MoboReader> Literature > The Queen's Cup

   Chapter 17 No.17

The Queen's Cup By G. A. Henty Characters: 28541

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"I Should keep watch and watch regularly, Hawkins. I do not say that it is likely, but it is quite possible that they may make an attempt to surprise us, cut all our throats, and then sink the Osprey. He might attack with his boats, and with a lot of native craft. At any rate, it is worth while keeping half the crew always on deck. Be sure and light the cabin as usual. They would suspect that I was away if they did not see the saloon skylights lit up.

"There is no saying when I may be back. It may be three nights, it may be six, or, for all that I know, it may be longer than that. You may be sure that if I get a clue I shall follow it up wherever it leads me."

The strictest silence was maintained among the men. The two men at the oars were told to row very slowly, and above all things to avoid splashing. The boat was exceedingly low in the water, much too low for safety except in perfectly calm water; as, including the two men at the oars, there were thirteen on board.

Frank had thought it, however, inadvisable to take the dinghy also, for this was lying behind the stern, and it might have been noticed had they pulled her up to the gangway. The gig had been purposely left on the side hidden from the brigantine, and as they rowed away pains were taken to keep the yacht in a line with her. They held on this course, indeed, until they were close in to the shore, and then kept in under its shelter until the curve hid them altogether.

"Be very careful as you row back, lads, and go very slowly. A ripple on this smooth water might very well be noticed by them, even if they could not make out a boat."

"Ay, ay, sir, we will be careful."

They had brought a lantern with them, covered with canvas, except for a few inches in front.

"Me take him, sar, and go first," Dominique said. "Den if we meet anyone you all stop quiet, and me go on and talk with them."

Frank followed Dominique, George keeping beside him where there was room for two to walk abreast, at other times falling just behind. Then came the sailors, and the four black boatmen were in the rear. They had been told that, in case they were halted, and heard Dominique in conversation, they were to pass quietly through the others, and be ready to join him and help him if necessary. With the exception of Dominique, Frank and George Lechmere, all carried muskets. The pilot declined to take one.

"Me neber fired off gun in my life, sar. Me more afraid of gun than of dose rascals. Dominique fight with um sword; dat plenty good for him."

The path mounted the hill until they were, as Frank thought, some three hundred feet above the water. Here the ground was cultivated, and after walking for ten minutes they saw two or three lights in front.

"You stop here, sar," Dominique said, handing the lantern to Frank. "Me go on and see how best get round de village. Must not be seen here. If native boat come in at night suah to go up to end ob water, and land at village dere."

The negro soon returned, and said that the cultivated land extended on both sides of the village, and there was no difficulty in crossing it. The village was passed quietly, and when it was once well behind them they came down upon the path again, which was much larger and better marked than it had been before. After following it for half a mile, they came upon a road, which led obliquely up from the water, and ran somewhat inland.

"This is no doubt the road from the village at the head of the arm of the bay. They have probably come along here, though they may have turned more directly into the hills. That is the first point to find out, Dominique."

"Yes, sar, next village we see me go in wid two ob de boatmen and ask a few questions."

Following the path along for another few hundred yards, they saw a road ahead of them. Here they halted, and two of the blacks handed over their muskets and cutlasses to the care of the sailors. Dominique also left his cutlass behind him, and as he went on gave instructions to his two companions.

"Now look here," he said in negro French, "don't you say much. I will do the talking, but just say a word or two if they ask questions. Mind we three belong to the brigantine. I am the pilot. The captain has given me a message to send to his friends who have gone up into the hills. He asked me to take it, but I am not sure about the way. I am ready to pay well for a guide. I expect that they will say that the ladies came along, but that they do not know how they went afterwards. Then we ask him to come as guide, and promise to pay him very well."

By this time they were close to the hut, which, as Dominique assured himself before knocking at the door, stood alone. There was an old man and woman inside, and a boy of about seventeen. Dominique took off his hat as he entered, and said in French:

"Excuse me for disturbing you so late. I am the pilot of a vessel now in the bay, and have been sent by the captain to carry an important message to a gentleman who landed with another and two ladies and some armed men. He did not give me sufficient directions to find him, and I thought that if they passed along here you might be able to put me in the way."

"They came along here between eleven and twelve, I think. We saw them," the old man said, "and we heard afterwards that the ladies were being taken away because the ship was, they thought, going to be attacked by a pirate that had followed them. The people from the villages went to help fight, for the gentleman had bought many things and had paid well for them, and each man was promised a dollar if there was no fighting, and four dollars if they helped beat off the pirate."

"Yes, that was so," Dominique said, "but it seems that it was a mistake. Still we had cause for alarm, for the other vessel followed us strangely. However, it is all explained now, and I have been sent with this message, because the captain thought that if he sent a white sailor they would not give him the information."

"Do you know, Sebastian?" the old man asked his son.

"Yes, they turned off to the right two miles further on."

"Look here, boy," Dominique said, "we were promised twenty dollars if we took the message straight. Now, if you will go with us and find out, we will give you five of them. As we are strangers to the people here, they might not answer our questions; but if you go and say that you have to carry the message, no doubt they will tell you which way they have gone."

The lad jumped up.

"I will go with you," he said; "but perhaps when we get there you will not give me the money."

"Look here," Dominique said, taking three dollars from his pocket. "I will leave these with your father, and will hand you the other two as soon as we get within sight of the place where they are."

The lad was quite satisfied. Five dollars was more than he could earn by two months' work. As soon as they went out, Dominique whispered to one of the boatmen to go back and tell Frank what had taken place, and to beg him to follow at some distance behind. Whenever they took a fresh turning, one of the boatmen would always be left until he came up.

Frank had some difficulty in understanding the boatman's French, and it was rather by his gestures than his words that he gathered his meaning. As soon as the message was given the negro hurried on until he overtook Dominique.

"I am sorry now that we did not bring Pedro," Frank said. "However, I think we made out what he had to say. Dominique has got someone to go with him to do the questioning, as he arranged with me; and he will leave one or other of the men every time he turns off from the road he is following. That will be a very good arrangement. So far we have been most fortunate. We know now that we are following them, and it will be hard if we don't manage to keep the clue now that we have once got hold of it."

When they came to the road that branched off to the right, the other boatman was waiting. He pointed up the road and then ran on silently ahead. No fresh turn was made for a long distance. Twice they were stopped by one of the blacks, who managed to inform them that Dominique and the guide were making inquiries at a hut ahead.

The road had now become a mere track, and was continually mounting. Other tracks had branched off, leading, Frank supposed, to small hill villages. After going some ten miles, the lad told Dominique that it was useless for him to go further, for that there were no more huts near the track. Beyond the fact that the two women were on horseback when they passed the last hut, nothing was learned there.

"It is of no use to go further," the guide said. "There are no houses near here to inquire at, and there are three or four more paths that turn off from here. We must stop until morning, and then I will go on alone and make inquiries of shepherds and cottagers; but, you see, I thought that we should find them tonight. If I work all day tomorrow, I shall expect three more dollars."

"You shall have them," Dominique said. "Here is my blanket. I will share one with one of my boatmen."

The lad at once lay down and pulled the blanket over his head. As soon as he did so, Dominique motioned to the two boatmen to do the same, and then went back along the track until he met Frank's party. As the hills were for the most part covered with trees almost up to their summits, Frank and his party had only to turn a short distance off from the path, on receiving Dominique's news that the guide had stopped.

"It is half past one," Frank said, holding the lantern, which the pilot had left with them, to his watch. "We shall get four hours' sleep. You had better serve a tot of grog all round, George. It will keep out the damp night air."

One of the blacks was carrying a basket, and each of the men had brought a water bottle and pannikin.

"Put some water in it, lads," Frank said, "and it would be a good thing to eat a bit of biscuit with it."

Dominique had told Frank that the guide had made some remark about the two blacks dropping behind so often, and the latter took out his handkerchief, tore it into eight pieces, and gave it to him.

"Wherever you turn off, Dominique, drop one of these pieces on the path. That will be quite sufficient."

"Yes, sar; but you see we don't know when we start up path whether it be right path or no. We go up one, if find dat hit not de one dey go, den come back again and try anoder. What we to do?"

After thinking for some little time, Frank suggested that Dominique's best way would be to tell the guide that he was footsore, and that as several paths would have to be searched, he and one of the men would sit down there. The other would accompany the boy, and bring down word when the right path had been discovered.

As soon as it became light Frank, without rousing the men, went out into the path and moved cautiously up it. He had but just started when he saw Dominique coming towards him.

"All right, sar. Boy gone on; he hunt about. When he find he send Sam back to fetch me. De oder stay with him."

"Oh, you have sent both with him."

"Yes, sar, me thought it better. If only one man go, when he come back, boy could talk to people. Perhaps talk too much, so sent both men."

"That was the best plan, no doubt," Frank agreed. "I will join the men, and remain there until you come for me."

"Dat best thing, sar. People might come along, better dey not see you."

It was twelve o'clock before Dominique joined the waiting group in the wood.

"They have been a long time finding the track, Dominique."

"Yes, sar, bery long time. Dey try four tracks, all wrong. Den dey try 'nother. Sam say boy tell him try that last, because bad track; lead ober hills, to place where Obi man live. Black fellow no like to go there. Bad men there; steal children away, make sacrifice to fetish. All people here believe that Obi man bery strong. Dey send presents to him to make rain or to kill enemy, but dey no like go near him demselves. Dere was a hut a little up dat road. Party went by dere yesterday. No more houses on road. Sam say boy wait dere till he bring me back to him; den go home. Not like to go further; say can't miss way dat path. Leads straight to Obi man's place. Fetish on road strike people dead dat go dar without leab ob Obi man."

"That will suit us well altogether," Frank said. "How far is it to where the guide is?"

"One and a half hours' walk."

"Then we will be off at once."

All were glad to be on the move again, and in spite of the heat they proceeded at a rapid pace, until the boatman, Sam, said that they were close to the spot where he had left his companions with the guide. The rest then entered the wood, and Dominique went on with the boatman.

Ten minutes later a young negro came down the path. They had no doubt that it was the guide. Dominique arrived two or three minutes later.

"I suppose that was the guide that went down," Frank said, as he stepped out.

"Dat him, sar," he said. "Quite sure path go to Obi man's place. It was miles away in centre of hills. I pretend want him to go on. He said no go for thousand dollars. So me pay him his money, and he go back. He tell me no use hunt for friends if Obi man hab not giben dem leab to go and see him. Den the fetish change dem all into snakes. If he gib leab and not know dat me and oder two men were friends, den de fetish change us into snakes."

"Well, there is one comfort, Dominique, we shall be able to march boldly along without being afraid of meeting anyone."

"Yes, sar. Sam be a little frightened, but not much. Not believe much in San Domingo about fetish. Dey better dan dese Hayti people. Still Sam not like it."

"I suppose you told him that he was a fool, Dominique?"

"Yes, sar. Me tell him, too, dat white man tink nothing ob Obi man. Hang him by neck if he tries fetish against dem."

Having picked up Sam, they proceeded at a brisk pace along the path, Frank leading the way with George Lechmere.

"You see," he said, "Carthew must have been uneasy in his mind all along. I have no doubt that directly he put into the bay, and decided to make this his headquarters, he set about preparing

some place where he could carry them off to, and where there would be very little chance of their being traced. Down at the village by the water he heard of this Obi man. He has evidently great power in this part of the island. These fellows are all great rascals, and Carthew may have either gone or sent to him, and made arrangements that he and a party should if necessary be allowed to establish a camp in the valley where this fellow lives; of course, promising him a handsome present. He could have chosen no safer place. Following hard as we have done on his track, we have obtained a clue; but it is not probable that any of the natives whom Dominique has questioned has the smallest idea that the party were going towards this fetish man's place. In fact, the only man that could know it was the negro at that last hut, and you may be sure that were he questioned by any searching party he would not dare to give any information that might excite the anger of this man.

"It is likely enough that this fellow has a gang of men with him, bound to him partly by interest and partly by superstitious fears. We shall probably have to reckon with these fellows in addition to Carthew's own force. He seems to have taken ten or twelve of the blacks from the village with him. They would have no fear of going when he told them that he was under the special protection of the fetish man. Then, you see, he has four of his own sailors, his friend and himself; so that we have an equal number of white men and five negroes against his ten or twelve and the fetishman's gang.

"However, I hope that we shall have the advantage of a surprise. If so, I think that we may feel pretty confident that we shall, at any rate, in the first place, carry off Miss Greendale and her maid. The danger won't be in the attack, but in the retreat. That Obi fellow may raise the whole country against us. There is one thing––the population is scanty up here, and it won't be until we get down towards the lower ground that they will be able to muster strongly enough to be really formidable; but we may have to fight hard to get down to the boats. You see, it is a twenty miles' march. We shan't be able to go very fast, for, although Miss Greendale and her maid might keep up well for some distance, they would be worn out long before we got to the shore, while the black fellows would be able to travel by other paths, and to arouse the villagers as they went, and make it very hot indeed for us."

"There is one thing-we shall have the advantage of darkness, Major, and in the woods it would be difficult for them to know how fast we were going. We might strike off into other paths, and, if necessary, carry Miss Greendale and her maid. We could make a couple of litters for them, and, with four to a litter, could travel along at a good rate of speed."

In another three hours, they found that the path was descending into a deep and narrow valley. On the way they passed many of the fetish signs, so terrible to the negro's imagination. Pieces of blue string, with feathers and rags attached to them, were stretched across the path. Clumps of feathers hung suspended from the trees. Flat stones, with berries, shells, and crooked pieces of wood, were nailed against the trunks of the trees.

At first the four negro boatmen showed signs of terror on approaching these mysterious symbols, and grew pale with fright when Frank broke the strings that barred the path; but when they saw that no evil resulted from the audacious act, and that no avenging bolt fell upon his head, they mustered up courage, and in time even grinned as the sailors made jeering remarks at the mysterious emblems.

As soon as they began to descend into the valley, and it was evident that they were nearing their destination, Frank halted.

"Now, Dominique, do you object to go down and find out all about it? I am quite ready to go, but you are less likely to be noticed than I am. There is no hurry, for we don't wish to move until within an hour of sunset, or perhaps two hours. There is no fear of our meeting with any interruption until we get back to the point where we started this morning, and it would be as well, therefore, to be back there just before dark."

"Me go, sar. Me strip. Dat best; not seen so easy among de trees."

"Quite right, Dominique. What we want to find out is the exact position of the camp and the hut, for no doubt they built a hut of some sort, where Miss Greendale is; and see how we can best get as close to it as possible. Then it would be as well to find out what sort of village this Obi man has got, and how many men it probably contains. But don't risk anything to do this. Our object is to surprise Carthew's camp, and we must take our chance as to the blacks. If you were seen, and an alarm given, Carthew might carry Miss Greendale off again. So don't mind about the Obi village, unless you are sure that you can obtain a view of it without risk of being seen."

"Me manage dat, sar," the negro said, confidently. "Dey not on de lookout. Me crawl up among de trees and see eberyting; no fear whatsomeber."

Dominique stripped and started down the path, while the rest retired into the shelter of the trees. An anxious two hours passed, the party listening intently for any sound that might tell of Dominique's being discovered. All, however, remained quiet, except that they were once or twice startled by the loud beating of a drum, and the deep blasts from the fetish horn. At the end of that time there was a general exclamation of relief as Dominique stepped in from among the trees.

"Well, Dominique, what have you found?" Frank exclaimed as he started to his feet.

"Me found eberyting, sar. First come to village. Not bery big, twenty or thirty men dere. Den a hundred yards furder tree huts stand. Dey new huts, but not built last night, leaves all dead, built eight or ten days ago. Me crawl on tomack among de trees, and lay and watch. In de furder hut two white lady. Dey come in and out, dey talk togeder, de oders not go near them. Next hut to them, twenty, thirty yards away, two white men. Dey sit on log and smoke cigar. In de next hut four white sailor. Den a little distance away, twelve black fellows sit round fire and cook food. Plenty of goats down in valley, good gardens and lots of bananas."

"How did the white ladies seem?"

"Not seem anyting particular, sar. Dey neber look in de direction ob oders. Just talk togeder bery quiet. Me see dere lips move, but hear no voice. Hear de voice of men quite plain."

"How close can we get without being seen?"

"About fifty yards, sar. Huts put near stream under big trees. Trees not tick just dar; little way lower down banana trees run down to edge ob stream. If can get round de village on dat side widout being seen, can go through bananas, den dash across de stream and run for de ladies. Can get dere before de oders. Besides, if dey run dat way we shoot dem down."

"Thank God, that is all satisfactory," Frank said. "But it is hard having to wait here another five hours before doing anything."

"We are ready to go and pitch into them at once, sir," one of the sailors said. "You have only to say the word."

"Thank you, lads, but we must wait till within an hour or two of sunset. I expect that we shall have to fight our way back, and we shall want darkness to help us. It would be folly to risk anything, just as success seems certain after these months of searching. Still, it is hard to have to wait.

"It is getting on to twelve o'clock. You had better get that basket out and have your dinners."

The next four hours seemed to him interminable. The sailors and negroes had gone to sleep as soon as they had finished their meal and smoked a pipe. Frank moved about restlessly, sometimes smoking in short, sharp puffs, sometimes letting his pipe go out every minute and relighting it mechanically, and constantly consulting his watch. At last he sat down on a fallen tree, and remained there without making the slightest motion, until George Lechmere said:

"I think it is time now, Major."

"Thank goodness for that, George. I made up my mind that I would not look at my watch again until it was time.

"Now, lads, before we start listen to my final orders. If we are discovered as we go past the village, we shall turn off at once and make straight for the camp. Don't waste a shot on the blacks. They are not likely to have time to gather to oppose us, but cut down anyone that gets in your way. When we are through the village make straight to the farthest hut. Don't fire a shot till we have got between that and the next, and then go straight at Carthew and his gang. If I should fall, Lechmere will take the command. If he, too, should fall, you are to gather round the ladies and fight your way down to the landing place. Take Dominique's advice as to paths and so on. He and his men know a good deal better than you do-but remember, the great duty is to take the ladies on board safe.

"The moment you get them there, tell the captain my orders are that you are to man the two boats, row straight at the brigantine, drive the crew overboard and sink her. Then you are to sail for England with Miss Greendale. The brigantine must be sunk, for if Carthew gets down there he will fill her with blacks and sail in pursuit; and as there is not much difference in speed between the two boats, she might overtake you if you carried away anything. You must get rid of her before you sail.

"What have you got there, George?"

"Two stretchers, Major. Dominique and I have been making them for the last two hours. We can leave them here, sir, by the side of the path, and pick them up as we come along back."

A couple of minutes later the party started. They followed the path down until nearly at the bottom of the hill. Here the trees grew thinner, and Dominique, who was leading, turned to the right. They made their way noiselessly through the wood, Dominique taking them a much wider circuit round the village than he himself had made, and bringing them out from the trees at the lower end of the plantation of bananas.

Hitherto they had been walking in single file, but Frank now passed along the order for them to close up.

"Keep together as well as you can," he said, when they were assembled; "and mind how you pass between the trees. If you set these big trees waving, it might be noticed at once."

Very cautiously they stole forward until they reached the edge by the stream. Frank looked through the trees. Four white sailors were lying on the ground, smoking, in front of their hut. Carthew and his companion were stretched in two hammocks hung from the tree under which their hut stood. Bertha and her maid had retired into their bower.

"Now, lads," he said, as with his revolver in his right hand he prepared for the rush. "Don't cheer, but run silently forward. The moment they catch sight of us you can give a cheer.

"Now!" and he sprang forward into the stream, which was but ankle deep.

The splash, as the whole party followed him, at once attracted the attention of the sailors; who leaped to their feet with a shout, and ran into their hut, while at the same moment Carthew and his companion sprang from their hammocks, paused for a moment in surprise at the men rushing towards them, and then also ran into their hut, Carthew shouting to the blacks to take to their arms.

"Go straight at them, George," Frank shouted, running himself directly towards the nearest hut, just as Bertha, startled at the noise, came to its entrance.

She stood for an instant in astonishment, then with a scream of joy ran a step or two and fell forward into his arms.

"Thank God, I have found you at last," he said. "Wait here a moment, darling. I will be back directly. Go into the hut until I come."

But Bertha was too overpowered with surprise and delight to heed his words, and Frank handed her to her maid, who had run out behind her.

"Take her in," he said, as he carried her to the entrance of the hut, "and stay there until I come again."

Then he ran after his party. A wild hubbub had burst forth. Muskets and pistols were cracking. Carthew, as he ran out of the hut, discharged his pistol at the sailors, but in his surprise and excitement missed them; and before he had time to level another, George Lechmere bounded upon him, and with a shout of "This is for Martha Bennett," brought his cutlass down upon his head.

He fell like a log, and at the same moment one of the sailors shot his companion. Then they dashed against the Belgian sailors, who had been joined by the blacks.

"Give them a volley, lads!" George shouted.

The four sailors fired, as a moment later did the boatmen, and then cutlass in hand rushed upon them.

Just as they reached them Frank arrived. There was but a moment's resistance. Two of the sailors had fallen under the volley, a third was cut down, and the fourth, as well as the blacks, fled towards the village. Here the Obi drum was beating fiercely.

"Load again, lads," Frank shouted. "Two of you come back with me."

He ran with them back to the end hut, but Bertha had now recovered from her first shock.

"Come, darling," he said, "there is not a moment to lose. We must get out of this as soon as we can.

"Come along, Anna.

"Thompson, do you look after her. I will see to Miss Greendale."

Just as they reached the others, a volley was fired from the village by the blacks of Carthew's party, who were armed with muskets. Then they, with thirty other negroes, rushed out with loud shouts.

"Don't fire until they are close," Frank shouted. "Now let them have it."

The volley poured into them, at but ten paces distance, had a deadly effect. The blacks paused for a moment, and the rescuing party, led by George Lechmere and Dominique, rushed at them. The sailors' pistols cracked out, and then they charged, cutlass in hand.

For a moment the blacks stood, but the fierce attack was too much for them, and they again fled to the village.

"Stop, Dominique!" Frank shouted, for the big pilot, who had already cut down three of his opponents, was hotly pursuing them. "We must make for the path at once."

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