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   Chapter 16 No.16

The Queen's Cup By G. A. Henty Characters: 29306

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The stars were bright, and with the aid of a night glass the brigantine was kept in sight; the sailors relieving each other at the masthead every half hour. Frank would have stayed on deck all night, had not George Lechmere persuaded him to go below.

"Look here, Major," he said. "It is like enough that we may have a stiff bit of fighting tomorrow. Now we know that those fellows have guns, though they may be but two or three pounders, and it is clear that it is not going to be altogether such a one-sided job as we looked for. You have had a long day already, sir. You have got an ugly wound, and if you don't lie down and keep yourself quiet, you won't be fit to do your share in any fighting tomorrow; and I reckon that you would like to be in the front of this skirmish. You know in India wounds inflamed very soon if one did not keep quiet with them, and I expect that it is just the same here.

"It is not as if you could do any good on deck. The men are just as anxious to catch that brigantine as you are. They were hot enough before, but now that one of their mates has been killed, and five or six wounded, I believe that they would go round the world rather than let her slip through their hands. I shall be up and down all night, Major, and the captain and both mates will be up, too, and I promise that we will let you know if there is anything to tell you."

"Well, I will lie down, George, but I know that I shall get no sleep. Still, perhaps, it will be better for me to keep my arm quite quiet."

He was already without his coat, for that had been cut from the neck down to the wrist, to enable George to get at the wound. He kicked off his light canvas shoes, and George helped him to lie down in his berth.

"You will be sure to let me know if she changes her course or anything?"

"I promise you that I will come straight down, Major."

Three quarters of an hour later, George stole noiselessly down and peeped into the stateroom. He had turned down the swinging lamp before he went up, but there was enough light to enable him to see that his master had fallen off to sleep. He took the news up to Hawkins, who at once gave orders that no noise whatever was to be made. The men still moved about the deck, but all went barefooted.

"The wind keeps just the same," Hawkins said. "I can't make it more than three and a half knots through the water. I would give a year's pay if it would go round dead ahead of us; we should soon pick her up then. As it is, she keeps crawling away. However, we can make her out, on such a night as this, a good deal further than she is likely to get before morning. Besides, we shall be having the moon up soon, and as we are steering pretty nearly east, it will show her up famously.

"Now I will give you the same advice that you gave the governor. You had much better lie down for a bit. Purvis has gone down for a sleep, Perry will go down when he comes up at twelve, and I shall get an hour or two myself later on."

"I won't go down," George said, "but I will bring a couple of blankets up and lie down aft. I promised the Major that I would let him know if there was any change in the wind, or in the brigantine's course, so wake me directly there is anything to tell him. I have put his bell within reach. I have no doubt I shall hear it through that open skylight if he rings; but if not, wake me at once."

"All right. Trust us for that."

Twice during the night George got up and went below. The first time Frank had not moved. The second he found that the tumbler of lime juice and water, on the table at the side of the bunk, was nearly half emptied; and that his master had again gone off to sleep and was breathing quietly and regularly.

"He is going on all right," he said to Hawkins, when he went up. "There is no fever yet, anyhow, for he has drunk only half that glass of lime juice. If he had been feverish he would not have stopped until he had got to the bottom of it."

When George next woke, the morning was breaking.

"Anything new?" he asked Purvis, who was now at the tiller.

"Nothing whatever. The governor has not rung his bell. The wind is just as it was, neither better nor worse, and the brigantine is eight miles ahead of us."

George went forward to have a look at her.

"I think I had better wake him," he said to himself. "He will have had nine hours of it, and he won't like it if I don't let him know that it is daylight. I will get two or three fresh limes squeezed, and then go in to him."

This time Frank opened his eyes as he entered.

"Morning is breaking, Major, and everything is as it was. I hope that you are feeling better for your sleep. Let me help you up. Here is a tumbler of fresh lime juice."

"I feel right enough, George. I can scarcely believe that it is morning. How I have slept-and I fancied that I should not have gone off at all."

Drinking off the lime juice, Frank at once followed Lechmere on deck, and after a word or two with Purvis hurried forward.

"She is a long way ahead," he said, with a tone of disappointment.

"The mate reckoned it between seven and eight miles, Major."

"How far is she from the Bec?"

"I don't know, sir. I did not ask Purvis."

Frank went aft and repeated the question.

"I fancy that that is the Bec, the furthermost point that we can see," Purvis said, "and I reckon that she is about halfway to it."

"Keep her a point or two out, Purvis. The line of shore is pretty straight beyond that, and I want of all things not to lose sight of her for a moment. I would give a good deal to know what she is going to do. I cannot think that she is going to try to go round the southeast point of the island, for if she were she would have laid her head that way before."

The Osprey edged out until they opened the line of coast beyond the headland, and then kept her course again. There was a trifle more wind as the sun rose higher, and the yacht went fully a knot faster through the water. In less than two hours the brigantine was abreast of the headland. Presently Frank exclaimed:

"She is hauling in her wind."

"That she is, sir," Hawkins, who had just come on deck, exclaimed. "She surely cannot be going to run into the bay."

"She can be going to do nothing else," Frank said. "What on earth does she mean by it? No doubt that scoundrel is going to land with Miss Greendale, but why should he leave the Phantom at our mercy, when he could have sent her on to Port au Prince?"

"I cannot think what he is doing, sir; but he must have some game on, or he would never act like that."

"Of course, he may have arranged to go with the lady to some place up in the hills; but why should he sacrifice the yacht?"

"It is a rum start anyhow, and I cannot make head or tail of it. Of course you will capture her, sir?"

"I don't know, Hawkins. It is one thing to attack her when she has Miss Greendale on board, but if she has gone ashore it would be very like an act of piracy."

"Yes, sir. But then, you see, they fired into our boat, and killed one of our men, and wounded you and four or five others."

"That is right enough, Hawkins, but we cannot deny that they did it in self defence. Of course, we know that they must have recognised us, and knew what our errand was, but her captain and crew would be ready to swear that they didn't, and that they were convinced by our actions that we were pirates. At any rate, you may be sure that the blacks would retain both craft, and that we should be held prisoners for some considerable time, while Miss Greendale would be a captive in the hands of Carthew. I should attack the brigantine if I knew her to be on board, and should be justified in doing so, even if it cost a dozen lives to capture her; but I don't think I should be justified in risking a single life in attacking the brigantine if she were not on board. To do so would, in the first place, be a distinct act of piracy; and in the second, if we got possession of the brigantine we should have gained nothing by it."

"We might burn her, sir."

"Yes, we might, and run the risk of being hung for it. We might take her into Port au Prince, but we have no absolute evidence against her. We could not swear that we had positive knowledge that Miss Greendale was on board, and certain as I am that the female figures I made out on the deck were she and her maid, they were very much too far away to recognise them, and the skipper might swear that they were two negresses to whom he was giving a passage.

"Moreover, if I took the brigantine I should only cut off Carthew's escape in that direction. His power over Miss Greendale would be just as great, if he had her up among those mountains among the blacks, as it was when he had her on board. I can see that I have made a horrible mess of the whole business, and that is the only thing that I can see. Yesterday I thought it was the best thing to start on a direct chase, as it seemed absolutely certain to me that we should overhaul and capture her. Now I see that it was the worst thing I could have done, and that I ought to have waited until I could take her in the bay."

"But you see, Major," said George Lechmere, who was standing by, "if we had gone on searching with the boat, before we had made an examination of the whole bay, there would be no knowing where she had gone, and it might have been months before we could have got fairly on her track again."

"No, we acted for the best; but things have turned out badly, and I feel more hopelessly at sea, as to what we had better do next, than I have done since the day I got to Ostend. At any rate, there is nothing to be done until we have got a fair sight of the brigantine."

It seemed, to all on board, that the Osprey had never sailed so sluggishly as she did for the next hour and a half. As they expected, no craft was to be seen on the waters of the bay as they rounded the point, but Dominique and the other pilot had been closely questioned, and both asserted that at the upper end of the bay there was a branch that curved round "like dat, sar," the latter said, half closing his little finger.

Progress up the bay was so slow that the boats were lowered, and the yacht was towed to the mouth of the curved branch. Here they were completely landlocked, and the breeze died away altogether.

"How long is this bend, Jake?" Frank asked the second pilot in French.

"Two miles, sir; perhaps two miles and a half."

"Deep water everywhere?"

"Plenty of water; can anchor close to shore. Country boats run in here very often if bad weather comes on. Foreign ships never come here. They always run on to the town."

"You told us that there were a few huts at the end."

"Yes, sir. There is a village there, two others near."

The crew had all armed themselves, and the muskets were again placed ready for use.

"You had better go round, Hawkins," Frank said, "and tell them that on no account is a shot to be fired unless I give orders. Tell the men that I am just as anxious to fight as they are, and that if they give us a shadow of excuse we will board them."

"I went round among the men half an hour ago, sir, and told them how the land lay, and Lechmere has been doing the same. They all want to fight, but I have made them see that it might be a very awkward business for us all."

The men in the boats were told to take it easy, and it was the best part of an hour before they saw, on turning the last bend, the brigantine lying at anchor a little more than a quarter of a mile away.

"She looks full of men," Frank exclaimed, as turned his glasses upon her.

"Yes, sir," said the captain, who was using a powerful telescope, "they are blacks. There must be fifty of them beside the crew, and as far as I can see most of them are armed."

"That explains why he came in here, Hawkins. They have been using this place for the last three weeks, and no doubt have made good friends with the negroes. I dare say Carthew has spent his money freely on them.

"Well, this settles it. We would attack them at sea without hesitation, however many blacks there might be on board, but to do so now would be the height of folly. Five of our men are certainly not fit for fighting, so that their strength in whites is nearly equal to ours. They have got those two little cannon, which would probably reduce our number a bit before we got alongside, and with fifty blacks to help them it is very doubtful whether we should be able to take them by boarding. Certainly we could not do so without very heavy loss.

"We will anchor about two hundred and fifty yards outside her. As long as she lies quiet there we will leave her alone. If she tries to make off we will board her at once. Anchor with the kedge; that will hold her here. Have a buoy on the cable and have it ready to slip at a moment's notice, and the sails all ready to hoist."

"Easy rowing," the captain called to the men in the boats, "and come alongside. We have plenty of way on her to take up a berth."

In two or three minutes the anchor was dropped and the sails lowered.

"Now I will row across to her," Frank said, "and tell them that I don't want to attack them, but I am determined to search their craft."

"No, Major," George Lechmere said, firmly. "We are not going to let you throw away your life, and you have no right to do it-at any rate not until after Miss Greendale is rescued. You may be sure of one thing: that Carthew has left orders before going on shore that you are to be shot if you come within range. He will know that if you are killed there will be an end of the trouble. I will go myself, sir."

Frank made no answer for a minute or two. Then he said:

"In that case you would be shot instead of me. If Carthew is on shore, as I feel sure he is, the others won't know you from me. I agree with you that I cannot afford to risk my life just now, and yet we must search that brigantine."

"Me go, sar," Dominique, who was standing by, said suddenly. "Me take two black fellows in dinghy. Dey no fire at us. Me go dere, tell captain dat you no want to have to kill him and all his crew, but dat you got to search dat craft. If he let search be made, den no harm come of it. If he say no, den we take yacht alongside and kill every man jack. Say dat white sailors all furious, because dey fire at us yesterday, and want bad to have fight."

"Very well, Dominique. It can do no harm anyhow, and as I feel sure that the lady has been taken ashore, I don't see why they should refuse."

Accordingly, Dominique called to two of the negro boatmen to ge

t into the dinghy, and took his seat in the stern. When the boat was halfway between the two vessels there was a hail in French:

"What do you want? If you come nearer we will fire."

"What want to fire for?" Dominique shouted back. "Me pilot, me no capture ship, single handed. Me want to speak to captain."

It was evident the answer was understood, for no reply came for a minute or two.

"Well, come along then."

The words could be heard perfectly on board the yacht.

"The skipper talks English, George. I thought that he would do so. Carthew was sure to have shipped someone who could understand him. I don't suppose his French is any better than mine."

The dinghy was rowed to within ten yards of the brigantine.

"Now, what message have you brought me from that pirate?"

"Him no pirate at all. You know dat bery well, massa captain. Dat English yacht; anyone see dat with half an eye. De gentleman there says you have a lady on board dat has been carried off."

"Then he is a liar!" the Belgian said. "There is no woman on board at all!"

"Well, sar, dat am a matter ob opinion. English gentleman tink dat you hab. You say no. Dat prove bery easy. De gentleman say he wants to search ship. If as you say, she is no here, den ob course no reason for you to say no to dat. If on de other hand you say no, den he quite sure he right, and he come and search whether you like it or no. Den der big fight. Bery strong crew on board dat yacht. Plenty guns, men all bery savage, cause you kill one of der fellows last night. Dey want to fight bad, and if dey come dey kill many. What de use of dat, sar? Why say won't let search if lady not here? Nothing to fight about. But if you not let us see she not here, den we board de ship, and when we take her we burn her."

The Belgian stood for two or three minutes without answering. They had seen that there were two or three and twenty men on board the Osprey, and they were by no means sure that this was the entire number. There were three blacks, and there might be a number of them lying down behind the bulwarks or kept below. The issue of a fight seemed to him doubtful. He was by no means sure that his men would fight hard in a cause in which they had no personal interest; and as for the blacks, they would not count for much in a hand-to-hand fight with English sailors.

He had received no orders as to what to do in such a contingency. Presently he turned to three of his men and said in French:

"Go to that stern cabin, and see that there is nothing about that would show that it has been occupied. They have asked to search us. Let them come and find nothing. Things will go quietly. If not, they say they will attack us and kill every man on board and burn the ship, and as we do not know how many men they may have on board, and as they can do us no harm by looking round, if there is nothing for them to find, we had best let them do it. But mind, the orders hold good. If the owner of that troublesome craft comes alongside, you are to pour in a volley and kill him and the sailors with him. That will make so many less to fight if it comes to fighting. But the owner tells me that if he is once killed there will be an end of it."

He then went to the side, and said to Dominique:

"There is nothing for you to find here. We are an honest trader, and there is nothing worth a pirate's stealing. But in order to show you that I am speaking the truth, I have no objection to two hands coming on board and going through her. We have nothing to hide."

Dominique rowed back to the yacht.

"Dey will let her be searched, sar."

"I thought they would," Frank said; "and of course that is a sign that there is no one there."

"I will go, sir," the skipper said, "as we agreed. He would give anything to get rid of you, and you might be met with a volley when you came alongside. And now there ain't no use in running risks. If they have been told what you are like, they cannot mistake me for you. You are pretty near a foot taller, and you are better than ten years younger, and I haven't any hair on my face. I will go through her. I am sure the lady ain't there, or they would not let me. Still, I will make sure. There are no hiding places in a yacht where anyone could be stowed away, and of course she is, like us, chock full of ballast up to the floor. I shan't be many minutes about it, sir. Dominique may as well go with me. He can stay on deck while I go below, and may pick up something from the black fellows there."

"You may as well take him, Hawkins; but you may be very sure that they won't give him a chance to speak to anyone."

The captain stepped into the boat and was rowed to the yacht. He and Dominique stepped on to the deck and were lost sight of among the blacks. In ten minutes they appeared at the gangway again, and stepped into their boat. Another minute and she was alongside the Osprey.

"Of course, you found nothing, Hawkins."

"Nothing whatever, sir. Anything the lady may have left behind had been stowed away in lockers. I looked about to see if I could sight a bit of ribbon or some other woman's fal-lal, but they had gone ever it carefully. Two of the other state cabins had been occupied. There were men's clothes hanging there. Of course, I looked into every cupboard where as much as a child could have been stowed away, and looked round the forecastle. Anyhow, there is no woman there now.

"Dominique had to go round with me. The captain evidently did not want to give him a chance of speaking to anyone. The mate and two of the sailors posted themselves at the gangway, so that the two blacks should not be able to talk to the niggers on board. And now, sir, what is to be done next?"

"We will go below and talk it over, captain.

"You come down, too, George. Yes, and Dominique. He may be useful.

"Now, Hawkins," he went on, when they had taken their seats at the table, "of course, I have been thinking it over all the morning, and I have come to the conclusion that our only chance now is to fight them with their own weapons. As long as we lie here there is no chance whatever of Miss Greendale being brought on board again, so the chase now has got to be carried on on land. If we go to work the right way, there is no reason why we should not be able to trace her. I propose to take Lechmere and Dominique and the four black boatmen. If we stain our faces a little, and put on a pair of duck trousers, white shirts, red sashes, and these broad straw hats I bought at San Domingo, we shall look just like the half-caste planters we saw in the streets there. I should take Pedro, too, but you will want him to translate anything you have to say to Jake.

"I propose that as soon as it is dark tonight we muffle the oars of the dinghy, and row away and land lower down, say a mile or so; and then make off up into the hills before tomorrow morning. Dominique will try to find out something by inquiring at some of the huts of the blacks. They are not likely to know, but if he offers them a handsome reward to obtain news for him, they will go down to the villages and ferret out something. The people there would not be likely to know where they have been taken, but they would be able to point out the direction in which they went on starting. Then we could follow that up, and inquire again.

"We might take a couple of the villagers with us. Belonging here, they would have more chance of getting news from other blacks than strangers would have."

"Don't you think, sir, that it would be as well to have four or five men with you?" Hawkins said. "There is no doubt this fellow that you are after is a desperate chap, and he may have got a strong body of these blacks as a guard. He might suspect that, after having pursued him all this way, you might try to follow him on land. You could put the men in hiding somewhere every day while you were making inquiries, and they would be mighty handy if it came to fighting, which it seems to me it is pretty sure to do before you see the lady off."

"Well, perhaps it would be best, Hawkins; and, as you say, by keeping them hid all day I don't see that they could increase our difficulties. But then, you see, you will want all your hands here; for if the brigantine sails, whether by night or day, you are to sail too, and to keep close to her wherever she goes. It is not likely that Carthew and Miss Greendale will be on board, but he may very well send orders down to the brigantine to get up the anchor. He would know that we should stick to her, as Miss Greendale might have been taken on board again at night. In that way he would get rid of us from here, and would calculate that we should get tired of following the brigantine in time, or that she would be able to give us the slip, and would then make for some place where he could join her again. So my orders to you will be to stick to her, but not to interfere with her in any way, unless, by any chance, you should discover that Miss Greendale is really on board. In that case I authorise you to board and capture her. They won't have the blacks on board, and as the wounded are going on all right, and three of them, anyhow, will be able to lend a hand in a couple of days, you will be a match for them; especially as they will soon make up their minds that you don't mean to attack them, and you will get a chance of running alongside and taking them by surprise."

"Well, sir, I think that we can do that with four hands less than we have now. You see, there are nineteen and the two mates and myself. Say two of the wounded won't be able to lend a hand, that makes us twenty, to say nothing of Jake and Pedro. So, even if you took four hands, we should be pretty even in numbers; and if our men could not each whip two Belgians, they had better give up the sea."

"Yes, I have no doubt that they could do that, and were it not for Carthew and his friend I would not hesitate to take eight men. I don't know about the other, but you may be sure that Carthew will fight hard. He is playing a desperate game. Still, I think that I might take four, especially as I think the chance of Miss Greendale's being brought on board, until he believes that we have left these waters, is very small.

"Very well, then, that is settled. The five blacks, Lechmere and myself, and four of the sailors, will make a strong party. Serve muskets and cutlasses out to the blacks; and the same, with a brace of pistols, to each of the hands that go with us. While we are away let two of the men dress up in my white duck shirts and jackets, and in white straw hats. Let them always keep aft, and sit about in the deck chairs, and always go down below by the main companion. That will make them think that I am still on board; while if there is no one on the deck aft they will soon guess that we have landed.

"You understand all that we have been saying, Dominique?"

"Me understand, sar, and tink him bery good plan. Me suah to find out which way dat rascal hab gone. Plenty of black fellows glad to earn two dollar to guide us. Dey no money here. Two dollars big sum to them."

"All right, Dominique, but we won't stick at two dollars. If it were necessary I would pay two hundred cheerfully for news."

"We find dem widout dat," the black said, confidently. "Not good offer too much. If black man offered two dollars he bery glad. If offered twenty he begin to say to himself, 'Dis bery good affair; perhaps someone else give forty.'"

"There is something in that, Dominique. Anyhow I shall leave that part of the business to you. As a rule, I shall keep in hiding with the boatmen and sailors all day. I shall be no good for asking questions, for I don't know much French, and the dialect the negroes of these islands speak is beyond me altogether. I cannot understand the boatmen at all."

"Black men here bad, sar; not like dem in de other islands. Here dey tink themselves better than white men; bery ignorant fellows, sar. Most of dem lost religion, and go back to fetish. Bery bad dat. All sorts of bad things in dat affair. Kill children and women to make fetish. Bad people, sar, and dey are worse here than at San Domingo."

There was nothing to do all day, but to sit on deck and watch the brigantine. Most of the blacks had been landed, and only three or four sailors remained on watch on deck. Frank and George Lechmere, in their broad straw hats, sat and smoked in the deck chairs; the former's eyes wandering over the mountains as if in search of something that might point out Bertha's hiding place. The hills were for the most part covered with trees, with here and there a little clearing and a patch of cultivated ground, with two or three huts in the centre. With the glasses solitary huts could be seen, half hidden by trees, here and there; and an occasional little wreath of light smoke curling up showed that there were others entirely hidden in the forest.

"Don't you think, Major," George Lechmere said after a long pause, "that it would be a good thing to have the gig every night at some point agreed on, such as the spot where we land? You see, sir, there is no saying what may happen. We may have to make a running fight of it, and it would be very handy to have the boat to fall back upon."

"Yes, I think that a good idea, George. I will tell Hawkins to send it ashore, say at ten o'clock every night. There is no chance whatever of our being down before that. They are sure to have taken her a long distance up the hills; and though, of course, one cannot say at present, it is pretty certain that we shall have to attack after dark.

"It is important that we should land where there is some sort of a path. I noticed one or two such places as we came along. We may as well get into the dinghy and row down and choose a spot now. Of course, they will be watching from the brigantine, but when they see the same number that went come back again, they will suppose that we have only gone for a row, or perhaps to get a shot at anything we come across. We may as well take a couple of guns with us."

A mile down the inlet they came upon just the spot they were searching for. The shore was level for a few yards from the water's edge, and from here there was a well-marked path going up the slope behind.

"We will fix upon this spot, George. It will be easy for the boats to find it in the dark, from that big tree close to the water's edge. Now we will paddle about for half an hour before we go back."

An hour later they returned to the yacht, and George began at once to make arrangements for the landing.

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