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   Chapter 11 No.11

The Queen's Cup By G. A. Henty Characters: 30216

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"That is an uncommonly pretty trading schooner, Bertha," Frank Mallett said, as he rose from his chair to get a better look at a craft that was passing along to the eastward. "I suppose she must be in the fruit trade, and must just have arrived from the Levant. I should not be surprised if she had been a yacht at one time. She is not carrying much sail, but she is going along fast. I think they would have done better if they had rigged her as a fore-and-aft schooner instead of putting those heavy yards on the foremast. That broad band of white round her spoils her appearance; her jib boom is unusually long, and she must carry a tremendous spread of canvas in light winds. I should think that she must be full up to the hatches, for she is very low in the water for a trader."

The Osprey was lying in the outside tier of yachts off Cowes. The party that had been on board her for the regatta had broken up a week before, and only Lady Greendale and Bertha remained on board. The former had not been well for some days, and had had her maid down from town as soon as the cabins were empty. It had been proposed, indeed, that she and Bertha should return to town, but, being unwilling to cut short the girl's pleasure, she said that she should do better on board than in London; and, moreover, she did not feel equal to travelling. She was attended by a doctor in Cowes, and the Osprey only took short sails each day, generally down to the Needles and back, or out to the Nab.

"Yes, she is a nice-looking boat," Bertha agreed, "and if her sails were white and her ropes neat and trim, she would look like a yacht, except for those big yards."

"Her skipper must be a lubber to have the ropes hanging about like that. Of course, he may have had bad weather in crossing the bay, but if he had any pride in the craft, he might at least have got her into a good deal better trim while coming in from the Needles. Still, all that could be remedied in an hour's work, and certainly she is as pretty a trader as ever I saw. How did your mother seem this afternoon, Bertha?"

"About the same, I think. I don't feel at all anxious about her, because I have often seen her like this before. I think really, Frank, that she is quite well enough to go up to town; but she knows that I am enjoying myself so much that she does not like to take me away. I have no doubt that she will find herself better by Saturday, when, you know, we arranged some time back that we would go up. You won't be long before you come, will you?"

"Certainly not. Directly you have landed I shall take the Osprey to Gosport, and lay her up there. I need not stop to see that done. I can trust Hawkins to see her stripped and everything taken on shore; and, of course, the people at the yard are responsible for hauling her up. I shall probably be in town the same evening; but, if you like, and think that your mother is only stopping for you, we will go across to Southampton at once."

"Oh, no, I am sure that she would not like that; and I don't want to lose my last three days here. Of course, when we get home at the end of next week, and you are settled down there, too, you will be a great deal over at Greendale, but it won't be as it is here."

"Not by a long way. However, we shall be able to look forward to the spring, Bertha, when I shall have you all to myself on board, and we shall go on a long cruise together; though I do think that it is ridiculous that I should have to wait until then."

"Not at all ridiculous, sir. You say that you are perfectly happy-and everyone says that an engagement is the happiest time in one's life-and besides, it is partly your own fault; you have made me so fond of the Osprey that I have quite made up my mind that nothing could possibly be so nice as to spend our honeymoon on board her, and to go where we like, and to do as we like, without being bothered by meeting people one does not care for. And, besides, if you should get tired of my company, we might ask Jack Harley and Amy to come to us for a month or so."

"I don't think that it will be necessary for us to do that," he laughed. "Starting as we shall in the middle of March, we shan't find it too hot in the Mediterranean before we turn our head homewards; and I think we shall find plenty to amuse us between Gibraltar and Jaffa."

"No, three months won't be too much, Frank. Tomorrow is the dinner at the clubhouse, isn't it?"

"Yes. I should be sorry to miss that, for having only been just elected a member of the Squadron, I should like to put in an appearance at the first set dinner."

"Of course, Frank. I certainly should not like you to miss it."

The next evening Frank went ashore to dine at the club. An hour and a half later a yacht's boat came off.

"I have a note for Miss Greendale," the man in the stern said, as she came alongside; "I am to give it to her myself."

Bertha was summoned, and, much surprised, came on deck.

The man handed up the note to her. She took it into the companion, where a light was burning; her name and that of the yacht were in straggling handwriting that she scarcely recognised as Frank's.

She tore it open.

"My Darling: I have had a nasty accident, having been knocked down just as I landed. I am at present at Dr. Maddison's. I wish you would come ashore at once. It is nothing very serious, but if you did not see me you might think that it was. Don't agitate your mother, but bring Anna with you. The boat that brings this note will take you ashore."

Bertha gave a little gasp, and then summoning up her courage, ran down into the cabin.

"Mamma, dear, you must spare me and Anna for half an hour. I have just had a note from Frank. He has been knocked down and hurt. He says that it is nothing very serious, and he only writes to me to come ashore so that I can assure myself. I won't stop more than a quarter of an hour. If I find that he is worse than I expect, I will send Anna off to you with a message."

Scarcely listening to what her mother said in reply, she ran into her cabin, told Anna to put on her hat and shawl to go ashore with her, and in a minute descended to the boat with her maid. It was a four-oared gig, and the helmsman had taken his place in the stern behind them.

Bertha sat cold and still without speaking. She was sure that Frank must be more seriously hurt than he had said, or he would have had himself taken off to the yacht instead of to the surgeon's. The shaky and almost illegible handwriting showed the difficulty he must have had in holding the pencil.

The boat made its way through the fleet till it reached the shallow water which they had to cross on their way to the shore. Here, with the exception of a few small craft, the water was clear of yachts.

Suddenly the long line of lights along the shore disappeared, and something thick, heavy and soft fell over Bertha's head. An arm was thrown round her, and Anna pressed tightly against her. In vain she struggled. There was a faint, strange smell, and she lost consciousness.

An hour passed without her return to the yacht, and Lady Greendale began to fear that she had found Frank too ill to leave, and had forgotten to send Anna back with the message. At last she touched the bell.

"Will you tell the captain that I want to speak to him?"

"Captain," she said. "I am much alarmed about Major Mallett. That boat that came off here an hour ago brought a note for my daughter, saying that he had been hurt, and she went ashore with her maid to see him. She said that she would be back in a short time, and that if she found that he was badly hurt she would send her maid back with a message to me. She has been gone for more than an hour, and I wish you would take a boat and go ashore, find out how the Major is, and bring me back word at once. He is at Dr. Maddison's. You know the house."

The skipper hurried away with a serious face. A little more than a minute after he had left the cabin Lady Greendale heard the rattle of the blocks of the falls. The boat was little more than half an hour away. Lady Greendale, in her anxiety, had told the steward to let her know when it was coming alongside, and went up on deck to get the news as quickly as possible.

"It is a rum affair altogether, my lady," Hawkins said, as he stepped on deck. "I went to the doctor's, and he has seen nothing whatever of the Major, and Miss Greendale and her maid have not been to his house at all."

Lady Greendale stood for a moment speechless with surprise and consternation.

"This is most extraordinary," she said at last. "What can it mean? You are sure that there is no mistake, captain? It was to Dr. Maddison's house she went."

"Yes, my lady, there ain't no mistake about that. I have been there to fetch medicine for you two or three times. Besides, I saw the doctor myself."

"Major Mallett must have been taken to some other doctor's," she said, "and must have made a mistake and put in the name of Dr. Maddison. His house is some little distance from the club. There may be another doctor's nearer. What is to be done?"

"I am sure I do not know, my lady," the captain said, in perplexity.

"Where can my daughter and her maid be?" Lady Greendale went on. "They went ashore to go to Dr. Maddison's."

"Perhaps, my lady, they might have heard as they went ashore that the Major was somewhere else, or some messenger might have been waiting at the landing stage to take them there direct."

"That must be it, I suppose; but it is all very strange. I think the best thing, captain, will be for you to go to the club. They are sure to know there about the accident, and where he is. You see, the landing stage is close to the club, and he might have been just going in when he was knocked down-by a carriage, I suppose."

"Like enough he is at the club still, my lady. At any rate, I will go there in the first place and find out. There is sure to be a crowd about the gates listening to the music––they have got a band over from Newport-so that if they do not know anything at the club, there are sure to be some people outside who saw the accident, and will know where the Major was taken. Anyhow, I won't come back without news."

Even to Lady Greendale, anxious and alarmed as she was, it did not seem long before the steward came down with the news that the boat was just alongside. This time she was too agitated to go up. She heard someone come running down the companion, and a moment later, to her astonishment, Frank Mallett himself came in. He looked pale and excited.

"What is all this, Lady Greendale?" he exclaimed. "The skipper tells me that a letter came here saying that I had been hurt and taken to Dr. Maddison's, and that Bertha and her maid went off at once, and have not returned, though it is more than two hours since they went. I have not been hurt. I wrote no letter to Bertha, but was at dinner at the club when the skipper came for me. What is it all about?"

"I don't know, Frank. I cannot even think," Lady Greendale said in an agitated voice. "What can it all mean and where can Bertha be?" and she burst into tears.

"I don't know. I can't think," Frank said, slowly.

He stood silent for a minute or two, and then went on.

"I cannot suggest anything. I will go ashore at once. The waterman at our landing stage must have noticed if two ladies got out there. He could hardly have helped doing so, for it would be curious, their coming ashore alone after dark. Then I will go to the other landing places and ask there. There are always boys hanging about to earn a few pence by taking care of boats. I will be back as soon as I can."

The boat was still alongside, and the men stretched to their oars. Th a very few minutes they were at the club landing stage. The waterman here declared that no ladies whatever, unaccompanied by gentlemen, had landed after dark.

"I must have seen them, sir," he said, "for you see I go down to help out every party that arrives here. They must have gone to one of the other landing places."

But at neither of these could he obtain any information. There were several boys at each of them who had been there for hours, and they were unanimous in declaring that no ladies had landed there after dark at all. He then walked up and down between the watch house and the club.

He had, when he landed, intended to go to the police office as soon as he had inquired at the landing stages––the natural impulse of an Englishman who has suffered loss or wrong-but the more he thought it over the more inexpedient did such a course seem to him. It was highly improbable-indeed, it seemed to him impossible––that they could do more than he had in the matter. The passage of two ladies through the crowded streets would scarcely have attracted the attention of anyone, and any idea of violence being used was out of the question. If they had landed, which he now regarded as very improbable, they must have at least gone willingly to the place where they believed they should find him, and unless every house in Cowes was searched from top to bottom there was no chance of finding them, carefully hidden away as they would be. He could not see, therefore, that the police could at present be of any utility whatever. It might be necessary finally to obtain the aid of the police, but in that case it was Scotland Yard and not Cowes that the matter must be laid before; and even this should be only a last resort, for above all things it was necessary for Bertha's sake that the matter should be kept a profound secret, and, once in the hands of the police, it would be in all the papers the next day. If the aid of detectives was to be called in, it would be far better to put it into the hands of a private detective.

Having made up his mind upon this point, he returned to the yacht.

"I am sorry to say that I have no news," he said to Lady Greendale, who was lying on the couch, worn out with weeping. "I have ascertained almost beyond doubt that they did not land at the club stage or either of the other two landing places."

"What can it be?" she sobbed. "What can have become of them?"

"I am afraid there is little doubt that they have been carried off," he replied. "I can see no other possible solution of it."

"But who can have done such a thing?"

"Ah! that is another matter. I have been thinking it over and over, and there is only one man that I know capable of such a dastardly action. At present I won't mention his name, even to you; but I will soon be on his track. Do not give way, Lady Greendale; even he is not capable of injuring her, and no doubt she will be restored to you safe and sound. But we shall need patience. Ah! there is a boat coming alongside."

He ran up on deck. It proved, however, to be only a shore boat, bringing off George Lechmere, who, having met a comrade in the town, had asked leave to spend the evening with him. He was, of course, ignorant of all that had happened since he had left, and Frank told him.

"I have no doubt whatever that she has been c

arried off," he said, "and there is only one man who could have done it."

"That villain, Carthew," George Lechmere exclaimed.

"Yes, he is the man I suspect, George. I heard this evening that he had been hit tremendously hard on the turf at Goodwood. He would think that if he could force Miss Greendale to marry him it would retrieve his fortune, and would, moreover, satisfy his vindictive spirit for the manner in which she had rejected him, and in addition give him another triumph over me."

"That is it, sir. I have no doubt that that is it. But his yacht is not here-at least I have not seen her."

"No, I am sure that she is not here; but I believe, for all that, that Miss Greendale must have been taken on board a yacht. They never would have dared to land her in Cowes. Of course, I made inquiries as a matter of form at the landing places, but as she knew the way to Dr. Maddison's, and as the streets were full of people at the time she landed, they could never have attempted to use violence, especially as she had her maid with her. On the other hand, it would have been comparatively easy to manage it in the case of a yacht. They had but to row alongside, to seize and gag them before they had time to utter a cry, and then to carry them below. The Phantom is not here-at any rate, was not here this afternoon, but there is no reason why Carthew should not have chartered a yacht for the purpose. Ask the skipper to come aft."

"Captain," he said, when Hawkins came aft, "what men went ashore this afternoon?"

"Harris and Williams and Marvel, sir. They went ashore in the dinghy, and Harris went to the doctor's for that medicine."

"Ask them to come here."

"Did anyone speak to you, Harris," he went on, as the three men came aft, "while you were ashore today?-I mean anyone that you did not know."

"No, sir," the man said, promptly. "Leastwise, the only chap that spoke to me was a gent as was standing on the steps by the watch house as I went down to the boat, and he only says to me, 'I noticed you go in to Dr. Maddison's, my man. There is nothing the matter with my friend, Major Mallett, I hope.'

"'No, sir,' says I, 'he is all right. I was just getting a bottle of medicine for an old lady on board.'

"That was all that passed between us."

"Thank you, Harris. That is just what I wanted to know."

After the men had gone forward again, he said to the captain:

"I have a strong conviction, Hawkins, indeed I am almost certain, that Miss Greendale has been carried off to one of the yachts here, but whether it is a large one or a small one I have not the slightest idea. The question is, what is to be done? It is past eleven now, and it is impossible to go round the fleet and make enquiries. Besides, the craft may have made off already. They would have been sure to have placed her in the outside tier, so as to get up anchor as soon as they had Miss Greendale on board."

"We might get out the boats, sir, and lie off and see if any yachts set sail," the skipper suggested.

"That would be of no use, Hawkins. You could not stop them. Even if you hailed to know what yacht it was, they might give you a false name.

"One thing I have been thinking of that can be done. I wish, in the first place, that you would ask all the men if anyone has noticed among the yacht sailors in the streets one with the name of the Phantom on his jersey. Some of them may have been paid off, for she has not been raced since Ryde. In any case, I want two of the men to go ashore, the first thing in the morning, and hang about all day, if necessary, in hopes of finding one of the Phantom's crew. If they do find one, bring him off at once, and tell him that he will be well paid for his trouble.

"By the way, you may as well ask Harris what the gentleman was like who spoke to him at the landing place."

He walked slowly backwards and forwards with George Lechmere, without exchanging a word, until in five minutes Hawkins returned.

"It was a clean-shaven man who spoke to Harris, sir; he judged him to be about forty. He wore a sort of yachting dress, and he was rather short and thin. About the other matter Rawlins says that he noticed when he was ashore yesterday two of the Phantom's men strolling about. Being a Cowes man himself, he knew them both, but as they were not alone he just passed the time of day and went on without stopping."

"Does he know where they live? I don't think it at all likely they would be on leave now, or that he would find either of them at home tomorrow morning; but it is possible that he might do so. At any rate it is worth trying. It is curious that two of them should be here when we have seen nothing of the Phantom since the race for the cup, unless, of course, her owner has laid her up, which is hardly likely. If she had been anywhere about here she would have entered for the race yesterday."

"I will send Rawlins and one of the other Cowes men ashore at six o'clock, Major. If they don't meet the men, they are safe to be able to find out where they live."

"And tell them and the others, Hawkins, that on no account whatever is a word to be said on shore as to the disappearance of Miss Greendale. It is of great importance that no one should obtain the slightest hint of what has taken place."

When the captain had again gone forward, Frank went down, and with some difficulty persuaded Lady Greendale to go to bed.

"We can do nothing more tonight," he said. "You may well imagine that if I saw the least chance of doing any good I should not be standing here, but nothing can be done till morning."

Having seen her to her stateroom, he returned to the deck, where he had told George Lechmere to wait for him.

"It is enough to drive one mad, George," he said, as he joined him; "to think that somewhere among all those yachts Miss Greendale may be held a prisoner."

"I can quite understand that, Major, by what I feel myself. I have seen so much of Miss Greendale, and she has always been so kind to me, knowing that you considered that I had saved your life, and knowing about that other thing, that I feel as if I could do anything for her. And I feel it all the more because it is the scoundrel I owed such a deep debt to before. But I hardly think that she can be on board one of the yachts here."

"I feel convinced that she is not, George. They could hardly keep her gagged all this time, and at night a scream would be heard though the skylights were closed."

"No, sir; if she was put on board here I feel sure that they would have got up sail at once."

"That is just what I feel. Likely enough they had the mainsail already up and the chain short, and directly the boat was up at the davits they would have got up the anchor and been off. They may be twenty miles away by this time; though whether east or west one has no means of even guessing. The wind is nearly due north, and they may have gone either way, or have made for Cherbourg or Havre. It depends partly upon her size. If she is a small craft, they can't get far beyond that range. If she is a large one, she may have gone anywhere. The worst of it is that unless we can get some clue as to her size we can do absolutely nothing. A good many yachts went off today both east and west, and by the end of the week the whole fleet will be scattered, and even if we do get the size of the yacht, I don't see that we can do anything unless we can get her name too.

"If we could do that, we could act at once. I should run up to town, lay the case before the authorities at Scotland Yard, and get them to telegraph to every port in the kingdom, that upon her putting in there the vessel was at once to be searched for two ladies who were believed to have been forcibly carried away in her."

"And have those on board arrested, I suppose, Major?"

"Well, that would have to be thought over, George. Carthew could not be brought to punishment without the whole affair being made public. That is the thing above all others to be avoided."

"Yes, I see that, sir; and yet it seems hard that he should go off unpunished again."

"He would not go unpunished, you may be sure," Frank said, grimly; "for if the fellow ever showed his face in London again, I would thrash him to within an inch of his life. However, sure as I feel, it is possible that I am mistaken. Miss Greendale is known to be an only daughter, and an heiress, and some other impecunious scamp may have conceived the idea of making a bold stroke for her fortune. It is not likely, but it is possible."

Until morning broke, the two men paced the deck together. Scarcely a word was spoken. Frank was in vain endeavouring to think what course had best be taken, if the search for the men of the phantom turned out unavailing. George was brooding over the old wrong he had suffered, and longing to avenge that and the present one.

"Thank God, the night is over," Frank said at last; "and I have thoroughly tired myself. I have thought until I am stupid. Now I will lie down on one of the sofas, and perhaps I may forget it all for a few hours."

Sleep, however, did not come to him, and at seven o'clock he was on deck again.

"The men went ashore at six, sir," the skipper said. "I expect they will be back again before long."

Ten minutes later the dinghy came out between two yachts ahead.

"Rawlins is not on board," the skipper said, as they came close. "I told him to send off the instant they got any news whatever. That is Simpson in the stern."

"Well, Simpson, what news?" Frank asked as she rowed alongside.

"Well, sir, we have found out as how all the Phantom's crew are ashore. Some of the chaps told us that they came back a fortnight ago, the crew having been paid off. Rawlins said that I'd better come off and tell you that. He has gone off to look one of them up, and bring him off in a shore boat. He knows where he lives, and I expect we shall have him alongside in a few minutes."

"Do you think that is good news or bad, sir?" George Lechmere asked.

"I think that it is bad rather than good," Frank said. "Before, it seemed to me that, whatever the craft was in which she was carried away, she would probably be transferred to the Phantom, which might be lying in Portland or in Dover, or be cruising outside the island, and if I had heard nothing of the Phantom I should have searched for her. However, I suppose that the scoundrel thought that he could not trust a crew of Cowes men to take part in a business like this. But we shall know more when Rawlins comes off."

In half an hour the shore boat came alongside with Rawlins and a sailor with a Phantom jersey on.

"So you have all been paid off, my lad?" Frank said to the sailor as he stepped on deck.

"Yes sir. It all came sudden like. We had expected that she would be out for another month, at least. However, as each man got a month's pay, we had nothing to grumble about; although it did seem strange that even the skipper should not have had a hint of what Mr. Carthew intended, till he called him into his cabin and paid him his money."

"And where is she laid up?"

"Well, sir, she is at Ostend. I don't know whether she is going to be hauled up there, or only dismantled and left to float in the dock. The governor told the skipper that he thought he might go to the Mediterranean in December, but that till then he should not be able to use her. It seemed a rum thing leaving her out there instead of having her hauled up at Southampton or Gosport, and specially that he should not have kept two or three of us on board in charge. But, of course, that was his affair. Mr. Carthew is rather a difficult gentleman to please, and very changeable-like. We had all made sure that we were going to race here after winning the Cup at Ryde; and, indeed, after the race he said as much to the skipper."

"Has he anyone with him?" Frank asked.

"Only one gentleman, sir. I don't know what his name was."

"What was he like?"

"He was a smallish man, and thin, and didn't wear no hair on his face."

"Thank you. Here is a sovereign for your trouble.

"That is something, at any rate, George," he went on, as the man was rowed away. "The whole proceeding is a very strange one, and you see the description of the man with Carthew exactly answers to that of the man who found out from the boat's crew that Dr. Maddison was attending Lady Greendale; and now you see that it is quite possible that the Phantom is somewhere near, or was somewhere near yesterday afternoon. Carthew may have hired a foreign crew, and sailed in her a couple of days after her own crew came over; or he may have hired another craft either abroad or here. At any rate, there is something to do. I will go up to town by the midday train, and then down to Dover, and cross to Ostend tonight."

"Begging your pardon, Major, could not you telegraph to the harbour master at Ostend, asking if the Phantom is there?"

"I might do that, George, but if I go over there I may pick up some clue. I may find out what hotel he stopped at after the crew had left, and if so, whether he crossed to England or left by a train for France. There is no saying what information I may light on. You stay on board here. You can be of no use to me on the journey, and may be of use here. I will telegraph to you from Ostend. Possibly I may want the yacht to sail at once to Dover to meet me there, or you may have to go up to town to do something for me.

"Now I must go down and tell Lady Greendale as much as is necessary. It will, of course, be the best thing for her to go up to town with me, but if she is not well enough for that, of course she must stay on board."

Lady Greendale had just come into the saloon when he went down.

"I think I have got a clue-a very faint one," he said. "I am going up to town at once to follow it up. How are you feeling, Lady Greendale?"

"I have a terrible headache, but that is nothing. Of course, I will go up with you."

"But do you feel equal to it?"

"Oh, yes, quite," she said, feverishly. "What is your clue, Frank?"

"Well, it concerns the yacht in which I believe Bertha has been carried off. At any rate, I feel so certain as to who had a hand in it, that I have no hesitation in telling you that it was Carthew."

"Mr. Carthew! Impossible, Frank. He always seemed to me a particularly pleasant and gentlemanly man."

"He might seem that, but I happen to know other things about him. He is an unmitigated scoundrel. Of course, not a word must be said about it, Lady Greendale. You see that for Bertha's sake we must work quietly. It would never do for the matter to get into the papers."

"It would be too dreadful, Frank. I do think that it would kill me. I will trust it in your hands altogether. I have only one comfort in this dreadful affair, and that is that Bertha has Anna with her."

"That is certainly a great comfort; and it is something in the man's favour that when he enticed her from the yacht with that forged letter he suggested that she should bring her maid."

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