"Let him get a little nearer though, and we will give him two to one," returned the colonel.
Scarcely had he spoken, when another shot came, which cut away the topmast starboard shrouds. Hands were immediately sent aloft to secure the rigging, but this again delayed the progress of the work on the foremast. Notwithstanding the occasional yaw the pirate was obliged to make in order to fire, he still gained on the Zodiac. At last he got within range of her carronades, to the great satisfaction of Colonel Gauntlett, who forthwith commenced firing his gun as fast as Mitchell could sponge and load it. The shot, however, told with little or no effect; a few holes were made through his head-sails, but no ropes of importance were cut away on board the Sea Hawk. The countenances of the pirates could now clearly be seen. They had exchanged the Austrian uniforms for their proper Greek dresses, which added considerably to the ferocity of their appearance.
Finding that the carronade frequently sent its shot on board, they hauled up a point, so as to bring their vessel on the starboard quarter of the Zodiac, and at the same time to keep beyond the range of her guns, while they could still send the shot from their long bow chaser on board her.
The brave master groaned when he saw the manoeuvre, for he felt how completely he was at the mercy of the enemy. The colonel, notwithstanding, still continued working his gun, till with rage he saw that his shot again fell short of the enemy. The Zodiac, it must be understood, bearing chiefly after sail, could not venture to haul up so much as to bring the enemy again astern, or he would have tried to do so. His gun was worked quickly, and with great precision; shot after shot told with fearful effect on the spars and rigging. The men had perseveringly laboured the whole time in spite of the shot flying about them, but just as they had bent the fore-topsail, and were swaying away on the yard, a shot struck the fore-yard, and cut it completely in two. The men saw that their efforts were all in vain, and letting go the halyards, rushed of their own accord to the guns.
"It's no use running, sir," they exclaimed, with one voice. "Let's fight it out while we can."
The pirate's shot continued their work of destruction. The main topmast next received a wound, and in a minute afterwards, the breeze freshening, down it came on board, hampering up the deck.
"Clear away the wreck of the topmast, my lads," exclaimed the master. "And then I hope those scoundrels will give us a a chance of punishing them."
The order was obeyed, and the gun, which had been trained aft, was replaced, and the other two guns were got over to the starboard side. The brave crew then gave forth a cheer of defiance at the enemy, expecting that they were about to run them on board; the pirates were waiting, though, till their guns had produced more effect; a shot at last came, and carried away the peak halyards, and deprived her of all power of manoeuvring. The Zodiac was now at their mercy; and they bore down upon her; but instead of running her aboard on the starboard side, they luffed up when just under her stern, and poured in the whole of their starboard guns; then, keeping away again, they hauled up on the other tack joining their larboard battery, and then once more, as if content with their work, they kept away, and ran her on board on the starboard side.
Three of the Zodiac's crew had been disabled, and Bowse himself was badly wounded; but the remainder fought their guns to the last. The pirates, as the sides of the two vessels ground together, threw their grapnels on board, and crowded the rigging to leap on the deck of the Zodiac.
The master, and Colonel Gauntlett, led on the English crew to oppose the enemy—never did men fight better, but numbers bore them down—the struggle was in vain, the colonel was first struck down, and the master directly after, and though the two mates continued fighting some time afterwards, one being killed and the other wounded, the survivors gave way, and were either driven down below or overboard.
The tall figure of the pirate leader was the most conspicuous in the fight.
"The brig is ours!" he exclaimed, as he took up his post at the top of the companion steps. "But she is too slow a sailer to be of any use to us; we will therefore take the most valuable part of her cargo on board, and desert her. We have no time to lose; for all this firing may have been heard by some British cruiser, who will be down upon us before long—Now, Paolo, follow me."
The pirate crew instantly got the hatches off, and set to work to select what they considered most valuable, and to transfer it to their own vessel.
Ada Garden had often read of tempests at sea, of shipwrecks, and battles; but it had never occurred to her that she might some day witness their horrors, or suffer from their dreadful effects. Now the reality of the scenes she had before pictured to herself, as events passed by, and unlikely again to happen, was palpably displayed before her. She had scarcely recovered from the terrors of the the storm when her uncle came below, and, with unusual tenderness in his manner urged her not to be alarmed at the noise of the guns which were about to be fired; at the same time speaking with confidence of their ultimate success. Though she trembled with anxiety at what she heard, she promised not to give way to fear, and entreated to be allowed to come on deck. To this he of course would on no consideration consent, and after much argument, and by showing her the useless danger she would run, he made her promise that nothing should induce her to leave the cabin till he himself came down to summon her. She again had recourse to her Bible, and, with Marianna sitting at her feet, she endeavoured to calm her mind, and to banish her terror as she had done during the gale. Except from the occasional discharge of the guns there was now, perhaps, much less to cause her alarm, if she could have helped thinking of the possible result; but this, notwithstanding her uncle's assurances, she could not do; for she understood too well the great superiority of the pirate vessel; and though she knew that her countrymen would struggle to the last, yet she felt that they might be overcome; and she scarcely dared to contemplate what her fate might be. The alarm of her young attendant was almost beyond control.
"Oh, Holy Mary!" she shrieked out, as the first shot was fired; "the dreadful battle has begun, and we shall be killed. Oh, why did we leave our dear Valetta, to come on the stormy sea, when one moment we are about to be drowned and the next murdered—ah me, ah me!" and the poor girl burst into tears. Another shot was heard, and she started and trembled afresh.
Ada tried to console her. "Listen now, Marianna," she said, "those shots are fired from this vessel, and, therefore, they cannot hurt us, though they may our enemies. It is only those which are sent from the other ship can injure us; as yet, none seem to have been discharged."
"May the saints prevent the wretches from sending any!" exclaimed Marianna through her tears. "Perhaps they will not fire on a British ship."
"Heaven grant it may be so," said Ada, "but I fear not. That sounds as if our ship had been struck."
It was the sharp sound of a spar being wounded, which, like an electric shock, reverberated through the vessel. Another and another followed.
"Oh, the enemy must be close to us! My dear, dear mistress, what is going to happen?" shrieked the poor Maltese girl.
"Put your trust in Heaven, Marianna; and, though we are unable to discern it, the means may at the last moment be found for our preservation," said Ada solemnly. "I would that I were allowed to venture on deck, to learn that my uncle has not suffered in this dreadful fire."
"Oh, do not leave me, my mistress," exclaimed Marianna, clinging to her dress. "You will be killed, to a certainty, if you go up among all the fighting. No, you shall not go!"
Ada did not attempt to disengage herself, for she remembered her promise to Colonel Gauntlett, and she felt how worse than useless she would there be. Still louder and more frequent became the roar of the enemy's guns, and the crashes, as the spars and rigging came falling down on deck. Then came other frightful noises in quick succession, as the pirate poured in her two broadsides, and lastly the loud, grating sound, as she finally ran alongside, and the two vessels ground together as they lay locked in their deadly embrace. At the same instant arose the shouts of defiance raised by the British seamen, mingled with the shrieks of their wounded, and answered by the fierce cries of the pirates, as they threw themselves on the Zodiac's deck—next was heard above their heads the loud trampling of the feet of those engaged in mortal struggle. Sometimes Ada fancied that her friends were victorious, and that the pirates were driven back; then again, by the more frequent sound of the stamping of feet, and the cries and exclamations in a strange language, she felt too sure that the enemy had poured still greater numbers on board. For a few moments the noise of feet increased; there were next some heavy, dull sounds, as of persons falling, and then arose the loud triumphant shout of victory; but the sounds were strange—it was that of the enemy; all, then, for a time was silent—what had become of her uncle and the brave crew? With her heart palpitating, and her mind in a chaos of confusion, she could not resolve what to do. She could just discern the footsteps of persons descending the companion-ladder—they entered the main cabin. The door of the one in which she with Marianna sat was violently opened, and she beheld the countenance of the pirate Zappa. Too truly all then was lost. The excess of her horror and alarm overcame her and she fainted.
When the first glimmerings of consciousness revisited the mind of Ada Garden, she felt that some dreadful calamity had befallen her, without being able to comprehend its nature or extent. An undefined terror, an insupportable oppression at the heart made her feel that death must soon release her from her sufferings. She had neither the power nor the will to stir a limb, or to open her eyes to discover her real state. The noise of the engagement and the thunder of the guns, the shrieks and cries of the combatants, still rung with fearful clearness in her ears, yet without enabling her to remember the causes which had produced them. She felt that she had been deprived of her only guardian—that she was alone in the world without friends to protect or counsel her; but how her uncle had died she could not comprehend. Then she thought she saw him sinking down into the deep blue sea, and his countenance was turned towards her with the smile it wore when he was pleased, and down, down he sunk till he reached the yellow sand at the bottom, where, through the clear water, she could see him resting, and beckoning her to raise him up; and then there seemed to pass a vessel full of strange, fierce forms, shrieking and mocking her; and whenever she stooped down to aid the old man, it would come between them and conceal him from her.
At last a deep-drawn sigh gave notice that she was returning to a consciousness of the dreadful reality. She opened her eyes with difficulty, and for an instant gazed round her, and then again closed them. That glance had revealed to her that she was no longer in her own cabin, though she still felt that she was at sea. For some time after this she remained with her eyes closed, trying to collect her scattered thoughts, till at last she remembered the fight with the Sea Hawk, and the appearance of Zappa at the door of her cabin.
The thoughts of what had occurred were almost sufficient to drive back her mind to a state of insensibility, if not to madness itself; but she felt that all the courage and energy she could muster were requisite for her guidance, and by a strenuous exertion of the intellect, she conquered the feeling which was so nearly overpowering her. Once more she opened her eyes, and tried to raise herself, that she might discover where she was.
The movement she made attracted the attention of some one who appeared to be occupied at a little distance from her, and who instantly flew to her side.
"Oh, my dear mistress, the saints have heard my prayers, and you have come to life again!" exclaimed the voice of Marianna, who immediately presented herself before her, with a countenance in which pleasure overcame every other feeling.
"Oh, tell me, where am I? What has happened?" exclaimed Ada, eagerly; but the exertion or excitement caused her again almost to faint.
"Hush, hush, my dear mistress," whispered Marianna. "Do not be alarmed. You are not in a condition to ask questions, nor to listen to my answers, so I shall say nothing. You have been very ill with a fever, and you are to take this medicine, which will do you much good."
As she spoke, she presented a glass, filled with a cooling beverage, which, as Ada felt very thirsty, and her mouth dreadfully parched, she gratefully drank off and lay back on her pillows.
She saw that she was in a large cabin, furnished and ornamented with much taste; and through the open stern-ports, from which a light pure breeze blew in and cooled her fevered brow, she saw the calm blue sea glittering in the sunshine, and in the far distance the land rising in picturesque hillocks from out of the water. While she was gazing at this calm and soothing scene, and meditating on the meaning of Marianna's words, she fell into a quiet slumber.
The Maltese girl watched her mistress till she saw that she slept, and then busied herself in putting the cabin in order, and in dusting the furniture, as if she were in a room on shore.
The cabin was, as has been described, in the after part of the vessel, and occupied its entire width. It was fitted up with bird's-eye maple, and the mouldings were gilt.
There were two large sofas, or standing bed-places, on either side, with brass bars overhead, by which a curtain could be drawn round them.
The space between the two ports was occupied by a rack, on which were arranged with much taste, a number of richly-embossed arms, pistols, swords, and daggers—and against the bulkhead was another stand, filled with muskets and cutlasses, brightly polished.
On the couch farthest from the door, on the starboard side, lay Ada; with her feet towards the stern, and her head supported by pillows; so that the full force of such air as could find its way through the ports should blow on her face. As she slept, a fresh bloom slowly crept over her cheek, which had hitherto been of a deathlike paleness, and as her faithful attendant watched its appearance, she hailed it as a sign of returning health.
In the centre of the cabin was a table on which now stood a large vase, filled with sweet-scented flowers, which spoke of the shore and civilisation. There was, indeed, in the arrangement of the cabin generally, a mixture of elegant luxury and warlike preparation, which gave it the appearance of the cabin of a yacht fitted for a voyage among savage or treacherous people. Whatever she was, Marianna seemed perfectly at home. Her work-basket was on the table, and various things belonging to it were scattered about; as were several articles of female apparel, which showed also that she considered the cabin sacred to her mistress and herself. When she had arranged everything to her satisfaction, she again sat down composedly to her work, and amused herself, as she plied her needle, by singing a song of her native island, in a tone, however, too low to run any risk of disturbing her mistress. After some time she got tired of singing, and then as some people are apt to do, who are fond of keeping their tongues going when they have nobody else to speak to, she began to talk to herself. She did not raise her voice, it is true, above a whisper, but still it was sufficient to give exercise to that little fidgety occupant of the mouth.
"Well, this is all very nice, and very pleasant, and very agreeable; and the gentlemen are very civil, and very respectful, and very kind; but I wonder when we shall ever reach the shore," she said; and then she went on singing again, and then once more began to talk as follows:—"I suppose, as they say, we shall at last reach the shore, and everything will be as it should be, and my mistress will be happy and contented after all her troubles—poor dear, sweet, young lady—I'm sure she ought to be. Well, it does puzzle me, exceedingly—that it does—I cannot make it out, no more, I am sure, would wiser heads than mine. But there is one thing I am very sure of, that Signor Paolo is one of the wisest and most amiable young gentlemen I ever saw. So melancholy, too, he seems—something very dreadful weighs on his spirits, I am sure. I don't think he is in love—I thought so at first; but when I hinted that he was, he gave the nearest approach to a smile of which he is capable, which I'm sure he would not have done, if he was a victim of the tender passion. One thing is certain, however—he saved the life of my sweet young mistress. If it had not been for his knowing how to doctor, I'm sure she would have died—dear, dear, how sad it would have been—what would have become of me, too! Well, when she recovers, and I tell her all that has happened, I am sure she'll think the same of him that I do. When she does begin, she will be asking me so many questions—I wish that I could answer one half of them—first, she'll want to know what has become of the poor old gentleman, her uncle. Well, he certainly was a passionate, grumpy, sour old man as ever lived. Yet he had his good points—he had a kind heart, which made him do many a kind thing in his own rough way. He was generous, too, when he thought people deserving, and then he dotingly loved my young mistress, and intended to leave her all his money. What shall I tell her has become of him? I can tell her nothing; for I know no more than she does; or what has become of the brave Captain Bowse, or his polite mates, or even of that stupid long-legged fellow, Mitchell. I'm afraid, after the dreadful noise I heard, they must all long ago have gone to the other world. But to believe so would make my young lady sad, and would agitate her, and Signor Paolo says she must be kept quiet, so I will tell her I know nothing. Ah! that will be the safest plan."
While she was running on in this way, a gentle knock was heard at the door—she sprang up, and went to it cautiously.
"Who is there?" she asked.
"It is I, Paolo—may I enter?" answered a voice from without.
"Oh yes, indeed you may, Signor Paolo," she whispered through the keyhole, and at the same time withdrew the bolts from the door. As she did so she fancied she heard a bolt drawn slowly back outside. When the door opened, a young man entered, habited in the Greek costume, though his features were more like those of one born in Italy, as was the language he spoke.
"Has the lady yet awoke, and have you given her the potion I left for her?" he asked in a cautious tone.
"Si, signor, she not only awoke, and drank up the draught, but she began to talk, and has now gone to sleep again," replied Marianna. "See how sweetly she sleeps."
The young man stepped across the cabin so that he might be able to see Ada's countenance.
He observed the slight roseate tinge which had visited her cheek, and her calm, quiet breathing.
"The lady does well," he whispered. "I will send you another draught to give her when she awakes, which she will not however do until towards the evening; and then, when she speaks, try to tranquillise her mind, and induce her again to sleep. The slightest agitation might be fatal to her."
"Oh, then, signor, I will tell her anything you advise," answered Marianna. "But I am much puzzled what to say; and I want you to tell me, among many other things, where we are going; because I know that will be one of the first questions she will ask me, and I'm sure I can't answer it."
The young man hesitated before he spoke.
"Tell her," he said, at last, "that we are going to a place where she will be kindly and honourably treated; but that you know not the name of it. I am not the commander of this vessel, nor can I direct her course; and I am not allowed to say more than I have."
"Oh, but you have great influence with him who is commander; and you can make him do what you like, I am sure," urged the Maltese girl.
"Indeed, I cannot," answered the young man, mournfully. "My influence extends but a short way, and can be but rarely exerted in the cause of right. Were I to attempt too much, I should become altogether powerless."
He stopped, as if he had said too much, and seemed about to leave the cabin. He again, however, went up to Marianna, and whispered—"It may be better for your mistress and yourself that she remain as if overcome with illness till the conclusion of the voyage. Urge her not to rise, or to attempt to go on deck; and tell her that the leech who has attended her, has prescribed perfect silence and calmness. You understand me?"
"I do, signor—though I cannot comprehend your reasons," returned Marianna. "But, at all events, you can tell me when the voyage is to be brought to a conclusion. It has lasted already a long time. I did not think the Mediterranean sea was so large."
"Even there I cannot satisfy you," returned he who was called by Marianna Signor Paolo. "Certainly not for many days; it may be even for some weeks. You observe, that we do not always continue sailing. We visit the shore occasionally, and, sometimes, remain hours together at anchor."
"I cannot say exactly that I discovered that," answered the girl. "I thought sometimes the ship appeared to sail very slowly, and that we were very near the shore; but I knew not that we were altogether at rest. Yet I cannot understand why you should not tell me where we are going to."
"Perhaps I myself do not know," returned Paolo evasively. "The commander of this ship does not always say where he will next steer."
"There again—who is your commander?" asked the girl. "It is strange you should not have told me his name."
"You are much too curious, Marianna," answered Signor Paolo. "I must again warn you to prevent your mistress from asking questions, which you cannot answer; and now I must leave you, for the present; for I dare not remain long at a time here."
Saying this, to the great disappointment of Marianna, who had made up her mind to enjoy a long chat, he took his departure; and she bolted and locked the door behind him—saying, as she did so, "I will do as he tells me, at all events; and, as I may not go out, no one else shall come in without my leave."
The bright rays of the sun were streaming through the stern-ports, and glittering on the arms and the gilt mouldings of the bulkheads, when Ada Garden again awoke. Her eyes were dazzled by the bright refulgence which they encountered, and almost blinded, she closed them, till Marianna bethought of drawing the curtain across the foot of her couch. In so doing she saw that her mistress was awake.
Now, although the glare of the sunlight had disturbed Ada's slumbers, it had had the beneficial effect of imparting somewhat of its brightness to her spirits; and instead of the gloomy oppression which she had before experienced, she now felt a glow of hope circling round her heart; and she was fully prepared to credit the favourable account of the state of affairs which Marianna was about to give her as soon as she was questioned.
"Where am I—what has happened?" she asked, endeavouring to sit up.
"You must take another draught before I am at liberty to tell you anything, my dear signora," answered Marianna, bringing her the goblet which Paolo had sent. She drank the cooling mixture, and it served still further to revive her. "Now let me arrange your pillows, and I will tell you all you want to know," said the faithful girl, arranging her couch. "There, now you are comfortable! Well, first, we are with very kind, considerate people, who do everything I wish; and we are as safe as we can be on board ship—though I wish ships had never been invented; then we are going to a very beautiful place—though, when we are to get there depends on the wind and other circumstances, which I am not clever enough to explain."
She was running on in this style, when Ada cut her short by abruptly asking—
"Where is my uncle? Is he on board? Why does he not come to me?"
"Ah! there are some little mysteries which I cannot explain just now, and that is one of them," promptly returned Marianna. "The signor colonel is not on board the ship, nor is the good Captain Bowse—they all went away in the other one; and we—that we might be much safer—we came on board this one. Here we are, and here we must remain, till you, my dear signora, can get well enough to go on shore; but there is no hurry, for we could not be better off than we are now. So, as you have asked a great many questions, which your doctor said that if you did I was not to answer, yet I have done so, you must try and go fast asleep again, and forget all about it."
Ada was still too weak, she discovered, to talk; and her mind had not either sufficiently recovered its clearness to perceive the glaring evasiveness of her servant's replies; so, satisfied that her apprehensions of danger were groundless, she amused herself by examining the fittings of the cabin, and by watching through the open ports the magnificent effect of the setting sun, which now just dipping in the water, seemed to convert the whole ocean into a sheet of liquid gold. She thus discovered that the ship was steering an easterly course, from which she concluded that she was still on her voyage to Cephalonia.
Two more days passed away, and served to restore to Ada Garden her strength both of mind and body, though the uncertainty of the past and present, and painful anticipations for the future, much retarded her complete recovery.
In vain she questioned Marianna. Her lively attendant knew but little— and even that, she had been taught, it would be beneficial to her mistress to conceal. The young Italian had once entered the cabin while she was awake, and had felt her pulse, in order to be better able to prescribe for her, but had remained not a moment longer than was absolutely necessary in her presence. She resolved, however, the next time he came to detain and question him; for the description given of him by Marianna, already made her place confidence in him. She had not long to wait for an opportunity; for that evening, just before sunset, his knock was heard at the cabin doors, and with the usual caution he entered.
"How is your mistress?" he asked of Marianna. "Does she feel stronger?"
"She is awake to answer for herself," returned the Maltese girl, "and will gladly speak to you."
The young man started—he had so generally found her unconscious, that he seemed not to have expected to find her able to question him. He, however, crossed the cabin and stood with his arms folded, leaning against the bulkhead, where she could not observe his countenance. Ada was the first to speak.
"I am glad you have come, signor," she said, in a low tone; "for I am anxious to express my gratitude to you for the attention with which, as my maid tells me, you have treated me during my illness, and to which I feel sensible I am much indebted for my recovery."
"Lady, I have but performed the duty in obedience to the order of another," he replied, in a tone so calm that it sounded almost cold to her ear. "I found you suffering, and I have employed what knowledge I possess of the healing art to restore you to health. I rejoice to find that my efforts have not been totally unavailing."
"To you, at all events, my gratitude is due," returned Ada. "And I would lay myself under a still further obligation, by asking you to tell me what ship I am on board, how I came here, and to where I am being conveyed?"
The Italian hesitated, as if he was framing an answer, which Ada remarked to herself. At last he replied,—"Lady, your first question I may answer. You are on board a man-of-war belonging to the patriot Greeks, who are struggling for their liberty against the infidel Turks; and you are in possession of the commander's cabin. How you came here I am less able to inform you, and thus much only, further, I know, that we are sailing for one of the islands of the Grecian Archipelago, where you will be landed, and placed with those who will tend you carefully. Lady, I regret that I cannot tell you more."
The suspicions of Ada were much increased on hearing these words.
"I believe that you, signor, would not willingly deceive me," she observed. "The very tone of your voice forbids the supposition. But tell me, as the Greek patriots are on friendly terms with the English, should I desire to be placed on board a British ship-of-war, of which I believe there are several in these seas, would not your commander comply with my wishes?"
"The commander of this ship is anxious to do all he can to gratify you, lady; but to do as you wish may not be in his power."
"Signor," said Ada, glancing at his features. "I have heard that voice before. You speak Italian well; but so do many Greeks. Tell me, are you the commander of this ship?"
"Lady, I am not," returned the young man emphatically. "I am but acting as the surgeon of the ship, to soothe the anguish of those who are wounded. I have no authority on board."
"Then why does not the commander visit me?" said Ada, "I would see him and urge my request to be placed under the protection of the British flag. Surely he would not refuse to do so."
"Oh, lady, do not ask to see him," exclaimed the Italian, forgetting his cold reserve and previous caution. "You know not what misfortune you may bring on yourself by so doing. He believes that you are now sick, almost to death, and that your only chance of restoration to health is rest and quiet on shore."
"You speak in enigmas," said Ada, quickly taking alarm. "Surely the commander of a man-of-war would not detain an English lady against her will; and my having recovered would make him still more anxious to enable me to return to my friends."
The Italian stood for some minutes lost in thought.
"You know not lady how you came to be on board this vessel," he said. "You now compel me to tell you. Your attendant informs me that the ship in which you sailed from Malta was attacked by a corsair, and captured; but that you and she were the only persons conveyed on board the pirate vessel; and that you, having fainted during the engagement, were unconscious of all that took place. It appears that for a short time only you remained on board the pirate, still in a happy state of unconsciousness of the misfortune which had befallen you, when we caught sight of the ship, chased, and captured her. You and your attendant were found on board, respectfully treated, and in possession of the chief cabin. This was a suspicious circumstance, for who could tell that you were not willingly on board."
"Ah!" exclaimed Ada, almost smiling at the atrocious supposition. "Surely no one could believe that I was acting in consort with pirates?"
"Lady, I do not; but all may not so readily believe the truth," returned the Italian.
"But am I and my innocent attendant then to be punished as pirates," asked Ada, with a hysterical laugh.
"Scarcely so, lady; but you may be required to give evidence against them," returned the Italian.
"I can give no evidence against them," said Ada; "for, as you have been informed, I have been deprived of consciousness since I was found on board the English brig."
"The observation you make, lady, is much in your favour," remarked the Italian in a low tone.
"Then I am to understand," continued Ada, not noticing it, "that I am, with an attendant, a prisoner in this cabin."
"So I am compelled to confess, with much regret, is the case," replied the surgeon.
"Then I understand it all," she ejaculated, compressing her lips, and fixing her eyes upon the young man, who had advanced a few paces to the after part of the cabin. "From man I can expect no aid,—Heaven will not desert me."
"Lady, God never deserts those who trust in him," he replied, about to quit the cabin.
"Stay," exclaimed Ada. "Those features, too, I have beheld before. Tell me where it was I saw you?"
"Lady, fancy often strangely deceives us," returned the surgeon, in his former cold tone, and before she had time to ask another question, he had quitted the cabin.
She, as Marianna had before observed, heard a bolt drawn across it.
On board what vessel they were there might be a doubt; but there was none that they were prisoners.
Malta lay basking on the calm blue ocean, in the full radiance of a mid-day sun, hot, white, and dazzling, when Her Majesty's brig Ione made her number in the offing, approaching the port from the northward. It was observed at the signal station at the top of Government House, and from thence telegraphed to the guard-ship. At the same time another sail appeared from the eastward. She soon was made out to be a merchantman. Both had a fair wind. The brig of war stood in for the harbour on a bowline, her yards braced up on the larboard tack; and a very beautiful object she appeared, with all her canvas to her royals set to a nicety, as she rounded Fort Saint Elmo, and then kept away a little and run to her former anchorage, when, at a wave of her commander's hand, as if by magic, the whole crowd of canvas was in an instant clewed up and furled, and she brought up off Fort Saint Angelo. The merchant brig, which had the yellow flag flying, ran towards Port Marsa Musceit, and deliberately furling one sail after another, she dropped her anchor at the quarantine station, for she had come from the land of the plague, and many a day must pass before she could get pratique. Captain Fleetwood ordered his gig and hastened on shore, in order to report himself and to deliver his despatches to the governor. He had just returned from a trip to Naples, where he had been sent to convey despatches and also to bring back a few casks of light wines for the governor's table. He was cordially received by the old veteran, with whom he was a favourite. He was just taking his departure when he was called back.
"It may be for your satisfaction to learn, Captain Fleetwood, as I know that you are in a hurry to reach England, that you are to be sent home immediately with despatches and the mails," said the governor kindly. "I dare say we shall see you out here again before long, from what I hear, eh?" Charles Fleetwood actually blushed.
"I shall certainly come back to the Mediterranean, with or without a ship, as soon as I can," he answered; "and I hope I shall find you well, sir."
"I shall be glad to see you, my lad, and I wish ye every success," said the old governor kindly, as Fleetwood took his final leave. On his way back to the ship he called at the post-office, for he was anxious to ascertain, without delay, if there were any letters for him. He hoped to receive one from Cephalonia. He felt sure Ada would have contrived to write to him; and as he made the inquiry his heart beat much faster than usual. He had a packet of letters delivered to him; he ran his eye hurriedly over the addresses. Her handwriting was not to be seen. They were all from England. He then made every inquiry in his power from the shipping agents and others about the Zodiac; but nothing had been heard of her. It was supposed she must long ago have arrived at her destination. None of Colonel Gauntlett's friends had heard of him. Disappointed and out of spirits, he at last returned on board. He was afraid that he should be obliged to leave Malta without hearing of her safe arrival; and then how many months might pass away before he might receive a line from her. He did not, however, forget that others would be glad to hear that they were to revisit their homes, and as he passed Mr Saltwell, the first lieutenant, who was superintending the business of sending the governor's casks of wine on shore, he told him to prepare for sailing to England in a day or two. Before the captain had thrown himself on the sofa in his cabin, which he did as soon as he reached it, the joyous news had flown through the ship. Jemmy Duff was the first to carry the news into the midshipmen's berth.
"Huzza, my lads!" he exclaimed, whisking round his cap, and letting it come down over the eyes of Togle, another youngster of his own standing, who was reeling after the fatigue of furling sails, and eating his dinner,—"Old England for ever! Who'll bet that we shan't be kissing our sweethearts at home this day six weeks?"
"Why, what do you mean?" cried several, looking up.
"Who'll take my bet?" replied Duff.
"Why, I will," answered Togle, who did not like being disturbed, clearing his head at the same time from the cap. "I will, because I don't think such an ugly-looking chap as you are can have a sweetheart to kiss."
Whereon he got the cap pressed down harder than before, with his nose in a slop of rum-and-water on the table.
"But what makes you sing out in that way?" asked Tompion, the second mate. "You don't mean to say that we are homeward-bound, youngster?"
"I do, though; and the skipper has just come on board to say so," replied Duff; and thereon there was a general shout of congratulation, for though all hands were very happy together, the thought of change was exciting, and that of home was dear to most of them.
"Well, the hope of the Duffs will be once more pressed to the maternal bosom. I congratulate you, Jemmy," said Togle, who was trying to get his own nose in order, after its flattening in more senses than one, by putting that of his antagonist out of joint a little.
"Well, now we've had our cheer, and have all been flattering ourselves with the thoughts of home, I'm ready to take any bet Duff likes to make that we shall not be in England this day six weeks, or two months, if he likes, for I believe, after all, it's a hum of his; and I propose we cob him as a punishment for deceiving his Majesty's liege subjects and gallant officers as he has done."
"I can prove, though, that I speak the truth," exclaimed Jemmy, who saw the day turning against him. "Any one of you go and ask Mr Saltwell. He heard it from the captain, I tell you."
"No, no," put in Togle. "Punishment first and proof afterwards. That's the way the Turks manage, and they are sensible people. You can take the cobbing first, and then go and ask Mr Saltwell, or the skipper himself, if you like."
"You go and be damned, Togle," retorted Duff. "You know well enough that I'm speaking the truth; and mind, old chap, I shall keep you to your bet,—two months, you said."
"I made no bet," answered Togle. "You offered to bet yourself, but you didn't propose what it should be,—a dinner at the Star, or—"
Just then a personage appeared at the door of the berth, who was immediately appealed to.
"Oh! come in here, Muhajiar; you'll know all about it," cried Jack Raby. "Take a glass. We haven't seen you for some time. Have you heard whether we are going home?"
"So the purser's steward told me, gentlemen, and it is generally believed throughout the ship," returned the individual addressed, who entered with such a bow as he could contrive to find room to make, and took his seat at the table, where with much gusto he drank off the porter offered to him. He was a stout, tallish man, with a good expression of countenance, and most of those who remember Malta in those and even later days, will recollect him as one of the most respectable tailors in the place. He had been, I believe, in the marines; but getting his discharge, set up for himself as a builder of garments, and soon managed to establish a very thriving business. He was always on the watch, and the moment a ship dropped her anchor he would come on board to take orders. He knew everybody and everything that was going forward, and was, consequently, a great authority.
"Huzza! it is true, for Paolo Muhajiar has heard it," exclaimed Togle, looking hard at Duff. "Well, Jemmy, I'll let you off your bet—but you will see that I am right."
Signor Paolo Muhajiar took his leave, for he was not likely to get any orders, at all events, to be paid, if he executed them; and the berth was soon cleared of its rightful occupants—some to go on shore, others to their duties, and the rest to see what was going forward in the harbour.
The scene there was amusing. There were boats of all sorts and descriptions alongside; but there is one peculiarity of which Valetta may boast, to the disadvantage of nearly all other ports. The boats intended for the conveyance of passengers are kept in good order, and beautifully clean; and the boatmen belonging to them are also very careful to dress neatly—their linen always looking as white as snow. Some of the boats alongside had goats on board, and the aquatic goat-herds were offering to milk them to supply milk for the officers' tea. It is not a bad way to secure pure milk.
The three mids of the Ione—Jack Raby, Duff, and Togle—were on the poop leaning over the quarter-rail, and amusing themselves by discussing affairs in general, and watching the panorama round them, when a boat with two thin, slight lads pulled out of the dockyard creek.
"He for dive, signor," sung out one of them, looking up at our mids.
"He says he'll bet you he'll dive to the bottom and be back again sooner than you will, Togle. So overboard with you, and show him he's wrong," said Duff, trying to heave over his messmate.
"He says he'll bring up a shilling if you heave it overboard," answered Togle, retaliating by seizing the first coin he could lay hands on out of Master Jemmy's waistcoat pocket—it was fortunately only half-a-crown. "There, Smaitch, it's too much for one of you though, so both of you be after it."
And holding it up to show, before Duff could snatch at it, it was glancing through the clear water of the harbour. Over went both the lads after it, eager to appropriate so rich a prize, and it is to be feared, had they had knives, they would have fought for it under the waves, and have neither of them returned. Luckily Duff, as he could not save his own coin, had managed to seize a shilling from Togle, which served to attract the attention of the one who was furthest from the great prize, and both of them came up to the surface an instant afterwards, with the pieces of money in their hands.
"Me for dive, signor—me for dive," they both again sung out, hoping to get another coin from Raby.
"No, no more me for dive, you blackguards," he answered, shaking his head. "You've had quite enough from these two Master Greens already."
And the lads, after singing out a few more times, pulled on ahead, still crying, "Me for dive, signor; me for dive;" though little, beyond a few pence, did they get from the crew of an old Mediterranean cruiser like the Ione.
"Now suppose there were sharks here as they have in the West Indies, it would not be quite so easy to go overboard as it is," observed Duff, who quickly recovered his temper, which he had lost with his half-crown.
"Oh, these fellows would laugh at a shark," answered Raby. "Why even the blackies don't fear them, and will attack and kill the largest. By the by, did you ever hear of the big fellow they keep in Port Royal harbour to do the duty of guard-boat? Not a man dares swim on shore when big Tom is on duty, and he never takes a snooze they say."
"You don't mean to say so," said Togle, "but how do they manage to keep him there?"
"Oh, the Government promised him a superannuated pension when he's no longer fit for work; but, as he finds he must go on shore to receive it, he is obliged to keep afloat; though he's been so many years at it that no one remembers when he first came on the station."
"He must be a rum old joker," observed Duff. "Hillo, here comes old Monsieur Collet with his cargo of ginger-beer. Let's go and get some; for I'm very thirsty."
And away they all three scrambled to the gangway, to which a boat had come with a little wizened old man in her, and laden with bottles of ginger-beer, and other refreshing drinks.
"Hand us up ginger-beer there," sung out Jemmy Duff. "But, I say, Monsieur Collet, remember, no pop—no pay."
"Oh, no, signor. All my ginger-beer pop very much."
And, to prove the truth of his assertion, off went half a dozen of his bottles fizzing away together; some, however, remained, and the old Frenchman insisted on himself cutting the lashings of the corks to give full effect of the pop. He would then put a far from clean thumb over the mouth to prevent the liquid from escaping; but still the froth would fiz and fume round it.
"Thank ye, Monsieur Collet, none of your digitalis for me," remarked the assistant surgeon, who observed the operation, which, however, few others seemed to care for.
The attention of the idlers was soon drawn off from old Collet, and his refreshing draughts, towards a boat which pulled alongside, filled with musicians, who if they produced sounds not especially harmonious, took care that they should be loud enough to be heard far and wide.
"Huzza for the Banjee," sung out some of the men forward. "Come, Smaitch, tip us a tune there—Go ahead, Banjee!" and on this requisition the performers in the Banjee boat began to exert their talents to the great delight of their hearers, who rewarded them with showers of pence. Not, however, of this character are the principal Banjee boats; which really contain very good musicians, who enliven the harbour with their sweet harmony, and are often some of the best performers from the Opera House. Valetta harbour is in truth as lively and animated, as interesting and picturesque a sheet of water as is to be found in any part of the world. On the north side of where the ship lay were the dazzling white walls of the city towering towards the blue sky, with the Marina below them, and numerous vessels moored along the quays; on the other side the frowning batteries of Fort Saint Angelo, and the Venetian looking canal, called Dockyard Creek; many of the houses having doors cut through the rock opening down to the water, the whole wearing an aspect more Oriental than European. Then the boats, darting about in every direction, mostly painted bright green and yellow, with upright sterns rising high above the gunnel, and great big eyes painted on the bows—very often having the name of some ship or other on them in addition.
And the boatmen, with their long red or blue caps, the tassel reaching to their waists, their gay waistcoats, their shirt-sleeves rolled up above their elbows exhibiting their brawny arms, their red sashes, their blue overall trousers, and their nankeen ones below, are not unworthy of remembrance. But the most picturesque objects are the lateen sails with their long tapering yards either wing and wing when skimming along before the wind, or heeling over when close-hauled upon it.
Such in part was the scene viewed from the deck of the Ione.
Captain Fleetwood sat meditating in his cabin. He had read all his letters from home. They contained nothing that was not satisfactory, and yet his thoughts were far from cheerful. He was out of spirits at not hearing from Ada; from being unable to gain any information about her. He, however, had received no positive orders for sailing, and he trusted that tomorrow or the following day some vessel from Cephalonia might arrive, and bring a letter for him; still his heart would sink with forebodings of ill, when he recollected the suspicions he had entertained, and the warnings he had given to Bowse respecting the speronara and her crew. A man who is in love, when he is absent from the object of his affections, is certainly very much to be pitied, if he has the slightest particle of imagination; for he is sure to employ it in conceiving that all sorts of misfortunes and miseries, and disasters, are befalling her.
He was aroused from his meditations by a message from the governor, requesting to see him immediately, on urgent business. He sprang up, put on his cocked hat, buckled to his sword-belt, and ordering his gig to be manned, pulled on shore as fast as he could, and toiled upwards, by steps innumerable, to the governor's palace.
"Ye will be surprised, doubtless, Captain Fleetwood, at my sending for ye again to-day," said the governor, in a kind tone, as he entered. "But sit down, mon, sit down and rest yourself, for I have a very extraordinary communication to make to ye, which I cannot fail to think will agitate ye; and I therefore considered it advisable to speak to ye on the subject myself."
"For Heaven's sake tell me what it is, sir," exclaimed Fleetwood, who, on first entering, had seen that something was wrong; and his fears having already pointed all round the compass, he had settled that it was in some way connected with Ada Garden.
"Ye must be calm and tranquil, mon, in a case like this; for ye will require all your judgment and discretion to discover the means of accomplishing your object;" continued the governor, not noticing the interruption. "And as I considered ye a mon in every way calculated for the purpose I have in view, and, moreover, particularly suited, from other reasons, which ye yourself will allow, I instantly made application to employ you on it." Fleetwood almost groaned. He could not again venture to interrupt the governor, though he was bursting with impatience to have his fears relieved or confirmed. "Well, I see ye wish to be informed on the subject, which is very natural, Captain Fleetwood; and, therefore, I must premise that I have this day received notice of the arrival of a brig, a merchantman from Smyrna, and that she is now performing quarantine in Port Marsa Musceit. Her master has written a statement which has been forwarded to me; and which, if correct, and I see no reason to doubt it, proves that further efforts are required to put down piracy and robbery and murder in these seas; and by God they shall not be wanting as long as I'm ruler here."
"Well, sir; well, sir," ejaculated Fleetwood.
"But ay, the statement. It is to the effect that the brig Mary Jane, William Jones master, on her voyage from Smyrna to Malta, did in latitude ... degrees north, longitude ... degrees east, sight the hull of a vessel dismasted. That not lying much out of her course, she hauled up for her; and on a nearer approach she appeared to be water-logged, by her lowness in the water, and the heavy way in which she rolled; that on getting close to her, the Mary Jane was hove to, and a boat lowered into the water, into which the first mate and a boat's crew got, and pulled on board her. It appears that the mate, when he first got alongside, thought that she had been brought into her present condition by a storm, from the appearance her shattered bulwarks presented; but that, climbing up her side, she found a number of shot-holes, and round-shot sticking in them, and her spars and rigging lying about the decks, evidently destroyed by shot. He therefore came to the conclusion that she had been hotly engaged with an enemy of very superior force, as she herself only carried four guns; and it would require a large number, or else very rapid firing, for a long time, to send so many into her as he observed. He soon discovered that there was no human being alive on board her; but on more minute examination, he was of opinion, from the state of the decks, that there had been some severe fighting, and a number of people killed on them. All the bodies, however, had been thrown overboard. The hold of the ship had been ransacked, was almost empty, as were the cabins, which had evidently been fitted up for passengers, and there were a few articles of female gear scattered about, which made him suppose that there had been ladies on board."
"Great Heaven!" ejaculated Captain Fleetwood, starting up. "The name, sir—the name?"
"The name is just what the mate had considerable difficulty himself in discovering; for, you see, the master had a fancy to have it painted so low under the counter, that it could not be seen, sunk deep in the water as the ship now was. At last, however, one of the men who accompanied him, found a book with the name of Bowse in it, which he concluded to be that of the master."
"The same," groaned poor Fleetwood. "It was the Zodiac. She is lost—lost to me for ever. Oh, Ada, Ada!"
And again he groaned, as if death could alone relieve his heart from his load of misery.
"Hoot, mon, hoot! ne'er say die while there's life!" exclaimed the bluff old governor. "Ye have no positive proof that any one ye care for is dead or lost to ye. I tell ye, the mate of the Mary Jane found no one dead on board the vessel; and, as she had no boats remaining, it is just a plausible supposition that the survivors of the crew and the passengers may have escaped from the ship they thought was sinking in one of them; and we may hear of your friends turning up somewhere or other; for I do not pretend to deny that, when I first received notice of the outrage, I felt convinced that my friend, Colonel Gauntlett and his bonnie niece were among the sufferers."
"Too true, they were, sir," replied Fleetwood, by a great effort, endeavouring to collect his thoughts for active service.
"It was that supposition, and not ignorant also of your attachment to the young leddie, which made me resolve to apply, instanter, that the Ione might be sent in the first place to search for the crew and passengers of the late brig the Zodiac; for I ought to say, she sank while the Mary Jane was yet close to her; and then, it will be gratifying and soothing to your feelings, under the circumstances, to chastise the miscreants who have perpetrated this atrocity—and I do not suppose, Captain Fleetwood, that ye will be disposed to spare them more than I should."
And the grim old soldier gave a look which indicated no inclination to be lenient.
"We will hang every mother's son of them; and teach other villains that these seas can no longer be made the field for the exercise of their marauding disposition. Ye understand, Captain Fleetwood—ye may take them alive if ye can; but ye may sink, burn, and destroy them all, sooner than let one escape."
"I comprehend, sir, clearly," answered Fleetwood. "When can I sail?"
"I am expecting your orders every instant," replied the governor. "It is a considerate change of destination, to be sure; but I knew the duty would be gratifying to you; and, fortunately, your brig is the only vessel on the station fit to be sent on it, while the despatches can go home by the Racehorse as well. Sit quiet a few minutes till the orders arrive; and I will in the mean time glance my eye over a paper I have to read."
Captain Fleetwood threw himself back in his seat, and covered his eyes with his hands. The old governor, who had purposely been more circumvolute even than usual, in order not too suddenly to shock his feelings, looked up at him with a kind expression, which showed that he truly entered into his wretchedness.
"I have been considering, sir," said Fleetwood, suddenly looking up, "what clue can be found of the pirates' places of retreat; for, if they did not destroy those on board the Zodiac, I feel sure that they will have carried them off."
"Ah! that is the proper spirit with which to meet a misfortune," exclaimed the governor, rising and placing his hand on Fleetwood's shoulder. "Look it in the face, and think how you can best overcome it. You deserve to succeed—and you will succeed, mon, I am sure. Well, as to the clue, that is an important consideration, which must be thought of."
Captain Fleetwood remained some time longer in consultation with the governor. His orders, which had been sent up to the palace, were handed to him, and with them in his pocket he hurried on board.
"Mr Saltwell," he said, as he ascended the side, "hoist the blue-peter, and take every means of getting all hands on board. We sail to-night for the Levant. I shall be happy to see you as soon as convenient in the cabin."
"Ay, ay, sir," mechanically answered the first lieutenant, who, as he looked at his commander, at first thought that he had gone out of his mind; but he soon saw that something extraordinary had happened to cause this sudden change in their destination, and without stopping further to consider what it was, he took the necessary steps to obey the orders he had received. The announcement, as might have been expected, created, at first, no little dissatisfaction and disappointment throughout the ship, but that was before any one was aware of the reasons of the change. Mr Togle was the first of the midshipmen to hear the news, and down he rushed into the berth, where most of his messmates were collected.
"You've lost your bet, Jemmy," he exclaimed, giving Duff a slap on the shoulder. "Instead of going to England we're bound for the Levant, old fellow; so fork out. You betted a dinner at the Star, didn't you?"
"Well, suppose I believed your humbug," answered Duff, "I'm ready to give you a dinner at the Star; but if we don't go to England, I'm sure I don't know how you are to eat it; so I've done you, old fellow!"
Thereon the discussion grew warm, as to how a bet under such circumstances should be settled, no one believing Mr Togle's assertion of their change of destiny. It was interrupted by the shrill pipe of the boatswain's whistle, and the hoarse cry of—
"All hands, unmoor ship," which echoed along the decks.
"There's something in the wind, any how," exclaimed Jack Raby, as they all jumped up to hurry to their stations.
"I told you so," said Togle. "We shall have plenty of adventures before we again see old England, depend on it."
There is in the northern portion of the Grecian Archipelago—and, from being out of the usual track of vessels, little known even to the modern voyager, and in the days of which I write still less so—a small island called by the mariners of those regions the Island of Lissa, though I am not aware under what name it appears in the English charts. In extent it is five or six miles long, and from two to three broad; its lofty sides rise in most places as rocky precipices from out of the blue ocean, and only on the southern side can anchorage-ground be found. It appears, on sailing round it at a short distance off, to be a barren, inaccessible rock—a fit abode only for the wild sea-fowl which may be seen hovering round it. Its aspect, on approaching nearer, alters, and here and there a pathway, cut in zig-zag down the rock, may be discerned; and at one spot on the north, which appears at first to be a mere crevice in the rock, to the seaman who steers boldly towards it, an opening is revealed between the lofty cliffs, so narrow that the yards of a ship might touch either side, yet with the water so deep that one of large tonnage may enter, and find herself in a beautiful basin surrounded with a fringe of yellow sand—lofty rocks, of many hues, rising on every side, with a deep ravine running up into the interior, its sides also equally rugged and precipitous. Neither tree nor shrub can be seen in this wild but picturesque spot: rock, water, sand, and sky, are the only component parts of the landscape. At the time I speak of a few small light boats were drawn up on the beach, and two crafts of considerably larger size lay moored in the basin or cove. They were long, low vessels, entirely decked over, and fitted to pull some twenty oars; they had thick stumpy masts, and long tapering yards, for lateen sails, now stowed fore and aft in the boats. The sails were bent, the oars being placed along the thwarts, and they wore an air which showed they would be ready for sea at a moment's notice.
There was somewhat a wicked look about them, at the same time they might belong to peaceable fishermen; for there were several nets hung up on poles along the shore, and at times a few old men might be seen mending them or cleaning the boats. The chief communication between the cove or basin I have described and the interior of the island was by a narrow pathway, which ran along near the bottom of the ravine for some distance, and then, turning to the right with many a zig-zag, led along the edge of deep precipices till it reached the summit of the cliffs. At the very bottom of the ravine leaped and sparkled a bright, clear rivulet, the only stream in the island. It might be seen far up, indeed, at what might be called the head of the ravine, rushing forth from between two cliffs, and bounding down a fall of two or three hundred feet in a mass of glittering foam.
One of the wildest and most inaccessible spots in the island was in that portion to the right, or east of the cove—the point of land, indeed, formed by it and the sea, and bounded on the north by the ravine. The only access to it from the rest of the island was from the north-east by a narrow neck of land, with the sea-cliffs on one side and those of the ravine on the other.
This wild and rugged spot had been selected centuries ago, when the then powerful republic of Venice held sway over considerable territories in those seas, for the erection of a stronghold; and certainly no place could have been better adapted, by its position and nature, for defying the attacks of an enemy from without, or for guarding any rich argosies taking shelter in the bay below. It was of course for the purpose of protecting their commerce that this rock had been seized on and fortified. It had probably also at some other period been increased and strengthened on the land side, and occupied for less laudable objects than the mere protection of commerce. Whatever might have been the original intention of its erection and its subsequent use, the massive towers and turreted walls had long since been disused, and had fallen into the decay of years, unheeded and unknown, except by a few families of fishermen who had from generation to generation followed the same occupation. I call them fishermen, because such was the designation they would have given themselves, had they been questioned on the subject, and very properly so, for that was the occupation they and their fathers had followed from time immemorial—when they happened to have no other more lucrative or interesting employment. Another change had, however, of late years come over the ancient ruins, and though it could not be said that they had assumed much of their pristine appearance, some of the least dilapidated portions, at all events, gave signs of being the habitations of human beings. One tower especially had been roofed in, as had a building attached to it, and smoke had been seen to ascend from its hearth; and faces, hitherto strangers to the island, had appeared at its windows. The village in which most of the old inhabitants of the island resided was on the opposite side of the ravine, in a spot almost as inaccessible as that on which the castle stood, but somewhat more convenient for a congregation of persons; and as it was in a manner fortified by art, in addition to what nature had done, they never found the Turks anxious to attempt the no easy task of dispossessing them. Although the exterior of the island was so rugged and unprepossessing, and so destitute of verdure and cultivation, there were spots in the interior where the orange, the citron, the pear, the apple, and the vine flourished in rich luxuriance; the sides of the hills were clothed with olive-trees, and the more even portions with fields of waving corn, amply sufficient for the simple wants of the population; and though cattle might be rare, thriving herds of goats found herbage among the rocks, and on the narrow ledges of the rugged cliffs. In fact, everything which the mere unsophisticated wants of man could require, the island itself supplied, except clothing and weapons; and for the purpose of collecting these the misticoes in the cove were found extremely useful,—no spot, indeed, could be more calculated for the abode of peace, innocence, and rural simplicity—a complete island Arcadia; and so it would possibly have become, had the inhabitants been less addicted to maritime adventure; but then they would have had to go about in the state in which were our first parents, before the fall, or to have dressed in goats' skins; and at all events they would have had no arms to defend themselves against the Turks; so that their frequent naval expeditions might have been prompted by the excess of their patriotism, and would, therefore, to say no more about them, have been most laudable.
But the part of the island with which we are most interested is that to the east of the bay, where the ruined castle was situated. The tower which I have described as having been rendered somewhat habitable, stood in a position by which it commanded an extensive view to the southward and eastward, as also of the bay or cove below. Yet, although placed apparently in so exposed a situation, so completely surrounded was it by rocks of the same hue as the stone of which it was constructed, that at a short distance off only, on the sea, it could in no way be distinguished from them.
I must introduce the reader to an apartment in the upper part of the said tower, which possessed two windows, one looking to the south, the other into the cove.
The room presented an appearance which could not at all have been expected from the condition of the outside. It was furnished, not only completely, but most richly and luxuriously, yet in a way which showed that the hand of a professional artist had not been employed. The floor was covered with a Turkey carpet of the most valuable description, and round the room, in Oriental style, were arranged couches, with the softest cushions, and carved with thick silks of varied patterns. The walls were lined with damask hangings, of a light blue, and the ceiling was arranged in the form of a tent, composed of cottons, which had probably been fabricated in the looms of England. There were tables in the room, and seats scattered about around them.
Besides the hangings on the walls, they were ornamented with pictures of much value, and racks of arms, richly chased, and arranged so as to form many fanciful devices.
The whole appearance of the apartment showed that it had been hurriedly fitted up, with lavish disregard of expense, and with materials which might have been most conveniently at hand, but were not originally intended for the purpose to which they were devoted. The arrangements, also, were such as a seaman might be supposed to have made, more, probably, than any other person. The room had an occupant—a young and very beautiful girl. Her beauty was of the pensive cast. She had large black, gazelle eyes, a clear olive complexion—clear as purity itself,— and a figure slight and graceful, with a cast of feature of the most classic mould. As she sat at the window, gazing out on the blue sea, ever and anon a slight roseate tinge would appear in her soft cheek, and vanish rapidly as the thoughts which made it rise. Her costume was rather fanciful, than either Grecian or of any other people, and though elegant and becoming, she appeared to have formed it from a profuse supply of costly materials placed at her disposal. It partook, however, of the character of the dress of the East, though European taste might have been detected in it.
She seemed very sad; for, though she held a book in her hand, with which she was apparently endeavouring to divert her attention from melancholy thoughts, her eyes would constantly wander over the wide blue sea, the only object visible from the window, and a pearly drop from her dark eye would steal down her cheek, and fall unheeded on the page before her, while an unconscious sigh would burst from her heaving bosom.
There was evidently a weight on her young heart, a grief which was wearing out the elasticity of her spirits, withering her glorious beauty, and making her aged before her time. Perchance she mourned the absence of one she loved, and was wearied with anxiety for his return; perhaps the canker-worm of remorse was at work within her, for a fault committed and irretrievable; perhaps she was the victim of lawless outrage, a captive against her will; perhaps she had been severed from all she loved on earth, and the bright hopes of life had been blasted for ever. At last she closed her book with a smile; but it was one of pain and bitterness at the hopelessness of her attempt to divert her mind from the contemplation of the present. A guitar, such as is generally used in Italy, lay on the divan near her; she took it up, and ran her fingers over the strings. For a few minutes she struck a plaintive air, in consonance with her feelings, and then, almost unconsciously, she added her voice to the strain in a rich flow of melody. Her words, too, were sad, and the language was that of Italy.
The earth is all as lovely here, The sky as bright and fair, And flowers of every hue and shade Perfume the southern air. The sparkling sea lies at my feet, So clear, it seems a lake, And tiny waves, with snowy crest, Alone the silence break; And yet I weep from day to day For that loved home, now far away!
I almost wish 'twere not so like My loved Italian land, Its southern flowers, its gorgeous skies, Blue sea, and golden sand. For while I gaze, a whispering voice Steals sadly through my brain, And tells me, I must never hope To see that spot again. And I must weep, from day to day For that loved home, now far away!
I close my eyes, and fancy paints So vividly and clear, Each lovely spot, each well-known sound. To mem'ry ever dear; I hear again the vesper-bell, Chiming to evening prayer; While the cheerful song of the Gondolier, Floats through the balmy air. And thus I dream till dawn of day, Of that fair home, now far away!
And yet the chain which binds me hero Is dearer far to me, Than the beauties of my palace land, Girt by the glorious sea. For his dear love, I left them all, And while that love is mine, If dreary wastes were now my home, Think not I would repine. Yet still one thought, from day to day, Tells of my home, now far away!
But if his love should ever fade, Like twilight o'er this shore, And whisper'd words of tenderness, Now mine, be heard no more! Then no reproach shall meet his ear, No weeping meet his eye; I'd leave him ere he form'd the wish, And leave him but to die; For I would seek, ere close of day, Death, in that home now far away.
As she ceased, a tap was heard at the door; and she, bidding whoever was without to enter, a young girl appeared, and closing the door, approached her. She wore the red embroidered Greek cap, with her hair hanging in two long plaits behind, full trousers, and a silk waistcoat, reaching to the knees. Her age might have been about fourteen, and she was very pretty, with black, flashing eyes, and a figure rather full than slight, and somewhat below the common height, and a countenance to which health and spirits gave an animated expression, which would have made features far inferior to hers appear to advantage.
She seated herself on a cushion at the feet of the young lady with an affectionate familiarity, and looking up in her face, said, in the soft tongue of modern Greece—
"Oh, do continue those sweet strains, lady. Though they made me sad, I came up on purpose to listen to them, and to make my heart lighten the grief of yours by sharing it with you."
"Thanks, my good Mila. You are ever kind," answered the lady; and though she spoke Romaic, she had difficulty in expressing herself. "I value your love the more that I possess that of no other."
"Your sweet temper and your sweet voice have won you more friends than you suppose, lady," answered the Greek girl. "My young brother would die for you, I know, and my old grandfather, Vlacco, has his heart softened towards you, I am sure."
"Does Vlacco feel pity for me? Then would he, do you think, allow us to wander forth to explore this rocky island? I am weary of remaining shut up in so small a compass for so long a time."
"I will try and persuade him, lady; and if it is not contrary to his orders I think he will allow us to go together," returned the girl. "But you know, lady, since the futile attempt of Signor Paolo, your brother, to carry you off, you have constantly been watched."
"I know it, and therein is my misery. He knows I would not quit him if I could; and how can a weak girl escape from this rock-bound prison except—" she paused and looked at the deep blue sea which lay at their feet—"except it were to seek that rest which can be found, by one like me, only beneath the calm bosom of yonder ocean."
"Oh, lady, let not such dreadful thoughts enter into your mind!" exclaimed the young Greek, looking up at her with a face in which pity blended with alarm. "Come, we will wander forth, as you wish it, far into the country; the change of scene, the fresh air, and exercise will cheer your spirits, and I am sure my grandfather will not deny our request to be allowed a little freedom."
A silk scarf and such boots as the Turkish women wear when they venture abroad, completed the Italian lady's walking costume, and following the young Greek, they descended from her lofty tower. The flight of the steps which led to the ground was steep and narrow, and were the same which had been used in former days, repaired in places where the stones had given way, bywood work slightly run up. This, a few strokes of an axe would serve to destroy, and the summit of the tower would be immediately rendered inaccessible. The story immediately beneath the one inhabited by the lady was fitted up as a residence, though with much less attention to comfort and elegance. There were several couches for sleeping, and a few seats and tables; but in the corners of the room furthest from the windows were piled up in one, chests and bales of goods, silks, cottons, and woollen cloths; in another, a collection of arms, muskets, and cutlasses, and boarding-pikes. There were a few small brass guns, some mounted on carriages and others on swivels, such as are carried on the gunnels of ships, or on the bows of boats; and there were shot and cases which looked as if they contained powder. Indeed, there was altogether a large collection of valuable goods, and arms and ammunition sufficient to protect, it if the men were found to use them. In the recesses for the windows, which were very narrow, were fitted platforms, which were evidently intended to place the gun-carriages on, as there were ring-bolts to which to make breechings fast, in order to prevent their running too far back at the recoil. The windows, as in the story above, looked down on the harbour, and seaward, but there was another on the land side which commanded a view of the narrow neck of land which led to the platform on which the castle stood. The lower part of the tower was much in the same state in which it had been left centuries before. The first story, as it were, had disappeared, so that there was an empty space for what may be called the height of two stories; and, as there were no windows of any description, it appeared dark and dreary in the extreme. A steep path led round it several times till it reached the gateway, which looked towards the sea and the most inaccessible part of the cliff. Any person, on entering this lower division, would not have supposed, from what he could observe, that the upper part would have afforded so great a contrast by the richness and luxury displayed there. On a more minute examination, however, of the basement floor, it would have been discovered that a stage had been raised from the earth, on which were placed a number of large jars of wine, casks of olives, cases of figs, and sacks of corn and other grain, indeed, provision sufficient to support a body of men for a considerable time. There were also some heavier guns than those seen above, and spars, and cordage, and other munitions for fitting out a ship.
The bottom of the flight of steps by which the two young girls had descended led to the side of this chamber farthest from the door, and they had some little difficulty, after leaving the bright light reigning through the upper regions, in finding their way across it. The Greek then, with her little hand, struck the door as hard as she was able, to call the attention of some one without to open it; but the noise she made was insufficient for the purpose. At last she was obliged to try the effect of her voice.
"It is I, your grandchild, Mila. Open the door, I say; open the door, Vlacco!" she exclaimed; but no one answered to her call. "So he thought I was going to remain some time with you, lady, and I verily believe he has gone off his post. Now, if we could but have managed to get the doors open, we might have gone out without his leave, and when he comes back, he would find the birds flown."
"It is useless wishing that," said the Italian. "The door is too strongly fastened, and it shows me that I am a prisoner, and no longer trusted; let us return up-stairs."
The Greek girl thought a little, as if unwilling to give up their object.
"We will do as you propose, lady," she said at last; "but we will not let him know that we came down, and are aware that he leaves his post; so, another day he may not fasten the gate, and we may get out, and wander where we like, without asking his leave."
They were about returning, when little Mila exclaimed—
"Stay, I think I hear him coming, and we won't tell him we have been waiting; but, after he has been here a little, I will ask to be let out."
They waited accordingly for some time, during which some person was heard moving slowly about outside, when little Mila again exclaimed, as loud as she could call, "Vlacco, Vlacco! let me out, I say, grandfather; you have bolted the door, as if a storm was blowing to burst it open."
At last the bolt was withdrawn, and the door opening, an old Greek, with white locks escaping from under his red cap, and a thick, grey moustache, stood before them. He had a rough, weatherbeaten countenance, and dark eyes, deeply sunk in his head, with a very stern expression. His appearance was altogether forbidding, and his countenance was one which it would make any person very uncomfortable to look at, who knew that his life depended on the amount of mercy and pity to be found in his bosom. He must have been a powerful, active man in his youth; but a weight of years had sadly pulled down his strength, and palsied his once unfaltering hand.
"What a noise you make, little one. You seem to be in a great hurry to get out of the gilded cage," he exclaimed, not seeing the Italian who stood in the shade. When, however, she stepped forward, he altered his tone, which became as courteous as his gruff nature would allow. "Pardon, lady," he said, "I was not aware of your presence. What is it you wish?"
"Why, we wish to wander forth, and explore the island, grandfather," answered the young girl, speaking for the Italian, who had difficulty both in comprehending old Vlacco's way of speaking, and in answering him in Romaic. "Now, I will not hear any excuses; I am going with the lady, who is ill, and will pine to death if she is kept shut up in this way; and, if you do not think we are able to take care of ourselves, you can come too. It is a pity we have not got wings, and then you might clip them as they do those of the wild sea-fowl, to prevent their flying away."
The old Greek offered a number of objections to the project; among others, that if anything happened to the lady, his life would pay the forfeit; but they were all overruled by his grandchild, who laughed at his fears, and at length she and the Italian set out on their expedition. They took the way along the neck of land of which I have spoken, among rocks which towered up in many fantastic shapes, without a sign of vegetation on their weatherworn summits, and overlooking precipices which descended many hundred feet of perpendicular height into the sea below. At last they emerged from this wilder tract, and descending a gentle slope covered with many a sweet-scented shrub, on which the bees delight to rest, they looked down into the centre of the island. Here a scene of a nature totally different to what they had left met their view. Every spot of ground was cultivated to the utmost extent. Below their feet was an orange grove, the trees of which were laden with the ripening fruit; the side of a neighbouring hill was covered with vines wide spreading along trellises gracefully arranged. Several orchards of apple and pear trees were seen in the distance. Beyond were fields of Indian corn waving in the breeze, and on the higher ground millet and barley were seen growing.
"We may boast, lady, that our island is not altogether the barren rock those might suppose who have looked forth only from the windows of the castle," said Mila. "And from yonder hill to the north let us enjoy the view over the whole of it, if you will venture so far."
The Italian expressed her readiness to go there; for though, as she said, she had before visited it, a long time since then had passed away.
As the two young girls passed through the fields, several husbandmen, employed in them, gazed at them with a somewhat furious look; but they all knew the granddaughter of old Vlacco, and quickly concluded who her companion was. The view from the summit of the hill, which was the highest part of the island, extended, as Mila had said, not only over the whole of the island, but embraced a wide circle of the surrounding sea, and of many a neighbouring isle and islet, which appeared in every direction, rising from the bosom of the deep, some with their outlines clear and defined, others of various shades of blue, the most distant seeming like faint clouds floating in the horizon. They had enjoyed for some time, from this rocky post, the breeze which in that elevated position came cool and refreshing, when the quick eye of little Mila discerned a white sail, a mere speck, upon the blue sea. It skimmed rapidly along, and approached the island. They watched the vessel with breathless attention.
"She has two masts; she is a brig of some size," cried the island girl, who was well accustomed to distinguish the different rigs of vessels.
"It is, it must be his bark," exclaimed the Italian. "Oh! let us hurry to meet him, or he may come and find me absent."
"The brig cannot arrive till long after we shall reach the tower," answered the Greek girl, following, however, the wishes of her companion.
On reaching the tower they saw the shores of the bay below crowded with people, all bustle and animation, in expectation of the approaching sail; but neither of the girls could determine, from the great distance at which she still was, whether she were indeed the looked-for brig or a stranger.
A bright moon was floating in the pure ether of that lovely clime, as the Ione, under all sail, glided out from the calm waters of the harbour of Valetta on to the open sea. No sooner had she got beyond the shelter of Saint Elmo than she heeled over to the force of a brisk north-westerly breeze, which sent her through the water at the rate of some seven or eight knots an hour, to the no small satisfaction of all on board. No time had been lost in getting ready for sea. The purser had got off his stores with unusual despatch; the first lieutenant had received what he required from the dockyard; the officers, who were on shore, had been sent for and collected; sea stock had been laid in by the caterers of the gun-room and midshipmen's mess, and Signor Michael, from Nix Mangiare Stairs, had not neglected to send the groceries which were ordered; little was forgotten, and no one was left behind. The commander had been the most busy, and those who saw the calm and composed way in which he went about the business in which he was occupied, could scarcely have supposed the anguish which had so lately rent his mind. After he had spoken to his first lieutenant, he had again gone on shore, and tried to find out the three Greeks who had deposed to having been robbed by pirates; but as they had quitted Malta, he looked over the copies of their depositions, and he there found it stated that the vessel which had attacked theirs was a large polacca brig, supposed to be the Sea Hawk, and there was further a full description of her and her commander. The boatman, Manuel, was examined, but little could be gleaned from him but a description of the person he had put on board the speronara, which answered to that given by the Greeks; and the conclusion arrived at was the correct one, that he was no other than Zappa himself, and that he had employed the speronara merely to bring him to Malta and to carry him on board his own vessel, which must have remained all the time in the offing. It might be supposed that Captain Fleetwood would first have gone in search of the speronara, but he considered that by so doing he should lose much valuable time without a prospect of gaining any adequate information; and he therefore resolved at once to sail to the eastward, touching at Cephalonia, on the chance of learning something to guide his future course.
The moment the object of the voyage was known, there was not a man or boy on board who did not zealously enter into it; and many became almost as eager to fall in with the Sea Hawk, and to recover the prisoners, if any were still alive, as could have been the commander himself. It was the universal subject of conversation, morning, noon, and night, in the gun-room, the midshipmen's berth, and at the messes of the petty officers and men. Many a midnight watch was made to pass rapidly away by discussions as to the probabilities of their success, and with yarns of length interminable, about pirates and robberies on the high seas. Far too sacred were held the feelings of the commander to allow any one to allude even to the subject to him; and though he doubtlessly thought more than any one else about it, he endeavoured to maintain his usual tranquil exterior. It was sad, however, to perceive that anxiety was rapidly thinning his cheek and dimming the lustre of his eye, though it could not quench the fire which would urge him to continue the search as long as life endured. He remained much in his cabin, poring over charts of the Greek Archipelago, and studying all the books he possessed, describing the islands. When he came on deck, it was to glean information from those who had visited that part of the Mediterranean, or to discuss with Saltwell the plan of operations he had commenced arranging, but in the details of which he purposed to be guided by the accounts he should receive wherever they touched.
Every sail they sighted was overhauled, provided she did not lead them much out of their course, in the hopes of gaining tidings either of the survivors of the Zodiac's crew or of the pirate brig, and also to urge those bound in the same direction to aid in the search.
Every one on board the Ione prayed for a fair wind, and plenty of it, to carry them along rapidly to the scene of their operations. The officers, who could but sympathise with their captain from having known Ada Garden, were, of course, the most eager, and never, perhaps, were a set of men collected better able to aid in accomplishing the same object.