"To what French port are we to be carried?" he asked of his captain.
"To Brest—and it will be a long time before you see salt-water after that," was the answer.
"Probably never—if we are not to be liberated till France conquers England," said Captain Walford, quietly.
"Sa-a-a, you may be free, then, sooner than you expect," cried the Frenchman.
In about five days, the privateer, with her rich prize, entered Brest harbour. The prisoners were treated on landing with very scant ceremony, and were thrust into the common prison—the officers in one small room and the men in another. In those days the amenities of warfare were little attended to. It was all rough, bloody, desperate, cruel work. In truth, it is seldom otherwise. The prisoners were not kept long at Brest, but one fine morning in spring, after a not over luxurious breakfast of black bread, salt fish, and thin coffee, were mustered outside the prison to begin their march into the interior. The midshipmen kept together and amused themselves by singing, joking, and telling stories, keeping up their spirits as well as they could. Their guards were rough, unfeeling fellows, who paid no attention to their comforts, but made them trudge on in rain or sunshine, sometimes bespattered with mud, and at others covered with dust, parched with thirst, and ready to drop from the heat. The country people, however, looked on them with compassion, and many a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, and a handful of fruits and cakes, were offered to them as they passed through the villages on their road.
"Och, if some of those pretty little villagers who are so kind with their cakes would just increase their compassion and help us to get out of the claws of these ugly blackguards, I'd be grateful to them from the bottom of my soul to the end of my days," said O'Grady to Paul, as they approached a hamlet in a hilly, thickly-wooded part of the country.
It was in the afternoon, and, although they generally marched on much later, to their surprise, the captain of their guard, for some reason best known to himself, called a halt. Instead of being placed in prison, as there was none in the village, they were billeted about in different houses, with one or two guards over each. Paul and O'Grady found themselves, together with Reuben Cole and two other men, in a neat house on the borders of the village. They were the first disposed of, so that where their companions were lodged they could not tell. The people of the house did not appear to regard their guards with friendly eyes, so that they concluded that they were not attached to the present order of things.
"See that you render them up safe to us to-morrow morning," said the captain to an old gentleman, who appeared to be the master of the house.
"I am not a gaoler, and can be answerable for no one," was the reply, at which the captain shook his fist and rode off, exclaiming, "Take care, take care!"
Though very unwilling to receive the prisoners, the old gentleman treated them with a courtesy which seemed to arise rather from respect to himself than from any regard he entertained for them. The two midshipmen were shown into one small room, and the seamen, with their guards, into another. In the room occupied by O'Grady and Paul, there was a table and chairs and a sofa, while the view from the window consisted of a well-kept garden and vineyard, a green meadow and wooded hills beyond. As far as accommodation was concerned, they had little of which to complain; but they were very hungry, and O'Grady began to complain that the old Frenchman intended to starve them.
"I'll go and shout and try to get something," he cried out, but he found that the door was locked outside.
The window was too high from the ground to allow them to jump out, and as they would probably be caught, and punished for attempting to run away, they agreed to stay where they were. At length the door opened, and a bright-eyed, nicely-dressed girl came in with a tray covered with edibles, and a bottle of wine in her hands. They stood up as she entered, and bowed. She smiled, and expressed her sympathy for their misfortunes. Paul had, hitherto, not let the Frenchmen know that he understood French.
"I think that I may venture to speak to her," he said to O'Grady. "She would not have said that if she didn't wish to assist us."
O'Grady agreed that it would be perfectly safe, and so Paul addressed her in the choicest French he could command, and told her how they had been coming home in a merchantman, and had been captured, and robbed of all they possessed, instead of being, as they had hoped, in a few days in the bosom of their families, with their mothers and brothers and sisters.
"And you both have brothers and sisters, and they long to see you, doubtless," said the little girl.
"Oh yes, and we long to see them," exclaimed Paul, believing that he had moved her heart.
She sighed. "Ah, I once had many, but they are all now in the world of spirits; they cannot come to me, but for their sakes I will try to serve you," answered the girl.
"Oh, thank you, thank you!" said Paul. "If you could help us to get out of this house, and to hide away till the pursuit is over, we should be eternally grateful."
She smiled as she answered—
"You are too precipitate. If you were to escape from this house, my father would be punished. Means may be found, however. We have no love for these regicides, and owe them no allegiance; but you must have patience."
"It is a hard thing to exercise; however, we are very much obliged to you," said Paul.
"Just ask her her name," put in O'Grady. "Tell her we should wish to know what to call one who for ever after this must dwell like a bright star in our memories, especially one who is so lovely and amiable."
"That's rather a long speech to translate, and perhaps she won't like all those compliments," remarked Paul.
"Won't she, though?" said O'Grady, who had seen rather more of the world than his companion; "try her, at all events."
Paul translated as well as he could what Paddy had said, and as the latter stood with his hand on his heart, and bowed at the same time, the young lady was not left in doubt as to who was the originator of the address. Paddy was remarkably good-looking and tall for his age, and the young lady was in no way displeased, and replied that her name was Rosalie, and that she was her father's only daughter. She had had two brothers, both of whom had been carried away by the conscription. One had been killed in a battle with the Austrians, and the other was still serving in the ranks, though he ought long ago to have been promoted.
"Ah! the cruel fighting," she added; "our rulers take away those we love best, and care not what becomes of them, or of the hearts they break, and bring with sorrow to the grave."
Rosalie soon recovered herself, and, wiping her eyes, told the midshipmen that she would come back again when they had eaten their supper, and would in the meantime try and devise some means to enable them to make their escape while they were travelling.
"She's a sweet, pretty little girl," observed O'Grady, after Rosalie had gone. "She'll help us if she can, and do you know I think that she is a Protestant, for I don't see any pictures of saints and such-like figures stuck about the walls as we do in most other French houses?"
"It is possible; but what difference can that make to you?" asked Paul.
"Why, you see, Gerrard, I have fallen in love with her, and I'm thinking that if she helps us to make our escape, when the war is over, I'll come back and ask her to marry me."
Paul laughed at his friend's resolve. It was not at all an uncommon one for midshipmen in those days to entertain, whatever may be the case at present. They enjoyed their meal, and agreed that they had not eaten anything half so good as the dishes they were discussing for many a long day. Rosalie came back in about an hour. She said that she had been thinking over the matter ever since, and talking it over with an old aunt—a very wise woman, fertile in resources of all sorts. She advised that the young Englishmen should pretend to be sick, and that if the captain consented to leave them behind, so much the better; but if not, and, as was most probable, he insisted on their walking on as before, they should lag behind, and limp on till they came to a certain spot which she described. They would rise for some time, till the road led along the side of a wooded height, with cliffs on one side, and a steep, sloping, brushwood—covered bank on the other, with a stream far down in the valley below. There was a peculiar white stone at the side of the road, on which they were to sit to pretend to rest themselves. If they could manage to slip behind the stone for an instant, they might roll and scramble down the bank to a considerable distance before they were discovered. They were then to make their way through the brushwood and to cross the stream, which was fordable, when they would find another road, invisible from the one above. They were to run along it to the right, till they came to an old hollow tree, in which they were to hide themselves, unless they were overtaken by a covered cart, driven by a man in white. He would slacken his speed, and they were to jump in immediately without a word, and be covered up, while the cart would drive on. They would be conveyed to the house of some friends to the English, with whom they would remain till the search for them had ceased, when they would be able to make their escape to the coast in disguise. After that, they must manage as best they could to get across the Channel.
"The first part is easy enough, if Miss Rosalie would give us the loan of a little white paint or chalk," observed O'Grady; "but, faith, the rest of the business is rather ticklish, though there's nothing like trying, and we shall have some fun for our money at all events."
"I wish that Reuben Cole could manage to run with us. He'd go fast enough if Miss Rosalie's friends would take care of him," remarked Paul.
"You can but ask her," said O'Grady. "Tell her that he's been with you ever since you came to sea, and that you can't be separated from him."
Rosalie heard all Paul had to say, and promised that she would try to arrange matters as he wished. Paul then described Reuben, and gave Rosalie a slip of paper, on which he wrote: "Follow the bearer, and come to us." Though Reuben was no great scholar, he hoped that he might be able to read this.
"Tell her she's an angel," exclaimed O'Grady, as Rosalie took the paper. "I wish that I could speak French, to say it myself; but I'll set to work and learn at once. Ask her if she'll teach me."
Rosalie laughed, and replied that she thought the young Irishman would prove an apt scholar, though she could not understand how, under the circumstances, she could manage to do as he proposed.
"Och! but I've a mighty great mind to tell her at once all I intend to do, and just clinch the matter," cried Paddy; but Paul wouldn't undertake to translate for him, and advised him to restrain his feelings for the present.
It was getting near midnight, when a gentle rap was heard at the door, and Reuben poked in his head. The arrangements which had been made were soon explained to him, and he undertook to feign lameness and to drop behind and roll down the bank as they were to do.
"You sees, young gentlemen, if they goes in chase of me, that'll give you a better chance of getting off. If they catches me, there'll be no great harm done; they won't get me to fight for them, that I'll tell them, and if I get off scot free, why there's little doubt but that I'll be able to lend you a hand in getting to the coast, and crossing the water afterwards."
The arrangements being made, Reuben stole down to rejoin the other seamen, and the midshipmen then coiling themselves up in their blankets in different corners of the room, resolved to remain there till summoned in the morning, were soon asleep.
When their guards appeared, they made signs that they could not move, O'Grady singing out, "Medecin, medecin," by which he wished to intimate that he wanted physic, and they thought that he asked for a doctor. In spite, however, of all their remonstrances, they were compelled to get up and dress by sundry applications of a scabbard.
They found a breakfast prepared for them in the hall, though they had but a few minutes allowed them to consume it before they were driven on through the town to join the rest of the prisoners, no time being allowed them to bid farewell to Rosalie and her father. She, indeed, had wisely kept out of their way to prevent any suspicion. They limped along, looking as woe-begone as they could, though their hearts were in no way sad. Their only regret was, that they must part from Devereux and their captain, but they consoled themselves by believing that they could report where they were, and thus manage to get them exchanged.
"We are nearing the spot," said Paul. "This is the scenery Rosalie described, and this must be the hill. I hope Reuben understands what he is to do. Ah! there is the stone. Come, let us sit down."
They made signs to the last guard that they would follow. Believing that they were ill he allowed them to remain. They saw that Reuben was watching them.
"We mustn't stay long, though," said O'Grady.
"No; now's the time. Over we go," cried Paul; and suiting the action to the word, over he rolled, followed by O'Grady, and both were speedily hid from sight in the brushwood.
The two midshipmen rolled away down the hill at a very rapid rate, and then, getting on their feet, rushed on through the brushwood, not minding how much they tore their clothes, and running no little risk of scratching out their eyes. As yet no shouts had reached their ears, which they knew would have been the case had their flight been discovered. They had got so far that they did not mind speaking, and were congratulating each other on escaping so well, when they heard several voices cry out, and some shots fired in rapid succession.
"That must be Reuben," cried Paul. "Oh, I hope that they haven't hit him."
"The first shot did not, or they wouldn't have fired others, and they wouldn't have fired at all had he not got to some distance before they shouted, on discovering that he had escaped," observed O'Grady. "However, as we cannot help him, we must push on, or we shall be retaken ourselves."
Paul saw that his friend was right, though he did not like the idea, as he thought it, of deserting Reuben.
"If he does not join us, we must send or come and look for him. He is not likely to leave the shelter of the wood," he observed.
They spoke as they ran on, verging always to the right. They forded the shallow though rapid stream, found the road, and continued their flight, till they came to the remarkable old tree which had been described to them. There was an entrance on one side into the interior.
"Up, up, Gerrard!" said O'Grady. "If we are pursued, they are certain to look in here, but I see a cavity, some way up, into which we may get, and the soldiers might look in and still not find us."
They climbed up. There was not room for both in one hole. Fortunately Paul found another, and there they sat, as O'Grady said, like owls in their nests, waiting for the cart. They heard voices—men shouting to each other. They must be the soldiers still searching for them. They came nearer and nearer. There was a laugh and an oath. Paul heard a man say, "Ah! they must be in there—just the place for them to hide in."
He gave up all for lost. He drew in his legs, shut his eyes, and coiled himself up in as small a space as possible, hoping that O'Grady would do the same. He heard a man stop and lean against the tree, as if looking in. Fortunately a cloud at that moment passed across the sun, and prevented the man from seeing the holes.
"No, they are not here—they must have gone the other way," shouted the soldier.
"Then the sailor must have gone with them. It is strange—they must have known the country. Such a thing could not have happened at any other spot on the road."
"Very glad that we did not miss the opportunity," thought Paul. "Reuben, too, has not yet been taken—that's a comfort."
They waited and waited. They were afraid to get out of their holes, lest their enemies should still be looking for them. At length, the wheels of a cart were heard in the distance. Paul, by climbing a little higher, could look out. It was a covered cart, driven by a man in white.
"All right," he said; "we must be prepared to jump in."
The cart came slower. They slid down, and a quick pair of eyes alone could have detected them as they ran across the road, and, without a word, leaped into the cart. The driver did not even look behind him, but, as soon as he heard Paul whisper Nous sommes ici, he lashed his horse and drove on faster than ever.
"Miss Rosalie is a brick," whispered O'Grady, as he and Paul crept under some sheepskins which the cart contained. "Hasn't she done the thing beautifully?"
They drove on rapidly for many miles. Of course they had not the slightest notion where they were going. Paul was chiefly anxious about Reuben, while O'Grady feared, as they were going so far away, that they might not meet Rosalie. Still, they were not very unhappy, though rather hot under the sheepskins. They would, however, have gone through greater inconvenience for the sake of gaining their liberty. At last, passing through a forest, the trees of which had lost most of their branches, lopped off for firewood, they reached an old grey chateau, with high pointed slate roof, and no end of towers and turrets, and gable ends, and excrescences of all sorts. The cart drove into a paved court-yard, on two sides of which were outhouses or offices. The entrance-gate was then shut, and the driver backed the cart against a small door on one side. Not a soul appeared, and he did not shout for any one to come and help him. Pulling out the skins, he whispered, Descendez, mes amis—vite, vite; and Paul, pulling O'Grady by the arm, they jumped out, still covered by the skins, and ran through the open door. Had any curious eyes been looking out of any of the windows of the chateau, they could scarcely have been seen. They were in a passage, leading on one side to a sort of store-room, but the man told them to turn to the left, and to go on till they came to a door, where they were to wait till some one came to let them through.
"What fun," whispered O'Grady. "I delight in an adventure, and this will prove one and no mistake. We shall have some old woman coming and shutting us up in an apple-loft or a ghost-haunted chamber, or some place of that sort. It may be weeks before we get to the coast, and something new turning up every day. I wouldn't have missed it for anything."
He was running on in this style when the door opened, and Miss Rosalie herself appeared, with a countenance which showed how pleased she felt at the success of her arrangements. O'Grady was, at first, quite taken aback at seeing her, and then very nearly bestowed a kiss and an embrace on her in the exuberance of his delight. Whether she would have found great fault with him it is impossible to say; she merely said, "I must not stop to listen here to what you have to tell me—but come along to where we shall not be interrupted, and then I will gladly hear all that has happened."
She forthwith led them up by a winding stair to the top of one of the towers, where there was a small room with very narrow windows.
"There you will be safe enough," she remarked, "for if you were to look out of the casement, no one could see you from below, and it will be pleasanter than being shut up in a cellar or a lumber-room, where, if anybody came to search the chateau, they would be sure to look for you. See, too," she added, "there are further means of hiding yourselves—for we cannot be too cautious in these sad times. Here is a panel. It slides on one side, and within you will find a ladder, which leads to a space between the ceiling and the roof. You might there manage to exist for some days—not very pleasantly, but securely at all events."
The ceiling was pointed the shape of the roof, and it was difficult to suppose that there could be space sufficient between the two to admit a person. Rosalie, however, pulled aside the panel and showed the ladder, that there might be no mistake. She charged them also not to leave anything about which might betray them. "If I were to tell you all we have gone through, you would not be surprised at my caution," she remarked.
She then inquired about the sailor they hoped would have accompanied them. Paul told her that he believed Reuben had escaped from the guards, and was probably still lurking about in the same neighbourhood.
"We will send and try to find him," she answered at once. "Our faithful old servant will undertake the work. Here, write on a slip of paper that he is to follow the bearer and do whatever he is told. It is important to find him before night, as he might otherwise, growing hungry, come out of his hiding-place in search of food, and be discovered. I will tell our worthy Jaques to sing out his name as he drives along, and perhaps that may draw him from his lair. What is it?"
Paul told her. "Oh, that is a very good name to pronounce,—Rubicole! Rubicole! Jaques can cry out that very well."
So away she went, leaving the midshipmen to their own reflections— O'Grady more in love than ever. As they had nothing to do, they looked through the window, and saw the cart which had brought them driving rapidly away. Rosalie came back soon afterwards with a very nice dinner on a tray. She said that she alone would attend on them, for though she could safely trust the people in the house, the fewer who knew that they were there the better. The chateau, she told them, belonged to her uncle, a Royalist, a fine old gentleman, who had nearly lost his life in the Revolution. She had come over that day, as had previously been arranged, to attend on her uncle, who was ill, and would, therefore, be unable to see them, but hoped to do so before their departure. She concluded that they were in no great hurry to be off.
"Not in the slightest, tell her," exclaimed O'Grady, when Paul explained what she had said: "we are as happy as bees in a sugar-bason."
Rosalie did not object to stay and talk with the midshipmen, but she had her uncle to attend on. She told them that she would close a door at the bottom of the turret steps; when opened, it would cause a small bell to ring in the room, and that the instant they should hear it, they were to retreat by the panel and take refuge in the roof. She again cautioned them not to leave anything in the room which might betray them; and having placed a jug of water, a bottle of wine, and some bread and cheese in the recess, she carefully brushed up the crumbs, and carried the tray with her down-stairs.
"Well, she is first-rate," cried O'Grady; "she's so sensible and pretty. I don't care who knows it—I say she'll make a capital wife."
"I dare say she will," said Paul. He did not think it prudent to make any further remark on the subject.
Having exhausted the subject of Miss Rosalie, and declared fully fifty times over that she was the most charming person alive, Paddy relapsed into silence. They waited hour after hour for the return of the cart, hoping that it might bring in Reuben. At last they rolled themselves up in their blankets and went to sleep. Rosalie had brought them in with pillows, and reminded them that they must drag the whole up with them into the roof, if they heard the bell ring. When Rosalie appeared the next morning, she said that Jaques had returned, but that he had seen nothing of the English sailor.
Several days passed by, and at last Rosalie said that her uncle would be well enough, she hoped, to visit them on the following day. They would have found their time pass somewhat heavily, had not she frequently visited them. She also brought them a French book, and, with it to assist him, Paul set to work to teach O'Grady French. Rosalie, when she came in, corrected his pronunciation, which was not always correct. O'Grady learnt very rapidly, and he declared that he thought it was a pity that they should not remain where they were till he was perfect.
"You see, Gerrard," he observed, "we are living here free of expense. It's very pleasant, and we are not idling our time."
Paul, however, who was not in love, though he thought Rosalie a very amiable young lady, insisted that it was their duty to get back to England as fast as they could. He also wished to see his mother and sisters, and to put them out of their anxiety about him. At last he told O'Grady that he wouldn't help him any longer to learn French if he did not put such foolish notions out of his head, and that he was very sure without him he would never get on. Paddy had sense enough to see that he must knock under, and that Paul was, in reality, the better man of the two. They were to see Mon Oncle, as Rosalie always called the owner of the chateau, on the following day. They were not allowed to have a light in the turret, lest it should betray them; so, as soon as it was dark, they went to sleep. The weather outside was unpleasant, for it was blowing and raining hard. They had not long coiled themselves up in their respective corners, when there was a loud knocking at the chief door of the chateau, the noise resounding through the passages up to their turret.
"Some benighted travellers seeking shelter from the storm," observed O'Grady. "I am glad that we are not out going across country in such a night as this."
There was a pause, and again a loud knocking.
"Old Jaques is in no hurry to let in the strangers," observed Paul. "He suspects that these are not friends; we must keep our eyes open. Remember what Rosalie told us."
"Ay, ay, mate, I am not likely to forget what she says," answered Paddy, who had not quite got over his feeling of annoyance with Paul.
They listened attentively. Those outside were at length admitted, they fancied; but, further than that, they could make out nothing. They waited all ready to jump up and run into their hiding-place, for they were persuaded that this evening visit had reference to them. They heard doors slamming and strange sounds produced by the blast rushing through the passages and windows.
"Yes, I am certain that there is a search going on in the house," whispered O'Grady. "I hope Mon Oncle won't get into a scrape on our account, or dear Rosalie," (he had got to call her "dear" by this time.) "Hark! how the wind roars and whistles."
There was a door banged not far from the foot of the stairs; it made the whole tower shake. They were silent for a minute, when a bell tinkled. Before it had ceased to vibrate, the midshipmen had started up, and, seizing their bed-clothes, had rushed to the panel. They started through and closed it behind them, but only just in time, for the door opened as the panel closed. What midshipmen were ever in a more delightful situation? They were not frightened a bit, and only wished that they could find some crevice through which they could get a look at the intruders, and O'Grady regretted that they had not a brace or two of pistols with which they could shoot them. They sprang up the ladder only as cats or midshipmen could do, and had placed themselves on the roof, when they heard the clank of sabres and spurs, and the tread of heavy men, and a gleam of light came through a crevice in the wooden ceiling. It was close to Paul's head, and looking down he saw three gendarmes peering round and round the room. They were evidently at fault, however. Behind them stood old Jaques with a lantern from which he sent the light into every corner of the room. There was a book on the table, and a chair near it.
"Who reads here?" asked one of the men.
"My young mistress, of course," answered Jaques, promptly.
"She said just now that she was here to attend on her uncle," remarked the gendarmes.
"So she is, and good care she takes of the old gentleman; but he sleeps sometimes, so I relieve her," returned Jaques. "She is fond of solitude."
"That is a pity; I should like to keep her company," said the gendarme, with a grin, which made O'Grady clench his fist, and Jaques look indignant. The man put the book under his arm, and having been unable to discover anything apparently, ordered his companions to fallow him down-stairs. O'Grady was for descending into the room at once from their uncomfortable position; but Paul held him back, observing that they had not heard the door at the foot of the stairs shut, and that they might easily be surprised. He advised that they should as noiselessly as possible take their bed-clothes up to the roof, and sleep there, however uncomfortable it might be to do so.
"Not for our own sakes alone, but for that of Rosalie and Mon Oncle, we are bound in honour to do so."
That settled the question—fortunately—for before long the door opened softly, and one of the gendarmes crept in on tip-toe. He crept round and round the room with a lantern in his hand, like a terrier hunting for a rat which he is sure has his hole thereabouts. O'Grady had gone to sleep, and had begun to snore. Happily he had ceased just as the man appeared.
Paul was afraid that he would begin again, and he dared not touch him lest he should cry out. He leaned over towards him till he could reach his ear, and then whispered, "Don't stir, for your life!"
O'Grady pressed his hand to show that he heard. He moved his head back to the chink. Had he made any noise, the storm would have prevented its being heard. The gendarme was not yet satisfied. He ran his sword into every hole and crevice he could find, and attacked several of the panels. For the first time Paul began to fear that they should be discovered. As yet he had passed over the moving panel. He began to grind his teeth in a rage, and to utter numerous "sacres" and other uncouth oaths, and at last made a furious dig close to the panel. His weapon, however, instead of going through the wood, encountered a mass of stone, and broke short off. The accident increased his rage, and produced numerous additional sacres, and, which was of more consequence, made him trudge down-stairs again, convinced that there was no hole in which even a rat could be concealed. He slammed the door after him; but Paul, suspecting that this might be a trick, persuaded O'Grady to remain where they were.
The night passed on, and both midshipmen fell asleep. When they awoke they saw that daylight was streaming full into the room below them, though it was dark up in the roof; still they wisely would not stir, for they felt sure that, as soon as the gendarmes were fairly away, Rosalie would come to them and bring them their breakfast.
"I hope she may," observed Paddy, "for I am very peckish."
Paul thought that he could not be so very desperately in love.
At last they heard the tramp of horses' hoofs, and about a quarter of an hour afterwards, though they thought it much longer, Rosalie appeared with a tray, with coffee, and eggs, and bread, and other substantial fare. They were down the ladder in a twinkling, and warmly expressing their thanks. They did not require much pressing to set to; indeed, O'Grady had begun to cast ravenous glances at the viands alternately, with affectionate ones towards her, while Paul was translating what he desired him to say. She looked very pale, and told them that she had been very anxious, though the gendarmes had come, not to look for them, but for a political criminal, a royalist of rank, who had been concealed in the chateau, but had fortunately escaped. About noon she came back with a very nice old gentleman, a perfect picture of a French man of rank of the old school—buckles, knee-breeches, flowered waistcoat, bag, wig, and all. She introduced him as Mon Oncle. He at once began to talk with Paul, and soon became communicative.
"I once had two brave boys," he said. "I have lost both of them. One perished at sea; the other has been desperately wounded fighting in a cause he detests; yet he was dragged away without the power of escaping. I scarcely expect to see him again; but if he recovers, my prayer is that he may be taken prisoner, for I am sure that he will be kindly treated by the brave English people. That is one of the reasons that I desire to help you. I have other reasons. One is, that I hope through the English the cause I espouse may triumph. I am sorry to say, however, that my chateau is no longer a safe abode for you. It will be subject to frequent visits from the police, and I myself may be dragged away with all my domestics, when you must either starve or be discovered."
The midshipmen agreed to the wisdom of this, and Paul, after thanking the old gentleman again and again for the refuge he had afforded them, said that they thought with him that it would be wise for them to start immediately on their journey to the north. They had consulted with Rosalie how they were to proceed, and they thought with her that they might make their way dressed as country lads from some place in the south of France where a patois was spoken scarcely known in the north; that he, Paul, was to act as spokesman, and that O'Grady was to pretend to be deaf and dumb. As a reason for their journey, Paul was to state that their father was a sailor, and that they had heard he was lying wounded at some place on the coast, and wanted to see them before he died.
This story, it must be understood, was concocted by Miss Rosalie, whose active fingers had been engaged night and day for nearly a week in making the costumes for the two midshipmen. They had reason to be thankful to her. The day was spent in preparing for the journey. The clothes fitted beautifully. Rosalie said that she did not know she was so good a tailor. The difficulty was to make them look sufficiently worn. Rosalie suggested, however, that they were to be the grandsons of a small farmer of a respectable class, by whom they had been brought up, and that therefore they would be well clothed, with some little money in their pockets. She had also fastened up in two belts some gold and silver coins, all the little money she possessed, and she told them that they must take it and repay her when they could. O'Grady, who fully intended to come back, had no hesitation about accepting the money, but Paul wished that they could manage without it; however, he yielded when the former observed, "You don't suppose that we can get on without money in France more than in any other country, and if we intend to starve we had better have remained prisoners."
In the afternoon Jaques drove the cart into the court-yard, and backed it up to the door by which they had entered. Rosalie came up to the midshipmen; her eyes were red with crying; still she looked very pretty.
"I have come to tell you that it is time for you to go; you will follow out the directions you have received as nearly as possible."
It had been arranged that they should go on in the cart till dark, and then walk as far as they could on foot during the night, concealing themselves in some secluded spot in the day-time. If they were discovered, they were to plead fatigue for resting; they were not to court observation, though they were not to dread it, if it could not be avoided. They were, however, on no account to enter a town, by night or by day, if they could help it. No one, indeed, could have arranged a more perfect plan than Miss Rosalie had done. There's nothing like the wits of an honest clear-sighted woman when people are in trouble, to get them out of it.
Rosalie had provided them with wallets well filled with food, so that they need not for some days stop at any village to procure food—not, indeed, till they were well to the north of the line of road the Brest prisoners passed.
Both the midshipmen were very, very sorry at having to part from Rosalie, and O'Grady felt more in love with her than ever; still they must be away. Her uncle gave them a kind embrace, and she accompanied them down-stairs, and kissing them both as if they were young brothers going to school, hurried them into the cart. It was loaded with sacks of corn going to the mill to be ground, with several span new sacks to fill with flour. There was a clear space formed by placing two sacks across two others, with the empty sacks thrown over the inner end. Into this they crept. They could look out from behind the loose sacks, and as the cart drove out of the court-yard they could see Rosalie watching them with her apron to her eyes. They drove rapidly on, though more than once Jaques stopped and talked to some one, and then on he went at the same pace as before. One man asked for a lift, but he laughed and said, that the cart was already laden heavily enough with so many sacks of wheat, and that it would break down if a burly fellow like the speaker were to get into it, or the horse would refuse to go. It was getting dark, but the sky was clear, and as they could see the stars by which to steer, they had little doubt that they should find their way. Jaques drew up in a solitary spot a little off the read.
"Farewell, young gentlemen, farewell!" he said, as he helped them to get from under the sacks: "may you reach your native land in safety. Go straight along that road; you will make good way before the morning. I wish that I could go further with you, but I dare not. Farewell, farewell!" Saying this, he shook them by the hand, and giving them a gentle shove on in the direction they were to take, as if his heart longed to go with them, he jumped into the cart and drove rapidly away.
They now felt for the first time how helpless they were, and the difficulty of their undertaking; but they were brave lads, and quickly again plucked up courage. They had been provided with sticks, and trudged on boldly. Mile after mile of dusty road, up and down hill, and along dead flats, were traversed.
"It will make us sleep all the sounder," observed O'Grady, who had a happy facility for making the best of everything. "If we were at sea now we should have to be pacing the deck with a cold breeze in our teeth, and maybe an occasional salt shower-bath."
Paul agreed, though they were not sorry when daylight came and warned them to look out for a resting-place. They saw a forest some way from the high road, and, going into it, before long discovered numerous piles of wood prepared for burning.
"They are not likely to be removed for some time," observed O'Grady; "if they do, they will begin on the outer ones, and we shall have time to decamp. Let's make ourselves some nests inside; see, there is plenty of dry grass, and we shall sleep as comfortable as on beds of down."
By removing some of the logs the work was easily accomplished, and no one outside would have observed what they had done. They crept in, and were very soon fast asleep. They awoke perfectly rested, and prepared to resume their journey; but on looking out they found that it was not much past noon, and that they had the greater part of the day to wait. This they did not at all like. O'Grady was for pushing on in spite of their first resolutions; Paul wished to remain patiently till the evening. No one had come to remove the wood, so that they were not likely to be disturbed. As they were hungry they ate some dinner, emptying their bottle of wine, and then tried to go to sleep again—not a difficult task for midshipmen.
Paul, after some time, was awoke by hearing some one singing. He touched O'Grady's arm. They listened. The words were English, and they both had an idea that they knew the voice. The singer appeared to be near, and employed in removing the logs of wood. Paul slowly lifted up his head. A shout and an expression indicative of astonishment escaped from the singer, who stood, like one transfixed, gazing at Paul. The shout made O'Grady lift up his head, and they had ample time to contemplate the strange figure before them. His dress was of the most extraordinary patchwork, though blue and white predominated. On his head, instead of a hat, he wore a wisp of straw, secured by a handkerchief; his feet were also protected by wisps of straw, and round his waist he wore a belt with an axe stuck in it. Altogether, he did not look like a man possessed with much of this world's wealth. The midshipmen looked at him, and he looked at the midshipmen, for a minute or more without speaking.
"It is—no it isn't—yes it is!" exclaimed the man at length. "Why, young gentlemen, is it really you? you looks so transmogrified, I for one shouldn't have known you!"
"What, Reuben Cole, is it really you? I may ask," cried Paul, springing out of his lair, and shaking him by the hand, followed by O'Grady. "This is a fortunate meeting."
"Why, that's as it may turn out; but how did you come to look like that?"
Paul told him, and then put the same question to him.
"Why, do ye see, when I got away from our Jennydams, I found a hole in the hillside close under where I jumped off the road. Thinks I to myself, if I tumbles in here, they'll all go pelting away down the hill through the wood, leaving me snug; and so they did. I heard them halloing, and cursing, and swearing at one another, and I all the time felt just like an old fox in his cover till they'd gone away on their road wondering where I'd gone. I then started up and ran down the hill just in time to see a cart driven by a man in white. I shouted, but he didn't hear me, and so I hoped it would be all right for you, at all events. Then I went back to my hole, and thinks I to myself, if I goes wandering about in this guise I'll sure to be taken: so I remembers that I'd got in my pocket the housewife my old mother gave me, and which the rascally privateer's-men hadn't stolen; so out I takes it and sets to work to make up my clothes in a new fashion. I couldn't make myself into a mounseer—little or big—by no manner of means, so I just transmogrified my clothes as you see them, that I mightn't be like a runaway prisoner. It took me two days before I was fit to be seen— pretty smart work; and that's how the servant the old gentleman sent out missed me. At last I set out for the sea; but I was very hungry, and I can't say if I'd fallen in with a hen-roost what I'd have done. I got some nuts and fruit though, enough to keep body and soul together. Three days I wandered on, when I found myself in this very wood. I was getting wickedly hungry, and I was thinking I must go out and beg, when I sees a cart and a man coming along, so I up and axes him quite civilly if he'd a bit of a dinner left for a poor fellow. I was taken all aback with astonishment when he speaks to me in English, and tells me that he'd been some months in a prison across the Channel, and knows our lingo, and that he was treated so kindly that he'd sworn he'd never bear arms against us again, if he could help it. With that he gives me some bread and cheese and wine, and when his day's work was over he takes me to his house, at the borders of the forest, near a village. As I wouldn't eat the bread of idleness, I offered to help him, and as I can handle an axe with most men, I have been working away ever since as a wood-cutter. Now I know that if you'll come with me to his cottage, he'll gladly give you lodging and food as long as you like to stay, and then, of course, I must pack up and be off with you."
The midshipmen told Reuben how glad they were to find him, though they agreed that by his travelling on with them their difficulties would be somewhat increased, as they were puzzled to know what character he could assume. He was so thoroughly the English sailor that even his very walk would betray him.
He acknowledged this; but after scratching his head for five minutes, and giving sundry tugs at his rather curious-looking breeches, he exclaimed: "I've hit it. I'll go on crutches and follow in your wake; when no one is looking I'll make play, and I'll keep up with you, I'll warrant. If I'm axed who I am, I'll pretend that I'm a 'Talian, or some other furriner, who can't speak the French lingo, and just make all sorts of gabblifications. Just you leave it to me, young gentlemen, if you'll let me come with you."
Though there was considerable risk in the plan, the midshipmen could think of no other. They agreed to go to the wood-cutter's hut, and if, after talking the matter over, they could not improve on Reuben's plan, to start the following evening. Having assisted him to load his cart, they set forward at once. The path led them for most of the way through the forest. It was still broad daylight when they approached the cottage. It stood at the edge of a green, on which a number of villagers were seen collected. They were themselves perceived before they had time to retreat, which it would have been wise for them, they felt, to do.
"Let us put a bold face on the matter and go forward!" exclaimed O'Grady. "Reuben, go on with the cart; we had better have nothing to say to you at present."
They at once walked on towards the villagers without exhibiting any marks of hesitation. Reuben looked after them with as indifferent an air as he could assume, as he drove his cart up to the woodman's cottage.
"I see a high road; let us turn towards it, and walk along it as if we were not going to stop at the village," observed Paul; "we may thus avoid questions, and we may come back to the wood-cutter's when it is dark; Reuben will prepare him for our appearance."
O'Grady agreed to this plan, and they were walking along pretty briskly, hoping to pass an auberge, or inn, at the side of the road, when the aubergiste, or inn-keeper, who happened to be in very good humour after his evening potations, caught sight of them, and shouted out, "Come in, come in, mes garcons! there is no other auberge in the place, and you would not pass by the house of Francois le Gros!" And he patted his well-stuffed-out ribs, for there are fat Frenchmen as well as fat Englishmen.
Thus appealed to, the midshipmen thought it wiser to go up to the man, and Paul told him that as they had very little money, they preferred stopping out at night when the weather was fine.
"That will never do," cried honest Francois. "Tell me all about yourselves, and you shall have board and lodging free. Numerous great people stop here, and so does the diligence, and as I am patronised by all around, I can afford at times to help young wayfarers like yourselves."
Paul, anxious especially to avoid so public a place as an inn, made more excuses. While he was speaking the landlord looked very hard at him. Several other villagers did the same.
"Why, you do not look very like what you say you are!" he exclaimed. "Come nearer, and let me have a better look at you."
"Thank you," said Paul; "if you don't believe me, I won't ask you to do so; but let us go on, and we will not trouble you."
This speech did not satisfy the landlord, and several disagreeable remarks were made by the bystanders. Altogether, matters were looking very bad, when the attention of the villagers was called off by the sound of the loud cracks of whips, the tramping of horses, the rumbling of wheels, and the appearance of a cloud of dust, out of which emerged a huge lumbering vehicle with a vast hood in front, a long big body covered with boxes and baskets, and drawn by six horses, governed by two postillions dressed in huge jack boots, cocked hats, and gold-laced coats. They dashed up to the inn with as much clatter and noise as they could make. More of the villagers collected; and while the horses were being brought out, and the landlord was engaged in attending to his customers, O'Grady whispered to Paul that he thought they might possibly slip out of the crowd unobserved; and while some of the villagers had to move out of the way of the released horses, they moved round on the other side of the diligence and walked rapidly along the road.
At that moment Francois had come out with a jug of wine for an old gentleman in the inside, and as he was returning, his eye fell on the fugitives. His suspicions now increased; he shouted to some of his cronies to make chase and bring them back. As the villagers were making holiday and had nothing to do, a dozen or more set off in chase.
"I wish that we hadn't tried to get away," said Paul. "Let's go back boldly, and say that we hoped to get on to the next village; but as they are determined to keep us, we will stay with them."
They, however, had barely time to turn before their pursuers were upon them; and in no very happy state of mind they were dragged back to the village. They came in sight of the inn just as the diligence had driven off. One passenger had remained behind, who stood watching them with a look of considerable interest while the landlord was describing to him how they had made their appearance, and expressing his opinion that they were no better than they should be.
Paul and O'Grady, as they were dragged back by the villagers to the inn, felt certain that their true character would be discovered, and that they would be sent to prison. Paul was especially unhappy under the belief that his bad French had betrayed him. He wished that he could give Reuben warning to keep out of the way of the meddling villagers, lest he also should be captured. Still, he was not a lad to give in, and he determined to play the part he had assumed as long as he could. When the villagers saw Francois, they shouted out to him that they had got the young rogues fast enough. Paul at once began to expostulate with the inn-keeper, and, with a volubility which did him credit, gave the whole story which had been arranged by Rosalie. The traveller, who had retired on one side, but had remained near enough to hear what Paul said, now stepped forward, exclaiming, "Of course—all they say is true. I know all about them. Their grandfather is a most estimable man—a tenant of my maternal uncle, the Sieur Caudbec. I saw him when last I was in the south of France, and these lads, I think I saw them—yes, surely I know both of them. You know me, the son of the Baron de Montauban—one who was always kind to the poor, and a friend of true liberty."
Paul glanced at the speaker; he was very young. He looked again. There could be no doubt about it. Though somewhat disguised by his travelling costume and civilian's dress, there stood before him Alphonse Montauban. He ran forward and took Alphonse's hand, not to shake it, however, but, remembering their supposed relative ranks, to put it to his lips. O'Grady, though not understanding what had been said, and wondering why he did so, followed his example.
"Come, worthy Francois," said Alphonse; "though I had intended to proceed across the country, I will rest here to-night; and as I take an interest in the family of these lads, they shall spend the evening with me, and live at my cost. Let a good supper be prepared for us all, and, mark you, a bottle of your best wine."
Saying this, Alphonse led the way into the inn. He stopped at the door, however, and taking some money out of his purse, handed it to the landlord, saying, "Let some of these honest people here, after their quick run, have wherewithal to drink my health."
Alphonse, with considerable dignity, walked into a private room in the inn, and taking a chair, beckoned to the seeming peasant lads to sit near him, while the landlord received his orders for supper. As soon as Francois had retired, he burst into a fit of laughter, and, jumping up, shook the midshipmen warmly by the hand, and begged them to tell him how they came to be there. They gave him, as rapidly as they could, an account of their adventures.
"And do you not know the name of the old gentleman, 'mon oncle,' as you call him, and that of the chateau? But I do. He is my dear father, and that pretty little Rosalie is my very sweet cousin. The story is just such as I could have supposed she would have invented. And they think me dead. That is very natural, for when the Alerte escaped from the Cerberus, of course her people would have reported all on board their consort drowned. You will be surprised that I should not have reached home before this, but I had a long voyage, and as I had no wish to go to sea again, when I found on landing that it was not known I had escaped, I made the best of my way to the house of a relative near the coast, who provided me with clothing and funds, and I have only lately been able to commence my journey homeward. Now, however, I have a great inclination to turn back and to see you safely embarked to cross the Channel."
The English midshipmen would not, however, hear of his carrying out such a proposal. If caught, he would be more severely dealt with than they would, and they felt sure that, if they were cautious, they should be able to reach the coast by themselves. At length, Alphonse, seeing the wisdom of their arguments, and remembering his duty to his father, consented. He, however, said that he must first communicate with Reuben Cole, and let him know the road they had taken, that he might follow them. Alphonse had become quite an Englishman in his habits, and the three old friends spent a very pleasant evening. They were up before daylight, when Alphonse, slipping out, hurried off to the woodman's hut. The woodman and his new mate were on foot, and Reuben, having ascertained that the young strangers were at the auberge, was very doubtful how to proceed. He rubbed his eyes, and hitched away convulsively at his belt, when he saw Alphonse, for some minutes, before he dared believe his own eyes.
"Well, sir, things do come about curious," he exclaimed at last. "First I falls in with the young gentlemen, and then they falls in with you, just in time for you to save them from being packed off to prison."
As Alphonse knew that part of the country well, he was able to fix on a spot about three miles from the village, where he suggested that they and Reuben should lie concealed during the remainder of the day, and travel on, as they had proposed, at night. Having made these arrangements with Reuben, he returned to the auberge. Once more, after an early breakfast, the friends parted; Alphonse starting in a wonderfully old-fashioned caleche on two wheels, which gave promise of breaking down on its way to his father's chateau, and the midshipmen proceeding northward on their own sturdy legs. They fell in with Reuben Cole at the spot arranged on, and then all three, plunging into the forest, made themselves comfortable for the rest of the day. Night after night they travelled on. Sometimes they met people during the day, and either little notice was taken of them, or Paul easily answered the questions put to him. Reuben always had his crutches ready, and in a wonderfully quick time he was on his wooden leg, and hobbling along at a rate of a mile or so an hour, so that no one would have suspected that he had a long journey before him. The whole party were in very good spirits, for as they had found friends when they least expected it, and got out of difficulties when they thought that they were irretrievably lost, so they hoped that they might be equally fortunate another time. O'Grady declared that this life was that of a perpetual picnic. They generally took shelter during the day in a wood, or among hills, or in some deserted hut, or, like gipsies, under a hedge in some unfrequented district; or, if it rained, which was not very often, they got into some barn or shed in the outskirts of a hamlet; and twice they found caves into which they could creep, and several times some old ruins of castles or chateaux afforded them shelter. Their plan was to walk on till daybreak, and then O'Grady or Paul climbed a height or a tree, and surveyed the country ahead. If no habitations were to be seen, they pushed on further, and then took another survey of the country, to find a place of shelter for the day. When they required food, they generally first passed through a village, and then Paul went back, towards the evening to purchase it. As soon as he had bought it, they proceeded onward, so that, should the villagers have any suspicions, they were not likely to overtake them. They were now approaching the coast, and greater caution than ever was, of course, necessary. Their greatest difficulty, however, would be finding a fit boat, and getting away unperceived.
"I suppose that it will not be wrong to steal a boat," said Paul. "I don't quite like the thoughts of that."
O'Grady laughed, and remarked, "Why, you see, Gerrard, that necessity has no law. The owner of the boat will not be pleased to lose it, but then he is one of a nation with whom England is at war, and we have as much right to run away with his boat, as his countrymen have to keep us prisoners."
At length, after a long walk, at break of day the sea appeared in sight in the far distance, somewhere between Cherbourg and Barfleur. With beating hearts they went on. They could not resist the temptation of trying to ascertain whereabouts they were, and if there was a boat near which might serve their purpose. It might have been wiser had they, as usual, lain by during daylight. They walked on till they reached the top of a cliff overlooking the Channel. Across those waters was the land they so earnestly desired to reach. To the west a blue line of land stretched out into the sea. It was the promontory on which Cherbourg is situated. If they were able to get to the end, they would have much less distance to go by sea, and might, in the course of little more than a day, reach the Isle of Wight. The great point was to find a boat. Not one was in sight. It was a question whether they should go east or west in search of some fishing village, where they might find one. They carefully examined the coast, and as the sun rose in the sky, his beams lighting up the shore on the west, they fancied that they could make out some buildings in the distance. They at once turned in that direction. As they advanced, they found that they were not mistaken. Before concealing themselves, as they proposed doing, till night, they carefully reconnoitred the place from the cliff above it. There was a tower, and a small harbour with several small craft and boats at anchor in it, and two or three better sort of houses, besides numerous cottages and huts, and, at a little distance, a chateau of some pretension to architecture. They would have preferred a place where there were no gentlemen, who would naturally be less likely to believe their story. In other respects, they could not have desired to reach a more satisfactory locality. The cliffs appeared to be full of caves, in one of which they could lie hidden till night. They calculated that their food would last them for a couple of days, so that by husbanding it, even if their voyage were prolonged, they would have enough to support life. After hunting about for some time, they selected a cave half-way up the cliff, which sailors alone, and that not without some difficulty, could reach. The entrance was small, but there was ample room for them to lie down, and, what was of importance, they were not at all likely to be disturbed. As they had walked all night, and had been scrambling about all the morning, they were very tired, and directly they had taken some breakfast, they fell fast asleep. Paul was awoke after some time by the roaring sound of the waves dashing against the shore. He could see through the narrow opening dark clouds scouring across the sky, the rain descending in torrents, while ever and anon there came vivid flashes of lightning, followed by loud, rattling peals of thunder, which seemed to shake the very rock above their heads. The wind, too, blew fiercely, and the whole ocean before them was covered with white-topped billows. Reuben awoke and looked out. He came back and seated himself.
"Well, young gentlemen," he said quietly, "one thing is certain—we may make up our minds to have to remain here for some days to come. That sea won't go down in a hurry, and till it does, it will be hard to come at a French boat which will carry us safe across."
It was very evident that Reuben's observation was correct, yet it was very provoking to be thus, delayed when their expedition was so nearly, as they thought, brought to a happy conclusion. Two days passed, and the gale did not abate. It now, therefore, became necessary for Paul to go in search of provisions. His companions wished to accompany him, but he preferred going alone, and, if possible, to some inland village where there was less risk of their object being suspected. He set off early in the morning, and after walking for nearly three hours, he entered a village where he hoped to find both bread and meat. He could not get it, however, without being asked some rather searching questions. He replied promptly, that he had a brother with him, and that as they had still some way to go, and did not wish to delay on the road, he wished to lay in a stock of provisions at once. Fortunately there were three or four small shops in the place, at each of which he made some purchases, filling up his wallet at a farm-house, where he got a supply of eggs and a ham. Highly satisfied with the success of his undertaking, he took his way back to the cave. He had got within a couple of miles of the end of his journey, rather tired with the weight of the provisions he carried, when, on sitting down on a bank to rest, he saw that somebody was following him. He was puzzled what to do. Should he go on, his retreat would be discovered; if he stopped, he would be overtaken, and disagreeable questions might, perhaps, be asked of him. So he got up and went on again as fast as his legs could carry him. More than once, however, he looked back. The man he had seen was still behind. "He may, perhaps, only be going the same way that I am," thought Paul. "I will take the first turning I can find to the right or left, and he may then, perhaps, pass on and miss me."
The opportunity occurred sooner than he expected. The road made several sharp turns. A narrow path, between high banks, led off to the right. He turned sharp into it, and by running rapidly along, was soon out of sight of the high road. He sat down and waited. No one came. He hoped that he had escaped his pursuer. At last he came cautiously out and looked about. No one was in sight. He walked on swiftly towards the cliff. He had to descend and then to mount again to reach the cave. His companions welcomed him on their own account as well as on his, for they were nearly starved. There was a stream, however, of good water close at hand, which had prevented them from suffering from thirst. They had now provisions to last them, they hoped, till they reached England. Paul had bought a tin saucepan, in which they could boil their eggs and make some soup, and as O'Grady had collected a supply of drift wood, they were able to cook their dinner and to enjoy the warmth of a fire. Altogether, they had not much reason to complain of their detention. Three more days passed, and the wind abating, the sea went down, and once more the calm ocean shone in the beams of the rising sun.
"Hurrah!" cried O'Grady; "we may sail to-night, and, if we're in luck and the wind holds, we may sight the shore of old England before the world is two days older."
The day passed very slowly away, as they had nothing with which to employ themselves. Fortunately, midshipmen, as O'Grady boasted, have a powerful knack of sleeping; and so they passed most of the time, in the intervals of their meals, lost in oblivion of all sublunary matters. As the shades of evening drew on, they roused up and were all animation. They had reconnoitred the path to the village, and found that it would be necessary to get down to the beach while there was still daylight to enable them to see their way. They hoped to find shelter in some boat-shed or out-house till the inhabitants had gone to bed. They went on cautiously, Paul in advance, lest they should meet any one; Reuben hobbling forward on his wooden leg and sticks. The lights in the village were being put out as they approached. "They are early people— so much the better for us," thought Paul. "We can easily seize a boat and get off."
The thought had scarcely passed through his mind, when a voice exclaimed, "Hallo! who goes there?"
"A friend," answered Paul.
"How many friends?" asked the man. "Let me see: two young lads and a lame man—answers the description. Come along with me, my friends, for I have more to say to you."
The two midshipmen and Reuben followed, much crest-fallen. They were in the hands of the police; of that there could be no doubt. Should they keep up their assumed characters, or acknowledge their true ones and brave the worst. They could not venture to speak to consult with each other. Paul thought that the best plan would be to keep silent till compelled to speak. He therefore got as near O'Grady as he could, and, pretending to stumble, put his finger against his friend's lips. O'Grady passed on the signal soon afterwards to Reuben. This matter arranged, they quietly followed their captor—O'Grady doing his best to hum a tune which he had heard Rosalie sing, and forgetting that he pretended to be deaf as well as dumb. There was still sufficient light for them to see that their captor was a gendarme, a discovery far from pleasant, as it led them to suppose that some person in authority was at the place, who might dispose of them in a somewhat summary manner. The man turned round once or twice, and told them, in no pleasant voice, to walk quicker, while he led the way to the chateau they had observed from the cliff. They found themselves standing before the chateau. It looked vast and gloomy in the dark. In another minute they were in a large hall in the presence of several persons, one of whom, a fierce-looking bearded official, inquired who they were, where they had come from, whither they were going.
Paul, with a fluency which surprised himself, narrated the story which had been arranged by Rosalie, O'Grady going through his part, pointing to his lips, and making inarticulate sounds, while Reuben imitated him in a way which seemed to try the gravity of those before whom he stood. Paul thought that all was going on smoothly, when he was considerably taken aback by seeing the officer laugh, and hearing him say in fair English:—
"You speak well, certainly, for one who has been so short a time in the country, but I should have understood you better had you spoken in English; and now I should like to know what your young friend here, and your lame companion, have to say for themselves. There's a salt-water look about them which makes me suspect that they know more about a ship than a vineyard."
The midshipmen saw that all further disguise was useless.
"Well, sir," exclaimed O'Grady, "if you know that we are English officers, you will understand that we were captured in a merchantman returning home invalided, and that as we were not on our parole, we had a full right to endeavour to make our escape."
"Granted, young sir," said the officer, blandly; "and not only had you a right to endeavour to escape, but you shall be allowed to proceed if you will answer me a few simple questions."
"What are they?" asked Paul and O'Grady, in a breath.
"Oh, a mere trifle," said the officer. "Who concealed you when you first made your escape? who assisted you to obtain your disguise? who invented your well-arranged story? and who forwarded you on your way?"
The midshipmen looked at each other.
"Shall I answer, Paddy?" asked Paul, eagerly.
"No, no, it's myself that will spake to the gentleman," exclaimed O'Grady, in that rich brogue in which an Irishman indulges when he is about to express a sentiment which comes up from the depth of his heart. "If your honour is under the belief that British officers are made up of such dirty ingredients that they would be capable of doing the vile, treacherous, ungrateful act you have insulted us by proposing, you never were more mistaken in your life. We are prisoners, and you have the power of doing whatever you like with us; but at least treat us with that respect which one gentleman has a right to demand from another."
The French officer started back with astonishment, not unmixed with anger. "How have I insulted you? How dare you address me in that style?" he asked.
"When one man asks another to do a dirty action, he insults him, and that's what you've asked us to do, Mounseer," exclaimed O'Grady, indignantly. "And just let me observe, that it is possible we may have had wits enough in our own heads to concoct the story we told you without being indebted to any man, woman, or child for it, especially when we were stimulated with the desire of getting out of this outlandish country, and being at you again; and as to the clothes, small blame to the people who sold them when they got honest gold coins in exchange."
"That story will not go down with me, young gentleman," observed the officer with a sneer. "However, enough of this trifling; we shall see in a few days whether you will alter your mind. Monsieur," he continued, turning to an elderly gentleman standing at the side of the hall, "we must have these persons locked up in one of your rooms. I beg that you will send your steward to point out a chamber from whence they cannot escape, and give us the trouble of again catching them."
"Monsieur," said the old gentleman, drawing himself up with an indignant air, "all the rooms are occupied; my chateau is not a prison, and I have no intention of allowing it to become one."
"Ho! ho!" cried the officer, pulling his moustache, and stamping with rage, "is that the line you have taken up? I was ordered to respect your chateau, and so I must; but take care, citoyen... However, sergeant, take them to the old tower; there is a room at the top of that where they will be safe enough. The wind and rain beat in a little, to be sure, but for any inconvenience they may suffer, they will be indebted to my friend here. Off with them!"
With scant ceremony the sergeant dragged them through the hall, Reuben stumping along after them on his wooden leg. They soon reached the tower, which was close to the little harbour. It was a very old building of three low stories, surrounded by sand, and the stones outside were so rough and so frequently displaced, that even by the light of the now risen moon it seemed as if there could not be much difficulty in climbing up to the top from the outside, or descend by the same means.
The sergeant shoved them on before him up a winding stair, which creaked and groaned at every step.
"En avant, en avant!" cried the sergeant when O'Grady attempted to enter one of the lower chambers; and at length they found themselves in a room at the very top. The sergeant, grumblingly observing that they would not require food till the next morning, gave Reuben a push which nearly sent him sprawling into the middle of the chamber, closed the door with a slam, and locked and bolted it securely.
Reuben whipped off his wooden leg, and began flourishing it about and making passes at the door whence the sergeant had disappeared, exclaiming with a laugh, "Well, the beggars haven't found me out, and they'll be surprised at what a man with a timber toe can do!"
He tied it on again, however, very soon, for a heavy step was heard on the stairs, and they saw by the light of the moon that their own wallets and a jug of water were placed on the floor just inside the door.
"We have a friend somewhere, probably the old gentleman at the chateau, or we should not have got back those things," observed Paul; "so let's cheer up: we might have been much worse off."
All agreed to the truth of this remark, and, as they were hungry, took some supper, and then Paddy proposed that they should reconnoitre the premises.
The windows were very narrow, with an iron bar down the centre, so that it was impossible to get through them. There was not a particle of furniture in the room, nor anything which would serve for their beds.
"It isn't cold yet, and we must make ourselves as comfortable as we can in the least windy corner of the place," observed Paul.
"What do you think of trying to get away instead?" asked O'Grady.
"With all my heart!" answered Paul; "but what do you say to the moon? Should we not be seen?"
"It might help us, and it might betray us," said O'Grady. "Let us ask Cole."
Reuben said that he must have a look round from the windows, before he pronounced an opinion. The midshipmen helped him up to each of them in succession. He considered that in so bright a light they were nearly certain to be seen; but as the moon rose later every day they would have a fair chance of making good their escape. That they could not go at once was very evident, so they dusted a corner, and coiled themselves up to sleep. Daylight revealed the dirty condition of the room, and also the rotten state of the roof. Reuben pointed it out and remarked, "There, if we can't get through the windows, it will be hard if we do not make our way out by the roof. If they keep us here many days, we'll do it."
In the course of the morning a man appeared with a fresh jug of water, and some bread and cheese, and dried figs. It was better than ordinary prison fare, and as the man did not look very savage, Paul thought that he would try and move him to procure them something on which to sleep. He explained, in the most pathetic language he could command, the misery they had suffered, and begged for bedding of some sort. The man nodded, and returned in the evening with some bundles of straw.
"But there is nothing to cover us, and barely sufficient to keep us from the floor," observed Paul.
The man smiled, and replied, "To-morrow, perhaps, I may find something of more use to you."
The following day he came again, loaded with a bundle of old sails. "Seamen have no reason to complain who can obtain such coverlids as these," he remarked, as he threw them down, and again left the room.
Each time that he went, they heard the sound of the door being locked and bolted. On undoing the sails they found that ropes were attached to them, and on examining these they were found to be sound and strong.
"That man is our friend, and depend on it these ropes were not sent in here by chance," observed O'Grady positively. "Very likely the old gentleman at the chateau sent him."
They were confirmed in the opinion that the rope was intended for use, by the appearance of the man, in the evening, to bring them a fresh supply of provisions.
"I've heard it said that it's no easy matter to keep English seamen in a cage when they have the will to get out," he remarked, as he turned round towards the door.
"Are we likely to be kept here long?" Paul asked.
"Until directions have been received from head-quarters, and as they are some way off, and yours is not a matter of importance, it may be a month or more," was the answer.
"He means to say that we may select our time for escaping," said Paul when the man had gone; "unless the rope was sent as a trap to tempt us to try and escape."
"Oh, they would not take that trouble," observed O'Grady. "If they had wished to treat us ill, they would have done so."
Three more days passed. The moon did not now rise till nearly midnight. This would give them ample time to get away out of sight of land before daylight. That evening their friend brought, with other provisions, a small keg of water, and a bottle of brandy, which he placed under the sails, and nodding, took his departure.
"No time to be lost," said O'Grady; "as soon as our guard has paid us his last visit, we must commence operations."
Just before dark a gendarme as usual put his head in at the door, looked round the room, and then stamped down-stairs again to a guard-room, in which it seemed that three or four men were stationed.
"There is no time to be lost, if it is to be done, gentlemen," exclaimed Reuben, stumping about the room as soon as the man was gone. "If we can't get through a window, I have marked two or three spots where we can through the roof, and we've rope enough to help us out either way. We have first to make up some packs to carry our stores."
It was important to do all this while daylight remained, now fast fading away. The packs were soon made, and the various lengths of rope fastened together. Reuben then, with the aid of his younger companions, climbed up to the roof, and, without difficulty, pulled down first the wooden lining, and then the slates, which he handed to them to avoid making a noise, and soon had a hole large enough for them to get through. The slates and ropes and their packs were then hid under the straw, in case any one should visit them before the hour of starting, not that such an event was likely to occur. They then threw themselves on their beds to be ready to pretend to be asleep at a moment's notice. The hours passed slowly. The night was calm; that was fortunate, or any little wind there was came from the south, which was better. They could hear a clock strike, that probably on the tower of the little church attached to the chateau. It was already nine o'clock, and they thought that all chance of interruption was over, when they heard steps on the stairs. The sergeant and a guard entered. He held a lantern in his hand. They lay trembling lest the light should be thrown upwards, and the hole in the roof be discovered.
"They seem to be asleep," observed the sergeant; "it is wonderful what power of sleeping these Englishmen possess. However, I must awake them. Rouse up, my boys, and understand that you are to march to-morrow for Paris at an early hour; but the worthy citizen Montauban has directed me to say that he will supply you with funds for your necessary maintenance, and to enable you to make your defence should you be accused, as he fears you may be, of being spies."
Paul started up on hearing this address, with as much terror as he could assume, considering that he had hoped in a few hours to be out of the reach of all French myrmidons of the law, and in a few words thanked the citizen Montauban for his kind purpose, adding that a French midshipman of the same name had long been his companion.
"Undoubtedly a nephew of citizen Montauban's, and his heir. The young man was long supposed to be lost; but he was here a short time back, and it is owing to the kind way he was treated by the English, that the old gentleman takes so warm an interest in you. However, lie down; I will tell him what you say, and he will communicate with you to-morrow, unless something should occur to prevent him. Good night."
"I hope that something will occur," cried Paul, jumping up as soon as the officer was gone. "Very kind of the old gentleman, and just like Alphonse to interest his uncle in our favour."
"Yes, indeed," said O'Grady; "curious, though, that we should have fallen in with so many of his relations."
Just then, however, they were too much engrossed with the work in hand to talk on the subject. They considered it safer to wait another hour or more before moving, lest they should encounter any straggler on their way to the harbour, or be seen descending the tower.
"Time to start," cried O'Grady, who, as the senior officer, was to take the command.
Their knapsacks were soon secured to their backs. Reuben used his wooden leg to assist in securing the rope by driving it into the wall. They all soon climbed up to the roof, and let down the rope, which reached nearly to the bottom, as far as they could judge. Should it not prove long enough, and stones be underneath, broken limbs would be the consequence. Paul was certain that there was sand (as they had gone nearly round the tower when looking for the door), and, as the youngest and lightest, volunteered to go first. He without hesitation flung himself off; but at the moment he began to descend, it occurred to him that he might possibly have to pass before one of the windows of the guard-room, and he half expected to find himself seized and dragged in by a gendarme. It was too late, however, to go back. All must be risked. So down he cautiously slid, doing his best to make no noise. He kept his feet tightly pressed against the rope, that he might ascertain when he had reached the end. Suddenly he felt that there was no more rope. At all events all the windows had been avoided. He lowered himself more cautiously than ever, till his hand grasped the very end in which Reuben had made a knot. He hung down by it by one hand, and looked down. He could see the ground; but it seemed still some way below him. Should he risk a fall? He recollected the uneven character of the wall, and hauling himself up a little, he was able to stretch out his feet sufficiently to reach it. He put out one hand in the same direction, and caught hold of an iron staple. He could now clutch the wall, and feeling his way, he descended about eight feet to the ground. It was fortunate that he had not jumped, for, instead of sand, there was a slab of hard rock on which he would have fallen. Scarcely had he time to get under the rope, than he saw another figure descending.
"Try to get to the wall," he whispered, "and I will help you down."
It was Reuben. After several efforts he reached the staple, and scrambled down. Paddy quickly followed at a much greater speed. There was no time to warn him that the rope was too short, and had not Reuben and Paul stretched out their arms and broken his fall, he would very likely have broken his legs.
"I thought that I heard some one coming upstairs," he whispered. "Not quite certain, but could not stop to learn. Away for the harbour!"
They stepped lightly till they were on the soft sands, and then they ran on as fast as their legs could move. They examined the harbour; but not a boat could they find of any size on the shore. They had all probably been removed by the order of the police, to prevent either prisoners of war or refugees from escaping. A small one, however, lay moored off a little distance from the shore.
"I will bring her in," whispered Paul; and without another word he stripped off his clothes, and, with knife in his mouth, slipped noiselessly into the water, and struck boldly out towards the boat. O'Grady and Reuben anxiously watched him, or rather the phosphorescent wake he left in the water. Even that after a time disappeared. Could the brave boy have sunk? The hearts of both his friends trembled. Every instant they expected to be pounced upon by gendarmes; but though they listened earnestly as may be supposed, no sounds came from the tower. At length the boat began to move. Paul must have got on board all right, and cut the cable. Yes, there he was standing up on a thwart, and working her on with a single paddle.
"Jump in," he whispered, as soon as he reached the shore; "there are lights in the old tower, and our flight will quickly be discovered. It may be some time, however, before they find a boat to pursue us."
O'Grady and Reuben required no second bidding. The former, however, very nearly forgot Paul's clothes. He sprang back for them, and narrowly escaped a tumble into the water.
"You dress while we pull out to look for a fit craft," said Paddy, seizing a paddle. But Paul kept hold of his own, in his eagerness declaring that he did not feel the cold.
To select a craft was easy; but it was possible that there might be people on board who might dispute their possession. However, that must be risked. O'Grady pointed out a small sloop of some eight or ten tons. She was not likely to have many people on board. They must be surprised and silenced immediately. While the boat drifted alongside, Paul put on his clothes. It would not have been pleasant to fight as he was; and besides, he might not have had time to dress afterwards. Taking care that their boat should not strike against the side of the little vessel, the three adventurers leaped on board as noiselessly as possible. The after hatch was closed. No one could be in the cabin. But as they crept forward they discovered that the fore hatch was open. Reuben signed that he would go down first. The midshipmen waited an instant, when they heard a noise, and leaping down they found their companion struggling with a powerful man, whom a boy, who had just leaped out of his berth, was about to assist.
"You are our prisoners," cried Paul, throwing himself on the boy; while O'Grady assisted Reuben, and so completely turned the tables, that the Frenchman was quickly secured. The boy who had struggled bravely with Paul, for the purpose, it seemed, of getting his head up the hatchway to sing out, then gave in.
"You will be well treated, my friends, if you remain quiet; but if you make the slightest noise, I cannot answer for your lives," said Paul.
To prevent any risk of the sort the hatch was clapped on after they had examined the vessel.
"We will get ready to make sail, while you, Gerrard, cut the cable, and then go to the helm," said O'Grady. "Cut!" he cried, in a few seconds.
A light breeze came off the land. Paul cut, and then hurried to the helm. He started as he turned his glance towards the shore; for there, in the direction of the old tower, a bright light was burning. It quickly increased in magnitude—bright flames burst forth. "It must be the old tower itself," he thought, for there was no time to say anything. The flames increased, and it now became evident that it was the tower itself; for the whole building was soon wrapped in flames, the glare reaching far down the harbour, and lighting up the sails of their vessel.
"We shall be seen and pursued, I'm afraid," cried Paul.
"Seen, or not, we must stand on; and at all events we shall have the start of them," answered O'Grady. "It's not impossible that they may think we have perished in the flames. I am sorry, though, for Reuben Cole's timber toe. Ha! ha! ha! it would have enraged the monsieurs to find that they had been so completely duped."
All this time the little vessel was gliding out from among a number of others, and the curious eyes of many persons were glaring at her, who wondered whither she was going. The probabilities that the midshipmen and Reuben would be retaken seemed very great.
The bold often succeed where the timid fail. The young midshipmen and their companion, nothing daunted by the dangers which surrounded them, kept on their course. The flames quickly ascending to the top of the old tower, sent their ruddy glare far across the ocean; and as their light fell on the adventurers and their little craft, it occurred to Paul that their strange, unseamanlike costume would at once betray them.
"The chances are that the Frenchmen have left some jackets in the after-cabin," he observed; and as he spoke, jumping below, he soon returned with several garments and hats, with which they quickly dressed themselves.
"Now we look pretty decent mounseers," observed Reuben, as he eased off the main-sheet a little. "If we're hailed, you'll have to tell 'em, Paul—I mean Mr Gerrard—beg pardon—that we're bound for Cherbourg, and don't like to lose the breeze. It's coming pretty strongish, and if I could but find a squaresail, for I sees there's a squaresail boom, we'd make the little craft walk along."
Reuben was in high spirits, and indeed so were the midshipmen, at their hazardous enterprise having thus far succeeded. Still they were not out of danger. If it was believed that they had been burnt in the tower, they would not be pursued, unless the owners of the sloop or the remainder of her crew on shore should catch sight of her sailing away. There were still several vessels to pass; but they intended to give them as wide a berth as possible. O'Grady was at the helm. Paul and Reuben were removing the main-hatch in hopes of finding the squaresail, when a cry from O'Grady made them jump up, and they saw the head of the Frenchman, with his mouth open, as if about to shout out, rising above the covering of the forehatch. An Englishman generally carries a weapon ready for immediate use, which at the end of a stout arm is of a somewhat formidable character—his fist. Reuben with his dealt the Frenchman a blow which stopped his shout, knocked three of his teeth down his throat, and sent him toppling over into the fore-peak, from which he had emerged; he, Reuben, and Paul following so rapidly, that the boy, who had been capsized by his companion, had not time to pick himself up. They this time took good care so to secure both their prisoners, that there was very little fear of their escaping, as the man had done before by expanding the muscles of his legs and arms while Reuben was securing him.
"Please tell them, Mr Gerrard, that if they cry out or attempt to play any more tricks, we must shoot them," said Reuben. "And now we'll go and look for the squaresail."
The sail was found and bent on, and, Paul going to the helm, O'Grady and Reuben managed to set it. The vessel felt the effects of the additional canvas, as she drew out more from the land, and rapidly glided past the different vessels in the roadstead. There were only two more. One of these, however, they were compelled to pass uncomfortably near.
"When we are clear of her, we shall be all right," said O'Grady, looking back, and seeing nothing following. "She looks like an armed vessel—a man-of-war perhaps; but it won't do to go out of our course; we must chance it."
They stood on. Although they were now some distance from the land, the old tower continued blazing up so fiercely, that a strong light was still thrown on their canvas. Being between the suspicious vessel and the light, they were abreast of her before they were seen. Just then a hail came from her, demanding who they were, and where they were bound.
"Answer, Gerrard, answer!" cried O'Grady.
But he did not tell him what to say; so Paul put up his hands and shouted, "Oui, oui; toute vite!" with all his might.
"Heave-to," shouted the voice, "and we will send a boat aboard you."
"Very likely," said Paul; and so he only cried out as before, "Oui, oui, to-morrow morning, or the day after, if you please!"
As a vessel running before the wind cannot heave-to at a moment's notice, the sloop got on some little distance before any attempt was made to impede her progress. Another hail was heard, and after the delay of nearly another minute, there was a flash from one of the stranger's ports, and a shot came whizzing by a few feet astern.
"If any of us are killed, let the others hold on to the last," cried O'Grady. "We are suspected, at all events, and may have a near squeak for it."
Reuben, the moment the first shot was fired, jumped down into the hold— not to avoid another; no fear of that. Directly afterwards he shouted out, "I have found the square-topsail. Lend a hand, Paul, and we'll get it up."
The square-top-sail was got up, rapidly bent on to the yard, and in another minute or two hoisted and set. The man-of-war meantime kept firing away; her shots falling on either side of the little vessel; but as she was riding head to wind, it was evident that only her stern chasers could be brought to bear.
"I wonder that she does not follow us," observed Paul, as the shots began to fall wider and wider of their mark.
"Perhaps most of her crew are on shore, or we are thought too small game to make it worth while to get under weigh for," answered O'Grady. "However, don't let us be too sure; perhaps she will come, after all. We've got a good start of her though."
"The mounseers are generally a long time getting under weigh, and to my mind they don't know what to make of us," observed Reuben, as he eyed the Frenchman with no loving glance.
The breeze continued freshening, and the little craft, evidently a remarkably fast one, flew bravely over the water, increasing her distance from the French shore, and from the light of the burning tower. As the night was very dark, there was yet a chance of her escaping in the obscurity. The adventurers were already congratulating themselves on having got free, when Reuben exclaimed, "The Frenchman thinks more of us than we hoped. He's making sail."
A sailor's eyes alone, and these of the sharpest, could have discovered this disagreeable fact; and even Paul could distinguish nothing but the dark outline of the coast. Reuben kept his eye on the enemy.
"I doubt if she can see us," he observed. "And if she doesn't, we may still give her the go-by. I'd haul up a little to the eastward, Mr O'Grady, sir. The tide will be making down soon, and we shall just check it across. She'll walk along all the faster, too, with the wind on the starboard-quarter, and no risk of jibing. We'll take a pull at the main-sheet, Mr Gerrard. Now we'll ease off the squaresail sheet. That'll do, sir. Now the sail stands beautifully."
O'Grady wisely followed Reuben's advice, and took no notice of his doing things which were so clearly right without orders.
The sloop was now steering about north-east by north, and should the Frenchman stand a little to the westward of north, the two vessels would soon be out of sight of each other. Reuben declared that he could still see the enemy now making all sail in chase, but could not tell exactly how she was standing. It was anxious work. O'Grady made her out, as well as Reuben, and all hoped devoutly that she was a slow sailer. They kept the little vessel on a steady course, and for an hour or more scarcely a word was uttered. Sometimes Reuben lost sight of the enemy; but before long she was again seen. It proved that she did not sail very fast, and that the course they had taken was suspected. Thus hour after hour they stood on, till dawn began to break.
"It's all up with us if she sees us now," cried O'Grady. "But I vote we die game any how, and not give in while there's one of us alive to steer the craft."
The increasing daylight soon revealed them to the Frenchman, who at once began blazing away in a manner which showed that the long chase they had given him had made him not a little angry. The shot, however, fell short; but he on this made more sail, and soon gained on them. He ceased firing for half an hour or more, and then again began, the shot flying by on either side, or over the mast-head. They came, indeed, much too near to be pleasant. Reuben took the helm, and the two midshipmen stood facing their enemy, knowing that any moment might be their last; still, however, as resolved as at first not to yield. In another twenty minutes or half an hour they must be killed or prisoners; escape seemed out of the question.
"I wish that I could let my father, and mother, and brothers, and sisters at Ballyshannon know what has become of me," said Paddy, with a sigh.
"And I wish that I could have again seen my dear mamma," said Paul, "and my sweet sister Mary, and jolly old Fred, and Sarah, and John, and pretty little Ann. They know that I am a midshipman, and I suppose that that will be some consolation to them if they ever hear that I've been killed."
"Don't talk like that, young gentlemen. Look there. What do you say to that?" exclaimed Reuben, pointing to the north-west, where standing towards them, close-hauled, and evidently attracted by the firing, was a large, ship, the beams of the rising sun shining brightly on her wide-spread canvas.
"The enemy must see her, but fancy that she is French," observed Reuben. "But they are greatly mistaken, let me tell them."
"Hurrah! they've found out that they're wrong, then," cried O'Grady.
As he spoke, down came the Frenchman's studden sails, and with a few parting shots, which narrowly missed their mark, he hauled his wind, and stood close-hauled towards the coast of France. He sailed badly before the wind; he sailed worse close-hauled. The stranger, which soon proved to be an English frigate, her ensign blowing out at her peak, came rapidly up. The adventurers cheered as she passed, and received a cheer in return. Those on board evidently understood the true state of the case.
"Why, I do believe that is Devereux himself!" cried Paul, in a tone of delight.
"Well, it is difficult to be certain of a person at such a distance; but it is very like him," said O'Grady. "But, again, how could he be there? He could not have made his escape from prison."
The sloop hove to in order to watch the chase, which was soon terminated, for the frigate came up hand over hand with the slow-sailing brig, which found to her cost that instead of catching a prize she had caught a Tartar. The midshipmen consulted together whether it would be wiser to continue their course for the Isle of Wight, or to get on board the frigate. But as the Channel swarmed with the cruisers of the enemy, they decided to do the latter; and accordingly, when they saw the frigate returning with her prize, they stood towards her. They were soon up to her, and, a boat being sent to them, as they stepped up her side the first person they encountered was Devereux.