As she spoke, two gentlemen were advancing towards the spot where she and Ada Garden were sitting. The one she alluded to was a dissipated-looking young man, though with a well-bred air, and rather handsome. The other was decidedly so—indeed, he might well have been considered the handsomest man in the room. There was a noble and independent air, and a free-born grace about him—so all the ladies declared—which would have made him anywhere distinguished. His features were dark, and of the purest classical model; his eyes were large and sparkling, and a long silky black moustache shaded his lip. His costume was simple and correct, from his well-fitting black coat to his trousers, which showed off the shape of his handsome leg, and his silk stockings, and low, well-polished shoes. The most severe critic could not have found the slightest fault with him, except perhaps that his coat shone too much, as if it was just out of the tailor's hands.
"Permit me to introduce to your ladyship, my friend, Prince Argiri Caramitzo," said Captain Dunnup, advancing and presenting the stranger, who bowed gracefully.
"And may I, Miss Garden, be allowed to introduce him to you?" he continued. "Although a Greek, he speaks Italian like a native, in which language I know that you, also, are a proficient."
Both ladies bowed their heads, and signified their pleasure in knowing the Prince Caramitzo. He, in his turn, in very pure Italian, expressed his still greater gratification at the honour he enjoyed.
While he was speaking, Dunnup caught Colonel Gauntlett's eye fixed on him, and it occurred to him that he should introduce his friend. He accordingly took him up, and introduced him in form.
"The prince is going eastward, colonel, and as you will probably meet again in the classic land of Greece, if you do not rather journey together, I feel that you should become acquainted."
As Colonel Gauntlett rather liked the look of the stranger, he condescended to be civil to him; but as he did not speak a word of Romaic, and as his Italian was very indifferent, and his French worse, Argiri Caramitzo could scarcely understand what he said. He, however, made a polite speech full of complimentary phrases in return, and then, bowing, went back to talk to the ladies.
The handsome stranger judged that he should more speedily gain all the information he required from the niece, and might afterwards, through her, if he found it requisite, persuade the colonel to do what he desired. He found on his return that Miss Garden had been led out to dance by Captain Fleetwood, so he sat himself down to play the agreeable to Lady Marmion, and to glean from her much which he wished to know about the politics of Valetta, and which she was too happy to impart.
We, however, must follow Captain Fleetwood and Miss Garden. There was no doubt of their being lovers, by the confiding way in which she rested on his arm, and glanced up into his face as he spoke; and the look of proud happiness with which he regarded her, and seemed to defy the world to venture on the experiment of tearing her from him. Everybody observed it but Colonel Gauntlett, and he remained obstinately blind to what had taken place.
"My beloved Ada, this is the last time that I may have an opportunity of speaking to you," said Fleetwood, as, the dance being over, he led her to an open balcony which looked out on the moonlit harbour. "You know how ardently I love you, and that willingly would I sacrifice all the prospect of your uncle's property, if he would give his consent to our union; but I would not urge you to act in opposition to his wishes—yet there is a time when obedience ceases to be a duty, and that time must come when he obstinately refuses to give you to me."
"He will not, he cannot do so, when he knows how dearly, how deeply you love me." She spoke according to the dictates of her own heart; nor was she, however, wrong.
"Then this very night, or to-morrow morning, before you sail, I will ask you from him, and as soon as I pay off the Ione, which I shall probably do in the course of two months, I will come back and claim you. Shall I do so, dearest?"
"Oh, yes! do, Charles. It is the only way, and, believe me, whatever is the result, I will be faithful to you. While you claim me, I will never marry another."
"I cannot ask more, and yet I could not demand less without contemplating an event which would wring my heart with anguish," exclaimed Fleetwood, pressing her hand to his lips. "I think, however, we may before that time again meet—I expect to be sent to Greece, and shall contrive to visit Cephalonia."
For some time longer the lovers talked on without taking note of its flight, when they were disagreeably interrupted by the voice of the colonel inquiring for Ada.
"Come here, miss," he exclaimed. "Here has been Prince Caramitzo waiting for the last quarter of an hour to lead you out to dance, and you were nowhere to be found—I will not have it." And he looked a black thundercloud at Fleetwood. "Come, Signior Principe, there is your partner ready for you."
The prince, comprehending his meaning more by his action than his words, stepped forward, and, with a profound bow, offered his arm, which Ada, giving a glance of regret at Fleetwood, was obliged to accept. The prince was not a man, it appeared, to allow a lady to feel annoyed in his society. He first paid her a slight and delicate compliment on her beauty, which he introduced in a description of his own countrywomen and the Italians. He told her how much he admired all he had heard of England, and seen of Malta; he drew out her opinion on several subjects, and a little account of her life, and then excited her curiosity about himself.
"But how is it that, being a Greek, you speak Italian so well?" she asked.
This was just what he expected; he wished to tell her his history, but could not volunteer to do so.
"Ah, signora, it is a long story, and would fatigue you; but thus much I may tell you:—You know the misery, the abject slavery to which my beautiful, my noble country was so long subjected beneath the iron despotism of the infidel Turks. Our fathers contrived to live under it, or the present race would not have been born to avenge them. We were rapidly becoming extinct as a nation; our religion languished—our education was totally neglected. My father, however, the late Prince of Graditza, also Argiri Caramitzo, was a man superior to those around him, and determining that I, his eldest son, should have the advantage of a good education, he sent me to the famous university of Pisa, in Tuscany. I there acquired the language of Italy in its purest form; but, unhappily, I almost learned to forget my own country—I formed friendships with those among whom I lived. I not only learned to talk, but to think as an Italian, and I was even ignorant of the gallant struggle which had commenced in Greece. This was owing to the affection of my parents, who, knowing that my disposition would have prompted me instantly to throw myself wherever danger was the greatest, did not inform me of what was taking place, and when they suspected that I must have heard something on the subject, assured me that my presence would be useless, and urged me to remain where I was. Alas! I listened to their well-meant deceit, till news was brought me that my noble father had been slain in combat with the enemies of our country, and that my mother had died of grief at his loss. Then, indeed, the truth was made known to me, and, rousing myself for action, I hastened to fly to the country, where I felt that the presence of even the meanest of her brave sons was required. Alas! I found that the means of quitting Italy were wanting—I was in debt, and no funds had been transmitted to me. I contrived to exist; for my friends were kind, but innumerable delays occurred before the money I sent for arrived, and I am only now on my way to Greece—my native land, the mother of the arts and sciences, the country of Socrates and Plato, of Alexander and Aristides, the battle-fields of Thermopylae and Marathon. Ah, signora, Greece once contained all that is noble and great, and brave—what she once was, such she will be again—when we, her brave sons, have regenerated her, when we have driven forth the accursed Turk, never more to set his foot upon our sacred shore, except as a slave, and a bondman. Ah, this is the patriot's wish—his dream by night, his hope by day. This is the bond of union which now unites the hearts of our countrymen in one great feeling—a deadly hatred of the Turk—time is coming, and will shortly arrive when Greece, brightly and freshly burnished, will come forth a model of a perfect republic to all the nations of the earth. You are happy, signora, in going to the neighbourhood, that you may watch the progress of the glorious work."
Ada listened, and her cheek glowed with animation, for she was an enthusiast in the cause of the Greeks. She looked at the prince, and thought him a noble patriot.
The Greek intended that she should do so. He was struck by her beauty, and every instant he felt his admiration for her increasing.
A second time she accepted the prince's hand, in preference, however, only to that of Captain Dunnup, and she became the envy of the room, for numberless fair ladies were dying to dance with the handsome prince.
The Greek stranger was accompanied to the ball-room by a young man of very striking appearance, though of a slighter figure, and not as tall as himself. He spoke of him as his particular friend, the Count Montifalcone, who was on his way with him to join those struggling for Grecian independence. His manners were elegant: but he appeared to be very bashful, or diffident; and, at all events, appeared very much disinclined to enter into conversation. The Greek, however, introduced his Italian friend to Miss Garden; and though, at first, he was very much reserved, as he gazed at her animated and lovely countenance, he appeared to gain courage, and warmly entered into conversation on the beauty of his native Italy, and her superiority in works of arts over all other countries. It seemed curious to her that although he was going out to join the Greeks, he should show so little interest, as he appeared to do, on the subject of Greece, her wrongs and prospects. He danced, however, but once with Miss Garden nor did he, during the course of the evening, attempt to gain an introduction to any one else; but continued to watch her, at a distance, wherever she moved, and was evidently much struck with her beauty.
Many remarked the grave and silent young Italian as he stood, with his arms folded on his breast, endeavouring to conceal himself among the crowd, or leaned, apparently lost in reflection, against the door-post at the entrance to the room, in which she happened to be. His Greek friend seemed so much engaged, that he scarcely noticed him, and though Captain Dunnup exchanged a few words with him occasionally, he spoke to no one else, nor did he seem anxious to do so.
With a glowing cheek and sparkling eye she listened as he advocated, in ardent language, the cause of his native land, and her heart beat with enthusiasm.
"Oh! if I were a man, nothing should prevent me from hurrying to join the sacred ranks of your liberators!" she exclaimed.
"With such an advocate we must succeed," returned the Greek, bowing. "Some of your noble countrymen, it is said, have already joined the patriot force; and, lady, when in the thick of the combat, fighting for Grecian liberty, I shall remember your words, and feel that your prayers are aiding us."
Ada listened to the softly-flowing expressions of the voluble prince, and believed him to be a perfect patriot. Had she known a little more of the world, she might have thought otherwise, and yet, who can say, that while the prince was speaking to her, he did not feel all he expressed. New hopes, feelings, and aspirations rushed into his mind, elevating and purifying it—a glorious future might yet be in store for his country and himself—and while he remained by her side, the force of those sensations continued. It was with unwillingness, and even pain, that he was obliged to yield her up again to Captain Fleetwood, who was naturally on the watch to monopolise her whenever he could. How the prince hated the English Captain—for he soon saw that, though Miss Garden listened to his own honeyed words with pleasure, her heart was in the safe keeping of one whom he, all of a sudden, chose to consider as his rival.
"No matter," he muttered. "I must teach her to forget him."
He sauntered about the room for a short time by himself, paying little attention to the fair ladies who surrounded him, and it must be owned, was sadly indifferent to the charms of most of them. He then sought Colonel Gauntlett, whom he endeavoured to engage in conversation. It was certainly of a peculiar nature, and the meaning was not always clear to either party; but he gleaned much useful information, and suggested many things to the colonel in return. Among other pieces of advice, he recommended him to carry as much gold as he could with him, telling him that he would find it more convenient than bills. He strongly advised him also to keep it in his trunks, as they, in case of shipwreck, would more probably be saved than other things. It is extraordinary how very attentive and full of forethought he was.
The ball was at length over. Jack Raby and Jemmy Duff vowed that they had never enjoyed themselves more in their lives, thanks to their captain's management; and they had made an agreement to introduce one another to each other's partners, and, at the same time, to puff off each other's wealth and connections, which plan they found answer very satisfactorily.
The Prince Caramitzo, as he threw a sea-cloak over his shoulder in front of the hotel, took the arm of Captain Dunnup, and warmly pressed his hand.
"I have much reason to thank you for your politeness, sir, and shall be glad to welcome you to Greece."
The captain expressed his satisfaction at having been useful to him, and signified the very great probability there was of his shortly having to pay a visit to that country, at all events, of having to leave Malta. They then parted with mutual expressions of esteem.
The Greek then took the arm of his Italian friend, and together they sauntered down the street, every now and then stopping to ascertain whether any person from the ball was watching where they went.
Captain Fleetwood walked to his lodgings in an unusually melancholy humour. He had forebodings of disaster, which even his strong mind could not at once overcome, though he knew they arose from being fatigued and worried.
To-morrow he must take his farewell of his beloved Ada for an indefinite period; for, though he intended to hurry back from England as soon as possible, he knew that numberless events might occur to delay him. He had also ventured to speak to Colonel Gauntlett, for the first time, of his love for his niece; and the reception he had met with from the old gentleman was, as might be expected, most unsatisfactory.
The colonel and Ada were driving home together: she had not spoken, for she could not trust her voice.
"Niece," said the colonel, stamping with his stick at the bottom of the carriage, as if to arouse her, "you were talking and dancing a great deal too much with that young naval man—that Captain Fleetwood—and after what I said to you at the commencement of the evening, I consider such conduct highly reprehensible."
"I confess I spoke to him a great deal this evening," answered the poor girl, in a tremulous voice. "I hoped that you would not blame me, as he said that he would speak to you and explain everything."
"Well, young lady, he did speak to me, and a damned impertinent thing he said, too. He had the folly—the outrageous, unconscionable folly—to ask me to allow you to marry him!" exclaimed the colonel in a husky voice, again almost driving his stick through the bottom of the carriage. "He had the folly; but I was not fool enough to accede to it—I refused him, young woman. And now, never let me hear his name mentioned again."
With a sad heart Ada placed her head on her pillow, and, with a sadder still, she rose on the following morning to prepare for her voyage.
The crew of the Sicilian speronara were busily engaged the whole fore part of the day in discharging the small quantity of cargo, consisting chiefly of corn and other provisions, with which their vessel was laden.
When this was done she immediately cleared out at the custom-house, and without any of her crew having even visited the shore, she got up her anchor, and commenced making sail. The long tapering yard of her foresail was first hoisted, and its folds of white canvas let fall, and when her head paid round, her mainsail was next got on her, and sheeted home. Instead, however, of running out of the harbour, as it at first appeared she was about to do, after she had gone a little distance, just between Fort Saint Angelo and Fort Ricasoli, she hauled her foresail to windward, and hove to. The probable cause of this was soon explained, for a small boat was seen to dart out from beneath the fortifications of Valetta, and to take its way across the harbour towards her, carrying a person in the stern-sheets, wrapped up in a cloak, with a broad-brimmed hat shading his features. The hat may not have been worn for the purpose of disguise, for the rays of the sun, striking down full upon the water, were very ardent, and there was good reason for its being worn to protect him from their fury; but there was not quite so much for the use of the cloak, unless, following the Italian fashion, he carried that also over his shoulders for the same reason. The boat ran alongside the speronara, when the person, whoever he was, stepped out, and the foresail being let draw, the beautiful little craft stood out of the harbour. The boat on its return was found to belong to the boatman Manuel, who, being questioned as to the person he had conveyed on board the speronara, declared that he had not the slightest notion who he was—that he had never before seen his face, and that he could not tell whether he was an Englishman, an Italian, or a Frenchman, but that he thought the former. He said, all he knew was, that he had come down to the shore and engaged his boat, and as he had paid him well for the job, it was not his business to make further inquiries. The general opinion was, that he was some person making his escape from his creditors; but by the time the proper authorities were informed of the supposed fact, and the necessary measures taken to ascertain its truth, the delinquent was far beyond their reach.
The wind was about north-west—there was a nice fresh breeze, and supposing that the speronara was bound for Syracuse, she could, hauling as close to the wind as she was able to do, easily lay her course for that port. Either, however, she was carelessly steered, or she was bound to some port in Italy, for, after hauling round Saint Elmo, she fell off considerably from the wind, and finally, when she might have been supposed to have got beyond the range of observation of those on shore, who were not likely to take much notice of so insignificant a little craft, and of so ordinary a rig, she eased off both her sheets, and, with the wind on her larboard quarter, indeed, almost astern, ran out into the offing. By this course she crossed in a short time the mouth of the harbour; and though at a considerable distance, she was enabled to watch any vessel coming out.
Her movements, however, were not totally unobserved, for Captain Fleetwood, who had called at the house of Colonel Gauntlett, early in the morning, in the vain hope of seeing Ada, was returning in a disconsolate mood along the ramparts, and meditating in what way his duty should direct him to proceed, when his eye fell on the speronara, hove-to directly below him, Manuel's boat just touching her side.
As he had, like most naval officers, a remarkably good glass in his pocket, he directed it towards the little vessel, and among the people on her deck he fancied that he distinguished the figure of the stranger who had paid so much attention to Ada on the previous evening. Now, as he understood that that gentleman was about to sail immediately for Greece, he was naturally surprised, indeed so unlikely did it appear, that he thought he must be mistaken. Although he was very far from being of a suspicious disposition, yet combining the manner in which the stranger had gone on board, and the doubtful character of the craft herself, he determined to watch her movements.
Another cause also combined to create very extraordinary suspicions in his mind respecting the character of the stranger, who had made his appearance so suddenly in Malta. On his way to Colonel Gauntlett's residence, that morning, he had passed the office of the chief of the harbour police, and on looking in to speak a word with Captain S—, he found him engaged in examining three Greek merchants, who stated that the vessel in which they were making a passage from Athens to Sicily, had been plundered by a well-known pirate of the name of Zappa, and that he had appeared on board their vessel; that they had spoken to him, and that they felt almost confident that they had seen the same person, without any disguise, in a coffee-house in Valetta on the previous evening. They acknowledged, that though at first they had no doubt of his identity, yet that when he came up to them, and entered into conversation, they were staggered in their belief; but that after he had disappeared it again occurred to them with greater force than ever, that he must be the man they at first thought. When convinced of this they immediately set out in the hopes of falling in with him, and with the intention of handing him over to the police; but they were unsuccessful in their search, and when, after many inquiries, they learned before whom they should make their depositions, it was too late in the day to see any one. After sleeping on the subject, they were as strong in their opinion as on the previous night, and the first thing in the morning they had come, they said, to make their statement. Captain S— listened attentively. He told them that he thought they must be mistaken as to the identity of the person, as he could not believe that a pirate would have the audacity to venture into Valetta; particularly just after he had committed a daring act of piracy. The Greeks shrugged their shoulders, but asserted that from what they had heard of Zappa, they believed him capable of any act of hardihood.
"At all events," observed Captain S—, "I will take your description of the gentleman. Figure tall, features regular, eyes large and animated, hair black, and slight curling moustache—not a bad-looking fellow for a cut-throat, at all events. I will order the police instantly to go in search of him, and if he can be found, of which I have no doubt, we will examine him, and confront him with you; and if he turns out to be Signor Zappa, he will, probably, before many days are over, be hanging up alongside Captain Delano and his shipmates."
The Greeks were satisfied that they were right, and on their retiring, officers were instantly despatched in search of the supposed pirate. The result of their inquiries Captain Fleetwood had not yet learned; but the description given by the Greeks answered so exactly to that of the Prince Argiri Caramitzo, whom he had met at the ball the previous night, that he could not help being struck by it.
"I did not altogether like the style of the fellow," he muttered to himself. "He is good-looking enough, certainly; but there was an impudent, sinister expression about his countenance which one does not observe in that of an honest man. I wonder, too, what right he has to the title of prince. There are some few chiefs in Greece, who call themselves princes, but they are very rare. Who they are can easily be ascertained, and I must learn if such a title exists. Let me see, he was introduced, too, by that fellow Dunnup. He is a mauvais sujet I suspect, and I should fight very shy of his friends at all events. What could have taken the gentleman on board that craft then! That puzzles me! I must see to it."
Accordingly when the speronara let draw her foresail, and stood out of the harbour, he retraced his steps along the ramparts towards port Saint Elmo, to a position whence he could command a clear view to seaward.
"She is a pretty lively craft that," he observed to himself, as he saw, with the pleased eye of a seaman, the rapid way in which the vessel glided over the crisp curling waves. "The fellows know how to handle her too; but what is she about now, I wonder? I thought, by the way she first steered, she was bound for Sicily, but there she goes running off to the south-east. I cannot be mistaken." And he took a scrutinising glance at her with his telescope. "Yes, that is her, there can be no doubt about the matter."
Now love makes most men sharp-witted in everything regarding the object of their affection, and Captain Fleetwood was certainly not a man to be less so than any other person.
The sudden change in the course of the speronara had given rise in his mind to sundry suspicions. They were not very serious, and probably, under other circumstances, he would not have entertained them; but he was out of spirits and fatigued, and he could not help connecting the movements of the speronara with the sailing of the Zodiac, on board which vessel Ada and her uncle were that evening to commence their voyage. He did not, however, suppose that a craft of her character would venture to attack an armed brig of the size of the Zodiac, unless she could take her by surprise, nor could she have any chance of success against so brave and good a seaman as Captain. Bowse, and so fine a crew as his; but at the same time he thought it would be more prudent to let him know what he had seen, and urge him to be on his guard against the speronara.
"I never heard of one of those fellows committing piracy—probably he is up to some smuggling trick—perhaps he expects to fall in with some vessel, and will take her goods out of her during the night, to run them on the Sicilian or Italian coast; perhaps to put that good-looking fellow of a Greek prince, if that is him, on board some craft or other bound eastward. However, I must speak to Bowse about it. I wish to heaven I might sail and convoy the brig; but the admiral would not give me leave if I was to ask him—he would only think it was an excuse to be near Miss Garden."
These thoughts passed through his mind as he hurried down to the quay, where his boat was waiting for him, and jumping into her, he started for the Zodiac. He had made the acquaintance of the honest master, on finding that the colonel and his niece were going by his vessel, and he had been every day on board to assist in arranging Ada's cabin, and to suggest many little alterations which might conduce to her comfort and convenience.
Captain Bowse was on board with every preparation made for sailing, and only awaited the arrival of his passengers. The master of the Zodiac heard the account given by the naval officer without any alarm, though at the same time he owned that there was some cause for suspicion; and he promised to keep a sharp look-out, and to take all the precaution in his power to prevent being surprised. When he heard that the Greek stranger had gone on board the speronara, he remembered the visit of a personage answering his description, on the previous evening, to his vessel, and he felt glad that he had not been induced to take him.
"The chances are, if the fellow be a rogue, that he saw that there would be no use trying to do anything with the Zodiac and he has gone to lay his plots against some other craft," he observed. "That's my view of the case, sir, and I don't think that you need at all alarm yourself about the safety of your friends. But although we are safe ourselves, that is no reason that we should not think of others; and if I was you, sir, I would make inquiries about the strange gentleman, and give notice to the authorities of what you have observed. You can tell, sir, of his wanting to take a passage to Greece, on board here, and then shipping off suddenly in a Sicilian craft. There may be nothing in it; but there may be something; and to my mind it's as well never to trust to a rope with a strand gone."
Wishing a prosperous voyage to the master, and again cautioning him to be careful, Captain Fleetwood stepped into his gig, and had got some little distance, when he saw a large boat approaching, which he divined contained her he loved best on earth, with her uncle and his attendants. How could he resist the temptation of seeing and speaking to her once more? so, giving his boat a sweep, he pulled round to the other side of the Zodiac, from that on which the gangway ladder was shipped, and lay on his oars, trusting to the chance of seeing Ada on deck, while her uncle was below.
There were fewer packages than most families travel with, for the colonel was a martinet, and would allow none of his womankind, as he called them, to have more traps than was absolutely necessary; and thus no time was lost in getting the party and their goods on board. Besides the colonel and his niece, there was a little Maltese girl, as an attendant, and the colonel's own man, Mitchell, who, like his master, was a character not unworthy of note. Bowse, who understood pretty well the state of affairs, soon contrived to get the colonel below, while he detained Ada on deck, and then pointing out Captain Fleetwood's boat to her, beckoned him on board. He was much too judicious to show in any other way that he was aware of the feelings of the parties; but leaving them together, he rejoined the colonel in the cabin, determined to keep him there as long as he could, showing him the arrangements made for his convenience. Little did the old gentleman think, that when praising many of them, he was indebted for them to the man for whom he had conceived so hearty an aversion. What the lovers said need not be told. Those few moments were sweet but sad, and both felt that they would on no account have missed them. Ada again assured him that nothing should induce her to give him up, and he repeated his promise to hasten and claim her in spite of all opposition. The appearance of Bowse's honest face up the companion-ladder was the signal for him to tear himself away from her, and he had just time to get over the side, when the colonel appeared on deck.
"What are you gazing at there, missie?" he asked, as he saw her, soon after, looking up the harbour. "Oh, ay, thinking of your partners at the ball, I suppose." She did not answer; but as she turned her face with a reproachful look at her uncle, her eyes were full of tears.
As soon as Bowse came on deck, he gave the signal to weigh. The cable was already hove short, the topsails were loose. The men went about the work with alacrity, and in a style very different to that of merchant seamen in general. They were all prime hands, mostly old men-of-war's men turned adrift, as ships were paid off, and had all before served with Bowse.
He carried on the duty, therefore, as far as circumstances would allow, in the fashion to which they had been accustomed, and to which they willingly submitted. The brig was consequently looked upon as as fine a vessel as any sailing out of the port of London. To the cheery sound of the pipe, they manned the capstan bars, and singing in chorus to a merry strain, away they ran swiftly round. A hand was sent to the helm, and the mate was on the forecastle.
"Heave and away," he sung out, as the cable appearing up and down showed that the anchor was under the forefoot. As the wind blew out of the harbour, the jib and fore-topmast-staysail were now hoisted to cast her. With renewed exertions the crew hove round, and the shout they uttered gave the signal that they had dragged the anchor from the bottom. The bow of the vessel feeling the power of her head sails, now paid slowly off.
"Heave and in sight," the mate next sung out, as the anchor appeared above water. Another turn ran it up to the bows. The foretopsail was next sheeted home and hoisted, and the head yards braced forward to help her round more quickly. In the meantime the anchor was catted and fished ready for sea, and as the wind came abaft the beam, the head yards were squared, and the fore-clew-garnets being let run, the ponderous folds of the foresail were allowed to fall towards the deck, just as the wind was brought right aft. Both sheets were then hauled aft, and the increasing breeze no longer finding escape beneath it, blew it out in a graceful swell which made it appear as if it were about to lift the vessel bodily out of the water to carry her gliding over the waves. The fore-topmast-staysail, no longer being of use, was hauled down, and her fore-topgallantsail and royal, with the after sail, were next set, followed by studden-sails on either side, till the brig presented the appearance of a tall tower of white canvas shining brightly in the rays of the sun, which was setting directly astern, and which threw on them, in confused lines of tracery-work, the shadows of the masts, their respective shrouds and running rigging.
Ada, who would not be persuaded by her uncle to go below, as he said, to get her out of harm's way, looked on with deep interest at these proceedings, and with admiration at the method by which, in so short a time, so beautiful a fabric could be raised. Ada delighted in everything connected with the sea. She was a sailor's daughter, and she loved a sailor; but even before she had known Captain Fleetwood she felt an affection for things nautical, and certainly he had done much to increase her regard. She enjoyed too the physical pleasures of the sea, the fresh free breeze, and the light dancing wave, which to her was a source of no inconvenience. While others suffered, she was on deck enjoying existence to the full. It is true that she had as yet only seen the ocean in its summer dress, and except from the experience of a short gale, which she looked upon rather as giving a zest to the pleasure of a voyage, she knew little of its wintry tempests, its dangers and horrors. Bowse observed the interest she took in all that was going forward, and, like a true sailor, felt as much gratified as if she was his own daughter, and under his especial protection. Jack, the cabin-boy, was coiling away a rope near him, and beckoning to him, he sent him down for a comfortable chair, which, on its appearance, he placed before her.
"There, miss," he observed, "I think you will be able, more at your ease, to sit and look at the little island we are leaving behind us. It's always a pleasure to take the last look at the place we are going from."
Ada thanked him with a sweet smile for the chair which he had judiciously placed on the starboard side of the poop, and looking partly aft, so that she could command a full view of the harbour, where the Ione lay, and of the fortifications of Valetta. The Zodiac was now running out between forts Saint Elmo and Ricasoli; and as she cleared the former, she felt the wind drawing rather more to the northward. Her yards were, therefore, braced forward, and her mainsail hauled out; and now with the wind on her quarter, a point in which every sail a square-rigged vessel can carry draws best, with a fine rattling breeze she rapidly left the shores of Malta astern.
Never did a vessel leave port under more propitious circumstances than did the Zodiac, with a fair, steady breeze, a smooth sea, and at a time of the year when there was every prospect of the continuance of fine weather.
As Bowse walked the deck with a spy-glass under his arm in man-of-war fashion, a smile of contentment lit up his honest countenance, and glistened in his eye; and as he felt the freshening breeze fanning his cheek, and lifting his vessel, as it were, he began to laugh at his momentary suspicions about the character of the speronara and her crew. Every now and then he would stop in his walk, and would look over the side to judge how fast the vessel was going through the water, or he would examine the compasses to assure himself that they were true, or he would cast his eye aloft to see how his sails drew, or his clear, full voice would be heard issuing some necessary order for the government of the ship.
Even Colonel Gauntlett could not help expressing his satisfaction at the propitious commencement of their voyage, as he stopped in his short and otherwise silent walk on the poop to address a few words to the master.
Ada sat silently in her chair, gazing on the fast-receding shore; and it is not surprising that her thoughts were fixed on him who was, she felt sure, even then watching, from its most extreme point, the bark which bore her away. Her little Maltese maid, Marianna, stood by her side with tears in her bright eyes, and gazing her last for an indefinite time on the land of her birth, and where all her affections were centred, except those which had lately arisen for her young mistress.
The colonel's man, not knowing exactly where he ought to be, being too dignified, at first, to mix with the men forward, and astonished and confused at manoeuvres which he could not comprehend, as is generally the case with his class, always managed to get exactly where he was most in the way.
"Port a little, you may, my son," said the master to the man at the helm; "steady, so, keep her. East-and-by-north is the course," pronouncing the north with a strong emphasis on the O, and without the R—as if it were spelt Nothe. "Just get a gentle pull on our weather-braces, Mr Timmins," to the mate. "The wind's drawing a little more aft again. We're making her walk along, sir," to the colonel. "She's not going less than six knots an hour, I'll warrant, which, with this light wind, is not bad for a craft of her build—she's no clipper, I own, sir. Heave the log here. I dare say you'll like to be certain, miss," turning to Ada, as he thought the operation would amuse her.
The second mate and two hands came aft with the log-line and reel. Bowse took a half-minute glass from the binnacle, and watching till all the sand had run into one end, held it up before him. The seamen, meantime, held the reel up before him, so as to allow it to turn easily in his hands, and the mate, taking the little triangular bit of wood, called the log-ship, adjusted the peg, and drew off, with a peculiar jerk of his left hand, several coils of the stray-line, which he held for a moment over the quarter of the vessel, till he saw that his chief was ready with the glass, and he then hove it over into the water. The first part of the line is called the stray-line, and its object is to allow the log-ship to settle properly in the water, as well as to take it clear of the eddy. As soon as this part had run out, a cloth mark ran through the mate's fingers. "Turn," he exclaimed. "Turn," repeated the master, and turned the glass. The marks rapidly passed through the mate's hand, as he jerked the line of the reel, always keeping it at a stretch.
"Stop," sung out Bowse, as the sand had run out of the upper end of the glass.
"Done," said the mate, and stopped the line.
He had not to count the knots run off, for his experienced eye was able to tell the number by the mark on the line. It must be understood that this line is divided into a certain number of equal parts, each of which bears the same proportion to a mile, which thirty seconds do to an hour, and therefore, as the log-ship remains stationary in the water, according to the number of these proportions dragged through, while the sand is running, so is shown how many miles or knots the vessel is going through the water.
"Six and a quarter," exclaimed the mate. "That's what I call good going for a ship with a full cargo, in a breeze like this."
"That's what we call heaving the log, Miss Garden," said the master, who had been explaining the use of the log, though in not quite so succinct a way as I have attempted to do. "You'll be able to turn the glass another time, I'm sure."
The glass runs, in reality, only for twenty-eight seconds, as two are considered to be employed in turning it.
Ada, who enjoyed an advantage over the reader, by having the operation performed before her eyes, answered that she clearly understood it, and would always, in future, hold the glass.
"By this calculation, you see, miss, as it is just two hours since we passed Fort Saint Elmo, we have run exactly twelve knots and a half off the reel; though we didn't go through the water so fast at first, as we are now doing. However, by the look of the land, I calculate we are not much less than that off it. You see we call miles—knots, miss, on account of the knots which are marked on the line. When we can just see the last of some conspicuous point, we shall take its bearing by compass and its distance, and then I shall commence pricking the ship's course off on the chart, and that is what we call taking our departure. Now you see there's many people on shore would fancy that when we left the port we took our departure; but the ties which bind a seaman to the shore, and to those we leave behind, are not so quickly parted as they may think, you see, miss." And the honest master, chuckling at one of the first attempts at wit and gallantry of which he had ever been guilty, thought the next instant he blushed at his own audacity.
"It's surprising, miss, what funny mistakes them who never leave the land make about seafaring concerns; but then, what can you expect of them? they know no better," he added, in a tone showing the deep commiseration he felt for the ignorance of landsmen. "To say that they don't know the stem from the stern, isn't to say anything. They know nothing about a ship, how she's built, how she sails, or what she's like. The last voyage I made I had a passenger on board who was a cleverish sort of gentleman, too, and for talking politics he'd go on for an hour; yet he wanted to know why I couldn't bring the ship to an anchor right out in the Bay of Biscay; and one night, when it was blowing a stiffish gale, with a heavy sea running, he roused me out of my sleep to ask me to send a better hand to the helm; one who knew how to keep the craft steady, or else to run into some harbour till the morning. He never could get it out of his head that he was not in the Thames. Now, miss, I see that you are not one of those sort of people, and that you will soon know all about a ship, though you may not just yet be able to act the captain. To-morrow I'll show you how to shoot the sun, as we tell greenhorns we are doing, when we take an observation with the quadrant. It's a very pretty instrument, and you will be pleased to know how to use it."
"I shall like very much to learn all you can teach me, Captain Bowse," answered Ada, making a great effort to rouse herself from the feeling of sadness which oppressed her. "I wonder how mariners managed to traverse, as they did, the most distant seas, before these instruments were invented."
"They used to trust more to the sun and stars, and to their lead reckoning, than they do now, I suppose, miss," answered the master. "Even now, there's many a man in charge of a vessel who never takes more than a meridional observation, if even that; and having found his latitude, runs down the longitude by dead reckoning. Some even go about to many distant parts entirely by rule of guess, and it is extraordinary how often they hit their point. Now and then, to be sure, they find themselves two or three hundred miles out of their course, and sometimes they get the ship cast away. I have, too, met vessels out in the Atlantic which had entirely lost their reckoning, and had not the slightest notion where they were. Once, I remember, when I belonged to the Harkaway frigate, coming home from the Brazils, we sighted a Spanish man-of-war corvette. When we got up to her we hove to, and an officer came on board who could speak a little English; and you would scarcely believe it, but the first thing he did was to ask us for the latitude and longitude; and he confessed that the only instruments they had on board were out of repair, and, for what I know, the only man who knew how to use them was ill. Our captain then sent an officer on board the corvette, and a pretty condition she was in for a man-of-war. They had a governor of some place as a passenger, and his wife and family, and two or three other ladies and their families; and there they were all lying about the decks in a state of despair, thinking they were never to see land again. They had been a whole month tossing about in every direction, and not knowing how to find the way home. The decks were as dirty as if they had not been holystoned or swept all that time; not a sail was properly set, not a rope flemished down. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I could not have believed such a thing possible. Our appearance raised their spirits a little, and they began putting themselves to rights as soon as they had made sail on their course. They kept company with us till we got into the latitude of Cadiz, for their craft sailed very well, for all that they did not know how to handle her, and I believe that they managed to get into port in safety at last."
"I am surprised at what you tell me," observed Miss Garden, "I should have thought the Spaniards could not have so totally forgotten their ancient naval renown as to allow such dreadful ignorance to exist."
"The men are active, intelligent fellows enough, and the officers in the merchant service are, from what I have seen, very good seamen; but since the war, their navy has been much neglected, and men were made officers who did not know the stem from the stern of the ship, just because they happened to be some poor dependent of one of their nobles, or the son of a valet out of place. Things are mending a little now with them, I hear."
"I wonder any but such beggarly fellows as you speak of can be induced to go into the navy at all," said the colonel, who had been listening to the master's story, and was far from pleased at the interest Ada took in what he said. "For my part, I would as soon be a shoe-black; but you seem determined to give my niece a dose of the sea."
"Oh, yes, sir!" answered Bowse, perfectly indifferent to the colonel's ill-temper; "I hope we shall make the young lady a first-rate sailor before long."
"I hope you will do no such thing, Mr Bowse; she thinks a great deal too much about it already," returned the colonel, taking another turn aft.
"Indeed I do not, uncle," replied Ada, as he came back, in a half-playful tone, calculated to disarm his anger. "You must acknowledge that the scene before us is very beautiful and enjoyable. Look at that blue and joyous sea, how the waves leap and curl as if in sport, their crests just fringed with sparkling bubbles of snow-white foam, which, in the freshness of their new-born existence, seem inclined to take wing into the air—then, what can be more bright and clear than the expanse of sky above us, or more pure than the breeze which wafts us along. Look, too, at the blue, misty hills of our dear Malta, just rising from the water. What mere mole-hills those wild rocks now seem. And then that glorious mass of glowing fire which spreads far and wide round the sun as he sinks into that clear outline of sea; and distant though it seems, sends its reflection across the waves even up to the very ship itself. Ah! if one could but secure that orange tinge, one might gaze at it unwearied all day long. See, also, the dark, fantastically-shaped spots on the ocean as the sails of the distant vessels appear between us and the sun, like evil spirits gliding about the ocean to cause shipwrecks and disaster; while again, on the opposite quarter, the canvas appears of snowy whiteness, just catching the last rays of the light-giving orb of day, and we would fain believe them benign beings hovering over the ocean, to protect us poor mortals from the malign influences of their antagonists; while our proud ship glides majestically along in solitary grandeur, casting indignantly aside the waves which it seems to rule, like some mighty monarch galloping over the broad domains which own him as their lord. Come, uncle, can you deny the correctness of my description? And I am sure Captain Bowse will agree with me."
She laughed playfully at her attempts at a description of the scene surrounding them, and which she had purposely made as long as she could find words to go on with, well-knowing the effect which her own sweet voice exercised in calming the habitual irritation of her uncle.
"A pretty bit of jargon you have managed to string together," said the colonel, looking more amiable than he had before done, "and that is what I suppose you call a poetical description, missie. Well, as it does not convey a bad idea of what we have before our eyes, it must pass for something of the sort, I suppose. What do you say, Mister Bowse?"
Now, although Bowse had not entirely comprehended all that Ada had said, he felt that he was called on to give an answer, and accordingly looked round the horizon, as if to satisfy himself that her description was correct. He had taken a survey of the whole expanse of the sea to the westward, and his eye had gradually swept round to the east, when, instead of turning round to answer, he kept it fixed on a distant spot just seen over the weather or larboard bow. Shifting his position a little, he placed his telescope to his eye, and took a steady gaze.
"That's her, I can't help thinking," he muttered. "But what she wants out there, I can't say."
To the surprise of Ada, he walked forward, and called his mate to his side.
"Here, Mr Timmins, just tell me what you think of that chap out there, over the weather cat-head," he said, giving his officer the glass.
The mate took the instrument, and looked as he was directed.
"She's a lateen-rigged craft standing on a wind athwart our course, sir," answered the mate instantly, as if there was no difficulty in ascertaining thus much.
"That one may see with half an eye, Mr Timmins; but do you see nothing unusual about her?"
"I can't say that I see any difference between her and the craft, which one is always meeting with in these seas," answered the mate. "Her canvas stands well, and looks very white as we see her beam almost on to us. She seems one of those vessels with a name I never could manage to speak, which trade along the coast of Sicily and Italy, and come over to Malta."
"By the way she is standing, she will pass at no great distance to leeward of us, and if she was to haul up a little, she would just about reach us," observed the master in a tone of interrogation.
"Just about it, sir," replied the mate.
"Well, then, Mr Timmins, keep your eye on her, and when we get near her, if there is still light enough left to make her out, tell me if you have ever seen her before."
The mate, somewhat surprised at the directions his chief had given him, prepared, however, to obey them, and while he superintended the people on deck, he constantly kept his telescope fixed on the stranger. A quarter of an hour or twenty minutes might have passed, when, after taking a longer scrutiny than before, he suddenly turned round, and walked to where his commander was standing.
"I know her, sir," he exclaimed. "She is no other than the craft which nearly ran foul of us yesterday, and which went out of harbour this morning. She had two outlandish-looking chaps as passengers; and one of them came on board in the evening to talk about taking a passage to Greece. I remember him well, sir, though I did not say anything to you."
"You are right, Mr Timmins, it's her, there's no doubt," said Bowse. "We'll give her a wide berth, for there seems to be something suspicious about her," and he mentioned what Captain Fleetwood had said to him. "I don't think the chap would dare to attack us; but, with females on board, it's as well to be cautious. We'll haul up a little by degrees, not to make it remarkable, so as to pass to windward of him, and have the guns loaded and run out, just as a matter of course, in the Mediterranean, tell the people. I don't want to have any talking about it, you know; for it will all be moonshine, I suspect. Look you, too, have the small arms and cutlasses up on deck, just to overhaul them, as it were. The studden-sails must come in, at all events; it won't do to be carrying on at night as if we had fifty hands in a watch instead of five. Now let the people knock off work."
"Ay, ay, sir," answered the mate, and, without the slightest appearance of hurry, he set to work to obey his commander's orders.
The crew, who had been employed beyond the usual hour in getting the ship to right, finished stowing away everything that was loose, and got the hatches on over the cargo. One after another the studden-sails, which had been extended beyond the yard-arms came flying down like huge white birds from their lofty perches, the moment the halyards and sheets were let go, and, as they bulged out, they looked as if they were about to sail off before the wind ahead of the vessel. As all hands were wanted for the work, Bowse clapped on himself, petting a rope into even Mitchell's hands, and in a short time the Zodiac, stripped of her wings, was brought under more easy-working canvas. The lee-braces were then flattened in a little, and the helm being put a few strokes to starboard, she headed up towards the north. While the mate was following the other directions he had given, Bowse again brought his glass to bear on the speronara, and, while so doing, his eye was attracted to a sail which appeared in the horizon, and which he at once knew to be a square-rigged vessel. From its height, too, above the water, and its faint outline, he judged her to be a ship or a brig of some size. He had, indeed, remarked her some time before, and it now occurred to him that she had not altered her position since first seen. It would therefore appear that she was standing the same course as the Zodiac; but as they neared her rapidly, such could scarcely be the case, and he, now seeing that her head was turned towards them, could only come to the conclusion that she was hove to. He calculated, also, that the speronara, supposing that she had, for some time, steered the same course she was now on, must have passed close to her.
The idea came into the master's head more as a matter of speculation than because any further suspicions occurred to him, for the probability of those he still entertained being correct, he thought so very slight, that he was almost vexed with himself for acting on them; and had it not been for his promise to Captain Fleetwood, he most likely would have done so. That the speronara, now to leeward of him, was the self-same craft he had seen in Malta harbour, he could, however, no longer entertain a doubt. He had noted her long, low hull, with overhanging stern and high bow, the great length of her tapering yards, and the way her immense lateen sails stood; there was also a peculiar dark mark on the cloth next to the outer leech of her foresail, near the head of the yard, which was unmistakable, and when he could clearly see that her identity would be proved. As he now brought his glass again to bear on the speronara, he saw that as the Zodiac was brought on a wind, she was immediately hauled close on it, so that, notwithstanding the change he had made in his course, she might still pass, if she liked, even to windward of him, unless she also chose to hug the wind as he had done. On seeing this, the spirit of the British sailor was roused within him.
"Oh, hang it," he muttered. "I'm not going to be altering my course for fear of a rascally Italian piccaroon, if such that fellow should be. If he chooses to come near us, he must take the consequences. We'll show him that we've got some bulldogs on board who can bark pretty well if they like. But I forgot the young lady, and the little Smaitch girl with her. It won't do to let them run any risk of being hurt, should the villains begin by firing into us before they speak, as is the fashion of the cowards. I must manage to get them down below without frightening them."
Having arrived at the conclusion of these cogitations, Bowse approached to where the colonel and his niece were sitting; the young lady employed in gazing on the sea, while he was looking with somewhat an inquiring eye at the preparations carrying on under the mate's superintendence on deck.
"Don't you think the young lady had better go below, out of the way of the damp, sir," began Bowse, puzzled what excuse to make.
"Damp! surely there's none to hurt me," said Ada, looking up somewhat surprised. "It is so refreshing."
"No, miss, the cold—the night air may do you harm," rejoined Bowse.
"I have no fear of either," answered Ada. "It's quite warm, and I do not even require a cloak."
The master was sadly perplexed, and the colonel would not come to his aid; at last he bethought him of a better reason, which must succeed.
"Yes, miss; but you see it's coming on night, and it's a rule that all ladies should go below at night," he said, in a grave tone.
This made Ada fairly laugh outright.
"Oh! but I intend to break through the rule, I can assure you. The evening, when the moon is playing on the water, is the most delightful time of the twenty-four hours; and you will not persuade me to forego its pleasures."
The colonel at length came to his rescue.
"What is it makes you so anxious for my niece to go below, Mr Bowse?" he asked. "If you have any particular reason, pray mention it, and I am sure she will be most ready to obey your wishes."
"Why, sir," said Bowse, drawing the colonel, who had risen, a little forward, and whispering so as not, he thought, to be heard by Ada; "you see, sir, I don't quite like the look of that craft we are nearing—some murderous work has been done lately in these seas; and I was told, just before we sailed, to be cautious of her—that's all."
"It was for that reason you were loading your guns, and getting up your arms?" exclaimed the colonel, in a less cautious voice than that in which the kind master had spoken. "Very right and proper. I'm glad to see precautions taken. We'll fight the rascals with pleasure."
Ada overheard the words, and coming up, placed her arm on her uncle's.
"What is the matter?—Is there any danger?" she exclaimed, in a pleading tone. "If there is—oh! let me share it with you. Do not send me down into the cabin." She trembled, but it was more with excitement than fear.
"Oh! nonsense, girl—suppose there was any danger, what object could there be in your staying on deck?" answered the colonel. "You couldn't save me from being hurt, missie, and I don't think you would manage to hurt any of the enemy, if there should prove to be one in the case, after all, which is in no way certain yet."
While the colonel was speaking, Bowse again looked at the speronara. He now, to a certainty, ascertained that she had the dark mark in her foresail, and that she was full of men. This at once decided him in urging Miss Garden to go below, and on her still resisting, the colonel gave indubitable signs of anger.
"Come, come, missie, no more nonsense. Go below you must, without further delay, and take your little nigger with you."
Ada pleaded for a few minutes more to see what was likely to happen, but in vain, and was reluctantly compelled, in company with her maid, to go into her cabin, there to await the result of the meeting between the two vessels. Ada did as every right-minded girl, under the circumstances, would do—she knelt in prayer—not through abject fear for her own safety, did she pray, for of herself she thought not; but she prayed that her uncle, and the brave men with him on deck, might be shielded from danger—a danger which it was very natural that from what she had heard she should considerably exaggerate.
If, as is asserted, the pleasures of life consist rather in the anticipation than in the fruition, or perhaps we may say, in the means taken to enjoy them, rather than in the objects when obtained; so, most assuredly, is the anticipation of evil worse than the evil itself; and misfortunes, which appear great and terrible when looked at timidly from a distance, diminish, if they do not altogether disappear, when grappled with manfully.
In fact, as somebody or other observed, once upon a time, that whenever he wrote a philosophical, a beautiful, or a noble sentiment, that fellow, Shakspeare, was sure to have been before him; I might more briefly express what I wanted to say, by quoting our great poet—
"Cowards die many times before their death."
Now, as neither Bowse, nor his officers or men, were characters of that description, but, on the contrary, as brave fellows as ever looked danger in the face without flinching, they, on their own accounts, cared very little whether the craft in sight was a pirate or an honest trader. But it was now very evident that the speronara had an object in steering, as she was clearly doing, for the brig, and as that object could scarcely be otherwise than hostile, there was a possibility of their being attacked; and with one of those unpremeditated cheers which British seamen cannot refrain from giving at the thoughts of a skirmish, every man hastened to buckle a cutlass to his side. Powder and shot were got up, and the small arms and boarding-pikes were placed by the sides of the guns, ready at hand, to be seized in a moment. The spirit of the veteran soldier was instantly aroused in the bosom of Colonel Gauntlett. As he sniffed the air of battle, the querulous, ill-tempered old gentleman was changed into the cool and gallant officer. As soon as Mitchell understood what was likely to happen, he was seen to dive into the cabin, from whence he soon returned, when going up to his master, he stood before him anticipating his orders.
"Mitchell, my sword and pistols, and bring me some ammunition, too, mark me."
The servant's hand rose to his cap, and turning round, he again descended to the cabin, reappearing in less than half a minute with the weapons. The colonel buckled on his sword with far greater satisfaction than a dandy tries on a new coat, and after carefully loading and priming his pistols, which were of exquisite workmanship, he placed them, with a look of satisfaction, in his belt. Not a word, however, did he say while thus employed. The first observation was to his servant.
"Mitchell," he said, "if that rascally felucca attempts to board us, you are to act as my reserve, remember. We shall have to charge on to her deck, or her people will charge on to ours, and you are to keep close behind me, and support me if I require you."
"Yes, your honour," answered Mitchell, in imitation of his master fastening a cutlass round his waist. "Is it them chaps in the night-caps on board the little boat out there we've to fight?"
"It is, Mitchell, the people in that felucca now approaching us," said the colonel.
"Och, then, by the powers, we'll blow them to blazes with these little darlins alone;" and thereon he pulled forth from his coat-tail pockets a pair of huge horse-pistols, of antique date and prodigious bore, which would almost require a rest from which to fire them.
The sun had set, and the short twilight of that southern latitude was fast disappearing, yet sufficient remained to show the outline of the speronara as the two vessels drew near to each other, though more distant objects had long since been shrouded from sight. Her tapering lateen sails now, as seen in one, appeared like the summit of a lofty pyramid of dark hue, surrounded by the waves. Then, as they approached still nearer, and she was almost abeam, the crew were seen standing up, and watching them with eagerness. Instead, however, of attempting to pass ahead of the brig, as she came near, she kept away so as pass close under her quarter. Now came the anxious time. If she was about to board, she would be alongside in another instant. Bowse, however, felt that whatever might be his suspicions of her honesty, without some more presumptive evidence of evil intentions, it would not do for him to commence hostilities; he therefore, taking his speaking-trumpet in his hand, went aft, and leaned ever the quarter-rail.
The speronara came rapidly on, and was close to.
"I have one message for you," exclaimed a voice from the deck of the stranger, in Italian accents—"send boat here."
"I'll see you damned first," exclaimed Bowse. "I've no boat to send— send yours," he shouted through his speaking-trumpet.
"Heave to, there—I send boat," was shouted in return from the speronara; and she was immediately seen to hug the wind, her helm was put down, and about she came on the other tack, the same on which the Zodiac was sailing, placing herself thus on their weather quarter.
"Keep her away," shouted Bowse to the man at the helm, thinking that the speronara was about to board him; but immediately he saw he was mistaken, for instead of her fore-sheet being eased off, it was kept to windward, and, as she lay hove-to, he observed preparations to launch a boat into the water. "I suppose, sir, we may let these fellows come on board?" he said, addressing the colonel, who was by his side; "they can do us no harm, and they may possibly have a message."
"As you think fit, Captain Bowse," returned the colonel, who was so pleased with the master's coolness and bearing, that he no longer refused to give him the usual title,—"I've no objection. They can't eat us; and if they meditate running alongside, they will see we are prepared for them."
"Put the helm down, my lad, round in the weather after-braces, and lay the main-yard square—brace up the head yards—rouse in the main sheet— ease off the head sheets."
These orders being executed, and the brig brought to the wind, she was hove to, with her head in the same direction as that of the speronara. That vessel could just be seen to windward, looking dark against the western sky, and far larger than she really was, slowly forging ahead, while a small boat could just be discerned traversing the intervening space.
"Well, as we are to have no fighting, I suppose, I will just go and relieve the anxiety of my little girl," said the colonel, whose good humour was now in the ascendant.
No sooner did his niece see him than she flew into his arms, and kissed his cheek affectionately—an example Marianna, in the exuberance of her joy at finding there was to be no fighting, was nearly imitating.
"Oh, dear uncle, I am so glad that there is no danger to be encountered. You cannot tell how anxious I have been."
"Well, missie, since you don't like the cabin you shall come on deck and see what next takes place; we are going to have some visitors, it appears." Saying this, he gallantly placed a shawl on her shoulders, and gave his hand to lead her on deck.
While the boat of the speronara was approaching, three or four of the Zodiac's crew were collected by the foremost gun, watching her progress with no little interest. Two of them were regular salts of the old school, who still delighted in ear-rings and pigtails, though, in compliment to the degenerate taste of the times, they wore the latter ornaments much smaller than they had done in their younger days. They were prime seamen, and fellows who were ready to go down with their colours flying rather than strike to an enemy.
"You have heard tell on the Flying Dutchman, of course, Bill," said Jem Marline, casting a look to windward at the speronara, and hitching up his trousers, while he squirted a stream of tobacco-juice through the port.
"On course," answered Bill Rullock, "I haven't been to sea near thirty years without, messmate."
"Did you ever cast eyes on the chap, though?" asked Jem.
"Can't say as how I have," answered Bill. "But there's many they say who has, and few who ever lived to tell of it. But what was you thinking on, Jem?"
"Why you see, Bill," replied his chum, "I don't altogether like the circumbendibus ways of that ere chap to windward. You see, first in Malta harbour, we falls in with him or one like him, for I don't say, mind you, that that ere craft is the same which nearly ran foul on us yesterday; then out he goes right ahead of us, and then just as it's got dark, down he comes again, and wants to send a boat aboard us. Now you see as how that's the thing I don't in no manner of ways approve on. If I was our skipper, I would send a round shot right into the boat, sooner than any of his people should step on this deck. That's just the trick the cursed Dutchman's up to."
"No manner o' doubt about it," said Bill gravely; "but you know, Jem, they say the Dutchman's cruising ground is off the Cape, in a full-rigged ship, and I never heard on his coming into these parts."
"True as gospel, old shipmate, but how should we know that he hasn't got tired of the Cape, and taken a trip up here?" argued Jem. "And as to the matter of the rig, he may shift his craft according to the sea he's in. Besides, you know as how if there's one Flying Dutchman, there may be two, and this fellow may have come to trouble us here, up the straits. Depend on't, Bill, the less company one keeps with them sort of gentry the better."
"Very true, Jem, but suppose a chap out of that boat then does come on board, what's to happen think ye?" asked Bill, in a tone which showed that he in no way doubted his messmate's account.
"Why I can't say exactly, because as how I never seed what he does; but from what I've heard, I believe he tries to slip a letter like into the skipper's or some 'un's hand who's green enough to take it; and then the chap, who's no better nor Davy Jones himself, gives a loud laugh, and down goes the ship to the bottom, or else a hurricane is sure to get up and drive her ashore. But here comes that cursed felucca's boat. I wish we might just let fly at her; it would save mischief, I'll be sworn."
"Bear a hand there with a rope for the boat coming alongside," sung out the captain in a loud voice, which sounded as ominous of evil to the ears of the superstitious crew. "Bring a lantern here to the gangway," he added. Bowse, with his first mate and Colonel Gauntlett, stood near the gangway, which was lighted up with a lantern to receive the strangers, as a small boat containing in all only four persons, came round under the brig's stern. They pulled only two oars, and two people were seated in the stern sheet. "Keep an eye to windward there, Larkins, on that felucca," said the first mate to the second, as he went to his captain's summons. "I don't altogether think her cut honest."
"A mighty fuss about a very small affair, I suspect," muttered the colonel, as a figure was seen to ascend from the boat up the side of the brig.
The stranger was dressed in the Phrygian cap, and simple garb of a Sicilian mariner. His appearance, as far as it could be judged of by the dim light of the lantern, was anything but prepossessing. A profusion of long, straggling, grizzly locks, once probably of raven hue, which evidently had not felt the barber's scissors for many a year, concealed the greater part of his face which was still further hidden by a patch over one eye, and a handkerchief bound round his head, while his mouth was surrounded by an enormous pair of moustachios, and a beard of similar character, so that little more than the tip of a red nose, and a rolling fierce eye was visible. As he reached the deck, this handsome personage bowed to the group before him, without speaking, while he glanced his eye round at the crew, who still wore their cutlasses, and at the other weapons which were placed ready for use.
Behind the group I have described, stood several of the crew, among whom were Jem Marline, and his chum Bill Bullock, and if the stranger had been able to read the expression of their countenances, he would certainly have been a bold man, had he not felt some apprehension; for they spoke almost as plainly as words could do, that had they the power, they would, without ceremony, heave him into the sea. There were fear, suspicion, and dislike, strangely blended with the usual bold recklessness which had given a character to their features a sudden emotion could not obliterate. Fortunately, however, the light of the lantern fell in such a way as to throw them, where they stood, into shade.
"What is it you want with us, signor?" said Bowse, in his usual blunt tone, seeing that the other did not speak.
"To carry us all to Davy Jones, if we don't look sharp," muttered Jem Marline to his messmate. "The beggar will be handing a letter directly, and then stand by for squall."
The stranger shook his head, as if not comprehending what was said.
"That's it," whispered Jem, in a tone of terror. "He don't speak. He never does."
Bowse repeated the question, in the lingua Franca of those seas.
The stranger shook his head.
"He does not understand our lingo," observed Bowse. "Here, Timmins, you speak a little Italian—just ask this gentleman what he wants aboard here."
"Ay, ay, sir," said the mate coming forward, and asking the question in execrable Italian.
Again the stranger shook his head, as if not comprehending the question, and finding that not much progress was likely to be made at this rate, he turned round, and leaning through the gangway, beckoned his companion to come on deck. As he drew back, another person appeared, dressed precisely in the same manner; but evidently very much younger. A long moustache shaded his mouth, and wild elf-locks concealed the greater portion of his face, and from a patch down one side of his cheek, he looked as if, like his elder companion, he had been engaged in some severe fighting. The light of the lantern, as he reached the deck, seemed particularly to annoy him, and he stood with his eyes cast on the deck, shading them with one of his hands, nor could he meet the glance of any of those surrounding him.
"What do you wish to explain?" said the second stranger in Italian, bowing with a not ungraceful bend, and a touch of his hand to his cap.
"Oh! you can speak, can you? Well, that's all right," said Timmins. "And now, if you please, tell us why it is the felucca there was so anxious to speak to us?"
"Si, signor," answered the younger stranger, very slowly; and in an Italian which was mostly understood, he then explained that the speronara, of which his father was master, had, that afternoon, fallen in with an Austrian man-of-war brig, which had brought her to, and sent a boat on board her. The officers, he said, informed them that the noted Greek pirate Zappa, in his famous brig the Sea Hawk, had lately been heard of not far from the mouth of the Adriatic, and that he had plundered and destroyed several vessels. The Austrian, he said, had given him despatches for the governor of Malta, relative to the subject, as also to the Neapolitan Government, with a reward for carrying them, and had charged them to inform all vessels they should fall in with of what had occurred.
"Then he did not tell you to speak us in particular," said Timmins.
"Si, signor, he expressly—oh! no—not you in particular—oh, no," replied the young man.
"Have you nothing further to tell us?" said Timmins. "Because you see, though we are much obliged to you for your information, we are in a hurry to be on our course again, and if you should happen to fall in with the Signor Zappa and his brig the Sea Hawk, just tell him that the Zodiac will give him a warm reception if he attempts to play off any of his tricks upon her."
"You don't know the pirate," exclaimed the young man vehemently, "he—"
"Do you know him?" said Timmins, fixing his eye upon him. The man's glance quailed before that of the stout sailor.
"Oh no, signor, I don't know him—I have heard of him though."
"Oh! is that it?" said the mate, interpreting what he heard to the captain.
"Well, just ask him and his father if they will come down below, and take a glass of something before they shove off," said Bowse.
A few words were exchanged between the two strangers in a low tone, and there appeared to be some hesitation on the part of the elder; but, at last, they consented, and followed the master into an outer cabin, which he had retained as his own, and where he and his mate messed. A door from it opened into the cabins engaged by the colonel, who, when he saw the strangers, retired also with his niece into their cabin.
As the door between the two stood open, all that took place in one could be heard in the other.
"Let the Italians come in here, Mr Bowse," said the colonel, from the inner cabin. "I will give them a glass of sherry which they will like better than rum and water, and it will do them more good than their own thin wash."
When the strangers, who, directed by the signs made by the master, found themselves in the presence of a lady, they stood somewhat abashed, it seemed, and bowed respectfully as they quaffed off the wine offered to them. The bright light which was shed from a lamp hanging from the deck seemed also much to annoy their eyes, long accustomed to darkness, and they kept their faces shaded by their hands during the short time they were in the cabin, so that little or nothing of their feature? could be seen.
For an instant, however, the eyes of the youngest fell on Ada, and, at that moment, there gleamed in them a peculiar expression, which she could not help remarking; but what it meant to say, she was at a loss to comprehend. It was certainly a look of intelligence, as if he expected to be understood; but there was also blended with it an expression of admiration, pity, and regret, which further puzzled her. At all events, she was convinced that, by that look, he intended to convey some meaning, which he dared not otherwise explain.
The strangers remained scarcely a minute below, and respectfully wishing the occupants of the cabin a good evening, they took their leave. The elder went first, and as the second followed, he appeared to stumble at the door. As he did so, he let a folded paper fall from his hand, and, at the same instant, he gave a hurried glance at Ada over his shoulder. Before she had time to tell him of his loss, he had sprung up the companion-ladder. The strangers were quickly in their boat, which, with rapid strokes, pulled back towards the speronara.
"Up with the helm, my lad," exclaimed the captain, in a hurried tone, to the man at the wheel, as soon as the boat left the side, "haul aft the head sheets—ease off the main sheet; Mr Timmins, we'll keep her on her right course."
"Ay, ay, sir," answered the mate—shouting as the brig's head fell off, "square away the head yards, my men; come, be sharp about it."
"And what do you think, Timmins, of those fellows' account of the Austrian brig and the pirate? It seems somewhat strange, doesn't it?" said Bowse, as he walked the deck with his first officer as soon as they had put the ship on her former course. The speronara still lay hove to right astern, her outline every instant becoming more indistinct as the brig ran from her.
"Why, sir," replied the mate, in return to his commander's question. "I don't think any good of it, and that's a fact; but if you ask if I believe it, I don't do that neither. These Italians are much given to lying at best, as far as my experience goes; and I believe we have just heard a pretty round lie, though I don't say there was no truth altogether in it. To my mind, if there is such a chap as that Zap—what do they call him, the pirate—it is much more likely that he is on board that felucca, or perhaps he was one of the fellows who came on board us, than that an Austrian man-of-war brig should have sent her cruising about to give notice of him to English merchantmen."
"Well, Timmins, that's my view of the case," replied Bowse; "I think the Austrian brig would have stood on to Malta herself, seeing she must have been almost in sight of it, instead of sending a craft of that sort with a message. Besides, what business had the speronara there at all?"
"There's something very suspicious about it, at all events," returned the mate. "Now, though I don't often listen to what the men say, Captain Bowse, and they generally get hold of the wrong end of a thing, yet they have often an inkling of what's right and wrong. Well, sir, they've already got all sorts of stories aboard here, about the Flying Dutchman and such-like stuff, and they don't at all like the look of things. When you were below with the strangers, they talked of throwing them crop and heels overboard and letting them swim to their boats, and I believe if you hadn't come up with them on deck yourself, they would not have let me prevent them."
"I believe the people are right, Timmins, in thinking that the two fellows who stood on our deck lately are knaves, but it wouldn't have done to heave them overboard," said the master. "However, they are not likely to do us any harm if we keep a bright look-out, and should any rascally pirate attack us, I'm sure all on board here will stand to their guns like men."
One of the most valuable qualities which a person can possess, is presence of mind. Our safety and our life, and the safety and the lives of others, frequently depend on it. Some people are endued with it naturally—they never act without thought, and they in a moment perceive what is best to be said or done. Others act from impulse, without consideration, and though they may now and then do what is right by chance, they are more likely to do what is wrong; like the Irish seaman, who, when ordered to cut a rope to which he was hanging, cut above his head instead of below his feet, and came down by the run. I believe that it is very possible to attain a presence of mind which one does not naturally possess, by constant practice and attention, though I suspect the task would be found very difficult.
When Ada saw the paper drop from the hand of the young Italian mariner, her first impulse was to call out to him in order to restore it, but the look he gave as he left the cabin, convinced her that he had done so purposely, and feeling that if so, it was certainly of importance, as she did possess the quality of which I was speaking, she sprang forward to secure it. The paper she saw, as she returned to her seat, was the blank leaf of a book, torn hastily out, and folded up in the form of a note; but on opening it there appeared to be nothing written on it.
"Why, what is that you have got there, Ada?" said Colonel Gauntlett.
"Oh, I fancied that I had discovered an important document, and, lo and behold, it turns out to be merely a blank paper," returned the young lady laughing. "One cannot help conjuring up some romantic incident in these lovely seas, and forgetting that in these matter-of-fact days nothing of the sort is likely to occur; but I believe after all there are some pencil marks on the paper." She held it up closer to the light, and as she did so, her countenance grew graver. There were a few lines written in pencil, but so faint that it was not surprising she should, at first, not have remarked them. They were in Italian, and in the peculiar handwriting of the people of that nation.
"Trust not to appearances," they said. "Avoid the polacca brig. The story told you is false." At the bottom were the words, "An unwilling actor," as if intended for a signature. There was nothing more to show by whom they were written, though there could be but little doubt that they were so by the young mariner, or by somebody who had employed him. Ada translated them to her uncle, who was at a loss to comprehend their meaning, further than that they contradicted the story they had just heard from the lips of the very man who dropped the paper. He thought over them for some time, and then summoned Mitchell, whom he directed to request the captain's presence.
Ada was again called to translate them, when the captain appeared.
"And what do you think of them?" the colonel asked him.
"Why, sir, that they serve to confirm my suspicions, and those of my mate, that the felucca is not honest, and that there is a good deal of mystification going on somewhere or other."
"Then you don't believe the story of the Austrian brig having sent the felucca to us?" asked the colonel.
"Not a bit of it, sir; and my firm opinion is, that if the rascals had found us unprepared, she would have been alongside us before now. She had more people on board her than when she left Malta harbour this morning, though where they came from I can't say; and I'm positive as to the craft, though the young man denied having been there for many a day. I can't make it out."
"But what does this paper mean about the polacca brig, think you?" asked the colonel.
Bowse thought for some time.
"I have it, sir!" he at length exclaimed, clapping his hand to his head. "That's the brig those fellows wanted to make us suppose an Austrian man-of-war. If they had taken less trouble we might have been taken in."
"And what do you intend to do, Captain Bowse? Remember I am under your orders, in the way of fighting on board here. If you ever come on shore when there's anything doing, I will show you how we manage things there."
The colonel spoke in a good-natured lively tone, as he always did the moment there appeared a prospect of fighting.
"Keep our guns loaded, and trust to Providence, sir," replied the captain.
"Please, sir, Mr Timmins begs you will just step on deck for a moment," said the steward, putting his head in at the door, and looking at the master.
Bowse jumped up and hurried on deck, for he knew the mate would not have sent for him except on a matter of importance.
"Here, Sims, what's the matter now?" said the colonel, calling the steward from the pantry; "any more visitors?"
"O Lord, no, sir, I hope not," answered Sims, coming forward and showing by the pallor of his countenance, and his trembling hand, that whatever the matter was it had alarmed him.
"What is the matter, then?" exclaimed the colonel. "Out with it."
"Why, sir, they say on deck, that the Flying Dutchman is following us, and that we shall be sure to drive ashore or go to the bottom," answered the steward, almost crying with alarm.
"Fiddle-de-dee, with the Flying Dutchman. What arrant fools the men must be to think of such nonsense," exclaimed the colonel, in a contemptuous tone. "Come, Ada, let us go on deck before you return to your cabin, and we will have a look at the phantom."
Bowse found his mate standing on the poop, looking intently over the weather quarter. He was so absorbed in what he saw, that he was not aware of his commander's presence till the latter touched his arm.
"I thought it was better to send for you, Captain Bowse, for as I'm a living man there is that cursed felucca, instead of going to Malta, following at our heels, and coming up with us hand over hand."
As the mate spoke, he pointed in the direction towards which he had been looking. Bowse, having just left the bright light of the cabin, could not at first discern anything; but gradually he perceived the dark shadowy outline of the speronara's sails brought into one, and like a phantom gliding over the waves. There could be no manner of doubt that it was she, but the question in his mind was how to treat her. Though he might be almost certain that her intentions were evil, he could not fire into her, till there was no doubt of the matter, and she might be alongside, when the advantage he possessed in having heavy guns, would be much diminished, if not altogether lost. He might, possibly, by making more sail, get away from the speronara; but that he doubted, and the brig was already under as much canvas, as on ordinary occasions, it was considered prudent to carry at night. He remembered that he was not on board a man-of-war, when sail could be shortened, without calling the watch below. Yet sail must be made, as it would never do to have that little speronara buzzing about them all night without being allowed to punish her, or trying to get away from her.
"We must see if we can't walk away from that fellow, Mr Timmins. Turn the hands up," he at length exclaimed, after taking a turn on the poop. "Set the royals. Get the fore topmast, and lower studding-sails on her."
"Ay, ay, sir," replied the mate, going somewhat slowly to obey the order. "Little good I'm afraid it will do us, though."
The crew, though expecting to be roused up, for the watch on deck had let those below know of the reappearance of the suspicious stranger, went about their duty without their usual alacrity.
"One might just as well try to run clear of a hurricane as to beat that chap out there either on wind or off it," muttered Jem Marlin, as he went aloft to rig out the studding-sail booms. "All the canvas in store in Portsmouth Dockyard wouldn't carry us away from him, if he wanted to catch us."
The additional sail, however, was set, and as the wind had fallen light, it was only what was required to urge her at her previous speed through the water. While sail was being made the master was joined on the poop by his passengers.
"Well," said the colonel, laughing. "I hear we have the honour of the company of the Flying Dutchman again."
"Dutchman or not, sir," replied the master, "that little speronara has taken it into her head to dodge us; and, shame on the brig, which ought to do better, she seems likely to come up with us."
"Well let her—we are a match for her, I should think; and my little girl here seems rather anxious for a brush. She puts to shame that steward of yours, who came skulking into the cabin just now as white as a sheet, declaring we were going to be boarded by ghosts or hobgoblins of some sort."
"You must humour seamen, or you can never manage them, sir," replied the master. "They as firmly believe in the Flying Dutchman as they do in the Gospel; and you can't persuade them that he is not to be met with. It would never do for me to go and tell them that they are cowards and credulous fools; and I well know that the same men would face three times their number with cutlasses in their hands."
"And I am sure, uncle, any one might be excused for mistaking that dark object astern of us for a phantom wandering over the face of the deep," said Ada. "Even now, as I look at it, I can scarcely persuade myself that it is the light, graceful speronara we saw during daylight; and am far more inclined to believe it a being from another world—the ghost of one of the old sea-kings one reads of—or, perhaps, a malign spirit stalking over the deep in search of prey.
"Well, miss, the same sort of idea occurs to the mind of the uneducated seaman as he keeps his silent watch at night on the mast-head or forecastle; and when he sees through the darkness tall ships slowly gliding noiselessly over the waters, and when no sign or signal is exchanged, there is nothing to show him to the contrary. I don't mean to say that there are many seamen that would mistake a ship for a ghost, because they would not be worth their salt if they did; but a few may have done so, and have told stories about them which have found plenty of people to believe them, and tell them again."
"That's the way all the wonderful nonsense one hears spoken of has got circulated," said the colonel. "But as I do not see much to interest us in looking at that vessel astern—and there is nothing else visible—I shall go to bed; and you, Miss Ada, must go to your cabin, so take Marianna off with you."
Ada begged to remain a little longer; and, for a short time more, she was allowed to enjoy the fresh air on deck. The night was very fine. The sky was perfectly clear, and the stars shone brightly forth—but there was no moon; and, consequently, her range of vision was much circumscribed. The sea was covered with light waves, which, as they rose and fell, scarcely had any effect in giving motion to the vessel. The hue of the ocean was, in some places, almost of an inky blackness; in others it was lighted up with phosphorescent flashes, which, seen amid the surrounding darkness, seemed as brilliant as if composed of real fire—their reflection being caught by the light foam which curled on the summits of the dancing waves—while, on either side of the vessel, a mass of scintillating sparks flew off as if her stern were ploughing up a vast field with a sub-layer of gold-dust; and astern appeared a line of yet brighter lights composed of thousands of whirling eddies, which grew smaller and smaller, and less distinct, till lost in the distance. After watching the sea for some time, as Ada looked up at the rigging, and at the masts and wide-spread sails above her head, they no longer looked as in the day-time, like white wings extended to urge on the vessel in her course; but, increased to many times their former size, they seemed like a black pyramid to tower upwards to the sky till lost in the distance.