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´╗┐Title: The Cruise of the "Esmeralda"
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Cruise of the "Esmeralda"" ***

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The Cruise of the "Esmeralda", by Harry Collingwood.

________________________________________________________________________
This is a splendid book, beautifully written, with a strong nautical
background.  The hero's family, which had a very long nautical
tradition, was a bit short of money.  But there was a story told in the
family that some centuries before an ancestor of his had found an
abandoned vessel which turned out to have a huge amount of gold and
jewels.  He had buried this in a secret location on an island in the
Far East, putting directions for finding it in cipher somewhere in his
house in England.  Our hero finds the paper with the cipher after a long
search in the house, and sets off to find the fortune, though he had not
yet deciphered the instructions.

All sorts of adventures occur, including being attacked by pirates, whom
they get rid of in a most novel manner.  Eventually our hero seems to
work out how to read the cipher, in a dream, but when he awakes he can't
remember how to do it.  He does of course remember, and the cipher turns
out to be easy to read, once you realise how many digits you need to get
each character.  They get there, and sure enough, find the treasure.
But of course the troubles don't end there, because some of the seamen
think it would be a good idea to kill our hero, and take the treasure
for themselves.  That situation gets sorted out, and after further
adventures they get home.  They use a novel method of getting the
treasure ashore without anybody in authority noticing.

You'll enjoy this book, especially if you make an audiobook of it.  This
will take about 11.6 hours to play, depending on how you do it.

________________________________________________________________________
THE CRUISE OF THE "ESMERALDA", BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD.



CHAPTER ONE.

THE STORY OF THE BURIED TREASURE.

Those of my readers who happen to be well acquainted with Weymouth, will
also be assuredly acquainted with a certain lane, known as Buxton's
Lane, branching off to the right from the high-road at Rodwell, and
connecting that suburb with the picturesque little village of Wyke.  I
make this assertion with the most perfect confidence, because Buxton's
Lane happens to afford one of the most charming walks in that charming
neighbourhood; and no one can well be a sojourner for any length of time
in Weymouth without discovering this fact for him or herself, either
through inquiry or by means of personal exploration.

And of those who have enjoyed a saunter through this lane, some there
will doubtless be who can remember a substantial stone-built house,
standing back a distance of about a hundred yards or so from the
roadway, and environed by a quaint old-fashioned garden, the entire
demesne being situate on the crest of the rise just before Wyke is
reached, and commanding an unparalleled view of the roadstead of
Portland, with the open channel as far as Saint Alban's Head to the
left, while on the right the West Bay (notorious for its shipwrecks)
stretches from the Bill of Portland, far away westward, into the misty
distance toward Lyme, and Beer, and Seaton; ay, and even beyond that,
down to Berry Head, past Torquay, the headland itself having been
distinctly seen from Wyke Nap on a clear day, so it is said, though I
cannot remember that I ever saw it myself from that standpoint.

The house to which I refer is (or was, for I believe it no longer
exists) known as "The Spaniards," and was built by my ancestor, Hubert
Saint Leger, with a portion of the proceeds of the Spanish prize that--
having so harried and worried her that she at length became separated
from the main body of the Great Armada--he drove into Weymouth Bay, and
there, under the eyes of his admiring fellow-townsmen, fought her in his
good ship _Golden Rose_, until she was fain to strike her colours and
surrender to a craft of considerably less than half her size.

"The Spaniards" had continued in possession of the Saint Leger family
from the time of its building down to the date of my story; and under
its roof I was born.  And to its roof I had returned from an Australian
voyage, a day or two previous to the events about to be related, to find
my dear mother in the direst of trouble.  My father, like all the rest
of the male Saint Legers, for as many generations as we could trace
back, had been a seaman, and had died abroad, leaving my mother such a
moderate provision as would enable her, with care, to end her days in
peace and comfort beneath the old roof-tree.  It was a lonely life for
her, poor soul! for I was her only child, and--being a Saint Leger--took
naturally to the sea as a profession.  That I should do so was indeed so
completely a foregone conclusion, that I was especially educated for it
at Greenwich; upon leaving which, I had been bound apprentice to my
father.  And under him I had faithfully served my time, and had risen to
the position of second mate when death claimed him, and he passed away
in my arms, commending my mother to my tenderest care with his last
breath.

Since that terrible time I had made several voyages to our eastern
possessions, and now, when my story opens, was chief mate of a fine
clipper-ship, with some hopes of promotion to the rank of "captain" when
a suitable vacancy should occur.

The voyage which I had just concluded had been a singularly fortunate
one for me, for on our homeward passage, when a short distance to the
eastward of the Cape, we had fallen in with a derelict, homeward-bound
from the Moluccas and Philippines, with a cargo of almost fabulous value
on board; and, having taken possession of her, I had been placed in
command, with a crew of four hands, with instructions to take her into
Table Bay, there to raise my crew to the full complement, and, having
done so, to afterwards navigate her to her destination.  This I had
successfully accomplished, arriving home only nine days after my own
ship.  A claim for salvage had been duly made, and I calculated that
when the settling day arrived, my own share would fall very little short
of three thousand pounds, if, indeed, it did not fully reach that
figure.

I have stated that when, upon the termination of an Australian voyage
and the completion of my duties as chief mate, I returned to my
ancestral home for the purpose of spending a brief holiday with my
mother prior to my departure upon yet another journey to the antipodes,
I had found her in dire trouble.  This trouble was the natural--and I
may say inevitable--result of my father's mistaken idea that he was as
good a man of business as he was a seaman.  Acting under this
impression, he had relied entirely upon his own unaided judgment in the
investment of his savings; and, anxious only to secure as generous a
provision as possible for my mother, had been tempted to put his
hard-earned money into certain projects that, offering, in their
inception, a too alluring promise of continuous prosperity and generous
dividends, had failed to withstand the test of time and the altered
conditions of trade; with the result that, after paying handsome
percentages for a more or less lengthened period, they had suddenly
collapsed like a pricked balloon, leaving my poor mother penniless.  Of
course everything had been done that was possible to save something,
though it might be ever so little, from the wreck; but there had been
nothing to save; every penny was gone; and when I reached home I found
the poor soul literally at her wits' end to maintain a supply of the
ordinary necessaries of life.

My appearance upon the scene of course necessitated the raking up of the
whole miserable story once more; but when I had been told everything, I
saw at once that nothing more could be done, and that my poor mother
would simply have to put up with the loss as best she might.

Then arose the question of what was best to be done under our altered
circumstances.  The first conclusion at which we arrived was the obvious
one that it would be quite impossible for my mother to maintain such an
establishment as "The Spaniards" upon my income of ten pounds per month
as chief mate; and she therefore suggested that we should let it upon a
lease, if a suitable tenant could be found, and that she should retire,
with her altered fortunes, into the obscurity of some small cottage.  To
this, however, I would in no wise consent; and it was while we were
discussing the matter in all its bearings, and casting about for an
acceptable alternative, that my mother let fall a remark, which, little
as we suspected it at the moment, proved to be the key-note of the
present story.

"Ah, my son," she ejaculated, with a hopeless sigh, "if we could but
find the lost clue to Richard Saint Leger's buried treasure, all might
yet be well with us!"

"Ah!"  I responded, with a still more hopeless sigh, "if only we could!
But I suppose there is about as much chance of that as there is of my
becoming Lord High Admiral of Great Britain.  The clue must be
irretrievably lost, or it would have been discovered long ere now.  I
suppose every Saint Leger, from my great-great-great-grandfather Hugh,
downwards, has taken his turn at hunting for that miserable lost clue;
and the fact that they all failed to find it is conclusive evidence to
me that it is no longer in existence."

"Well, I really don't know, my boy; I am not prepared to say so much as
that," answered my mother.  "Your dear father took the same view of the
matter that you do, and never, to my knowledge, devoted a single hour to
the search.  And I have heard him say that it was the same with your
grandfather.  And if they never searched for the lost clue, how can we
know or suppose that _any one_ has searched for it since Hugh Saint
Leger abandoned the quest?  Yet there never appears to have been the
slightest shadow of doubt in the minds of any of your ancestors, that
when Richard Saint Leger died in the arms of his son Hugh, he held the
clue to the secret; indeed, he died in the act of endeavouring to
communicate it."

"So I have always understood," answered I, with languidly reviving
interest.  "But it is so long since I last heard the story--not since I
was a little shaver in petticoats--that I have practically forgotten the
details.  I should like to hear it again, if it is not troubling you too
much."

"It is no trouble at all, my dear boy, for it can be told in very few
words.  Besides, you _ought_ to know it," answered my mother.  "You are
aware, of course, that the Saint Legers have been a race of daring and
adventurous seamen, as far back as our family records go; and Richard
Saint Leger, who was born in 1689, was perhaps the most daring and
adventurous of them all.  He was a contemporary of the great Captain
(afterwards Lord) Anson; and it was upon his return from a voyage to the
West Indies that he first became aware of the rumours, which reached
England from time to time, of the fabulous value of the galleon which
sailed annually from Acapulco to Manilla laden with the treasure of
Peru.  These rumours, which were no doubt greatly exaggerated, were well
calculated to excite the imagination and stimulate the enterprise of the
bold and restless spirits of that period; so much so, indeed, that when
the English, in 1739, declared war against Spain, the capture of one of
these ships became to the English adventurer what the discovery of the
fabled El Dorado had been to his predecessor of Elizabethan times.  At
length--in the year 1742, I think it was--it became whispered about
among those restless spirits that a galleon had actually been captured,
and that the captors had returned to England literally laden with
wealth.  Richard Saint Leger was one of the first to hear the news; and
it so fired his imagination--and probably his cupidity--that he never
rested until he had traced the rumour to its source, and found it to be
true.  He then sought out the leader of the fortunate expedition, and
having pledged himself to the strictest secrecy, obtained the fullest
particulars relating to the adventure.  This done, his next step was to
organise a company of adventurers, with himself as their head and
leader, to sail in search of the next year's galleon.  This was in the
year 1742.  The expedition was a failure, so far as the capture of the
galleon was concerned, for she fell into the hands of Commodore Anson.
In other respects, however, the voyage proved fairly profitable; for
though they missed the great treasure ship, they fell in with and
captured another Spanish vessel which had on board sufficient specie to
well recompense the captors for the time and trouble devoted to the
adventure.  And now I come to the part of the story which relates to
what has always been spoken of in the family as Richard Saint Leger's
buried treasure.  It appears that on board the captured Spanish ship of
which I have just spoken, certain English prisoners were found, the
survivors of the crew of an English ship that had fought with and been
destroyed by the Spanish ship only a few days prior to her own capture.
These men were of course at once removed to Richard Saint Leger's own
ship, where they received every care, and their hurts--for it is said
that every man of them was more or less severely wounded--treated with
such skill as happened to be available, with the result that a few of
them recovered.  Many, however, were so sorely hurt that they succumbed
to their injuries, the English captain being among this number.  He
survived, however, long enough to tell Richard Saint Leger that he had
captured the galleon of the previous year, and had determined upon
capturing the next also.  With this object in view, and not caring to
subject their booty to the manifold risks attendant upon a cruise of an
entire year, they had sought out a secluded spot, and had there
carefully concealed the treasure by burying it in the earth.  Now,
however, the poor man was dying, and could never hope to enjoy his share
of the spoil, or even insure its possession to his relatives.  He
therefore made a compact with Richard Saint Leger, confiding to him the
secret of the hiding-place, upon the condition that, upon the recovery
of the treasure, one half of it was to be handed over in certain
proportions to the survivors of the crew who had captured it, or,
failing them, to their heirs; Richard Saint Leger to take the other
half.

"Now, whether it was that Richard Saint Leger was of a secretive
disposition, or whether he had some other motive for keeping the matter
a secret, I know not; but certain it is that he never made the slightest
reference to the matter--even to his son Hugh, who was sailing with
him--until some considerable time afterwards.  The occasion which led to
his taking Hugh into his confidence was the meeting with another enemy,
which they promptly proceeded to engage; and it may have been either as
a measure of prudence in view of the impending conflict, or perhaps some
premonition of his approaching end that led him to adopt the precaution
of imparting the secret to a second person.  He had deferred the matter
too long, however; and he had only advanced far enough in his narrative
to communicate the particulars I have just given, when the two ships
became so hotly engaged that the father and son were obliged to separate
in the prosecution of their duties, and the conclusion of the story had
to be deferred until a more convenient season.  That season never
arrived, for Richard Saint Leger was struck down, severely wounded,
early in the fight, and the command of the ship then devolved upon Hugh.
Moreover, not only was there a very great disparity of force in favour
of the Spaniards, but, contrary to usual experience, they fought with
the utmost valour and determination, so that for some time after the
ships had become engaged at close quarters the struggle was simply one
for bare life on the part of the English, during which Hugh Saint Leger
had no leisure to think of treasure or of anything else, save how to
save his comrades and himself from the horrors of capture by their cruel
enemies.

"Meanwhile, the consciousness gradually forced itself upon Richard Saint
Leger that he was wounded unto death, and that time would soon be for
him no more.  Realising now, no doubt, the grave mistake he had
committed in keeping so important a secret as that of the hiding-place
of the treasure locked within his own breast, he despatched a messenger
to Hugh, enjoining the latter to hasten to the side of his dying father
forthwith, at all risks.  The messenger, however, was shot dead ere he
could reach Hugh Saint Leger's side, and the urgent message remained
undelivered.  At length the stubborn courage of the English prevailed,
and, despite their vast superiority in numbers, the Spaniards, who had
boarded, were first driven back to their own deck and then below, when,
further resistance being useless, they flung down their arms and
surrendered.

"Hugh now, after giving a few hasty orders as to the disposal of the
prisoners, found time to think of his father, whom he remembered seeing
in the act of being borne below, wounded, in the early part of the
fight.  He accordingly hurried away in search of him, finding him in his
own cabin, supported in the arms of one of the seamen, and literally at
his last breath.  It was with difficulty that Hugh succeeded in
rendering his father conscious of his presence; and when this was at
length accomplished the sufferer only rallied sufficiently to gasp
painfully the words, `The treasure--buried--island--full particulars--
concealed in my--' when a torrent of blood gushed from his mouth and
nostrils, and, with a last convulsive struggle, Richard Saint Leger sank
back upon his pallet, dead.

"He was buried at sea, that same night, along with the others who had
fallen in the fight; and some days afterwards, when Hugh Saint Leger had
conquered his grief sufficiently to give his attention to other matters,
he set himself to the task of seeking for the particulars relating to
the buried treasure.  But though he patiently examined every document
and scrap of paper contained in his father's desk, and otherwise
searched most carefully and industriously in every conceivable
hiding-place he could think of, the quest was unavailing, and _the
particulars have never been found, to this day_!"

"It is very curious," I remarked, when my mother had brought her
narrative to a conclusion--"very curious, and very interesting.  But
what you have related only strengthens my previous conviction, that the
document or documents no longer exist.  I have very little doubt that,
if the truth could only be arrived at, it would be found that Richard
Saint Leger kept the papers concealed somewhere about his clothing, and
that they were buried with him."

"No; that was certainly not the case," rejoined my mother; "for it is
distinctly stated that--probably to obviate any such possibility--Hugh
Saint Leger carefully preserved every article of clothing which his
father wore when he died; and the things exist to this day, carefully
preserved, upstairs, together with every other article belonging to
Richard Saint Leger which happened to be on board the ship at that
time."

"And have those relics never been examined since my ancestor Hugh
abandoned the quest as hopeless?"  I inquired.

"They may have been; I cannot say," answered my mother.  "But I do not
believe that your dear father--or your grandfather either, for that
matter--ever thought it worth while to subject them to a thoroughly
exhaustive scrutiny.  Your father, I know, always felt convinced, as you
do, that the documents had been either irretrievably lost, or
destroyed."

"Then if that be so," I exclaimed, "they shall have another thorough
overhaul from clew to earring before I am a day older.  If, as you say,
every scrap of property belonging to Richard Saint Leger was carefully
collected and removed from the ship when she came home, and still
exists, stored away upstairs, why, the papers _must_ be there too; and
if they are I will find them, let them be hidden ever so carefully.
Whereabouts do you say these things are, mother?"

"In the west attic, where they have always been kept," answered my
mother.  "Wait a few minutes, my dear boy, until I have found the keys
of the boxes, and we will make the search together."



CHAPTER TWO.

THE CRYPTOGRAM.

The west attic was a sort of lumber-room, in which was stored an
extensive collection of miscellaneous articles which had survived their
era of usefulness, but, either because they happened to be relics of
former Saint Legers, or for some other equally sufficient reason, were
deemed too valuable to be disposed of.  The contents of this chamber
could scarcely have proved uninteresting, even to a stranger, for in
addition to several handsome pieces of out-of-date furniture--discarded
originally in favour of the more modern, substantial mahogany article,
and now permitted to remain in seclusion simply because of the _bizarre_
appearance they would present in conjunction with that same ponderous
product of the nineteenth-century cabinet-makers' taste--there were to
be found outlandish weapons, and curiosities of all kinds collected from
sundry out-of-the-way spots in all quarters of the globe, to say nothing
of the frayed and faded flags of silk or bunting that had been taken
from the enemy at various times by one or another of the Saint Legers--
each one of which represented some especially hard-fought fight or deed
of exceptional daring, a complete romance in itself--and the ponderous
pistols with inlaid barrels and elaborately carved stocks, the
bell-mouthed blunderbusses, and the business-like hangers, notched and
dinted of edge, and discoloured to the hilt with dark, sinister stains,
that hung here and there upon the walls, relics of dead and gone Saint
Legers.  To me, the only surviving descendant of that race of sturdy
sea-heroes, the room and its contents had of course always proved
absorbingly interesting; and never, even in my earliest childhood, had I
been so delighted as when, on some fine, warm, summer day, I had
succeeded in coaxing my mother up into this room and there extracted
from her the legend attached to some flag or weapon.  To do her justice
she, poor soul, would never of her own free will have opened her lips to
me on any such subject; but my father--a Saint Leger to the backbone,
despite the fact that his susceptibilities had become refined and
sensitive by the more gentle influences of modern teaching--felt none of
the scruples that were experienced by his gentle, tender-hearted spouse,
and seemed to consider it almost a religious duty that the latest of the
Saint Legers should be so trained as to worthily sustain the traditions
of his race.  Not, it must be understood, that my father preserved the
faintest trace of that unscrupulous, buccaneering propensity that was
only too probably a strongly marked characteristic of the earlier Saint
Legers; far from it; but it had evidently never occurred to him that it
was even remotely possible that I should ever adopt any other profession
than that of the sea, and, knowing from experience how indispensable to
the sailor are the qualities of dauntless courage, patient, unflinching
endurance, absolute self-reliance, and unswerving resolution, he had
steadily done his utmost to cultivate those qualities in me; and his
stories were invariably so narrated as to illustrate the value and
desirability of one or another of them.

On the present occasion, however, my thoughts on entering the room were
intent upon a subject but remotely connected with the valiant
achievements of my ancestors; and I lost no time in collecting together
in one corner every article, big or little, that still remained of the
possessions of Richard Saint Leger.  There were not many of them: his
sea-chest, containing a somewhat limited wardrobe, including the clothes
in which he died; his writing-desk, a substantial oak-built, brass-bound
affair; a roll of charts, still faintly redolent of that peculiar musty
odour so characteristic of articles that have been for a long time on
shipboard; a few books, equally odoriferous; a brace of pistols; and his
sheathed hanger, still attached to its belt.

The writing-desk, as being the most appropriate depository for papers,
was, naturally, the object to which I first devoted my attention; and
this I completely emptied of its contents, depositing them in a
clothes-basket on my right hand, to start with, from which I afterwards
removed them, one by one, and after carefully perusing each completely
through, tossed them into a similar receptacle on my left.  Many of the
documents proved to be sufficiently interesting reading, especially
those which consisted of notes and memoranda of information relating to
the projected or anticipated movements of the enemy's ships, acquired,
in some cases, in the most curious way.  Then there were bundles of
letters retailing scraps of home news, and signed "Your loving wife,
Isabella."  But, though I allowed no single scrap of paper to pass
unexamined, not one of them contained the most remote reference to any
such matter as buried treasure.

I next subjected the desk itself to a most rigorous examination, half
hoping that I might discover some secret receptacle so cunningly
contrived as to have escaped the observation of those who had preceded
me in the search.  But no; the desk was a plain, simple, honest affair,
solidly and substantially constructed in such a manner that secret
recesses were simply impossible.  Having satisfied myself thus far, I
carefully restored all the papers to the several receptacles from which
I had taken them, locked the desk, and then turned my attention to the
sea-chest.

Here I was equally unfortunate; for, though in the bottom of the chest I
actually found the identical log-book relating to the cruise during
which Richard Saint Leger was supposed to have acquired his knowledge of
the hidden treasure, and though I found duly entered therein the usual
brief, pithy, log-book entries of both actions with the Spanish ships,
not a word was there which even remotely hinted at the existence of the
treasure, or any record relating to it.  And--not to spin out this
portion of my yarn to an unnecessary length--I may as well say, in so
many words, that when I had worked my way steadily through every relic
left to us of Richard Saint Leger, until nothing remained to be examined
but his hanger and belt, I found myself as destitute of any scrap of the
information I sought as I had been at the commencement of the search.

It was not in the least likely that any one would select such an
unsuitable place as the sheath of a cutlass in which to conceal an
important document; still, that I might never in the future have reason
to reproach myself with having passed over even the most unlikely
hiding-place, I took down the weapon from the peg on which it hung, and
with some difficulty drew the blade from its leather sheath.

There was nothing at all extraordinary about the weapon or its
mountings; blade and hilt were alike perfectly plain; but what a story
that piece of steel could have told, had it been gifted with the power
of speech.  It was notched and dinted from guard to point, every notch
and every dint bearing eloquent evidence of stirring adventure and
doughty deeds of valour.  But I was not there on that occasion to dream
over a notched and rusty cutlass; I therefore laid the weapon aside,
and, with the belt across my knees, proceeded to carefully explore the
interior of the sheath with the aid of a long wire.  And it was while
thus engaged that my eye fell upon a portion of the stitching in the
belt that had the appearance of being newer than--or perhaps it would be
more correct to say of different workmanship from the rest.  The belt, I
ought to explain, was a leather band nearly four inches wide, the
fastening being an ordinary plain, square, brass buckle.  The belt was
made of two thicknesses of leather stitched together all along the top
and bottom edge; and it was a portion of this stitching along the top
edge that struck me as differing somewhat in appearance from the rest.

That I might the better inspect the stitching, I moved toward the window
with the belt in my hand; and, as I did so, I ran the thick leather
through my fingers.  Surely the belt felt a shade thicker in that part
than anywhere else!  And was it only my fancy, or did I detect a faint
sound as of the crackling of paper when I bent the belt at that spot in
the act of raising it to the light?  Was it possible that Richard Saint
Leger had actually chosen so unlikely a spot as the interior of his
sword-belt in which to hide the important document?  And yet, after all,
why unlikely?  It would be as safe a place of concealment as any; for he
doubtless wore the belt, if not the hanger, habitually; and therefore,
by sewing the document up inside it, he would be sure of always having
it upon his person, with scarcely a possibility of losing it.

Determined to solve the question forthwith, I whipped out my knife and
carefully cut through the suspicious-looking stitches, thus separating
the two thicknesses of leather along their upper edges for a length of
about six inches; then, forcing the two edges apart, I peered into the
pocket-like recess; and there, sure enough, was a small, compactly
folded paper, which I at once withdrew and carefully unfolded.  The
result was the disclosure of the following incomprehensible document:--

"11331829 14443401 64519411 74217411 93613918 21541829 154123 49274519
44384914 27163426 41152923 39154319 44214414 44153317 32 24535184
19492442 17321635 24531739 15261943 24381526 29594354 29 43163543
72164627 38537766 79193423 48132915 19412338 18294865 62 93415619
48233516 31233415 43265524 54193743 58274253 87273819 32 43731941
57761738 43581741 19341645 19484368 27435989 28467691 27 43152644
57284327 52193563 74163951 62184227 43699143 68273844 74 58776387
19361641 18424777 19372041 56894566 15452641 19471526 62 91436226
56689115 34425924 42245417 29264163 93284652 831948

"17465383 17322944 17455369 64892351 44742947 16314462 234854 76133526
51235619 31274218 48558817 32294419 43295216 41154619 49 23414354
19431529 24372543 67865983 27385579 23371449 37521342 65 83445515
37497176 92163553 77193323 34164453 72195117 32164418 51 43611635
24375169 25371641 72844458 52741954 26411842 55852439 16 44152623
47193316 45334428 47557716 47537972 91558518 29849842 61 17461545
21321741 15284459 16412642 15451331 53811429 27422743 18 49164419
41436817 41264338 67154528 53164629 47425718 31295743 58 39547697
39645377 16462843 17323867 17472738 57855769 18437485 29 57193329
47349153 97791438 91728386 73564163 53761619 114301848 53711934 26395785
51666378 17382334 45693751 29511829 15392539 35 49153959 92139445
91635467 53355142 51135213 51747294 722371747 19471227 16271847 16471947
12274567 38570277 38671327 26571328 19 48335827 58588814 32163244
72174239 62629224 42112634 46656617 46 31407196 15313161 23417691
36614961 16311941 12311241 41622452 37 62294221 42."

This I studied for a few minutes, in complete bewilderment, and then
carried it downstairs to my mother, who had been called away upon some
household matter some time before.

"See here, mother!"  I exclaimed.  "I have found _something_; but
whether or no it happens to be the long-missing secret of the hidden
treasure it is quite impossible for me to determine.  If it _is_, there
is every prospect of its remaining a secret, so far as I am concerned,
for I can make neither head nor tail of it."

"Let me look at it, my son.  Where did you find it?" she exclaimed,
stretching out her hand for the paper.

"It was sewn up in Richard Saint Leger's sword-belt, from which I have
just cut it," I replied.  "So, whether or not it will be the secret of
the treasure, I think we may safely take it for granted that it is a
document of more than ordinary value, or Dick Saint Leger would never
have taken the trouble to conceal it so carefully."

"Yes," remarked my mother, "there can be no doubt as to its contents
being of very considerable importance.  It is a cryptogram, you see, and
people do not usually take the trouble to write in cipher unless the
matter is of such a nature as to render a written record very highly
desirable, whilst it is also equally desirable that it should be
preserved a secret from all but the parties who possess the key.  It is
certainly a most unintelligible-looking affair; but I have no doubt
that, with a little study, we shall be able to puzzle out the meaning.
As a girl I used to be rather good at solving puzzles."

"So much the better," I remarked; "for to me it presents a most utterly
hopeless appearance.  The only thing I can understand about it is the
sketch, which, while it bears the most extraordinary resemblance to the
profile of a man's face, is undoubtedly intended to represent an island.
And that, to my mind, is a point in favour of its being the long-sought
document.  And now," I continued, "if you feel disposed to take a spell
at it and see what you can make of it, I think I will walk into the town
and attend to one or two little matters of business.  Perhaps you will
have the whole thing cut and dried by the time that I return."

My mother laughed.

"I am afraid you are altogether too sanguine, my dear Jack," she
replied; "this is no ordinary, commonplace cipher, I feel certain.  But
run along, my dear boy, the walk will do you good; and while you are
gone I will sit down quietly and do my best to plumb the secret."

Dismissing, for the time being, the mysterious document from my mind, I
set out along the lane toward Weymouth, giving my thoughts, meanwhile,
to the question of what would be the best course for me to pursue under
my mother's altered circumstances.  She was now absolutely dependent
upon me for food and clothing, for the funds requisite to maintain the
household--for _everything_, in fact, save the roof that covered her;
and it needed no very abstruse calculation to convince us that my wages
as chief mate were wholly inadequate to the demands that would now be
made upon them.  If only I could but obtain a command, all would be
well; but I had no interest whatever outside the employ in which I was
then engaged; and I had already received a distinct assurance from my
owners that I should be appointed to the first suitable vacancy.  But--
as I had taken the trouble to ascertain immediately upon my arrival
home--the prospect of any vacancy, suitable or otherwise, was growing
more remote and intangible every day; steamers were cutting out the
sailing craft in every direction; freights were low and scarce; and
ships were being laid up by the hundred, in every port of any
consequence, for want of profitable employment.  Still, there were
exceptions to this rule; and I had met an old shipmate of mine, only a
few days before, in London, who, in command of his own ship, was doing
exceedingly well.  And, as my meeting with him and our subsequent chat
recurred to my memory, the thought suggested itself, "Why should not I,
too, command my own ship?"

I had a little money--a legacy of a few hundreds left me by an uncle
some years previously; and there was my share of the salvage money: it
might be possible to obtain a command by purchasing an interest in a
ship!  Or, better still, I might be able to acquire the sole ownership
of a craft large enough for my purpose by executing a mortgage on the
ship for the balance of the purchase-money.

The idea was worth thinking over, and talking over also; and, since
there is no time like the present, I determined to call upon an old
family friend--a retired solicitor, named Richards--forthwith.

I was fortunate enough to find the old gentleman at home when at length
I had made my way over the bridge, up through the town, and along the
esplanade, to his comfortable villa on the Dorchester road.  He was
pottering about in his garden when I was announced; and the smart
parlour-maid who took my card to him quickly returned with a message
requesting that I would join him there.  He seemed genuinely glad to see
me; and, like most elderly people who have passed their lives in one
place, was full of inquiries as to the spots I had last visited, the
incidents of my voyage, and so on.  Having satisfied his curiosity in
this respect, and indulged in a little desultory chat, I unfolded the
special object of my call to him, explaining my position, and asking him
what he thought of my plan.

"Well," said he, when I had finished my story, "shipping, and matters
connected therewith, are rather out of my line, as you are no doubt
aware; but if you can see your way to make the purchase of a ship a
paying transaction I should think there ought not to be any very serious
difficulty about finding the funds: the money market is said to be
tight, just now, it is true; but my experience is that there is always
plenty of money to be had when the prospects of a profitable investment
are fairly promising.  Now, for instance, it is really a most curious
coincidence that you should have called upon me just at this time, for
it happens that certain mortgages I held have recently been paid off,
and I have been casting about for some satisfactory re-investment in
which to employ the money.  How much do you think it probable you will
require?"

I made a rapid calculation, and named the sum which I thought would
suffice.

"Coincidence number two!" he exclaimed.  "Singularly enough, that
happens to be precisely the amount I now have lying idle.  Now, Jack, my
lad, I have known you from a boy; and, though it is an axiom with us
lawyers never to think well of anything or anybody, I would stake my
last penny upon your integrity.  So far as your honesty is concerned I
would not hesitate to advance you any sum you might require that I could
spare, upon the mere nominal security of your note of hand.  But there
are other risks than that of the borrower's dishonesty to be considered,
and they must be guarded against.  Take, for example, the possibility of
your failing to find remunerative employment for your ship.  How is that
to be guarded against?"

"You would hold a bottomry bond--in other words, a mortgage--upon the
ship for the amount of your debt, which would constitute an ample
security for its recovery," I replied.

"Um--yes; just so," he commented.  "Still, a ship is not a house; the
cases are by no means parallel.  Then, there is the risk of loss, total
or partial.  The ship might be stranded, and receive so much damage that
it would cost more than she was worth to repair her.  Or she might
become a total wreck.  All such possibilities would have to be provided
against by insurance, and, as a business man, I should expect to hold
the policy.  Would you be willing that I should do that?"

"Certainly," I replied.  "Of course, in the event of your deciding to
lend me the money I require, I presume that a proper agreement would be
drawn up, specifying the amount, terms, and duration of the loan, the
mode of repayment, and so on--an agreement, in short, which would
equally protect both our interests; and if that were done there could be
no objection whatever to your holding the policy; indeed, I should most
probably ask you to do so, apart from any stipulation to that effect, as
it would be much safer with you than with me."

"That is very true," assented the old gentleman.  "The _chief_ question,
however, is whether you are practically convinced that you would be
acting wisely in entering upon this undertaking.  Do you honestly
believe that there is a reasonable prospect of your being able to make
_it pay_?  I am asking this question on your own behalf, not mine, my
dear boy.  _I_ shall be quite safe, for, as a business man, I shall take
care to make myself so; but failure would be simply disastrous for
_you_.  Now, tell me, honestly, have you any doubt at all as to the
success of the enterprise?"

"None whatever," I answered confidently.  "There is, doubtless, plenty
of hard work and anxiety in store for me, but not failure.  I am master
of my profession, and I have a certain modicum of business ability, as
well as common sense.  Never fear for me, my dear sir; I shall come out
all right."

"Upon my word, I believe you will, Jack," the old gentleman replied.
"You are a plucky young fellow, and that is half the battle in these
days.  However, do not decide upon anything hastily; take a little more
time to think the matter over; and if, after doing so, you finally
determine upon hazarding the experiment, do not go to a stranger to
borrow money; come to me, and you shall be dealt fairly with."

As I wended my way homeward, on that glorious summer afternoon, I once
more turned the whole matter over in my mind, with the result that
before I reached "The Spaniards" I had fully come to the determination
to take the risk, such as it was, and be my own master.  There was no
blinking the fact that I should have to do _something_; and to purchase
a ship and sail in my own employ seemed to be not only the _best_ but
the _only_ thing I could do, under the circumstances.

On reaching home I found that my mother had spent the entire afternoon
in a fruitless effort to decipher the cryptogram, much to her
disappointment; so, by way of giving her something else to think about,
I told her of the idea that had occurred to me during my walk; of the
chat I had had with Mr Richards about it, and of his offer to assist me
with a loan, if need were.  The dear old mater entered upon the subject
with enthusiasm, as she always did upon any plan or scheme upon which I
had set my heart; and though at first the idea of trusting all my
savings to the mercy of the treacherous sea failed to commend itself to
her, she came round to my view at length, and dissipated the only
scruples I had had by unreservedly assenting to my proposal.

The matter settled thus far, the next thing to be done was to obtain my
master's certificate; and this I determined to do forthwith, and to look
about me for a ship at the same time.  I knew exactly what I wanted, but
scarcely expected to get it with the amount at my disposal, even with
such assistance as Mr Richards might be able to afford me.  Still, I
was in no hurry for a month or two; I should have a little time to look
about me; and if I could not find precisely what I wanted, I should
perhaps succeed in obtaining a reasonably near approach to it.

Accordingly, on the following day I made the few preparations that were
necessary; called upon Mr Richards again and acquainted him with my
decision, and, on the day afterwards, took an early train to London, and
not only settled myself in lodgings in the neighbourhood of Tower Hill,
but also arranged with a "coach" to give me the "polishing-up" necessary
to obtain my certificate, before night closed down upon the great city.



CHAPTER THREE.

THE "ESMERALDA."

As I had been sensible enough to make the most of my opportunities at
sea, I was both a crack seaman and a first-rate navigator; I needed
therefore no very great amount of coaching to enable me to pass my
examination; and a month later saw me a full-fledged master, with a
certificate in my pocket, which empowered me to take the command of a
passenger-ship, if I could obtain it.

Meanwhile, I had been keeping a quiet lookout for such a ship as I had
in my mind's eye, and indeed had looked at several, but had hitherto
found nothing to suit me.  I had also called two or three times at the
office of my late owners, to inquire how the matter of the salvage was
progressing, and had been informed on the last occasion that there was
every prospect of a speedy settlement.  This had been a week previous to
the obtaining of my certificate.  That last week had been a busy as well
as a somewhat anxious one for me; but I was now free; my troubles, so
far as the examination was concerned, were over; and on the eventful
afternoon, when I received the intimation that I had "passed with flying
colours," I mentally resolved to pay another visit of inquiry after the
salvage the first thing the next morning.

When the next morning came, however, my plans for the day suddenly
underwent an alteration; for as I sat in my frowsy lodgings at a rather
later breakfast than usual, devouring my doubtful eggs, munching my
tough toast, and sipping my cold coffee, with an advertisement page of
the _Shipping Gazette_ propped up before me on the table, the following
advertisement caught my eye.

"For Sale, at Breaking-up Price.--The exceptionally fast and handsome
clipper barque _Esmeralda_, 326 tons B.M., A1 at Lloyd's.  Substantially
built of oak throughout; coppered, and copper-fastened.  Only 8 years
old, and as sound as on the day that she left the stocks.  Very light
draught (11 feet, fully loaded), having been designed and built
especially for the Natal trade.  Can be moved without ballast.  Has
accommodation for twelve saloon and eight steerage passengers.
Unusually full inventory, including three suits of sails (one suit never
yet bent), 6 boats, fully equipped; very powerful ground-tackle;
hawsers, warps; spare topmasts and other spars, booms, etcetera,
etcetera, complete.  Ready for sea at once.  Extraordinary bargain;
owners adopting steam.  For further particulars apply to, etcetera,
etcetera."

Now, this was exactly the kind of craft I had had in my mind, from the
moment when I first thought of purchasing--that is, if the _Esmeralda_
only happened to bear a reasonable resemblance to her description.
This, unfortunately, did not always happen--at all events, in the case
of vessels for sale; my own experience, hitherto, had been that it was
the exception, rather than the rule, for I had found that if indeed the
advertisement did not contain some gross mis-statement, it was almost
always so cunningly worded as to convey an impression totally at
variance with the reality.  In this case, however, I was somewhat more
hopeful, for these Natal clippers were not wholly strange to me.  The
ship to which I had lately belonged had loaded her outward cargo in the
same dock with one or another of them on more than one occasion, and I
had noticed them as being exceptionally smart-looking little craft; and
I had frequently heard them spoken of in highly favourable terms, by men
who had sailed in them.  I knew, moreover, that, until very lately, a
strong feeling of rivalry had existed between the owners whose ships
were in that particular trade--especially those who made a speciality of
passenger-carrying--each owner striving his utmost to earn for his own
ships the reputation of being the fastest and most comfortable in the
trade.  I was therefore in hopes that, if the _Esmeralda_ had indeed
been especially built for a Natal liner, she might not prove so
hopelessly unlike her description as had been most of the ships I had
taken the trouble to inspect; and I therefore determined to have a look
at her forthwith, lest so eligible a craft as she seemed to be--on
paper--should slip through my fingers.

The place at which it was necessary to apply for further particulars was
in Fenchurch Street; and upon making my way thither, I discovered that
it was the office of the owners.  I stated my business to one of the
clerks, and was immediately turned over to a keen-looking elderly man
who at once invited me into his private sanctum, and, as a preliminary,
showed me a half-model of the vessel.  It was a very plainly got up
affair, intended merely to exhibit the general shape and mould of the
hull; but I had no sooner taken it into my hands and cast a critical
glance or two at the lines of the entrance and run, than I decided
conclusively that I had never in my life set eyes upon a more handsome
craft.  The model showed her to be shallow and very beamy of hull; but
her lines were as fine as those of a yacht, and indeed the entire shape
of the hull was yacht-like in the extreme.  Having expressed, in
becomingly moderate terms, my satisfaction, so far, I was next given the
specification to look through; and a careful perusal of this document
convinced me that, if the craft had been built up to it, she was
undoubtedly as staunch a ship as wood and metal could make her.

The next question was that of price; and though, when it was named, a
disinterested person might perhaps have been disposed to consider the
expression "breaking-up price" as somewhat poetic and imaginative, the
figure was still a very decidedly moderate one, if the craft only proved
to be in somewhat as good condition as she was represented to be.  This
also meeting with my carefully qualified approval, it was suggested
that, as the craft herself was lying in the East India Docks, I should
run down and look at her.  My new friend and I accordingly took train,
and in due time arrived alongside.

It was hard work to restrain the expressions of admiration and delight
that sprang to my lips when my eyes first rested upon her, for she was a
little beauty indeed.  Dirty as she was, and disordered and lumbered-up
as were her decks, it was impossible for the professional eye to
overlook her many excellencies; and before I had even stepped on board
her I had already mentally determined that if her hull were only sound,
the little barkie should be mine, and that in her I would seek for Dick
Saint Leger's long-lost treasure.  For she not only came up to but far
surpassed in appearance the ideal craft upon which I had set my mind.
She was as handsome as a picture; with immensely taunt and lofty spars;
and though her hold was absolutely empty, her royal yards were across,
and the strong breeze that happened to be blowing at the time made
scarcely any perceptible impression upon her.  She carried a small
topgallant forecastle forward, just large enough to comfortably house
two pig-pens, which in this position were not likely to prove an
annoyance to people aft; and the accommodation below for the crew was
both roomy and comfortable.  Abaft the foremast, and between it and the
main hatch, stood a deck-house, the fore part of which constituted the
berthage for the steerage passengers, while the after-part consisted of
a commodious galley fitted with a large and very complete cooking-range.
The after-part of the deck was raised some two and a half feet, forming
a fine roomy half-poop, pierced only by the saloon companion, the saloon
skylight, and two small skylights immediately abaft it, which lighted a
pair of family cabins situated abaft the main saloon.  The wheel was a
handsomely carved mahogany affair, elaborately adorned with brasswork;
the binnacle also was of brass, with a bronze standard representing
three dolphins twisted round each other; and the belaying-pins also were
of brass, fore and aft.  These, and a few other details that caught my
eye, seemed to indicate that no expense had been spared in the
fitting-out of the ship.

While we were walking round the decks, making a leisurely inspection of
such matters as would repay examination in this part of the ship, a very
respectable, seaman-like fellow came on board, and was first accosted by
my companion and then introduced to me as "Captain Thomson, our late
skipper of the _Esmeralda_; now looking after the ship until she finds a
purchaser.  Mr Saint Leger," my companion continued explanatorily, "has
come on board to inspect the ship, with some idea of buying, if he finds
her satisfactory."

"I am very glad to hear it," answered Thomson, "for she is altogether
too good to be laid up idle.  As to her being satisfactory--why, that of
course depends upon what Mr Saint Leger wants; the ship may be either
too large or too small for him; but I'll defy any man to find a _fault_
in her.  She's a beauty, sir," he continued, turning to me, "and she's
every bit as good as she looks."

My unknown friend here pulled out his watch and looked at it anxiously.

"I wonder," he said, "whether you will consider me very rude if I
propose to run away, and leave Captain Thomson to do the honours of the
ship in my stead?  I should like to remain with you; but the fact is
that I have rather an important meeting to attend in the City; and I see
that I have no time to lose if I am to be punctual.  And Thomson really
knows a great deal more about the ship than I do; consequently he will
be able to give you more reliable information than I can."

I of course begged that he would not put himself to the slightest
inconvenience on my account, and expressed myself as being perfectly
satisfied at being left in the hands of the skipper of the ship;
whereupon he turned to Thomson and said--

"Let Mr Saint Leger see everything without reserve, Thomson; and tell
him anything he wishes to know, if you please.  We have no desire
whatever to sell the ship by means of misrepresentation of any sort.
Good-bye," he continued, turning to me, and offering his hand; "I hope
we shall see you again, and be able to do business with you."

He raised his hat, stepped briskly along the gang-plank, and was soon
lost sight of in the crowd.

"Who is that gentleman?"  I inquired of Thomson, as the figure vanished.

"That is Mr Musgrave, the junior partner of the firm, and as nice a
gentleman as ever stepped," was the reply.

"Have you been long in the employ?" was my next question.

"For the last eighteen years--in fact, ever since I first took to the
sea--and hope to end my days with them.  They are now building a steamer
for me; and as soon as this craft is sold I am to go and supervise the
work upon her."

"Ah," I remarked, "an excellent arrangement.  And now, captain, tell me,
as between man and man, have you ever discovered any faults in the
_Esmeralda_--anything you would like to have had altered in her, had
such alteration been possible?  You have commanded her for some time, I
suppose?"

"Ever since she was launched," was the reply, "and a sweeter little
vessel, in every way, doesn't float.  As to faults, she has none, to my
thinking.  She is not a great cargo-carrier, it is true; in fact, her
lines are so fine that the amount of her register tonnage, in dead
weight, just puts her down to Plimsoll's mark.  Some men would no doubt
consider this a serious fault; but I do not, for what she wants in
carrying capacity she more than makes up in speed; so that when the
whole thing comes to be worked out, putting her earnings against her
expenses, she carries her tonnage at a less cost than any other ship I
happen to be acquainted with."

"Is she tight?"

I asked.

"Tight as a bottle, sir.  Why, she don't make enough water to keep her
sweet!  And strong!--just look at her copper--not a wrinkle in it; and
yet I tell you, sir, that I have habitually driven this little ship so
hard that she has made faster passages than any other ship in the trade.
Why, we made the run from these same docks to Natal in fifty-five days,
on one trip; and we have never taken longer than seventy days to do it.
And a prettier sea-boat you never set eyes on.  And weatherly--why,
she'll weather on craft twice her size.  As to speed, I have never yet
seen anything beat her.  The fact is, sir, she is much too good to be a
cargo-carrier; she is good enough in every way to be used as a yacht;
and a fine, wholesome, comfortable yacht she would make, too."

This was all exceedingly satisfactory; and so, too, was everything I saw
down below.  The saloon was beautifully fitted up in white and gold,
with a rich carpet on the floor; a handsome mahogany table laid
athwartships; revolving chairs; sofa lockers; a beautiful swinging-lamp,
aneroid, and tell-tale compass hung in the skylight; pictures were let
into the panelling; there was a noble sideboard; and a piano!  The
berths, too, were lofty and roomy, especially the family cabins abaft,
which were lighted not only from above by a skylight, but also by
stern-windows.  In the hold, too, everything was as I should have wished
it; the timbers all perfectly sound; no sign of dry-rot anywhere; in
short, and for a wonder, the ship was everything that the advertisement
said of her, and more.  So thoroughly satisfied was I with her that I
did not hesitate to tell the skipper, before I left him, that I should
certainly buy her, if the owners and I could come to terms.

"I suppose, sir, you intend to sail her yourself?" he remarked, as I
stood on the wharf taking a final look at the little beauty before
returning to my lodgings.

I answered that such was my intention.

"Well," he said, "perhaps you'll be wanting a mate.  If so, I believe my
late mate would give you every satisfaction.  He is a thorough seaman, a
first-rate navigator, a good disciplinarian, and a most sober, steady,
reliable man in every way, I should have liked to keep him for myself;
but it will be some months before the new steamer will be ready, and
Roberts--that is the man's name--says he can't afford to remain idle for
so long.  Shall I write to him, sir, and tell him to call on you?"

I said I should be obliged if he would, and gave him an envelope bearing
my temporary address; then, shaking hands with him, and thanking him for
the readiness he had exhibited in affording me information and assisting
me in my inspection of the ship, I bade him good-bye, and made the best
of my way back to my lodgings.

On reaching these I found, as luck would have it, a letter from my late
owners conveying the gratifying intelligence that the salvage claim had
been settled, and that, upon my calling at the office, my share,
amounting to two thousand eight hundred and eighty-six pounds, and some
odd shillings, would be paid to me.  It was still early in the
afternoon; I therefore snatched a hurried lunch; and immediately
afterwards chartered a cab and drove into the City; duly received my
cheque, with congratulations on my good fortune; and still had time to
open an account and safely rid myself of the precious paper before the
banks closed for the day.  I dined in the City, and afterwards made my
way westward to Hyde Park, in the most unfrequented part of which I
sauntered to and fro until nearly ten o'clock--my pipe my sole
companion--carefully reviewing my plans for the last time, and asking
myself whether I had omitted from my calculation any probable element at
all likely to disastrously affect them.  The result of my self-communing
was so far satisfactory as to confirm my resolution to become the owner
of the _Esmeralda_; and, having conclusively arrived at this
determination, I sauntered quietly eastward through the summer night to
my lodgings, and turned in.

The following morning saw me once more wending my way Cityward, this
time to the office of Messrs. Musgrave and Company, where the
preliminaries of the purchase of the _Esmeralda_ were speedily
accomplished, and a cheque for five hundred pounds given to seal the
bargain.  This done, I spent the remainder of the morning in seeking a
freight; and was at length fortunate enough to secure one on
advantageous terms for China.  My next business was to run down on board
my new purchase and take a careful inventory of her stores, with the
object of estimating the probable amount of outlay necessary to fit her
for the contemplated voyage; and while I was thus engaged a telegram was
despatched to Thomson's friend and late chief mate, Roberts, who, in
response, promptly presented himself on board.  I liked the appearance
of this man from the moment that I first set eyes upon him.  He was
evidently somewhat more highly educated than the generality of his
class; without being in the least dandified, he possessed an ease and
polish of manner at that time quite exceptional in the mates of such
small craft as the _Esmeralda_.  He was very quiet and unassuming in his
behaviour; and altogether he produced so favourable an impression upon
me that I unhesitatingly shipped him on the spot, arranging with him to
bring his dunnage on board and assume duty on the following day.  My
overhaul of the stores on board the barque resulted in the satisfactory
discovery that the expenditure necessary to complete her for the voyage
would be considerably less than I had dared to hope; and, this fact
established, I left the ship in Roberts's charge, and ran down home upon
a flying visit to my mother, to fully acquaint her with all that I had
done, and to make the arrangements necessary for her comfort and
maintenance during my contemplated absence.  This involved another visit
to my friend, Mr Richards, with whose assistance I made a careful yet
generous computation of every expense to which I should be in the least
likely to be put before drawing any profit from my adventure; the
difference between this sum and the amount of my available assets
representing the amount of monetary accommodation which I should require
from him.  This--thanks to the exceptionally favourable terms upon which
I had acquired the ownership of the _Esmeralda_--was so very small that
I undertook the obligation with a light heart; and, having completed
this part of my business to my entire satisfaction, I hastened back to
town, my mother accompanying me in order that we might have as much as
possible of each other's society during the short interval that was to
elapse before the sailing of the ship.

On my return to London, I found that a small portion of our cargo had
already come alongside.  I therefore lost no time in advertising the
ship as "loading for China direct, with excellent accommodation for
saloon and steerage passengers;" and then, in a leisurely manner,
proceeded to make the necessary purchases of ship's and cabin stores,
filling in the time by taking my mother about to such concerts,
picture-galleries, and other places of amusement, as accorded with her
quiet and refined tastes.

One morning, about a week after my return to town, being on board the
ship and down below, superintending a few trifling alterations that I
was having made in my own state-room, the mate, who was taking account
of the cargo that was being shipped at the moment, came aft and shouted
down the companion to the effect that a lady and gentleman had come on
board and were inquiring for me.  I accordingly went on deck, and there
found a very handsome man, in the prime of life, and a very lovely woman
of about three and twenty, standing on the main deck, just by the break
of the poop, curiously watching the operation of slinging some heavy
cases, and lowering them through the main hatchway.

"Captain Saint Leger?" queried the gentleman, bowing and slightly
raising his hat in acknowledgment of my salute as I approached him.

"That is my name," I replied.  "In what way can I be of service to you?"

"I have come down to inspect your passenger accommodation, in the first
place," said he; "and afterwards--in the event of its proving
satisfactory--to see whether I can come to an arrangement with you for
the whole of it."

"I am sure I shall be very pleased to do everything I possibly can to
meet your views," said I.  "If you will kindly step below, I will show
you the cabins; and although we are rather in a litter everywhere just
at present, you will perhaps be able to judge whether the accommodation
is likely to meet your requirements.  Are you a large party?"

"Myself, my wife, my wife's sister--this young lady--two children, two
maids, and a nurse.  My wife, I ought to explain, is at present an
invalid, and has been ordered a long sea-voyage; but, as her ailment is
chiefly of a nervous character, she is greatly averse to the idea of
meeting and associating with strangers; hence my desire to secure the
whole of your accommodation, should it prove suitable.  Ah, a very
pretty, airy saloon," he continued, as I threw open the door and stepped
aside to permit my visitors to enter.  "The whole width of the ship;
sidelights that we can throw open in the tropics, and admit the fresh
air.  A piano, too, by Erard," as he opened the instrument and glanced
at the name.  "_You_ at least would not be likely to find the voyage
tedious, Agnes, with an Erard within reach at any moment," turning to
the young lady who accompanied him.  "And these, I presume, are the
state-rooms," opening the doors of one or two of the berths and glancing
inside.

"These are _some_ of them," I replied.  "In addition to what you now
see, there are two family cabins."  And, as I spoke, I opened the door
of one of them, and allowed my visitors to pass in.

"Capital, capital!" exclaimed the visitor, as he entered.  "Really,
these two cabins are far and away more roomy and pleasant than the
ordinary berths, even in the big liners.  Now, supposing that I make up
my mind to take the whole of your accommodation, captain, would you be
willing to have a door fitted in that partition?  Because, in that
case," he proceeded, again addressing his sister-in-law, "I should
propose to have one of the cabins fitted up as a ladies' boudoir, into
which you and Emily could retire when so disposed."

"Yes, that would be very nice," assented the lady.  "And perhaps Captain
Saint Leger would allow the piano to be placed there?"

I replied that I should be happy to do anything and everything in my
power to meet their convenience or make them comfortable.

"Very well," said the gentleman.  "Now, Agnes, what do you think of
these cabins?  Do you think Emily would like them, and find them
convenient?"

"I am sure she would," answered the young lady, confidently.  "They are
much prettier than anything we have hitherto seen; and the two large
cabins, with those great windows looking directly out on to the sea, are
simply delightful."

"So I think," agreed the gentleman.  "And now, captain, as to terms?"

I had already made a little mental calculation as to the amount I ought
to ask, and had arrived at a sum which, while it was somewhat less than
I should have received had the whole of the cabins been separately
taken, would pay me just as well in the long run; and this sum I named.

"There is one little matter I should like to mention," I said.  "My
mother is now in town with me, and I had promised her that, if all the
cabins were not engaged, she should make the trip home to Weymouth in
the ship--"

"An arrangement with which I would not dream of interfering,"
interrupted the gentleman.  "Even should we determine to take your
cabins, captain, we shall certainly not require them all--at the outset
of the voyage, at least--and I am quite sure that your mother's
presence, for the few days that she will probably be with us, will be
the reverse of disagreeable to my wife.  And now I cannot, of course,
decide definitely, one way or the other, until I have told my wife what
we have seen; but here is my card; and if you will allow me twenty-four
hours for consideration, you shall have my definite decision within that
time."

As this was the first inquiry I had had from prospective passengers, I
thought the proposal was good enough to justify me in according the
grace asked.  I therefore undertook to hold the cabins at my visitors'
disposal until noon next day; and they then left, with a cordial
hand-shake from each.

I waited till they were fairly out of sight, and then looked at the
card.  It bore the name of "Sir Edgar Desmond," with an address in Park
Lane, in the corner.

On the following morning, about half-past eleven, the owner of the card
again put in an appearance on board, and, greeting me with the utmost
cordiality, exclaimed--

"Well, captain, I have hurried down to let you know that the account of
our visit to your ship, and the description of her cabins which I was
enabled to give my wife last night, proved so thoroughly satisfactory to
her that it was definitely determined, in family conclave, that we
should secure your cabins upon the terms mentioned by you yesterday.  I
have accordingly brought you a cheque for half the amount of our
passage-money--here it is--in order to properly ratify the arrangement;
and now I presume there will be no difficulty about commencing the few
alterations in the cabins that I suggested yesterday?"

"None whatever," I replied; "I will get the carpenters on board to-day,
if possible; and in any case the work shall be begun as early as
possible, so that the paint may be thoroughly dry and the smell passed
off before you come on board."

"I shall be greatly obliged to you if you will," said Sir Edgar.  "And
now there is another little matter upon which I wish to speak to you.
My wife being quite an invalid, it will be necessary that she should
have many little delicacies that are not included in the ordinary bill
of shipboard fare.  These I intend to order at once, and will give
instructions that they are to be delivered on board here as soon as
ready.  May I rely upon you to have a careful account taken of them as
they come on board, and to see that they are so bestowed that they may
be easily got at when required?  Among them will be a few cases of wines
for Lady Desmond's personal use; but, so far as the rest of us are
concerned, I presume you will be able to supply us with whatever we may
require?"

"Certainly," I replied.  "I have not yet ordered my stock of wines, and
if you have a partiality for any particular kind or brand, and will let
me know, I shall be pleased to select my stock with especial reference
to your taste."

"Oh, thank you.  I am sure you are very good," he laughed; "but we are
none of us connoisseurs, nor do I think any of us have a weakness for
any one particular kind of wine more than another.  If you can undertake
to give us a good sound claret every day for dinner, with a bottle of
decent champagne now and then, we shall be perfectly content.  And now,
what is the longest possible time you can allow us in which to get
together our outfit for the voyage?"

"We are advertised to sail to-morrow three weeks," I replied.

"Very well," he said.  "That is rather brief notice for the ladies; but
I have no doubt they will be able to manage when once they are given to
understand that it _must_ be done.  As for me, I shall have no
difficulty whatever.  I shall be obliged, however, if you will give me a
hint or two as to the different climates we shall encounter on the
voyage, so that we may prepare accordingly."

I did so, Sir Edgar jotting down a few memoranda in his note-book
meanwhile; and then, with another hearty shake of the hand, my visitor
left me.

The succeeding three weeks passed uneventfully away, the cargo, during
the first fortnight, coming alongside very slowly; but there was quite a
rush at the last, and on the night before the day on which we were
advertised to sail, I had the satisfaction of seeing the hatches put on
and battened down over a full hold, with the barque down to within an
inch of her load-mark.

Meanwhile, private stores in considerable quantities had come on board,
bearing Sir Edgar Desmond's name upon them, and these I had had
carefully stowed away by themselves.  This had been a busy day for me;
for there were the articles to be signed, the ship to clear at the
Custom House, bills to pay, and a hundred other little matters to attend
to--among them the giving up of my lodgings, and the removal of my
mother and myself with our dunnage to the ship--but when I turned in
that night, in my own comfortable state-room, it was with the feeling
that my business of every kind had been satisfactorily concluded, and
that henceforth, until our arrival in Hong Kong, I should only have the
ship to look after.  Moreover, the whole of my crew, with two
exceptions, had faithfully kept their promise to be on board before the
dock-gates closed that night, so that I might reasonably hope to go out
of dock with a tolerably sober crew in the morning.

We unmoored at seven o'clock next morning, and half an hour later--the
two absentees from the forecastle scrambling on board as we passed out
through the gates--were clear of the dock and in the river, with the tug
ahead and the first of the ebb to help us on our way.  We made a pause
of half an hour off Gravesend, to pick up Sir Edgar Desmond and his
party--who had spent the night at an hotel there--and then, pushing on
again, found ourselves, about six o'clock that evening, off the North
Foreland, with a light northerly air blowing, which, when we had got the
barque under all plain sail, fanned us along at a speed of about five
knots.



CHAPTER FOUR.

IN BLUE WATER.

As the sun declined toward the west, the light breeze which had
prevailed throughout the day became still lighter, dwindling away to
such an extent that when, about two bells in the first watch (nine
o'clock p.m.), we returned to the deck after partaking of our first sea
dinner, the water was like glass for the smoothness of it, while our
canvas drooped limp and apparently useless from the yards and stays; a
faint rustle aloft now and again, with an accompanying rippling patter
of reef-points, betraying rather some subtle heave of the glassy sea
than any sign that the breeze still lingered.  Yet there must have been
a light draught of air aloft, for the vane at our main-royal-masthead
occasionally fluttered languidly out along the course we were steering,
and our royals exhibited an occasional tendency to fill, albeit they as
often collapsed again softly rustling to the masts.  Moreover, the
barque still retained her steerage-way.  I remarked upon this to the
mate, who had charge of the deck.  He laughed.

"Ay," said he, "that is one of the _Esmeralda's_ little tricks.  I've
seen her, before now, sneak up to and right through a large fleet of
ships, every one of which, excepting ourselves, was boxing the compass.
When this little barkie refuses to steer, you may take your Davy to it,
sir, that there ain't enough wind to be of any use to anybody."

It was a glorious evening.  We were off Deal, slowly drifting past the
town on the ebb tide; our progress made apparent only by the quiet,
stealthy way in which the masts of the vessels lying at anchor in the
roadstead successively approached, covered, and receded from some
prominent object on shore, such as a church spire, a lofty building, a
tall chimney, and what not.  The sun had sunk behind the land, leaving
behind him a clear sky of softest primrose tint, against which the
outline of the land cut sharply, the town being steeped in rich dusky
shadow, out of which the lights were beginning to twinkle here and
there.  We were close enough in to catch an occasional faint, indefinite
sound from the shore, accentuated at intervals by the sharp, clear note
of a railway whistle, or the low, intermittent thunder of a moving
train; while, nearer at hand, came the occasional splash of oars in the
still water, or their thud in the rowlocks; the strains of a concertina
played on the forecastle-head of one of the craft lying at anchor; a
gruff hail; a laugh; or the hoarse rattle of chain through a hawse-pipe
as one of the drifting vessels came to an anchor.  Our own lads were
very quiet, the watch below having turned in, while those on deck, with
the exception of the lookout, had arranged themselves in a group about
the windlass, and were conversing in suppressed tones well befitting the
exceeding quiet of the night.  Lady Desmond, well wrapped up in a
fur-lined cloak, occupied a large wicker reclining chair placed close to
the after skylight, where it was well out of everybody's way, and was
languidly listening to the conversation which was passing between her
sister and my mother, in which she occasionally joined for a moment;
while Sir Edgar was down below, chatting and laughing with the two
children during their preparation by the nurse for bed.  The two maids
were also below, busy in their mistress's cabin.

The ship having been all day--as she still was--in charge of the pilot,
I had had leisure to make the first advances toward an acquaintance with
my passengers; and, from what I had thus far seen of them, I had every
reason to hope that the association would be a particularly pleasant
one.

Sir Edgar was a fine, handsome man, of about thirty-five years of age,
standing some five feet nine or ten inches in his stockings, well made,
with dark brown hair that covered his head in short wavy curls.  He had
dark blue eyes, with which he looked one frankly and pleasantly in the
face; and his manner, while it possessed all the polish of the perfect
gentleman, was particularly frank and genial.

Lady Desmond appeared to be some eight or nine years younger than her
husband, and was unquestionably an exceedingly handsome woman.  She was
perhaps three inches less in height than her husband, but, when standing
apart from him, gave one the impression of being the taller of the two,
probably because she happened to be very thin and fragile-looking when
she first joined the _Esmeralda_.  She had evidently only just emerged
from a very severe illness, for all her movements were marked by the
slowness and languor of one who is still an invalid.  She had not a
vestige of colour, and her hands, when I saw them ungloved at the dinner
table, were attenuated to a degree that was painful to contemplate; but
her eyes were magnificent, and her voice, albeit it was weak and low
like that of an invalid, was very sweet and sympathetic in tone.  I had
not been enlightened as to the nature of her illness; but its most
marked symptom appeared to be a profound melancholy and depression of
spirits which it seemed utterly impossible for her to shake off.

Her sister, Miss Merrivale, was her exact counterpart, except that the
latter was the junior by some three or four years, and was, both in form
and complexion, the very picture of exuberant health and spirits.  She
possessed a singularly agreeable and engaging, though high-bred manner;
and the patient tenderness with which she studied her invalid sister's
whims quickly won my warmest admiration.

Of the two children, the elder was a fine sturdy boy, about seven years
old, named after his father; while the other was a sweet little tot of a
girl, about five years old, with the prettiest, most lovable, and
confiding ways I had ever beheld in a child.  They were both very merry,
light-hearted, buoyant-spirited children, but exceedingly well-behaved,
very tender and affectionate toward each other; and perfect patterns of
obedience while they remembered the parental injunctions laid upon them
from time to time; but it must be admitted that their memories in this
respect were, like those of most children, a little apt to be
short-lived.

And, as to the two maids and the nurse, they impressed me as being very
quiet, respectable well-behaved representatives of their class, and not
at all likely to give me trouble by encouraging any attempts at
flirtation on the part of the men.  So that altogether I thought I had
every reason to congratulate myself upon my first experience in the
command of a passenger-ship.

Then, as to the ship herself.  Though it was early yet to form a
distinct and definite opinion of her, having had only a few hours'
experience of her under sail, and that, too, in a light breeze and
smooth water, still her behaviour under those circumstances had been
such as led me to feel assured, from past experience, that she was
everything a seaman's heart could wish.  That she was certain to prove
extraordinarily fast I was convinced, even before we had spread a single
cloth of canvas, by the ease with which the tug had walked away down the
river with her.  And after the tug had let go our hawser and left us to
our own devices, we had overhauled and passed everything in our company
with an ease and rapidity that proved her to be a perfect witch in light
breezes; while now, when the rest of the fleet were either drifting
helplessly with the tide and heading to all points of the compass, or
anchoring to avoid falling foul of something else, we were sneaking
along at a good two knots through the water, with the ship under perfect
command of her helm.

At length the sounds of the children's happy voices ceased down below:
and, a few minutes later, Sir Edgar emerged from the saloon companion.
He paused for a moment to address a cheery remark or two to the little
party aft, and then joined me near the break of the poop, where I had
been standing for some time gazing abstractedly about me in a contented,
half-dreamy fashion at our surroundings.  He made some conventional
remark as to the wonderful calmness and beauty of the evening, and
offered me a cigar; upon which, responding to his friendly overtures, I
turned, and we proceeded to quietly pace the deck together; the
baronet--for such he proved to be--confiding to me, in an easy, chatty
manner, the circumstances that had led to the family undertaking the
voyage.

At length, when the dusk of evening had fairly merged into the darkness
of night, and the illimitable vault above us had become spangled and
powdered with stars innumerable of every magnitude, a delicate sheen
appeared on the eastern horizon, glowing faintly and softly at first as
the tremulous shimmer of summer lightning, but brightening by
imperceptible degrees until it revealed a hitherto invisible bank of
fleecy vapour lying low along the horizon's margin, the rounded edges of
which it daintily touched here and there with glowing silver.  Rapidly,
yet with the most subtle mutations, the glow increased in strength and
splendour, the colour at the same time deepening to a warm orange hue;
and presently, above the upper edge of the cloud-bank, the sharp rim of
the moon's broad disc soared into view, ruddy as a shield of burning
gold, while simultaneously a wavering line of ruddy gold flashed across
the gleaming surface of the water almost to the ship's side.  Slowly and
majestically, as befits the movements of the stately queen of night, the
glowing orb rose clear of the cloud-bank, her orange beams flowing
softly into the shadows of the night and revealing here and there in
clear but delicate outline the forms and details of craft that had
before appeared but as black shapeless blots against the starlit
heavens; while the hull and canvas of our craft, that had hitherto worn
the aspect of a huge black shadow upon sky and water, now glowed faint
but clear in the warm light, with rich touches of ruddy gold here and
there where the radiance struck and was reflected from the dew-wetted
bulwarks, the glistening spars, the taut rigging, or the polished brass
and glass about the deck fittings and skylights.

The misty light now revealed to us that we were in the very heart of a
fleet numbering some two hundred and fifty sail, most of which were at
anchor, many with their canvas more or less snugly stowed; but there
were a few--perhaps a dozen in all--on board which the canvas hung in
the brails, all ready for sheeting home and hoisting away at a moment's
notice.  There were also a few--obviously outward-bound, like
ourselves--who were--also like ourselves--holding on in the evident hope
that with the rising of the moon, or at all events before the turn of
the tide, a little breeze might spring up which would obviate the
necessity of letting go the mud-hook, with the attendant loss of time
and expenditure of labour in getting it again and making sail once more.
It was soon evident that this hope was to be realised, for the moon had
scarcely been above the horizon half an hour when a narrow dark line
appeared stretching along the horizon beneath her, and gradually
widening, until at length a very pretty little easterly breeze reached
us, under the influence of which, heeling slightly and coquettishly away
from it, the saucy _Esmeralda_ began to slip along, with scarcely more
than a ripple at her sharp bows, at the rate of a good honest seven
knots.

Impelled by this most welcome breeze, we were soon round the South
Foreland and off Dover, where we hove-to to land the pilot.  In
executing this manoeuvre we passed close under the stern of a
magnificent topsail schooner-yacht, as large as ourselves, with hull
painted a brilliant white, which, in the pale moonlight and with her
snow-white canvas, made her look like a beautiful phantom craft.  She
was getting under way, and had just tripped her anchor and was canting
to the southward when we rounded to under her stern; and I noticed Mr
Roberts, my chief mate, looking long and admiringly at her as she
gathered way and, swinging her fore-yard, glided swiftly, yet with a
stately movement, out from among the crowd of craft by which she was
surrounded.  Turning away at last, as if regretfully, from the
contemplation of the noble vessel, Roberts stamped his foot impatiently,
and, striding up to the pilot, demanded--

"I say, Mr Pilot, is there any chance of those mates of yours catching
sight of our signals to-night, think ye, or are they keeping a lookout
from between the blankets?"

The pilot, whose perfect calmness and indifference were in ludicrous
contrast to the mate's impatience, turned slowly round and eyed his
questioner deliberately from top to toe before he deigned to answer.

"They will be alongside in less than a minute, mister.  They are shut in
behind that billy-boy just now; but--Ah, here they come!"

"Lay aft here, one of you," shouted the mate, "and stand by with a line
for that boat."

"You will come below and take a glass of wine or a glass of grog before
you go ashore, pilot?"

I asked.

"Thank you, sir; I've no objection," was the response; and we were just
turning away toward the saloon companion when the mate stepped quietly
up to me and said--

"I suppose we may as well rig out the stu'n'sail-booms all ready for
making sail as soon as the pilot has left us?  It will be a pity not to
make the most of this fair wind while it lasts."

"Certainly," I replied, somewhat unwillingly; for, truth to tell, I
thought it would be quite time enough to hurry when my poor mother had
gone ashore and we were on the other side of the Bill of Portland.

Roberts, however, evidently regarded the matter from a very different
standpoint from that which I occupied--perhaps he was anxious already to
show off the ship's pace--for, ere I had time to reach the companion,
his voice rang out loud and clear--

"Lay aft here, some of you lads, and rouse out the stu'n'sail gear; the
rest of you slip up aloft and cast loose the larboard fore-topmast and
topgallant stu'n'sail boom, ready for rigging out.  Take a line aloft
with you, and send the end down on deck for the gear as soon as you are
ready.  Look alive, my hearties!"  Then, _sotto voce_, "Yon schooner is
a beauty, and no mistake; but she is not going to be allowed to run away
from this clipper if I can help it!"

So that was the explanation of friend Roberts's impatience!  He had been
so long in the _Esmeralda_, and had been so accustomed to beating
everything that had been fallen in with, that he could not endure with
equanimity the sight of even a yacht running away from him.  "It is
evident," thought I, "that the grass will have very little chance of
growing on this ship's copper so long as Roberts is mate of her.  But I
shall have to keep an eye on the fellow, or perhaps he will be taking
the sticks out of her, or laying her on her beam-ends some day in the
excitement and enthusiasm of a race with something bigger and more
nimble than ourselves."

At length, to Roberts's unconcealed gratification, the pilot went down
over the side and shoved off, and we were left to our own resources.

"Up with your helm and let her pay off!" was now the word; "round-in
upon the starboard main-braces; now your larboard fore-braces; well
there; belay!  Now rig out your booms, there, as soon as you are ready,
and let's get some muslin on the little beauty."  And forthwith the mate
put in a pleasant hour decking the ship with her larboard
studding-sails, from the royals down.  And truly, prepared as I was for
a somewhat out-of-the-way performance on the part of the little craft, I
was astounded at the ease and rapidity with which she overtook and
passed everything near her.  The schooner-yacht had managed to slink
away to a distance of some three miles from us during our short
detention while landing the pilot, and by the time that my passengers
had said "good night" and retired to their cabins she was the only craft
ahead of us; and we had been gaining on her fast until her people,
noticing this fact, had begun to pack sail upon her; and now there she
was, straight ahead of us, with her mainsheet eased well off, a gigantic
balloon topsail over her huge mainsail, and an immense square-sail set
forward, with all her larboard studding-sails spread, skimming away
swiftly and easily as a wreath of summer mist over the smooth surface of
the Channel waters.  I remained on deck until midnight, when, giving the
second mate a word of caution not to carry his canvas too long in the
event of the breeze freshening--which, however, it gave no indication of
doing--I retired below and turned in with the gratifying feeling that I
was now my own master; that I was working for myself, and should
henceforth reap the direct benefit of my own labour and skill--such as
the latter might be; that, in fact, my fortune was in my own hands, to
make or mar; as it is in the hands of every young man.

The sound of the scrubbing-brushes, as they were set to work at four
bells (six o'clock) next morning, awoke me; and, hastily donning such
garments as were indispensable, I went on deck to take a look round.
The easterly breeze, though it had proved somewhat fitful, had held with
sufficient strength through the night to place us off Selsey Bill, with
the high land of Saint Catherine's Point looming faintly ahead of us
about two points on the starboard bow; and there, too, hauling up for
the inside of the Wight, was our friend the schooner-yacht of the night
before, some two miles inshore of us and about the same distance ahead.
The mate was very busy with the hose, with which he was liberally
sluicing the decks and bulwarks, to say nothing of the bare feet and
legs of those of the crew who in their scrubbing operations happened to
approach within range of him.  Of the yacht's existence he was
apparently quite oblivious; at all events, he carefully abstained from
directing his glances in her direction.

"Good morning, Mr Roberts," I exclaimed genially.  "So you were unable
to overtake the flyer yonder, after all."

"Good morning, sir," he responded with equal geniality. "(Now then, you
sodgers, stand clear of the hose if you don't want a ducking.  Serve you
right, Tom; you'll take warning, perhaps, the next time I give it you.)
The flyer, sir?  Oh, you mean the yacht.  Well, of course, they have the
pull of us in light weather, such as we've had through the night; but
I'll bet my hat that neither yonder schooner nor e'er a yacht that now
happens to be away there inside the island could look at us in a good,
honest to'gallant breeze.  You wait a bit, sir; the little hooker hasn't
had a chance yet to show what she can do.  But there's a breeze coming
by-and-by, if I'm any judge of that sky away there to the east'ard; and
then, after we've touched at Weymouth and hauled out again into the wake
of that fleet astarn of us, you'll have a chance to judge of the
_Esmeralda's_ paces when she lays herself out to travel.  Now, boys, lay
aft here with your squeegees, and give this poop a drying down!"

It was a glorious morning; the sun, already well above the horizon, just
taking the keen edge off the air, and rendering the pure easterly breeze
soft and balmy without depriving it of any of its bracing and
exhilarating qualities; the sky a magnificent, deep, pure blue overhead,
softening down in tint to warm tender tones of grey as the eye travelled
from the zenith, horizon-ward.  Cloud, properly speaking, there was
none, save a few faint streaks here and there of the kind known as
"mares' tails"; but away to the northward and eastward the sky at the
horizon, although it was of a clear pale primrose hue, had that peculiar
indescribable "hardness" of tint that, to the experienced eye, is the
sure forerunner of a good wholesome breeze.  That breeze, however, was
yet to come; the wind at the moment being very paltry--little more than
sufficient, indeed, to keep the heavier canvas "asleep," and to send the
barque along at a speed of about five knots.  The water was perfectly
smooth, save of course for the ripple caused by the light breeze; but,
so far as swell was concerned, there was absolutely none, the ship
neither pitching nor rolling perceptibly.

In due course my passengers made their appearance on deck, in high glee
at the favourable condition of the weather, and full of compliments as
to the comfort of the sleeping cabins.  And indeed it was not difficult
to judge, by their fresh and cheerful looks, that they had enjoyed a
sound and undisturbed night's rest.  Even poor Lady Desmond was looking
incomparably more bright and cheerful than had been the case with her a
short day previously, and was already beginning to speak hopefully of
her possible recovery.

As the day wore on, the wind, instead of freshening, as we had expected
from the indications at sunrise, grew more and more paltry; so that it
was rather late on in the afternoon ere we reached Weymouth.  The
weather, however, had been undergoing a slow and subtle change all day;
and when we at length rounded to and backed the _Esmeralda's_ mainyard
in the roadstead the sky away to the eastward was overspread by a broad
bank of dirty grey vapour reaching almost to the zenith, the mares'
tails had increased in number and become more strongly defined, and a
thin veil of scarcely perceptible vapour was sweeping steadily athwart
the blue.  The horizon to the eastward, too, had become overcast--so
much so, indeed, as to completely obscure Saint Alban's Head; the wind
was beginning to freshen in fitful puffs, and the small surges
occasionally combed and broke into a miniature white cap.  All of which
indicated with sufficient clearness that the long-expected breeze was
close at hand, and that, moreover, we should probably have quite as much
of it as we wanted.  I accordingly lost no time in lowering the gig, and
getting my mother and her belongings into her; when we shoved off--
leaving the ship in charge of Mr Roberts--and stretched out for the
harbour.  My mother seemed a good deal cut up, now that the moment of
parting had drawn so very near, and--poor soul--spent most of the short
time during which we were traversing the space between the ship and the
harbour, with her head on my shoulder, crying softly, and fondling my
disengaged hand in hers.  While, as for me, I was--like most sailors--
sadly wanting in eloquence, and could think of nothing better or more
encouraging to say than that I was at last really starting out to seek
my fortune, and that I fully intended to find it ere I returned to her.
Ah me! how little I guessed at the hardship and suffering in store for
me, or the anxiety and anguish of mind that my dear mother was to endure
before we two should meet again!

Landing at the flight of boat-steps near the inner end of the pier, I
put my mother and her baggage into the first fly that presented itself;
kissed her a dozen times; said good-bye hurriedly, and tore myself away;
springing hastily into the stern-sheets of the gig with a final wave of
the hand as the dear soul drove away.

"Give way, men!"  I exclaimed huskily; "the breeze is freshening fast,
and I care not how soon we are once more on board the _Esmeralda_!"

The breeze was indeed freshening fast; the thick weather had crept down
the coast until the high land about the Burning Cliff was only dimly
visible; and as we dashed out past the end of the pier, the water in the
bay was all flecked with white.  The _Esmeralda_, with royals clewed up,
was halfway across toward Portland Roads; but Roberts was evidently
keeping a sharp lookout, for, judging it to be about time for us to make
our appearance, he had already filled on the ship, and as we rounded the
buoy marking the extremity of the reef on the south side of the harbour,
we saw her fly up into the wind and tack with a rapidity which I had
certainly never before witnessed in a square-rigged ship.  The little
beauty worked "as quick as they could swing the yards," as the stroke
oarsman remarked enthusiastically.  We paddled gently ahead, leaving to
those on board the task of picking us up; and very neatly and smartly
was it done too, the barque keeping a rap full, and tearing through the
water like a racer, until exactly the right moment, when she flew up
head to wind, shooting into the wind's eye in magnificent style, ranging
up alongside us in the boat and picking us up while still in stays, then
paying off again on the other tack almost before the tackles were hooked
on.  Another minute and the gig was once more at the davits; and the
_Esmeralda_, on a taut bowline, and with her royal yards again
mast-headed, was rushing away at a perfectly bewildering pace, on a
course that would enable her to just handsomely weather the outer end of
Portland breakwater, if the little witch continued to eat into the wind
as she was then doing.  Roberts was evidently in ecstasies at the ship's
behaviour; his flushed cheek, his sparkling eye, and his quick, restless
movements told me that; but he would have bitten his tongue out, rather
than have suffered himself to be betrayed into any remarks which could
possibly be construed into "fishing for a compliment;" and it was truly
amusing to watch the heroic efforts he made to simulate a cool and
indifferent demeanour.  But it was plain enough that he was hungering
for a word of praise to the ship that he had learned to love as though
she were flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone: so I hastened to
gratify the good fellow by eulogising--as indeed I could with the most
perfect honesty--the marvellous weatherly qualities and speed of the
ship, as also the stiffness with which she stood up under her big spread
of canvas.  Had I not done so, I verily believe that my reputation as a
seaman would have shrunk very materially in my chief mate's estimation,
instead of increasing, as it immediately did.

The wind being dead fair for the run out of the Channel, we "took our
departure" from the Bill of Portland; and, packing the studding-sails
upon the willing little barkie, passed Ushant at four o'clock the next
morning--a truly wonderful run; but then our patent log showed that we
had been travelling at the rate of a fair, honest fifteen knots from the
moment that we dropped that useful machine overboard off the Bill.  This
magnificent breeze followed us up for the next four days, and carried us
into the latitude of Madeira--an almost unprecedented performance; but
it must not be forgotten that it was blowing a whole gale from the
eastward all this time, or well over our larboard quarter, allowing
every thread of canvas to draw to perfection; and, finding that the
barque carried her canvas superbly, I simply let Robert have his way
with her, although I must admit that never before in my experience had I
seen a craft so boldly driven.  Then--on the evening of the fifth day
out from Weymouth--the wind rapidly dwindled away to nothing, and left
us rolling heavily on the steep swell that followed us.  I concluded
that we had run into the doldrums, or horse latitudes, and that we
should now probably have calms, or light baffling airs until we fell in
with the trade-winds; but on going below to turn in at midnight, I
observed that a very decided fall of the barometer had taken place.  I
therefore returned to the deck for a moment and cautioned the second
mate--whose watch it was--to keep a sharp lookout for any sign of a
decided change in the weather; and gave him strict injunctions to call
me immediately that any indication of such change should become
apparent.  I had some thought of remaining on deck an hour or two
longer, to personally watch the development of events; but reflecting
that I had been out of my berth for the last eighteen hours, and that,
if we were to have bad weather, it might be some time before I should
have another opportunity to sleep, I decided to go below and get what
rest I could, especially as the sky was at that time perfectly clear,
with the stars shining brilliantly.

A sailor soon gets into the habit of falling asleep the moment his head
touches his pillow, and I was no exception to the rule, although my
newly assumed responsibilities caused me perhaps to sleep more lightly
than before; at all events, I had--even in the short time that we had
been at sea--acquired the faculty of being cognisant of almost
everything that happened on deck, even during the time that I was
asleep; and on this particular night it seemed to me that I had not been
in my berth more than ten minutes--though the time was actually close
upon two hours--when I heard the second mate quietly descending the
saloon staircase, and in another moment his knuckles were cautiously
tapping at the door of my cabin.

"Ay, ay," I answered drowsily; "what is it, Mr Forbes?"

"Sorry to disturb you, sir," was the reply, "but there seems to be
something brewing away down there to the south'ard and west'ard.  It's
as black as a wolf's mouth thereaway; and there is a nasty cross swell
getting up, as you may feel for yourself, sir."

"All right," I returned, rolling reluctantly out of my berth; "I will be
on deck in a minute."

I was as good as my word; and upon popping my head outside the companion
I came to the conclusion that I had been called none too soon.  There
was absolutely not a breath of air stirring save that created by the
heavy flapping of the canvas as the ship rolled, with a quick, uneasy
motion, almost gunwale-to; and upon interrogating the helmsman I learned
that he had lost all command over the vessel for fully an hour.  It was,
as the second mate had said, intensely dark down in the south-western
quarter; and a very brief observation sufficed to demonstrate that the
pall of cloud which hid the heavens in that direction was slowly but
steadily spreading toward the zenith, star after star being blotted out
even as I watched them.  The air, too, was close and oppressive as the
breath of an oven; while the surface of the sea was unusually agitated,
the run seeming to come from all points of the compass at once, and to
meet under the ship, causing her to "wallow" so awkwardly that the water
tumbled in over her rail in all directions, now forward, now aft, and
anon in the waist, and on either side with the utmost impartiality.  The
water was everywhere of an inky blackness, save along the ship's bends
and where she dipped it in over her rail.  This disturbed water looked,
at a short distance, as though it had been diluted with milk; but,
examined closely, it was found to glow with a faint fire, like the
glimmer of summer lightning, with small star-like points of stronger
light thickly scattered through it.  The most perfect silence reigned
outside the ship, but on board there was quite a small Babel of sound
storming about us; the creaking of yard-parrels and trusses aloft,
mingled with the loud flap of the canvas to the roll of the ship, the
"cheep" of block-sheaves, the sharp "slatting" of suddenly tautened
gear, and the pattering of reef-points; while on deck there was the
monotonous swish of water washing athwart the planks from side to side,
with the choking gurgle of the water spouting up through the scuppers,
and the heavy splashing sound of the brine as it poured in over the
bulwarks; the whole set to a dismal accompaniment of creaking timbers,
rattling doors, and breaking crockery below.

"How long has the weather been like this, Mr Forbes?"  I asked, as my
subordinate stood a few paces apart from me, waiting to hear what I had
to say about the aspect of things in general.

"Well, sir," he replied, "that is not a very easy question to answer.
It has been gathering ever since about half an hour after you went
below; but the change has been going on so imperceptibly that it
scarcely forced itself upon my attention until just before--Ah! did you
hear that, sir?"

A low, faint, weird, moaning sound, scarcely perceptible, had floated to
the ship, causing the mate to interrupt himself suddenly; and at the
same moment a light, evanescent puff of hot air seemed to sweep past us.

"Yes," said I, "I both heard and felt it.  We are going to have a heavy
squall, if nothing worse, out of that blackness yonder.  Turn the hands
up at once, and let them go to work to strip the ship without loss of
time.  Get in all your light flying kites first of all, and stow them
snugly; then brail in your mizzen and stow it; let run your staysail
halliards, and haul up your courses.  We will leave nothing spread but
the two topsails and the fore-topmast-staysail; then, let what will
come, we shall be prepared for it."

Forbes hurried away to execute this order, and next moment there came
the sounds of a most unmerciful pounding on the forecastle-head with a
handspike, and the accompanying cry of--

"Hillo there, sleepers; tumble up.  All hands shorten sail!  Hurry up,
my bullies, or we shall have the squall upon us before we are ready for
it."

The response to this summons was almost instantaneous, and in two or
three minutes the whole crew were at work, under the orders of Mr
Roberts, who had heard, even in his sleep, the distant cry of "All
hands," and had tumbled out without waiting for a more formal summons.
This man I now found to be excellent in such an emergency as the
present; calm, cool, and collected; not hurrying anybody, yet, as it
were, infusing his own energy and vitality into the men by the sharp,
incisive tones of his voice, and putting quicksilver into them by--as it
seemed--the mere exercise of his will.  Under such masterful supervision
the work progressed rapidly, and in something over half an hour we had
the ship under her fore and main-topsails (which were patent-reefing)
and the fore-topmast staysail; every other thread being snugly furled,
and the men once more down on deck.  The watch was then sent below again
for the short time remaining to them, and I composed myself comfortably
in a capacious wicker chair to abide the issue of events.

The sky had by this time become entirely overcast, from horizon to
horizon, and so intensely dark was it that I was literally unable to see
my hand when I raised it before my eyes, by way of experiment; and, but
for the dim radiance gleaming through the skylight from the turned-down
lamp in the saloon, the faint gleam of light from the binnacle
illumining feebly and in a ghostlike manner the head and shoulders of
the man who lounged beside the useless wheel, and the pale fires
flashing from the water that washed to and fro athwart the deck with the
roll of the ship, it would have been utterly impossible to have moved
from spot to spot save by the aid of one's memory of the various
localities about the ship.

A period of perhaps twenty minutes had elapsed since the retirement of
the watch below at the conclusion of their labours, and I had stolen on
tiptoe to the skylight--doubtless influenced to this stealthy mode of
progression by the profound silence of the night--for the purpose of
again consulting the barometer that swung therein, when I felt a heavy
drop of tepid water fall upon my face.  This was followed by another,
and another, and another; and then, with the roar of a cataract, down
came the rain in a perfect deluge, thrashing the surface of the sea into
an expanse of ghostly, lambent, phosphorescent white that quickly spread
apparently to the extreme limits of the horizon, and filling our decks
so rapidly that it became necessary to open the ports fore and aft in
order to free them.  This deluge lasted for about five minutes, when it
ceased as abruptly as it had begun; but even that short time had
sufficed to beat the sea down so smooth that the previous violent
rolling of the ship was reduced to a gentle, scarcely perceptible
oscillation.

"Now stand by to let run your fore and main-topsail halliards!"  I
cried--a command which was responded to by a prompt "Ay, ay, sir!" from
the forecastle, the pattering of bare feet upon the deck, and the sound
of ropes falling smartly on the planking as the halliard-falls were
lifted off their pins and flung to the deck.

"How is her head?"  I inquired of the helmsman.

"West-nor'-west, sir," was the reply.

"Man your starboard fore and main-braces, Mr Forbes," said I to the
second mate, who was standing by the break of the poop, peering
anxiously into the impenetrable gloom.

"Ay, ay, sir!  Starboard fore and main-braces, lads.  Be smart, now, and
lay the yards fore and aft before the squall breaks upon us!"

The men, who were evidently uneasy, and anxious to be doing anything
rather than spend their time in passive anticipation, sprang to the
braces and hauled the yards smartly round to a cheery "Yo heave ho;"
flattening in until they could get no more.

"Well there, belay!" commanded Forbes.  And as he spoke a sudden,
powerful puff of warm air swept athwart the ship and was gone, causing
the topsails to flap violently once, and collapse again.  This was
quickly followed by a second puff, heavier and rather less transient
than the last; indeed, it continued long enough to give the ship
steerage-way; for which I was deeply thankful, promptly availing myself
of it to order the helm hard up and get our bows pointed in a
north-easterly direction, so as to place the point in the horizon from
which we expected the squall dead astern of us.  This was barely done
when Forbes cried out, in a voice the tones of which curiously expressed
a feeling of mingled alarm and relief--

"Stand by, sir; here it comes at last!"



CHAPTER FIVE.

A WRECK AND A RESCUE.

At the sound of the second mate's voice I turned, and saw, dead astern,
a thin streak of ghostly white, drawn horizontally across the curtain of
Stygian darkness in that quarter.  The line lengthened and broadened
with amazing rapidity; and presently a low moaning sound became audible.

"Let run your topsail halliards, fore and aft," I cried; and the command
was instantly followed by the creaking of the parrels as the yards slid
down the well-greased topmasts, and the scream of the block-sheaves as
the falls rapidly overhauled themselves.

The moaning sound grew louder as the band of spectral white astern
extended and approached; and presently, with a deafening shriek, the
hurricane struck us, the line of white foam at the same instant sweeping
past us at railway speed.  The stroke of the blast was like a blow from
something solid, causing the ship to quiver from stem to stern; then she
gathered way, and, with bows buried deep in the milk-white water, drove
ahead like a frightened sentient thing.  I had never witnessed so fierce
a squall before in those latitudes; the outfly was indeed as violent as
anything I had ever seen in the tropics; and there was nothing for it
but to let the ship scud.  This she luckily did in splendid style,
gathering way quickly, and steering like a little boat, otherwise I
firmly believe that the first stroke would have dismasted us.  The air
was so full of scud-water that, but for the salt taste of it on the
lips, one would have thought we were being pursued by a drenching
torrent of rain; while the roar and shriek of the wind overhead produced
a wild medley of sound that was simply indescribable, and so deafeningly
loud that it would have been quite impossible to issue an order in the
usual way, had it been ever so necessary, for the simple reason that in
that wild turmoil of sound no human voice could have made itself
audible.  Fortunately, no orders were needed, we had done everything
that could be done for the safety of the ship--short of putting her
under bare poles--and now all that was left to us was to trust in the
mercy of God, and the staunchness of our spars and rigging.

The first mad fury of the squall lasted for only some five minutes; but
after that it still continued to blow so fiercely that we were compelled
to scud for fully three hours before we dared venture to round-to.
Then, having first with great difficulty clewed up and furled the
fore-topsail, we watched our opportunity and, taking advantage of a
momentary lull, put the helm over, and brought the ship to on the
starboard tack.  We now, for the first time, had an opportunity of
realising the full strength of the wind, which still blew with such
violence as to careen the ship gunwale-to, even under the small canvas
which remained exposed to the blast.  It was still intensely dark
overhead; but the surface of the sea, highly phosphorescent, and
scourged into foam by the wind, gave forth a pale lambent light against
which the hull of the ship and all her rigging up to the level of the
horizon stood out with tolerable distinctness.  The swell, meanwhile,
was rapidly rising, but there were as yet no waves, the wind instantly
catching any inequality in the surface of the water and carrying it away
to leeward in the form of spindrift.  This lasted until daybreak, when
the strength of the gale had so far moderated that--despite the fact of
the wind having backed to the southward--I ventured to set the
fore-topsail, close-reefed; more, however, for the sake of steadying the
ship than for any other advantage that I expected to get from it.

With sunrise the sky cleared; and when my passengers came on deck before
breakfast, they had the--to them--novel experience of witnessing a hard
gale of wind under a cloudless blue sky, with brilliant sunshine.  And,
truly, it was a grand and exhilarating scene that met their gaze; for
the wind, though it still blew with the force of a whole gale, had so
far moderated its fury as to permit the sea to rise; and now the staunch
little ship, heeling to her covering-board, was gallantly breasting the
huge billows of the mid-Atlantic; each wave a deep blue liquid hill,
half as high as our fore-yard, crested with a ridge of snow-white foam
that, caught up and blown into spray by the gale, produced an endless
procession of mimic rainbows past the ship.  And, as the crest of each
wave struck our weather-bow and burst into a drenching shower of silvery
spray, a rainbow formed there too, overarching the ship in the wake of
the foremast and causing the whole forepart of her to glow and glitter
with the loveliest prismatic hues.

As the day wore on the gale continued to moderate somewhat, until by
noon its fury had become so far spent that I thought we might venture to
once more get the courses on the ship; and this was accordingly done
when the watch was called.  The effect of these large areas of sail upon
the craft was tremendous, causing her to heel like a yacht under a heavy
press of canvas; ay, and to travel like a yacht, too, notwithstanding
the heavy sea that was running.  But the little beauty behaved superbly,
luffing to each comber as it approached, and taking it in a blinding
shower of diamond spray, it is true, but still with an easy, buoyant
movement such as I had never experienced before.  It was the first
opportunity that had been afforded me of testing the barque's behaviour
in heavy weather, and I was more than pleased at the result, for she not
only proved to be a superb sea-boat, but she also travelled like a
racehorse.

By four bells in the afternoon watch the wind and sea had so far
moderated that the mate, whose watch it then was, gave orders to take a
small pull upon the topsail halliards, to set the jib, and to haul out
the mizzen.  When the last of these operations were undertaken it was
found that something had jammed aloft, so that the head of the sail
would not haul out along the gaff; and a hand was sent up to see what
was foul, and to clear it.  The man had accomplished his task, and was
just swinging himself off the gaff into the lower rigging, when he was
observed to pause and gaze intently to windward.

"Well, what is the matter, Bill?  Do you see anything unusual away there
to wind'ard, to set you staring like an owl in an ivy bush?" demanded
the mate, somewhat impatiently.

"Yes, sir.  There's something away over there," replied the man,
pointing with his hand, "that looks like a dismasted ship, or a craft on
her beam-ends.  Whatever it is, it is very low in the water; and the sea
is breaking very heavily over it."

The mate said no more, but swung himself into the mizzen-rigging, and
made his way as far aloft as the cross-trees; when he turned and,
bracing himself against the masthead, directed his glances toward that
part of the horizon indicated by the seaman.  Shading his eyes with his
hand, he looked steadily for a full minute; then he said something to
the man beside him, when the latter nimbly descended the ratlines to the
deck, and, explaining that "Mr Roberts wants the glass, sir," went to
the companion, where the instrument always hung in beckets, secured it,
and took it aloft to the mate.  With its assistance a still more
prolonged examination was made; and when it was at length completed, the
two men returned to the deck together.

"Well, Mr Roberts, what do you make of it?"  I inquired, as the mate,
having restored the telescope it its accustomed place, joined me near
the break of the poop.

"Well, sir, there is _something_ away there to windward," was the reply,
"but what it is I couldn't very well make out, the sea was breaking so
heavy over it.  Sometimes it has the look of a dismasted and waterlogged
ship; and then again it takes the look of a craft on her beam-ends, with
her yardarms just showing above the water; and once or twice I thought I
could catch a glimpse of something like an attempt to make a signal by
waving a white cloth or something of the sort.  But that may have been
only the glancing of the flying foam in the sunshine."

"How did she bear when you were aloft?"  I inquired.

"Broad on our weather-beam," answered Roberts.

"And how far distant do you judge her to be?"

"About a matter of nine miles, I should say.  I suppose you'll be taking
a look at her, sir?"

"Most certainly," said I.  "We will stand on for a quarter of an hour or
so, when we will go about, if you think we should then be able to fetch
her.  Meanwhile, we may as well run our ensign up to the peak, to let
the people on board--if there are any--know that we have seen them."

"Yes, sir," assented Roberts; "I should think that in that time we ought
to have head-reached far enough to fetch her.  Shall we get a small drag
at the topsail halliards?  She will bear another inch or two."

"Very well," I agreed; and away trundled the sympathetic Roberts forward
to muster the hands.

The extra "inch or two" of topsail that he proposed to give her resolved
itself into a liberal two feet of hoist; under which augmented canvas
the barque bounded from sea to sea like a mad thing, completely burying
her lee rail with every roll, and causing the gale to fairly howl
through her rigging when she recovered herself; while a whole acre of
dazzling snow-white foam hissed and stormed and roared out from under
her lee bow, and glanced past the side at what looked like railway speed
when she stooped to it under the influence of wind and wave together;
the spray meanwhile flying over the weather cat-head in such a perfect
deluge that the whole fore deck was knee-deep in water, while the
foresail was drenched halfway up to the yard, and even the weather clew
of the mainsail came in for a liberal share.  To leeward the shrouds
sagged limp and loose at every roll of the ship, while to windward they
were as taut as bars; and it was by no means without apprehension that I
contemplated the possibility of a lanyard parting, or a bolt drawing
under the tremendous strain to which they were subjected.  Truly we were
driving the little ship in a most reckless fashion; and, but for the
presence of that mysterious object to windward--which was undoubtedly
the hull of a ship, to which possibly a helpless crew were clinging in
deadly peril--I would have shortened sail forthwith.  But, for aught we
knew, the question of rescue or no rescue might be a matter of minutes,
or even of seconds, with the distressed ones; we therefore "carried on,"
and took our chance of everything bearing the strain.

At the expiration of the allotted half-hour the hands were called, and,
taking the wheel myself and watching for a "smooth," we proceeded to
'bout ship.  This manoeuvre was successfully accomplished, though by no
means without danger, the ship, while head to wind, taking a green sea
over the bows that literally filled her decks fore and aft, washing some
of the men off their feet and compelling everybody to cling for life to
whatever they could lay hold of until the open ports partially freed
her.  Strange to say, beyond the flooding of the forecastle, the
deck-house, and the galley, no damage was done; and, the next sea that
met us happening to be a moderate one, the nimble little craft was round
and away upon the other tack before another could come on board us.
Once round and fairly on the move again, upon being relieved at the
wheel I took the telescope and myself ascended to the foretop upon a
visit of inspection.  Yes; there the object was, sure enough, about
three points on the lee bow, and, as the mate had said, about nine miles
distant.  I tried to get a peep at her through the telescope; but, even
at the moderate elevation of the foretop, the plunging and rolling
motion of the ship was so wild that I found it most difficult.  I
managed, however, to catch an occasional momentary glimpse of her; and
from what I then saw I came to the conclusion that she was a dismasted
craft, of some five hundred tons or so, floating very deep in the water,
with the sea breaking heavily and constantly over her, and that there
was a flag of some sort flying from the stump of the mizzenmast--no
doubt a signal of distress.  She seemed to be a craft with a full poop,
the after-part of her standing somewhat higher out of the water than the
rest of the hull; and once or twice I caught a glimpse of what had the
appearance of a small group of people clinging about the stump of the
mizzenmast.  More than that I could not just then make out, owing--as I
have said--to the exasperatingly wild motion aloft; but I had at least
ascertained the important fact that, with careful attention to the helm,
we should fetch her on our present tack; and with that I was compelled
to be for the nonce satisfied.

We were evidently nearing her very fast, much faster than I had dared to
hope, for upon my return to the deck after my somewhat protracted
investigation I found that we had risen her from the deck, and all hands
were intently watching for a glimpse of her every time that we rose to
the crest of a sea, notwithstanding the deluges of spray that flew
incessantly in over our weather-bow.  My passengers were of course
intensely excited and interested and sympathetic at the idea of a real
genuine wreck and the possibility of a rescue, even Lady Emily seeming
to have utterly forgotten her ailments in her anxiety to see as much as
possible.  To their credit, however, be it said, they were considerate
enough to abstain from tormenting me with ridiculous questions,
evidently realising that I had at that moment more important matters
occupying my thoughts.

And truly I had; for there was the question of how the people, if any,
were to be taken off the wreck.  For it must not be forgotten that, hard
as we were driving the ship, it was still blowing with the force of
quite a strong gale; while the sea was so tremendously heavy that,
though a boat, moderately loaded, could undoubtedly live in it if once
fairly launched, the task of safely launching her and getting her away
from the ship in such weather, and, still more, in getting her
alongside, either to ship or to unship people, presented so many
difficulties as almost to amount to an impossibility.  Fortunately, our
boats were all fitted with a most excellent pattern of patent releasing
tackle, but for which I should not have felt justified in risking the
lives of my men by asking them to undertake such a desperate task.  As
to the possibility of the wreck being able to lower a boat, the thought
presented itself only to be instantly dismissed; for, with the sea
breaking so heavily over her as I had seen, it was to the last degree
improbable that any of her boats had so far escaped damage as to be
capable of floating, even had they escaped total destruction.  True,
there was a bare possibility that the strait of those on the wreck might
not be quite so desperate as it had appeared to me to be--in which case
we could stand by them until the weather moderated sufficiently to
render the operation of launching a boat a comparatively safe one--but I
was very doubtful of this.  The wreck had presented all the appearance
of being either waterlogged, or absolutely in a sinking condition; and
in either case there would be but little time to lose; for, even if the
craft were only waterlogged, her people were constantly exposed to the
danger of being washed overboard.  These points, however, would soon be
made plain, for we were rapidly approaching the wreck; and the time had
arrived for us to commence our preparations.

Mr Roberts, meanwhile, had been forward, talking to the men; and
presently he came aft again to the poop, wearing a very gratified
expression of countenance.

"They are a downright good lot--those lads of ours, for'ard," he began,
as he ranged up alongside of me in the wake of the mizzen-rigging.
"I've just been on the fo'c's'le to find out what their ideas are about
manning a boat; and I'd hardly had a chance to mention the matter when
every man Jack of 'em gave me to understand that they were ready to do
anything you choose to ask 'em, and that I'd only to say who I'd have to
go in the boat with me.  So I've picked Joe Murray and Tom Spearman,
Little Dick, and Hairy Bill--as they call him in the fo'c's'le; and if
you're agreeable, sir, I'll take the whaleboat gig; she's as light as a
cork, and far and away the prettiest boat for a sea like this.  The
other gig would hold a man or two more, perhaps, but she's a much
heavier boat; and those flat-starned craft are not half so safe as a
double-ended boat when it comes to running before such a sea as this."

"I fully agree with you, Mr Roberts," said I; "and I am very much
obliged to you for your readiness to take command of the boat.  Let two
hands lay aft at once and see that everything you require is in her, and
get her ready for lowering.  The rest of the men can set to work to haul
up the courses, take in the jib, and brail in the spanker.  I shall
heave to, and drop you as close to windward of the wreck as I can with
safety; and then shall fill, and round-to again close under her stern."

"Very good, sir," was the response.  And Roberts turned away forthwith
to prepare for the work of rescue.

As we rapidly decreased the distance between ourselves and the wreck, it
became unmistakably clear that the situation of those on board her was
frightfully critical, and that if they were to be saved no time must be
wasted.  The craft was a wooden, English-built barque of between five
hundred and six hundred tons register, with a full poop; and seemed,
from the little we could see of her, to be a very fine, handsome vessel.
Her three masts, as well as her jib-boom, were gone; and from the stump
of her mizzenmast the red ensign was flying, union down; while the wreck
of the spars and all the raffle of sails and rigging was floating along
her starboard or lee side in a wild swirl of foam.  Her bulwarks were
swept clean away on both sides, from the catheads as far aft as the
poop, only the stump of a staunchion remaining here and there to show
where they had been.  She had, like ourselves, a short topgallant
forecastle, under which the windlass was housed, and this structure
remained intact; but a deck-house abaft the foremast, and between it and
the main hatch, had been swept entirely away, with the exception of the
sills, which still remained bolted to the deck.  The long-boat, also,
which is almost invariably stowed on top of the main hatch, was gone,
not even the chocks remaining to show where she had been.  In short, the
whole of the deck, forward of the poop, had been cleared of everything
removable, the only things remaining above the level of the deck being
the gallows, the stumps of the main and fore masts, the fife-rails, and
the pumps.  The front of the poop was stove in, and the poop ladders
were gone; there were no boats on the gallows; and while the boat
hanging in the lee davits had had her bottom torn out, of that which had
hung at the weather davits only the stem and stern-posts remained.  She
was floating broadside-on to the sea, and was very deep in the water, so
deep, indeed, that every wave swept completely over her maindeck in a
perfect smother of foam; and she rolled so horribly that I momentarily
expected to see her turn bottom up.  Moreover, that there was a very
considerable quantity of water in her hold was made painfully manifest
by the sickening sluggishness of her movements in response to the heave
of the sea; there seemed to be scarcely a particle of life left in her,
many of the seas running completely over the forepart of her before she
could lift herself to them.  And, to make matters still worse, she
appeared to have a heavy list to starboard, as though her cargo,
whatever it might be, had shifted.  On the poop, which stood some seven
feet higher than the maindeck, matters were not quite so bad, the deck
fittings, such as the skylights, etcetera, remaining intact, although
much of the glass had been smashed.  The wheel remained entire, and as
we drew nearer we could see it wildly spinning round, now to port and
now to starboard, as the sea acted on the rudder.  There were ten men
clustered in this part of the wreck, six of whom were crouching under
the lee of the skylight, while four had lashed themselves to the stump
of the mizzenmast.  They were all, of course, drenched to the skin, the
sea breaking over them constantly; and some of them were clad only in
shirt and trousers, seeming to indicate that they had turned out
hurriedly.  As we drew close up to this pitiful victim of the relentless
power of the wind and sea, we saw a movement of some sort among the
figures crouching under the lee of the skylight; and presently, watching
their opportunity, they retreated aft, one or two to the wheel grating,
one to the standard of the binnacle, and others to positions where they
could secure themselves from being washed overboard by grasping
ringbolts, bollards, and the like, revealing the whole length of the
skylight, on the panelling of which was inscribed in chalk--

"We are fast sinking.  For God's sake, take us off quickly!"

I was able to read this distinctly through my own binoculars; and I no
sooner made it out than I jumped on to the top of a hen-coop, and,
grasping the mizzen-rigging with one hand, waved the other encouragingly
to them, their response being a feeble cheer.

At this moment Sir Edgar Desmond, who with the rest of his party had
been absorbed spectators of everything that passed, stepped quickly to
my side, and, fairly panting with excitement, said--

"Captain, if there is _anything_ I can do to assist in this matter, I
shall take it as a very especial favour if you will command me."

"Thank you very much, Sir Edgar," I replied.  "I do not know that you
can help us very materially at present, unless,"--as I saw a look of
deep disappointment come into his eyes--"you would kindly produce a
bottle or two of your remarkably fine port, and have it warmed ready for
those poor fellows when--or rather _if_--we get them on board.  They
have been exposed for some hours at least to wind and sea, and--"

"Say no more, my dear fellow," he interrupted; "I understand perfectly."

And away he went, highly delighted at finding he had the power of doing
something, however little, toward succouring the poor wretches whose
pitiable condition was so patent to us all.

Meanwhile sail had been shortened on board the _Esmeralda_ to topsails
and fore-topmast staysail; the gig had been prepared for lowering, and
everybody was at his station.

"Are you all ready for lowering, Mr Roberts?"  I asked, as Sir Edgar
left me on his charitable errand.

"All ready, sir," was the prompt response.

"In with you, then, into the gig, lads," said I.  "I must leave you to
act as you think best, Mr Roberts, in the matter of getting alongside
the wreck; but there seems to be a small clear space just abaft the
mizzen channels, if you can reach it without getting under the counter.
If you fail in that, the only alternative that I can see is for you to
get as close as you can to the wreck's lee quarter, and let her people
jump overboard, when you must look out for them and pick them up."

"Ay, ay, sir," answered the mate cheerily; "I have a plan that I think
will do.  All ready, sir, whenever you are."

We were now within a hundred feet of the wreck, and heading so as to
cross her stern at about that distance.

"Back your main-topsail, lads; round-in smartly upon your weather
braces," said I.  "So! well there; take a turn; but be ready to fill
again when I give the word.  Now, Mr Forbes, are you ready with the
davit tackles?"

"All ready, sir."

"Then, when I give the word, let them run smartly and evenly.  Mr
Roberts will attend to his share of the work.  Now, stand by."

The tackle-falls had some time previously been taken off their proper
pins, except for a single half-turn, and carefully laid out along the
deck, so as to insure their running out clear, after which they had been
placed under contiguous pins in the spider-band of the mizzenmast, and a
single turn taken with them, thus enabling the second mate to hold them
both in his hands, and sustain the entire weight of the gig and her
crew.  Now, as I gave him the caution to "stand by," and at the same
time stepped on to a hen-coop in the wake of the mizzen-rigging to watch
for a favourable opportunity for lowering, he took off half the turn
round the belaying-pin, and held the boat by mere main strength and the
grip of the rope on the pins.  We were by this time fair across the
stern of the wreck, and within a hundred feet of her, with not much way
on us, and were ready to drop the gig at a moment's notice.  A perfect
mountain of a sea at this moment came sweeping down upon us, and as our
buoyant little craft floated up its steep side, she started upon a heavy
lee roll, that I saw would swing the gig well clear of her side, and at
the same time dip her almost into the water before the tackles were
started.  We should scarcely get a more favourable opportunity.

"Lower away."

Prompt, at the word, the second mate allowed the falls to run rapidly
out, while the chief, sitting in the stern-sheets, with the yoke-lines
in one hand, grasped the releasing line in the other.  As the barque
careened to her gunwale, the light boat swung far out from her side, and
in a moment splashed into the water.  At the same instant a smart pull
upon the releasing line freed her from the tackles fore and aft; and as
the mate sheered her with the rudder toward the wreck, the men tossed
out their oars with a cheer and gave way.

"Fill the main-topsail," cried I.  "Up with your helm, my man, and let
her gather way."

And as the barque drew away diagonally to windward of the wreck, we lost
sight of our boat behind the lee quarter of the latter, and began to
turn our attention to the problem of getting the people on board our own
ship, and of hoisting the gig once more to the davits, if possible,
after she had fulfilled her present mission.  A sailor's duty constantly
brings him face to face with difficult problems, and among them all
there are perhaps few more difficult, though, of course, many of
infinitely greater importance, than that of successfully picking up and
hoisting a boat that has been launched in a very heavy sea, such as was
running upon this occasion.  So violent was the motion of the
_Esmeralda_, that to have brought the boat alongside of and actually in
contact with her hull would have simply been to invite the instant
destruction of the smaller craft; yet it was of considerable importance
that the boat should be recovered, since there was no knowing how soon
her services might be required again.  The problem was how to do it; and
here my previous experience was of no service to me, as I had never
before seen a boat launched in anything like such heavy weather as that
of the moment.  So as we drew off from the wreck, and prepared to tack,
I gave the matter a little thought, and soon hit upon a plan that I
thought would answer our purpose.  A few minutes sufficed to place us in
the proper position relative to the wreck for tacking, and having got
the ship round, gone to leeward of the wreck, and hove-to again with our
mainyard aback, I at once proceeded to put my ideas into practice.  A
whip from the lee fore and main yardarms, with a standing bowline in the
end of that depending from the mainyard, and with a hauling-line
attached to it, was all that I required, after which I had the davit
tackles overhauled to their extremest limit, with a stout rope's-end
bent on to each fall just inside the sheave, so that the tackle blocks
should reach quite to the water even when the ship was taking the
heaviest weather roll.

Meanwhile, Roberts, in the gig, was faring capitally; he had succeeded
in getting up stern on, close under the lee quarter of the wreck, with a
line from her to the boat, and down this line the people were passing
pretty rapidly, our men keeping the line taut all the while by tugging
away steadily at the oars.  Occasionally one, a little bolder than his
fellows, would leap overboard, when Roberts or one of the boat's crew
was always ready to seize him by the collar and drag him into the boat.
Everything seemed to be going on with the utmost regularity--one man,
whom I took to be the skipper of the wreck, evidently superintending
affairs on deck, while Roberts was attending them in the boat--yet it
was easy to see that not a moment was being lost, one man being no
sooner safe in the boat than another started to follow him.  And,
indeed, there was evidently the utmost need for haste, for the wreck was
visibly settling before our eyes, every sea making a cleaner breach over
her than the last, while there were occasions when she was absolutely
buried, fore and aft, in a wild smother of white water, nothing of her
showing above the turmoil save the stumps of her spars, a small portion
of her poop skylight, and the davits with the fragments of the boats
hanging from them.  On one of these occasions the boat in the starboard
davits--that one already mentioned as having had her bottom torn out--
was completely demolished, nothing of her remaining when the buried hulk
once more rose to the surface.  When this was likely to happen the
people on board the wreck--warned by their skipper--clung for dear life
to whatever they could first lay hold of, while those in the gig,
similarly warned, letting go the rope, pulled out of reach of the
smother, only to back smartly up again the moment the danger was past.

At length one man only--the skipper--remained on the wreck.  I saw him
pause for a moment and glance round him at the poor, shattered,
labouring relic of the ship that had borne him so proudly out of
harbour, probably not very long before, and on board which he had
perhaps successfully battled with wind and wave for many years, and then
drawing his hand across his eyes--to clear them, maybe, of the brine
that had been dashing into them for the last few eventful hours, or,
more probably, to brush away a tear of regret at this dismal ending of a
voyage that was no doubt hopefully begun.  Finally, waving a signal to
Roberts, he placed his hands above his head and, poising himself for an
instant, dived headlong into the raging sea.  A breathless moment of
suspense, and then we saw Roberts lean over the boat's quarter, grasp
something, struggle with it, and finally the diver's form appeared on
the gunwale and was dragged safely into the boat.  At this moment a
towering billow reared itself just beyond the labouring hull, sweeping
down upon it, green and solid, with a curling crest of hissing,
snow-white foam.  The men in the gig fortunately saw it too in time,
and, with a warning shout to each other, stretched out to their oars for
dear life.  On swept that hissing mountain of angry water, heaving the
wreck up on its steep side until she lay all along upon it, presenting
her deck perpendicularly to us; then, as it broke over her in a roaring
cataract of foam, we saw the upper side of her deck inclining more and
more toward us until over she went altogether, nothing of her showing
above the white water save her stern-post and the heel of her rudder.
For a fraction of a moment it appeared thus, the copper on it glistening
wet and green in the light of the declining sun; then the crest of the
wave interposed between it and us, and hid it from our view.  When, a
few seconds later, the great wave reached us and we soared upward to its
crest, _the wreck had vanished_, nothing remaining but a great patch of
foam and a curious swirling of the water's surface to show where the
good ship had been.

Meanwhile, the gig, now deep in the water, was making the best of her
way down to us, and I freely confess that when I saw that huge wave
chasing her I gave her up, and everybody in her, as lost.  The boat's
close proximity to the wreck, however, probably proved her salvation,
for its fury seemed to have been spent in completing the destruction of
the ship, and before it could gather strength again it had swept
harmlessly past the boat and, equally harmlessly, down upon us.  A few
minutes later, the little craft--oh, what a frail cockleshell she looked
in the midst of that mountainous sea!--swept close under our stern and,
splendidly handled by Roberts, came to under our lee.  The ends of the
two whips were smartly hove into the boat and caught, and Roberts,
instantly comprehending my intentions, lost not a moment in putting them
into effect.  The barque, with her main-topsail aback but with her
fore-topsail and fore-topmast staysail full, was forging very slowly
ahead, just sufficiently so to enable those in the gig to sheer her well
away from the ship's side when towed along by the whip from the
fore-yardarm; while with the aid of the whip and hauling-line from the
main yardarm we were able to get the rescued people quickly and safely
out of the boat and in upon our own deck, where--the boat now demanding
our most unremitting attention--we turned them over to the willing hands
of Sir Edgar Desmond and his party, the women finding themselves
impelled by their sympathy to take an active part in the reception of
the poor half-drowned fellows.  Our own lads worked intelligently and
with a will, and, in a shorter time than it takes to tell of it,
everybody was safely out of the boat except the chief mate and the two
smartest men we had in the ship.  We were now ready to make the attempt
to hoist in the boat herself.  The tackle-falls were accordingly manned
by all hands except two, who stood by with the running parts in their
hands, ready to drop them into the boat at the proper moment, while I,
in the mizzen-rigging, keeping a keen watch upon the seas, superintended
the whole.  The boat was now sheered as close alongside as it was
prudent to bring her; and the two men in her stood by--one forward, the
other aft--to catch the blocks and slip the clutches into position,
Roberts, meanwhile, attending to nothing but the steering of the boat.
At length, as the ship took a terrific weather roll, and the gig seemed
to settle in almost under her bottom, I gave the word to heave, and both
tackle blocks were dropped handsomely into the hands of the men waiting
to catch them.  In an instant both clutches were dashed into their
sockets--the click of the bolts reaching my ears distinctly--and the two
men simultaneously flung up their hands to show that this delicate
operation had been successfully accomplished, and that the boat was
fast.  The ship had by this time recovered herself, and was now nearly
upright in the performance of a correspondingly heavy lee roll.

"Round-in upon the tackles, lads, for your lives!"  I shouted; and at
the words the slack was taken in like lightning, the strain coming upon
the tackles exactly at the right moment, namely, when the ship was
pausing an instant at the steepest angle of her lee roll, prior to
recovering herself.

"Now, up with her, men, as smartly as you like!"  And in an instant the
boat, within six feet of the davit-heads, was jerked out of the water,
and, before the ship had recovered herself sufficiently to dash the
frail craft against her side, was swinging clear of all danger, and in
her proper position, to the triumphant shout of "Two blocks" from the
men at the falls.  To secure the gallant little craft in the gripes was
the work of a few minutes only; after which the mainyard was swung, sail
was made upon the ship, and we resumed our voyage, deeply thankful that
our efforts to rescue our fellow-beings, in their moment of dire
extremity, had been crowned with such complete success.



CHAPTER SIX.

THE TRAGEDY ON BOARD THE "CITY OF CALCUTTA."

The men we had just rescued were destitute of everything save the
clothes they brought on board us on their backs, and those were, of
course, saturated with salt-water; it therefore became necessary to
supply them with a new rig from the contents of the ship's slop chest;
but our first business--while the unfortunates were being stripped and
vigorously rubbed down under Sir Edgar's personal superintendence, and
afterwards liberally dosed with some of his mulled port--was to clear
out the deck-house forward, and get the bunks ready for their reception,
they being, naturally, very greatly exhausted by the long hours of
exposure that they had been called upon to endure.  The baronet, with
that warm-hearted kindness and delicate consideration that I had already
discovered to be characteristic of him, had, after consulting me, and
obtaining my permission, caused one of the spare state-rooms in the
saloon to be cleared out and prepared for the captain; and, once warm
and snug in their berths, we saw no more of any of the rescued men until
the next day.

The next morning, at breakfast, the skipper put in an appearance,
introducing himself as Captain Baker, late of the barque _Wanderer_, of
London; and as the meal proceeded, he told us the story of the disaster
that had befallen him.  It appeared that, like ourselves, they had been
becalmed on the previous night; and, like myself, Baker had retired at
midnight, without, however, having noticed the fall in the mercury that
had given us our first warning of the coming blow.  On the top of this
oversight, the officer of the watch had made the fatal mistake of
supposing that the change, when it made itself apparent, meant nothing
more serious than the working up of a thunderstorm.  He had therefore
contented himself with clewing up the royals and hauling down the
flying-jib, after which he had awaited the outburst with equanimity.
When, therefore, it came, they were utterly unprepared, and the ship was
caught aback with topgallantsails upon her, and hove down upon her
beam-ends.  This was bad enough; but, to make matters worse, she was
loaded with iron, and, upon being laid over, the cargo shifted.  The
watch below, of course, at once sprang on deck, and, under poor Baker's
supervision, everything that was possible was promptly done to get the
ship upon her feet again, but all to no purpose; and at length, finding
that the craft was shipping a great deal of water, the order was
reluctantly given to cut away the masts.  This was easily accomplished
by cutting through the lanyards of the rigging to windward, when the
masts went by their own weight.  Thus relieved, the ship partially
recovered herself; but she still had a heavy list to starboard, and was
floating so deep that the water constantly washed over the deck as far
as the lee coamings of the hatchways as she rolled.  The pumps were then
manned; but after an hour's hard work it was found that the water was a
full foot deeper in the hold than it had been when the pumps were
started.  It was therefore conjectured that the ship had suffered a very
serious strain when thrown upon her beam-ends, or that the violent
shifting of the cargo in her hold had started a butt.  Still the pumps
were kept going, in the hope that the leak might suddenly stop, as leaks
have sometimes been known to do without any apparent reason.

Meanwhile, the sea had been rapidly getting up, and soon began to break
heavily over the dismasted ship, which was now rolling so violently
that, combined with her heavy list, it became almost impossible to move
about the deck, the leeward inclination of which soon grew so steep that
the men had to be lashed to the pumps to save them from falling or being
washed overboard.  At length a tremendously heavy sea swept over the
ship, from stem to stern, carrying away the whole of the bulwarks,
smashing the deck-house and long-boat to pieces, carrying two boats off
the gallows, tearing the booms adrift, staving in the front of the poop
cabins, and--worst of all--killing four men who were working at the
pumps.  Captain Baker now abandoned all hope of saving the ship, and
gave orders to prepare the boats for launching.  And now the full
measure of their disaster became for the first time known; for upon
proceeding to investigate, as well as they could in the pitchy darkness,
it was found that they absolutely had not a boat left capable of
floating.  This fact once ascertained, all hands beat a retreat to the
cabin, there to consult together, in such shelter as it afforded,
regarding the most desirable steps to be taken.  It was soon found,
however, that the sea surged into the cabin in such overwhelming deluges
that they ran the utmost risk of being drowned if they remained there,
and they were, therefore, compelled to turn out again and seek for
safety on the poop.  There the day-dawn found them, shivering with cold,
wet to the skin, and drenched every moment by the pelting, pitiless sea,
hungry, thirsty, and hopeless--when once they had had an opportunity of
seeing the condition of the battered hull that supported them, and were
fully able to realise the absolute impossibility of doing _anything_ to
help themselves.  They could not even build a raft for themselves, every
scrap of movable timber having been swept away during the darkness of
night.  True, there was the wreck of the spars still alongside; and if
the ship would but remain afloat until the weather moderated, something
might possibly be done with them, but not until then.  So they could
only crouch there on the wet exposed poop, with the sea washing
continuously over them, and the raw wind penetrating their saturated
clothing, and hope dubiously that some ship might heave in sight in time
to save them.  And thus they remained until we took them off.

At sundown the gale broke, the wind moderated and came out from the
eastward, and by midnight we were once more bowling along upon our
course under royals.  The next morning, when I went on deck, I found
that Roberts had been busy during the whole of his watch getting the
studding-sails set; and, in short, it proved that we had now caught the
trades, which ran us to within a degree and a half of the Line, and then
left us in a glassy calm, sweltering under the scorching rays of the
tropical sun.

The breeze left us during the night, and when day broke, a large,
full-rigged ship was discovered within about seven miles of us.  As soon
as it was light enough to see, she hoisted her ensign, but as it drooped
in motionless folds from the peak we could only discern that its colour
was red, from which circumstance, and the build of the ship, we arrived
at the conclusion that she was British.  We of course showed our ensign
in return; but, as there was no wind to blow out the flags, it was
useless to attempt exchanging numbers or otherwise indulging in a little
sea conversation.  We therefore dismissed all further thought of her
_pro tem_.

It was consequently with some little surprise that, shortly after we had
seated ourselves at breakfast in the saloon, I received a report from
the mate--who happened to be in charge of the deck--that a boat was in
sight, about three miles distant, apparently pulling to us from the
ship.

Now, when ships happen to be becalmed within close proximity to each
other, with a prospect of the calm continuing for some hours, it is not
altogether an unusual thing for the master of one ship to board the
other, for the purpose of exchanging a little sociable chat, learning
the latest news, or perhaps leaving a letter or two to be posted at the
first port arrived at.  But when ships are becalmed _on the Line_, this
is rarely done unless the two craft happen to be fairly close together--
say, within half a mile or so; because in this region light, transient
airs are liable to spring up with very little warning, and when they
come everybody is naturally anxious to avail themselves of them to the
utmost as an aid toward escape from a spot in which ships have been
known to be imprisoned for as much as a month or six weeks at a time.
Then, again, under the influence of the sun's vertical rays, important
atmospheric changes sometimes take place with startling rapidity--a
squall, for example, working up and bursting from the clouds in a period
so astonishingly brief as to afford little more than the bare time
necessary to prepare for it.  Under these circumstances, therefore,
ship-masters are usually very chary about making long boat-excursions
when becalmed on the Line.

The novel sensation of an anticipated visit probably caused us to dally
less than usual over our morning meal.  At all events, when we rose from
the table and went on deck the boat was still nearly a mile distant.
And a very curious object she looked; for the weather being stark calm,
and the water glassy smooth, the line of the horizon was invisible, and
the boat had all the appearance of hanging suspended in mid-air.  This
effect was doubtless heightened by the extremely rarefied condition of
the atmosphere, which also gave rise to another effect, familiar enough
to me, who had witnessed it often before, but productive of the utmost
astonishment to my passengers, who now, it seemed, beheld it for the
first time.  This effect was the extraordinary apparent distortion of
shape and dimensions which the boat underwent.  She appeared to stand as
high out of the water as a five-hundred-ton ship, while her breadth
remained somewhat about what it ought to be, thus assuming very much the
appearance of a plank standing on its edge.  The men at the oars were
similarly distorted, and when, upon going on deck, our eyes first rested
upon them, the only indication of their being in active movement
consisted in their rapid alternate evanishment and reappearance as they
swung forward and backward at the oars.  The oars betrayed their
presence merely by the flash of the sun upon their wet blades; but a
fraction of a second after each flash there appeared on each side of the
boat a large square patch of deep ultramarine, which could have been
nothing but the broken surface of the water where cut by the oar-blades,
for the ripple caused by the boat's progress through the water similarly
appeared as a heavy line of blue extending on each side of the boat for
a certain distance, when it broke up into a series of ever more widely
detached and diminishing blots of blue.  The curious atmospheric
illusion, of course, grew less marked as the boat approached; and when
she had neared us to within about a quarter of a mile, it vanished
altogether, the craft resuming her normal everyday aspect.

At length she ranged up alongside of us.  One of our lads dropped a line
into her, and the man who had been handling the yoke-lines--a grizzled,
tanned, and weather-beaten individual, somewhere on the shady side of
fifty--came up over the side, the rest of the crew remaining in their
boat alongside, from which they engaged with our own men in the usual
sailors' chat.  The stranger--who, despite the roasting heat, was
attired in blue cloth trousers and waistcoat, surmounted by a thick
pilot jacket, the whole topped off with a blue cloth navy cap, adorned
with a patent-leather peak and two brass anchor buttons--was received by
the mate, to whom he intimated his desire to speak with "the cap'n."

"Well, my man," said I, stepping forward, "what can I do for you?"

"Well, sir," he replied, "I'm the bo'sun, you see, of the ship yonder--
the _City of Calcutta_, of London, Cap'n Clarke; eighty-six days out
from Calcutta, and bound home to the Thames.  We're in terrible trouble
aboard there, and you bein' the first sail as we've sighted since the
trouble took us, I made so bold as to man the gig and pull aboard you--
and a precious long pull 'tis, too--to ask if so be as you can help us."

"That, of course, will depend upon the nature of your trouble," I
replied.  "What is wrong on board you?"

"Well, sir, you see, it's this here way," replied the man, twisting and
twirling in his hands the cap he had removed from his head when he began
to address me.  "Our cap'n is, unfortunately, a little too fond of the
rum-bottle, or p'rhaps it would be nearer the mark to say as he's _a
precious sight_ too fond of it; he's been on the drink, more or less,
ever since we lost sight of the land.  Well, sir, about a fortnight ago
we begins to notice as he seemed a bit queer in his upper story; he took
to talkin' to hisself as he walked the poop, and sometimes he'd march up
to the man at the wheel and stare hard at him for a minute or so without
sayin' a word, and then off he'd go again, a-mutterin' to hisself.  The
men didn't half like it, and at last one of 'em ups and speaks to the
mate about it.  The mate--that's poor Mr Talbot, you know, sir--he
says, `all right, he's got his eye on him;' and there the matter rests
for a few days.  All this time, hows'ever, the skipper was gettin' wuss,
and at last he takes to comin' on deck along somewheres in the middle
watch, and tellin' the first man as he can lay hold of that there was
devils and sich in his state-room, and givin' orders as the watch was to
be mustered to go below and rouse 'em out.  After this had lasted two or
three days, the mate summonses Mr Vine--that's the second mate--and me,
and Chips, and Sails to a council o' war in his own cabin, to get our
ideas upon the advisability of stoppin' the skipper's grog and lockin'
him in his own cabin until he got better again; and we agrees as it was
the best thing to do--because, you see, sir, when a man gets into that
sort o' state there's no knowin' what devilment he mayn't be up to,
without givin' of you any warnin'.  So we agreed as it would be the
right thing to do for the safety of the ship and all hands; and we
promised the mate as we'd back him up in it when we arrived home and he
had to answer for hisself to the owners.  Well, sir, nobody don't know
how it come about, but we suspects as the skipper must ha' overheard Mr
Talbot and Mr Vine talkin' about this here business a'terwards; anyhow,
he gets the two of 'em by some means into his own cabin, and there he
shoots 'em both dead with a revolver, killin' the chief mate at the
first shot, and woundin' poor young Mr Vine that badly that the poor
young feller died only a few minutes after we'd broke open the
state-room door, which was locked, and had got him out.  And now, sir,
we've been obliged to put the cap'n in irons--he bein' stark, ravin'
mad, you see--and we've got nobody to navigate the ship.  And we
thought, mayhap--Chips, and Sails, and I did--that, learnin' of our
trouble, you might be able to spare us somebody to navigate the ship
home."

"Certainly," said I, "that can be done; for I happen to have on board
the captain, mate, and part of the crew of a ship that was foundering
when we fell in with her, and I have no doubt they will all be glad of
this opportunity to get home.  But this is a very dreadful story you
have told me, my good fellow, and I hope you have ample proof of its
truth; because, if not, it may go hard with you all when you reach home.
You may possibly be charged with the murder of your two officers, you
know; or with _all_ of them, should the captain unfortunately die.  When
did this dreadful business happen?"

"The shootin', do you mean, sir?  Four days ago."

"Well, if you will wait a bit I will speak to Captain Baker, and hear
what he says to the idea of taking charge of your ship.  I suppose you
can find room for his crew?  There are ten of them altogether."

"Oh yes, sir; and glad to have 'em.  We were short-handed when we left
Calcutta; and now--"

"Yes, yes; of course," I interposed hastily.  And, with a suggestion
that his crew should come on deck and get some breakfast while waiting
the progress of negotiations, I stepped aft to the wheel grating, where
Captain Baker was busy spinning yarns to the youngsters, and, beckoning
him aside, repeated the story I had just heard; winding up by asking him
whether he felt disposed to undertake the duty of navigating the ship
home.

As might have been expected, he was more than willing to take advantage
of so favourable an opportunity to return home; and as neither he nor
his crew had anything to pack, or any preparations to make for the
contemplated change, they were quite ready to leave us by the time that
the _Calcutta's_ people had finished their breakfast.  Before they left,
however, it was privately arranged between Captain Baker and myself
that, with the first breeze that came to us, the two craft should close,
in order that I might have an opportunity of going on board and adding
my signature to a declaration that he proposed to insert in the _City of
Calcutta's_ log-book relative to the statement made to us by the
boatswain, and the circumstances generally under which he was assuming
the command of the ship.

The weather was, as I have already said, stark calm, with not a speck of
cloud anywhere within the whole visible bounds of the heavens; the sea
was like glass; and if I had been asked whether there was any movement
in the atmosphere I should unhesitatingly have answered "No;" yet, as
Roberts was careful to indicate to me more than once during the morning,
the helmsman managed not only to get the _Esmeralda's_ head pointed
towards the distant ship, but also to keep it pretty steadily in that
direction; and it is an unquestionable fact that, this done, we neared
her at the rate of about three-quarters of a knot per hour.  This state
of things lasted during the whole day; and accordingly, when eight bells
in the afternoon watch struck, the two ships being at that time about a
mile and a half apart, I had the gig lowered, and, after carefully
instructing the chief mate how to proceed in the event of a breeze
unexpectedly springing up, pulled on board the _City of Calcutta_.

She was a noble ship, of some eighteen hundred tons measurement, built
of iron, with a spacious poop aft; the decks as white as snow; fittings
of every kind of the very best; double topsail and topgallant yards; in
fact, a typical modern clipper.  She had accommodation for thirty saloon
passengers; but was luckily carrying none, on that voyage at least.  The
accommodation ladder had been lowered for my convenience, and as the gig
dashed alongside and the oars were tossed in, Captain Baker made his
appearance at the gangway to welcome me, and at once led me into the
saloon.

"Well," said I, "how did you find matters on board here on your
arrival?"

"Just as I might have expected to find them after listening to the
boatswain's story," was the reply.  "The poor skipper is undoubtedly
mad--he is in that cabin, there, and I will take you in to see him
presently--but within the last two hours a change seems to have come
over him.  Before that he was dreadfully violent and noisy; but he has
now calmed down, and I should not be surprised to find that the worst of
the attack is past.  I have not the slightest doubt in the world that
the story of his having murdered the two mates is perfectly true; all
the men--and I have examined each of them separately--tell exactly the
same tale, and there is confirmatory evidence of a certain kind; that is
to say, there are blood-stains on the deck in the skipper's state-room,
proving that the deed was committed there; the door has been broken in,
as stated, and is now in the state-room, with the lock still turned and
the key in it; the revolver with which the murders were committed has
three chambers still loaded, and it is splashed with blood--showing how
close the madman was to his victims when he used the weapon; and last,
and most convincing evidence of all, there are certain entries in the
official log-book, signed `A. Talbot, Chief Mate,' particularising the
captain's eccentricities of behaviour; and one--dated four days ago--
recording the consultation held as to the propriety of temporarily
confining Captain Clarke to his cabin, and the decision arrived at, duly
signed by each of the parties concerned.  See, here they are."

Saying which, he opened the closed log-book that I had already noticed
lying on the table, and drew my attention to the entries, one after the
other, in consecutive order.  I looked them all over most carefully, and
was bound to admit that they had all the appearance of being genuine.
"A most fortunate circumstance for the hands forward that the mate took
the precaution to make those entries," I remarked.

"Yes, indeed," agreed Baker.  "And now," he continued, opening the book
at a fresh page, "this is the entry I made shortly before I saw you
pulling on board us.  I want you to have the goodness to confirm the
statement by appending your signature."

I read the entry, and found it to consist of a brief statement of the
facts connected with the loss of his own ship; of his crew and himself
having been taken off the sinking wrecks by us; of his brief sojourn on
board the _Esmeralda_; of the barque having been boarded by a boat from
the _City of Calcutta_, and of all the circumstances that followed.  At
the foot of this, and under Captain Baker's signature, I added the
following note:--

"I hereby certify that the above statement is true in every particular.

"John Saint Leger, Master of the British barque _Esmeralda_."

This done, accompanied by Captain Baker, I entered the cabin where the
madman was confined; and there saw a sight which I shall probably not
forget to my dying day.  It was one of the saloon cabins--the door of
the poor fellow's own state-room having been beaten in by the crew in
their endeavour to rescue the mates from his clutches--and was a very
fine, roomy, airy, well-lighted apartment, containing two berths and a
sofa, a folding wash-stand, large mirror, a handsome silver-plated lamp
with a ground-glass globe, and a brass pole over the top of the door
carrying brass rings, from which depended a crimson curtain.  The lower
berth was made up, and upon it, lying face downwards, was the form of a
stalwart, well-built man, with irons on his legs.  I thought for a
moment that the poor fellow was asleep; yet, as we stood gazing upon him
in silence, I was suddenly impressed by the perfect immobility of the
figure, and the oppressive silence that pervaded the cabin.  Let a man
be sleeping ever so peacefully, you will notice some slight movement due
to the inspiration and expiration of his breath; and there will also be
the _sound_ of his breathing, as a rule; with perhaps an occasional
sigh, or faint, inarticulate murmur--_something_ to tell you
unmistakably that the figure you are gazing upon is that of a living
man.  But here there was nothing of that sort--a circumstance which
seemed to force itself upon the attention of Baker and myself at the
same moment, for we suddenly turned and gazed inquiringly into each
other's faces, and then, reading there the reflection of our own
dreadful suspicions, without a word we simultaneously stepped forward
and turned the figure upon its back.  The ghastly truth at once became
apparent in all its unspeakable horror; the miserable madman had crowned
his folly and wickedness by cutting his own throat!  It was a sight to
turn one sick and faint--at least, it had that effect upon me; and
doubtless Baker felt as I did, for when I turned to look at him he was
white as chalk to the very lips.  For a moment we stood gazing at each
other, speechless; then, closely followed by me, Baker staggered out of
the berth into the saloon, and thence on deck, shouting for the steward,
who happened to be forward at the galley.  The fellow hurried aft at
once, evidently prepared, by the tone of Baker's voice, to find that
something was wrong.

"Steward," inquired Baker, "how long has Captain Clarke been left to
himself?"

"About a quarter of an hour, sir," was the answer.  "Dennis has been
looking after him, sir; but, finding the captain quite quiet, he went
forward to get his supper with the rest, asking me to keep an eye on him
meanwhile.  And I did, sir, for the minute or two before this
gentleman,"--indicating me--"came aboard; then, when you both went into
the saloon, I took the opportunity to step for'ard to arrange with the
doctor," (the cook) "about the supper for the saloon.  I hope nothing
has gone wrong, sir."

"Captain Clarke has cut his throat, and is stone dead," said Baker.
"Call Dennis aft at once."

The steward hurried away; and in less than a minute the man Dennis made
his appearance, followed as far aft as the mainmast by all hands.  He
was at once rigorously examined by Baker as to the condition and
behaviour of his charge; and his replies went to show that when he went
on watch at eight bells he found the patient perfectly quiet, but
evidently--so at least he judged--quite unaware of his situation and
surroundings.  The captain, he said, was then seated on the sofa in the
cabin, with his hands clasped before him, his elbows resting on his
knees, his body inclined forward, and his eyes fixed upon the carpet at
his feet; in that attitude he had remained continuously, and in that
attitude he had been when he (Dennis) left him.  This was all that was
to be got out of the man, except protestations that when he left the
captain alone he believed he might do so with perfect safety, and
expressions of the deepest regret at the dreadful thing that had
happened.

A few of the men--Captain Baker's two mates, the boatswain, carpenter,
and sailmaker of the ship, and one of the able seamen--were then
conducted into the cabin to view the body and have explained to them its
position when we entered, and so on; and then another entry in the
official log, detailing the tragedy, became necessary; which entry I
also attested.

By this time it was getting dark, and one of the men came to the saloon
door to report that a small air of wind was coming down from the
eastward; as therefore my business on board the _City of Calcutta_ was
concluded, I prepared to leave the ship.  Nothing now remained to be
done but to hand Baker some letters from the _Esmeralda_ to post on his
arrival home--a matter I had almost forgotten in the excitement induced
by the dreadful discovery in which I had participated--and to bid
good-bye to my late guests; which done, I hurried down over the side and
stepped into my gig, glad to be out of a craft on board which such
horrible tragedies had so recently been enacted.

The ship presented a noble picture as we left her there in the swift
gathering dusk of the calm tropical night, her long shapely hull, taunt
spars, and milk-white canvas reflected upon the glassy surface of the
sleeping wave upon which she oscillated ponderously to the long heave of
the almost imperceptible swell; and it was grievous to think that the
man--quite a young man, too, with all his best years apparently before
him--who had been deemed worthy the trust and charge of so fine a
fabric, and of all the costly merchandise that she contained, should
have been so miserably, contemptibly weak as to have allowed himself to
be conquered by the vile demon of drink, and his life brought to so
disastrous and shameful a close.  Ah, me! the pity of it; the pity of
it!

The breeze had reached the _Esmeralda_ by the time that the gig arrived
alongside, and the dainty little barque was lying to with her mainyard
aback, waiting for us.  She seemed very small in comparison with the
_City of Calcutta_, coming so directly as I had done from the spacious
decks and cabins of the latter; but it was a relief to get away from the
big ship, and the tragedy of which she was the scene; and I was more
than thankful that the breeze had come so opportunely to enable us to
part company with her.  The wind--which, after all, was the merest
zephyr--was very light and partial, playing about the surface of the
water around us in occasional cat's-paws, and failing to reach the
barque altogether so long as the fast-fading twilight permitted us to
see her, while, a quarter of a mile to windward and right out to the
horizon, the water was quite blue with ripples.  We accordingly braced
sharp up and luffed our way to the spot where the breeze was steady, and
then bore away upon our course, rejoicing; the nimble little barque
getting off her five knots per hour with ease, although the wind had
scarcely weight enough in it to lift the heavy cloths of her courses.
As the night closed down upon us, however, the breeze acquired a little
more life, and we increased our pace until, at four bells in the first
watch, we were reeling off our eight knots by the log.  About midnight
we passed through quite a large fleet of craft, homeward-bound; and when
day dawned, some seven or eight vessels were in sight ahead of us,
steering to the southward.

At eight o'clock that morning we crossed the Line, by my reckoning; and,
the breeze holding bravely, we had an opportunity to test our sailing
powers against the craft ahead of us; a most exhilarating race
resulting, in which, to the intense satisfaction of all hands on board
the _Esmeralda_, that tidy little barque eventually proved the victor.

Now, it must not be supposed that, because I have abstained from any
mention of the cryptogram since the outset of the voyage, I had
forgotten all about it; on the contrary, it occupied nearly all the
attention I could spare from the ordinary business of the ship, and the
claims of my passengers upon it.  But, so far, without the slightest
useful result.  When we crossed the Line I was just as far from its
interpretation as I had been when I first abstracted it from its place
of concealment in the sword-belt of my respected ancestor.  Many an hour
had I spent in the privacy of my own cabin, with the precious document
outspread upon the little folding-table secured to the bulkhead, framing
tables of letters corresponding with the figures of the cryptogram, and
trying every possible combination I could think of, but not a particle
of sense could I make of it; indeed, I had failed to get any result that
bore even the most remote resemblance to anything like a language.  I
even at last went to the length of telling Sir Edgar and Lady Desmond
and Miss Merrivale of my difficulty; and, acting upon the laughing
suggestion of the latter that the attempt to solve the puzzle would be a
welcome recreation, made three copies of the first line of the document,
and handed one to each of them, in order that they might have an
opportunity of trying their wits upon it.  This was on the day that we
crossed the equator; and, during the whole of that day, when their
attention was not diverted by the overtaking of one or another of the
craft in company, and the frequent exchange of signals--and, indeed, for
many days afterwards--they devoted themselves with great earnestness and
gravity to the matter, but ineffectually; and at length they gave it up
as a bad job, and declared the cypher to be untranslatable.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

THE STRANGE FATE OF THE "NORTHERN QUEEN."

The welcome breeze that wafted us out of the neighbourhood of the
ill-starred _City of Calcutta_ held good, and, gradually freshening and
working round more from the southward, eventually resolved itself into
the south-east trade, under the beneficent influence of which, with our
larboard tacks on board and our yards braced flat up against the
starboard rigging, we merrily wended our way to the southward.

One morning, when we were about in the latitude of the islands of Martin
Vaz and Trinidad, we discovered, at daybreak, a large ship broad on our
weather-bow, the topsails of which were just clear of the horizon.  The
trades were at this time blowing fresh, and the barque was thrashing
along under her main-topgallantsail, with the flying-jib stowed.  No
sooner, however, did Roberts come on deck and espy the stranger--which
was steering the same way as ourselves--than he must needs give orders
to loose and set the fore-topgallantsail and flying-jib; and while I was
in the saloon at breakfast, I heard him give orders to set the two
royals.  Under this additional canvas, which caused the little hooker to
bury her lee side to her covering-boards, and to plunge to her
hawse-pipes into the long ridges of swell that came rolling up from the
southward and eastward, while she sent an acre of milk-white foam
roaring and hissing away from under her lee bow, we rapidly overhauled
the strange sail until we had brought her square abeam.  Then, having
allowed us to reach this position, her people gallantly responded to our
obvious challenge, and made sail until they showed precisely the same
canvas to the breeze that we did.  The stranger, ship-rigged, was at
this time about eight miles away from us, broad on our weather-beam, her
hull just showing above the horizon when she rose upon the crest of a
sea; and, after taking a good look at her through our glasses, we came
to the conclusion that she must be a vessel of about twelve hundred
tons.  That she was a remarkably smart craft under her canvas soon
became evident, for though we were going eleven and a half knots by the
log, we found it impossible to gain an inch upon her after she had got
her additional canvas fairly set and trimmed; indeed, there were times
when it seemed impossible to resist the conviction that she was, if
anything, gaining the merest trifle upon us.  If so, however, it was
only when the breeze came down with a little extra strength; for so
surely as it softened at all we immediately appeared to recover the
trifle that we seemed to have previously lost.

But though we were unable to forereach upon our big neighbour, it became
evident, as the morning now wore on, that the two craft were very
gradually nearing each other, the extraordinary weatherly qualities of
the _Esmeralda_ coming conspicuously into notice in this thrash to
windward on a taut bowline, now that we had the opportunity of comparing
them with those of another vessel.  At noon the stranger showed her
colours, British, and, upon our responding, exhibited her number; from
which and other signals we learned that she was the _Northern Queen_, of
Glasgow, bound to Cape Town.  Then followed an exchange of latitude and
longitude, ours and hers agreeing within a mile or two; and before the
signal flags were finally hauled down and stowed away we had
accomplished quite a long conversation, to the intense delight of my
passengers, especially the fairer members, to whom this sort of thing
was still quite a novelty.

Thus the day wore on, the bright and pleasant hours being whiled away in
a friendly trial of speed that, though we guessed it not, was hurrying
our companion onward to a strange, sudden, and awful doom.

At length the sun went down in a bewildering blaze of gold and crimson
and purple splendour; and almost simultaneously the full-orbed moon rose
majestically above the eastern horizon, flooding the sea that way with
liquid silver, and showing our friend, the _Northern Queen_, hull up in
the very heart of the dazzle, the entire fabric, hull, spars, and
canvas, standing out black as an ebony silhouette against the soft
blue-grey and ivory of the cloud-dappled sky.  She was at this time
square upon our weather-beam; but with the rising of the moon the breeze
acquired new life, as it often does, and came down upon us with a weight
sufficient to render it advisable to clew up and furl our royals--which
we did; the _Northern Queen_ continuing to carry hers, as of course she
could, being a much bigger craft than ourselves, and fitted with much
stouter spars.  She was thus enabled to draw gradually ahead of us, much
to the chagrin of our worthy chief mate, who asserted, with quite
unnecessary vehemence, that it was absolutely the first time that the
_Esmeralda_ had ever been beaten by _anything_ in moderate weather.  It
thus came to pass that at midnight our companion was dead to windward of
us, and about seven miles distant.

My lady passengers had retired to their berths about an hour before; but
Sir Edgar, tempted by the beauty and cool freshness of the night,
lingered on deck, and--both of us being shod with rubber-soled shoes in
order that we might not disturb the repose of the sleepers below--was
pacing the weather side of the poop with me, and relating some of his
former adventures as a traveller, before he had settled down as a sober,
steady, respectable Benedict--as he laughingly put it.  Suddenly, as we
turned in our walk, within arm's length of the binnacle, we became
conscious of a vivid increase of light, and at the same moment an
indescribable, deep, hurtling roar smote upon our ears above the
startled cry of the helmsman, the loud hum of the wind in our rigging,
and the sobbing wash of the sea.  The sound and the light so obviously
came from overhead that we both involuntarily halted and directed our
gaze aloft, when we became aware of an enormous meteor, fully four times
the apparent diameter of the moon, and of such dazzling effulgence that
our eyes could scarcely endure the brightness of it, while the whole
ship, with every minutest detail of spars, rigging, and equipment, was
as brilliantly illuminated as at noonday.  It was passing, at no very
great apparent speed, immediately over our mastheads, in a
south-easterly direction, leaving a long trail of evanescent sparks
behind it, and as we watched we could see that it was falling toward the
sea.

"God of mercy--the ship, the _ship_!" gasped Sir Edgar, clutching my arm
in a grip that left its mark on the skin for days afterward; and, as he
spoke, the huge incandescent mass fell full upon the hull of the
_Northern Queen_.  There was a flash like that of a bursting shell on
board her, and ere we could draw a breath the stately fabric of her
spars and sails collapsed and vanished into the deep before our eyes!

For some seconds we were all, fore and aft, so paralysed with horror and
dismay that not a sound escaped our lips.  Even the weird night music of
the wind and sea appeared to be hushed for the moment, or our startled
senses failed to note it, and presently there came floating down to us
upon the pinions of the breeze a muffled, booming _crash_, as
confirmatory evidence of the appalling disaster.

"Gone--in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye!" ejaculated Sir Edgar,
with quivering, ashen lips, as he strained his eyes toward the point so
recently occupied by our companion.  "Oh, captain, can _nothing_ be
done?  Is there _no_ hope that out there some few survivors at least may
be floating on a scrap or two of wreckage?  You will go there and see,
will you not?"

"Assuredly I will," said I.  "I will tack the moment that I think we can
fetch the spot where the ship disappeared.  Meanwhile," continued I, to
the second mate, who had charge of the deck, "get up three rockets and
fire them, as a signal to the possible survivors that we have observed
the disaster, and intend to look for them.  They will, no doubt,
understand what we mean."

The rockets were brought on deck and fired; by which time I judged that
we had gone far enough to justify us in tacking ship.  We accordingly
went about, and two hands were then stationed on the fore-topsail yard
to keep a lookout for wreckage, while a third laid out as far as the
flying-jib-boom end for the same purpose.

We had been on the starboard tack some three-quarters of an hour, and I
had just hailed the lookouts, warning them to be especially vigilant, as
we must now be near the scene of the catastrophe, when the man on the
flying-jib-boom end cried out with startling suddenness--

"There's something floating out there to wind'ard, sir; broad on the
starboard bow!"

"Yes, yes," added both the men aloft, with one consent.  "It looks like
something alive--like a man, sir, waving his arm!"

"Don't take your eyes off it for an instant, either of you, on any
account," I answered, with a strange thrill in my voice at the idea of
our being perhaps close to one or more survivors of that awful
visitation of God that we had witnessed.  "Back your main-topsail, Mr
Forbes, and then man and lower the port quarter-boat."

"Ay, ay," was the brisk response.  "Man the weather main-braces, my
lads; lively, now.  Cast off to leeward; round-in to windward.  Well
there; belay.  Shall I take charge of the boat, sir?"

"Certainly," I said; "it is your turn this time, Mr Forbes, and I hope
you will be as successful as Mr Roberts was when we last had occasion
to lower a boat.  You will probably not be able to see the man when you
are in the boat and under way, so I will stand on the wheel grating
abaft, where you will be able to distinctly see me, and will indicate to
you how to steer in accordance with the directions which I may receive
from the hands aloft.  If you can only manage to pick up the man they
have seen, he will, perhaps, if he is still sensible, be able to direct
you how to prosecute your further search.  Now, if you are ready, go;
and God speed you."

The boat pushed off, and in less than ten minutes had picked up the man,
who was found to be floating comfortably enough in a life-buoy.
Questioned as to whether he thought there were any more survivors, he
replied that he feared not, as, feeling sure that the catastrophe had
been observed by us, and that we should make for the scene as promptly
as possible--which assurance had been quickly confirmed by the sight of
our rockets--he had simply clung to the life-buoy without making the
slightest effort to shorten the distance between himself and us,
believing that his best hope of deliverance consisted in remaining as
near as possible to the scene of the disaster; and that, if there were
any other survivors, they would most probably act in the same way, in
which case he would almost certainly have seen or heard something of
them in the interim; which had not been the case.  Forbes, however, very
properly pulled about the spot for more than an hour, the boat's crew
shouting at intervals, and then lying on their oars and listening for a
reply.  But it was all of no avail; for, though he fell in with and
picked up two buckets marked with the name of the _Northern Queen_, and
passed through a few small fragments of floating wreckage, clearly
indicating that he was prosecuting his search in precisely the right
spot, nothing more was found, and he was at length reluctantly
constrained to abandon further efforts.

The rescued man--who, when brought on board, appeared not an atom the
worse for his terrible adventure--gave his name as Joe Martin, and
informed us that he had held the rating of carpenter on board the
ill-fated _Northern Queen_.  He gave us full particulars concerning the
port of registry of the ship; the port from which she had sailed; the
number of days out; the number of the crew, and their names, so far as
he knew them--in short, all the information necessary to the
identification of the ship and those on board her; and then he described
the catastrophe as it had impressed itself upon him.  He said that at
midnight the deck had been relieved in the usual manner; and that, it
being his trick at the wheel, he had arrived aft just in time to hear
the "old man" (the captain) bid the mate good night, after laughingly
enjoining him not to go to sleep and allow the little barque to leeward
to slip past him.  The night being fine and the breeze steady, the watch
on deck, with the exception of the lookout, had quickly found snug
corners for themselves, in which they had coiled themselves away for a
quiet cat-nap; the mate had lighted his pipe and established himself in
the skipper's wicker armchair; and perfect peace and quiet reigned
throughout the ship.  Suddenly the whole sky seemed to brighten, and,
glancing involuntarily over his right shoulder--from which direction the
light appeared to emanate--Martin saw the meteorite in the sky
immediately over our mastheads, and at the same moment became conscious
of the screaming roar of its passage through the air.

"The moment I set eyes on it," said he, "I knew--I felt _certain_,
somehow--as the thing meant to strike us; and I shouted to the mate, to
warn him; and then--not knowin' why I did it--I let go the wheel and
makes a spring for the life-buoy hangin' at the taffr'l, whippin' the
knife out of my sheath at the same time.  I'd got hold of the buoy, and
the edge of my knife was on the seizin', when it seemed to me as if the
sun hisself was a-bearin' down on us, the light and the heat got that
dreadful fierce; then there came a most fearful smash as the thing
struck us fair atween the fore and main masts, cuttin' the ship clean in
two, if you'll believe me, gentlemen; and as my knife went through the
seizin' by which the buoy was lashed to the iron rail, I felt the poor
old hooker double herself up together, just as if she was writhin' with
the pain of her death-wound; and with that, holdin' the buoy in my hand,
I makes a single spring overboard; and the next thing I knows, I finds
myself bein' sucked down with the wreck.  If you'll believe me,
gen'lemen, it seemed _years_ afore I felt that dreadful suction let go
of me, and found myself risin' to the top of the water again; and when I
got there at last and caught my breath once more, it seemed to me as if
another single second 'd ha' done for me.  I remembers congratulatin'
myself as the water was so warm and pleasant, and the breeze the same,
as I settled myself comfortable in the middle of the buoy; and then,
when I'd cleared the water out of my eyes, and slipped my knife back
into his sheath, I set to work to look round and see if there was
anybody else that had escaped besides myself.  But I couldn't see
nobody; and while I was peerin' round here and there into the black
hollows between the seas, I catches sight of another flash in the sky,
and looks up fully expectin' to see another o' them awful fire-balls.
But it was only one o' your rockets burstin' up aloft; and lookin'
underneath the place when I floated up to the top of a sea, there I sees
your to'ga'nts'ls and the upper half of your taups'ls; and I understood
in a minute as you'd obsarved what had happened and meant to come and
see if there was any of us left.  Then I began hailin', in hopes of
hearin' a reply from some of the lads; but there weren't a sound come to
me exceptin' the moan of the wind and the hiss of the sea round about;
so at last I knew that all hands exceptin' myself had gone to the bottom
with the good ship, leavin' me alone to tell the tale."

"What an extraordinary class of men sailors are!" remarked Sir Edgar, as
the man Martin, having brought his narrative to a conclusion, and being
dismissed by me, turned and shambled away forward with the usual
careless, leisurely gait affected by forecastle Jack.  "Here is a man
who has just escaped--and is, moreover, the only survivor of--a
catastrophe absolutely unique, I should say, in naval history, yet he is
as unconcerned and undemonstrative over it as though the destruction of
a ship by a meteorite were quite an everyday occurrence.  Is such
extraordinary _sang-froid_ usual, or is this an exceptional example?"

"Oh dear, no," I laughingly replied; "there is nothing in the least
unusual in Martin's demeanour, which, however, is doubtless partly
assumed.  It is not regarded as quite correct form to exhibit any
excitement whatever over an adventure of which one's self has been the
hero; but, apart from that, sailors are so accustomed to carry their
lives in their hands, and become so hardened to danger by being
constantly brought face to face with it--often without a second's
warning, and sometimes in the most unexpected shapes--moreover, they
witness from time to time such startling and inexplicable phenomena,
that it is really difficult to provoke anything like a display of
genuine, unmitigated surprise or excitement on their part.  Whatever
happens--unless it be something very distinctly suggestive of the
supernatural--Jack is always prepared for it."

"So it would appear," assented the baronet.  "But candidly now, captain,
is not this present voyage of ours rather an eventful one?"

"Undoubtedly it is," replied I.  "Singularly so, thus far.  A man might
follow the sea all his life without witnessing so many casualties as
have come under our notice since we sailed.  Yet such casualties are
constantly occurring in some part of the world.  The only remarkable
thing about those of which we have become cognisant is that so many
should have occurred in so short a time, and within an area so small as
to have permitted of our being in the vicinity of each just when it
happened.  Even the dreadful occurrence that we witnessed to-night,
though it is the first case of the kind that I ever heard of, may be
after all nothing very unusual in kind, and may possibly explain the
loss of many of the craft that disappear and leave no sign behind them.
For instance, it is safe to say that the only human eyes that witnessed
the destruction of the _Northern Queen_ are on board this ship, and if
we had not seen it the chances are a hundred to one that her fate would
never have been known.  Martin's prospects of escape would certainly
have been remarkably small; for although, in this fine weather, he might
have remained afloat for some time, he might have been passed unnoticed
by a ship within a very short distance.  Then, after exposure in the
water for a certain number of hours, his strength would rapidly fail
him, and he would die miserably of starvation, if he did not lose his
hold upon the buoy and sink, or be dragged out of it by some hungry
shark."

"Upon my word, you would be an uncommonly cheerful companion for a
nervous man," remarked Sir Edgar, half jestingly, half in earnest.  "I
declare I shall never in future be able to look at that man without
recalling the grim picture you have sketched of him floating helplessly
in his life-buoy.  You sailors certainly ought to be exceptionally
religious men, for it seems to me that not one of you--not one of _any_
of those who go down to the sea in ships--can count with certainty upon
his life from one minute to another.  Just look around you now, for
instance.  How gentle and peaceful is the whole aspect of nature at this
moment, and how absolutely _safe_ we seem to be!  It was just as
peaceful--just as apparently safe--three hours ago; yet in the interim a
noble ship and her whole crew save one has perished; and what has
befallen her may befall us or any other ship that floats, or ever will
float, quite as suddenly, quite as unexpectedly.  I hope that what we
have witnessed to-night will enable us to realise more fully and vividly
than ever, how completely we are in the hands of God, and how absolutely
dependent upon His mercy.  Good night, captain!"

I returned the salutation; and, as the baronet slowly and thoughtfully
descended the companion, I mechanically turned away and began to pace
the deck, with my thoughts busy upon the solemn words I had just heard,
and the occasion that had given rise to them.  And, as I did so, albeit
I am perhaps no worse than the average man, the carelessness and
indifference of my own conduct in the past rose up in judgment against
me and condemned me of the grossest ingratitude for countless past
mercies; the most shameful disobedience; the most criminal neglect to
render to my Creator that honour and glory which is His due.  And I
there and then registered a solemn vow that from that moment I would
lead a new and a better life; a vow that, I grieve to say, was
afterwards far too frequently forgotten.

On the following day, after breakfast, Mr Roberts informed me that
Martin had asked to be put into a watch; and he wished to know whether I
was willing that such an arrangement should be made.  I, of course, had
no objection whatever to the proposal, as I by no means believe in idle
people in the forecastle.  So I told Mr Roberts to arrange the matter,
and at the same time to keep an eye on the man; it being my intention to
regularly ship him, if he proved worth having and should be willing to
sign articles; the second mate's being one hand weaker than the larboard
watch.

About a week after this, little Edgar Desmond came up to me and,
slipping his hand into mine, as was his wont when he desired to have a
chat with me, began, in the straightforward way usual with children--

"Captain, where do you think will be a good place for me to sail my
boat, when she is finished?"

"Your boat?" said I.  "I didn't know that you are making one."

"Oh no," said the child; "I am not making one; it is that new man,
Martin, who is making it for me.  And he is making it _so_ nicely; just
like a _real_ boat.  Come and see it, will you?"

Willing to humour the child, I walked forward with him; and on reaching
the forecastle found Martin busy about some ordinary job connected with
the usual routine work of the ship.  As we halted before him he touched
his forehead with his forefinger, in the usual style of the forecastle
hand, and paused in his work to hear what we had to say to him.

"Good morning, Martin," began Master Edgar.  "I have brought the captain
to see my boat.  Will you show it him, please?"

"Well, you see, sir," remonstrated Martin, obviously embarrassed by my
presence, "'tain't hardly fair to ask me to hexhibit the boat until
she's finished.  There ain't much of her yet, and what there is, is all
in the rough.  It's a little job, sir," he continued, turning in an
explanatory way to me, "as I've undertook to do for this young gentleman
in my afternoon watch below; and, as I said, she's all in the rough at
present--what there is of her."

"Never mind that, Martin," said I, seeing a shade of disappointment
resting upon the child's features; "bring her up, and let us have a look
at her."

Thereupon, the man dived below into the forecastle, and presently
reappeared, bearing in his hand the skeleton of a miniature yacht, about
two and a half feet long, half planked down.  My first sensation, when I
set eyes on the model, was surprise at the dainty, delicate character of
the workmanship exhibited in it, which was greatly increased when, upon
taking it into my hands and more closely inspecting it, I had an
opportunity of examining its lines.  They were as nearly perfect as
anything I had ever seen; in short, it was evident that, when finished,
the model would be a faithful miniature reproduction of a crack racing
yacht of the most approved form.

"Why, Martin," said I, greatly pleased at this example of his skill,
"this is excellent.  Where in the world did you learn to model lines
like these?"

"Well, sir," explained Martin, "you see, I was five years in the yard of
the Fifes at Fairlie, yacht buildin', before I shipped in the _Northern
Queen_; and before that again I was more than three years with Summers
and Payne, of Southampton; so I ought to know a little about the shape
of a yacht, didn't I, sir?"

"Assuredly you ought," said I; "and evidently you _do_, if one may judge
by this."  And I replaced the model in his hand, fully determined to
regularly ship him if I could, now that I had seen what a handy, clever
fellow he promised to be.  For I may here tell the reader, in strict
confidence, that there is nothing I more thoroughly enjoy than
boat-sailing, and very few things that I more highly appreciate than a
good model of a ship or boat.  A few days after this I made the
proposition to Martin that he should ship for the remainder of the
voyage, offering him the same pay that I was giving our own carpenter;
and he at once gladly assented.  This arrangement, as will be _seen_
later on, was destined to lead to more important results than either of
us at the moment anticipated.

At length, after a phenomenally good passage as far south as the
twenty-eighth parallel, we lost the trades, and immediately picked up a
strong westerly wind, before which we bore away, under every rag we
could spread, to round the Cape.  When off Agulhas the wind southed upon
us, and we fell in with the tremendous swell that is almost invariably
met with about this spot.  I had passed over the same ground ten times
already--five times outward-bound, and five times on the homeward
passage--and had _always_ found a heavy swell running, but on this last
occasion it was far heavier than I had ever before beheld it.  To convey
some idea of the enormous bulk and height of these liquid hills I may
mention that while off the Agulhas Bank--where the swell was by no means
at its highest--we overhauled and passed a barque of about our own size,
at a distance of less than a cable's length, yet so high was the swell
that, when we both settled into the trough, she was completely hidden
from us, to her topmast-heads!

In longitude 26 degrees East, with a moderate breeze from south-east, we
bore away for the Straits of Sunda; and a few days afterwards met with a
piece of exceptional good fortune.  It was during the forenoon watch,
the weather being beautifully fine, and a very gentle breeze blowing,
under the influence of which we were slipping through the water at a
speed of about five knots.  The watch were busy, in a deliberate
fashion, about various odd jobs on deck and aloft; and the occupants of
the poop were lounging in their deck-chairs, amusing themselves
according to their several fancies.  As for me, I was engaged--as was
indeed often the case--in a severe mental effort to find the key to Dick
Saint Leger's cryptogram.  The gentle motion, the warm, genial sunshine,
and the soft splash of the water along the bends, with the absence of
any hurried movement on board or sharply spoken orders, seemed to have
wrought in the entire ship, fore and aft, a condition of half-dreamy,
blissful listlessness, from which we were suddenly startled by a man
crying out, from halfway up the lee fore-rigging--

"Luff! luff hard! down with your helm, or you'll be into it!"

"Into what?" shouted I, springing to my feet and running forward.

"I don't know, sir, what it is, but it is something floating.  Here you
are, sir; it is just coming abreast of us now."

As the ship shot up into the wind, with all her canvas flapping and
rustling, I sprang upon the lee rail, and saw a mass of dirty
greyish-white substance, mottled and streaked like marble, floating
slowly past at a distance of some half a dozen yards from the ship's
side.  Of course everybody else on deck must needs, in the excitement of
the moment, rush to the lee rail, to gaze upon the cause of the sudden
alarm; and, among them, the boatswain, an old whaler, who no sooner set
eyes on the object than he exclaimed--

"Why, sir, that's a lump of ambergrease, worth more'n a hundred pound,
I'll be bound.  That's worth pickin' up, that is!"

I had never before seen a piece of ambergris, but had, of course, often
heard of it, and knew it to be valuable; I accordingly ordered the
mainyard to be laid aback, and sent the boatswain away with a crew in
the gig to pick up the piece of "flotsam."  In about a quarter of an
hour they returned to the ship with their prize, which proved to be a
large lump--much larger than it had appeared to be when floating past--
of hard, fatty matter, of a light, dirty grey colour, veined and mottled
somewhat like marble, and giving off a peculiar sweet, earthy odour.
Its weight seemed to be, as nearly as we could estimate it, about one
hundred and fifty pounds; and the boatswain--who claimed to be an
authority--confidently asserted that I should have no difficulty in
getting a sovereign per pound for it at Hong Kong.  Ambergris--I may as
well mention, for the information of those who do not know--is said to
be a secretion formed in the intestines of the sperm whale, as a result
of disease.  It is greatly in demand in the East generally, for a
variety of purposes--medicinal, among others--but its chief use seems to
be in the manufacture of perfumes.  It is not often found, and, the
supply being very limited, it commands a high price in the market.
Strangely enough, we fell in with and secured a second and still larger
piece a few days later; the total quantity amounting to no less than
three hundred and twenty-seven pounds, which I afterwards disposed of
without difficulty at twenty-five shillings per pound, remitting the
proceeds home to my old friend, Mr Richards, in part liquidation of my
debt to him.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE CHIEF MATE HAS A PRESENTIMENT.

Nothing further of importance occurred during our passage across the
Indian Ocean, which was accomplished under exceptionally pleasant
circumstances; the weather being gloriously fine, and the wind, if not
absolutely fair, always favourable enough to permit of our laying our
course.

Java Head was made just before sunset, under a clear sky, with a light
air breathing out from the north-west--so light an air, indeed, that
when the sun rose next morning the headland was still on our starboard
bow.  Some two hours later, however, we got a strong breeze out from the
north-east, under the influence of which we worked up toward the mouth
of the straits in fine style, until noon--by which time we were fairly
within the straits--when the wind softened down, finally dwindling away
to nothing about an hour before sunset.

We had sighted several sail during the day, three of them being
European, bound to the westward, while the rest were country craft--
small coasters and fishing vessels for the most part.  The Malays have
probably, next to the Chinese, the worst reputation in the world for
honesty; but it is only just to say that, with one solitary exception,
all the native craft we had that day fallen in with had behaved in a
manner that left no room whatever for suspicion.  The exception was in
the case of a large proa that had passed us closely, running out before
the wind toward the mouth of the straits during the forenoon, but which,
having run to leeward of us for a distance of some six miles, had then
hauled her wind and stretched in toward the southern shore, on reaching
which she had lowered her canvas, thrown out her sweeps, and made her
way to windward with the aid of the latter alone.  It was not so much
this circumstance, however, though it had a somewhat incomprehensible
look about it, as the fact that she pulled twelve sweeps of a side--
proving her to be heavily manned--that caused us to regard her and her
movements with a certain amount of doubt and suspicion.  We were now in
waters that, from the numerous acts of piracy that have been committed
within them, have acquired a more sinister reputation than is borne by
any other spot of ocean of similar area in the whole world; and it was
therefore only natural that the fact of our being becalmed in such a
spot should have been productive of a certain uneasiness and disquiet of
mind throughout the ship.

At sunset, and for an hour or two afterwards, there was every prospect
of a fine clear night; but at about two bells in the first watch a thin
veil of vapour began to gather in the sky, gradually thickening and
blotting out the stars until they were all completely hidden, when the
darkness became profound.  At this time--or rather, when we had last had
an opportunity of distinguishing distant objects--there were only some
eight or ten craft, all native, in sight, the nearest of which was fully
four miles distant; and they all, without exception, presented an
appearance of perfect honesty.  Three or four of them were, like
ourselves, drifting idly, with their heads pointing in as many different
directions; the others had rigged out a sweep, or in some cases a pair,
and were slowly making their way inshore.

The baronet and I were reclining in contiguous chairs, placidly smoking
our post-prandial cigars; the ladies were below, Miss Merrivale being
seated at the piano, accompanying her sister, who--having by this time
quite recovered her health and spirits--was singing some quaint,
old-fashioned ballad in a full, rich contralto voice that could be
distinctly heard from one end of the ship to the other, and probably far
beyond.  As for the chief mate, he was pacing the deck thoughtfully and
steadily to and fro with an energy that, taking the heat and closeness
of the night into consideration, seemed to bespeak an uneasy mind.
After a while he halted alongside the binnacle, gazed abstractedly into
it for about half a minute, and then, turning to the nodding helmsman,
inquired whether he knew where he was running the ship to.

"She hasn't had steerage-way on her since I came aft, at eight bells,
sir," was the reply.

"She hasn't, eh?" remarked Roberts.  "Well, if that's the case, the
compass isn't of much use to you, is it?  So," pulling off his jacket,
"as it's hardly worth while to proclaim our exact whereabouts to
everybody, we'll just mask the light until a breeze springs up."

Saying which, he laid his jacket very carefully over the hood of the
binnacle, completely obscuring the not very brilliant light that shone
therefrom.

"What is Roberts' idea in hiding the binnacle light in that fashion?"
asked Sir Edgar, turning to me, as the mate again walked forward,
pausing for some minutes near the head of the short poop ladder, and
apparently peering anxiously round him into the obscurity.

"Well," said I, "I think he perhaps feels a little uneasy at our being
becalmed just here, and in such an intensely dark night, too.  The
Malays have the name of being born pirates, you know, and should they
happen to take it into their heads to attack us just now, it would be
rather awkward, since we could do absolutely nothing to avoid them while
this calm lasts."

"Do _you_ think there is any danger of such an occurrence, captain?" he
asked, with manifest anxiety.

"Not very much," I replied.  "There were no suspicious craft visible at
nightfall.  Still, an attack is by no means an impossibility, especially
on such a dark night.  The circumstances are precisely those which I
imagine would be deemed highly favourable by people piratically
inclined."

"Then why, in Heaven's name, my good sir, do you not make preparation
for such an eventuality?" exclaimed my companion, excitedly.

"For the simple reason," I replied, "that all the preparation possible
could be made in five minutes; and, as a matter of fact, I was only
waiting until you had all retired, when I intended at once making them.
Two slashes of a sharp knife would suffice to release those
boarding-pikes from the boom; and you can easily calculate for yourself
the length of time it would take to serve out a brace of revolvers and a
cutlass to each of our small crew."

"Um!" ejaculated the baronet.  "And have you no rifles on board?"

"I have one," said I; "but of what use would it be on such a dark night
as this?"

"True; too true," muttered Sir Edgar.  "Nevertheless, I think I will go
down and put my Winchester together, upon the off chance of work being
found for it.  Confound this calm, say I.  If it were not for the fact
of my wife and bairns being on board there is nothing I should enjoy
more than a brush with the rascals--for my feeling is that pirates
deserve no mercy--but, as it is--" An expressive shrug eloquently
concluded the sentence; and the baronet at once rose and went below.

A minute or two later the piano became silent, and I heard the sound of
the instrument being closed, as Sir Edgar remarked, laughingly--

"Thank you, Emily.  If you go on at this rate you will soon recover your
old form.  I thought, just now, as I sat on deck listening to your
singing, that your voice had never sounded sweeter.  But, as your chief
medical adviser, I really must forbid your using it any more to-night;
we must progress gradually, you know, and not overtax nature at the
outset (is not that the correct professional jargon?)  Joking apart,
however, I think you have done enough for to-night; and--ah, there goes
four bells--ten o'clock--take my advice, `turn in,' both of you, and get
a good long night's rest."

"I think I will," replied Lady Emily; "this hot weather makes me feel
very languid and tired.  And you, Edgar--what are you going to do?  You
will not remain on deck very late, will you?"

"Well," hesitated Sir Edgar, "that depends on circumstances.  I shall
not turn in until I feel that there is some chance of getting to sleep.
And if this calm continues I think I shall sleep on deck; it is too
insufferably hot altogether for one down here, just at present.  Leave
the ports open in your cabins, both of you, so that if there is any air
stirring you will get the benefit of it.  And now I think I will say
good night to you both.  Good night, sweetheart, and pleasant dreams.
Good night, Agnes."

I heard the click of the latches of the cabin-doors as the two ladies
retired, and presently Sir Edgar came on deck again, with a fresh cigar
in his mouth, and seated himself once more beside me, remarking--

"There!  I have packed my womankind off to bed, and have laid my rifle,
with a good supply of cartridges, in my own bunk--an act which has
somewhat relieved my mind.  So now, captain, as the coast is clear down
below, there is nothing to prevent your making your preparations as soon
as you please."

"Very good," said I; "then I will set about them at once.  And, by way
of a start, I think we will `blind' the skylights; as I fully agree with
Roberts that there is no especial advantage in revealing four
whereabouts to anybody to-night.  Nothing but a steamer could run us
down in this weather; and, should there happen to be one coming along,
we should see her lights in ample time to give her warning of our
position."

The mate was still promenading to and fro between the break of the poop
and the binnacle; so when he next passed I requested him to have the
canvas covers put over the skylights, also to direct the steward to turn
down the lamps in the saloon and my own cabin, and to carefully draw the
curtains before all the sidelights, so that no treacherous ray might
gleam forth from the ship's side and betray our locality.  This was soon
done; and the noiseless movements of the mate as he went forward and
gave the necessary orders in a whisper, instead of issuing them in
stentorian tones from the break of the poop, sufficiently indicated his
conviction of the existence of a lurking peril in our immediate
vicinity.

The one thing that we had to fear, above all others--and to guard
against--in the event of an attack, was the presence of the pirates on
our own decks.  Should they succeed in boarding us, it would certainly
be in such overwhelming numbers as to render an effective resistance
impossible; our small party would be quickly overpowered, and then the
fate of everybody on board would be sealed.  Our safety depended upon
our keeping the foe at arm's length.  Half a dozen fathoms of water
would suffice; but the problem was how to accomplish this very desirable
end.  I had been giving a good deal of thought to this, even while
chatting disconnectedly with Sir Edgar in the earlier part of the
evening, and had at length hit upon a plan that I thought might be
successful.  We had on board a small fire engine, mounted on wheels,
with a hose and jet attached, and a tank capable of containing some
fifty gallons.  This engine I now ordered to be uncovered, and prepared
for action by securely lashing a small loose mop-head of oakum round the
nozzle of the hose, taking especial care that the aperture of the jet
should be left perfectly free.  Roberts, who seemed at once to divine
and understand my plan even before I had explained it to him, undertook
this part of the work in person; and in about ten minutes he reported
that all was ready, and invited me to inspect his workmanship.

It was by this time "five bells;" and the night was, without exception,
the darkest, I think, that I had ever experienced.  So dark, indeed, was
it, that, well as we knew the ship, we had to feel our way along the
deck with hands and feet, for it was absolutely impossible to see
anything a foot beyond the end of one's nose.  With such intense
darkness as this it was evident that the heavens must be obscured by
exceptionally heavy masses of cloud; which, with the hot, breathless
condition of the atmosphere, led me to anticipate and hope for a
thunderstorm, which would at least afford us sufficient light to inspect
our surroundings, and so put an end to a state of suspense that was
growing wearisome.  And not only was the night intensely dark; it was
also oppressively silent; for, the water being perfectly smooth, there
was no life or motion in the ship to give rise to those sounds--such as
the flapping of canvas, the creaking of timbers and bulkheads, etcetera,
etcetera--that usually make a calm so irritating to people who happen to
be troubled with nerves.  All was silent as death itself; our own
movements being hushed, in harmony with the prevailing stillness, so
that we spoke under our breath, and moved about on tiptoe.

In this silent, groping way I followed Roberts forward to inspect the
fire engine; and it was while thus engaged with the aid of a carefully
shielded lantern, that the mate exclaimed, in a hoarse whisper, as he
held up his hand, and bent his head in a listening attitude--

"Hark! did you hear that, sir?"

"No," said I, "I heard nothing.  What was it?"

"Why," answered Roberts, "it sounded to me like the noise of an oar, or
a sweep, creaking in a rowlock; and it seemed to come from away
yonder,"--pointing, as he spoke, in the direction of the larboard bow.

We both listened intently, for fully a minute, without detecting any
sound whatever confirmatory of Roberts' evident suspicions; and at
length I said, turning once more to the examination of the fire engine--

"Tush, man, you were mistaken; you heard nothing.  The fact is, Mr
Roberts, you are not quite yourself to-night.  You seem nervous, and
fidgety, and anxious.  The heat of to-day has upset you; and I think you
had better let me give you a good stiff dose of quinine when you go
below, at eight bells."

"Thank you, sir, no," answered Roberts; "I don't need any quinine, or
anything else in the shape of medicine to brace me up.  There's nothing
the matter with me, bodily; but, to be perfectly candid, I _do_ feel a
little bit off my mental balance, as it were, to-night.  The fact is--I
know you'll laugh at me, sir, but I can't help that, and it don't
matter, but I've got the feeling strong upon me that something's going
to happen to me to-night.  For three nights running--that is to say,
last night, and the night before, and the night before that again--I've
started up out of a sound sleep with the idea that my dear wife was
calling me; ay, and with the very sound and tone of her sweet voice in
my ears.  Now, sir, do you think that is only a coincidence, as they say
ashore; or isn't it more likely to be a sign that something is going to
happen to me?"

"Why, what nonsense is this for a sensible, educated man like yourself
to be talking!"  I exclaimed half angrily.  "Let me feel your pulse."

He held out his hand to me, and I laid my fingers upon his wrist.
Contrary to what I had expected, I found the skin to be cool and moist,
and the pulse beneath it beating with the steadiness and regularity of a
machine.

"Umph! there doesn't seem to be very much wrong there," I admitted.
"But I didn't know you were a married man, Roberts; I understood you
once to say that you were quite alone in the world--not a soul belonging
to you."

"Quite right, sir; that's the exact truth," returned the mate.  "But I
had a wife once, sir; as sweet, true, and tender-hearted a little woman
as you ever met, I'll be bound.  And pretty, she was, too.  My little
Nellie--I only had her six months, sir.

"We were spliced early in the spring; and I stayed ashore and spent the
whole summer and well into the autumn with her; six months--six blessed,
happy, joyous months with the sweetest woman that ever lived.  We were
all by ourselves, excepting for one servant maid, in a pretty little
house on the outskirts of Teignmouth.  Ah! that was a time for a man to
look back upon for the rest of his life.  Then by-and-by, when the
autumn days began to grow short, the cash began to grow short, too; and
I had to go to sea again to earn more.  I'm not a particularly
soft-hearted man, as a rule, Captain Saint Leger, but I tell you, sir,
that that parting from Nellie was just as much as I could stand up
against: to be obliged to untwine her loving, clinging arms from about
my neck, and to deliberately turn away and leave her standing there by
the gate, crying her dear eyes out, was cruel work, sir; it was like
tearing my very heartstrings asunder.  But it had to be done.

"Of course when we arrived at Durban--for it was while I was in the
Natal trade, in this same little barque--there were a couple of letters
waiting for me that had passed us on the road out; and every mail that
arrived while we were lying in the harbour brought me another, each more
cheerful than the last, because the time was passing away and bringing
our reunion nearer.

"And when at last I got home again, sir, all that they had to show me
was my darling's new-made grave.  She had taken typhoid fever, died, and
was carried out of the house in her coffin at the moment that the
telegram announcing my arrival in England was handed in."

Something very like a sob seemed to rise in Roberts's throat and choke
him at this point in his story; but before I had time to frame and
arrange the words of sympathy that struggled to my lips--for I am not a
quick man with my tongue--he resumed--

"I hope, Captain Saint Leger, that if my manner has seemed to you a
little curious to-night, you will not put it down to timorousness, or
faintheartedness, or anything of that sort.  I _do_ feel very queer, I
admit; not ill, you understand, but _strange_; a kind of--well, it's
more than a presentiment; I might say it's an absolute certainty that
I'm going to die to-night, coupled with another absolute certainty that
those treacherous fiends of Malays are gathering round us out there in
the darkness.  But if my presentiment should prove true, and it comes to
a fight, have no fears on my account.  I'll not fail you, sir, in the
moment of need and danger.  Danger has long ceased to be an enemy of
mine, and Death lost all his terrors for me when I stood for the first
time beside my Nellie's grave.  I am quite ready to die whenever it may
please the Almighty to call me; and if I can do so in defence of those
dear, helpless women and children down below, it will suit me well
enough."

"Thank you, Roberts; thank you, my friend," said I, grasping the hand he
held out to me.  "Yours is a very sad, pathetic story, and you have my
hearty sympathy.  As to doubting your courage, my good fellow, no such
thought ever entered my head.  But I am certain, despite all you say to
the contrary, that you are not quite yourself to-night.  Therefore, if
you will not take any medicine, at least go below and try to get a
little sleep; that perhaps will do you as much good as anything.  I will
keep the remainder of your watch for you; and should anything occur to
confirm your suspicions as to the Malays, you may reckon on my calling
you in good time."

The man was, however, obstinate--or, at least, so he seemed to me to
be--resolutely declining to accede to either of my suggestions; so,
leaving him to complete the few remaining preparations I deemed
necessary to meet an attack, should anything of the sort be attempted, I
returned aft to the poop, somewhat vexed that so thoroughly sensible a
man as Roberts had hitherto proved should suffer himself to be so
completely mastered, as I had seen him to be, by a morbid feeling of
melancholy that was doubtless due in part to overmuch dwelling of late
upon the death of his wife but which I firmly believed was to be still
more directly traced to some slight derangement of the system that could
easily be put right by the administration of a dose of medicine, could
the fellow but be induced to take it.  No doubt, too, the fact of our
being becalmed, and therefore to a great extent helpless, in a spot
notoriously haunted by a people, every mother's son of whom was but too
ready to participate in any act of piracy that seemed to offer a
reasonable prospect of success, had a large influence in producing the
presentiment of death in the mate's mind; but that, I felt sure, would
pass away with the impenetrable and oppressive darkness by which we were
enveloped, or with the advent of a breeze of wind.  While, therefore, I
sincerely pitied the poor fellow for his disagreeable state of mind, I
thought that perhaps it would be wisest to treat it as a matter of no
importance, and to leave him to himself until the fit of depression
should have passed away.

On groping my way back to the chair I had previously occupied, I found
that Sir Edgar was still occupying the chair beside my own, meditatively
pulling away at a cigar, the glowing spark of which would probably have
still further increased Roberts's perturbation, had he seen it.  As I
seated myself beside him the baronet made a half-jesting inquiry as to
whether our preparations had had the effect of reassuring the mate; so,
to while away the time, and for want of something more interesting to
talk about, I told him Roberts's story, and also described to him the
peculiar state of mind under which the poor fellow was labouring.  Sir
Edgar fully agreed with me that the latter was simply the result of some
slight and probably temporary derangement, and was proceeding to discuss
the subject of presentiments in general, and the extreme rarity of
really well-authenticated cases of verification, when the atmosphere
became for an instant faintly luminous with the evanescent, quivering
glimmer of the silent, summer lightning.  The flash trembled but for a
moment in the sky, and was gone again; but in that moment I saw that the
firmament was packed with vast masses of dense, heavy, threatening,
highly, charged electric cloud, the weird, contorted shapes of which
clearly indicated that they were being powerfully acted upon by the
mighty antagonistic forces that they carried within their bosoms, and
gave unmistakable warning that an elemental strife was impending, for
which it would be well to prepare.  Beneath this louring canopy the
surface of the water shone with the unwrinkled smoothness of polished
glass, faithfully reflecting every detail, even to the most minute, of
form and colour exhibited by the writhing cloud-shapes that overhung it;
and also faithfully reflecting the shapes of four large proas that, in a
somewhat scattered fleet, were revealed at a distance of some three
miles to the northward and eastward of the spot occupied by ourselves.
The barque happened at the moment to be lying with her head pointing
about south-east; these proas were therefore broad upon our larboard
beam, and they were the first objects that met my sight.  Some, if not
all, of these craft were working their sweeps; for, with the momentary
quiver of the lightning, I had caught the glint of reflected light from
wet oar-blades projecting from the dark, shadowy mass of the hull; and
they were all heading up or down the straits--I could not tell which in
the unexpected glimpse I had caught of them--for they all showed end-on,
or nearly so, to us.

Meanwhile, Roberts had completed his task, and was in the act of
mounting to the poop--for I caught sight of his figure out of the corner
of my eye--when the flash came.  As the opaque darkness once more
enveloped us I heard his voice exclaiming sharply, and, as it seemed to
me, with a note of exultation in it, as though proud at the prospect of
at least one half of his presentiment being verified--

"Did you see that, sir?"

I rose from my chair and joined him, so that our voices might not
disturb the sleepers below in the saloon, near the open skylight of
which I had been seated.

"You mean the proas, I suppose," said I.  "Yes, I saw them.  But there
are only four of them, thank goodness.  And we are not sure that they
are not heading _up_ the straits, instead of toward us.  If so, it was
no doubt from one of them that the sound emanated that startled you a
little while ago, as they must have passed us at no great distance."

"_Four_ of them?" exclaimed Roberts; "I only saw _three_; and two of
them were heading the same way as ourselves.  They were all close
together; not more than--"

At this moment the tremulous greenish glare of the sheet lightning once
more lit up the scene, this time much more strongly than on the first
occasion, and in the midst of the quivering radiance there was a single
sudden, vivid gleam, like the instantaneous flash of a gigantic lantern
behind the dense masses of cloud lying piled along the western horizon,
the light being so brilliant as to be quite dazzling after the Cimmerian
darkness to which our eyes had become accustomed.  But, despite the
dazzling brilliancy of the sudden illumination, the retina of my eyes
caught and retained the vision of three large proas broad on our
_starboard quarter_, about two miles distant, situated precisely as
Roberts had described them; and that this vision was no illusion of my
senses was instantly demonstrated by the mate, who interrupted himself
to quickly exclaim--

"There they are again, sir."

"Yes, I saw them," said I.  "And there are four more about three miles
up the straits, on our port beam.  That makes seven craft in our
neighbourhood that were certainly not there when the darkness closed
down upon us.  Now, in order to get where they are they must have been
using their sweeps; which, I must confess, has, to my mind, rather a bad
look; as, from what I have heard of the Malays, they are not so fond of
hard work as to resort to it for mere pastime.  However, we shall soon
know what they are after; if they are looking for us, that last flash
has most probably enabled them to discover our whereabouts; and if they
mean mischief they will all be heading for us when next we see them.
Meanwhile, Mr Roberts, it is evident that we are about to be treated to
a heavy thunderstorm; and as it may bring a violent wind-squall with it,
we will make provision for the possibility by stowing all our light
canvas.  Ah!"--as another and still brighter flash burst forth, followed
this time by the low muttering of distant thunder--"there they come; the
rascals are certainly after us!  Call all hands at once, if you please,
Mr Roberts; there will be time to shorten sail, and to prepare a
reception for the Malays before they can get alongside."

"All hands shorten sail!" shouted the mate, scrambling off the poop, and
groping his way forward.  "Clew up and furl the royals and to'ga'nts'ls;
and see that you stow them in such a way that they won't blow adrift if
a squall happens to strike us.  Let go the main-royal and to'gallant and
the mizzen-topmast staysail halliards, and man the downhauls; then you
can stow the sails, as you work your way down.  Is that you, Mr Forbes?
Just see that the main and fore tops'l-halliards are all clear for
letting run, will ye?  And when your lads come on deck we will haul down
and stow the flying-jib and get in the gaff-tops'l and mizzen.  That's
your sort, my bullies; now, away aloft and stow everything as quickly as
you can."

The men, fearful that the anticipated squall might burst upon the ship
before we were prepared for it, worked with a will, their efforts being
greatly facilitated by the lightning that was now quivering and flashing
all round the horizon with momentarily increasing splendour, and at such
brief intervals that the illumination might almost be said to be
continuous; while the deep, hollow rumble of the thunder might very well
have been mistaken for the booming of a distant cannonade.  The effect
of the incessant flicker of the lightning was very weird; the tremulous
greenish-blue glare illuminating the ponderous masses and contorted
shapes of the black clouds overhead, the surface of the ink-black sea
around us, the distant proas, and the hull, spars, sails, and rigging of
the barque, with the moving figures aloft and at the jib-boom end, and
suffusing everything with so baleful and unearthly a light that only the
slightest effort of the imagination was needed to fancy ourselves a
phantom ship, manned by ghosts of the unquiet dead, floating upon the
sooty flood of the Styx, with the adamantine foundations of the world
arching ponderously and menacingly over our heads and reflecting from
their rugged surfaces the flashing of the flames of Phlegethon.



CHAPTER NINE.

AN EVENTFUL NIGHT.

The storm was approaching us rapidly; the rumble of the thunder grew
momentarily louder, and soon became continuous; and presently a vivid
flash of chain lightning streamed from the clouds low down upon the
northern horizon, followed, in about half a minute, by a smart peal of
thunder, much louder than any that we had yet heard.  This was quickly
succeeded by a second flash, perceptibly nearer than the first--for the
interval between it and the resulting clap of thunder was noticeably
shorter, while the volume of sound was much greater and sharper.  And
still the sheet lightning continued to play vividly and with scarcely a
second's intermission among the Titanic cloud-masses around and above
us, lighting up the entire scene from horizon to horizon; so that we now
had no difficulty whatever in following the movements of the various
proas in sight, the whole fleet of which were obviously converging upon
us as upon a common centre.

It was evident, from the uneasy glances cast by the men from time to
time upon these craft, that they fully shared my own and the chief
mate's suspicions regarding them, and I have no doubt that the sight of
the seven proas unmistakably sweeping down toward us had as much as the
quickly gathering storm to do with the acceleration of their movements;
at any rate, I had never seen men work more smartly; and the nearest
proa was still fully three-quarters of a mile distant when the last man
reached the deck--which he did by way of the main-topmast backstay--and
our task of shortening sail was complete.

I thought it was now time to say a word or two to the hands.  I
therefore requested Mr Roberts to call everybody aft; and at the word
they came shambling along the deck, bare-footed, and grouped themselves
on the port side, between the main rigging and the capstan, while the
two mates joined me upon the poop.  I waited a moment until they were
silent, and then said--

"My lads, the glances you have been casting at intervals in the
direction of those proas assures me that not only have you all observed
them, but also that, like myself, you have very grave doubts as to the
honesty of their intentions.  I may as well say at once that, so far as
I am concerned, doubt has given place to certainty--the certainty that
they mean mischief towards us.  I believe that the large proa that
passed us this morning, running out to seaward, and afterwards sweeping
up the straits again, under the land, was simply bound upon a
reconnoitring cruise; and that, on seeing us, her people arrived at the
conclusion that we should prove a very suitable object for attack,
should opportunity present itself; and that the presence of those seven
proas is the result.

"Now, I need not waste time by telling you what sort of character the
Malays bear, because you all know it.  They are, almost to a man, born
pirates, and a cruel, bloodthirsty set of rascals are they into the
bargain.  We may therefore be certain that if those fellows are once
allowed to gain full possession of our decks, not a soul of us on board
here will be left alive five minutes afterwards.  Unfortunately, we
mount no guns, so I fear there is little chance of our being able to
keep them at a distance; but there is an arm-chest below containing a
sufficient supply of cutlasses and revolvers for all hands, and these,
with ammunition, shall be served out to you.  I may tell you that Mr
Roberts and I have been concocting a little plan by which we hope to
prevent the rascals from actually boarding us; but, as I have never yet
tried it, I am by no means certain that it will succeed.  Should it
fail, we shall undoubtedly be boarded, in which case we must fall back
upon cold lead and cold steel, serving out both to the enemy with such
zeal and good will that they shall be anxious only to get back on board
their own craft with the utmost possible expedition.  You will all
fight, and fight well, I know--I never yet met with a Briton who would
_not_ fight--but it may perhaps put a little extra vigour into your arms
if I remind you that you will be fighting, not only for yourselves, but
also for the helpless women and children who are sleeping below.  Now
muster yourselves, the port watch on the port side of the deck, and the
starboard watch on the starboard side, and Mr Roberts and Mr Forbes
will serve out the arms to you.  After which you will hold yourselves
ready to promptly execute such orders as you may receive."  The fellows
raised a cheer as I finished speaking, and ranged themselves on either
side of the deck with a steadiness and alacrity of movement that was
very encouraging to me, as indicating a cool and undaunted frame of mind
on their part; and the two mates at once dived below to bring up the
arms and ammunition.

Meanwhile, I walked aft to Sir Edgar, who still retained his chair,
puffing placidly at his cigar, but clearly evincing, by the way he had
slued himself in his seat, and in his observant, listening attitude, the
lively interest he was taking in the proceedings.

As I joined him he rose from his chair and, pitching the glowing stump
of his cigar over the side, said--

"I am going below for my rifle now, captain.  And I think that while I
am there I had better awaken my wife and Miss Merrivale, and just give
them a hint of what is impending.  The firing is certain to awake them,
if the thunder has not done so already, and I think it will be best that
they should have a clear idea of what is about to happen, or when we
begin firing we may have them rushing on deck in alarm to see what is
the matter.  Do not you agree with me?"

"Yes, certainly," said I.  "I was about to suggest such a course to you.
But there is every probability of there being some exceedingly warm
work going on here on deck very shortly, and if you will allow me to
express an opinion, it is that it would be decidedly more prudent for
you to remain below and do what you can to encourage the ladies.  An
unlucky shot, you know, might--"

"Thanks," interrupted the baronet, "I think I can guess exactly what you
would say, captain; but not another word, if you please.  What?  Would
you have me skulk below while brave men are imperilling their lives in
defence of those who are dearer to me than my own life?  I could not
possibly do it.  Besides, if I am not greatly mistaken, you will need
all the force you can muster before the end of the affair is reached.  I
shall be back again within five minutes, and I have to request that,
from then until the fight is over, you will be pleased to consider me as
completely under your orders as any other man in the ship."

So saying, Sir Edgar turned toward the companion and made his way below
with a composure as imperturbable as though he had just bade me "good
night" and were about to turn in, instead of looking forward to active
participation in a struggle which there was only too much reason to
expect would be of the most sanguinary and desperate character, and the
result of which might well be anticipated with anxiety.

The baronet's head had scarcely vanished beneath the companion-slide
when there came a flash and a puff of smoke, followed by a sharp,
ringing report from the nearest proa--now directly astern of us, the
barque having swung with her head once more pointing fair up the
straits--and then the surface of the water was torn and lashed into
momentary foam, some eight or ten fathoms away on our port beam, by the
spattering of a heavy shower of bullets or slugs of some sort that had
evidently formed the charge of the gun.

"That was well meant, at any rate," remarked Roberts, as he crossed the
deck and placed himself at my side.  "By the report of it I judge that
it is a brass gun they are using, and they've got our range to a nicety,
for a wonder."

"Yes," said I; "the men had better get under cover, Mr Roberts, for, if
the next charge should happen to fall on board us, somebody may be hurt,
and there are so few of us that we cannot afford to have any casualties
before coming to close quarters.  Be good enough to see to this, if you
please, and while you are forward get one of the men to open and start a
drum of petroleum into the tank of the fire engine, and put the nozzle
of the hose into the tank to soak, so that our wick arrangement round
the jet may get thoroughly saturated with oil against the time that we
shall want to use it.  At the same time you had better tell off two of
the most reliable hands to attend exclusively to the working of the
engine.  And be pleased to remember that you and Mr Forbes are included
among those who are to keep carefully under cover until otherwise
required."

"All hands under cover," shouted the mate, as he made his way forward.
"Stow yourselves away where no shot can get at you, my lads, but hold
yourselves ready to answer smartly to a call.  Harry, I want you and Joe
Martin to--"

I heard no more, being by this time halfway down the companion-ladder in
quest of my rifle, for the time was now at hand when it would be needed.
As I entered my own state-room I heard Sir Edgar's voice speaking in
reassuring tones in his wife's cabin, and as I emerged again with my
rifle in my hand, a cutlass girt about my waist, and a pair of revolvers
in my belt, he came into the saloon and from thence followed me on deck.
As I placed my foot on the bottom step of the companion-ladder I heard
the report of another discharge from the proa mingling sharply with the
deep, volleying roll of the thunder overhead, but as there was no
accompanying patter of shot on the deck I concluded that they had again
missed us.

I was heartily glad that the Malays had unmistakably declared their
intentions by opening fire upon us, for, to be perfectly candid, I had
been in some perplexity as to how I ought to act towards them, should
they make no hostile demonstration towards us while approaching.  For
while, on the one hand, there had scarcely been a shadow of doubt in my
mind, from the moment when my eye first fell upon them, that the proas
were piratical craft, with sinister designs upon the barque, there
remained, on the other hand, a bare possibility--until they absolutely
declared themselves to be otherwise--that they might be perfectly honest
traders bound upon their own lawful business, and we should hardly be
justified in taking the initiative and opening fire upon them as they
approached, merely because their movements happened to present to us a
suspicious appearance, and because their respective courses happened to
be in our direction.  But now that one of them--the craft nearest us--
had actually assumed the offensive, we need entertain no further
scruples, so far at least as she was concerned; and as for the others,
now that the engagement might be said to have begun, we should soon
discover, by their behaviour, what their intentions were.

"How is your rifle sighted?" asked Sir Edgar, as we stood together near
the wheel, watching the approach of our antagonist.

"Up to a thousand yards," answered I.  "And as that proa is now within
half that distance, I shall take a shot at her without further ceremony.
When you fire, Sir Edgar, aim at her bows, and as near the level of her
rail as possible; there is doubtless a crowd of the villains grouped
forward there about their gun, and in the eyes of her, watching us, and
it is to that part of her, therefore, that we must direct our attention
at first.  Here goes for the first shot."

I levelled my weapon carefully, but had to wait for what seemed quite a
long time to get a good aim; two or three very vivid flashes of
lightning just then following each other in quick succession, and so
effectually dazzling my eyes that I could see absolutely nothing for
some few seconds afterwards.  Then I fired, but there was no answering
sign or sound on board the proa to tell that my shot had been effective.

"What distance were you sighted for?" inquired the baronet.

"Five hundred yards," answered I; "but I believe she is nearer than
that."

"I think so, too," agreed Sir Edgar.  "You fired too high, captain.  I
shall sight for three hundred,"--going to the binnacle, and uncovering
the hood for a moment to do so.  He waited perhaps a minute; then raised
the rifle to his shoulder, paused a second or two, and, taking advantage
of a strong and prolonged gleam of sheet lightning, fired.  A shrill
scream from the proa told us that his bullet had found a mark, and
almost immediately afterwards she fired her gun again, the shot this
time striking somewhere aloft, for we distinctly heard the thud of the
bullets against the spars.

"We score first blood, at all events," composedly remarked Sir Edgar.
"As for the enemy, it is evident that they have not altered the
elevation of their piece since they first fired, and it is fervently to
be hoped that they will still forget to do so.  If that last shower of
bullets had fallen on deck, captain, I am afraid it would have been bad
for both of us."

"Very possibly," I agreed.  "Still, those small, short guns, such as she
appears to carry, scatter tremendously, and we might have the lead
flying thick all round us, and still not be hit.  Now, I wonder whether
I shall have better luck this time."

I certainly had, for the sharp report of my weapon was instantly
answered by quite an outcry on board the proa--a kind of compound yell
made up of several distinct sounds, leading to the conclusion that my
bullet had fallen in the thick of a group, and wounded several.

"Why, captain, you are improving," observed my companion approvingly.
"If I could but manage to do the same, now--"

_Crack_! went his rifle, and the sound was followed by two distinct
cries--a scream and a howl--manifestly uttered by different voices, and
we thought we heard the sound of a heavy fall on the deck, but a sharp
peal of thunder at the same moment prevented our being sure of this.
While we were reloading they fired their brass gun once more, and again
the charge flew high overhead--luckily for us, for the bullets seemed to
be flying closer together this time.  Then they began pelting at us with
their _gingals_, first treating us to quite a respectable fusillade, and
then blazing away, every man for himself, as fast as they could load and
fire; some of their bullets singing past us so closely that I inwardly
congratulated myself upon my wisdom in ordering everybody under cover.

And new, one after another, the remaining proas opened fire upon us with
their brass guns, although certainly not more than two of the entire
fleet were yet within range; while the vivid lightning flashed and tore
athwart the heavens in continuous coruscations, and the thunder crashed
and rattled and rolled and boomed overhead and all round the horizon in
such terrific detonations that they absolutely caused the ship to
perceptibly tremble and vibrate with the tremendous volume of sound.

At length the proa that had initiated the attack upon us closed to
within a hundred yards, steering for our port quarter, with the evident
intention of sheering alongside us somewhere about our mizzen-rigging.
They were working ten sweeps on board her--five of a side--and
calculating that each sweep required at least four men to handle it (for
they were very long and heavy), I concluded that she would have, all
told, at least sixty men on her deck, a formidable number to oppose with
our small force on board the barque.  I was not much afraid of them so
long as we could keep a few fathoms of water between them and ourselves,
but should they once succeed in gaining a footing upon our decks, a very
few casualties on our side would suffice to determine the issue against
us.

It was, accordingly, to prevent this that I had set my wits to work in
conjunction with those of the mate, when we had first seen reason to
anticipate an attack, my plan being to utilise our fire engine as a
means of defence, and I had given instructions to have it prepared in a
manner that I hoped would convert it into a really formidable weapon.
The time had now arrived, or at least was close at hand, when an
opportunity would be afforded us to test its efficacy; I therefore
ordered it to be run aft as far as the capstan, and cautioned the two
men, who had been told off to work it, to stand by the brake-handles.  I
had already fully explained my idea to the mate, and he now took in his
hand the long brass nozzle--the tow attachment round the jet of which
was by this time thoroughly saturated with oil--and prepared to act as
circumstances might demand.  Meanwhile the pirates had ceased to fire
their brass gun, and the fusillade from their _gingals_ had slackened
considerably, thanks, no doubt, to the indefatigable manner in which the
baronet and I had plied our rifles upon them.

The craft was now so near that, by the continuous flashing of the
lightning, we could distinguish every detail, even to the most minute,
of her hull and rigging, and we could see, too, that her deck was
crowded with men, many of whom appeared to have tailed on, as extra
hands, to the sweeps, which were now being worked with furious energy;
for they lashed the water into a perfect swirl of luminous,
phosphorescent foam, while quite a respectable little curl of luminous
froth buzzed away on each side from her sharp bows.  It was clear that
they were giving her "way" enough to shoot alongside, prior to laying in
the sweeps, in order that every man they had might be available for
boarding purposes.

"Now, Sir Edgar," I exclaimed, "we will give her one more shot apiece;
and then we must stand by with our cutlasses in case our fire engine
fails."

"There is a tall fellow standing at the helm who offers a very decent
mark; shall I see whether I can pick him off?" inquired the baronet.

"By no means," I answered hurriedly.  "Take especial pains to shoot wide
of him, if you please.  I look to him to afford us very effectual help
presently."

My companion turned and stared inquiringly at me for a moment,
apparently doubting whether I was in earnest; when, seeing that I
evidently was so, he muttered--

"Oh, very well," and, taking aim, fired simultaneously with me; and I
saw two pairs of arms tossed into the air as their owners went down.

At the same moment, in obedience to a command that we distinctly heard
given, the sweeps were very smartly laid in and thrown clattering on to
the deck, while every man on board, save the helmsman, sank under cover
behind the proa's low bulwark.

"Now, Mr Roberts, stand by with your hose, and give them the benefit of
it the moment they show themselves," I cried.

"Pump, boys, and fill the hose," exclaimed the mate, plunging the nozzle
into the flame of a lighted lantern that he had brought aft with him for
the purpose.  The tow band instantly burst into a fierce flame, casting
a broad yellow glare on everything within its influence, and dripping
burning drops into a bucket of water with which Roberts had taken the
precaution of providing himself.

While this was doing, the proa's helm had been ported, and she now came
driving along toward our port quarter, as I had expected.  When within
fifty feet of us another order was given on board her, in response to
which her crew--some eighty in number, at the very least, and as fierce
and relentless looking a set of cut-throats as I ever desire to see--
rose to their feet, with their naked creeses grasped in their hands--the
yellow glare falling strongly upon their keen steel and fierce gleaming
eyeballs--and lined her rail in readiness to spring on board us on the
instant that the sides of the two craft should touch.

"Now is your time, Mr Roberts; let them have it, fore and aft!"  I
shouted.

"Pump _hard_!" cried Roberts to the men, excitedly.  The handles clanked
smartly; the mate turned the tap of the jet; and in an instant a long
thin stream of oil, ignited by its passage through the flame blazing
round the orifice of the jet, poured in a flood of fire across the
intervening space of water, and struck the proa fairly in the bows.  To
raise the nozzle sufficiently to touch the men was an action quick as
thought, when it was so manipulated as to cause the stream to travel
deliberately right along the entire length of the vessel's rail, from
the eyes of her to the taffrail.  The effect surpassed my most sanguine
expectations; that stream of fire, thin as it was, could not be
withstood; and in less time than it takes to tell of it the deck of the
proa was full of shrieking men, who, with clothes ablaze, and suffering
Heaven only knows what extremity of torture wherever the fiery spray had
touched them, were plunging headlong below out of the way of the
dreadful missile.  The helmsman had, as I expected, instinctively put
his helm hard a starboard the instant that the jet began to play, with
the result that the proa, instead of touching us, forged slowly past us
to port, and so ahead, with little tongues of flame creeping here and
there about her hull wherever the flaming oil had fallen; Roberts
keeping the jet remorselessly playing upon her until she had shot quite
beyond its reach.

"Thank God, we are well rid of that danger!"  I ejaculated; "and, unless
I am greatly mistaken, we shall get a breeze before any of the others
are near enough to attempt the same trick."

"Ay; and here it comes with a vengeance, too!  Look there, sir, on our
starboard beam," cried Roberts.  "Avast pumping there, you two, and run
the engine away for'ard, out of the way.  Stand by the braces fore
and--"

A terrific blaze of lightning at this moment enveloped the ship in a
sheet of living flame, which was accompanied by a simultaneous crash of
thunder that was indescribably dreadful and terrifying by reason of its
awful intensity of sound.  It literally stunned me for a few seconds, so
completely that I knew not where I was; and when I recovered my senses I
discovered that the tremendous shock of sound had rendered me stone
deaf, so that I was utterly incapable of hearing anything.  Fortunately
for us all, this deafness passed off again in a few minutes; but while
it lasted I found it exceedingly inconvenient and unpleasant.

My first act, on coming to my senses, was to glance instinctively in the
direction indicated by the mate, when a complete transformation in the
appearance of the heavens in that quarter met my anxious gaze.  The
heaped-up masses of cloud had there been rent asunder by the power of
the imprisoned wind, revealing a large and rapidly widening patch of
clear sky, with the stars brilliantly shining in the blue-black space;
while beneath it the water was all white with the foam of the
approaching squall.

"Man the port fore-braces!"  I shouted at the top of my voice--though
not the slightest sound reached my ear--"round-in smartly, men; well
there; belay!  Stand by your topsail halliards, fore and main!  Why,
what is this?" as in moving I stumbled over something on the deck that
felt like a human body.  I stooped to feel for the object--for the
lightning had entirely ceased since that last baleful flash--and found
that it _was_ indeed a body.  Had some one been struck by a bullet
without our having noticed it?  I hurriedly called for a lantern; but
before it could be brought the squall burst upon us in all its fury; and
though I could still hear absolutely nothing, I know that the Babel of
sound must have been terrific, for the wind smote me as though it had
been a solid body, jamming me hard against the larboard mizzen-rigging,
while the staunch little barque bowed before it until her larboard rail
was buried in the sea and her maindeck all afloat as far up as the
coamings of the hatchways.  I shouted an order to let go the topsail
halliards, and signed to the man at the wheel to put the helm hard up;
but he appeared to have already done so, for--the coat that had masked
the binnacle light having gone to leeward upon the wings of the squall--
I could see him to windward of the wheel, holding the spokes in his
grasp and bearing against it with all his strength.  Catching my eye,
the fellow pointed ahead and said something--at least, I saw his lips
move--and, looking in the direction toward which he pointed, I saw the
proa that had engaged us driving away to leeward, broadside-on, with
tongues of fire clinging to her bulwarks and deck here and there, which,
even as I looked, were fanned into a devouring flame by the furious
strength of the blast that swept over her.  It was evident that
Roberts's flaming jet had set her on fire.

But the barque was paying off rapidly, and had risen to an even keel by
the time that we had brought the blazing proa well on our starboard bow,
when away she flew like a frightened seabird before the gale, leaving
the unfortunate Malays to a fate that, however dreadful, they had
certainly brought upon themselves.  Meanwhile, the topsail halliards
having been let go, the yards had slid down upon the caps, while the
topsails--being patent-reefing--had close-reefed themselves; so that,
running, as we were, dead before the squall, we were snug enough for the
moment; although there was a lee-shore at no very great distance, the
existence of which occasioned me considerable anxiety.

The first danger over, I again called for a lantern, which was quickly
brought; and its first rays revealed the shocking fact that it was the
body of the chief mate that lay at my feet.  Stooping hastily, I turned
him over on his back to search for the wound that had laid him low; but,
to my great surprise, was unable to find one, or to discover the
slightest trace of blood.  The features were perfectly placid and
composed, with just the ghost of a smile upon them, giving him the
appearance of having fallen suddenly into a pleasant sleep.  I laid my
fingers quickly upon his wrist fearing I knew not what, and failed to
detect any movement of the pulse.  Sir Edgar, meanwhile, had joined me,
and now thrust his hand inside the waistcoat, over the region of the
heart.  He held it there a moment or two, and then started up,
horror-stricken.  "Good God!" he ejaculated, "the man is _dead_!"

It was so.  There could be no doubt about it.  Roberts's presentiment
had actually been a true one; he had indeed been doomed to die that
night.  But it was no mortal bullet that slew him; God Himself had
launched the bolt that had severed the thread of this staunch and
faithful sailor's broken life.  It was that last terrible flash of
lightning that had killed him; and the poor fellow had died so
instantaneously that he could scarcely have been conscious of the
momentous change; certainly it must have been impossible that he could
have experienced the least sensation of pain.

I was inexpressibly shocked and grieved at this terribly sudden death of
my chief mate; not so much on account of the death itself--for, after
hearing the poor fellow's sad story in the earlier part of the night, I
could not for an instant doubt that death would be regarded by him as a
thrice welcome friend--but it was the awful suddenness and unexpected
character of it that appalled me.  However, I had no time to dwell upon
the matter just then, for, though perfectly safe at the moment, every
fathom that the ship travelled carried her more nearly to a position of
awful jeopardy.  I therefore gave orders that the body should be taken
below to Roberts's own state-room, and begged Sir Edgar to go below and
see whether he could by any means restore vitality to it; hurriedly
explaining the situation to him, and pointing out the impossibility of
my leaving the deck until the safety of the ship should be assured.  The
kind-hearted fellow at once consented, and followed the men below,
leaving me alone in the darkness and the turmoil of the storm to reflect
on the words he had spoken on the night that witnessed the destruction
of the _Northern Queen_: "How completely are we in the hands of God, and
how absolutely dependent upon His Mercy!"

Our present situation was a further exemplification of this great truth,
if indeed such were needed; for there was no sign whatever of any
abatement of the strength of the gale; indeed, contrary to all my
previous experience, the wind appeared to be increasing in violence with
every fathom that we sped to leeward.  True, the sky was clear away to
windward and overhead, which was a good sign; but then I had before now
known it to blow heavily for many hours on end out of a perfectly clear
sky; while away to leeward, somewhere down in the thick blackness toward
which the barque's bows were pointing, and in the direction toward which
she was hurrying, lay the land--a rock-bound coast, for aught that I
knew to the contrary, but, at all events, _land_--to touch which, under
the circumstances, would certainly mean the loss of the ship, and, most
probably, of all hands as well.

While I was meditating upon this, and debating within myself the
possibility of bringing the ship to the wind without losing the masts, a
cry arose forward--a shout of horror raised by many voices, as it seemed
to me, but if any words were uttered I failed to catch them, so terrific
was the uproar of the wind in the maze of rigging overhead.  I sprang
toward the break of the poop, crying out at the same time to know what
was the matter, when, as I did so, I caught a glimpse of a darker shadow
against the blackness of the sky ahead, lying right athwart our hawse;
there was another cry from our forecastle; and as I turned my head to
shout an order to the helmsman to put the wheel hard over I felt a
shock--not a very severe one by any means, but as though we had touched
the ground for a moment--a loud scream uprose out of the dark shadow
beneath our bows, and a grating, grinding sensation thrilled along the
whole ship from her bows to her stern-post, as though she were forcing
her way over something solid.  I sprang to the rail and looked over the
side into the water; and there, sliding swiftly past the ship, and prone
upon the glittering, phosphorescent, milk-white foam, lay distinctly
limned the black outline of a mast with a long, tapering latteen yard
and a strand or two of rigging attached to it; while here and there,
dotted upon the hissing froth, I caught a momentary vision of certain
round black objects that I knew were the heads of drowning men,
intermingled with fragments of wreckage, tossing arms, and writhing
bodies.

Even as I gazed, horror-stricken, at this picture of sudden, swift
destruction, it drifted astern and was quickly lost to view; but I had
seen enough to know exactly what had happened.  We had unwittingly run
down one of the proas that had essayed to attack us.



CHAPTER TEN.

ON A LEE-SHORE.

It was useless to think of heaving the ship to, or otherwise attempting
to save the lives of the unfortunate Malays whose craft we had just
destroyed; the thing was an absolute impossibility, and any such attempt
would only have resulted in our own destruction; we had no option but to
continue our headlong flight to leeward, leaving our enemies to save
themselves, if they could, by clinging to the wreckage.

Immediately after the collision the carpenter came aft, and, without
waiting for orders, carefully sounded the pumps.  The result was a
report that the hold was dry; we had therefore apparently sustained no
serious damage to our hull; while, so far as spars and rigging were
concerned, we did not appear to have parted a rope-yarn.

For fully half an hour the squall raged as madly as at the moment when
it first burst upon us; all this while the ship was scudding helplessly
before it, drawing nearer every moment to that deadly lee-shore that I
knew must be close at hand, and which I every instant expected would
bring us up all standing.  At length, however, to my intense relief, the
gale slightly but perceptibly moderated its headlong fury; and
determining to at once avail myself of this opportunity, I called the
hands to the braces, and prepared to bring the ship to the wind on the
starboard tack.  The moment that everything was ready I signed to the
man at the wheel to put the helm gently over; when, as I was turning
away again to give my orders to the men at the braces, one of them
startled me with the cry of--

"Land ho! ahead and on the port bow!"  I caught sight of it at the same
instant, the air having momentarily cleared somewhat of the spindrift
and scud-water that had hitherto circumscribed our horizon and obscured
our view.  Yes, there it was, a low, dark shadow against the now clear,
starlit sky right ahead and stretching away to port and starboard on
either bow.  It could not be more than three miles distant from us--if
so much--for the air, though somewhat clearer than it had been, was
still thick, yet the loom of the land through it was clear enough;
altogether too much so, indeed, for my liking.  What it was like to the
eastward I could not distinguish, for in that direction it faded quickly
into the thick atmosphere that lay that way; but westward it terminated
in a low point that already bore well out upon our larboard beam--a
sight that caused me to most heartily congratulate myself that I had
determined upon rounding-to on the starboard tack; for had I done so
with the ship's head to the westward, without seeing this point, we
could not possibly have weathered it, and must have taken our choice--
when we _did_ discover it--of going ashore upon it, or upon the land to
leeward, should we attempt to wear the ship; for she would never have
tacked in such a sea as was now running, with such a small amount of
canvas as we were showing.

As the ship came to the wind we, for the first time since the outburst
of the gale, gained something like a just idea of its tremendous
strength and violence.  With nothing on her but the two close-reefed
topsails and the fore-topmast staysail, the poor little _Esmeralda_
bowed beneath the fury of the blast until her lee rail was awash and her
lee scuppers more than waist-deep in water.  The howling and hooting of
the gale aloft, as it tore furiously through the maze of spars and
rigging opposed to it, produced a wild medley of sound that utterly
baffles all attempt at description; while the savage plunges of the ship
into the short, steep sea and the horrible way in which she careened
during her lee rolls almost sickened me with anxiety lest the masts
should go over the side and leave us to drive ashore, a helpless hulk.
True, in such a case we might have attempted to anchor, but I had very
grave doubts whether our ground-tackle, good though it was, would have
brought us up in such weather.  The masts stood well, however--they were
magnificent sticks, both of them, while our standing rigging was of wire
throughout--and, as to our canvas, had I not seen it, I could not have
believed that any fabric woven by mortal hands would have withstood such
a terrific strain.  It did, however, and moreover dragged the ship along
at a speed of which I should never have believed the little craft
capable, under such very short canvas, and close-hauled, had I not been
present to witness her performance.  With her steeply heeling decks, her
taunt masts and their intricacy of standing and running rigging taut and
rigid as iron bars to windward, while to leeward they streamed away in
deep, symmetrical curving bights, her braced-up yards, and the straining
canvas of the close-reefed topsails and fore-topmast staysail all
swaying wildly aslant athwart the blue-black expanse of star-spangled
sky; with her lee rail awash; her decks a tumultuous sea in miniature
with the water that came pouring in whole cataracts over her upturned
weather-bow as her keen stem plunged headlong into and clove
irresistibly through the heart of wave after wave, flinging a blinding
deluge of spray right aft as far as the poop, and ploughing up a whole
acre of boiling, luminous foam, to pour, hissing and roaring, far out
from under her lee bow and flash glancing past in a bewildering swirl of
buzzing, gleaming froth, while the din of the wild gale raved aloft, and
its furious buffeting almost distracted one's senses, the gallant little
barque thus fighting for her life would have presented an exhilarating
spectacle to any one; while a seaman's appreciative heart would have
thrilled with exultation at her bearing in the strife.  But though
travelling fast through the water, the poor little ship was at the same
time sagging most frightfully to leeward, the staysail seeming to drag
her head two or three points off the wind at every send, and bringing
her almost broadside-on to the sea.  And although we were heading fairly
well out toward the open water, I could not conceal from myself the
awkward truth that our excessive leeway was reducing our course to one
practically parallel with the trend of the coast; and sometimes I even
thought that we were slowly but surely setting in toward the land.  The
fact was that the ship needed more after-sail to enable her to hold a
good luff; yet it seemed to me that it would be impossible for her to
bear any more.  She was indeed rather over-pressed than otherwise, as it
was, and had I had plenty of sea-room I would have endeavoured to
relieve her of the fore-topsail at once, even at the risk of losing the
sail in the attempt to hand it.  But with that relentless lee-shore in
plain view I dared not do it; it was imperative that she should carry
every thread we were then showing, and more if possible.  While I was
still inwardly debating the question it was settled by the lookout
reporting land ahead!  I staggered over to windward at the cry, and at
the expense of a thorough drenching, despite the oilskins I had donned
some time before, made it out, a bold lofty headland, jutting far out to
seaward, and lying dead ahead of us.  The ship was embayed!  The land
ahead was certainly not more than three miles distant, and the ship was
setting bodily down toward it at every plunge.  The time for hesitation
was past; something had to be done, and done promptly, too, or another
half-hour would see the last of the poor little _Esmeralda_.  Our main
trysail happened to be a nearly new sail, bent for the first time when
starting on this voyage; it was made of good stout canvas, and was
beautifully cut.  I therefore determined to attempt the experiment of
setting it, though I scarcely hoped it would endure the tremendous
strain to which it would be exposed long enough to drag us clear of that
terrible point.  Mustering the hands, therefore, we got the sheet aft
and the block hooked on to the eye-bolt; then, all hands tailing on to
the fall, the lower brails were eased gently away, the sheet being
dragged upon at the same time; and in this way we managed to get the
foot of the sail extended without splitting it.  The hauling out of the
head was a much simpler matter; and in less than five minutes I had the
satisfaction of seeing the entire sail extended without having parted a
thread.  The effect of this added canvas was tremendous; the lee rail
was completely buried, and the deck was now so steeply inclined that
during the lee rolls it was impossible to maintain one's footing without
holding on to something.  But we no longer sagged to leeward as before;
the ship now held her luff, and the threatening headland was brought to
bear nearly three points on our lee bow; if the trysail would only hold
out long enough we might yet hope to scrape clear.  But would it?
Involuntarily I held my breath every time that the ship rolled to
windward; for then the strain on canvas and spar and rigging was at its
heaviest, and it really seemed to me as though nothing made by mortal
hands could withstand it.  Minute after minute passed, however, and
still the good sail stood, while hope every moment grew stronger within
my breast.

We had reached to within half a mile of the point, and I was already
congratulating myself upon the certainty that we should clear it, when I
happened to catch a momentary glimpse, through the driving spray, of
something peculiar in the appearance of the water just off the point.
Surely it could not be--fate would not be so cruel--and yet--

"Breakers on the lee bow!" simultaneously reported the two men on the
lookout.

Then I was _not_ mistaken; it _was_ broken water I had seen.  Yes; there
could not be a doubt about it, for while I strained my gaze in an effort
to pierce the darkness a ghostly white gleam shot into the air, such as
is caused by the water breaking heavily upon rocks.

"Ay, ay; I see them," I answered; then, to the man at the wheel--"Watch
your helm carefully, now, my man.  Keep her clean full, and let her go
through the water; but do not let her go off a hair's breadth more than
is necessary.  You must weather that reef if you have any wish to see
to-morrow's sun rise."

"I'll do my best, sir," answered the fellow, earnestly; and I saw him
brace himself afresh as he fixed his eye more intently upon the weather
leach of the main-topsail.

We were _flying_ through the water--it could scarcely be called
sailing--for the poor little ship was being so bitterly pressed that she
scarcely rose at all to the seas now; she simply drove her sharp bows
straight into the body of every sea as it came at her and ploughed her
way through it, shipping at every plunge tons of water that poured in a
continuous cataract over her forecastle and down into the seething swirl
to leeward under which her lee rail was buried.  She must have been
travelling very fast, or she would not have behaved in this fashion; yet
in the agony of my suspense she scarcely seemed to move at all.  Despite
this feeling it was sufficiently apparent that we were nearing that
awful reef at headlong speed; and with every desperate forward plunge of
the ship the frightful amount of lee drift we were making became also
more unmistakable, momentarily increasing the doubt as to the
possibility of our escape.  We were now, and had been for some time, so
close to the land that any attempt to wear the ship round must have
inevitably resulted in her destruction; and, as to staying, that was
equally out of the question under such short canvas in such a heavy
sea--for the outer line of breakers was now close aboard of us; we dared
not attempt to anchor in the face of that wild fury of wind and wave;
and we had therefore absolutely no alternative but to keep on as we were
going.

Our situation, in short, had become so critical that I felt it my duty
to acquaint Sir Edgar with it forthwith; and I was on my way toward the
companion in search of him when he emerged from it and joined me, the
two seamen who had conveyed the inanimate body of the mate below
following him and making their way forward, dodging the seas as best
they might during the journey.

"I have been all this time in the mate's cabin," said the baronet,
"using my utmost endeavours to restore animation, but, I keenly regret
to say, without success.  Captain, the poor fellow is dead!"

"I never thought otherwise from the first," said I, with a keen pang at
this confirmation of my worst forebodings.  "It is more than kind of
you, Sir Edgar, to have taken so much trouble in the matter, and I am
deeply grateful to you, the more so that it has been impossible for me
to do anything for the poor fellow myself, the ship having demanded my
whole attention from the moment when the squall first struck us.  Well,
he is at rest; his troubles are over; I believe he was a true and devout
Christian, though he never made any ostentatious parade of his religion;
and God will surely be gracious to him and accept his service of
faithfully discharged duty and gentleness and blamelessness of life."

"Yes," said Sir Edgar, "assuredly He will.  After the story you told me
of his trouble in the earlier hours of this eventful night I cannot help
thinking that the very manner of the poor fellow's death was an evidence
of God's mercy.  It was His hand that struck him down; and I feel sure
that the stroke was dealt in pity rather than in anger.  One has only to
look upon the dead man's face and observe the perfect tranquillity of
its expression to be convinced that death was absolutely painless; he
must have passed the dread portal without knowing it.  Meanwhile, how
are we faring, captain?  It seems to be blowing more furiously than
ever; and are we not dangerously near the land?"

"I was seeking you to speak to you on the matter when you came on deck,"
said I.  "It is my painful duty to inform you, Sir Edgar, that the ship
is in a situation of extreme peril, and the time has arrived for us to
prepare for the worst.  I must ask you, therefore, to go below, arouse
your family, bid them don a life-belt each--which they will find on a
shelf at the head of their berths--wrap themselves in whatever they can
lay hands on as a protection from the weather, and come on deck without
delay.  There is a formidable reef ahead of us; and, unless we can
contrive to weather it, the ship will be on it and breaking-up within
the next quarter of an hour!"

With an ejaculation of dismay Sir Edgar darted from my side and rushed
to the cabin; and as he did so I gave the order to call the watch below.
The outer extremity of the reef--so far as we could trace it--now bore
barely a point on our lee bow; and every sea that met us seemed to be
sending us a good two fathoms to leeward.  The hoarse voice of the
seaman forward who was calling the watch reached me brokenly through the
deep bellowing of the gale and the loud seething of the boiling sea; and
presently I could see, by the increased bulk of the group of crouching
figures under the lee of the deck-house, that everybody was now out of
the forecastle.  The saloon party were scarcely less expeditious; for in
a few minutes they, too, appeared on deck, wrapped in rugs and blankets
snatched hastily from the beds upon which they had been sleeping; and I
at once disposed them as comfortably as I could on the deck, under the
lee of the companion and skylight, where they would be in a measure
sheltered from the flying spray.

Then, calling Mr Forbes, I bade him take two hands below to collect and
bring on deck all the life-belts we could muster, and serve one out to
each man.  This was soon done; the life-buoys were cut loose and piled
in a safe and convenient position on the poop; and we were ready for any
emergency.  Nor were we any too soon; for we were now close upon the
reef, while we had settled so far to leeward that it had become apparent
to everybody that nothing short of a miracle could save us.

It was a bitter thought to me that, having brought the ship so far on
her voyage, safely and prosperously, I was now about to lose her through
what appeared to be nothing less than a cruel and malicious stroke of
fortune.  For if the gale had broken upon us during the hours of
daylight, instead of in the darkness of night, we should undoubtedly
have discovered the hazard of our position in time to have avoided
running, as we had, blindly into this horrible death-trap.  And not only
should I lose the ship--a loss, it is true, that was to a great extent
covered by insurance--but every scrap of property that any of us
possessed on board her would also undoubtedly become the prey of the
devouring sea--for there was no hope of saving anything out of the ship
if she once touched that reef--and, worst of all, there was only too
great a probability that many precious lives would be lost; it seemed,
indeed, very questionable whether _any_ of us could hope to escape the
fury of that raging surf.

It was, however, no time for repining; still less for any yielding on my
part to a feeling of despondency.  I therefore called the hands under
the lee of the long-boat, and in a few brief words stated to them our
position, exhorted them with all the earnestness of which I was master
to be cool and self-possessed at the critical moment, and to put their
trust in the mercy of God; impressing upon them that only by such
self-possession, coupled with promptest obedience to orders, could there
be any hope of saving their lives; and I wound up by reminding them that
there were women and children on board whose only hope of preservation
lay in the courage and obedience which I now exhorted them to exercise.

As I completed my brief address the deep, thunderous boom of the sea
upon the reef broke for the first time upon our ears, as though to warn
us that the moment of trial was at hand; and, looking anxiously ahead, I
saw that the outer extremity of the white water was already dead ahead
of us, and that the ship was doomed!

"We shall never weather it, lads," I shouted; "we cannot possibly do it.
Stand by the braces, fore and main, and be ready to square the yards
when I give the word to bear up.  We shall have to run her in upon the
beach, and take our chance of its being softer ground than the reef.  As
soon as you have squared the yards and caught a turn with the braces,
come up on the poop, all of you, and group yourselves well aft; it will
be the safest part of the ship when she broaches to, and you will be out
of the way of the falling masts.  Take a firm grip of the most solid
thing you can lay hold of, or the first sea that breaks over us will
wash you overboard."

So saying, I sprang aft and stationed myself close to the little group
of cowering women and children who were huddled together under the lee
of the skylight, in readiness to afford such protection and help to them
as might be possible in the impending desperate and almost hopeless
struggle for life.

The final moment had now arrived; the white water was almost under the
bows of the ship; another plunge or two would put the poor little craft
plump upon the reef; and with a heavy heart I turned to the helmsman to
give him the fatal sign.  As I did so, a loud flap overhead and the
simultaneous righting of the ship caused me to glance aloft in amazement
and wonder as to what was happening.  Could it be?  By Heaven, yes!  The
wind had dropped, as if by magic, or a miracle, and for the moment there
was a breathless calm, leaving us within fifty fathoms of the reef and,
with the momentum of our rapid progress through the water, rushing
straight at it.  Instinctively I bounded with one mad spring to the
wheel, and, shouting to the bewildered man who held it, "_Hard down_,
for your life!"  I grasped the spokes, throwing the momentary strength
of ten men into a frantic effort that sent the wheel whirling over at
lightning speed.  The noble little ship quickly and gallantly answered
to the impulse, and, though pitching so desperately that she completely
smothered herself as far aft as the foremast, her bows gradually swept
round until they pointed straight out to seaward and away from the
boiling surf that actually swirled and seethed about her cutwater, as
though the poor little overdriven craft had suddenly realised her awful
peril and had swerved from it like a sentient thing.

"Man the braces, fore and main!"  I shouted with frenzied eagerness.
"Round-in upon the starboard main and topsail braces, for your lives,
men; shift over the trysail-sheet like lightning!  Hurrah, lads! over
with it before the gale strikes us again!  Well there with the starboard
main-braces; haul taut and make fast to port; swing your head-yards; and
get the starboard staysail sheet aft.  Here comes the wind again; but,
thank God, _we are saved_!"

No one but a sailor--and probably no sailor but he who has passed
through such an unique experience as I have just been endeavouring to
describe--can possibly understand the startling suddenness and the
astounding rapidity with which such an utterly unhoped-for and
unexpected change had been wrought in our situation.  The whole thing
had happened with the breathless rapidity characteristic of the headlong
rush of succeeding events in a dream.  At the very moment when I was
about to give the order which would have sent the ship flying before
wind and sea towards the beach, and insured her destruction, there had
occurred one of those sudden and unaccountable "breaks," or total
cessations of wind, that occasionally, though very rarely, occur for a
few brief moments in the midst of a raging tempest, and which are
sometimes succeeded by a total change in the direction of the wind when
it recommences to blow.  These "breaks" are very similar in their
character and duration to the passage of "the eye" of a cyclone, with
which phenomenon, indeed, they are often confounded; and it was during
that brief lull that the helm had been put down, and the ship, by God's
mercy--though plunging so wildly in the seas that met her that I fully
expected to see her masts go over the bows--had been got round on the
other tack, with her head pointing to seaward before the recurrence of
the gale.

In the ecstasy of my delight and gratitude at such a sudden and
unlooked-for change in our situation I had cried aloud that we were
saved; without waiting to see from what point the gale would come when
it again struck us.  Had it happened to have veered two or three points
we should, as a matter of fact, have been just as badly off as before,
for in that case the other headland or horn of the bay would soon have
brought us up.  Fortunately, however, the wind came away a trifle more
free for us than it had hitherto been, so that when it again struck us
the ship headed fairly well for the open sea.  That sudden break,
however, proved to be the beginning of the end; for though for perhaps a
quarter of an hour it blew as furiously as ever, it then began to
moderate rapidly; and the glorious, unclouded sun rose upon us as we
were once more mast-heading our topsail-yards after loosing and setting
the courses.

The safety of the ship once assured, I went below and entered the chief
mate's cabin, to view the body and assure myself, beyond all possibility
of doubt, of the fact of dissolution.  A single look sufficed for this;
for although only some six hours had elapsed since the poor fellow had
been alive and hearty, there was already a distinct discolouration of
the skin, to say nothing of other unmistakable signs that death had
really taken place.  Sailors are not, as a rule, given to much
sentimentalism; they are so constantly being brought face to face with
death that in a comparatively short time it loses much of that
impressiveness with which it affects the landsman; but this man had been
a true friend and comrade as well as a faithful servant to me, and I am
not ashamed to acknowledge that the tears sprang to my eyes as I knelt
by the side of the body and offered up a short prayer ere I looked my
last upon him.  This done, I returned to the deck and gave the necessary
orders to have the body sewn in a hammock, and made ready for burial
with all expedition.

I was by this time feeling somewhat fagged, having been on deck for
fully twenty-four hours, one-third of which time had been passed in a
state of great anxiety; having therefore answered for the present every
call upon my attention, and satisfied myself that I could very well be
spared for a few hours, I retired to my cabin, giving the steward orders
to call me at four bells, at which hour I had arranged for the burial of
poor Roberts having long before acquired the sailor's habit of falling
asleep at a moment's notice, my head no sooner pressed the pillow than I
sank into a sound and dreamless slumber.

At the appointed hour the steward awoke me; and on reaching the deck I
was much moved and gratified to observe that not only were all hands on
deck, "cleaned and shifted" in anticipation of the mournful ceremony
that lay before us, but also that Sir Edgar and his whole family
intended to pay the last tribute of respect to the dead man, they having
mustered upon the poop in the nearest approach to mourning attire that
their resources permitted.  It is not my intention to here enter into a
long and detailed description of the solemn and impressive rite that
quickly followed; it has been done more than once or twice by far abler
pens than mine, and is to be found in books that are read the wide world
over.  There is therefore no need for me to attempt to inform my readers
upon a subject with which they are doubtless already sufficiently well
acquainted; suffice it to say that no form or detail was omitted which
could in any wise testify to our respect and esteem for our lost comrade
and friend, or add to the decency and solemnity with which we consigned
his body to its last resting-place _in_ the depths of the illimitable
ocean.  This done, I promoted Forbes to the position of chief mate;
raised the boatswain to the dignity of "second officer;" and so brought
the incident of poor Roberts's tragic fate to a close.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

A GHASTLY WAIF OF THE SEA.

Our voyage had, thus far, proved to be an unusually eventful one; yet it
was to be made the more notable ere its close by the addition of still
one more incident, and that, too, of a sufficiently ghastly character,
to the catalogue of those already recorded.  It occurred on the tenth
day after our brush with the Malays in the Straits of Sunda, and when we
were about midway across the China Sea.

Since that wild night on which we had so nearly laid the bones of the
_Esmeralda_--and possibly our own as well--to rest on the shores of
Sumatra, we had met with uninterrupted bright sunshine and light,
favourable breezes.  The day on which the incident occurred was no
exception to the rule.  The weather was gloriously fine, with a rich,
softly mottled sky of blue and white overhead, out of the midst of which
the afternoon sun blazed fiercely down upon a smooth, sparkling sea,
gently ruffling under the faint, warm breeze to a surface of pale,
glowing sapphire, along which the barque, wooing the soft zephyr with
studding-sails spread on both sides, from the royals down, swam with a
sleepy, rhythmical swaying of her taunt spars, at a speed of some five
knots in the hour.

It was close upon eight bells of the afternoon watch, and the saloon
party were all on deck, grouped under the shadow of the awning; the
elders lounging in easy, unconventional attitudes in capacious
basket-chairs, the women, attired in snowy white, beguiling the time by
making a pretence at working at some embroidery, or fancy sewing of some
kind, as they fitfully conversed upon such topics as occurred to them;
while Sir Edgar, clothed in flannels, with a Panama hat tilted well
forward over his eyes, smoked and read with an air of placid enjoyment;
the youngsters, apparently less affected than the rest of us by the
languorous heat of the weather, meanwhile indulging in a game at
hide-and-seek about the decks with the ship's cat.

Of the hands forward, some of the watch were aloft, working at odd jobs
about the rigging, while the drowsy clinking of a spunyarn winch
somewhere on the forecastle, in the shadow of the head sails, accounted
for the remainder.  Most of the watch below were invisible; but two or
three industrious ones had grouped themselves on the foredeck, in
situations which secured at once a sufficiency of shadow and a maximum
of breeze, and were smoking and chatting as they washed or repaired
their clothing.

As for me, I was indulging in a brief spell of perfect bodily idleness,
and had established myself in my own particular wicker chair, near the
break of the poop, and, with hands crossed behind my head and cigar in
mouth, was lazily watching a man on the main-royal yard who was reeving
a new set of signal halliards, while my mind was busy upon the
apparently insoluble problem of finding the key to the cipher relating
to Richard Saint Leger's buried treasure.

The signal halliards had just been successfully rove when eight bells
were struck, and the man who had been reeving them--now off duty--was
preparing leisurely to descend to the deck, when, as nine out of every
ten sailors will, he paused to take a last, long, comprehensive look
round the horizon.  There was not a sail of any sort in sight from the
deck, not even so much as the glancing of a bird's wing against the
warm, tender, grey tones of the horizon to arrest one's wandering
glances; but this was apparently not the case from the superior altitude
of the main-royal yard, for presently I observed a change in the
attitude of the man up there from that of listless indifference to
awakened curiosity and interest.  His gaze grew earnest and attentive;
then he shaded his eyes with his hand, and his body assumed an attitude
and expression of alertness.  Long and steadily he maintained his gaze
in one fixed direction; then he glanced down on deck, and, catching
sight of me with my face upturned toward him, he hailed--

"On deck, there!  There's something away out here on the starboard bow,
sir, as has the look of a boat adrift."

"How does it bear, and how far off is it?"  I inquired.

"About two points on the starboard bow, and a matter of eight or ten
mile off, I should say, sir," was the reply.

"Mr Forbes," said I to the mate, who, the watch having just been
called, at this moment came on deck from his cabin, "take the glass
aloft, and see what you can make of this new wonder, if you please."

Forbes went to the companion, took the telescope out of the beckets,
slung it over his shoulders, and leisurely ascended the fore-rigging
until he reached the topmast cross-trees, in which he comfortably
settled himself preparatory to a careful inspection of the object.
Meanwhile, the other man maintained his position on the main-royal yard.

"Now then, Joe, where do you say this precious `something' of yours is?"
inquired the mate as he unslung the telescope and proceeded to adjust it
for use.

"There it is, sir," answered the man, pointing; "about a couple of
points on the starboard bow.  I don't know as you'll be able to see it
from down there, Mr Forbes, but it's plain enough--"

"All right; I see it," interrupted Forbes; and he forthwith raised the
telescope to his eye, taking a prolonged and exhaustive look through it.
At length, lowering the instrument, he turned in his seat, and, looking
down upon me where I now stood, just forward of the mainmast, hailed--

"Joe is quite right, sir.  There certainly _is_ something out there, but
it is fully twelve miles away, and it looks uncommonly like a boat with
a mast stepped and a sail hoisted, or a signal flying.--I can't quite
make out which--and I even fancy I can catch an occasional glimpse of
people moving about in her; but she wavers so much in the glass that I
can't be at all sure about it."

"Very well; just keep your eye on her for a moment," I answered back,
"and let me know when she bears straight ahead.  It will not take us
much out of our way to give her an overhaul, and it is as well to make
quite sure in such cases as this.  Man your braces, fore and aft, the
starboard watch; larboard watch, go to work and get in the larboard
stu'n'sails.  Port your helm a trifle,"--to the man at the wheel.
"Round-in a foot or two upon the larboard braces!"

As these manoeuvres were executed, the barque's bows slowly inclined to
the eastward, and presently Forbes hailed from his lofty perch--

"S-o, stead-y!  Whatever she may be, she is now dead on end to a hair's
breadth."

"How is her head?"  I shouted to the man at the wheel.

The fellow peered into the binnacle, and answered--

"North-east-and-by-east, three-quarters east."

"Is the boat--or whatever it is--still straight ahead, Mr Forbes?"  I
inquired.

"Straight to a hair, sir," came the reply.

"Then keep her at that," I called to the helmsman.  "Well there with the
braces; belay!  Overhaul the main clew-garnets and get the sheet aft.
Roll up the awning aft here, some of you, and haul out the mizzen; then
jump aloft, one hand, and loose the gaff-topsail."

The ship was by this time astir and in a little flutter of excitement,
fore and aft, at the prospect of another break in the monotony of our
existence.  Forecastle Jack is not, as a rule, very demonstrative; it
appears to be regarded as "bad form" to exhibit excitement under any
circumstances, or undue animation unless when confronted with some great
and sudden crisis.  Then, indeed, his movements are as active and
springy as those of a cat; but, unless there is some pressing necessity
for nimbleness, Jack regards it as the correct thing and a duty he owes
to his own dignity to be deliberate of action.  And, above all, whatever
the circumstances, there must be no exhibition of vulgar curiosity, no
eagerness, no enthusiasm, no astonishment while one of ocean's countless
mysteries is unfolding itself before his eyes; he must exhibit an air of
semi-contemptuous indifference, as who should say, "I am a seasoned
hand--a shell-back, and none of your beach-combers.  I have long been
familiar with all the strange sights and sounds and vicissitudes to be
met with upon the broad ocean; for me the tale of them is exhausted; so
far as I am concerned there is nothing new under the sun, nothing so
strange or unexpected as to be capable of arousing my interest, nothing
that can astonish or disconcert me."  The effect of this unspoken
tradition was apparent in the studied carelessness of the one or two
inquiries that were addressed to the man Joe, when at length he
descended from aloft and rejoined his mates on the forecastle-head.  But
the indifference was only assumed; and as Joe--who, in his character of
first discoverer, was entitled to the privilege of unrestrained
loquacity--stated not only what he had seen, but also what he _now
fancied_ he had seen--his imagination rapidly supplying him with fresh
details even as he talked--his group of listeners gradually closed in
round him; questions were asked, conjecture was indulged in, and every
now and then the little conclave temporarily lost control of itself,
and, yielding to the sympathy and excitement that was quickening its
pulses, began to discuss eagerly the chances for and against some
possibility that had been advanced by one of its number.  As for my
passengers, they were the slaves of no such code as that which
influenced the lads forward; they yielded at once and without restraint
to the feeling of solicitude and sympathy that was awakened within them
at the news of the waif ahead, with its possible freight of physical
suffering or still worse torment of mental anxiety, apprehension, and
hope deferred "that maketh the heart sick" and breaks down all but the
most stubborn courage, and fairly swamped me with eager questions and
suggestions that, while they exhibited very effectively the goodness of
heart of the speakers, were not of much practical value.

I succeeded at length in effecting my escape from these good people,
and, arming myself with the ship's glass, set out for Forbes' coign of
vantage--the fore-topmast cross-trees--to see what news the lapse of an
hour might enable me to discover.  I found, however, that there was no
need for me to travel so far, for before I had mounted halfway up the
lower rigging I caught sight of the object of my quest quivering in the
hot air, upon the verge of the horizon straight ahead.  I therefore
settled myself comfortably in the top, from which convenient platform I
made a minute and prolonged inspection of her.

It needed not a second glance through the powerful instrument I wielded
to assure me that the object ahead was indeed a boat, and that she
carried a spar of some sort on end with something fluttering from it--
whether sail or signal I could not tell, for the rarefied air through
which I viewed her so distorted her shape and proportions that it bore
as much resemblance to the one as to the other; but, if a sail, it was
certainly doing no good, for I could see by the peculiar lift and flap
of it that both tack and sheet were adrift.  As to whether she had any
occupants or not, I could not for the life of me determine; for although
I remained aloft there in the top for a good half-hour, with my eye
glued to the telescope all the while, only once did I detect what had
the appearance of something moving on board her; but the sight was so
transitory and unsatisfactory that I might easily have been mistaken.
However, we had by this time neared her to within some five miles; so,
as another hour would decide the question, I determined to possess my
soul in patience until then, and accordingly closed the telescope, slung
it over my shoulder, and returned to the deck.  As I wended my way down
the ratlines I noticed two of the men--who were now supposed to be
busily engaged in clearing up the decks after the work of the day--
standing halfway up the topgallant forecastle ladder, and staring so
intently ahead that they were altogether oblivious of my close
proximity, from which I concluded that the boat must be already visible
to them.  As I swung myself out of the rigging on to the deck I heard
one of them exclaim to the other--

"There, did ye see that?  I swear I saw somebody get up and wave his
hand, and then fall back again into the bottom of the boat!"

This description answered so accurately to what I thought I also had
seen through the glass, that the doubts I had hitherto entertained as to
the presence of people on board the boat now began to yield to the
belief that there were, especially as the man who had just spoken bore
the reputation of being the keenest-sighted man in the ship.  I held my
peace, however, and made my way aft to the poop, where Sir Edgar and his
party--himself and the two ladies armed with binoculars--were still
assembled, eagerly scanning the horizon ahead.

"Oh, captain," exclaimed Lady Emily, as I joined the little group, "is
it really true that there are shipwrecked people in that little boat?
You have been up there watching it for so long through your telescope
that you will be able to tell us for certain."

"I am afraid I cannot do anything of the kind," answered I.  "It is true
that for a single moment I thought I detected a movement of some kind on
board her; but, if so, it was not repeated, and I therefore scarcely
know what to think.  However, we shall soon know now.  Of one thing I
feel sure, and that is that, if there are any people in that boat, they
must be in the last stage of exhaustion, or a better lookout would have
been maintained, our proximity discovered, and some effort made ere now,
either to reach us or to attract our attention."

"Do you mean that you think it possible there are people actually
_dying_ in that boat?"

"If she really contains any human beings it would not in the least
surprise me were we to find them in that condition; dying, too, one of
the most dreadful deaths that man can be called upon to endure, a slow,
lingering agony--the indescribable, maddening torment of long-continued
hunger and thirst," said I.

"Oh, what an awful possibility to contemplate!" murmured her ladyship,
her face blanching at the picture my words had conjured up.  "Poor
creatures! how frightful to think that--"

"By Heaven, there _is_ at least one living being in that boat!"
interrupted Sir Edgar, excitedly, as he lowered his binoculars and
turned to me.  "See, captain,"--looking again toward the boat--"you can
distinguish him with the naked eye."

At the same moment Forbes hailed from the topgallant forecastle--

"There's a man in that boat, sir!  Do you see him waving to us?"

"Yes," I answered, as I caught a momentary glimpse of an upright figure
that seemed to give a single wave with its arm and then collapse into
the bottom of the boat.  "Let go your fore-royal halliards, Mr Forbes,
and run the ensign up to the royal-masthead.  That will give them to
understand that we have seen them."

This was done, and after an interval that seemed quite long, but was
probably less than half a minute from the hoisting of our signal, I
again saw--this time through the telescope--a figure rise up in the
boat, wave its arm, and sink down again.

"That man is in the very last stage of exhaustion," said I to the
Desmond party generally; "I am sure of it, or he would not act as he
does.  His sail, you see, is all adrift; yet he makes no effort whatever
to secure it and head the boat toward us, nor does he attempt to get out
an oar to lessen his distance from us.  Unless I am altogether mistaken,
the unfortunate creature has been driven clean out of his senses by the
tortures of thirst and exposure, and does not know what he is doing; the
little strength he has left being due entirely to the raging fever in
his veins."

"I am afraid you are right, captain," agreed Sir Edgar, whose binoculars
were again glued to his eyes.

Lady Emily audibly sobbed as she clasped her beautiful white hands
convulsively together, and pressed them tightly to her breast; the tears
sprang to her eyes, and she stamped her foot impatiently on the deck as
she exclaimed--

"Oh, mercy! shall we never, _never_ reach them?"

Miss Merrivale exhibited her sympathy in a totally different and far
more practical way than her sister.  Her cheeks glowed, and her eyes
flashed with excitement as she laid her hand upon my arm, and said--

"Captain, be pleased to understand that you may count upon me to assist
you in the treatment of those unfortunate people, as soon as you have
got them safely on board here.  I know exactly what to do, for,
singularly enough, I was reading only this morning an account of a very
similar rescue to this, effected by a British man-o'-war, some years
ago.  The narrative fully describes the measures adopted by the ship's
doctor in the treatment of his patients; I have, therefore, all the
information at my fingers' ends, and you may confidently trust me not to
forget anything.  I shall go below now, and make my preparations at
once."

"Thank you, most heartily," said I.  "Such assistance as you proffer
will be of priceless value, and may indeed be the means of saving many
lives.  I accept it cordially, and with the deepest gratitude."

"I will go with you, Agnes," exclaimed Lady Emily; "I am sure I, too,
can help, if you will only tell me what to do."

And, to my unspeakable relief, the two charming women retired to the
saloon, taking the nurses with them.

"I am heartily glad that the ladies have left the deck," said I to Sir
Edgar, as his eyes followed his wife's form to the companion, "and I
fervently hope that they will remain below until this business is over;
for, to speak plainly, I am beginning to fear that when that boat is
brought alongside she will present such a sight as no delicate,
susceptible woman could endure to look upon without sustaining a
terrible and long-enduring shock."

"Say you so?" ejaculated Sir Edgar.  "Then I will go at once and tell
them that they are on no account to come on deck until they have your
permission.  I am greatly obliged to you for the hint, captain."

Every eye in the ship was by this time riveted upon the boat ahead,
which was now distinctly visible; but no further movement had been
observed on board her, and I began to dread the possibility that, after
all, our appearance upon the scene might prove to be too late.  So
anxious, indeed, did I now feel that, although Forbes several times
looked aft at me, and then meaningly aloft at the studding-sails, I
would not give the order to start tack or sheet, but held on with
everything to the very last moment, feeling pretty confident that, in
such light weather, we might safely round-to all standing.

At length, after what seemed an interminable interval, we arrived within
half a mile of the boat; and now the barque was kept slightly away, in
order that we might have room to round-to and shoot up alongside the
small craft without giving her occupants the trouble to out oars and
pull to us.  This brought her out clear of our starboard bow, and
afforded us on the poop a better opportunity than we had yet enjoyed of
scrutinising her from that position; of which Sir Edgar, who had again
joined me, took the fullest advantage, keeping his binoculars levelled
upon her without a moment's intermission.  Yet all this time no further
movement had been observed on board her, although she was now so close
to us that, had such been made, it could not possibly have escaped our
notice.  She was a ship's gig, about twenty-four feet long, painted
green, and she floated too light in the water to have many people in
her.  She was rigged with a single short mast, stepped well forward,
upon which an old and well-worn lugsail was set--or, rather, _hoisted_--
for the tack had parted, the sheet was adrift, and the yard hung nearly
up and down the mast, the foot of the sail hanging over the port side
and trailing in the water.  Her rudder was shipped, and swayed idly from
side to side as the boat rocked gently upon the low swell and the small
ripples that followed her in her slow drift before the dying breeze.
Her paint looked faded and sea-washed in the ruddy glow of the setting
sun; her bottom, along the water-line, showed a grey coating of
incipient barnacles, and there were many other indications about her
that to a sailor's eye was proof conclusive of the fact that she had
been in the water for several days.

As I noted these particulars through the telescope, while we were
approaching her, my attention was arrested by a movement and occasional
swirl in the water round about her; and, looking more intently, I
presently descried the triangular dorsal fin of a shark in close
proximity to the boat's side.  Looking more closely still, I saw
another, and another, and yet another, and still others; so that, as I
looked, the boat seemed to be surrounded by sharks, hemmed in and fairly
beset by them.  The water all about her was literally alive with them;
its surface all a-swirl with their eager, restless movements as they
swam to and fro and darted hither and thither, circling round the little
craft and away from her, only to turn sharply, with a whisk of the tail
that left a white foam-fleck and a miniature whirlpool on the gleaming
surface of the water, and force their way back to her side through the
jostling crowd of their companions.

"Do you see that swarm of sharks crowding round the boat, Sir Edgar?"
said I.  "Take my word for it, there is a corpse--perhaps several--in
her, and I am glad that the ladies are not on deck.  Lay aft here, lads,
to the main-braces, and back the mainyard.  Ease your helm down, and
steer up alongside her,"--to the man at the wheel.  "Stand by, one hand,
to jump down into the boat with a rope's-end and make fast."

We were now so close to the little craft that, with the small air there
was abroad, my voice, as I addressed the men, could have been distinctly
heard at a considerable distance beyond her; and there is no doubt that
it and the answering cries of the crew reached the ears of the castaway
whom we had already seen; for as, in obedience to her helm, the bows of
the barque swept slowly round towards the boat, a figure--a ghastly
figure, with scarce a semblance of humanity remaining to it--rose up in
the stern-sheets and looked at us.  I shall never forget the sight, to
my dying day.  It was a man, clad in the remains of a shirt, and a pair
of once blue cloth trousers that had become a dirty, colourless grey by
long exposure to the sun and frequent saturation with salt-water.  The
head was bare, and thatched with a thick shock of grey, matted hair that
still retained a streak of brown in it here and there to tell what its
original colour had been; and the face was shrouded in a dense growth of
matted grey beard and whisker; the skin, where exposed, was scorched to
a deep purple red by the fierce rays of the sun.  All this, however, was
as nothing compared with the gauntness and emaciation of the man.  The
face, or at least that portion of it which was not hidden by the jungle
of beard, was that of a death's head, a fleshless skull with a skin of
blistered parchment strained so tightly over it that the cheek-bones
seemed to be on the point of breaking through; while the eyes, but for
the sparkle of the fever in them, would have been invisible, so deeply
were they sunk within their sockets.  The rest of his frame was
evidently in like condition; his bare arms and exposed shanks seeming
literally to be nothing but skin and bone, without a particle of flesh
upon them.

For a space of, perhaps, ten seconds, this grisly phantom stood
motionless in the boat, staring blankly at us; then, when the ship was
within some twenty fathoms of him, he threw his gaunt, bony arms above
his head, and with a wild, eldritch yell, such as I had never heard
before, and hope never to hear again, he half sprang, half tumbled over
the side of the boat into the water, and, with a frenzied energy such as
few sound, strong men could have exhibited, struck out for the ship.

A wild cry of dismay arose from our decks, fore and aft, at this
unlooked-for act of madness; and then, with one accord, all hands,
myself included, dashed to the starboard quarter-boat and, while the
first comers flung the coiled-up falls off the pins and cut the gripes
adrift, Forbes and four others scrambled into her and, with wild
eagerness, thrust the rowlocks into their sockets, slashed the oars
adrift, and made ready to unhook and give way on the instant that she
should touch the water.

But of what avail was it all?  Even while working with the others at the
boat I never for an instant lost sight of the maniac swimmer.  I noted
the splash of his plunge into the water, and saw the white swirl raised
by the startled sharks as he precipitated himself into their midst; I
saw, too, the vigour with which he swam, and my ears tingled with the
wild, horrible cry he uttered at every stroke.  For a brief space,
perhaps ten or fifteen seconds, not a solitary shark's fin was to be
seen; the surface of the water was unbroken, save by the madman's long
and eager strokes.  Then, all round about him the golden sheen was
darkened into blue and churned to hissing white by the simultaneous rush
of that horde of sea-tigers, and, with a single faint, hoarse, bubbling
cry, the swimmer was gone!

"Too late! too late! hold on with the boat," I cried.  "The poor wretch
is gone; torn to pieces by the sharks!  Now let us see if there is
anybody else--faugh!  What on earth is the meaning of this?"

The exclamation was forced from me by an overpowering effluvium that at
the moment swept on board us from the drifting boat, which was now on
our weather-bow, and close aboard of us.  As she dropped alongside, in
the wake of the fore chains, all hands crowded to the rail to look down
into her; while one smart fellow, with a rope's-end in his hand, was
already over the side, clinging to a channel-iron, with one foot upon
its bolt-head, ready to drop into her and make fast.  But the odour that
arose from the little craft and assailed our nostrils was so
unendurable, and the sight that her interior revealed was so dreadful
and revolting, that we recoiled as one man, and allowed the boat with
her awful freight to scrape slowly along the ship's side from the fore
chains to the taffrail, without an effort to secure her.  To do so would
indeed have been utterly useless, for that first glance down into her
amply sufficed to assure us all that the forms lying prone there were
dead and rotting corpses.  They were those of two men, a lad of sixteen
or seventeen, a woman, and a child of some eight or ten years old; the
clothing of the two last mentioned being of so fine a texture and make
as to suggest that the wearers must have been people of some
consequence.

A small breaker, with the bung out, and obviously empty, stood at the
foot of the mast, with a tin dipper beside it; while the lower half of a
sailor's sea boot, with the sole only of its fellow, lying in the
stern-sheets, in company with a sailor's sheath-knife, told only too
plainly of the terrible straits to which the poor creatures had been
driven to quell the craving torments of hunger.  The words "_La Belle
Amelie_, Marseille," deeply carved in the transom, gave us the name and
nationality of the ship to which this dreadful waif had once belonged,
and completed the details of the entry which I that same evening made in
my official log-book.

The barque still having way upon her, the boat slowly scraped along our
side until she reached our starboard quarter; and there--the halliard of
the sail, which served also as a mast shroud, fouling our main-brace
bumpkin--she hung, and refused to drag clear.  Seeing this, and anxious
to rid the ship of such hideous companionship, the mate whipped out his
knife and, getting down upon the bumpkin, cut through the halliard, thus
releasing the boat and, at the same time, letting the sail down by the
run and sending the extremity of the yard crashing through her bottom.
She now drifted clear; and, our mainyard being at the same time filled
and the helm put hard up, we paid off and began to draw away from her,
noting, meanwhile, that she was gradually filling with water.  The
sharks still stuck pertinaciously to her; and as she settled lower in
the water it was horrible to see with what increasing eagerness and
determination they crowded round and strove to overturn her.  At length,
when her gunwale was almost flush with the water's edge, they apparently
succeeded; for we saw her mast begin to rock and sway, and then, while
the blue of the water all about her with the surge of their struggling
bodies was frothed into creamy white and spurting spray by their fierce
plunges, the spar heeled suddenly over and disappeared.  Happily we were
by this time too far away to note the details in this final scene of the
ghastly drama; but, taking a last look through the telescope, a few
minutes later, I was able to make out the hull of the boat floating
bottom up.  The swarm of sharks had vanished.

On the fifth day following, we arrived, without further incident, in the
Canton river; and Sir Edgar and his party went ashore and took up their
quarters in the best hotel in Hong Kong, while we went to work with all
expedition to discharge our cargo.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

THE SOLUTION OF THE CRYPTOGRAM.

I was at this time no nearer to the unriddling of Richard Saint Leger's
cryptogram than I had been at the moment when I held it in my hand for
the first time; but now that I was so far on my way toward the spot
where the treasure was supposed to still lie hidden, I resolved that I
would not return until I had succeeded in deciphering the document and
testing the truth of whatever statement it might be found to contain.  I
had a shrewd suspicion that the hiding-place of the treasure would prove
to be in one of the thousand islets of the vast Pacific; and I
accordingly determined to confine my operations to those waters until I
had some good reason for going elsewhere.  Our hatches were consequently
no sooner off than I set about inquiring for freights to one or another
of the Pacific ports.  I speedily discovered that the most advantageous
freights offering were for Australia; and, it having leaked out that the
little _Esmeralda_ was something of a clipper, I succeeded, ere we had
been in the river a week, in obtaining an excellent freight for Sydney,
with the promise of quick despatch.

This matter arranged to my satisfaction, I had a little leisure on my
hands; and the first use I made of it was to call upon the Desmonds at
their hotel, in fulfilment of a promise extracted from me by them when
they were leaving the ship.  I found them just about to sit down to
luncheon, at which meal they insisted that I should join them; and we
had no sooner settled ourselves at the table than I was pelted with
questions as to what I had been doing with myself since our parting; why
had I not called before? had I decided upon my future movements?
etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  I replied by enumerating a few of the
infinitude of business matters that a shipmaster usually has to attend
to immediately upon his arrival in port--especially if that port be a
foreign one--and, in conclusion, told them that, having resolved to
remain in Eastern waters until I should have either discovered the
interpretation of my ancestor's cryptogram, or should be driven to
abandon all hope of ever solving the riddle, I had accepted a freight
for Sydney, New South Wales; jestingly adding that they had better make
up their minds to take passage with me.

As I said this I observed a quick interchange of glances between Sir
Edgar, his wife, and Miss Merrivale; and then the former remarked--

"Well now, captain, it is very singular, but it is nevertheless a fact,
that no longer ago than this morning at breakfast we practically made up
our minds that, before returning home, we would go on to Australia, and
see something of that wonderful country.  An old friend and college chum
of mine has settled there and gone in for sheep-farming upon a large
scale, and, our conversation happening to turn upon him a few days ago,
my wife made the curious discovery that he is the man who married the
bosom friend and companion of her boarding-school days; the result being
that a half jocular proposal of mine that we should extend our
wanderings to Australia and beat up the quarters of these good folk has
crystallised into the serious resolution to do so, provided that
suitable passenger accommodation to take us there can be met with.  This
accident of your having accepted a freight for Sydney settles that part
of the question, of course, for we will go with you--that is, if you are
willing to have us again."

I protested, heartily and truthfully, that no proposal could give me
greater pleasure.  Whereupon it was then and there arranged that the
party should have the whole of the saloon accommodation as before; and
ere I left them that afternoon, Sir Edgar--asking me to roughly
calculate for him the probable date of our arrival--sat down and wrote
to his friend, apprising him of the determination arrived at, and naming
the approximate date at which the party might be looked for.

This arrangement was a most agreeable, as well as a most advantageous
one for me; for it at once insured me the disposal of all my saloon
accommodation for the passage, and, at the same time, the continued
society of those who had already not only proved themselves to be most
agreeable, companionable people, but whom I had by this time learned to
regard as staunch personal friends.

Nothing worthy of mention occurred to mark our sojourn in the Canton
river; I need, therefore, only state that, having duly discharged our
inward cargo, and received our outward freight, we sailed for Sydney on
the day three weeks following the date of the arrangement come to by Sir
Edgar and his party to take passage in the _Esmeralda_.

The passage proved as uneventful as the previous one had been the
reverse; only two incidents occurring during its progress of sufficient
moment to demand especial mention.  At the time of their occurrence I
considered only one of them worth the distinction of an entry in my
diary; but subsequent events proved that they were both destined to
exercise almost equally important influences upon my fortunes and those
of my friends the Desmond party.

The first--and what seemed to me infinitely the most important--of these
was nothing less than my discovery of the long-sought key to Richard
Saint Leger's secret cipher; and it was brought about in a manner so
singular and unexpected that I must leave the explanation of the matter
to the psychological student, it being altogether beyond the
comprehension of such a simple, matter-of-fact, unlearned seaman as
myself.

It happened thus.  I fully realised that it would be impossible for me
to continue cruising to and fro in those Eastern waters for an
indefinite period; I knew that a moment must sooner or later arrive when
the force of circumstances would compel me to shape a course once more
for England; and it already appeared to me highly probable that the
arrival of that moment would prove to be coincident with that of the
arrival of the ship in Sydney Harbour.  I consequently became
increasingly anxious to discover the interpretation of the cryptogram
before the conclusion of the passage upon which we were then engaged.
No sooner, therefore, were we fairly at sea than I devoted myself in
grim and serious earnest to my quest for the key that was to unlock the
secrets of the exasperating cipher.  The document consisted, as the
reader will remember, entirely of long, unbroken rows of figures--with
the exception of a rather singular sketch in the midst of the text,
which I took to be a representation of the island whereon the treasure
was said to have been secreted, as viewed from certain bearings--and I
knew that these figures must stand in lieu of a certain arrangement of
the letters of the alphabet, forming words.  I had early noted the
somewhat curious fact that there was but one solitary nought throughout
the document; but that only helped me so far as to render me morally
certain that the letters of the text could scarcely be represented by
units; and, taking this as my initial theory, I attempted every other
combination of numbers that either my ingenuity or my fancy could
suggest.  In vain; I could hit upon no arrangement of numbers that, when
transposed into letters, would give me a single intelligible word,
either in English or any other language with which I had the slightest
acquaintance.  I at length grew so thoroughly worried over the matter
that my nerves became sensibly affected; I turned irritable, and began
to suffer from repeated attacks of extreme anxiety and depression; my
appetite failed me, and I became a victim to the torment of insomnia.

In this condition of mind and body I one night retired to my cabin after
a day of petty worries, in which everything and everybody seemed to have
been at cross-purposes with me, and--utterly worn out with the prolonged
tension upon my nerves--ultimately subsided into a fitful, restless,
nightmare kind of slumber, during which I continued in my dreams the
researches upon which my thoughts had now been for nearly three weeks
concentrated.  Over and over again did I seem to arrange upon paper an
experimental system of numbering the alphabet, in the hope of obtaining
some intelligible result; and at length, to my great astonishment and
inexpressible delight, methought I found one.  In feverish haste I--
still in my dream--set to work upon the translation of the document, and
was progressing swimmingly, when a sharp rapping upon my state-room
door, and the steward's voice announcing, "Six bells, sir," (the time at
which I was regularly called every morning), awoke me; and in that same
instant I lost all recollection of every particular of my dream,
remembering only that in it I really seemed to have at last found the
solution of the hitherto inexplicable enigma.

Seriously annoyed at so inopportune an interruption to a dream that I
quite regarded as a revelation, and vexed at my inability to recollect
any more of the process of translation which I had followed than that it
was an entirely novel one, I took my usual salt-water bath, dressed, and
in due course sat down to breakfast, all the while striving desperately
but unsuccessfully to recall the lost clue.  My passengers observed my
preoccupation, and endeavoured--for some time unavailingly--to withdraw
me from it; at length, however, the consciousness dawned upon me that my
peculiar behaviour must appear to them decidedly discourteous.  I
therefore aroused myself, threw off my abstraction, and apologised;
explaining that I had been endeavouring to recall the details of a dream
in which I seemed to have discovered the long-sought key to the secret
of my hidden treasure.

"A dream!" exclaimed Miss Merrivale, delighted.  "Oh, captain, _pray_
tell us all about it; it may help you to remember."

I had no such hope, having already racked my brain until it seemed to
reel, and all to no purpose; but it would have been childish to have
refused the request.  I therefore began by telling them how that I had
retired on the preceding night with my mind full of the subject; how I
had lain tossing restlessly, hour after hour, striving to think out some
arrangement or system that I had not yet tried; and how eventually I had
sunk into a feverish, nightmare slumber in which my brain continued its
arduous, painful search for the key of the problem.

"At length," continued I, "an idea came to me; and, taking a sheet of
paper, I--I--Why, by all that is wonderful, _I have it again_!"

And, springing from my chair, to the no small consternation of my
companions, who evidently thought I had suddenly gone demented, I rushed
away to my state-room and, seizing a sheet of paper, jotted down the
system that had just recurred to my memory.  Then, heedless of my
unfinished breakfast and everything else, I drew out the precious
document itself, and, using the key that had come to me in such an
extraordinary manner, soon discovered, to my inexpressible delight, that
I really was at last upon the right track.  I met with a few
difficulties, it was true; but, braced-up and encouraged by what I had
already achieved, I speedily surmounted them, and, after somewhat more
than an hour's patient labour, succeeded in evolving the following:--

"Latitude 3 degrees 40 minutes South; longitude 139 degrees 18 minutes
West.  Approached from the south-west the island, at a distance of
fifteen leagues, bears the exact likeness of the face of a man floating
on the water.  Steer for the hollow between mouth and chin, and ye shall
find a river, which boldly enter, and sail up it a distance of three
furlongs to the creek on starboard hand; pass into the creek and land on
the island.  The treasure lies buried at a spot one thousand feet due
south from the base of the obelisk rock."

I was so elated at this discovery, the mental relief and exhilaration
were so great that, in the exuberance of my delight, I felt constrained
to acquaint my friends with my success; and rushing up on the poop with
the cryptogram and its rough translation in my hand, I sat down by the
open skylight, close to which Sir Edgar and Lady Emily were seated, and
presenting the baronet with the documents, said--

"There, Sir Edgar, read that; and never hereafter dare to assert that
there is nothing in dreams!"

"I do not remember that I have ever yet made the assertion," he retorted
laughingly.  "But do you really mean to say that you have at length
mastered the secret of the cipher?" as he took the paper from me, and
forthwith read it aloud for the benefit of his wife and Miss Merrivale,
the latter having joined us at her sister's call.

"Well," exclaimed Lady Emily, when her husband had finished, "it is
really wonderful! quite the kind of thing that one reads of in books but
does not believe, because one seldom or never meets with anything like
it in real life.  But so many strange things have happened during this
eventful voyage of ours, that I shall never again be incredulous of
anything."

"Quite so, my dear," agreed Sir Edgar.  "Never commit yourself to the
statement that you disbelieve anything.  To refuse credence simply
because one cannot understand, or because to our limited understanding
the occurrence seems unlikely or impossible, is an infallible indication
of ignorance.  The wider our experience, and the deeper our knowledge,
the more ready are we to admit that there may be many wonders that have
never come within the limits of our ken, and about which we know
nothing.  But, about the key to the cryptogram, what is it?  You must
tell us that, you know, Saint Leger, in consideration of our own
unsuccessful efforts to help you.  Besides, the knowledge of such a
difficult cipher as that is really worth having; who can say how soon,
or under what circumstances, it might be found useful for purposes of
secret communication?"

"Oh, it is ridiculously simple, when you know it," said I.  "All you
have to do is to number each letter of the alphabet consecutively,
beginning with A and calling it eleven.  Then, with the cryptogram
before you, you divide the figures into series of four, each four
figures representing a letter.  Subtract the first pair of figures from
the second, and the remainder gives you the number of the letter as you
have it in your key.  For example: the first four figures in the
document are 1133; that is to say, eleven and thirty-three.  The
difference between them is twenty-two, which, you see, represents the
letter L in the key.  Then take the next four figures, treating them in
the same way, and so on throughout the document.  One great advantage of
such an arrangement appears to me to be that, however many times the
same letter occurs in a document, it need never be represented twice in
exactly the same way, which certainly must greatly tend to preserve the
secrecy of the cipher.  There are no spaces, you observe, to mark the
divisions between the several words; but that offers no difficulty
whatever when one possesses the key; while--to my cost I know it--it
adds tremendously to the difficulty when one does not.  Then, again, the
figures of the latitude and longitude are given just as they would be in
an ordinary document, which brought me completely to a standstill for a
little while, until I happily guessed at the explanation; but after
passing these stumbling-blocks, the rest was perfectly plain sailing."

"Quite so," acquiesced Sir Edgar.  "It is simple enough when it has been
explained; but a sufficiently ingenious thing for all that, in proof of
which we have the fact that it has completely puzzled us all for months;
and I really believe, Saint Leger, that, but for your wonderful dream,
it would have continued to puzzle you to the end of time.  I
congratulate you heartily upon your good fortune."

"And I;" "And I," simultaneously exclaimed Lady Emily and her sister.

"And now," continued the baronet, "what are your plans with regard to
the matter?  Will you still go on to Sydney, and discharge your cargo
before attempting to secure your treasure, or will you make a detour,
and prosecute your search for it forthwith?"

"Oh, of course I must fulfil my present obligations before I attempt to
do anything toward recovering the treasure," said I.  "When I have done
that--when I have safely landed you all on the wharf at Sydney, and have
discharged my cargo, I shall well ballast the ship and clear for the
Pacific in search of a cargo of sandal-wood.  I shall of course make it
my first business to secure the treasure; but, in order to keep up
appearances, I shall also collect what sandal-wood I can find without
very much trouble, and proceed with it to China, from whence I shall
take home a cargo of tea, if I can secure one."

"And how long do you expect to remain in Sydney?" inquired Sir Edgar.

"Oh, about a fortnight, or three weeks at the utmost," said I.

"Upon my word, I should very much like to go with you," remarked Sir
Edgar, reflectively.  "I confess I feel curious to see the end of your
adventure; but if you are not likely to lie in port longer than the time
you have named, I am afraid it can scarcely be managed.  However, we
shall see."

And with that the subject was dismissed for the moment, although it was
afterwards frequently touched upon again before our arrival in Sydney.

The other affair, to which I have referred as ultimately proving to be
intimately associated with my fortunes and those of my friends the
Desmonds, was one in which the ship's steward became the most
conspicuous figure.

I had never liked the man, from the moment that I first came into
contact with him upon the occasion of the crew signing articles.  He had
a sly, shifty expression of eye that aroused my instant antipathy; but
he held such unexceptionable testimonials that I had no excuse for
refusing to engage him, apart from the manifest injustice it would have
been to deny him employment simply on account of a feeling of prejudice
that, for aught I could tell, might disappear upon a further
acquaintance.  It did not, however; on the contrary, it rather
increased, for he had not been with us long ere I discovered that he had
a quiet, stealthy, cat-like way of moving about that would have been
irreproachable had it not happened that frequently, when writing a
letter, making up my accounts, or otherwise engaged upon work of a
strictly private character, I was disconcerted to suddenly discover him
behind my chair--without knowing how he came, or how long he had been
there--in a position and attitude that irresistibly suggested the idea
that he had been peering over my shoulder.  Or again, when conversing
more or less confidentially with others, it was no uncommon thing to
make, by the merest accident, the annoying discovery that the man had
been well within earshot all the while.  And it did not in the least
lessen my annoyance that, on all such occasions, the fellow seemed to be
exactly where he ought to be, and engaged in the performance of
perfectly legitimate duties.

This, however, was the extent of his offence--if such it can be called--
until we were within twenty-four hours of arriving in Sydney Harbour,
when he was detected in an act that all but resulted in the destruction
of the ship, while it seriously imperilled the lives of all hands.

The ship's lazarette, or storeroom, was situated--as is usually the
case--underneath the cabin.  But whereas it is the fashion in most ships
to have a small hatch in the cabin floor by which access is gained to
the lazarette, in the _Esmeralda_ there was a much more convenient
arrangement, consisting of a step-ladder leading down through a hatchway
beneath the saloon staircase, whereby stores could be brought up for use
without the necessity of shifting the saloon table and dragging
everything through the saloon itself.  The hatchway giving access to the
lazarette was enclosed by a partition which formed quite a roomy little
apartment, wherein the steward was wont to unpack the barrels and cases
containing the cabin stores; the work being thus done in such complete
seclusion that it could not possibly prove a source of annoyance to any
one, however fastidious.  This arrangement also enabled the steward to
enter the lazarette at his own sweet will and without any one being the
wiser--which constituted my sole objection to it.

We were, as I have said, within twenty-four hours' sail of our port, the
time being evening, about three bells in the first watch, when one of
the nursemaids came rushing on deck with a scared face and the
intelligence that there was a strong smell of burning in the saloon,
which, moreover, was full of smoke.  I of course sprang below at once,
and found it to be indeed as the maid had stated; there was a most
unmistakable smell of fire, and a haze of light-blue smoke in the cabin
that seemed to have made its way there from the lazarette, for the
companion-way and the space between the foot of the companion-ladder and
the saloon bulkhead was thick with it.  Guessing at once that the fire
was in the lazarette, I threw open the door leading to the hatchway, and
found the latter open, with a cloud of bluish-white smoke issuing from
it, through which I dimly caught the flicker of flames.  To drop through
the hatchway was the work of an instant, when I at once saw what was the
matter.  A large packing-case that had evidently been nearly full of
straw was all in a blaze, and beside it, with an idiotic, drunken grin
upon his face, stood the steward, unsteadily pointing with wavering
finger to the open lazarette lantern, which could just be descried in
the midst of the blazing mass.  In his other hand the fellow held a
filled but unlighted pipe, which, with a tumbler that still contained a
small quantity of wine, and a half-empty bottle of the same generous
stimulant, explained at a glance the whole history of the incident.  The
rascal had evidently gone down into the lazarette and helped himself to
a bottle of wine, upon the contents of which he had become so nearly
intoxicated that at length, forgetful or reckless of the extreme danger
of such a proceeding where he was, he had determined to further solace
himself with a smoke, and, opening the lantern in order to light his
pipe at the candle, had dropped it into the packing-case and set its
contents on fire.  The fellow was too stupidly drunk even to raise an
alarm, and in another five minutes the whole lazarette would have been
in a blaze.  As it happened, however, I arrived upon the scene just in
the nick of time to prevent this by seizing the blazing case and
dragging it and its contents bodily up on deck--at the expense of a pair
of severely scorched hands--and heaving it overboard.  I then went below
again, and took an exhaustive look round to assure myself beyond all
question that no smouldering spark had been left behind; and, having
completely satisfied myself upon that point, wound up the affair by
ordering the steward to be put in irons and locked up in the deck-house
forward.  We arrived at Sydney next day, and within half an hour of
mooring the ship I paid the man his wages and turned him adrift.

The Desmond party got clear of the ship in time to dine ashore that
evening; and, on the day but one following our arrival, they started
upon their up-country journey, after bidding me a most cordial farewell,
accompanied by the hope that they might find me still in port upon their
return.  I felt exceedingly sorry to part with them, and told them so;
adding that I could not entertain the hope of seeing them again, on that
side of the world at least, since they expected to be absent from Sydney
for at least a month, by the end of which time I hoped to be some
distance on my way to the treasure island.  But I gave them a faithful
promise to write to them on my return to England, acquainting them with
the issue of my adventure, even should I find myself unable to accept
the pressing invitation they gave me to visit them at their place in
Devonshire.

Sydney, as everybody knows, is a fairly busy port, and can always make a
goodly display of shipping; at least, that is my experience of the
place, and I had been there thrice prior to the period of this story;
but, knowing--as I thought I did--something about the annual amount of
tonnage using the harbour, I was astounded at the vast fleet of craft of
all rigs and sizes that met my gaze when I beheld the noble city for the
fourth time.  The anchorage seemed literally packed with them; and it
required some very delicate manoeuvring on the part of our pilot to take
us to our berth without running foul of something.  Fortunately for us--
and possibly also for some of the other craft--there was a nice working
breeze blowing at the time; and, the _Esmeralda_ happening moreover to
be an exceptionally smart and handy vessel under canvas, we managed to
thread our way in and out among the fleet without hurting ourselves or
anybody else.  The pilot observed the wondering glances I cast around me
as we made our way up the harbour, and remarked, with a smile, and in a
semi-confidential tone of voice--

"Curious sight, isn't it, sir?"

"Very," I agreed.  "And the most curious part of it, to my mind, is the
_deserted_ look of the craft, everywhere.  Most of them appear to be
loaded and apparently ready for sea, yet in scarcely any of them is more
than a single person to be seen; while many of them appear to have
absolutely nobody at all on board."

"That's just how it is with them, sir.  There's upwards of a hundred
sail of vessels at anchor round about us at this present minute, without
a soul aboard to look after 'em.  Deserted by all hands, from the
skipper to the cabin-boy, and left to take care of themselves while
their crews are away making their fortunes--or trying to make them--at
the new gold-fields.  And those that aren't absolutely deserted are left
with only the cap'n aboard to look after 'em.  _Your_ crew'll be leaving
you before twenty-four hours are passed over their heads--unless they're
an unusually steady lot--mark my words if they don't."

"And how long has this state of things existed?"  I inquired.

"Oh, ever since the discovery of the new gold-field; and that's--let me
see--why, about five months," was the reply.  "See that full-rigged ship
over there--painted green, with white ports--that's the _Sophie
Ellesmere_, of Liverpool.  Her crew was the first to desert; and it was
only last Thursday that I heard her cap'n saying that he had been ready
for sea exactly five months on that day.  He has written home to his
owners to send him out a crew, and he's expecting 'em by the next
steamer; the arrangement being that they're to go straight aboard from
the steamer, and up anchor and away.  But, bless you, sir, they'll never
do it; they'll insist upon having a fling ashore, for a few days, after
their trip out here; and so sure as they get leave to do that, they'll
be off, like all the rest."

"And are there no men to be obtained here in place of the deserters?"  I
asked.

"Lord bless your soul, no, sir!  Why, it's a difficult matter to muster
hands enough even to unload or load a ship, with labourer's wages up to
a pound a day; and the men who are willing to work even at that figure
are either the few long-headed ones who prefer a moderate certainty to
the chance of ill luck at the gold-fields, or such poor delicate chaps
as can't stand the hardships of camp life.  But, as to _sailors_, bless
you, sir, there ain't _one_ to be had for love or money.  Even those who
deserted from the _Sophie Ellesmere_ haven't been up there long enough
yet to get tired of the life and to want a change."

"Then I suppose this new gold-field is proving pretty rich?"  I
hazarded.

"Well, if you are to believe all that the newspapers say about it, there
must be gold to be had for the trouble of picking it up, almost," was
the reply.  "And it is certain that at least one man--a sailor he was,
too--managed to scrape together ten thousand pounds' worth of gold in
the three months.  He and three of his mates worked a claim together,
and struck it downright rich when they got down to the gravel; one
nugget alone that they brought up weighed fourteen hundred and
ninety-seven ounces; and though that was the biggest of the lot, it was
only one of many big ones.  Of course, a `find' like that goes the
rounds of the newspapers, and is made much of and talked about to that
degree that people simply go mad with the gold-fever, and rush off to
the fields, absolutely certain that they, too, will be equally lucky."

This was serious news indeed; for, as I was then situated, I could ill
afford to have the ship lying idle a single day, to say nothing of such
a length of time as five or six months.  Should I eventually succeed in
recovering the treasure, of course even a year or more of enforced
idleness would matter nothing; but it was still quite an open question
with me whether I should ever see that treasure or not.  I had not a
shadow of doubt as to the _bona fides_ of the cryptogram.  I felt
certain that when that document was penned, the treasure was reposing
peacefully in the hiding-place described therein; but how was I to know
that it lay there still?  The writer of the document may not have been
the only person acquainted with the secret of the hiding-place; and, in
such a case, the probabilities were in favour of the treasure having
been unearthed years before either I or my father opened our eyes upon
this world.  Or it might even have been stumbled upon accidentally.  In
short, the prospect of its falling into my hands appeared so uncertain,
even now that I had gained the clue to its place of concealment, that I
felt it would be impossible for me to regard myself or to act otherwise
than as a poor man until I should actually find the treasure in my
possession.  And then, too, I was naturally anxious and eager to settle
the question as to whether the treasure still remained hidden or not.
If it did, well and good; if not--if it was not to be found on the spot
indicated in the cryptogram, it certainly would not be found at all; and
all that would then remain for me to do would be to dismiss the matter
from my mind, as I would a feverish dream, and devote myself, heart and
soul, to my profession.

The problem which now presented itself to my mind was, how to induce my
crew to remain with me?  For _inducement_ it would certainly have to be;
I could scarcely have them locked up, or put them in irons during our
stay in Sydney in order to insure myself against their desertion!  I
thought the matter over very carefully, both on that first evening of
our arrival in Sydney Harbour, and during the subsequent day, after a
visit to my consignees had assured me that the pilot's story in nowise
exaggerated the astounding state of things then prevailing in the port,
and at length came to the conclusion that I could do nothing.  If they
chose to remain, well and good; if they elected to go, I had no power to
prevent them.

To my astonishment and gratification, however, they took their leave
time after time, and always punctually turned up on board again when it
had expired; until, when we had been in the harbour nearly a month, and
our cargo was almost out, I began to hope that the fellows really meant
to stay by me.  Then, getting leave to spend Sunday ashore, as usual,
every mother's son of them--save the mate and Joe Martin--left me.  I,
of course, at once communicated with the police authorities, acquainting
them with the fact of the desertion; and I also offered a substantial
reward for the recovery of the men.  But it was of no avail; the rascals
had gone clean off; and there I found myself, in the same plight as many
another shipmaster, locked up in Sydney Harbour for an indefinite
period, with no hope whatever of getting away so long as the rush to the
gold-fields lasted.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

THE NEW CREW.

I had been in this unpleasant plight about three weeks, during which the
remainder of the cargo had been discharged, the ship ballasted down to
her very best sailing trim, and everything made ready for my trip to the
Pacific, when one day, as I was wandering aimlessly about the streets, I
encountered Sir Edgar and Lady Desmond, who--after a much longer sojourn
up-country than they had intended--had returned to Sydney, and were
beginning to think seriously of finding their way back to England.  They
were palpably and unfeignedly delighted to see me again, although they
of course sympathised with me in my misfortune, and insisted upon my
dining with them that evening, and afterwards accompanying them to the
theatre.  I suppose they saw that I needed a little cheering up; and I
got it, too; for they were more than kind--their genial frankness of
behaviour to me was more that of a brother and sister than of mere
acquaintances, or even of the usual run of friends; and when I left them
next morning after breakfast--for they insisted on my acceptance of
their hospitality for the night--I felt more cheerful than I had done
since the desertion of my crew.  As I shook hands with Sir Edgar on the
hotel steps, he said--

"Now, Saint Leger, we are in no hurry to start for a month or two, you
know; and we are all quite as eager as ever we were to see the end of
this adventure of yours; so if you should succeed in scraping together a
crew within, say, the next two months, you may reckon upon us as
passengers again--that is, if you would care to have us."

"You are more than kind, Sir Edgar," said I, "and I should be delighted
to have you; but you appear to have forgotten that my plans include
another visit to China before I point the barque's nose for home, even
should I succeed in securing the treasure."

"That does not matter a bit, my dear fellow," he laughed.  "As I have
already told you, we are in no hurry whatever; and, to tell you the
truth, Lady Emily seems to enjoy so much better health when at sea than
she does when on shore, that I should welcome any excuse plausible
enough to keep her on shipboard for two or three months longer.  So, if
you should succeed in picking up a crew, let me know at once."

It really seemed as though the reappearance of the Desmonds upon the
scene had brought good fortune to me; for when I reached the ship and
went on board, Forbes met me at the gangway with quite an unwonted
expression of delight upon his face, and said--

"I am glad you have come on board so early, sir; for I have actually had
a gang of eleven men alongside, who say they are looking for berths."

"Eleven men! _looking for berths_!"  I ejaculated, scarcely crediting my
ears.  "Where are they?"

"They went off up-town again, unfortunately, when I told them you were
not on board," replied Forbes.  "But I have the address of the
boarding-house at which they are staying, and I told them I would let
them know when you could see them."

"My dear fellow," I exclaimed, "be off at once, and say that I shall be
on board for the remainder of the day, and can see them at any time.
Or, stay--perhaps I had better look in upon them myself; I can manage to
drop in upon them in a casual sort of way, that will have less
appearance of eagerness and anxiety than would sending especially for
them.  What did they look like?"

"Well," admitted Forbes, "they _looked_ as rowdy a set of ruffians as I
ever wish to set eyes on; but their manners and mode of speaking were
those of fairly decent, respectable men.  They said that they had been
at the gold-fields for the last seven months, and had scarcely made
enough to keep themselves; they were consequently tired of their shore
life, and had determined to go to sea again if they could meet with a
ship and officers to their liking.  They were mightily taken with the
barque--as of course any man who knew a ship from a washing-tub would
be--swore she was the sweetest-looking craft in the harbour; and, when I
mentioned your name, said they had heard of you and wouldn't wish to go
to sea under a better man.  Altogether, if they are only in earnest as
to their desire to go to sea again, I do not think you should find much
difficulty in securing them, sir."

"Give me their address," said I, "and I will be off after them at once.
This is not a time for fencing and feigning indifference; the fellows
know, as well as you or I do, what a haul they will prove to the man who
is lucky enough to secure them, so I will not run any risk of losing
them by pretending otherwise.  If I can persuade them to ship, I will
sail to-morrow, short-handed though we should be.  I can take the
starboard watch myself; and, for the rest, we shall just have to keep an
extra sharp eye upon the barometer and the weather, and be careful to
snug down if need be in good time, until we again reach China, when we
shall probably be able to get another man or two."  So saying, I took
the address from Forbes, and forthwith started in search of the men.  I
found them at length, after a somewhat tedious quest, in a most
disreputable-looking boarding-house, situate in the most disreputable
part of the town.  And I am bound to admit that my first impression of
the men was that their appearance was in perfect accord with their
surroundings.  They most undoubtedly were, as Forbes had said, as
rowdy-looking a set of ruffians as one would care to meet.  Tough,
sinewy desperadoes, swarthy as mulattoes by long exposure to the fierce
southern sun, with long, dense, tangled thatches of hair mingling with a
thick, neglected growth of beard and whisker that permitted scarcely a
feature, save the nose and eyes, to be seen, clad in the remains of the
inevitable flannel shirt, cord trousers, and knee-boots, with belts
about their waists, in which each man carried his revolver and a
formidable bowie-knife; the whole topped off with a soft, broad-brimmed,
battered felt hat dashed on to the head in a fashion eloquently
suggestive of the utmost extreme of recklessness,--I think I never saw a
party of men who, under ordinary circumstances, I would have been less
willing to ship as a crew than these.  Yet, when I spoke to them, they
answered me respectfully, and there was scarcely more than the merest
tinge of that defiant independence of manner that their appearance had
prepared me to expect.  They told me, as they had told Forbes, that they
had been working for something like seven months at the gold-fields, and
had met with so little success that they were now almost penniless, a
result which they attributed to their lack of experience as miners.  One
of the party remarked grimly that the life of a miner was even worse
than that of a sailor; inasmuch as that, with an equal amount of
exposure and harder work, it was no unusual thing for them to be reduced
to starvation rations.  Seven months' experience of this kind, they
said, had satisfied them that they were never intended for gold-miners;
and they had accordingly left the fields in a body, and tramped to
Sydney, determined to revert to their original occupation of seamen, and
agreeing to ship together for home in the first craft that took their
fancy.

"But," said I, "I am not going directly to England.  I am bound to the
Pacific for a cargo of sandal-wood, and thence to China, before seeking
a freight to England."

"Oh, well," said the fellow who had constituted himself the spokesman of
the party, "that won't make any great difference.  The voyage 'll be so
much the longer, and we shall have the more money to take up at the end
of it.  The chief thing with us is to find a comfortable ship and a good
skipper, and we're of opinion that if we ship with you, we shall have
both.  Ain't that so, mates?"

"Ay, ay, judge; that's so, my bully.  Them's our sentiments.  Right you
are, as usual."

In these and similar terse sentences, the men confirmed the remarks of
their companion.

The question of wages was then raised, in respect of which I found their
demands far more moderate than I had dared to hope; namely, five pounds
ten per month for the seamen and the man who undertook to perform the
duties of steward, and six pounds ten per month for the cook; each man
to receive an Advance of _two_ months' wages upon signing articles.  To
this I agreed without demur, and then, anxious to strike while the iron
appeared to be hot, I suggested that they should sign articles
forthwith.  A short consultation among themselves followed this
proposal, at the end of which they declared themselves quite willing,
but stipulated that they should have twenty-four hours clear after
signing, in which to provide themselves with an outfit for the voyage.
To this I also assented, and we then separated, they to make their way
to the shipping-office, and I to hurry down to the barque for the
necessary papers and cash prior to joining them there.

It was just noon when, the work of signing the articles and paying the
advances having been completed, I jumped into a cab to drive to the
hotel at which the Desmonds were staying, to acquaint those good people
with my latest stroke of luck.  They were out, however, as I felt
morally certain they would be; so I left a note for Sir Edgar, and then
set about the transaction of such small items of business as were
necessary prior to going to sea.  This, however, amounted to very
little, as I had practically completed all my preparations long before;
so by five o' clock in the evening I had cleared everything off my
hands, and was once more alongside the ship.  Here I found a note from
Sir Edgar Desmond awaiting me, in which he acknowledged the receipt of
my own epistle, and enjoined me to dine with them without fail that
evening.  This I did; and the upshot of it all was that they decided to
complete the trip with me, despite the poor account I felt constrained
to give them of my crew, and announced their intention of joining the
ship immediately after lunch on the following day.

As I stretched myself out in my bunk that night, and reflected with a
sigh of satisfaction that, if all went well, we should be once more at
sea in less than twenty-four hours, the disagreeable suspicion for the
first time obtruded itself upon my mind that possibly it might prove
after all that I had been the victim of a clever swindle, and that I
should never see anything more of any of the men to whom I had handed
over two months' advance so confidingly.  However, about eleven o'clock
the next morning, the first of them--William Rogers, the man whom I had
shipped as boatswain--put in an appearance alongside, neatly dressed in
a new suit of blue cloth, with cap, shirt, and shoes to match; also a
brand-new chest and bundle of bedding; and coming on board, quietly went
below and proceeded to arrange his belongings for the voyage.  I was
agreeably surprised at this man's appearance; for whereas when I had
shipped him on the previous day, he was ragged, dirty, and unkempt, he
was now well-dressed, clean, and palpably fresh from the hands of the
barber.  Close upon his heels came Jacob Simpson, the cook, who had
likewise undergone a renovating process that materially improved his
appearance, although as I looked at the man there was a something about
him that I did not quite like.  For one thing, he seemed to remind me
vaguely of somebody else--though who, I could not for the life of me
say--who had left an unpleasant impression upon my mind; and, added to
this, he was afflicted with an affection of the voice--the result of
bush-fever, he informed me--which permitted him to speak only in a
hoarse whisper.  Next came Peter Gale, the man who had undertaken to
perform the functions of steward, though he frankly admitted that he
knew little or nothing about the duties of the post.  But, since a
steward we must have, and this man impressed me as being the most quiet
and likely man for the berth, I had chosen him, since he had professed
his readiness to try his hand and do his best.  From this man I learned
the pleasing intelligence that the remainder of the men were following
him, and would be on board in about a quarter of an hour; so I
introduced him to the lazarette, and directed him to obtain the cook's
assistance to break out a fresh barrel of beef, and get a dinner under
way for the crew forthwith.  About the time named by the steward, the
main body made their appearance and came quietly on board.  There were
eight of them, namely, Hiram Barr and James Mckinley, Americans; Michael
O'Connor, an Irishman; Francois Bourdonnais, a Frenchman; Carl Strauss,
a German; Christian Christianssen, a Swede; Pedro Villar, a Portuguese;
and James Nicholson (nicknamed "San Domingo," from the island in which
he was born), a full-blooded negro.  They constituted a distinctly
scratch crew, I was compelled to admit, as I watched them coming on
board; but they all understood and spoke English; and although, with all
their sprucing up, a few of them still wore a somewhat sinister
appearance, every man of them was, for a wonder, perfectly sober, and
they all bore themselves in a remarkably decent and orderly manner.
Moreover, the eight last enumerated had all shipped as able seamen.  In
short, while perhaps they were not a crew that I would have selected
from choice, I considered myself marvellously lucky in getting even
them, and was more than content.

As soon as they were all aboard and had gone below, I sent word for'ard
by the steward that they were to employ the interval until dinner-time
in "shaking down," and that after dinner we should proceed to rig out
the jib-boom and unmoor the ship preparatory to going to sea.  Then,
leaving Forbes in charge, I went ashore and cleared the ship for the
Pacific, paid the harbour and other dues, wrote and posted a few
letters, and took lunch.  Then down on board again, overtaking the
Desmond party on the way; when, having shipped them and their somewhat
multitudinous belongings, the windlass was manned, the cable hove short,
the topsails sheeted home and mast-headed, the anchor tripped, and we
were off, reaching the open sea just in time to see the sun disappear
behind the land as we squared away upon a north-easterly course for Dick
Saint Leger's treasure island.

For a time all went merry as a marriage bell; the weather was simply
perfect, with blue skies, brilliant sunshine, and gentle breezes, with
charming glimpses of lovely tropical islands, day after day, when we
reached the Fiji and Friendly Archipelagos and threaded our way through
them.  To add to the enjoyment of this time, the men were doing their
duty in a manner that ought to have satisfied the most exacting of
officers, and behaving with a quietness and steadiness of demeanour that
was absolutely unexceptionable.  They seemed always willing, and always
_content_--a phenomenon that I had never hitherto met with on shipboard
for longer than the first week after leaving a port.

I was consequently very much astonished when, one dark night, in the
middle watch, when we had been at sea rather over a fortnight, Joe
Martin, who was at the wheel, took advantage of a momentary pause I made
beside him, to address me in the following terms:--

"Beg pardon, cap'n, but could you make it convenient to pitch into me,
and give me a most tremenjious blowin' up, and call me a lot of hard
names afore all hands, to-morrow, some time in the second dog-watch, if
I was to give you an excuse for so doin'?"

"Blow you up? abuse you? before all hands?"  I ejaculated, as soon as my
astonishment would allow me to speak.  "Why, what in the name of all
that is extraordinary do you mean, Martin?"

"Just exactly what I says, sir," was the reply.  "The fact is, there's
something brewin' in the fo'c's'le, and I want to get to the bottom of
it.  But I can't, because the men have got the notion into their heads
that I'm a bit of a favourite of yours, and they won't trust me.  So I
want you to pitch into me, hot and heavy, before all hands, to-morrow;
and then I'll turn sulky, and start a good growl, and perhaps then
they'll say something to me."

"But I don't understand you, Joe," I protested.  "The men are the most
quiet, willing, contented, well-behaved set of fellows it has ever been
my pleasure to sail with; and do you mean to tell me that they are
plotting mischief among themselves?"

"Well, sir, they're plottin' _something_, that's certain; and if it
ain't mischief, why do they keep me out of it?" argued Joe.

"How do you know--or rather, what makes you suppose they are plotting?"
I asked.

"Why, they're everlastin'ly whispering together," was the reply.  "If
you'll only take notice, sir, you'll see that there's never a minute,
day nor night, but what two or three of 'em has got their heads
together, palaverin'.  And if ever I goes near and makes a show of
chimin' in, the talk's stopped at once and changed to something else.
And away along in the first dog-watch, for an hour or so, the steward
'll come for'ard, and then they'll all be as thick as thieves together,
instead of turnin' in and gettin' their sleep, as honest men should.  If
it's our eight hours out, our chaps slinks off down into the fo'c's'le
out o' my way; and if it's our eight hours _in_, the whole watch except
me 'll be on deck until pretty nigh on to four bells.  Pretends, they
do, that the fo'c's'le's so hot they can't sleep.  _I_ don't find it too
hot to sleep."

"And how do they behave to you?"  I asked.

"Oh, as to that," conceded Joe, "I haven't got no fault to find.
They're all civil and friendly enough, exceptin' cookie; _he_ won't have
a word to say to me, or come anigh me if he can help it; and, whatever
it is, it's my belief that he's at the bottom of it.  But the rest of
'em are all right, only they won't have me in with 'em durin' their
confabs."

"Pshaw! my good fellow," I exclaimed, "you have found a mare's nest.
Their `confabs,' as you call them, relate to nothing worse than their
past experiences at the mines, I'll be bound.  And the reason why they
will not speak about them to you is, most probably, because they think
you would not be interested in them."

"Well, sir, maybe you're right," remarked Joe, "but I don't believe you
are, all the same, if you'll excuse my sayin' so.  There's too much
secrecy for everything to be quite right.  And, if you don't mind, I
should like to try that little experiment I spoke about just now; if
there's nothing wrong it won't matter, and if there is, perhaps they'll
be inclined to have me in with 'em, if they think I've fallen out of
your favour."

"Very well, Joe," said I; "have your own way, if you like.  I'll not
spare you if you do anything to vex me; only remember, my good fellow,
that whatever I may say will only be said to humour you."

"That's all right, sir; and thank ye kindly.  There's just one thing
more I'd like to say, sir, and then we'd better stop talkin'.  It's just
this.  Don't you try to have any talk with me on the quiet like.  You
leave everything to me, sir, and as soon as I've found out anything I'll
make a chance to let you know, somehow."

And so this remarkable conversation ended.  Could there possibly be
anything in Joe's idea?  The men seemed to be perfectly comfortable and
contented; they appeared to desire nothing in the way of food or
accommodation, beyond what they already possessed; they had not grumbled
or made any complaint; what could they be plotting to obtain?  I asked
myself this question over and over again, and could find no answer to
it; notwithstanding which, Joe's communication made me feel exceedingly
uneasy and anxious; so much so that, when I turned in, I found it quite
impossible to get to sleep.

It may be readily imagined that when next I had an opportunity to
observe the men I watched them, individually and collectively, most
closely; yet, beyond the trivial circumstance that conversation always
ceased if I happened to approach, I could detect nothing in the men's
demeanour to lend the slightest colour to Joe's supposition.  True, two
or three of them--the Frenchman, the Portuguese, and the German, for
instance--now impressed me as being scarcely so civil in their behaviour
as they had been when they first joined the ship; but that, after all,
might be only my fancy; and, if it were not, one hardly looks for such
good behaviour from foreigners as one is wont to receive from
Englishmen.

As for Joe Martin, he began his operations bright and early on the
morning following his conversation with me.  He was now the ship's
carpenter, and in that capacity he had received orders on the previous
day to fit a new set of stern-sheets in the port quarter-boat.  This job
he began the first thing in the morning, swinging her inboard and
lowering her to the deck for his greater convenience during the progress
of the work.  This simple matter he managed so clumsily that he
contrived to bilge the boat, necessitating the renewal of three timbers
and a plank.  I was on deck at the time of the accident, and, forgetting
for the moment his scheme to provoke a seeming quarrel with me, I
cautioned him about the awkward, lubberly way in which he was
proceeding, and recommended him to get more help.  He replied, in an
offhand, careless way, that he was quite man enough to _do such_ a job
as that without anybody's help; and, as he spoke, down came the boat
with a crash, and the damage was done.  The whole thing seemed such a
piece of pig-headed stupidity that I was thoroughly exasperated with the
fellow, and gave him a good sound rating; much, apparently, to the
amusement of the other men.  Joe said nothing by way of excuse--indeed,
any attempt to excuse himself would have been so wholly out of place as
only to have increased his offence--but he slouched away forward,
muttering to himself, and I noticed him stop and say a word or two to a
couple of men who were at work upon the forecastle.  _Then_ I remembered
his proposal, and bethought me that this might be his way of carrying
out his plan; if so, I could not help admiring his ingenuity, albeit
still decidedly annoyed with him for the powerful realism with which he
was playing his little comedy.

The boat lay as she had fallen for fully an hour; meanwhile Joe had
vanished.  This cool behaviour on his part nettled me still more; and at
length I directed the boatswain to pass the word for Joe to come aft.
Upon which Joe made his appearance, obviously from the forecastle,
wearing that sulky, sullen look that always exasperated me more
thoroughly than anything else, whenever I met with it in a man (I am
afraid I am rather a short-tempered individual at times); and I gave him
such a wigging as four hours earlier I would not have believed possible;
ordering him not to waste any more time, but to set to work at once to
repair the damage occasioned by his clumsiness.  Whether or no Joe began
to guess from my manner that he had gone a trifle too far, I know not;
but he at once went to work as I had ordered him, and worked, moreover,
with such a will that by eight bells in the afternoon watch the damage
was repaired and the boat as good as ever she was, save for a lick of
paint over the new work.  This want Joe now proceeded, with a great show
of zeal, to supply, procuring a pot of paint and a brush, with which he
came bustling aft.  Now, if there is one thing upon which I pride myself
more than another, it is the scrupulous cleanliness of my decks;
conceive, therefore, if you can, the extremity of my disgust and
annoyance when I saw Joe catch the naked toes of his right foot in the
corner of a hen-coop, and, in his agony, drop the pot of paint upon my
beautifully clean poop, of course spilling the whole contents.  It is
true that, forgetting his pain the next moment, he dropped upon his
knees and contrived, by scooping up the spilled paint in the palms of
his hands, to replace a considerable proportion of it in the pot; but
after he had done his best with canvas and turpentine a horrible
unsightly blotch still remained to mar the hitherto immaculate purity of
the planks, and it is therefore not to be wondered at if I again
administered a sound and hearty rating to the culprit, this time in the
presence and hearing of all hands.  It was all the more vexatious to me
that, instead of expressing any contrition for his carelessness, Joe
persistently maintained the surly demeanour he had exhibited more or
less throughout the day.

My anger, however, was short-lived, and by the time that I had had an
hour or two for reflection I could not help feeling that I had been
decidedly harsh and severe with the fellow for what was practically his
first offence; moreover, he had always hitherto behaved so exceedingly
well, and had proved himself such a splendid workman, that he had become
a great favourite with me.  When, therefore, during dinner, Sir Edgar
made some half-jesting remark about Joe's misdeeds, I was far more
disposed to make excuses for the man than to maintain a semblance of
that annoyance I had so conspicuously exhibited during the day:
nevertheless, I deemed it politic to do the latter, particularly while
the steward was about; as I felt that, if the rest of the men were
indeed traitors, the steward was probably the same, and would, in any
case, be pretty certain to repeat in the forecastle whatever might be
said in the cabin as to Joe's misdemeanours.

It was Joe's trick at the wheel that night for the first half of the
first watch; but, as the passengers were about the deck during the whole
time, I made no attempt to enter into confidential communication with
him, and I had no other opportunity that night.  On the following day
his misdeeds were not quite so egregious, but he still contrived to
behave like a man who considered himself aggrieved; and when his trick
at the wheel came round again, during the first half of the afternoon
watch, he steered so carelessly, and ran the ship off her course so
abominably, that I had at last to send him away from the wheel, and
summon another man in his place; taking the fullest advantage, at the
same time, of the opportunity thus afforded to give him another good
rating, hot and heavy, as I felt that he intended I should.

His turn to "grind water" came round again at the latter half of the
middle watch, and when he came aft at four bells to relieve the wheel I
took care to be at hand with a reminder of his shortcomings during the
previous afternoon, and the stern expression of a hope that he would
give me no further cause to complain of him.  And, not content with
that, I took up a position near him with an air that was intended to
convey to the retiring helmsman my determination to keep a strict eye
upon Master Joe's conduct during the remainder of the watch.

Joe waited a minute or two, to allow the other man to get fairly out of
hearing forward, and then remarked--

"I'm afraid, sir, I rather overdone the thing yesterday, a-stavin' in
the gig, and then capsizin' the paint.  If I did, I hope you'll forgive
me, sir, and remember as I done it for the best."

"Overdid it?  Did it for the best?"  I ejaculated.  "Why, confound you,
man, do you mean to tell me that you did those things _intentionally_?"

"Of course I did, sir," answered Joe, in much lower tones than my own,
obviously with the intention of putting me on my guard.  "You see, sir,
them chaps for'ard are pretty cute; they're too old birds to be caught
with chaff; and I knew that if I was to get on the blind side of 'em,
it'd have to be by means of throwin' you into a genuine, downright
passion with me.  Besides, if you'll excuse me for sayin' of it, Captain
Saint Leger, you ain't much of a hactor, sir; you're altogether too
fair, and straightfor'ard, and aboveboard to be able to deceive, or
fight on equal terms with a lot of sharp, sly, underhand, sneakin'
beggars like them in the fo'c's'le.  So says I to myself, `Joe,' says I,
`if _you_ wants that crowd to believe as you're out of the skipper's
favour, and are ready to join 'em in any mischief they may be hatchin',
you've got to do somethin' to make the cap'n real downright savage with
yer.'  And that's why I done it, sir.  I'm boun' to allow that the
capsizin' of that there paint was perhaps a-comin' of it a _leetle_ too
strong; but--"

"Oh, that's all right, Joe," I interrupted.  "There is no doubt about
the fact that you succeeded in making me genuinely angry with you; the
important question now is, has it had the effect that you anticipated?
Have the other men shown any disposition to take you into their
confidence and make you a participator in the plot or whatever it is
that you suppose them to be hatching?"

"Well, no, sir, not exactly," Joe admitted.  "But I'm in hopes that they
will afore long, if this here unpleasantness between me and you goes on.
At present, you see, they don't know but what it may be a temp'ry thing
as'll soon blow over; but if they finds that you've got a sort of spite
again' me, and are always down upon me and drivin' me to desperation, as
you may say, they'll be pretty certain to have a try to get me over on
their side.  You see, sir, I'm about as strong as e'er a man aboard
here, and if them chaps are up to mischief they'll nat'rally prefer to
have me with 'em instead of again' 'em."

"Undoubtedly they will," I agreed.  "But, Joe, you have not yet told me
exactly what it is that you suspect.  If they were dissatisfied with
their food, or their treatment, or their accommodation, would they not
come aft and make a complaint, and endeavour to get the matter rectified
in that way?  But they never have done so; and indeed I cannot imagine
what they have to be dissatisfied with: their food is all of the very
best description it was possible to obtain; the forecastle is as roomy
and comfortable a place as you will meet with in any ship of this size;
and, as to work, I do not think they have much to complain of on that
score."

"No, sir, no; it ain't nothing of that sort," asserted Joe.  "It's my
belief, sir, as they've somehow got wind of _the treasure_, and that
it's that they're after."

"The treasure?"  I exclaimed in blank astonishment.  "What treasure?"

"Why, the treasure as you expects to find on this here island as we're
bound for.  Lor' bless you, sir," continued Joe, noting the
consternation that his unexpected communication had occasioned me, "we
all knowed about it in the fo'c's'le--the old hands, I mean--afore the
ship arrived in Sydney Harbour.  It was the steward as brought the news
for'ard to us one night.  He was a curious chap, he was, as inquisitive
as a monkey; he always wanted to know the ins and outs of everything
that was goin' on, and he'd noticed you porin' and puzzlin' over a paper
with a lot of figures wrote on it, and a drorin' in the middle; and he
used to come for'ard and tell us that you'd been havin' another try to
find out what them figures meant.  And one night--it was when we was
gettin' well on toward Sydney--he comes for'ard in great excitement, and
he says, says he, `I'm blowed if the skipper haven't been and found out
at last the meanin' of that paper that he's been puzzlin' over durin'
the whole of this blessed voyage; and what do you suppose it is?' says
he.

"Well, in course we said we didn't know; and some of us said we didn't
care either, seein' that it wasn't any business of ours.

"`Oh, ain't it?' says he.  `P'r'aps you won't say it ain't no business
of yours when you know what it is,' he says.

"`Well,' says one of the men--it were Bill Longman--`if you thinks as it
concerns us, why don't you up and tell us what it is, instead of hangin'
in the wind like a ship in irons?' says he.

"So then the steward he tells us as how, that mornin' whilst you was all
at breakfast in the saloon, he'd heard you tellin' about a dream you'd
had the night before; and how you started up in the middle of the meal
and rushed off to your state-room, and stayed there a goodish while, and
then went up on deck and told Sir Edgar as you'd discovered the meanin'
of the paper, which was all about how to find a treasure that was buried
on a desert island somewhere; and that you intended to go on to Sydney
and discharge your cargo, and then take in ballast and sail for the
Pacific to find this here island and get the treasure.

"Of course when he'd finished tellin' us about it there was a great
palaver about buried treasure, and pretty nigh every man in the
fo'c's'le pretended to have heard of a similar case; and we all agreed
as you was a lucky man, and we hoped as how you'd find the island, and
the treasure too.  And by-and-by, after there had been a good deal of
talk of that sort, Bill Longman up and says, `But, George,' he says to
the steward, `you haven't told us yet how this here affair concarns us?'

"`Oh, well,' says George, with a curious kind of a laugh, `if you don't
_see_ as how it concarns us, why of course there ain't no more to be
said.'  And that was all we could get out of the steward that night.

"But a night or two afterwards, Master George brings up the subject
again by sayin' that he don't suppose it's likely as you'll offer to
share this here treasure with all hands, supposin' that you find it.
And then he goes on to say that, for his part, he don't see as the
treasure is yours any more than it's anybody else's, and that, in his
opinion, if it's ever found, all hands ought to share and share alike.
And some of the chaps seemed to think he was right, and others they
didn't, and Bill up and says--

"`Look here, George,' he says, `supposin' when we gets ashore at Sydney
you was to find a bag of sovereigns in the street, would you share 'em
with us?'

"George said that 'd be a different thing altogether from findin' a
treasure on a desert island; and we all had a long argyment about it,
and couldn't agree; and, after that, the steward talked a good deal more
about all sharin' alike in the treasure, and that if we was all of one
mind it could be done, and a lot more stuff of the same kind.  But we
all laughed at him; and then came the arrival of the ship in Sydney, and
George bein' paid off, and after that I heard nothin' more about the
treasure."

"And what makes you imagine that the new men have got hold of the
story?"  I asked.

"Well, sir," said Joe, "it's just one or two little things I've
overheard said.  The first thing as ever made me suspect that there was
somethin' up was the mention of the word `treasure.'  Cookie is the man
as seems to know most about it--he's everlastin'ly talkin' about it--and
I fancy he must have fallen in with the steward somewheres ashore and
heard the whole story from him."

"And what has the cook to say about it?"  I inquired.

"Ah, that's just what I wants to find out," answered Joe.  "They won't
say anything to me about it, but just sits whisperin' with their heads
together away for'ard in the far end of the fo'c's'le, and I notices as
it's always the cook as has most to say.  He and Rogers seems to be the
leadin' spirits in the job, whatever it is."

"So your little scheme of yesterday has borne no fruit, thus far?"  I
suggested.

"Well, not much," said Joe.  "But then, I don't expect 'em to take me
into their secrets right off the reel, the first time that I misbehave
myself.  But I believe they'll have a try to get me in with 'em before
they tries to carry out their plans.  Last night, when I was sittin' on
my chest, grumblin' and growlin' at the way I'd been treated durin' the
day,"--here Joe laughed softly as the peculiar humour of the situation
seemed to present itself to him--"the cook wanted to know whether I
wouldn't rather be a rich man than have to go to sea for the rest of my
days; but Rogers stopped him with a look, and said, `Now, doctor, you
leave Joe alone, and don't go puttin' no nonsensical notions into his
head.  You leave him to me; perhaps I may have somethin' to say to him
myself by-and-by, and I don't want nobody to interfere at all in this
here matter.'  And that's how the thing stands at present."

"Very well," said I.  "You have told me enough to satisfy me that your
conjectures are by no means as groundless as I supposed them to be, and
you must do your best, Joe, to find out what you can.  But you will have
to be _very_ careful what you are about: it is clear enough that, if
they meditate treachery of any kind, they are not yet at all disposed to
trust you; and if they at all contemplate the possibility of winning you
over to join them, they will set all manner of traps for you, and test
you in every conceivable way before making up their minds to trust you."

"Yes," assented Joe, "I expects they will.  But I'm all ready for 'em,
whenever they likes; I've got my course all marked out, clear and
straight; and, if Rogers or any of the others comes soundin' me, they'll
be surprised to find what a downright bad character I am, and how ready
I am to take a hand in any mischief that's brewin'."



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

PLOT AND COUNTERPLOT.

This secret conversation between Joe and myself--secret by reason of the
intense darkness of the night, and by the precautions I had deemed it
expedient to take, at an early stage of the conversation, to conceal my
precise whereabouts from any prying eyes among the starboard watch--at
first produced within me a feeling of the keenest uneasiness and
anxiety.  For Joe's revelation as to the discovery by the late steward
of my secret relating to the concealed treasure furnished me with what
had previously been lacking, namely, _a motive_ for that secret plotting
of the existence of which Joe was so firmly convinced.  The story to
which I had that night listened left no room for doubt in my mind that
my own want of caution and the late steward's inquisitive propensities
had placed within the knowledge of the latter the two important facts
that I possessed the secret of a concealed treasure, and that it was my
intention, on leaving Sydney, to proceed in search of it.  Moreover, it
was clear enough that the fellow had no sooner acquired this knowledge
than he concocted a plan for the eventual acquisition of the treasure,
and made some effort to secure the assistance of the crew in the
carrying out of this plan, whatever it might happen to have been.
Failing in this, might he not, out of sheer malice, have communicated
the secret to some one else--our present cook, for instance--and
instigated the man to take some such steps as himself had contemplated?
Such a proceeding would at once account satisfactorily for the curious
fact that I had succeeded in obtaining a crew when no other shipmaster
within the port could do so.  The only weak element of such a
supposition consisted in my inability to reconcile myself to the belief
that such a man as our late steward would ever, under any provocation,
be weak enough to part with a secret that might, even under the most
unlikely combination of circumstances and in the most distant future,
possibly be of some advantage to himself.  Yet this man, Martin, whose
life I had saved, and who had impressed me as being a thoroughly honest,
straightforward, trustworthy fellow, roundly asserted that something of
a secret and mysterious character was going on among the newly shipped
men--something from which he, on account of his assumed integrity, had
been quietly yet consistently excluded; and he had heard the word
"treasure" mentioned by these presumable conspirators.  Then I argued
with myself that, after all, when one came to reflect upon it, the
exclusive ways of these ex-gold-miners and the mere mention of the word
"treasure" seemed rather slender threads from which to weave so
portentous a suspicion as that which Joe's communication had suggested.
For aught that I knew, the late steward's discourses upon the subject of
the treasure might have been of such a character as to suggest to the
minds of his hearers an absurdly exaggerated idea of its value, leaving
upon honest Joe's mind the impression that it must be fabulously rich,
and altogether the kind of thing to obtain possession of which men would
hesitate at no crime, however monstrous.  And, having had experience of
one attempt to gain possession of it by means of treachery, was it not
natural that the simple fellow, discovering, or believing that he had
discovered, something in the nature of a secret understanding among his
shipmates, should at once leap to the conclusion that it was nothing
less than a second attempt upon the treasure that was being planned?  As
to the cook's inquiry whether Joe would not rather be a rich man than be
obliged to follow the sea for the remainder of his life, I thought
nothing of that; sailors--like everybody else--are possessed of a rooted
conviction that wealth is the panacea of all evils.  By the time that I
had reached this point in my mental argument it was eight bells, and,
Forbes coming on deck to relieve me, I went to my cabin more than half
convinced that Joe had, after all, discovered a mare's nest; and having
thus argued myself into a more comfortable frame of mind, I lay down and
slept soundly until I was called by the steward at my usual hour of
rising.

I will do Joe the justice to say that, having settled in his mind the
part that he would play in the drama that he believed was evolving
itself on board the barque, he thenceforth played it to the life, and
with a skill so consummate as to deceive the most suspicious.  He
assumed the role of a man who, if let alone, would be willing enough to
do his duty honestly, and to the best of his ability, but who could not
and would not tolerate the smallest measure of injustice.  And he gave
himself all the airs of an aggrieved person--of one who has been harshly
treated for a trivial fault; his whole manner was the very impersonation
of sullen resentment, and the careless, slovenly way in which he
performed his duties was a constant source of provocation to me, even
though I knew--or thought I knew--that it was all assumed.  So
exasperating was he that sometimes I even doubted whether his behaviour
really was assumption--whether, after all, I had not been deceived in
the man; whether it was not rather his former good behaviour that was
assumed, while his present delinquencies were the result of an outbreak
of irrepressible evil in him.  There were even times when I asked myself
whether he might not be a ringleader in the very plot he professed to be
so anxious to discover, and whether his anxiety to enlighten me might
not be assumed for the purpose of blinding and misleading me the more
effectually.  Never in all my life had I witnessed so thorough and
radical a change in any one as seemed to have come over Joe Martin.  But
a quiet word or two with him, or a glance into his honest eyes when no
one was near enough at hand to read their expression, always sufficed to
reassure me as to his absolute fidelity.  Since it was possible for him
to make me doubt him, despite the many evidences he had afforded me of
his honesty, it is not to be wondered at that Sir Edgar and Lady Emily
were completely deceived by him; and often did they, in the comparative
privacy of the saloon, deplore Joe's lamentable fall from his original
virtuous condition.  On such occasions I always assumed a tone of
righteous indignation and severity, giving as free vent as possible to
the very real annoyance that the fellow's pranks frequently occasioned
me; inwardly resolving at the same time that, if he emerged with
unblemished reputation from the perplexingly contradictory _role_ he was
then enacting, I would do him the most lavish justice when the proper
time arrived.

The number of men we now had on board the barque, and the constitution
of the watches, were such that one of Joe's "tricks" at the wheel always
occurred from two to four o'clock on every alternate morning; and these
were the only opportunities when it was possible for us to exchange
confidences with any degree of safety from the possibility of discovery.
Consequently, after having had a chat with Joe, I always had to wait
forty-eight hours before I could learn what discoveries--if any--he had
made in the interim.  After the last-recorded long chat that we had had
together, two such opportunities had passed without the occurrence of
anything in the forecastle of a sufficiently definite character to
furnish Joe with matter for a report; though he insisted that the
frequent brief, hurried consultations, and the increased caution of the
conspirators, convinced him that something very momentous must be
impending.  Such a statement naturally reawakened all my anxiety; which
was not lessened by the fact that we now had a moon, in her second
quarter, affording a sufficient amount of light to render our
confidential communications at night almost impossible without
detection; while, to add to my embarrassment, I expected to sight the
island within the next forty hours.

I thought the time had now arrived when I ought to take the mate into my
confidence, and I did so during the progress of the following afternoon
watch; taking care that our conversation should be as brief as possible,
and that it should be conducted out of earshot of all eavesdroppers.  As
I had anticipated, Forbes seemed very much disposed to make light of the
matter, and to regard it as a hallucination of Joe's; protesting that,
so far from having observed any symptoms of revolt or insubordination,
he had been simply astonished at such orderly behaviour on the part of
men who had lived the comparatively lawless life of diggers on a new
gold-field.  In short, we were both thoroughly puzzled.  But we
eventually agreed that, under the circumstances, it would be prudent to
keep our eyes open, and to adopt precisely such precautionary measures
as we should resort to if we were expecting the men to break into open
mutiny.  I also undertook to find or make an opportunity to instruct Joe
that, in the event of his making any fresh discoveries, he was at once
to acquaint the mate with them, if he experienced any difficulty in
communicating with me.

On that same evening, during the first watch, when--the ladies having
retired as usual about four bells--Sir Edgar joined me, according to
custom, to smoke a final cigar and indulge in a desultory chat before
retiring to his own cabin for the night, I availed myself of the
opportunity to explain the situation to him also; first cautioning him
not to exhibit any astonishment or other emotion that might excite the
suspicions of the helmsman, who would doubtless have his eyes upon us.
He was, of course, and naturally enough, very much discomposed at such
startling intelligence; the more so that I was unable to give him any
definite information as to the character of the danger with which we
were threatened; but he maintained the same enviable coolness and
composure of manner that I had so greatly admired on the memorable night
of our adventure in the Straits of Sunda, and assured me that I might
rely upon him to be ready for action in any emergency, however sudden.

It was my middle watch below that night, and I had been in my berth
about an hour, tossing restlessly from side to side, and striving to
devise plans to meet every contingency I could possibly think of, when I
heard a sound of muffled footsteps outside my state-room door, followed
by a very gentle cautious tap upon the panelling.

"Yes," I answered, in a low cautious tone; "who is there?"

"It's Joe, sir," was the reply, in an equally subdued tone of voice.
"I've got some news for you at last, with a vengeance!"

I opened the door; and, sure enough, there stood Joe, glancing anxiously
over his shoulder, as though he every moment expected to be followed and
dragged on deck before he could make his communication.

Signing to him to enter the cabin, I noiselessly closed the door behind
him, and, pointing toward the locker, said--

"Now, Joe, heave ahead, my man, and tell me your story in your own way.
But, first of all, how did you manage to get here without being seen by
any of the men?"

"Well, sir," said Joe, "it wasn't very easy, and that's a fact.  I
wanted to have a word with you durin' the first watch, but you was
talking with Sir Edgar; and, if you hadn't been, it'd ha' been all the
same, because I couldn't ha' left the forecastle without bein' missed.
So I had to wait until our watch was relieved and had gone below; and
then I had to wait again until they was all asleep, when I slips out of
my bunk, careless-like, leavin' the blankets all heaped-up so that
they'd look, in the dim light, as if I was still there.  Then I creeps
up on deck, very quiet, but ready primed with a hexcuse in case any o'
the watch wanted to know what I was doin' on deck in my watch below.
But the lookout was comfortably perched between the knight-heads,
smokin', with his back to the deck, so he didn't see me; and, as for the
other two, I expects they was in the galley, takin' a snooze, for I
didn't see anything of 'em.  So I slips aft, in the shadder of the
long-boat, and dodges round abaft the mainmast until I got the companion
between me and the man at the wheel, when I climbs up on the poop, and
crawls along the deck on all-fours to the companion-way; then down I
comes, without even Mr Forbes seein' me."

"All right, Joe," said I.  "But I shall have to go on deck and let the
mate know, when you are ready to go for'ard again, or he might catch
sight of you and pounce upon you without knowing who you are; which
would simply ruin everything.  However, we can arrange that presently.
Now, let me know what it is that you have to tell me."

"Well, sir, it's just this," returned Joe.  "These here carryin's on of
mine, and the way that you've been down upon me of late, has done the
trick; and, to-night, durin' the second dog-watch, the bosun tackled me,
and, after a good deal of box-haulin' about, told me what their little
game is, and asked me if I'd jine 'em."

"Go on, Joe," said I; "tell me everything that passed, as nearly as you
can."

"Well," continued Joe--who, it may be well to explain, had, as usual,
been behaving most outrageously all day--"I'm boun' to confess that I
laid it on pretty thick to-day; and so did you, sir,"--with a quiet
chuckle--"but not no thicker than what I deserved.  So, along in the
second dog-watch, Rogers comes up to me where I was smokin', sulky-like,
under the lee of the long-boat, away from everybody else, but where
anybody could see me that wanted to, and he says--

"`Hullo, Joe, old shipmate,' says he, `what's the matter?  You looks as
if the hazin' that the skipper's been givin' of you to-day has give you
a fit of the blues!'

"`Blues?' says I.  `Blues ain't no name for it!  I'm sick and tired of
the ship, and everybody in her.  I haven't been given no peace nor
rest,' says I, `since the day when I was clumsy enough to smash the gig.
Of course I was sorry I done it,' I says, `and I'd ha' said so if the
skipper had only treated me properly; but I ain't sorry _now_, and I
means to take it out of him for the rest of the v'yage by doin' every
blessed thing I can think of to vex him.  He's made it pretty hot for me
lately, and I means to make it hot for _him_,' I says; `and you may go
aft and tell him so if you like,' says I.

"`No, Joey,' says he, `I'm not the man to tell tales upon a shipmate;
nor there ain't nobody else in the fo'c's'le as'll do such a dirty
trick.  But what's come over ye, man?  You're that changed as your own
mother wouldn't know ye.  I'm surprised at you,' he says--`a man that
used to be such a tremenjous favourite with the skipper and the rest of
'em aft.  What's the meanin' of it all?'

"`Look here, Bill Rogers,' says I, turnin' upon him as savage as you
please, `just you drop that--d'ye hear?  I gets hectorin' and hazin'
enough from the quarter-deck; I won't have none of it from _you_, nor
from any other man what's in this ship's fo'c's'le; so now I hopes you
understand,' I says.

"`All right, mate,' he says; `you needn't lose your temper with me;
there's no occasion for it.  Besides, I'm a short-tempered man myself,
and if it comes to--but that's neither here nor there.  I don't want to
quarrel with you, Joe; I'd a deal rather we was all fast friends in the
fo'c's'le.  We foremast men ought to stick to one another, and back one
another up; don't you think so?'

"`Yes, I do,' says I; `but how much have any of you chaps stuck to me,
or backed me up?  You've been as thick as thieves together,' I says;
`but--because, I s'pose, I haven't been to the gold-fields--you've made
me feel like a houtsider, from the very commencement of the v'yage,' I
says.

"`Well, if we did,' says he, `it was because we didn't know you so well
as we do now.'

"After that he stood pullin' away at his pipe, and cogitatin' like, for
a minute or two; and then he looks up in my face, and says--

"`Look here, Joe Martin, you've been on the growl for more'n a week now;
but I s'pose if I was to give you the chance to get back into the
skipper's favour by tellin' him somethin' he'd very much like to know,
you wouldn't be above doin' it, would you?'

"`I don't want no chance to get back into the skipper's favour,' I says.
`If you knows anything that he'd like to know, go and tell him
yourself,' says I.

"`Why, Joe,' he says, laughin', `you've regular got your knife into the
old man,'--beggin' your pardon, Cap'n Saint Leger, but them was his
words, sir."

"All right, Joe," I whispered, anxiously; "what happened next?"

"I says, `I haven't got my knife into him any more'n he's got his into
me, I suppose.  But if a man does me a hinjury, I ain't goin' to rest
until I've got even with him.'

"Then says Bill, `Now, I wonder what you'd say if anybody was to offer
you a chance to get even with the skipper, and do a good thing for
yourself at the same time?'

"`You wouldn't have to wonder very long,' says I, `if so be as anybody
aboard this ship had such a chance to offer me.  But them sort of
chances don't come to a man away out here in mid-ocean.'

"`Oh, don't they?' he says.  `Well, I believes they do--sometimes.  Just
you stop here a minute, Joe,' he says; `I'll be back in a brace of
shakes.'

"So off he goes, and presently I hears him talkin' to the cook in the
galley, very earnest.  By-and-by he comes out again, and he says--

"`Joe,' says he, `do you know what the skipper's pokin' the ship away up
here into this outlandish part of the Pacific for?'

"`Well,' I says, `I've been told as he wants to get a cargo of
sandal-wood for the China market.'

"`Nothin' else?' says he.

"`He never told me as he was after anythin' else,' I says, lookin' very
knowin'.

"`No,' he says, `I don't suppose he ever did; but somebody else might,
mightn't they?'

"Says I, `What's the use of all this backin' and fillin'?  I see you
knows somethin' as I thought nobody in the fo'c's'le knowed anything
about but myself.  Now, if you've got anything to say about it, out with
it; and if you haven't, let's talk about somethin' else.'

"Says he, `Did you ever know anybody by the name of George Moore?'

"`Yes,' says I, `I did.'  And I had it on the tip of my tongue to say,
`And a more worthless scamp I never wishes to meet with.'  But I didn't,
because it come to me to remember, just in time, that if these here
chaps knowed anything about the treasure, 'twas most likely through
George that they'd come to know it.  So I says, `He was steward aboard
here until the skipper sacked him in Sydney.'

"`I s'pose you'd know him again if you was to see him?' he says; and he
looked at me in a curious sort of way that makes me think, `Now, what
the mischief are you a-drivin' at?  It's my belief, Joe,' thinks I,
`that this chap's layin' a trap for you; and if you don't keep your
weather eye liftin', you'll fall into it, my lad,' thinks I.  So I just
says, careless-like--

"`Oh yes, in course I should.'

"`When did you see him last?' says Rogers.

"`The last time I seen him,' says I, `was the day we arrived in Sydney,
when the skipper paid him off and he left the ship.'

"`Quite sure?' says Bill.

"`Certain,' says I.

"Then he laughed, and he says, `Well, Joe, you're a more simple sort of
a feller than I give you credit for bein'.  Come into the galley,' he
says, `and let me introjuce you to an old friend.'

"So we went into the galley together, and there was cookie busy amongst
his pots and pans.  When he sees us come in, he looks hard at Bill, and
he says--

"`Well?'

"I tell you, Cap'n Saint Leger, you might ha' knocked me down with a
rope-yarn, I was that astonished--for the voice was the voice of _George
Moore_, and no other.

"Hows'ever, all this backin' and fillin' of Bill's had put me on my
guard.  I began to understand that, after all my play-actin', they
didn't even then feel altogether sure of me--they was tryin' me still;
and that made me brace up and pull myself together; for I says to
myself, `Now, if I makes a single mistake it's all up with everybody
abaft the mainmast, and me, too.'  So I looks cookie hard in the face,
and I says--

"`Now I knows you, George, spite of your black hair and all your beard
and mustachers.  What's the meanin' of this here maskeradin'?  Tip us
your flipper, old shipmate,' I says, hearty like, and as if I was
downright glad to see him.

"Well, sir, I can tell you George looked considerable nonplussed; while
Bill, he just laughed; and he says to George, `Jacob, my son, you've
been and let the cat out of the bag!'  Then he turns to me and says--

"`Now, Joe, there you are!  Now's your chance to get back the skipper's
favour by goin' aft and tellin' him as his old steward, George Moore, is
aboard here, sailin' under false colours.'

"`If he does,' says George, `he'd better look out for hisself!'

"`All right, George, old man,' I says; `don't you worry.  Did I tell the
skipper anything about the way you used to talk to us about the
treasure--and, by the livin' Jingo,' I says, `that's what you're after
now, ain't it, mate?'

"`Supposin' we was,' says he, `would you take a hand in the game?  You
didn't seem noways eager about it when 'twas last mentioned.'

"`What was the use?' says I.  `None of the others 'd have nothin' to do
with it, and we couldn't manage the thing by our two selves.  But if
that's your game,' says I, `I'm in with you--if it's share and share
alike; not otherwise,' I says.

"`Well, it amounts pretty much to that,' George says, `only I'm to have
two shares instead of one, seein' that I was the man that found out all
about it.  That's the arrangement, ain't it, Bill?'

"`That's the arrangement,' says Bill, `and a fair one it is, too, _I_
think.  What's _your_ opinion, Joe?'

"`Yes,' I says, reluctant like, `I s'pose it's fair.  But how will it
work out? will there be enough to make it worth the risk?'

"`Oh yes,' says George.  `I don't know how much there is of it, but
there's sure to be a goodish pile, or the skipper wouldn't take the
trouble to come all this way to get it.'

"`Well, but,' I says, `how's the thing goin' to be worked?  I hope there
ain't goin' to be no murder!'

"`Murder be hanged!' says Bill.  `What should there be any murder for?
No; the whole thing's very simple.  We're all goin' to be perfectly
quiet and do exactly as we're told until the treasure's found and put
aboard the ship; and then, when the order's give to up anchor and make
sail from the island, we're just goin' to seize the skipper, the mate,
and the passengers, unawares; clap the mate in irons; put the rest
ashore; and off we goes.'

"`Well,' I says, `and afterwards?'

"`Afterwards,' says Bill, `we shall divide the treasure fairly amongst
us; make the mate navigate the ship to some place where she can be
comfortably cast away; and we poor shipwrecked mariners will land, with
our swag snugly stowed away amongst our dunnage, and every man will then
look after hisself.'

"`Well,' I says, `that seems to be all plain sailin' enough.'  It wasn't
my business to point out to 'em that they'd prob'ly find Mr Forbes a
hard nut to crack, you see, sir; so I makes out to be quite satisfied
with their plans, and to be quite ready to join in with 'em; and then I
was took into the fo'c's'le and introjuced to the rest as havin' joined
'em, and everybody said how glad they was to have me, and that now
there'd be no bother or trouble at all about the job.  And--and--well, I
think that's about all, sir."

"Thank you, Joe," said I, grasping the honest fellow's hand.  "It is a
long story, but you have managed to make everything perfectly clear to
me; and I fancy I shall not have much difficulty in circumventing the
rascals.  Now, if the men should make any alterations in their plans,
you must let me know, if you possibly can; but be careful, above all
things, that the men shall have no cause whatever to suspect your
fidelity to them.  And, remember, whatever orders I may give you,
execute them to the letter, and promptly.  Now, I will go on deck and
have a word or two with Mr Forbes, during which you must get away
for'ard again, as best you can."

I accordingly left Joe in my cabin, and sauntered up on deck, as was
often my habit, even in my watch below, ostensibly to take a look at the
weather, but in reality to caution Forbes against taking any notice of
Joe, should he catch sight of that individual moving about the deck.

It was by this time nearly seven bells in the middle watch; the moon
hung low in the western sky over our port quarter, and a mottling of
fine-weather cloud had gradually gathered in the heavens, which, while
it allowed a few of the larger stars to gleam dimly through it here and
there, intercepted a large proportion of the starlight, and rendered the
night dark enough to make Joe's escape forward a comparatively easy
matter.

The mate was pacing the poop slowly, fore and aft, as I emerged from the
companion; but, catching sight of me, he came to my side and remarked--

"The night continues fine, sir, but the wind seems inclined to drop.  We
were only going four and half when I hove the log at four bells, and now
we seem to be scarcely going four."

"Yes," said I, "it has dropped perceptibly since I went below; but if it
will only last at this we shall be at anchor by sunset to-morrow."
Then, in a lower tone, I added, "If you see Joe Martin creeping away
for'ard from the saloon, don't take any notice of him, or make any sign
that you are aware of his presence.  I have much to tell you; but we
must wait for a more favourable opportunity."

At this moment Joe's head emerged from the darkness of the companion; so
I walked aft, glanced into the binnacle, and then abstractedly placed
myself before the helmsman in such a position as to obstruct his view of
that part of the maindeck which Joe would have to traverse before
reaching the concealing shadow of the long-boat.  I stood thus,
apparently sunk in reflection, until I observed Joe glide across the
exposed space and disappear; when I went back to my cabin and fully
dressed myself, in readiness to go on deck again at eight bells.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

WE ARRIVE AT THE TREASURE ISLAND.

During the succeeding watch, I had leisure to take a careful mental
review of Joe's story, and the conclusion at which I arrived was that
the man Moore, having failed in his endeavour to seduce the original
crew of the _Esmeralda_ from their duty, had, on his arrival at Sydney,
no sooner recognised the probability of their desertion--which, for
aught I knew to the contrary, he might very possibly have contributed to
bring about--than he must have devoted himself to the task of collecting
the party of men whose wiles I had now to circumvent.  What a patient,
crafty fellow the man had proved himself to be!  It really appeared as
though he must have had, almost from the outset of the voyage, some
suspicion as to the character of the cryptogram over which he had seen
me puzzling so often--or might he not have gathered its nature from a
chance word or two overheard while I had been discussing the subject
with Sir Edgar?--for he no sooner became aware in a general way of its
contents than he was ready with a plan by which to turn the adventure to
his own advantage.  He was persevering, too; for that plan had no sooner
failed than he must have gone to work to formulate another, so skilfully
devised, and so carefully carried through that, but for Joe's devoted
fidelity, it must have infallibly succeeded.  Indeed, I felt by no means
satisfied that they would not succeed, even now.  True, their designs,
as revealed to Joe, might be very easily frustrated; but there was an
unpleasant doubt in my mind as to the _bona fides_ of that revelation.
I could scarcely believe that men who had already exhibited such
indisputable proof of extreme caution and steadfast self-control could
be so easily imposed upon as they appeared to have been by Joe!  What if
they had seen through his devices, and had suspected his intentions?
Would they not, in that case, have realised that our suspicions were
aroused? and might they not have merely _feigned_ to have fallen into
Joe's trap, and have confided to him a purely fictitious statement of
their plans, concocted for the express purpose of throwing us off our
guard and leading us astray?  Taking into account the deep guile that
had prompted them to adopt and consistently maintain a course of the
most orderly and irreproachable behaviour as the most likely means of
blinding me to and averting the faintest suspicion of their nefarious
designs, I could not help feeling that such a line of action on their
part was only too probable; and, in casting about in my mind for some
effectual method of subverting their plans, I fully realised that I
should have to take this contingency into consideration, while preparing
also a counterplot to that revealed by the man Rogers to Joe.  Of one
thing, and one thing only, could I be certain, which was that _nobody_--
not even myself--knew the amount of the treasure; and it appeared to me
that upon this fact must I base my plans.  These reflections, given
above in a very condensed form, fully occupied my mind during the first
hour and a half of my watch, and were only interrupted by the appearance
in the eastern quarter of that first faint paling of the darkness which
heralded the dawn of a new day.  This temporarily diverted my thoughts
into a new channel; for, upon solving the enigma of the cryptogram, my
first act had been to consult a chart of the Pacific, with the resulting
discovery that no such island as that referred to in the Saint Leger
document was to be found upon it.  Now, the ship's position on the
previous noon, and her run since then, were such that if the morning
happened to break clear, the island ought to be just visible, right
ahead, at daybreak, provided, of course, that the man who secreted the
treasure had made no mistake in his calculations.  On the one hand, I
thought it probable that, considering the important issues at stake, the
utmost care would be taken to verify the position of the island beyond
all possibility of error; while, on the other, was the curious fact that
no such island--not even a rock, or indeed shoal water--appeared on the
chart in the position indicated.  This circumstance, coupled with my
knowledge of the imperfect character of the instruments in use by
navigators of the period at which the cryptogram had been written,
caused me now to experience no little curiosity and anxiety as to what
the approaching daylight might reveal.

I was not to be left long in suspense.  We were in the tropics, where
the light comes and goes with a rush, a few minutes only intervening
between broad day and deepest night.  The first faint streak of scarcely
perceptible pallor along the verge of the eastern horizon on our
starboard bow lengthened and widened, and grew more pronounced, even as
I gazed upon it, until it became a broad segment of cold, colourless
light, insensibly melting out of the circumscribing darkness.  Then a
faint, delicate tone of softest primrose began to steal through it,
quickly strengthening and brightening as the light spread upward and
right and left, paling the stars one by one, until they dwindled away
and vanished in the soft, rich blue that was swiftly chasing the
darkness across the sky.  Anon, a warm, rich, rosy flush began to
pervade the primrose tones of the eastern horizon, against which the
level line of the ocean's marge cut sharply in tones of deepest indigo;
while, overhead, the brightening blue was delicately mottled with a
whole archipelago of thin, fleecy cloudlets, pink tinged, and bordered
along their lower edges with purest gold, that were mysteriously
floating into view, apparently from illimitable space.  Then from that
point on the horizon where the deepening rose colour glowed most
brilliantly, up shot a single white ray perpendicularly toward the
zenith, narrow and well defined where it sprang from the horizon, and
broadening as it soared aloft until it became lost among the lowest tier
of clouds, now deeply tinged with dyes of richest crimson.  This single
ray had scarcely made itself apparent ere it was followed by others
radiating fan-wise from the same spot; and in another instant a spark of
golden flame flashed across the sea from the horizon, at the point of
junction of the rays, tingeing the small wave-crests in its wake with
ruddy gold that deepened first into a line and then into a broad path of
shimmering golden radiance, as the burning rim of the sun soared slowly
out of the purple sea.

At the same instant, the man who had the lookout, and who had stationed
himself on the topgallant forecastle, right in the eyes of the ship,
turned sharply round, facing the poop, and reported--

"Land ho! right ahead."

I had been so completely absorbed in contemplation of the magnificent
spectacle of the sunrise that, for the moment, I had entirely forgotten
the island, and everything connected with it; but the cry of the lookout
brought it back to my mind with a flash, and, moving to the
mizzen-rigging, and springing upon a hen-coop, I directed my gaze
straight ahead, with my hand over my eyes to shield them from the dazzle
of the sun.

Yes, there it was, undoubtedly; a faint, pinkish-grey shape, right over
the starboard cat-head, as I then stood; a low hummock on the left, with
a hill next it, the outline of which, even at that distance, bore a
striking resemblance to a man's nose, the upper lip on the right of it
showing just clear of the horizon.  Yes; there was the treasure island,
beyond all question!  The next point to be determined was, whether the
treasure still lay buried there; and if so, how was I to obtain and
retain possession of it?

Of one thing I felt morally certain, which was that, as soon as the men
felt assured that the whole of the treasure was on board, they would
take the ship from me, either by force or guile, if they could.  It was
of course open to me to make a fight for it, if I chose; but, even
assuming that I could reckon upon Sir Edgar's assistance--as I felt sure
I could--that would make only four of us to oppose eleven men, who, I
had no manner of doubt, would prove as resolute and determined in a
stand-up fight as they had already shown themselves to be in the pursuit
of their organised plans.  The odds were nearly three to one against us.
Opposed to these, with, for our antagonists, resolute men, whose
knowledge of the consequences that must inevitably follow upon an
unsuccessful attempt at piracy would nerve them to desperation--men who
were unquestionably full of brute courage, and who, moreover, were
doubtless as well armed as ourselves--was I justified in entertaining
the slightest hope of success in the event of my submitting the matter
to the arbitrament of battle?  The answer to this question was an
unqualified "No!"

If, then, it was hopeless to expect that a resort to force would enable
me to retain my property, my freedom, and the freedom and property, ay,
perhaps even the lives of those who, in such a crisis as this, would
naturally look to me for the preservation of both, I must resort to
guile.  I mortally hate anything that in the slightest degree savours of
deception, either in words or conduct, and have made it an invariable
rule never to engage in any transaction needing the one or the other for
its successful accomplishment; but here was a case in which I had no
choice but to meet guile with guile.  How was it to be done?  Possibly,
if the treasure happened to be in a compact form, and easily accessible,
Forbes, Joe, and myself might be able to secure it and convey it on
board the ship, unknown to the men, while they were busily engaged in
digging for it elsewhere--for, now that they were aware of its
existence, it seemed to me that my best chance of success lay in
employing them in the search, while taking care that none of them should
find it.  This would naturally lead them to the conclusion that, if my
document were not an ingenious hoax, the treasure had already been
discovered and secured by somebody else.

This plan rather took my fancy.  It was simple, feasible, and demanded
no elaborate system of deception; the men would simply be set to dig
upon a certain spot, and, failing, after a sufficiently exhaustive
search, to find anything, the digging would be abandoned, and they would
be sent to various more or less distant parts of the island to cut
sandal-wood.  The more I thought of it, the better I liked it; and when,
later on, during the forenoon, I found an opportunity to talk it over
with Sir Edgar and Forbes--having previously related to them the
substance of Joe's communication made to me during the middle watch--
they agreed with me that, failing a better scheme, they saw no reason
why it should not be successful.  Sir Edgar, as I had anticipated,
declared himself ready to act in any way that I might suggest, at a
moment's notice; and, now that he had had time to think over my former
communication to him, and to grow accustomed to the idea of a coming
contest, either of strength or wits, with the men, was as eager for the
fray as a schoolboy is for the great cricket-match of the year.

Meanwhile, the wind had slightly freshened with the rising of the sun,
and the ship was gliding along upon a taut bowline, under all plain
sail, at a speed of about six knots, heading up about a point and a half
to windward of the northern extremity of the island.  We were
approaching it from the south-west--the direction mentioned in my
ancestor's cryptogram--and as we gradually rose it above the horizon it
was curious to note how exact a resemblance its outline bore to the
profile of an upturned human face lying prone along the water.  It was
so striking that even the children remarked upon it; while, as for the
men, they could scarcely remove their eyes from it, though _their_
interest in the place was doubtless founded more upon the wealth they
hoped to find upon it than upon its very singular appearance.  I noted
this morning, without appearing to do so, that there was a great deal of
animated conversation going on upon the forecastle, accompanied by many
stealthy glances toward the poop; while the late steward--now sweltering
in the heat of the galley, and of his hirsute disguise--was being
continually appealed to.  Now that I knew this man's secret I was filled
with astonishment that I had not immediately penetrated it; for,
disguise his features as he might, he could not divest himself of the
sly, stealthy way in which he used his eyes, nor of the noiseless,
treacherous way in which he moved.  I had noted these characteristics in
him as far back as the day on which he had signed articles at Sydney;
yet, strange to say, familiar as they were to me, I had never for a
moment suspected his identity, probably because, when I happened to
think of him at all, I assumed as a matter of course that he would
naturally make the best of his way to the gold-fields.  Of course, since
we had been at sea, his avocation as cook had confined him so closely to
the galley that I had rarely seen him; and upon the rare occasions when
he had been obliged to present himself in full view my thoughts had
usually been so busy upon other matters that I had taken little or no
notice of him.  Indeed, I shrewdly suspected that it was the comparative
privacy of the galley that had led him to choose the disagreeable
functions of ship's cook.

All that day, until three o'clock in the afternoon, we glided gently
along over a smooth, sparkling sea, toward the island, noting with keen
interest its various features as they imperceptibly resolved themselves
out of the hazy blue tint that it had worn in the distance.  The first
marked change that occurred in its appearance was the breaking-up of the
flat silhouette into a series of softly shadowed markings which
indicated the shapes of the hills and valleys, the slopes and ravines
into which its surface was broken.  Then, as the sun swept over it and
round toward its western side, the light fell more strongly upon its
hillsides; its shadows grew deeper, and an all-pervading tone of green
gave evidence of its exceeding fertility.  Later still, the green became
broken up into an infinite variety of shades; while the swelling rounded
outlines that stood out from and yet indicated these multitudinous
tints, revealed the fact that the island was densely wooded to its very
summit.  By six bells in the afternoon we had neared it to within three
miles, and were enabled to see that its northern extremity was bold and
precipitous, with naked, rocky cliffs, against the base of which the
white surf chafed and roared with a ceaseless thunder that reached our
ears even at that distance.  The south-western extremity, while as bold
as the northern, and almost as precipitous, was wooded right down to the
water's edge; while from the lofty hill, that in the distance had borne
the appearance of a gigantic human nose, there was an irregular but
general slope toward the south-western shore; the entrance to the river
mentioned in the cryptogram being clearly indicated by a low projecting
point stretching southward from the bold cliffs marking the northern
boundary of the island.

Having satisfactorily made out the mouth of the river, I caused the helm
to be shifted, and we bore away for our anchorage, which was reached
about an hour later, in a small estuary situate at the southern
extremity of the island, affording perfect shelter from all winds from
south-west round by north and east to south-east.

By the time that the hands had got the canvas stowed, yards squared,
running gear hauled taut and coiled down, and decks cleared up
generally, it was five o'clock in the evening; and the shadows were
already beginning to deepen on the western side of the ravine along
which the river flowed, while its eastern slopes were glowing
brilliantly in the warm orange tones of the evening sunlight.  It
chanced that we had dropped our anchor at the precise spot which
afforded us a clear view up the gently winding river for a distance of
something like a quarter of a mile, and never in all my life had I
looked upon a more lovely scene than the one that then delighted our
eyes.  The so-called "river" was really a small arm of the sea formed by
a beautiful ravine--the bottom of which lay below the sea level--
dividing the southern portion of the island into two unequal parts; and
as the western side of this ravine was high and steep, while the eastern
side sloped gently but unevenly up from the water until it merged in the
high ground beyond, the whole surface of the island being finely broken
and densely wooded, the contrasting effects of brilliant sunshine and
soft purple shadow, with the multitudinous tints and endless varieties
of foliage, vividly marked in the foreground and insensibly merging into
a delicious, soft, misty grey over the distant heights, combined to form
a picture the charming, fairy-like beauty of which it is as impossible
to describe as it was entrancing to look upon.

So lovely indeed was it that I found it hard to resist the entreaties of
Lady Emily and her sister that I would lower a boat and take them for a
short pull up the river before sunset.  It was necessary, however, that
our first visit to this lovely island paradise should be made with all
due circumspection; for although no sign or trace of inhabitants had as
yet been discovered, the place might for all that be peopled, and
peopled, too, with cruel, bloodthirsty savages, for aught we could tell
to the contrary.  While, therefore, I was exceedingly anxious, for
reasons of my own, to get a nearer peep at the place without a moment's
unnecessary delay, I felt bound to point out to the ladies the absolute
necessity for determining the question whether or not there were any
inhabitants on the island before exposing them to the possible risk of a
landing.

The objections to an immediate landing on the part of the ladies did
not, however, apply with equal force in the case of us of the sterner
sex; I therefore ordered the gig to be lowered, and, arming myself and
each of the crew with a brace of loaded revolvers, prepared to make a
preliminary trip as far as the creek referred to in the cryptogram.
Upon hearing me give the order to get the boat ready, Sir Edgar asked
permission to accompany me; and a few minutes later we shoved off, and
headed up the river.

The waterway, as far up as we could see, maintained a tolerably even
width of some two hundred yards, the deepest water being close alongside
the western shore, which was very steep, and wooded clear down to the
water's _edge_.  Here, with the assistance of the hand-lead, I found a
minimum depth of two fathoms; but the bottom was very uneven, and in a
few places I found as much as five fathoms of water.  From these depths
the bottom seemed to slope pretty uniformly upward towards the opposite
or eastern bank, the slope of which was much more gentle, a narrow
margin of very fine white sand intervening between the water and the
deep, rich, chocolate-coloured soil.  The varieties of trees and shrubs
were countless, ranging all the way from the smallest and most delicate
flowering plants to magnificent forest giants, some of which must have
towered at least a hundred and fifty feet above the surface of the
ground.  Cocoa-nut palms formed a continuous fringe along the inner
margin of the sandy beach; and beyond them were to be seen every
imaginable species of tropical plant and tree, with foliage ranging in
tint from the palest, most delicate green to deepest olive or purple
black.  The waving fronds of the delicate feathery bamboo were
everywhere visible, while creepers in endless variety trailed their long
cordlike stems and gaudy blossoms in all directions.  The still, evening
air vibrated with the continuous hissing buzz of countless millions of
insects, and a few birds flitted noiselessly hither and thither among
the gathering shadows; but no sign of a human form, not even the imprint
of a footstep on the soft white sand, anywhere met my searching gaze.

At a distance of about half a mile, or perhaps a little less, from the
mouth of the river, the shore on our starboard hand merged into a low
wooded point, round which we swept, out of the main channel, into a
charming basin, some two miles wide, surrounded on every side by high
land, sloping gently backward from the water's edge, and magnificently
broken by deep, precipitous ravines, some of which could be traced from
the heart of the surrounding hills clear down to the water's edge.  The
centre of the basin was occupied by an islet, roughly circular in shape,
and about half a mile in diameter, as we discovered by pulling round it.
This islet was the hiding-place of the treasure, if the cryptogram was
to be believed; and I accordingly inspected it as narrowly as the
swiftly gathering darkness would permit, so that I might carry a
tolerably distinct impression of it in my mind's eye, as an aid to the
plan that I must now definitely form and arrange before the next
sunrise.  As may be supposed, I had by this time got the words of the
cryptogram off by heart--and, indeed, had destroyed the translation,
lest it should fall into other hands--I therefore knew exactly what I
had to look for as a mark to guide me to the hiding-place of the
treasure, and accordingly kept a very sharp lookout for "the obelisk
rock."  There was only one rock to be seen on the islet that at all
answered to this description, and that, so far as I could distinguish in
the gloom, was a pointed, needle-like mass, forming the summit of a
steep cliff that rose precipitously from the water's edge and
constituted the northern extremity of the islet.  But on getting round
to the other side I was vexed and chagrined to find that the whole
surface of the islet on the southern side of this curious cliff was
densely overgrown with trees and scrub, which would certainly have to be
cut deeply into in order to arrive at the spot where the treasure was
said to be buried.  This condition of affairs, natural enough though it
was, had somehow never occurred to me; I had fully expected to find the
hiding-place located in an open space that might be conveniently
traversed in any and every direction, enabling the situation of the
treasure to be determined by the simple process of measuring off a
thousand feet in a direction due south from the base of the obelisk
rock.  Possibly that might have been the condition of the islet at the
period when the treasure was buried--indeed, it very probably was--but
there had been ample time for the ground to have become overgrown since
then; and now it was so densely covered with vegetation that it would be
hopeless to think of getting at the hiding-place without the assistance
of the men.  And that meant the absolute overthrow of my plan to keep
the recovery of the treasure a secret from them!

What was to be done?  I racked my brains during the whole of the long,
hot, breathless night in a fruitless endeavour to devise some
satisfactory way out of the difficulty, and arose from my sleepless bunk
next morning with a splitting headache, and nothing in the shape of a
settled plan beyond the determination to find a good long job for the
men, the execution of which should afford me further time for
reflection, and perhaps allow events to develop themselves.

Acting, then, upon this resolution, I caused the gig to be brought
alongside immediately after breakfast; and ordered the axes and shovels
to be passed into her, at the same time issuing instructions for all
hands except the cook and steward to get into her and go on shore with
me.  The men bustled about, nothing loth--for were they not going to get
a change from the monotony of sea life, and, at the same time, provide
themselves with the means of unlimited indulgence in more or less
vicious enjoyment for the remainder of their lives?--and I noticed, with
impotent anger, that, having at length arrived, as they supposed, at the
goal of their villainous schemes, with the wealth which was to be the
reward of their treachery all but within their grasp, as they believed,
the restraint which they had hitherto _so_ rigorously imposed upon
themselves was in a measure laid aside, and they began to reveal
themselves, both in speech and in action, as the unscrupulous scoundrels
that they were.

I paid no attention, however, to anything I saw or heard, leaving them
to believe, if they pleased, that I regarded their behaviour as a simple
ebullition of high spirits at the prospect of a little recreation
ashore; and passing my sextant and other paraphernalia carefully down
into the boat, quickly followed them and gave the order to shove off.

There were twelve of us, all told, in the boat; she was therefore pretty
deep in the water.  Notwithstanding which, so eager were the men to get
at the treasure, that in less than ten minutes from the time of leaving
the ship we were once more in the creek, and pulling toward its head or
north-eastern corner, at which point I had noticed on the preceding
evening that the timber appeared to be growing more thickly and heavily
than elsewhere, and where, consequently, the task of penetrating it for
any distance would involve the greatest labour and consume the most
time.

As we drew near the shore at this point I observed--what had escaped my
notice on the preceding evening--that a small stream of beautifully
clear, crystal water came brawling down through a steep, narrow ravine,
and discharged itself into the creek exactly at the spot for which we
were heading, and I at once resolved to avail myself of its presence as
a means of deluding the men into the belief that they were working at
the right spot.

Accordingly, when the boat grounded upon the beach, I ordered everybody
out of her, with the picks and shovels, and set all hands to work
cutting pegs and long slender rods, under the direction of the
boatswain, retaining Forbes and San Domingo, the negro, as assistants in
my own especial part of the work.  Within ten minutes, the fellows had
cut all the pegs and rods I could possibly require; and then, looking
carefully and anxiously about me, I at length fixed a stout peg, with
the nicest accuracy, in the sand at its junction with the grass, and
exactly at the edge of the stream.  Then I sent men here and there with
long wands, which I made them hold exactly perpendicular on the ground,
adjusting their positions with the most finicking precision, until I had
wrought them all firmly into the belief that the whole of this labour
was gone through for the purpose of finding the exact spot where the
treasure lay buried.  Finally, I set out by compass, and indicated, by
means of two long slender rods stuck upright into the sand, a line that
would take them straight into the bush where it was thickest and most
impenetrable, and told them to cut a straight line in that direction,
exactly two thousand yards in length from a peg which I had driven at
the margin of the bush.

This task I entrusted to Rogers and the six other men, who struck me as
being the blackest sheep of the flock; while, with Forbes, Joe Martin,
Barr, Mckinley, Christianssen, and San Domingo, I took the boat, with a
sufficient supply of axes and shovels, and made the best of my way to
the southern side of the small islet upon which the treasure was said to
be hidden.

Upon our arrival at the desired spot, my impression of the preceding
evening that it was entirely overgrown was fully confirmed, it proving
to be literally impossible to find a place where a landing could be
effected without first clearing away the scrub.  There was this
difference, however, between the growth on the islet and that at the
spot where I had left the boatswain and his party at work, that whereas
the latter consisted almost exclusively of huge trees, the former was
composed largely of scrub, with only a few trees here and there, so that
it would not be nearly so difficult to penetrate as the other.  It was
evident indeed to me at a glance, now that I had the full light of day
to aid me in my inspection, that the growth upon the islet was of much
more recent date than that upon any part of the main island in sight
from that spot; a fact which tended to confirm my previous suspicion
that at the time of the burial of the treasure the soil of the islet had
been bare, or nearly so, of arboreal growth.

The growth, however, was there now, and it constituted a very formidable
difficulty, for how was I to identify a point exactly one thousand feet
south of the obelisk rock, unless I could move freely over the ground
for the purpose of obtaining my precise bearing and distance?

Suddenly a brilliant idea struck me.  Immediately opposite the point on
the islet at which I wished to land, there was a broad strip of sandy
beach, constituting indeed part of the margin of the basin, of which the
islet formed the centre.  Would it be possible to make my measurements
from that point?  There could be no harm in trying, at all events, and
we accordingly pulled across the water, landing at a part of the beach
that looked eminently promising.  The first thing was to determine the
direction of a line running due south from the topmost pinnacle of the
obelisk rock, and after a few trials with the compass, I got this.  My
next act was to erect a line perpendicular to this along the sandy
margin of the basin, which I accomplished with the aid of my sextant,
taking care to make this second line as long as the nature of the ground
would allow.  Then, driving a peg into the sand at the intersection of
these two lines, and another at the farther extremity of my second line,
I had a right-angled triangle, whereof the two pegs and the obelisk rock
marked the angles.  I had now only to measure very carefully my second
line, which I did by means of a surveyor's tape measure, bought at
Sydney for the purpose, and to take the angle between the perpendicular
and the hypothenuse of my triangle, when I had the means of calculating
all or any of the elements of the triangle that I desired.  In this way,
then, I ascertained that the pinnacle of the obelisk rock was exactly
six thousand four hundred and seventy-seven feet due north of the peg I
had driven into the sand to mark the intersection of my two lines.
Then, returning to this same peg, I sent Forbes away to the islet in the
boat, with instructions to set up one of the oars, with a white
pocket-handkerchief attached to it, on the shore of the islet at the
precise spot I should indicate to him by signal.  This spot I arranged
to be exactly in line with the peg and the obelisk rock; all three
points, therefore, were in one straight line, the bearing of which was
due north and south, while its northern extremity was the obelisk rock.
My next task was to take an angle to the oar from the peg at which I had
taken the angle to the obelisk rock, which enabled me to determine that
the oar was three thousand eight hundred and two feet from the
intersecting peg, and consequently two thousand six hundred and
seventy-five feet from the obelisk rock.  This completed all the data I
required; for I had now only to drive a bold, conspicuous staff into the
sand in place of my intersecting peg, and another into the ground on the
islet where the oar now stood, and by cutting back into the scrub for a
distance of one thousand six hundred and seventy-five feet toward the
obelisk rock, using these two staves as guides to keep their line
straight, the workers would reach a spot exactly a thousand feet south
from the obelisk rock; or, in other words, the hiding-place of the
treasure.  The two guiding-staves were soon fixed, and then, leaving
Forbes to superintend the operations of Joe, Barr, and Mckinley, I
replaced my instruments in the boat and, with Christianssen and San
Domingo at the oars, paddled on board the barque for the purpose of
bringing Sir Edgar and the whole of his party on shore, in order that
they might indulge in a run on the beautiful sandy strand of the basin,
and enjoy a nearer view of the entrancing loveliness of this exquisite
gem of the Pacific.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

THE FINDING OF THE TREASURE: AND WHAT FOLLOWED.

Knowing that there was work enough to occupy the party on the islet for
probably the next two days, I did not consider it necessary to keep a
watch upon their labours, but left them with Forbes in charge, and
joined the Desmond party in a ramble over the island.  This, by
following the ravines, the bottoms of which were comparatively free from
undergrowth, we found less difficult of accomplishment than we had
anticipated; and although the toil of clambering up the steep
acclivities, and over the smooth boulders that in many places encumbered
the way, proved rather trying to our unaccustomed limbs, we nevertheless
managed to make our way to the summit of "the Nose," as we called it,
from whence we obtained a superb panoramic view of the entire island.
That the place was uninhabited we could now no longer doubt; for
although from our lofty standpoint we had the whole surface of the
island spread out like a map beneath us, there was nowhere any break
whatever in the dense vegetation which flourished so luxuriantly on the
rich soil; nothing whatever to indicate the existence of cleared and
cultivated patches, as there certainly would have been, had the island
been inhabited.  Nor did we observe any sign or trace whatever of
animals of any sort; birds seemed to be the only living creatures
inhabiting this lovely spot, and they appeared to swarm in thousands
wherever we happened to come upon a comparatively open space.  Fruits of
several kinds abounded on the island, among the most abundant being
bananas, mangoes, breadfruit, and cocoa-nuts.  We were also fortunate
enough to come upon several granadilla vines, the product of which was
just ripe, and we accordingly loaded ourselves with as many of these
delicious fruits as we could carry.

Our return journey was effected by a somewhat shorter route than that
which we had followed on our outward way, and eventually we hit upon a
ravine down which brawled a small stream of deliciously sweet
crystal-clear water, following which we came out upon the margin of the
basin at the point where Rogers and his party were working.  Despite the
intense heat and a perfect plague of mosquitoes the fellows were toiling
as if for life, and had already succeeded in clearing a line of fully a
hundred feet in length.  I critically examined their work, pronounced it
all right, and we then went on to the islet, Sir Edgar and I discussing
by the way the distracting question of how the crew were to be dealt
with in the event of our finding the treasure.  The question seemed to
resolve itself into this--that the men must either be taken away in the
ship, or left on the island; and if the former, they would certainly
have to be taken as prisoners, since, if free, they would assuredly
seize the ship, even if they had to murder me in order to accomplish
their purpose.  As prisoners, however, they would be worse than useless;
they would be a continual menace and source of anxiety.  Sir Edgar
consequently agreed with me that I should be fully justified in leaving
them--or, at all events, the worst of them--behind; and this I at length
determined to do; watching my opportunity to divide them up into small
parties, upon some pretext, and making prisoners of them in detail; thus
minimising the risk of a fight and its too probable accompaniment, loss
of life.  There would be no likelihood whatever of the rascals starving
in such a land of plenty as the island had proved to be; they could not
possibly suffer any very serious discomfort in so genial a climate; and,
the treasure once secured, it would be no difficult matter to arrange
for their speedy rescue.  This matter settled, I felt somewhat easier in
my mind, and now only required an opportunity to discuss and arrange the
details with Forbes and Joe.

On reaching the islet we found that here, too, wonderful progress had
been made, the party under Forbes having already cleared a line through
the scrub of very nearly four hundred feet in length.  This was due to
the fact that they had hitherto encountered no trees in the actual line
of their work, though several had been very narrowly missed.  It was
apparent, however, that on the morrow they would be less fortunate; for
which I was by no means sorry, as it would lengthen the duration of the
work, and afford me a better opportunity for completing my plans.  That
same evening, after dinner, Forbes, Sir Edgar, and I discussed the
matter in detail, and finally completed certain arrangements that
appeared to us to promise a fairly satisfactory solution of the whole
difficulty.  On the following day I found an opportunity to communicate
to Joe the pith of these arrangements--which were to be put into
operation as soon as ever the treasure, if found, should be safely
placed on board the barque--and he cheerfully undertook to maintain a
constant watch for my signals, and to be ready for action whenever I
should make them.

The next three days passed uneventfully away, the men working perhaps
not quite so hard as they had at the outset, but still making fairly
good progress.  The party on the islet had reached to within eighty feet
of their goal when they knocked off that night; and now, for the first
time, I think, I began to fully realise the momentous character of the
issues that were probably to be decided within the next twenty-four
hours.  Would the treasure be found?  Hitherto it had never occurred to
me to seriously reflect that there might possibly be an unfavourable
reply to this question; but now that only a few short hours lay between
me and certainty, I suddenly began to comprehend how much depended upon
whether that reply should prove to be Yea or Nay; and an almost
uncontrollable impatience to have the matter definitely decided took
possession of me, rendering sleep that night an impossibility.  But,
even with the impatient, though time may lag upon leaden wings, he
passes at last; and the morning at length dawned upon me with my nerves
quieted and steadied by exhaustion and the reaction from the night's
intolerable excitement.

As it was confidently expected that, if the treasure really existed, and
still reposed in its alleged hiding-place, it would that day be found,
the ladies determined to go on shore to witness its disinterment, taking
the nursemaids and children with them in order that the latter might
enjoy what would probably prove to be their last opportunity for a
ramble on the lovely island.  Accordingly, the party being a large one,
both gigs were manned, and all hands of us, even to the cook and
steward, went ashore, leaving the ship to take care of herself; the wind
being a gentle breeze from the eastward, or somewhat off the land, with
a fine, settled look about the weather.  Rogers and his party resumed
their usual work at the head of the basin; and Forbes, with his gang,
vigorously attacked the narrow belt of scrub that still interposed
between them and their goal.

It happened, however, that this bit of scrub was more thickly dotted
with trees than any other portion that they had yet met with, so that it
was four o'clock in the afternoon before a very careful final
measurement assured us that the most laborious part of our task had come
to an end.  The ground, however, was still covered with _debris_, which
had to be cleared away before the actual digging operations could be
commenced, and this occupied fully another hour.  By this time the
evening shadows had begun to climb up the hillsides; nevertheless the
men seized their picks and shovels, and, with renewed energy, began to
turn up the ground.

They toiled thus for an hour, by which time they had excavated a hole
some three feet deep in the centre, and I had actually, with great
reluctance, given the word to knock off, when Barr, driving his pick
deep into the ground, where he intended to leave it that night, struck
upon something harder than soil.

"Hurrah, boys," he exclaimed, "here's something at last!  Stick to it,
and let's see what it is before we leave it."

At it again they accordingly went, with such desperate vigour that the
perspiration literally poured _off_ their arms and down their necks, and
in a few minutes they succeeded in laying bare the top of a solid timber
chest, strongly bound with iron.  They were very anxious to get this
chest out of the ground, there and then; but on attempting to clear the
earth away from round about it, it was found that the chest was only one
of several others all packed closely together, so that it would be
necessary to reach one of the outer chests before any of them could be
conveniently moved.  We were consequently compelled to content ourselves
that night with the knowledge that we had found _something_, and to wait
until the next morning to ascertain the value of our discovery.

The following sunrise found us once more _en route_ for the shore, this
time provided with a couple of spare studding-sail booms to act as
sheers for the more convenient hoisting out of the chests, together with
such rope, blocks, etcetera, as we should require for the purpose.  The
size of the chests, however, was such as would probably tax the strength
of the entire party to handle them, and I was therefore reluctantly
compelled to call in the assistance of Rogers and his party.

Even thus reinforced, it soon became apparent that a heavy task lay
before us, and it was not until the boatswain was piping to breakfast
that the first chest was successfully broken out and raised to the
surface.

Breakfast was soon over that morning, and then the question arose, how
were such ponderous chests to be conveyed to the ship?  They measured,
roughly, about two and a half feet square, and were so heavy that eight
men--all who could conveniently get round one of them--could not raise
the weight from the ground, much less carry it along a narrow path
cumbered with stumps and prostrate trunks of trees.  Greatly as I
disliked such a proceeding, it seemed that there was no alternative but
to break open each chest, and convey its contents piecemeal to the
boats; and this course was therefore perforce adopted.

The task of merely breaking open the chests proved to be one of no
ordinary difficulty; for they were constructed of solid oak, nearly
three inches thick, so well made, and so strongly bound with iron, that
I could not help surmising that they must have been the chests in which
the Spaniards had originally stowed the treasure, and specially made for
the purpose.  They were black with age; but the timber was perfectly
sound, while the iron bands, though more than half eaten away with rust,
were still stout enough to give us an immense amount of trouble.

At length, however, the first chest was broken open, and was found to
contain sixty-four bricks or ingots of solid silver!  They were arranged
in four tiers of sixteen bricks each, exactly fitting the chest, and
each brick weighed about a quarter of a hundredweight.  Each chest,
therefore, if all contained the same precious metal, would represent the
value of sixteen hundredweight of silver.  How many chests there were we
did not yet know; but it was evident that there were several.  Some said
there were eight or nine, but I thought there must be more, judging by
the way in which they were arranged in the ground.

The men were now divided into two working parties, one of which, under
my supervision, carried the silver to one of the boats, while the other,
under Forbes, proceeded to break out and open another chest.  The
contents of one chest I considered a sufficient load for the gig, and
accordingly, as soon as this amount had been placed in her, we shoved
off for the ship; my crew consisting of Joe, the Norwegian, the negro,
and an American named Barr.  On arriving alongside the silver was simply
passed up the side and pitched down the after-hatchway upon the ballast,
for the present.

The ladies, who had elected to remain on board this day on account of
the heat, were so filled with excitement and delight at the sight of the
silver and the news of our find, that they could no longer remain
quietly where they were; they must needs go ashore once more and see all
this wealth brought out of the ground; and accordingly, upon our return
passage, they went with us, taking the maids and children with them.

On our arrival at the islet we found the second gig awaiting us, with
her cargo in her, which the other party had just finished loading; so we
left the one boat, and took the other, treating this cargo as we had the
last; and so the work went merrily on until the men's dinner-time, by
which time we had raised and transported eight boxes of silver.  And it
had by this time been ascertained that there were eight more still to be
dealt with!

A hurried meal was snatched, and the work was resumed, three more of the
chests being disposed of by three o'clock in the afternoon.  Then
another surprise met us.  The next chest contained _gold_ instead of
silver; the ingots being only nine in number, somewhat larger than the
silver ingots, and weighing, as nearly as we could estimate, about one
hundredweight each.  Each of these gold ingots was neatly wrapped and
sewn into a covering of hide.  On our return from the ship, after
conveying this precious cargo on board, we were met with the news that
two other chests, since opened, also contained gold; and, not to detain
the reader necessarily, it eventually proved that the remaining cases,
two in number, likewise contained the same precious metal.  The total
find thus consisted of eleven chests containing seven hundred and four
ingots of silver, and five chests containing one hundred and thirty-five
ingots of gold.

All through the long, hot afternoon the work went on with unremitting
energy, for it soon became apparent that darkness would be upon us
before the last of the treasure could be moved.  I was just completing
the transfer of the third chest of gold to the ship when the sun sank in
a perfect blaze of splendour below the horizon, and a few of the
brighter stars were already twinkling in the zenith when we ranged up
alongside the other boat at the landing-place upon the islet.

As I stepped out of the light boat into the loaded one, and directed my
crew to follow, one of the men--an Irishman, named O'Connor--touched his
forehead in the approved shell-back style, and observed--

"Av ye plaise, sor, Misther Forbes was sayin' would ye be so kind as to
sthep along to the houle afore ye makes your next thrip to the ship?
He's afther wantin' to shpake to ye."

"Oh, very good," said I; and, stepping ashore, I directed Joe to go
across to the other side of the basin to fetch the ladies and children,
who had crossed earlier in the afternoon, and now stood waiting to be
conveyed back to the ship, and then went groping my way along the dark,
uneven path toward the hole.  The man O'Connor and somebody else--who it
was I could not distinguish in the gloom--were stumbling along in front
of me, and making very poor headway, I thought, for I quickly overtook
them.  They were in my way, working along as they were, two abreast, for
the path was very narrow; so I said to them--"Here, let me pass, you
two; I am in a hurry!"  They stepped aside without a word, one to one
side of the pathway and one to the other; and as I passed between them
one of them cried, "Now!" and, before I could even so much as think,
they both flung themselves upon me and bore me to the ground, one of
them springing upon me from behind, with his arms round my neck and his
knee into the small of my back, while the other dashed himself upon his
knees on my chest, and gripped me by the throat by one hand, as he
pressed the cold muzzle of a revolver to my temple with the other.

"A single worrud or a movement, and I'll pull the thrigger on ye, as
sure as death!" ejaculated O'Connor, between his set teeth, as he
tightened his grip upon my throat.  "Now, Bill, feel ov his pockets and
take his barkers away, av he has anny, while I hould him.  Now, listen
to what I'm tellin' ye.  The others--that's Misther Forbes and the
gintleman--is already tuk, so ye needn't be expectin' any help from
thim; and as we've got such a hape of goold and silver out ov this
houle, we're goin' to be contint wid it, and intind to take the
thriflin' liberty of borryin' the ship to carry it away wid us; you can
have the rest yourselves, and much good may it do ye.  Ah, that's right,
Bill," as the latter extracted a brace of loaded revolvers from my
jacket pocket; "just feel, while ye're about it, av he has a knife, and
take that from him, too.  Now, are ye sure that's all?" as the other
man--who now proved to be Rogers--took my knife away also.  "Very well.
Now, captin dear, ye may get upon your feet; but--understand me--av ye
attimpts to lay hands upon either ov us, the other'll shoot ye through
the head widout waitin' to say, `By your lave.'  Arrah, now, it's kilt
he is, I do belave!" as the fellow rose from my prostrate body and saw
that I made no movement--for all this time he had kept so tight a hold
upon my throat that he fairly strangled me, and, though I still, in a
dreamy way, heard him speaking, my strength had entirely left me, and I
was scarcely conscious of my surroundings.

"I'll fire a shot to let the others know that it's all right, and then
we'll have to carry him as far as the boats," remarked Rogers.  "Perhaps
a dip in the water may bring him round."

Such extreme measures, however, proved unnecessary; for, my throat once
released, my senses began to come back to me, and by the time that we
had reached the shore of the islet I was once more able to stand.

Arrived here, I was compelled to enter the empty gig, and was carried
across to the opposite shore of the creek, where the ladies still
remained; my order to bring them across having been countermanded in a
whisper by one of the men, the moment that I had turned my back.  On
reaching the other side I was ordered out of the boat, a loaded revolver
being exhibited as a hint to me to hasten my movements; but, as I
stumbled forward over the thwarts, Joe offered me the support of his
arm, murmuring in my ear, as I stepped out on the sand--

"Cheer up, cap'n!  This here's a most unexpected move, and no mistake;
but the ship ain't gone yet; and, from what I heard passin' among the
others, just now, afore you come up, I ain't by no means sure as they'll
leave to-night.  Some of 'em is that greedy that they wants to stop and
have a shy at the other treasure; and if they does, there's no knowin'
what may happen betwixt now and then.  And if they makes up their minds
to go, _I_ don't go with 'em.  I'll slip overboard, and swim ashore, if
there's no other way of joinin' you."

I had only time to murmur a word of thanks for this expression of
sympathy, when he left me and returned to the boat, which immediately
shoved off for the islet.

The ladies--who, with the nursemaids and children, still stood waiting
to be conveyed to the ship--saw, by the actions of the men, that there
was something amiss, and now approached me, inquiring anxiously what was
the matter.  Of course, I had no alternative but to explain to them that
the men had risen in mutiny, and had seized the ship; and, although I
made as light of it as I could, it was a sorry tale at best that I had
to tell them.  I was still in the midst of my story when the
phosphorescent flash of oars became visible in the black shadow of the
islet, and presently the outline of the boat, telling dark upon the
starlit surface of the still water, was seen approaching.  As she drew
near, the voice of Rogers came pealing across the water--

"Shore ahoy! just walk a bit farther back from the water's edge, there,
or we shall be obliged to fire.  We're about to land Sir Edgar; and if
there's any sign of a rush at the boat, we shall shoot to kill.  So if
you don't want to be hurt, you'd better stand well back."

"Hold on there a moment," I answered back, disregarding the threat.
"Surely, men, you do not intend to abandon us here, unarmed; without a
shelter from the weather, and with only the clothes we stand up in?"

"Oh, you'll do well enough, I don't doubt," replied Rogers, brutally.
"You don't want arms, because there's nobody nor nothing here that'll
hurt you; you don't need clothes, because the climate's so warm that you
can do without 'em; and, as to a shelter, why, we've left all the axes
and shovels ashore; you're welcome to them, and if you can't build a
house with such tools as that, you deserves to go without.  There's
plenty of fruit, and plenty of good water, so you won't starve; and,
lastly, there's a chance for you to get all the treasure that's in that
other hole--if we decides that we don't want it ourselves."

"What?"  I exclaimed, indignantly, "after stealing my ship and my
treasure from me, will you not go to the small trouble of passing the
ladies' and children's clothing into a boat, and sending it--"

"Well, if you _won't_ stand back, take that!" interrupted Rogers; and as
the word left his lips there was a flash, a sharp report, and a bullet
went singing close past my ear.

At the same moment I felt my arm seized by a white figure that
unexpectedly appeared at my side, and Miss Merrivale's voice, rendered
almost inarticulate by scorn and anger, exclaimed--

"Leave the cowardly brutes alone.  You _shall not_ humiliate yourself
further by stooping to ask a favour from them, even on our behalf; nor
shall you wantonly expose yourself to the risk of being murdered in cold
blood.  I will not have it!"

With which, she dragged me unresistingly to the spot where her sister
and the children stood, and then, without a word of warning, flung
herself prone upon the sand and burst into a perfect passion of tears.

"Nay, do not give way thus, I pray you," I said, as I knelt beside her
and raised her prostrate form in my arms.  "Our plight is bad enough, I
grant you, though not so bad that it might not easily be very much
worse.  And if you will only try to be brave and patient we will soon
arrange matters so that you shall not be altogether destitute of comfort
and--"

"Do you think I care for my own comfort?" she interrupted me,
passionately.  "No! as that wretch said, we are not likely to starve;
and I suppose you and Edgar will be able to build such a shelter as will
suffice to protect us from the sun and rain.  It is not that; it is--oh,
the base, ungrateful, contemptible creatures, to treat you like this!  I
am _sure_ they will be punished for it."

"Ay, that they will!" exclaimed Sir Edgar, cheerily, as he joined the
group.  "Well, Emmie darling--and you, chicks--will it be a very
dreadful hardship for you all to sleep on this beautiful, soft, white
sand to-night?  To-morrow we shall have light enough to work by, and I
have no doubt that before the end of the day Saint Leger and I will have
contrived to stick up a hut or something to cover you.  Why, children,
this is a regular genuine picnic, in which we shall have everything to
do for ourselves, and you will be able to help, too.  It will be
glorious fun for you, will it not?"

And so on.  Never in all my life before had I seen a man take a heavy,
bitter blow so bravely as this gallant gentleman did.  He knew--for he
had already had time to fully realise it--all that so cruel an
abandonment meant to him and his; yet his courage never faltered for a
moment; not the faintest glimpse did he allow to appear of the anguish
that must have at that moment been wringing his heart.  No; his voice,
his manner, and his whole bearing were inflexibly dominated by the
determination to cheer and encourage the dear ones who were now
absolutely dependent upon him, and him alone, for support and
encouragement to meet and face this sudden, dreadful reverse of fortune.
As I looked at and listened to him in astonishment and admiration I
felt ashamed at my own despondency--at the condition--temporary only
though I believed it to be--of complete helplessness to which the blow
had reduced me; and in contemplating such indomitable courage I not only
learned a lesson that I trust has benefited and toned my whole life
since then, but I also gathered fresh courage and resolution to face the
responsibilities and demands of the immediate present.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

THE RECAPTURE OF THE BARQUE.

Under the soothing influence of her brother-in-law's admirable manner,
Miss Merrivale soon recovered her wonted serenity of manner; while Lady
Emily seemed never to have lost hers, so absolute was her trust and
confidence in her husband, and his power to strengthen and reassure her.
In less than half an hour, therefore, after the departure of the boat
we were all sitting in a circle upon the sandy beach of the basin,
regaling ourselves upon some of the fruit that the ladies had gathered
earlier in the day, and discussing, meanwhile, the possibilities of our
situation.

Notwithstanding the brutally callous behaviour of Rogers, I still hoped,
and Sir Edgar fully believed, that a majority of the men on board would
be sufficiently swayed by motives of humanity to insist upon bringing us
ashore our clothing, and at least a few of the more obvious necessities
of life, such as a spare sail, a coil or two of line, a few nails, a
hammer, a saw, a trifle of crockery, some cooking utensils, and, above
all, our fowling-pieces and some ammunition.  Miss Merrivale, however,
was positive that they would not; and as the time dragged slowly by
without any sign of the reappearance of the boat, I began at last to
fear that she would prove to be right.

A brightening in the sky to the eastward, over the crest of the lofty
heights that towered above us in that direction, at length announced the
rising of the moon, and, at the same time, made us aware that some four
hours had elapsed since sunset.  As the mild radiance of the silver
luminary met my gaze I started to my feet, and said--

"There is the moon rising, and we shall soon have light enough to make
our final dispositions for the night.  Meanwhile, as you are all
perfectly safe here, I will endeavour to make my way round to the beach
abreast of the ship, and see what they are about on board.  If they
intend to go to sea to-night they will soon be making a move to get
under way; and if they do _not_, there may yet be a chance for us to do
something, with Martin's assistance."

"What!" exclaimed Sir Edgar, "do you still believe in that fellow's
fidelity?"

"Yes," said I, stoutly.  "Do not you?"

"Well," answered Sir Edgar, "I _did_, most implicitly.  But since the
shameful business of this evening I must confess that I have begun to
entertain doubts of him.  All your plans and precautions, you see, have
been framed upon the information with which he has supplied you; and if
he really were in the men's confidence, and anxious to serve you, how
came it that he was not aware of the _coup_ which the men have so
successfully executed, or, if aware of their intentions, why did he not
make an opportunity to warn us?  I confess that, to me, it appears very
much as though the men had all along feared some suspicion on your part,
and had employed him to throw you off your guard."

"No," said I, meditatively, "no; I cannot think that.  There are
certainly one or two circumstances connected with his behaviour that I
cannot at present fully understand, and perhaps we shall now never know
whether he was really faithful or not; but I still believe him to be so,
and I feel confident that, if he cannot help us in any other way, he and
Forbes between them will devise some means for procuring our speedy
rescue.  Now, I am off for the beach.  You, I suppose, will remain here;
you can scarcely do better to-night, and it is desirable that I should
know exactly where to find you again without difficulty, should any
unforeseen contingency arise."

While I was speaking, Miss Merrivale had risen to her feet impetuously,
with all the eager, determined look in her face of one who is about to
say or do something of a very decisive character; but if such was her
intention she checked herself, seemingly, at the moment when the words
were about to escape her lips, and contented herself by saying instead--

"Pray be _very_ careful what you do, captain; remember that we are all
now utterly dependent upon _you_!"

I assured her that she might depend absolutely upon my discretion--
smiling, rather bitterly, meanwhile, at the reflection that, throughout
this business at least, my discretion had been by no means brilliantly
conspicuous--and so, with a bow, left the little party clustered
together upon the white sand; a curious, yet pretty, picture to any one
who could have been suddenly transported from the surroundings of
civilisation to that lonely island of the Pacific.

Making my way rapidly along the margin of the basin, close to the
water's edge, where the sand was firm and the walking consequently easy,
I soon reached the projecting point that marked the junction of the
creek with the river, and bent my steps along the narrow beach toward
the estuary.  For some distance in this direction the only sound to
break the silence of the night was the loud, continuous, indescribable
_chirr_ of the countless myriads of insects that haunted the recesses of
the jungle; but at length, on rounding a bend in the river, I caught
sight of the barque, still at anchor, and at the same moment became
conscious of a new sound that, as I progressed toward the mouth of the
river, gradually resolved itself into the tones of human voices uplifted
in an attempt at melody.  The thought that struck me, as this sound
first met my ear, was that the men had decided to go to sea forthwith,
and were now heaving short the cable--an impression that at once
determined me to push on and watch the departure of the sweet little
craft.  But as I worked my way cautiously along toward the open beach,
keeping well within the shadow of the trees, in order that my movements
might not attract attention--for the moon, somewhat past the full, now
rode high enough in the cloudless sky to render the most minute objects
distinctly visible--I bethought me that the mutineers could not be
getting their anchor, or I should by this time hear the sharp clank of
the windlass pawls mingling with their song; moreover, I was now near
enough to distinguish that the singing was not the wailing, monotonous
chant and rousing chorus of a "shanty," but a confused medley of sound,
as though all hands were singing at once, and every man a different
tune; and I at once came to the conclusion that the fellows had secured
some liquor and were indulging in a carouse.  Should this be indeed the
case--and I fervently hoped that it was--they would probably not desist
until every man had become helplessly intoxicated, as they had doubtless
secured Forbes so effectually that there would be no possibility of his
recovering his freedom until some one chose to release him; while they
would scarcely deign to give a thought to us on shore, with the
knowledge that the ship was distant at least half a mile from the
nearest point of the beach, and that both gigs were securely swinging at
the davits.

As this conviction dawned upon me a feeling of renewed hope and fierce
exultation leapt up in my heart, and my brain at once became busy with
plans for the recovery of the ship.  For one of my few accomplishments
was that I was a fast and tireless swimmer, and--provided that there
were no sharks in the neighbourhood--the half-mile of water that
intervened between me and the _Esmeralda_ was no more formidable an
obstacle than had it consisted of firm, level roadway.  Judging,
however, by the present vigorous character of the singing that came
pealing across to me from the ship, the opportune moment for such an
attempt as I meditated was yet a good hour distant, and I therefore
determined to stroll leisurely back to the party at the creek, and
acquaint them with the new phase of affairs.

When at length I rejoined the group, I found that during my absence Sir
Edgar had so far completed his arrangements for the night that the maids
and the children were comfortably bestowed upon the warm, yielding sand,
fast asleep, with their heads and faces well shielded from the rays of
the moon by a small tent-like structure, consisting of a shawl stretched
over an arrangement of sticks cunningly bound together with tough,
pliant monkey-rope, while Lady Emily slumbered peacefully by her
husband's side, with his arm about her waist, while her head rested upon
his shoulder.  Miss Merrivale, however, and Sir Edgar _were_ still
awake, and as I approached them the former started to her feet and, with
her finger upon her lips as she pointed to the little group of sleepers,
murmured softly--

"How long you have been!  And what an eager, glad look there is in your
face!  What has happened?  I am sure you have good news to tell us."

"Good, thus far," I admitted, "that the ship has not yet gone to sea;
and I believe that she will not now go until to-morrow.  The men appear
to have obtained possession of some liquor, and are indulging in a royal
carouse--if one may judge by the singing and noise that I heard going on
aboard when I was down at the beach--and I am not without the hope that
ere the night be much older the fellows will have drunk themselves into
a helpless state of intoxication.  Now, if upon my return presently to
my late post of observation I should have reason to believe that such a
thing has happened, I shall swim quietly off to the ship, and endeavour
to get on board her without disturbing anybody; and should I be able to
manage this, my next task will be to discover and liberate the mate.
This once accomplished, it shall go hard with us if we do not succeed in
retaking the ship from the drunken rascals, and repaying them in their
own coin."

"By Jove, Saint Leger, you are `grit all through,' as the Yankees say.
It is a bold scheme, and I believe you will succeed," exclaimed Sir
Edgar, admiringly.  "I would that I could accompany you," he added
wistfully, "for in such an undertaking every additional man on your side
is of incalculable value.  But, unfortunately, my swimming powers are
not equal to anything like such a stretch of water as that between the
shore and the ship, and I should only be an embarrassment instead of a
help to you, unless, indeed, I could contrive to do the distance with
the aid of a log to float me."

"No," said I; "I am infinitely grateful to you, Sir Edgar, for your
readiness to assist in this undertaking; but it is not to be thought of.
Your place is manifestly here, by the side of your family, so that,
should events turn out awkwardly, they may not be left on the island
without a defender.  We will not, however, contemplate any such
unfortunate ending as that to the adventure; on the contrary, let us
rather look forward hopefully to the prospect of your all breakfasting
on board as usual, to-morrow morning.  You understand, of course, that
should I succeed, my first act, after securing the mutineers, will be to
come ashore in a boat for you."

"Do you suppose we do not know that?" exclaimed Miss Merrivale,
impetuously.  "But it is a desperately dangerous enterprise; and if--oh,
_why_ is it that women are such shamefully useless creatures in crises
like these?  If our strength were only equal to our courage--"

"You could not, even then, be more absolutely irresistible than you now
are," I interrupted, with a low bow, and a poor attempt at gallantry.
"Your turn will come, however, be assured of that," I continued; "for,
whichever way this project of mine turns, you will have ample
opportunity for the display of both courage and helpfulness.  Should we
ever succeed in recapturing the ship it is more than probable that I
shall sometimes be compelled to call upon you all to afford help in such
matters as the steering of her, and so on.  But it is full early yet to
talk like this."

"So far as I am concerned, your call shall not be in vain!" exclaimed
the spirited girl, with a flash of her eyes that thrilled through me
like an electric shock.  "If I have not the physical strength of a man,
I have at least as resolute a will, which is no mean substitute for it.
And now, good-bye; for I see that you are longing to get away.  You will
be careful, though, will you not? and not run any unnecessary risks?"

I took the hand that was so frankly extended to me, and gave it a hearty
squeeze; gazed for an instant into the eyes that dwelt so anxiously upon
mine; and, immeasurably cheered and encouraged by the interest and
sympathy that I read there, turned away quickly and stepped briskly out
toward the mouth of the creek once more.

The time I had taken to walk to and from the basin appeared to have
sufficed the carousers to drink themselves well on toward a condition of
oblivion; for when I again reached the beach opposite the ship, the
singing had subsided into an occasional maudlin howl that, in its turn,
soon afterwards yielded to the stupefying effects of the liquor, and a
dead silence fell upon the ship.

I did not wait, however, for this final stage of insensibility to arrive
among the mutineers; but kicked off my shoes, and laying them, with my
hat and jacket, upon the sand, immediately upon my arrival at my former
post of observation, at once entered the water and started to swim with
long, steady, deliberate strokes toward the ship.  The water was
perfectly calm and smooth, as well as deliciously warm; so that, despite
the leisurely character of my exertions, I made excellent progress, and,
in a shorter time than I had thought possible, found myself within the
deep shadow of the ship's hull.  Everything was by this time as silent
as death on board, save for the slight jerk of the wheel-chains and the
sob of the water along the bends and about the rudder as the ship swung
gently upon the long, low ground-swell, the edge of which just caught
her as it crept up from the westward across the mouth of the small
estuary where she lay at anchor.  So still and silent was the breathless
night that the volume of sound raised by the insects on shore rang in my
ears almost as distinctly out here as it had done when I stood upon the
beach; it was, however, so far mellowed and softened by the intervening
distance that it was possible to hear other sounds distinctly _through_
it, even when they were so faint as the slight, almost imperceptible
creak of the yard-parrels aloft, and the light _flap_ of a coiled-up
rope striking against the bulwarks with the slight, easy roll of the
ship.  I was therefore particularly careful not to make the faintest
splash, as I drew up alongside, lest the unaccustomed sound should reach
the ear of and startle some individual not yet completely overpowered by
the drink he had swallowed.  Fortunately for me, the gangway ladder had
not been hauled up, and I was consequently free to board the ship well
aft, thus greatly lessening the risk of detection; I had, therefore,
only to wait until the roll of the ship brought the ladder within my
grasp, seize it, and draw myself noiselessly out of the water.  This was
precisely the course that I followed; and I had already drawn myself up
clear of the water when there occurred a rush and swirl immediately
beneath me, and I received so smart a blow that I narrowly escaped being
knocked off the ladder, as a large shark sprang half his length out of
the water after me and fell back with a terrific splash, loud enough, I
am sure, to have been distinctly heard on shore, had there been any one
on the beach to hear it.  The brute had evidently been lurking under the
ship's bottom--attracted there, doubtless, by the refuse thrown
overboard from time to time by the cook--and had only become aware of my
presence just in time to make a rapid, ill-directed rush that had very
narrowly missed me.  Oh, how fervently I thanked Heaven, as I sprang up
the side beyond the reach of a possible second rush, that the necessity
for a cautious approach to the ship had rendered my movements so
noiseless that the great fish had not discovered me until too late!

That the sudden and violent disturbance alongside had, however, not
passed unnoticed on deck was immediately apparent by the appearance of a
human head over the rail by the fore-rigging, only to disappear
instantly, however, and make its reappearance at the gangway.  As it did
so, a voice that I instantly recognised as Joe's murmured, in low,
cautious tones--

"Is that you, cap'n?"

"Yes, _Joe_," I replied, with equal caution, as I paused with my eyes on
a level with the rail.  "How is it on board?  Have the rascals drunk
themselves stupid?"

"Ay! that's just exactly what they _have_ done," answered Joe; "and I
was just creepin' quietly aft to cast Mr Forbes loose, by way of a
start, when I heard the row alongside.  How did it happen, sir?  Did you
slip and fall back'ards?"

"No," I returned; "it was a shark that rose at me from under the ship's
bottom, and a narrow escape I have had of it; the brute struck me with
his snout, as he sprang out of the water, and all but knocked me off the
ladder."

"A shark?" ejaculated Joe, in dismay.  "My word, sir, you _have_ had a
narrer squeak, and no mistake!  You stop where you are, sir, out of
sight, for a minute, while I goes for'ard and just sees whether the
rumpus have roused any of 'em.  I'll be back in a brace of shakes."

So saying, Joe sauntered carelessly away forward again; loitered
aimlessly about the foredeck for a few minutes; sauntered quietly aft
again past the larboard gangway, and so round abaft the mainmast and
capstan until he rejoined me again.

"All right, sir," he whispered.  "They ain't all asleep; but every
mother's son of 'em is that helplessly drunk we can do anything we likes
with 'em.  Now, sir," as I stepped in on deck, "if you likes to go to
your cabin and shift into dry clothes, I'll go and cut poor Mr Forbes
adrift.  I am afraid he ain't none too comfortable, for it seemed to me
as the beggars was passin' the seizings pretty taut when they lashed him
up to-night."

"Is that so?" said I, indignantly.  "Then we will go and cut him adrift
before doing anything else, Joe.  He may be enduring cruel torments all
this time.  Where is he?"

"Locked in his own berth, sir," answered Joe.  "And that reminds me, I
don't know who's got the key."

"They may have left it in the door," I hazarded.  "Who locked him in?"

"Rogers and Moore, sir.  They are the two ringleaders in this here
business."

We had by this time reached the mate's cabin; but found the door locked,
and the key missing.  As I tried the door-handle I thought I heard a
groan from the interior; so, without wasting time to search about for
the key, I set my back against the bulkhead of the passage and my foot
against the door by the lock, and the next moment we had the door open.
A shapeless object upon the floor of the cabin, indistinctly seen in the
semi-darkness which pervaded the place, proved to be the mate, lying
just as he had been carelessly flung in there, hours before, with his
wrists and heels lashed together behind his back.  The poor fellow was
in a dreadful state, having lain there all those hours in excruciating
agony from the cruel pressure of the lashings about his limbs, which,
with brutal carelessness, had been drawn so tight as to have completely
stopped the circulation of the blood in his extremities.  His limbs were
now swollen almost out of recognition; he had bitten his lower lip right
through in the extremity of his torment; his beard was drenched with
bloody foam; and our efforts to release him occasioned him such
exquisite agony that he fainted under our hands.  A sharp knife,
however, speedily freed him from his bonds, after which Joe and I gently
chafed his swollen wrists and ankles until the circulation of the blood
was restored; but it was nearly an hour before the poor fellow was able
to move with any degree of freedom.

At length, however, he pronounced himself ready for action; when, going
on deck, and arming ourselves with a heavy brass belaying-pin each, the
three of us proceeded forward, resolutely determined to stand no
nonsense whatever from anybody who should presume to interfere with us.

It was, therefore, a distinctly unfortunate circumstance for Rogers that
he should, a moment or two previously, have awakened from his drunken
sleep and staggered to his feet with, apparently, some confused notion
of taking a look round the ship and assuring himself that all was right;
for, coming face to face with Forbes and _Joe_ as they rounded the
corner of the galley, he was promptly felled by the latter with a blow
from a belaying-pin that must have caused him discomfort for many a day
afterwards, while its immediate effect was to stretch him out upon the
deck senseless and bleeding.  The sound of his fall disturbed one or two
of the rest--all of whom were sprawled out inertly upon the foredeck, in
the midst of empty and overturned bottles and pannikins--just
sufficiently to cause them to raise their heads and grumble out a few
unintelligible words; but we had no difficulty whatever with them, and
in less than half an hour we had the whole of them securely bound, hand
and foot, and lying at our mercy.  Having reduced them to this
condition, and disarmed them, we distributed them about the deck fore
and aft, lashing each man separately to a ringbolt, cleat, or other
convenient mooring in such a way that no man might be within another's
reach--for I had heard before now of men releasing each other by working
at the lashings with their teeth--and then left them to recover their
sober senses at their leisure, while we busied ourselves about other
matters.

Our first act was to lower the port quarter-boat, get into her, and pull
ashore to the creek, where we found Sir Edgar and his party pretty much
as I had left them; he and Miss Merrivale being the only two still
awake.  Our arrival was greeted with a shout of delight from the baronet
that effectually awoke the sleepers; and the whole party quickly tumbled
into the boat, Sir Edgar and Lady Emily vying with each other in the
heartiness of their congratulations at our success and the eagerness
with which they asked for details of the adventure.  Miss Merrivale, on
the contrary, was strangely silent, contenting herself with a warm clasp
of the hand at the moment of our reunion; and presently, when we had
shoved off again for the ship, I noticed that she was furtively crying.
I concluded that the reaction from the long hours of suspense that she
had just passed through had proved rather too much for her nerves, and
so prudently appeared to take no notice whatever of her little
break-down.  We soon reached the ship, and, upon my solemn assurance
that they might do so with absolute safety, the rescued party at once
retired below to their respective cabins; Miss Merrivale only lingering
behind for a moment to say--

"I have no words to express how glad and thankful I am that you have
been successful in your hazardous enterprise.  You are a brave man, as
well as a--But,"--with a sudden, merry smile, "I will not say more, lest
I make you vain.  Good night!"

I was beginning to feel a bit puzzled at this young lady's manner, which
seemed to have undergone a subtle, indescribable change within the last
twelve hours that was as incomprehensible as it was pleasant.  It was
just then, however, scarcely a suitable moment for speculation upon such
an inscrutable subject as the deportment of a lovely and charming woman
to a simple sailor like myself; so I dismissed the matter from my mind
and turned to the consideration of other subjects, less agreeable, but
calling more imperatively for my immediate attention.

The first thing was to summon Forbes and Joe to a council of war for
discussion of the question what was to be done with the mutineers.
There were some of them that it would be obviously impossible to retain
on board the ship with the least chance of safety to ourselves; but I
scarcely believed they could all be equally bad, and I was in hopes
that, upon consultation with Joe, I should learn that we might trust a
sufficient number of them to enable us to make the voyage to Valparaiso
in safety, where I thought it probable I might be able to pick up an
entire new crew, without very much difficulty.  On submitting the
question to him, however, Joe gave it as his very decided opinion that
there were only three out of the eleven mutineers whom it would be in
the least degree prudent to trust; those three being the negro, the
Swede, and Barr, one of the Americans.  These three we accordingly gave
the benefit of the doubt, for the moment; and, that point settled, we
next proceeded to draw up a list of such articles as we deemed
absolutely necessary to the welfare of the men whose conduct had
rendered it imperative that we should maroon them.

After some consideration, the contents of this list resolved themselves
into: each man's personal effects in their entirety, including weapons
and ammunition, the latter, however, to be securely screwed up in a
stout wooden case, so that it might not be got at and used against us
whilst effecting the transfer of the mutineers to the shore; a saw,
hammer, chisel, and an assortment of nails; half a dozen barrels of
beef, and the same of bread; a half-chest of tea, a few pounds of
coffee, and some sugar; a cock and three hens; some cooking utensils; a
little crockery; matches; and an old main-course; which, with the axes,
shovels, picks, rope, blocks, and spars used in securing the treasure,
and which still remained on shore, ought, we considered, to furnish them
with the means to make themselves fairly comfortable until they should
be taken off.  This important matter decided, the next thing was to get
everything up and passed into the boat--a task which fully occupied us
until daylight; by which time the effects of the carouse showed signs of
passing off, and the men began to awake in a measure to a consciousness
of their situation.  A few of them--Rogers, Moore, and O'Connor
especially--gave vent to their indignation and disgust in a continuous
flood of the vilest language, mingled with blood-curdling threats of the
vengeance that they would wreak upon us some time in the future; but the
rest accepted their impending fate with sullen stoicism.  We, meanwhile,
comfortably conscious that, for the present at least, they were utterly
powerless to fulfil any of their threats, or otherwise work us any evil,
went composedly on with our work; first conveying to and landing all the
baggage on the sandy beach of the creek, and then ferrying the marooned
men ashore, with their hands securely lashed behind them.  We had
determined to land only eight of them; and when this had been done, and
we were all ready to leave them, we cut the bonds of the last man
ashore, and left him to free his companions at leisure, thus effectually
insuring ourselves against any trouble from the marooned party at the
last moment.  Then, having shouted to them a parting promise that we
would make known the fact of their presence on the island to the first
British man-o'-war we met with, together with the cause of their being
left there, we paddled quietly on board again, and set to work to
provide ourselves with a much-needed breakfast.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

A PACIFIC HURRICANE.

Our meal over, the three remaining prisoners were released, and offered
their choice between being landed on the island to join the other men,
and returning to duty.  I reminded them that their conduct in having
aided and abetted the more active among the mutineers to seize the ship
rendered them guilty of the crime of piracy--a crime punishable with
death--and that it still remained with me to clap them in irons, if I
pleased, and keep them prisoners until an opportunity should arrive to
hand them over to justice, charged with that offence.  I added that as
it appeared, however, that they, the three men in question, seemed only
to have passively consented to the deed of the others, I had no desire
to be severe with them; I was anxious rather to give them an opportunity
of retrieving their character; and would willingly do so could I but
feel assured that, separated as they would be from their more guilty
comrades, they would henceforward serve me faithfully, I said that if
they were prepared to do this, I, on my part, was willing to forgive
them their share in the mutiny, and to treat them as though the incident
had never occurred.  I warned them, however, that unless they were fully
prepared, not only to solemnly pledge themselves to fidelity, but also
to faithfully fulfil that pledge, it would be infinitely better for them
to elect to be landed on the island to take their chance with the rest;
for I assured them that, should they take the pledge of fidelity, and
afterwards break it, I would, upon the first symptom of insubordination,
clap them in irons and hand them over to the authorities, as pirates, at
the first port we might happen to touch.  This address had precisely the
effect upon the fellows that I desired; the mention of the word
"piracy," and the reminder of the penalty due to that crime, thoroughly
frightened them; while my promise, on the other hand, of forgiveness as
the reward for faithful service in the future, had all the reassuring
influence that I intended it to have; and upon the conclusion of my
lecture, they with one accord begged my pardon for what had already
happened, and most fervently promised that I should have no cause of
complaint against them in the future.

This important matter settled thus far to my satisfaction, I sent Barr
and Christianssen aloft to loose the fore-topsail and topgallantsail,
while Joe and the negro performed a similar duty on the mainmast, both
parties receiving instructions to cast off the lashings from the
staysails on their way down.  While this was doing, Forbes lay out upon
the jib-boom and loosed the jib and fore-topmast staysail, I busying
myself, meanwhile, in casting loose the mizzen.  Presently, Joe hailed
from aloft that the men on shore had made their appearance on the beach;
and, upon looking in that direction, I saw the whole party of them
gathered there, close to the water's edge, intently watching our
movements.  Just then Sir Edgar made his appearance on deck, and, with a
cheery "good morning," laughingly declared that he intended to ship for
the voyage to the nearest port as an "honorary seaman," and was ready to
enter upon his duties at once.  I, of course, thanked him for this kind
proffer of his services, assuring him that, short-handed as we were, it
would be in his power to render us invaluable assistance; and, the hands
at that moment coming down from aloft, we sheeted home the topsails, and
got the yards to the mastheads.

Nothing now remained but to loose our hold upon the ground, and make a
start.  This we could, of course, at once do by simply slipping the
cable; but an anchor is altogether too useful an article to be
needlessly thrown away.  Many a good ship has driven ashore and gone to
pieces for want of an anchor that has been slipped and not replaced; I
was, therefore, very much averse to slipping in the present instance
without at least _trying_ to get the anchor.  On putting the question to
the others, Forbes had no doubt of our ability to do it, while the rest
expressed their perfect readiness to try; we accordingly manned the
windlass, and--San Domingo starting a lively "shanty"--walked the barque
up to her anchor almost without an effort.  Having got the cable "up and
down," we next ran up the fore-topmast staysail, and then went to the
fore-braces and trimmed the head-yards for casting the ship to
starboard.  Just then, and in the very nick of time, Miss Merrivale came
on deck, looking as bright and radiant as the morning itself; and I at
once impressed her as helmswoman, stationing her at the wheel, and
briefly explaining how she was to act upon the receipt of certain
signals from me.  She seemed quite proud at the idea that she could be
really useful, and took her station at the wheel with a heightened
colour and sparkling eyes, which, with her spotless white dress, trimmed
with dainty lace and light-blue ribbons, her broad-brimmed hat set
jauntily upon the heavy coils of her dusky golden hair, and casting a
delicate shadow upon her lovely face, her hands and arms encased in long
loose gloves, and her delicate feet shod in small brown shoes, made her,
to my mind, the sweetest, loveliest picture that my eyes had ever rested
upon.  So irresistibly charming, indeed, did she look, that I with
difficulty forebore from telling her so, plump and plain; and so, to
avoid the committal of such an impertinence, was constrained to rush
for'ard and add my weight to that of the others at the windlass handles
in their efforts to break out the anchor.  Fortunately for us, our
windlass was an exceptionally good and powerful one; but, on the other
hand, the holding-ground proved to be exceptionally tenacious; and, for
a long five minutes, the cable stood straight up and down, rigid as a
solid bar, defying our utmost efforts to get so much as a single
additional pawl.  Then an opportune puff, with a little more weight in
it than the soft breathing off the land that had hitherto reached us,
struck the broad expanses of our topsails, and, with a sudden jerk, the
ground broke away and the anchor came home.

"Hurrah, lads! she's away; heave, for your lives; heave, and raise the
dead!" vociferated Forbes.

The windlass pawls clanked merrily, the chain came rattling in through
the hawse-pipe, and the ship, gathering stern-way, began to pay off with
her head to seaward.  At the right moment I signed to Miss Merrivale to
put the wheel hard up, while Forbes and I sprang aft to the braces and
swung the yards; the ship halted, hung stationary for a moment, and
then, gathering headway, gradually swept round until we had brought the
island upon our starboard beam and were gliding along under the lee of
its western shore.  Our new voyage had begun.

The marooned men had all this time been intently watching our movements
from the beach; and, from their excited actions and the way in which
they closed up in a circle when they saw our canvas drop from the yards,
it was apparent that they were engaged in a heated discussion of some
kind.  Presently, when they saw us man the windlass and heard the clink
of its pawls, I observed O'Connor break from the conclave, dash his cap
down upon the sand, and somewhat hesitatingly enter the water, as though
about attempting to swim off to us.  Whereupon, I sprang upon the rail,
and, putting the whole power of my lungs into the shout, hailed him to
go back, as there were sharks in the bay.  I had to repeat this warning
two or three times, however, before he seemed willing to heed it; and it
was not in fact until the anchor was broken out of the ground and the
ship was seen to be canting to seaward that he turned back and rejoined
his companions.  When we last saw them they were still standing upon the
beach, watching our departure, and shouting to us with gestures that
were eloquent of threats and curses, though we were too far distant to
catch the words that they hurled after us.

Meanwhile, during the progress of these operations I had been taking
counsel with myself as to the most desirable course to pursue under the
circumstances in which we found ourselves.  My original intention had
been to proceed to Valparaiso in quest of a crew, but that intention had
been arrived at under the impression that it would be necessary only to
leave three or four men behind us on the island.  Joe's opinion upon the
matter had, however, altered all this, and had necessitated our going to
sea with a crew of only seven men, including Sir Edgar, whose assistance
I felt we could only claim under circumstances of exceptional necessity.
This reduced us to two watches of three men each, who might indeed
suffice to handle the ship under easy canvas and during fine weather,
but who could do very little with her should we happen to fall in with a
heavy gale, or, still worse, a downright Pacific hurricane.  Then, too,
the prevailing winds in that part of the world are easterly; which
placed Valparaiso well to windward, and rendered it even more difficult
to fetch than San Francisco.  The latter port, however, I had no desire
whatever to visit under the circumstances, with such a precious cargo on
board, and three men at least whose tongues it would be impossible to
bridle.  By the time, therefore, that the ship was fairly under way, I
had come to the conclusion that my best plan would be to make for the
Sandwich Islands, which were only some sixteen hundred and fifty miles
distant, in a north-westerly direction, and might therefore be easily
reached in a fortnight, if all went well with us.  An important
advantage attaching to this plan was that Honolulu, if it did not lie
directly in my road to China, was nearer it than any other port, and I
still considered it very essential that, in order to avoid inconvenient
questions, I should take home a cargo of some sort, which might as well
be tea as anything else; and although I had never visited the Sandwich
Islands, I thought it probable I should there be able to pick up at
least a sufficient number of men to carry us comfortably to the Canton
river.  As soon, therefore, as we were fairly clear of the island I set
the course for the island of Oahu; the wind being at the time a
four-knot breeze, well over the starboard quarter.  This done, I
relieved Miss Merrivale at the wheel, leaving Forbes and the other four
men to continue at leisure the operation of making sail.

Meanwhile the question had arisen, "How was the cooking to be done?" and
the natural reply to this seemed to be, "Set the darkie to do it."  This
would have been all very well but for my passengers, who, it occurred to
me, might possibly have a prejudice against having their food handled by
a black man.  I therefore laid the matter before Sir Edgar, who
immediately consulted with his wife; and the ultimate result was that
one of the maids very good-naturedly undertook the work, with San
Domingo as cook's mate, to do all the dirty work, while the other maid
volunteered as steward.  I was greatly distressed in my mind lest all
these inconveniences should prove a serious annoyance to my good friends
in the saloon; but on mentioning the matter to Lady Emily, she quickly
and kindly reassured me by declaring that they looked upon the whole
thing in the light of an adventure or experience of a novel kind to be
made the most of.

"Besides," she added, "a little inconvenience and privation will do us
good by teaching us to appreciate our comforts more nearly at their
proper value when we get them again."

The weather looked fine, and the barometer stood high; I therefore had
no hesitation whatever about packing sail upon the ship; and as
everybody worked with a will, it came to pass that by noon we had not
only got our anchor secured, but had also clothed the ship with every
stitch of plain sail, from the royals down.  Forbes was not satisfied
even with that, and would have gone on to studding-sails; but I
considered enough to be as good as a feast.  Studding-sails are rather
ungainly things to handle in a quickly freshening breeze, if one happens
to be at all short-handed.  I therefore determined to have nothing to do
with them--the more resolutely that, as we drew away from the island,
the breeze strengthened until we were reeling off our nine knots by the
log.

This exceedingly satisfactory state of affairs prevailed for exactly
forty hours from noon of the day upon which we left the island; the
breeze remaining so steady and true that we were not called upon to
touch tack, sheet, or halliard during the whole time.  There was
nothing, in fact, to do but simply to steer the ship; and we were
already beginning to flatter ourselves that we were not only to be
favoured with a pleasant passage, but that we were going to accomplish
it in about half the time that I had allotted to it.  Such a magnificent
opportunity was not to be wasted; and I accordingly took advantage of it
to have the ballast cleared away right in midships, and the gold and
silver stowed there equally on each side of the keelson, and carefully
concealed with matting and a quantity of dunnage; after which the
ballast was trimmed back over it and everything left shipshape against
the time of our arrival in port.

In hoping for a sufficiently long continuance of fine weather to carry
us without break or interruption to Honolulu, however, we were reckoning
without our host; for about four o'clock in the morning of our second
day out, the wind began to fail us, and by eight o'clock it had fallen
to a stark, glassy calm.  There had been but a moderate amount of sea
running, and this soon went down, leaving only a long, oily swell, upon
which the ship rolled with a quick, jerky, uneasy movement.  The sun
rose clear and brilliant, with every promise of a fine and scorchingly
hot day; but when I went on deck after breakfast to take my sights for
the longitude, I noticed that the sky had lost much of its brilliant
colouring, while the sun hung in it a white, shapeless blotch, instead
of the dazzling orb that had risen a few hours before.  This, of course,
might mean nothing worse than heat; but when I went below shortly
afterwards to work out my sights, I saw that the mercury had fallen a
little.  This, too, might only mean heat, with possibly a smart
thunderstorm a little later on in the day; but, short-handed as we were,
I deemed it best to be on the safe side; and accordingly, having worked
out my sights, I returned to the deck, and all hands of us went to work
upon the canvas, clewing up and hauling down all our lighter sails,
until we had stripped the ship to topsails, courses, fore-topmast
staysail, jib, and mizzen.  At this stage of the proceedings another
glance at the barometer showed that the mercury was still shrinking in
the tube, while the atmosphere had assumed a hazy appearance that
rendered it difficult to distinguish the horizon.  There could no longer
be any doubt that a change of weather was impending, although there was
nothing at present to indicate very precisely what the character of the
change was to be.  We therefore went aloft, three of us on the foremast,
and three on the main, and beginning with the royals and working
downward, snugly stowed everything that we had previously hauled down.
It was whilst we were thus engaged that an increasing uneasiness in the
motion of the ship first became apparent; and looking about us for the
cause, we became aware of the fact that a cross swell had begun to
gather, and was slowly creeping down to us from the north-west--the sure
precursor, Forbes affirmed, of a stiff blow from that quarter.  In this
opinion I fully agreed; still there was at that moment nothing of a
menacing character in the aspect of the sky, beyond an increasing
thickness of the atmosphere; and I was therefore hopeful that we should
have a sufficiency of time given us to complete our preparations for the
worst that could happen, before it came upon us.

The furling of the light canvas was neither a very long nor a very
laborious job, and in less than an hour we were all once more on deck.
The north-westerly swell had by this time gathered sufficient weight to
render itself distinctly perceptible even to the eye, and, the ship
having swung round broadside-on to it, she was rolling in a fashion that
set all the trusses, parrels, and bulkheads creaking, the yards jerking,
the patent block-sheaves squeaking, the heavy canvas flapping, the
reef-points pattering, the cabin-doors rattling, and the wheel-chains
clanking, so that, with the heavy wash of water along the bends and
under the counter, and an occasional clatter of crockery in the pantry,
quite a small Babel of sound was raised about us.  The motion of the
ship, however, though more violent, was not so awkward and uncomfortable
as it had been, doubtless in consequence of the young swell killing the
old; and still there was no sign whatever of an immediate breeze.  But
another look at the barometer showed that the mercury was still falling,
and now at a more rapid rate.  Fully convinced, therefore, that
something rather more serious than a mere thunder-squall was brewing, we
now went to work with a will, and, having first furled the mizzen,
hauled up the courses and stowed them, leaving the ship with nothing
showing but her two topsails and the fore-topmast staysail, which--as
our topsails were patent-reefing--left us practically prepared for
almost anything that might happen.

The haze had by this time thickened overhead to such an extent that the
sun showed in it as a mere white, rayless disc, the light of which
seemed to be gradually dying out; and by the time that noon had arrived
the atmosphere had become so obscure that the horizon was no longer
distinguishable, and I, therefore, lost my observation for the latitude.
At one o'clock, when our neat stewardess summoned me below to luncheon,
the mercury was still sinking, which, with the slow progress of the
change that was taking place, assured me that when the outburst came, it
would be something a little out of the common.  Luckily, we had plenty
of sea-room, and a thoroughly staunch little ship under our feet; I
therefore looked forward to the impending conflict with tolerable
equanimity.

At length, just as I had completed my hasty lunch, there occurred a
sudden but perceptible darkening of the atmosphere which seemed to
indicate that the expected change was now imminent, and, springing up
the companion-way to the deck, I found a most extraordinary scene
awaiting me.  The thickness that had hitherto pervaded the atmosphere
had vanished, as if by magic, leaving the air astonishingly clear and
transparent right to the boundary of the horizon, and revealing a vast
expanse of dense, livid, purple-grey cloud, which had overspread the
north-western half of the heavens, and was at the precise moment passing
over and shutting out the sun from view.  The edge of the cloud was as
straight and sharply defined as though it had been trimmed with a knife,
and it divided the firmament into two almost equal portions, the larger
of which was a beautiful expanse of clear, serene, unclouded blue; while
the other hung livid and threatening above us, with the promise of a
raving tornado lurking within its black bosom.  Immediately overhead the
colour of this immense cloud curtain was a cold, slaty blue, from
whence, as the eye travelled down its expanse toward the north-western
horizon, the hue became darker until where it met the water it was as
black as night; while, underneath it, the sea undulated restlessly, with
the writhings of an angry serpent, showing a surface as lustreless and
of the same colour as molten lead.  Low down in the bosom of the cloud
could be seen occasional palpitating quiverings, as though the fires
within it were striving to burst their way through, and presently, quite
at the horizon, a flash of lightning sparked vividly out of it.

"Are the topsail halliards all ready for running, Mr Forbes?" said I.

"All ready, sir," was the reply; and, turning away, the mate walked
quietly forward, throwing the falls off the pins on his way.

A minute later I heard him telling Joe to stand by the fore-topsail
halliards, and the rest of the men to lay aft to the braces, following
them along the deck and stationing himself at the main-topsail halliards
in readiness to let them run.  At this moment Sir Edgar, with the two
ladies and the children, came on deck and looked round with startled
eyes upon the portentous scene; but, upon my earnest recommendation, the
youngsters were at once sent below again, the ladies holding themselves
in readiness to follow at a moment's notice.  Sir Edgar, however,
announced his determination to remain on deck, upon the chance of his
becoming useful; upon which, Lady Emily, without saying a word, went
below and brought up on deck not only her husband's, but also my own
mackintosh coat--a little piece of thoughtful consideration for which I
was deeply grateful, since the aspect of the weather was now such that I
dared not leave the deck for a single instant.

Slowly the great cloud worked its insidious way athwart the heavens
until nearly three-fourths of the firmament was obscured, yet still
there was not air enough to have extinguished a burning match.  Then,
while the barque was lying helpless, with her head pointing directly
toward the quarter from which we expected the outfly, a white mist
suddenly appeared ahead, sweeping down upon us with the speed of an
express train, its course along the water indicated by a long line of
continuous white.

"Here comes the rain, at last!" exclaimed Forbes, turning to me and
pointing ahead with one hand, as he grasped the fall of the main-topsail
halliards with the other.

"Ay, and the wind with it," I answered him, as I sprang to the wheel and
whirled it hard over.

"Let go your topsail halliards!  Away below, ladies, for your lives; the
gale will be upon us in less than a minute.  Lay aft here, some of you,
and round-in upon the larboard fore-braces!  Mr Forbes, get the
starboard fore-topmast staysail sheets aft and well belayed, if you
please.  Whew! here it is; hold on, everybody!"

The rain seemed to reach us a single instant ahead of the wind, dashing
vertically down upon us, for just that brief period, not in drops, but
in an overwhelming deluge that I verily believe must have drowned us had
it lasted; then, as the hurricane reached us in a deafening medley of
sound, the sheets of water were caught and swept horizontally along with
a force that it was literally impossible to face without the risk of
being blinded, while the barque gathered stern-way until the water was
piled up level with her taffrail, and for a few breathless seconds I was
firmly convinced that it would end in our foundering, stern-foremost.
The good little ship was paying off all the time, however, and presently
she had swept round until we had it fairly abeam, when she laid down to
it until her lee lower yardarms were dipping in the water.  Then,
signing to the men at the braces to haul round the head-yards, I waited
until she had lost her stern-way, when I shifted the helm, putting it
hard up, and she began to draw slowly ahead.  The danger was now
practically over, for the ship continued to pay off, and presently she
righted with a sudden jerk, and went foaming away before it, with the
white froth level with her hawse-pipes.

The rain was by this time over, and while all was still thick as a hedge
ahead and to leeward of us, the atmosphere astern was clear, save for
the spindrift and scud-water with which it was heavily loaded along the
water surface.  The first mad fury of the outfly was past; but, even so,
it was blowing harder than I had ever seen it blow before; so hard,
indeed, that I wondered at the brave way in which the close-reefed
topsails withstood the tremendous strain and drag of the ship upon them.
So great was this strain that I began to entertain very serious fears
for the masts; and, now that it was too late, deeply regretted that I
had not stripped the ship entirely bare and faced the outfly under bare
poles; and it would have been a positive relief to me to have seen both
topsails go flying out of the boltropes.  They still held on, however;
and a little later, when Forbes, having at my request gone the round of
the chain-plates, and subjected them to a careful examination, reported
that he could see no sign of any of the bolts drawing, I began to hope
that, after all, we might pull through without any very serious damage,
especially as Joe almost immediately afterwards sounded the pumps and
reported that everything was right below.

We had been scudding for about an hour when the sea began to rise, and
by five o'clock in the afternoon there was a very high, steep sea
following us, which I foresaw would soon become dangerous.  I therefore
determined to watch for an opportunity, and, if possible, heave the ship
to before dark.  As a preliminary to this manoeuvre.  I ordered the
fore-topmast staysail to be hauled down; and this having been
accomplished without damage to the sail, two of the men--Barr and the
Swede--lay out upon the bowsprit to stow it, under the direction of the
mate.  This, at the moment that the order was given, seemed a perfectly
simple affair, and entirely free from danger; it unfortunately happened,
however--just at the moment when the sail had been made secure and the
men were on the point of laying in again, as Forbes subsequently
informed me--that an unusually heavy sea overtook us and, catching the
barque under her counter, raised her stern high in the air, slightly
pooping us, while it buried her bows and bowsprit deep in the water.
Standing at the wheel, I saw what was about to happen, and was in the
very act of shouting a warning to the men to hold on, when the sea
curled in over the taffrail, completely burying me for the moment; and
when, a few seconds later, I was able to clear my eyes of water, both
men _had vanished_, and Forbes was running aft, crying out to me that
they were overboard.  I looked astern, but could see nothing of either
of them; nor, in the increasingly perilous situation of the ship, dared
I leave the wheel even for the brief space of time requisite to cut
adrift and throw overboard a life-buoy.  Forbes, however, dashed aft and
did this with most commendable promptitude; after which he, with the
assistance of Joe and San Domingo, lost not a moment in counter-bracing
the yards, when we successfully brought the ship to on the larboard
tack, with her fore-topsail aback.  This done, and with Joe at the
wheel, Forbes and I clambered into the maintop and peered long into the
fast gathering gloom, in the faint hope that even yet we might catch
sight of one or both of the missing men, and be able to do something to
save them; but we never saw either of them again.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

IN DIRE EXTREMITY.

The sudden loss of these two men was not only a terrible shock to us
all, it was also a cruel misfortune; for, exclusive of Sir Edgar, it
left only four of us to handle the ship.  It is true that we were now as
snug as it was possible to be, and in a condition to face almost
anything that might befall us in the shape of weather; but when it again
came to a question of making sail, or, still worse, being obliged to
once more shorten sail, perhaps in a hurry, there would be a good deal
of heavy labour, all to be done by four, or at most five men.  It was,
however, one of those deplorable accidents that are incidental to the
life of a seaman; and, having in the mean time done all that was
possible for the safety of the ship, it was useless to meet our troubles
half way, and I therefore arranged that during the continuance of the
gale, while there would be really nothing to do but to keep an eye upon
the ship, the regular watches should be taken by the four of us in
rotation, one at a time, which would thus allow the others plenty of
time for rest against the moment when the utmost exertions of all would
be once more demanded.

It was now drawing on toward six o'clock, and the aspect of the coming
night was very threatening.  The sky was completely overspread with a
vast unbroken curtain of inky cloud, torn and shredded into a countless
host of ragged, fantastic shapes that came rushing up from the northward
and westward at headlong speed before the breath of the raving gale,
while the air was thick and salt with the ceaseless pelting of the brine
torn from the wave-crests, and swept along in a drenching, pitiless rain
by the mad fury of the wind.  The sea was rising fast, and already
presented a formidable and threatening aspect as the towering liquid
hills swept successively down upon the ship, froth-laced, and each
capped by a hissing, roaring crest of milky foam that reared itself
nearly to the height of our foretop over the weather-bow--so steep was
it--ere the barque rose to and surmounted it in a smothering deluge of
spray.  Yet we were doing well; for although, under the tremendous
pressure of the wind upon her two close-reefed topsails, the ship was
heeled to her covering-board, while in some of her wild lee rolls she
careened until her topgallant rail was awash and it became impossible to
maintain one's footing on the deck without holding on to something, she
looked well up into the wind, and rode the boiling fury of the sea as
buoyantly as a cork.  Her foredeck, it is true, from the knight-heads to
well abaft the galley, was streaming with the water that incessantly
poured over her weather-bow in a torrent of spray; but abaft that the
decks would have been dry but for the drenching spindrift.

The darkness fell upon us with a suddenness that was almost startling.
I had been for some time--ever since we had hove-to, _in fact_--narrowly
watching the ship to see how she met the seas; but at length, finding
that she was taking care of herself, I ordered Joe to lash the wheel,
and gave him permission to go below and join the others at supper in the
forecastle.  Before finally releasing him, however, and assuming my
solitary watch, I thought I would have another look at the mercury.  I
accordingly went below into the saloon, where the lamps were already
lighted, glanced at the barometer and saw that the mercury was now
stationary, chatted for a minute or two with the occupants of the
apartment, and then went on deck again.  When I left the deck a few
minutes before, the horizon and the forms of the flying clouds were
clearly distinguishable; but now, when I returned to it again, the
blackness of impenetrable darkness was all round about me, relieved only
by the ghostly light of the pale seafire in the foaming wave-crests, and
in the tiny stars of phosphorescent light that went careering to leeward
across the deck with every lee roll of the ship.  It was a weird and
awe-inspiring sensation to stand there in the blackness upon the wildly
heaving deck, and watch the irresistible, menacing onrush upon the ship
of those furious mountain surges, capped with ghostly green fire, with
the deafening shriek and din of the gale in the unseen rigging overhead
resounding in one's ears--a sensation well calculated to bring home to a
man his own nothingness in presence of the power and majesty of Him Who
causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; Who maketh
lightnings for the rain; Who bringeth forth the wind out of His
treasuries; Who hath His way in the whirlwind and the storm; Who holdeth
the sea in the hollow of His hand.  And this feeling was in nowise
lessened--nay, it was rather intensified--by the thrill of exultation I
experienced at the reflection that man, puny as is his strength compared
with the mighty forces of Nature, has been endowed by his Creator with
an intellect capable of devising and framing a structure so subtly
moulded and so strongly put together, that it is able to face and
triumphantly survive such a mad fury of wind and sea as then raged
around me.

Throughout the greater part of that night the gale continued to blow
with unabated fury; but about three o'clock on the following morning a
rapid rise of the barometer commenced, and some two hours later a single
star twinkling brightly for a moment through a small rift in the
hitherto unbroken cloud-rack overhead gave welcome assurance that the
worst of the weather was now over--an assurance which was shortly
afterward strengthened by a slight but unmistakable decrease in the
violence of the wind.  Then a few more stars beamed mildly down upon us
for brief but lengthening intervals; and finally, about half an hour
before the time of sunrise, the great pall of cloud broke up into
squadrons of tattered streamers speeding swiftly athwart the sky, which,
away down in the eastern quarter, was rapidly paling before the dawn.
Anon the pallor became tinged with a chilly hue of yellow, against which
the mountainous sea reared itself in vast sharply defined ridges of
blackest indigo, paling, as the eye travelled round the horizon toward
the western quarter, into a deep blue-grey, capped with lofty, curling
crests of pallid foam.  Quickly the cold yellow along the eastern
horizon became flushed with streaks of angry red; the flying squadrons
of rent grey cloud became fringed along their lower edges with dyes of
purple and crimson; and presently the upper rim of the sun's disc,
copper-hued and fiery, gleamed through the flying rack low down upon the
horizon, flashing a cheerless ray of angry orange across the mountain
waste of waters, changing it into a heaving, turbulent surface of sickly
olive-green.

It was as dreary, cheerless a sunrise, I think, as I had ever seen.  The
air, still full of spindrift, was, despite our position only a few
degrees north of the Line, chill enough to set one shuddering; the
maindeck was all awash with the water that flew incessantly over the
weather-bow and poured aft with the heaving of the ship, breaking into
miniature cascades among the booms lashed in the waist, and over the
lengths of cable stretched along the decks from the windlass to the
chain-locker, swirling round the pumps and the foot of the mainmast, and
gurgling and sobbing in the lee scuppers; the weather bulwarks were
streaming with water; even the topsails were dark with wet: miniature
showers were blowing away to leeward off the top of the galley and
forward deck-house; and the few dry spots that were to be found here and
there about the decks in sheltered places were white with encrusted
salt.  It was still blowing heavily; the ship was plunging furiously,
and rolling so wildly that it was impossible to maintain one's footing
without clinging to something; the continuous raving of the wind among
the maze of spars and rigging, especially when the ship rolled to
windward, was most depressing to listen to; and the appalling
proportions of the vast liquid mountain ranges that, with dreary,
persistent, remorseless monotony, came sweeping down upon us from the
northward and westward, piling their hissing crests high around us,
completed a picture which, for dreary sublimity, I had never seen
equalled.

I was tired, and wet, and cold; for, notwithstanding our arrangement of
the watches, I had been on deck, off and on, the whole night.  I was not
sorry, therefore, when Forbes came on deck to relieve me at eight
o'clock, thus affording me an opportunity to shift into dry clothes
before sitting down to breakfast.  We were rather a small company that
morning, Sir Edgar and Miss Merrivale being the only members of the
saloon party who felt equal to the putting in of an appearance; and
after breakfast I was obliged--rather unwillingly, I confess--to go on
deck again to secure an observation of the sun, which observation, when
worked out, showed that we were nearly thirty miles to the eastward of
our proper position.  This ascertained, I retired to my cabin, and,
flinging myself upon the bunk, "all standing," instantly sank into a
dreamless, refreshing sleep.

It appeared to me that I had not been in my berth more than five minutes
when, about a quarter of an hour before noon, Forbes called me in order
that we might together take the meridian altitude of the sun; and I was
no sooner on my feet than it became apparent that the ship's motion was
by no means so violent as it had been when I lay down; which was
sufficiently accounted for by the information imparted to me by the mate
that the gale had broken, and that in another hour or two the weather
would probably have moderated sufficiently to permit of our filling away
upon our course.  This news was fully confirmed by the general aspect of
affairs when I reached the deck; for the sun was now shining brilliantly
in a cloudless sky, and the air was genially warm; while the wind,
though still blowing heavily enough to justify us in retaining the close
reefs in the topsails, had abated its violence so far that it now blew
steadily, instead of beating upon the ship in gusts of headlong fury.
The sea, moreover, though it still seemed to run as high as ever, was no
longer so steep as it had been; the great mountains of water moving more
slowly, and carrying a good wholesome slope on their lee sides, that
enabled the ship to ride them easily and comfortably without the
provocation of a constantly recurring feeling that each great menacing
wall of water was about to overwhelm her.

We had taken the sun, and made it eight bells, and I was on the point of
leaving the deck again to work out the sights in my own cabin, when,
while exchanging some remarks with Forbes, I thought I caught a
momentary glimpse of _something_--what, I knew not--as the ship hung
poised for an instant upon the crest of an unusually heavy wave.  It was
but the barest, most fleeting glimpse; for before I could direct
Forbes's attention to it by so much as a word, we were plunging headlong
down the weather slope of the wave, with our horizon on either hand
bounded by a hissing crest that was rearing itself as high as our
maintop, and the barque taking a weather roll of such portentous extent
that both of us instinctively made a dash for the mizzen shrouds and
clung to them for dear life in anticipation of the coming--and
correspondingly abnormal--lee roll; while the roar of the bow wave and
the wind aloft created such a din that I could not have made myself
heard even had I been foolish enough to have attempted it.  But I was
confident that I had seen something; and when the ship reached the
bottom of the abyss, where we on deck were becalmed, and the roar of the
surge under our bows had died away, I mentioned the matter to the mate;
so that when we were swung aloft again both of us were eagerly on the
lookout for the object.  As almost invariably happens, however, after
the passage of an usually heavy wave, the two or three that now
succeeded were only of moderate height, and higher crests each time
intervened between us and the spot where the object was last seen; it
was also probable enough that the object, whatever it might be, would be
sunk in the trough of the sea just at the moment when we happened to be
hanging on a wave-crest; and it thus happened that several minutes
elapsed without my again catching sight of it.  To cut the matter short,
therefore, I handed Forbes my sextant to hold; and, seizing a favourable
opportunity, sprang into the weather main rigging and swarmed aloft as
far as the maintop, from which elevation I knew that I should soon sight
it if it were still above water.

It was not until I was halfway up the shrouds that I fully realised how
heavily it was still blowing, or how violent still was the motion of the
ship.  With every lee roll that we took I was involuntarily forced to
cling with all my strength to the rigging, for it seemed to me that
unless I did so I should infallibly be pitched head-foremost into the
top; while when the ship rolled to windward the pressure of the air upon
my body was so great that I was literally jammed hard and fast against
the rigging, unable to move hand or foot.  This was even more apparent
when I reached the futtock-shrouds and was surmounting the edge of the
top, the wind sustaining me so completely that I am confident I might
have relaxed my hand-grasp for several seconds without the slightest
danger of falling.  However, I gained my lofty perch at last, and, lying
prone in the top in order that I might see under the foot of the
fore-topsail, soon again caught sight of the object.

It was distant about seven miles from the ship, bearing about
north-north-east by compass, and floated very low in the water; a
circumstance which, from the thick mist still overspreading the surface
of the water, rendered it impossible at that distance to determine
precisely what it was.  It looked as much like a dead whale as anything
else, and had I felt quite certain that it was really this, I should of
course have troubled no more about it.  But there were moments when,
probably from some slight change in its position with regard to us, the
resemblance I have mentioned ceased, and the conviction forced itself
upon me that, whatever it might be, it was _not_ a whale, living or
dead; and at length, to set the matter at rest, I determined to fill
upon the ship and get a nearer look at it.  I accordingly descended to
the deck, and, Forbes rousing out Joe and San Domingo, we all went to
work, and, with some difficulty, succeeded in setting the fore-topmast
staysail without splitting it, after which we filled the fore-topsail
and headed the ship for the mysterious object.

We were now close-hauled upon the larboard tack, with the object a bare
three points upon the lee bow, and it soon became apparent that, as we
were making fully that amount of leeway, it would require some rather
fine steering to fetch it without breaking tacks--an operation which I
was particularly anxious to avoid, short-handed as we were.  Forbes,
however, was at the wheel, and as he was a splendid helmsman, it was
pretty certain that if the thing could be done he would do it.

When luncheon was announced we had drawn up to within about four miles
of the object; but so heavily was the sea still running that, even at
that distance, it was only occasionally that we could catch sight of it,
presenting now, as looked at through the ship's telescope, the
appearance of a large fragment of floating wreck.

The news which I took to the luncheon table, that a mysterious floating
something of considerable size had been sighted ahead, and that we were
making for it, had a very stimulating effect upon the occupants of the
saloon, who, enveloping themselves in mackintoshes, followed me on deck
when I rose from the table, with an eagerness born of the longing for
some occurrence to break the monotony of and make them forget for a time
the wearisome pitching and rolling of the ship, the monotonous,
unceasing clank and jar of the cabin-doors on their hooks, the
continuous creaking of the bulkheads, the thump of the wheel-chains on
the deck, the never-ending wash of the water, and the howling of the
wind in the rigging.  And, despite the merciless buffeting of the wind,
and the ceaseless drenching showers of spray that flew over us, the
change from the saloon to the deck was unanimously voted an improvement;
for it involved a transition from a close, oppressive atmosphere to an
exhilarating breeze, redolent of the strong salt odour of the brine, and
bracing by reason of its very violence; while the brilliant sunshine,
sparkling upon the deep, windy blue of the vast mountain surges that
surrounded us, and converting every spray-shower, into a gorgeous
rainbow, constituted an ever-changing picture of rich and splendid
colour and wild, tumultuous movement that was not to be easily
forgotten.  I thought Miss Merrivale had never looked so lovely as she
did then, enveloped in a thin, soft, silky-looking mackintosh, with a
dainty little, close-fitting hat upon her head, her beautiful hair all
blown adrift and streaming, a long golden web of ringlets, in the fiery
breeze, her cheeks flushed to a delicate pink with the rude buffeting of
wind and sea, and her eyes fairly blazing with excitement and
exhilaration at the wild scene around her.

Our first glances were naturally directed ahead in search of the
mysterious object for which we were steering, and it was quickly
discovered about two miles distant, and a good point on the lee bow.  To
the unaided eye its character still remained uncertain, but a single
glance through the ship's telescope now sufficed to satisfy us that it
was a wreck, or a portion of one.  It had all the appearance of a small
craft, capsized; for the telescope enabled one to see a small strip of
wet, black side showing above water, with a considerably greater expanse
of copper-sheathed planking.  But, even now that we had so greatly
decreased the distance between us and it, there was still great
difficulty in determining its precise character; for it was only when we
and it happened to be upon the top of a sea at the same moment that it
came within our ken, and those moments were comparatively rare.

As we continued to close, however, our glimpses of it became
increasingly frequent; and at length, when we had approached to within
half a mile, the heave of the sea having meanwhile flung it round into a
more favourable position, it became apparent that it was a small craft
of some sort--seemingly a brig--that had capsized, and now lay with her
masts prone along the water, for we could now and then catch a glimpse
of the spars, with the canvas still set, lifting a foot or two out of
the water with the heave of the sea, only to settle back again the next
moment, however.  What interested us most keenly of all, however, and
excited our profoundest astonishment, was the fact that a dark patch in
her main rigging--for which I could not at first account--soon
afterwards proved to be a group of men! for we presently saw one of them
scramble along the shrouds until he reached the vessel's upturned side,
and then--despite the heavy masses of water that were continually
breaking over the hull--rise to his feet and wave something that looked
like a man's jacket, by way of a signal, in answer to which I
immediately ran our ensign up to the gaff-end.

The excitement of the fairer occupants of our poop was now intense,
especially that of Miss Merrivale, who, in the extremity and oblivion of
her enthusiasm, not only addressed me as "Jack," but also volunteered to
do all sorts of impossible things by way of assisting in the rescue that
she took for granted.  But how was such a thing to be achieved?  We were
only five men on board the _Esmeralda_, all told, and what could our
united efforts accomplish?  We certainly could not launch a boat, even
had we dared to hope that so small a craft would live in such a wild and
fearful sea; for the lightest of our gigs--the only boat it would have
been possible to launch, under the circumstances--would need at least
four men to do anything with her in such weather, which would leave only
one man on board to look after and handle the ship during the process of
rescue--which amounted to a physical impossibility.

I was, however, determined to save the men, if it could be done; we
therefore steered the barque as close up under the lee of the wreck as
we dared, and backed our mainyard, with the brig's royal-mastheads
showing just awash not ten feet to windward of us.  It was an
extraordinary and appalling picture that we now looked upon.  The
vessel--a brig of about one hundred and eighty tons--had been thrown
over on her starboard side, and now lay submerged to about halfway up
her hatchways, with her masts prone along the water, into and out of
which they dipped and rose two or three feet with the wash of the sea
and the roll of the hull.  She was a wooden vessel, apparently American
built, and was under whole topsails, foresail, spanker, and jib, which
sufficiently accounted for her present predicament if, as seemed
probable, she had been caught under that canvas in the outburst of the
previous day.  She had no quarter davits, and the chocks over the main
hatchway--where the long-boat, and sometimes the jolly-boat as well, is
usually stowed--were missing; but the gripes were still there, showing
that the boat or boats that had been stowed there had evidently been
washed away.  There was, moreover, the remains of what had once been a
gig on her gallows.  She appeared to have been generously fitted up;
for, as she rose and fell, we caught the flash of brass work about her
skylight and companion, and when her stern lifted high enough out of the
water a handsome brass binnacle, securely bolted to the deck, became
exposed to our view.  Lastly, huddled in her weather main rigging, about
twelve or fifteen feet from the rail--where they were tolerably clear of
the seas that constantly broke over the vessel's upturned side--was a
group of nine men, most of them bareheaded, clad in garments that clung
to their bodies with the tenacity of clothing that has been soaked for
many consecutive hours in water.

They were in a miserable and most precarious plight, indeed; and I could
not help wondering how they had possibly managed to cling for so many
hours to so insecure a refuge--assuming, of course, that the brig had
capsized on the previous afternoon, as I surmised.

The first thing was to communicate with them; and this I first attempted
by means of the speaking trumpet.  But the roar of the wind and the wash
of the sea, together with our drift--which was, of course, much more
rapid than that of the wreck--rendered my voice inaudible; so it became
necessary to resort to other methods.  There happened to be a
"bull-board" kicking about the poop; and setting this up on the
skylight, where it could be distinctly seen, with its black face towards
the wreck, I got a piece of chalk, and hastily wrote upon it the
following words, one after the other, receiving a wave of the hand from
those on the wreck in token that they had deciphered each word before I
obliterated it and wrote the next:--

"Only--four--men--on--board--so--cannot--send--boat--Will--stand--by--
and--take--you--off--if--possible."

By the time that the last word of this communication had been written
and acknowledged we were some distance to leeward of the wreck, and it
became necessary to fill upon the ship once more.  This done, the next
matter for determination was the means whereby we were to get the people
away from the wreck, and safe on board the barque--a problem which, had
we been fully manned, would have proved sufficiently puzzling; while,
circumstanced as we were, it seemed all but impossible.

At length, however, I hit upon a scheme that I thought might be worth
trying; and we proceeded forthwith to put it into practical shape
without more ado, since the unfortunate people on the wreck were in a
perilously exposed situation, and evidently in such a terribly exhausted
state that they might relax their hold, and be washed away at any
moment.

There were, as I have already mentioned, nine men to be rescued.  Now,
the _Esmeralda_ having been, ever since she was launched, a
passenger-ship, was well found in life-saving appliances, life-buoys
among the number, of which we carried no less than twelve; eight being
stowed away in one of the cutters on the gallows, while the remainder
were distributed about the poop, ready for immediate use.

The first thing done was to get up on deck two good stout warps, and
bend them end to end, so that we might have plenty of length to work
with; and the inner end of this long line was then made fast inboard at
the fore-rigging.  To the other end nine life-buoys were next securely
bent, in the form of a chain, with a length of about a fathom between
the buoys; and, finally, a long light heaving-line was bent on to the
extreme outer end of the warp.  The warp was then carefully coiled down
on deck, ready for paying out; the buoys piled on the top of it; and the
spare part of the heaving-line carried out to the flying-jib-boom end,
where it was snugly coiled and stopped, ready for use.

Our preparations were now complete; and, having meanwhile been plying to
windward, the helm was put up, and we wore round to return to the wreck.
This operation provided work for us all, including Sir Edgar; and when
at length we got the ship round upon the starboard tack we found, to our
extreme vexation, that the circle we had made was so large that we
should be unable to fetch the wreck.  This was terribly annoying at a
time when every minute lost might mean a human life; but we could do
nothing to rectify the matter except stand on far enough upon the new
tack to insure that when we next wore we should not again under-shoot
our mark.  And if it was vexatious for us, what must it have been for
the poor fellows who, standing as it were within the very jaws of death,
were anxiously watching our every movement?

To our eagerness and anxiety the minutes seemed hours; but at length we
felt that we had reached far enough to justify another attempt; and upon
getting the ship round again we had the satisfaction of seeing that we
had measured our distance just right, and should be about able to fetch
the wreck, with little or nothing to spare.  As we approached the brig,
the negro--who, now that he was separated from his late companions,
proved himself to be not only a first-rate seaman, but also a very
willing, good-natured fellow--most earnestly besought me to entrust to
him the task of manipulating the heaving-line, vehemently asserting his
ability to cast it further and straighter than any of the rest of us;
and I accordingly deputed that duty to him, whereupon he laid out to the
flying-jib-boom end and, placing himself astride the spar, outside the
royal stay, clinched himself there in the most extraordinary manner by
means of his feet and legs, and then calmly took the coil of
heaving-line in his hand and held himself ready for a cast.  The ease
with which the fellow clung to the bare end of that dancing spar was a
revelation to me; for the motion out there was, proportionately, as
violent as it would have been in the maintop; yet there he sat, as
composedly as though he had been in an easy-chair, while most white men
would have found it difficult enough to maintain such a position with
the aid of hands as well as feet, leaving out of the question any
possibility of executing such a manoeuvre as that of throwing a line to
windward against a whole gale of wind.

San Domingo thus safely established at his station, Joe and Sir Edgar
placed themselves at the braces, standing by to back the main-topsail at
the instant that I should give the word; while I climbed into the
weather fore-rigging, as the best position from which to con the ship;
and in this order we edged gradually and warily down toward the wreck.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

THE END OF THE ADVENTURE.

Our situation, now, was everything that could be desired for the
execution of the delicate manoeuvre that I contemplated, and only a few
minutes elapsed from the time of my stationing myself in the
fore-rigging when the critical moment arrived for us to attempt it.  I
accordingly signed to Forbes to put the helm down; which he instantly
did, lashing it fast; when he and I sprang simultaneously to the weather
main-braces, to assist Sir Edgar and Joe in backing the main-topsail.
This proved to be a tough drag for four men; but we managed to get the
yards round far enough to lay the sail aback, when I once more darted
forward into the fore-rigging to superintend the remainder of the work;
Forbes returning to his station at the wheel, while Sir Edgar and Joe
stood by the warp, in readiness to pay it out quickly, and to throw the
life-buoys over clear of the rail.

Everything now depended upon the strength and skill of San Domingo.

The wreck, when I reached my post of observation in the rigging, was on
our weather-bow, not more than twice our own length from us; and the
barque, with her way already somewhat retarded by the backing of the
main-topsail and the putting down of the helm, was slowly forging up to
it, with her bows inclining toward the exact spot where the nine men
were still huddled together in the main rigging, anxiously watching our
approach and wondering what we were about to do.  They saw that San
Domingo was preparing to heave them a rope's-end; but that did not very
greatly enlighten them until Joe and Sir Edgar each raised a life-buoy
to the rail, and prepared to throw it overboard.  Then they got an
inkling of our intent; and a feeble shout went up from among them.

Slowly, and more slowly still, the barque continued to forge ahead; and
I began to fear that, in my anxiety to avoid an actual collision with
the wreck, I had backed my topsail a second or two too soon, and that we
should not, after all, get near enough to her to accomplish the rescue.
Still, we had not wholly lost our way; and foot by foot--or rather, inch
by inch--we continued to creep nearer and nearer to the wreck, until the
negro, on the end of his spar, was soaring and swooping wildly within
some fifty feet of the group of half-drowned men; and then our way
stopped.  This was the moment that San Domingo had been waiting for.
Watching his opportunity, he seized upon the instant when the wreck and
ourselves were both sunk in the trough of a sea, and therefore
comparatively sheltered from the wind, when, with a single powerful
swing of the coil round his head, he sent it whizzing straight and fair
in among the group who were anxiously waiting for it.

"Get as far aft as you can, and then haul away upon the line!"  I
shouted.

One of them waved his hand to signify that he understood what I wanted;
and then they all took hold of the line, and, with it grasped firmly in
their hands, made their way cautiously in toward the hull, we watching
their movements, meanwhile, in a state of the most intense anxiety and
suspense.  For now that we were within a biscuit-toss of them the
appalling precariousness and peril of their situation became fully
apparent to us; more completely so, indeed, than it probably was to the
unfortunate fellows themselves.  For, huddled together as they were in
the rigging, they were sheltered to some extent by the hull of the brig,
and were thus unable to clearly see and measure the stupendous
proportions of the vast roaring mountains of foam-capped water that came
hissing and swooping down upon them from to windward, each huge comber
seemingly sentient with a full determination to overwhelm and engulf the
already stricken and helpless fabric that lay prone and waterlogged at
their mercy; while we, from the superior elevation of our buoyant deck,
could look over and beyond the nearly submerged hull, and watch with
breathless anxiety the swoop of every giant wave as it surged down upon
the wreck and buried her in a blinding smother of seething, milk-white
foam.  But, beaten down, inert, and waterlogged as was the brig, her
cargo was evidently of such a character as to impart a considerable
measure of buoyancy to her; for though every sea that broke over her
completely buried her for the moment, she invariably reappeared on the
hinder slope of the baffled comber, apparently little or none the worse
for her momentary submergence.  Her triumphant survival, indeed, of
these continuous and overwhelming onslaughts soon convinced me that her
crew had little to fear from the prospect of her speedy foundering;
their danger lay not in any such probability, but consisted in the
likelihood of their being torn from their precarious hold in the rigging
by every sea that swept and raged over them.

This danger was, of course, greatly increased when the men began to move
inward toward the hull, thus more fully exposing themselves to the fury
of every surge that swept over it.  And of this fact we soon had a most
painful and melancholy illustration; for as the group, after waiting for
two or three minutes for a favourable opportunity, essayed to scramble
out of the rigging, and make their way aft along the brig's upturned
side to her quarter--where they would be clear of the gear and rigging
when they took to the water--a small and comparatively innocuous sea
broke over the hull, which, harmless as it was compared with most of its
predecessors, had still enough of weight and spite in it to sweep one of
the poor fellows from his precarious foothold into the seething, hissing
swirl to leeward.  The man tossed his arms over his head, with a wild
shriek for help, as the smother carried him along in its suffocating
embrace, and Joe promptly made a spring for a spare _life-buoy_ that we
had provided for such an emergency; but before it could be thrown the
unfortunate wretch was hurled over the brig's mainyard as it lifted out
of the water, and the next instant he disappeared beneath the foot of
the main-topsail, the wide spaces of which immediately shut down upon
and buried him as the roll of the hull once more submerged her spars.
We never saw the poor fellow again, and there is no doubt that, caught
and entangled beneath the cloths of the topsail, he was drowned there.

Meanwhile, we were drifting rapidly away to leeward, and the full length
of our warps was almost paid out; it was therefore imperative that the
men on the wreck should act quickly.  I shouted to them to this effect,
and, awaking from the momentary stupefaction produced by the painfully
sudden loss of their comrade, the remaining eight men made a dash for
the brig's quarter, and succeeded in reaching it just as the vessel was
uphove upon the crest of another tremendous sea.  We saw them slip the
string of life-buoys over their heads, and the next instant they were
buried in the vast volume of water that broke, roaring and hissing, over
the fabric that they stood upon.  To our anxious minds it seemed an
endless time before they reappeared; but at length we saw the string of
life-buoys floating in the midst of the lacework of foam, some ten
fathoms to leeward of the wreck, well clear of the heaving spars and
snake-like coils of loose and unrove gear, eight out of the nine buoys
having each a man in it.

"Hurrah!"  I shouted, swinging myself on deck out of the rigging.  "We
have them!  Haul away gently upon the line, and let us get them
alongside."

As I spoke I saw that San Domingo was laying in from the jib-boom end,
he having, like myself, seen that we had got hold of the men; and
presently he ranged up alongside me and, following my example,
industriously set to work to throw the coils of braces, halliards,
clewlines, and so on off the pins, and bend the ends of them into
bowlines in readiness for hauling the rescued men up the side.

The task of getting the poor fellows safely inboard was soon
accomplished, when, administering to each man a pannikin of scalding hot
coffee that had meanwhile been prepared in the galley, I sent them below
into the forecastle with instructions to strip, rub each other well
down, and turn in until a good meal could be prepared for them; when,
the rescued crew being thus temporarily disposed of, we filled upon the
ship and resumed our voyage.

A good substantial meal of beef, potatoes, and ship's bread, backed up
with a few hours' sleep, and a shift into dry clothes, sufficed to set
the rescued men upon their pins again, little or nothing the worse for
the hardship and exposure they had so recently undergone; and that same
evening I obtained from the mate of the brig, a man named Cooper, the
particulars of their adventure.

From this man's story it appeared that the brig, a vessel of one hundred
and seventy-four tons register, named the _Golden Gate_, hailed from San
Francisco, from which port she had sailed in search of a cargo of
sandal-wood.  The quest had been successful, a full cargo had been
obtained, and all had gone well with the craft up to the afternoon of
the preceding day, when her crew, like us, had found themselves
becalmed.  Unlike myself, however, the skipper of the _Golden Gate_--who
proved to be the man who had unfortunately been swept away and lost
during the process of rescue--had obstinately refused to believe that
the threatening aspect of the weather meant anything worse than a sharp
thunderstorm, and had declined to accede to the suggestion of his mate
that sail should be shortened, averring that all the wind they were
likely to get they would need to help them out of the region of the
equatorial calms.  The result had been that when the hurricane burst
upon them the ship was hove over upon her beam-ends, with her sails flat
upon the water, in which position she had gradually filled, her cargo
only preventing the waterlogged hull from sinking under the feet of her
crew.  Fortunately for all hands, they had entertained sufficiently
serious doubts of their skipper's judgment to determine them to remain
on deck and see the matter out; hence, when the brig went over, they
were in a measure prepared for the catastrophe, and lost no time in
clambering on to the vessel's upturned side.  From this position the
sea, breaking heavily over the hull, soon drove them into the rigging,
where they had remained, constantly drenched with spray and frequently
submerged beneath the vast volumes of water that poured over the wreck,
until rescued by us.

In exchange for his story I briefly informed the rescued mate that I had
sailed from Sydney, in ballast, for the Canton river, intending to cut a
cargo of sandal-wood on the way; but that the bulk of my crew, a gang of
desperadoes from the gold-diggings, had frustrated my purpose by
attempting to take my ship away from me, and that I had therefore been
compelled to leave them on an island; and further, that when I sighted
the _Golden Gate_, we were on our way to the Sandwich Islands, hoping to
there obtain men enough to navigate the barque to China.  I said that,
if he and his men wished it, I would still go on to Honolulu, and land
them there, from whence they would doubtless soon find an opportunity to
return to San Francisco; or, if they preferred it, I would ship them
all, at the current rate of wages, for the voyage to China, and, if they
gave me satisfaction, thence home to England.  He said he would lay my
offer before the men, and acquaint me with their decision forthwith; and
at once retired to the forecastle.  Whereupon I at once called Joe and
San Domingo to me, and laid the strictest injunctions upon them both
that under no circumstances whatever were they to make the slightest
allusion to the treasure in the hold; hinting pretty strongly that, if
they did, their own share of it would probably fall very far short of
what it would be should the secret be well kept.  The caution I believed
to be quite needless, so far as Joe was concerned; but its necessity, as
regarded the negro, was made quite apparent by his remark when I had
finished speaking--

"Golly, sar; it just as well you tole me dat in time, odderwise I dead
sure to hab said someting about it de fust time I had a chance.  But now
dat you has warned me, sar, you may depend abs'lutely upon my
discresshun.  I wants all de dollars I can git; and I doan' feel
inclined to share dem wid men dat has had no hand in de saving of dem."

The mate soon returned to the deck with the decision of his crew.  He
informed me that the men were quite unanimous in their desire to leave
the ship at Honolulu, and make the best of their way back to San
Francisco with as little delay as possible, if such an arrangement would
accord with my convenience; but that, in the mean time, they would
gladly turn to and assist me to work the ship so far, without pay, in
acknowledgment of my having saved their lives.

The weather, meanwhile, was fast moderating; so much so that during the
second dog-watch we took a good drag upon the topsail halliards, and set
the foresail and mizzen; the wind gradually hauling round further from
the northward and breaking us off until we headed north-east by compass.
The mercury was rising almost as rapidly as it had fallen, and there
was every prospect of a fine night.  Cooper, the late mate of the
_Golden Gate_, offered to do duty as second mate, while the cook of the
craft expressed his desire to continue the functions of his office; the
remainder of the men declared their readiness to go to work forthwith;
and that night, accordingly, we once more kept two watches, each
consisting of an officer and four men, while I, who had been on deck
almost continuously for thirty hours, turned in and, with a mind
intensely relieved by the acquisition of so much valuable help, slept
like a log until seven o'clock the next morning.

I awoke of my own accord, and had no sooner opened my eyes than I knew,
without any need of telling, exactly how we were situated.  The ship was
rolling, with a long, steady, even swing, from side to side, with an
occasional heave and settlement of her quarter as the swell took her;
the canvas was alternately flapping out with rifle-like reports, and
thundering against her masts as she rolled; the bulkheads were creaking
and groaning; the cabin-doors were rattling upon their hooks; the
wheel-chains were clanking as the rudder kicked to the wash and swirl
under the counter; and there was a gurgling, dripping wash of water
along the bends, without any seething sound in it, that told me, apart
from the other noises of the ship, that we were again becalmed.  The sun
was streaming brilliantly in through the porthole of my cabin, flooding
the little apartment with warmth and golden light; and the swishing and
scrubbing sounds overhead told me that the hands were busy at the job of
washing decks.  It was a welcome, joyous sound, as evidence of the fact
that we once more had a crew on board us; and I thrust my feet into my
slippers and went on deck to get my morning bath with a feeling of
gaiety and blithesomeness that taught me, for the first time, how heavy
had been the load of anxiety that I had lately borne, and that had
slipped from my shoulders with the arrival of the _Golden Gates_ crew on
board.

It was a glorious morning, with a clear, brilliantly blue, cloudless sky
overhead, out of which the sun, though only an hour high, already blazed
with an ardour that gave promise of a scorching day; the sea was
oil-smooth, with a glittering sheen like that of quicksilver in the wake
of the sun, while away to the westward of us it flashed and gleamed in
hues of the softest, purest, opalescent blue to the side of the ship
with the running of the swell.  There was not a breath of wind, nor the
remotest sign of any; so I ordered the lighter canvas and the courses to
be hauled down and clewed up, to save them from thrashing themselves to
rags; and, having revelled in the luxury of a shower-bath of cool,
sparkling brine from the hose, left the ship under the topsails and
fore-topmast staysail, and went below to dress for breakfast.

The calm that had now fallen upon us lasted unbroken for five full days,
during which we sweltered, day and night, in the melting heat of the
tropics, with the blazing sun right overhead every day at noon, and a
waning moon soaring into the heavens later and still later each night to
render the hours of darkness magical with the witchery of her beauty and
mystery.  And during the whole of this time we never shifted our
position by so much as a single mile a day.  At length, however, on the
sixth day, a few cat's-paws came playing at intervals over the surface
of the glass-smooth water, momentarily ruffling it into little
evanescent patches of tender blue, and causing a transient ripple to
play over the stagnant cloths of our canvas.  As the day wore on the
cat's-paws increased in frequency, in area, and in strength; and shortly
before sundown a gentle, dainty little air of wind came stealing softly
up from the eastward, to woo which we joyfully spread every rag of
canvas we could show to it: and oh! how ineffably pleasant and
delightful was the sound of the first faint liquid tinkling ripple that
broke from our cutwater, and gushed gently past the bends in a stream of
tiny bursting air-bells, as the beautifully moulded hull yielded to the
faint impulse of the soft breathing and began to move under it with the
languorous motion of a sleeping swan!  Then, as the soft, warm,
star-spangled darkness of the tropics closed down upon us and wrapped us
within its impalpable folds, the breeze gathered strength and weight by
imperceptible degrees, until the scarcely audible tinkle under the bows
merged into the sound of a knife shearing through a tautly stretched
silken web, with a musical fountain-like plashing at the cutwater and a
crisp, gushing curl of the glassy wave under the lee bow as it broke and
hurried past into our wake in a lacework of creamy swirling froth,
gemmed with countless glittering foam-bubbles; while the log told us
that the ship was slipping her way through the small wrinklings of the
brine at a speed of fully six knots in the hour.

By-and-by the moon--her orb now reduced to less than half its full
dimensions--stole ghostlike above the horizon; and by her wan light we
saw that a host of soft, fleecy clouds--shaped like the smoke belched
from the mouth of a cannon upon a windless day--were mustering their
squadrons in the eastern quarter; and we knew them for the welcome
trade-cloud, the sure indication that the breeze we now had would be a
lasting one.

And so it proved; for the fleecy masses soared upward until they
overspread the whole of the visible sky; and as they soared so the
breeze hardened, until at length, by the time that the middle watch drew
toward its close, the saucy _Esmeralda_, with the wind well over her
starboard quarter, and everything packed upon her, from the royal
studding-sails down, was storming through it at a pace nearer to sixteen
than to fifteen knots in the hour, while the wild weird melody of a
hundred harps singing through the taut mazes of her rigging aloft
mingled with the roar of the wind out of the great spaces of her
straining canvas, and the deep, continuous thunder of the bow wave,
raising a concert of such mad, soul-stirring harmony as causes the
sailor's heart to leap and bound within him in ecstatic exultation to
the swift, buoyant leaps and plunges of the good ship beneath him.

This truly royal breeze continued to blow with scarcely diminished
strength, enabling us to reel off our fifteen knots per hour for hours
at a time, while our speed seldom sank below twelve; the result of which
was that a little before midnight of the fifth day from its first
reaching us we glided into the roadstead of Honolulu, and came to an
anchor.

On the following morning, immediately after breakfast, I went ashore,
taking with me my passengers and Cooper, the mate of the _Golden Gate_;
and while Sir Edgar with his party made their way to the best hotel in
the place, preparatory to the planning of an expedition which would
permit of their seeing as much as possible of the beauties of the island
during our stay there, Cooper and I sought out our respective consuls.
Neither of them were difficult to find; and while I partook of a second
breakfast with our hospitable British representative, I learnt from
him--after telling him as much of my story as I deemed needful--that an
Aberdeen ship had unfortunately driven ashore and gone to pieces there
only a fortnight previously, and that her crew were then awaiting an
opportunity to work their way home, the master and chief mate having
already left for England _via_ San Francisco, in a steamer.  Upon
further inquiry I found that there were thirteen of the crew in all,
namely, the second mate, steward, cook, and ten seamen.  This suited me
exactly; for, although there were more men than I really needed, we had
accommodation for an even greater number in the _Esmeralda's_ roomy
forecastle and deck-house.  Moreover, I had had all that I wanted of
such an unpleasant experience as that of being short-handed.  I
therefore determined to ship them all, if they were willing, and
recompense myself for my recent hardships by enjoying the luxury of a
fully manned ship.  The men were easily found--were indeed on the
lookout for me, having learned early in the morning that an English
barque had arrived in the roadstead some time during the night--and upon
interviewing them I learned that they were, one and all, most anxious to
make a start for home.  They were as quiet, sober, and steady-looking a
crew as I could possibly desire to meet with, or have under me; I
therefore shipped the whole of them, on the spot, and directed them to
hold themselves in readiness to join the ship as soon as they should
receive instructions from me to that effect.

Meanwhile, Cooper had had an interview with his consul, the result of
which was an arrangement that the crew of the _Golden Gate_ should land
forthwith, as there were several American vessels in the port, and,
consequently, ample facilities for despatching the men home.  As a
consequence of this the Americans left the _Esmeralda_ that same
afternoon, while the new crew went on board and took up their quarters
on the following morning.

The luncheon hour had arrived by the time that all these arrangements
were completed, and I therefore hastened away to Sir Edgar's hotel for
the double purpose of satisfying a certain inward craving that had
already begun to make itself felt, and of acquainting the baronet with
the character of the business upon which I had been engaged during the
morning.  The several members of the party were, naturally enough, much
pleased to learn that there was to be no undue detention among the
lovely Sandwich Islands; but, on the other hand, they expressed so
earnest a desire to see something of Oahu, now that they were actually
upon it, that I cheerfully consented to delay my departure until the
evening of the third day.  A tour of the island was thereupon arranged,
in which I was very cordially invited to join, and a most delightful
excursion was the result; but as this is not a guide-book, and nothing
out of the ordinary way occurred during its progress, I will not inflict
the details of it upon the indulgent reader.  Upon our return to the
ship we found that Forbes, following my instructions, had re-watered
her, and laid in a generous supply of fruit, pigs, poultry, and other
necessaries; our crew were all on board, and there was nothing to detain
us longer in this Pacific paradise; we therefore got our anchor
forthwith, and stood out of the roadstead in the crimson wake of the
setting sun just as that luminary sank magnificently beneath the
horizon, painting the whole western sky with the flaming hues of his
dying effulgence.

There is but little more to tell, for the rescue of the _Golden Gates_
crew proved to be the last adventure that befell us on this
extraordinarily eventful voyage.  We made a very rapid run across to the
China coast, and were detained but a short time in the Canton river,
freights happening to be rather high and tonnage somewhat scarce--for a
wonder--about the time of our arrival; I therefore met with no
difficulty in obtaining a freight, with quick despatch, and within three
weeks of our arrival we were once more at sea, this time Homeward-Bound!
I must not forget to mention, by the way, that almost my first act,
upon arriving at Hong Kong, was to write home two somewhat lengthy
letters--one to my mother, acquainting her with the successful result of
my quest, together with a full and detailed narrative of my adventures
since leaving Sydney; and the other to my old and trusty friend, Mr
Richards, acquainting him also with my success, and requesting him to
undertake certain rather delicate negotiations for me, as well as to
make certain preparations against the time of the _Esmeralda's_ arrival
in the English Channel.  Our homeward passage was as prosperous as it
was uneventful.  We were no sooner clear of our moorings than we caught
a favourable breeze that followed us all the way until we had rounded
the Cape of Good Hope and had caught the south-east trades, which in
their turn carried us right up to, and indeed a few miles to the north
of, the Line.  Here we met with the usual light baffling airs, with
plenty of rain and perhaps rather more than the average allowance of
thunder and lightning.  But this weather lasted only a trifle over
forty-eight hours, when a small easterly air came to our rescue and
fanned us along to the northward until we finally fell in with the
north-east trades, the beneficent influence of which carried us as far
north as the parallel of twenty-eight degrees.  Here again kind Fortune
favoured us; for when at length the trade-winds failed us, the wind
gradually hauled round from the southward, and thence from the westward
and north-west, hardening all the time, until at length it blew quite a
fresh gale, which sent us bowling and staggering away to the northward
and eastward under single-reefed topsails with topgallant sails over
them, reeling off our fourteen knots hour after hour, and enabling us to
hold our own for a whole day with one of the West Indian mail-boats,
homeward-bound, much, no doubt, to the chagrin and astonishment of her
officers.  The breeze continued to freshen, however, and the sea to
rise, necessitating first the handing of our topgallant sails, and, a
little later on, the further reefing down of our topsails, when the
great steamer gradually drew away from us, and by next morning was out
of sight.  This slant lasted us for four days, when the wind gradually
softened into a moderate sailing breeze, veering all the time until it
finally worked round from the southward once more, bringing with it
mild, genial, sunshiny weather, that carried us right up the Channel to
Portland Roads, which we entered on a lovely summer evening, nine
months, almost to a day, from the date upon which we had quitted it, at
the commencement of the voyage.

I was of course careful to have the ship's number and burgee
conspicuously displayed as we entered the roadstead, and I also observed
the precaution of standing far enough over towards the Weymouth side of
the bay to permit of the flags being distinctly made out before bringing
the ship to an anchor; the result of which was that, before the canvas
was well clewed up, a small steam launch emerged from Weymouth Harbour,
and in due time deposited my dear mother and my very good friend Mr
Richards upon the _Esmeralda's_ deck.

Of the joyous meeting that ensued--of my dear mother's smiles and tears
and caresses and ejaculations of gratitude at my safe return--and of Mr
Richards' hearty congratulations at my successful achievement--I will
say nothing; the picture may very well be left to the vivid imagination
of the reader.  I need only state that, after the first bustle and
excitement of the meeting had passed over, Mr Richards drew me
carefully aside and remarked--

"It is all right, my dear boy; everything is arranged.  I have put the
whole affair into the hands of Tom White--a man whom I would trust with
my very life--and he will come off to you with half a dozen `lerrets'
and a strong gang of thoroughly reliable men at two o'clock to-morrow
morning.  Hand over your cases of treasure to him without hesitation,
and he will take care of them for you.  He knows exactly how to manage
the business, trust him, for he was a smuggler in his youth, when
smuggling was still a paying business, as were his forbears for
generations before him; so it is in the man's blood, you see."

And as Mr Richards had said, so it proved.  The night was, luckily,
_very_ dark, and therefore exactly suited to our purpose; and promptly
at two o'clock, the man White, with his fleet of "lerrets," came gliding
noiselessly alongside out of the darkness, and in less than half an hour
every ounce of the treasure was out of the ship, with nobody a bit the
wiser.  The next morning a man came alongside offering crabs for sale,
and before leaving the ship, he slipped a crumpled, dirty piece of
note-paper, smelling strongly of fish, into my hand; upon opening which
I, with some difficulty, deciphered the following communication:--

"Deer Sur the boxis be awl rite yours to command T. White."

Is there anything else to tell?  Well, yes; there is just one further
item of information that may interest some at least of my readers.  I
remember remarking, in the course of my narrative, that toward the
latter part of my acquaintance with Miss Merrivale--dating particularly
from the capture and recapture of the ship at the treasure island--that
very charming young lady's demeanour toward me underwent a certain
subtle, indefinable, puzzling, but exceedingly agreeable change; and
after we had left China and were on our homeward voyage--when, in short,
I had leisure to give a proper amount of thought and attention to so
important a matter--I determined to ascertain what it meant.

Now, this is not a love story, so I will not enter into the particulars
of how I first of all fell to questioning myself as to _why_ this change
of manner should have proved so agreeable to me; nor will I describe the
mental process by which I quickly arrived at the conclusion that it was
because Agnes Merrivale was, beyond all question, the sweetest and most
lovable, as well as the most charming and lovely woman it had ever been
my good fortune to encounter.  Nor will I attempt to describe the
devious methods and the complicated stratagems by which--having arrived
at this conclusion--I painfully sought to obtain some slight inkling or
clue to the sweet girl's sentiments toward myself.  Let it suffice to
say that they were all signally, _miserably_, unsuccessful.  _You_, my
dear reader, would of course have managed infinitely better; I am well
aware of that.  But remember, if you please, that I was only a plain,
unpolished sailor; a man who, maybe, could handle a ship fairly well,
take care of her in a gale of wind, and navigate her successfully from
port to port, but who had until now had no experience of women and their
ways.  Moreover, I would have cut off my right hand rather than have
said or done anything to offend one of the sex worthy the name of woman.
So, for the first time in my life, I was fairly nonplussed and unhappy;
knowing full well what I wanted, but not knowing what steps I ought to
take in order to insure to myself a fair chance of obtaining it.  Such a
state of mind, however, is not likely to be long tolerated by a sailor;
my good sense came to my aid, and whispered that if my love loved me, I
had only to give her the opportunity to say so, and all would be well.
So one night--how well I remember it! it was pitch-dark, and we were
just clear of the Straits of Sunda, rolling merrily along before a fresh
easterly breeze under every rag that we could pack upon the ship--I got
the dear girl to myself for a while upon the poop, and told her in
simple, sailorly language exactly what were my feelings and hopes.  We
were promenading the poop together, arm in arm, while I spoke, and she
heard me to the end without a word.  Then she stopped, and placing both
her hands in mine, said, with an unmistakable quiver of emotion in her
voice--

"Thank you, Jack, for the most priceless gift a man can offer a woman--
the gift of a loyal, loving heart.  I accept it gratefully, dear, and
will do my best to make you happy; for I believe I have loved you from
the very first, my darling."

THE END.





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to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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