
side, saluting, as I stared into their faces scarcely able to credit
such a stupendous piece of good fortune as the unexpected discovery of
these two men, not only Englishmen, but actually members of my own late
crew!

"My lads," I exclaimed, as they stood before me at attention, "I am more
glad than I can express, not only to find that you, like myself, have
managed to escape with your lives, but also that you are here, aboard
this felucca.  For I fully intended to make the somewhat desperate
attempt to escape in her single-handed; but the presence of you two men
puts a very different complexion upon the affair.  What I might have
been wholly unable to accomplish alone, we three can together manage
with ease.  There is only one possible difficulty in our way: Can you
tell me whether there happens to be any food and water aboard this
craft?"

"Yes, sir," answered Brown, "there's both, for we're fed every day out
of the ship's stores.  There's the scuttle butt on deck nearly full o'
water, and there's grub down in the lazarette, but how much I don't
know."

"Then let us go at once and ascertain," said I, "for my escape may be
discovered at any moment, and naturally this would be where they would
first look for me.  Mask that lantern with your jacket, one of you, and
bring it along aft.  Every second is now of importance to us."

It took us but a few minutes to penetrate to the little vessel's
lazarette, where we found an ample supply of provisions of all kinds for
a much larger crew than ourselves and a much longer voyage than we
contemplated.

"Very well," I remarked, as I ran my eye over the array of biscuit and
flour barrels and the casks, some of which were branded "prime mess
beef," while others contained potatoes and sundry other commodities,
"that will do; we shall certainly not starve during the next few days,
whatever else may happen to us.  Now clap on that hatch again, and we
will go on deck, slip the cable, and make sail without further ado."



CHAPTER TWENTY.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END.

As I turned to quit the cabin I suddenly became aware that a bell was
furiously jangling somewhere; and, dashing up the companion ladder to
the deck, I discovered that the sounds proceeded from the shore, where
lights were beginning to flash, one after the other, in rapid succession
until the whole settlement appeared to be awake and stirring.

"On deck, both of you, at once!"  I shouted, sending my voice down
through the open companion.  "Never mind about the hatch; leave
everything as it is, for the moment, and clap on to these main
halliards; there is an alarm of some sort ashore, and if it happens to
be that they have discovered me to be missing, they will come off to
this felucca the first thing.  Yes, and by Jove, if I am not mistaken
there is a boat shoving off already.  Look, lads,"--as the two men came
tumbling up on deck--"is that not the sparkle of oars in the water,
there, right in the heart of that deep shadow?"

"Ay, sir, it do look uncommon like it, and no mistake--yes; that's the
sea fire shinin' to the stroke of oars, right enough," exclaimed Cutler.
"And they're comin' along as though they meant business, too!  Mr
Delamere, it'd be a good plan, sir, if you was to jump for'ard and cast
that cable off the bitts while Tom and me here sees about mastheadin'
this here yard; there won't be so very much room to spare atween us by
the time that this here hooker's paid off and gathered way."

"You are right, Joe, there will not," answered I; and, dashing forward
to the windlass bitts, I proceeded to throw off turn after turn of the
stiff hempen cable that held the felucca to her anchor, until the last
turn was gone and the flakes went writhing and twisting out through the
hawse-hole; then, as the end disappeared with a splash I dashed aft and
rammed the tiller hard over to port--noticing, as I did so, that a large
boat, pulling eight oars, was less than a hundred fathoms distant from
us, and coming up to us hand over hand.  Then, catching a turn of the
main-sheet round a cleat, I jumped forward again to where the two seamen
were dragging desperately at the halliard which hoisted the heavy sail.

"Put your backs into it, men," I cried, as I tailed on to the fall of
the tackle; "there is a large boat close aboard of us!  It will be
`touch and go' with us, even if we are able to scrape clear at all."

Fiercely we dragged at the fall of the fourfold tackle that formed the
working end of the halliard, and at each pull the great, heavy, swaying
yard slid a few inches up the short, thick mast, as though reluctantly,
while away on our weather quarter we heard the fierce shouts of the men
in the approaching boat as they encouraged each other, punctuated by the
quick jerk of the oars in the rowlocks, and the swish of the water as
the oar-blades clipped into it.  With the passage of every second those
menacing sounds drew appreciably nearer, dominating even the thunderous
rustle and slatting of the sail that slowly climbed into the air over
our heads, while the felucca, now fast gathering stern-way, and at the
same time paying off, was driving steadily down toward the boat at a
rate that seemed to render our capture inevitable.

At length, with a final jerk that made the little craft tremble to her
keel, the big single sail filled, and the felucca careened to her
bearings, as her canvas caught the full pressure of the wind.  At the
same instant I heard an oar-blade clatter as it was hastily laid in, and
an exultant cheer arise from immediately under our counter.

"Catch a turn with the halliards, quick, and then lay aft," I gasped.
"The villains are alongside, and will be in over our quarter before we
can do anything to prevent them if we are not smart."

As I spoke I passed the rope under, then over, a belaying-pin before
surrendering it to Cutler to complete the operation of belaying, and
then bounded aft, followed by Tom Brown, who had snatched a handspike
from the rack as he passed it.  My first act was to drag the tiller over
to windward and pass a turn of the tiller rope round the head of it, to
help the felucca to pay off; for she was now gathering headway.  Then I
sprang to the taffrail and looked over it.  The pursuing boat had
actually overtaken us, and the man who pulled "bow," having laid in his
oar, had grabbed the gunwale of the small boat in which I had come off
from the shore--and which I had dropped astern upon boarding the
felucca--and was now hauling his own boat up alongside her, while some
half-dozen of his companions had risen to their feet and were scrambling
into the smaller boat, apparently with some idea of climbing aboard us
by shinning up her painter.  But the felucca had by this time gathered
way, and was moving so fast through the water that it was as much as the
man could do to hold on, and quite beyond his power to haul the one boat
any closer to the other.  For a couple of breathless seconds longer he
hung on desperately, and then, with a yell of savage disappointment, was
obliged to let go, while somebody in the stern--I fancy it must have
been Fernandez--seeing how things were going, shouted to the crew to
throw out their oars again and give way.  But before this could be done
the big boat was half-a-dozen fathoms astern, and we were leaving her so
rapidly that for her to overtake us was a manifest impossibility.
Meanwhile the small boat, with six men in her, was towing astern of the
felucca, with her nose raised high in the air and the water bubbling and
boiling up to the level of the top of her transom, and even slopping in
over it occasionally, so that it was impossible for any of her occupants
to move, lest by so doing they should cause her to fill and swamp.  The
said occupants therefore did what they could in the way of relieving
their feelings by vigorously anathematising us in good sonorous Spanish,
and explaining, in short, pithy sentences, the sort of treatment that we
might confidently look for when next they got us into their power.  Then
one of them happened to remember that all this time a brace of loaded
pistols were sticking in his belt, whereupon he whipped them out and
blazed away at us, his companions promptly following suit, but, luckily,
without doing us the slightest injury.

By this time the felucca was rapidly nearing the weathermost extremity
of the island that guarded and masked the entrance of the bay, and
presently we weathered it handsomely and bore up to pass out to sea,
gliding between the two Heads a minute later.  We were now fairly
outside, and with the first plunge of the little vessel's sharp stem
into the surges that met us as we swept into the open sea a yell of
dismay arose from the occupants of the boat astern, who cried out that
they were being swamped, and implored us, for the love of all the
saints, to cast them off before they were washed out and drowned.  I
could not resist the temptation to retort that even, if that happened,
they would still be getting less than their deserts; then, adding that I
hoped I should soon have the pleasure of seeing them all hanged at
Gallows Point, I cast off the painter and set them adrift, leaving them
to get back into the cove as best they could, with only one pair of
small oars among them.  We stood on, close-hauled, until we had gained
an offing of about three miles, when we put the helm down, tacked, and
lay-to, it being my intention to remain off the entrance of the pirates'
cove until daylight, in order that I might obtain bearings and
landmarks, which would enable me to identify the locality of the spot
upon my return to destroy the settlement--as I was determined to do.

It was well that I took this precaution, for when daylight came we found
that, so admirably had nature masked the cove, it was impossible for us
to discover it until we again stood close in; and even then we could by
no means make sure of the spot until we were within a cable's length of
it.  Then, however, by means of a carefully taken set of compass
bearings, I obtained the means which would enable me to run in from a
distance and hit off the place with unerring precision.

We duly arrived in Port Royal harbour early on the fourth morning after
our escape from Pirate Cove--as by common consent we called it--our
passage being of a perfectly uneventful character.  As may be supposed,
I kept a sharp lookout for the arrival of the Admiral from Kingston; and
the moment that his barge hove in sight I hailed a shore boat--the
felucca not possessing a boat of any kind--and landed for the purpose of
making my report.

He was surprised, but at the same time very pleased to see me, shaking
me warmly by the hand as the office messenger closed the door behind me,
after showing me into his presence.

"Well, youngster," he exclaimed, "I am very glad to see you back again,
all alive and kicking; for to tell you the truth you have been absent so
long that I had given you and the _Wasp_ up for lost.  Well, and what
luck have you had?  Strange that I did not notice the little schooner at
anchor as I came down; for I have been on the lookout for her now a long
while."

"Ah!"  I replied; "I am grieved to say, Sir Peter, that you will never
again set eyes on the _Wasp_, for she lies at the bottom of the Sea of
Hayti, with all her crew, I am afraid, save myself and two others."

"Tut, tut, tut!" exclaimed the Admiral; "that is bad news indeed.  Tell
me how it happened."

As briefly as possible I related the entire history of the cruise,
including my adventures upon the island of Hayti, and my escape from the
pirates, winding up by pointing out the felucca, which lay in full view
of the office window.

The old gentleman remained silent and sunk in deep thought for several
minutes after I had concluded my story, shaking his head occasionally as
he thought the matter over.  At length, however, he looked up, and said:

"It is a sad business, very sad, losing all those poor fellows, but I do
not blame you, boy, in the least; you did what you could, and did it
very well, too!  To fight and beat off so immensely superior a force as
that of the pirates was a very creditable feat, I consider; and all
might have been well had it not been for that gale springing up at so
inopportune a moment.  Well, well, it cannot be helped; these things
happen sometimes, in spite of all that we can do.  But there is
generally a lesson to be learned from every mishap, if we will but look
for it, and the lesson conveyed in this case is that we made a mistake
in the arming of the _Wasp_.  Instead of fitting her with those six long
9-pounders, we ought to have mounted a long 18 and a long 32 upon her
deck, then you would have been able to play a game of long bowls with
the pirates and fight them upon practically equal terms.  As it was, you
were badly peppered before you could reach her at all with your own
guns.  Well, it cannot now be helped; the little hooker is gone, and
there's an end of it.  Now, the thing to consider is what is next to be
done.  What is your own idea?  You have been among the rascals, and know
their strength; I suppose you have some sort of a notion of how they can
best be circumvented, eh?"

"Yes, sir," I said.  "It seems to me that there are two ways of dealing
with the pirates.  One way is, to waylay their schooner at sea, capture
her, and then go into the Cove and destroy the settlement.  To do that
effectively we must have a vessel as fast, as heavily armed, and as
strongly manned as their own craft--"

"Which we don't happen to possess just now, worse luck!" cut in the
Admiral.  "What is your other plan?"

I explained the alternative scheme--which I regarded as the more
effective of the two--in pretty full detail; and as I unfolded it I saw
the old gentleman's eyes begin to sparkle.  When at length I came to an
end he dashed his fist down upon the table, and exclaimed with
enthusiasm:

"That's the plan, boy; that ought to do the trick!  But I've no vessel
to spare you, so you'll have to take the felucca, and do the best you
can with her.  Strictly speaking, you know, I ought to put you under
arrest, and not employ you again until after you have been tried for the
loss of the _Wasp_; but the circumstances are such that we cannot afford
to waste time in mere formalities just now; and I will take the
responsibility of sending you to sea again at once.  You will be a bit
crowded aboard the little hooker, I'm afraid, but that can't be helped;
and if all goes well it ought not to be for long.  Now, go and find
Carline, talk over the matter with him, and then come up to the Pen to
dinner to-night--seven o'clock, sharp--and report to me what you have
arranged."

I took the hint, and went, very well pleased, on the whole, with the
result of my interview.  For I must confess that I had gone to that
interview not altogether without trepidation; it was quite possible--I
had told myself--that the Admiral might find fault with the manner in
which I had engaged the pirate schooner; he might have picked holes in
my tactics, or something of that sort; he might even have considered
that the _Wasp_ might have been saved, after the fight, had we acted
otherwise than we did; but, to my great relief, there was not a word of
blame from him; on the contrary, he had murmured a word or two of
approval here and there while I had been telling my tale, and was now
about to prove his undiminished confidence in me by entrusting me with
the command of another expedition against the same formidable foe.  I
could not possibly have hoped for a more favourable reception.

I soon found the Master-Attendant, and inexorably button-holed him while
I explained what I wanted done, although the poor man was frightfully
busy just then, several ships being in harbour, refitting after having
been in action with the enemy.  But, let him protest as he might, I
would not release him until he had agreed to do everything that I
required; the result being that when the dockyard men knocked off work
to go to dinner that day, the felucca was already alongside the wharf,
and more than half her ballast out of her; while, when the dockyard bell
rang at six o'clock that night, signalling the cessation of work for the
day, her hold had been swept clean, a quantity of dunnage laid in it,
and four 68-pounders stowed on the top thereof, well packed up all round
to prevent them from shifting when the craft was at sea.  But although I
remained on the spot until the last moment, supervising matters in order
that everything might be done to my satisfaction, I still managed to
reach the Pen by seven o'clock--a smart sailing boat up to Kingston, and
a ketureen from thence out to the Pen being my means of conveyance.

Sir Peter was as much surprised as pleased when I reported to him the
amount of progress that I had made during the day.

"It is wonderful!" he exclaimed.  "How in the world did you manage it?"

"Simply by sticking to the Master-Attendant, and so preventing him from
doing anything else until he had attended to my requirements," I
replied.

The Admiral laughed in enjoyment of the picture his mind conjured up of
the Master-Attendant vainly trying to shake me off.

"Poor Carline!" he remarked.  "How he must have suffered before he could
bring himself to the point of setting aside all his other work to attend
to you.  He is a good man, a most excellent fellow in every way; but he
has one fault--he allows himself to be too much trammelled by routine.
With him everything, irrespective of its importance, must be attended to
in its proper order; and now that you have jolted him out of his groove
it will be days before he will be able to get comfortably back into it."

I have no doubt Sir Peter was right, but I did not wait to see; all I
know is that by noon the next day I had brought the unhappy man into the
frame of mind that caused him to yield prompt attention to my
requirements, rather than waste valuable time in a fruitless endeavour
to evade them; with the result that, three days later, the felucca was
ready for the next expedition which I was to lead against the pirates.

The moment that my preparations were complete I reported to the Admiral,
and received his formal instructions to proceed to sea at once; and that
same evening we weighed and stood out of harbour with the first of the
land-breeze.  We now had to make a passage to windward; and although I
hugged the southern coast of Jamaica as closely as I dared, thus
availing myself to the fullest possible extent of the land-breeze as far
as Morant Point, it was not until daybreak of the ninth day after
sailing from Port Royal that we arrived off the entrance to the Pirate
Cove.  Here we were baffled for a couple of hours, waiting for the
springing up of the sea-breeze; but we caught the first breathing of it,
and took it in with us, arriving at the anchorage about one bell in the
forenoon watch.

My plan of campaign was perfectly simple.  I intended to enter the Cove,
and, if the pirate schooner should happen to be in harbour, run straight
alongside her, and board before her crew should have time to clear away
their guns and bring them to bear upon the felucca.

I had a strong enough crew to do this, and had no doubt as to our
ability to carry the schooner in the face of the most determined
resistance that the pirates could offer.  Then, the schooner captured
and her crew safely confined below, the establishment ashore would have
no alternative but to surrender at discretion, or be annihilated by the
schooner's guns.  There was only one weak point that I could see in this
scheme, which was that a considerable number of the men constituting the
shore portion of the establishment might escape into the interior of the
island, unless some means were devised to prevent them.  It was,
however, not very difficult to accomplish this; for it will be
remembered that there was but one way of entrance to--and egress from--
the Cove on the land side, namely, a narrow and very dangerous zigzag
path down the face of the perpendicular cliff, a gap in which, wide
enough to prevent all effectual possibility of passage that way, might
easily be made by the explosion of a bag of powder.  The preparations
for the little expedition which was to accomplish this piece of work
were made during the time that we were lying becalmed off the mouth of
the Cove; and when at length we entered, a boat, containing four seamen
in charge of a midshipman, who had been most carefully instructed
concerning the precise nature of the duty which he was to perform, was
cast adrift, just inside the Heads, but outside the islet which masked
the entrance.  While they pulled away for the shore we in the felucca
stood on into the Cove, every man of us with his sword or cutlass girded
to his waist, and a brace of loaded pistols thrust into his belt,
standing ready to leap aboard the schooner--should she happen to be in
the roadstead.

We had no sooner cleared the islet, however, and fairly entered the
Cove, than we discovered that the schooner was not in harbour, and that
consequently we should be obliged to adopt the modification of plan
which I had devised in view of such a very possible contingency.  But
although the _Tiburon_ was not in the Cove, the anchorage was not
tenantless, a brig of some two hundred and seventy tons being moored
therein, while apparently every boat belonging to the settlement, as
well as her own, was passing to and fro between her and the shore, those
bound shoreward being loaded to the gunwale, while those coming from it
were light.  At the first glimpse of this somewhat unexpected sight, I
jumped to the conclusion that the vessel was a prize; but almost
instantly I remembered that, in addition to the _Tiburon_, the pirates
owned a brig, by means of which they disposed of such captured booty as
they did not require for their own use, purchasing with the proceeds
other goods of which they stood in need; and I had very little doubt
that the craft before us was the brig in question.  Be that as it might,
our first task was, obviously, to secure possession of the vessel; and
the felucca was accordingly at once headed for her.

So busily employed were the pirates aboard the brig in the task of
hoisting out cargo and striking it into the boats alongside that we were
quite half-way across the bay before they discovered our presence,
although the people ashore, who were unloading the boats, did their
utmost to warn their comrades, by hailing and pointing.  But no sooner
was the felucca seen and recognised than the whole place was thrown into
a state of consternation.  The alarm bell ashore was rung, the people
made a dash for their weapons, and then, tumbling the goods haphazard
out of the boats on to the sand, sprang in and pulled might and main for
the brig, while those on board her swarmed up out of the hold and down
over the side into the half-loaded or empty boats, and gave way for the
shore in a very panic of confusion.

But although the brig was moored well in, so that the boats passing to
and fro might have but a short distance to travel, we in the felucca
were alongside and had secured undisputed possession of the vessel
before the boats with their armed crews had traversed half the distance
between her and the shore; seeing which, the occupants paused and drew
together, as if to confer and to await further developments.  Of this
brief pause we promptly availed ourselves by getting the brig under way
and working her and the felucca out toward the entrance, when, much to
our astonishment, the boats with one accord turned round and pulled back
to the beach.  This unexpected action on their part was a great relief
to me, for I had fully expected that they would make a concerted effort
to recapture the brig, or the felucca, or both, by boarding, in which
case we should have had our hands full, and must almost certainly have
lost a few men.  But probably they believed the felucca to be armed with
cannon, and fully expected to be received with liberal doses of grape
and canister, which would fully account for their sudden and unexpected
display of prudence.  Be that as it may, we were allowed to work both
craft out to sea without molestation; when, having hurriedly overhauled
our prize and found that she was amply provisioned for a much longer
voyage than that to Port Royal, I put her in command of my second
midshipman, with a prize-crew of ten men, and, giving him instructions
to report to the Admiral without delay, dispatched him forthwith.  Then,
transferring myself and the remainder of my following back to the
felucca, we re-entered the Cove and came to an anchor outside of but
close to the islet that masked the entrance, and in such a position that
the little craft could be warped right in alongside a bit of cliff that
dropped sheer down into the water.  We had scarcely done this when a
deep, hollow _boom_, echoing and re-echoing along the face of the cliff
that enclosed the Cove, told us that the party which had been dispatched
to breach the road up the face of the cliff, and so cut off the retreat
of the pirates toward the interior of the island, had accomplished its
task.

Time was now all important to us; for, of course, we could not tell at
what moment Garcia, the arch-pirate, and his crew in the _Tiburon_,
might put in an appearance upon the scene; and we had a few very
important preparations to make before we could consider ourselves ready
to deal with him; therefore we had no sooner let go the felucca's anchor
than we lowered the only other boat that we had brought with us, and ran
warps away to the shore of the islet, securing them to such rocks as
were most convenient for our purpose.  This done, we warped the little
craft right in alongside the cliff, and made her secure; after which our
next task was to carry ashore two stout hawsers which we had brought
with us for the purpose, and convey them to the top of the cliff under
which the felucca lay moored.  Then we rigged a pair of sheers over the
vessel's hatchway, and proceeded to hoist our 68-pounders out of the
hold--one at a time, of course.  Then, having got the first gun on
deck--already prepared in Port Royal dockyard, by being encased in a
stout cylindrical packing of planks--we passed the bights of our two
hawsers round it, one at each end, and with all hands tailing on--except
one, whom we set to watch as a sentinel--proceeded to parbuckle it up
the face of the cliff.  It was a stiff job, but, all our preparations
having been made beforehand, everything went without a hitch; and when
we knocked off work for the night all four guns were landed, together
with their carriages; while, so far as we could discover, the pirates
ashore remained in absolute ignorance not only of our doings but also of
our whereabouts.

The same night, waiting until the darkness was sufficient to hide our
movements from the pirates ashore, the gunner, the boatswain, the
carpenter and I ascended to the highest point of the little islet, in
search of a suitable spot upon which to construct our projected battery,
and were fortunate enough to find it on the very summit itself.  It was,
indeed, perfectly ideal for its purpose, for it commanded not only the
whole of the interior of the Cove, with the settlement ashore, but also
both entrances, and the open sea, for a space of about a mile.  And it
possessed the further advantage that it needed but very little labour to
completely adapt it for our purpose.  So eager was I to complete our
preparations that I would fain have set the men to work upon it that
night; but they had already done extraordinarily well in getting the
four guns landed and mounted upon their carriages; I therefore decided,
though somewhat reluctantly, to let them have a long, unbroken night's
rest; and when the next day arrived I was glad that I had been wise
enough to do so, for they came to their work fresh, and laboured with a
will.  As for me, I spent the night doing sentry-go, for I fully
expected to receive a visit from the shore some time during the hours of
darkness.  But nothing happened; and when at length day dawned and I was
relieved, I was inclined to believe that our efforts to conceal our
presence on the island from the pirates had been successful.

With the dawning of a new day, however, the critical period was past,
and I cared very little whether the inhabitants of the settlement did or
did not discover our whereabouts.  We, therefore, got all hands to work
the moment that it was light enough to see; and by the time that the
pirates ashore began to show themselves, two of our four 68-pounders
were in place on the spot which we had chosen for our battery, and were
ready to open fire at a moment's notice.  But the Cove was too small,
and the islet too close to the settlement for us to conceal our
whereabouts or our movements, when once we began to work upon the
summit, where we were in full view of every eye within a range of a
couple of miles; and the pirates ashore had not been on the move more
than half-an-hour before it became apparent that our presence had been
discovered.  The indications that this was the case were clear and
unmistakable; the alarm bell clanged out its summons, and instantly all
work ceased and every man was seen to be hurrying toward the building in
which I had been interviewed by Fernandez upon my arrival in the
settlement.  This could mean but one thing, namely, a speedy attack upon
the islet; and in anticipation of this we hastened the completion of our
preparations, so that we might be quite ready to meet that attack when
it came.  Our first business was to get the remaining two guns into
position, and bring up to the battery our entire stock of ammunition.
This did not cost us more than half-an-hour's strenuous labour, at the
completion of which all hands went to work to tumble a sufficient
quantity of ballast into the felucca to enable her to stand up under
sail; and the moment that this was done I sent her out to sea, with a
midshipman and four hands on board--in order that she might not fall
into the hands of the pirates--with instructions to return only when the
British ensign should be displayed from the battery.

Scarcely was the felucca under way when the sentinel who had been left
in the battery, to keep watch upon the movements of the pirates ashore,
summoned us to our posts; and upon our arrival there we at once saw that
our preparations had not been completed a moment too soon.  For, as we
topped the hill that obstructed the view of the Cove from the seaward
side of the islet, we saw the whole male population of the settlement,
numbering about one hundred and forty, marching down to the beach, with
the evident intention of embarking in their boats and pulling off to
attack us.  With the aid of my telescope I could distinctly distinguish
the figure of Fernandez, who was assuming the direction of operations;
and I could not but admire the strictness of the discipline which he
appeared to exercise over his followers, for the fellows seemed amenable
to his briefest order.  They possessed exactly twenty boats in all,
ranging in size from a craft capable of accommodating forty men down to
the little Norwegian dinghy in which I had made my escape, and it was
evident that every man of the party had been previously told off to some
particular boat; for upon their arrival at the beach the hitherto
compact body at once dissolved into twenty separate detachments, each of
which made its way, in a perfectly orderly manner, to a particular boat;
the whole flotilla being launched and manned at Fernandez' word of
command.  This done, the boats were turned round with their bows
pointing straight for the islet, and--again at the word of command--the
oars, as one, dropped into the water and the expedition advanced to the
attack in a long straight line.

The boats had not so much as a single gun among them, their crew being
armed simply with cutlass, pistol, and musket; I therefore felt no
apprehension at all concerning the result of the coming conflict, but
rather a somewhat unaccountable pity for the unfortunate wretches who
seemed to be quite unaware that they were advancing to their doom.  But
this singular feeling of pity was quickly swamped by the reflection of
the fate that would certainly be ours, should we by any chance be
foolish enough to let the pirates get the better of us; and since it was
important that we should make the utmost of our opportunities, I gave
orders for the four guns to be loaded with grape and carefully aimed at
the four largest boats.  This was done, and the four pieces spoke their
deadly message almost simultaneously, the smoke momentarily obscuring
our vision, while the thunder of the discharge echoed and re-echoed
round the cliffs in a long series of slowly decreasing reverberations.
But long before these had died away the breeze had swept aside the pall
of smoke that hid the boats from us, and we saw that, so carefully had
the guns been aimed, each shot had taken effect, the four boats at which
they had been discharged being now mere shapeless masses of wreckage,
among which a few men struggled, here and there, to keep themselves
afloat.

The casualties among the pirates must have been appalling, for I
estimated that those four boats, being the largest in the entire
flotilla, must have contained at least half the total number of men
comprising the expedition, and, so far as I could ascertain, with the
aid of my telescope, the survivors of the four crews scarcely numbered a
dozen in all!  Of course the nearest boats at once closed in upon the
wreckage, with the object of rescuing those few survivors, and in so
doing some half-a-dozen of them became bunched close together for about
a minute.  Such an opportunity was too good to be missed, and our guns
having meanwhile been smartly loaded again, two of them were brought to
bear upon the bunch, and simultaneously discharged.  The result of these
two shots was scarcely as effective as that of the previous discharge--
possibly because the gun-captains had become a little flurried and
excited--nevertheless two of the boats aimed at were blown to pieces,
while two or three of the others showed signs of more or less serious
damage, and the occupants were thrown into such dire confusion that,
abandoning all further effort to save their comrades, they took to their
oars and seemed intent only upon getting apart as quickly as possible,
an example which was immediately followed by the remaining boats, the
crews of which opened out until there was at least a couple of fathoms
of clear water separating boat from boat.

For a few seconds I was under the impression that the havoc thus quickly
wrought by our guns had so far discouraged the pirates that they
intended to abandon the attack upon the islet--for there were several
very evident signs of hesitation among them--but presently, apparently
in response to the exhortations of Fernandez, who pulled along the line
in a fast gig, the oars dipped once more, and the remnant of the
flotilla most gallantly resumed its advance, amid cheers and yells of
encouragement and defiance that clearly reached us on the islet.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

THE EXTERMINATION OF THE PIRATES.

Nothing could possibly have been better, from our point of view, than
the foolhardy gallantry of the pirates in thus persistently pressing
home their attack upon the islet, for the advantage was all on our side,
and must remain so until the enemy had landed and come to hand-grips
with us; and it was imperative that, in order to ensure our own success,
as many as possible of our foes should be put _hors de combat_ before
the fight became a hand-to-hand melee.  It certainly seemed, at the
first blush, to be rather cowardly to pelt the poor beggars with grape
while they were unable to strike a blow in return; but the feeling was,
after all, one of very weak, false sentimentality.  Every man of them
was an outlaw and, even if not yet an actual murderer at least a
potential one, and a consorter with cruel, cowardly brutes in human
shape who would destroy without mercy if they were not themselves
destroyed--who were, in fact, worse than wild beasts; for whereas the
latter take life merely to satisfy the cravings of nature, the average
pirate slew for the sheer love of slaying, and in order that he might
gratify the unnatural lust that caused him to revel in the sight of
human suffering.  Therefore, after the first qualm of reluctance, I felt
no compunction in ordering the gunners to ply their weapons upon the
advancing enemy with all the skill at their command.  And right
willingly did the men obey my order, sponging, loading, priming,
pointing, and firing with the fell determination of men who knew that
they must slay or themselves be slain; aiming so carefully that every
shot was made to tell with disastrous effect; so that the advancing
boats gradually fell into confusion as shot after shot whistled through
them, sinking a boat here, shattering another there, and killing or
maiming so many of her crew that she could neither advance farther nor
retire, but lay upon the water a mere drifting, blood-bespattered wreck.
Had the distance between the beach and the islet been half as far again
as it actually was, there can be no doubt that the entire expedition
would have been swept out of existence; as it was, nine out of the
twenty boats which left the settlement survived to reach the islet, and
were grounded upon the beach just below the battery.  As the keels
grated in upon the shingle their crews sprang out, dragged the boats
well up, so that they would not go adrift, and then, sinking upon one
knee, emptied their muskets at us, to cover the landing of their
comrades; we, on our part, holding our fire in readiness to meet the
rush upon the battery that was now imminent.

Here Fernandez, still unwounded, exhibited the only bit of sound
generalship that had distinguished the attack; for instead of allowing
his men to charge up the slope promiscuously as they landed, to be cut
down or bowled over by our pistols, in detail, he ordered them to form
up, in single file and open order, until the last boat had arrived,
probably guessing that we were without muskets, and knowing that he and
his men were for the moment beyond pistol-shot.  Then, after allowing
them time to recharge their muskets, and a minute or two additional in
which to recover their breath and prepare for the desperate up-hill rush
at the battery, he gave the word to advance, himself leading the way,
while we, with naked cutlass in one hand and pistol in the other,
crouched behind our low breastwork, watching the toiling figures
scrambling and struggling up the steep, almost precipitous slope.

They had advanced about half-way, and Fernandez, still leading, was just
about within pistol range, when I rose to my feet, sprang up on the low
earth parapet which we had constructed, raised my sword above my head,
and, in as loud and authoritative a voice as I could command, shouted,
in Spanish:

"Halt!"

Then, as the advancing pirates wavered and hesitated, in astonishment at
my unexpected action, I continued:

"Fernandez, and you others, I call upon you to throw down your arms and
surrender, in order to prevent the further sacrifice of life.  You can
do no good by persevering further in this futile attack, for we are the
masters of the situation, and we can shoot down every man of you before
it will be possible for you to reach the spot where I stand.  To push on
will simply mean--"

_Crack_!  One of the pirates, crouching behind another, had coolly
levelled his musket and taken a pot shot at me, the bullet passing
through my hat and searing my skull like a white-hot wire, so that I
toppled over with the shock and fell back into the arms of one of my
men.  The yell of savage joy raised by the pirates at the sight of my
fall was echoed by my own men as they sprang to their feet, intending to
leap over the low parapet and charge down upon the advancing foe to
avenge me.  But I was not really hurt, and, shaking off the grip of the
man who held me, I cried out in time to stay them, adjuring them, by all
that they held dear, to stand fast where they were, and finish the fight
in the battery itself.  And splendidly they obeyed me, although they
might well have been excused had they ignored my command; for the firing
of that musket-shot served as the signal for a general fusillade on both
sides, in the course of which four of our men fell.  But ours was the
commanding position, and by the time that the pirates had emptied their
muskets and pistols at us we had brought them to a standstill, with more
than half their number down.  After that there was no possibility of
further restraining our lads, nor, indeed, was there any need.  We,
therefore, poured out over the low earthwork and down the few yards of
slope that still intervened between us and the enemy, and the next
moment were engaged in a hand-to-hand, life-and-death conflict, neither
side expecting or giving quarter.  For the few seconds that it lasted it
was warm work, the pirates fighting desperately--since they knew that,
if taken alive, the halter awaited them--and then, in the space of a
minute it was all over.  The last of our foes was down--as well as a few
more men on our own side--and we who remained unhurt stood gasping for
breath, and mopping our perspiring brows as we glared hungrily about us
for more foes to conquer.  But there were none; and presently pulling
ourselves together, we gathered up our own wounded and carried them to
such shade as could be found, where the surgeon's mate, who formed one
of our company, at once got to work upon them, attending to their hurts.
Meanwhile the ensign was hoisted as a signal to the felucca to return
to the harbour; and then such of us as could be spared went out to
disarm the wounded pirates and afterwards afford them such relief as lay
in our power, while others again gleaned the weapons and ammunition of
the fallen, recognising that they might possibly be useful in our fight
with the crew of the _Tiburon_ later on.

Then, having made all arrangements for the conduct of the work on the
islet during the next few hours, I took the two largest boats that had
survived the passage across the waters of the Cove, and with a dozen
men, armed to the teeth, under the leadership of myself and the
boatswain, pulled away to the settlement, to see how matters stood in
that direction.  As I had anticipated, there was not a man left in the
place--not even a boy above fourteen years of age; every male above that
age had been detailed to take part in the attempt to capture the islet,
which Fernandez had fully recognised to be the key of the entire
position.  And now, of the hundred and fifty who had taken part in the
disastrous attempt, every one was either slain, or lay wounded in our
hands.

While I was taking stock generally of the situation, so to speak, and
making my further plans, the boatswain, assisted by the seamen whom we
had brought ashore with us, made a careful and systematic search of
every building in the place, removing every weapon, everything that
could be used as such, and all ammunition, and transferring them to the
two boats prior to our return to the islet.  There were not many
weapons, and not a very great quantity of ammunition; but there was more
than we could conveniently stow in the boats.  We, therefore, took a
portion of it out to about the middle of the bay and there threw it
overboard, returning for the remainder and conveying it to the islet.
The most important result of our visit to the shore, however, consisted
in the information, freely given me by one of the women, that, so far as
she had been able to gather from the conversation of the men, the
_Tiburon_ and her crew might be expected to arrive in the Cove at any
moment.

By the time that I and my party got back to the islet the day was well
advanced, the felucca had returned to the Cove and was now anchored
inside the islet, close to its southern shore, and the surgeon, although
still busy among the wounded pirates, had doctored up the whole of our
own wounded and made them comfortable.  As might have been expected from
the peculiar character of the engagement and the enormous advantage of
position which we enjoyed, our casualties were singularly light,
consisting only of five killed and nine wounded.  But in the case of the
pirates there was a very different story to tell.  I had ascertained,
while ashore, that they left the settlement one hundred and fifty
strong; and now all that remained of them amounted to just thirty-seven
wounded, of whom at least one quarter would probably succumb to their
hurts.  Those thirty-seven I caused to be put into the boats, as soon as
they had, been attended to, and conveyed to the settlement, where I
turned them over to the care of the women folk, who, I thought, would
probably be able to give them more attention and better nursing than we
could hope to afford.  The next day, at the urgent request of several of
the women, I also caused our own wounded to be taken ashore, where,
under the supervision of the surgeon, they were taken in hand and most
tenderly cared for.  The dead--both our own and as many as we could find
belonging to the pirates--were hastily sewn up in canvas, weighted, and
launched overboard from the felucca, which was taken well out to sea for
the purpose.

It was about three bells in the forenoon watch, on the fifth day after
the attack upon the islet, that two sail were sighted by the lookout,
standing in toward the Cove; and half-an-hour later I was able to
identify one of them as the infamous _Tiburon_, while the other was a
large craft, apparently British, judging by her build and the cut of her
canvas; doubtless a capture.

We had long ago made every possible preparation to give the pirate
schooner a warm reception upon her arrival, going even to the length of
surrounding our battery with a parapet and masking the latter by
covering it with sods of growing grass.  We had now, therefore, nothing
to do but patiently to await the arrival of the enemy, confident that he
would sail right into the Cove, unsuspectingly, and never get so much as
a hint of our presence until we should open fire upon him.

As we had planned so matters turned out; the two vessels entered the
Cove together and simultaneously came to an anchor, the big craft--upon
the stern of which we descried the words Berwick Castle: Bristol--
anchoring about a cable's length east of the schooner and, very
fortunately for those chiefly concerned, well out of our line of fire.

We waited until we saw the anchors of both vessels splash into the
placid waters of the Cove, and heard the rumble of their cables as they
smoked out through the hawse-pipes; then, while the gunners brought the
four 68-pounders, loaded with round shot and grape, to bear upon the
crowded deck of the pirate schooner, another party raised a rough
flagstaff, to which a British ensign had been nailed, and dropped its
heel into a socket already prepared for it.  Even then it was nearly a
minute before our presence was discovered by the pirates, who were at
that moment busily clewing-up and hauling down their canvas preparatory
to stowing it.  But the boatswain, the gunner, and I all had our
telescopes focussed upon the schooner, keenly watching every movement on
board her, and it was not long before I recognised upon her
quarter-deck, issuing orders and generally carrying himself with an air
of authority, the handsome rascal who, during the fight between the
_Tiburon_ and the _Wasp_, had hailed us asking whether we had struck.
Almost on the instant of recognising him I saw a man run up to him,
excitedly say something to him, and point toward the islet.  The
handsome rascal--who was without doubt the pirate captain, Manuel Garcia
himself--stood, stared amazed for a few seconds at the islet, and then
made a dash for the companion, from which he withdrew a telescope, which
he levelled in our direction.  For perhaps a quarter of a minute he kept
the tube steadily pointed toward us; then with a gesture of mad ferocity
he dashed the instrument to the deck, and, seizing his speaking-trumpet,
placed it to his lips.  The effect was an instant stoppage of the
operation of clewing-up and hauling down aboard the _Tiburon_, while
every eye in her was, as by one impulse, directed toward the islet.  But
the pause endured only for a space of a few seconds, just long enough to
enable the gazers to identify the flag flying on the islet as the
British ensign, thereupon everybody seemed to be galvanised into
instant, breathless activity again.  Now, however, the former processes
were reversed; the men who were already half-way aloft, intent upon
furling the canvas, started to return to the deck, others sprang to the
sheets and halliards and began to sheet home and hoist away as if for
their lives, and, in short, it was evident that the pirates contemplated
getting under way again and attempting to escape out to sea.

It was at this moment that the boatswain, who still had his glass
focussed on the schooner, cried out:

"They're goin' to cut her cable, Mr Delamere!  Look, sir, and you'll
see a chap hurrying for'ard with an axe in his hand."

"Is that so?"  I exclaimed.  "Then bring Number 1 gun to bear on the
schooner's forecastle and sweep it clear.  Quick, before they can cut
her adrift!  It will never do to have her drifting all over the Cove."

I was interrupted by the crashing report of Number 1, which, with the
others, had already been most carefully trained upon the schooner; and
as the smoke blew away we saw the vessel's port bulwark, all about the
cathead, thickly dotted with white marks where the shot had struck,
while the forecastle, which had been crowded with men a moment before,
was now clear; not so much as a single head showed above the rail.

"Give them the other three guns, as quick as you please; and keep up
your fire, with grape only, until you receive further orders," I cried.
And almost as the words left my lips the other three guns bellowed their
terrible message, in response to which the men on the _Tiburon's_ deck
seemed to shrink and disappear.  But although a good many of them went
down, enough were still left to enable them to man their port broadside
of seven 12-pounders, as well as their long 32; and with astounding
rapidity they brought the whole of these guns to bear upon the spot from
which the jets of flame and smoke issued, marking the position of our
guns, while they defiantly ran up the black flag to their main truck.

Now the action raged fast and furious, both sides loading and firing as
rapidly as they could, although I continually exhorted our own gunners
to give themselves plenty of time to take careful aim.  The enemy
quickly got our range to a nicety, and their shot came screaming about
our ears and plumping into our earthen rampart in an almost continuous
shower, blinding us with the dust and dirt that they threw up, and
occasionally sending the splinters flying in all directions when the
shot happened to strike a stone.  Yet, marvellous to relate, although
several of us were suffering from severe contusions caused by those
flying splinters of rock, not one of us was, thus far, actually
disabled, while, within ten minutes from the beginning of the firing,
that of the schooner slackened perceptibly, showing plainly how severe
was the punishment which we were inflicting upon her.  This was further
exemplified by the fact that presently a man was seen to be hailing the
_Berwick Castle_, in response to which two boats were lowered, and,
crowded with men, pulled over to the schooner.  Thus reinforced, the
_Tiburon's_ fire breezed up again for a few minutes; then it gradually
slackened again; and finally, when the action had been in progress some
twenty minutes, it died away altogether, the black flag being slowly and
reluctantly hauled down, a minute later, in token of surrender.

"Cease firing, lads," I cried; "the schooner has struck.  Now, while the
guns' crews remain here, ready to open fire again, if need be, the rest
of us will go aboard and take possession."  And, with a wild cheer, some
thirty of us leaped the ruins of our parapet and dashed headlong down
the steep slope to the little strip of beach where half-a-dozen boats
were drawn partly up out of the water.

To pounce upon those boats, rush them afloat, and then tumble
helter-skelter in over the gunwales was the work of seconds only; then,
throwing out the oars, away we went for the pirate schooner, keeping
well apart, in case of a treacherous resumption of firing on the part of
the pirates.  But nothing occurred, everything remained silent--almost
ominously so--on board the schooner, one head only showing above the
torn and splintered bulwarks--that of a man who, apparently wounded,
clung to the main-topmast backstay, seeming to watch our approach.  As
we drew nearer that head gradually assumed a recognisable appearance in
my eyes, until at length I felt convinced that it was that of Garcia
himself.  Suddenly, as I watched, the fellow disappeared, not as though
he had sunk to the deck exhausted but rather as though he had gone
elsewhere at a run, and with his disappearance a strong suspicion of
some diabolical treachery on his part gripped me.  I wrestled with it
for a few seconds--until in fact we were within half-a-dozen fathoms of
the schooner's side; then, influenced by some irresistible impulse, I
sprang to my feet and shouted:

"Hold water all! we will go alongside the ship first, and see what is
the state of things there.  The schooner is safe; she cannot escape; but
while we are aboard her who can tell what may be happening aboard the
ship?  Round with the boats, men, and pull alongside the Englishman!"

With one accord the boats swept round and headed for the _Berwick
Castle_, and a couple of minutes later we were alongside and swarming up
her lofty sides.  I was in the act of swinging in over her rail, in the
wake of her main rigging, when a terrific concussion shook the vessel
from stem to stern, a loud _boom_, like the explosion of a pent volcano,
rent the air, and, looking in the direction of the sound, we saw a vast
sheet of flame and smoke suddenly burst from the schooner; her masts,
guns, and a vast quantity of debris--among which we recognised some
thirty or forty human bodies--went hurtling high into the air; her sides
opened out, showing her ribs here and there black against the white
flame; and then the torn and dismembered hull sank in the midst of the
seething waters of the Cove, followed by the plunging debris as it came
down again after its flight into the air.  My instinct had warned me
aright; the man I had seen was, beyond all doubt, Garcia himself; and he
had fired the vessel's magazine in the hope of blowing us all into the
air with him as we boarded!

"By the Living Jingo, sir, that was a lucky thought of yours to order us
to board this ship first!" gasped the boatswain, with white and
quivering lips, as he clung to the rail.  "Where would we all ha' been
if we'd gone on and boarded that schooner, as we at first intended to?"

As soon as our somewhat shaken nerves would permit we proceeded to
search the _Berwick Castle_, in the hope of finding some at least of her
crew, but there was no trace of them beyond the seamen's chests in the
forecastle and the clothing of the master and officers in their
respective cabins, all of which showed signs of having been made free
with by the captors; the crew had vanished, to the last man, having
doubtless been offered, in accordance with the pirates' usual policy,
the alternative of service under the black flag, or--death.  And
apparently, to their eternal honour, they had chosen the latter.

My story is done, for there is no need to weary the reader with prosaic
details regarding the arrangements which I made for the removal of the
women from the pirate settlement prior to its destruction, or how the
latter was accomplished.  Let it suffice me to say that the destruction
was so thorough and complete that no encouragement was left for other
pirates to adopt the place as a rendezvous; and, so far as I am aware,
no other pirates ever attempted to do so.

We sailed for Port Royal that same afternoon, about two hours before
sunset; and just as the great luminary was about to sink gorgeously
beneath the western horizon the wind failed us and afforded me the
opportunity to do something which I very greatly desired to do, namely,
to call upon my friends Don Luis and Dona Inez, the two warm-hearted
friends who had played the Good Samaritan, and treated me with such
generous hospitality, when I had been brought to their house, more dead
than alive, after the loss of the _Wasp_.  Thus far I had had no
opportunity to pay them a visit, but now, by a lucky chance, the wind
happened to fail us when we were within a couple of miles of the shore,
and almost exactly abreast of Bella Vista, which was distinctly visible
from the deck of the _Berwick Castle_, in the strong light of the
setting sun.

I took my glass and carefully examined the shore, found the beach upon
which I had been landed, saw that the water was smooth enough to permit
of my landing, and recognised that here was an opportunity to visit my
friends, and express my gratitude for all that they had done for me,
which might never occur again.  Next, I turned my glass upon Bella Vista
itself, and saw that the doors and windows were opened, the latter
draped with curtains, and I fancied I could even make out one or more
persons seated under the shadow of the veranda; it was pretty certain,
therefore, that my friends were at home, and I at once made up my mind
to visit them, as I felt that I might with safety, for the calm would
last about two hours, and then the land-breeze would spring up, and the
_Berwick Castle_ could then work close inshore and heave-to until I
should rejoin her.

My preparations were soon made, and within ten minutes of arriving at my
decision to go ashore, having left the boatswain in charge and given him
all necessary instructions, I was in the boat and heading for the beach.
Of course it was quite dark some time before the boat's keel grated
upon the sand; but that fact did not greatly trouble me, for I knew my
way quite well, and had very little difficulty in finding the path which
led up to the house.

The building was by this time lighted up, and as I approached I heard
voices, among which that of Don Luis was easily distinguishable.  Then,
as I ascended the steps which led up to the gallery running round the
house, I heard Dona Inez speak, and the next moment she stepped out
through the drawing-room window, and caught sight of me.

For a moment she stopped dead, with a startled look in her eyes; then,
with a little scream of delight she darted forward, seized my hands, and
impulsively kissed me on both cheeks in the Spanish fashion, much to my
embarrassment.

"Luis--Luis," she cried, still holding my hands, "come hither quickly,
_caro mio_, and see the most welcome sight that you have seen for many a
day!"

"Why, yes, of course I will," responded Don Luis.  And the next moment
he too stepped out on to the gallery, straight up to me, and, like his
wife, kissed me!

"Welcome! a thousand welcomes, my dear Don Ricardo!" he exclaimed,
snatching my hands from his wife's clasp.  "But where on earth have you
sprung from?"

"From yonder," I answered, pointing to seaward where the lantern at the
_Berwick Castle's_ gaff-end shone like a star through the darkness.

"Well, you are just in time for dinner," he exclaimed, "so come in.
There are others here who will rejoice to once more see you whom we
thought dead long ago."  And as these two dear, warm-hearted, impulsive
friends dragged me in through the open window I became aware that the
entire Mendouca family were in the drawing-room; and by them, too, I was
very cordially welcomed, though, naturally, with a little more restraint
than that displayed by Don Luis and his wife.

Oh! what a dinner that was, and how genuinely delighted they all were to
see me--not excepting Mama Elisa and Teresita, both of whom insisted
upon seeing me when they learned that I was in the house.  Of course I
had to relate to them in detail everything that had happened to me, from
the moment when I went forth to reconnoitre on the memorable day of the
attack on Bella Vista by the blacks, and many and loud were the
ejaculations of amazement as I reached the most telling points of my
story.  It appeared that they had waited anxiously for my return, and
had only finally given up hope at nightfall, by which time they had
arrived at the conclusion that the blacks had got me and carried me away
into the mountains to torture me to death.  They told me that they had
mourned for me as for a brother, and their delight at finding I still
lived convinced me of the truth of the assertion.  Later I learned that
the Mendouca family were still enjoying Don Luis' hospitality, pending
the rebuilding of Montpelier.

It was not until after ten o'clock that night that I succeeded in
dragging myself away from Bella Vista, and only then upon the promise,
which I most willingly gave, to keep in touch with them by letter, and
repeat my visit as often as possible.  But so far as the latter part of
my promise was concerned, fate was against me, for I never again was
privileged to meet any of them.

It was six bells of the first watch when I reached the _Berwick Castle_,
by which time the land-breeze was piping up strong; and as soon as the
boat was hoisted to the davits we filled away for Port Royal, where we
arrived in due course, and landed our prisoners, to the number of
twenty-three.  Three weeks later they underwent their trial for piracy
on the high seas, and, the evidence against them being overwhelming,
they were all hanged at Gallows Point a fortnight after their
conviction.

As for me and my crew, we obtained full and even generous recognition
for our exploit, the merchants of the various West Indian islands
combining together to present me with an exceedingly handsome service of
plate, and to subscribe to a purse the contents of which was to be
divided _pro rata_ among the other officers and men of the expedition.
The Admiral was good enough to express unbounded satisfaction at what he
was pleased to term "the unusual skill and discretion" with which the
task of exterminating a most formidable nest of pirates had been carried
out; and he took considerable pains to afford me an early opportunity,
not only to undergo the formalities of a court-martial for the loss of
the _Wasp_, but also to pass my examination.  Immediately after this
latter event he presented me with my commission to a crack frigate; and
in her I subsequently saw much exciting service, lasting up to the
short-lived peace of Amiens, toward the end of the year 1801, by which
time I had attained to the rank of post-captain.  But although many of
my subsequent experiences as an officer of the British Royal Navy were
sufficiently strange and exciting, it was never again my lot to cross
swords with a pirate; for "pirating" became an occupation to be shunned,
so far as the West Indian waters were concerned, for several years after
the memorable example made by the British Government in the inexorable
hunting down and destruction of the notorious Garcia, the pirate of
Hayti, and his formidable band.





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