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   Chapter 8 No.8

The Queen's Cup By G. A. Henty Characters: 30998

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

It was the week of the Ryde Regatta. At that time Ryde disputed with Cowes the glory of being the headquarters of yachting, and the scene was a gay one. Every house in the neighbourhood was crowded with guests, many had been let for the week at fabulous rates, the town was bright with flags, and a great fleet of yachts was moored off the town, extending from the pier westward as far as the hulks. The lawn of the Victoria Yacht Club was gay with ladies, a military band was playing, boats rowed backwards and forwards between the yachts and the clubhouses.

It was the first day of the Regatta, and the Queen's Cup was not to be sailed for until the third. On the previous morning Frank had received a note from Lady Greendale, saying that they had arrived with Lord Haverley's party the day before, and enclosing an invitation from him to dinner that day. He went up to call as soon as he received it, but excused himself from dining on the ground of a previous engagement, as he felt sure that Carthew would be one of the party.

"I suppose, Lady Greendale, it is no use asking you and Bertha to sail in the Osprey on Friday?"

"I should not think of going, Frank. A racing yacht is no place for an old lady. As for Bertha, she is already engaged. Mr. Carthew asked her a fortnight since to sail on the Phantom. Lady Olive Marston and her cousin, Miss Haverley, are also going. I know that it is not very usual for ladies to go on racing yachts, but they are all accustomed to yachting, and Mr. Carthew declares that they won't be in the way in the least."

"I don't see why they should be," Frank said, after a short pause. "Of course, in a small boat it would be different, but in a craft like the Phantom there is plenty of room for two or three ladies without their getting in the way of the crew.

"Well, I must be going," he broke off somewhat hastily, for he saw a group coming down the garden path towards the house.

It consisted of Bertha and two other ladies, Carthew and another man.

"What other evening would suit you, Frank?" Lady Greendale asked as he rose.

"I am afraid I am engaged all through the week, Lady Greendale."

"I am sorry," she said, quietly, "but perhaps it is for the best, Frank."

The door closed behind him just as the party from the garden entered through the French windows.

The next morning George Lechmere went ashore with the steward, when the latter landed to do his marketing. The street up the hill was crowded, and numbers of yachts' sailors were ashore. Stewards with the flat rush baskets, universally used by them, were going from shop to shop; groups of sailors were chatting over the events of the day; and carriages were standing before the fishmongers', poulterers', and fruit and flower shops, while the owners were laying in supplies for their guests. People had driven in from all parts of the island to see the races, and light country carts with eggs, butter, fowls, and fruit were making their way down the steep hill.

George had learnt from a casual remark of Frank's where the house taken by Lord Haverley was situated, and going up the hill turned to the right and kept on until he came to a large house embowered in trees. Breakfast was just over when a servant told Bertha that a gentleman who said his name was George Lechmere wished to speak to her. She went out to him in the hall.

"Well, George," she said, holding out her hand to him frankly, for he was a great favourite of hers; "I suppose you have brought me up a message from Major Mallett?"

"No, Miss Greendale, the Major does not know that I have come to you. It is on my own account that I am here. Could you spare me a quarter of an hour?"

"Certainly, George," she said, in some surprise. "I will come out into the garden. We are likely to have it to ourselves at this hour."

She fetched her hat, and they went out into the garden together. George did not attempt to speak until they reached the other end, where there was a seat in a shady corner.

"Sit down, George," she said.

"Thank you, Miss Greendale, I would rather stand," and he took his place in front of her.

"I have a story to tell you," he said. "It is very painful for me to have to tell it, and it will be painful for you to hear it; but I am sure that you ought to know."

Bertha did not say anything, but looked at him with eyes wide open with surprise.

"I am sure, Miss Greendale," George went on, "that the Major never told you that the bad wound he received at Delhi that all but killed him, was my doing––that he was wounded by a ball from my musket."

"No, George, he certainly never said so. I suppose he was in front of you, and your musket went off accidentally?"

"No, Miss Greendale, I took deliberate aim at him, and it was only the mercy of God that saved his life."

Bertha was too surprised and shocked to speak, and he went on:

"He himself thought that he had been hit by a Sepoy bullet, and it was only when I sent for him, believing that I had received my death wound, that he knew that it was I who had hit him."

"But for what?" she asked. "What made you do this terrible thing? I thought he was liked by his men."

"There was no one liked better, Miss Greendale; he was the most popular officer in the regiment, and if the soldiers had known it, and I had escaped being hung for it, I should have been shot the first time I went into action afterwards. It had nothing to do with the army. I enlisted in his company on purpose to shoot him."

Bertha could hardly believe her ears. She looked at the man earnestly. Surely he could not have been drinking at that time of the morning, and she would have doubted his sanity had it not been for the calm and earnest look in his face. He went on:

"I came here to tell you why I shot at him."

"I don't want to hear," she said, hurriedly. "It is no business of mine. I know that whatever it was Major Mallett must have forgiven you. Besides, you saved his life afterwards."

"Excuse me, Miss Greendale, but it is a matter that concerns you, and I pray you to listen to me. You have heard of Martha Bennett, the poor girl who disappeared four years ago, and who was thought to have been murdered."

"Yes, I remember the talk about it. It was never known who had done it."

"She was not murdered," he said. "She returned some months afterwards, but only to die. It was about the time that Sir John was ill, and naturally you would have heard nothing of it.

"Well, Miss Greendale, I was at one time engaged to Martha. I was of a jealous, passionate disposition, and I did not make enough allowance for her being young and naturally fond of admiration. I quarrelled with her and the engagement was broken off, but I still loved her with all my heart and soul."

Then he went on to tell of how maddened he had been when he had seen her talking to Major Mallett, and of the conversation he had overheard in her father's garden, on the evening before she was missing.

"I jumped at the conclusion at once, Miss Greendale, that it was Captain Mallett, as he was then. He had been round saying goodbye to the tenants that afternoon, and I knew that he was going abroad. What could I suppose but that he had ruined my poor girl, and had persuaded her to go out to join him in India? I waited for a time, while they searched for the body I knew they would never find. My own father and mother, in their hearts, thought that I had murdered her in a fit of jealous rage. At last I made up my mind to enlist in his regiment, to follow him to India, kill him, find her, and bring her home."

"How dreadful!" the girl murmured.

"It was dreadful, Miss Greendale. I believe now that I must have been mad at the time. However, I did it, but at the end failed. Mercifully I was saved from being a murderer. As I told you, I was badly wounded. I thought I was going to die, and the doctor thought so, too. So I sent for Captain Mallett that I might have the satisfaction of letting him know that it was I who fired the shot, and that it was in revenge for the wrong that he had done Martha.

"When I told him I saw by his face, even before he spoke, that I had been wrong. He knew nothing whatever of it. Well, miss, he forgave me-forgave me wholly. He told me that he should never mention it to a soul, and as he has never mentioned it even to you, you may see how well he has kept his word. I wanted to leave the regiment. I felt that I could never mix with my comrades, knowing as I did that I had tried to murder their favourite officer. But the Major would not hear of it. He insisted that I should stay, and, even more, he promised that as soon as I was out of hospital I should be his servant, saying that as the son of an old tenant, he would rather have me than anyone else. You can well imagine, then, Miss Greendale, how willingly I would have given my life for him, and that when the chance came I gladly faced odds to save him.

"Before that I had come to learn who the man was. It was a letter from my father that first gave me the clue; he mentioned that another gentleman had left the neighbourhood and gone abroad, just at the time that Major Mallett did. He was a man who had once made me madly jealous by his attentions to Martha at a fete given to his tenants.

"The Major had the same thought, and he told me that he knew the man was a bad fellow, though he did not say why he thought so. Then I heard that Martha had returned to die, and I learned that she had told her mother the name of her destroyer, who deserted her three months after he had taken her away. When he came back from abroad her father and mine and some others met him at Chippenham market. They attacked him, and I believe would have killed him, had he not ridden off. The next day he went up to London, and a fortnight later his estate was in the market, and he never came into that part of the country again.

"I have told you all this, Miss Greendale, because I have heard that you know the man, and I thought you ought to know what sort of a man he is. His name is Carthew."

Bertha had grown paler and paler as the story went on, and when he ended, she sat still and silent for two or three minutes. Then she said in a low tone:

"Thank you, George. You have done right in telling me this story; it is one that I ought to know. I wonder-" and she stopped.

"You wonder that the Major did not tell you, Miss Greendale. I asked him, myself. When you think it over, you will understand why he could not tell you; for he had no actual proof, save the dying girl's words and what I had seen and heard; and his motive in telling it might have been misunderstood. But he told me that, even at the risk of that, he should feel it his duty, if you became engaged to that villain, to tell the story to Lady Greendale.

"But if he found it hard to speak, there seemed to me no reason why I shouldn't. Except my father and mother and he, no one knows that I was well nigh a murderer. And though he has so generously forgiven me, and I have in a small way tried to show my gratitude to him, it was still painful to me to have to tell the story to anyone else. But I felt that I ought to do it-not for his sake, because he has told me that what I had looked for and what he had so hoped for is not to be-but because I thought that you ought not to be allowed to sacrifice your life to such a man; and partly, too, because I wished to spare my dear master the pain of telling the story, and of perhaps being misunderstood."

"Thank you, George," she said, quietly. "You have done quite right in telling-"

At this moment some voices were heard at the other end of the garden.

"I will be going at once," George said, seizing the opportunity of getting away; and turning, he walked down the garden and left the house.

"Who is your friend, Bertha?" Miss Haverley said, laughingly, as she met Bertha coming slowly down the garden.

"Why-is anything the matter?" she exclaimed, as she caught sight of her face.

"I have become suddenly faint, Hannah," Bertha replied. "I suppose it was the heat yesterday; and it is very warm this morning, too. I am better now, and it will soon pass over. I will go indoors for half an hour, and then I shall be quite right again.

"My friend is no one particular. He is Major Mallett's factotum. He only brought me up a message, but as I know all the men on the Osprey, and have not been on board this season, of course there was a good deal to ask about."

"Well, you must get well as soon as you can," Miss Haverley said. "You know we shall leave in half an hour for the yacht, so as to get under way in time for the start."

At the appointed time, Bertha joined the party below. Her eyes looked heavy and her cheeks were flushed, but she assured Miss Haverley that she felt quite herself now, and that she was sure that the sea air would set her up altogether. The schooner was under way a quarter of an hour before the gun was fired, and sailed east, as the course was twice round the Nab and back.

Yachts were flitting about in all directions, for a light air had only sprung up during the last half hour.

"There is the Phantom," Lord Haverley said. "She has been cruising about the last two days to get her sails stretched, and they look uncommonly well. Carthew told me yesterday that she would be across early this morning, and that he should go round with the race to see how she did. I think you young ladies will have a very good chance of being able to boast that you have sailed in the yacht that won the Queen's Cup. I fancy it lies between her and the Osprey. Mallett is getting up sail, too, I see, but as the Phantom is going with the race, I don't suppose he will. She is a fine craft, though I own I like the cutter rig better. The Phantom will have to allow her time, but not a great deal, for the yawl is the heaviest tonnage.

"There is the starting gun. They are all close together at the line.

"That is a pretty sight, Lady Greendale. Talk about the start of race horses, it is no more to be compared with it than light to dark."

After cruising about for three or four hours, their schooner dropped anchor near the Osprey, which had come in half an hour before.

"Have you ever been on board the Osprey, Lord Haverley?" Bertha asked.

"No, my dear, I don't know that I have ever before been in any port with your friend Major Mallett."

"Well, what do you say to our going on board for a few minutes, on our way to shore? Mamma and I are very fond of her, and I am her godmother, having christened her."

"Godmother and curate coupled in one, eh, Bertha? We will go by all means; that is to say, we cannot invade him in a body, but those of us who know Mallett can go on board, and the gig can come back and take the rest ashore and then come to fetch us."

Accordingly, Lord Haverley and his daughter, Lady Greendale and Bertha, and two others of the party were rowed to the Osprey. Frank saw them coming and met them at the gangway.

"We are taking you by storm, Major," Lord Haverley said, "but Lady Greendale and her daughter claim an almost proprietary interest in the Osprey, because the latter is her godmother. Indeed, we are all naturally interested in her, too, as being one of our cracks. She is a very smart-looking craft, though I think it is a pity that she is not cutter rigged."

"She would look prettier, no doubt," Frank said; "but, you see, though she w

as built as a racer, and I like a race occasionally, that was not my primary object. I wanted her for cruising, and there is no doubt that a yawl is more handy, and you can work her with fewer hands than you can a cutter of the same size."

They went round the vessel, and then returning on deck, sat down and chatted while waiting for the boat's return.

"I sincerely hope that you will win, Frank, on Friday," Lady Greendale said. "Our sympathies are rather divided, but I hope the Osprey will win."

"Thank you, Lady Greendale, but I am by no means sanguine about it.

"I fancy, Miss Haverley, that you and Miss Greendale will see the winning flag flying overhead when the race is over."

"Why do you think so, Major?" Lord Haverley asked. "The general opinion is that your record is better than that of the Phantom. She has done well in the two or three races she has sailed, but she certainly did not beat the Lesbia or the Mermaid by as much as you did."

"That may be," Frank agreed, "but I regard Carthew as having been born under a lucky star; and though my own opinion is that if the Phantom were in other hands we should beat her, I fancy his luck will pull her through."

Haverley laughed. "I should not have given you credit for being superstitious, Major."

"I don't think that I have many superstitions, but I own to something like it in this case."

Bertha looked earnestly at him. Just before the gig returned from the shore, she and Frank were standing together.

"I am sorry that I shall not have your good wishes tomorrow," he said.

"I have not said that anyone will have my good wishes," she replied. "I shall be on board the Phantom because I was invited there before you asked me, but my hope is that the best yacht will win. I want to speak to you for a minute or two. When can I see you?"

"I can come up tomorrow morning early," he replied. "What time will best suit you?"

"Ten o'clock; please ask for mamma."

The next morning, Lady Greendale and Bertha came together into the sitting room into which Frank had been shown on calling at Lord Haverley's.

"You are early, Frank."

"Yes, Lady Greendale. I am going for a run round the island. It makes me fidgety to sit all day with nothing to do, and I am always contented when I am under sail. As I shan't have time to come in tomorrow morning, for you know we start at nine, I thought that I would drop in this morning, even if the hour was an early one."

After chatting for a few minutes, Lady Greendale made some excuse to leave the room.

"She knew that you were coming, and that I wanted to speak to you," said Bertha.

"Well, what is it-anything of importance?" he asked with a smile.

She hesitated and then went on.

"Some words you spoke yesterday recalled to me something you said nearly four years ago. Do you remember when we sat next to each other in the twilight, the day before you went to India? We were talking about superstitions then, and you told me that you had only one, and said what it was-you remember?"

"I remember," he said, gravely.

"About someone who had beaten you always, and who you thought always would beat you, if you came in contact again. You would not tell me his name. Was it Mr. Carthew?"

"I would not answer the question then, Bertha, and you surely cannot expect me to answer it now."

"I do expect you to answer it."

"Then I must most emphatically decline to do so," he said. "What! do you think that if it were he, I would be so base as to discredit him now? For you must remember that I said that only one of my defeats was due to foul play, that most of the others were simply due to the fact that he was a better man than I was. The matter has long since been forgotten, and, whoever it is, I would not prejudice him in the opinion of anyone by raising up that old story. I have no shadow of proof that it was he who damaged my boat. It might have been the act of some boatman about the place who had laid his money against my winning."

"That is enough," she said quietly. "I did not think that you would tell me whether it was Mr. Carthew, but I was sure that if it were not he you would not hesitate to say so. Thank you, that is all I wanted to see you for. What you said yesterday brought that talk we had so vividly into my mind that I could not resist asking you. It explained what seemed to me at the time to be strange; how it was that you, who are generally so cordial in your manner, were so cold to him when you first met him at our house. I thought that there might be something more serious-" and she looked him full in the face.

"Perhaps I am a prejudiced beggar," he said, with an attempt to smile, and then added somewhat bitterly; "You see things since have not been calculated to make me specially generous in his case."

She did not reply, and after a moment's pause he said, "Well, as Lady Greendale seems to be busy, I will be going."

"You will come to the ball tomorrow evening, won't you?" she asked.

"I suppose I shall have to," he said. "If I win, though mind I feel sure that I shan't, it will seem odd if I don't come. If I lose, it will look as if I sulked."

"You must come," she said, "and you must have a dance with me. You have not been keeping your word, Major Mallett. You said that you would always be the same to me, and you are not. You have never once asked me to dance with you, and you are changed altogether."

"I try to be-I try hard, Bertha; but just at present it is beyond me. I cannot stand by and see you going-" and he stopped abruptly.

"Well, never mind, Bertha. It will all come right in time, but at any rate I cannot stand it at present. Goodbye."

And without giving her time to reply, he hastily left the room.

Bertha stood silent for a minute or two, then quietly followed him out of the room.

The next day Ryde was astir early. It was the Queen's Cup day. Eight yachts were entered: three schooners––the Rhodope, the Isobel, and the Mayflower; four cutters––the Pearl, the Chrysalis, the Alacrity, and the Phantom; and the Osprey, which was the only yawl. It was half-past eight, and all were under way under mainsail and jib.

The Solent was alive with yachts. They were pouring out from Southampton water, they were coming up from Cowes, and some were making their way across from Portsmouth. The day was a fine one for sailing.

"Have you got the same extra hands as last time?" Frank asked the skipper.

"All the same, sir. They all know their work well, and of course if there is anything to be done aloft, our own men go up. I don't think any of them will beat us in smartness."

As the time approached for the start, the racers began to gather in the neighbourhood of the starting line; and as the five-minutes gun fired, the topsail went up, and they began to sail backwards and forwards near it.

As the Phantom crossed under the lee of the Osprey, the three ladies waved their handkerchiefs to Frank, who took off his cap.

"May the best yacht win," Bertha called out, as the vessels flew quickly apart.

"We could not want a better day, George," Frank said. "We can carry everything comfortably, and there is not enough wind to kick up much of a sea. As far as we are concerned, I would rather that the wind had been either north or south, so that we could have laid our course all round; as it is, we shall have the wind almost dead aft till we are round the Nab, then we shall be close-hauled, with perhaps an occasional tack along the back of the island, then free again back. There is no doubt that the cutters have a pull close-hauled. I fancy with this wind the schooners will be out of it; though if it had been a reach the whole way, they would have had a good chance.

"Four minutes are gone."

He was holding his watch in his hand, and after a short pause called out, "Five seconds gone."

The Osprey had a good position at present; though, with the wind aft, this was of comparatively little consequence. She was nearly in a line with the mark boat nearest to the shore, and some hundred and fifty yards from it.

"Haul in the main sheet," Hawkins said quietly, and the men stationed there hauled on the rope until he said, "That will do, we must not go too fast."

He went on, turning to Frank (who had just called out, "Twenty seconds gone"):

"I think that we shall about do."

The latter nodded.

"A bit more, lads," the skipper said ten seconds later. "That will do."

"Fifteen seconds more," Frank said presently.

"Slack away the sheet, slack it away handsomely. Up foresail, that is it," shouted the skipper.

As the boom ran out, and the foresail went up, the Osprey glided on with accelerated speed, and the end of the bowsprit was but a few yards from the starting line when the gun fired.

"Bravo, good start," Frank said, as he looked round for the first time.

The eight yachts were all within a length of each other, and a cheer broke from the boats around as they sped on their way. For a time there was but little difference between them, and then the cutters began to show a little in front. Their long booms gave them an advantage over the schooners and the yawl when before the wind; the spinnaker was not then invented, and the wind was not sufficiently dead aft to enable the schooners to carry their mainsail and foresails, wing and wing; or for the yawl's mizzen to help her.

As they passed Sea View the cutters were a length ahead, the Phantom having a slight advantage over her sisters. They gained no further, for the schooners fell into their wake as soon as they were able to do so, thus robbing them of some of their wind. The Osprey, having the inside station, kept straight on, and came up with the cutters as they were abreast of the end of the island. All were travelling very fast through the water.

"We shall be first round the Nab, sir," Hawkins said in delight. "The schooners are smothering the cutters, but they are not hurting us."

"Give her plenty of room when we get there," Frank said.

The skipper nodded. "I won't risk a foul, sir, you may be sure."

The three ladies on board the Phantom were seated on footstools under the weather bulwark-although as yet the yachts were travelling on an almost even keel. Miss Haverley and Lady Olive uttered exclamations of satisfaction as the Phantom slowly drew ahead of the others, and were loud in their disgust as they saw the effect of the schooner's sail behind them on their own speed.

"I don't call it fair," the former said; "if a vessel cannot sail well herself, that she should be allowed to damage the chances of others. Do you, Bertha?"

"I don't know. I suppose it is equally fair for all, and that we should do the same if a boat had got ahead of us. Still, it is very tiresome, but it is just as bad for the other cutters."

"Look at the Osprey," Lady Olive said soon afterwards. "She is coming up fast; you see, she has nothing behind her. I do believe that she is going to pass us."

"It won't make much difference," Carthew, who was standing close to her, said confidently. "The race won't really begin until we are round the Nab, and after that we shan't hamper each other. I am quite content with the way that we are going."

The Osprey rounded the lightship two lengths ahead, the Phantom came next, three lengths before the Chrysalis, and the others followed in quick succession. The sheets were hauled in, and the yachts were able to lie close-hauled for Ventnor. The three leading boats maintained their respective places, but drew out from each other, and when they passed Ventnor the Osprey was some five lengths ahead of the Phantom.

"Don't be downcast, ladies," Carthew said, gaily. "We have a long way to go yet, and once round the point we shall have to turn till we pass the Needles."

The sea was now getting a good deal rougher. The wind was against tide, and the yachts began to throw the spray over the bows. Bertha was struck with the confidence with which Carthew had spoken, and watched him closely.

"We shall get it a good deal worse off St. Catherine's Head," he went on. "There is a race there even in the calmest weather, and I should advise you to get your wraps ready, for the spray will be flying all over her when we get into it."

They were now working tack and tack, but the Osprey was still improving her position, and as they neared St. Catherine's Head she was a good quarter of a mile to the good. Still Carthew maintained his good temper, but Bertha could see that it was with an effort. He seemed to pay but little attention to the sailing of the Phantom, but kept his eyes intently fixed upon the Osprey.

"I should not be surprised at some of us carrying away a spar before long," he said. "The wind is freshening, and we shall have to shift topsails and jibs, I fancy."

They were now lying far over, and the water was two or three planks up the lee deck. Each time the cutter went about, the ladies carried their footstools up to windward, when the vessel was for a moment on an even keel. When there they were obliged to sit with one hand over the rail, to prevent themselves from sliding down to leeward as the vessel heeled.

"There goes the Chrysalis's topmast," the skipper exclaimed suddenly. "That does for her chance. I think I had better get the jib header ready for hoisting, Mr. Carthew; the spar is bending like a whip."

"Yes, I think you had better get it up at once, captain. It is no use running any risk."

As the Phantom's big topsail came down, the Osprey's was seen to flutter and then to descend.

"He has only been waiting for us," the captain said.

Carthew made no reply. He was still intently watching the craft ahead.

"It is just as well for him," the captain went on. "He will be in the race directly."

Bertha was still watching Carthew's face. Cheerful as his tones were, there was an expression of anxiety in it. Three minutes later, he gave an exclamation as of relief, and a shout rose from the men forward.

Following the direction of his eyes, she saw the bowsprit of the Osprey swing to leeward, and a moment later her topmast fall over her side.

"What did I tell you?" Carthew said, exultingly. "A race is never lost till it is won."

"Oh! I am sorry," Bertha said. "I do think it is hard to lose a race by an accident."

"Every yacht has to abide by its own accidents, Miss Greendale; and carrying away a spar is one of the accidents one counts on. If it were not for that risk, yachts would always carry on too long. It is a matter of judgment and of attention to gear. The loss of a spar is in nine times out of ten the result either of rashness or of inattention.

"However, I am sorry myself; that is to say, I would prefer winning the cup by arriving first at the flag boat. However, I am certainly not disposed to grumble at Fortune just at present."

"I should think not, Mr. Carthew," Lady Olive said. "I am sure I congratulate you very heartily. Of course, I have seen scores of races, and whenever there is any wind someone is always sure to lose a spar, and sometimes two or three will do so. I don't think you need fear any of the boats behind."

"No, yet I don't feel quite safe. I have no fear of any of the cutters, but once round the Needles, it will be a broad reach, and you will see that the schooners will come up fast, and I have to allow them a good bit of time. However, I think we are pretty safe."

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