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Title: With The Flag In The Channel - or, The Adventures of Captain Gustavus Conyngham
Author: Barnes, James
Language: English
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WITH THE FLAG IN THE CHANNEL

[Illustration: He was past the sentry now.

            (See page 141.)
]



  WITH THE FLAG IN THE CHANNEL

  OR, THE ADVENTURES OF
  CAPTAIN GUSTAVUS CONYNGHAM

  BY
  JAMES BARNES

  AUTHOR OF MIDSHIPMAN FARRAGUT, THE HERO OF THE ERIE,
  COMMODORE BAINBRIDGE, ETC.

  _ILLUSTRATED BY CARLTON T. CHAPMAN_


  [Illustration]


  NEW YORK
  D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
  1902



  COPYRIGHT, 1902
  BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY


  _Published September, 1902_



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

      I.--THE PROJECT                                                  1

     II.--THE VOYAGE OF THE CHARMING PEGGY                            10

    III.--BOARDED                                                     20

     IV.--IN HOLLAND AND FRANCE                                       29

      V.--COMMISSIONED                                                41

     VI.--THE SURPRISE                                                47

    VII.--THE CHANNEL CRUISE                                          55

   VIII.--THE HARWICH PACKET                                          62

     IX.--THE ARREST                                                  70

      X.--IN PARIS AGAIN                                              81

     XI.--THE REVENGE                                                 87

    XII.--SAILING ORDERS                                              94

   XIII.--IN THE CHANNEL                                             108

    XIV.--ON THE IRISH COAST                                         116

     XV.--THE CAPTURE                                                125

    XVI.--IMPRISONMENT                                               133

   XVII.--FREEDOM                                                    144

  XVIII.--CONCLUSION                                                 154



LIST OF FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                  FACING
                                                                    PAGE

  He was past the Sentry now                        _Frontispiece_

  The yawl was in the midst of the smother                            51

  A score of men poured over the bows                                 64

  At the end of the wharf was a rakish-looking vessel                 94

  The dreaded Revenge was lying in the harbor                        121

  One after another the men were pulled forth                        151

  Facsimile of Conyngham’s petition to Congress, December 26, 1797   154

  The “lost commission”                                              157



WITH THE FLAG IN THE CHANNEL



CHAPTER I

THE PROJECT


Mr. James Nesbit, merchant of Philadelphia, stood leaning against
the long, polished desk at the farther end of which two clerks were
hard at work copying entries into a ponderous ledger. On Mr. Nesbit’s
face there was a look of preoccupation. He drew a deep breath,
rapped nervously with his finger on the desk, and, reaching behind
his ear, under the folds of his heavy white wig, threw down a large
quill pen. Then, taking a big silver snuff-box out of his pocket,
he helped himself neatly to a pinch of snuff. Having done this he
waited anxiously, as if the expected sneeze might jar his mind into
better working order. It seemed to answer, for, after a preliminary
rumbling gasp and an explosion, he blew his nose violently, and turning
addressed one of the clerks.

“If Mr. Conyngham comes during the next few minutes, tell him I shall
be at ‘The Old Clock’ coffee-house”, he said.

With that he took down a great cloak from one of the wooden pegs that
lined the wall and stepped to the door. It was raining torrents, and
the gutters were running full. With an agility that was surprising in
so heavy a man and one of his years, he gathered the cloak about him,
and picking up his heels ran swiftly around the corner. Just as he
turned he collided with another man much younger and slightly smaller,
who was hurrying in the opposite direction. They grasped each other in
order to keep their feet, and at once burst into laughter.

“Well met, indeed, David!” cried Mr. Nesbit, even before he had uttered
a word of apology, “but you’ve well-nigh knocked the breath out of me.”

“And me also,” responded the smaller man. “You charged around the
corner like a squadron of horse. Why such a hurry, sir?”

“A short explanation,” was the answer, “’tis past my meal hour, and
I had waited for you till I could stand it no longer. Years ago,
methinks, I must have swallowed a wolf, and at feeding hours he’s wont
to grow rapacious and must be satisfied. Come, here we are at ‘The Old
Clock.’ In with us out of the rain and we’ll satisfy the ravenous one.”

As he was speaking Mr. Nesbit almost pushed his friend ahead of him
through a doorway and entered the grill-room of the tavern. A mingled
odor of roast beef, ale, and tobacco smoke saluted their nostrils, and
the proprietor, his wide waistcoat covered by a gleaming new apron,
greeted them cheerfully.

“A wet day, gentlemen,” he observed, “but good weather for the farmers.”

“And for ducks and geese and all such,” interjected Mr. Nesbit, “but I
would have you observe, Mr. Turner, that I am a dry-goods merchant and
wish the bad weather would confine itself to the country.”

As he spoke he took off his heavy cloak with one hand, and relieved
his friend of one almost as large, from which the water was dripping
on to the sanded floor. Giving instructions to the landlord that they
should both be hung by the fire where they might dry, he turned and
glanced about the room, nodding to two or three men who sat at a table
in the corner.

“No one but our friends here to-day,” he remarked; “we won’t join them,
however. Let us sit apart, for there is much I would discuss with thee.”

“And there is much I have to say also,” returned the other, “that is
not for the general ear. Is the post in?”

“Late on account of the roads, I take it,” was the response, “but there
will be important news from Boston and New York, I warrant you. But now
to feed the wolf! A most inconvenient beast at times, but most easily
placated. Ah! there’s a cut of beef for you, and now some of your best
mulled ale, Mr. Turner, and thanks to you.”

As if he saw that it was useless to begin any conversation until Mr.
Nesbit’s personal menagerie was quieted, the smaller man said nothing,
and for some minutes the two ate in silence. At last, with a sigh of
pleasurable relief, James Nesbit pushed himself back from the table and
set down the empty tankard with a bang.

“Your news first,” he said. “What is it, Friend Conyngham?”

“I have been successful,” was the rejoinder. “She’s not very large, but
is prepossessing to look at, and they say a good one in smooth water.
Tho’ only a coaster brig we think she’ll serve our purpose, and as no
time was to be lost I have concluded the bargain. She is ours in joint
ownership.”

“You have been deft, David,” said Mr. Nesbit, “but there is a matter
of more importance, in view of the shortness of the time. Have you
found the man?”

“The very one; at least believe me that I am influenced but by my best
judgment. You’ve heard me speak of him often. My kinsman, Gustavus. He
is just in yesterday from a voyage to the West Indies, with a load of
fruit, rum, and molasses.”

“The same young seaman who married Mistress Anne Hockley some time ago?”

“The same. The captain of the Molly.”

“I would he had brought in a cargo of powder and cannon-balls. Aye,
or saltpeter and cloth and medicines. We’ll need them, for mark my
words----”

“Hush,” interposed Mr. Conyngham suddenly. “Your old enemy, that tory,
Lester, and Flackman the lawyer, have just entered. They are a-prowl
for news, I take it.”

Mr. Nesbit lowered his voice.

“The time will come when we can talk loudly anywhere,” he said. “You
may call me a ‘hothead,’ but after what has been happening up Boston
way there is no drawing back. When shall we see Captain Conyngham?” he
asked, “for the longer we put the matter off the greater the risk will
be.”

“This very afternoon. He informed me there were some pressing matters
to be attended to, and that he would repair to your office. I have
given him but few particulars, but he is eager for the undertaking. He
knows of the vessel, too, and pronounces her fit for it.”

As he spoke the younger man turned and looked out of the window,
against which the wind was driving the large drops of rain.

“Egad, sir!” he exclaimed. “As I am living, who comes around the corner
but the very man himself! I will stop him at the door and fetch him in.”

As he spoke Mr. Conyngham hurriedly rose and, opening the door, gave a
seaman’s hail, followed by a wave of the hand.

The inrush of fresh air caused all the men seated about the room to
turn suddenly, and they were just in time to see the entrance of a
short but well-knit figure dressed in a sailor’s greatcoat, from under
which appeared a pair of heavy sea boots. He threw a shower of water
from his sleeves and his hat as he grasped his cousin’s hand.

“Homeward bound!” he cried. “But any port out of the storm.”

“Well, then, come in and cast anchor beside the table here. Off with
your wet things and be comfortable. You know our friend, Mr. Nesbit.”

“I knew your father and all your family,” spoke the elder man who had
been addressed, rather ponderously.

“By the powers, you know half the County of Donegal, then, and more
than I do,” laughed the sailor, with a touch of a rich rolling brogue.
“But years ago,” he added, “I met you, sir, when I was with Captain
Henderson, who was in the Antigua trade. I was but a slip of a lad
then, and no doubt you have forgotten me.”

“No,” responded Mr. Nesbit, “I have a good memory, and, what is more to
the point, I remember what Captain Henderson said of you.”

“It was his only fault,” returned the sailor, shaking his head, “the
loose tongue he had! But perhaps he spoke in the heat of anger, and
might think better of it.”

“Oh, it was nothing to be ashamed of,” replied Mr. Nesbit, laughing in
his turn.

“Oh, an amiable enough man at times; perhaps I wronged him then. He was
always a great palaverer.”

The young captain had seated himself by this time, and after the last
speech he turned and looked about the room. His glance fell for a
moment upon the two men, Lester and Flackman, who had been referred to
by Mr. Nesbit in his conversation a few minutes previously. He half
nodded toward them, and the action called his cousin’s attention.

“So, Captain Gustavus, you know our friend Lester,” said David quickly.

“Just well enough to keep an eye on him,” was the rejoinder. “I saw him
talking with the mate of that old Dutch Indiaman that lies astern of
the Charming Peggy. I judged from the way he was talking that she was
the subject of conversation, so I hove to and asked them a few silent
questions.”

“What did you do that for?” asked David Conyngham. “Silent questions!”

“Sure, to find out how little they know,” answered the captain
roguishly. “It is as good to know how little a man knows as how much,
sometimes.”

“And what was that little?” asked Mr. Nesbit.

“That he knows who bought her in Baltimore,” was the reply.

“Did he say so?”

“Not in words spoken to me. For he would have denied that he had any
interest in the matter. But by means of a little trick that I learned
when a schoolboy, and that I have cultivated since for my amusement.
It served me a good turn more than once. I got it from an Irish
schoolmaster in Letterkenny. It was the one thing he taught me without
knowing how he did it. Whisht,” went on the captain, “listen, and I’ll
prove it to ye. There’s a man sitting with his back to you, but facing
me. Can you hear what he says?”

“He’s at the other end of the room,” responded Mr. Nesbit. “No man
could hear what he says at that distance.”

“But I can _see_ what he says,” answered Conyngham, “and he has just
uttered a speech that would make King George shudder. Being a believer
in soft language I will not repeat it. It’s all in watching a man’s
lips. Sure this old schoolmaster was deaf as a post, but he could
hear what you were thinking of if you only whispered it. Many a good
lickin’ I got before I was sure of it. But now to business,” he added,
“if you’re going to talk of it this day. For I must confess to you,
gentlemen, that I have a wife waiting for me, and while it’s pleasant
here, I’d like to get under way for home.”

“Well, Mr. Conyngham,” returned Mr. Nesbit, who was a trifle upset by
the young officer’s loquaciousness and yet his directness, “we want
you to take command of the Charming Peggy. That much your cousin has
informed you. You are to pick a crew as quick as possible and to sail
for Holland.”

“With what cargo?” asked the captain.

“In ballast,” was the reply. “It’s of no importance what you bring
over; it’s what you shall bring back.”

“And that would be easy guessing, sir. I could write it out
blindfolded.”

“Perhaps so; but of that more to-morrow, when we will meet in my
counting-house. We won’t detain you longer.”

As Captain Conyngham was slipping on his still wet greatcoat, he
leaned forward and spoke softly to the others, who had risen, but were
standing by their chairs:

“Our fine gentlemen yonder have put two and two together,” he said,
“as why shouldn’t they? And the man with the fat jowls, whom you call
‘Lester,’ has just made a remark that it is a good thing to remember,
for he has just said that he would keep an eye on the Charming Peggy,
and mark the time of her sailing. By the same token there are two
English men-o’-war just off the capes of the Delaware. I sailed by them
in the fog.”

“Forewarned is forearmed, Captain Conyngham,” returned Mr. Nesbit, “and
we’ll keep an eye on Mr. Lester.”

“If he comes down by my ship let’s pray he’s a good swimmer,” responded
the captain, jamming his heavy hat down over his black hair and drawing
his queue from under his coat collar. With that he pulled his sea boots
well up his legs and went out into the storm.

For a minute Mr. David Conyngham and the senior partner remained
silent, and then the latter spoke.

“An odd character,” he said suggestively, “this kinsman of yours. Might
I say without any offense, that he has a certain amount of assurance.”

“Call it self-reliance better,” responded David, “it was always so with
him as a boy. But mark you this, sir, behind it all he has the courage
that is daunted at nothing, and ask any seaman with whom he has sailed
if he knows of a better or more resourceful man in emergencies.”

“He comes of good stock,” rejoined Mr. Nesbit, “eh, David?”

The younger man caught the elder’s twinkling eye and bowed.

“We’ve all been kings in Ireland,” he returned, “and to quote Gustavus,
‘surely one king is as good as another.’ But the news that you had for
me has not been told. What is it?”

“A secret of state, my friend, and one that must be kept as quiet as
the grave.” He leaned toward Conyngham as he spoke. “Our good Dr.
Franklin is going to France to represent the cause of the colonies at
the court of the French king, and by the time he does so,” he added,
“we shall no longer be in the category of ‘rebels,’ for there are great
doings afoot.”

“I know, I understand,” answered the younger man, his face lighting.
“God prosper the new nation!”

“God prosper the new nation,” repeated Mr. Nesbit, “and confusion to
the enemies of liberty!”

The storm had abated suddenly, and in a few minutes a ray of warm
spring sunlight pierced the cloud. Mr. Nesbit and the junior partner
rose, and arm in arm went out into the street.

The glances of the tory and Flackman the lawyer followed their exit,
and as they disappeared the two men fell to whispering earnestly.



CHAPTER II

THE VOYAGE OF THE CHARMING PEGGY


It was lucky that the water was smooth and that the Charming Peggy
was on her best tack, otherwise the frigate that was now dropping
fast astern would have overhauled her ere she had been well clear of
the capes. The gun that the Englishman had fired had had a ring of
disappointment in it, an admonition more of warning than of threat.
Captain Conyngham, looking back over the low taffrail, waved his hand
as he saw her haul her wind.

“Good-by to you, my petty tyrant,” he cried half aloud. “I hope I’ve
seen the last of the likes of you.”

The crew, whose expressions had changed during the short chase from
anxiety to hope, and from hope to satisfaction, looked up at the
little quarter-deck where the captain was pacing to and fro with firm,
springing steps. They were a motley lot, this crew, mostly American
sailormen from Baltimore, a half-Spaniard from the West Indies, and
two strong fellows who had about them the unmistakable marks of
man-of-war’s-men. In all there were but fifteen, including the cook,
a big, curly-haired Virginia negro with a rolling eye and a soft,
high-pitched voice.

The young captain had been more than satisfied with the way they had
jumped at his orders during the few exciting moments when it was a
moot question whether he would be able to cross the frigate’s bows at
a range beyond gunshot. He had just managed to do it and no more, but
it had proved to his satisfaction that, given a smooth sea and a light
wind, the Charming Peggy could outfoot any of her ponderous pursuers.
He well knew that the dangerous time would soon come when in English
home waters, and that there stratagem, as well as speed, would have to
be resorted to if occasion demanded. He could scarcely hope to reach a
Dutch or French port without some further adventure, and to tell the
truth he was in a measure prepared for a certain form of it. On the
forecastle rail were mounted two swivel guns, and amidships a short
six-pounder. Not a formidable armament, to be sure, but sufficient, if
at close range, with the element of surprise added, to account for any
small merchant vessel that the Peggy might fall in with.

Still, in his sailing orders, nothing had been said about the taking
of prizes. He had merely been ordered to get safely in to some Dutch
port and bring out as soon as possible a miscellaneous cargo of such
materials and supplies as merchants could dispose of most readily to
the fighting branch of the revolted colonies.

All was plain sailing, with pleasant breezes, until at the end of
the twenty-third day after leaving the capes. Then a storm sprang up
with high winds, and the tumbling, rolling seas that mark the edge
of the Bay of Biscay, and there the Charming Peggy proved to be a
disappointment. Safe enough she was, but she butted and jumped and
turned like a tub in a mill-race. She acted like a bewitched and
bewildered creature, and in order to prevent having to run for it,
Captain Conyngham had recourse to an expedient often used in vessels
of light tonnage. He rigged out a sea-anchor, and for three days the
observations showed that the Peggy’s position was about stationary.
On the fourth day the weather cleared a bit, the wind shifted, and
twenty-four hours’ good sailing to the northward brought her in sight
of the English coast. The wind holding fair, she entered King George’s
private channel with all light canvas flying, and everything seeming to
promise well for the future. Numerous sail had been sighted on either
hand, but Captain Conyngham kept well to the eastward, close in to the
low-lying French coast. Clumsy fishing craft and trading vessels had
been passed near at hand, but not a sign of a man-of-war, or anything
to give the slightest concern as to the safety of the Charming Peggy.
But late in the afternoon of the second day, after the clearing away of
the storm, there appeared, bowling along, and holding such a course as
would bring her soon within hailing distance, a jaunty single-masted
vessel that needed no second glance to determine her class and quality.

Captain Conyngham knew her to be one of the fast king’s cutters long
before he had looked at her through the glass, but he held his own
course as if unconcerned, and now the expected resort to strategy
was necessary. At his orders the Dutch flag had been shown, and the
cutter, although coming nearer and nearer, showed apparently no signs
of suspicion. The watch on deck lolled over the rail, glancing from
the approaching vessel to their young skipper, who like themselves was
leaning over the side puffing a cloud of smoke from a long clay pipe.
Occasionally, however, he would give an order to the helmsman that was
obeyed, and it was seen that almost imperceptibly the brig was edging
up nearer the wind, and that the approaching cutter, that was sailing
close hauled also, would pass astern of her.

The captain turned for an instant, from measuring the lessening
distance between the two vessels, to see how the crew were taking
it, for any untoward action now might attract the other’s attention.
Captain Conyngham could not make up his mind at first as to whether she
intended hailing him or not, and still in doubt, he spoke to the first
mate, a lean New Englander, who sat on the edge of the cabin transom,
smilingly addressing him.

“Mr. Jarvis, I wonder which of us speaks the best Dutch?” he half
queried. “If that fellow yonder intends to hail us, we’ve got to get an
answer ready. I’m pretty good on Spanish, and I can ‘parlez-vous’ after
a fashion, but Dutch has been Dutch to me. We should have flown the
Spanish flag, but it’s too late now, bad luck to it.”

“Wa-al,” the Yankee answered, “I’m thinkin’ if we just squeeze her the
least bit more she’ll be at jus’ such a distance that y’u couldn’t make
nothin’ out through a speakin’-trumpet, and Dutch is Dutch to most
Englishmen anyhow.”

By this time the figures on board the approaching cutter could be
plainly seen. On the quarter-deck there were two officers standing
together, while forward the crew lay bunched together, sheltering,
behind the low bulwarks, from the spray that dashed over her bows.
Again Captain Conyngham looked at his own crew standing in the waist.
Talking together were the two sailormen who had had the mark upon them
of the royal service. One, Captain Conyngham had suspected from the
very first of being a deserter from one of the English ships that had
touched at an American port. His name--Higgins--also might have gone
to strengthen his suspicion, and he had a little Devonshire twist in
his speech. The other, a shorter man, with light blue eyes, was a
compatriot of the young captain; he had a broad stretch of upper lip,
and the strong brogue of the west coast.

Conyngham’s eye fell upon these two as they stood there and suddenly he
started. They were whispering almost beneath their breath. Strange to
say the supposed deserter showed no signs of the fear that the occasion
might have demanded; yet he was a trifle nervous, for his fingers
hitched at the lanyard of his clasp-knife.

“Higgins,” cried Captain Conyngham suddenly, “below with you and fetch
me one of the broadaxes from the carpenter’s chest. And stay,” he said;
“bring me up a dozen nails, two of each kind. Sort them out carefully
and make no mistake about it.”

The man hesitated.

“Below with you there,” the captain repeated, half fiercely, “and no
questions.”

Reluctantly the tall sailor went down the forward hatchway.

“McCarthy,” called Captain Conyngham again, “go to my cabin and tell
the boy to send me up my trumpet, and stay below until I send for you.”

The other men had listened to these orders in some astonishment. Even
the first mate had cast an inquiring glance at the captain, but had
said nothing.

In a few minutes the boy appeared with the speaking-trumpet. Captain
Conyngham took it and held it out of sight beneath his coat.

The position of the English cutter was now a little abaft the beam of
the Charming Peggy, but she was dropping farther and farther astern
with every foot of sailing.

Suddenly across the water there was a hail. “Heave to, I want to speak
to you,” came plainly and distinctly.

The captain, after his sudden orders to the sailors, had resumed
smoking. Now he took the long pipe from his mouth and leaning forward
placed his hand behind his ear as if he had not understood.

Again the hail was repeated. This time the captain waved his hand
denoting complete understanding. Then he turned as if he was giving
some orders aloud to the crew, but instead he told the steersman to
luff a little, and spoke quietly to the first mate:

“Two minutes more and we’ll be out of it, Mr. Jarvis,” he said; “she
will never fire at us.”

The cutter still held on, and was by this time well astern. The officer
who had hailed was standing with his companion expectantly leaning
against the shrouds.

Conyngham whipped the trumpet from under his coat, as if it had just
been handed him, and bellowed something back over the taffrail. Then he
waved his hand cheerfully and went on smoking his pipe.

The two men on the English vessel were evidently perplexed. But the
Charming Peggy, now having gone back to her course again, and having
the weather-gage, was rapidly leaving. At last, as if her suspicion had
been satisfied, the cutter wore, let go her sheets, and went off free
to the southeast.

The men on the Charming Peggy were all in a broad grin, and Mr. Jarvis
was almost hugging himself in sheer delight and relief.

“I thought you spoke no Dutch, sir,” he said, laughing. “What was it
you said to him?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” was Conyngham’s rejoinder, “but I think
it had some Irish in it.”

He did not appear amused, however, and a moment or two later he stopped
suddenly in the pacing that he had taken up again. With a stern look on
his face he ordered that the two men he had told to go below should be
sent up to him at once.

If the crew had been surprised at what they had just witnessed, they
were soon to be more so. The two men appeared and, hat in hand, stood
at the mast. Higgins carried in one hand a bundle of iron nails and in
the other the ax, one side of which was flat like a hammer.

Captain Conyngham ordered him to step forward, and he handed the nails
and ax to Mr. Jarvis, who stood wonderingly by his side.

“Higgins,” asked Captain Conyngham sternly, “do you know what I want
these for?”

“No, sir.”

The man was pale, but over his face there flickered a smile of affected
amusement or bravado.

“I’ll show you.--McCarthy, step up here.”

The two men stood before him.

“Now, Higgins,” said Conyngham sternly, “I’ll tell you what I wanted
the nails and ax for. I wanted to nail the lies that you are going to
tell me.”

The man began to protest feebly, and the captain stopped him.

“What were you saying just as that cutter came within hailing distance?”

“I was saying nothing, sir.”

“Lie number one; you were.”

The captain changed one of the nails from one hand into the other.

“You, McCarthy, what did you say to Higgins?”

“I said nothing, sir.”

“Lie number two.”

The captain looked from one to the other with his piercing eyes, and
then, almost without a movement of preparation, his bare fists shot out
to left and right, and the men dropped where they stood like knackered
beeves.

It had all come so suddenly that the crew, at least those who had been
watching, were held spellbound in astonishment. Even Mr. Jarvis looked
frightened, and gazed at his superior officer, wondering if he had lost
his senses.

“Here, pick these men up, some of you, and put them on their feet,”
ordered Conyngham sternly.

Half dazed, the two men were propped against the railing.

“What are you doing aboard this vessel?”

“Sailing as honest seamen,” responded the Englishman, who had recovered
his equilibrium in a measure, and in whose eyes glared a fierce light
of mad hatred, as he returned Conyngham’s steadfast look.

“Lie number three. But we won’t go on. I’ll tell you what you said.
When you saw that we were outpointing that cutter, you said that when
she was near enough to hail, you would take your knife and cut away the
sheets, and that McCarthy here would let go the jib-halyards, and that
you would then----” he paused suddenly. “Open your shirt,” he ordered.

The men’s faces were white and terrified. Higgins fumbled weakly at
his breast and then, all at once, collapsed forward on the deck. He had
fainted dead away.

Acting on Conyngham’s orders, Mr. Jarvis bent over the prostrate man
and drew forth and displayed, to the astonished eyes of all, a small
British Union Jack.

The crew fell to murmuring. Captain Conyngham was all smiles again. He
waited until Higgins had been revived by a dash of cold water. Then he
spoke to the two frightened and now trembling men.

“Your conduct shall be reported,” he said, “to Messrs. Lester and
Flackman, secret agents of the British Crown. They should not employ
such joltheads. Now below with these rascals. Put them in irons, Mr.
Jarvis.”

In charge of the first mate and the boatswain, the two prisoners
were marched below. The captain resumed his hurried pacing of the
quarter-deck, and the crew suddenly jumped at his order to shorten
sail, for the wind had increased and was blowing in unsteady puffs.

During the early hours of the night it blew half a gale, but died away
in the early morning hours, and at daybreak the Peggy found herself
jumping uneasily in the rough water with her sails flapping idly
against the masts. All about her was a thick opaque white haze. One of
the Channel mists had suddenly swept down from the north. It was almost
impossible to see even the length of the deck.

The lookout forward, who had been peering over the bows, came stumbling
aft to where the first mate, whose watch it was, stood by the wheel.

“There’s a vessel close off our bow, sir; listen, and you can hear her!
She can’t be more than a pistol-shot away.”

In the stillness there could be heard the slow squeaking and creaking
of blocks and yards, and even the faint tapping of the reef-points
against the sails, as she rose and fell to the seas. Clearer and
clearer it sounded every minute.

Slowly but surely the two ships were drifting together.

“Jump below and call the captain to the deck,” ordered Mr. Jarvis
quietly.

It was evident the Charming Peggy was in for further adventures.



CHAPTER III

BOARDED


By the time that Captain Conyngham reached the deck the outlines of the
stranger could be seen. She towered huge and indistinct in the white
gloom high above the little Peggy, almost threatening to roll her down
as she swept broadside on.

“A frigate!” muttered Conyngham below his breath to Mr. Jarvis, as
he noticed the double line of ports out of which the black muzzles
of the guns stretched menacingly. Just as he spoke the Charming
Peggy’s bowsprit struck gently in the foreshrouds of the big one, and
with hardly a jar they came together. Strange to say there had been
no warning shout from either side. But that the larger vessel had
perceived the Peggy first was evident, for instantly half a score of
men, a few armed with cutlasses, swarmed down the frigate’s side and
jumped on deck. They were headed by a young officer, who walked quickly
aft.

“What vessel is this?” he asked.

There was no use in dissembling then. Plainly the jig was up with a
vengeance.

Quietly, with his arms folded, Captain Conyngham gave the name of the
Charming Peggy, but added that she was merely a merchant vessel from
Philadelphia in ballast proceeding to Holland to be sold.

At this moment a voice from the frigate hailed the deck, and, calling
the young officer by name, asked him the name of the clumsy craft that
had dared to run afoul so deliberately of one of his Majesty’s ships of
war.

“A Yankee rebel brig,” returned the young officer. “I think we’ve made
a prize, sir; and she’s armed, too,” he added, noticing for the first
time the six-pounder amidships.

The unseen owner of the voice from the frigate’s quarter-deck replied
again.

“Examine into her papers and if she’s all right let her proceed. If
not, we’ll put a prize crew on her and send her into Portsmouth.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” was the lieutenant’s answer, and then he turned and
requested that Captain Conyngham would produce his papers and muster
his crew in the waist.

Conyngham politely asked the young officer to follow him down to the
cabin. As he opened the chest that contained the charts and papers
his mind was working quickly. He knew that it might be easy to claim
that the Charming Peggy was the property of loyal British subjects,
for there was nothing to prove otherwise. No one but himself and Mr.
Jarvis knew what her mission was, and he did not doubt that he could
pull the wool over the young officer’s eyes, if it were not for the
presence of the two plotters now confined in the forward hold. If their
presence should be discovered and their story listened to, he doubted
if anything he might say could save him from being taken into a British
port; and the prospect before him was exceedingly unpleasant, in view
of the fact that in his mind a long war was about to begin. Still, he
hoped that the officer’s search would not prove a diligent one, and
that the presence of Higgins and McCarthy would not be discovered. The
officer looked at the papers carefully, and his words after glancing at
them cast a gloom upon Captain Conyngham’s hopes.

“I shall have to take a look into your hold,” he said peremptorily,
“and ask a few questions of the crew.”

Conyngham smiled.

“You will find something there in the hold about which I intend to tell
you,” he said, “and we can both be gainers, I am sure, by the fact. I
have with me two troublesome rapscallions, who, I think, owe a term of
service to his Majesty. Two deserters, I am sure, that I shall be glad
to turn over to you, and I can say good riddance to them with pleasure.”

It was a bold step he was taking and he knew it, but it was the only
way he could forestall any story that the plotters might tell, and
there was the one hope that, being acknowledged deserters, the men
might be hastened on board the frigate and their yarn disbelieved. He
called up through the transom over his head to Mr. Jarvis, and the
latter answered him at once.

“Bring the prisoners out of the hold,” he said, “and get their
belongings together to hand them over,” he ordered.

“Aye, aye, sir,” replied Mr. Jarvis, catching the drift of the
captain’s orders. “We’ll be glad to get them out of the ship, sir.”

Just then the Charming Peggy gave a slight lurch and heeled over to
port. The lieutenant started as if to make for the companion-ladder.
Conyngham’s heart gave a bound. He knew at once what it meant; that a
breeze had sprung up and that the two vessels had broken apart. He
could hear the tramping of feet on the deck above, and then a sudden
crash.

Looking out of the little cabin windows he just caught a glimpse of the
bow of the frigate shooting astern, for having the larger spread of
canvas set, she had first caught the pressure of the wind. Her large
jib-boom coming in contact with the Peggy’s mizzenmast had been carried
away, and there was a great row and cursing going on in her forecastle.

At this moment Captain Conyngham wished he had said nothing of the
prisoners, but it was too late. Both he and the English lieutenant
hastened on deck.

Although the wind was blowing very fresh the fog and mist were as thick
as ever, and the frigate had disappeared. But from astern a voice
shouted through a trumpet:

“Aboard the brig. Mr. Holden there!”

The young officer replied to the hail and the voice went on. “You will
stand by, and if necessary we’ll send a boat on board of you.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” answered the lieutenant.

Then he turned and looked at the crew, who were standing together in
the port gangway.

Captain Conyngham was about to speak to him when a man stepped forward.
He wore irons on his wrists, and yet attempted to make an awkward
salute.

“A word, sir,” he said. “This is a Yankee privateersman, belonging to
Yankee traitors and bound to Holland to carry back powder and supplies.
Me and me mate here were put on board of her with orders to inform on
her to the first British officer who should come on board of us.”

The young lieutenant looked perplexed. Captain Conyngham still smiled.

“A good yarn, Higgins. Sure, you’ve got the imagination of a
ballad-monger, but it won’t do, my lad. There’s a good rope’s-end and
worse perhaps waiting for you and your mate, and you may make the best
of it.”

The English lieutenant, still mystified, looked from the seaman to the
captain, and just then McCarthy, who was manacled also, stepped out.

“It’s the truth, sir, you’ve been told,” he said. “I come from the
Leonidas. Captain Chisholm put twenty of us ashore in New York under
orders to work our way into American vessels. He has the list, sir. We
were to get forty pounds apiece, and our discharges.”

“By the powers, that story will stand proving, my lad,” rejoined
Captain Conyngham quietly. “And now, Mr. Holden--if I understand that
to be your name, sir,” he added politely--“we’ll start for Portsmouth.
The course should be, unless I miss my reckoning, south by west half
west.”

Before the still mystified lieutenant could say a word, Conyngham began
to give hurried orders, and the crew of Americans and Englishmen jumped
to obey them.

The two prisoners, protesting loudly and mocked at by their companions,
were again sent below, their irons still on their wrists.

Conyngham and the lieutenant stood side by side on the quarter-deck.
The Britisher was a very young man, and perhaps inexperienced. At
all events, he seemed uncertain now what course of action to take.
Conyngham’s next words, however, seemed to reassure him, for they
evidently spoke his wishes.

“We’ll run close to the frigate, Mr. Holden, and you can tell your
captain what you’ve done,” said Conyngham quietly. “I’ll be glad to
look into Portsmouth myself, for I have some friends there, and a cargo
of sand won’t spoil for a few days’ longer voyage.”

In a few minutes the fog-blurred form of the frigate could be made
out now on the port hand. She was hove to, her foresail rippling and
fluttering in the freshening breeze, her mainsail against the mast, and
her crew standing by the tacks and sheets.

“Pray the Lord that the fog holds four hours longer,” muttered Captain
Conyngham to himself.

Mr. Holden hailed the frigate through the trumpet.

“On board the Minerva,” he shouted. “We’re going into Portsmouth, sir.”

“Very good,” was the reply, “wait there for us.”

“And now, Mr. Holden,” spoke Conyngham quietly, “will you take command
of the brig, or shall I continue?”

The lieutenant hesitated. Before he could answer Captain Conyngham
continued:

“It’s a straight run, sir, and with this wind she’d make it with her
helm lashed; and now if you’ll allow me, I should propose that we’d go
below and have some breakfast. There’s one thing this little craft can
boast, and that’s a famous Virginia cook. Mr. Jarvis,” he added, “see
that the men are fed and send Socrates to me in a few minutes. You’ll
hold the same course, sir, until we return on deck.”

The mate saluted, and Captain Conyngham and his guest went down to the
cabin.

Five minutes later the negro cook knocked at the cabin door and was
bidden to enter. There at the table sat Captain Conyngham, and in the
big chair beside him sat the lieutenant.

The negro’s eyes opened in astonishment, for the Englishman was tied
fast to the seat, and a gag made of the captain’s handkerchief was
strapped across his mouth!

Captain Conyngham was breathing as if from some hard exertion. The
lieutenant’s face and eyes were suffused with angry red.

“Now, Socrates,” said Conyngham slowly, “you will cook us the very best
breakfast that you can, and serve it here in the cabin in half an hour.
But, in the meantime, take a message to Mr. Jarvis on deck, and hand
him this quietly. There are ten Britishers with us and we still number
thirteen. Tell the boatswain, without any one seeing you, what you have
seen here in the cabin. Attract no suspicion, and try whether you can
live up to your name. Now go forward quietly.”

He handed a pistol to the negro, who slipped it under his apron and
went up on deck.

The English sailors did not seem to be in the least suspicious, and the
Americans fell in readily with the apparent position of affairs. But as
one after another was called to the galley on some pretext, they soon
were cognizant of the captain’s plot.

The English sailors had discarded their cutlasses, and were grouped
with the others about the mess-kits that had been brought up on deck,
when suddenly the captain appeared alone from the cabin. Mr. Jarvis
joined him, and both stepped quickly forward toward the forecastle.
The men, seeing the two officers approach, arose to their feet. The
English sailors glanced suspiciously about them, and a glance was
enough to convince them that they were trapped. At the elbow of each
man stood one of their whilom hosts. A few of the Americans were
armed with pistols, and the negro cook with a big carving-knife stood
over the pile of cutlasses that they had left on the deck by the main
fife-rail.

“Now, men,” said Conyngham quietly, “we want no cutting, slashing, or
shooting, and you’re our prisoners. But don’t be afraid,” he added,
as he saw a look of fear come into the Englishmen’s eyes. “We are no
pirates. You’ll get to Portsmouth all right, where you can join your
ship. You’ll have a good joke to tell them of the Yankee-Irish trick
that was played on you. Take the prisoners below, Mr. Corkin,” he
continued, addressing the boatswain. “Put them in the hold and mount a
guard over them.--And now, Socrates,” he added, turning to the grinning
cook, “we’ll have our breakfast in the cabin.”

The English lieutenant, released from his bonds, sat at first in sulky
silence and would not even touch a bit of the savory rasher that
Socrates placed before him. When he went on deck later at Captain
Conyngham’s invitation he looked off to the eastward. The Minerva,
almost hull down, was holding a course toward the French coast. At the
masthead of the Charming Peggy fluttered the English flag, and in the
distance to the westward, plain above the horizon, rose the English
shores.

“We’ll go in a little closer, Mr. Holden,” said Captain Conyngham, “and
then we’ll part company, sir.”

He turned to the first mate.

“Mr. Jarvis,” he went on, “prepare to lower the cutter; put in a
breaker of water, two bags of biscuit, and a bottle of port.”

After half an hour’s more sailing the brig was hove to and the crew,
with Higgins and McCarthy now freed from their irons, pushed out from
the brig’s side. In the stern sheets sat the lieutenant disconsolately.

He turned to watch the brig as she came about and headed off shore. At
that moment down came the English flag and the Spanish took its place.
And it was just at this minute that Captain Conyngham, looking aloft,
spoke to his first mate.

“We’ll have a flag of our own soon,” he said, “and avast with this
masquerading, say I.”

The crew, as if they had heard his words, suddenly burst into a
spontaneous cheer. Their voices, carried by the wind, reached the
Englishmen slowly pulling in for the distant headlands.



CHAPTER IV

IN HOLLAND AND FRANCE


For two months now Captain Conyngham and Jonathan Nesbit, a nephew
of Mr. James Nesbit, of Philadelphia, had been in Holland purchasing
supplies and outfitting the Peggy, after her safe arrival, for her
return voyage to America. They found, however, that the difficulties
were greater than they had imagined. Although the cargo had been placed
on board, at least the greater part of it, so closely were the Dutch
ports watched, and those of France also, that it was almost impossible
for any American vessel to set sail for home without word being sent
to the English cruisers hovering on the coast of the time for sailing,
and many prizes had they taken within a few miles of the harbor mouth.
The towns and seaports were full of spies. Both France and Holland
were then at peace with England, and English vessels were leaving and
entering almost every day, so the naval authorities were well informed
of doings elsewhere. Another difficulty also had presented itself in
that the stores which had been placed on board the Charming Peggy
were evidently munitions of war, and the Dutch Government had been
complained to by the English consul, and therefore the little brig was
under a strict surveillance. If she had been a faster sailer Captain
Conyngham would have taken advantage, on two or three occasions,
of the thick and stormy weather that had prevailed. Once he had
slipped his cable, but an English armed sloop near him had done the
same and had followed him almost to the open water, where, seeing it
was impossible to escape, Conyngham had turned and gone back to his
anchorage.

So strong now were the remonstrances of the English representative,
that the Dutch custom officials confiscated the Peggy, and she was
brought into court. To save themselves a total loss, her cargo was
resold at a great discount by Nesbit and Conyngham, and the Peggy
herself was disposed of to a Dutch shipping house.

And now Captain Conyngham found himself stranded, like many another
American shipmaster, on the shores of a foreign country. His active
spirit chafed at the enforced idleness, but week after week passed,
and he saw no chance of getting away. But great things had happened in
America since his departure, and great things were soon to happen in
Europe.

The Declaration of Independence had been signed and heralded to the
world. A small fleet had been organized, and it was rumored that
vessels of war were building in the home ports to go out and fight
the English on the high seas. Stronger and stronger grew the ambition
in Conyngham’s heart to get into active service. He grew almost
despondent, however, as the time dragged on.

It was difficult even to obtain news, and the uncertainty of what
was happening at home made his position more galling. At last one
day the information was brought by post from Paris to The Hague that
two American vessels of war--the Reprisal, commanded by a Captain
Wickes, and a smaller vessel, the Lexington--had arrived in France;
but, better news than all that, Dr. Benjamin Franklin had reached the
capital itself armed with credentials from the American Congress to act
as Minister Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary to the French court.

For a long time a plan had been in Captain Conyngham’s mind, the
feasibility of which, granting that certain obstacles were removed,
tempted him strongly. There were enough American sailormen, of good
fighting stock, hanging idly about French and Dutch ports of entry, to
man a small squadron. Why was it not possible to fit out one vessel at
least and sail into the highway of British commerce? The risk would
be great, the rewards would be tremendous, and the advantages to the
American cause, if the project was successful, past reckoning. All
it required was money and a starting place. It would be necessary,
no doubt, from the very first to arrange matters with the immediate
authorities in order to have them wink at the proceeding, and to do
this, back of the whole idea, there must lurk that important word,
authority.

Any ship’s captain who sailed on his own account and made prizes in
the English Channel, would get no mercy if he once fell into the hands
of the enemy. But even without the authority Captain Conyngham was
eager to take the risk, if a vessel could be procured and he could find
others to join him.

Shortly after the news reached him at The Hague of Franklin’s arrival,
he left Holland and sailed as passenger in a Dutch coaster to Dunkirk,
and there, the very night of his arrival, he met with a man who was to
have a great influence in his further doings.

Messrs. Hodge, Allan, and Ross were three Americans, part factors,
part merchants, who were in France at the time of the breaking out of
war between America and the mother country.

In the earlier months before the English had begun their very strict
watching of the foreign ports, they had managed to send out some small
and miscellaneous cargoes of supplies. Latterly, however, they had been
unsuccessful, but with the arrival of Franklin and the appointment as
commissioners of Mr. Arthur Lee and Mr. Silas Deane, the latter a New
England merchant well known to them, a better prospect seemed to dawn.

The Reprisal had brought in with her three English vessels, all
merchantmen, the first prizes to be brought into the ports of a foreign
country. The English ambassador, Lord Stormont, had raised a dreadful
row at the French court over this proceeding, and it was rumored that
the American vessels and their prizes would be forced to quit the
French harbors.

It was just at this time that Conyngham landed at Dunkirk, having come
down by sea from Holland in a Dutch packet. He had hardly set foot on
French shore when he met a Mr. Thomas Ross, whom he had known as a
supercargo on one of his earlier voyages into the Mediterranean. It was
years since they had seen one another, but Mr. Ross remembered him at
once.

“Well, indeed, Conyngham, this is a surprise!” he cried, shaking hands,
after the young captain had accosted him. “And what are you doing here?”

“Fretting my head off,” was the reply. “Sure, it is a piece of ill
fortune for a man like myself to be idle when there is so much that he
would like to do. But before we talk of our own private grievances or
affairs, tell me of the news. What has Dr. Franklin accomplished, and
what prospects are there that France will do anything for us?”

“We’re all in the fog, as you sailors would say,” returned Mr. Ross.
“But there are some prospects. The army at home has done as well as can
be expected, although the British have possession yet of many places,
including New York. But come,” he added, “you must join me to-night
at supper. We’re expecting our friend Hodge down from Paris, and my
brother and Mr. Allan. They can tell you much of importance. Mr. Hodge
was to see Dr. Franklin, and Mr. Deane was to speak for all of us.
There will be work here and plenty for good men, if I’m not out in my
reckoning. The French as a nation have no love for England, nor has
the king, if rumor speaks rightly, and a few big successes on our part
may sway the ministry into action, for mark me, my friend, the common
people are seldom wrong, and their voice is the heart-beat of the
nation.”

“By the Powers,” rejoined Conyngham, “but you talk like a book. Is it a
speech you have been preparing to convince the king?”

Ross laughed.

“I know of one king that was never convinced by speeches,” he returned,
“and that’s the one who sits there across the water.”

“Ah, there’s one thing that will convince him,” returned Conyngham
softly and dropping, as he often did, into the very richest of brogues.
“Whisht, my lad, and that’s cannon-balls and straight shooting.”

“You’re right, Friend Conyngham,” answered Ross. “But there is one
thing more that is necessary--supplies and ships--and a truth must be
acknowledged: Europe must recognize us as a nation. Three or four big
victories on our part would turn the scale. But more of this to-night
when we meet. You will find me at my lodgings, there in that little
gray house on the corner, the one with the sloping roof, at five
o’clock, and we will go to a little tavern that I know of that is kept
by a Frenchman we can trust. Don’t fail me.”

“I will be on hand,” returned Conyngham, and the two men parted.

At six o’clock that evening, in the little front room of the
Chanticlear Tavern, there were five men seated about the table. The
conversation, that had first been of home affairs and the discussion of
the latest news from the army--the battles of Trenton and Princeton and
Washington’s doings--soon turned to matters nearer at hand. Mr. Hodge,
a strong-featured, red-faced man of a traditional John Bull appearance,
sat between the two Ross brothers. After the waiter had left and they
were all alone he began to talk, and his audience resolved themselves
into the most eager listeners.

Conyngham had told his story of the capture of the prize crew, and
the recital had at once placed him as one who was worthy of every
confidence, and before whom everything could be said openly.

“You’d have laughed,” went on Mr. Hodge, continuing the story of his
trip to Paris, “to have heard the good doctor describe his arrival in
Paris. As yet he has not been received openly at court, but that will
all come in due time. Nevertheless, the number of fine names and titles
and high personages whom he has met would make quite a bill of lading.
You see Lord Stormont, the English ambassador, has his suspicions.
He would be a dolt if he hadn’t. And the Count de Vergennes, the
king’s Prime Minister, has his also, but the latter’s are the harder
to guess. I don’t exactly understand the Frenchman,” continued Mr.
Hodge. “He’s a bit too deep for me, and whether or not he is blowing
hot and cold to save time, or whether he is really anxious in the end
to be of service to us, is more than I can answer for. My own idea of
it is that he has but one idea in his head, and that is France, and
that he would see our country swamped and ruined if he could further
France’s interest in the slightest degree. He realizes, no doubt, that
in England’s troubles and difficulties lie France’s opportunities, and
that the more she is weakened and distressed, the easier it will be
for France when the war comes; for, mark my words, the temper of the
French people can not long be restrained, and sooner or later England
and this country will be at each other’s throats. But, nevertheless,
gentlemen, it is well worth our time to keep a wary eye on M. le Comte
de Vergennes, and mind his doings carefully. But I have digressed. I
was speaking of Franklin--he told me that Lord Stormont had objected to
his coming to Paris at all, and said that ‘if this arch-rebel reaches
the city I will away home with me, bag and baggage.’ ‘All right,’ says
de Vergennes, ‘anything to please your excellency! We will despatch
a messenger to stop him.’ And so a messenger was sent to meet the
diligence by which ‘Goodman Richard’ was coming into Paris, but the
messenger took the wrong road and never met the doctor, and the first
thing you know Lord Stormont hears that the ‘arch-traitor’ has arrived.
‘Heavens, mercy me!’ exclaims de Vergennes, when his lordship calls
upon him. ‘How could it have happened? I will speak strongly to this
fool of a messenger. I will admonish him.’ ‘But what are you going to
do about it?’ insists Lord Stormont. ‘What can we do?’ returns Monsieur
le Comte. ‘You can not expect us to be uncivil! Surely it is no one but
an old gentleman who flies kites and writes almanacs, and we Frenchmen
have a reputation for politeness to sustain. We can not ask him to
leave without ceremony. It is not our way.’ So there he is,” continued
Mr. Hodge, “hob-nobbing with lords and ladies and what not, and
thinking great things in that great head of his; making arrangements
with Beaumarchais, who is our friend with good interest now. Oh, such a
man!” Mr. Hodge interrupted his long speech by throwing back his head
and laughing heartily.

“Beaumarchais? Beaumarchais? I’ve heard the name,” interrupted
Conyngham. “But who is he?”

“The most interesting and fantastic of creatures,” replied Mr. Hodge.
“A man whose career sounds like the invention of the romancer. His real
name is Caron, and he is but the son of a watchmaker, whose timepieces
are celebrated. I believe that he himself was brought up to follow his
father’s trade, but playing the harp attracted him more than adjusting
springs and balance-wheels, and he became an instructor and harpist at
the court. Being a man of parts besides of harps, and a natural born
courtier, he soon made his way and became one of the petted favorites
despite his lowly birth. A consummate Jack of all trades. He is the
author of plays, two of which I have had the pleasure of seeing--‘The
Barber of Seville’ and ‘The Marriage of Figaro.’ The king and the queen
trust him implicitly, and he has the ear of most of the noblemen,
though some of them dislike him and fear his sharp wits.”

“I met him once,” interrupted Mr. Allan, “at Nantes--a quietly dressed,
smooth-spoken, business-like fellow.”

“Then you don’t know him at court,” laughed Mr. Hodge, “for there he is
an exquisite, and can flutter his laces and make his bow with the best
of them. He has a hundred sides, and can change color like a chameleon.”

“He is a good friend of America and a hater of England,” remarked
the elder Ross. “If he had his way, Lord Stormont would be packed
off to London, bag and baggage, and there would be no more of this
dissembling. He knows the temper of the people, and has his finger on
the national pulse.”

“I wish that he had his fingers in the national purse,” laughed his
brother, “for the good doctor is not overburdened with money.”

The entrance of the landlord here interrupted the conversation, but
as soon as he disappeared Mr. Hodge, who had been doing a great deal
of thinking, and had paid little attention to the steaming ragoût,
followed him to the door and closed it firmly. Then, coming back to the
table, he leaned over his chair and in a low but eager voice addressed
the company.

“We’re all Americans here,” he said, “and Captain Conyngham’s recital
of his own mission and adventures proves his discretion, and so,
gentlemen--a secret.” He paused and his eyes swept around the table.
“The money will be forthcoming, and if I make no mistake there will be
plenty of it.”

“Surely the Count de Vergennes, and Necker while he has charge of the
purse-strings, will disgorge little,” said Mr. Allan dubiously.

“The Prime Minister is a deep one,” replied Mr. Hodge. “It pays to keep
both eyes on him. He would use America as a cat’s-paw, I have no doubt;
but nevertheless he sees in the success of our cause the way to stab
England deeply. Beaumarchais, with the help of the rest, will prove a
match for him.”

“But you are digressing,” remarked the younger Ross, who had spoken
little up to this time. “How are we to get the arms and munitions?”

“We shall see,” answered Hodge, smiling wisely. “The French Government
doesn’t wish to commit itself at present, and as a nation will offer
us no direct or open aid, but there is nothing to prevent a private
company or corporation from advancing money on its own responsibility,
if it assumes the risk, and there lies the secret, to which you
gentlemen, I know, will consider yourselves pledged from this minute.
Have you heard of Hortalez et Cie. of Paris? It is a new name, and one
as yet unknown in commercial circles, but mark me, some day history
will record it, and we Americans shall have good cause not to forget
it.”

“And who composes this new firm?” asked Mr. Ross.

“That,” replied Mr. Hodge, “is more than I can answer. But they say
that Beaumarchais could tell all about it, and the shareholders have
noble names. Even royalty has invested, and there is plenty of money
behind the new name.”

“Be more outspoken,” suggested Mr. Allan. “Who is Hortalez?”

“Hortalez,” answered Mr. Hodge, “and this under pledge of secrecy,
gentlemen, is none other than Beaumarchais himself, and Beaumarchais is
the court.”

For an instant there was silence, and the five men looked at one
another without saying a word. Then it was Conyngham who spoke.

“Mr. Hodge,” he said, “what you have told me opens the way at once to
something that I intended to speak of before this company here at the
table. In every port in France, and even in Holland, there are scores
of American seamen lying idle because of the embargo that has been
placed upon our shipping. They’re eager, every one of them, to strike a
blow against the enemy. With money, and brains to direct its disposal,
the matter would be easy. There is the Channel filled with British
shipping before us. We are here on this side of the water. I have in
my mind a long-fostered idea that is easy of accomplishment, and that
would promise big returns if successfully set on foot.”

“Your idea, Captain Conyngham,” answered Mr. Hodge, “might not be hard
to guess, and let me tell you that it has already been spoken of. By
the way,” he added, “I start to-morrow morning for Paris. Will you not
accompany me thither, for I think that Dr. Franklin may have something
to say to you.”

Conyngham’s face flushed with excited pleasure, as he reached across
the table and struck his palm into that of Mr. Hodge.

“I am with you,” he cried, “mind, soul, and body.”

As the party broke up to go they halted at the door. The elder Ross
placed his hand on Conyngham’s shoulder.

“You are the man we have been looking for,” he said in a whisper, “the
very man.”

“Hold, gentlemen,” whispered Mr. Hodge, softly, “what we have spoken
of here this evening we will consider buried in the catacombs of
our memory, and it would be better,” he suggested, “if we should
meet Captain Conyngham elsewhere to be as strangers to him. Is it so
understood?”

The rest nodded, and they passed out into the hallway, at the end of
which the smiling landlord greeted them and bowed them out into the
street.



CHAPTER V

COMMISSIONED


Dr. Franklin entered the little house from the garden at the back,
mopping his wide forehead, for the day was hot. He advanced toward Mr.
Hodge with his hand outstretched and greeted him warmly in his deep
musical voice.

“Ah, friend Hodge,” he said, “back so soon? And you have brought some
one with you, I see. From our side of the water?” he asked.

“Yes,” returned Mr. Hodge; “at least from the right side of the water.
Allow me to present to you, sir, Captain Gustavus Conyngham, late
commander of the Charming Peggy.”

“Of Philadelphia, owned by J. M. Nesbit and Company, was she not, and
confiscated in Holland?” interjected Dr. Franklin, looking at Conyngham
over the tops of his round spectacles.

“The same, sir,” replied the young captain, wondering at the doctor’s
knowledge.

“I would that she had managed to get away with her cargo,” continued
Dr. Franklin, “and I was distressed and sorrowed that I could not help
you. But Holland, I fear, is under the thumb of Great Britain. I could
pray again for the days of Van Tromp, but I fear me it is not to be.”

As he spoke the doctor motioned the others to be seated and placed
himself at one side of a big table, upon which was a chess-board with
the men placed upon it, as if they had been left in the midst of
playing. As he continued speaking he moved them about from one space
to another, as if his thoughts were divided between the subject of
conversation and the game.

At first he asked a few questions about Philadelphia, and forestalled
Mr. Hodge’s evident attempt to interrupt.

“Ah!” exclaimed the doctor at last, “I have it--it was the knight’s
move and a very pretty problem!... Now, Captain Conyngham,” he went on,
“you were born in Ireland, but having married a wife in Philadelphia
one might say that your better half is American.”

“And seeing that the other is American by adoption also,” returned
Conyngham, “although I acknowledge my birthplace and my speech at times
betrayeth me, I can claim to be whole American, and I have as little
love for England as the best of you.”

“Good,” returned Dr. Franklin, shoving the chessmen off the board;
“’tis the proper disposition. And now, Mr. Hodge, I presume you have
told Captain Conyngham of the great difficulties with which we are
surrounded. And by the way,” he added hurriedly, “you can do a favor
for me if you’ll be so kind. I was to meet Mr. Deane at his lodgings
at about this hour. Could you act as my emissary? We have need to call
on our friends for small services. Will you go to him and inform him
that I shall not be able to keep my appointment, but kindly ask him to
return with you here, where you will find Captain Conyngham and myself
awaiting you?”

Mr. Hodge, although a little perplexed at the request, acquiesced
immediately, and in a minute or two Franklin and the young captain were
alone. The latter waited for the doctor to begin, and he did so by
asking a question.

“Are the English smaller vessels better built and faster than those
made in France?” he asked.

“By all means,” Conyngham returned; “there is none that can equal the
work of the British shipyards, except ourselves, and there I mean
Americans,” he added.

“And the Dutchmen?”

“Good seagoing craft, but clumsy,” returned Conyngham.

“Do you think it would be possible, Captain Conyngham, to procure a
fast-sailing English cutter or lugger on this side of the water?”

“It would be hard to do so without exciting suspicion.”

“In England you think it would be possible to procure such?”

“Without the least difficulty, in Dover,” Conyngham replied. “That
would be my plan,” he added, “and if once we could get her, say to such
a port as Dunkirk, I would find the men easily to man her.”

Dr. Franklin arose and began slowly pacing to and fro.

“What do you think would be the best plan to set about the purchase
of such a craft?” he asked at last. “Do you think that you could
accomplish it yourself?”

“It would be better for some one else to try,” Conyngham replied, “for
I am known to many in the English ports. In fact, I might say without
boasting that I am a good pilot in both channels. If she were secured
by a man who might pass himself off easily as an English merchant it
could be done without attracting suspicion, and she might be brought
over with a French crew to Dunkirk.”

After more talk, in which Captain Conyngham detailed his plans as to
armament and outfitting, he came to the subject which hitherto neither
had touched upon.

“Of course, Dr. Franklin,” he said, “no one realizes more than I do
the danger of such an enterprise, and mark you, sir, it does not appal
me, yet I might state that if I were captured, not only I, but the men
with me, should meet with short shrift at the hands of the British.
We should have few opportunities, after such an event, to serve our
country again.”

Franklin paused and smiled. “We shall attend to that,” he said, turning
to a large cabinet and unlocking one of the ponderous doors. “And now I
shall have to call upon your discretion. There are a great many things
nowadays that we have to keep secret even from our friends, but I have
here the very instrument that we need in our business.”

As he spoke he drew forth from a large portfolio a printed form and
laid it on the table.

“This,” he said, turning it so that Conyngham could read it, “is a
commission in the navy of the United Colonies. Thinking that just
this sort of a contingency might arise, I armed myself with a few of
these papers sent me in America. You see it is signed by John Hancock,
as President of Congress, and is attested by William Thompson, at
Baltimore, where Congress was in session. It is dated the 1st of March
of this year. I have but to fill in your name and the name of your
vessel, and you are a full-fledged captain in the navy of the United
Colonies from the moment. Your name I know, but the craft as yet is
unchristened. What shall we call her?”

Conyngham paused a moment.

“You have surprised me, sir,” he said, “and my wits for a moment were
wool-gathering, but the name would be an easy matter.”

“And you have suggested it, Captain Conyngham,” returned Franklin,
chuckling. “We will call her the Surprise.”

Quickly, as he spoke, he filled in the blank spaces and handed the
paper across the table.

“Captain Conyngham,” he said, “I greet you. You will receive such
orders as may come through our agents, but one thing I admonish you--be
cautious. You are not to venture to attack a seventy-four nor even a
sloop of war. There are plenty of small fry about worth the saving.
Now,” he went on, “another thing of great importance. Except in case of
dire necessity show this commission to no one, not even to Mr. Hodge or
our most intimate friends. It is a secret for the nonce between you and
myself. You will readily understand the reason that I ask it. It would
not only embarrass me just at present, but might embarrass the French
Government; and they’re a little bashful just now, so we must consider
their feelings. Ah, here come Mr. Hodge and Mr. Deane,” he added,
looking out of the window. “Come, we will go out into the garden and
sit under the trees, where we can discuss the weather, the fashions,
and the ladies, in the open air.”

After the introductions had been gone through, and Captain Conyngham
had been presented to Mr. Silas Deane, a short, thick-set,
easy-going-looking man of commercial aspect, not a word was said about
plans or plot, and Franklin wandered from anecdote to anecdote, heading
off any attempt to touch upon the subject that was uppermost in all
their minds. But just as they were leaving he spoke a few words which
disclosed the situation.

“Captain Conyngham,” he said, “has undertaken to execute a commission
of great importance and danger, and so, while it may come under
discussion at some length in the future, he will need now nothing but
our good wishes, and we will drink his health.”

The toast was drunk and the gentlemen arose to take their departure.

“The captain will accompany you to Dunkirk on your return, Mr. Hodge,”
said Dr. Franklin, as he bade farewell, “and Mr. Deane will instruct
you as to your further procedure.”

Conyngham never forgot the parting pressure of the doctor’s hand.



CHAPTER VI

THE SURPRISE


There lay moored in the basin in the harbor of Dover two fast-sailing
luggers that, despite the fact that they had been in the water
but two years, had already earned great reputations for speed and
seaworthiness, and to their merchant owners they had proved sources of
pride and profit.

Mr. Robert Boltwood and his brother had been approached upon more than
one occasion by persons desirous of purchasing either one of their two
crack coasters. They were not surprised, therefore, when they received
an offer made through a shipping firm, whose principal partners were
Dutchmen, for one of the vessels named the Roebuck, but they were
surprised when their terms were accepted, for they had placed what
they considered almost a prohibitive price upon the Roebuck, which if
anything was the faster of the two.

It was natural, perhaps, for them to wish to know for what purpose the
Roebuck had been bought. All they could ascertain, however, was that a
gentleman named Allan, claiming to come from London, and one Mr. Van
der Beck, a Hollander, had bought her in partnership, and that she was
to sail out of Dunkirk in the Channel trade.

Now it happened that in Dunkirk there were several indefatigable spies
of the British Government, and in some way it had leaked out that a
privateering expedition was on foot. There were so many idle American
seamen in the port that it would have been a wonder if some such rumor
had not been floated, and the story that started really need have had
no connection with Conyngham’s cherished project. Suffice it, however,
that this came to the ears of Messrs. Boltwood’s representative, who
accordingly informed his firm, and this news reached them but a short
time after they had completed the sale of the Roebuck. The terms of the
sale had not included the delivery of the vessel across the Channel,
but Mr. Allan and the fictitious Mr. Van der Beck had mistakenly
supposed that there would be no difficulty in securing a crew, or at
least enough men to sail her to her port of destination. To their
surprise, however, they found that this was not the case. Sailors were
hard to find, and it soon became evident, also, that the old owners,
repenting of their bargain, were working against them. This and the
fact that their suspicions had also been aroused, made the secret
commissioners wary of appearing to be in a great hurry. So while the
Roebuck remained at anchor they informed their friends in Dunkirk of
the situation, and Conyngham resolved upon a bold plan. It was nothing
more nor less than to sail with some eight or ten men in a large open
yawl and bring out the Roebuck at night from her anchorage. It was
agreed that Mr. Van der Beck (whom everybody will recognize as the
elder Ross), who had lived in Holland and spoke the language like a
born Dutchman, and Allen, should move themselves and their belongings
on board the Roebuck, whose crew consisted of two French sailors,
almost so decrepit from age as to be no longer on the active list. On a
given night this short-handed crew were to slip their anchor and make
out toward the harbor mouth where Conyngham and his crew of eight men
would be taken on board, when they would sail at once for Dunkirk.

Those were the days when smuggling between the Continent and
England was considered almost a legitimate venture, and despite the
watchfulness of the English coast-guard vessels, from many small ports
and coves smuggler pilots ran their contraband cargoes in and out. It
was not difficult for Conyngham to secure the services of a French
smuggler pilot, and in fact some of the men of the crew, Americans
though they were, had been employed, at times, in the same risky
business.

A big open yawl was procured without difficulty, and on a misty night
she slipped out of Dunkirk harbor heading with a favoring easterly wind
for the English coast. For a short time this held true and steady, but
fortune after a few hours turned against them. Before daybreak the
wind had increased to half a gale, and in the choppy sea the yawl had
a bad time of it. It was only by good seamanship and constant bailing
that she was kept afloat. The afternoon of the next day they found
themselves about three leagues from the English coast, and the wind
abating they laid their course for the white cliffs of Dover.

All apparently was going well, and they had passed several vessels
without exciting suspicion, for the smallness of their craft was a
great point in their favor, and she might have been taken for a coaster
or fisherman hailing from any of the small villages that sent out their
little fleets during the trawling season.

Late in the afternoon, while they were creeping southward along the
coast, a king’s cutter suddenly appeared around a little headland not
two miles away. The French pilot who was at the helm was undoubtedly
responsible for what followed, for the sudden appearance of the cutter
must have caused him to lose his head. Without a word of warning he
threw the yawl up into the wind and headed her off shore, plainly in an
endeavor to give the cutter a wider berth. The suspicious action had
been seen by the Englishman, who at once altered his own course and
turned off in pursuit.

Captain Conyngham at the time that the coast-guard was sighted had been
resting asleep under a tarpaulin between the thwarts. The exclamations
of the men on seeing the cutter’s tactics aroused him, and as soon as
he had looked to leeward he saw that it was only a matter of time when
the cutter would overhaul his little craft.

They were still so close into shore that they could see the white surf
leaping and boiling against the rocks and at the base of the cliff. At
one point he could make out a little break in the steep side, with some
foliage near the top, and down at the bottom a short stretch of sandy
beach.

A rocky ledge formed a barrier to the entrance of the little cove, and
over it the water jumped and tossed angrily. Here and there, farther
inshore, leaped sudden spurts of foam as the waves thundered on the
sharp points of the hidden rocks. Yet one thing he noticed clearly even
at the distance he was from shore--the water ran smoothly and evenly up
to the narrow stretch of white beach, showing that within a few feet of
shore it deepened again. His mind was made up in an instant.

[Illustration: The yawl was in the midst of the smother.]

The cutter was outpointing the yawl, and though at first to leeward was
working up to the windward position. Conyngham gave a few quick orders
as he grasped the tiller. The yawl swung about, and with loosened
sheets caught the wind abaft the beam and tore away shoreward. The
cutter came about also, taking a longer time at it, and, flying down
just outside the edge of the breakers, made a bold attempt to head the
yawl and turn her back before she could cross her bows.

It came to be a question of minutes, and there was an added danger now,
for the cutter opened up with a small bow gun, firing as quickly as she
could load and aim. But, owing to the small size of the target and the
uneven rise and fall of the chop, her marksmanship was bad, and though
the balls whistled overhead and plashed all round, not one struck the
intended mark.

The Frenchman, who was now in a state of terror, began to call upon the
saints. To Conyngham’s inquiry whether he knew of a safe entrance to
the little cove at which they were heading he vouchsafed no reply. But
as they drew near the line of breakers his wails increased.

“We shall all be drowned!” he cried over and over. “Better a prison
than the bottom of the sea.”

But Conyngham, with one eye ahead and the other on the approaching
cutter, held his course. In another moment he had crossed the
Englishman’s bows, and as the latter fired a parting shot the yawl was
in the midst of the smother of tumbling waters.

How she got through it without being wrecked was more than any one
of the crew could ever tell. Time and again they held their breath,
expecting to be crushed upon the black points that now and then showed
themselves on either hand. But with the skill of an Indian guiding his
canoe down the rapids, Conyngham steered the little boat, and in half
an hour she had safely passed the barrier reef and the worst part of
the sailing, and soon was in the comparatively smooth water near the
little beach.

Now there could be noticed a few roughly built huts of stone before
which there were some nets drying on the ground, and some frightened
fishermen came down to the water’s edge. One of them hailed in half
French and half English, to which Conyngham replied.

The man informed them that they had better not land, as they had been
seen by the Government lookout on the top of the cliff, and that in all
probability the guards would soon be down and they would all be made
prisoners.

Evidently, like the cutter, the fellow had taken them for smugglers,
but he gave the information that farther down the coast there was a
small cove inaccessible and invisible from above, where they might be
able to get ashore.

Shortening sail, Conyngham headed the yawl southward. Out to sea the
cutter was holding the same course, watching like a cat at a rat-hole.
It looked as if escape was impossible, for a long promontory ran out to
south not four leagues away, and with a shifted wind it would be only
by miracle that they could keep from going ashore.

But the darkness, that Conyngham was waiting for, came at last, ushered
in by a blinding fall of rain, and in it he once more managed to make
an offing and by good luck and good seamanship weathered the point,
and with the cutter somewhere back in the darkness, he made out once
more into the open channel. At daybreak he was off Dover and could see
the flag flying on the walls of the castle, and a mass of shipping
about the entrance. He made boldly in and dropped his little anchor
amid a fleet of small craft. The harbor at this time was not one of the
best in the world, for the shingle bar would keep shifting, and the
breakwaters, except the old basin piers, were not then built. But lying
well out Captain Conyngham detected a vessel that, from the description
he had received from Mr. Allan, he was sure could be none other than
the Roebuck.

His sailing in so boldly had not attracted the least notice, and as
he had bidden most of the crew to keep themselves out of sight under
the tarpaulins, the number of men he had with him had not attracted
attention either.

Just at dusk he got up his anchor and came farther up into the harbor.
As he passed by the Roebuck his heart was beating with excitement, for
she looked to be the very vessel for his purpose. He was within hailing
distance when a figure came on deck. He could scarce refrain from
shouting from sheer joy, for he recognized the stocky figure of his
friend Allan. Another minute and he had called his name.

Working the yawl alongside he soon stepped on deck. It was considered
too risky to transfer the men while there was yet light enough for them
to be perceived, and, uncomfortable as it may have been for them, they
remained in their cramped position in the smaller boat until almost
midnight. In the early morning hours the Roebuck slipped her cable and
slid out like a ghost through the channel fog. The yawl was being towed
behind, but as it impeded the lugger’s sailing the small boat was
stove in, laden with some of the spare ballast from the Roebuck, and
sunk.

Without adventure or molestation they reached Dunkirk under the British
flag. As they dropped anchor well up the harbor, Mr. Allan turned to
the young captain with a smile.

“Well, sir,” he said, “this part of the proceeding is over and we are
ready to go on with the rest of it. By the way, shall we keep the
name?” He pointed to the stern of the jolly-boat where the word Roebuck
stood out in red letters.

“No,” returned Conyngham, “that will all be changed. She has been
renamed what we hope she’ll be.”

“And that is?” queried Mr. Allan.

“The Surprise,” was Conyngham’s answer.



CHAPTER VII

THE CHANNEL CRUISE


The people of Dunkirk must have been very stupid indeed if they could
not have perceived that there was something mysterious about the
strange little vessel that lay moored to one of the wharves. Although
there was some attempt at carrying out the disguise of her being a
peaceful trader, there were many circumstances arising that would mark
her otherwise. But, to tell the truth, the people of Dunkirk were not
only suspicious. In their minds they were quite settled as to the aims
and ambitions of the jaunty little lugger, and sailors ashore are wont
sometimes to let their tongues get away with their discretion.

The English spies and agents of course were well informed, and letters
were written even to the papers in London describing the doings
at Dunkirk, and the preparations that were being made to outfit a
“piratical expedition,” as it was called, against the king’s commerce
in his own home water.

Objection was continually made by the English representatives against
the outfitting of a belligerent vessel in a friendly port, but nothing
was done by the French authorities, and very soon the Surprise--or the
Roebuck, as she was then called--was ready for sea with the exception
of her armament, her given destination being Norway and Sweden.

Conyngham and his crew had kept away during the lading of the vessel,
and most of the work had been done by Frenchmen, in order to prevent
the whole thing from being too glaringly open. But one evening, just
about dusk, Conyngham strolled down the edge of the wharf and stood
watching some long boxes that were being slung on board and lowered
over the side. A very short red-haired man came up to him and spoke to
him in French.

“Good evening, monsieur,” he said. “A pretty little vessel this, eh?”

Conyngham turned at once and looked the speaker over. He knew him to
be an Englishman who was supposed to be a Government spy. The man’s
audacity in daring to approach him at that moment was rather startling,
but Conyngham’s reply must have been more so.

“She is good to look at,” he returned in French, “and they tell me she
is sailing to-morrow night. But let us go down to her,” he said, taking
the smaller man’s arm, “and ask some questions of those on board. We
may learn something.”

Half reluctantly, the Englishman accompanied him. In a few steps they
were at the gangway. The tackle that had just deposited its load on
deck swung outboard from the yard-arm that was being used as a crane,
and passed close to where Conyngham and the spy were standing. With a
swiftness that was surprising, Conyngham caught the rope in one hand
and gave it a twist about the body of his companion beneath the arms.

“Hoist away,” he shouted, holding the struggling Englishman. And before
he knew it the latter was swinging in the air, afraid to struggle for
fear of being dropped, but shouting and cursing in hearty John Bull
fashion.

Conyngham rushed up the gangway and met a tall, dark-featured man, who
saluted him as he stepped on board. Just then the Englishman’s feet
touched the deck also.

“Here, Monsieur Villois, have this man brought to the cabin,” said
Conyngham, and the half-frightened spy was ushered in by two grinning
French sailors.

“Now, sir,” said Conyngham, “you shall learn all about it. Sit down.”
He motioned the spy to a seat and then, looking at him fixedly,
continued:

“For the last three weeks you have dogged my footsteps; you have tried
to overhear everything that I have spoken, and you have eavesdropped at
windows and doors when I was in company with other gentlemen. You have
a companion here who claims to be a very learned person, and always
goes about with a book under his arm, wearing big spectacles. Last
evening you met on a bench at the end of the park that leads to the
street of the windmill, and you said--” Here to the Englishman’s horror
and surprise Conyngham detailed a long conversation that had taken
place--word for word he had it. At last he was interrupted.

“But you could not have heard this; there was no one nigh us,” said the
Englishman, and then he added quickly, “I see it all. That villain has
betrayed me. What do you intend to do with me?”

“I intend,” said Conyngham quietly, “to tell you all you want to
know, and to set you on shore at the proper moment. The first and
most interesting point, I suppose,” he continued, “would be, What is
the destination of this vessel and when does she sail? That is easy.
She sails to-night--in fact, in about two hours. Her destination is
nowhere in particular. At present she is the property of a French firm
of merchants, and is a peaceable, unarmed lugger. In about six hours,
if the wind holds fair, she will be purchased by the United Colonies
of America. She will be signed and receipted for outside of the
jurisdiction of the French Government. Her name also will be changed,
as well as her character.”

“You will be pirates?” gasped the spy.

“Not in the least,” was Conyngham’s return. “If that question should
ever arise, it could be settled with little trouble. Now,” he
concluded, “you know as much as you would like to, I am sure.”

“And are you going to set me on shore?” asked the Englishman
incredulously.

“Not yet, my friend,” was Conyngham’s reply. “I still have use for you.”

Just at this moment the cabin door opened and the tall man who had
stood at the gangway entered. The darkness of his complexion and the
straightness of his black hair betrayed the fact that he was of Spanish
or some southern extraction. But the English that he spoke was pure and
without accent, as it had been proved, also, was his French.

“Well, captain,” he said, “the last box has been put on board. The rest
that are standing about are all empty. We are ready to get under way.”

“Has the other vessel sailed?” asked Conyngham, adding, with a wave of
his hand, “you can speak frankly before this gentleman.”

“She has, sir; she slipped out four hours ago, and will join us three
leagues off the coast to-morrow at daylight.”

“Are all the crew on board of her?”

“Yes, sir, and the armament. I am afraid we shall have some difficulty
with the six-pounder.”

“Never cross a bridge till you come to it, Mr. Freeman,” returned
Conyngham, “and now one more question. Is the agent of Mr. Hortalez on
board?”

“Yes, sir; he is waiting on deck.”

“Tell him I will join him in half a minute. If you should ask my advice
as a mere passenger who has had some experience, I should say that we
might slip our moorings quietly and get under way; the tide, I should
judge, would carry us well down the harbor. But I merely advise it, you
understand, as you are the captain of the ship. And by the way, Mr.
Bulger,” he added, turning to the spy, “you will kindly wait here for
my return; there is a gentleman at the door who will object to your
leaving, so if you will allow me to suggest, it will be better for you
to remain here quietly.”

He arose as he spoke and left the cabin. “Mr. Bulger” remained seated,
with consternation written on every line of his face. In a few minutes,
though there had been no sound from the deck, he could tell from the
swaying of the vessel that they were under way. For fully half an hour
the Roebuck drifted quietly with the tide, and then the mainsail was
hoisted and she keeled over to the damp easterly breeze that carried
her out beyond the mouth of the harbor. For some time she sailed,
holding a course to the northwestward, then she hove to and as day
broke she was seen to be about three leagues off the French coast; and
not two miles away, hove to also, was a clumsy little brig with her
brown sails laid back against the mast. A red flag suddenly appeared,
waving over the brig’s side. This was answered by the wave of a white
one over the Roebuck’s taffrail, and then one on the port tack and
the other on the starboard; swiftly the two vessels approached until
within hailing distance. The decks of the little brig were crowded with
sailormen, and amidships were long boxes, carefully wrapped and ready
for slinging, and a few long bales wound in sail-cloth. By careful
maneuvering they were brought together broadside to broadside, well
tendered and lashed. No sooner had this been accomplished under the
direction of the dark man, at whose side stood Conyngham, than the
latter turned, and speaking to a slightly built but richly dressed
young Frenchman, who was evidently a little upset by the motion of the
sea, he requested him to step into the cabin, where he was introduced
to the imprisoned Englishman as Mr. Beauchier, the representative of
the owners of the Roebuck.

“And now, Mr. Bulger,” remarked Conyngham, after the introduction,
“comes the favor that I am going to ask of you. I shall request you to
witness the sale and transfer of this vessel from its present ownership
to that of the United Colonies of America. The price has been arranged
between Mr. Beauchier and myself, and only our signatures are needed to
the document, with that of a witness to the same. This is the bill of
sale and transfer of the lugger Roebuck, as you can see. Mr. Beauchier
will sign here, I here, and you will witness and put your name on this
line.”

Half trembling, the Englishman scrawled his signature beside those of
the others.

“And now, Mr. Beauchier,” went on Conyngham, “is it true that I
understand that you own also the vessel which is alongside of us?”

“Yes, and her contents,” was the reply.

“Have you got any ballast for sale--old iron or such like?”

“We have, sir, and also some passengers who are anxious to leave the
ship, because they are afraid of the leak which the captain reports she
has sprung.”

“Poor people! Poor people!” repeated Conyngham. “I will take them on
board for nothing.”

The transfer of the long heavy bundles proved an easy task, as the
“passengers” were all of the male sex and insisted upon turning to and
helping. In two hours it was all accomplished; the lashings were cut
off and the two vessels drifted apart.

It had been agreed that the little Englishman should be put ashore at
some obscure French port, the brig being bound now for L’Orient. But as
Mr. Bulger stood watching the lugger square away to the north he ground
his teeth in impotent despair.

“Pirates, just the same,” he muttered. “Pirates, every one of them.”

At that moment there broke from the masthead of the lugger, not the
Jolly Roger, but a big flag with thirteen alternate stripes of red
and white. Across it diagonally stretched the writhing coils of a
rattlesnake, and on the fourth white bar appeared the printed words,
“Don’t tread on me.”



CHAPTER VIII

THE HARWICH PACKET


The next day proved clear and fine, and also the following day, but
no sail of importance, so far as small craft were concerned, was
discovered. Such vessels as were passed that flew the English ensign
were too big to be reckoned with or too near armed escort; but on the
morning of the 4th of the month, off the coast of Holland, a little
single-sticker, a cutter, was discovered bowling merrily along from the
westward, and from what the Surprise’s French pilot said it was plain
that she was the very one for which Captain Conyngham was watching--the
Harwich packet, that bore the mails for the north of Europe, usually
carrying, besides crown moneys, a small but rich cargo.

The rules of the road at sea have been from time immemorial practically
the same for sailing ships, and a vessel close hauled has the right of
way of one going free on the wind. When the packet was first sighted
she was running with the wind almost astern and making good time, as
she tossed the white foam before her. Now, the Surprise was close
hauled on the starboard tack, and it would have required but a little
careful sailing to bring her across the packet’s bows. The latter had
flown a large English ensign, but Conyngham had shown no flag at all,
although the big red and white striped ensign with the rattlesnake
across the field lay on the deck ready to be hoisted to the peak.

Nearer and nearer the two vessels came. The helmsman on the packet was
evidently perplexed as to the intentions of the approaching lugger,
for he had swung his vessel off in order to give the latter room to
cross his forefoot. But every time he did so the Surprise would luff
a little, for it was Conyngham’s intention to get close under the
packet’s stern and board her if possible without firing a shot.

The trick worked like magic. In a few minutes the Englishman was so
close that the features of the helmsman could be seen distinctly.
He was not in the least suspicious, for he gazed in silence at the
approaching lugger, contemptuously smiling at her apparently clumsy
sailing.

A man who had been walking up and down the deck came to the rail as if
he supposed that the Surprise was about to hail him, and making ready
to answer.

Conyngham had kept his men below well out of sight, though they were
all armed with pistols and cutlasses ready to rush on deck at a given
signal. Just before he came under the Englishman’s stern, he let go
his sheets and swinging off suddenly, his bowsprit swept over the
stranger’s taffrail, beneath which appeared the words “Prince of
Orange” in big red letters. The cutter, whose sails, now deprived of
the wind, flapped uselessly, lost headway. Another second, and the
Surprise struck so gently that it hardly started the paint on her
cutwater, a grapple was thrown on board, and from the forward hatch a
score of men poured over the bows upon the other’s deck.

Captain Baxter, the English skipper, was in the cabin at breakfast
with five passengers, four of them merchants and one a young secretary
bearing dispatches to the Dutch Government, when the mate shouted
through the transom that a strange vessel had run afoul of them, and
that they were being boarded by pirates!

“Great heavens!” exclaimed one of the merchants in consternation.
“Pirates in the English Channel! Bless my soul, never!”

Before Captain Baxter could gain the foot of the companion-ladder a
figure stepped into the cabin.

“Who are you, and what are you doing aboard my vessel?” roared the
captain, reaching for a cutlass that hung from one of the berths that
lined the sides.

“Hold! not so fast, my friend,” was the quiet answer. “Sure, it’s much
better to take no unnecessary trouble. And my advice to you is to be as
quiet as a mouse.”

As he spoke, Conyngham shifted his hand to the butt of a pistol that
protruded from under his long blue coat.

Though his words were lightly spoken, the Englishman saw a dangerous
gleam in the captain’s dark eyes, and stood still, muttering.

“Are you a pirate?” he demanded, hoarsely, at last.

“Far from that,” answered Conyngham, smiling and advancing farther
into the little space. “If the gentlemen will seat themselves, I shall
be glad to inform you of the circumstances. You are prisoners of the
American cruiser Surprise, that I have the honor to command. But you
need fear nothing, I assure you.”

[Illustration: A score of men poured over the bows.]

“What is your name and under whose authority are you acting?” demanded
the young under-secretary, who had now found his tongue.

“My name is Conyngham,” was the reply, “and I am acting under authority
of the president of the American Congress.”

“You will hang for it,” interposed one of the merchants. “I shall
complain to the Government--such an outrage, and in the English
Channel, too!”

Conyngham smiled.

“You can write a letter to the Times if you see fit, my good sir,” he
replied, “but at present there is no use of being bad-natured. Don’t
allow me to disturb you in your meal, as I see you’ve just begun.”

At this moment a slight scuffle and some loud words came from the deck
above. The captain again started to his feet.

“They’re securing the crew,” Conyngham said in explanation. “There is
no use in making a fuss over the matter; we’re in complete possession.
Be easy now.”

Just as he spoke the lank figure of the Yankee second mate appeared at
the foot of the ladder. He saluted Conyngham, and grinned at the others
as if enjoying their discomfiture.

“I have to report, sir, that all’s well, and await your orders. There
is one man we had to put into irons; the rest submitted quietly.”

“You see how matters stand, gentlemen,” Conyngham went on, “and before
we cast off our lashings I shall have to ask you to accompany me to my
vessel.”

“A most high-handed proceeding,” muttered the English merchant.

But his protestations were interrupted by the young secretary at this
point.

“It’s always best,” said he, “to accept a bad position gracefully, and
I am sure if this gentleman,” he waved his hand toward Conyngham, “will
allow us to remain on board here we shall much appreciate the favor. As
for myself,” he added, “I will promise not to endeavor to escape. I am
a bad swimmer at the best, and if our gallant friend, who, I perceive,
at some time or other has been a subject of his Majesty, will permit
it, we should like to remain.”

“You certainly can do so, sir,” was the quiet reply, “and need not fear
that I will disturb you; but as you seem to have lost your appetites,
I shall first ask that you all come on deck.” With a polite bow he
ushered the party to the companionway.

Perhaps he had divined the young Englishman’s purpose. At all events,
the suspicion had crossed his mind that the latter only wished
to obtain time to secrete or destroy some of the papers in the
dispatch-box that showed beneath a locker on one side of the cabin.
With some show of discontent, the party followed his suggestions,
however, and went up on deck. Once there they could not conceal their
surprise at the state of affairs. There was the strange vessel, that
was but slightly larger than their own, still made fast to them, and
rippling almost overhead was the big rattlesnake flag. Perhaps, despite
Conyngham’s assurance, they had expected to see the Jolly Roger with
the skull and cross-bones, and they were to all appearances relieved.

The English crew were all under hatches forward, and no one was in
sight but five or six of the Surprise’s crew, who, to tell the truth,
were piratical enough in appearance to belie even the striped flag.

Leaving a guard over his guests, Conyngham went below with the first
mate and began a search of the cabin. When he came on deck again he
plainly perceived the importance of his prize. But a complication had
arisen that made him form his plans quickly. It would never do to delay
the mails or interfere with the diplomatic correspondence intended
for a friendly power, and there were letters for Prussia and Holland,
besides those addressed to the British ambassador at Paris. The private
property of the merchants was unmolested, but a report showed that the
contents of the hold was of no little value, and under the usages of
war it would be fair booty. So Conyngham ordered that Captain Baxter
should accompany him on board the Surprise, and with ill grace the
latter did so. After giving orders to the first mate, whom he left in
command of the Prince of Orange, Conyngham ordered the two vessels to
be cast loose from each other, and the course was laid southeast by
east for Dunkirk once again. He realized that there would be a great
row made upon his landing, but in view of the connivance of the French
Government at the sale of the prizes brought in by Captain Wickes,
that were allowed to be disposed of just outside the harbor limits of
Nantes, he thought that with the aid of Franklin’s growing importance
at the French court the Government would be more than lenient with him.
He supposed at least they would allow him an opportunity to dispose of
the vessel and its contents for what the commissioners in Paris most
needed, namely, gold; and, thinking that he would place himself in a
good position to ask any favors by his conduct in connection with
the foreign mails, he held no anxiety concerning himself or his crew.
Besides all this, he knew that in the commission that he held from
Franklin he possessed a talisman that would save him from personal
danger.

It had been his hope that he might fall in with one of the transports
then engaged in carrying Hessian troops to America, and in the latter
case he had decided upon two alternatives: one to make a prize of their
vessel, even at the risk of recapture, and endeavor to get her into
some American port, or to land them disarmed on the coast of France
or Holland. But even the prospect of making another rich haul did not
tempt him to remain longer on the cruising grounds. So, under all the
sail he could carry, he laid his course for Dunkirk, the Prince of
Orange staggering along in his wake.

That night it came on to blow, and in the darkness the two vessels were
separated, so that at daylight of the next day nothing could be seen of
the prize. The Channel was a gray, seething mass of flattened foam-tops.

At about noon a little brig was discovered laboring along making to the
westward. The Surprise altered her course, and early in the afternoon
had ranged alongside.

The wind was too high and the cross seas too boisterous to admit
of lowering a boat, and the hails that were shouted through the
speaking-trumpet could not be heard, so a shot was fired across the
brig’s bow in order to make her show her flag. It was English! As soon
as this was ascertained to be a fact, Captain Conyngham sailed boldly
in under her lee, and once more the rattlesnake and the red and white
stripes were tossed to the wind.

Another hail, accompanied by a second shot across the brig’s bows, and
she hove to, lurching and plunging. By working his vessel in still
closer, even at the danger of colliding, Conyngham at last made himself
understood, and on the threat of blowing the brig out of the water her
captain obeyed the order to put her about and lay the course he was
instructed to. At the same time he was told to hang a lantern over
the stern and keep it lit all night. Then, like a constable following
an unwilling prisoner, the Surprise trailed along, shortening sail
in order to keep her position, and the brig, yawing and swinging
uncomfortably as if loath to be on the move, preceded her. Before dark
the wind had gone down and the sea abated enough for Conyngham to lower
a boat and board his prize. She proved to be the Joseph, the property
of English merchants, laden with silks and wine and bound for London.
Placing a prize crew on board of her, this time the Surprise took the
lead, and sailing noticeably better, the brig followed her. When day
broke they were but a few leagues off the coast to the northward of
Dunkirk, and to Conyngham’s delight he perceived a small vessel just to
the south of him, and through the glass he could make her out to be the
captured packet!

So good fortune had attended his first cruise, and with a hopeful and
cheerful heart he sailed into the harbor. With his prizes close on
either hand, he dropped anchor near to shore. Little did he know what
a storm was to arise or what was to happen during the next few days.
Perhaps if he had known, he would not have thought so much about the
European mails.



CHAPTER IX

THE ARREST


There was a large crowd lining the shores as the little boat rowed up,
and as Captain Conyngham, on whom all eyes were centered, climbed up
the ladder to the wharf a large man bent over and extended a helping
hand. There was a greeting in the grasp also, and a ring of welcome in
his voice.

“Back so soon, eh?” exclaimed the elder Ross, for it was he. “We hardly
expected you for a week or more to come. And you have got her! The news
is about the town; don’t stop to parley here. My brother and Hodge and
Allan are waiting. There is much to do. What have you there?”

The boatmen were handing up three large canvas bags. The chattering
crowd looked at them and pointed excitedly.

“The mails for Europe,” returned Conyngham softly. “Let us get together
and consider what is best to do. Bad cess to them, I wish they were off
my hands!”

As he spoke he started suddenly.

“What is it?” demanded Ross in a low tone.

“That blackguard English spy!” returned Conyngham. “Didn’t you see him?
There he goes on a run up the street.”

By this time three sailors had also climbed to the wharf and picked
up the canvas bags. The crowd made way as the little party started
forward, Ross and the young captain leading. The people, on the whole,
were in smiling good nature. There was even a trace of exultation in
their expression, a few clapped their hands, there were some murmured
“Bravos.” Had they been English or American they might have fallen to
cheering.

“Heaven grant we have not been rash,” muttered Ross, “but there will be
a tempest as soon as the news reaches Paris.”

“What will there be when it reaches London?” returned Conyngham
laughing. “Perhaps this time our friend Lord Stormont will demand his
recall or Parliament will send for him. Egad! then the fat will be in
the fire!”

Although they had passed close to the spot where Ross and Allan and
Hodge were standing, no sign of recognition passed between them. The
crowd had the politeness not to follow, and soon Conyngham and Ross
turned down the corner toward the little inn at which the first meeting
had been held; the sailors carrying the canvas bags were close at their
heels, and, the landlord of the tavern appearing at the doorway, the
party entered. In a few minutes the rest of the plotters appeared,
having come in by another entrance, and the sailors returned to the
ship’s boat.

As soon as they were all seated about the table in the little front
room and had ascertained that there was no chance of their conversation
being overheard, Conyngham related his experience.

The company laughed heartily as he told of the English captain’s
discomfiture, but Hodge a moment later looked very grave. So much so,
in fact, that Allan, noticing it, clapped him on the shoulder.

“What is it, friend William? You look suddenly stricken with grief or
disappointment.”

“I am just thinking,” was the return, “that a great deal will have
to be done before the sun goes down this day. One of us will have to
post at once to Paris. We must not delay turning over the mails to the
proper authorities, and--another thing--we must get this news to the
ears of the Count de Vergennes before it is brought to him by Lord
Stormont. I like not altogether de Vergennes’s attitude. He would
see us all at the bottom of the sea rather than sacrifice a chosen
project of his own, and, as I have said many a time, back of all his
half-expressed desires to lend us assistance is but the hope of aiding
France’s interest.”

“Well, if any one is to go,” returned the elder Ross, “it should be
you, Mr. Hodge, unless you consider it necessary that the captain here
should go up in person.”

Conyngham shook his head. “I’m afraid that would be impossible,” he
put in. “It would never do at all, at all. I will have to stand by my
ship for a few days at least, until we dispose of the prizes in such a
manner as to enable me to pay off my crew. Is there much money in the
treasury, Mr. Ross?” he asked.

The latter laughed. “I don’t suppose that we have fifty pounds among us
at present,” he said. “The treasury has been on the ebb for the past
fortnight, but M. Grand, our banker in Paris, is hopeful.”

“There is a good four thousand pounds of ready money in the prizes,”
said Conyngham, “and much that could be disposed of on the nail, could
we but put it immediately in the market. But it is my belief what must
be done must be done quickly. Mr. Hodge should start with the mails for
Paris--no one will recognize what those canvas bags contain, and we
should scent out some purchaser and sail out of the harbor this very
afternoon and hold a little auction off the coast.”

“How about the prisoners?” interrupted Mr. Hodge. “What are we to do
with them?”

“I, for one, will say ‘good riddance,’” returned Conyngham, “when once
they are on shore. We could never keep them while we are here in port,
and I propose giving them a run this very day.”

Upon this point all of the party were agreed, and also upon the
necessity of Hodge’s immediate departure for the capital. The latter,
accompanied by Allan, left the room in order to see the proprietor of
the tavern, to which establishment was attached a stable containing a
number of excellent horses and equipages suited for the highroad. They
had been gone but a few minutes when suddenly Allan returned, evidently
in a state of some perturbation.

“Something has happened,” he said earnestly, “that requires our
immediate attention, gentlemen. A moment since I left Mr. Hodge. I was
standing at the entrance to the stable-yard, from which a good view
could be had of the harbor down the street. Suddenly there appeared a
vessel sailing into the field of vision, and from her looks I knew her
to be an English sloop of war. She was taking in sail and preparing to
drop anchor in the outer harbor, when suddenly a small boat rowed out
to her; an instant later she broke out her sails again, and is now
coming in close to where the Surprise and the other two are anchored. I
don’t like the looks of things.”

“We can obtain a good view of what is happening from one of the windows
of an upper room,” said Conyngham.

“Let us adjourn there,” suggested the elder Ross. “I know the
way--come, follow me.”

Without more ado he led the rest of the party into the hall, and they
hurriedly ascended to the second floor. Entering one of the rooms, they
rushed to the window.

As the inn stood upon rising ground, they had a free and uninterrupted
view of the harbor over the roofs of the houses. Sure enough, there
was the British sloop of war working her way in close to shore, where
Conyngham’s little squadron lay. A single glance and the captain spoke
quickly.

“I must get on board at once,” he said. “That fellow’s intentions are
evident. Here, I have a small pocket glass. There is something doing on
board the Surprise.”

As he spoke he pulled a small spy-glass from his pocket and hastily
adjusting it lifted it to his eye.

“The Surprise is getting under way,” he said. “That Yankee first mate
of mine has his wits about him, but, gentlemen, this is no place for
me; I must get on board, if possible.”

With that he left the others, and soon they could see him on the street
running at a dog-trot down toward the wharves. Just at this moment also
there was the rattle of wheels and the clatter of hoofs, and out of
the gateway of the stable-yard rolled a post-chaise, on the high seat
of which sat Mr. Hodge. He had gone back to the dining-room, but not
finding his companions had decided to delay no longer, but to push on
at once.

The commissioners in Paris must be informed of what had happened, and
steps must be taken to prepare the way, for the English ambassador was
sure to raise trouble.

Conyngham had made good time of it and reached the water’s edge
before the English sloop of war was half-way across the harbor. The
watchers at the window saw him disappear around a corner; a minute
later a row-boat shot out from the wharf, and through the glass that
the captain had left behind, Mr. Ross descried the rowers bending all
their strength at the oars in an endeavor to reach the lugger before
the Englishman could get much nearer. The wind was against the latter,
and he had been forced to tack, but Mr. Ross could see that they were
preparing to lower away a boat and that the bulwarks were lined with
men.

“There!” he cried suddenly, “Conyngham is standing up in the stern
sheets encouraging the rowers. By all the powers, he’ll make it! Row!
row!” he cried, as if his voice could be heard by the men at the oars.

The big foresail of the Surprise had been dropped, and she was slowly
swinging around as if in an endeavor to make her way out through the
crowd of anchored vessels near her to the open waters that lay beyond.
This could be discerned without the aid of the glass, and Allan
perceiving it struck his fist into the palm of his other hand.

“The fool!” he cried. “What is he doing that for? It is the very thing
the Englishman would like best--to get him in the open. His chances
were much better if he stayed nearer shore.”

Ross, whose hand was trembling so that he could hardly hold the glass,
now spoke up again.

“There!” he cried. “Look! Conyngham has joined his vessel. See, she
swings back again and turns in toward shore. She’ll run that little
vessel down. Heavens! that was close; she just touched.” He whirled and
looked at the others. “Gentlemen, there’s sailing for you,” he said.
“Did you see that? He steered in between those two small ones, and I
know what his intentions are. He’s going to try to run the lugger into
the basin next the long wharf.”

“He never can get through,” interposed his brother; “there isn’t room
enough.”

“He may,” was the elder Ross’s answer, “and at all events he’s going to
try it--and see, the packet follows him!”

A silence followed as they all watched the Surprise slipping along so
close to the shore that her hull was now entirely hid from sight and
nothing but her big sail could be seen gliding past the vessels moored
to the landing-places. Then all at once the big sail was clewed up,
and under the impetus that she had gathered the Surprise forged slowly
ahead. Into the basin she slipped without a wharf line being sent to
shore, and grinding along the string-piece her speed slowly slackened
and then stopped. Ropes were immediately passed out and she was made
fast, and at this moment, as if foiled in her design to lay her
alongside, the British sloop dropped her anchor. The Prince of Orange
came into the basin in the Surprise’s wake.

“Neatly done, by Jove!” exclaimed Allan. “He handled her as if she were
naught but a shallop. Gentlemen, let us separate, and meet at the long
wharf as soon as we can get there.”

At once they descended the stairs and went out into the street, where,
in order to attract the least suspicion and to carry out the plan
that they always adopted of being strangers to one another, they went
different ways, but all heading at last in the direction of the shore.

A surging mob was gathered on the long wharf and on the decks of the
vessels moored near it. At one place there was a group of a half
score or more men talking excitedly in English among themselves. The
Frenchmen surrounding them were listening with evident amusement,
although they could not understand what was being said. The men who
formed the group were the prisoners whom Conyngham had released as soon
as his vessel touched the wharf; in fact, he had driven them overboard
ashore almost at the point of the pistol.

Hastily his crew were carrying out some bales and boxes from the
forward hold of the prize, and the captain standing upon the bulwarks
directing them.

The crowd was watching all this as if it were part of a play arranged
for their special benefit.

Mr. Ross elbowed his way quietly through the crowd and soon was close
to the vessel’s side. Conyngham looked down and saw him.

“The jig is up,” he said, speaking so that Ross could hear him.
“They’re going to hand us over. I thought as much from the looks of
things. They expected me to come back here--it was all prepared, but I
was a little ahead of time.”

“Well, what are you up to now?” asked Mr. Ross. “Why all this
unloading?”

“Merely for the establishment of international good feeling,” Conyngham
returned. “You’ll see in a minute.”

From his post of vantage in the bulwarks of the vessel he turned, and,
taking off his hat, addressed the crowd that up to this minute, as we
have said, had been nothing but amused spectators.

“Citizens of Dunkirk, people of France,” he said, “help yourselves.
Here are bales of fine English cloth and English cutlery. Sure, they’re
things ornamental and things beautiful. Help yourselves; they’re yours
for the taking, and the gift of the United Colonies of America and
Gustavus Conyngham, captain in the navy.”

It was enough. With something that sounded like a cheer mixed with
laughter, the crowd rushed upon the bales and boxes. Many climbed
unhindered over the vessel’s sides and dived down the hatchway.
Conyngham leaped to the wharf.

“Now,” said he, “let the Englishmen try to land and take us. The
authorities were going to let them board us while we lay at anchor
unprotected. I know that, for it was a French officer who went out to
the English sloop. Who can believe a Frenchman anyhow? I have told my
crew to scatter, and each man for himself. This is a pretty ending to
our project, by the piper! isn’t it?” he added bitterly.

Ross did not reply, for just then he caught a glimpse of something up
the wharf that had called his attention. There was a gleam of steel
and a flash of blue and red, and straight toward them came marching
a company of French soldiers. At the head walked an officer holding
a paper in his hand, and by his side was the very English spy that
Conyngham had seen run up the wharf. He perceived all in a glance.
Turning to Ross, the young captain spoke quickly.

“Here,” he said, slipping a long sealed packet into his friend’s hand.
“This is of the utmost importance. See that it reaches Dr. Franklin’s
hands in Paris at once; it must not be lost, for it may save my life.
De Vergennes has forsaken us.”

“Come,” replied Ross, hiding the paper in his pocket. “Endeavor to
hide--you may escape in the crowd.”

“And be hunted like a rat with a ferret or taken like a criminal. Never
that in the world. Appear not to know me.”

With that Conyngham stepped forward into the open space that the crowd
had formed in giving way for the soldiers’ coming. Stepping boldly out
to meet the company, the captain drew a short sword from under his long
blue coat, and advancing toward the officer he extended him the hilt
across the hollow of his left arm.

The officer was so surprised that he halted, as if not knowing what to
do, then in some hesitation he took the proffered weapon. At the same
time Conyngham spoke in a loud voice:

“Captain Conyngham of the American navy gives himself and his sword
into the keeping of the Government of France.”

Then he glanced about to the English spy, but the latter had
disappeared.

Leaving a guard of soldiers about the vessel, the officer and part of
his company walked back up the wharf. Before he had gone many steps he
returned the short sword to Conyngham, who took it with a smile and
walked off by the officer’s side, chatting pleasantly in French with a
strong touch of Irish brogue.

At the same corner where he had passed them but a few hours previously
stood his friends. Again they gave no sign of recognition.



CHAPTER X

IN PARIS AGAIN


Dr. Franklin had just returned from court. He had been saying many
pretty things to fair ladies, and had made his usual wise and witty
remarks to ministers and to courtiers, and now he seated himself in
his large arm-chair near the table, placed his big horn spectacles
upon his nose, and drew toward him a pile of correspondence and some
paper. Dipping his big quill into the inkstand, he paused a moment
before he began to write. On his face suddenly came an expression of
great pain. He pushed back his chair, and lifting his leg carefully
kicked off the heavy buckled shoe and rested his foot on a cushion
that lay on the floor. The good doctor was suffering a twinge from his
old enemy, the gout. At last, when he was more comfortable, a smile
of amusement lit up his features and he began scratching away quickly
with the squeaky quill pen. It was not a letter of state importance
or secret instructions that he was working on, for every now and then
his smile widened or changed to one of quizzical amusement. He had
abandoned himself to the whim of the moment, and when he had gone on
for an hour or so he paused and began to read what he had inscribed
aloud. It was an imaginary conversation between himself and his present
bodily visitor and tormentor, whom he referred to politely as “Madam
Gout.” He was defending himself against the accusations of the lady in
question as he read.

“I take--eh!--oh!--as much exercise--eh!” (here a twinge of pain seizes
him) “as I can, Madam Gout. You know my sedentary state, and on that
account it would seem, Madam Gout, as if you might spare me a little,
seeing it is not altogether my own fault.”

“Gout: Not a jot! Your rhetoric and your politeness are thrown away;
your apology avails nothing. If your situation in life is a sedentary
one, your amusements, your recreation, at least, should be active.
You ought to walk or ride; or, if the weather prevents that, play at
billiards. But----”

He had got as far as this in his reading when a servant knocked on the
door and softly entered.

“A gentleman named Mr. Hodge to see you, sir,” he said. “He says it is
of great importance.”

Dr. Franklin’s smile faded and he pushed the paper from him.

“Bid him enter at once,” he said, and an instant later Mr. Hodge
followed the servant into the room.

“Ah, good friend!” exclaimed Franklin. “You will pardon my rising,
for my position explains itself; but I see by your face that you have
something of import. Out with it and no beating about the bush. But I
pray you to tell me no bad news unless that can’t be helped. Come now,
what is it?”

In a few words Mr. Hodge related the story of Conyngham’s adventures
and the return with the packet. When he had finished, Franklin arose
and, despite the fact that one foot was shoeless, limped heavily two
or three times around the room. Then he at last replied:

“Your news, Mr. Hodge, is both good and bad. I might have known
that Conyngham would have done something of this sort, but just at
present affairs at court are somewhat puzzling. I can trust Turgot and
Maurepas, but the Count de Vergennes, Minister of Foreign Affairs, is
at times too deep for me. Just now he seems to be listening too much to
Lord Stormont. I would that we could get some good news from America
about the doings of the army. But what you say about the foreign mails
demands attention. They must go to de Vergennes this very moment. Do
you think that you are the first to bring the news of all this to
Paris?”

“That I can not say, sir,” returned Hodge. “There was a chaise and four
an hour or so ahead of me on the road. I obtained word of its having
preceded me at several stopping-places.”

“I am afraid that it is one of Stormont’s people,” said Franklin
slowly; “they have kept him well informed; but if so, I shall soon hear
of it.”

There came a ring at the garden bell just at this instant, for it was
near candle-time and the porter had closed the gate for the evening.

“There!” exclaimed the doctor. “That may be news now.” And almost
immediately the servant brought in the name of Mr. Silas Deane, Dr.
Franklin’s fellow commissioner to the court.

Following close upon the announcement Deane entered. He looked
surprised at seeing Hodge, and after greeting him spoke quickly.

“So you are already in possession of what I was going to tell you!”
he exclaimed. “Lord Stormont has been told of our Captain Conyngham’s
arrival at Dunkirk and has called on the Count de Vergennes. Dubourge
informed me so but a half hour since. Conyngham must be communicated
with and warned. Dubourge says that his lordship was in no pleasant
humor, and let drop some direful threats.”

Franklin seated himself in the big chair and placed his foot again on
the cushion.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “we must do some leaping; I mean you must--for my
leaping days are over; but ‘look before you leap’ is a good old maxim,
and let us do some looking. The position is just this: Had this thing
happened three weeks later, or had it followed upon receipt of good
news from America, it would cause me but little concern; but coming now
the situation is most grave. Captain Conyngham with his prizes must
leave Dunkirk and make his way to Spain. Through our friend Hortalez &
Co. I have made arrangements for the disposal of our property there. It
is not safe for him to remain in France. Are you too tired, Mr. Hodge,”
he concluded, “to post back to Dunkirk at once? Our American friends
there must be informed.”

Mr. Hodge sighed. He had had but little rest on the journey, and the
prospect of another long one was not alluring; but there was nothing
for it, and he acquiesced with good grace.

The doctor was beginning to give him some verbal instructions when the
bell at the gate rang again, and following close upon the servant’s
heels the younger Ross entered the room. He was travel-stained and
his clothes looked dusty and rumpled. Apparently he was surprised to
find the other gentlemen present, and stood somewhat embarrassed at
the door, but upon being presented to Mr. Deane, whom he had not met,
his embarrassment changed to excitement quickly, and he began to speak
hurriedly.

“Conyngham has been taken,” he said. “His vessel and the prizes have
been seized!”

“By the English?” exclaimed Franklin, almost jumping this time to his
feet, despite the remark about his leaping days.

“No, sir; he surrendered himself and his sword to the keeping of the
French Government. He and some of his men are in the French military
prison.”

“Did the English obtain possession of his papers?” anxiously inquired
Franklin.

“Not all of them, sir, for he sent you this, and bade me get it to
your hands with all possible despatch.” He handed to Dr. Franklin as
he spoke the big white packet that Conyngham had slipped into his
brother’s hand.

Franklin opened it nervously and glanced at the contents. Immediately
he appeared greatly relieved.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “you must both retire, and I suggest that you get
much-needed rest and repair here to-morrow morning. In the meantime Mr.
Deane and I will talk matters over. Will you breakfast with me here in
the garden?”

Ross and Hodge left in a few minutes, and Silas Deane and the good
doctor were alone.

“I wonder would it be possible for either of us to see de Vergennes
to-morrow?” asked Franklin, as he placed in a large portfolio the
papers that he had taken from the package.

“He apparently wishes to avoid an interview with me,” replied Silas
Deane, “for I have been unable to get at him for some time. But this is
bad news about Conyngham. If he has been thrown into a French prison,
it must still be at the instigation of the British authorities, and
they will demand that he be handed over to them. They will call his
doings by ugly names, I warrant you. There will be a flood of abuse and
invective.”

“And I have a good stop-gap for some of it,” was Franklin’s return. “I
do not think that they will proceed to extremes. To-morrow I will see
Maurepas, possibly Beaumarchais, and if needs be, the Queen.”

Deane was forced to smile despite himself, for he well knew the rumors
of the good doctor’s success with the fair sex; even the Queen had
succumbed to his magnetic wit and personality, so it was but a bald
statement of facts, and no boasting.

For some reason Franklin did not then show to Mr. Deane the paper which
proved that Conyngham held a commission in the new navy of the United
Colonies. Had he done so a great deal that subsequently happened might
have been averted. For half an hour longer the two commissioners spoke
of other matters. Affairs looked very glum indeed for the struggling
little nation across the water, and no news had been received for
some time. The failure of this last project boded ill for future
attempts, yet the mere fact that it had at first succeeded and that the
rattlesnake flag had been flown in the Channel proved to Europe that
the new nation was alive.



CHAPTER XI

THE REVENGE


The position that Captain Conyngham and his crew found themselves in
was peculiar. But few of his men had actually been placed under arrest.
The Frenchmen who had shipped in the Surprise, though well known to
the authorities, had been unmolested, nor could the imprisonment of
the few others be considered in the light of a great hardship. The men
occupied roomy quarters facing on the main courtyard, were allowed
to purchase extra supplies, and in squads of five or six they were
permitted to exercise in the open air of the court. Captain Conyngham
was in a different wing of the jail, but was treated more as a guest
than as a prisoner; still, until almost a week had gone by he had found
it impossible to communicate with any friends in the outside world. One
day, to his surprise, however, he heard a cheery voice calling to him
from the doorway of his large cell, for, being in a prison, every room
was supposed to hold prisoners. Looking up, Conyngham saw his friend
Allan standing laughing at him cheerfully. He had a long apron hanging
from his shoulders and a baker’s basket on his arm.

“Any bread this morning, sir?” he asked in French. “I have some good
Yankee bread with raisins and sweetening.”

“Ah, but it’s good to have a sight of you, friend Allan!” exclaimed
Conyngham, rushing up and grasping the imitation baker by both hands,
that, to carry out the illusion, Allan had daubed with flour. “Aren’t
you running great risks?” he asked.

“Risks?” laughed Allan. “Why, if the Frenchmen found out that I was
bringing in food to their starving prisoners, I would be hung, drawn,
and quartered.”

“So you donned this disguise,” laughed Conyngham in reply, “and they
never suspected you of such a thing. But news! news! my friend; that’s
what I am starving for--it’s the heart and the soul of me that’s crying
and not my stomach, for that the head jailer has looked after well.
Are they going to hand us over to the Britishers?--that’s the first
question.”

“They are and they aren’t,” replied Allan, “but this news I got this
morning from Paris: ‘Tell Conyngham to sit tight and not worry. All is
apparently going well.’ But the French are great people--they must do
everything like a play or a spectacle. Here I was told that I should
be allowed to see you if I applied to the commandant, and he informs
me that I certainly can do so, but requests that I shall put on a
disguise. I tried on three uniforms, but there were none that would
button or allow me to sit down.”

“Which by the same token I haven’t asked you to do myself yet,” was
Conyngham’s reply.

Allan seated himself in the big rush-bottom chair and placed his basket
on the floor.

“The English expect that you are to be handed over for a certainty,”
Allan continued. “They have prepared the sloop of war to receive you,
and I understand that another is on its way. Instructions, too,
have been sent to Portsmouth or Southampton, but we will disappoint
them. The French Government is playing its little game of ‘wait a bit
longer,’ and never letting their right hand see what their left hand is
doing.”

“I knew that Dr. Franklin would take care of that,” returned Conyngham,
“but how long is it going to last?”

“Have patience!” replied Allan, “it certainly will not be long. I am
expecting Mr. Hodge to-morrow or the day after from Paris.”

“Have the crew been informed?”

“All but four of them escaped last night,” answered Allan.--“How
careless these Frenchmen are!--There will be another row when the
English hear of it; but I must be going, as they have spies by day
watching the entrance to the prison and overlooking the yard, from the
tall house next to the church.”

With that he picked up his basket, and after shaking hands went out
into the yard, where the sentry, evidently under orders, allowed him to
proceed to another part in an endeavor to dispose of his wares.

The next day Conyngham had another unexpected visitor, but it was not
Mr. Hodge, and happened thus: He was out in the inclosure amusing
himself and at the same time taking exercise by bounding a rubber ball
back and forth against the high brick sides of the building, when one
of the under jailers called to him from the entrance. At the same time
a red-faced man who accompanied the jailer stepped forward, and telling
the jailer to go, stood as if waiting for Conyngham to approach, but
the latter paid no attention and went on with his game. At last the man
drew near and spoke.

“I am Captain Cuthbertson of his Majesty’s sloop-of-war Alert. Your
name is Conyngham,” he said.

“Now, somebody must have told you that,” returned Conyngham. “But it is
my name, and I am captain of the armed cruiser the Surprise.”

“Which has been turned over to his Majesty’s Government with the other
vessels that you piratically took off the coast of Holland,” replied
the officer.

“Indeed?” was the reply, “That must be gratifying to his Majesty. But
now, captain, won’t you take off your coat and have a game with me? It
is a pleasant little occupation that two can play at better than one.
I have little with me to wager but my shoe-buckles. I will play mine
against yours. Or we’ll put up our wigs,” he continued.

“You’ve played for a larger stake than that and you’ve lost,” replied
Captain Cuthbertson. “How can you, knowing that your very life is in
jeopardy, indulge in such pastimes?”

“If my life was in jeopardy, I am sure it would be in a good cause. I
ask for no favors except a little more elbow room, for you’re standing
just where I wish to begin playing.”

“Listen to me first,” spoke the officer, not noticing that a dangerous
flash had come into Conyngham’s eyes. “His Majesty might be disposed to
be lenient--aye, more than that--if you will listen to reason. Perhaps
it might be possible to arrange a pardon for you--and more. You have
once been a British subject. Return to your allegiance and loyalty. I
doubt not that it might be so arranged that a good place could be found
for you in the naval establishment, and that with your talents a sure
advancement would follow.”

Conyngham threw the ball into the air and caught it. “You may tell
those who sent you,” he replied, “that his Majesty might offer me the
position of an admiral of the blue, and I would tell him that I would
rather spend my days in the hold of a prison-hulk than accept it. As
you will not play with me, I shall have to ask you to stand aside
again. Some day we may meet where the game will be played for larger
stakes and there will be harder missiles flying. Good morning, sir.”

The officer stamped his foot and started to reply, then he changed his
mind quickly and left the jail-yard without a word.

Conyngham stopped playing and went to his cell. Before an hour had
passed another visitor was announced. It was Mr. Hodge. He was not
disguised, but dressed in his usual habit, that of a merchant in
prosperous circumstances.

“I expected to see you as a cat’s-meat man or a turbaned Turk, my dear
sir,” was Conyngham’s greeting, “and yet here you come as if you were
dropping into the tavern of our friend on the hill.”

Hodge smiled. “There is very little more trouble. I bore some
instructions from Paris that have made the commandant of the prison a
very subservient individual.”

“Then you have brought me my release!”

“No, not that, but it will follow in due time. In some way the
commissioners have got the French ministry between the grindstones,
or--a better simile perhaps--Dr. Franklin is about to checkmate de
Vergennes and the latter is apparently glad to call the game a draw.
Good news also has come from America, though no great victory has yet
been won. Grand, our banker in Paris, has now another hundred thousand
livres at the disposal of the commissioners. What we must do is to
spend it in such a manner as will best benefit the cause.”

“Then force the hand of the French Government,” replied Conyngham.
“Everything that you do to make them sever relations formed on any
friendly basis with England, will lend more assistance than the capture
of a dozen packets.”

“And how is it best to do that?” asked Mr. Hodge.

“I will answer that with a question first,” replied Conyngham. “How
much longer shall I be detained in this ‘durance vile’? By the Powers,
I’m tired of it.”

“Four or five days, perhaps a week.”

“That is right and will do well. You’re supposed by many to be an
English merchant here, Mr. Hodge. I am, and will be for a little time,
a prisoner. You did not figure in the purchase of the Surprise, but
there is a fine two-masted craft of something over a hundred tons lying
moored at the end of the long wharf. She is for sale. Buy her at once.”

“And then what?”

“Fit her out with stores for a two months’ cruise. I will secure her
armament and crew upon my release.”

“We shall surely be in trouble again.”

“Not much this time. To my thinking, the French Government will be glad
to be rid of us. To the south of us lies Spain with its open market, to
the west of England lies Ireland with many a well-provisioned port and
friendly hand, and there is always our own country. Had my last vessel
been big enough to have crossed safely and had we not taken those
unlucky mails, it was for home that I would have headed the Surprise.”

“She lived up to the definition of her name; what would you call this
one?”

“I would be after calling her,” replied Conyngham slyly and in the
softest of brogues, “I’d be after calling her the Revenge.”



CHAPTER XII

SAILING ORDERS


Made fast to the end of the long wharf was a rakish-looking vessel, and
all about her was a scene of continuous activity. From small boats and
slings men were painting her topsides, and at the same time, running
to and fro from the wharf, others busy as ants were carrying bales
and boxes on board; windlasses were lifting and swinging the heavier
goods over the bulwarks. On the string-piece stood an active, wiry
figure, recognizable at a glance, and near by was the portly form of
our friend Hodge. Conyngham was a free man again. Mysterious orders had
come from Paris, and to the surprise of everybody he had appeared one
day walking the streets of Dunkirk smilingly greeting the inhabitants,
who remembered well his giving the stores of the other vessels to the
populace on the day of his arrest.

[Illustration: At the end of the wharf was a rakish-looking vessel.]

It was the beginning of the second week of July, 1777, and for over a
fortnight the outfitting, loading, and changing had been going on and
the nameless vessel that was going on the nameless mission was almost
ready to set sail. To tell the truth, although at first there was some
mystery made about her ownership, her destination, and her probable
calling, there was very little of the mystery left at the time at which
this chapter opens. The English spies and sympathizers in Dunkirk were
almost at their wits’ end. They had informed their Government of
their opinions, and now began to write to the English press in order to
stir the Government to action.

A copy of the London Times almost a week old had come to the hands of
Conyngham. As he glanced through the pages, all at once his own name
attracted his attention. This had happened as he was walking down to
the wharf, and he had smiled broadly as he perused the remarkable
effusion. He had slipped the paper into his pocket, where, in the
interest of watching the vessel’s loading, although he took no active
part in its direction, he had forgotten it.

“Everything seems to be going finely, Captain Gustavus,” said Mr.
Hodge. “No one apparently suspects the ownership of the vessel, and I
do not think the French authorities will interfere with her sailing.”

Conyngham smiled. That no one seemed to object struck him as having
a humorous meaning. Perhaps he had not observed the twinkle in Mr.
Hodge’s eye, as he advanced this statement. He was about to refer to
the article in the Times when something attracted his attention.

Two men, one dressed as a sailor and the other as something of a
court dandy, came walking together down the wharf. The sailorman to
all appearances had been drinking and was asking the gentleman with
the long satin waistcoat for something more with which to quench his
thirst. At last the latter, as if he could no longer resist the man’s
importuning, reached into his pocket and, producing a purse, took out
a small silver piece. At the same time he addressed some words to the
sailor, as if bidding him begone.

“I know this fop in satin and lace,” said Hodge. “I have seen him in
Paris, but I can not recollect where. He’s not a Frenchman, but a
German or a Pole.”

“Methinks I know him too,” returned Conyngham. “He’s talking English to
that beggar. Well, well--by the great gun!--it comes to me.”

Conyngham lowered his voice almost to a whisper and spoke without
turning his head or scarcely moving his lips.

“I know both of them now,” he said. “The fop is our friend the English
spy, and the other is one of the stool-pigeons. What do you suppose
he said just then? Hush! here he comes in our direction. It is his
intention to get near to us and listen to our conversation.”

“Let us move then,” suggested Mr. Hodge, “for there is a good deal
about me that I would not wish to have known; besides,” he added, “I
think you are mistaken, for I now remember where I have seen this
coxcomb, and at the house of no one less than good Dr. Bancroft, the
geographer and scientist, the friend of Franklin, and one who had kept
us well informed of the British plans.”

“Then keep an eye on Dr. Bancroft, is my advice,” rejoined Conyngham.
“Hush! let me speak to this fellow.”

The drunken sailor lurched up and leant with both elbows against a big
pine-wood box, but apparently he paid no attention to the proximity of
the others, for he began emptying his pockets of their contents, which
included the silver piece which had just been given him, and searching
for some bits of tobacco he jammed them into the bowl of his black
heavy pipe.

“What you say about the moon may be true,” observed the captain as if
carrying on some deep subject, “but still the influence of the orb upon
the tides has been acknowledged for centuries.”

The sailor by this time had found a bit of flint and steel and was
trying to ignite a bit of pocket tinder.

All at once Conyngham turned toward him, and at the same time taking
the copy of the Times out of his pocket, he spread it out on the top of
the box and began to read aloud.

“Listen to this nonsense,” he said in beginning. “The English must be
in a ferment of terror to believe such stuff as this,” and forthwith he
read:

    “I saw Conyngham yesterday. He had engaged a crew of desperate
    characters to man a vessel of one hundred and thirty tons. She
    has now Frenchmen on board to deceive our minister here. A fine
    fast-sailing vessel, handsomely painted blue and yellow, is now
    at Dunkirk, having powder, small arms, and ammunition for her.
    Conyngham proved the cannon himself, and told the bystanders
    he would play the d----l with the British trade at Havre. It
    is supposed when the vessel is ready the Frenchmen will yield
    command to Conyngham and his crew. The vessel is to mount
    twenty carriage-guns and to have a complement of sixty men. She
    is the fastest sailer now known--no vessel can catch her once
    out on the ocean.

    “I send you timely notice that you may be enabled to take
    active measures to stay this daring character, who fears not
    man or government, but sets all at defiance.

    “He had the impudence to say if he wanted provisions or
    repairs, he would put into an Irish harbor and obtain them.

    “It is vain here to say Conyngham is a pirate. They will tell
    you he is one brave American; he is ‘a bold Boston.’

    “You can not be too soon on the alert to stop the cruise of
    this daring pirate.

            “JAMES CLEMENTS.”

There was also a letter that Conyngham read in even a louder tone:

            “PARIS, _July 28, 1777_.

    “SIR: You have no doubt been informed by your ministry that
    Lord Stormont had been successful, and that the Court of
    Versailles had declared their ports shut against American
    privateers. Let your blind politicians sleep, the guns of the
    American privateers will waken them to their sorrows. The
    General Mifflin privateer arrived, and Monsieur de Chauffault,
    the admiral, returned the salute in form, as to a vessel from a
    sovereign and independent state.

    “Your papers tell us that Conyngham is in chains in Dunkirk,
    and is expected shortly in London, to be tried and hung. I
    tell you that Conyngham is on the ocean, like a lion searching
    for prey. Woe be to those vessels who come within his grasp.
    No force intimidates him. God and America is his motto. Our
    country is duped by French artifice.”

As he finished it was noticeable to both men that the drunken sailor
was paying strict attention.

“What’s your opinion of that?” asked Conyngham.

The man looked up slowly and found the captain’s eyes fastened upon
his own. “I say, what is your opinion of that?” he reiterated, this
time leaning forward and grasping the man by the collar of his open
jacket.

So surprised was the latter that the pipe fell from his lips, and
before he could control himself an oath followed the pipe--an oath in
good round English.

Conyngham affected to laugh.

“Why, he has understood everything we’ve been saying,” he said, turning
to Mr. Hodge again.

The sailor, who had wrenched himself free, started to walk away. His
efforts in that direction were accelerated by a well-placed kick,
administered by the toe of Conyngham’s boot. But he apparently did not
resent it, and still affecting to be under the influence of liquor
stumbled up the wharf.

“That will puzzle our friend with the high-heeled boots,” said the
captain, “but to tell the truth I think there is very little use in any
more secrecy. They seem to know as much of the situation as we do.”

This was nothing more than the truth, and before two days had passed
Conyngham had openly acknowledged it by superintending the placing
of the cannon on board of the Revenge, and the French Government had
agreed to allow her to depart from the port of Dunkirk, upon Mr. Hodge,
who had all through the transaction appeared as her owner, signing a
bond that she would do no cruising off the coast of France.

The time of sailing drew on quickly. The vessel was laden, the
ammunition was all on board--there was no secrecy about that now--the
crew had been picked and divided into watches; some attempt had even
been made to drill them at the guns. The citizens of Dunkirk knew
almost to a man that the tidy little cruiser would soon be on the sea.

Once more the four “conspirators” were grouped about the table at the
tavern.

“Three days from now, captain, and you will be off the headlands,”
observed Mr. Hodge, “and we shall be here waiting to see which way the
cat will jump.”

“If you mean Lord Stormont by ‘the cat,’” answered Conyngham, “I think
he is all ready for jumping now.”

“I wish,” rejoined the elder Ross, “that we were certain of the French
minister’s temper. Dr. Franklin must have had a strong cudgel in his
hands to bring him to terms at all. I wonder what it was? You could
tell us, Captain Conyngham, if you wished, of that I’m sure.”

Conyngham looked at the others intently. He waited for Hodge to speak,
thinking that of course the good doctor had told him of the commission
that undoubtedly had been the cudgel that had brought the Count de
Vergennes to terms. But seeing that Hodge apparently did not wish to
refer to it, he also held his peace and changed the subject.

“You say that Dr. Franklin’s secretary will be down from Paris
to-morrow?” he asked Mr. Hodge. “I suppose with final instructions.”

The younger Ross laughed. “I don’t think there will be many
instructions that we could not guess,” he said. “It seems to me that
the case is clear enough--to capture as many of the enemy’s vessels as
possible and not to get caught at it, is an easy thing to remember.”

“There will be more than that, my son,” returned Hodge, “much more than
that, I hope, for you must remember that I am responsible to the French
Government for the proper behavior of the gallant captain so long as
he remains on the coast of France.”

“And you have no longing for the Bastile, eh?”

“Not much, my son. But Mr. Carmichael will tell us to what length we
can go in interpreting the cautions of the ministry.”

After some more desultory talk the meeting broke up, another parting
toast being drunk to the success of the Revenge.

Mr. Hodge and Conyngham walked down the street toward the pier where
the captain’s gig was waiting, for he was now living openly on board
the Revenge and making no secret of his connection with her.

“Tell me, my good friend,” asked the captain, “did Dr. Franklin say
nothing to you about the contents of that packet that you brought to
Paris with you? It would seem rather unusual if he did not.”

“Nothing beyond the fact that he was glad to receive it,” was the
reply. “What did it contain? You were asked that question before. If
you do not care to tell--why, consider it unasked.”

“It contained enough to save my life,” was the reply: “my
commission--that was all.”

“You have not received it back?”

“I have not seen or heard of it from that day to this.”

Hodge gave vent to a prolonged whistle.

“This is a serious matter,” he said. “But perhaps Carmichael will fetch
it down with him.”

“I hope and trust so,” was the reply. “Sure, I don’t care any more for
the yard-arm than you do for the Bastile.”

Conyngham was worried and slept little that night, still he reasoned
that it was more than probable that the commission would be forthcoming
in the morning, and also that he would be relieved, from all secrecy as
to its possession. He saw that it had worked wonders, and that slowly
but surely France and England were verging toward war; that before many
months should pass America would have a powerful ally. Of course, in
view of these circumstances, France could not have given the mortal
offense of surrendering a regularly commissioned officer into the hands
of what soon was to be a common enemy.

The next day Carmichael arrived. He was a tall, spare man, with a
hawked nose; a broad, good-natured grin was usually on his lips, but he
was keen as a whip-lash.

It was the morning of the 15th of July, and in the cabin of the Revenge
Mr. Carmichael sat opposite Captain Conyngham, who watched him with a
smile of dry amusement as he wrote. Carmichael was smiling also. He
had a trick of apparently spelling the letters he was writing with his
tongue wriggling at the corner of his mouth. As soon as he had finished
he turned, and waving the paper in the air to dry it, chuckled.

“There, Captain Conyngham, are your sailing orders. Of course, to a
man of your intelligence, there is no use of being more than explicit.
Somehow I am reminded of a story of one of your fellow countrymen who
was accused of killing a sheep, and in explanation made the plea that
he would kill any sheep that attacked and bit him on the open highway.
So all you’ve got to do is to be sure that the sheep bites first.”

“There is another little adage about a wolf in sheep’s clothing,”
replied Conyngham laughing, “and sure, there are plenty of them in both
channels, and in that case----”

“Be sure to kill the wolf before he bites you at all. But
seriously--once away from the French coast, you ought to have a free
foot. Do not send any prizes into French ports. Here is a list of the
agents of Lazzonere and Company, Spanish merchants, and here is a draft
of a thousand livre upon them at Corunna. Should you desire more,
accounting will be kept with Hortalez and Company that will be audited
by the commissioners and by Grand, the banker, of Paris. You will
receive the usual percentage accruing to the captain of a vessel making
such captures, and will keep a separate account of your expenditures
and moneys received and the value of prizes.”

He handed Captain Conyngham the remarkable instructions, which now for
the first time are shown to the public in their original form.

[Illustration]

Conyngham read the paper through. “But there is something else,” he
said. “Did not Dr. Franklin send some other paper to me?”

“Yes, there is a packet here which I received from the secretary of the
Cabinet Minister, M. Maurepas, who told me that he had been instructed
to give them to me by the Count de Vergennes. They contain some matter
in relation to our project.”

He opened his portfolio, and breaking the seal displayed some pages of
closely written matter that was undated and unsigned. It merely stated
that Mr. Hodge, merchant, had given his guarantee and bond, together
with Messrs. Ross and Allan, that the American vessel about to depart
from Dunkirk should respect all English commerce and should make the
best of her way to the United States. Conyngham’s name was not even
mentioned. As soon as he had read it, the captain exclaimed aloud:

“We are trapped again! By the Powers, there’s a large rat somewhere.
Where is my commission? I can not sail without one, and I refuse to put
myself and my crew in such jeopardy.”

“Dr. Franklin spoke to me of the paper that he had given you, and that
he had sent to the Count de Vergennes. He understood from the latter
that it had been returned to either Mr. Arthur Lee or Mr. Silas Deane,
who had sent it to you at this place.”

“I have never received it.”

“Well,” said Mr. Carmichael, “this must be attended to before sailing.
We will meet ashore this afternoon with Hodge, Allan, and the rest, and
hold a council of war. Perhaps I had better see them first, and I will
ask you to send me off in one of your boats immediately.”

The secretary and the captain repaired on deck. Conyngham felt no
little pride in his vessel, and indeed she was one to make the heart
of any captain glad. Everything about her was as neat as a pin. Her
crew of nearly one hundred men, forty-four of whom were Americans,
had picked up wonderfully in their work. On her decks were fourteen
six-pounders and twenty small two-pounder swivels capable of making
great havoc at short range when loaded with grape or ball. He pointed
out the good points of his vessel to Mr. Carmichael, who appeared in a
great hurry to get away, and was soon sent off in the captain’s gig,
intending to look up Mr. Hodge as soon as possible.

After drilling the crew all one afternoon, Conyngham early in the
evening went ashore, and repaired at once to the usual rendezvous.
There he found the others awaiting him. All seemed to be in good humor.

“Ho, Captain Glumface,” cried Hodge, “sit down with us. I have some
news that will give thee comfort.”

“Has it arrived?” asked Conyngham eagerly.

“Hear the man!” replied Hodge. “Look!”

He handed Conyngham a paper.

“It is one that just by luck I found in my possession. A blank
commission, and I have dated it to cover your last cruise.”

“But this is a privateersman’s commission,” Conyngham said, looking up
from his perusal of the paper. “I do not consider myself in that light.”

“I went on your bond,” replied Hodge.

“Yes, but it was not your money that paid for the outfitting; it was
money belonging to the United Colonies of America, or borrowed on their
account, and I am an officer in the regular navy, and that vessel sails
under the flag.”

It looked dangerously like a quarrel. Hodge relapsed into silence and
the elder Ross looked furtively from Mr. Carmichael to the captain, as
if expecting the former to come to the rescue.

“What you have there,” said the secretary at last, “is authority
enough, and is the same under which many of our cruisers are now
sailing. It is a letter of marque respected by the British Admiralty.”

“Mayhap so,” replied Conyngham, “but the date is made out wrong. I
sailed in the Surprise on the 1st of May, and this is made out on the
2d.”

“Tut, tut! that is too bad,” muttered Mr. Hodge, “and the last one I’ve
got, and in fact the only one I had. What now are we to do?”

“My brother comes down from Paris to-morrow,” put in Ross, “and he may
bring news proving that we have time to wait, or perhaps he may have
seen Dr. Franklin and have the very paper the captain desires.”

Hardly had he spoken than a sound of hurrying feet came down the
hallway outside. The door burst open, and in rushed the younger Ross.
Evidently the position of the candles on the table prevented him from
seeing that Conyngham was present, for in his first words he asked for
him, and upon the latter rising, he came quickly to his side.

“We must think and act quickly,” he cried. “But two hours behind me in
the road is a messenger from de Vergennes instructing the authorities
to seize the vessel and not to allow her to depart. I have this on
the very best authority. I saw Dr. Franklin but an hour or so before
I received the news. He expected me to wait until to-morrow, when he
should have been granted an audience with the Foreign Minister, but
upon ascertaining the importance of immediate action (I was told by the
very messenger to whom I had once been presented by Dr. Bancroft) I
sought out the doctor. Search high or low, I could not find him, but by
good fortune I met Silas Deane in company with our misanthropic friend,
Mr. Lee. They ordered me to post it here at once and tell you to get
under way at the earliest possible moment.”

“Where was Dr. Franklin, do you suppose?” asked Allan.

“Dining with some fair countess or duchess at Versailles,” replied
Hodge, who leaned perhaps a little toward the Lee faction.

The secretary shrugged his shoulders and said nothing, but Conyngham
spoke quickly.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “there is but one thing to do. Commission or no
commission, I sail from Dunkirk on the early morning tide. We have but
a few hours before us. May the Powers grant the messenger does not
arrive before then. Stormont must have played his trump card and won.”

Quickly the party broke up and accompanied Conyngham to the water’s
edge. Early in the morning, while still the mist hung over the harbor
and shrouded the houses and shipping, a ghostlike vessel appeared in
mid-channel, fanned by the damp shore breeze. It was the Revenge. On
the fast ebb tide she slid swiftly out to sea.



CHAPTER XIII

IN THE CHANNEL


The firm of Hortalez and Company received word from their Spanish
agents and the representatives of Lazzonere and Company that four
English vessels--two brigs, a large lugger, and a ship (the last a most
valuable prize)--had arrived at Corunna, all sent in within a week
after the sailing of the Revenge. So well had everything been arranged
that there was a ready sale. Vessels and cargoes were disposed of
without a hitch to Spanish and French merchants, in many cases auctions
being held on the public wharves. Two weeks more and eight other prizes
were added to the list.

England was now in a storm of indignant protest. The Admiralty was
besieged with letters, and ship-owners and insurance people, frightened
at the prospect of further losses, showed signs of panic. Vessels
already loaded and ready for sailing were held in port until they
could sail, under convoy of an armed guard-ship. Insurance rates rose
twenty-five per cent. And all this time a little, fast-sailing craft
drove up and down the Channel, occasionally flaunting the rattlesnake
flag almost in sight of the fleets that lay at anchor in the roadways.

And so we find her on one bright day in August, still in sight of the
white cliffs, but heading southwest in chase of a deep-laden vessel
whose suspicions had been aroused, for she was staggering along under a
press of snow-white canvas.

Conyngham had gone forward to the forecastle and was watching the
chase through his spy-glass. The crew, much reduced in numbers by
reason of manning the prizes, watched him carefully. There had been
something about the set of the stranger’s canvas that had suggested
the man-o’-war, and now--although, as we have said, she had all sail
set--she seemed to display a slowness that was puzzling, for hand over
hand the Revenge picked up on her. The six-pounders and the swivels had
been cast loose and provided, and the men were only waiting the orders
to take their stations. There was a ponderous sea running, and the
armament of the Revenge was practically useless except at short range.
Time and again had the captain longed for a bow gun, and he would
have exchanged half of his broadside for a long twelve-pounder. They
were within two miles of the vessel now, and for the last few minutes
Conyngham had not taken his eye from the glass, crouching, or at least
half kneeling, against the bow-sprit in order to steady himself. The
lower sails were wet with the spray that dashed up from the bows,
and he himself was soaked almost to the skin. Suddenly he arose and
shouted some orders hurriedly. The Revenge came up into the wind as if
abandoning the chase. The second mate, who stood beside the helmsman,
saw the captain come running aft.

“She’s a man-o’-war brig!” cried Conyngham. “I thought as much. She has
a drag out to hold her back.”

“There she comes about,” answered the second mate. “Now we can see her
teeth. You’re right, sir. She hoped to bring us up to her. Hadn’t we
better run for it?”

For an instant the captain did not reply. He seemed to measure
carefully the rate of the other vessel’s speed against that of his own.
The result apparently satisfied him, for he turned again with a smile.

“I’ve got half a mind to try a few passes with him,” he said, “and I
would do it if it were not for the old adage about discretion. For an
Irishman, sure I have a reputation for discreetness that must not be
broken. And so,” he continued, “we’ll let well enough alone.”

It was evident to every one on board the Revenge that their vessel
sailed faster and closer on the wind than did the brig. And though
both were heading toward the white cliffs, it became apparent that if
the wind held, the Revenge would not only cross the brig’s bows at a
distance that was practically out of range of her broadside guns, but
would also weather the point that was the southernmost cape on the
English coast--Land’s End. By nightfall, if all went well, she should
be past the entrance to the Irish Channel and in her new cruising
grounds. But an unlooked-for occurrence put an end to all such hopes.
Suddenly appearing around the point of land, carrying the wind from an
entirely new direction, came a large three-masted vessel. At once the
brig, that, although to leeward, was the nearer, began to set a little
row of signal flags, and, as if noticing the shift of the wind, she
came about, apparently abandoning the attempt to head off the Revenge.
Instantly Conyngham divined her purpose, and came about also as quickly
as he could. The breeze, which had been from the eastward, was rapidly
dying down.

The big stranger, carrying the new wind, grew larger and larger.
Through the glass Conyngham could make out three rows of ports, and the
billowing canvas rising above the dark hull looked like a cloud hanging
low in the sky. It was almost dead calm, and the Revenge swung lazily
up and down, with her steering sails dipping uselessly in the water,
while the brig, that had now caught the wind, bore down nearer and
nearer. The men looked back at the quarter-deck with frightened, white
faces. All the good fortune that had so far followed them in the cruise
had apparently deserted them. They saw visions of their prize-money
disappearing, and many of the knowing ones could imagine the crowded
harbor of Portsmouth, with the big seventy-four lying at anchor, while
black, faintly struggling objects depended from her yard-arms. The
first mate and Conyngham had not exchanged a word, when suddenly the
former, lifting his hand, broke the silence.

“She’s coming, captain; by tar, she’s coming!” he cried.

The big foresail of the Revenge lifted and the sheets and outhauls of
the steering-sails spattered a line of spray as they tautened up out of
the water. But it seemed almost too late that the breeze had reached
them. Broad off the starboard bow was the brig, but a mile and a half
away, while little more than twice that distance, dead astern, came the
seventy-four, a roll of seething white playing under her forefoot and
sweeping out on either side. Down on the wind came the ominous rolling
of a drum.

“They’re beating to quarters, sir,” observed the mate; and then in
almost semitragic despair he muttered, “and they’ve got us in their
locker!”

But the Revenge was now slipping along swiftly, although she had not
yet felt the full force of the following wind. The brig had set a
little answering pennant to a new string of signals that had risen
to the masthead of the seventy-four, and in obedience, although at
extreme range, she began firing with her bow guns, the balls plashing
harmlessly in the water a few hundred yards away, but each one
appearing to come nearer than the last, and threatened to reach the
Revenge at any moment. It looked black indeed for the little cruiser.
Her actions had placed her, beyond doubt, in the minds of her pursuers
as the vessel for whose capture a large reward had been offered.
Subterfuge was useless. She had proclaimed herself as much as if she
had flown the cross-barred flag with the wriggling rattlesnake that,
bent to the color halyards, lay on deck ready to have risen and to have
been tossed to the wind.

The feeling of terror that was spreading through the crew seemed to
unnerve them. A French sailor, as a shot from the brig came closer than
before, fell on his knees and began to call upon the saints. Something
must be done, although it seemed that all human exertion would be
futile, for even now the line-of-battle ship had opened up with her two
forward guns, but, like her smaller consort, the shots fell harmlessly
some distance off. Now the Revenge had caught the full force of the
wind, and every sheet was taut as a bar of iron. The spray began to fly
over her bows as she dipped and rose against the crest of the seas. For
an instant it appeared as if she was holding her own, and it was so, as
far as the brig was concerned; but the seventy-four was faster than her
bulk would lead one to suspect. A shot came skipping along the water,
jumping from wave to wave until it sank almost broad off the beam of
the Revenge.

“We must try the last resort, Mr. Minott,” said Conyngham quietly; “we
must lighten her.”

And with that he began to shout orders to the crew, all of whom were
gathered in the waist talking in subdued voices, with much shaking
of heads and low curses. As if relieved at having something to do
and at hearing their captain’s voice ring with a note of assurance,
they sprang forward. The swivels were cast over the side, and one
after another the broadside guns followed. The effect was immediately
perceptible; the Revenge seemed to lift to the sea instead of dipping
into it. And now the water casks, some of which were on deck just abaft
the foremast, were broken in with swift blows of the axes, and the
scuppers were running full with a mixture of salt water and fresh. The
shot from the lockers followed, and both anchors, cut away, were let go
and plashed overboard. And now, inch by inch, the Revenge drew ahead.
The brig had fallen back until she was almost astern, and had ceased
firing, but the seventy-four maintained her distance and continued, by
an increased elevation of her bow-chasers, in an endeavor to reach her
quarry.

It was approaching dusk; a fine red sunset, with bars of narrow blue
clouds against the glare, glowed in the west; a still narrower and
darker cloud was draped down from the sky above, and it looked for all
the world like a picture on a grand scale of the Revenge’s cross-barred
flag, the wriggling snake and all. Prompted by an impulse, Conyngham
stepped to the color halyards, and with his own hands hoisted the
Revenge’s colors to the masthead.

As if angered by the seeming insult, the big vessel swung off a point
or two until, port after port, her broadside could be seen being
brought to bear. It was the very thing for which Conyngham had been
waiting. By doing so she lessened her speed and lost perceptible
headway.

Every nerve was tense in the captain’s body as he stood there close
to the taffrail waiting for the coming discharge, and trusting that
the British commander had underestimated the distance or the rate of
the Revenge’s sailing. The brig also was repeating the maneuver and
endeavoring to bring her broadside also into play, for she and the
seventy-four were now sailing almost side by side.

All at once it came! A cloud of white smoke broke from the tall sides
of the larger vessel, and immediately the thunderous roar of her
main-deck battery followed. How the Revenge escaped was more than any
one on board of her could tell, for some of the heavy shot passed over
her and crashed into the crests of the waves some distance in her
path. But one shot reached her, and that, striking the top of her port
bulwarks, sent a shower of white splinters whirring across the deck and
then glanced harmlessly into the sea.

The brig, that had yawed wide, immediately followed suit, and just here
the strangest thing occurred. Whether one of the guns that she had
been firing earlier in the day had not been re-aimed or whether some
accident in the firing took place has never been ascertained; perhaps
some impressed seaman gunner who had been taken by the press-gang in
a British port now found the moment to wreak his vengeance. At all
events, a shot from one of the brig’s broadside guns went so wide
of the mark that it caught the foretopmast of the big one full and
square just above the hounds and brought it, with a tangle of sails and
rigging, lurching and swinging down to deck, where the wreckage poised
for a minute and then, swayed by the wind, tangled in the head-sails
and brought the vessel almost to a stop.

The chase was over! The Revenge slipped on her way, and as Conyngham
looked back he could see his two pursuers shortening sail.

“Somebody’ll swing for that, Mr. Minott,” observed the captain.

“And somebody would have swung if it hadn’t happened, sir,” returned
the mate, giving up the wheel, which he had been handling himself, to
the now grinning helmsman.

“What course, sir?” asked the latter.

“Hold as you are,” Conyngham answered. “We’ll make some port in Spain.”

Two days later the Revenge entered the harbor of Corunna.



CHAPTER XIV

ON THE IRISH COAST


A very peaceable craft indeed the Revenge appeared to be as she lay at
anchor in the Spanish harbor, as all evidence of her real character had
disappeared. But of course Captain Conyngham did not intend long to
live up to this peaceable appearance; his chief concern was to procure
another armament, gather his crew together, and, nothing daunted, put
back to the rich cruising grounds. It was his settled purpose to enter
the Irish Channel and pick up some of the fat prizes that he knew were
there ripe for the picking.

He had been forced to moor the Revenge to one of the naval
mooring-buoys when he first entered, but upon explaining that he had
lost both anchors during a stress of bad weather, the captain of the
port had allowed him to remain until he could procure others.

To his delight, Conyngham had noticed five or six of his prizes lying
farther up the harbor, and the Revenge herself had been recognized by
some of the prize-crews that were still on board the latest captures.

As soon as possible Conyngham had pulled to shore and sought out the
agents of the mysterious mercantile house of Hortalez and Company. At
the offices of Signor Lazzonere, whom should he meet but the elder
Ross!

Eager and warm were the greetings. Ross had so much to ask and so much
to tell that he found it difficult to begin.

“Upon my word, captain,” he said at last, “could I have had a prayer
answered, you could not have appeared at a more opportune moment. There
is the old Harry to pay in France--upon no account must you return
there, for----”

“I have no such intention,” was Conyngham’s answer, interrupting. “Sure
our friend de Vergennes gave me hint enough for that. I shall, if I
can, pick up some scrap iron here and something to throw it with, go
back and pay the old country a fleeting visit, and then across the wide
sea to America. But how goes it with all our friends?” he added.

“That is what I am about to tell you,” replied Ross. “Poor Hodge is in
the Bastile, and my brother and Allan are confined in the prison at
Dunkirk.”

“All on my account?” asked Conyngham.

“On our joint account. Charge it to the Revenge,” was the reply.
“Hodge and Allan went on your bond, and at the first news that you
were cruising de Vergennes remarked that ‘it was a bad matter to lie
to a king,’ which he claimed they both had done, and clapped them into
prison.”

Conyngham frowned and looked puzzled.

“But, upon my soul, the sheep attacked me first,” he said. “So my Lord
Stormont has yet some influence.”

“But never fear,” Ross went on. “Hodge is being treated well; and
as for my brother, he dines with the commandant every evening. Good
news has come from America, and all things point to an early alliance
between our country and France. And now,” he added, “tell me of
yourself, and what do you mean by ‘scrap iron’?”

In a few words Conyngham related the story of his narrow escape and
the loss of his guns, and the necessary jettisoning of his anchors and
armament.

“We will arrange for all that,” was Ross’s comforting comment when he
had finished. “There is money in the treasury, and the commissioners
are well satisfied. There must be some now to your credit. If you
should care for an accounting----”

“Let it stand,” replied Conyngham. “I desire no more than is customary
for an officer in the regular service--two twentieths--and will wait
for my accounting until the business is finished. By the Powers, I only
ask to be at sea again.”

“The very person to help us out is Signor Lazzonere,” exclaimed Ross.
“Although a Frenchman, he has strong connections here in Spain, and
there is neither a Stormont nor a de Vergennes to be dealt with. Money
can do a great deal when backed with a little influence.”

The conversation was here interrupted by the entrance of the merchant
himself, and all then adjourned to Signor Lazzonere’s inner office.

In a few minutes Conyngham came out, a smile on his lips and a light of
satisfaction dancing in his eyes.

That very night the Revenge was warped in with a small kedge and moored
alongside a large bark that lay close inshore. Under cover of darkness
there was transferred to the cruiser the very thing that her captain
most wished for--a long twelve-pounder. It was hidden beneath a canvas
covering in such a way that its shape took on the innocent appearance
of a pile of wine casks, and the following evening work was again
resumed and eight six-pounders and ten short swivels--what the French
called demi-cannon--were put on board. By the fourth day the Revenge’s
armament was practically complete. In fact, she was, if anything, in
better fighting trim than ever before, and her crew was again recruited
to its full strength. The Spanish authorities had paid not the least
attention to the goings on, and no attempt was made to prevent her
sailing, although by this time her character must have been known to
every longshoreman in the port. Many Englishmen in Corunna were in
high dudgeon, and as usual would have prevented her sailing if they
could. But on the tenth day after her arrival, at noon of a Sunday, she
made sail and put out into the rolling waters of the Bay of Biscay.
The crew, all of whom had been paid part of their prize-money, looked
to their young captain to bring them safely through any adventure
that might be in store. Before the cruiser was out of the bay she had
taken two prizes, and almost at the very spot where she had made her
sensational escape she took a third. But it was in the Irish Channel
that her run of luck began. No less than twelve richly laden craft
were despatched to Spanish ports, and of them but two were recaptured.
Nearly all of the merchantmen surrendered without making any
resistance, either completely taken by surprise or, not being prepared
for fighting, concluding that it would be wiser to give in at the very
first summons.

But this rather inglorious method of warfare did not altogether suit
Captain Conyngham’s adventurous spirit, and time and again he wished
for a brush with one of the king’s cutters before his crew and his
stores were depleted by the manning of so many prizes. As yet he had
found no occasion to use the long twelve-pounder. But the opportunity
was soon to come, and the way it happened was this:

The Revenge was running short of water, and owing to the necessity of
dividing her stores with some of the coasters that were provisioned for
voyages of only one or two days’ duration, the crew was at last forced
to accept half rations, and sailors will grumble quicker at this than
at any form of dangerous hardship.

Once, forced by a hard blow, Conyngham had boldly made into the
mouth of the English harbor of Ravenglass, in Lancashire, where of
course he dared not go ashore, and owing to the presence of a British
thirty-four-gun frigate he could not cut out any of the numerous fleet
of merchant vessels by which he was surrounded. When the storm was over
he sailed out of the harbor as boldly as he had entered it, and none
of the English fleet imagined that the natty little craft that dropped
anchor among them was the dreaded Yankee “pirate.”

But now to the adventure: The supply of water was growing less and
less. It became an absolute necessity to fill the casks in some
fashion, and also to procure some fresh provisions, for scurvy, the
dreaded enemy of sailors of that day, had begun to appear--at least
there were signs of it, and the crew were grumbling louder than ever.
So Conyngham bethought him of his promise to pay a visit to the land
of his birth; and after skirting the Isle of Man in a fruitless search
for a safe landing-place or a well-provisioned prize, he crossed the
Channel and entered the harbor of a little Irish fishing port (the
name of which he fails to record in his log) about twenty miles or
so to the north of the town and harbor of Wicklow.

[Illustration: The dreaded Revenge was lying in the harbor.]

Probably the fisher folk were simple and unsuspicious; mayhap they
did not care to inquire closely into the mission of a polite fellow
countryman who claimed to be a peaceable merchantman, for here
Conyngham allowed his original nationality to be unmistakably plain if
he did conceal his calling; or maybe it was the sight of the Spanish
gold with which he paid for everything that blinded them; but they were
eager and willing to help him to the things he wanted; and as many
hands make light work, twelve hours sufficed to fill his casks with
fresh water and his forehold with potatoes--the best cure for scurvy.
Stores of various kinds to replace those he had sent to Spain were also
taken on board.

It was a misty, foggy day, with very little wind. The red evening sun
could not pierce the thick clouds, and the falling barometer proved
that heavy weather might be expected. Conyngham was anxious to be off.
He did not relish being kept longer in port than was necessary; for,
although he had seen that no vessel, even of small size, had sailed
out the harbor, he could not tell but that some suspicious person had
traveled overland to Wicklow bearing the news that the dreaded Revenge
was lying in the harbor. So, just before darkness set in, he bade
good-by to his friendly countrymen, and getting up his anchor drifted
out with the tide toward the Channel.

There was a steep headland to the south, and just as the Revenge was
rounding it a vessel came into full view that, from her appearance,
could be none other than a British cutter. There was hardly enough wind
to fill her sails, and like the Revenge she was drifting slowly with
the tide.

It would be hard to conjecture what it was that caused her captain
to be suspicious, but immediately upon sighting Conyngham’s vessel
two boats were lowered from the cutter’s side and filled with armed
men. They pulled out as if to intercept him. There were altogether
in the Revenge’s crew at this time but some thirty men left, but at
once the long twelve was cast loose and the short broadside guns were
double-shotted. Before the boats had traversed half the distance they
were stopped by a challenging shot from the twelve-pounder, and with
all haste they made back to their vessel. Although she was evidently of
heavier metal, had Conyngham had his full complement of men he would
not have shrunk from engaging her, but under the circumstances, as he
had once remarked before, “discretion was the better part of valor,”
and at long range a drifting fight began.

If the people of the little fishing port had been at all in doubt as
to who their visitor was, all such uncertainty was put at rest by
the appearance the next morning of the cutter with her jib-boom and
topsail-yard shot away and three shot holes in her hull, one at the
water-line that necessitated immediate attending to.

The Revenge had escaped all injury except to her larder, a chance shot
having entered at her cabin window and completely spoiled the captain’s
dinner; thence glancing into the galley, it broached a barrel of fine
salt pork, and ended by lodging in one of the deck beams.

The cruise had ended in an adventure at last, although a rather tame
one, and, satisfied with results, Captain Conyngham determined to set
sail for America.

Another prize was added to his list before he was quite free of the
Channel, and this was ordered to meet him at a port in the Spanish West
Indies, toward which he now laid his course, as he deemed it much wiser
to ascertain how matters stood in America before making for any home
port, which, for all he knew, might be in possession of the enemy.

He was satisfied with the work that he had accomplished, and well he
might be. Perhaps the result of his cruises had been exaggerated, but
he had prevented the sailing of two loaded transports, and from the
very fear of his name over forty sail of vessels of all kinds, to quote
from a contemporaneous account, “lay at anchor cooped up in the Thames.”

As Silas Deane wrote to Robert Morris and to the home Government,
“His name has become more dreaded than that of the great Thurot, and
merchants are constrained to ship their cargoes in French or Dutch
vessels.”

Not a guard-ship on the coast but had received specific orders to be on
the lookout for him, and yet he had cruised in the English and Irish
Channels for month after month. Another fact that he regarded with
satisfaction was that he had accomplished all this not merely as a
privateersman, but as a regularly commissioned officer in the navy of
his country. The prize-money due him as such, now amounting to a large
sum, he regarded as safe in the hands of the commissioners.

After reaching the West Indies, where he spent some time, he learned
from the American consul of the condition of affairs at home, and
after waiting for the arrival of the latest prize he set sail for
Philadelphia. The one thing that he regretted was the fact that he
did not have in his possession the commission signed by John Hancock,
then president of Congress, and given to him by Franklin in Paris, but
he did not doubt that the good doctor had it in his possession and
would produce it at the proper time. Without mishap, the Revenge sailed
up the coast, slipped by the British guard-ships off the capes of
Delaware, and early in February, 1779, Conyngham was home at last!



CHAPTER XV

THE CAPTURE


Of all the surprised people in Philadelphia, James Nesbit was the most
astonished when into his office walked the young seaman who almost
four years before had left in command of the Charming Peggy. The fame
of his doings of course had reached America, and Mr. Nesbit’s brother
had written at some length of Conyngham’s career in the Surprise, his
subsequent arrest, and mysterious release; but it was not until he had
spent a long afternoon in the coffee-room of the little inn around the
corner, and had listened to the captain’s modest and half-humorous
account of his doings, that he understood what had happened in France;
and he followed with breathless interest the career of the two little
vessels that had flown the flag in the Channel.

When Conyngham had finished at last, Mr. Nesbit, who had not allowed
himself to interrupt the recital by even so much as a question,
propounded his first interrogation.

“And what do you intend to do now, Brother Conyngham?” he said. “Of
course you do not mean to rest idle upon either your oars or your
laurels.”

“I suppose I shall have to wait orders from the Naval Committee,” was
the reply. “As an officer in the regular service, I have already
reported my arrival and asked for an audience on the morrow. I hope,”
he added, “they will see fit to make use of my services.”

“There is little hope of finding them in a mood to adopt any
proposition of an aggressive nature,” returned Mr. Nesbit ponderously,
“and there are few commands lying idle. It is as much as Congress can
do to keep our army supplied with clothing, food, and ammunition. The
fleet under Admiral Hopkins did not meet with any signal success.
England is too strong for us on the sea.”

Conyngham shrugged his shoulders. There probably came to his mind the
months during which in one little vessel he had dared the strength
of the English fleets in their home waters. But he said nothing, and
waited for Mr. Nesbit to continue.

“You are perfectly satisfied with the vessel which you have commanded,
Captain Conyngham?” the latter asked.

“Perfectly, so far as she goes,” was the reply. “But I have it in my
mind that I should like to command a larger. Sure, if you know of any
loose seventy-fours wanting a skipper, you might put in a word for me.
In case there is nothing better, I mean to apply for the command of the
Revenge again.”

“What do you suppose that they will do with her?” asked Mr. Nesbit;
and then, as if answering his own question, he went on, “Sell her, I
suppose. They are in more need of money than of ships.”

As he finished speaking he leaned forward and placed his hand on
Conyngham’s arm.

“If they do,” he said, “I may have a proposition to make to you. Why
not let us buy her in? You could sail her under a letter of marque in
joint ownership, and you must have a good sum of money to your credit.
See what the privateersmen of this port and that of Baltimore have
accomplished. They have practically already swept British commerce from
the seas.”

“I would much sooner,” replied Conyngham, “accept a regular command;
but rather than remain idle,” he concluded, “I would accept your
proposition. It depends entirely upon Congress.”

“Your commission would, of course, stand you in good stead,” remarked
Mr. Nesbit, “and a letter of marque could easily be obtained in
addition.”

As Conyngham had not as yet joined his family, that had moved out to
Germantown, he was evidently anxious to be away, and in a few minutes
he parted company with Mr. Nesbit, promising to meet him again on the
morrow.

It was much to his surprise that he found himself quite a hero among
his friends and acquaintances, but, strange to say, Mr. Hewes, of the
Naval Committee, to whom he reported, had heard nothing official in
regard to him from either Dr. Franklin or Silas Deane, and his name had
not as yet been placed on the naval list.

All this, of course, caused him more chagrin than uneasiness. He
claimed that the Revenge was subject to the orders of the Naval
Committee, and gained a point at last in that they accepted her as
public property, and as such she was almost immediately offered for
sale at auction. “Conyngham, Nesbit and Company” bought her in, one
third being credited to Gustavus, to whom Mr. Nesbit and his cousin
advanced the money.

So the further fortunes of the young captain were still bound up in
the Revenge. Unfortunately, however, there were some enemies of his at
work. Whether it was the tory lawyer whose designs he had thwarted in
regard to his first command (by the way, he was now a most pronounced
believer in the cause of liberty), or whether it was a discharged
surgeon’s mate who had lodged complaints against him, Conyngham never
found out. But suffice it, some one was working against him, and the
letter of marque--the authority to “cruise, capture, and destroy”--was
withheld by the Naval Committee and Congress. Perhaps they were waiting
until they could secure some substantiation of his claim in regard to
his commission--it may have been that; but, at all events, the delay
grew more and more irksome to him and to his partner in the enterprise.

Good seamen were difficult to find idle in American ports; the few
ships of the navy had hard work in recruiting their complement;
almost every one who followed the sea for a living was already off
privateering, and the Revenge was forced to complete her crew out of
the riffraff of the docks, supplemented by numerous landsmen who,
attracted by the rich rewards offered, dodged service in the army
and flocked to the seaports. Out of the crew of one hundred men that
Conyngham had hastily gathered together, only twenty-two had seen
service on deep water, and more than half of these were men who had
served with him in the Channel cruise. Owing to the delay in sailing,
the Revenge’s people were almost in a state of mutiny, and for three
weeks nothing but the young captain’s presence on board his vessel
prevented wholesale desertions. One day there came a notice from Mr.
Nesbit--the Revenge was anchored out in the river--informing him that
the letter of marque was likely to be refused, and intimating that
probably the Naval Committee would require his presence on shore, to
be placed on waiting orders.

This was too much for Conyngham’s gallant spirit. The prospect of
months of inaction galled him, and he replied that if he left his
vessel the greater part of the crew would desert and the whole
adventure be a failure.

It was while he was writing this in a note to be taken ashore to his
partners that he remembered that the second commission, given him by
Mr. Hodge in Dunkirk, was still in his possession. It had never been
rescinded, and the vessel he commanded was the same! It was surely
authority enough. Without hesitation he added a postscript--“Am sailing
with the flood-tide in half an hour”--and sent the note off to Mr.
Nesbit. So the deciding die was cast, and at the top of the flood the
Revenge made out into the midstream and floated into the lower bay. The
green crew, glad to be off, burst into a ragged cheer. Had they known
what was before them they would not have felt so much like rejoicing.

It did not take the captain long to find out that his crew of farmhands
and dock-rats was vastly different from the able lot of seamen that had
contributed so much to the previous success of the Revenge. Before they
were half-way to the capes a few had broken into the storeroom and a
dozen were too drunk to pull a rope. The captain and the mate had their
hands full, and the obstreperous ones were double-ironed and placed in
the hold, to get sober at their leisure.

There was time found for one or two drills at the guns before the
cruiser was out in the Atlantic, and here, as might have been expected,
half of the crew were seasick and almost incapacitated from duty. Off
the New Jersey coast, as the Revenge proceeded northward, she ran into
thick and stormy weather. On the third day, the 26th of April, while
the wind went down the fog increased, and when it cleared away at last
the captain found himself some ten miles south of Sandy Hook. Dead
ahead were two small square-rigged vessels that had the look of English
transports or supply ships, and Conyngham made all sail in chase.

This was the year 1779--a dreary one for the struggling colonies. New
York city was in possession of the English troops under Lord Howe, and
the Revenge was in dangerous waters; but the captain was in a reckless
mood, and boldness having served his purpose so well at various times,
he disdained his old adage about “discretion,” and pressed ahead. Once
more the fog closed down, the wind died completely away, and as night
came on the Revenge drifted slowly along on the round, oily seas, her
prow turning first this way and then that. All night she swung about,
when, early in the morning, a slight wind sprang up that Conyngham took
advantage of to work off shore. But it held only for an hour or so,
and fell calm again. The fog was thicker than ever at daybreak--one of
those opaque white mists that the sun finds it impossible to penetrate,
and seems to give up trying in despair.

The captain had been on deck all night, and, tired out, was lying on
the cabin transom half asleep when suddenly he was awakened by the
shrilling of a boatswain’s pipe, so close that it seemed to come from
his own forecastle. Then, as if it were the signal for the lifting of
the misty shroud, the fog broke and there lay the Revenge under the
stern of a huge seventy-four. Under her gallery there could be read
plainly the word “Galatea.”

It was all up! Even with the stiffest and most favorable wind, the
little cruiser could not have escaped; she would have been blown out of
the water before she had gone a cable’s length.

There was nothing to do. In two minutes two boatloads of armed sailors
and marines had put off from the big vessel, and soon they clambered
unmolested over the Revenge’s bulwarks.

“Who commands this vessel?” asked a red-faced lieutenant.

“I have the honor,” replied Conyngham, giving his name.

The lieutenant whistled.

“Conyngham!” he exclaimed. “Are you the pirate who sailed out of
Dunkirk?”

“I am an officer in the navy of the United Colonies,” was Conyngham’s
reply, “and will answer further questions to your superior officer.”

“That you will do at once,” sneered the lieutenant, and he gave orders
for Conyngham to enter one of the boats. Much elated, he rowed off with
his prisoner to the seventy-four.

On his way Conyngham learned that his captor was Captain Jordan,
whose commodore was Sir George Collier, and his heart sank, for he
knew that the latter had a reputation for being a man of a cruel and
vindictive temper. The Galatea was the very vessel from which the
Revenge had escaped off Land’s End on that memorable afternoon when
the cross-barred flag had appeared in the sky. He felt that he could
expect small favors under the circumstances, but his chief concern was
for his crew. Poor fellows! Some had not even recovered from their
sea-sickness. Now more than ever he longed for his missing regular
commission. But one thing rejoiced him--war was now on between France
and England. Stormont had packed up his belongings for the last time.



CHAPTER XVI

IMPRISONMENT


It would take another book to describe the immediate and subsequent
adventures and misadventures of Captain Conyngham in prison, for the
next few months of his life were passed in such close confinement that
it seems almost incredible that any human being could have survived
it. He kept a diary during this period that is merely a recital of his
sufferings, and yet we can not pass them over in silence, but must
outline what happened from the day of his capture to the day of his
first attempted escape, an escape that led only to recapture and worse
treatment, if possible, than before.

But we are anticipating. As soon as Captain Jordan learned who his
prisoner was he was much elated, but Conyngham’s own journal gives an
account of these trying days in the following picturesque language:

“On first going aboard the ship I was abused by a Mr. Cooper, who acted
as first lieutenant and took my commission. He sent every one, without
exception, to the hold. After some time a message came for ‘Captain
Conyngham,’ and I was introduced in the gun-room to the purser of the
ship, Mr. Thomas, surgeon of the ship, and Mr. Murray, master. After
some little time Mr. Cooper, the lieutenant, makes his appearance. I
find his behavior different from what I had reason to expect, and I am
made to understand it is the captain’s orders to be treated well and
granted the liberty of his quarter-deck. The officers and men still in
the hold. Very disagreeable, so warm. The following day, Mr. Waln, my
first lieutenant; Mr. Heyman, second lieutenant; Mr. Lewis, captain of
marines; Mr. Downey, master, relieved from the hold and given liberty
of the lower decks. Mr. Campbell, a prize-master, ordered into irons.

“Upon our arrival in New York, Mr. Waln was sent on board the flagship
to see the Commodore, Sir George Collier. Mr. Waln told me on his
return that he was solicited to enter on board the ship. What an honor,
to walk his Majesty’s quarter-deck! Mr. Waln declared he would not,
that he was a prisoner. The answer was made, ‘You shall go, then, to
England with Mr. Conyngham,’ and he was dismissed. I soon learned by
Mr. Cooper that my people were to be distributed among the men-of-war.
Boats came alongside with officers for the prisoners. One officer in
particular, by his appearance a lieutenant, an Irishman, addressed me
in these words: ‘So, Mr. Conyngham, you have prospered long and in
different stages?’ I answered him, ‘Not so many or so long.’ After some
hesitation he walked off.

“The crew and officers were sent on board different men-of-war, as I
understood, after many threatenings to get them to enter the English
service. Most of them were sent on board the prison ship with the
officers. After being in the East River, I was detained on board the
Galatea myself, with one leg in irons. I petitioned Captain Read to
alter my situation, asking if possible to be put along with other
American prisoners. In a short time I was sent to the provost prison
with officers and guard of marines. Upon application he conducted me to
the condemned room, where was one person that was in on suspicion of
being concerned in theft, another supposed to be a spy. It was a dismal
prospect. At six in the evening the provost master, a Mr. Cunningham,
came to see me. I begged to know the reason of such usage. He said his
order was to put me in the strongest room, without the least morsel
of bread from the jailer; water I had given to me. The Continental
prisoners found a method through the keyhole of the door to convey me
some necessaries of life, although a second door obstructed the getting
in of very much.

“At the end of the week I was let out of this room and introduced into
the Congress room by Mr. Cunningham. I was then given the liberty of
the prison.

“On the 17th of June a deputy sergeant, a Mr. Gluby, desired I should
get ready to go on board the prison ship. After some little time Mr.
Lang came to the door, called to me, and I took my leave of my fellow
prisoners. Went down stairs, and was conveyed to another private
apartment. There a large heavy iron was brought with two large links,
and ring welded on. I was linked to the jail door, and when released
found it almost impossible to walk. Got into a cart that was provided
for that purpose, and led to waterside by the hangman. Then I was taken
in a boat alongside of the Commodore Sir George Collier, his ship being
the Raisonable. There I was shown an order to take me on board the
packet in irons, signed ‘Jones.’ Up to this time I was made to believe
I was going on board the prison ship.”

So it was evident to Conyngham that the English were about to redeem,
if possible, their threat of seeing him dance at the yard-arm, and that
he was going to be taken to England for trial. On the 20th of June he
sailed in the packet under the convoy of the Camilla, and, still in
irons and in close confinement, he applied to the captain to have the
links taken off his legs and arms. After some time this was done, and
he was allowed a half an hour a day on deck to get the air.

On the 7th of July the packet arrived in Falmouth harbor and the
prisoners were taken off in the press boats. A Captain Bult came on
board and read an order from Sir George Collier, the purport of which
was that Conyngham should be put in close confinement in Pendennis
Castle until the wishes of the Lords of the Admiralty were known.

On his way to the castle he was gazed upon by the large crowds that had
collected, as it had become noised about that “Conyngham the pirate”
had been taken.

It was evident that the authorities wished to prove that Conyngham was
still a subject of King George, for many times men were brought to see
him in an attempt to identify him. On one occasion a woman was admitted
to see him, so he records in his diary, who promised that he would
be released if he acknowledged that he was her husband. Of course he
indignantly repudiated such a trick, and discovered subsequently that
her husband was a man who some years before had been accused of murder
and had escaped out of the country.

Every night poor Conyngham was put in irons, and his diary is but a
record of hardships and suffering. Curious people came in day after day
to gaze at the prisoner, and yet there was no prospect of his being
brought to trial.

On the 23d of July we find an entry as follows:

“A sailor declared in Falmouth before different people that he could
take his oath that I was with Captain Jones when he threatened to set
White Haven on fire. This was told me by Sergeant Williams of the
guard, and this day the irons on my hands were beat close to my wrists.”

On the 24th of the month Conyngham was moved from the castle to the
celebrated Mill prison. For the first time the irons were taken
off when he was placed aboard the vessel that was to convey him to
Plymouth, where immediately he was transferred to Mill prison. For a
few days he was confined in what was known as the “Black Hole,” an
underground dungeon without either light or air. It was not until the
7th of August that he was brought out for a preliminary trial, and then
he was committed again to the prison by the justices of the peace, on
the charge of high treason.

All this time Conyngham was planning to escape. Not an opportunity went
by that he did not seize upon to extend his plans. After his being
remanded on the high-treason charge, strange to say, his treatment
improved and he was allowed the liberty of the jail-yard, and found
opportunity on one or two occasions to converse with some of his
fellow prisoners. Many of them were Frenchmen, who had been taken
in the actions with the French fleet. On one occasion a battle was
fought within hearing of Plymouth, and the soldiers and inhabitants,
fearing that the French were going to attempt to land, began to throw
up earthworks and entrenchments along the water front. Among the
prisoners that were brought in was a Frenchman who had served in the
capacity of surgeon on one of the captured vessels. He was a man of
education, and his clothes were of a better character and texture than
those of the other prisoners, who were mostly common seamen. He spoke
no English, however, and Conyngham had to talk with him in French. Now
it happened that the prison doctor, who made his round of visits every
day, was a short, slight man, something of the young captain’s general
build and appearance. The clothes he wore were black, and he usually
carried a book under his arm in which he kept a record of his patients
and their condition. It suggested itself to Conyngham that it might be
easy for the Frenchman so to disguise himself that he might be taken
for the doctor, and by walking out boldly past the sentries in the
evening gain the outside of the prison walls and conceal himself in the
town.

“All you need,” Conyngham observed, speaking in French, “is a pair of
huge horn spectacles, pull your hat well down over your eyes, and walk
out of the door. I’ve studied the doctor’s gait--he walks like this----”

Suiting the action to the word, Conyngham gave a very good imitation of
the English doctor’s mincing step. The Frenchman laughed.

“My faith!” he exclaimed, “it is it to the life! I have observed him.
But remember this, my friend; I speak no English and would be helpless;
they would discover me at once.”

A day or so later the Frenchman and Conyngham met again in the
jail-yard. The latter motioned his friend aside to where one of the
stone buttresses hid them from the sight of the sentry who was
watching the yard.

“Here,” said the captain; “with this wire I have made a pair of
spectacles, and in the evening no one would notice that there is not
glass inside the rims.”

As he spoke he placed the wire upon his nose, drew down his upper lip,
and the Frenchman looked at him and laughed.

“My faith!” he said again, “it is the doctor to the life.” And then,
as if an idea had suddenly dawned upon him, he touched Conyngham on
the shoulder. “It is you who should try it,” he said. “You shall have
my clothes. I can give them to you piece by piece, and as they have
allowed me to keep some others I shall not miss them.”

At first Conyngham demurred, but the Frenchman was insistent, and so
the next night and the next transfers were made unobserved in the
jail-yard, and the captain secreted the clothing inside the mattress
upon which he slept on the floor of his cell. From another prisoner
a hat was obtained almost like the heavy three-cornered affair that
the visiting doctor wore. A book was procured somewhat resembling the
doctor’s.

Saturday evening was set for a trial of the plan. Conyngham was most
anxious to get away. He had, by his trick of reading people’s lips,
discovered that there was a plot on foot to convict him if possible of
the charge that hung over his head. A man had been found who swore that
he had known him in Ireland, and another who had positively identified
him as his brother. If they could prove the contention that he was a
British subject he would have short shrift of it, so it behooved him
not to put off long the attempted escape.

Saturday afternoon at about five o’clock the prisoners were released
in batches of ten or a dozen for exercise in the courtyard. When the
door of Conyngham’s cell was opened he feigned indisposition, and asked
only to be allowed to sit in the doorway where he could breathe the
fresher air; but no sooner had the turnkey left than he quickly donned
the Frenchman’s black small-clothes and the long coat, and putting on
the spectacles and the big hat he stepped out into the corridor that
opened into the yard. Imitating carefully the doctor’s step and holding
the book under his arm, instead of turning to the left he went down the
corridor to the right, at the end of which stood the first sentry at
the entrance to the guard-room. It was dark in the corridor, and what
light there was came from behind him. The sentry hardly looked at him;
turning the key and pulling the bolt, he let him pass.

He was now in the room that was occupied by the soldiers whose special
duty was to watch the prisoners and to patrol the outer walls, but the
room, by luck, was empty except for a sergeant, who, with his coat off
and his feet propped against the wall, sat snoring in a chair. At first
Conyngham was uncertain which of the two doors, that led out of the
apartment, to take. He chose the one to the right again, and opening
it came into another room where at the farther end three soldiers were
throwing dice. They paused in their game as he entered and looked up at
him. At first it appeared as if the one who was holding the dice-box
was about to address him, but one of his companions, with an oath,
exclaimed, “It’s only the doctor; go on with the game, you blockhead!”
and the men proceeded, rattling the dice and then tossing them on to
the bench. Conyngham walked past them and opened the door that led out
of the prison entrance, and here he had to go through a worse ordeal
than ever, for he came into the daylight, and there within twenty feet
of him stood the man on guard. He was in full regimentals, with his
long red coat and white cross-belts, and propped against him at an
attitude of attention was his loaded musket with the bayonet fixed.
Conyngham pulled the hat a little farther over his eyes, and opening
the imitation note-book he began muttering to himself the way he had
seen the doctor do. Closer and closer he came to the sentry. In his
imagination he could feel the man’s eyes looking through and through
him, and he thought he could detect a shuffling of his feet as if he
was stepping to intercept him.

He was past the sentry now, and thought he was over the worst of it
when the latter spoke.

“Halt there! The countersign!” the man demanded; but as if deaf
Conyngham walked on. “Halt there!” came the second hail.

It would never do to stop. Hastening his mincing steps and as if
oblivious of everything but his note-book, the supposed doctor walked
on. He even heard the sentry mutter, “Confound the old fool! I’d like
to send a ball after him.” He never turned his head.

Now he was free of the shadows of the prison walls. Before him
stretched a wide street running down to the town, and to the right
was a meadow, upon which were some trees, with benches under them. As
he concluded that it would be better not to trust his disguise any
further until after dark, he walked over to one of the benches, and,
still in the sight of the sentry, sat down and pretended to scribble
something in the note-book. In a few minutes the sun had sunk below a
bank of clouds in the west, and getting to his feet he walked toward a
little lane, intending to follow it until he could turn into the main
street some distance below. But here his good fortune deserted him.
On the very first corner stood a man with a basket on his arm. It was
a huckster who had been allowed the privilege of selling oranges and
small cakes in the prison-yard. Maybe the sense of security had caused
the captain to forget to imitate the doctor’s step. At all events, as
he approached the man with the basket the latter turned and looked at
him intently; then, after he had passed, the huckster walked quickly up
the lane, and when he had reached the common started at a run for the
prison gate.

“That Yankee pirate Conyngham is loose!” he cried. “I just met him
yonder at the corner.”

“You’re mad, man!” returned the sentry. “That was the doctor; he just
passed out.”

“It was not,” replied the orangeman hastily. “I know him well; it was
Conyngham in disguise.”

The sentry was about to call back into the guard-room when an officer
appeared. To him the excited orangeman repeated the news.

“We’ll see about this!” was the officer’s reply, and he despatched a
messenger at once to Conyngham’s cell. The fellow returned on the run.

“It is true, captain!” he cried. “Conyngham is not in his cell or the
yard, and the doctor is calling the sick list in the French division.”

An instant later a drum rolled and a scurrying squad of red-coated
soldiers hastened at double-quick down the main street toward the town.

They found the supposed doctor conversing with a merchant, at the door
of his shop, from whom he was asking directions and the time of the
next coach going to London, for there Conyngham knew of friends who
would help him, and the big city was the safest hiding-place, as shall
be hereinafter proved. It was useless to offer resistance, and without
a word he surrendered and was marched back to the prison gate.

That night, shorn of his good clothes and in double irons, he was
placed once more in the “Black Hole.” He dreamed that some one had
restored to him the lost commission, and that instead of being confined
as a pirate and a man supposed to be guilty of high treason, he had
been treated as an officer should be and accorded the privileges of
his position; but he awoke cold and stiff, with the knowledge that his
captors would now be harder upon him than ever, and, as he wrote in his
own diary, it was “a dismal prospect” again.



CHAPTER XVII

FREEDOM


That Dr. Franklin had been much concerned in regard to the treatment
accorded to Captain Conyngham by the British authorities is proved by
the letters and correspondence that passed between him and Conyngham’s
friends. Let us look at these letters for a moment and we shall see
that these friends were not idle. Here are the authentic copies of a
portion of the correspondence.

Jonathan Nesbit, the nephew of Mr. James Nesbit, of Philadelphia, was
yet in Europe, living for the time at L’Orient, and in September he
wrote to Dr. Franklin as follows:

            “L’ORIENT, _Sept. 22, 1779_.

    “SIR: By the brig Retaliation, Captain Kolloch, which left
    Philadelphia the 10th August, I have received letters informing
    me that Captain G. Conyngham, late commander of the cutter
    Revenge, had the misfortune to be taken last spring by the
    Galatea and sent into New York, from whence he had been sent
    to England with a design to have him tried for piracy. They
    pretend to say that he took the Harwich packet without having
    any commission, which your Excellency must know to be false--as
    I believe you were in Paris at the time that his commission
    and orders were delivered him. The commission under which he
    acted as captain of the Revenge is dated, I apprehend, after
    the taking of the Harwich packet. It is on this circumstance,
    no doubt, that the charge of piracy is founded. His first
    commission was taken from him in Dunkirk after he was put
    in jail and sent up to Paris, and I think was lodged in the
    hands of M. Comte de Vergennes. I have to request that your
    Excellency will do everything in your power to prevent the poor
    fellow from suffering. Considering the smallness of his vessel
    and the difficulty he labored under when he first left France,
    he has done a great deal for the service of his country. He has
    done so much harm to the enemy that he can expect no mercy at
    their hands, and if they can find any pretense whatever, they
    will certainly destroy him. Captain Kolloch informs me that
    he was sent home in irons. I should certainly have heard from
    him was he not already confined. I once more take the liberty
    to recommend the unhappy man’s case to your Excellency’s
    particular attention.

    “I have the honor to be, with great respect,

            “JONATHAN NESBIT.”

Before this, however, Dr. Franklin had been informed of the condition
of affairs, and he had written to secret friends of America in London
and tried to get them to interfere in some way for the gallant
captain, or at least to endeavor to mitigate the circumstances of his
imprisonment. He replies to Mr. Nesbit in the following letter:

        “_To Mr. Nesbit._
            “PASSY, _Sept. 20 1779_.

    “SIR: Captain Conyngham has not been neglected. As soon as
    I heard of his arrival in England, I wrote to a friend to
    furnish him with what money he might want, and to assure him
    that he had never acted without a commission. I have been made
    to understand in answer that there is no intention to prosecute
    him, and that he was accordingly removed from Pendennis Castle
    and put among the common prisoners at Plymouth, to take his
    turn for exchange. The Congress, hearing of the threats to
    sacrifice him, put three officers in close confinement to
    abide his fate, and acquainted Sir George Collier with their
    determination, who probably wrote to the British ministers. I
    thank you for informing me what became of his first commission.

    “I suppose I can easily recover it, to produce on occasion.
    Probably the date of that taken with him, being posterior
    to his capture of the packet, made the enemy think they had
    an advantage against him. But when the English Government
    have encouraged our sailors, entrusted with our vessels, to
    betray that trust, run away with the vessels, and bring them
    into English ports, giving such lawful prizes, it was foolish
    imprudence in the English commodore to talk of hanging one of
    our captains for taking a prize without commission.

    “I have the honor to be, with great esteem, sir,

            “B. FRANKLIN.”

Rumors, and then certain assurance, soon came to Paris that a wholesale
escape of American prisoners had taken place from Mill prison, and on
November 23d Franklin was rejoiced to receive the following letter,
dated November 18th, at Amsterdam:

    “SIR: I have the pleasure to inform you that on the 3d inst.,
    I, with about fifty of our unfortunate countrymen, broke out
    of Mill prison. I brought three officers with me. I came by
    the way of London, it being the safest. At London we met with
    our good friend Mr. Digges, who did everything in his power
    to serve one and all his countrymen that chance to fall in
    his way. Happy we to have such a man among the set of tyrants
    they have in that country! The treatment I have received is
    unparalleled. Iron, dungeons, hunger, the hangman’s cart,
    I have experienced. I shall set off from here the 19th for
    Dunkirk. There I shall be glad to hear from you. I shall always
    be ready to serve my country, and happy should I be to be able
    to come alongside some of those petty tyrants. I find something
    of the effects of my confinement. In a short time will be able
    to retaliate. I should at this time go out with Captain Jones
    or in the squadron, could I have heard from you. I should be
    glad to go for the Continent if a good opportunity served. In
    this I shall take your advice, and act accordingly.

    “The cash Mr. Digges supplied me with, and some necessaries
    I got at Plymouth. The friend we have at Plymouth is obliged
    to act with the greatest caution. Mr. Redmond Conyngham, in
    Ireland, has ordered me some little supply through the hands
    of David Hartley, of London--a mortal enemy of America, by all
    accounts.

    “From your most obedient and very humble servant,

            “G. CONYNGHAM.”

One more letter--Franklin’s answer to this one just quoted--and we have
done with the correspondence.

            “PASSY, _Nov. 22, 1779_.

    “SIR: It gave me great pleasure to hear of your escape out of
    prison, which I first learned from six of the men who broke
    out with you and came to France in a boat. I was then anxious
    lest you should be retaken, and I am very glad indeed to hear
    of your safe arrival at Amsterdam. I think it will be best for
    you to stay awhile at Dunkirk till we see what becomes of the
    little squadron from Holland, for which it is said the English
    are lying in wait with superior force. The Congress resented
    exceedingly the inhuman treatment you met with, and it ordered
    three English officers to be confined in the same manner, to
    abide your fate.

    “There are some Frenchmen returned to Dunkirk who were put by
    you into one of your first prizes, which was afterward carried
    into England. I wish you would adjust their claims of wages,
    prize-money, etc., and put them in a way of getting what may be
    due to them.

    “I write to Mr. Coffyn by this post, to supply you with
    necessaries. You will be as frugal as possible, money being
    scarce with me, and the calls upon me abundant.

    “With great esteem, I have the honor, etc.,

            “B. FRANKLIN.”

Now let us return to Conyngham and follow him through the excitement of
the escape that he refers to so casually.

The English officers in charge of the prison not only visited revenge
upon Conyngham’s head for the clever ruse that had almost been
successful, but they made most of the other American prisoners suffer
also. Below ground, under the center of the western wing of Mill
prison, were the “Black Holes,” or dungeons, and in the largest one
of these Conyngham, with three officers of American privateers and
fifty men--captured seamen--were confined. Four times a day and twice
during the night was the damp and dismal apartment inspected, and yet
no sooner had they all been placed inside and the heavy door locked
behind them than Conyngham proposed that a meeting should be held and
that they should appoint a leader who was to rule and govern them. At
once the proposition was made to him, that as senior officer he should
at once take the responsibility himself. At first modestly he refused,
but the rest of the prisoners would hear of nothing but his acceptance,
and so, wisely, the first thing he did was to appoint a committee
that examined into each man’s pedigree and position in order to be
assured that there were no spies among them. No suspicious persons were
developed by the inquiry, and that very evening Conyngham detailed the
plans for the attempted escape. Upon searching the apartment the first
thing he discovered was a loose flat stone in the flooring. Upon being
removed the ground was found to be soft and sandy underneath--so much
so that it could be almost scooped out with the hand. Digging began
that very night under Conyngham’s direction, a watchful person being
placed at the door to listen to the approaching footsteps of the patrol.

Conyngham had well gauged the distance and direction that the tunnel
should take to bring him out at the edge of the common outside of
the prison walls. The earth as it was dug up was concealed under
the mattresses, and from thence transferred to the pockets of the
prisoners, who carried it out handful by handful when they were in
the corridor, the privileges of the jail-yard being now denied them.
During the day and when the men were not working, for they had arranged
the labor and divided the time into watches of half an hour each, the
stone that concealed the opening was itself hidden by one of the straw
pallets.

The guards continued to be unsuspicious, and one night, late in
October, the two men who were at work in the farthest end of the
tunnel came quickly back announcing that they were so close to the
surface that the earth was beginning to break and crumble. It was
very fortunate that they had found beneath the first layer of soft
sand a stratum of hard clay mixed with gravel, which required no prop
or support to prevent its caving. Work now for a time was suspended,
Conyngham concluding to wait for the moonlight nights, and yet to
choose one when the light would not be too brilliant. The hour settled
upon was when the shadow of the prison would lie heavy upon the spot
where the breaking out would take place.

No better night could one imagine than that of the first Monday of
November, when every one was warned to make ready for escape. Conyngham
himself led the way and dug, lying on his back with the earth falling
all about him, until at last he could feel the free air as his hand
broke through the upper crust. In three minutes more a hole was made
sufficiently large to admit of his thrusting forth his head and
shoulders.

It was dangerous indeed, for should a sentry happen by any chance to
be in the vicinity, not only might the discovery lead at once to the
detection of the plot, but also to death by a musket-ball. No one was
in sight! The deep black shadows lay heavy under the high wall, and
above it towered the great roof of the prison. Beyond them rose the
square watch-tower against the gray misty moonlit sky. All at once
he heard a voice behind him. It was evident that if he did not take
care, the very eagerness of the men to make their way out would prove
their own undoing, for they had already begun jostling and shoving
one another, despite the stringent orders he had given. With great
difficulty he forced his way back through the hole, and there in a
few earnest words impressed upon them the necessity for caution and
patience. Order restored and the muttering stopped, he drew himself
by sheer strength out of the hole and rose to his knees on the ground
outside. One after another the men were pulled forth. All went well
until the last man’s turn came. I say “man,” but in reality he was a
huge overgrown boy, whose weeks of imprisonment had not appeared to
have reduced his bulk, for he stuck fast in the hole and apparently
could not be moved either one way or the other. If the position had
not been so full of danger it might have been found amusing, but every
minute’s delay increased the prospect of discovery, so they struggled
to relieve the fat boy from his predicament. Three men had hold of one
of his arms, when suddenly he gave a sharp cry. He once had been hurt
or wounded, and in their endeavors to release him they had broken the
large bone of his forearm. However, after his first outcry the poor
fellow said nothing, and by dint of digging and more careful hauling
they succeeded in releasing him.

[Illustration: One after another the men were pulled forth.]

By common consent they were to divide into small parties and make their
way to London or the vicinity, where from their various hiding-places
they were to inform a certain Mr. Digges of their arrival. It would be
six hours and more before their escape would be discovered.

One by one, keeping close to the cover of the walls, they each made
the shelter of a small clump of bushes, from which they reached a wood
about a half mile distant, where a meeting was held to determine on
their future course of action. It was a very short one, for Conyngham
dominated it and impressed upon them the necessity for haste. Soon all
were on the highroad, which they followed for about five miles and
then broke up in small parties as had been arranged for. Strange to
say, only fourteen of them, so far as could be ascertained, were ever
recaptured. The fat boy escaped!

Conyngham and one of the officers were the first to reach London, where
they immediately repaired to the house of Mr. Digges, who provided them
with food, money, and clothing, and despite the great risk began to
make preparations to assist the other men as they should arrive.

Conyngham, while walking the streets of London, had the pleasure of
seeing displayed, in the window of a print-shop, a most extravagant
print alleged to be his portrait, “representing him a man of gigantic
stature, very broad in the shoulders, the whole person indicating great
strength, with a ferocious countenance. Under the arm was a sword at
least six feet long, and beneath the whole was the legend, ‘The Yankee
Pirate, Conyngham, the arch-rebel. An Admirable likeness.’”

Soon a vessel was found that was sailing for Amsterdam, and on board of
her Conyngham embarked in the guise of an English merchant, but before
this, six of his companions had made their way to the seacoast, where
they had helped themselves to a small fishing boat and arrived safely
on the French coast. As soon as he reached Amsterdam he wrote the
letter to Benjamin Franklin which we quoted at the beginning of this
chapter.

John Paul Jones was then in the Texel, where he was having any amount
of trouble with the Dutch authorities owing to the objections of
the English representatives to his remaining there with his prizes.
Conyngham joined him, when at last he was forced to leave, and sailed
with him in the Alliance; but the captain’s misfortunes were not yet
over.



CHAPTER XVIII

CONCLUSION


The Alliance put into Corunna, where Conyngham saw again
representatives of the house of Roderigo, Hortalez and Company, and
learned that the money received for the prizes had been forwarded to
the commissioner’s agent at Paris.

Although he had been treated as an officer of the regular service
by John Paul Jones, and had been summoned to attend a court-martial
as such, Conyngham decided to return as soon as possible to his own
country and sailed in the Experiment for Philadelphia. But most
unfortunately his hard luck followed him. When but a few days on the
voyage the vessel was captured by the British Admiral Edwards, and
within three weeks Conyngham was back once more at Mill prison. But
his treatment this time was very different from that which had been
accorded him before; and though his spirit chafed at the delay and the
confinement, still he was not forced to endure such bodily suffering.
In prison, however, he stayed for the rest of the war, and upon his
release returned to the United States.

[Illustration: Facsimile of Conyngham’s petition to Congress, December
26, 1797.]

Almost immediately he sought to have an inquiry made and an accounting
rendered for his prize-money and reimbursement for his services, but
owing to the condition of affairs that existed at that time it was
difficult to get Congress to take any action. There was indeed but
little money in the Treasury, and so he was forced to go upon a voyage
in a merchant vessel, from which he returned to begin institution
of his long suit against Congress for remuneration and redress. And
now the tragedy of his life began. For year after year he prayed and
petitioned Congress to listen to his plea. Before the matter came
actually to trial, good Dr. Franklin was dead. Many witnesses could not
be procured, and some of his earlier acquaintances and friends who had
not behaved in good faith toward him now deserted him completely.

The missing commission would have proved his position, and the search
for it became almost the business of his life. A voyage to Europe and
a personal investigation of all clues failed to show any trace. It had
disappeared as completely as if it had never existed--a fact which some
of his enemies asserted to be the case.

In this chapter we print a facsimile of his petition to Congress,
signed by himself and dated ten years after his first services were
rendered. It shows how much hope he had, and yet there is a note almost
of despair that rings throughout it. The claim was first submitted
to Benjamin Walker by Alexander Hamilton, then at the head of the
Treasury, and Mr. Walker failed to perceive any proof of Captain
Conyngham’s having been a regularly appointed officer in the service,
and for this reason recommended that the claim be not acknowledged.
But yet we find him again in 1793 petitioning Alexander Hamilton for
redress. In fact, to the day of his death he attempted in every way
to have his claim, that he had left to the justice of his country,
adjusted and closed up.

During the _quasi_ war with France, Conyngham commanded an armed brig
named the Maria, and in the War of 1812 he again sought to go to sea,
but his health prevented him taking an active part.

[Illustration]

Conyngham died in Philadelphia, November 27, 1819, in the
seventy-second year of his age, and was buried in St. Peter’s
churchyard, and on his grave is an odd epitaph in the form of an
acrostic built on the name “Gustavus.”

[Illustration: The “lost commission.”]

But now appears the strangest part of the whole story--one of those
remarkable instances that so well prove the old adage of “facts being
stranger than fiction.” It is the tragic epilogue to the play--the
bitter end of the thread that runs through the whole of the relation.
It does not take long to tell, and surely it speaks for itself.

Only a short time ago there appeared in the catalogue of M. Charavay,
an autograph and print-seller in Paris, among hundreds of other
notices, the following:

    143 Hancock (John), celebre homme d’Etat américain,
    gouverneur du Massachusetts, signataire de la Déclaration
    de l’Indépendence,--Pièce signe comme président du congrès;
    Baltimore, 1 mars 1777, 1 p. in-fol. obl. Rare.

The connection of names and dates of course would attract the attention
of any collector. It would be seen that most possibly it had something
to do with Franklin’s sojourn in France. It was only the price asked
for John Hancock’s signature--in fact, much less than his signature
usually brought in the autograph market--ten francs. But what was
the joy and surprise of its present possessor, upon opening his new
purchase, to find that it was nothing more nor less than the missing
commission of the Surprise! Where it had been, what has been its
history since it was delivered at Versailles, how it came at last into
the possession of a little print-shop, no one can tell; but that it had
much to do with the foregoing story any one can see. It lies before the
author as he writes, and is reproduced in these pages for the first
time, that the court of public print may decide the question. That bold
Gustavus Conyngham was badly treated by his country and hardly handled
by Fate the reader can perceive. He had helped the cause in the way
it most needed help, but, notwithstanding, unrewarded, the man who
flew the flag in the Channel went broken-hearted to his grave, and now
out of the past, too late, comes the authentic proof of his cause and
asseverations. The world is a small one and strange things happen in
it, can be the only comment.


THE END



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she wrote them out in full, thus forming the material of this book.
Copies of the stories were placed by Mrs. Maitland in the hands of
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A PICTURESQUE BOOK OF THE SEA.


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_Recollections of Forty Tears of Naval Life._ By Rear-Admiral ROBLEY D.
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D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, NEW YORK.



Transcriber’s Notes


Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not
changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.





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