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   Chapter 13 No.13

The Queen's Cup By G. A. Henty Characters: 24930

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Three hours later the breeze came. Frank was pacing up and down the deck, when there was a slight creak above. He stopped and looked up.

"Is that the breeze?" he asked the first mate, whose watch it was.

"I think so, sir, though it may be just the heaving from a steamer somewhere. I don't feel any wind; not a breath from any quarter."

There was another and more decided sound above.

"There is no mistake this time," the mate said, as the boom which had been hanging amidships slowly swung over to port. "It's somewhere about the quarter that we expected it from, and coming as gently as a lamb."

Five minutes later there was sufficient breeze to cause her to heel over perceptibly as she moved quietly through the water.

"Hands aft to shake out the reefs," the mate called.

The order was repeated down the fo'castle hatch by one of the two men on the lookout. The rest of the watch, who had been allowed to go below, tumbled up.

The sailors hastened to untie the reef points. All were aware of the nature of the chase in which they were embarked. The whole crew were full of ardour. They felt it as a personal grievance that the young lady to whom their employer was engaged had not only been carried off, but carried off from the deck of the yacht. Moreover, she was very popular with them, as she had often asked them questions and chatted with them when at the helm or when she walked forward. She knew them all by name, and had several times come off from shore with a packet of tobacco for each man in her basket. She had been quick in learning to steer, and her desire to know everything about the yacht had pleased the sailors, who were all delighted when they learned of her engagement to the owner. The new hands, on learning the particulars, had naturally entered to some extent into the feeling of the others, and the alacrity with which every order was obeyed showed the interest felt in the chase.

As soon as the reef points were untied came the order:

"Slack away the reef tackle, and see that the caring will run easy.

"Now up with the throat halliard. That will do.

"Now the gaff a little more. Belay there.

"Now get that topsail up from the sail locker. We won't shift jibs just yet, until we see whether the breeze is going to freshen."

It was not long before the increasing heel of the craft, and rustle of water along her side, told that she was travelling faster.

"The wind is freeing her a bit, sir. It has shifted a good half point in the last ten minutes."

"That is a comfort," Frank said. "You may as well heave the log. I should like to know how she is going before I turn in."

"Seven knots, sir," the mate reported. "That is pretty fair, considering how close-hauled she is."

"Well, I will turn in now. Let me know if there is any change."

At five o'clock Frank was on deck again. Purvis was in charge of the watch now.

"Good morning, sir," he said, touching his hat as Frank came up. "We are going to have a fine day, and the wind is likely to keep steady."

"All right, Purvis. What speed were we going when you heaved the log?"

"Seven and a half, sir. Perry tells me that she has been doing just that ever since the wind sprang up. I reckon that we are pretty well abreast of Finisterre now. We shall have the sun up in a few minutes, and I expect that it will come up behind the land.

"Lambert, go up to the cross-tree and keep a sharp lookout, as the sun comes up, and see if you can make land."

"I can make out the land, sir," the sailor called down as soon as he reached the cross-tree. "It stands well up. I should say that you can see it from deck."

The mate and Frank walked further aft and looked out under the boom. The land was plainly visible against the glow of the sky.

"There it is, sure enough," the mate said. "I looked over there before you came up and could not make it out, but the sky has brightened a lot in the last ten minutes. I should say that it is about five-and-twenty miles away. It is a very bold coast, sir.

"That is Finisterre over the quarter; you see the land breaks off suddenly there. We ought to have made out the light, but of course it is not very bright at this distance, and there was a slight mist on the water when I came up at eight bells."

"I suppose in another forty-eight hours we shall not be far from the southern point of Portugal."

"We shall be there, or thereabouts, by that time if the wind keeps the same strength and in the same quarter. That would make an uncommonly good run of it, considering that we were lying twenty-four hours becalmed. If it had not been for that, we should have been only four days from the Start to Saint Vincent."

The mate's calculations turned out correct, and at seven in the morning they anchored a mile off Cape Saint Vincent. The gig was lowered, and Frank was rowed ashore, taking with him a signal book in which questions were given in several languages, including Spanish. He had purchased it at Cowes before starting.

The signal officer was very polite, and fortunately understood a little English. So Frank managed, with the aid of the book, to make him understand his questions. No craft at all answering to the description had been noticed passing during the last five or six days; certainly no yacht had passed. She might, of course, have gone by after dark.

He showed Frank the record of the ships that had been sighted going east, and of those that had made their numbers as they passed. The Phantom was not among the latter, nor did the rig or approximate tonnage, as guessed, of any of the others, at all correspond with hers.

After thanking the officer, Frank returned to his boat, and half an hour later the Osprey was again under weigh.

At Ceuta, Tarifa, and Tangier there was a similar want of success. Such a craft might have passed, but if so she was either too far away to be noted, or had passed during the night. From Tangier he crossed to Gibraltar, and anchored among the shipping there.

So far everything had gone to confirm his theory that the Phantom would not go up the Mediterranean. Of course, she might have passed the three places, as well as Saint Vincent, at night; or have kept so nearly in the middle of the Strait as to pass without being remarked. Still, the chances were against it, and he regarded it as almost certain that she would have put into one or other of the African ports, as she passed them, for water, fresh meat and fruit.

It was six days after the Osprey passed Saint Vincent before she anchored off Gib. She had made her number as she came in, and in a short time the health officer came out in a boat. The visit was a formal one; the white ensign on her taffrail was in itself sufficient to show her character, and that she must have come straight from England; and the questions asked were few and brief.

"We are ten days out," Frank said. "We have touched at Tarifa, Ceuta, and Tangier, but that is all. The crew are all in good health. Here is the list of them if you wish to examine them."

"As a matter of formality it is better that it should be done," the health officer said.

"I will order them to muster," Frank said, "and while they are doing so, will you come below and take a glass of wine?

"Can you tell me if a craft about this size, a schooner or brigantine, has put in here during the last fortnight? I don't know whether she is still flying yacht colours, or has gone into trade, but at any rate you could see at once that she had been a yacht."

"Certainly no such craft has put in here, Major Mallett. Yours is the first yacht that has come round this season, and as I board every vessel that anchors here, I should certainly have noticed any trader that had formerly been a yacht. The decks and fittings would tell their story at once. Do you know her name?"

"I don't know much about her," Frank said, "but a craft of that kind sailed from Cowes a day or two before I started, and, as I believe, for the Mediterranean. Being about our own size, and heavily sparred for a schooner, I was rather curious to know if I had beaten her. We did not make her out as we came along."

"You must have passed her in the night, I should say, unless, as is likely enough, she did not put in, but kept eastward."

As Frank had touched at Gibraltar three times before, the place had no novelty for him. He, however, went ashore at once to make arrangements for filling up again with water. The steward and George Lechmere accompanied him into the town to purchase fresh meat, fruit and vegetables.

Frank then made his way to the post office. He was scarcely disappointed at finding that there was nothing for him as yet.

The next three days he spent in wandering restlessly over the Rock. As long as the Osprey was under weigh, and doing her best, he was able to curb his anxiety and impatience; but now that she was at anchor he felt absolutely unable to remain quietly on board. Several officers of his acquaintance came off to the Osprey, and he was invited to dine at their mess dinner every night. He, however, declined.

"The fact is, my dear fellow," he said to each, "I am at present waiting with extreme anxiety for news of a most important nature, and until I get it I am so restless and so confoundedly irritable that I am not fit to associate with anyone. When I look in here again I hope that it will be all right, and then I shall be delighted to come to you, and have a chat over our Indian days; but at present I really am not up to it."

His appearance was sufficient to testify that his plea was not a fictitious excuse.

On the fourth day he found a letter awaiting him at the post office. He tore it open, and read:

"Funchal, Madeira, August 30.

"Sir: At the request of Mr. Greenwood I beg to inform you that a brigantine, precisely answering to the description given me, anchored in the roads here on the 21st. She only remained a few hours to take in water and stores. I was at the landing place when the master came on shore. He said that they had had a wonderfully fast voyage from England, having come from the Lizard under seven days, and holding a leading wind all the way. She was flying the Belgian flag, and I learned from the Portuguese official who visited her that her papers were all in order, and that she had been purchased at Ostend from an Englishman only three weeks before, and had been named the Dragon. He did not remember what her English name had been.

"Most unfortunately she had left a few hours before the mail steamer came in, bringing me the letter from Lloyd's. I do not know that I could, in any case, have stopped her; but I think that I could have got the officials to have searched her, and if the ladies had been on board, and had appealed to them for protection, I think the vessel would certainly have been detained; or, at any rate, the authorities would have insisted upon the ladies being set on shore.

"Her papers had the Cape as her destination, though this may, of course, have been only a blind. I regret much that I am unable to give you further information, beyond the fact that there were two male passengers on board. I shall be happy to reply to any communication I may receive from you."

Frank hurried down to the landing place.

"Lay out, men," he said. "I want to be under way in a quarter of an hour."

The men bent to their oars, and the gig flew through the water. There was no one on shore, for Frank had given strict orders that no one was to land, of a morning, until he returned from the post office.

"Get under way at once," he called to the captain, as soon as he came within hailing distance.

There was an instant stir on board. Some of the men ran to the capstan, others began to unlace the sail covers, while some gathered at the davits to hoist the boat up directly she came alongside.

"I have news, lads," Frank said, in a loud voice, as he stepped on board. "She has touched at Madeira."

There was a cheer from the men. It was something to know that a clue had been obtained, and in a wonderfully short time the Osprey was under way, and heading for the point of the bay.

"Then they did not stop them there, Major?" George Lechmere asked, after Frank had stated the news.

"No, the mail did not arrive with the letter in time for Lloyd's agent to act upon it. The Phantom had sailed some hours before. She is still under her

square yards, and her name has been changed to the Dragon. She was there on the 21st, and the letter is dated the 30th."

"And today is the 6th," George said. "So he has fifteen days' start of us, besides the distance to Madeira."

"Yes, she must be among the West Indies long before we can hope to overtake her––there, or at some South American port."

"Then you have learnt for certain that she has gone that way, Major?"

"It is not quite certain, but I have no doubt about it. Her papers say that she is bound for the Cape, which is quite enough to show me that she is not going there. I think it is the West Indies rather than South America, for if she went to any Brazilian port, or Monte Video, or Buenos Ayres, she would be much more likely to attract attention than she would in the West Indies, where there are scores of islands and places where she could cruise, or lie hidden as long as she liked.

"Yes, I have no doubt that is her destination. It is a nasty place to have to search, but sooner or later we ought to be able to find her. Fortunately the negroes pretty nearly all speak English, Spanish, or French, and we shall have no difficulty in getting information wherever there is any information to be had."

Four days later the Osprey anchored off Funchal. The dinghy at once put off with six water casks, and Frank was rowed ashore in the gig, and had a talk with his correspondent. The latter, however, could give him no more information than had been contained in his letter, except that the white streak had been painted out, and that the craft carried fourteen hands, all of whom were foreigners. He could give no information as to whether she would be likely to touch at either the Canaries or the Cape de Verde Islands, but was inclined to think that she would not.

"They took a very large stock of water on board," he said, "and a much larger amount of meat, vegetables and fruit than they would have required had they intended to put in there, and meat is a good deal dearer here than it would be at Saint Vincent, or even Teneriffe. I should think from this that they had no intention of putting in there, though they might touch at Saint Helena or Ascension, if they are really on their way to the Cape.

"But after what you tell me, I should think that your idea that they have made for the West. Indies is the correct one. I should say that they were likely to lie up in some quiet and sheltered spot there, for it is the hurricane season now, and no one would be cruising about among the islands if he could help it. There are scores of places where he could lie in shelter and no one be any the wiser, except, perhaps, negro villagers on the shore."

"Yes, I should think that is what he would do," Frank agreed. "How long does the hurricane season last?"

"The worst time is between the middle of September and the middle of November, but you cannot depend upon settled weather until the new year begins."

"Well, hurricane or no hurricane, I shall set out on the search as soon as I get over there."

Two hours later the Osprey was again on her way. The breeze was fresh and steady, and with her square sail set and her mizzen furled she ran along at over nine knots an hour. One day succeeded another, without there being the least occasion to make any shift in the canvas, and it was not until they were within a day's sail of Porto Rico that the wind dropped almost suddenly. Purvis at once ran below.

"The glass has fallen a long way since I looked at it at breakfast," he said, as he returned.

"Then we are in for a blow," the skipper said. "I am new to these latitudes, but wherever you are you know what to do when there is a sudden lull in the wind, and a heavy fall in the glass.

"Now, lads, get her canvas off her."

"All down, captain!"

"Every stitch.

"Andrews, do you and two others get down into the sail locker and bring up the storm jib, the small foresail, trysail, and storm mizzen. If it is a tornado, we shan't want to show much sail to it."

"If we are going to have a tornado, captain, I should recommend that you get the mainsail loose from the hoops, put the cover on, roll it up tightly to the gaff and lash it to the bulwarks on one side, and get the boom off and lash it on the other side."

"That will be a very good plan. The lower we get the weight the better."

When this was done, the topmast was also sent down and lashed by the sail. The barrels, which were now all empty, were lowered down into the saloon, while the trysail was fastened to the hoops ready for hoisting, and all the reefs tied up. A triangular mizzen was then hoisted, and a storm jib.

"We won't get up the foresail at present," the captain said. "I have reefed it right down, sir, but I won't hoist it until we have got the first blow over."

"You had better see that everything is well secured on deck, and if I were you I would put the jib in stops. We can break it out when we like; but from all accounts the first burst of these tornadoes is terrible. I should leave the mizzen on her; that will bring her head up to it, whichever way it comes, and she will lie to under that and the jib."

"Yes, sir; but it is likely enough that we shall have to sail. I have been reading about the tornadoes. I picked up a book at Cowes the day we sailed, when I saw that you were ordering the charts of these seas, and have learnt what is the proper thing to do. The wind is from the southeast at present, which means that the centre of the hurricane lies to the southwest.

"If the wind comes more from the east, as long as we can sail we are to head northwest or else lie to on the port tack. If it shifts more to the south, we are to lie to on the starboard tack."

"That sounds all right, Hawkins. It is very easy to describe what ought to be done, but it is not so easy to do it, when you are in a gale that is almost strong enough to take her mast out of her. I will tell you what I would do. I would break up a couple of those casks, and nail the staves over the skylights, and then nail tarpaulins over them. I have no fear whatever about her weathering the gale, but I expect that for a bit we shall be more under water than above it.

"I see Perry is getting the two anchors below; that will help to ease her. At any rate she will be in good fighting trim. I think we began none too soon. There is a thick mist over the sky, and it looks as dark as pitch ahead."

"There is only one thing more, sir," and the captain shouted:

"All hands get the boats on deck, and see that they are lashed firmly.

"Will you see to getting in the davits out of the sockets, Purvis, and getting them below?

"I ought to have done that before," he went on, apologetically, "but I did not think of it. However, with such a strong crew it won't take five minutes, and we have got that and something to spare, I think."

"You have got the bowsprit reefed, Hawkins?"

"Yes, sir; full reefed."

"There is only one thing more that I can suggest. I fancy that these tornadoes begin with heavy lightning. Get those wire topmast stays, and twist them tightly round the shrouds and lash them there, leaving the ends to drop a fathom or two in the water. In that way I don't think that we need be afraid of the lightning. If it strikes us it will run down the wire shrouds, and then straight into the water."

In five minutes all was in readiness; the boats securely lashed on deck, the davits down below, and the lightning protectors tied tightly to the wire shrouds.

"Now, captain, I think we have done all that we can do. What are you doing now?"

"I am running a life line right round her, sir. It may save more than one life if the seas make a sweep of her."

"You are right, captain. These eighteen-inch bulwarks are no great protection."

Four sailors speedily lashed a three-inch rope four feet above the deck, from the forestay round the shrouds and aft to the mizzen, hove as tight as they could get it and then fastened. While this was being done one of the mates cut up a piece of two-inch rope into several foot lengths, and gave one to each of the men and officers, including Frank and George Lechmere.

"If you tie the middle of that round your chest under the arms, you will have the two ends ready to lash yourself to windward when it gets bad. A couple of twists round anything will keep you safe, however much water may come over her."

"Do you mean to stay on deck, sir?" the skipper asked. "You won't be able to do any good, and the fewer hands there are on deck the less there will be to be anxious about. I shall only keep four hands forward after the first burst is over, and they will be lashed to the shrouds. Purvis will be there with them. Perry and Andrews will take the helm, and I shall stay with them.

"We have battened the fore hatch down. One of the men will be in the after cabin, and if I want to hoist the trysail or make any change I shall give three knocks, and that will be a signal for them to send half a dozen hands up. They will come through the saloon and up the companion. We shan't be able to open the fore hatch."

"Very well, skipper. I will go down when the hands do. We are going to have it soon."

It was now indeed so dark that he could scarcely see the face of the man he was speaking to.

"I really think, captain, that I should send some of them down below at once. If a flash of lightning were to strike the mast, it would probably go down the shrouds harmlessly, but might do frightful damage among the men, crowded as they are up here; or it might blind some of them. Besides, the weight forward is no trifle."

"I think that you are right, sir," and, raising his voice, the captain shouted:

"All hands below except the four men told off. Go down by the companion."

"Would you mind their stopping in the saloon, sir? It would make her more lively than if they all went down into the fo'castle."

"Certainly not, captain;" and accordingly the men were ordered to remain in the saloon.

"You can light your pipes there, my lads," Frank said, as they went down, "and make yourselves as comfortable as you can."

The last man had scarcely disappeared when the captain said:

"Look there, Major Mallett," and looking up Frank saw a ball of phosphorescent light, some eighteen inches in diameter, upon the masthead.

"Plenty of electricity about," he said, cheerfully. "If they are all as harmless as that it won't hurt us."

But as he ceased speaking there was a crash of thunder overhead that made the whole vessel quiver, and at the same instant a flash of lightning, so vivid, that for a minute or two Frank felt absolutely blinded. Without a moment's intermission, flash followed flash, while the crashes of thunder were incessant.

"I think that plan of yours has saved the ship, sir," the captain said, when, after five minutes, the lightning ceased as suddenly as it had begun. "I am sure that a score of those flashes struck the mast, and yet no damage has been done to it, so far as I could see by the last flash. Are you all right there, Purvis?"

"All right," the mate replied. "Scared a bit, I fancy. I know I am myself, but none the worse for it."

"It is coming now, sir," the captain said. "Listen."

Frank could hear a low moaning noise, rapidly growing louder, and then he saw a white line on the water coming along with extraordinary velocity.

"Hard down with the helm, Perry," the captain said.

"Hard down it is, sir."

"Hold on all!" the captain shouted.

A few seconds later the gale struck them. The yacht shook as if in a collision, and heeled over till the water was half up her deck. Then the weight of her lead ballast told, and as the pressure on the mizzen did its work, she gradually came up to the wind, getting on to an almost even keel as she did so.

"Break out the jib and haul in the weather sheet," the captain shouted.

Purvis was expecting this, and although he did not hear the words above the howl of the storm, at once obeyed the order.

"There she is, sir, lying-to like a duck," the skipper shouted in Frank's ear; "and none the worse for it. An ordinary craft would have turned turtle, but I have seen her as far over when she has been racing."

"Well, I will go below now, Hawkins," Frank shouted back. "It is enough to blow the hair off one's head.

"Come down, George, with me. You can be of no use here."

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