The bay where the Zoe had anchored, was about five miles from where he believed the British vessel was to be found, so he had a long pull before him. His boat pulled eight oars, and he selected as many of the strongest of his hands to man them. She was a clumsy-looking craft, and did not appear as if any amount of force could drive her through the water; indeed, she seemed to be a mere fishing-boat, such as are used in those waters. He had the precaution also to pile up a couple of nets in her bow and stern, and also to take on board a large supply of fish, which he got from some fisherman of the place, so that nothing was wanting to complete the deception; for he had taken care that all his men should be habited in the ordinary fisherman's dress as he was himself.
As the boat left the side of the mistico, she had, in every respect, the appearance of one belonging to a harmless fisherman just returned from his day's avocation. Although Zappa had with justice full confidence in his own masquerading talents, he wisely did not wish to run any unnecessary risk, and he, therefore, ordered the mistico to get under weigh, and to sweep close in shore after him, that he might, in case of necessity, have some support at hand; she was, however, not to come nearer than a mile from the harbour, where he expected to find the brig, for fear of causing his character to be suspected. Every arrangement being made, the boat shoved off—away she pulled, while he quietly sat on the top of the nets, smoking his pipe with perfect unconcern, as if he had nothing else to think of besides where he should find the best market for his fish.
For about four miles the men pulled on at a rapid pace, laughing and joking as they toiled at their oars. A headland, from which a reef of rock projected some way out into the sea, then presented itself, and, as they pulled round it, the mouth of a harbour gradually opened on them. It was a secure and landlocked place, and some way up it Zappa discerned the tall masts of the brig he was looking for. His practised eye at once recognised her as a brig-of-war, and, as he drew nearer, he had little doubt from her build that she was British. He had, however, made up his mind to run every risk, so he pulled boldly up the harbour towards her.
"Now, my men," he said, addressing his crew, "remember, everything depends on your coolness and courage. We are going to put our heads into the lion's mouth, and, by all the gods of our ancestors, if we give him cause he will bite them off without the slightest ceremony. Do not stir from your seats, and pretend not to understand a word which is said to you, which it is not very likely you will do; but should any on board speak Romaic, make any excuse which occurs to you for not leaving your boat while I am on board."
By the time he had finished this address, they were within a cable's length of the brig.
"What boat is that?" hailed the sentry on the poop.
On which Zappa, concluding that the hail was intended for him, held up a large fish in his hand.
"A fishing-boat coming up astern, sir," said the sentry to the officer of the watch.
"Let her come alongside, then—we want some fish," said the officer in return.
"Ah! I think I know that brig!" exclaimed Zappa—"I am certain of it— she is no other than the one which lay in Valetta harbour when I was last there; and her captain, too, was, I learnt, the very officer I met at the ball, who was dancing so frequently with my fair prisoner. Now, by some wonderful chance or other, he has discovered that she was not lost in the Zodiac, and has come here to look for her—I see it all at once, and if I am right—good luck befriend me; for, should he discover me, I have not a chance of escape. It would be wiser not to venture on board, but to pull quietly back to the mistico, and to wait till night, when we may try the effect of our fire-ship; but, then again, it is not likely that any one but he should know me at all, and my dress is so different to what it was when he saw me, and my beard is so grown, that even, should I be brought into his presence, he will not probably recognise me. I may gain something of what they are about, and the venture is, at at events, worth making."
Zappa arrived at this conclusion as his boat ran alongside the Ione, when it was rather too late to think of turning back; indeed, he felt that his attempting to do so would at once bring suspicion on him. It now occurred to him, that to gain any information, it would be necessary to employ some means of exchanging ideas, and for that purpose, he must speak a little of the lingua Franca so generally made use of. With a dauntless air, therefore, he sprang up the side, and, as he stood at the gangway, he ordered his men to hand him up some of the finest of the fish. While they were doing so, his eye ranged over the decks, fore and aft, and he was glad to see that Captain Fleetwood was not among the officers who were collected on the poop, watching him and his boat. The gun-room steward was the first to become the purchaser of a fine dish of fish for his master, at a very low price, too, which much astonished him. He smelt at them, and examined their gills, and turned them over most critically; for he could not help fancying that there must be some defect.
The fact was, Zappa had entirely forgotten to learn what price to ask; for, as he had seldom before acted the part of a fishmonger, he had not the slightest conception of what was their value, and was very nearly betraying himself thereby. He saw, however, with his usual acuteness, that he had made a mistake, and took care to correct it with the next purchaser, who was the midshipmen's steward, and who came accompanied by their caterer; but though they had to pay more, the price was still so low as to induce them to lay in a stock for future consumption. The warrant-officers and ship's company next commenced purchasing, and all suffered as Zappa gained experience in his new calling.
"But does not the captain eat fish?" he asked of a Maltese seaman, who had been acting the part of interpreter. "Has his servant come to purchase?"
"The captain does not want any fish, he is not on board to eat it," answered the Maltese carelessly. "I wish he were; for he must have been out in that storm yesterday, in one of your little feluccas, and Heaven knows what may have become of him."
"Where has he gone, then?" asked the pirate. "It would have been wiser to have trusted himself in your fine brig here, than in one of our native boats, which our seamen only know how to handle."
"Oh! don't ask me, my friend; we seamen have no business to talk of our captain's doings," replied the Maltese, laughing. "But let me know where you have learned to speak the lingua Franca so well. It is not often that I can understand ten words uttered by the fishermen of these parts."
"I will reply to your question, friend, though you do not answer mine," returned Zappa. "I sailed as a boy to all parts of the coast of the Mediterranean, till my father died, and I came home and married. I have now a mother and sisters, besides a wife and family to support; so I can go roving no longer. And so your captain has gone on an expedition, has he? Have many people accompanied him, for I suppose he did not go alone?"
"As many went as he chose to take with him," replied the Maltese. "If he had ordered them, the whole ship's company would have gone."
"A clear answer, friend. Does anybody else wish to buy more of my fish. Just ask them; for I must be off again to catch a fresh supply for the support of my young family," said the pirate carelessly. "And can you not tell me then where your captain has gone to?"
"I shall begin to think you have some reason for your curiosity, if you ask so many questions," observed the shrewd Maltese. "I was joking about our captain, and, if you want to see him, I can take you to him."
"Is it so?" answered Zappa, who easily divined the reason of the man's answer, and was far too keen to be deceived by it, or to want a reply.
"I care nothing about your captain, further than that I thought I might sell him some fish if I met him. But you can do me a service, by telling me if I am likely to fall in with any other ships of war, or merchantmen, with whom I may drive my trade?"
"Ah, padrone, I cannot assist you there either; for we seamen know little of what happens outside the ship's planks," returned the Maltese. "It is not often, though, one goes long in these seas without meeting with a cruiser of our own country, and as for merchantmen they are thick enough; but neither one nor the other are likely to come to such out-of-the-way islands as these are."
"When will that man have finished selling his fish there?" sang out the officer of the watch. "Manuel, there—Tell him, as soon as he's done, to shove off. We ought not to hold any communication with the natives," he muttered to himself, as he continued his quarter-deck walk. "These fellows are as sharp as knives, and, if we let them near us, they'll be ferreting out something they ought not to know to a certainty."
"Ay, ay, sir," replied Manuel. "Come, Mister Fisherman, the officer says you must not be standing talking here all day, so I'll wish you farewell, and a good haul the next time you let down your nets."
"Thanks, friend, I am generally tolerably successful in that way," answered the pretended fisherman. "Farewell, I shall come alongside again to-morrow, and I hope to find plenty of buyers. I live a little way down the coast, and shall sure to be back, so do not buy of any one else. Caralambro Boboti is my name. Don't forget it. Farewell, again—"
Just as he was uttering these words, and making the usual salaam to the poop, or rather to the officers walking on it, his eye lighted on the countenance of a man ascending the companion-ladder which made even him for an instant turn pale. At first the idea glanced across his mind that he saw an apparition, but the shoulders and the body and legs came next, and he was soon convinced that the person before him was real flesh and blood. No less a person, indeed, than Colonel Gauntlett ascended from below closely followed by his man Mitchell, and stood on the deck of the Ione, glaring at him with a look which convinced him that he was recognised through his disguise. There was not a moment to be lost. If he remained where he stood, the probability was that he would be seized; if he exhibited any fear or hurry, it would be equivalent to condemning himself, and he and his companions would be shot without mercy, as they attempted to escape. He felt at once that his only chance depended on his own coolness so as to make the old officer fancy that he was mistaken in his identity. With the most perfect self-possession, therefore, he repeated his farewell to the Maltese, and was about deliberately to lower himself into his boat, when the colonel threw the whole ship into commotion, by exclaiming in a voice of thunder—
"That's him!—The scoundrel—the pirate—stop him—fire at him. I'm right, Mitchell, am I not? That's the villain who attacked the Zodiac, and carried off my poor niece?"
"Not a doubt of it your honour. It's the thief of the world who murdered us all, and by the holy poker I'll have him."
As he uttered these words he sprang towards the gangway, nearly capsizing his master, and almost grasped Zappa by the croup of the neck before anybody else understood what the commotion was all about. He missed him, however, and the pirate, with a spring, which the imminence of his danger would alone have enabled him to take, leaped into his boat, and as he did so, he exclaimed to his crew, who saw that something was wrong—
"Shove off, or we are dead men!"
The pirates waited no further words to excite them to exertion, and a few strokes sent the boat clear off the brig's side.
So great, mean time, was the impetus Mitchell had gained, that when he missed catching Zappa, he could not again bring himself up, and souse overboard in the water he went, his head fortunately escaping the gunnel of the pirate's boat by a few inches. In revenge, an old pirate attempted to give him his coup de grace with the blade of his oar, but missed him.
"Arrah, ye cowardly thief to hit a man like that in the water, but I'll mark ye—remember—bad luck to ye," exclaimed Mitchell, as after his first immersion he rose to the surface, where his spluttering and cries drew the attention of the sentry off from the pirates.
"A man overboard," was the first intelligible cry which was heard, and scarcely was it uttered, when three or four men, headed by a midshipman, were overboard to attempt to pick him up. Mitchell's own eagerness to stop the pirates, very nearly prevented them from saving him, for though he had little enough notion of swimming, he struck out manfully after the boat, which the confusion had enabled to gain a good distance from the vessel before any means had been taken to stop her progress. At this juncture the first lieutenant, hearing a noise, came on deck, and soon brought matters into order.
"Silence there, fore and aft," he exclaimed. "Let the proper crews stand by the falls of their boats. Lower the starboard quarter boat, and pick up the man in the water. What is it all about?"
"The pirate, sir—the villain, Zappa was in that boat. Shoot him—stop him, Mr Saltwell, I say!" exclaimed the colonel, scarcely able to speak from his agitation and rage.
"Sentries, fire at the men in that boat," said Mr Saltwell, in a calm tone, which sobered down all who heard him to the proper pitch for comprehending orders. "Hand up a dozen muskets from below, and some ammunition. Lower the larboard quarter boat, and give chase after that fellow."
Each order was obeyed with the rapidity with which it was given; but in lowering the starboard gig, the after falls got jammed, and her head came right into the water, and almost filled her. This delay prevented the other gig from going in chase, till she had picked up the people in the water, and taken them on board; but all caused delay, and both boats set off in chase nearly together.
Meantime Zappa heard the noise on deck, and guessed that the colonel was explaining who he was, and that he should soon have the boats sent after him.
"Pull till your sinews crack, my friends," he shouted to his men. "We have no child's play now; but keep a good heart, and we shall get clear."
Just as he spoke, he looked back at the brig, he saw the barrel of a musket glancing in the sun, and a shot came flying over his head. Another followed, and buried itself in the pile of nets against which he leaned.
"If they have no better shot among them we need not fear," he shouted. "Keep a good heart, my men. The Zoe will be close outside, and, when we reach her, we may set the boat at defiance."
He was, by this time, nearly an eighth of a mile from the Ione, and pulling directly out towards the mouth of the harbour. Several other musket-shots had been fired at him, and hit a man in the side, and severely hurt him, but he still declared himself able to keep at his oar.
A long brass gun had, however, been got up on the poop, which, loaded with musket-balls, was let fly at them. The shower fell thick around them, and had it not been for the shelter of the nets, more than one shot might have proved fatal to Zappa.
Another pirate was wounded, but, fortunately, not enough to disable him, or their prospect of escape would have been much diminishes. The man turned pale as he tried to bind a handkerchief round his arm to stop the bleeding; but he still continued tugging at his oar.
"Never fear, my chief, we will all be pierced through and through before we give in," he exclaimed. "Row on bravely, my comrades, row on."
The two gigs were now in full chase, rather more than a quarter of a mile astern, and the brig had ceased firing, leaving all the work to be performed by them. Linton had command of the first gig, Tompion of the second, and both had some loaded muskets in their stern sheets, and all the men had their cutlasses and pistols; all these necessary arrangements having considerably delayed the boats, but Saltwell judged rightly, that it would be worse than folly to send unarmed men against such desperate characters as the pirates. There was a strong breeze blowing nearly across the harbour, from the north-west, and, as soon as Zappa had got from under the lee of the land, and felt the full force of it, he considered that he should be able to make more way under sail than by pulling. Two of the people were obliged to lay on their oars for the purpose of hoisting it, and, as soon as the English saw this, they set up a loud shout, thinking the chase was going to give in. They soon saw their mistake, and, as the large lateen sail rose above the little stump of a mast, the boat felt the force with which she was pressed onward, and away she darted over the water. The English bent to their oars till the good ash sticks almost cracked, each boat vying with the other to get ahead. Do all they could, however, they could not overtake the Greek. Linton saw that, if they were to catch the pirate, they must kill each man who came to the helm, so as to keep the boat luffed up in the wind. He accordingly raised a musket and fired. It was a good shot, and, though Zappa escaped, the man next him received the ball in his bosom. He fell back with a deep groan, a convulsive shudder passed through his frame, and he was dead.
"If that is to be the game," exclaimed the pirate, grinding his teeth with passion till now not expressed. "I must try which of us is the best shot."
And forthwith he drew from under the nets two rifles which had been concealed there.
"Steady the helm here, Baldo, while I try to punish our pursuers."
He fired. His first shot seemed to take no effect. He raised the second; a wild shriek came across the waters, uttered by the poor fellow who pulled the stroke oar of Linton's boat, on whom his too sure aim had taken effect. Both boats now, in revenge, began firing as fast as the muskets could be loaded, and the Greeks were compelled to crouch down in the bottom of their boat to avoid the shot. Zappa kept his seat boldly at the helm. A reef, as I said, ran off the mouth of the harbour on the eastern side, and, to double it, so as to regain the mistico, it would be necessary to make one if not more tacks, and here the light gigs would have an immense advantage over him. The distance to the point round which he must go was about three-quarters of a mile, but he already had a good start, and, if no other accident happened, he might hope to beat round it before the gigs could come up with him. He must now, however, depend entirely on his sail, for neither of the two wounded men were fit to pull an oar, and, with a diminished crew, the chances would be against him, should the wind fail. It was an animating struggle, and equally exciting to pursuers and pursued. Zappa encouraged his followers, and urged them to persevere to the last, hinting at the certainty of a rope and running noose, as the alternative, if they were caught. Linton, on his part, cheered on his men, and told them the safety of their beloved captain, as well as that of a young countrywoman, depended on their overtaking the pirate.
The body of poor Knox, who had been killed, was laid down at the bottom of the boat, and Togle, who was midshipman of the gig, took his place, so that they very soon recovered the ground which had been lost. As they cleared the western shore of the harbour, the wind was found to draw more up its coast, and fresh off the water, and a slight sea came rolling in, sparkling brightly in the sunshine, adding a life and beauty to the scene, with which the work of death going on was sadly disconsonant. The British seamen cheered, and bent to their oars with renewed vigour, making the spray fly in showers, full of rainbow hues, over the bows, as Linton spoke to them, though they wanted no fresh stimulus to urge them to exertion.
"They will have to tack presently, and we shall soon be alongside them," he exclaimed. "We will pay them off, my men, and, if we do not catch them the first tack, we will the second."
Meantime Zappa held on his course, firing occasionally at the boats, but with less success than at first. When also he round that the wind headed him, he began to calculate that the enemy would, to a certainty, be alongside him before he could weather the point, and that if they once got there, his chance of escaping was small indeed. He felt, in truth, that he had put his head into the lion's mouth, and that the lion was wagging his tail.
"Curses on the wind, to fail me just as I wanted it the most," he exclaimed, measuring with his eye the distance between him and his pursuers. "If it was not for the reef, we should have done well, and there comes the Zoe, beating up to our assistance. They have heard the firing, and guessed that something has gone wrong. Does any one know if there is a passage through the reef? It struck me, as we came in, that there was a spot free from sea-weed, where the water looked deep, which should be just now on our larboard bow. Per Bacco, I see it, and will try it. If we strike, we shall fight there to better advantage than under weigh, and the mistico will be, soon up to our assistance."
None of the pirates had been through the passage, if passage there were, but all expressed the wish to try it, instead of having to beat round the point. The helm was accordingly kept up, and, to the surprise of the pursuers, away the Greek boat darted directly towards the rocks. There was, as I have said, some little sea, sufficient, as it met the impediments of the reef, to make a long line of breakers. There was one small spot where it could not be said that there was no foam, but where the water was rather less agitated than elsewhere. It was here that the pirates expected to find an opening, but, as they drew near it, they almost doubted the wisdom of making the attempt, so little prospect was there of their being able to cross it. The English, meantime, were rather divided in their opinions. Some thought that, driven to desperation, they had resolved to destroy themselves and their boats; while others were as far wrong on the opposite side, and fancied that they were well acquainted with some passage through which they intended to pass. Another minute would decide the question.
On the Greek boat flew with redoubled speed, as she was kept more away. She was already among the broken water. Zappa, his nerves unshaken, stood up to steer, while a man, leaning over the bow, tried to make out the channel. As soon as the pirate showed himself, both the English boats opened their fire on him; but, though several shot whistled round his head he remained unharmed. Sea after sea, huge masses of glittering foam came rolling in on them, threatening to fill the boat, should she for one instant meet with any impediment.
Every man held his breath, and looked with an anxious glance ahead. On either side, the water came dancing up and lapping over the gunnel, and beyond, the heads of the black rocks appeared amidst the frothy cauldron through which they sailed. Now the side of the boat almost grazed a rock, which, had she struck, would have sent her into a thousand splinters. A short distance more and they would be safe. The Zoe had observed them, and was standing towards them to render them assistance. Even their enemies forbore to fire, so perilous was their situation, and so certain appeared their destruction. On they rushed.
"I can see no passage," exclaimed the man in the bows. "We are all lost! Ah, no! Starboard the helm—starboard! Haul off the sheet a little! Up with the helm again! Ease off the sheet. Huzza! huzza! We are safe!"
The last great danger was past; a bend in the channel had been discovered, through which the boat glided; and now she floated in clear water, and held her rapid course towards the mistico. No sooner was the chief on board the Zoe, than the helm was put up, and off she ran under all sail, with her head to the island of Lissa.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
Doubtless, the reader will be anxious to hear by what wonderful event Colonel Gauntlett and his man, Mitchell, had escaped from the death they were supposed to have suffered, and whether poor Bowse, and any of the survivors of his crew, had been equally fortunate; but, as I have matter of still more importance to communicate in this chapter, I must entreat him to have patience till I can return to that part of my history. We left the old pirate, Vlacco, on his way, by Nina's directions, to give his assistance to any who might have survived the wreck of the Greek mistico. He had no particular wish to turn philanthropist in his old age, so he went rather in a sulky humour, as he would very much rather have knocked them on the head than have had, not only to save their lives, but to refrain from touching any of their property. The orders of his chief's lady were, however, not to be disobeyed; so he and his companions hurried on as fast as they could go with the rope and spars they had with them.
"Ah! there she drives," he muttered. "She might just as well have come on shore here, and saved me the trouble of going so far. The boat is well handled though, and her crew don't seem inclined to give it up to the last. They don't know what they are coming to, or they would be throwing up their arms in despair. Well, it's some people's fate to be hung, and some to be drowned, so they must have made up their minds to go out of the world in the last way."
He walked on for some distance further, by which time the little mistico was close in with the rocks.
"I don't know though," he continued. "She has got past Point Ausa, and I'm not quite so certain that she won't run right up into Ziyra Bay. So, by the saints, she has; and if she had tried to get there, she could not have done it better. Now, on my sons, or the sea will be too quick for us, and will have carried those strangers away before we get there."
A few minutes more brought him and his party to the edge of a lofty cliff, from whence they looked down into a small sandy bay, where, already almost high and dry, lay the mistico they had seen approaching the shore. The entrance to the bay was through a very narrow passage between two rocks, which could only just have allowed her to scrape through; but once inside, the force of the sea was so much broken by them that she had received little or no damage. The waves were, however, sufficiently high to break over her, and almost to fill her, so that the crew were compelled to land as fast as they could. This they accomplished by dropping down from the little stump of a bowsprit as the water receded, and running up on to the dry sand before it returned.
"You are lucky fellows to get on shore so easily," muttered old Vlacco. "But now you are there, you are very like mice in a trap, you cannot get out without my assistance."
From the appearance of the bay, there seemed to be much truth in his observation, for so perpendicular were the cliffs, that no one could by any possibility, have scaled them.
He counted the people as they landed, and saw that there were four men and a boy; and he was now watching to learn what they would do. There was, as he was well aware, a narrow pathway cut up the side of the cliff; but the lower part was concealed, by leading into a small cavern, so that no strangers were likely to find it. It had been formed, probably, in the days when the island was a regular fortress, and had been thus arranged, that no enemy should land there, and take them unawares.
The crew of the mistico immediately set to work to try and find their way to the summit of the cliff; and it was while they were so doing that Vlacco showed himself. He went to the lowest part of the cliff, and beckoned to them to come under it, and then driving two of the spars into the ground, he made a rope fast to them, and lowered it over the cliff. It was immediately seized by the boy, who, with the agility of a monkey, commenced hauling himself up by it, towards the summit. It was nervous work to see him now swinging in the air, now placing his feet on the narrow ledges of the rock, and thus making play for a few yards to rest his arms. At last, he stood safely at the top, and taking off his cap, cheered to his companions to follow his example.
"Many thanks, signor," he said, addressing Vlacco in a language which sounded something like Maltese, to which nation he apparently belonged, by his dress and the excessively dark hue of his skin.
One after the other followed, till the whole crew were safely landed.
They were all dressed as Maltese; but one of them addressed Vlacco in Romaic, and said—
"He and his shipmates had to thank him for the assistance he had afforded them. If our master was here, he would thank you, too; but, poor fellow, he and the mate were washed overboard, and we now know not where we have got to, or where to go. We must get you and your friends on shore here to aid us in getting our vessel afloat, and we must then try to find our way back to Malta."
"You'll not find that so easy," muttered the old pirate. "But how came you to hit the bay in the clever way you did? No one could have done it better who knows the island well."
"Our good luck served us, and our prayers to the saints wore efficacious," returned the Maltese. "We did not expect to succeed so well, I can assure you."
"Some people are not born to be drowned," muttered, in a gruff voice, the old pirate, who, since he had given up robbing on his own account, had no further fears on the score of the alternative generally mentioned. "You're in luck, I say; and since you happen not to be food for fishes, as I expected you would be by this time, I must tell you, that I have orders to bring you into the presence of the chief lady of this island, by whose directions I came all this way to try and save your lives, for I should not have taken so much trouble of my own accord, I can tell you."
"The chief lady of the island," repeated the Maltese, who saw that it would be folly to take notice of the rude tone a the old man's observations. "Who is she, friend?"
"Who is she? Why, the wife, or mistress, or lady love, or whatever you like to call her, of our chief, Zappa," answered Vlacco.
"Ah?" ejaculated the Maltese, and he turned to one of his companions, and interpreted what he had heard in a language Vlacco did not understand.
It seemed much to affect the man, who was a young, dark-skinned Maltese, though with features more of the European cast than theirs generally are. He spoke a few words to the interpreter, who then said—
"But, tell me, my friend, is the lady you speak of a Greek of these islands, or a stranger? We are anxious to know who our intended benefactress is."
"I don't see how it matters to you, who or what she is, provided she is of service to you," returned the pirate. "But as you want to know, I'll tell you, she's a foreigner, and our chief seems very fond of her; and she is of him, I should think, by the way she looks at him. Will that answer serve you?"
The interpreter repeated what he had heard to his companion, who was evidently greatly agitated, though he tried to master his feelings, so as not to allow them to attract the attention of the islanders. He was able to say a few words to the interpreter, who immediately asked—
"Has the lady been long in the island, or has she lately arrived, friend?"
"I am not going to answer any more of your questions," replied old Vlacco, who had gradually been losing the little amiability he ever possessed. "I don't know why I said anything at all to you. My orders were to see you safely into the lady's tower, where I must lock you up; and, as soon as our chief comes back, if he takes my advice, he'll heave you all off the top of the cliff together."
"What, is your chief absent then?" said the Maltese, with a gleam of satisfaction in his countenance.
"He is," replied Vlacco.
"Where has he gone, friend?" asked the persevering interpreter.
"Hough," was all the old pirate would answer.
"When do you expect him back, friend?" inquired the interpreter.
To this Vlacco would not deign a "Hough;" but looked as if he was very much inclined to shove his interlocutor over the cliff.
This put an effectual stop to further conversation with any of the islanders; but the strangers continued every now and then, making observations to each other in a low tone, as they proceeded on their way to the tower.
Old Vlacco hurried them on to the causeway, and past the eastern tower, which was the one where Ada Garden resided, till they reached the habitation of poor Nina. He then opened the door, rudely shoved them all in, and told them to amuse themselves as they best could in the dark, while he went to inform the lady of their arrival.
The fury of the summer tempest had subsided, and the dark masses of clouds had passed away, leaving only a few loitering stragglers to follow, in order to restore the sky to all its usual brightness. The untiring waves still continued lashing the base of the rocks; but their roar had lessened, and the white foam no longer flew in showers of spray up the steep cliffs.
Ada Garden and the young Italian sat at the window watching for the appearance of the shipwrecked mariners. As Ada saw them at a distance, she at once recognised them from their dress as Maltese, and she longed to question them, to learn if they had come lately from their native island, and could give her any information respecting the vessels of war which were there; and whether the Ione had yet sailed for England.
At all events, she thought, if they could effect their escape, they might convey intelligence of her situation to Malta; and she doubted not, trusting to the chivalry of her countrymen, that even should Captain Fleetwood have sailed for England, every effort would be made for her release. She whispered her hopes to Nina, who understood and promised to forward her wishes.
"I should much like to speak with these poor men myself," she observed. "But my so doing might excite suspicions which might effectually counteract it, and bring destruction on their heads."
"Fear not, lady; I will speak to them, and urge them to convey tidings of you," said Nina. "For though I think not my husband would allow innocent men to be injured, yet of late he has done acts and said things which make me very wretched, though I do not comprehend them. Even Paolo has of late come to see me but seldom, and is more silent and reserved than I ever before remember him. I know not where it will all end, but now and then dark shadows pass before my sight, and congregate in the distance, till the whole future seems full of them. But I rave, lady. Ah! here come the strangers."
Ada had scarcely listened to what her companion was saying, so intently had she been watching the Maltese seamen. Her heart beat so quick with agitation, that she felt it would overcome her strength; hope and fear rose alternately in her bosom, yet she was sure she was not mistaken. Notwithstanding the disguise, the dark-stained skin, she was as certain nearly as of her own existence, that she beheld Charles Fleetwood. Love cannot be mistaken. And yet his air and walk were not as usual; the independent, buoyant step was not there, the free, bold carriage of the gallant sailor was gone, and he seemed to drag on his steps as if weary of life, instead of being engaged in an expedition, which she well knew must be to rescue her. She had loved him before, but as she now saw him risking his liberty and his life for her, all the tenderest feelings of a woman's nature gushed forth, and she longed to rush into his arms to tell him of her gratitude, and deep, undying devotion. She longed to call him to make him look up, to soothe his heart by letting him know of her safety; but prudence restrained her; she felt that the slightest sign of recognition might prove his destruction, and she endeavoured to conceal her feelings even from him. But the quick glance of the young Italian soon discovered that she was suffering from some powerful emotion, and the direction of her eyes betrayed the cause. She at once saw that there was some one she knew, but as Ada said nothing, she thought it kinder not to utter her suspicions.
"I shall soon discover when I see them together," she said, mentally. "And I will not agitate her by asking her questions."
In her heart of hearts, Nina hoped that the strangers would be able to assist Ada in her flight, for though she felt herself attracted to the beautiful stranger, she was not the less anxious to get her safe out of the island.
Nina accordingly rose to take her departure, observing that the storm was over, and that she must hasten to make arrangements about the shipwrecked strangers, and to send for her brother to aid her, as they were not likely to receive much assistance or commiseration from Vlacco. She looked attentively at Ada as she said this, and the expression of thankfulness which she saw on her countenance convinced her still more that she was right in her conjectures.
As soon as the shipwrecked seamen found themselves alone, the one who had hitherto appeared of the least importance, and had been seen to put on so dejected an air, on hearing that they were to be conducted into the presence of the chief's wife, was now evidently considered by the rest as their leader. By a strenuous effort he aroused himself, observing, in a language which was much more like pure English than Maltese, "We must, while we can, examine the condition of the fortress in which we are confined; we may find it necessary to try and let ourselves out. Except the door, there seems, however, to be no outlet; but there is a gleam of light coming down from the further corner, and there must be an aperture to let it through."
"I will go in, and see all about it," exclaimed the Maltese lad, also speaking remarkably good English, and in a few minutes, his voice was heard calling on his companions to find their way to the foot of the steps, and to follow him into the chamber above.
In a few minutes, the whole party were assembled in the apartment I have described as the pirate's chief store-room.
"The enemies have chosen to put us in possession of the fortress, and have given us every means of keeping it," exclaimed the Maltese lad, examining the arms and ammunition. "All we have to do, is to barricade the door below, and we might hold out a long siege."
"And very little use that would be, when our object is to get away as fast as we can," returned another. "However, we know where to find a good supply of arms if we want them."
Meantime, their leader, and the one who had acted as interpreter, had gone together into the story above.
"It is too true, then," exclaimed the first, after they had examined the apartment, looking as if he could scarcely restrain his grief. "This is evidently a lady's chamber, and furnished, too, with all the luxury and treasure the pirate would lavish on his wife. Yet it cannot be hers. I know her too well—gentle and affectionate as she is, she would die rather than submit to such degradation. But what is this?" he took up a book, which lay on the table.
It was one he had often seen in the hands of Ada Garden, and her name was on the title-page. Charles Fleetwood, for he it was who had come to rescue her he loved, as he discovered this fatal confirmation of his worst fears, covered his face with his hands, and groaned. But he quickly recovered himself.
"No, no—I will not believe it. The thought is too horrible—too dreadful. I wrong her to entertain it for an instant. Yet, who can be this lady the old pirate spoke of? He said she would soon be here. Would to heaven she were come?"
The whole party had just collected together in the lower story, when they heard the gate open, and, a female figure appeared at the entrance.
Captain Fleetwood's heart beat audibly, for, during the first moment, he could not tell whether it might not be Ada Garden; but the next, a gleam of light, and to him it was one of sunshine, exhibited a graceful and beautiful person; but a stranger. In his satisfaction, he was very nearly forgetting himself, and rushing forward to inquire for Ada. She stopped to address the old pirate, who had opened the gate.
"You have treated these poor men with scant hospitality, thrusting them down here, wet and hungry," she observed to him, in an angry tone. "Conduct them up to my room, and I will inquire whence they come, and how they happened to be cast on the shore. Send, also, for Signor Paolo, for some of them seem hurt, and may require his aid; and, good Vlacco, see that food be supplied to them, of the best the island affords, and let a chamber be prepared for them in the house, near to the room where my brother sleeps. We will, at least, endeavour to be hospitable to the few strangers who are ever likely to visit our shores."
Nina ascended to her chamber, into which Vlacco directly afterwards ushered the Maltese seamen. She inclined her head in acknowledgment to the reverence they made her, and then ordered Vlacco to retire, and to fulfil her directions.
"Do any of you speak Italian?" she asked in that language.
"Si, signora, I do," said Fleetwood, stepping forward. "I am also eager, in the name of my comrades, to thank you for your interference in our favour; nor are we at all assured, that without it, our lives would have been safe, had we fallen into the hands of some of those islanders."
"As to that," returned Nina, "I cannot say. They are rude men, and are little accustomed to encounter strangers. But I am glad to be of service to you, and will be of more, if you can point out the way."
"The greatest you can render us, signora, will be to order some twenty or thirty men to aid us in launching our mistico. She is, fortunately, uninjured, and we may thus be enabled to continue our voyage."
"They shall do so to-morrow morning, by which time the sea will be calm," said Nina. "I have ordered lodging and food to be prepared for you. And tell me, can I, in any other way, serve you?"
Fleetwood felt a strong inclination to confide in her completely. Before, he had dreaded seeing Ada as the mistress of the tower; and now, he almost wished that she had been, for the dreadful thought occurred to him that she might be dead. He was considering how he should frame some question to learn the truth, when his eye fell on the book, which he knew contained her name. He took it up, and, as if by chance, his eye had now, for the first time, seen it, he pointed it out to Nina.
"Lady," he said, "do you know the person to whom this book belongs?"
"No," returned Nina; "I know no lady of that name—but stay. Is the lady young, and fair, and beautiful, for, if so, I have just parted with her?"
"She is, she is!" exclaimed Fleetwood, in a voice of agitation, the colour rushing to his face, and showing through the darkly-stained skin. "Where is she, lady? Oh, tell me!"
"You have betrayed yourself, signor," she answered. "But you may confide in me—I will not injure you. I thought from the first, that you were not a common seaman, in spite of your costume. Such speak not with the accent you do. You take a great interest in this fair girl. Confess it."
"I do, signora; and, moreover, I would risk everything to rescue her."
"I thought as much," returned Nina. "I may find means to serve you—and will do so. But remember, signor, that I may also some day call upon you to assist one who, although you may look upon him as an enemy, may demand your aid. Promise me that, should I ever require it, you will exert all your energies—you will strive to the utmost—you will even risk your life and safety, if I demand it of you, to serve him I will not now name. Say you will do this, and you enable me to do all you require. Otherwise, I cannot; for in aiding your wishes, I am disobeying his orders, and I cannot justify my conduct to myself."
"You must remember, signora, that a naval officer, and, I confess to you, that I am one, owes his first duty to his country; next that, gladly will I obey your wishes," returned Fleetwood. "If any one, in whom you take interest, is in difficulty, and I have the means to save him, I promise, faithfully, to do so. More, I cannot say. Will that satisfy you?"
"It does. Say, whence did you come—and whither were you bound, when you were driven on this coast. It may be necessary to show that I have not forgotten the most important part of the examination."
"We come from Malta and were bound for Smyrna, but were driven out of our course by a gale of wind, in which we lost our master and mate. Our vessel was wrecked, and becoming the purchasers of the mistico, we endeavoured to find our way home in her. None of us, however, understanding navigation, we were afraid to continue our voyage till we found some one to supply their place. This, lady, is the story we have to tell, to account for our appearance on the island; but, in one point, believe me, I do not deceive you, when I assure you, that we come not here to injure, in any way, the chief of this island."
"Enough, signor; I trust to you," replied Nina. "I will now have you and your companions conducted to the apartments prepared for you. There is but small habitable space in the castle, extensive as it once was, and it would lead to suspicions were you to be better lodged."
She clapped her hands, and little Mila appeared, to conduct the strangers to the abode Nina had selected for them.
Left alone, she stood, for an instant, a picture of misery.
"Alas, alas!" she repeated to herself, "everything I hear and see convinces me that his course is one full of danger, if not, also, of crime. But I am acting for the best, and am gaining a power which may serve him at his utmost need. I am doing what is right."
Poor Nina, the idol she had set up was gradually changing his god-like radiance for a sombre hue, his heavenly countenance for one of dark malignity. So must all false idols change. The brighter and more beautiful they appear at first, the blacker and more hideous will they become.
The adventurers had retired to rest. Their couches were composed of heather, scattered along the sides of the room; but it was covered with thick cloths and rugs, and formed no contemptible resting-place; their drenched clothes had been well dried, and they had enjoyed a plentiful meal. Even Fleetwood had done justice to it; and the Maltese lad, who was no other than our friend Jack Raby, astonished little Mila by the prodigious extent of his midshipman's appetite.
Another seeming Maltese was a person the reader is probably not prepared to meet. He was our friend Bowse, late master of the Zodiac, who, having been rescued from the fate which hung over him, had entreated Captain Fleetwood to be permitted to accompany him, and to share his dangers in recovering Miss Garden.
The Greek captain, Teodoro Vassilato, was the person who had acted as interpreter. He had once been taken prisoner by the pirates, and having a little private revenge of his own to satisfy, he had offered his services, which were too valuable to be refused.
The last person was really a Maltese seaman, long a faithful attendant on Fleetwood. He was to be put forward as the most prominent person, should any doubt arise as to their being really Maltese.
As the reader may have suspected, the shipwreck was the result of design rather than chance or mismanagement; and though they had long been waiting for a gale of wind, better to account for it, and as the most certain means of getting a footing on the island, they had scarcely bargained for one of such violence.
As, however, Captain Vassilato was confident of the spot, they resolved to stand on. They well knew the danger they were running—for they felt that it would be almost certain death, should the pirates discover them; but they had strung up their nerves for the work, and all were anxious to serve Captain Fleetwood, and to rescue Ada Garden from captivity.
Fleetwood had thrown himself on his couch, thinking of Ada, and pondering how he might beat obtain an interview with her, when the door slowly opened, and a dark figure entered, holding a light in his hand. He attentively scrutinised the countenances of the sleepers, and then stopping before Fleetwood, he threw the light full on his face, so as to awaken him thoroughly, had he slept, and beckoned to him.
Fleetwood sprang to his feet.
"Follow me, signor," whispered the stranger, in Italian. "I have come to conduct you into the presence of one you have long wished to meet."
"To the English lady?" he asked, his voice trembling with agitation.
The stranger laid his finger on his lips as a signal of silence, and beckoned him to follow.
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.
After the Ione had left Cephalonia, she commenced her intricate passage among the innumerable isles and islets of the Grecian Archipelago, towards Lissa, in the neighbourhood of which his new friend Teodoro Vassilato, the captain of the Ypsilante, had appointed a rendezvous with Captain Fleetwood.
On first starting, they were favoured with a fair breeze; but no sooner did they get among the labyrinthine mazes of the islands, than a foul wind set in, and delayed them in a manner which sorely tried Fleetwood's impatient spirit. Any one who has cruised among those islands will know the difficulty of the navigation, and the necessity for constant watchfulness. Besides the thousand islands and islets, there are, in every direction, rocks of all sizes, some just below the water, others rising above it to various heights; and although there are no regular tides, there are powerful and very variable currents, and many a ship has been cast away in consequence of them—the master, by his calculations, fancying himself often well free of the danger, on which he has been in reality running headlong.
The Ione had stood to the southward, and had tacked again to the northward, with the island of Milo blue and distant on her weather beam, when, just as the sun, in his full radiance of glory, was rising over the land, the look-out ahead hailed that there were breakers on the starboard bow.
"How far do you make them?" asked Linton, who was the officer of the watch, as he went forward to examine them himself with his telescope. "By Jove! there is a mass of black rocks there; and I believe there is somebody waving to us on them," he exclaimed. "Here, Raby, take my glass, and see what you can make out."
"I can make it out clearly, sir," replied the midshipman. "There are a number of people on them, and they have a sheet or blanket, or something of that sort, made fast to a boathook or small spar, and they are waving it to attract our attention."
"They have been cast away, then, depend on it, and we must go and see what we can do for them," said Linton. "Run down and tell the captain; and, as you come back, rouse out the master, and ask him how close we may go to the rocks."
The captain and master, as well as all the officers, were soon on deck, and the brig was looking well up towards the rocks, within a few cables' length of which, to leeward, the pilot said they might venture.
There was a good deal of sea running, for it had been blowing very hard the previous day; but the wind had gone down considerably, and Captain Fleetwood expressed his opinion that there would not be much difficulty in getting the people off the rocks, provided they could find an approach to them on the lee side; but on getting nearer, the rock appeared to be of so small an extent, that the waves curled round it, and made it almost as dangerous to near it on one side as on the other.
"I think that I can make out a part of the wreck jammed in between two rocks, just flush with the water," observed Saltwell, who had been examining the place with his glass. "An awkward place to get on."
"Faith, indeed, it is," said the master. "If we hadn't come up, and another gale of wind had come on, every one of those poor fellows would have been washed away."
"It is an ill wind that blows nobody good," remarked the purser, who was a bit of a moralist in a small way. "Now we have been complaining of a foul wind—and if we had had a fair one, we should have run past those rocks without ever seeing the people on them."
"No higher," exclaimed the gruff voice of the quarter-master, who was conning the ship. "Mind your helm, or you'll have her all aback."
"The wind is heading us," muttered the man at the wheel; "she's fallen off two points."
"Hands about ship," cried Captain Fleetwood. "We'll show the poor fellows we do not intend to give them the go-by. Helm's a-lee! Tacks and sheets! Main-topsail haul. Of all, haul."
And round came the brig, with her head to the eastward, or towards the island of Milo. She was at this time about two miles to the southward of the rock, and that the people on it might not suppose that she was about to pass them, Captain Fleetwood ordered a gun to be fired, to attract their attention, and to show them that they were seen. This appeared to have a great effect; for the officers observed them through their telescopes waving their signal-staffs round and round, as if to exhibit their delight.
"They seem as if they were all drunk on the rock there," said Linton. "I never saw people make such strange antics."
"I fear it is more probable that they are mad," observed the captain. "I have known many instances in which men have been thus afflicted, who having nothing to satisfy their hunger or thirst, have been tempted to drink salt water."
"It proves that they must have been a long time there. We must not keep on long on this tack, master, I suspect."
The Ione was soon about again on the starboard tack, and away she flew, every instant nearing the rock. It soon became evident that Captain Fleetwood was right in his suspicions; for, as they drew closer, they could see that some of the unfortunate wretches had thrown off all their clothing, and were dancing, and leaping, and gesticulating furiously—now joining hands, and whirling round and round, as fast as the inequalities of the ground would allow them, then they would rush into the water, and then roll down and turn over and over, shrieking at the top of their voices. Some, again, were sitting crouching by themselves, moving and gibbering, and pointing with idiot glance at their companions, and then at the vessel. Two or three figures were seen stretched out by the side of the rock, apparently dead or dying. In the centre and highest part of the rock, a tent was erected, and before it were several persons in a far calmer condition. Some were waving to the brig, others were on their knees, as if returning thanks to Heaven for their approaching deliverance, and two were stretched out on rude couches formed of sails, in front of the tent, too weak to stand up. At last the Ione got under the lee of the rock, and hove to.
"We must take great care how we allow those poor fellows to get into the boats," said Captain Fleetwood. "I need not tell you how much I value every moment; at the same time, in pity for those poor wretches, we must endeavour to rescue them—I propose, therefore, to anchor the cutter at two cables' length from the rock, and to veer in the dinghy till she drops alongside them; we must then allow only two at a time to get into her, and then again haul her off. How many are there—do you count, Mr Linton."
"About forty, sir, including those who appear dead or dying," returned the second lieutenant.
"Twenty trips will take about two hours, as the cutter must return once to the ship with her first cargo. It will be time well spent, at all events," said Fleetwood, calculating in his mind the delay which would be thus occasioned in discovering where Ada had been conveyed, and attempting her rescue. "Mr Saltwell, I will entrust the command of the expedition to you," continued the captain. "Mr Viall," to the surgeon, "we, I fear, shall want your services on board; but, Mr Farral," to the assistant-surgeon, "you will proceed in the cutter, and render what aid you consider immediately necessary. Take, at all events, a couple of breakers of water, and a bottle or two of brandy. You will find some stimulant necessary to revive the most exhausted—I should advise you, Mr Viall, to have some soft food, such as arrow-root, or something of that nature, boiled for them by the time they come off. They have probably been suffering from hunger as well as thirst, and anything of a coarse nature may prove injurious."
The cutter was hoisted out, and every preparation quickly made. Numbers of volunteers presented themselves, but Linton's was the only offer which was accepted, as he undertook to go on to the rock in the first trip the dinghy made, and to render what aid he could to those who appeared to be on the brink of dissolution, when even a few minutes might make the difference, whether they died or recovered. Mr Saltwell gave the order to shove off, and away the cutter pulled up towards the rock, with the dinghy in tow, on her work of humanity.
The captain and those who remained on board watched the progress of the boats, as well as the movements on the rock, with intense interest. It is scarcely possible to describe the excitement on the rock, caused by the departure of the boat. If the actions had before been extravagant, they were now doubly so; they shrieked, they danced, they embraced each other with the most frantic gestures; and, indeed, appeared entirely to have lost all control over themselves.
The cutter dropped her anchor at the distance it was considered advisable from the rock; but her so doing seemed to make the unhappy maniacs fancy that she was not coming to their assistance, and their joy was at once turned into rage and defiance. One of them leaped into the water and endeavoured to swim towards the boat. Linton, who had taken the precaution before leaving the ship to arm himself, as had Raby, who was his companion, instantly leaped into the dinghy, with the two men destined to pull her; and they urged her on as fast as they could to succour the unhappy wretch, slacking away at the same time a rope made fast to the cutter. They had got near enough to see his eye-balls starting from his head, as he struck out towards them, his hair streaming back, his mouth wide open, and every muscle of his face working with the exertion of which he himself was scarcely conscious, when, as he was almost within their grasp, he uttered a loud shriek, and throwing up his arms, sank at once before them. A few red marks rose where he had been, but they were quickly dispersed by the waves.
"The poor fellow must have broken a blood-vessel, sir," said Raby.
"No, indeed," replied Linton, "every artery must have been opened to cause those dark spots. A ground shark has got hold of him, depend on it. Heaven grant we do not get capsized, or our chance of escape will be small. But, hark! what language are those fellows speaking? It is French, is it not?"
"French, sure enough, sir," replied Jack Raby. "I thought so, before we left the cutter."
"Sacre betes Anglais! How dare you venture here? This is our island, far better than your miserable Malta. We have taken possession of it, and will hold it against all the world. Begone with you, or we will sink you, and your ship to the bottom; off, off."
As they were uttering these words, they continued making the most violent gestures of defiance and contempt, but this did not prevent Linton from approaching the rock. It was larger than it had appeared to be at a distance; and at the spot to which he was making there was a little indentation where the water was comparatively smooth. I have said that there was a group of men in front of a tent, at the higher part of the rock, and these they now observed, were armed, and had thrown up a sort of fortification, with planks and chests, and spars, and other things cast on shore from the wreck, aided by the natural inequality of that part of the rock.
"Good Heavens!" thought Linton. "And on so small a spot of ground, could not these men rest at peace with each other?"
Just as the dinghy was within two boat-hooks' length of the rock, a voice from among the group, hailed in English,—"Take care, sir, or those fellows will murder you all. They have been threatening to do it. But if we could but get up a few drops of water here, we should soon be able to quiet them."
"I have the water for you, and I will try what I can do to pacify them," shouted Linton, at the top of his voice. "A present, mes amis" he said in French; "we have come here as friends to aid you; we do not want to take your island, to which you are welcome; and to convince you that we do not come as enemies, any two of you can go off to the large boat there, where they may have as much food and water as they require."
Two of them rather more sane than the rest, on hearing this, shouted out,—"Food and water, that is what we want—you are friends, we see—we will go."
"No, no—if any go, all shall go!" exclaimed the rest, rushing down to the water; but, so blind was the eagerness of the mass that these were precipitated headlong into the sea, and would have become food for the ground sharks had not Linton and his companions hauled them into the dinghy. He was now afraid that he should be obliged to return at some risk with the boat thus heavily laden, but before doing so he determined to make one more attempt to join the people on the top. His first care, before letting the boat again drop in, was to pour a few drops of brandy-and-water down the throats of the two Frenchmen they had rescued. This so revived them, and with their immersion in the water, so restored their senses, that they rose up in the boat and shouted out to their companions:—"These men are friends—receive them as brethren among you, and we will be answerable for their honesty."
"Now, messieurs, is your time," said one. "Hasten, if you desire to get on shore, or their mood will change."
"Pull in," cried Linton, and in another moment he and Raby, who carried a breaker of water on his shoulder, sprang on shore while the boat was hauled back to the cutter.
There they stood for an instant confronting the most ferocious looking beings it is possible to conceive in human shape. Their beards were long, and their hair wet and tangled, and hanging down over their shoulders, their eye-balls were starting from their heads, and their limbs were emaciated in the extreme, lacerated, and clotted with blood and dirt—scarcely any of them having a rag of clothing to cover them.
"Now, my friends, allow us to proceed to a place where we may sit down and discuss our plans for the future," said Linton, hoping thus to keep them quiet till he could get nearer the summit of the rock.
"Waistcoat bien, c'est bien," they answered. "Monsieur is a man of sense," said one, with a maniac leer at his companion. "We will allow him to make merry at our next feast, eh, comrades?"
And they laughed, and shouted at the wit of the poor wretch.
"We will proceed, then," said Linton, who found them pressing on him. "Push on, Raby, and try and gain the top before these madmen break out again. Let us advance, messieurs."
"What, and join our enemies in the castle up there?" sneered the maniac, who had proposed them joining their feast, of the nature of which they could have little doubt. "No, no. We see that you are no friends of the French, so over you go to feed the fishes."
As he uttered these words, he made a rush at Linton, who with difficulty leaped out of his way, when the miserable wretch, unable to stop himself, ran on till he fell over into the water, where his companions derided his dying struggles. This attracted the attention of some; but the others made a rush at Linton, who had just time to draw his cutlass, and to keep them off from himself and Raby, who, hampered with the water-cask, could do little to defend himself.
So rapidly had the events I have mentioned taken place, that there was not time even for the dinghy's return to bring them assistance. Had Linton chosen to kill his assailants, he might easily have preserved his own safety; but unwilling to hurt them, unconscious as they were of what they were about, he was very nearly falling a victim to his own humanity. As he and Jack Raby sprang up the rock they got round them, and on a sudden they found themselves attacked from behind. On turning his head for a moment, a powerful wretch seized his sword by the blade, and though it was cutting his hands through and through he would not let it go. At the same instant others threw their arms round his neck, and were dragging him to the ground, where in all probability they would instantly have destroyed him, when two persons sprang down from the top of the rock with heavy spars in their hands, and striking right and left on the heads of the maniacs, compelled them to let go their hold, and allow Linton and Raby to spring to their feet.
"Now, sir, now is your time!" exclaimed one of their deliverers. "Up to the fortress before they rally. They have had such a lesson that they will not think of coming there again."
Neither of the officers required a second call, and in an instant they were in front of the tent.
"You have brought us water, sir. Thank Heaven, the breaker has not been injured!" exclaimed the man, who had aided them so effectually, taking it from Raby's shoulder, who poured out some into a cup which he had brought for the purpose. As he did so Raby examined his countenance, which, though haggard and emaciated, he recognised as belonging to an old friend.
"What, Bowse!" he cried. "Is it you?—I am, indeed, glad to find that you have escaped from the pirates, though we find you in a sorry condition enough."
"Ah, Mr Raby, I knew the Ione at once, and glad I am to see you," answered Bowse, filling the cup with water. He was about to carry it to his own mouth, but by a powerful effort he restrained himself, muttering, "There are others want it more than I do."
And he handed it to Linton, pointing to one of the sufferers on the ground. Linton took the cup, and pouring a few drops of brandy into it, gave it to the person indicated.
"What!" he exclaimed, as he did so. "Do I, indeed, see Colonel Gauntlett? Tell me, sir, is Miss Garden here? I need not say how much it will relieve the mind of Captain Fleetwood to know that she is safe."
The colonel groaned as he gave back the cup, saying—
"Indeed, I know nothing of my poor niece."
In a few minutes a cup of water had been given to each of the persons round the tent, the reviving effect of which was wonderful on even the most exhausted. Meantime the unhappy wretches on the lower part of the rock were shrieking and gesticulating as before, but instead of looking at the boats they now turned their eyes towards those who were quenching their raging thirst with the supply of water brought by Linton and Raby. At this juncture the dinghy returned, and the men in her succeeded by a coup de main in getting two men off, when by a less forcible manner they would probably have failed. The moment they reached the rock they leaped on it, holding the boat by the painter, and before the Frenchmen were aware they had seized two of them who had jackets to catch hold of, and had hauled them into the boat. A second time the manoeuvre had equal success, and thus six were got off without much trouble. Linton now bethought him of trying to soothe some of them by giving them water, and at last he succeeded in attracting one of them up the rock by holding up a cup of water. The man took it and quaffed it eagerly.
"C'est mieux que le sang," he exclaimed in a hollow voice, followed by a fierce laugh. "More, more, more."
The lieutenant considered that he might give him a little more, and others seeing that their comrade was obtaining that for which they had been longing, came up and held out their hands for the cup, their manner and the unmeaning look of their eyes showing that they were more influenced by the instinct of animals than the sense of men.
By degrees the whole of them came up and obtained a cup of water, and Linton had the satisfaction of seeing that they had become much calmer and more manageable. He, in consequence, thought he might venture down to examine the condition of the still more unfortunate beings who sat by themselves, altogether unconscious of their condition, as well as of those he had seen stretched out at their length near the edge of the rock. Bowse, however, recommended him not to attempt to do so till a greater number of the maniacs had been got off. "If Mr Raby and I, and Mitchell, there," (meaning the colonel's servant, who was the second man who had come to their rescue), "were to accompany you, and it would not be safe for you to go alone, those poor wretches might attack our fortress and murder all in it; and to say the truth, I am afraid you can do very little good to any of them."
Bowse's arguments prevailed, and Linton and Raby set to work to get the people into the dinghy. He found the best way was to give them a little water at a time, and then to promise them more directly they should reach the cutter. In this way several more were got off, the seamen seizing them neck and heels the moment they got near the dinghy, and tumbling them in. At last Linton, leaving Bowse in charge of what he called the fortress, proceeded with Raby and Mitchell, carrying the remainder of the water to aid those who either could not or would not move. The first man they came to lay moaning and pointing to his mouth. No sooner did his parched lips feel the cooling liquid than he sat upright, seizing the cup in both his hands, and drained off the contents. Scarcely had he finished the draught than, uttering a deep sigh, he fell back, and, stretching out his arms, expired. On the next the water had a more happy effect: the eye, which at first was glazed and fixed, slowly acquired a look of consciousness, the muscles of the face relaxed, and a smile, expressive of gratitude, seemed to flit across the countenance of the sufferer. The next, who was sitting by himself, almost naked, with his feet close to the sea, received the cup with a vacant stare, and dashed the precious liquid on the ground, while the cup itself would have rolled into the sea, had not Raby fortunately saved it. They, however, again tried him with more, and no sooner did the water actually touch his lips than he seemed as eager to obtain it as he was before indifferent to it. When the dinghy returned, these two were lifted into her, and conveyed on board the cutter. The cutter had, by this time, a full cargo on board, which she transferred to the Ione, and then returned, anchoring closer in with the rock than before. While Linton and his companions were attending, as I have described, to the most helpless of the French seamen, they were followed closely by the remainder, who watched their proceedings with idiot wonder.
The threatening gestures of the gang, who were behind, made him glad to find a way by which he could retreat to the summit of the rock, where he found assembled, besides the persons I have already mentioned, the second mate and three British seamen of the Zodiac, as also the captain of a French brig-of-war, which it appeared had been wrecked there, four of his officers and five of his men, who were the only ones who had retained their strength and their senses; and many of them were so weak that they had not sufficient strength to walk down to the boats. Linton accordingly sent for further assistance, and two more hands came off from the cutter, both for the purpose of carrying down the sufferers, and of defending them in the mean time from any attack the maniacs might make on them. Colonel Gauntlett, although at first unable to walk, quickly recovered, and insisted on having no other assistance than such as Mitchell could afford in getting to the boat. The French captain had suffered the most, both from bodily fatigue and mental excitement.
All this party having been embarked, Linton advised that the cutter should return to the ship, and begged that four more hands should be sent him, with a good supply of rope-yarns. While the boats were absent, he tried to calm and conciliate the unhappy beings on the rock; but, although they no longer attempted to injure him, it was evident that they abstained from doing so more from fear than good will.
They were in all, remaining alive, twelve persons; and, when the dinghy returned, he found his party to amount to eight men, with whom he considered he should easily be able to master the others. The unfortunate Frenchmen had not sense to perceive what he was about, and he had captured and bound three before they attempted to escape from him. Then commenced the most extraordinary chase round and round the rock. In a short time three more were bound, and these Linton sent off before he made any further attempt to take the rest. There were still six at large, fierce, powerful men, who evaded every means he could devise to get hold of them without using actual force. He was still unwilling to pull away, and leave them to their fate; at length he ordered his men to make a simultaneous rush at them, and to endeavour to trip them up, or to knock them over with the flats of their cutlasses. Pour of them were secured, though they had their knives in their hands, and made a desperate resistance; the others, they were two, who appeared to be the maddest of the party, darted from them, and, before they could be stopped, leaped off, on the weather side, when they were quickly swallowed up among the breakers. Linton and his companions shuddered as they left the fatal spot.
The Ione, with her new passengers on board, kept on her course, and the wind still continuing foul, Captain Fleetwood steered for Athens, off which place, the French commander said he was certain to find a ship of his own country to receive him and his crew.
A French frigate was fallen in with, as was expected, and the French captain and his surviving officers and crew were transferred to her. They were all full of the deepest expressions of gratitude for the service which had been rendered them, and all united in complimenting Bowse for his behaviour during the trying time of the shipwreck, which had been the chief means of preserving their lives.
I will not describe Fleetwood's feelings on seeing Colonel Gauntlett, and on hearing that Ada had, to a certainty, been carried off by Zappa. He had been prepared for the account; for he believed, from the first, that it was for that purpose he had attacked the Zodiac.
Such, however, was a conjecture a lover would naturally form, as he considered her the most valuable thing on board; but, perhaps, the more worldly reader may consider that the rich cargo had greater attractions, as well as the prospect of a large sum for her ransom. He was not aware that, at that very time, Zappa had sent to Aaron Bannech, the old Jew of Malta, to negotiate with her friends for that very purpose. The colonel, of course, remained on board to assist in the search for his niece, while Bowse begged that he might be allowed to remain also for the same object, and his men entered on board the Ione, which was some hands short.
A few words must explain the appearance of Captain Bowse and his crew and passengers on the rock. When Zappa had left the Zodiac he had bored holes in her, for the purpose of sending her to the bottom; she, however, did not sink as soon as expected; and Bowse, with some of his people who were unhurt, were able to put a boat to rights, and to launch her. The boat carried them all, and they were making for the nearest coast when they were picked up by a French man-of-war. The French ship was soon after wrecked on a barren rock, on which they existed without food for many days, and where many of the Frenchmen went mad. Here they remained till the Ione took them off.
Fleetwood had been very unhappy at having been compelled to go so much out of his way to get rid of the Frenchmen; but he was well rewarded for the delay, by falling in, when just off the mouth of the Gulf of Egina, with the very brig he had chased before touching at Cephalonia, the Ypsilante. Captain Teodoro Vassilato came on board, and expressed his delight at meeting him again, insisting on being allowed to accompany him on his search.
"I was once taken prisoner by the rascals myself, and narrowly escaped with my life, and I may have some little expectation of satisfaction in punishing them," he observed. "Indeed, without my assistance, I do not think you have much chance of success."
This last argument prevailed, and Fleetwood, warmly pressing his new friend's hand, assured him of his gratitude for his promised assistance. The two brigs, therefore, sailed in company to search for the pirate's island.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.
Captain Fleetwood followed his unknown guide into the open air without a word having been exchanged between them. He felt no fear, and scarcely any doubt as to the object of the summons he had received; for he had, from the first, persuaded himself that it was in some way or other connected with Ada Garden, and that he was either to hear of her, or to be conducted into her presence. The guide stopped at the door of the building to conceal the light, and looked cautiously around to ascertain, apparently, that no unwelcome eyes were near to watch their proceedings. Having convinced himself that he was unobserved, he again beckoned the English officer to advance, leading him round close to the line of ruins, which at one time formed the outer walls of the castle, and the shadow of which now served to aid in concealing them from any person who might; by chance, be crossing the more open ground.
As Fleetwood was passing beneath Nina's tower he looked up at her casement under the vague impression that he should there find her whom he was so eager to meet; but no light was visible, either there or in any part of the building; and he had little time for observation, for his guide led him on with a step so light and rapid that he had to do his best to keep up with him. The night was one of the most perfect with which that eastern clime is blessed. The air though warm was pure and fresh after the storm—the golden stars were shining forth with a brilliant lustre, from the intense blue of the sky, on the dark tranquil sea, which lay in calm majesty at their feet, the gentle hush of its slumbering waves being the only sound to break the tranquil silence of the hour.
It was a night formed for the holy meeting of those whose hearts, though bound together, had long been parted, a night for pure happiness and love. Fleetwood felt its benign influence, and had he before been inclined to despair, it would have reassured him. A moon reduced to a thin crescent was sinking towards the horizon, and casting a bright shining line across the ocean, its light being just sufficient to throw the tall shadows of the towers and ruins along the open ground, and to tinge their summits with a silvery hue.
The guide every now and then stopped and listened, as if apprehensive that some one might be abroad, and interrupt their proceedings; and then hearing nothing, on he went again as rapidly as before; Fleetwood each time imitating his example, and stopping also. He had scarcely before remarked his conductor's appearance; but he now observed, while thus stopping, that his figure was small and light, and that he wore a dark capote, with the hood drawn over his head, so as completely to conceal his features and to envelope his form. They went on till they got close to the tower in which Ada resided, when the guide once more came to a stop, and beckoned Fleetwood to approach.
"Zitto, hush!" said the guide, in the softest Italian. "I have risked much to serve you, and her you love—my life—and even more than my life—yours also, perhaps—and, therefore be cautious. I can allow you only a short time to say all you long to utter; but remember what might happen were you discovered. I will remain below to watch and warn you of danger, and afterwards to conduct you back to your lodging, as I must lock you in there. No one yet suspects you; but when our chief returns I know not how that may be—therefore be advised by me; what you have to do, do quickly. Now go—a short half-hour is all the time I can allow you."
Fleetwood, as he listened, was certain that he knew the accents of the voice, and that the speaker could be no other than the Signora Nina; but he did not stay to utter empty thanks. He thought he could do that as well on his return, but sprang towards the door, which she opened for him, as she spoke; and again taking the lantern from beneath her cloak showed him some steps by which he might ascend the tower.
"Be cautious," she whispered, seeing that he was about to leap up them at the rate his impatience would have urged him to proceed. "Tread lightly, and speak not loud, lest any one passing may hear you. Now, go."
She held the light to show him the turnings in the stairs. He stepped up two or three at a time, with the light tread of a seaman; and on the summit a door stood open, a bright gleam of light streaming through it. A female figure stood in the centre of the apartment. He would have known her among a thousand. She sprang forward to meet him, and in another instant Ada Garden was clasped in her lover's arms. For some minutes the hearts of both were too full to allow them to speak, and joy such as is experienced but seldom in the life of any, and by many never, was their predominant feeling. How much of the precious time allowed them to be together they had thus spent, I do not know, when Marianna, who had been standing retired in a corner of the room, thought it incumbent on her to make her appearance, and embracing Fleetwood's knees in her delight, she poured out a torrent of thanks to him for his having come to rescue them. However much they might have wished the good little girl anywhere but where she was, her presence was very useful to them, as it sobered Fleetwood down to the things of this world; and reminded him that he had all his plans and arrangements to explain to his mistress, and numerous directions to give her for her guidance. Ada also was recalled to her present position, and as the first ecstasies of her joy subsided, fears for her lover's safety took possession of her mind.
"Oh! Fleetwood," she exclaimed; "you have risked your liberty and your life for my sake; and I fear the treacherous and fierce man who brought me here will wreak his vengeance on your head, when he finds himself disappointed in obtaining a large ransom for me—his object, I expect, in carrying me off."
"But, my sweet Ada, I do not intend to give him the power of so doing," returned Fleetwood. "We have stanch friends to assist us, and our arrangements are excellent, so that provided we are not suspected we have every chance of success."
"I will not then, Fleetwood, damp your generous energy with my own, perhaps too weak, fears," answered Ada. "But I am ready to do whatever you think best."
"That is my own brave girl," said Fleetwood, pressing her to his heart. "We must succeed; and now, Ada, listen to what I have to tell you."
"I will—but first tell me, for I have been undutiful in not asking before, have any tidings been received of my poor uncle, and the brave crew of the Zodiac?"
"Your uncle is safe on board the Ione, and our good friend Bowse is one of the companions of my adventure," replied Fleetwood. "The gallant fellow insisted that, as you had been in a manner under his charge, when you were carried off, it was his duty to come in search of you; and I was too glad to have his assistance."
"Thank Heaven for my uncle's safety! And I trust, Fleetwood, that he has conquered the prejudices he entertained against you since he has been on board your ship," said Ada, smiling. "Indeed, his nature is generous, and I know that he must."
"I trust that he has, dearest," returned Fleetwood. "I have treated him as I believe I should any other person in a similar position; and I may, recollecting that he was your uncle, have shown him more respect and tenderness than I might otherwise have done; but, at all events, he appears well disposed towards me. However, in two days, I hope you will have the means of judging for yourself."
"So soon!" exclaimed Ada. "Is your ship so near?"
"But a few hours' sail from hence; and I would, this very night, have put our plan in execution to carry you away, had we been at liberty; but first, the kindness of the pirate's young wife prevented our examining the harbour and the boats in it; and we afterwards found ourselves locked up in the room allotted us to sleep in. I do not, in consequence, think we are suspected; for it is very natural that the gruff old pirate, who seems to act as lieutenant-governor, or major-domo, of the castle—I scarcely know what to call him—should not think fit to leave a party of strangers at liberty to wander about and examine into the state of his defences. I have now to thank the Signora Nina for the happiness I enjoy of seeing you. But, tell me, Ada, do you think she is to be thoroughly trusted?"
"Poor girl, I believe so," said Ada. "Intentionally, I feel sure she would not betray us, but will do her very utmost to aid us."
Ada did not give the reasons for her confidence. Her maiden modesty made her unwilling to tell her lover that she believed that Nina, besides her wish to do what was right, was also influenced by her anxiety to get her out of her husband's way.
"She has already given proof of her willingness to serve us; but, in her brother I have not the same confidence, and you must be cautious not to let him discover who you are. I may wrong the unhappy youth, for he appears to have many generous and good qualities—and his devotion to his sister, the original cause of his misfortunes, is extraordinary. However, he, at times, appears to wander in his mind; and, except in a case of urgent necessity, do not trust him; and, if you have occasion to do so, appeal to his generosity and honour, and he is more likely to serve you."
"I will do as you advise, Ada; and I confess that I would rather trust to that beautiful Italian girl, than to the sort of person you describe her brother to be;" said Fleetwood. "But our time is short; and I have not told you one word of our plan. You must know that I was fortunate enough to fall in with a Greek captain, who knows the island, and entertains a laudable hatred for Signor Zappa; and he undertook to pilot us here, either in the Ione, or in any way I proposed; but strongly urged me to employ stratagem to recover you. I accordingly resolved to pretend to be a Maltese seaman, as the character I could best personate, and to be unfortunately wrecked on the island. Once here, I felt sure I should find means to communicate with you; and I then proposed to cut out a boat from the harbour, and to carry you off in her. I directed our pinnace and jollyboat to wait every night just out of sight of land, to the windward of the harbour, with the men well armed, all the time I am here, to assist us should we be followed when escaping. I, at first, intended to have come alone; but my Greek friend first insisted on coming, then so did Bowse, in a manner I could not refuse; and I was glad when a real Maltese volunteered, as he could act as spokesman if necessary. Young Jack Raby also begged very hard to be allowed to accompany me; and, as he can speak Maltese and looks his character, I felt that he would be of great use; as, if it were necessary, while he remained hid away in the bottom of the boat, you might make your escape in his dress. The party I have mentioned left the ship yesterday morning in a mistico I bought for the purpose; and we agreed to pretend to have lost our own ship, and to be endeavouring to find our way back to Malta. Though we wished for a strong breeze to give a plausibility to our being wrecked, we did not bargain for quite so much wind as we had, and we were fortunate in having so good a pilot as the Greek. I have not much hope of getting the mistico off—and scarcely intend to use her if we do—but she will be very useful in turning suspicion aside; and if the pirates think fit to watch us, they will keep their eyes in that direction while we are taking our departure in another. By the by, as I felt sure Marianna would be with you, from the account Bowse gave of having seen you both carried off together, it was arranged that young Raby should pretend to be her brother, that we might the more easily make the necessary arrangements: so the moment he sees her, if they meet by chance, she is to rush into his arms and cover him with kisses. What do you say to the arrangement, Marianna?"
"Me no mind it," answered the little Maltese, laughing. "But, signor, say which the brother is, that me no kiss the wrong person. No do well to have brother who won't say me is his sister."
"He is a little dark fellow, with a face as brown as mine, for we painted from the same pot," said Fleetwood. "But if I know Master Jack Raby well, he will not leave you long in doubt. He has seen you with Miss Garden, and you will very soon have proof of his fraternal affection, so pray remember to acknowledge him."
"Me take great care to kiss very much," said Marianna, simpering.
"I shall trust to you; but be careful not to recognise any of the rest of us; and now, my sweet Ada, I must bid you farewell. Be prepared to-morrow night for our exploit. Somewhere about midnight I hope to be with you. Put on some dark, close-fitting dress, which is less likely to be seen in the dusk than a light-coloured one; and if you could procure capotes from Signora Nina, such as she now wears, it will be still better. Should we be met by any of the islanders we may be mistaken for their friends. Our present purpose is to escape from the harbour, and to leave the mistico in lieu of the boat we take. Young Raby and I will come up for you and Marianna, while the rest prepare the boat. Once outside, I have little fear of what may happen, for we shall soon be under shelter of the Ione's boats, and they will be a match for all the craft of this place, with the exception of the brig, which they will scarcely think of taking out after us. I must keep the Signora Nina no longer waiting. Again, dearest, farewell!"
They parted as lovers under such circumstances would part; and when he reached the foot of the tower he found that nearly an hour had elapsed since he left the Italian lady.
She had remained outside the tower, under the deep shadow in the angle formed by it and the ruined wall, which ran off towards the other tower.
"I fortunately calculated on your want of punctuality," she whispered. "But delay might be dangerous, so you must hasten back to your dormitory, and breathe not, even to your companions, that you have quitted it this night. They sleep soundly, and will not awake."
"I forgot to watch how time passed, and I thought not it had flown so rapidly by," said Fleetwood. "I should deeply grieve were I to cause you greater risk than you have already run for Ada Garden's sake."
"No harm is yet done," replied Nina. "I took care, thanks to my brother's knowledge of drugs, that all who were likely to interfere should sleep soundly to-night. I tried it as an experiment, that, on another occasion, I might be able to assist you in the same way. Now let us hasten back."
"Stay, lady, for one moment," exclaimed Fleetwood, who had the natural horror of all right-minded Englishmen to the employment of any but open and fair means to obtain even the most important object, and an especial disgust at the thoughts of having drugs used to send his enemies to sleep; though, whether, in that respect he was over particular, we will not stop to discuss; at all events, being very certain that if there was a doubt, he kept on the right side of the question. "Stay," he said; "you risk too much for our sake. Give us but our liberty. Take care that we are not locked up again, as to-night, and we will manage every other arrangement. The means you hint at employing are dangerous; and, I believe, we have no right to use them. I again repeat my promise, that I will not use force nor injure any one for whom you have regard, unless driven to it by the most dire necessity."
"You act, signor, nobly, according to the dictates of your conscience," answered Nina. "Perhaps you are right, and I will follow your wishes, unless absolutely obliged to encounter force and injustice by stratagem and fraud, the only resource of the weak. It is agreed then. To-morrow I will manage that you and your companions shall be allowed to range at will over the island. I need not counsel you to make use of your time. And now we must delay no longer, or the morning light will be breaking in the sky before I have returned to my tower."
Saying this she hurried back, followed closely by Fleetwood, towards the other part of the ruins. She observed the same precautions as before on approaching the building.
On a sudden she stopped, and drew back close to him, beneath the shade of the wall. A footfall was heard; and he saw that she trembled in every limb. Presently a figure emerged from behind the tower, and stood, for some minutes, gazing up in the sky, as if contemplating the glorious galaxy of stars, which shone down from it. At length it advanced towards the spot where they were standing, and Fleetwood felt that they were about to be discovered, and prepared for the emergency.
"I must save this poor girl at every cost," he thought. "Whatever be her motive, she has placed herself in peril on my account."
Just as the person came close to them, he turned round, evidently not observing them, and walked forward in the very direction from whence they had come.
As soon as he was out of sight, Fleetwood heard the Italian lady whisper,—"It is poor Paolo. He would rather aid than betray us; but, for his sake, while I have other means, I would not willingly employ him. He has suffered much for me, and I would not bring further vengeance on his head. Now go in and sleep till the morning."
The door was carefully closed, and Fleetwood heard it locked after he entered the room, where his companions slept soundly.
Nina, mean time, hurried back to her tower, where she found little Mila sleeping on her couch. She awoke her with a kiss.
"Your task is nearly over for to-night," she whispered, putting, at the same time, two keys into her hand. "Go, now, and lock me in, and return those keys whence you took them. I am grateful for your zeal, and you shall have your reward. Keep your own counsel as before; and no one will suspect you."
Mila nodded, took up the keys, and slipped noiselessly back to the house tenanted by her grandfather.
Fleetwood tried to follow the example of his friends, but it was not till daylight broke that he closed his eyes in a deep slumber.
"Humph," muttered old Vlacco, as he came into the room in the morning rubbing his eyes. "There was little use locking up these lazy Maltese, unless they are addicted to walking in their sleep. At all events they are honest, or they would not snore so loudly."