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   Chapter 14 No.14

The Queen's Cup By G. A. Henty Characters: 31044

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


For eight hours the Osprey struggled with the storm. The sea swept over her decks, and the dinghy was smashed into fragments, but the yacht rode with far greater ease than an ordinary vessel would have done, as, save for her bare mast, the wind had no hold upon her. There were no spars with weight of furled sails to catch the wind and hold her down; she was in perfect trim, and her sharp bows met the waves like a wedge, and suffered them to glide past her with scarce a shock, while the added buoyancy gained by reefing the bowsprit and getting the anchors below lifted her over seas that, as they approached, seemed as if they would make a clean sweep over her.

From time to time Frank went up for a few minutes, lashing himself to the runner to windward. The three men at the helm were all sitting up, lashed to cleats, and sheltering themselves as far as they could by the bulwarks. Movement toward them was impossible. Beyond a wave of the hand, no communication could be held.

Frank could not have ventured out had he not, before going down below for the first time, stretched a rope across the deck in front of the companion, so that before going out he obtained a firm grasp of it, and was by its assistance able to reach the side safely. Each time he went out four of the crew from below followed him and relieved those lashed to the shrouds forward.

The skipper was carrying out the plan he had decided on, and the foresail was hoisted a few feet, the Osprey by its aid gradually edging her way out from the centre of the tornado. The hands as they came down received a stiff glass of grog, and were told to turn in at once. Two hours after the storm broke Purvis came down for a few minutes.

"She is doing splendidly, sir," he said. "I would not have believed if I had not seen it, that any craft of her size could have gone through such a sea as this and shipped so little water. We have had a few big 'uns come on board, but in general she goes over them like a duck. It is hard work forward. You have got to keep your back to it, for you can hardly get your breath if you face it. If it was not for the lashings, it would blow you right away.

"I have been at sea in gales that we thought were big ones, but nothing like this. Of course, with our heavy ballast and bare poles, she don't lie over much. It is the sea and not the wind that affects her, and her low free board is all in her favour. But I believe a ship with a high side and yards and top hamper would be blown down on her beam ends and kept there."

"Do you think that it blows as hard as it did, Purvis?"

"There ain't much difference, sir; but I do think there ain't quite so much weight in it. I expect we are working our way out of it. We have been twice round the compass. It is lucky we had not got down among the islands before we caught it. I would not give much for our chances if we had been there, for these gales gradually wear themselves out as they get farther from the islands."

In six hours the weather had so far moderated that they were able to hoist the reefed foresail, and two hours later the trysail was set with all the reefs in. These were shaken out in a short time, the wind dying away fast. Half the crew had turned into their hammocks some time before, and the regular watch was now set. The motion of the ship, however, was very violent, for there was a heavy tumbling sea still on, the waves having no general direction, but tossing in confused masses and coming on to the deck, now on one side, now on the other.

At midnight Frank also turned in, in his clothes; but he was soon up again, for the motion of the yacht was so violent that he found it next to impossible to keep from being jerked out of his berth. The first mate had had four hours off duty, and had just come up again to relieve the captain.

"It is lucky, sir, that all our gear is nearly new," he said; "for if it had not been, this rolling would have taken the mast out of her. The strain on the shrouds each time that she gets chucked over must be tremendous."

"It would have been better, for this sort of work, if we had had ten feet taken off that stick before we started."

"Well, just for the present it would have been better, sir; but even if we had had time I would not have done it. We should not have much chance of overhauling the Phantom if we clipped our wings."

In another two hours the sea had sensibly moderated. Frank again went down, and this time was able to go to sleep. When he went on deck the sun was some way up, the mainsail was set, and the reefs had been shaken out.

"This is a change for the better, captain."

"It is indeed, sir. I think that we have reason to be proud of the craft. She has gone through a tornado without having suffered the slightest damage, except the loss of the dinghy. I shall be getting the topmast up in another hour. You see, I have got her number-two jib on her and shifted the mizzen, but she is still a bit too lively to make it safe to get up the spar. Like as not, if we did, it would snap off before we could get the stays taut."

"I am terribly anxious about the Phantom," Frank said, "and only trust that she was in a snug harbour on the lee side of one of the islands."

"I hope so, sir. I was thinking of her lots of times when the gale was at its height. If she was, as you say, in a good port, she would be right enough. Of course, if she was out she would run for the nearest shelter."

"If she had no more wind than we had before it came on, she had not much chance of doing that."

"That is true enough, sir; but, you see, the glass gave us notice three hours before we caught it. Besides, they certainly took native pilots on board as soon as they got out here, and these must have got them into some safe place at the first sign of a gale."

"Yes, they must certainly have had a pilot on board," Frank agreed; "and there is every ground to hope that they were snugly at anchor. They were three weeks ahead of us, and must know that it is the hurricane season as well as we do. It is likely that the first thing they did on their arrival was to search for some quiet spot, where they could lie up safely till the bad season was over."

Late on the following afternoon land was seen ahead.

"There is Porto Rico, sir. It may not be quite our nearest point to make, but there are no islands lying outside it; so that it was safer to make for it than for places where the islands seemed to be as thick as peas."

"Yes, and for the same reason it is likely that Carthew made for it. Of course, naturally we should have both gone for either Barbadoes or Antigua, or Barbuda, the most northern of the Leeward Islands; but he would not do so if he intends to keep his Belgian colours flying. And, indeed, it would seem curious that two English gentlemen should be cruising about in a Belgian trader. You may take it that he is certain to put into a port for water and vegetables, just as we have to do. There seem to be at least half a dozen on this side of the island. He may have gone into any of them, but he would be most likely to choose a small place. However, at one or other of them we are likely to get news; and the first thing for us to do is to get a good black pilot, who can talk some English as well as Spanish."

"It is likely we shall have to take three or four of them before we have done. A man here might know the Virgin Islands, and perhaps most of the Leeward Islands, but he might not know anything east, west, or north of San Domingo. We should certainly want another pilot for the Bahamas, and a third for Cuba and the islands round it, which can be counted almost by the hundred. Then again, none of these would know the islands fringing almost the whole of the coast from Honduras to Trinidad. However, I hope we shall not have to search them. There is an ample cruising ground and any number of hiding places without having to go so far out of the world as that. At any rate, at present he is not likely to have gone far, and I think that he will either have sought some secluded shelter among the Virgin Islands, or on the coast of San Domingo."

When within a few miles of Porto Rico they lay to for the night, and the next morning coasted westward, and dropped anchor in the port of San Juan de Porto Rico.

A quarter of an hour after dropping anchor the port officials came on board. The inspection of the ship's papers was a short formality, the white ensign and the general appearance of the craft showing her at once to be an English yacht, and as she had only touched at Madeira on her way from Gibraltar, and all on board were in good health, she was at once given pratique.

"The first thing to do is to get an interpreter," Frank said, as he was rowed to shore, accompanied by George Lechmere. "The secretary of Lloyd's gave me a list of their agents all over the world. It is a Spanish firm here, and it is probable that none of them speaks English, but if so I have no doubt that by aid of this signal book I shall be able to make them understand what I want. I have a circular letter of introduction from Lloyd's secretary."

He had no difficulty in discovering the place of business of Senor Juan Cordovo, and on sending in his card and the letter of introduction, was at once shown into an inner office. He was received with grave courtesy by the merchant, who, on learning that he did not speak Spanish, touched a bell on his table. A clerk entered, to whom he spoke a few words.

The young man then turned to Frank, and said:

"I speak English, sir. Senor Cordovo wishes me to assure you that all he has is at your disposal, and that he will be happy to assist you in any way that you may point out."

"Please assure Senor Cordovo of my high consideration and gratitude for his offer. Will you inform him that I intend to cruise for some time among the islands, and that I desire to obtain the services of an interpreter, speaking English and Spanish; and if he possesses some knowledge of French, so much the better."

The reply was translated to the merchant, who conversed with the interpreter for two or three minutes. The latter then turned to Frank.

"I have a brother, senor, who, like myself, speaks the three languages. He is at present out of employment, and would, I am sure, be very glad to engage himself to you as your interpreter."

"That would be the very thing," Frank said. "Does he live in the town?"

"Yes, senor. I could fetch him here in a few minutes if Senor Cordovo will permit me to do so."

The merchant at once granted the clerk's request.

"Will you tell Senor Cordovo," Frank said, "that I do not wish to occupy his valuable time, and that I will return here in a quarter of an hour?"

The merchant, however, through the clerk, assured Frank that he would not hear of his leaving, and producing a box of cigars, begged him to seat himself until the arrival of the interpreter. He then said something else to the clerk, and the latter asked Frank if he wanted any supplies for the yacht, as his employer acted as agent for shipping.

"Certainly," Frank said, glad to have the opportunity of repaying the civility shown him. "I require fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, sufficient for twenty-five persons. I shall also be glad if he will arrange for boats to take off water. My barrels and tanks are nearly empty, and I shall want a supply of about a thousand gallons."

While the clerk was absent, Frank, with the assistance of the signal book, kept up a somewhat disjointed conversation with the Spaniard. The clerk was, however, away but a few minutes; and returned with his brother, an intelligent-looking young fellow of seventeen or eighteen. He did not speak English quite as well as the clerk, but sufficiently well for all purposes. Frank asked him his terms, which seemed to him ridiculously low, and a bargain was forthwith arranged.

"Will you ask Senor Cordovo if any other English yacht has been here during the past three weeks or a month? I have a friend on board one, and I fancy that she is cruising out here also."

The merchant replied that no English yacht had touched at the port for some months, and that such visits were extremely rare. He assured him that the stores ordered would be alongside in the course of the afternoon, and expressed his regret when Frank declined his invitation to stay with him for a day or two at his country house.

After renewed thanks, Frank took his departure with his new interpreter, whose name was Pedro. George Lechmere was waiting at the corner of the street.

"I have arranged everything satisfactorily, George. This young man is coming with me as interpreter, and as he speaks both French and Spanish we shall get on well in future.

"When will you be ready to come on board, Pedro?"

"In half an hour, senor."

"You will find my boat at the quay. Take your things down to it. It is a white boat with a British flag at the stern. But I don't want you to go off yet. I have two things I want you to do before you go.

"In the first place, I want a pilot. I want one who knows the Virgin Islands well, and also the coast of San Domingo."

"There will be no difficulty about that, senor."

"In the second place, I want to find out, from the boatmen at the quays, whether a Belgian schooner of seventy or eighty tons has touched here during the last month. She carries large yards on her foremast, and is a very fast-looking craft. She was at one time an English yacht. If she called here, I wish to know whether she sailed east or west, and if possible to obtain an idea as to her destination."

"There was such a vessel here, senor, for I noticed her myself. She only remained a few hours, while her boats took off water and vegetables. I happened to notice her, for having nothing to do I was down at the quays, and the boatmen were talking about her, she being a craft such as is seldom seen now. Some of the old men said that she reminded them of the privateers in the great war. I went down to the boats when they first came ashore. The men only spoke French, and they paid me a dollar to go round with them to make their purchases. They took them, and also the water, off in their own boats; which surprised me, for they were very handsome boats, much more handsome than I have seen in any ship that ever came here. I said that it would cost them but a very small sum to send the barrels off in the native boats, but they insisted upon taking them themselves.

"I don't know which way they sailed, because I went home as soon as they went away from the quay, but the boatmen will be able to tell me."

He went away and talked with some of the negro boatmen, and soon returned, saying that she sailed westward.

"At what time did she sail?"

"It was just getting dark, senor, for they said that they could scarcely make her out, but she certainly went west."

"Well, all you have to do now, Pedro, is to hire a pilot. Get the best man that you can find. I want one who knows every foot of the Virgin Islands. We are going there first. It does not matter so much about his knowing San Domingo, for as we shall probably come back here, we can put him ashore and get another pilot specially for San Domingo. Be sure you get the best man that you can find, whatever his terms are. We will be back again here in half an hour.

"That is satisfactory indeed, George," Frank went on, as they turned away. "Of course, strongly

as we believed that he might be here, there was no absolute certainty about it, for he might have gone to the South American ports, or even have headed for the Gulf of Florida. You see he is not only here, but came to the very island we thought that he would most likely make for. As for his going west, no doubt that was merely a ruse. He did not get up anchor until it was getting so dark that he would be able in the course of half an hour to change his course, and make for the Virgin Islands without fear of being observed. I don't suppose that they have any idea whatever of being followed, but they take every precaution in their power to cover up their traces. You noticed, of course, their anxiety that no shore boat should go off to them.

"Well, George, we have succeeded so well thus far, that I feel confident that we shall overhaul them before long. As far as one can see on the chart, most of these Virgin Islands are mere rocks, and the number we shall have to search will not be very great, and if the pilot really knows his business, he ought to be able to take us to every inlet where they would be likely to anchor."

Pedro was awaiting them when they returned to the boat, and was accompanied by a big negro, who, by the grin on his good-natured face, was evidently highly satisfied with the bargain that he had made.

"This is the man, senor," Pedro said. "I met one of the port officers I know, and he told me that he was considered to be the best pilot in the island. He speaks a little English-most of the pilots do, for several of the Virgin Islands belong to your people-and, of course, when he goes down to the Windward Islands-"

"The Windward Islands!" Frank repeated. "Why, they are not anywhere near here."

"I should have said the Leeward Islands, senor. The English call them so, but we and the Danes and the Dutch all call them the Windward Islands."

"Oh, I understand.

"What is your name, my man?"

"Dominique, sar. Me talk English bery well. Me take you to any port you want to go. Me know all de rocks and shoals. Bery plenty dey is, but Dominique knows ebery one of dem."

"That is all right. You are just the man I want. Well, are you ready to go on board at once?"

"Me ready in an hour, sar. Go home now, say goodbye to wife and piccaninnies. Pedro just tell me that boat go off with water in one, two hours. Dominique go off with him. Me like five dollars to give wife to buy tings while me am away."

"All right, Dominique, here you are. Now don't you miss the boat, or we shall quarrel at starting, and I shall send ashore at once and engage someone else."

"Dominique come, sar, that for sure. Me good man; always keep promise."

"Well, here is another couple of dollars, Dominique; that is a present. You give that to the wife, and tell her to buy something for the piccaninnies with it."

So saying, Frank, George Lechmere, and Pedro stepped on board the boat; while the pilot walked off, his black face beaming with satisfaction.

He came off duly with the last water boat, and while the contents of the barrels were being transferred to the tanks-for now that the long run was accomplished there was no longer any necessity for carrying a greater supply than these could hold-Frank had a talk with him.

"Now, Dominique, this is, you know, a yacht cruising about on pleasure."

"Yes, sar, me know dat."

"At the same time," Frank went on, "we have an object in view. Just at present we want to find that schooner or brigantine that put in here nearly a month ago. She carried a heavy spread of canvas on her yards, and lay very low in the water."

The pilot nodded.

"Me remember him, sar; could not make out de craft nohow. Some people said she pirate, but dar ain't no pirates now."

"That is so, Dominique. Still there may be reasons sometimes for wanting to overhaul a vessel, and I have such a reason. What it is, is of no consequence. Pedro tells me that when she got under sail she went west, but as it was just dark when she sailed, she may very well have turned as soon as she was hidden from sight and have gone east; and it seems to me likely that she would, in the first place, have made for one of the Virgin Islands."

"It depends, sar, upon the trade that he wanted to do. Not much trade dere, sar. The trade is done at Tortola, dat English island; and at Saint Thomas or Santa Cruz, dem Danish islands; all de oders do little trade."

"Yes, Dominique, but I don't think that she wants to trade at all. What she wants to do is to lie up quietly, where she would not be noticed."

"Plenty of places in the islands for dat, sar."

"Did they take a pilot here?"

Dominique shook his head.

"No, sar; several offers, but no take. If want to hide, they no want pilot from here; they take up a fisherman among the islands, to show dem good place. But plenty of places much better in San Domingo or Cuba. Why dey stop Virgin Islands? Little places, many got no water, no food, no noting but bare rock."

"I think that they would go in there, because, as the hurricane season had begun when they got here, they would think it better to run into the port."

"Hurricane not bad here, sar; bery bad down at what English call Leeward Islands. Have dem sometimes here, not bery often; had one four days ago, one ob de worse me remember. We not likely to have another dis year."

"That is satisfactory, Dominique, We got caught in it the other day, and I don't want to meet another. Well, you understand what I want. To begin with, to search all the places a vessel that did not want to attract notice would be likely to lie up in. We want to question people as to whether she has been seen, and if we don't find her, to hear whether, when last seen, she was sailing in the direction of the Leeward Islands, or going west."

"Me find out, sar," the negro said, confidently. "Someone sure to have seen her."

"Well, you had better come below. I have got a chart, and you shall mark all the islands where there are any bays that she would be likely to take shelter in, and we can then see the order in which we had better take them."

This was a little beyond Dominique's English, but Pedro explained it to him, and at Frank's request went below with them; Frank telling Hawkins to weigh anchor as soon as the tanks were filled and the stores were on board. He had, before he came off, returned to Senor Cordovo and paid for all the things supplied.

Going through the islands, one by one, Dominique made a cross against all that possessed harbours or inlets, that would each have to be examined.

"Tortola is the least likely of the places for them to go," Frank said, "as it is a British island."

"Not many people dar, sar. Most people in town. De rest of island rock, all hills broken up, many good harbours."

"What is its size, Dominique?"

"Twelve miles long, sar. Two miles wide."

"Well, that is not a great deal to search, if we have to examine every inch of the coast. How many people are there?"

"Two, three hundred white men. Dey live in de town most all. Two, three thousand blacks."

"Well, we will begin with the others. I should think that in a fortnight we ought to be able to do them all."

The next twelve days were occupied in a fruitless search. Every fishing boat was overhauled and questioned, and Frank and Pedro went ashore to every group of huts. The only fact that they learned, was that a schooner answering to the description had been seen some time before. The information respecting her was, however, very vague; for some asserted that she was sailing one way, some another; and Frank concluded that she had cruised about for some days, before deciding where to lie up. It was at Tortola that they first gained any useful information. Many vessels had, during the last six weeks, entered one or other of the deep creeks, and one of them had laid up for nearly a month in a narrow inlet with but one or two negro huts on shore. It was undoubtedly the Phantom, or rather the Dragon, for the negroes had noticed that name on her stern. She had sailed on the day after the hurricane, and, as they learned from shore villages at other points, had gone west.

"Well, it is a comfort to think that even if we had sailed direct here from Porto Rico we should not have caught her," Frank said to George Lechmere. "She had left here two days before we got there. I suppose they have someone on board who has been in the islands before, for certainly the harbours are the best in the group. No doubt they got some fishermen to bring them into the creek. Well, there is nothing to do but to turn her head west. It is but forty-eight hours' sail to San Domingo, and I fancy that it is likely that he will have stopped there. You see on the chart that there are numberless bays, and there would be no fear of questions being asked by the blacks. If we don't find him there we must try Cuba; but San Domingo is by far the most likely place for him to choose for his headquarters, and there are at least four biggish rivers he could sail up, beside a score of smaller ones.

"I should say that we had better try the south and west first. The coast is a great deal more indented there than it is to the north. There seem to be any number of creeks and bays. I should think that he would be likely to make one of these his headquarters, and spend his time cruising about."

Although Dominique professed a thorough knowledge of the coast of San Domingo and Hayti, Frank could see that he was not so absolutely certain as he was of the Virgin Islands, and he told him to land at villages as he passed along, and bring fishermen off acquainted with the waters in their locality.

"Dat am de safest way for sure, sar," Dominique said. "Dis chile know de coast bery well, can pilot ship into town of San Domingo or any oder port that ships go to, but he could not say for certain where all de rocks and shoals are along places where de ships neber go in."

Three days later the Osprey, after sailing along the northern shore, arrived at Porto Rico and, passing through the Mona channel between that island and San Domingo, dropped anchor in the port of the capital. Dominique went ashore with Pedro, and spent some hours in boarding coasting craft and questioning negroes whether they had seen the brigantine. Several of them had noticed her. She had been cruising off the coast, and had put in at the mouth of the Nieve, and at Jaquemel on the south coast of Hayti. They heard of her, too, in the deep bay at the west of the island between Capes Dame Marie and La Move. Some had seen her sailing one way, some another; she had evidently been, as Frank had expected, cruising about.

Pedro put down the dates of the times at which she had been seen, but negroes are very vague as to time, and beyond the fact that some had seen her about a week before, while in other cases it was nearer a fortnight, he could ascertain nothing with certainty. So far as he could learn, she had only put into three ports, although the coasters he boarded came from some twenty different localities.

"I fancy that it is as I expected," Frank said. "They have one regular headquarters to which they return frequently. It may be some very secluded spot. It may be up one of these small rivers marked on the chart––there are a score of them between Cape la Move and here. She does not seem to have been seen as far east as this. Of course, she has not put in here, because there are some eight or ten foreign ships here now. Every one of these twenty rivers has plenty of water for vessels of her draught for some miles up. I fancy our best chance will be to meet her cruising."

"The worst of that would be, Major," George Lechmere said, "that she would know us, and if she sails as well as she used to do, we should not catch her before night came on-if she had seven or eight miles' start-especially if we both had the wind aft."

"That is just what I am afraid of. I have no doubt that we could beat her easily working to windward in her present rig, but I am by no means certain that she could not run away from us if we were both free; and if she once recognised us there is no saying where she might go to after she had shaken us off. Certainly she would not stay in these waters.

"The question is, how can we disguise ourselves? If we took down our mizzen and dirtied the rest of our sails, it would not be much of a disguise. Nothing but a yacht carries anything like as big a mainsail as ours, and our big jib and foresail, and the straight bowsprit would tell the tale. Of course, we could fasten some wooden battens along her side, and stretch canvas over them, and paint it black, and so raise her side three feet, but even then the narrowness of her hull, seen end on as it would be, in comparison to the height of the mast and spread of canvas, would strike Carthew at once."

"We could follow his example, sir, and make her into a brig. I dare say we could get it done in a week."

"That might spoil her sailing, and as soon as he found that we were in chase of him, he would at once suspect that something was wrong. That would, of all things, be the worst, especially if he found-which would be just as likely as not––that he had the legs of us.

"I believe the most certain way of all would be to search for her in the boats. If we were to paint the gig black, so that it would not attract attention, give a coating of grey paint to the oars, and hire a black crew, we could coast along and stop at every village, and search every bay, and row far enough up each river to find some village or hut where we could learn whether the Phantom has been in the habit of going up there. It would take some time, of course, but it might be a good deal of time saved in the long run. We could do a great deal of sailing. The gig stands well up to canvas when the crew are sitting in the bottom, and we could fit her out with a native rig.

"From here to Cape La Move, following the indentations, must be somewhere between five and six hundred miles, perhaps more than that. The breeze is regular, and with a sail we ought to make from forty to fifty miles a day-say forty-so that in three weeks we should thoroughly have searched the coast, even allowing for putting in three or four times a day to make inquiries. The yacht must follow, keeping a few miles astern. At any rate she must not pass us.

"At night when she anchors she must have two head lights, one at the crosstrees and one at the topmast head. I shall be on the lookout for her, and we will take some blue lights and some red lights with us. Every night I will burn a blue light, say at nine o'clock. A man in the crosstrees will make it out twenty miles away, and that will tell them where I am, and that I don't want them. If I burn a red light it will be a signal for the yacht to come and pick me up."

"Then you will go in the boat yourself, Major?"

"Yes, I must be doing something. I shall take Pedro with me, and perhaps Dominique. We can get another pilot here. Dominique is a shrewd fellow, and can get more out of the negroes than Pedro can. Certainly, that will be the best plan, and will avoid the necessity of spoiling the yacht's speed, which may be of vital importance to us at a critical moment.

"Call Dominique down. I will send him ashore at once with Pedro, to get hold of a good pilot and four good negro boatmen, and a native sail. I think that is all we want."

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