Ada was not long permitted to enjoy this, to her, unusual scene, before her uncle again summoned her below; and this time she was obliged to obey. He, however, had given strict orders to be called should anything occur.
The wind, as the night drew on, grew considerably lighter, and this gave a decided advantage to the speronara, which rapidly came up abeam. Neither Bowse nor his mates had turned in, and even the crew remained on deck, watching the stranger with jealous eyes. It appeared, as they watched her, that she was steering a course a point more to windward than they were, for, as she came up, her distance from them was far greater than they had expected, and it was soon evident that she had no intention of boarding them. Bowse breathed more freely, and looked at the studding-sails. He knew that all hands were weary as he was himself.
"Take in the studding-sails, Timmins, and furl top-gallant sails. The Zodiac can walk along fast enough without them, and we must not have the people roused out again, if we can help it."
The order was obeyed with alacrity, and the brig was soon brought under the snug canvas she usually carried at night.
"I told ye, Bill, there was no manner nor use setting them studsails nor to'gallant sails neither," said Jem Marlin, as, his watch on deck being over, he turned into his hammock at midnight. "Lord bless ye, nothing could have made us run away from her if we'd tried ever so much. But to my mind, it's having that young lady aboard kept him off. Depend on't there's nothing like having a beautiful, virtuous young woman on your side, to keep Davy Jones and all his devils at long range. The fact is, they're afraid of her, she's so different to theirselves. While we, Bill, you knows, is sarcumstantially too much—"
What Jem might have said further, I know not, for his head touched the end of his hammock, and he was fast asleep.
The grey light of the early dawn was just stealing across the sea, and a few faint streaks of reddish tinge showed the eastern part of the sky, when the master of the Zodiac came on deck. His ship was still proudly holding her course unharmed, amid the waste of waters, and with that fresh reviving hour when all the events of the new-born day are yet to occur, the indistinct causes of the alarm of the previous night appeared to have vanished, and even the superstitious seamen could venture to smile at their previous terrors. The wind had fallen considerably, and there was no longer sufficient to crest the tops of the sluggish leaden-like waves which had not yet lost the hue thrown over them by the mantle of night. Gradually, however, the eastern sky assumed a warmer, and yet a warmer tinge, increasing till an orange glow was cast across their surface, the sombre colour gave place to a brighter purple, and as the sun bursting from his ocean confines, took his rapid course upwards, they caught the intense blue of the sky above them, on their changeful bosoms.
The first thing which a sailor does on coming on deck, is to cast his eye aloft, to see what sails are set, and how they stand, and then to sweep it round the horizon; his next is to go aft to the binnacle, and to take a look at the compass.
Bowse quickly satisfied himself that the sails were properly trimmed, and that the ship was steering on her right course; but the survey he took of the horizon did not so well please him. There was in the first place, some odd-shaped clouds floating along to the south and south-east, just above the sea, which he did not like, and rather to the northward of east, just on the horizon, were two sails, the appearance of which he liked still less. He looked at them attentively, then he rubbed his eyes, and looked at them again; but neither operation satisfied him. He then went to the companion, and taking his spyglass, surveyed the two objects for some time. A landsman would not have remarked them; indeed, he would scarcely have perceived the faint, irregularly shaped dots they appeared, just suspended, as it were, above the horizon; but the well-practised eye of the old sailor could not only discover what were their peculiar rigs, but even which way they were steering. He soon determined, to the satisfaction of his own mind, that the northern-most of the two, and the nearest, was a lateen-rigged craft, standing, close hauled, to the northward, across his course, and that the other was a square-rigged vessel, probably a brig, under easy sail, standing in the same direction that he was. Now, although under ordinary circumstances, he would not have given the two vessels a second thought; yet coupling the events of the previous day, and the mysterious warning they had received, he could not help thinking that one was the speronara; the other the brig with which she was in communication, and which she wished to persuade them was an Austrian man-of-war. Bowse took two or three turns on deck, every now and then casting a glance eastward, expressive of no very amiable feelings.
"Oh! confound the rascals," he muttered, stamping his foot on the deck. "If it wasn't for that sweet young lady below, who should not have her eyes shocked with scenes of blood and fighting, I wish they would both of them come on at once, and have it out, if they want to rob us, instead of sneaking round, and bothering us in this way. If I do get alongside them, I will give it them; but we shall have something else to do before that, I suspect."
He took another turn or so, and then stopped, looking to the northward. He had, at first, intended again setting all the sail the ship would carry before the wind; but on more critically examining the clouds in that quarter, he determined, for the present, to make no change. The clouds, he observed, were increasing in number, and banking up thickly together, and the first freshness of the morning had given way to an oppressive and heavy air, which seemed to weigh down their spirits. The wind, which had hitherto been so steady, though varying in strength, now dropped considerably, and began to veer about, so as to require the hands constantly at the braces. Bowse fully felt the responsibility of the command intrusted to him, and that the safety and lives of his crew and passengers would depend very much on his forethought, judgment, and coolness. He was glad to be alone, to think over what was best to be done under the circumstances; that a gale was brewing, he felt pretty sure, and that it would come from the southward and east; but whether it would be of long duration, or whether one of those sudden gusts, those short-lived tempests, which occur frequently during summer in the Mediterranean, he could not determine, though he was inclined to think it would be the latter; then, that some vessel, with no good motive, was looking out for the brig, he felt almost certain; though his pride would not allow him to suppose that any one, knowing the armament of the Zodiac, would attempt to attack her openly. At the same time this was an additional object of anxiety, and would require caution.
The watch, with bare feet, and trousers tucked up to their knees, with buckets in their hands, were employed in washing decks, and as they splashed the water along the planks, and up the inner sides of the bulwarks, they laughed and jested in very buoyancy of spirits; and played off on each other various little practical jokes, which the presence of the second mate, who superintended and aided in the operation, alone prevented from being of a more boisterous character.
The poop deck, where the captain was walking, had already been washed, and the people were now in the waist, and were giving a few more vehement splashes before moving further forward, when Colonel Gauntlett, in his forage cap, a richly flowered dressing-gown, and Turkish slippers, made his appearance at the companion hatch, very nearly receiving a copious shower-bath from the contents of a bucket dashed across the deck at that moment.
"Hillo, my men," he exclaimed, in no very amiable tone. "I thought the ship was wrecked, with all that splashing and scrubbing. One would suppose that the vessel was as dirty as those Augean stables that fellow Hercules had to clean, by all the water you use."
"It's cheaper than pipe-clay, and cleaner, for it's to be had for the taking, and don't leave any dust," muttered Jem Marlin, who was the offender.
"It may be cheap, but it makes a confounded noise, and we have enough of it outside, as it is," answered the colonel, not hearing the reference to pipe-clay. "So I beg in future you won't let quite so much of it play round my head in a morning."
This was said, as he was standing with his body half-way down the companion ladder.
He then observed the master on the poop.
"Well, Mr Bowse, anything more of our friend, the Flying Dutchman?" he asked in a jocose tone.
"If you will step up here, I will tell you more about her, sir," answered the master; and, thus summoned, the colonel picked his way over the wet deck to where he was standing. "I think it right, Colonel Gauntlett, to tell you, that you may be prepared, that we are going to have a blow of it, shortly; and I want you to look at that brig out there. What do you make of her?"
"Bless me, nothing—I can't even see her," said the colonel. "Do you mean to tell me that you can distinguish what that little black mark is out there?"
"Yes, Colonel Gauntlett, I am certain that yonder object is either a brig or a ship, under her tops'ils, standing to the eastward, and that the other, you see, to the north of her, is a felucca or speronara. Now, sir, if there is any credit to be placed in the letter we got last night, and in the account the two Sicilians who came on board gave us, and in the warnings we got at Malta, we are likely to fall in with a brig which is no better than she should be, and which is in connection, some way or other, with that same speronara. Now, there is a brig on the same course that we are; yet, for some reason or other, in no hurry to make a passage: perhaps, she is waiting for us to come up with her. Then there floats just such another craft as the speronara, supposing it is not she herself: so, if we are to fall in with a pirate, I cannot help thinking that brig ahead is the vessel. That is one thing I have to mention to you, sir; and please to look to the south'ard and east'ard. The black bank gathering there shows that we shall have a very different time of it to what we had yesterday."
"Well, Mr Bowse, what would you have us do?" exclaimed the colonel, with rather a puzzled look. "Do you wish us to put back?"
"No, Colonel Gauntlett, I have been brought up in a school where it is not the custom to run from any danger men can meet with, when there is a chance of overcoming it," replied the master, with not a little dignity in his tone. "But I thought it my duty to inform you, sir, of what, in my opinion, is likely to occur; and, please Providence, we'll do our best to meet and overcome any dangers which may appear."
"I like your spirit, Bowse, and cordially agree with you," exclaimed the colonel, taking his hand. "Those black clouds may, after all, only indicate a squall; and, as for the pirate, if one falls foul of us I think we snail have no difficulty in handling him."
"I won't deceive you, sir; if you had been as much at sea as I have you would know that those clouds foretell a gale; but such a gale as I hope the Zodiac will weather without straining a timber; and, for the pirate, we must keep our weather eye open, that he does not take us unawares. Perhaps, Providence tends the storm to keep us clear of the pirate. My advice to you, sir, is to warn the young lady and her maid of what is going to happen, and to get everything stowed in your cabin. I'm just going to turn the hands up to shorten sail."
"I wish I could be of as much use there as I hope to be alongside an enemy; but as I cannot, I will go where I can do some good." Saying which, the colonel returned to the cabin.
"All hands on deck to shorten sail," sang out the master; and ere a minute had passed, the senior mate and the watch below were on deck.
The fore-clue-garnets were manned, and the foresail was quickly clewed up, and the men flying aloft, it was securely furled. The topsails were next lowered on the caps, whence they bulged out like big balloons, about to fly away with the masts.
"Man the fore and main tops'il clew-lines and bunt-lines," sung out Bowse, laying his hand on the main. "Away with it, my lads."
The topsails were clewed up, the reef tackles hauled out, and the hands aloft lying in, in as short a time almost as it has taken to describe. Both sails were close reefed, and again sheeted home. The fore and aft mainsail was then close reefed, the jib hauled down, and fore-topmast staysail hoisted; the royal yards were also sent down, and the brig then, under her smallest working canvas, was prepared to meet the tempest, in whatever way, or from whatever quarter it might come.
There is a strong similarity between the aspects of physical nature and those exhibited by man, as an individual, and in the aggregate.
Before any outbreak or great commotion, from the disorganised condition of the moral body, there are observed signs of discontent, murmurings, and complaints, fierce looks and threats—these, at length, disappear, and people seem to be seized with a sudden apathy and indifference, which is as quickly cast aside, and all is rage, havoc, and confusion. So, likewise, before the coming of a storm, clouds are seen gathering in the horizon, murmurs and growls are heard, then the wind dies away, and a perfect calm, for a short time, succeeds the fury of the tempest, and, in both instances, the more perfect the calm, the more is the subsequent outbreak to be feared.
The wind had gradually died away, till the sea became smooth as glass, and rose and fell in gentle undulations, which made the vessel roll from side to side, and caused every timber and bulkhead to groan and creak.
It appeared not to have been absolutely necessary to shorten sail so soon; but as there was a dead calm, this was of no consequence, and the most prudent seamanship; as it is, at times, difficult to judge the period a squall my take to travel up to a ship.
The brig still lay with her head a little to the northward of east, and her yards were now braced up on the starboard tack to meet the wind which gave signs of coming from the southward and east. Every preparation was made, and all hands were at their stations, ready to execute any of their commander's orders which the emergency might require, when Ada, wearied of remaining in the hot cabin, came on deck, followed by her little maid; and before Bowse, who was looking to the southward, perceived them, they had gained the poop.
"This is no place for you, miss, I am sure," he exclaimed, on seeing her. "You do not know what risk you run. Oh, go below again—go below."
"Why, what is the matter, Captain Bowse?" she replied, laughing, and looking at the calm sea. "My uncle told me that we were to have a tremendous storm, and I do not feel a breath of wind."
"And so we shall, miss," he exclaimed. "You have no time to go below now without assistance. Hold on by these cleats, and tell your maid to do so too. Here it comes!"
As he spoke, the mass of clouds which had been collecting to the eastward, and gradually approaching, now came driving up bodily across the sky at a rapid rate—the dark waters below it, hitherto so smooth and calm, presented a sheet of snow-white foam, hissing and bubbling as if it were turned up and impelled onward by some gigantic besom. Ada, as she gazed with feelings of mingled terror and admiration, saw it in one long line near the brig—it reached her side—the white foam flew upwards, curling over them, and the wind, at the same instant, striking her canvas, her tall masts seemed to bend to its fury, and then pressed downwards, the hull heeled over till the lee bulwarks were nearly submerged.
Two strong hands were at the helm, ready to turn it a-weather, should it be necessary to scud; but, in an instant, the gallant ship rose again— and then, like a courser starting for the race, she shot forward through the boiling cauldron, heeling over till her guns were in the water, but still bravely carrying her canvas. Not a rope nor a lanyard had started—not a seam in her topsails had given, and away she flew on her proper course. The veteran master stood on the poop watching for any change or increase of wind. The safety of the ship depended on his promptitude. The sea was rapidly rising; and this was soon perceptible by her uneasy motion, as she rose and fell to each receding wave, the last always appearing of greater height than its predecessors. Any moment it might be necessary either to keep her away, and, furling everything, to let her drive before the gale under bare poles, or to put her helm down and heave her to, thus to let her lie forging slowly a-head, till the gale had abated. A few minutes only had passed since the brig first felt the force of the gale, and the whole sky was now a mass of dark clouds, and the sea a sheet of white driving foam—out of which lofty waves seemed to lift their angry heads, and to urge each other into increased violence. The wind howled and whistled through the rigging; the spars creaked and bent; and the whole hull groaned with the exertion as she tore onwards. Ada, who had, when the ship heeled over, held firmly on to the weather bulwarks, gazed at the scene, to her, so novel and grand, with intense pleasure, from which fear was soon banished; and little Marianna, having followed the example of her mistress in securing herself, imitated her also in her courage. Indeed, as yet, except that they were rather wetted by the foam which came on board, when the squall first struck the brig, there was no object of terror to alarm them. The moment Bowse could withdraw his attention from the care of the ship, he hurried to assist Ada and her attendant, and to place them on the seat which surrounded the cabin skylight, where she might enjoy the magnificent spectacle of the tumultuous ocean, without the fatigue of standing, and having to hold on by the bulwarks. A cloak was thrown round her feet, and as she reclined back in the seat, she declared she felt like an ocean queen in her barge of state, reviewing her watery realms. The colonel's appearance on deck, supported by his man Mitchell, whose usual cadaverous countenance looked still more ghastly, drove away the romance in which she was beginning to indulge. He scolded her roundly for venturing on deck without his escort, and insisted on her promising never to do so again, on pain of being compelled instantly to go below.
The mate had returned to his post. The brig behaved beautifully; though she heeled over to the force of the wind, she rose buoyantly to each mountain wave, which reared its crest before her, and though the light spray which the short seas so quickly aroused would fly high above her bows, and come in showers down on her forecastle, little of it found its way aft, and not a sea which struck her came over her bulwarks. Bowse looked delighted and proud at the behaviour of his brig, as he pointed out her good qualities to his passengers.
"There's many a craft, which is looked upon as a clipper, won't behave as she does, that I'll answer for," he observed.
He was going on with his panegyrics when his voice became silent, and his eye riveted ahead. The atmosphere, which, when the gale first came on, had been somewhat thick, had now partially cleared, and revealed to him, at the distance of little more than a mile, a large polacca brig hove to on the starboard tack. He instantly summoned his first officer to his side, and pointed out the stranger to him.
"What think you of that fellow, Timmins?" he asked.
The mate took a look at the stranger through his glass.
"A fine polacca brig, sir, as one can see with half an eye," he answered deliberately; "but more of her I cannot say, as she shows no colours. We must keep away a little though, sir, or we shall be right down upon her."
"We should—starboard the helm a point my lads," exclaimed the master. "Steady, that will take us clear, and we shall be near enough to have a look at him. Ah! there goes some buntin' aloft. What colours are they, Timmins?"
"The Austrian ensign, sir," replied the mate. "A black eagle on a white ground, and there flies a pennant at his mast head."
"That's extraordinary indeed," exclaimed the master. "Hoist the ensign there," he shouted. "Austrian or devil, we'll show him that we are not ashamed of our flag, and will not strike it either in a hurry. Come here, Timmins, we mustn't frighten the young lady by what we say. You know the paper dropped on board here last night; now it's my opinion that that's the very brig it speaks about, and the one the felucca's two men tried to persuade us was an Austrian man-of-war. To my eye, she looks fifty times more like a Greek than an Austrian, for all that her colours say. Well, what's your opinion that we ought to do?"
"With respect to her being a Greek, I think she is," answered the mate. "And if she's a pirate, we ought to do our best to stand clear of her, seeing that we were commissioned to carry merchandise, and not to look after such gentry; but if she comes after us, and we can't get clear of her, that alters the case, sir, and we must stand to our guns and fight her."
"I am glad to hear you say so, Timmins," answered the master, laying his hand on the mate's arm.
"Turn the hands up, my good fellow, and let them go to quarters." (The people were at their breakfast.) "We will not fire the first shot; but if she attacks us, we will give it them as well as we can. One satisfaction is, that they cannot board us while the gale lasts." While the mate flew forward to execute the orders, Bowse approached his passengers, and, pointing out the stranger to them, to which they were now rapidly drawing near, told them his suspicions as to her character, and advised them to go below.
"But do you think he will fire into us?" inquired the colonel.
"He would gain little by so doing, while the gale lasts," replied Bowse, "and he might get injured in return, as he probably knows that we have guns on board."
"There you see, Ada, there is little chance of any of us being hurt, but there is a possibility—so you must go below again."
This the colonel said in a positive tone, and his niece was obliged to comply.
"Oh, how I wish Captain Fleetwood was here in the Ione," she thought, as she quitted the deck. "No pirate would dare to molest us."
The stranger was hove to, under her fore-topsail, and appeared to be making what seamen call very fine weather of it. The Zodiac came down scarcely a cable's length from her quarter, but the stranger gave no sign of any intention of accompanying her. Very few seamen appeared on her deck, and two or three officers only, whose uniform, seen through the glass, was evidently that of Austria. One of them, who, from his wearing an epaulette on either shoulder, Bowse thought must be the captain, leaped up on the taffrail, and waved his hat to them, while another, in the lingua franca, sung out through a speaking trumpet—
"Heave to, and we will keep your company."
"I'll see you damned first, my fine fellow," answered the master, who had been attentively surveying them through his glass. "I wish I was as certain of heaven as I am that the fellow who waved to us is the same who came on board when in Malta harbour. I know his face, spite of his changed dress."
"I don't think he's unlike, except that he didn't look so tall quite as the Greek you mean," observed the mate. "However, as they did not fire at us, and don't seem inclined to keep company with us either, I suppose they are after other and surer game."
The Zodiac had by this time left the stranger far astern, and numberless were the surmises of the crew as to what she was and what she was about. All agreed in pronouncing her a Greek-built craft. She was a large vessel, too, and well armed, if all the ports which showed on a side had guns to them; and she was, probably, as are most of the Greek vessels of that class, very fast. It is odd that they did not, however, regard her with half the suspicion that they did the little speronara, which could scarcely have harmed them, by mortal means, if she had tried.
The Zodiac had left the polacca brig about eight or ten miles astern, and her topsails could just be seen rising and falling above the boiling cauldron of waters which intervened, as she remounted the seas or sunk into the trough between them.
The ship had also by this time assumed her usual peaceful appearance; the shot and powder had been returned below, the guns were run in and secured, the small arms had been replaced in their racks, and the colonel had withdrawn the charges of his pistols, and sent Mitchell with them to his cabin.
"Well, I suppose as soon as this tornado blows over, we shall have a tranquil time of it, and hear no more of your Flying Dutchman and bloody pirates," he observed to the master, as he held on the weather bulwarks. "I did not bargain for all this sort of work, I can tell you, when I refused a passage in a king's ship in order that I might avoid the society of those young jackanapes of naval officers, and save my little girl from being exposed to their interested assiduities."
"Can't say what may happen to us," returned Bowse, who was a great stickler for the honour of the navy, and did not at all relish the colonel's observations. "I've done my best to please you, and I'm sure the officers of any of his Majesty's ships would have done the same. I've belonged myself to the service, and have held the king's warrant, and I have had as good opportunities of judging of the character of a very large number of officers as any in the same station, and I must say, sir, in justice to them, though with all respect to you, Colonel Gauntlett, that a less interested and less money-loving set of men than they are, are not to be found in any profession."
"Well, well, Mr Bowse," answered the colonel, seeing by the frown on the master's good-natured countenance that he was in earnest, "I did not want to hear a defence of the navy, but I should like to have your opinion as to when there is a probability of our enjoying a little quiet again, and whether we are likely to be molested by these reputed pirates after all."
"I do not think, by the looks of it, that the gale will last as long as I at first supposed," said the master, at once appeased. "As for the matter of the pirates, no man can answer; I'm sure I can't."
"Well, but what do you think, Mr Timmins?" said the colonel, turning to the mate.
Now, although the officer would not have ventured to give an opinion in opposition to his superior, yet, as Bowse had not expressed one, he felt himself at liberty to pronounce his judgment.
"Why, sir—looking at the state of the case on both sides—the long and short of it is, in my opinion, that there has been a bit of free-trading going on with some of the Liverpool merchantmen, which isn't at all unusual; and that those chaps who came about us mistook us for one of their friends; and then, when they found their mistake, wanted to bung up our eyes with a cock and a bull story about pirates. That's what I think about it. You see that brig, whether Austrian or not, was looking out for some one else."
"Was she, though?" exclaimed the master, with sudden animation. "I think not; for, by Heavens, here she comes."
All those who heard the exclamation turned their eyes over the taffrail.
Just astern was the polacca brig—her head had paid off, and, with a reef shaken out of each of her topsails, she was seen heeling over to the gale, and tearing away through the foaming waves in chase of them.
The master, whose suspicions as to the honesty of her character had never been removed, now no longer hesitated to declare that he believed her to be the very pirate of whom he had been warned. He felt that he was now called on to decide what course it would be wisest to pursue. To avoid her by outsailing her, he knew to be hopeless—except that, by carrying on sail to the very last, he might induce her to do the same, till, perhaps, she might carry away her masts or spars, and the victory might remain with the stoutest and best-found ship. His next resource was the hope of crippling her with his guns, as she drew near, and thus preventing her from pursuing, while he escaped; and if both means failed, he trusted that Providence would give the victory to British courage and seamanship, should she attempt to engage him alongside. He explained his intentions to his officers and Colonel Gauntlett, who fully agreed with him, and, acting on the first plan he proposed trying, he immediately ordered a reef to be shaken out of the topsails. The men flew aloft obedient to the order—the reefs were quickly shaken out, and the yards again hoisted up.
Bowse watched with anxiety to see how the brig bore the additional canvas. A few minutes' trial convinced him that she might even carry more without much risk. If any difference was perceptible, it was that the crests of the seas she met broke in thicker showers of spray over her bows; but she did not seem to heel over to it more than before.
The crew, called on deck to make sail, at once divined, by seeing the stranger in their wake, the reason of it, and flew with alacrity to their duty. They were all ready to fight, if necessary; they would rather have been chasing a vessel which they might hope to make their prize; but they were in no way indifferent to the excitement of endeavouring to outsail another craft, even though they might have been accused of being employed in the inglorious business of running away.
"Bless the little beauty, she goes along nicely through it, don't she, old ship," said Jem Marlin to his chum. "Them outlandish mounseers astern there will be clever if they comes up to us."
All hands remained on the deck, for they had not been piped below again.
Bowse, every now and then, gave a scrutinising glance astern at the stranger; but it was impossible to determine whether there was any difference in their relative distance.
The two brigs were now under the same canvas, for the stranger had not shaken out a second reef in the topsails, when the Zodiac shook out the first.
The crew stood at their station ready to obey the next order.
"She'll bear the fore-sail on her, Mr Timmins, if we close reef it," said Bowse; "send some hands up and loose it, and hook on reef-burtons ready for reefing."
As soon as the sail was let fall it flew out in thundering claps, as if it would fly away from the yard, and there was some danger of carrying it away or springing it, but steady hands were there, and the clew garnets being eased down, the reef-burtons hauled out, the ear-rings were soon secured, and the points tied; the lee clew garnet was then eased off, and the sheet steadied aft. The tack was roused down, another pull had of the sheet, and the bowline hauled taut, the weather-lift and brace being hauled taut, the sail stood like a board.
With this sail she carried too much lee helm, and it was difficult work for the helmsman to lift her, so as to let her rise over the seas, which now came one after the other in quick succession, rushing up her bows, and threatening to curl bodily over her bulwarks.
"Now, my lads, aft here, and shake a reef out of the fore-and-aft mainsail."
Led by the mate, the men sprung aft, the points were soon cast off, and the reef-pendant eased off. The throat and peak halyards were manned, the main-sheet was slightly eased off, and the sail, thus enlarged, was hoisted to the mast. The instant effect was to make her carry a weather-helm, and great care was now required to prevent her flying up into the wind, and being taken aback; a most perilous position to be placed in under the present circumstances.
To prevent this, the fore-stay-sail was hoisted. As the master watched the effect of all the canvas he had packed on the brig, he saw clearly that she would not bear another stitch; indeed, she had already very much more set than under any but the most extraordinary circumstances he would have ventured to carry. He, however, felt that he could do more with her than could any stranger. He knew that every timber and plank in her was sound, every spar had been well proved, and the canvas was all new, and every inch of rigging about her he or his mate had seen fitted and turned in. He knew, indeed, that all was good, and it was this feeling, with a right confidence in his own knowledge and judgment, which gave him courage on this trying occasion.
Onward the brig tore through the foaming waves, her lee-scuppers completely under water. Now a dark sea would appear right a-head, seemingly about to overwhelm her, but buoyantly her bow would rise to it, the foam on its summit alone sweeping over her; then another would come of less height, and, as if disdaining to surmount it, she would cleave her way through it, while her decks were deluged as a punishment for her audacity. Nearly everything on deck had been properly secured, and such trifling articles as were not, were soon washed into the lee-scuppers or overboard. The crew, driven from forward, were huddled together close to the break of the poop, under shelter of the weather-bulwark, while Bowse and the first mate stood at their old post.
"It's as much as she'll carry," said Timmins.
He thought it was a great deal too much, but did not like to say so.
Bowse looked at the stranger before answering.
"I only hope she will try to carry a great deal more," he replied. "See, they are beginning to follow our example."
The polacca brig had now not only set her foresail and mainsail, but had also shaken another reef out of her topsails. She thus already had more sail on her than the Zodiac.
"Now, then," said Bowse, "if we do but hold our own, she will begin to think we shall escape her, and they will be shaking another of those reefs out."
"If they do, they will just get the drop in the pitcher too much," said the mate.
"That's just what I wish they may do," replied the master. "But, ah! hold on for your lives, my lads."
A dark, circling wave appeared directly ahead of the vessel, as if it had risen suddenly out of the water. She rose at it like a bold hunter, without hesitation, attempting to take a high fence beyond his powers. Its force was too great for her, she stopped, and trembled in every timber, then again she tried, and dashing headlong into it, the watery hill came thundering down on her decks, tearing away her long boat and spare spars, hencoops, caboose, and water casks, and, making a breach through the lee-bulwarks, washed them overboard. Had not the hatches been well secured the Zodiac, with all in her, might never have risen again. Cries of terror were heard, and many a bold seaman turned pale; but none of the crew were injured, and the ship again flew buoyantly onward.
"That's what we may call our drop too much," said the mate. "Don't you think we ought to take some of the canvas off her, sir?"
"Timmins, we've long known each other, and you know I'm no coward; but I tell you that my conviction is, that there will be no child's play with that fellow astern if he comes alongside us. Heaven only knows who'll come off the best if it comes to blows. He has twice as many guns as we have, if not more, and longer pieces, depend on it, and, probably, five times as many hands. These are fearful odds, and I don't think any man can say it's cowardly to shrink from them. I know, too, the sort of fellows those are on board yonder craft, and sooner than fall into their power, I would run the brig, and all in her, under water. Till she made sail in chase, I had my doubts about her; I now have none. You see I don't risk the loss of our masts without good cause, and now see to getting life-lines along the lee-bulwarks, and secure them as you best can."
The mate made no answer, except a hurried acquiescence in his chief's reasons; and then calling three seamen to him, he worked his way forward to the forecastle, to search for the requisite cordage for passing fore and aft along the sides of the vessel.
Colonel Gauntlett had gone below to explain the state of affairs to poor Ada, and to endeavour to tranquillise her alarms. Nothing daunted the old veteran himself; a soldier of the great duke's school, he was accustomed to hardships and vicissitudes of all sorts. Brave as his sword, and delighting in the excitement of danger, his spirits rose in proportion to its imminence, and all the sour testiness of his temper vanished; a temper which had grown on him since the return of peace caused him to sheath his sword, and tempted him to commit the folly, as an old bachelor, of leading an idle life. Married, and with a family, he would have had them to interest him; but, as it was, he had only to think of his own aches and ills, and, perhaps, past follies; and to brood over what he called the neglects he had experienced from his ungrateful country. No man on board, perhaps, was so anxious as he was to have a skirmish with the rover, but he was not aware of the dreadful odds which would be opposed to him, and of the too probable fate which would await all hands, should victory side with the enemy. His arguments had some effect in calming his niece's fears; but not those of poor little Marianna, who, pale and weeping, sat at the feet of her mistress, imploring her to urge the captain and her uncle to return to Malta.
Ada, in her turn, had to act the part of comforter, and she promised her uncle that she would constantly remain below till they had escaped from the pirate, and the storm was over. Her uncle had not attempted to deceive her, nor did she shut her eyes to the greatness of the threatening danger—yet hope rose triumphant in her bosom. Though the storm had, at first, appeared very terrific, she got accustomed by degrees to the noise and commotion, and she could not persuade herself that a British vessel, manned by so many brave men, would not prove the victor against a pirate, of whatever nation she might be. By the faint light which found its way into her cabin, she was able to read; and that book was in her hand from which the truest source of comfort can be drawn, and which she, in her turn, imparted to her ignorant and trembling companion. Thus, between reading herself and explaining the subject to Marianna, and, at times, approaching the footstool of her Maker in prayer, Ada passed many hours, which would otherwise have become insupportable through anxiety and fear, and thus employed, we must leave her, to return on deck.
The longer a sensible man lives (for a fool may live and not learn), the more convinced he will become of the importance of laying a firm foundation for every undertaking, whether it be a constitution to live under, or a house to live in, an education for his children, a coat for his back, shoes for his feet, or a ship to convey himself or his merchandise from one part of the globe to the other. He learns that it is wisest and cheapest to have all the materials of the best, to employ the best workmen, and to pay them the best wages. It is the fashion, nowadays, to get everything at a price, to which is given the name of cheap—no matter at what cost or ruin to the consumer as well as the producer, for both are equally losers—the one from being badly said, the other from getting a bad article. On every side, one ears the cries of cheap government, cheap houses, cheap education, and cheap clothing; and the people are always found ready to offer to supply them. Wiser than this generation are seamen. They know, from experience, that cheap clothes and cheap ships do not answer; that both are apt to fail at the very moment their services are most required; and a good officer, therefore, spares no expense or trouble in seeing that everything is good and sound on board his ship, from keelson to truck, below and aloft. Such a man was our friend Captain Bowse.
The spars and rigging of the Zodiac did full justice to those who selected the first, and fitted the latter. Not a spar was sprung—not a strand parted with the tremendous strain put on them. It was almost too much for the ship, Bowse himself owned. It was taking the wear of years out of her in a day—as a wild debauch, or any violent exertion, will injure the human frame, more than years of ordinary toil. Though the masts stood, the ship, it was very evident, must be strained, from the way in which she was driven through the water, and made to buffet with the waves. On rushed the brig.
"That is what I call tearing the marrow out of a body's bones," said Bill Bullock. "Well, bless the old barkie; there's few could stand it as she does. I never seed any one carry on so as our skipper does, this blessed day—no, neither now, nor since the time I first went afloat."
"Nor I neither, old ship," answered Jem. "But for that matter, as the parson says, there's a time to stay at anchor, and a time to make sail, and go along as if the devil was a driver—only I do wish that that ere beggar astern was right ahead now, and that we was a chasin' her, and every now and then a slappin' at her with our bow-chasers."
"Right, Jem—my sentiments is the same; but if you comes for to go to look into the rights of the case, like a man should do, why you sees as how, if she has got twenty guns, which can sink us from where our shot can't reach 'em, and we has only got four guns, for the Quakers only has to do when you comes to frighten people at a distance, then you see as how it's wiser for we to run away, while we has got legs to run with, than to try to run when we are on our way to the bottom."
"Jobson!" cried the master, addressing the carpenter, who had just spoken, "sound the well, and see if she's made any water."
Jobson performed his duty, and reported two feet of water in the hold.
"She's made that, sir, though, since we began to carry on. She was as dry as a cork yesterday," he observed.
"I did not expect less, though," returned the master. "She must be strong not to let it in faster. We'll sound again in another half hour."
For the first two or three hours of the chase, it was difficult to determine whether the stranger gained on them or not: but, by the time five had passed away, she had clearly come up very much. Bowse looked at his topmasts and topsail-yards, and then at the lee-scuppers, and shook his head. He was meditating the possibility of shaking out another reef. He wished that he could divine some method to induce the stranger to set more sail; but this hope had failed, for as he was gaining on them without it, he was not likely to do so. The master watched him anxiously through his glass. He seemed to stand up well to his canvas, and there was but little chance of his carrying anything away. On coming to this conclusion, Bowse began to consider whether it would not be more prudent to shorten sail himself, so as to be in better condition to meet the enemy when he should come up—a result which he feared must, sooner or later, occur. Even should the weather moderate, the polacca brig would probably have a still greater advantage; but then again, his principle was to struggle to the last—never to yield to death or misfortune, while the faintest gasp remains—never to let hope expire—so he determined still to drive the ship through it. Again the well was sounded. The water had increased another half foot. The mate shook his head. Two more anxious hours passed away.
"How much has she gained on us now, Timmins?" answered Bowse, who had returned from snatching a hasty meal below.
"The best part of half a league at least, sir," answered the mate. "If she comes up at this rate, she'll be within hail before the first watch is over to-night. Now, sir, as the carpenter reports the water increasing fast, and to have to keep the men at the pumps, where they must go for a spell, will make them unfit to meet the enemy, I venture to advise that we take the strain off the ship at once. It's clearly nothing else that makes her leak as she does, and we shall then meet that fellow by daylight, which I tell you honestly, Captain Bowse, I for one would rather do."
Bowse listened to his mate's opinion with respect, but he doubted much whether to act upon it.
"What you say has much reason in it," he answered; "but send the hands to the pumps first, and we'll judge how they can keep the water under. If, after they've cleared the ship, it gains upon half the watch, we'll shorten sail; but if we can easily keep the leaks under, we'll carry on to the last."
The clank of the pumps was heard amid the roaring of the gale, and the loud dash of the water over the ship, as the crew performed that most detested portion of a seaman's duty. The result was watched for with anxiety by the captain, for he saw that on it depended how soon they might be brought into action with the pirate. If he could still manage to keep ahead of him he might induce him to give up the chase; or he might fall in with a man-of-war, or some armed merchantman, in company with whom no pirate would dare to attack them. It did occur to him, that to ease the ship, he might keep her before the wind, and run for some port on the Italian coast; but there was a wide extent of sea to be crossed before he could reach it, and the pirate being probably just as fast off the wind as on it, would still overtake him; and though he might, as he trusted to do, beat him off, he would be so much further away from his port.
"Well, what does the carpenter report?" he asked, as the mate appeared, after the well had been sounded.
"We've gained a foot upon the leaks, sir; but it's hard work to keep them under, and if I might advise—"
"Please Heaven, we'll carry on, then, on the ship!" exclaimed the master, interrupting him. "Let half a watch at a time work the pumps. Before long the weather may moderate."
The day wore on, and the pursuer and the pursued held their course with little variation. The Zodiac tore her way through the water, and sea succeeding sea met her persevering bows, and either yielded her a passage or flew in deluges over her decks. Night came on, and the stranger was upward of two leagues astern. The mate had before miscalculated her distance; his anxiety to shorten sail had probably somewhat blinded him. If the scene on board the Zodiac appeared terrific during daylight, much more so was it when darkness added its own peculiar horrors. Still not a sheet nor a tack would the brave master start, and he resolved, if the gale did not further increase, to run through the night without shortening sail. He himself set an example of hardihood and resolution to his crew, for scarcely a moment did he quit his post during the day, or the dreary hours of the first watch. As the short twilight disappeared, the stranger grew less and less distinct, till her shadowy outline could alone be traced, and even that by degrees vanished from the view of all but the most keen-sighted, till at last she could nowhere be discerned. An anxious look out was kept for her; for though shrouded by the obscurity from their sight, every one on deck felt that she was where she had last been seen, if not nearer; and some even fancied they could see her looming, surrounded by a halo of unnatural light, through the darkness.
It was in the first hour of the morning-watch, and neither Bowse nor his mate, though they swept the sea to the westward with their night-glasses, could anywhere distinguish her.
"We have done better than we could have hoped for," observed the master. "It will soon be day, and we then need not fear her."
"It will be more than three good hours yet before we have anything like daylight," returned the mate; "and that cursed craft may be alongside us before then."
"Well, we are prepared for her," returned the master.
"I hope so," exclaimed the mate; "for, by Heaven, Captain Bowse, there she is, well on our weather quarter."
The mate spoke truly. There evidently was a brig, though dimly visible, hovering, as it were, like a dark spirit, in the quarter he indicated.
The crew soon discovered her also, and if any of them had before felt inclined to seek rest below, they did so no longer.
Another hour passed away; but the stranger had not altered her position. There she hung, like a dark shadow, indistinctly visible, yet causing no doubt of something ominous of evil being there, as some bird of prey hovering about, ready to pounce down any moment, and destroy them.
The morning light brought the stranger clearly in view, at about the same distance; and at the same period of time the ship, righting suddenly from the downward pressure, to which she had been so long exposed, showed that there was a lull of the wind. It was but momentarily, for again she heeled over as before. Again, however, she righted, and this time, her lee scuppers remained for longer free of the water.
Bowse looked to windward: he was about to order a couple of reefs more to be shaken out of the topsails, when another violent blast almost laid her on her beam ends.
The hardy crew, wearied with the unremitting exertions of the night, looked at each other in despair, as the sea literally washed up the decks to leeward. A loud crash was heard, and the fore-topmast went over the side, carrying away the jibboom. It was the last expiring effort of the gale.
The stranger now shook out all the reefs in her topsails and courses; but it was soon evident that there was no occasion for her so doing, as she continued to maintain the exact position she had held when first seen in the morning.
The forenoon watch had just been set, when Colonel Gauntlett came on deck.
"A nice night we've had of it, captain," he observed in a tone which showed but little anxiety on his part. "It was only towards the morning the infernal hubbub would allow me a moment's sleep. But, hillo! what have you been doing with your foremast? Why, it's shorn of half its just proportions. And a pretty work seems to have been going forward on your deck. Why, I should have thought you had been in action already."
"With the winds and waves we have, sir," answered Bowse. "I wish we were in a better condition to meet an enemy."
"Well, I wish we were, if there is a prospect of our seeing one again," said the colonel. "However, I suppose you've managed to give the go-by to our friend, the Flying Dutchman."
Bowse, whose spirits weariness and anxiety had much lowered, shook his head, and pointed to the stranger.
"I wish I could say so, Colonel Gauntlett. There she is, as big as life; and, what is more, may be alongside of us any moment those on board her may desire."
"Ods life, then we shall have to fight her after all," exclaimed the colonel, with animation. "It's a pity we didn't have it out yesterday, and have enjoyed a quiet night's rest after it."
"I wish we had, sir," said the master, his spirits a little cheered by the colonel's coolness. "We should have had an advantage we shall not enjoy to-day. She has the weather gauge, and may select her own time to engage us, and is, I suspect, but waiting till the sea goes down, when she may run us alongside, and take advantage of the great superiority of men she has, depend on it, on board her."
"We must see, however, what we can do," replied the colonel. "But, after all, the fellow may be an Austrian. He has hoisted those colours."
"Merely to blind us, sir, depend on it," answered the master. "He is even now edging down upon us."
As he spoke, the stranger at length set his topgallant-sails and royals; but if his intention was to run alongside, it was frustrated.
The varying wind, which had been gradually lulling, now on a sudden died away completely, even before the sea created by the gale had had time to go down, and the two vessels lay rolling from side to side like logs on the water, without power to progress, just beyond the range of each other's guns.
Those who have cruised in the Mediterranean Sea must have lively recollections of the calms which have stopped their onward progress—the slow rolling of the vessel without any apparent cause, the loud flapping of the canvas against the masts seemingly feeling anger at its inaction, the hot sun striking down on the decks and boiling up the pitch in the seams between the planks, the dazzling glare too bright for the eyes to endure from the mirror-like surface of the water, and, above all, the consequent feelings of discontent, lassitude, and weariness.
Notwithstanding the heat and the motion, and the excessive weariness they felt from their incessant toil, Bowse and his bold crew set manfully to work to repair the damage the Zodiac had received during the storm. All hands laboured cheerfully, for they saw that everything might depend on the speed with which they could get the ship to rights again. Although the damage on deck was considerable, yet their first care was to get up a new topmast, and another jib-boom out, for both which purposes they fortunately had spare ones on board. Bowse had gone for a minute below, where Timmins speedily followed him.
"A boat shoving off from the polacca brig, sir," said the mate.
He was on deck in a minute; by his glass he saw a six-oared gig rapidly approaching; she had in the stern-sheets four persons, three of whom were dressed as officers, and wore cocked hats.
The passengers were on deck, as well as the two mates, watching the boat.
"I suspect after all we shall find that we were unnecessarily alarmed, and they will prove very honest gentlemen," observed the colonel.
"I trust they may be," said Ada. "It would be very dreadful to have to fight."
"I'm afraid there's little honesty either on board the craft or the boat; for I trust little to the Austrian bunting flying at her peak," answered Bowse. "You must not be frightened, young lady, when you see the men armed. It is safe to be prepared—Mr Timmins, get the cutlasses and small arms on deck, and send the people to their quarters—Colonel Gauntlett, I will speak with you, if you please;" and the master led the colonel aside. "I have to propose a bold plan, and a dangerous one, should it not succeed; but if it does, I think our safety is secured. The pirate—for pirate the commander of that brig is, I am assured—will, I suspect, through audacity or fool-hardiness, venture on our deck; now, what I propose, if he does, is to entice the rest of the people on board, and to seize them and their boat, and to hold them as hostages."
"But suppose they should prove to be really Austrians," urged the colonel. "It would be an odd way of treating officers who come to pay a friendly visit; and, seeing there are ten men in the boat, it will not be quite so easy either."
"No fear of that, sir," answered Bowse; "they venture here because they don't know what Englishmen are made of. They have been accustomed to deal with Turks and degenerate Greeks and Italians, and fancy they can manage us as easy; they come to see the condition we are in. Now, as I feel certain that boat comes here with the intention and hope of taking this brig without any resistance, I want to make them fall into their own trap."
The colonel thought a little time. "Well," he answered, "I do not dislike your plan on the whole, provided we are sure the fellows intend us treachery. What part am I to play in it?"
"Why, sir, I want you to hold the chief man of them in conversation, while I talk to another; for I intend to let only two at a time come on deck—and then, if we can get them below, we can secure them, and, before the rest find it out, we will invite two more below, and secure them. I want you to offer a reason for our carrying so much sail yesterday and last night, to throw them off their guard, and to make them suppose we still believe them Austrians."
"But what am I to say about the way we carried sail?" asked the colonel.
"Why, sir, you see, we did not go out of our course, so you can say that you are in a very great hurry, and insisted on my making more sail, while, as the ship is bran new, I was not afraid of pleasing you, particularly as you promised a good round sum more if I got you in before a certain time."
"The story is plausible, but I am afraid it will not bear looking into," observed the colonel; "however, I will play my part as I best can."
"We will not give them time to look into that or anything else," replied Bowse. "They will observe the loss of caboose and boats, and also of our bulwarks, it is true; but we must settle them before they have time to consult about it; or we may point it out to them at once, and tell them that it happened at the end of the gale, and that it would have made us shorten sail if the wind had not dropped."
The plan of the master being agreed to, preparations were made to receive their very doubtful visitors. Ada and her attendant were on the poop, with Mitchell to guard them. The colonel and master, with the first mate stood at the gangway, on either side of which were stationed two of the strongest men in the ship, their cutlasses being concealed. The second mate, with six other hands, well armed, had orders to rush aft the moment they were summoned, and to look after the boats and those who might remain in her, and on no account to let them escape.
By the time all the arrangements were made, the boat was close to. Bowse examined her carefully. The crew were dressed as European seamen, and pulled in their fashion, though rather irregularly, and the uniform of the officers was perfectly correct, as far as he knew.
The boat dashed alongside without hesitation, and two of the officers sprung up on deck; the rest would have followed, but the two men at the gangway stopped them, in spite of gesticulations and strenuous endeavours.
"Messieurs, some one on board, I presume, speaks French?" said the principal of the two, taking off his cocked-hat, and bowing profoundly, with a glance towards the poop, where Ada sat.
"Moi—I do," answered the colonel, with not the best pronunciation in the world. "Que voulez-vous, Messieurs?"
"I am delighted to find a gentleman with whom I can converse in a common language. My native German I judged would be hopeless," observed the officer.
He was a remarkably fine-looking man, with a dark, curling moustache, and a free, bold manner. Now the colonel had studied German in the course of his military education, and spoke it well; he therefore immediately answered in that language.
The officer looked puzzled, and then laughingly said, "Oh! I must compliment you; but we will speak in French—it is the proper language for the intercourse of strangers—a mutual ground on which they meet. I have come to offer the services of my ship's company in putting your vessel to rights; for I see that she has suffered severely in the gale, which has just passed."
"Many thanks to you, monsieur," returned the colonel; "but I believe the crew of the brig are fully competent to perform all the work which is required; and you see they have already accomplished much of it."
"I see they have been at work; but it will still occupy them much time to put you to rights," observed the stranger. "You carried on yesterday and during the night more than I ever saw a vessel do before; and may I ask why you endeavoured to outsail me as you did yesterday."
"Certainly," returned the colonel; and gave the explanation arranged with Bowse.
"Ah, it was a pity though, it made me suspicious of you," exclaimed the officer. "And did you not receive a message by a Sicilian speronara, which I sent to invite any merchantmen to put themselves under my protection?"
"Oh! we received it; and though doubts might have occurred, we were grateful," returned the colonel; then, in a low whisper to Bowse, he said. "Seize the rascals as soon as you like—we will ask them below."
He then turned back to the officers.
"Will you not come below to take some refreshment? We shall be happy to offer it also to those in the boat."
The stranger hesitated: at that instant Ada, who had risen to witness the conference, came to the break of the poop. She had been examining the countenances of the officers.
"The Prince Caramitzo, I am sure!" she exclaimed.
"Prince! Count Zappa, the pirate, you mean!" cried the colonel, stamping in a passion.
"It's all discovered then. Seize them my lads!" cried the master, rushing forward to aid in executing his own order.
"Ah! is it treachery you mean me?" exclaimed the seeming Austrian officer, dealing the poor master a violent blow. "It is Zappa you see, and whom you will soon learn to know."
And before any one had time to rush forward and seize him, he, with his companion, leaped into the boat which, at the same instant, shoved off; and, with rapid strokes, began to pull away.
"Give them a dose of the carronades!" exclaimed the master; but, before the guns could be brought to bear, and could be fired, the stranger was a long way from the ship, and not a shot told. There was thus no longer any disguise—nor could they, should they be conquered, expect any mercy at the hands of the pirate.
We must now go back to the day on which our story commences, or rather, at an early hour on the following morning, when the young Greek, Argiri Caramitzo, and his Italian companion, Paolo Montifalcone, left the ball-room of the Auberge de Provence.
Highly satisfied with the adventures of the evening, Caramitzo took his way to the abode of the Jew, Aaron Bannech, not deeming it prudent to sleep under any other roof; perhaps he would not have trusted himself under that of the Israelite, had he not felt assured that the preservation of his life and liberty was of very considerable importance to his host. As he reached the door of the house, he encountered the beggar Giacomo, who had concealed himself, till his approach, beneath a neighbouring archway.
"Hist, signor," said the beggar, hobbling up. "I'm glad you are at length come. I have long waited for you, to give you some important information regarding your safety. But who is the person with you? May I speak before him?"
"He is a friend—say on," replied the Greek.
"Well, signor, what I have to say is, that before long you will find this city too hot for you," answered Giacomo. "As you directed me, I watched the three Greeks you left at the caffe. For a long time they remained inside, and at last when they came out I followed them for some distance, and heard them making inquiries for the office of the police. They went to the wrong one first, and then I followed them to the other. Fortunately the office was closed, and they were told that they could not make their complaint till to-morrow. I could understand but little that they said, yet I am certain that they spoke of having seen you here."
"You have done well," returned the Greek. "You saw where they lodge?"
"Si, signor, certainly."
"Then follow them to-morrow, and let me know the result of their information."
Saying this, the Greek summoned the Jew to admit him and his companion to the house.
"I shall have to quit you to-morrow," he observed, as their host, after examining numerous bolts and bars, followed them to the only sitting-room the Jew possessed; his dining-room, library, and sanctum, where all his most private and important business was transacted.
"What! will you not take a passage by the good brig, the Zodiac," asked the Jew. "I had arranged everything for you, and should not have had to appear in the affair."
"I had done my part also at the ball to-night, and I flatter myself the English colonel and his niece would have been pleased to have my company. All would have gone well, had it not been for the appearance of those Greeks, who fancy they know me, and will swear that I am no other than the pirate Zappa, which, by the bye, exhibits the folly of being merciful. Now, though with your assistance, my friend, I might easily prove who I am, still, as you know I might find the detention inconvenient, I shall therefore sail early in the speronara. Your letters may be addressed to me as before, but bear in mind that your information is generally too stale. Now I will get a little rest, if you will show me where I am to sleep."
"Wonderful man," muttered the Jew, as he quitted his guest, who had thrown himself on a couch, and was already asleep. "He has no fear of treachery."
The Greek knew that the Jew was a wise man, and would not kill his golden goose. The Jew had procured some ordinary morning dresses for the Greek and his companion, and habited in them, with Italian cloaks thrown round them, they next morning fearlessly took their way to the quays.
Manuel was in attendance, and Paolo immediately embarked, and went on board the speronara, while the Greek returned once more into the city. Had any one watched the movements of the two strangers, they would have observed that the Greek never for an instant allowed the Italian to leave his side while they were on shore, and that the latter regarded him with a look much more of fear than of affection, somewhat as an ill-used dog does his master, though he still follows his footsteps.
As the Greek walked along, he made observations on several vessels which had been mentioned to him by the beggar, and afterwards looked into the police-office, where his accusers had not arrived. Again, therefore, returning to the quay, he summoned the boatman, Manuel, who had returned for him, and directed him to pull on board the speronara, to which he had previously sent an order by Paolo to get under weigh, and heave to till he should come on board.
"Let draw," he exclaimed, as soon as he stepped on board, "we will try the quality of your craft, Master Alessandro, steer as if we were bound for Syracuse, and afterwards we will run off shore. In case any vessel should be sent in chase, I wish to mislead them as to the course we have taken."
"Capisco—I understand, signor," said the Sicilian. "We have a good breeze, and shall reach the Sea Hawk, if she is at her post, long before dark."
"Did you ever know her miss her rendezvous?" said the Greek. "And now, my good Paolo, let me ask how it has fared with you since yesterday?"
"As it may with a man weary of the world," returned the youth, sighing deeply.
"You will yet do bravely, Paolo," said Caramitzo. "How like you now the life of a sailor? We have variety and excitement enough to please you?"
"Too much—I should prefer less change, and a more tranquil existence," returned the youth. "But I am willing to undergo all to please you."
"The very words your sister would have spoken. Come, come, Paolo, you must rouse yourself, and learn to enjoy the pleasures of life, instead of moping and weeping as she does."
As the Greek spoke, the youth's eyes flashed angrily; but as if with an effort, he controlled himself, and his countenance directly assumed its usual dejected look.
The speronara, as has been described, kept first to the northward; and after standing in that direction for six or seven miles, she eased off her sheets, and ran off to the eastward. After three hours a large polacca brig was seen from her deck a couple of points on her larboard bow. On this a small flag was run up to the end of her main-yard, which was immediately answered by the brig. The speronara then hauled her wind on the starboard tack which brought her head looking almost into Valetta harbour, while the brig hove to on the same tack.
The Greek had for some time been looking through a spy-glass towards Malta, which lay like a line of blue hillocks rising from the sea.
"Here Paolo," he said, at length. "Do you take the glass, and tell me, what vessels you see, which appear to have come out of the port we left this morning."
For some time Paolo made no answer. He was examining the intervening space between them and the shore.
The Greek, meantime, reclined on a seat to rest, for he was weary with his exertions.
Paolo at last addressed him.
"I make out a square-rigged vessel of some sort, steering this way. She looms large."
The Greek sprang to his feet, and took the glass.
"She is the one we are in search of," he exclaimed. "Up with the helm and let draw the head sheets."
The orders were obeyed, and the speronara ran off again before the wind towards the brig, with which she had communicated, and the head of whose topsails were just seen above the horizon. It took a couple of hours before the speronara hove to close to her, by which time the day was almost over.
The brig was a remarkably fine looking vessel, with a long low hull, painted black, with sharp bows, a clean run and a raking counter. She was what is denominated polacca-rigged; a name given to designate those vessels which have their lower masts and topmast in one piece; thus evading the necessity of tops and caps, and much top-weight. Her yards were very square; her masts, which were polished, raked somewhat; her rigging was well set up, and very neat; and her canvas looked white and new. She was in truth a very rakish-looking and beautiful craft. As the speronara drew near, a boat was lowered from the brig and manned, and now came alongside.
As soon as the boat, which was full of armed men in the picturesque costume of Greek sailors, came alongside, Caramitzo turned to the padrone of the speronara:—
"Alessandro," he said, "your personal services to me are over, for the present; but I have occasion for the use of your vessel for a few hours longer. Do you and your people go quietly on board the brig, and remain till my return. Some few of my followers will man the speronara in the mean time."
The padrone of the speronara would have expostulated, but the Greek cut him short, and intimated that, as just then his will was law, if he did not consent with a good grace, he would be compelled to do so—pointing at the same time to the boatload of desperadoes alongside. Seeing therefore that resistance was useless, the padrone and his crew were transferred to the brig, and thirty Greek seamen took their place. The exchange was made very rapidly, as their chief, for such he was whom we have known as Argiri Caramitzo, appeared in a hurry.
An officer, who seemed to have charge of the brig, came off in a smaller boat at the summons of the captain.
"Understand," he said, "you are, if possible, to keep the English brig, you see to the westward, just in sight; at, indeed, about the same distance we are now from her. Steer east-northeast, which is her course, and look out for the speronara. I am about to visit the brig, and may perhaps be able to render you a good account of her."
The officer bowed.
"I understand your orders clearly," he said. "We would rather, however, see you returning in the brig, than in the speronara."
"I will not forget your wishes," the chief answered laughing, as the boat shoved off.
"Now my men let draw the foresheet—now she has way on her—haul it well aft, and see if she will lay up for the brig yonder. Ah, she does it bravely—call me when we near her."
And wrapping himself in his cloak he lay down to sleep, or, it might have been, to meditate on the daring plans and projects working in his active brain. The speronara flew over the waves like a sea-bird on the wing. She soon neared the brig which Paolo at once recognised as the English merchantman they had passed in Valetta harbour. He had heard from the chief who were the passengers on board, and the ruse to be practised had also been confided to him. He had been endeavouring to beguile, to him, the weary hours of the voyage with reading, while the chief slept, for sleep refused to visit his eyelids. A thought seemed to strike him. He wrote hastily in the book, and tearing out the leaf, placed it in his bosom. He then roused his companion from his slumber. The Greek started up and eyed the approaching brig.
"It is she," he exclaimed. "That vessel, my men, is to be your prize; but much caution will be required to take her. She is armed, that is to say, she has four real guns and two wooden ones; but from what I saw of her captain and crew, I think they are likely to fight. They are very different sort of characters, are those English, to the Italians we are accustomed to deal with, who call on their saints to help them, and from the Turks, who make up their minds it is their fate to be taken and thrown overboard. The difficulty, on the contrary, with these English, is ever to persuade them that they are beaten; and, as they don't care for the Saints, and don't fear the devil—heretics that they are—they trust to their own right arm, their cutlasses, and big guns; and by Achilles, if you do manage to throw them overboard, they will swim about in the hopes of getting a cut at you. Now, where we cannot succeed by force, we must employ stratagem; and I intend to go on board and to inform them that the Sea Hawk is an Austrian ship-of-war, anxious to protect merchantmen from the attacks of the corsair Zappa, and to revenge herself on him for his capture of one of their brigs of war, of which they will have heard. If I find them unprepared and unsuspicious of us, we will at once run alongside and take possession; and, as I am anxious not to be under the necessity of throwing the crew overboard, we will stow them all away in the hold of the vessel, and make the padrone carry them with him to Sicily. If he murder them on the voyage that will be no fault of ours; and if he lands them, they can be no evidence against us at any time, for they have not seen our brig, and Signor Sandro will not dare to give any correct information, though, of course, he will tell a number of lies to exonerate himself; but for that we are not to blame. Now we will heave to, to windward of our friend, and see the boat clear for launching, to carry me and Paolo on board her."
Having concluded his observations, the chief and Paolo went below, and soon returned so completely disguised in the costume of Sicilian boatmen, as I have described, that the Greeks at first scarcely knew them.
As they passed the brig, they hailed her, and then hove to. The pirate, for there is little use concealing the character of the pretended prince, with his young companion, whom he had instructed how to act, stepped into the boat, manned by two stout hands, and pulled alongside the brig. He was somewhat startled and disappointed on discovering the preparations which were made to receive him, should he appear as an enemy; and, seeing Colonel Gauntlett at the gangway, with whom he had held so much conversation on the previous day, it occurred to him at once that it might be dangerous to trust his own voice, and he therefore resolved to make Paolo the spokesman. His greatest trial, however, was to come, when, in the presence of Ada Garden, his countenance was exposed to the bright light of the cabin lamp. The admiration he had felt for her at the ball was increased when he beheld her again; but it was not so great as to make him forget that now was not the time to show it, and it was with some feeling of relief that he found himself once more in his boat, fully convinced that, even with his thirty men, it would be a work of considerable danger to attempt the capture of the Zodiac by means of the speronara. He accordingly determined to return on board the brig, dismiss the speronara, and keep a bright look out after the merchantman, till he should find a favourable opportunity to take her unawares. As the speronara sailed almost two feet to one of the Zodiac, he was soon able to pass her and to reach the polacca brig before she was discernible through the darkness. As the Greek stepped on the deck of the brig, the crew received him with a shout of welcome.
"Long life to our captain," they exclaimed. "Long life to Zappa."
The Prince Caramitzo or the pirate Zappa, for under either of those names that worthy person may in future be recognised, assured his followers of the satisfaction their affection afforded him, and then ordered them to tumble the Sicilians into their speronara, and to make all sail without delay.
The Sea Hawk was kept before the wind, and next morning, at daybreak, they found themselves still a long way ahead of the English brig. The pirates, who had on board a number of Austrian uniforms, and seamen's dresses, and flags, indeed every means of disguising the ship to appear like a man-of-war of that nation, now, by their chief's orders, set to work on the necessary preparations to make her assume that character, while Zappa himself appeared in the uniform of an Austrian captain.
His purpose was to dodge on, under easy sail, till the Zodiac came up with him; and then, under pretext of friendly converse, to run her alongside, and to pour his men on her decks before her crew should have time to make any resistance. The gale of wind, which so suddenly sprang up, prevented the execution of this plan, and preserved the Zodiac.
When Zappa observed her bearing down on him, he was in hopes that his ruse had succeeded, and that his vessel was taken for what he wished her to appear; but when he saw, on his following her, that the English brig made more sail in the very height of the gale, and at last carried on in a way that seemed even greatly to hazard her safety, he began to fear that he was suspected. He, however, was determined not to lose sight of her again, and accordingly made sail in chase, with the hopes of finding a favourable opportunity to execute his purpose at the termination of the gale. At length it fell calm, and his vessel lay about four miles from her.
We have seen that he was a man of extraordinary nerve, and he bethought him that he would try once more to blind the master and crew of the Zodiac, and, ordering a boat to be manned, he pulled boldly on board her. Had not Bowse been forewarned, there can be little doubt but that he would have triumphantly succeeded, and there can be no reflection on his want of talent either in planning or executing that he did not do so. Had he known as much as does the reader, he would probably have had nothing to do with the speronara, which was suspected, but would at once have run alongside the Zodiac in his own vessel which was unknown. When he found himself, on his second visit to the Zodiac, so nearly caught in his own net, he pulled back to the Sea Hawk, vowing that he would not again be foiled.
The master of the Zodiac, as he laboured without ceasing at the important work of getting his ship once more in sailing trim, every now and then glanced at the pretended Austrian with feelings in which the undaunted courage of the British seaman were fearfully mingled in his bosom with dark forebodings as to the result of an engagement with an enemy in every respect so much his superior. His eye would also, ever and anon, range round the horizon in anticipation of those rising signs of the coming breeze, which he prayed Heaven might yet be long delayed till the work was completed, and then that it might come from the eastward, as it would thus give him the weather gage, and enable him to manoeuvre to better advantage in the coming fight; for he had already seen most convincing proof of the superior sailing qualities of the Sea Hawk; that he had no expectations of being able to avoid it, even should he be able to make sail before the arrival of the breeze. With voice and example, he cheered on his crew to the work; the topmast had been got up, and the rigging fitted over its head; but the topsail-yard was not yet across, and much remained to be done to make their previous labours of any avail. Bowse himself had taken his meals on deck, as had his mates; and the men had snatched but a minute to satisfy their hunger. He had just before sent them below to their dinners, when, as he was taking a look at the enemy, to see what she was about, he observed beyond her a dark blue line on the horizon.
"Ah," he muttered; "there's no doubt what is coming now, and long before the canvas is spread, we shall have the breeze blowing strong, and the brig coming down on us. Well, we've done our best, and men can do no more. I'll let the poor fellows have this meal in quiet; it will be the last many of them will eat, I fear. Ah! Heaven only knows if any on board here will ever taste another, if those cursed villains get hold of us—and nothing but a miracle can save us, that I see—yet, we'll make them pay dear for victory, at all events."
He took two or three turns on the deck, watching his antagonist, and the coming wind; and from his cool and calm exterior, no one would have supposed how fully he felt the dangerous position in which his ship was placed. Broader and broader grew the line, till, at last, the wind filled the loftier canvas of the corsair, which was spread to catch it. The time, he saw, was, come to prepare for the final struggle. He summoned the mate from below.
"Turn the hands up," he cried out, in a firm, sharp tone, to be heard throughout the ship. "We shall have work before long to warm them up a bit."
The men sprang on deck with alacrity, casting an eye at the stranger as they went to the work in hand.
The topsail-yard was ready fitted, and all hands now joined in swaying away on it. Meantime, the wind, though still light, had filled the pirate's sails, and she was stealing through the water towards them, before they even felt the wind. At last a few catspaws, the avant-couriers of the stronger breeze, began to play round them. The foresail and the fore-staysail were the only sails they could yet get to pay the brig's head off before the wind. These were now set; but the so doing delayed the work of bending the topsail, and the Sea Hawk was now coming fast up with them. As soon as the Zodiac was got dead before the wind, the main-topsail and topgallant-sails were hoisted; the studdensail-booms were run out, and studdensails set, which much made amends for the loss of the headsails, as long as they desired only to keep before the wind. Notwithstanding, however, all the canvas the Zodiac could set, the corsair still came up with her hand over hand. Bowse watched till he thought she had come within range of his guns, and he then ordered one to be brought up, and pointed at her over the taffrail.
As soon as Colonel Gauntlett, who was on deck, heard the order given, he exclaimed that he and Mitchell would assist in working the guns, while the crew continued bending the sails.
The gun was accordingly trained aft, but part of the taffrail had to be cut away to work it.
"Try to knock away some of his spars, sir," cried Bowse, as the colonel prepared to fire. "Everything depends on that."
The colonel fired, but the shot fell short. The gun was instantly again loaded, but before they had time to fire, the pirate yawed and let fly a bow chaser, the shot from which flew through the main-topsail, though without doing further damage. The colonel again fired, but again the shot fell short, to his no slight rage.
"I see how it is, sir," observed Bowse, "that fellow has a long nine in his bows, while our gun is only a carronade. He will be doing us mischief, I am afraid."