Mr Saltwell, the first lieutenant, was a first-rate officer. He had been constantly before at sea as a first lieutenant; for though his good qualities were known in the service, he had very little interest. Whatever was the work in hand, he contrived to get it done in the best possible way without noise or trouble, so that he was always liked by the men, and the ships in which he served were kept in excellent order. In appearance he was slight and dark, for his countenance was well bronzed by tropical suns, and he was too active to grow fat. His manners were gentlemanly, though he had a remarkably small amount of soft-sawder about him; and all sincerity himself, he could not believe that people were speaking falsely to him, and was at times rather apt to come out roundly with the truth, to the astonishment of those who heard him; so that he was clearly not fitted to be a courtier. Captain Fleetwood had a great respect and regard for him, as he knew him well, for they had before served together.
The second lieutenant, Henry Linton, was a young man of good family and considerable interest, he had been made a lieutenant as soon as he had served his time, and he expected shortly to receive his commander's commission. He was a very gentlemanly, amiable fellow; and as he had good sense and much observation, and had always attended to his duty, he was a very fair seaman and a good officer. In his heart of hearts he rather pitied, not to say despised, Saltwell, for his want of the polish he possessed and his indifference to the elegancies of life, though he was not unable to appreciate his messmate's frankness of manner and truthfulness of character. His foible was his admiration for the poets, and his belief that he could write poetry and was a first-rate critic.
The purser, Mr Jones, was an honest, painstaking man, with a large family, and he came to sea for their benefit, after having nearly given up the service.
Than the master, no one in the service was a better navigator. He was a self-taught genius, for he had gone to sea originally before the mast, and even in that capacity had found time to gain instructions in navigation, geography, history, and many other sciences. He was for some time rated as a schoolmaster of a frigate, and afterwards entered as a master's assistant, and was soon promoted to the rank of master. Mr Norton was, notwithstanding his early associates, a man of pleasing, gentlemanly manners, and a real favourite with all hands, and his vast fund of information and anecdote made him a great acquisition to a mess.
The surgeon, Mr Viall, was, for a wonder, an Englishman. He was supposed to be able to amputate limbs with great accuracy, and was a very respectable man. Though he had been some years at sea, he had never contrived to learn anything about nautical affairs; and one day, in Malta harbour, he went on board a large merchantman, which happened to be brought up at no great distance from his ship, and was going below before he discovered that he had got into the wrong box.
The assistant-surgeon, O'Farrall, was an Irishman, and much more of a character. He had, shortly before the time of which I speak, come to sea for the first time. A day or two after he had joined the Ione, one of the marines insulted him by quizzing his Irish brogue, so he forthwith lodged his complaint with Mr Saltwell. The first lieutenant desired him to point out the man.
"Faith, I don't remember exactly the cut of his mug," said he; "but I made sure of knowing the spalpeen again by that same, that his name is Tower."
"How do you know that his name is Tower? I think he must have deceived you. We havn't a man of that name on board."
"Oh! by—, he couldn't decave me, lieutenant, darlin', then; for though he didn't recollect it, I'll be sworn, or he'd a kept a more dacent tongue in his mouth, I saw his name of Tower graven on his musket."
Most of the other members of the midshipmen's berth I have already described.
There was a mate of the name of Grummit, who had been for some years waiting for his promotion, but was of so hopeful a disposition, that he always expected his commission out by the following packet; and there was a master's assistant, called Samuel Spike, who considered himself capable of commanding the allied fleets of Europe; and a clerk, named Smith, who intended, when he had made his fortune and retired from the Service, to become First Lord of the Treasury; but as these delusions did not prevent them from attending to their duties, and they certainly appeared to contribute very much to the happiness of the young men who entertained them, nobody interfered with them. I ought not to forget to mention among the officers, the boatswain, gunner, and carpenter. The most remarkable circumstance connected with them was, that their names were respectively Brown, Black, and White. They were all good seamen, and properly impressed with the importance of their offices. If Brown had, like his superiors, a weakness, it was in the belief that not a boatswain in the service could pipe better, or had a louder voice than himself, as also that he deserved a much higher rating than he possessed.
"A sail on the larboard bow," hailed the look-out from the mast-head.
"What does she look like?" inquired Mr Saltwell, who was on deck.
"A large brig, sir, close hauled on the larboard tack," was the answer.
The wind at the time was about north-west.
The first lieutenant, with his glass slung across his shoulder, instantly went aloft. He could see about half way down her topsails, and there was something in the look of them which made him think it was worth while overhauling her. He came down, and went into the cabin to report her to Captain Fleetwood.
On his return the yards were braced up a little, and the course altered three points more to the northward. Captain Fleetwood soon came on deck, and went aloft to examine the chase. As the Ione was already carrying as much canvas as could possibly be set, little more could be done to make her sail faster.
Of course, bound as they were on what might prove a long and arduous cruise, it would not have done to start the water, or lighten the ship in any way; and, in a smooth sea, the common expedient of slinging the hammocks, and making the watch below turn in with round shot in their arms, would have been of no avail. The breeze, however, favoured them; for while the Ione was heeling over with it almost to her bearings, the chase lay nearly becalmed. She had no royals set, and her foresail was hauled up, so that they neared her rapidly.
"I suspect our friend there keeps a bad look-out; for I don't think he has seen us yet," observed Mr Saltwell to the master.
"If that is the case, he is not the fellow we are in search of," answered Mr Norton. "A pirate would have his eyes about him."
"Perhaps, as he is becalmed and cannot get away, he hopes, by apparent indifference to our approach, to deceive us as to his character," suggested Linton; "or he may have mistaken us for a merchantman, and expects to make a prize of us."
"He'll find he's caught a Tartar," said Saltwell; "but he must be blind not to see by the cut of our canvas what we are, even at this distance."
"Perhaps, he trusts to a fleet pair of heels, and we shall have him showing them to us before long," said Linton. "I do not think there is anything yet to prove that he is not the pirate we are looking for. That fellow Zappa is a bold and crafty scoundrel, as his late visit to Malta and his successful attack on the Austrian brig sufficiently proves. He may have a mind to engage us, perhaps."
"You don't know the Greeks, if you think so," said Saltwell. "Why, you must have pictured him to yourself like one of the heroes in the romances you are so fond of, who fight alone for love and glory, and whose greatest delight is to lay their ships alongside an enemy of greater force, in order to prove how superior knaves are to honest men. Depend upon it, Signor Zappa will keep clear of us, if he can."
"Well, but what do you say to his attacking an Austrian man-of-war, and capturing her?" urged Linton. "That looks something like the chivalry of piracy."
"As to that, in the first place, he discovered, by some means or other, that she had specie on board; and she was also of much less force than his vessel. He carries, it is said, sixteen guns, and she had but eight," answered Saltwell. "So he followed her for some time, till he surprised her one dark night, and captured her before her crew had time to go to quarters. It did not say much for Austrian naval discipline, though it was not an enterprise Zappa had any great reason to boast of, either."
"If the account I heard is true, he acted, however, the part of a magnanimous conqueror; for, after he had rifled the brig, and taken everything he wanted out of her, he allowed her and her officers and crew to go free, without murdering a soul of them, which, at all events, speaks in his favour," said Linton.
"Well, if that is his vessel, we shall soon know more about him and her," observed Saltwell. "We are nearing her fast. I shall go aloft, and try if I can make out what her hull is like."
They drew nearer and nearer the stranger, who still continued her course to the northward under the same easy sail.
At last, her hull was visible from the deck.
Mr Saltwell had his glass fixed on her, as had Captain Fleetwood.
"What do you make her out to be, Mr Saltwell?" said the captain.
"She is polacca rigged, with raking masts, and has a long, low, dark hull," answered the first lieutenant.
"The very description of the Sea Hawk," exclaimed Linton. "I hope to goodness it may be her."
"I trust it may," said Captain Fleetwood, drawing in his breath, and compressing his lips, to conceal his agitation.
The excitement on board now increased, as there appeared a greater probability of the stranger proving to be the pirate.
Anxiously beat the heart of Captain Fleetwood. What might be the consequence, supposing the prisoners were on board, and his Ada among them? Would the pirate hold them as hostages? Zappa, he was aware, well knew, from what he had learned at the ball at Malta, how dear Ada Garden was to him, and what, in consequence, might be the pirate's conduct?
His orders were to burn, sink, or destroy the rover, wherever he should find him; and he resolved to do his duty.
As he walked the deck in silence, he glanced his eye aloft more frequently than usual to see how the sails stood. They were never better set. Every brace and bowline was taut to a nicety. Then he would look over the bulwarks to judge of the rate at which they were slipping through the water, by the appearance of the sparkling bubbles, as they darted off from the side, and circled in eddies under the counter, and many an earnest gaze did he cast at the chase to assure himself that he was still coming up with her. It is a saying, that when a hare runs, the dogs will follow—it is equally true at sea, even when the order is reversed, if a vessel makes sail in chase, the chase will generally run away. Hitherto the officers of the Ione had found the vessel in sight offering an exception to the rule.
"Let her see our colours, Mr Saltwell. It may induce her to show hers in return."
The British ensign flew out to the breeze at the peak of the Ione; but, for some time, no attention was paid to it by the stranger— perhaps, it might not have been observed—at all events, no answer was made.
"Ah, the rascal is ashamed of his nation, or is puzzled to know what bunting to show us," said the master. "No, by Jove; there flies the new flag of independence, and a pennant to boot. He wishes to make us suppose he is a Greek man-of-war."
"He may try to do so, but he will not deceive us," said Linton. "There's a most piratical cut about the fellow, which is enough to condemn him anywhere."
"We shall soon get her within range of our long guns, and we shall then see what she is made of," observed Saltwell, eyeing her. "Shall we get the gun ready, sir?" he asked of Captain Fleetwood.
"You may, Mr Saltwell; but as long as she does not show any intention of avoiding us, on no account fire," was the answer.
"He seems in no hurry to move, at all events," observed the first lieutenant. He had scarcely spoken, however, before the breeze which the Ione had brought up with her reached the stranger, and, as if to make amends for her former inactivity, the heavy folds of the foresail were let fall, the royals were sent aloft, her head fell off from the wind, studdensail after studdensail was set, and away she flew, before the freshening breeze, like a sea-fowl darting from its slumber on the wave, at a rate which those on board the British ship felt it would take their utmost speed to compete with.
"Up with the helm—square away the yards, Mr Saltwell," exclaimed Captain Fleetwood, as soon as he saw what she was about to do.
"Ay, ay, sir. All hands make sail," cried Saltwell.
"All hands make sail," was echoed along the decks.
The men sprang on deck. The order to set the studden-sails was given. The hands flew aloft, and before the Greek had got all his canvas up, the Ione had every stitch she could carry packed on her. This gave her an advantage, but the stranger was still far beyond the range of her long guns.
A stern chase is so proverbially a long chase, especially when the leading vessel happens to be the fastest, as there soon appeared reason to believe was the case in the present instance, that I will not weary the reader by describing it, but, for the present, will leave His Majesty's ship Ione running under all sail, in chase of a suspicious craft, towards the island-studded shores of Greece.
Never did the Ione go along at greater speed under the same canvas than she was doing in chase of the Greek brig; but fast as she went, she gained little, if anything, on the vessel she pursued. No two crafts could have been better matched. The chances were all, therefore, in favour of the escape of the latter. She was four miles ahead, and she kept that distance. She might carry away a mast or spar, and thus the Ione might come up with her; or it might fall calm, and she might be overhauled by the boats, but the pursuer was just as likely to receive some damage, and thus she had most to fear a calm. If she could manage to hold her own till night came on, she would be able to haul her wind on either tack with very little danger of being discovered. The officers walked the deck with impatient steps. It was provoking to have a vessel just ahead of them, and which they all felt almost sure was the one they were in search of, and yet be unable to come up with her.
"If we could but get her within range of our guns, there would be some satisfaction in peppering at her," said Jemmy Duff, who, with several of his messmates had gone on the forecastle to have a better view of the chase. "I'd give a month's pay to have only one slap at her."
"That's not any overwhelming sum, Jemmy, though," observed Togle, laughing. "I'd give the whole of my half-pay for a year, and all the fortune you're ever likely to leave me, to have her within range of our guns for ten minutes."
"Mighty generous you are, indeed," said Jack Raby. "By that way of reckoning, whoever got the half-pay would be sadly out of pocket, as a midshipman's half-pay is nothing, and find himself; if he accepted the one, he would have to pay for your grub, and whoever gets Jemmy's fortune won't have much duty to pay, I'll bet."
"No; I must consider my rank in the service my fortune, whenever I have to propose to a young lady," answered Duff, putting his hand on his heart, with a sentimental look. "But, I say, can't we do something to get hold of that fellow ahead of us?"
"Why, I suppose he'll fetch the land one of these days, and then, if he can't sail over it, like the Yankee flat-bottomed crafts, which draw so little water that they can go across the country, when the dew is on the grass in the morning, we shall come up with him," replied Togle, with great gravity.
"I wonder you can joke about it, Togle," said Duff. "For my part, I hate the sort of work, it makes one feel all nohow, and sadly injures the appetite; I could scarcely eat my dinner to-day."
"One wouldn't have supposed so by the manner you stowed away the grub," answered Togle. "For my part, I don't feel so anxious, because I've made up my mind that we shall catch her some time or other. Let's see, it has just gone seven bells, so we've more than three hours of day-light, and much may happen in that time."
The men were, meantime, discussing the subject of the chase in their own fashion; nor did the three warrant officers, Brown, Black, and White, fail to express their opinions on the matter.
"My opinion is," said Mr Brown, "that them Grecian chaps know how to build crafts suited for going along in their own waters, as all must allow is the case in most parts; but just let us catch any one of them— that fellow ahead, for example—outside the straits, wouldn't we just come alongside him in a quarter less time."
"As it is, he'll lead us a pretty chase, I fear," observed Mr Black. "It will be like one I heard of in the war time, when a Jersey privateer chased a French schooner from off the Start right round the Cape, and never caught her till she ran into the Hoorly."
"Ah! but there was a longer chase than that which I have heard talk of, when the Mary Dunn, of Dover, during the Dutch war, followed a Dutchman right round the world, and never caught her at all," said Mr White, who piqued himself on being facetious. "Now, I'm thinking this present affair will be, somehow, like that, unless as how we manage to go faster than we now goes along, which ain't very likely, or she goes slower, which she don't seem to have a mind to do."
During the day, Captain Fleetwood scarcely quitted the deck. Up and down he paced, with his glass under his arm, now and then stopping and taking an anxious look at the chase, again to continue his walk, or else he would stand loaning against the bulwarks for a length of time together, without moving, unconscious of its lapse; his thoughts evidently fixed on the vessel ahead, and penetrating, in fancy, her interior. Indeed, none of the officers remained below longer than was necessary to take their meals, and every glass was in requisition to watch the chase.
Towards the evening, the wind, although keeping steady in the same quarter, gave indications of falling light, and there seemed every probability of what most on board had prognosticated would not take place—a calm.
"The wind has dropped very much, sir," said Mr Saltwell to the captain.
"It has," replied Captain Fleetwood. "I know what you would say—Get the boats ready for hoisting out. We'll overhaul her in them, if it falls calm, as I trust it will. As yet, she goes faster ahead than we should pull. I will go with them, and you, Saltwell, must take charge of the ship."
The first lieutenant signified his comprehension of his commander's orders, and immediately set about carrying them into execution.
The prospect of a calm was seen by all on board, and the news that the chase was to be attacked with the boats, should such happen, gave the greatest satisfaction, every one being anxious to go in them. Notwithstanding the dangers and hardships of boat service, it is one Jack likes excessively, on account of its excitement and variety. The commander intended to lead in the first gig. Linton was to command the cutter, and Tompion, one of the mates, the second gig, which were the only boats to be employed.
The arrangements had scarcely been concluded, when a loud flap of the canvas against the masts gave indication of the cessation of the breeze. Still, however, the brig had considerable way through the water. Linton was looking through his glass at the vessel ahead.
"She still seems to have the breeze," he observed to Saltwell. "I hope the fellow is not going to carry it off with him."
"I suspect he'll soon find it leave him," replied Saltwell. "But I wish it would be quick about it, for otherwise it will be getting dark before we get alongside."
"As long as we can make out the enemy, that will not much signify," replied Linton. "There will be less chance of our being hit."
"Yes; but remember, in boarding in the dark, you are fighting on the enemy's ground," observed Saltwell. "He knows his position and resources, and has you at a disadvantage. Give me daylight, and let me see my enemy's face."
"Ah! there seems a prospect of our having it, for the sails begin to flap heavily, and, by Jove, the chase is no better off," exclaimed Linton. "See, he has got the wind already up and down his mast."
"Huzza!" cried Jemmy Duff, who was midshipman of the cutter. "There's farewell to the wind for Mr Grego."
"Lower the boats, Mr Saltwell," was heard in the deep tones of the captain's voice.
The first lieutenant repeated the order. Mr Brown's whistle was next heard piping the boats away, and getting out the cutter, and in another minute the crews and the respective officers were in them, waiting for the commander to shove off. He had gone below for an instant for his sword, and when he stepped into his boat, though he looked pale, there was resolution in his eye to dare the worst, and if needs be to suffer the worst. With a hearty cheer from their shipmates, the boats shoved off, and pulled with lusty strokes towards the stranger. They had no positive right as yet to consider her an enemy, except from the fact of her having led them a somewhat longish chase; but as it was not much out of their course, they had no reason to complain. The Ione still kept under sail, slowly drawing ahead.
The stranger appeared to be no way disconcerted at their approach, but as she was almost entirely becalmed, she hauled up her foresail to get it out of the way, and seemed quietly to be waiting for them.
"Can you make out what those fellows are about, sir?" asked Jemmy Duff of his superior. "They don't seem to be afraid of us."
"Just stand up in the bows, and try what you can do to arouse their fears, Duff," said Linton, laughing. "We must have sharp eyes to know how they look at this distance, and perhaps as they know that they cannot get away from us, they think it better to put a bold face on the matter."
The sun was just about to sink in the waves as the boats came within range of the stranger's guns, but she allowed them to pull on without molestation, and as they got still nearer, they saw that she had no boarding nettings triced up, though, through the open ports, the crew were seen at their quarters, and the guns were run out ready for action. She appeared to be crowded with men in the Greek costume. They had but little time for observing anything before they were close to her.
"What do those boats want here?" hailed the voice of some one standing on her poop.
"These are the boats of His Britannic Majesty's brig, Ione," answered Captain Fleetwood, standing up in the stern sheets of his gig. "What brig is that?"
Linton every instant expected a shower of grape as the answer of the stranger.
There was a pause.
"The Independent Greek Government's brig, Ypsilante," was at length the answer. "What is your object in visiting us?"
"I am in search of a pirate who has attacked an English ship," replied Captain Fleetwood; "I wish to gain some information about her."
"I shall be glad to see you on board, then," said the same person.
And he was heard to issue several orders in his own language.
"Keep under her stern in case of treachery," said the captain to Linton and Tompion. "I will go on board—I still have my doubts about her character."
In another minute the gallant Fleetwood was ascending the side of the Greek brig, alone. Side ropes were handed to him, and the side was manned in man-of-war fashion, and he found a group of officers assembled at the gangway to receive him. The captain, a fine-looking man, was distinguishable by the richness of his dress and his dignified bearing. He received his visitor very courteously.
"I have led you a long chase, I am afraid," he observed, speaking English, "but the reason I did so you will allow was a good one, for I was myself chasing another vessel all the time, and of course could not heave to, that I might inform you, nor had I the means of signalising you to that effect."
"What do you believe to be the vessel you were chasing?" inquired Fleetwood, anxiously.
"A Greek, I am sorry to say, and a sister vessel of this brig. She has lately plundered a vessel laden with arms, and as they are much required by the patriots, I was dispatched to try and fall in with her."
"What is her name, or rather who commands her?" asked Fleetwood.
"Her name is the Sea Hawk, and she is commanded by the noted pirate, Zappa," replied the Greek captain.
"The very vessel I am in search of," said Fleetwood. "But is it not more likely that he should have gone somewhere to dispose of his booty than that he should remain cruising about here?"
"He has had time to deposit his booty, and to return to look for more," replied the Greek. "If we could get hold of him, we should make him disgorge all he possesses as a ransom for himself and followers."
"What, and let him loose again on the world to commit further piracies?" exclaimed Fleetwood.
The Greek captain laughed, as he replied:—"Why, it would not do to hang men limply for being guilty of a little piracy. Some of our leading chiefs might object to the precedent. But I will gladly aid you in looking for Signor Zappa; and if you catch him, of course you will be at liberty to treat him as you think fit. To be frank with you, I do not think you will find him unprepared in his strong-hold, and he will not yield up his vessel without many hard blows."
"What! are you acquainted with the situation of his stronghold?" exclaimed Fleetwood, eagerly.
"Well!" answered the Greek captain. "And if you will step into my cabin, I will point it out to you on the chart."
By this time the sun had gone down, and the gloom of the evening prevented the countenances of those surrounding him from being distinguishable, adding somewhat to the wildness of their appearance and the fierceness of their moustachioed countenances. As he stood on the poop he looked over the taffrail, where he could see the two boats keeping off just within hail, and in the distance the lights hoisted at the mast-head of his own ship to guide him on his return.
It must not be supposed that Fleetwood had not all this time his misgivings as to the character of the vessel he was on board. She might be the famed Sea Hawk, Zappa's own brig, and the man he was speaking to, one of the pirate's lieutenants; for he suspected that Zappa would not venture to present himself in person for fear of being recognised. Notwithstanding this, with an unfaltering step he followed the officer into the cabin.
The cabin was small, and fitted up in a way suitable to that of a vessel engaged in an arduous and dangerous service—a couple of sofas, a table, and chairs, were the chief articles of furniture, with some shelves, a buffet, and a stand for arms.
"I can but offer you rough entertainment," said the Greek, courteously placing a seat for his guest. "We are so engaged in hunting down those scoundrel Turks that we have little time to think of luxuries—such as I have, I shall place before you." As he spoke, he clapped his hands in oriental fashion, and a servant appeared. "Bring wine and bread, and such food as you have," he said, and the man vanished.
Fleetwood would have declined the proffered hospitality, on the plea of being anxious to return to his ship; but his host insisted on having the refreshment brought in, observing,—"It is the custom in the East, remember, to eat salt together as a sign of amity, so you cannot refuse me."
As he spoke, the servant returned, bringing in the very frugal fare he had ordered—a jar of wine, some olives, and bread of rather brownish hue, with some goats' milk cheese, were placed on the table.
"It is not the sort of fare you would give me on board your ship; but, such as it is, I offer it to you," said the Greek captain.
"It is more than I expected," answered Fleetwood, bowing. "But may I ask, have you been on board any British ship of war?"
"I have served on board on the L— as a midshipman, and have since, on several occasions, acted as pilot and interpreter. You see in me, Captain Fleetwood, one who is solicitous to be of use to you; and, as you appear to be anxious to meet this Signor Zappa, I will now show you where you are most likely to fall in with him."
The evident frankness and cordiality of these expressions at once dissipated all Fleetwood's previous misgivings, and in a few words, while he was partaking of the refreshment placed before him, he detailed what had occurred, and his belief that the pirate had made prisoner of an English lady, even if he had not murdered the rest of those on board.
While he was speaking, the Greek brought down a chart of the Archipelago, and pointed out the island of Lissa, a minute description of which he gave.
"But, Captain Fleetwood," he observed, "with your brig, or indeed with the whole British navy at command, you can scarcely capture that island, especially while the pirate holds hostages so dear to you in his hands. Take my advice, attempt nothing by force; your only chance of success is by stratagem. By following a plan I will venture to suggest to you, if you will undergo the danger, which I will not deny is very great, I think there is a prospect of your being able to rescue your friends. Once, however, arouse the suspicions of the pirate and his followers, they will put the place in so strong a state of defence, and will keep so vigilant a watch over their prisoners, that an attack on the island will be useless. Remember, when I tell you this, I am well acquainted with the place and the people, and I feel assured of the soundness of my advice."
Captain Fleetwood thanked him very much, and assured him that he was eager to hear the plan he would advise him to follow.
On this, Captain Teodoro Vassilato, for such was the name of his new Greek friend, explained it to him, and promised him his assistance in carrying it out. What it was it is not necessary here to detail, as it will be fully developed in a future part of this story.
Linton sat in the boat keeping way with the Greek brig, which still glided slowly ahead, till he began to lose his patience, and at last he grew alarmed at the non-arrival of his commander. Could any treachery have been practised? he thought, and had Fleetwood's generous boldness led to his destruction? He longed to penetrate the intention of that dark mass ahead of him, which lay rolling uneasily, as the glassy swell at long intervals heaved noiselessly under her keel, as it glided onwards. He remembered, too, all the suspicions which had been entertained of the craft, and he longed to pull alongside, and to demand what had become of his captain. But he had been directed to remain where he was till his return, and he was too good a disciplinarian not to obey orders. The gig, he believed, was still alongside, with the people in her, but it was so dark, it was difficult to make that out. He had almost resolved to send Tompion in the second gig to ascertain this, when he heard the splash of oars in the water, and his doubts were soon after relieved by the return of Captain Fleetwood.
"I have kept you some time, gentlemen," said the captain. "But I have gained some important information to guide our proceedings. Now give way and follow me."
The boats were soon on board, and hoisted in, and during the night a breeze from the northward springing up, the Ione continued her voyage to Cephalonia, which it was expected she would make during the course of the day. The forenoon watch had just been set, and the officers were going to breakfast, when the look-out at the mast-head, who had just gone aloft, hailed the deck to say that there was an object on the lee bow, floating deep in the water, but he could not distinguish what it was.
"What does it look like, though?" asked the first lieutenant.
"It's more like a boat bottom up, or a thick piece of timber, than anything else," was the answer; "but I think it's a boat, sir."
"It's not worth while going out of our course to ascertain," observed Linton.
"I am not so certain of that," exclaimed Saltwell. "It may be part of the wreck of the Zodiac. At all events, I shall inform the captain."
He accordingly went into the cabin, and on his return the ship was kept away, and Captain Fleetwood came on deck.
"Aloft there, can you see it now?" hailed Mr Saltwell.
"Yes, sir, we're steering right for it, and I make no doubt it's a boat."
The brig was making good way through the water, and soon approached the object, which proved to be a boat with her keel up. She was then hove-to, a boat was lowered to tow the swamped boat alongside. When this was done, a rope was passed under her stern, she was lifted till the tackle fall could be hooked on to the ring-bolt in it, when she was easily turned over, and as she was hoisted up the water was baled out. Every one was eager to learn what boat she was.
It was soon perceived that she had been much shattered and damaged, for the gunnel on one side had been almost knocked away, and the bows had been stove in; but the injury had been repaired by one or more coats of tarred canvas, nailed over her bow and bottom, in a very rough way. The captain at once pronounced her to be an English-built boat, but she had no name by which it could be discovered to what vessel she belonged.
"Some poor fellows have been cast away on the rocks, and tried to make their escape in her," remarked Linton. "They must have encountered another squall in that ricketty craft, and she must have capsized and drowned them all."
"It looks too like it," said Saltwell. "But if they had got on any rocks they would have taken a longer time to put her to rights. What think you of her being launched from the deck of a sinking vessel?"
"The same idea struck me," observed Mr Norton, the master. "I suspect, if we had the means of ascertaining, that she will be found to be one of the boats of the lost Zodiac."
"I fear it; and if so, all must have perished," said Saltwell. "It would be cruel to suggest it to the captain."
"He already has thought of that," observed the master.
"What shall we do with the boat, sir?" inquired the first lieutenant of the captain. "Shall we cast her adrift?"
"No—get her in on deck, and overhaul her more thoroughly," was the answer.
This was done; and while the carpenter was examining her, and making remarks on the curious way she had been patched up, he found, in the stern sheets, a silk handkerchief, which had been thrust into a hole, over which, evidently, there had not been time to nail any canvas. It had thus been fixed in so tightly, that the water had not been able to wash it out.
The carpenter drew it forth, and opened it.
"Ah, here is a name in a corner, which will go far to prove to whom the boat belonged," he exclaimed. "If I know how to read, these letters on it spell—'J. Bowse.' What do you say, Brown?"
"There's no doubt about it," answered the boatswain, shaking his head. "And by the same token, it belonged to the master of the Zodiac, for he used to be very proud of having his handkerchief marked in that way, as it was Mistress Bowse's own handy work; and, t'other day, when he was aboard of us, he, poor fellow, showed me that very handkerchief, and said his missis had worked him another set just afore he came away."
The discovery was reported to the captain; but he made no remark on it. He, apparently, had before come to the conclusion, that the boat had belonged to the unfortunate Zodiac.
"Land ahead," was cried out from aloft, and resounded through the ship; and before the middle of the afternoon-watch, the lofty mountains of Cephalonia rose in view, with the lower lands of Zante to the southward.
The wind freshened, and backing round more to the westward, the Ione stood boldly in for the entrance of the magnificent harbour of Argostoli, and, before nightfall, anchored within a mile of the town.
Captain Fleetwood immediately hurried on shore. With a heart beating with anxiety, he made inquiries about the Zodiac; but nothing had been heard of her, or her passengers and crew. He did not yet despair, and taking an interpreter with him, who was strongly recommended, he returned on board, the anchor was got up, and the Ione stood out of the harbour of Argostoli.
There was little chance of the grass growing under her keel.
On reaching the ruins, the Lady Nina and her companion saw old Vlacco seated on a rock, at a short distance, whence he could command an extensive view of the sea. He had a spyglass in his hand, which he every now and then lifted to his eye, to observe the approaching sail, and then he would let it fall again into his lap, as if he were considering what she was.
"Let us go and ask my grandfather what he thinks is the vessel in sight," said Mila, and, with some difficulty, they worked their way over the rocks and ruins towards him.
He turned round rather gruffly at hearing the voice of his grandchild, as she asked him what he thought was the sail nearing the island; for, as he himself had not yet made up his mind on the subject, he was unable to give her a positive answer; and was very unwilling to confess his ignorance, especially in the presence of the Lady Nina.
"She is a brig, child; and I should have thought your own sharp eyes would have told you that," he answered.
"So they have, grandfather," she replied. "I have seen that she is a brig long ago; but I want to know whether she is the Sea Hawk, or a stranger."
"A stranger would scarcely be running directly for the port, as that vessel is; and it is about the time we may expect our chief's return," answered old Vlacco; "so, if one was unable to distinguish that brig below there from any other, we might conclude that she was the Sea Hawk."
The young Italian stood by, anxiously listening to these observations, for her heart beat eagerly for the return of him who commanded the vessel of which they spoke, and dark were the forebodings of disaster which oppressed her at his long absence.
"Then you think she is the Sea Hawk?" exclaimed Mila. "I pray she may be, for the sweet lady's sake."
"If she is not, they have cleverly imitated her to deceive an old seaman's eyes," returned the old Greek. "You may tell the lady, that, to the best of my belief, yonder vessel is our chief's; but it is necessary to be cautious, when our strength is so much diminished by the absence of many of our best men, and when the cursed Turks are sweeping off the inhabitants from many of the neighbouring islands; and even the British have taken upon themselves to interfere with some of the domestic concerns of our friends."
Nina clasped her hands with an expression of thankfulness, as Mila explained to her what her grandfather had said, her eyes all the time watching the vessel.
"Ah!" she exclaimed. "Surely there is a flag flying from the mast-head. That must be a signal to us."
The old Greek again examined the vessel with his telescope.
"It is, lady—it is the rover's flag, under which I have fought in many a hard-contested battle," he exclaimed with animation. "No one else would venture to carry that banner, and we will assemble his followers to receive him with honour. Lady, do you retire to the chamber in the tower, where he will, doubtless, hurry on his arrival, and it might anger him were you not there to welcome him."
Mila repeated what had been said.
"Tell your grandfather I would go down to the beach to receive his chief the instant he sets foot on shore," said Nina, with greater resolution in her tone than she had hitherto expressed when speaking.
The old pirate understood what she said, and turned round on her with an angry frown, which showed that he was a person whom, in his less amiable mood, it would be dangerous to contradict.
"Lady, my orders were, not to allow you out of my sight, except when you were locked up in the tower. I have already disobeyed them more than once, for I knew you would not run away; and I was willing to gratify you and my little girl there—I am not going to neglect them just as he is returning, so you must go back to the tower. It is also a far more fitting place for you to receive him, than exposed to the public gaze on the beach."
A crimson blush overspread the cheek of the lovely Italian, as she heard what Vlacco said, and she knew it was hopeless to attempt making him alter his resolution.
"Then I am a prisoner within those walls," she said, slowly bending her steps towards the tower, accompanied by Mila.
"Very like it, lady," muttered the old pirate. "By my patron saint, I would not have ventured to speak in that way a year ago, when her power was omnipotent in the island. But her rule would not last for ever with our chief, that I guessed from the first, and I prophesy it will before long come to an end altogether. Well, the Sea Hawk will very soon be in the harbour, so I must collect the people to receive him."
Saying this, he climbed to the top of one of the ruined walls of the castle, and taking a horn, which hung by the girdle at his side, he blew a blast, which sounded far and wide throughout the island. It was answered by several sounds in various directions.
In a short time, in twos and threes, armed men were seen approaching; some up the steep path on the side of the ravine, others across the causeway; and as they assembled, they were marshalled in order by Vlacco in front of the tower.
Nina and her companion had placed themselves at the window, to watch the vessel, and the proceedings below.
The gathering of the pirate's followers—for so Vlacco had pronounced the commander of the approaching brig to be,—continued for some time, till Nina observed upwards of fifty persons collected—some of them were very old men, and others were boys, but there were few in the prime of life—all such, it appeared, having been called away on some expedition with their thief. They were all armed to the teeth, but with a great variety of weapons: some had English muskets, others long Turkish matchlocks, some rifles and fowling-pieces; every one had a dagger and one or more pistols in their belts, generally of the rich workmanship of the East. Their costume, also, was very much varied in character; and though the red skull-cap was generally worn, some had adorned their heads with turbans, even of the green colour, which, as if in mockery of the Turks, should cover the scalps of none but the true descendants of the Prophet. Some wore the white kilt of the mountaineers, others the long trousers and loose waistcoat of the main; indeed, their costume was as varied as their arms, and showed that here were collected persons driven from various parts of Greece by the tyranny of their Ottoman oppressors.
As soon as a sufficient number of the band had assembled, they dragged out, under Vlacco's directions, one of the large guns from the basement story of the tower to the edge of the cliff, where, between the rocks, there was a sort of natural embrasure, partly aided by art, while a platform had been formed for the purpose of mounting a gun there. It was an admirable position, as it so completely overlooked the entrance to the cave, that a shot sent from it could not fail of hitting a vessel attempting to enter.
As Nina watched these proceedings, she could scarcely tell, from the appearance of the armed band and the manner in which Vlacco was placing the gun in the battery, whether he was preparing to receive the approaching vessel in a hostile manner. The idea of treachery came across her mind.
"Can the old pirate," she thought, "meditate the destruction of his chief, for the sake of taking possession of all the riches in the tower?" But she soon discarded her fears as improbable, recollecting that those who were on board with him were all nearly related to those remaining behind.
The purpose Vlacco had in placing the gun there was soon made obvious. It was loaded and fired—the report reverberating in thunder among the rocks. Scarcely had the noise ceased, when puffs of smoke were seen to issue from the vessel's side, a faint echo was heard from seaward.
"That is the usual signal and answer made when our chief returns," said Mila. "There can be no longer any doubt that it is his vessel. See, she seems to be coming on more rapidly than before."
Such was the case, for the sea breeze had lately somewhat freshened, and every sail was spread to woo it.
Majestically the brig glided over the blue sea, like a swan skimming over a tranquil lake. As seen at that distance, she appeared a mass of white canvas; nor did she cause a ripple on the calm, mirror-like surface. On she came, till her deck seemed almost beneath the rock, and the young Italian fancied, in her eagerness, that she could see the countenances of those who walked it, and could distinguish the chief himself from all the rest. Surely none but those well acquainted with the spot would venture thus to run on directly against that rocky shore.
The inhabitants of the opposite village had long recognised the Sea Hawk, and had returned on shore, giving up their anticipations of finding her a stranger, on whom they might pounce unawares, and make her their prize. Some of the larger boats remained just at the mouth of the harbour, to assist the vessel in entering, should the wind fail her at that very juncture, which it was not unlikely to do.
Vlacco had marshalled his men, and leaving a guard of five at the tower, led them down to the beach by the winding path through the ravine. When within four or five hundred fathoms of the rock, the brig's studden-sails came down altogether, every other sail was clewed up, and she shot like an arrow through the narrow opening, her yard-arms almost brushing the rocks on either side; her anchor was let go, and she swung round just clear of the other craft in the centre of the basin.
Her arrival was greeted by loud shouts from the people on shore, which were answered by the crew, and then succeeded inquiries from those in the boats for some who did not appear.
"Alas! they have fallen in the fight," was the answer.
A sigh or an expression of sorrow was their only requiem.
"But what success—what booty have you brought?" was the question most eagerly asked.
"Thanks to our captain's skill and bravery, we have never had more success, or so rich a booty, with so little cost. A few of our brave comrades have paid the debt all must pay; but we have ever come off victorious. Huzza for our brave captain! Huzza for Zappa!"
"Huzza for Zappa—huzza for the gallant Sea Hawk!" was echoed by the people on the beach, taken up by his followers, and repeated by those on the cliffs above, till Nina heard the cry as she sat in her watch-tower. She trembled and turned pale, for her heart longed to see him; yet she almost feared his coming. Poor girl! she little knew what was in store for her.
The captain of the Sea Hawk was the first person to land, accompanied by the young Italian, Paolo. As he stepped on shore, his own particular adherents welcomed him with loud shouts, and he returned this greeting courteously.
"Ah! Vlacco, old friend, I rejoice to see you strong and well," he said, cordially holding out his hand; and in like manner he spoke to others of the band. Whatever he was in other places, and whatever opinion the reader may have formed of him, he was, among his own people, and on board his own ship, in every respect, the chieftain. There was a boldness and independence, even a dignity in his manner, which awed inferior spirits, and made them willingly obey him, though he might have been at the time thoroughly destitute of every quality which constitutes true greatness of character. Zappa had always been successful. It was the cause of his rise—the only secret of his power. He had been fortunate in his first speculation—an attack on an unarmed merchantman, most of whose crew were on shore. He carried off a rich booty, and had the opportunity of boasting of his deeds among those who would willingly have shared in them. His fame spread. He collected followers, and became a chieftain.
The eyes of the old pirate brightened, and a smile even lighted up his grim visage, as he received this mark of his leader's regard.
"Yes, I am proud to repeat, that all has gone well during the time you have been away," he replied.
"And the Lady Nina," said Zappa, taking the old man aside, "has she appeared to grieve for my absence, and for that of her brother?"
"Grieve—indeed, she has—so says my grandchild Mila. She has done nothing but sigh and sob, and look out on the sea all day long; but whether it was for you or her brother she mourned I cannot say," was old Vlacco's answer.
"Well, I will—I must try and dry her tears now, so I'll to the tower," said the pirate, taking the path up the ravine. "Come, Paolo, we'll go and see how fares your sweet sister."
But Paolo had disappeared. The moment he had touched the shore, while the chief was addressing his followers, he had slipped off, and with quick steps had hurried up the ravine. He was already out of sight, winding his way up the steep ascent which led to the tower. Zappa was excessively angry at this; for he wished to be the first to salute Nina, and he was afraid her brother would inform her of things of which he wished her, at present, to be kept in ignorance. He therefore hurried after him, followed at a distance by Vlacco and his band, who could in no way keep pace with his vigorous and active steps. He hoped to overtake the young Italian; but Paolo was also active, and he was eager to embrace his sister—the only being in the world whom he felt could love him—the only one he had loved.
The door of the tower stood open, and with haste he ascended the steep steps, which led to her chamber. He threw open the door, and stood at the entrance; her arms were round her brother's neck, and she was weeping. For an instant she did not perceive that any one else was present—she looked up, and beheld the pirate. With a cry, she tore herself from her brother's embrace, and, rushing towards Zappa, threw herself into his arms.
"You see, Paolo," he said, in a taunting tone, "your sister will prefer remaining with me, with all my faults on my head, rather than follow your sage advice to return to Italy with you. Is it not so, my Nina— you love me still?"
She hid her face in his bosom, as she murmured,—"It were death, indeed, to quit you."
"You hear her, Paolo. Now listen to me," said Zappa. "For her sake I forgive you for disobeying my orders, and quitting me just now, while I had directions to give you; return on board the ship—you have duties to attend to there, which you must not neglect—there, embrace your sister once more if you wish, and go."
The young Italian stood for a minute with his eyes fixed, glaring on the pirate, as if he were about to speak, and give vent to his indignant anger in words; but he said nothing; and, with a groan, which burst from his bosom, without giving another look at his sister, he rushed out of the door, and down the steps, nor stopped till he reached the beach.
"You look thinner than usual, my Nina; and the brightness of your eye has lost somewhat of its lustre since I left you," said Zappa, as they sat at the window of the tower, looking out on the moonlit sea; while within the chamber the light of a silver lamp, suspended from the roof, cast a brilliant radiance on every side, and on a table, spread with crystal goblets, and dishes glittering with silver and jewels, on which a luxurious repast had been served.
"My health will soon be restored now you have returned," answered Nina, returning the fond pressure of his hand. "But I have been almost a prisoner in this tower; and old Vlacco, whom you left as governor in your absence, would have made me one completely, had I not insisted on enjoying a little freedom at times with his grandchild, Mila. Your absence, too, was so much longer than usual that I feared for your safety, and for that of my poor brother."
"Old Vlacco was a strict jailor, was he?" said Zappa. "Why, you know, my pretty bird, I warned him to beware lest you should take flight, as once you tried to do, urged by the persuasions of your brother; and, I suppose he thought he was to obey his orders to the letter; but now we have returned, your cause of anxiety will have ceased, and I believe you love me too well ever again to wish to leave me. I believe, also, your brother has been taught the folly of his conduct too well to attempt it again. But a truce with subjects which are disagreeable. Here's to your health, sweet one; I pledge you in this sparkling goblet of Samian wine, and I will try to drive away your melancholy by recounting some of the adventures of my voyage." As he spoke, he stretched out his hand to the table, and seizing a large glass of wine, he drank it off at a draught. "Ah! this cheers the heart after the hardships of the ocean. Wine is a glorious thing, Nina; it banishes the gloomy thoughts which will ever and anon intrude into the hearts even of the bravest. But I promised you my adventures, sweet one. Soon after we sailed from hence, we had a few skirmishes with Turkish vessels; we captured and destroyed two, but they had little on board them of value, and the men began to grow discontented with our want of success, and at last I resolved to fly at nobler game. By the by, I happened to fall in with a Neapolitan vessel; the crew were your countrymen, Nina, and I would not injure them, though, I believe, some of my people, unknown to me, bored holes in her to try add sink her. While we were engaged in taking out whatever was of value, a ship of war hove in sight, and we were obliged to leave her. I then stood towards the coast of Italy—"
"Oh! do not tell me of such dreadful things. I cannot, I do not believe you. I thought you were only engaged in fighting the enemies of your country, and of the Christian race, and you confess to committing deeds which would make you a pirate—a foe to all nations. Say that you were joking."
Zappa laughed heartily as he answered,—"A prejudice, my pretty Nina; it is one you must conquer, too, with all speed. What! despise my free and independent profession. You, my wife, think ill of piracy, and the brave rovers who commit it. Ha! ha! ha! that must no longer be, let me assure you. To my story—you interrupt me—where was I—oh, yes! sailing towards the coast of Italy. We ran on till we sighted a lofty mountain of Sicily, and just then fell in with a speronara, owned by a man with whom I have had transactions, and whom I knew I could trust. I engaged him to take me to Malta; and, with your brother as my companion, I visited that place, and learned what vessels were about to sail.
"One bore a rich freight; we followed, and took her. Now, Nina, I am going to make you jealous. An English lady was on board; she was young, beautiful, and the heiress, I understand, of much wealth. She is now my prisoner, and I intend to bring her here to place her in your charge, Nina. But remember, no jealousy—for though you are lovely, you will have to acknowledge that she is so also—yet I say not equal to you, sweet one."
As Zappa was speaking, Nina rose, and as she stood in the recess of the window, with the beams of the pale moon lighting up her countenance, which would otherwise have been cast in shadow, her figure appeared to grow more pure and ethereal, even to the eyes of the fierce and lawless pirate. Her fair and slender hands were clasped on her bosom, while she turned on him a look in which pain and reproach were mingled, as she answered—
"I would gladly do your will in all things; I would willingly afford aid to one in distress, to one who undeservedly suffers, who is torn from her kindred and friends; but speak not to me of jealousy, Zappa, I have trusted you too much, I love you too devotedly, as you well know, to be influenced by such a feeling. Let the lady arrive when she may she is welcome."
Poor girl! even as she spoke, the first pangs of the deadly poison had shot through her heart, though she knew not what was the cause of the feeling which oppressed her. She thought it was the indifference of his tone, the light carelessness of his words which gave her pain, yet he was always accustomed to speak in that way, for to things serious or sacred he paid little regard.
"I will not, then, suppose you jealous, Nina, since you like it not to be suspected that you are even capable of the feeling," answered the pirate, throwing himself back on the divan, and laughing; "I shall not, however, yet put you to the test, but when the lady arrives you will treat her as one to whom all courtesy is due."
"I have promised to do so," replied the Italian girl, still standing in the position she had assumed at a distance from him.
"Then do not look so cold, and glance your eye repulsively on me," exclaimed Zappa; "one might suppose that I were a monster unfit for one so fair and pure as you to gaze on."
Nina burst into tears.
"You are unkind and I am weak," she exclaimed passionately. "You confess to me that you are a pirate and a robber, that your hand is stained with the blood of your fellow-men—of men not slain because they are the enemies of your country, but because they attempted to guard the treasure committed to their charge, and I ought to loathe and detest you, and yet I cannot—I love, I love you still."
And she sank down on her knees at his feet, and hiding her face in the cushions of the divan, gave way to a flood of tears, while her bosom heaved as if she were struggling for existence.
Zappa gazed at her for some minutes without speaking, till the paroxysm of the fit had passed away, when compunction, or it might have been a less amiable feeling, seized him, and stooping down, he raised her in his arms.
"I was but trying you, lovely one," he said, in a soft tone. "I am not the blood-stained monster I painted myself. My hand has never slain a fellow-man except in self-defence; and is not so unworthy as you would believe to be clasped in yours. Besides, Nina, you are, as far as your church makes you so, my wedded wife—for good or for evil, for wealth or for poverty, and must not, sweet one, play the tyrant over me. But a truce with this folly—I am weary of it," he cried, starting up; "I have many directions to give about my brave barque, which I must not forget— even for your sake,—and I must see old Vlacco, and consult with him about improving the fortifications of our island—for, with enemies on all sides, these are not times when we can trust to our remote position as before, and to such old defences as nature has provided. Farewell; and when I return, let me see the accustomed smile resting on those sweet lips."
He kissed her as he spoke; and, without waiting for an answer, he quitted the chamber, and she heard him descending the steps of the tower. She hid her face in her hands, and there seemed but little prospect of her having the power to obey his commands.
We left Ada Garden virtually a prisoner on board a vessel which she believed a Greek man-of-war. Day after day the voyage continued without the anchor being dropped. Sometimes the vessel was steered in one direction, sometimes in another; but, as she judged by the appearance of the sun, as it was seen from the cabin windows at sunset, they were verging towards the east and north. Fortunately the weather continued fine, and they were able to have the ports open the whole of the day, which in a slight degree made her amends for being deprived of the free air of the deck. Generally, also, the wind was fair, when it came in cool and refreshing through the ports; but some days it blew more ahead, and then Ada could feel the vessel heel over as the canvas felt its force; and, at times, she judged that they were beating along some coast, or through a narrow passage, as the continuation of the same land was seen on every alternate tack.
Signor Paolo had visited the cabin every day; but he was silent and reserved as at first, and she failed to obtain any information from him—though, latterly, she thought he appeared as if he would have spoken more; but, each time he was about to do so, fear seemed to make him hesitate, and he said nothing.
Her health, under his judicious treatment, had gradually improved till she had recovered as much of her accustomed strength as she could expect to do, without the benefit of more air and exercise than she could enjoy in the cabin. But her spirits remained much depressed at the uncertainty of her own future fate, of that of her uncle, and with the thoughts of the anguish she knew Fleetwood would endure at her loss.
"Could I but let him know," she thought, "that I am alive, and am suffering no great inconvenience, oh, how it would relieve my heart!"
She little thought that at that very time her lover was scouring the seas on board his ship in search of her.
At last the vessel was once more before the wind, slowly gliding through the water. There seemed to her more bustle and animation than usual on deck. The faint sound of a gun came off from the shore—it was answered by a loud report from on board, accompanied by a wild cheer from those on deck; and, a short time afterwards she felt that the anchor was let go; strange voices were heard alongside—and looking out of the stern-ports, high cliffs arose before her eyes. She and Marianna continued gazing out of their prison at the strange scent before them, and at the number of boats filled with uncouth, savage-looking beings pulling in boats round the ship. Among others, one appeared to leave the vessel and take a direct course towards the shore.
"Oh! signora, look there—look there!" cried Marianna. "There is Signor Paolo going to leave us."
Ada did look, but her eye scarcely rested on Paolo, for it caught sight of one who sat next to him in the boat. She grasped her attendant's arm as she whispered, "My worst fears are realised. There goes the pirate Zappa, and we are his prisoners."
"Oh! don't say such a thing, signora," cried Marianna, trembling; "I shall die of fright. Yet, surely he could not have had any command on board such a quiet, well-ordered vessel as this has been?"
"I fear that I am not mistaken in his identity—and his appearance explains everything," said Ada. "What can he intend now by leaving the vessel? Try the doors and see if we are still prisoners in the cabin."
Marianna found the door closed as before, and she and her mistress sat down more alarmed than they had been hitherto; Ada feeling that her last hope of escape had vanished.
They remained thus for some time, till they were startled by the abrupt entrance of Paolo into the cabin. He apologised, on seeing Ada's look of surprise.
"Pardon me, signora; I have been sent by the captain of the ship to express his regret that your apartments on shore are not arranged, and to regret that you will have to remain some time longer on board."
"Excuses are superfluous, when no choice is allowed me but to obey," returned Ada, with more haughtiness in her manner than usual; for, having seen Paolo in company with the pirate, she could no longer regard him in the same light she had before done.
The young man seemed at once to observe and feel the change.
"I deeply regret, signora, that you should have cause to complain," he exclaimed, in a voice in which sorrow mingled with passion; "but, oh! believe me, that I am not more free than you, and act under the orders of one who has the power to compel were I to prove disobedient."
"I believe you," said Ada; "and now tell me, who is this person who ventures to hold me a prisoner?"
"You will know too soon, lady, but my lips must not inform you," returned Paolo. "However, if it can afford you any satisfaction to know it, be assured that I will watch carefully over you, and that my directions are, not to quit the vessel except to accompany you on shore."
"It must be a satisfaction to those in distress to know that they have a friend who interests himself in their welfare," replied Ada, in a softened tone, as Paolo, with an inclination of his head, withdrew.
For two whole days did Ada Garden and her attendant remain inmates of the vessel. On the third Paolo made his appearance to announce that accommodation was prepared for them on shore, and that a boat was waiting alongside the vessel to convey them there. For the first time Ada stepped on the deck of the vessel, and, after having been shut up so long below, the full, bright glare of the sun almost dazzled her eyes, and prevented her seeing objects clearly. As she recovered her sight, she observed that the vessel, on board which she had spent so long a time, was a brig, that she was in beautiful order, and had eight guns run out on either side. A few seamen in Greek costume were employed in the fore part of the vessel in repairing the rigging, but none of them took the slightest notice of her, as Paolo handed her to the gangway, followed by Marianna. At his summons two men came aft, and brought up her boxes from below, which were lowered into the boat alongside, into which he then assisted her and her attendant. He then gave the signal to shove off, and a few strokes of the oars carried the boat to the shore. Ada looked round her with surprise at the wild beauty and perfect tranquillity of the scene. In the centre of the bay lay the brig at anchor, her hull and tall masts, and the tracery of her spars and rigging reflected in the calm clear water. Her sails were closely furled, and no one appeared above the bulwarks to show that she was tenanted by human beings. The two misticoes lay inside of her, without sign of any one being on board them, and the boats belonging to the cove were drawn up on the beach, but the fishermen had deserted their nets, and not a person appeared in any direction. She gazed up at the lofty cliffs, and at the picturesque ravine towards which Paolo pointed, as they landed, to indicate their path, at the same time expressing his regret that there were no means of conveying her up it except by a litter borne by men.
The perfect calmness of the whole scene, its unusual beauty, and the freshness of the air served to reassure her, and she began to experience an elasticity of spirits she had not for a long time felt. Paolo led her up the path I have before described, to the platform on the summit of the cliffs on which the ruined castle stood.
"This is a wild spot, lady, but not wanting in beauty; and the tower you see before you is to be your abode while you remain on the island," said Paolo, pointing to a tower which was nearer the causeway, and had not so extensive a view as the one I have described, but yet it overlooked the sea, and more of the interior of the island. Paolo knocked at a door at the base, and it was opened by the young Greek girl Mila, who saluted the strangers with a smile of welcome, and then led them away up a flight of steps to an upper story, where, throwing open another door, she ushered them into a chamber, at the appearance of which Ada could not help uttering an exclamation of surprise; and Marianna, who had completely lost all her fears in company with Signor Paolo, clapped her hands with delight. The time had, indeed, been well employed, which had, since their arrival, converted that ruined tower into so magnificent an abode.
The pirate must have ransacked all his stores of silks and satins to fit up the room.
"The roof has probably been formed some time, but all else has been accomplished during the last three days," said Paolo, as they entered. "That was the reason, lady, of your not landing before."
The style was very similar to that of the other tower; but the hangings were, perhaps, richer, and the carpets more valuable; attention had been paid to what might be supposed English taste. There were a greater number of tables and chairs, and there was even a book-case fastened against the wall, though the books it contained were few, and not of a very select description.
There were two guitars and a music-book on one of the tables, and the walls were adorned with pictures, and a magnificent silver lamp hung from the centre; and, indeed, everything had been done to give the room a cheerful and habitable appearance. On either side were curtains across a corner of the room; and, on drawing them, Ada perceived that there were couches arranged, and furnished with the finest linen, showing that the chamber was intended for their exclusive residence, perhaps also, their prison. Mila busied herself in showing the arrangements of the room, and Paolo explained that she was anxious to serve the stranger in the best way she could. Ada intimated that she could not but be satisfied with the care taken for her comfort, and Paolo, suspecting that she would prefer being left alone, called Mila, and took his departure.
Paolo had been gone some time, when a knock at the door was heard, and Marianna ran to open it. As she did so, she started back with a cry of surprise, for there stood before her the pirate Zappa.
Ada rose as she saw him, for she felt that, from the first, it would be necessary to assume a dignity and fearlessness of manner, in order to gain any influence over him.
"The Prince Argiri Caramitzo, I believe I have the honour of seeing," she said, bowing.
"The same, signora, who has the happiness of welcoming you to Greece, and has had that of rescuing you from a great danger," replied Zappa, in his most courteous tone, advancing a step only into the chamber. "He now comes to express a hope that you are satisfied with the arrangements made for you, and will be contented to remain an inhabitant of this island till communications can be opened with your friends, in order to restore you to them."
"I need not tell you, prince, that I am most anxious to communicate with my friends, and must beg you to tell me by what means I can do so," said Ada.
"The opportunity will, doubtless, soon occur," replied the pirate. "But, in the mean time, I have to assure you that I have taken measures to let your friends know of your safety—though, for reasons which I may hereafter explain to you, not the place of your abode."
"I understand you, signor; and I beg now to thank you for the courtesy and delicacy with which you have treated me," said Ada. "And I will ask you as a farther favour, to tell me what has become of the relative who left Malta with me. Is he still living?"
As she spoke her voice trembled, and a tear started in her eye.
"Indeed, lady, I would gladly answer your question if I could. I know nothing of your relative," replied Zappa. "But I am wearying you with my presence. I came but to ascertain that you were satisfied with such humble accommodation as I could afford you, and will no longer intrude myself on your presence. Lady, farewell; and should any suspicions enter your mind about me, I entreat you to banish them; and to believe that, however much appearances are against me, I am not guilty."
It would be difficult to describe the tone with which those words were uttered, or the polished bow Zappa gave as he quitted the room, fully believing that he had made a great stride in winning over the feelings of his prisoner, to look on him with regard.
A whole day passed away without the appearance of Paolo, or any person except little Mila. The young Greek girl was her only attendant, besides Marianna; but as she could not make herself understood, she seldom remained long together in the room. Had she even not felt herself a prisoner, the day would have passed wearily away with so few means of amusing herself at her disposal. She examined the books which had been placed on the shelves: they were mostly Italian, though she recognised a few as having been on board the Zodiac. In vain, however, she tried to give her attention to them, for whenever she did so her thoughts wandered away till they were lost in the painful reflection which her position naturally suggested. Among her luggage were the means of employing herself in such fancy-work as was the fashion in those days, but she soon threw it down in despair, as rather increasing than relieving her anxiety.
Such was not the case with Marianna, who quickly recovered her spirits, and plied her needle with her usual diligence, and laughed and sang, as if nothing out of the way had occurred. One of her great sources of pleasure was, in the intervals of her work, to look through a telescope which Paolo had placed in the room; it was on a brass stand, and had been, probably, among the cargo of some vessel plundered by Zappa or his associates. The view, as I have said, from the window, extended over a wide range of sea, along the greater part of the east side of the island and into the interior; and a glimpse could just be caught of the mouth of the harbour, though the vessels lying there were not visible. It was in the afternoon of the second day after their arrival that Marianna was amusing herself with looking through the glass, when she uttered an exclamation of delight.
"Oh, signora, signora—do come, and look!" she cried. "There is a vessel coming to the island; for I see her white sails just rising out of the water. She is coming to take us home—I know she is."
Ada flew to the telescope—her heart beating with agitation at the very mention of release, though her hopes were not so sanguine as those of her damsel. She looked earnestly for some time at the sail which Marianna had observed; but, as she withdrew her eye from the tube, she shook her head with a look of disappointment.
"The sail looks very small," she said. "So I fear, Marianna, it cannot be a ship of war, and no other can afford us assistance."
"Oh, but it is yet a long way off, signora," urged the Maltese girl. "When it comes nearer it will appear much bigger, as I have often observed from the windows of your uncle's house in Valetta a little sail no bigger than a pocket-handkerchief, which has grown larger, and larger, and larger, till it has become a mighty ship with a hundred great guns looking out of her sides. Who knows but what this may turn out a big ship sent out by the King of England, with Signor Fleetwood as captain, to look after you? My heart tells me that she is a friend."
Ada smiled mournfully at her young attendant's over sanguine prognostications, in which she could so little participate.
"I fear you are wrong in this case, my good Marianna," she answered. "You observe that the vessel we see is small, but we can already distinguish three distinct sails, and soon the hull itself will rise out of the water, and then we shall be better able to judge of its proper dimensions. I can already see her without the glass. Tell me if the bulwarks are not in sight."
"Yes, signora, I can distinguish the dark mark of the body of the vessel, and she seems to come on quickly towards us," answered the Maltese girl, who was bending down upon a table drawn towards the window, with her eye to the glass.
The vessel they were looking at was rather to the west of the island, towards which she was standing close-hauled beating up against an easterly wind, bound probably up the Dardanelles. The sea was calm, and glittering in the sunbeams, which gave it the appearance of a plain of molten silver sprinkled with diamonds—for to nothing else can I compare its dazzling lustre. The breeze had been uncertain all the morning, now so light as not to disturb the mirror-like surface of the sea, now freshening up again so as to send the vessel along rapidly through the water. It had, however, lately, in shore, given signs of dying away altogether. The stranger stood on till she fetched up, almost looking into the mouth of the concealed cove, either totally unconscious of the danger of her proceeding, or indifferent to the consequences.
The latter could scarcely be the case; for, as Ada again looked at her through the telescope, she observed that she was a vessel apparently of little more than a hundred-and-twenty or thirty tons burden. Her rig was that of a brigantine—the foremast having the top and spars of a brig, the mainmast carrying fore-and-aft sails like a schooner. When she had stood in within a quarter of a mile of the shore she tacked, either fearing to get becalmed should she approach nearer, or being, uncertain of the depth of water. If it was to avoid the former inconvenience, it was too late, for, scarcely had she gone about than her sails flapped idly against the masts, and she lay unable to make any way at all.
Ada was now convinced that she was a stranger—a merchantman, probably, as she judged by the cut of the sails, the short yards, and the few men who appeared on her decks. She had two guns, it is true, but they were of little weight of metal, and could have been of slight use in repelling a really determined attack.
Ada trembled for her fate, when she recollected her suspicions of the lawless character of the inhabitants of the island. As she was watching the persons on the deck of the vessel, she saw that there was suddenly some confusion among them; several persons hurried from below, and some appeared to be surveying the mouth of the harbour with their telescopes. The cause was soon apparent, for as she looked in that direction, a long low dark object was seen to steal out from behind the rocks, like a snake from the grass, and dart towards them.
It was one of the misticoes, with her yards and sails stowed along the deck, and impelled by twenty long oars, pulled by twice that number of men, while as many more stood in the after part, and at the bows, with their matchlocks in their hands ready for use. In the bow, also, was a long brass gun on a swivel, pointed towards the doomed vessel.
The stranger was, however, manned by no cowardly hearts. As soon as they saw the nature of their enemy, they cast loose their two guns, loaded them, and ran them both out on the port side, which was the one then bearing on the shore. They knew that escape was impossible, and that they had little hope of mercy, so they lost no time in firing, on the chance of striking the enemy between wind and water, and compelling him to return. Unhappily, neither shot told with much useful effect. One struck the water just ahead of her, the other hit her gunnel and killed two of the people, which only exasperated the others, and made them pull the harder to get on board before receiving any other similar visitors.
"Oh! Jesu Maria," exclaimed Marianna, hiding her eyes in her hands. "What can be the reason that the vessel there should fire at the boat?"
"I am afraid we shall be witnesses of a dreadful scene," said Ada; "and yet I cannot withdraw my eyes from it. Oh! what will become of the poor people on board the vessel if those wretches in the mistico get near her? See! they are my countrymen, too, for there flies the red ensign of England."
The ensign had been hoisted as the brigantine fired; but while watching the Greek vessel she had not observed it. The English, undaunted, set up a loud cheer, as they again run out their guns; but the pirates, taught by experience, pulled round under her stern, where her guns could not reach them, and let fly their own long pieces at them. As they were much lower than she was, the shot injured no one on deck; but flew through the fore-topsail. They did not again attempt to fire; but trusting to their vast superiority of numbers, they dashed boldly alongside, with the object of carrying her by boarding. The English had time to get one of their guns over to the starboard side, on which the mistico boarded them, and to fire directly down into her, before the pirates were able to leap up their side.
It was too late, however, to save them. The Greeks swarmed over the bows and quarters, and up the side, their swords in their teeth, and though the English seamen fought in a manner worthy of their name, Ada saw, with anguish, that they were quickly cut down or overpowered, pressed upon by overwhelming numbers, and in three minutes the islanders had full possession of the vessel. It made her heart sick as she beheld the catastrophe, which she had hoped against probability, might have been averted. Intensely interested as she was to learn the fate of her countrymen, her agitation prevented her from seeing more, and obliged her to withdraw her eyes from the painful sight. Marianna, however, took her place at the telescope.
"Oh, signora!" she exclaimed, "the saints protect us! But those cruel wretches are throwing the bodies of the poor English they have murdered overboard, before even their hearts can have ceased to throb. Wicked villains! I hope they won't treat the living in the same way."
"I'm afraid none remained alive," said Ada, shuddering. "But what are they doing now?"
"They seem engaged in making their own vessel fast to the other, to prevent her from sinking, I suppose. I wish they may both go down to the bottom together. It would serve the wretches right."
"God will punish them in His own good time, or the power of civilised nations will be exerted to perform His will," replied Ada. "Our religion teaches us, remember, not to wish evil even to our worst enemies. But, ah, there comes out the other mistico to the assistance of their friends."
In a short time the last-named vessel had reached the brigantine, and as soon as she was lashed alongside, all hands were busily engaged in transferring the cargo to their own craft, for they had managed to stop the shot-hole in the side of the one which had been engaged. The brigantine's anchor had been dropped, and her sails clewed up; and as soon as the two misticoes were laden, they returned to the harbour. In another hour or so, they were again alongside the prize, and engaged in their work of plunder. They laboured hard till they had transferred everything of value from her hold, and they then commenced stripping her masts of the sails and rigging; and in collecting other things from her deck and cabin which might be useful—not forgetting her guns, and her small store of powder and shot. By the time they had completed their work the sun had set, and loaded with plunder they returned to port. As they left the side of the unfortunate vessel, a shout of exultation escaped them; and soon after, Ada perceived through the gloom a thick smoke ascending from the hatchways, followed quickly by forked flames, which leaped upwards, and rapidly enveloped the masts and lower, rigging. The whole hull was rapidly in a blaze, which lighted up with a lurid glare the two misticoes; the grim visages of their fierce crew, their red caps, and varied-coloured costume being clearly visible at that distance through the telescope. The fiery tinge falling also on the rocky cliffs, and the towers and walls of the castle, and converting the tranquil surface of the ocean into, seemingly, a sea of blood.
The brigantine burned fiercely—there must have been some inflammable substance which had formed part of her cargo remaining in her hold. From the two small stern-ports, which had been left open, the flames burst forth in jets of fire, as also from every hatchway, fore and aft, till the decks fell in, and the masts, like two pillars of fire, came rushing down, and hissing into the water. At length the empty hull sunk beneath the surface, and all was again dark.
"I fear, signora, we are in a complete nest of pirates," said Marianna, breaking the silence which she had maintained after the catastrophe.
"I fear so, too," replied Ada; "but that burning vessel may prove a beacon to light our friends to our rescue."
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
Ada Garden sat in the chamber of the tower which had been awarded to her as her prison. Her Maltese attendant had accompanied young Mila to a short distance from the castle—but she was not alone. A figure knelt at her feet in the attitude of the deepest devotion; his head was bowed down to the ground, and sobs burst from his bosom:—it was the young Italian, whom we have known under the name of Paolo.