She was right in her supposition; and the next instant the midshipman had sprung into the boat.
"What, Miss Garden! Are you left here alone? And, good heavens! is that the captain?" he exclaimed, in a tone of voice which showed how deeply he felt, joyous and careless as he was on ordinary occasions. "Oh, Miss Garden, he is not dead!"
"I trust in Heaven he is not, Mr Raby," replied Ada. "He has been stunned and severely wounded, and, had no one been with him, would have bled to death; even now, I know not what may happen if he does not speedily receive assistance. Had we the strength to do so, we might convey him up to the tower, where I suppose I shall be again shut up, and his wounds might thus be properly dressed."
"I am afraid that you, and Marianna, and I, should never be able to carry him all that way without hurting him," returned Jack Raby. "If I could find our companions, we could easily do it; but I don't know what became of them. I was dragged into a boat by myself, and knocked down, and told to be quiet; out, as soon as we got in here, the rascals went off to man their guns, and quite forgot me, I suppose; so, directly I found that they were gone, I felt to see if my head was hurt, and feeling it all right, I jumped out and set off, determined to try and find out what had become of you and the rest. If I could not succeed, I thought about going up to the Italian lady, and getting her to make interest for us all. I was in a great hurry, because I did not know when the pirates might come back; and they will, probably, shut me up somewhere, so that I cannot get to speak to her."
"Your suggestion, Mr Raby, affords much hope that we may obtain assistance for Captain Fleetwood," said Ada. "Oh! hurry up to the tower, and I am certain that the Signora Nina will exert herself to the utmost in our favour. Tell her all that happened—tell her that the life of one very dear to me depends on her sending us aid; and she will find some one who will come and assist to carry your captain to a place of safety. I need scarcely advise you to take every precaution to avoid being stopped on your way."
"Never fear me, Miss Garden," answered the midshipman, as he leaped on shore. "If I hear any one coming near me, I'll stow myself away under the rocks, or climb right up the cliffs over their heads. It's fortunately so dark, that there's very little chance of my being seen, and I'll be back again as fast as I can."
Nina Montifalcone was sitting, solitary and sad, at the window of her tower, gazing out on the sea, and watching the scene enacting below her. She had risen from her couch on hearing the firing and noise, and had gone to where she now was, to learn the cause of it. The rapid discharge of the guns from the brig and fort told her that fighting was going on, and the British boats in full retreat explained what else had happened. So interested was she on what was going on without, that she did not hear the sound of the footsteps of a person who entered the room.
"Signora, signora," said a voice near her; she started on hearing herself addressed, and saw Jack Raby standing at her elbow. "I have come in a great hurry, and have not a moment to spare, to tell you that Signora Garden, your friend, is on the shore of the bay in a boat, and that there is a person very badly wounded in it, who will die if you cannot send him assistance; and also that, if you do not intercede for us with the pira—I mean with the chief of this island,—I and my companions shall, very likely, to-morrow morning, be hung, or shot, or have our throats cut, or be thrown over the cliffs, or, at all events, sent out of the world."
"The Signora Garden, and one in whom she is interested, wounded," repeated Nina. "Ah! I see how it is. Tell me, frankly, boy. Is it the captain of the English brig who is wounded?"
"Signora, si, I will not deny it," said the midshipman. "There is, therefore, you will see, still greater necessity for you to interfere in his favour."
"I tell you, boy, if it were known who he was, and for what purpose he came here, I could not preserve his life for one instant," replied Nina. "He must not be brought up here on any account, for he would be certainly recognised in the morning. Have you met my brother, Signor Paolo. He alone can assist us."
"What, the Italian gentleman? No, signora. I took too much care in coming up here to fall in with anybody," said Jack.
"Then I must go in search of him. We shall probably find him among the spectators of the fight. I will send him down to the boat. Tell the signora that there is a cottage close to the shore on the other side of the bay, to the inhabitants of which my brother has been of great service, by preserving the lives of their children in a dire sickness, and thither the wounded man shall be conveyed. If they have any gratitude in their nature, they will perform any service Paolo may require; and the English captain will be safe with them, even should they discover who he is. Now, hasten back to the bay with the message, and entreat Signora Garden to return to her tower, and to appear to take no further interest in him. It will betray him, to a certainty, if she does, and it can do him no good. I will, however, endeavour to arrange that you shall remain with him to attend on him. Tell her that, as soon as I have dispatched Paolo, I will go myself to meet her."
While Nina was speaking, she took out of a chest the capote she had worn on the previous occasion, and, throwing it over her shoulders, led the way down the steps. While Jack Raby hurried off down the ravine, she took her way towards the edge of the cliffs, where she saw a number of people, some of them still firing in the direction where the boats were supposed to be, though they must by that time have been beyond the range of the guns; it served, however, to occupy their attention, so that no one perceived her. She wandered among them for some time in vain, looking for her brother, till, at last, she found him, leaning against a part of the ruins on a high spot, from where he could overlook the whole scene. Twice she called him, but so absorbed was he in his own thoughts that he did not answer her, till she climbed up over the broken fragments at his feet, and touched his arm.
"Paolo, my brother," she said, "I come to ask you to perform a generous and a noble work, from which you must not shrink. You love the English lady who has been held captive here. I knew it from the first, and I know that she cannot return your love, for her heart is another's. Now listen: the man to whom her heart is given, your rival if you will, lies now in the island, wounded almost to death, and on your skill depends, probably, whether he lives or dies. Promise me, then, as you hope for salvation in another world, for peace of mind in this, to exert that skill to the utmost to preserve his life, to conceal his real character from my husband, and to aid him to escape from the island. Say you will do this, my brother, and I believe, from what I have seen of that fair girl, you are far more likely to win her regard by such conduct, and ultimately, perhaps, even her love, than were her lover to die without an attempt on your part to save him."
Paolo listened without interrupting her, and did not immediately answer.
"Her love! Do you think it possible that I should gain her love?" he at length exclaimed, as if he had not heard anything else she had said. "I would sacrifice life itself for that bright jewel."
"It would be wrong were I to hold hope out to you to induce you to act as I could wish, Paolo," said Nina. "Think not of any other reward than such as your own heart will afford you. Her love I do not believe that you will attain, even were her lover to die. One of her nature places her heart on one object, and when that is torn from her, it never again finds a resting-place. All you may expect, and that, be assured, she will give you, is her gratitude and esteem. With that you must be content."
"It is bitter to think so, and yet I have long ceased to hope," murmured Paolo. "Tell me though, Nina, what would you have me do?"
His sister told him of the arrangement she had already made with Jack Raby.
"Come, my brother, decide what part you will take—there is no time to be lost; oh! let it be that one worthy of your generous nature."
"Nina, I will do as you wish," Paolo gasped forth, after a long silence. "I will endeavour to save the life of this man, even though my heart break when I see him united to her he loves."
"Swear it, then, Paolo—swear it by the Holy Apostles—swear it, as you hope for Heaven's mercy hereafter," exclaimed Nina. "Not only for your own sake do I impose this oath, but for the sake of the sweet girl herself, that she may know that, though her lover is in his rival's power, he is as safe as in the hands of his dearest friend."
Paolo took the oath his sister prescribed, and leaping off the ruins, hurried, at headlong speed, down to the bay.
Nina followed at a slower pace.
The flight of the fugitives had been discovered by old Vlacco, even before they had quitted the bay. He had awoke in the night, he stated, and had taken it into his head, that he would go to see if they were safe in their prison. He was so astonished and confused on finding they were not there, that, at first, he could not decide what course to take. He then bethought him that his duty required him to inform his chief, and as soon as Zappa was made aware of the fact, the whole island was in commotion, and the pursuit was commenced.
It was with very great satisfaction that Nina heard of Ada's flight, and most earnestly did she pray that she might not be overtaken. For the fair girl's sake, she wished this, and for her own, even still more so. She admired her beauty, she was inclined to love her as a sister—and yet she could not conceal from herself that she greatly feared her as a rival in her husband's affections. She had lately learned, too surely to doubt it, that his love was waning, and that he himself was far different from the character she had supposed him.
By his own acknowledgment, he was a blood-stained pirate; and she had already too many proofs of the fact, even had he not, now that he was indifferent to her love, boasted to her of his deeds. Sometimes, alas, the dreadful thought would occur to her, that even her life would not be safe, if it stood between him and his wishes; and yet, woman-like, she still loved on. She tried to shut her eyes to his faults, to forget his unkindness, and to discover only the noble qualities she at first believed he possessed. Though she feared Ada, she could not hate her; and would not have harmed her, now that she felt sure she would never consent to become the pirate's bride should she die, much less his mistress; but she was not the less anxious for her departure, and proportionably grieved when she heard that she was once more a prisoner in the island. With natural jealousy, when Zappa spoke of obtaining a ransom for Ada, she had endeavoured to ascertain what steps he had taken, for the purpose of arranging it; and by no means could she learn that he had even made any attempts to open negotiations on the subject with any persons at Malta, or elsewhere; and this confirmed her in her fears that this was simply a pretext to weary out his prisoner, and to reconcile her to her fate. She was certain, also, that Captain Fleetwood could have heard nothing on the subject; as he would, she thought, have preferred so safe a way of recovering her, instead of the dangerous one he had attempted. Such were the subjects which occupied her mind, as she walked down the ravine to meet her rival. In the meantime, Ada had watched, with an anxiety scarcely describable, for the return of Raby; every instant expecting to have the pirates come back; and to have her lover dragged roughly from her; and to have to run the risk either of betraying him, or of allowing him to perish without assistance.
At last Jack arrived, followed at an interval by Paolo.
"Signora," he said, "I have come to take charge of a man I hear is sorely wounded. Do not doubt me; I repeat the oath I have given my sister, that I will, to the best of my abilities, endeavour to restore him to health, and if an occasion occurs, to aid in his escape from hence. I ask—I look for no reward."
"I trust you, signor," replied Ada, giving him her hand. "You could not commit so black an act as to deceive me, and now, oh! hasten to put your good intentions into execution."
On this Paolo told her of the fisherman's hut, to which he purposed to convey Captain Fleetwood, and hurried off to summon the old man. He soon returned, stating that he was from home, and as no time was to be lost, he proposed that he and Raby should carry the wounded officer there at once, with the aid of Ada and Marianna. This they accomplished without much difficulty, by means of a cloak found at the bottom of the boat, and then, urged by Paolo and Raby, Ada tore herself away from him, and with Marianna, endeavoured to find her way up the ravine, while Jack remained to keep watch over his commander.
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.
Lieutenant Saltwell, on whom, in his captain's absence, had devolved the command of the Ione, walked her quarterdeck on the night on which the events we have been describing took place, with a mind very ill at ease.
He had been during the whole afternoon endeavouring, by every possible means in his power, to get the brig up to the spot agreed on, off the island of Lissa, so that he might dispatch the boats at dark to wait still closer in for the coming of Fleetwood and his companions. The breeze with which they had started had failed them soon afterwards, so the sweeps had been got out, and the boats had towed ahead, till he was fearful of knocking up their crews and unfitting them for the work they had still to perform; and yet, do all they could, he was obliged to dispatch them, under the orders of the several lieutenants, with a pull of some eighteen or twenty miles before them.
"For heaven's sake, make the best speed you can," said Saltwell, as he bade his brother officers good bye. "Our captain will make the attempt to-night, depend on it, and it will be sad work if he cannot find the boats."
"Never fear, we shall not miss him, I hope," exclaimed Linton, as he leaped into his boat. "Shove off and give way, my merry men."
The boat's crew did their best; but the event was another convincing proof of the misfortunes which may arise from being a little too late. Had they been ten minutes sooner, they would, perhaps, have been in time to prevent their captain and his companions from falling again into the hands of the pirates. Linton felt this when he found that they were recaptured, and, stung with regret, although he was in no manner to blame, he agreed on the pursuit with a zeal which very nearly led to the destruction of himself and his followers.
We left him severely, if not mortally, wounded, off the mouth of the pirate's harbour. The command, therefore, devolved on Tompion, who immediately ordered the boats to separate as much as possible, keeping within sight of each other, to cause the shots of the enemy to become less effective, by being scattered over a wider range.
"Pull away, my lads," exclaimed the mate; "we shall soon be out of this, and we shall have an opportunity before long of paying them off."
The men needed no inducement to pull hard, for it was excessively hot work, and they had no fancy to be exposed to the showers of bullets which came whizzing round them, especially when they were compelled to run away from the enemy.
The frowning and lofty cliffs, fringed with tiny glances of vivid light, and the bright flashes of the Sea Hawk's guns, which were reflected on the calm water, formed, doubtlessly, an exceedingly picturesque spectacle, which those who were pulling at the oars had full opportunity to contemplate, but not the less disagreeable to them on that account, especially as it would have been a very useless amusement to fire against the cliffs in return. Fortunately, no further casualties occurred, and every instant, as their distance from the shore increased, there was less chance of a shot hitting them. At length, Tompion, seeing that they were free from danger, hailed the other boats, to order the crews to rest on their oars to recover breath, before they shaped their course to return to their ship. The hail was answered by another from the westernmost boat, commanded by Jemmy Duff; he sung out—
"Did you see the mistico get into the harbour, with the rest of the rascals?"
"No," said Tompion. "Did any one on board see her?" he asked of the crew.
"No, sir," was the general answer.
"No one saw her go in," he answered.
"Then, by Jove, there she is, on our starboard beam," sung out Duff in return. "She is pretty nearly becalmed, it seems. She has got out there, I suspect, to watch us, and to try to cut us off. What shall we do?"
"I and the gig will close you, and we'll see what is to be done," said Tompion, ordering the other boat to follow him, and all the boats were soon alongside each other.
There, sure enough, Tompion perceived the mistico, about a quarter of a mile off, with her head to the southward, evidently watching their movements. It might seem surprising that she had not attacked them when under the cliffs; but, in the first place, she could not then get up to them, and had she been able to do so, it would have prevented the pirates on shore from firing on them.
The wind had at this juncture almost failed her, but she had her sweeps to depend on, and with a strong crew they could send her along at a great rate. She was commanded on the present occasion by the second lieutenant of the Sea Hawk—at least by the officer who performed the duties of one—who had hurried on board with as many men as he could find, and swept out to sea the moment the alarm of the prisoners' escape was given; and now, somewhat mistaking the character of British seamen, he had begun to edge up towards the boats, purposely to take them by surprise, and hoping to make them an easy prey.
Of most of this Tompion was soon aware, and it now became a question as to the advisability of attacking her instead.
"What does Mr Linton say?" asked Duff. "We should not take long about it, I think, and she would be something to show for our night's work."
"Tell Mr Linton how things stand, Jennings, and ask him what he wishes us to do," said Tompion to the coxswain of the gig.
"Poor Mr Linton can say nothing, sir," returned Jennings, in a sorrowful tone. "I'm afraid he'll never speak again."
An exclamation of grief escaped from all who heard the words.
"What! is he dead?" inquired Tompion, in a voice which showed that he participated in the feeling of the crews, although he might very probably benefit by the vacancy thus created; yet, I will venture to say, the thought of this did not enter his head.
"No, sir, not dead, I hope," said the coxswain. "I have bound up his wound as well as I can, and stopped the bleeding; but he's in a dead faint, and I don't know if he'll come to again."
"Well, Duff, I should like to act as Mr Linton would have done, and I'm sure he would have attacked the mistico without giving two thoughts about it," observed Tompion; "but then, again, for his sake, we ought to get back to the ship as fast as we can, to obtain surgical assistance for him."
"I know how you feel, Tompion," exclaimed Jemmy Duff—"but I have it: our two boats can easily tackle the rascally mistico, and let the gig pull back to the brig as fast as she can, with Mr Linton and Timmins here, who is badly hurt, and let them tell Saltwell of our whereabouts, and we shall fall in with her before the morning with a prize in tow, I hope."
"Capital!" exclaimed Tompion, who was, for a wonder, not above taking advice from a junior, when it happened to be good, and coincided with his own opinion. "What say you, my lads—do you think you've got strength enough in your arms to punish some of those rascals for Mr Linton's too like death, and the trick they played us?"
"All right, sir, never fear. We can give it them yet," exclaimed both crews, with one voice; and seldom will British seamen be found to make any other answer.
"Well, then, Jennings, do you steer due west,—right for that tar, that is your course. When you get about five miles from this, fire a musket, and continue firing every ten minutes. They will show a blue light as soon as they hear you, and you can scarcely miss the ship. Take poor Timmins on board with you—there's no one else hurt, I hope."
"No, sir, no," was the answer.
"I need not tell you to make the best of your way, and I'm sorry, for your sakes, we can't have you, my men, with us, in the affair on hand."
Having given these orders, most reluctantly they were obeyed by the crew of the gig, which immediately pulled away in the direction pointed out, and was soon lost to sight in the gloom. Tompion made the necessary preparations for the attack on the mistico.
He was not above despising an enemy whom he intended to attack, and as the fight, in which he was about to engage, would be the first in which he had held the command, he was doubly anxious that it should be successful. He ordered his men to see that their pistols, and the muskets in the boat, were properly loaded and primed, and a small brass swivel, mounted in the bows, he had loaded with musket balls, almost up to the muzzle, to fire as they ran past the enemy's quarter.
"Duff," he exclaimed, "you board on the starboard side, I will grapple her on the larboard, as I want to be a few seconds before you, to give her a taste of my gun, and if she stands in as she now does, I shall get there quickest. Now, my men, give way, and let the scoundrels have a taste of your cutlasses when you get at them. Huzza for old England!"
As he uttered these words, the men repeated the cheer till the night air rung again, and bending to their oars, made the water fly from under the bows of the boats, while their heads turned in the direction of the piratical mistico.
The loud cheer and the suddenness of the movement completely took the pirates by surprise, it appeared; and instead of tacking and standing boldly towards the English to meet them, as they expected, her helm was put up, the sheets eased off, her long sweeps run out, and away she went dead before the wind, at a rate which Tompion saw would give his men a tough pull to come up with her. Another reason for her so doing was soon apparent, by her opening a fire of two swivel guns over her counter, which her crew probably calculated would check the advance of the boats. It is extraordinary at what speed the Greek misticos can be urged through the water; and on this occasion the Zoe did full justice to her character, for her crew were strong, fresh, and in high spirits, while, on the other hand, the British seamen had been rowing all night, and the greater part of the day, and were dispirited by the loss of their officer and the ill success of the expedition; not, however, that this prevented them from exerting themselves to the very utmost of their strength. The wind also, which had been very uncertain and changeable, now almost a calm, now a fresh breeze, now blowing from the eastward, now some points to the north of it, then a like number to the south, seemed suddenly to fix itself in the latter point with a considerable increase of strength, which sent the mistico flying through the water at a greater speed than ever.
"Give way, my men, oh, give way!" shouted Tompion, scarcely able to articulate in his eagerness to overtake the enemy, for with the increase of the breeze he saw their chance of doing so gradually fading away, and the proud hopes he had begun to form, of revenging the loss they had sustained, and of being able to carry with him his first prize as a proof of what they had done, with a vista of honour and promotion in the distance, cruelly dissipated. Again the British seamen cheered, and stretched their arms till their oars bent and cracked, but the sound was answered by shouts of derisive laughter from the Greeks, and a discharge from their swivel guns with several rounds from their musketry, though happily without doing much damage. Both boats were struck over and over again, and one man was wounded, but not sufficiently to disable him.
The cutter returned it with a bow-chaser, and to some purpose, it seemed, by the cries and shrieks which followed.
"Give it them again!" shouted Tompion. "If they do get away, they shall have cause to remember us. Fire, my men, fire!"
Again the shot told with fearful effect among the crowded crew of the Zoe; and from the cries and confusion on board they had reason to hope that some of those working her sweeps were disabled; and as the firing ceased, that those who had worked the guns had taken their places. Tompion had been narrowly watching her movements; he had from the first suspected some ruse to be played off on him.
"Ah! she has put her helm to port, and is running in for the land again!" he exclaimed. "Keep a little more to the eastward, Duff, and try to out her off; we may have her yet, before she gets into port."
The mistico had had quite enough to say, it seemed, to the British boats; and was now endeavouring to get safe into the harbour, and very probably to try and tempt them to follow her, if they had not already had sufficient warning of what they might expect if they did so.
On they all three went in the same direction, the mistico by her change of course being thrown somewhat nearer to her pursuers than she before was, but they otherwise gained little, if anything, on her. The cutter perseveringly kept up her fire as fast as the gun could be cleaned and loaded, and the mistico more slowly returned it, the small sheets of flame which ever and anon issued from the mouths of the pieces showing their position to those on shore, as they drew near.
Still Tompion did not like to abandon the pursuit—they had already expended so much exertion and time, that he felt as if it would be throwing it all uselessly away if they were, after all, to fail; and yet he began to see that they had already gone far enough, and that, if he persisted in the chase, he might incur a greater disaster than had yet happened to them. He looked up at the cliffs, and tried to persuade himself that they were still at some distance off. They certainly looked very dark and lofty; but as there was no firing from them, he thought that they must be still too far off for any shot to reach them. The crew of the mistico, now that they felt pretty certain of not being captured, cheered and laughed, and called out to them, using every device to enrage them, and induce them to follow.
"We must soon be about ship, Duff!" Tompion sang out from his boat; "and I am afraid, after all, we have done little good."
"If you will go on a little longer, perhaps the wind may shift, and we shall have her becalmed under the cliffs," replied the midshipman. "It would be a great thing to carry her off in sight of the enemy."
Tompion was too ready to follow his messmate's advice, so they persevered in the chase with great gallantry, but certainly with a want of discretion, though it must be borne in mind that they had now less danger to apprehend either from the brig or the cliffs, as the pirates could not possibly fire without risking the killing of friends as well as foes. Now, although Tompion fancied that all their exertions would be thrown away, he was not aware, as the reader possibly is, that they were of the very greatest service to their friends on shore. It was their gallant pursuit of the mistico which had so completely engaged the attention of the pirates that they entirely forgot their prisoners, and allowed them to make the arrangements I have described. Had it not been for them, their captain would very soon have been discovered by Zappa, and his life would probably have been sacrificed, Raby would not have had time to reach Nina's tower, nor would Nina have found Paolo, and sent him to assist the sufferers. Thus it is, by persevering in doing what is right, and brave, and honest, in all the affairs in life, good will ultimately arise from our acts, even though we ourselves may not immediately discover it, and though; perhaps, we may to the end of our lives remain in ignorance of the effect we have produced. There is a time when all things must be known, and then we shall reap our reward. Let this be a consolation to us in all our troubles and disappointments when we have been strenuously endeavouring to do some important good, and find all our plans and projects defeated by the selfishness, the ignorance, the obstinacy of others, perhaps of the persons we would benefit, till at last we are inclined to exclaim: "What is the use of attempting to do good in this world? Do all I can, I cannot succeed." We do succeed—we can succeed; often, very often, when the result is not seen. We may, it is true, strive very much, and yet do very little good; but is not that little good something? is it not pure gold— treasure which will endure? So also (I am moralising while the British boats are still in pursuit of the mistico) man cannot see the ultimate result of the evil he may commit—there the order is reversed. A little evil in appearance may cause a vast amount of crime, wretchedness, and suffering. Even a word idly spoken may give rise to thoughts which may grow up and flourish, till they become like a upas tree to destroy all within their influence. To commit a small evil may be like the withdrawing the keystone from the arch, to cause the ruin of the whole edifice; or it may be like an ear of corn, which may soon serve to sow the whole field, and in the end millions and millions of acres. If men could but remember this, they would hesitate ere, by a seemingly trivial act, they incurred the awful responsibility of the immeasurable amount of crime and suffering they may cause.
How much further Tompion and Duff would have ventured I do not know, when their progress was arrested by a sight which silenced even the jeering laughter of the pirates. A loud, crashing noise was heard, which seemed to rend and tear in sunder the very cliffs, from the summit of which bright flames burst forth suddenly, and exposing the pinnacled rocks, the shattered ruins, and the groups of figures standing on them, in front of the fire, to the view of those below. The glare for the first moment almost blinded the eyes of the English, so long accustomed to darkness; but they soon saw that the fire proceeded from a tall tower near the edge of the cliff, and that the flames were bursting forth from the door, the windows, and the very roof itself, quickly towering up towards the sky. That some dreadful catastrophe had occurred, there appeared to be no doubt by the commotion created among the people. They began to run in all directions; some, it seemed, to procure water to throw on the flames, others to find ladders to scale the walls, and some were seen to attempt to gain the interior, but were again speedily driven forth by the fury of the flames. Their efforts, it was very soon seen, were of little avail, the flames seemed to gain fresh strength by some new stimulant, they darted up higher than before in a pyramid of fire, the tower was seen to rock to and fro, and down it came with a tremendous crash, burying, it seemed too probable, beneath its burning ruins many who could not have had time to escape to a distance. The mistico, while this event was taking place, had, favoured by the wind, got considerably ahead of the boats, and was by this time close in with the harbour's mouth.
"Duff, ahoy," cried Tompion. "That looks like a warning to us, and I think we ought to take it, and be off before the villains recover from their confusion. Pull up your starboard oars. We must give it up."
"I am afraid so," said Duff, imitating his senior's example, and defeated in their object, the two boats once more steered in the direction where it was expected the Ione would be found. They were allowed to escape without further molestation, for the greater number of the pirates were engaged in watching the progress of the flames, or in endeavouring to quench them; for not only was the tower destroyed, but the fire had communicated to the building attached to it, and that also was rapidly being consumed.
Saltwell had too much anxiety on his mind to allow him to turn in to take any rest, and for the greater part of the night he had walked the deck while he beat the brig up towards the island. He became still more anxious, as the morning approached, at the non-appearance of the boats, and was continually hailing the look-outs to keep their eyes and ears open to catch any sign of their coming. Colonel Gauntlett, who, of course, was not less anxious on his niece's account, was also constantly by his side; but the hours of night wore on, and no boats appeared. The brig stood on towards the island, for Saltwell considered that if the expedition was successful, there was no further reason for concealment, and that the nearer he got the better, and that, at all events, with the breeze which had sprung up, he could stand out of sight of land again, before daylight. The faint outline of the island, invisible to any but a seaman's eye, at last appeared through the darkness. Several of the officers were collected together on the poop, looking towards it, as the brig now lay up on the starboard tack.
"Ah, what is that?" exclaimed Saltwell, as a bright light was seen reflected on the sky.
"Why, they have either set fire to one of their vessels, or have blown up some fort or other. That may account for the boats' not returning."
"I don't think that is likely," observed Colonel Gauntlett. "Captain Fleetwood would scarcely delay to attack the pirates with a lady in one of the boats. Would you, Mr Saltwell?"
"No, sir, I would not," returned Saltwell. "You are right, and I do not think the captain would; but still I cannot account for the fire, and it is a large one, or we should not see it at this distance."
"I see no reason to conclude that Captain Fleetwood has anything to do with the conflagration," observed the colonel. "I wish we could see something of him and my little girl though. It is hazardous work he has been on, and I do not half like it. Couldn't you fire a few guns, to give them notice of our whereabouts? I don't see how they are to find the ship otherwise."
"A sailor's eye is sharper than you may suppose, colonel," said Saltwell; "and depend on it, they will keep a sharp lookout for us. However, I will do as you propose, for the wind is off the shore, and the pirates are not likely to hear the guns. Mr Brown, fire the foremost gun on the starboard side, and the next to it in four minutes' time."
Directly after the order was issued, the gun sent forth its sheet of flame, and its dull sound was heard booming along the waters. Several others followed without any answering signal. The Ione had now, in Mr Saltwell's opinion, stood long enough to the northward, or rather to the north-east, so he tacked ship, and they headed up rather more towards the island, though she soon again fell off nearly south. The larboard guns were now fired, and at last a tiny spirt of fire was seen to the eastward, and the sharp report of a musket struck on the ears.
"About ship then," cried Saltwell, and when she was round, after standing on a little way he hove her to, and ordered Mr Black to burn a blue light to show their position. On this a faint cheer came down on the wind to prove that the signal was perceived. The next few minutes were passed, by those more immediately interested in the success of the expedition, in considerable anxiety. The splash of oars was heard, and but a single boat glided out of the darkness.
"In Heaven's name, where are the rest?" was the question asked by many voices at once.
"Mr Tompion sent me back, sir, with Mr Linton, who is badly hurt, while he and Mr Duff stopped to chase a pirate craft which had been dodging us," replied Jennings, to Saltwell's questions, giving afterwards a brief account of the failure of their expedition.
"Poor Linton wounded, and by such villains," muttered Saltwell, as his brother-officer was lifted carefully on deck. "How does he seem, Viall?" he inquired of the surgeon, who hurried forward when he heard what had occurred.
"We shall see better when we get him below," returned the surgeon. "He is alive, and that is all I can say."
The wounded officer was carried to his berth, where the surgeon and his assistants assembled to examine his hurts.
"This is a bad business, indeed, for the captain," said Saltwell to Colonel Gauntlett, as they resumed their walk on the poop, while the ship remained hove to, waiting for the arrival of the other boats; "I fear the pirate will murder him, and those with him, when he finds out who he is."
"What, think you he will venture to murder a British officer, when he knows that his strong-hold is discovered, and that his death would certainly be avenged?" exclaimed the colonel. "Poor fellow! and my little niece—if the poor girl ever escapes from that infernal den—I'm afraid she will never recover it."
"I own, I fear for the worst," said Saltwell, who was weary, and out of spirits. "Zappa knows well enough that he has deserved a rope, and, from what I hear, he is the sort of character to win it thoroughly; but we must do our best to punish him. As soon as the boats come back, I intend to give Tompion a fresh crew, and to leave him in the cutter, well armed and provisioned, to watch the island, while we go in search of the Ypsilante; and, as Captain Vassilato left her under my orders, I shall send her off with a requisition to any of our cruisers she can fall in with, to assemble at an island to the southward of this; and I have not the slightest doubt, that any captain, who happens to be senior officer, when he hears of what has occurred, will take the responsibility of ordering a grand attack on the island. If not, we will, by Heaven, try what our own brave fellows and the crew of the Ypsilante can do to rescue their captain, or avenge their deaths."
"Bravo, Mr Saltwell, I am rejoiced to hear you say this," exclaimed the colonel, warmly grasping the lieutenant's hand. "And I and Mitchell will act as volunteers with the marines. I wish we had done this at first. A strong hand and a firm heart, are the best things to trust to. I never liked the plan poor Fleetwood has pursued, from the first. Your plots and your disguises seldom succeed; and they are not fit for Englishmen to engage in—they are contrary to the genius of our country, thank Heaven; but that Greek friend of his over-persuaded him, and, I am afraid, has led him to his destruction."
"I wish that I could say, sir, that I thought all had gone well," returned Saltwell. "However, we must now do our best to mend matters. Well, doctor, what report can you make of poor Linton?" he asked of the surgeon, who just then appeared on deck.
"I have extracted the ball, and he has recovered his senses," answered the surgeon. "He is in very great danger; but I can give no decided opinion as yet. He has expressed a wish to see you, and has begged me to call you."
"Poor, poor fellow, I'll go below instantly," cried Saltwell, hurrying down, and auguring the worst from the doctor's tone.
He found Linton stretched out in his narrow berth, lighted by the sickly glare of a small lamp fastened against the bulkhead.
The clothes had been thrown over the lower part of his body; but his shoulder was bare, the pallid hue of his skin contrasting with the dark, red stains on the linen of the shirt, which had been cut off, and still lay beneath it. The arm, on the side where the ball had entered the neck, lay immovable by his side, looking shrunk and withered, except a slight twitching of the fingers, which showed the agony he was enduring.
O'Farrell, the assistant surgeon, sat at the head of the bed, applying a cooling lotion round the part which had been bound up, to prevent inflammation, if possible, from setting in, administering now and then some restorative to revive him from the exhaustion consequent to his great loss of blood.
As soon as Saltwell entered, his eyes turned towards him, and his lips moved; but his brother-officer heard no sound, till he put his ear close to his mouth.
"Saltwell," he whispered, "don't let them blame me wrongfully for being beaten off by those rascally pirates; I did my best, as you know I would. Our poor captain—I grieve for him more. Don't let a stain remain on our names. And, Saltwell, if I die, as I think I shall, when you get home, see my poor Julia—bear her my deepest love, and tell her I thought of her to the last."
"I'll do all you wish, my dear fellow," answered Saltwell, deeply affected. "But we must not let you slip through the doctor's fingers; cheer up, for the sake of all your friends. And now try and get some rest—it will do you more good than any thing I can say, or the doctor can give you."
"I fear not, Saltwell, I fear not," said Linton. "But I won't keep you, for you'll be wanted on deck, as the boats will soon be coming back, and I trust to you to remember to fulfil my wishes."
Saltwell saw that his presence did more harm than good to his wounded friend, as it induced him to talk; so, bidding him try to sleep, he left the cabin. As he reached the deck, he saw that the first faint indications of the coming dawn had appeared in the eastern horizon—not streaks of light exactly, but a less dense gloom, which could best be distinguished by contrasting it with the darkness of the opposite horizon, and, at that instant, the flash of a gun was seen in the same quarter, and the sound came booming over the water towards them.
"Ah! there comes the cutter," he exclaimed; "Tompion is firing his brass gun to draw our attention. Don't fire again, Mr Black, it is not necessary, and will disturb Mr Linton, but burn a blue light—it will prevent their going out of their course, for it will be some time before they will otherwise be able to distinguish us."
The gunner had the blue light already, expecting to be called on to use it, and the next instant a lurid glare illumined the whole ship; the sails, the spars, and the countenances of the people, all assumed a sepulchral hue, which gave her the appearance of some phantom bark, such as has appeared to the excited imagination of many a seaman in his wandering through those distant and torrid climes, whose pestilential vapours, rising from the overteeming earth, fever his blood and cut short his span of life.
It had scarcely done burning before another gun was fired; but whether as a signal, or for any other reason, it was, at first, impossible to say, till several others followed in rapid succession.
"It must be a summons to us," observed the first lieutenant to the master. "Fill the fore-topsail, and let fall the fore-sail—we will, at all events, stand on as close as we can to them."
The breeze, which sent the Ione along, was very light, so that some time elapsed before she neared the spot whence the firing had been supposed to proceed. Saltwell was on the point of ordering another blue light to be burned, when a loud hail was heard, and, directly afterwards, the boats were seen approaching as fast as the weary crews could send them through the water.
"Has Mr Linton got back alive?" were the first words heard spoken by Tompion.
"Yes—yes, all right," was the answer.
"Thank Heaven for that!" he exclaimed; and, as soon as the cutter ran alongside, he jumped on deck and went aft to report himself as come on board.
"I hope you do not think that I have done wrong, sir," he said, when he had finished his account of what had occurred. "I fully thought we should capture the mistico, and I could not tell but what some of our friends had been taken on board her."
"No, Mr Tompion, I have no reason to find fault with your behaviour. As far as I can judge, you showed judgment and gallantry, which, in an officer, it is all important should always be combined. And, at all events, you have got clear out of the scrape, though you certainly ran a great risk of being captured."
"Well, sir, I am very glad you approve of what I have done," answered Tompion. "And now, sir, if you will allow me to make a suggestion, I would keep off the island till daylight; for, not long ago, as we were pulling here, both Duff and I fancied we heard some firing off the mouth of the harbour, but we could not tell for certain, we've had such a din of popping in our ears all night; however, I cannot help thinking some of the party have made another attempt to escape."
"I am afraid that there is very little chance of that," said Saltwell. "If that villain, Zappa, does not murder them, it is more than I expect. However, we'll stand on towards the island till daybreak, as you suggest; and now, Mr Tompion, I should think you require both rest and food, so go down below and take them. Tell Mason to give you and Mr Duff whatever he has got in the gun-room—you'll get it quicker there than in your own berth."
Midshipmen are proverbially hungry, and I need not say that our two young friends did ample justice to a cold round of beef, which the gun-room steward placed before them.
Saltwell had scarcely turned in when he was again roused up by Togle, the midshipman of the watch, who came to tell him that a suspicious sail was seen to the eastward. He immediately came on deck; and just in the centre of the red glow on the sky, which precedes the rising of the bright luminary of day, there appeared the tapering sails of a lateen-rigged craft, looking like the dark fin of a huge shark, just floating on the lead-coloured waters.
"She's standing this way too, by Jove!" he exclaimed. "And give me a glass. I thought so; she's in chase of a small boat under sail, just a-head of her Mr Togle, go aloft with a glass, and see what you can make out. I can distinguish little more than the upper leech of the sail; and were it not so calm, even that could not be seen."
Togle hailed from aloft, to say that there was certainly a boat a-head of the stranger.
"I think that I can even make out that she has people in her, as she is much nearer us than the mistico, which keeps firing at her every now and then."
"You are right," said the lieutenant, as the midshipman came on deck. "She is little more than half way between us. All hands make sail! We must do our best to overhaul her first; for, though I have slight hopes on the subject, she may have some of our friends in her, trying to escape."
Every stitch of canvas the brig could carry on a wind was now set; but the mistico stood boldly on, and it became a matter of great doubt whether or not she would have time to get hold of her prey, and escape back to port before the Ione could come up with her.
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.
The triumph of Zappa at recovering Miss Garden was great, in proportion to his anger against those whom he suspected to have assisted at her escape; but once having got her again in his power, and safe inside his well-fortified harbour, he felt as a cat does towards the unfortunate mouse it has caught and killed—that he might leave and return to her when he pleased, without a chance of her again running away: he therefore hurried off to the fort, at the summit of the cliffs, to superintend the destruction of the English flotilla, which he believed had been sent against him; for he could not have supposed that so small a force as was really there would have thus boldly followed him to the very mouth of his den.
On his arrival at the fort, he found old Vlacco busily engaged in pointing the guns to bear down on the British boats; and on his sounding his well-known bugle, a large number of his followers collected with their fire-arms, to assist in the defence of the post. While they all were occupied in firing at the enemy, Vlacco sent into the tower to bring a supply of powder for the guns, from some casks, which, with the usual carelessness of the Greeks, had been left there without the slightest precaution against accident. A cask was broached, and much of the powder scattered about. After the boats had disappeared, the pirates were retiring from the fort, when Tompion's gallant attack on the mistico called them back, and it was at this time that a spark from the lantern of a man, sent for a further supply of powder, fell among the scattered grains, and produced the conflagration I have before spoken of. As the flames burst forth, and burnt with terrific energy, Zappa flew towards the building, in vain endeavouring to find means of entrance. Wherever he attempted it at the door or window, the fire drove him back. In vain he called on the name of Nina. She neither answered nor did she appear at either of the casements. His usual calm demeanour had completely deserted him, and he seemed like a madman as he rushed round the building, urging his followers to bring ladders to enable him to mount to the story, where he expected to find her. Two were at last found, but they were far too short to be of use, and he was soon warned to retire to a distance by the explosion of another cask of powder, which shook the old walls to their foundation, and he had scarcely got to a secure position, when the remainder igniting, the whole edifice came tumbling down at once, and lay a heap of smoking ruins on the ground. Some of the burning embers had fallen on the roof of the adjoining building, and that now blazed up, and being very dry and rotten, burnt with equal fury, so that in a very short time it was reduced to a heap of ashes: the old walls of the castle, against which it was built, alone standing. It was thus that all traces of the means by which the prisoners had made their escape were obliterated. The islanders could do nothing to stop the progress of the flames, for the only water procurable was from a deep well, whence only a small quantity could be drawn up at a time, and there were no means at hand to get it from the sea, over the cliffs.
The conflagration had the effect of attracting the population, far and near, to the spot—the fishermen and other inhabitants of the neighbouring village, the seamen from the vessels, and indeed everybody in the bay, came rushing up the ravine to see what was taking place.
Zappa stood at a distance, contemplating the scene of havoc. He thought of Nina in all her youth and beauty, of her fond affection, her deep devotion, of all the sacrifices she had made for him—and callous and bad as was his heart, a transient pang of bitter regret visited it, for the cruel return he had made her.
"This, then, Nina Montifalcone, is the fate I have reserved for you. An agonising death the only reward I can give you for that love which still endured after I had torn aside the bright veil with which your fervid imagination had clothed me, and showed myself to you in my real colours—that love which I verily believed would have endured after you knew that my heart had been captivated by one still younger, still more beautiful, than yourself."
As he gave vent aloud to these feelings, so strange to his bosom, which now agitated him, he suddenly stood like one transfixed, his breath came thick, his eye dilated, for there before him, with the full glare of the fire falling on her, stood the figure of Nina. Her countenance was pale as death, and she neither spoke nor approached him.
"Who are you?" he exclaimed at length, in a voice trembling with emotion; "speak, if you would not drive me to distraction. Tell me whence you come, and why you now come to seek me."
"I am Nina Montifalcone,—some time your wife, whom you oft have told you loved," she replied, in a tone of deep dejection. "What I soon shall be, the greedy worm may best tell."
Her voice recalled him to his senses, though her words seemed strange.
"Nina," he exclaimed, "you overheard my vain ravings when I thought you had fallen a victim to yon devouring flames; but think no more of them, and tell me by what miracle you escaped from the tower, before the flames burst forth—for afterwards, no power could have saved you."
"I had gone to comfort and succour the unfortunate, those whom your injustice has made prisoners in this island, and I sought you even now to plead for them," she answered boldly; the tone of meek sorrow with which she had before spoken being no longer discernible.
"You take me unawares, and would work on me at a weak moment, Nina," he replied. "But know you, girl, that the persons of whom you speak are spies, come here in disguise to work my destruction? Ah! you look surprised, incredulous! Yes, these men—these pretended Maltese—are no other than Englishmen, belonging to a ship of war lying at no great distance from this island, for the express purpose of capturing my vessel, my gallant Sea Hawk, if they can fall in with her; and I have not told you all—their leader is the captain himself, the very man to whom that fair English girl, of whom you are so foolishly jealous, is betrothed. I knew this, I say, from the first; but I pretended ignorance, for I wished to discover who were their accomplices among those I trusted. He even now lies dead or dying in the bay below, and I left the fair girl with him, that she might know I did not kill him; but I tell you, Nina, if he were to recover, he should not live to escape, and to bring destruction on me. If he dies now, it is through his own folly, and no one can accuse me of having slain him; so, except you would wish to make his blood rest on my head, do not pray for his recovery."
"Oh! you would not do so black a deed—you would not slay an innocent man because he came to regain the bride of whom you had deprived him! for I feel assured that for no other object did he visit this island; and that should he recover, were you to give her to him, and allow him and those who came with him to depart, he would promise never to molest you, or to take advantage in any way of the knowledge he has obtained by his visit to this island."
Nina spoke with firmness and energy, as she said this, for she fancied that her arguments were so good, she could not fail to gain her object.
"Ah! have you been consulting with the English signora and her lover, that you plead their cause so well?" he exclaimed, with the bitter tone in which he often spoke. "Well, I will see to it, and now come to the fair lady's palace, she will afford us lodging there, since ours is burnt down; which, Nina, it appears, troubles you but little. Know you not, girl, that I have there lost property to the value of many thousand piastres? That is alone enough to sour a man's temper, till he can replace them, which, were I to follow your wishes, it would be long enough before I could do."
"My mind was too much occupied with the object I have spoken to you about, to think of the loss, even though everything I possessed was destroyed," she replied, quietly. "But I still felt thankful that I was preserved from the dreadful fate which would have been mine had I remained in the building; and if you also feel gratitude to Heaven for this, show it by granting life and liberty to the English captain and his friends. You accuse me of being influenced by them to plead their cause; but it is not they who influence me,—it is honour, justice, right, and oh! my husband, remember that their fate may soon be yours, and that if you show not mercy to them, you can expect none in return."
"I know that, Nina, I expect none," he answered, fiercely. "Were I to fall into the power of my enemies, they would tear me limb from limb, and mock my dying agonies with their laughter, ere they showed me mercy or gave me liberty. I do, Nina, as I expect to be done by; I hope for nothing else. But why do I stand prating here? My house is burnt to the ground, and my property destroyed, so we must go and crave shelter of the Signora Ada, for you and I have many things to do before I again close my eyes in sleep."
When they arrived at the Stranger's Tower, as the Greeks had called the building inhabited by Ada, they found that she and Marianna had already arrived there, and returned to their former quarters, according to Nina's advice, as if nothing had happened to disturb them. She had, indeed, seen them safe lodged there before she sought her husband; and she now returned to them by his directions, to take some rest, which she much required, while he occupied the lower and still unfurnished chamber as a sort of council-hall, where he summoned Vlacco and some of his chief officers to consult what, under the present circumstances, it would be necessary for them to do.
As soon as old Vlacco and one or two others had arrived, he sent to have all the prisoners brought before him, that he might examine them respecting their object in venturing on his island, and their motive for leaving it. His visit to the Ione must be remembered, and that he there only learned that her captain had gone on a secret expedition, and he naturally concluded that he was accompanied by his own crew. His surprise was, therefore, very great, when Captain Vassilato, Bowse, and the Maltese, Pietro, were dragged rudely into his presence.
"What!" he muttered, as he saw the honest skipper. "Have my people again done their work so clumsily, that another vessel has floated to bear evidence against me? It must be he, and yet he looks so unconscious of having seen me before, that I must be deceived. There were five prisoners," he remarked, aloud. "Where are the other two?"
"We cannot find them, chief," was the answer. "We have looked in every direction, we have inquired of all, but no one has seen them or heard of them."
"How is this?" exclaimed Zappa. "I left one of them, whom I knew to be no other than the captain of an English ship of war, sent here to watch the Sea Hawk, wounded and dying in old Listi's boat, with the stranger lady and her attendant watching him, and as they, I hear, have already returned here, I suppose they would not have deserted him. Let them and the Lady Nina be summoned."
In two minutes the two ladies and Marianna stood before him; but he neither rose nor showed them any courtesy.
"Can you inform me, signora, where Captain Fleetwood is to be found?" he exclaimed, with vehemence, addressing Miss Garden, in Italian. "Ah, you thought I was so blind as not to recognise him; you thought I did not observe the fond affection with which you bent over him as he lay wounded in the boat; indeed, you fancied that we keep so careless a watch in this island, that any strangers may come without our discovering them; but let that hope desert you for the future, and now answer me truly, madam."
This was the first intimation that Ada had received that the disguise of Fleetwood had been seen through, and horror at what the consequences might be almost made her sink fainting on the ground; but by a strenuous effort, she recovered sufficiently to answer with apparent calmness—
"The person, whom you state to be Captain Fleetwood, was removed from the boat to the hut of a fisherman on the beach, as he was in no condition to be carried up here."
"By whom—by whom was he removed?" asked the pirate, impatiently. "You could not have carried him."
"By a man habited as a Maltese, and by your own surgeon, whom I had summoned to attend on him," replied Ada, firmly.
"Why, that must be Salamonsi's cottage," remarked Zappa, turning to Vlacco. "Send down forthwith, and let the boy and Signor Paolo be brought up here; and mark you, if the English captain has recovered the use of his tongue, let him be conveyed here also—he shall answer for himself." He said this in Romaic, so Ada did not understand the cruel order; but Nina did, and, with an imploring look, she stepped to his side, and besought him to revoke the command; but he roughly repulsed her, and, turning to the other three prisoners, he asked, in the lingua Franca, often used by him,—"By what right have you, who were hospitably entertained in this island, attempted to run off with persons whom you knew were my prisoners?"
On this the Maltese seaman, Pietro, stepped forward, and, with the volubility for which the islanders are celebrated, made the long statement which had been previously agreed on, finishing by stating that he and his two companions had been engaged by the lady to convey her on board an English ship, and that they had no reason to suppose they were injuring any one by so doing. As this was all said in Maltese, scarcely a word of which language Zappa understood, he was not a little puzzled, and was insisting on having it repeated in some more intelligible tongue, when Marianna, who was highly delighted with it, not the less so that she knew it contained scarcely a word of truth, volunteered to translate it into Italian, and immediately began with such little additions and touches of her own as she thought would increase the force and probability of the story.
"That will do," said Zappa, who was not very easily imposed upon, as she was continuing her own commentaries on what had occurred; then turning to Captain Vassilato, "What defence have you to make?"
"As you do not understand my language, and I speak but little lingua Franca, I can say no more than my shipmate," he replied between his teeth, in the language he mentioned.
"And you," said Zappa, in the same patois, turning to Bowse. "What have you to say for yourself."
Poor Bowse, who knew but little of any language except his mother-tongue, his accent undeniably betraying him whenever he did attempt to express himself, thought silence would be his best course, so shaking his head he pointed to his tongue and gave forth some inarticulate sounds, unlike any known dialect.
"You have spoken loud enough before, accursed spy," exclaimed the pirate, in Italian, starting up, and menacing him with his dagger. "So you thought I did not know you either; you thought I should not remember the man with whom I once have crossed blades, even though I fancied he was food for the fish of the sea. Fools that you were to venture into the lion's den; or, venturing in, to attempt to carry off his prey. But enough of this, your guilt is clear; you came as spies, and you shall meet their reward. Over the cliffs with the three; we will quickly send their companions after them."
He said this in Italian, and then repeated it in Romaic.
Old Vlacco, who was now in his element, and delighted at the decision of his chief—indeed, he longed to propose that Ada and Marianna should be made to bear them company—seized the unfortunate men, and was dragging them off with the aid of others of the pirates, when Nina flew to the door to bar their exit.
"No, this must not, this shall not be!" she exclaimed, in a voice hoarse and trembling with agitation, so unlike her own usual sweet tone. "Wretch, pirate, robber, murderer! You have crimes enough already on your head, without adding others of yet blacker dye, to drag me and all who witness them down to destruction with yourself. If you murder them, you murder me, for I will not live to be the wife of a wretch so accursed; and, think you that yon fair girl would yield to your wishes— would, forsooth, become your bride, even were I gone, and her brave lover also dead, and no one even on earth to protect her? I tell you, monster, no! You have seen, that meek and delicate as she appears, how much she can endure without complaining; you have yet to learn that she has an unconquerable spirit, and a reliance on the God of Heaven, which would enable her to defend herself from you. Now, do your worst! Murder me if you will. It will but be a fair return for what I have lost for you. Murder those men. Insist on your followers executing your vile commands, and, from that moment, you lose my love, valueless it may be, and you lose all hopes of gaining that of any other human creature whose love is worth the winning, and who knows of your misdeeds; and you bring down the sure and rapid vengeance of an outraged Heaven on your defenceless head."
The pirate at first heard her thus boldly speak with astonishment, and then with rage, which increased till it passed his control. His hand had been clutching his dagger; and, as she uttered these last words, almost, it is to be hoped, before he himself was aware of what he was about, he hurled it with terrific violence at her, uttering a howl like that of a tiger. The weapon flew from his hand; it wounded her delicate neck, and stuck quivering in the rough planking of the door. She neither screamed nor sank to the ground, but stood, as before, unmoved as a marble statue, though her cheek blanched to a yet more pallid hue than before, while the red stream issued from the wound, and ran down her bosom. Ada sprang forward to support her, but she waved her off.
"Stay," she said, "I must yet speak again. That unmanly blow has done more than pierce the frail body, it has cut asunder ties which I thought would have endured till life became extinct; it has unriveted links which I believed would have survived, in strength and beauty, the decay even of the cold grave; but I have been taught this night to abhor the false idol I once worshipped so devotedly; and now I shall welcome death, come when it may, as my only release from misery. Ah! that wound would have been less unkind had it ended at once the bitter mockery of life!"
Even the callous pirate, as he saw the blood flowing from the pure neck which had been so often bent in fondness over him, felt a pang of regret, and a dread of the consequences, not unmixed with admiration of a spirit so determined as she exhibited.
"Pardon me, Nina!" he exclaimed, springing towards her. "I knew not what I was about. I would not injure you, girl, for worlds! Say you forgive me—say you are not hurt, and I will do all you desire with regard to these men."
"The wound is but a scratch, as you may see," she answered, calmly, keeping him off with her hands, and still standing before the door. "That will quickly heal. My forgiveness can be but of little value to you, but you have it, and my petition is, that you do not injure these men."
"You have preserved their lives for this night, at all events; but I cannot let them go free to betray me and my followers to our enemies," he answered. "Vlacco, there are, I think, some chambers beneath this tower, and formerly used as dungeons, which may again serve the purpose when cleared out of rubbish. They will not be able easily to escape from thence; and, meantime, place a strong guard upon them in the basement story, and see that they hold communication with no one."
The old pirate, with an angry look, showed the disappointment he felt at not being allowed to dispense summary justice to the prisoners, signified to his chief that his orders should be strictly obeyed; and, just as matters had been brought into this state, the messenger, who had been sent to bring up the prisoners and Signor Paolo, returned with the announcement that none of them were to be found. The old fisherman accompanied them, with great dismay in his looks, asserting that he had nothing at all to do with the matter. He had but one instant returned to his cottage, after having assisted in the endeavours to extinguish the fire; he found the door open, and some one had apparently been placed on the mats, which served as his bed, for there was some blood on them, and some pieces of linen and lint lying about, and that was all he knew. He had not spoken to, nor seen Signor Paolo that night. Zappa's anger was very great at hearing this, and he was very nearly revoking the reprieve he had granted to the other prisoners. He believed that treachery had been practised, though, except Paolo and Nina, he knew not whom to suspect; and, while she denied all knowledge of the event, her brother was nowhere to be found; so, weary as he was, he set off with Vlacco and his officers to investigate the matter at the bay.
CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.
Left at liberty, Nina and Ada returned to the upper chamber of the tower, where the latter entreated the unhappy Italian girl to allow her to dress the wound in her shoulder, which was far deeper and more serious than she had acknowledged to Zappa; but she refused all assistance.
"No," she said; "no hand but mine shall tend the wound which he has given; and it matters but little, for I feel that the clouds of my destiny are gathering over me, and that very soon the storm will burst to overwhelm me."
But her will was more powerful than her frame, and as she spoke she sank down on the divan, and would have fallen to the ground, had not Ada and Marianna ran to support her. Overcome with agitation and loss of blood, she had fainted, and taking advantage of the opportunity, they placed her on a couch, and while they applied restoratives, they bathed the wound, and tried to staunch the blood. She gave signs at length of life; but hers was no ordinary faint, and for hours did she continue in that state, wavering on the verge of death. As Ada herself, fevered and weary, sat by the side of her friend, she felt almost equally overcome with alarm and anxiety for the fate of her lover. What could have become of him? Had Paolo proved treacherous, and, afraid of his recovery, spirited him away, and cast him over the cliffs? or was she wronging the young Italian, and had he not, mistrusting the mercy of the pirate chief, concealed him in some secret place till his anger had worn off? This she owned to herself was the most probable cause; but love, even on ordinary occasions, is full of doubt and fears, much more so then had she reason for dread under the circumstances in which he was placed. While she believed Zappa was ignorant of who he was, she trusted he was in no other danger than that resulting from his wound; but now that he was discovered, after the dreadful exhibition she had witnessed of the pirate's temper, she trembled at what might be his fate. Why had she quitted him? she thought. Why had she not boldly avowed who he was, and her love for him, and dared the pirate to injure him? She had seen the successful effects Nina had produced by such behaviour on the daring outlaw—why had she not acted in the same manner? She bitterly accused herself of having deserted him, of having trusted him to strangers, and, more than all, of being the cause of his death. This thought gave her the most poignant grief, and she prayed that if Heaven had ordained that he must thus die, she might be spared the misery of knowing it. Daylight surprised her still sitting by the couch whereon lay the yet more unhappy Nina.
"And yet, compared to that poor girl's fate, mine is blessed indeed," she thought, as she, watched those pallid features, on which an expression of acute pain still rested. "She staked all for love, and has found the idol she madly worshipped turned into a demon, who she feels will destroy her. She, too, has an accusing conscience to keep happiness at a distance. She remembers that she burst asunder the bonds of duty, that she caused the death of a fond parent; while I, through Heaven's mercy, have never been subject to the temptation to create for myself a retrospect so dreadful."
It would be well, indeed, if all in a position likely to read these pages would remember, as did Ada Garden, when they are subjected to misfortune or suffering, that there are thousands around them in a far, far worse condition, deprived of all that can make life of value, without hope in this world or the next, and men they would never dare to arraign the dispensation of Providence, by which they receive the infliction from which they suffer, and would feel that even thus they are blessed above their fellows. Poor Ada saw that Marianna still slept, and, fearful lest Nina should require assistance, she was herself afraid of retiring to rest, though weariness made her head fall frequently on her bosom. At length she was aroused by a gentle knock at the door, and little Mila entered the room. She was evidently full of something which she wished to communicate, and told a long story, not a word of which Ada could understand. So eager had she been, that she did not perceive the condition to which Nina was reduced, believing that she was still asleep from simple fatigue, but her eye falling on her, she burst into loud lamentations of grief, which very nearly awoke her from the lethargy into which she had fallen. It was the means, however, of awaking Marianna, by whose aid she was able to make the little girl comprehend the importance of seeking out Paolo, and bringing him to attend on his sister. She was absent nearly two hours, but at length returned, accompanied by the Italian. Eager as Ada was to gain tidings of Fleetwood, she forbore to ask him any questions till he had recovered from the state of agitation into which he was thrown by seeing the condition of his unhappy sister.
"You need not tell me who has done this deed," he muttered, in a hoarse voice, as he bent over her. "I knew it would come to this—I knew, when weary of her, he would cast her aside as a child its broken toy, or would thus destroy her in his mad passion. Yet it would have been kinder had he struck deeper, and thus ended her misery with a blow. I have remained near her—I have watched over her, ill-treated and despised as I have been,—that, when this should be her fate, though I could not shield her from it, I might yet avenge her death. Yes, my sweet Nina, indifferent as you may deem me, I love you deeply."
"But, Signor Paolo," said Ada, not knowing how long he might continue in this strain, "your sister is still alive, and I trust that by the aid of your skill, her wound may neither be mortal nor of much consequence."
"Not mortal, lady," he said, bitterly; "and yet, I tell you, it would have killed her had it but scratched the skin. It is the spirit with which that dagger was cast will destroy her far quicker than the wound."
Ada now entreated him to examine into his sister's condition; and at length, grown more calm, he set skilfully about his office, and he confessed that, if fever did not set in, the wound was of slight importance.
When he was at liberty, Ada at last asked him to give her tidings of Fleetwood; but he denied all knowledge of him, saying, that he had left him, with Raby watching him, at the fisherman's hut, and that on his return, both were gone, and that he could nowhere discover them.
Mila, now having an interpreter, came forward with her version of the story. She said she had heard that their chief had, on quitting the tower, come down to the bay in a state of passion, in which he had never before been seen, at the non-appearance of the two other prisoners, whom he vowed he would execute the moment they were discovered; that he had caused diligent search to be made for them in every direction, with the same want of success, till, at last a small boat belonging to the Zoe was found to be missing, in which it was, consequently, supposed they had escaped.
"Thank Heaven!" ejaculated Ada, with a gleam of joy on her countenance, which showed how much her heart was relieved. "Oh, Signor Paolo, you know not how grateful I am to you for your generous assistance in the matter."
"Do not thank me, lady, nor believe that I knew of, or had any hand in the escape of your countrymen, if indeed they have escaped, of which I would entreat you not to be too sanguine," he replied; but, seeing the reaction his words were producing, he added, "and yet, remember, I have no reason to suppose that they are not in a place of safety. More I cannot say—and I beseech you not to ask me."
"But I have not told you all," interrupted little Mila, who guessed that he was no longer translating what she had said. "The moment the chief found that the boat was gone, he ordered as many men as she can carry to go on board the Zoe, and he himself accompanied them. She immediately set sail in pursuit, and they say that there is no doubt of the little boat being overtaken; and that even were he to meet the larger boats which made the attack on the island, the mistico will, without doubt, sink them all, and destroy everybody in them."
Paolo translated to Ada what Mila said, and the account again renewed her fears for Fleetwood's safety, though still she did not allow hope to abandon her.
It may seem that the Italian would have acted a more judicious part, had he not given the latter information; but he was unhappily himself influenced by two motives; the one right, and good, and generous—the spontaneous result of his better nature; the other arising from his yielding to temptation, which was selfish, mad, and wicked. The first prompted him to run every personal risk to save his rival from the pirate's anger; the other made him wish for his death, and eager to deprive him of the love of the fair English girl, whom, he still fancied he might save from Zappa's power, and win her for himself.
For the present, Paolo had a holy and absorbing employment for his mind, in tending his unhappy sister, who, under his judicious care, recovered, sooner than Ada had expected, from the effect of her wound, though she saw, too truly, that her words were verified, and that the weapon had struck deeper than the eye could reach.
Ada was now confined completely to the upper room of the tower, both because she would not quit her friend, and that she might avoid any risk of encountering Zappa, who had taken up his abode in the lower part of it. Paolo was her only means of knowing what was going forward in the world without, and she felt an unwillingness to hold more communication with him than was absolutely necessary; indeed, nothing he said could dispel her fears.
The Zoe, it appeared, had been out all day; but an ominous silence had been kept as to the result of her expedition. Some said she had overtaken the boat, and brought back the prisoners; others, that the pirate had, in his rage, ordered the guns to be pointed down on her, and sunk her, with them on board; while, again, some asserted that the prisoners had not escaped from the island at all, and that they were concealed somewhere in it.
This conflicting evidence was little calculated to alleviate her anxiety; but her heart was fresh and young—her health and spirits were unbroken, and the air which was wafted through her casement was bright and pure, and she still hoped on for the best. Meantime the pirates were not idle; and she observed from her window, that they were engaged all day long in strengthening and improving the fortification of the castle, as well as those on the other side of the harbour. They threw up embankments, also, across the neck of land which joined the rock on which the castle stood, to the right of the island, and planted guns to defend the approach to it, as also a whole line along the cliff, which overlooked the entrance to the harbour.
Provisions of all sorts were got in from every part of the island, and huts were erected, in which to store them; for the men, themselves accustomed from their youth to the roughest life, cared not for shelter, so that there was little chance of their being compelled, by famine, to yield.
Nothing, indeed, was neglected, which might enable them to defend their stronghold against any force sent against it.
The Sea Hawk was also carefully refitted, and the two misticoes made ready for defence or flight.
The Zoe was again sent out to reconnoitre. She had been absent for two days, and the pirate began to be alarmed for her safety, and to argue that the enemy were probably approaching, and that she had fallen into her hands. All was, consequently, activity and excitement. The crew of the Sea Hawk went on board to man her, and those of the islanders destined to garrison the castle hurried up there with their arms ready for action. At length, a sail was discerned approaching the island, and she was soon pronounced to be the Zoe. Nearer and nearer she drew to the land, till there was no doubt of her identity, and as she entered the harbour, she was warmly greeted by those on shore, who hurried down to learn the news she brought. Her crew reported that they had visited the island when the English brig-of-war had last been seen, but she was not there, nor could they gain any tidings of her; but that they had, on the following day, when standing to the southward, made out three sails, which, from the squareness of their yards, they conjectured to be men-of-war, and that they were standing on a bowline to the eastward, with the wind at north, but that they deemed it imprudent to approach nearer to ascertain further particulars.
This information prevented Zappa from taking a cruise in the Sea Hawk, as he had been intending, both to gain further intelligence of the enemy, and to pick up a few prizes to satisfy the impatience of his people, who began to murmur at the length of time which had passed since they had been engaged in what they considered useful activity, as well as to replace the property he had lost by the burning of his tower.
Ada had not neglected to inquire for the prisoners who had so severely suffered in her cause, and, though not allowed to communicate with them, she learned from Paolo that they were not treated with any unusual severity, farther than being confined in a chamber under ground, where very little light or air could penetrate, and that he believed their lives were in no danger.
Nina never spoke of the dreadful night when she had first felt the fierceness of her husband's anger; but her sunken eye, her hollow voice, and faded cheek, showed what the effect had been, though, when she met him, she tried to smile as of yore, and to attempt to win him to his better mood.
His followers, however, remarked that an ominous change had come over him, and that his mind at times seemed wavering on its throne.
The unhappy Paolo still nourished in silence his love for Ada, and day by day he allowed it to increase, till he could scarcely conceal his feelings in her presence.
It was night, and he stood where he had spent many an hour, on the cliff beneath her window. No moon was in the sky, and the stars were concealed by a canopy of clouds which hung over the sea, and the wind moaned amid the rocks and ruined buildings with a melancholy tone well consonant to his feelings.
Suddenly the perfect silence which had existed was broken by loud, terrific cries; the roar of cannon—the rattle of musketry—the cheers, and shrieks, and fierce imprecations of men striving in deadly combat; where had lately reigned silence and darkness, all was now the wildest confusion and uproar, and lighted up with the blaze of the death-dealing musketry.
The pirate rushed by, and entered Ada's tower, giving orders to his followers, the meaning of which no sooner did Paolo understand, than exclaiming, "Now is the time, or she is lost to me for ever," he hurried after him.
CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.
We left the Ione, at the dawn of a fine morning, beating up towards a small boat, which had been observed running to the westward, while a mistico was seen off the island, directly before the wind, apparently in chase of her. The boat, it was judged, was about half way between the two vessels; but then the Ione was nearly dead to leeward, while the mistico was directly to windward, though it was a question how far she would venture to chase the boat, or whether she would attempt to carry her off within range of the brig's guns.