"'Poor Spider, I'm afraid he'll have an uncomfortable time of it, left all alone in the dark below, and not knowing what can have happened to the vessel,' said Mr Rogers, as if he thought the monkey more to be pitied than himself or us.
"The poor brute had been made fast below, to keep him out of mischief, when they went on shore, and had remained there since. I had an idea that he was very likely drowned if he was over on the lee side, but I didn't say so for fear of grieving his young masters. Thinks I to myself, if we are hard up for grub, whether dead or alive, he'll serve us for a meal or two at all events.
"Having no longer the steering of the craft to attend to, as evening drew on I began to feel very drowsy, and it made me fear that the youngsters, who would be getting sleepy, likewise, to a certainty might drop off into the water and be drowned, or be grabbed by a shark. The thought had no sooner come into my head than I saw one of the brutes swimming by and casting his two wicked eyes up at us. I roused myself up in a moment, and getting hold of some lashings, pointed him out to the young gentlemen. When I told them what I feared, they did not object to my making them all fast to the chains with their legs along the shrouds. I afterwards secured myself close to them on the bulwarks. I hadn't been there many minutes before I went off into a sort of sleep, though it wasn't exactly sleep, because I knew where I was, and never forgot what had happened. I could hear, too, the voices of my young companions, trying by talking to keep each other awake, though it was a hard job for them, poor lads. The seas, do ye see, had been washing over us all the time, and even now, though they broke less heavily than before, pretty often nearly smothered us, but even they could not make me keep my eyes open. Darkness soon came down upon the ocean, but it was growing calmer and calmer, and I could feel that the vessel was no longer tossed and tumbled about, while the voices of the midshipmen ceased to sound in my ears. I tried to rouse myself up. That was, however, more than I could do, and at last I dropped off into a real sound sleep. When I awoke the vessel lay as quietly as in a mill-pond, and not a sound was to be heard except the soft lap of the water against the hull. I couldn't even hear the breathing of the midshipmen, and for a moment the dreadful thought came to me that they were dead, or had got loose somehow or other, and had slipped into the sea. I lifted myself up so that I could reach the shrouds. There they were safe enough, and all as fast asleep as they could have been in their hammocks. I wouldn't awake them, as I thought the sleep would do them good. I myself had no wish to go to sleep again, so I sat up watching the bright stars shining out of the clear sky, and thinking whether it would be possible to get the vessel righted; and if not, what chance there was if we could form a raft of reaching one of the islands, or falling in with a passing vessel. To my mind a man's a coward who cries die while there's life in him, and I determined, with the help of Him who I knew right well looks after poor Jack, to do my best to save myself and the young midshipmen. These things gave me enough to think about for the rest of that long night. At last the light of day came back, the stars grew dim, and presently the sun, like a huge ball of fire, with a blaze of red all around him over the sky, rose out of the glass-like sea. I knew that it was going to be blazing hot, and that we should feel it terribly. The midshipmen awaking, were much surprised to find that it was light again already, and couldn't believe that they had slept through the night. Having cast off their lashings they began to move about to stretch their cramped limbs, not that there was much space for that.
"'Now, messmates,' said Mr Rogers, 'there's one thing we ought to do before we think of anything else, and that is, to thank God for having preserved us through the night, and to pray to Him to protect us, and to take us ashore in safety. Needham, you'll join us, I know.'
"'Of course, I will, sir,' says I, and well pleased I was to hear the youngster speak in that way without any shamefacedness. It was just what I'd been thinking, for if a man dare not ask God to help him, he must be in a bad way indeed.
"Without another word we all knelt on the side of the vessel, and a right good honest prayer did Mr Rogers offer up. No parson or bishop either could have prayed a better, though he might have put more words into it. The young gentleman, do ye see, knew exactly what we all wanted, and that's just what he asked God to give us, and no more.
"'And now, Needham, what do you consider is the first thing we ought to do?' said Mr Rogers, as soon as he had finished.
"'Let us try and get some water,' sang out Mr Desmond. 'I'm terribly thirsty, I could drink a bucketful if I had it.
"'So could I, for my thrapple is as dry as a dustbin,' added Mr Gordon.
"'As to that, I am not better than either of you,' says Mr Rogers, 'but I thought that I'd try to hold out as long as I could.'
"'Well,' says I, 'I'll make my way below and see what I can bring up. Water will be better than wine or spirits, and if I can find any you shall have it.'
"'No, no, Needham, you stay where you are,' says Mr Rogers. 'Just pass a rope aft and I'll make it fast round my waist till I can get the hatch off. The water is pretty well up to the coamings already, and my weight won't make the difference which yours might.'
"He seemed to think that there was more danger than I did—that the weight of a single man might capsize the craft altogether. I believed that if we had all gone below together it wouldn't have mattered. However, I did as he ordered me. It was a sliding-hatch, you remember, and he soon got it off far enough to let himself down into the cabin. We all sat watching for him to come back again. At last I heard his voice singing out to me to hoist away. Looking down I saw him seated on the companion hatch with Master Spider, the monkey clinging to his neck while he was making fast the end of the rope to a basket full of all sorts of things which he had collected below. I hauled it up, and he followed with Spider.
"'Water! water!' cried the others.
"'I couldn't find a drop,' he answered, 'but I've brought some oranges and a bottle of wine. It's the last in the locker, so we must take care how we use it.' There was just one orange apiece, and for my part I'd have given a five-pound note for mine rather than go without it. As to the wine we couldn't touch it, though we were glad of some before long. The only solid food we had was biscuit, for the fish and venison had gone bad, and we were not sharp set enough to eat it; but then we had, besides the oranges, several sorts of fruit; their outlandish names I never can remember. Though they didn't put much strength into us they were what we wanted, seeing that we had no water to moisten our throats. Still, while they and the biscuits lasted, and the monkey Spider to fall back on, I wasn't afraid of starving, though I didn't say anything to the young gentlemen about him, as I knew they wouldn't like the thoughts of feeding on their pet. When we had finished our breakfasts we began to talk of what we had best do. We had the choice of three things, to try and right the drogher, to make a raft out of her spars and upper works, or to sit quietly where we were till some vessel should come by and take us off. At last I got leave from Mr Rogers to go below, and judge what chance there was of righting the craft. I soon saw that without buckets we should never be able to bale her out. There wasn't one to be found, nor would the pump work, while, as I had guessed, the ballast had shifted over to the port side, so till we could free her of water we couldn't reach that; besides, it would have been a difficult matter to get it back to its place. As I was groping about in the hold I came upon two water-casks. Here is a prize I thought, but the bungs were out, and the only water in them was salt. At last I went back with my report.
"'Then we must set to and build a raft,' said Mr Rogers, nothing daunted.
"'How are we to cut away the spars and bulwarks without axes?' asked Mr Gordon. 'It would be a hard job to do it with our knives and hands.'
"'You are right, my boy, and faith, the only thing we can do that I can see is to sit quiet, and wait till Providence sends us help,' says Mr Desmond, quite calmly. 'We should be thankful that the old tub keeps above water.
"We were all agreed as to this. When I came to think of it, I saw that without a single axe or tool of any sort there was no hope of making a raft fit to carry tins, though it had seemed possible to me in the night-time, when I was half asleep. The midshipman was right, all we could do was to sit quiet, and look out for a sail. I made another trip below, and got up some more biscuit and fruit and three pots of preserves, which were very welcome, and some nuts for Spider. These we put into the basket, which was secured to the rigging. I then shut to the companion hatch, and sat down on the bulwarks. The sun soon dried out clothes, but we shouldn't have minded having them wet to have escaped the heat. As the sun rose in the sky it grew hotter and hotter, but not a word of complaint did the young gentlemen utter. All day long they sat talking to each other, or amusing themselves with Spider. They kept him fast by his chain for fear of his slipping off the vessel's side. If he had done so he would have been down the throat of a shark in an instant, for the brutes had found us out, and I saw half a score at a time cruising round the wreck as if they expected a feast before long. It wasn't pleasant, and I couldn't help sometimes thinking that they would not be disappointed. I kept my eye turning round the horizon in the hopes of seeing the signs of a breeze which might bring up a vessel to our help. I looked in vain. The ocean shone like a sheet of glass—not a cat's-paw even for a moment played over its surface. We ate but little, even the fruit did not take away our thirst. It was water we wanted, and without it the rum, of which we had plenty, was of no use. It tasted like fire when we put it to our lips, so the young gentlemen would not touch it.
"The scorching day came to an end at last. The night gave us some relief, and then Mr Rogers served out half a glass of wine to each of us with our biscuit and fruit. We made ourselves fast to the rigging as we had done the night before, and the midshipmen went to sleep with Spider nestling down among them, just as if they had been accustomed to it all their lives. Before I could close my eyes I made certain that they were secure—I don't mean to say that they slept all the night through. I several times heard them talking, and even joking, trying to keep up each other's spirits, and then they would get drowsy and go to sleep, and then rouse up again and have another yarn. I couldn't sleep many minutes together, for I couldn't help thinking of what might befall the poor young gentlemen if the calm was to continue, for the fruit was spoiling, we had only an orange apiece for the next morning, and the wine and dry biscuit without water wouldn't keep life in them many hours, while another day's sun was striking down on their heads—I might hold out long after they were gone. This was the thing that troubled me. I couldn't lie quiet, and I was every ten minutes getting up and looking round, though I knew well enough that without wind no vessel could come near us. Towards morning I fell asleep for a longer spell. I was awoke by the sun coming into my eyes, and looking round what should I see but Master Spider sitting close to the basket of provisions, sucking away at an orange in his paws. I shouted out to the rascal, who only looked up and grinned and chattered as much as to say, 'I want my breakfast as much as you do.' My voice awoke his masters, who starting up, saw what their friend was about. The rascal had already eaten two of our precious oranges, and had just begun a third. When Mr Rogers took it from him, Master Spider seemed to think he was very hardly treated, and grinned, and chattered, and tried to get hold of it again.
"'There's no use punishing the poor brute,' said the young gentleman; 'he only acted according to his nature, and of course he thinks that he has as much right to the fruit as we have, only he ought not to have taken more than his proper share.'
"Those two oranges, with some biscuit, served us for breakfast, and after that, except the remainder of the wine and some rum, we hadn't a drop of liquid to drink. The sea was as calm and the sun as hot as the day before, and we all soon became fearfully thirsty. Unable to bear it longer I again went below to have another search for water. I looked into every locker; I hunted through the hold, and examined every hole and corner in the forepeak, but to no purpose. I discovered, however, what made me more uneasy than ever—that the water was leaking in through the deck. It came in very slowly, but I had marked a line when I was down before, and I found since then that it had risen nearly half an inch. I couldn't hide from myself that the vessel was sinking. I said nothing about it to the young gentlemen when, having shut the hatch, I climbed back to my place. It went to my heart to hear them still joking and laughing, in spite of their hunger and thirst, when I thought that in two or three days at furthest their merry voices would be silenced by death. They didn't keep up their joking long, for as the sun got higher the heat became greater, and roasted out their spirits, as it were, poor fellows, in spite of what each one in turn did to keep them up. Spider was the only one of the party who was as merry as ever, for the heat didn't hurt him, and he kept frisking about to the end of his chain, trying, when he thought he was not watched, to get at the basket to see if there were any more oranges or any other fruit to his taste in it.
"'Well, Needham, don't you think matters will mend soon?' says Mr Rogers to me, seeing that I had been sitting silent and downcast for a long time. 'We surely shall have a breeze before the evening, and some craft or other coming to look for us.' For the life of me I couldn't say 'yes.' I shook my head—I was beginning to lose all hope. At noon Mr Rogers served out half a glass of wine to each of us and some biscuit. This put a little more life into me, and I again took to thinking whether we could form a raft with the bulkheads and lining of the cabin, which we might tear away by main strength, and the two empty water-casks, and the hatches, and the gaff and boom. The job would be to lash them together; for though we might stand on the bulwarks which were under water, there would be no small danger of being carried off by the sharks swarming round us. At all events, if the craft was to sink, as I made no doubt she would, we should have a struggle for life, instead of going down with her and being eaten up by the sharks. It cost me a good deal to say it, but at last I told the young gentlemen that I was sure the vessel wouldn't float much longer, and what I proposed doing.
"'Don't let us lose any time about doing it, then,' says Mr Rogers, jumping up as brisk as possible; 'we'll get the two casks from below, and lash the stoutest pieces of board we can tear from the bulkheads on the top of them. This will make a small raft, and I will go out on it and cut away the gaff and get out the topmast.'
"While he was speaking I saw him turn his eye to the eastward.
"'See! see there comes the breeze; and look—yes, I am sure of it—a sail! a sail!'
"He was right. Just rising above the dark blue line which marked the coming breeze were the royals of a vessel, standing directly towards us; her topgallant-sails quickly appeared, and in a short time we could see half-way down her topsails. We were so eagerly watching her that we forgot all about the raft we had intended putting together. The young gentlemen made no doubt that the stranger would pass close to us, but I had my fears that, low down as we were, we might not be seen. This made me sorry that we had not built the small raft, that one of us might paddle off to the stranger should she seem as if about to pass at any moderate distance from us. As there was still time I made my way below to bring up the casks. As I was feeling for them in the hold my legs struck against a pretty long spar. I hauled it out and handed it up to the midshipmen. 'This will serve as a signal-staff,' I said; 'it will give us a good chance of being seen by the stranger, and I'll try to find a flag.' The drogher's ensign was in an after-locker. We soon made it fast to the spar, which we then set up. By this time we could see that the stranger was a brig, and unless she altered her course that she would not pass very far from us. On she quickly came; cat's-paws were already playing over the smooth water; presently the breeze itself struck our cheeks. How cool and pleasant it felt; hunger and thirst were forgotten. The midshipmen tried to shout—their hollow voices showed how much they had suffered. I wasn't quite so happy as they were, for it seemed to me that the brig would pass not much short of a mile from us, and that we might not after all be seen. I couldn't help saying so.
"'Sooner than that I'll swim off to her,' says Mr Rogers.
"'You forget the sharks, sir,' I answered.
"Just then the brig, altering her course, stood directly for us. We were seen; of that there could be no doubt. We all stood up, and waved and shouted at the top of our voices; even Spider, who sprang up on the shoulders of Mr Rogers, seemed to understand that there was something in the wind, and chattered and grinned with delight.
"The brig was a large, rakish craft, with a black hull, and as I looked at her I had some doubts about her character. It struck me, indeed, that she was the same wicked-looking vessel I had seen come into English Harbour the day we sailed in the drogher. However, we couldn't be worse off aboard her than we were, and I couldn't suppose that any human beings would leave us to perish. Before long she let fly her topgallant-sails and royals, clewed up her topsails and courses, and a boat was lowered, which pulled towards us.
"'We must not leave our change of clothes behind us,' says Mr Gordon. 'My carpet-bag is in the starboard berth.'
"'I'll get the bags for you, young gentlemen,' says I, for I did not like to trust any of them below again, for fear of accidents. I jumped down as I said this, and by the time, after groping about for them, I had got hold of the three bags, the boat was alongside.
"'Jump in, my lads,' sung out the mate in charge of her; 'we have no time to stop.'
"The young gentlemen and Master Spider had scrambled down into her. 'We are not going without Needham, though,' they all sang out together, just as I got my head up the companion hatch.
"'What, is there another of you?' said the mate. 'Be smart, my man, or I must leave you behind.'
"'Thank you, sir, but I would rather go,' says I, as I made a leap into the boat, with the carpet-bags, just as the bow-man was shoving off. While we were pulling for the brig the mate asked how we came to be there. Mr Rogers told him in a few words.
"'I heard say in English Harbour that you were supposed to be lost,' he observed.
"I was then sure that the brig was the craft I had seen there. We were soon alongside. Who should we see as we stepped on deck but the old colonel and his daughter, and the little black girl Polly, who came with us from Trinidad. They seemed mightily pleased at finding that we were not drowned; especially the young lady, who told the midshipmen how anxious every one on board the frigate had been about them. Mr Rogers had to go over the whole story again.
"'It's pleasant to find that we are of some account in the world,' says Mr Desmond, in his offhand Irish way; 'but if you please, Miss O'Regan, we are as hungry as hounds, and as thirsty as hippopotami, and I'm sure you'll say a good word to get us something to eat and drink.'
"'Bless my heart,' exclaimed the colonel, 'I forgot, my boys, that you had been hanging on to the drogher's bottom for the last three days, on short allowance.'
"'Yes, sir,' says I, thinking it was as well to speak on my own account, for he didn't seem to understand that I had been with them; 'the young gentlemen and I had nothing to stow away in our insides all that time but hard tack and rotten fruit.'
"'You shall have supper, then, this moment, my lads,' says the colonel, and having shouted to the steward to put some food on the table, he invited the midshipmen to go below.
"'And I hope this poor man, who has suffered as much as they have, may come too,' says the young lady, and I blessed her sweet face as she spoke.
"'Of course,' says the colonel, 'he might fare but badly forward.'
"The skipper, a dark-looking chap, who had been walking the deck all the time, scarcely stopping to welcome us aboard, looked daggers at me, but I didn't mind him.
"'Come along, Needham, you saved our lives, and should be the first attended to,' says Mr Rogers kindly to me; I, of course, know my place, and that it isn't for the likes of me to sit down to table with my betters; but just then, if the Queen herself had asked me to take a snack with her, I'd have said, 'Yes, marm, please your ladyship, with the greatest pleasure in the world.'
"The steward soon had all sorts of good things on the table, but there was one above all others I wanted most, and that was a big jug of water; I could have put it to my mouth and drained it dry. The young gentlemen filled up their tumblers, and passed on the jug to me.
"'Stop,' says the colonel, 'you shall temper the water with claret.' But before he could finish speaking, the glasses were drained dry. We held them out again, however, and the colonel and the young lady filled them up, half-and-half, with wine and water. This brought back our appetites, and we turned to with a will, the colonel's daughter filling up our plates with a smile, to watch how we ate. When I'd had enough I got up and made my bow, and the colonel told the steward to get me a berth somewhere, as he was sure I should be glad to turn in and take a snooze. He was right, for my eyes were winking, and the young gentlemen were pretty nigh asleep in their chairs. There were two spare cabins, and they were in them, with their eyes shut, before I had made my last scrape and bow at the cuddy-door. The steward told me to turn into his cot, and it didn't take me long before I was as sound asleep as I ever was in my life. When I turned out the next morning, I found that the young gentlemen were still snoozing away. They didn't turn out till noon, and even then they kept rubbing their eyes as if they hadn't had enough sleep yet. Otherwise, they seemed in no way the worse for what they had gone through. In the meantime, the young lady had sent for me aft, and asked all sorts of questions about our cruise, which Mr Rogers hadn't told her, and spoke ever so kindly to me. I thought as she was talking that there wasn't anything in the world I wouldn't do for her. The colonel also had his say, and after telling me that he was sure I was a brave, trustworthy fellow, asked me should I like to go ashore with him, and assist him in an adventure he had in hand. I answered, that though I liked a spree on shore as well as others, that it was my duty to stick by the three young gentlemen to look after them, and to see them safe aboard the frigate again by the first opportunity. He seemed somewhat taken aback, and said nothing more.
"The dark-looking skipper, Captain Crowhurst they called him, hadn't as much as spoken to me, nor had the mate, and it's my belief that if it hadn't been for the colonel and his daughter they would have left us to perish on the wreck. There was something I didn't like in either of them, and I made sure that they were about no good. After I had spoken my mind to the colonel, he didn't seem quite as friendly as at first, though his daughter was just the same. The young gentlemen made themselves happy, as they were sure to do, with plenty of grub, and no watch to keep. The skipper, however, told me that as I couldn't be kept for nothing, I must go forward and do duty. Of course I said, 'Yes, sir; it's what I'm always ready for.' I managed to make friends with the ship's company, though they were a rough lot of blacks, browns, and whites, and while I remained aboard I worked as hard as any of them.
"We had fine weather, with light winds, and in about a fortnight we sighted this here coast. All the time we hadn't fallen in with any vessel bound for Jamaica, or indeed any English craft. Instead of steering for Carthagena, or one of the larger places, we put into a small harbour, called Sapote, some miles away from the chief town. I forgot to say that the day after we were taken off the wreck we had fallen in with a sloop, the Billy, which kept company with us, and now anchored astern of the brig. The skipper of the Billy came aboard, and from the way he and the colonel and Captain Crowhurst talked, I guessed that there was something in the wind. As soon as it was dark, a boat from the shore came off, bringing an officer-like looking Spaniard, who shook hands with the colonel as if they were old friends. The colonel introduced the skipper to the stranger, and after another long talk we were ordered to get up a number of cases from the hold, and to lower them into the boat alongside. Two of our boats, with one from the sloop, were then got ready, with their crews all armed. The colonel and the stranger went in one of them, and the two skippers in the other, leaving the mate in charge. Just as they were ready to shove off, the colonel and his daughter came on deck, followed by the three midshipmen."
"'Oh, father, may Heaven protect you, but I cannot help trembling for the danger you run,' I heard the young lady say.
"'No danger at all,' he answered, in a cheery tone; 'and I am sure that my three young friends here will take very good care of you.'
"'That we will, that we will;' they all cried out together, and thinks I to myself, 'and so will I as long as I've an arm to strike with, or a head to think what to do.'
"Away the boats pulled into the darkness; there wasn't a light to be seen on shore; indeed, there didn't appear to be many houses thereabouts. Mr Rogers came on deck again after the young lady and they had gone below.
"'I am sorry to find the brig engaged in this sort of work,' he said; 'there is to be a rebellion or something of that sort on shore, and if the colonel is caught it will be a serious matter for him, and, what is worse still, for his daughter. What do you think of it, Needham?'
"'What you do, sir,' says I; 'I wish that he was safe aboard again, and that we were on our way back to Jamaica; but I don't think the skipper is likely to steer northward, till he has landed the whole of his cargo, and a good portion of it consists of arms and warlike stores.'
"While we were talking the mate came aft, and asked Mr Rogers, somewhat rudely, if he was going to take charge of the deck, while he ordered me forward.
"'I shall be very happy, if you wish it,' said Mr Rogers.
"'Maybe if you do the ship will run away with you, my lad,' said the mate, with a sneer.
"I didn't hear more, but I saw Mr Rogers walking the deck quite as if he didn't mind what the mate had said, and was officer of the watch. It was my opinion, from the way the skipper and first mate behaved to the young gentlemen and me, that they wanted us to leave the ship, so that we might not be spies on their actions. I waited till I saw the first mate go below and the second mate come on deck. He was a quiet sort of young man, and he and Mr Rogers were on friendly terms. I then went aft. They seemed anxious, from what they were saying, about the colonel not coming back by that time. While they were talking, the young lady, with Polly, came on deck, and heard some of their remarks before they knew she was near them.
"'Oh, Mr Rogers, do you really think the people on shore will interfere with my father?' she asked. 'He surely ought to have returned by this time.'
"'We are expecting him every moment, Miss O'Regan,' answered Mr Rogers, putting her off as it were, and not wishing to say what he thought. 'All seems perfectly quiet on shore.'
"The other young gentlemen had followed her on deck, and they all three tried to persuade her to go below again, telling her that they were afraid she might suffer from the night air. Still she stood looking out towards the shore; but no lights were seen, and no sound of oars could we hear. At last Mr Rogers said, just as if he was a grown man,—'You know, Miss O'Regan, that the colonel put you under our charge, and we must respectfully insist on your going below. You may suffer from the night air coming off the shore, and you cannot hasten the colonel's return by remaining on deck. We will let you know immediately he appears or that we can get tidings of him.'
"If it had been Lieutenant Rogers or the captain himself saying this, neither of them could have spoken more firmly.
"'I will do as you advise, and trust to your promise,' said the young lady, and she and her maid went below, helped down the companion ladder by Mr Gordon and Mr Desmond.
"After this one or the other was constantly coming on deck, sent by Miss O'Regan, to learn if the boats were returning. I felt somehow as if all was not right, and I could not bring myself to leave Mr Rogers, who didn't go below all night, except for a few minutes to get supper."
NEEDHAM'S NARRATIVE (CONTINUED)—THE SARAH JANE CAPTURED BY CARTHAGENAN FLEET—THE COLONEL AND HIS DAUGHTER, WITH THE MIDSHIPMEN, CONVEYED ON BOARD THE ENEMY'S CORVETTE—CARRIED TO PRISON IN CARTHAGENA—THE COLONEL SEPARATED FROM HIS DAUGHTER—STELLA, AND THE MIDSHIPMEN, WITH NEEDHAM, PLACED IN AN UPPER ROOM—THE GAOLER'S WIFE—PLANS FOR ESCAPING—DESMOND AND NEEDHAM GET OUT—REACH THE CONSULATE—ALARM IN THE HOUSEHOLD—OBTAIN A BOAT, AND GO IN SEARCH OF THE CONSUL—DRIVEN OUT TO SEA.
"The night I was speaking of seemed almost as long as those we spent on the wreck. Just at dawn the first mate came on deck.
"'No sign of the boats yet?' he asked, in an anxious tone.
"'Yes, I hear them!' exclaimed Mr Rogers, and after listening for a minute or so to be sure that he was right, he went below to tell Miss O'Regan. She and the three midshipmen were presently on deck.
"'The boats are pulling very fast; you'll soon have the colonel on board,' said Mr Rogers to the young lady, as she stood eagerly looking towards the shore, where we could as yet see nothing on account of the mist which still hung over it.
"'Good reason they have for coming fast, I suspect,' suddenly cried the first mate, who was turning an eye to the offing. The darkness of night had then pretty nearly rolled away. 'What do any of you fancy those craft are out there?'
"'Why,' says I, 'I make out a ship, and a brig, and a couple of schooners. The first are men-of-war, I judge, by the squareness of their yards, and they are standing for the harbour. They have been creeping along shore with the land-wind during the night, or they wouldn't be where they are.'
"The second mate agreed with me.
"'I don't see what cause we have to fear them, seeing that England is at peace with all the world,' says I to him.
"'I do though, if they belong to the Carthagenan government,' he answered. 'I wish we were well out of the harbour, that I do.'
"While we were watching the strangers, Captain Crowhurst came alongside in his gig, and almost before he was on deck he shouted out,—'Hands aloft! Loose sails! Stand by to slip the cable!'
"No time for weighing!
"'Oh, where is my father?' I heard the young lady ask him. 'He'll be here soon, I suppose,' he answered gruffly, and turning away, he muttered, 'If it hadn't been for his obstinacy we should have been well out at sea by this time.'
"The few hands sprang aloft to loose sails, the skipper went to the helm, and the mates stood ready to unshackle the cable, while the gig's crew hoisted up their boat. I really thought that Captain Crowhurst was going to sail without waiting for the colonel. I heard him order the midshipmen, who were talking together, to lend a hand in getting the ship under weigh if they didn't wish to be run up to the yard-arm. The poor young lady was in a state of great agitation at seeing what was happening.
"'We'll not touch a rope till the colonel is on board,' says Mr Rogers; 'he is our friend, and we'll not allow him to be basely deserted. We are not under your command either, if it comes to that.'
"At this the skipper swore fearfully, and, seizing a rope's end, seemed as if he would have given a taste of it to the midshipmen all round, when the young lady, stepping before him, told him that he was a coward, and dared him to strike them. He went back to the wheel without answering. I had been keeping a look-out for the boats. Daylight was increasing, and I now saw them coming off, the men bending to their oars as if they were in chase of an enemy. They soon dashed up alongside, and the colonel came on deck, looking as cool as if nothing particular had happened, though by the way the men sprang on board and hauled away at the falls, and then turned to at loosing sails, I judged that they knew there was no time to be lost. The cable was let run out, the sails were sheeted home, and, with a light breeze off the land, we stood out of the harbour, followed by the sloop. I saw the colonel talking to his daughter, who seemed terribly alarmed; but he laughed and looked at the strangers about two miles off on the starboard bow, and then he pointed ahead as if he expected to get out of the harbour before they were up to us; I had my doubts, however, whether we should. The midshipmen then came up to him, as I supposed, to say how glad they were that he had got safe on board. He answered them very shortly, and taking the young lady by the hand led her below. Soon afterwards Mr Rogers came for'ard to where I was standing.
"'I suspect, Needham, that the colonel has got into some scrape on shore,' said he. 'It is clear from that officer coming off to her that the brig was expected on the coast, and probably those men-of-war are sent to overhaul her. Do you think that we shall get out to sea before they come up with us? and if we don't, can we beat them off?'
"'To be honest with you, Mr Rogers, I don't think that there's much chance of our escaping them, and as to beating them off, even if the fellows aboard here would fight, we couldn't do it, unless they take fright at the sound of our pop-guns,' I answered.
"'We must try to frighten them, at all events,' he said. 'It won't do to let a band of ruffians come aboard and frighten Miss O'Regan, and perhaps carry off the colonel, if they have any accusation against him.'
"I told him that must depend on what the Spaniards knew about the brig. It wasn't likely that two men-of-war could be frightened off by a merchantman, though we had four guns and might put a bold face on the matter.
"The other midshipmen now came forward, and stood with us watching the strangers. There was a chance, but only just a chance, that we should escape them. The skipper and the mates seemed to be in a great taking. The corvette was coming up fast, and the brig of war not far astern of her, carrying all the sail they could set.
"The breeze still held, the corvette by this time was about a mile and a half away on our starboard bow; the skipper began to look as if we should do it, and I thought so too, when, just then, our sails began to hang down, and presently flapped loudly against the masts; the skipper gave a stamp with his foot on the deck, and swore a loud oath. There we lay becalmed, while the corvette and brig still felt the wind off the land.
"'It's all up with us, I'm afraid,' said I to Mr Rogers.
"'It's high time to show our teeth,' he answered.
"'Captain Crowhurst, you'll fight those fellows if they attempt to board us, won't you?' he said, going up to the skipper. 'If you will run all the guns over to starboard we can give them a broadside which ten to one will make them sheer off rather than get a further taste of our quality.'
"The skipper smiled grimly. 'But suppose they don't sheer off; depend on it they will cut the throats of every one of us when they come aboard. What do you say to that, my young gentleman?'
"'I'd run the risk rather than let the ruffians take the vessel from us,' answered Mr Rogers, turning away to speak to the colonel, who had that moment come on deck. He looked up at the canvas hanging idly down against the masts, and then at the strangers still creeping up towards us.
"The wind was leaving them as it had us, and he saw in a moment how matters stood.
"Mr Rogers told him that he and the other midshipmen were ready to fight and defend the brig to the last.
"'You're brave lads,' he answered. 'I thank you heartily. If Captain Crowhurst thinks there's a chance of beating them off we'll risk it, but otherwise, for the sake of my daughter, it would be dangerous to make the attempt.'
"'It's for her sake, sir, that we are anxious to fight,' answered Mr Rogers.
"'Captain Crowhurst, will your crew support you?' asked the colonel of the skipper, who had just gone up to him.
"'I doubt it,' he answered. 'The fellows are brave enough, but the odds are fearfully against us. I'll speak to them, and learn what humour they are in.'
"You'll understand I'd gone aft with the midshipmen. The skipper went forward, and we saw him speaking to the crew, who were clustered together, talking among each other.
"In my opinion the skipper himself hadn't much fighting in him, bold and blustering as he seemed. While he was forward the young lady came on deck. She judged by the midshipmen's countenances that something was wrong, though her father looked as stern and determined as usual.
"'I fear that you will be put to some inconvenience,' he said; 'those men-of-war I suspect are sent to overhaul the brig, and, becalmed as we are, we cannot escape them, but I am very sure that our young friends here will defend you from insult, and our enemies may be satisfied if they can get hold of the captain and me.'
"'That we will,' said all the midshipmen together.
"'Oh, my father, do not let me be separated from you. Where you go I will accompany you,' said Miss O'Regan.
"'But I hope that the colonel will not have to go anywhere,' exclaimed Mr Rogers. 'We must drive the fellows off if they attempt to board the brig.'
"'I thank you for your zeal and courage, young gentlemen,' said the colonel. 'You see, Stella, that you have brave defenders. I wish you to go below, and rest assured that we will do all that possibly can be done to secure your safety.'
"'But I am thinking about your safety, father,' said Miss O'Regan.
"'I have been too often in danger to be anxious about that,' he answered. 'Go below, and we'll let you know as soon as possible what is likely to happen.'
"Without saying another word the young lady did as the colonel told her. I had been watching the men forward, and I soon saw by their looks that there was no fighting in them; presently three or four of them slipped below, the others, after saying a few more words to the skipper, followed, and I then knew that they had made up their minds not to fight; they had gone to put on their best clothes, and to stow their money away in their pockets, guessing that if the Spaniards boarded us they would to a certainty plunder the vessel.
"The skipper came aft, looking very downcast. 'The men won't fight, and we must make the best of a bad bargain,' he said to the colonel. 'There's no chance of a breeze, and see, the corvette and brig are lowering their boats, and we shall have the fellows aboard us in a few minutes.'
"The sloop lay becalmed close to us; her skipper, Captain Judson, came aboard, and walked about the deck like a madman.
"'Those fellows will hang every mother's son of us!' he cried out, pulling off his hat, and tearing away at his hair. 'What a fool I was to engage in this sort of work! Colonel O'Regan, can't you advise us what we are to do?'
"'You knew the risk, and you and I must take the consequences,' answered the colonel quite coolly. 'I can only advise you to act like brave men, whatever our enemies chance to do with us; don't let them have cause to treat us with contempt.'
"As neither the young gentlemen nor I had more clothes than those on our backs, we weren't troubled at what we should lose; but for the colonel and the skipper and mates, it was a very different matter. They might not only lose their property and the cargo, but their lives were in no little danger, I guessed, from what I heard them say.
"The boats came towards us, five from the corvette and three from the brig. As they got near I saw that the men were laying on their oars, as if they expected we should fight—you see we had the English flag flying at our peak, and they knew pretty well that Englishmen are not inclined to give in without striking a blow—I thought that the colonel and the skipper would have acted very differently; but they knew that they were not altogether right, and that made them knock under in the way they would not otherwise have done. When the boats came within musket-shot, the men lay on their oars as if they expected should they come nearer that we should fire on them—the officers seemed to be consulting together—and then they made up their minds to attack us, and came on altogether in a line. If our crew had consented to fight it would have been pretty tough work, I must own that, and maybe we should have got the worst of it. In a few minutes the boats were alongside, and their crews were clambering up on deck, some on our quarters and some amidships and for'ard, shouting and jabbering, and waving their cutlasses as if we had been defending ourselves, whereas there was not a man among us had a weapon in his hand. I thought, in truth, they were going to cut down every one of us; so they would have done if the colonel hadn't shouted out in their own lingo, and told them if they came as friends they should be received as friends, and that we did not wish to oppose them.
"One of the officers who had been longer getting up the side than the rest (seeing that he was too fat to move quickly) now stepped up to the colonel and told him to give up his sword, and consider himself a prisoner. The colonel answered that he didn't wear a sword at sea, that he was an Englishman sailing aboard an English vessel, and that if they took him or any one else prisoners they must stand the consequence. The Spaniard stamped and swore, and looked very big, and called him a pirate, and then pointed at the midshipmen, and told him that he was bringing up young pirates, and that they should all be hung together; the colonel, instead of getting into a rage, was very polite, and said that he was mistaken, that the midshipmen belonged to a British man-of-war, had been picked up off a wreck, and that if any harm was done to them, their ships would come and punish him and all concerned. I was told this afterwards, for though the Spanish officer spoke a little English, I didn't understand all they were talking about.
"The officer, however, didn't mind what the colonel said; but calling his men, they made a rush at him, and taking him unawares, seized him and held him fast. Others in the meantime had got hold of the skipper and mates, as you see the enemy were five to one of us, but still it's my opinion, if our men had been staunch, we could have beat them off. They didn't touch either of the midshipmen or me, for they believed what the colonel had told them. Having got the colonel down, they lashed his arms behind him and made him sit upon the deck. He took things very calmly, and calling Mr Rogers to him, he said, 'I'll thank you now to go and look after my daughter; I know that I can trust you, my young friend. Don't alarm her more than is necessary, and beg her to remain below until you think she will be safe on deck.'
"'Ay, ay, sir,' said Mr Rogers, and he and his messmates dived into the cabin. I remained on deck for a few minutes longer to see what was likely to happen.
"The people who boarded us were of all colours, Spaniards, mulattoes, and blacks and browns of every hue, though they spoke the same lingo, and were as savage-looking villains as I ever set eyes on, with their sharp knives stuck in their belts, which they seemed only too eager to use. Finding themselves masters of the brig, they made their way below, and laid hands on everything to which they took a fancy.
"Thinking that I might help the young gentlemen, I slipped down the companion hatch and found them standing before Miss O'Regan's cabin; they had armed themselves with pistols and cutlasses. 'Glad to see you, Needham,' said Mr Rogers; 'you'll find a brace of pistols in the captain's cabin, and here's a cutlass; we have made up our minds to fight as long as there's fight in us, if the ruffians attempt to hurt the young lady.'
"'I'm one with you, young gentlemen,' said I, and I went and got the pistols. Miss O'Regan heard what he said and opened the door, begging them not to fight, as there would be no use in doing so. Scarcely had she spoken when down came a gang of rough-looking villains with those long knives of theirs in their hands looking very ferocious, and ready to kill any who might dare to stop them. Mr Rogers had just time to push the young lady back into the cabin, and shut the door before the fellows could see her. They didn't take much notice of the midshipmen, but set about hunting through the other cabins. At last, they came to the one in which Miss O'Regan and Polly were.
"'No! no! my fine fellows, you're not to go in there,' said Mr Rogers, standing in front of the door, and holding his pistols ready to fire. The other midshipmen did the same, and I held a firm grip of my cutlass, determined to cut down the first of the ruffians who attempted to pass, should the midshipmen's pistols miss fire.
"The Spaniards flourished their long knives and swore all sorts of strange oaths in their own lingo, but didn't like to advance a step, knowing that two or three of them would get a bullet through their heads; we had the best of it as long as we had pistols and they had only knives. Three or four fellows who had been hunting in the other cabins, now, however, came up with pistols in their belts, and drawing them swore that they would shoot us if we didn't drop our arms. It would have gone hard with us, as there were but three boys and one grown man opposed to a dozen or more of the Spaniards, when just at that moment down came the fat officer who commanded the boats. We had heard him, as I said, speak a little English to the colonel, and so Mr Rogers told him that we were only wishing to protect the young lady from insult.
"'I appeal to your honour, sir, as a Spaniard and an officer, to assist us in defending her, and I feel sure, sir, that you will do so,' said he.
"'You are not mistaken, young sir,' answered the officer. 'I will take care that the lady is not insulted if she will remain in her cabin.'
"He then turned to the men and ordered them on deck. They went after a little grumbling, each fellow laden with as much booty as he could carry. He then told Mr Rogers to inform the young lady to prepare with the rest of the passengers to go on board the corvette, as the brig and sloop were to be sent back into the harbour.
"'Pray tell the officer, that if my father is to go I will gladly accompany him,' she answered.
"In a few minutes Miss O'Regan and her black servant-girl, Polly, had got ready and packed up a few things they thought they would be allowed to carry.
"In a short time the officer who had gone on deck returned, and, making a polite bow, said that he was sorry to inconvenience her, but that the boats were manned and about to shove off for the corvette, then turning to the midshipmen and me, ordered us to follow him on deck. We found that the colonel had already been lowered into one of the boats with the two skippers and mates; the officer handed Miss O'Regan and Polly down into the boat, and placed her alongside her father, we kept close to them; the Spanish crew, who were now in charge of the vessel, turned no very friendly glances at us, and I saw several of the villains clutch their knives as if they would like to stick them into our backs as we passed. In a few minutes we were alongside the corvette.
"The commanding officer, who seemed to consider himself a very great man indeed, received us on the quarter-deck. He bowed politely to the young lady, but spoke roughly to the colonel and the rest of us. After hearing the account the fat officer gave of the midshipmen, he told us we might remain with Miss O'Regan if we pleased, but the rest of the party were made to sit down between the guns with a guard over them. The boats now brought the crews of the brig and sloop on board with their arms lashed behind their backs. The men growled and grumbled as may be supposed, but the Spaniards showed them the points of their knives, and told them to keep silent.
"Poor Miss O'Regan looked very downcast, though the midshipmen did their best to keep up her spirits by telling her that they were sure the Spaniards would not dare to hurt her or any of us, let them bluster and threaten as they might.
"The Spanish officers were polite enough, and begged her to go into the cabin and take some refreshment, but she refused to leave the deck unless her father was allowed to accompany her; they, however, brought her a chair which she was thankful to sit down on, while the midshipmen, who looked upon themselves as her guard, stood around her.
"As soon as the sea-breeze set in, sail was made, and the corvette, followed by the brig and schooners, stood away for the harbour of Carthagena, while the Sarah Jane and sloop put back into the bay.
"We reached Carthagena in the afternoon, and brought up before the town. As soon as the anchor was dropped, the commodore went on shore to communicate with the government, and to learn what he was to do with his prisoners; some time before nightfall he came back, and he gave orders that we were all to be landed forthwith and marched up to the common gaol; so I made this out from what the fat officer said to the young gentlemen.
"No one was allowed to speak to the colonel, not even his own daughter; as soon as she found that her father was to be taken on shore, she begged to accompany him, and the midshipmen said they would go too. Of course I went with them.
"The brig and schooners in the meantime had run higher up the harbour. The boats were at once manned, the fat officer, who was, I have a notion, the first lieutenant of the corvette, took charge of the young lady and us. She begged so hard that the colonel might come in the same boat, that our friend, who wasn't a bad sort of chap after all, said he would speak to the commodore: he pressed the point, and the colonel was placed in our boat. He didn't speak much; in truth, I suspect he had but little to say that was likely to comfort his daughter, while he knew that the officer was listening all the time. She asked him in a trembling voice if he thought that his life was in danger, and said that she would go and plead for him with General Carmona, who commanded the troops in the city.
"'On no account,' answered the colonel, 'it would be useless, and you would only be exposing yourself to insult.'
"Speaking very low, so that he could not be overheard, he told her to get one of the midshipmen to escape if possible to the British Consul, as he would be better able than any one else to help him.
"As soon as we landed we were marched up together to the prison, the young lady being compelled to walk with the midshipmen and me alongside her; the colonel and skippers followed, and then came the crew, while the people rushed out of their houses and gathered in the streets to stare at us, some shouting and abusing us, and calling us pirates and all sorts of names in their lingo. I didn't care what they said, but walked along with my head upright, looking on every side as if I was there for my own pleasure.
"The prison was a dirty tumbled-down-looking sort of a place, and says I, 'I hope they are not going to put the young lady in there;' but they were, though they allowed her a room to herself, with one close to it for the midshipmen and me. I was allowed to be with them, because they said I was their attendant and that they required my services, though not exactly as the Spaniard fancied. The colonel, though they saw he was a thorough gentleman, was thrust in with the skippers and the crew into a low dirty room paved with stone, with stout iron bars to the small windows. There were already a score or more of rough-looking ruffians in it; this we saw as we passed by before we were taken to our own room in an upper story. As many as could get to the windows, which looked out into the street, hung out old caps or baskets at the end of sticks, to receive money or food which the people outside might give them. The window of our room was strongly barred, and so was that of Miss O'Regan; but there was a door between the two, which we found we could open, and so she and the young gentlemen were able to consult what to do. The furniture of our room hadn't much to boast of. Our beds were only heaps of straw, with bits of sacking on the top; there was no table, and only some rough benches to sit on. Miss O'Regan was very little better off. She had a sort of bed and chair, and a heap of straw for Polly; but after a time the gaoler's wife, I suppose she was, brought her a basin of water and a few other things; but that was all the Spaniards' boasted politeness made them think of providing her. She tried to interest the old woman to see if anything could be done for the colonel; but the dame said that it was as much as her place was worth to interfere, and she couldn't say a word to give the young lady any hope that he would be better treated.
"When it was light we made an examination of the bars in the windows to see if we could by any means get through them. Those in our room were too strongly fixed to be moved in a hurry, though we might have done it in time. Miss O'Regan found one in hers which was looser than the rest, and Mr Rogers and I on examining it discovered that it was so eaten away with rust, that by hauling at it together we might wrench it out. What we wanted was to get free, and to go and find the British consul. The window looked into a yard surrounded by a high wall; but what was behind we couldn't tell. The bar once out we could, we thought, lower ourselves into the yard; the wall we might easily scale, as it was full of big holes worn by time, and it would not cost us much to climb over it.
"'I have a file in my knife,' said Mr Gordon; 'it's a small one, but if we use it carefully it will cut through the bar in time.'
"The lower part of the bar we found was almost eaten away with rust. We agreed that the first thing was to scrape it clear of the rust with the blades of our knives and let the file do the rest. We were afraid, however, to begin till all in the prison was quiet. We could hear the warders walking about and talking loudly, and one now and then passed our door, so that we could not tell if one was going to look in on us or not. At last a fellow came bringing a jug of water and a bowl of greasy rice with some bits of meat in it, and a loaf of brown bread; he made us understand that it was for us.
"'I hope you're going to give the young lady something better than this,' said Mr Rogers, pointing to Miss O'Regan's room.
"You'll understand that when we heard him coming we had got back into our own room and had shut the door. 'Si! Si!' he said, nodding his head, and so we hoped that it was all right. Though the food was coarse we were not sorry to get it, as we had had nothing to eat all day, and at first we thought they were going to starve us outright. There was only one wooden spoon for all of us; the young gentlemen laughed, and said that didn't matter, as it was given us so that we might each get our fair allowance.
"We heard the old woman come back into the young lady's room, and when she was gone Mr Rogers knocked and asked if he might come in, and he found, when Polly opened the door, that the dame had brought them some pastry and fruit, and some white bread and a bottle of wine, and we knew from that that they were not going to ill-treat them at all events.
"In the meantime we talked over what was to be done; at last it was agreed that Mr Desmond should go with me, and that we should try to find our way to the British Consul's the first night we could get out. We concluded that it would take some time to file through the bar, and we did not expect to get free for at least several nights to come. The young lady told us that she and Polly would keep watch, and would let us know when we might come in to do the work. In the meantime we lay down on our beds of straw, for as we hadn't been to sleep the night before we could with difficulty keep our eyes open. Nor had she for that matter; but her anxiety on account of her father made her wakeful. At last she knocked at the door, and I stood up and awoke Mr Rogers. We went in as softly as we could and began working away at the bar, Polly and Miss O'Regan watching at the door to listen if any one was coming. We soon got the rust off; but Mr Gordon's file made very slow progress. We worked while they watched. When daylight came at last we found that we had not got through more than the tenth of an inch; still that was something. To prevent what we had been doing being discovered we covered the marks of the file with rust, stuck on by some grease which we got from our bowl. I must cut my yarn short. One day was much like another; still we could not learn anything about the poor colonel and the rest of the prisoners, except that they were kept shut up below. What the Carthagenans were going to do with them and us we could not tell. There was one advantage in the delay, for if we had got away the first night the guard would have been on the look-out, and we should have probably been caught. It was bad enough for us, but much worse for the poor young lady. We worked on and on, night after night, till at last we had got almost through the bar, and I felt sure that with a good haul I could wrench it on one side wide enough to get through.
"The old woman, who came up every day to see Miss O'Regan, spoke more kindly than usual to her, and called her a poor girl in her own lingo, and seemed to pity her. This made the young lady ask her why she spoke thus, and at last she confessed that she was afraid that General Carmona was going to shoot some of the English prisoners, and very likely the old colonel among them. This made the young lady cry out, and we could hear her speaking in such woeful tones that at last Mr Rogers went in and asked what was the matter; he then learnt all what I have just told you.
"'Oh! can nothing be done to save my father?' she exclaimed, as she clasped her hands together.
"The old woman then said that the only way would be to send a letter to the British consul, but it would be dangerous for her to do so as it might cost her her life, or at all events her husband his place, if it was discovered that she had carried it. At last she agreed to try and let Polly out, and at the same time told her which way she was to take to find the consul's house—it was not more than ten minutes' walk from the prison—first she was to turn to the right, and then cross a large square, and to turn down the first street on the left, at the end of which was the house; she was to look for the arms of England painted over the door.
"'At all events, if Polly does not find it, we shall; the old woman has helped us more than she thinks,' observed Mr Rogers.
"Polly was ready to run every risk to serve her mistress, the difficulty was to get a letter written as we had no paper, pens, nor ink; but I have a pocket-book, said Mr Gordon, and a few words on a leaf explained our situation. We of course didn't tell the old woman our own plan, and we thought that by letting her do as she proposed that we might throw her husband off his guard. At last she went away, saying that she would try and see what she could do. Polly got ready to start; after some time the old woman came back saying that her husband would not consent to anything of the sort. We all pretended on this to be very downcast, Miss O'Regan was really so, as she thought the old woman's plan was the safest. At last all was quiet; Polly, as usual, took her post at the door. Mr Rogers and I worked away at the bar: 'Now one strong pull and we'll have it out,' I whispered; and hauling away with all my strength, I broke it off at the bottom and wrenched it on one side. We made a rope of the rugs which covered our beds long enough to let me lower myself into the yard. Mr Desmond was dawn directly after me, and I caught him in my arms and bolted away to the opposite side of the wall as quick as lightning, then I lifted him on my shoulders and he soon scrambled on to the top of the wall; it was a harder job for me to follow, seeing that he put his hands and feet into holes which were not big enough for mine. We had hit the very place we should have chosen, for just below us was a heap of rubbish which came some way up the wall, and we were now on the outside of the prison. Mr Desmond scrambled down in the same way that he got up. 'Keep still,' he said in a low voice, 'don't drop? don't drop! there are broken pots and pans of all sorts, you may cut yourself.' He spoke just in time, for it would have been a queer place to fall on. The night was pretty dark, and no one was about. We stopped to listen, and not a sound was to be heard, so we crept along the wall till we turned the corner, and found ourselves in front of the prison. If there was a sentry, he was fast asleep in his box, for we were not challenged. We soon had crossed the square the old woman had told us of, then we ran on as fast as our legs could carry us till we reached the consul's house, which we knew by a big board over the door, though we couldn't see the arms. Mr Desmond went up to the door and pulled the bell. 'It's no time to stand on ceremony, though it's not the hour that the consul generally receives visitors, I fancy,' he said, with a laugh. He pulled and pulled again. 'I must climb in at the window if we can't awake them any other way, though maybe I shall be shot if I do,' he added, looking up to see if there was one he could reach. 'Do you, Needham, just lift me up on your shoulders, and I am sure I can reach that balcony, and it will be hard if I don't get a window open, and once in the house I'll go round and knock at all the doors till I rouse up some one.' No sooner said than done; the midshipman disappeared over my head, and I was left standing below wondering what next would happen. I knew from the sounds which reached me that he was trying one window after another, at last I heard a loud crash, which showed that he had got through some way or other. Again all was silent. Presently there came cries, and squealing, and shouts, through the lattice which there always is in Spanish doors, so that the people from within may talk to any one outside without opening them; then there came a man's gruff voice, and Mr Desmond's, talking away as fast as his tongue could move, trying to explain what it all meant. This went on for some time, till the gruff voice grew calmer, and Mr Desmond began to talk slower, and I heard women's and girls' voices uttering all sorts of exclamations. Says I to myself, 'It's all right now.'
"At last the door opened, and Mr Desmond told me to come in, that he was thankful to say that the vice-consul would do all he could, and that the consul himself had gone away to a place a mile or two along the coast. 'Then the best thing we can do is to go after him,' said Mr Desmond. 'Can you find us a boat and crew, sir?' he asked of the vice-consul.
"'That will be a difficult thing, young sir,' he answered. 'A boat may be found, but no crew would go without the permission of the general.'
"'Well, then, if you will find us a boat we will go alone,' said Mr Desmond; 'and if the place is only a mile or two off, and you'll instruct us how to find it, we can have no difficulty in doing so.'
"This idea seemed to please the vice-consul, who, though he spoke English, was not an Englishman; he would have acted, I've a notion, very differently if he had been. His wife and the young ladies, his daughters, whose voices I had heard when Mr Desmond roused them out of their sleep, seemed much interested at hearing about Miss O'Regan, and they all urged the old gentleman to help us, and told him that he must go in the morning and see what could be done for the young lady at least. He called up a black servant somewhere from the bottom of the house, and told him to lead us down to the harbour and show us a boat we might take.
"The old lady pressed us to stop and have some supper, but Mr Desmond was in a hurry to get off, and the vice-consul, I have a notion, wanted to be rid of us.
"'Why, my dears,' he exclaimed, 'I wonder you like to be seen by the young officer and the sailor, such figures as you are.'
"In truth, both the old lady and the young ones, as well as two or three black girls, were dressed, I must say, in a funny fashion, with such things as they had clapped on when Mr Desmond roused them up. The old gentleman had put on his breeches hind part before, while she had got into his dress-coat with the tails in front, and little else on beside her night-gown, and a big shawl over her shoulders. I won't say how the young ladies looked, only I couldn't help remarking that they were not over-dressed, so that when their father made this remark, away they all scuttled in a desperate hurry, each trying not to be last, and I've a notion that they had forgotten what might be thought of them. We could hear them giggling and laughing at each other as they reached their rooms. We were, you may suppose, not much in a mood to laugh just then, and, as soon as the old black was ready we started off. He seemed in a desperate fright, expecting every moment that he should be seen, and carried off to prison. We met no one, however, and soon reached the water's edge. The black who was sent with us, I forgot to say because he could speak English, showed us a boat hauled up on a slip, and, going to a shed near, brought out a pair of oars, a mast and sail.
"'Dare; you steer for de point up dare,' he said. 'When you round it, pull on for about three miles, when you come to anoder harbour, then you pull up it, and in de biggest house in de place you find de consul.'
"'Why,' says Mr Desmond, 'the vice-consul told us it was not more than a mile or so away.'
"'Massa not know, den,' answered the old black, as soon as he had helped us to launch the boat; and without stopping a moment to watch us while we shoved off, he ran away as fast as his old legs could carry him. We had to pull along-shore some distance to keep clear of the corvette, then the night-breeze freshening we stepped our mast and made sail, steering as the black had told us to do.
"The boat was somewhat crank, and I had to keep my weather-eye open, and to hold the sheet in my hand to escape being capsized. However, the boat sailed fast, and soon weathering the point we found our way at last into the harbour. We hauled up the boat on the beach, and ran along till we came to the big house the vice-consul had told us of.
"'This must be the place,' said Mr Desmond, giving a pull at the door-bell.
"Again we had to ring and shout as before. No one coming to the door, Mr Desmond proposed trying the old dodge, and getting in at the window. We went round the house, and knocked at all the windows we could reach. At last an old gentleman poked out his head from an upper window, and threatened in Spanish to blow out our brains with a blunderbuss, if we didn't take ourselves off. Mr Desmond understood what he said, and that he meant it was clear, for I caught sight of the muzzle of his piece resting on the window-sill.
"'Don't do that same, if you please, sir,' answered Mr Desmond. 'I am an officer of her Majesty's sloop of war, the Tudor, and my companion is one of her crew, and we have come to get the assistance of the consul, who, I presume, you are.'
"I can't say that he looked much like one in his white night-cap. The old gentleman then asked a number of questions of Mr Desmond, who told him all about what had happened, and at last, having taken some time, however, to dress himself, he came down and let us in. He was polite enough then, for he showed us into a room and begged us to sit down, while he listened to what Mr Desmond had further to say to him.
"He told us in reply that he had but little influence with General Carmona, and that he had, therefore, some time back written to Jamaica, begging that a ship of war might be sent to protect the English on the coast, as their position was far from pleasant. He promised, however, to return to Carthagena the next morning, and to try what he could do to save the colonel's life, and obtain the liberation of the other prisoners. He advised us to wait till the morning, but Mr Desmond was in a hurry to go back and report to Miss O'Regan and his messmates what we had done; he thought that we could get into the prison before daylight by the way we had come. The consul seemed very much astonished at his determination, but he was firm, and I was ready to do whatever he proposed.
"'After all you may be right, if you manage to do so without being discovered,' answered the old gentleman. 'It will save me also from being accused of assisting in the escape of the prisoners.'
"Having wished the consul good-bye we hastened back to the boat, and once more making sail, stood out of the harbour. The wind, however, shifting shortly afterwards, we made a stretch out to sea, thinking to fetch Carthagena the next tack, when, suddenly, it again shifted, and blew directly off the land; not a foot would the boat sail to windward, and as to pulling against it, that was more than we could do. When daylight broke, we found ourselves five or six miles off the shore, and drifting farther and farther away. Mr Desmond was in a great taking at not getting back to the shore; we lowered our sail, and I took to the oars, but it was all of no use. There was a good deal of sea on, and we did not even hold our own. The sea-breeze was longer than usual coming, and it was pretty well mid-day already. We had nothing to eat or drink since our supper in the prison. All we could hope was that the consul would get back and help our friends. At last it fell a dead calm; we then got the oars out again, and were about to pull back when we heard guns in the offing, and I guessed that they must be fired by the ship of war the consul had told us of. Mr Desmond thought I was right, and we agreed that we should serve our friends better by pulling off towards her. We had a long pull as you know, sir, and I am thankful that I was right; and I am certain it won't be Mr Murray's fault if he don't give the Dons a lesson which will teach them not to play tricks with Englishmen in future."
PREPARED FOR ACTION—A MESSAGE SENT TO THE CARTHAGENAN COMMODORE—HIS CONTEMPTUOUS REPLY—THE SUPPLEJACK BRINGS THE CORVETTE TO ACTION AND TAKES HER—SINKS A BRIG AND CAPTURES THREE SCHOONERS—MURRAY VISITS THE CARTHAGENAN GENERAL, AND DEMANDS THE LIBERATION OF THE PRISONERS—AN OMINOUS REPLY.
The boats were manned, and every preparation made for the intended expedition. The danger was great, but Lieutenant Murray determined to risk everything for the sake of the object. Even had he not been deeply interested, he would not have allowed the insult to the British flag to pass unquestioned. His small crew were in high spirits, determined to dare and do everything to rescue the young lady and the midshipmen. They, at all events, the Carthagenans had no right to detain whatever might have been the case with regard to the colonel, and the officers and the crews of the merchant vessels.
Just then some cat's-paws were seen playing over the mirror-like surface of the ocean, the sails bulged out, and the Supplejack began to slip through the water. She soon reached the boat, which was picked up, and then, making all sail, she sped onwards towards Carthagena. The glory of Carthagena, like that of many another place in those regions, has departed, though in appearance picturesque as in days of yore, situated on several islets, with green trees rising amid its towers and spires— backed by its citadel and curiously-shaped hill, with the Popa convent like the high stern of a ship on the top. The town itself is surrounded by walls and batteries which look not a little formidable at a distance. Formidable though they might be, Murray resolved that they should not prevent him from carrying out his intentions.
In a short time the corvette was seen at anchor in the outer harbour. Desmond and Needham had completely recovered, and begged to be allowed to land and act as guides, should the boats be sent on shore.
"I scarcely think that they will attempt to interfere with us," said Lieutenant Murray, "but it is as well to be ready. Have all clear for action, Mr Higson."
"Ay, ay, sir!" answered Higson, giving the necessary orders with no little satisfaction. "I only hope that they will dare to set up their backs; we'll show them what our long gun and two short bull-dogs can do," he said, as he went along the deck. The men were eager for a fight, as British sailors always are, though they mustered all told only sixty men, officers and crew included.
The breeze was somewhat light, but sufficient to give the brig good steerage way. Before, however, attempting to use force, Lieutenant Murray determined to try pacific measures. He accordingly hove the brig to outside the mouth of the harbour, a boat was lowered and manned, and he directed Higson, accompanied by Desmond, to go on board the corvette, and demand of the Carthagenan commodore the instant liberation of the prisoners. "Should he refuse, you are to go on shore and communicate with the consul, and then return on board as soon as possible," he added. Higson replied that he perfectly understood his instructions, and with no small satisfaction at the prospect of something to do, shoved off from the brig's side. Needham, who went as one of the crew, had described how they had been treated; and it was the general belief that the commodore would give them an opportunity of teaching him and his countrymen better manners. "The commodore seems a mighty proud sort of fellow, and when he sees only our small brig he'll not be inclined to accede to Mr Murray's demand, I've a notion," said Desmond.
"Then I'll just give him a hint, my boy, that he may chance to receive a visit from the rest of the squadron," answered Higson. "Those sort of fellows are apt to bluster and boast, and, like mongrels, bark loud enough when they see another cur run from them, but they seldom dare to bite when they are attacked."
"The corvette, however, carries sixteen guns, though I cannot say how she is manned," observed Desmond.
"She may carry twenty guns for what I care," answered Higson, laughing. "The question is, how will they be fought? Our Long Tom will be a match for all of them, depend on that. We shall do our best to get ahead or astern of her, where her shot will find it difficult to reach us."
"But then there is the brig, and there are two or three schooners in addition," observed Desmond. "Though we don't see them as they are some way up the harbour, they're sure to come down to help their consort."
"We must settle her first, and then tackle them," said Higson. "It is probable, however, that the commodore will knock under, and not give us the opportunity of showing what we can do."
"I would rather see Miss O'Regan, and Rogers, and Gordon, with the old colonel safe first," said Desmond. "I am afraid that the commodore will be ill-treating them in revenge should we give his vessels a drubbing. The consul seems somewhat of a slow coach, or he would have found out what had happened long ago, and applied for our liberation." The breeze carried the boat which was standing in under sail swiftly on.
"She's a fine craft, and has eight guns on a side," observed Higson, as they got close to the corvette.
The sail was lowered, and a voice hailed in Spanish to know what they wanted. Higson, who guessed the meaning of the hail, standing up, pointed to the British ensign astern, and said that he had despatches to deliver. No rope was however hove to them, nor was the side manned; so, followed by Desmond and Needham in no very dignified fashion, he scrambled on board.
"There's the commodore," said Desmond, pointing to a middle-aged, gaunt-looking Don who was walking the deck with his cocked hat stuck ferociously on one side, "and that fat officer is our friend the first lieutenant. If they don't know how to be civil, we'll show them," and stepping aft, he made them both a profound bow, and introduced Higson. The Dons instinctively took off their hats, unable to withstand the influence of the young midshipman's politeness. Higson handed his despatches to the commodore who opened the envelope, but, unable to read English, he turned to his first lieutenant, and asked him the meaning of the paper. The latter confessed his inability to make it out; for though he spoke a little English he was unable to read it, as was possibly the case with regard to his own language. Higson therefore explained that the despatches came from the commander of the man-of-war outside the harbour, who requested that the British subjects now held in captivity by the Carthagenans might at once be delivered up to him. The commodore, to whom the lieutenant interpreted what Higson said, replied that he could not give an immediate reply; that the despatch being written in English he could not comprehend it; and as to delivering up the prisoners, that was a matter on which his Government must decide.— He had therefore no reply to make to the English officer, who must take the consequences should he venture into the harbour. This was the sum total of the answer given by the commodore, through his first lieutenant, though it took a considerable time to deliver.
"Tell the commodore, then," said Higson, "that as this is a friendly port my commander will certainly come into it as he wishes to communicate with our consul, to whom he intends rendering assistance in obtaining the liberation of the prisoners."
"What does he mean by that?" exclaimed the commodore, when the answer was interpreted to him. "If he attempts to use force, he will find that the honour of those in whose veins flows the pure blood of Castille is not to be trifled with;" and the Don stamped, and fumed, and strutted about the deck, drawing his sword and flourishing it over his head as if his ship was about that moment to be boarded by the English.
Desmond, reckless of the consequences which might have ensued, burst into a fit of laughter.
"What does the boy mean?" exclaimed the commodore, advancing with threatening gestures towards him.
"Just tell your captain that my companion is an Irish midshipman. It's a curious habit he's got of laughing at anything which tickles his fancy, and he cannot mean to be disrespectful to so great a hero."
The first lieutenant explained what Higson had said, and possibly saved the midshipman from being then and there run through the body by the irate Don.
"Then I am to understand that this is the message I am to carry back to my commander," said Higson, to the fat officer.
"Yes, and I hope your commander is a wise man, and will not venture into the harbour," was the reply.
"I'll answer that he will though," exclaimed Higson, making a profound bow; "so good morning, Don Whiskerandos!"
As the commodore, turning his back, strutted aft, fuming as before, Higson, shaking hands with the first lieutenant, exclaimed—
"I wish that we may have the chance of meeting as friends another time; for you're a good fellow, that you are."
He and Desmond then beat a retreat to the gangway. The lieutenant was so pleased with the last remark, that he ordered side-ropes to be shipped and the side to be manned, and the English officers took their departure in a rather more dignified manner than they had arrived.
"There seems a good chance of our having a brush with the Dons," observed Desmond, as soon as they had shoved off and were pulling for the shore.
"Perhaps the consul will settle matters, but if not I'm very certain that Mr Murray will stand no nonsense," answered Higson.
No opposition was made to their landing, and Desmond and Needham easily found their way to the British consulate. For some reason the consul had not returned, and their friend, the vice-consul, said that he had used every effort to obtain the liberation of the prisoners, but in vain. He was evidently in a great state of alarm, and confessed that he feared the worst. He had, however, been assured that the young lady and the two midshipmen should be properly treated, although the authorities were very angry at hearing of the escape of Desmond and his companion, and he advised them to get back to the boat as fast as possible, feeling assured that if recognised they would be recaptured.
"The fellows had better not attempt it with the English flag over their heads," exclaimed Higson; "however, we will get back and make our report to our commander. If you can manage the matter, and let them know that we are in earnest, he may possibly draw in his horns."
The vice-consul shrugged his shoulders, and Higson and his party got back to the boat and pulled out as fast as the crew could bend to their oars towards the Supplejack. Higson was anxious to be on board, for he was very sure that no time was to be lost.
Murray, on hearing his report, was not long in determining what to do.
"We must go in and insist on the liberation of our friends," he said. "I'm sure, my lads, you'll stand by me."
A cheer from the crew showed that they were in the right spirit to dare and do anything that he might require. The head-yards were braced round, the helm put up, and the brig stood boldly into the harbour. Murray intended to pass the corvette, and bring up as near the town as the water would allow.
The corvette in the meantime had got a spring on her cable, her ports were open and her guns run out.
The little Supplejack stood on, nothing daunted.
"I don't think that Don Whiskerandos will dare to stop us, though he boasted so much when we were on board," observed Desmond to Higson.
"You're mistaken, my boy."
Higson had just time to reply when a broadside from the corvette came hissing through the air; one shot only, however, struck the brig and shot away her forestay.
"We must not allow this to pass unnoticed," exclaimed Murray. "Reserve your fire, however, my lads, till I give the order."
The long gun was pointed at the corvette, the port carronade was run over to the starboard side. Murray waited till the brig had got directly ahead of the enemy.
"Blaze away, now, my lads," he shouted, and a raking fire from his three guns was poured into the corvette, sweeping her deck fore and aft.
The wind being light and the brig's courses being clewed up, she glided slowly through the water, and the guns were again loaded and fired into the bows of the corvette before the latter could return another shot. The brig had just way enough on her to go about. The long gun was slewed round, and the others run over to the port side, and fired, greatly to the astonishment of the corvette's crew, before they had managed to bring their guns to bear on her; when they did their shot flew wide or through her rigging, and not one hit her. The brig was now almost stationary, her crew working with a will, fired all their guns twice before the Spaniards had returned another shot.
"Well done, my lads," cried Higson, "we have given them as many shots as they have sent at us."
Such was the case, and every shot from the brig had told with good effect.
"A few more as well aimed, and the Dons, depend on it, will cry, 'peccavi,'" he added.
The crew, stripped to the waist, were indeed working their guns with right good will. All hands on board were employed, some loading and firing, others bringing up powder and shot from below, and the rest attending to the sails. The smoke, which there was scarcely sufficient air to blow away, enveloped the combatants, and prevented those at a distance from being able to discern which was likely to be the victor. Murray and his crew, however, very well knew how matters went. The splinters which flew from the corvette's side, and the shrieks and cries which came from her deck showed the fearful effect their fire was producing on their antagonist. At last one gun was silent, and then another, and then only three replied to them.
Murray cheered on his men, who although perspiring at every pore, ran their guns in and out with as good a will as at first. By this time the brig had drifted still closer to her foe.
Once more Long Tom was fired, loaded with langrage, which swept with fearful effect across the deck of the corvette. Not a shot came from her in return. The brig's guns were, however, again loaded; but just before the triggers were pulled, down came the corvette's ensign! A loud cheer burst from the throats of the British crew. Murray was on the point of anchoring, intending to send a boat on board to take possession, when a brig was seen dropping down the harbour, and followed by three schooners, favoured by a light breeze off shore.
"See, my lads, here come more of them!" he cried, in a cheery voice. "We will settle them, however, as we have done the corvette!"
"Ay, ay, sir, that we will!" shouted the voices of his gallant fellows.
"You wouldn't say so if you didn't intend it," he answered.
"Well, try and see how quickly we can finish them off."
The brig was some way ahead of the schooners, and Murray, anxious to engage her before their arrival, put the brig about, assisted by the light breeze, which just then filled her sails. Her commander, not aware that the corvette had struck her colours, was little prepared for the reception he was to meet with. As soon as Murray had got this fresh foe within range of his long gun he opened fire. The shot, well aimed, went crashing through her side; the second shot was fired before she got near enough for the carronades to reach her. The belief that the English brig had only one long gun prevented the Carthagenans from attempting to escape. The next time Long Tom was fired, his shot was attended by two from the carronades. The enemy replied with her broadside, but most of her shot went flying over the Supplejack, while others fell ahead or astern of her, wide of their mark. Not one of Long Tom's shot missed, most of them striking between wind and water; and as she drew nearer they told with still greater effect. At last the enemy put about and attempted to run up the harbour. Vain were her efforts to escape; the last shot striking her gave her her death-blow. With her canvas all set and colours flying, gradually she sank till the water washed over her decks, and her crew were seen scrambling aloft, leaving the wounded to their fate. Within ten minutes of the time she got into action her topmasts alone appeared above the surface. Just before this the three schooners had come up and had opened their fire, but none of their shot had struck the Supplejack; and their commanders, seeing the fate of their consorts, came to the conclusion that discretion was the better part of valour, and hauled down their flags amid the cheers of the British crew. Murray lowered his boats and sent them to pick up any of the brig's crew who might have been unable to escape aloft. The lives of several were thus saved. The schooners also sent their boats and took off the men from the rigging. The Supplejack then stood back for the corvette. Murray directed Higson and Desmond to take possession. Their fat friend, the first lieutenant, received them at the gangway, with his hat in one hand and his sword in the other. There was no bluster in him now.
"Where is the commodore?" asked Higson, looking round the deck, which was strewed with dead men.
"There!" answered the lieutenant, pointing to the mangled form of a man which lay on the quarter-deck, his uniform alone showing that it was that of the commodore. He had been almost cut in two by a shot from Long Tom.
"How many men have you lost?" asked Higson.
"Twenty-five," answered the lieutenant. "Our crew declared that they were fighting with devils and not men, and refused to fire another shot."
"If they had handled their guns as our fellows did theirs, we shouldn't have taken you so easily," answered Higson. "You deserve a better ship's company."
"Many thanks for your compliment," answered the crestfallen lieutenant. "It is the fortune of war."
The schooners being brought up close to the corvette, the Supplejack anchored near them, with Long Tom so trained that, should the Carthagenans attempt to recapture their vessels, they might quickly be sent to the bottom. The brig's boarding-nettings were also triced up, a vigilant watch was kept, and pistols, pikes, and cutlasses placed in readiness for immediate use to resist any attack which might be made on her.
Murray, while he thus kept watch over the captured vessels, felt himself in a delicate and trying position. The Carthagenan government had hostages in their hands on whom they might wreak their vengeance. Had they, indeed, known how dear one of the prisoners was to the young commander, they would probably have made use of the advantage they possessed. He felt sure that a bold course was the only safe one. He might have led his crew on shore and endeavoured to rescue the captives, but the attempt he knew would have been sheer madness, as a piece of artillery at the end of one of the streets might have sent him and his men to destruction. Murray, like a wise man, had retired to his cabin to consider what was best to be done. He speedily made up his mind, and sent for his second in command.
"Higson," he said, "I have resolved to go on shore myself, and demand the release of the prisoners. I leave you in charge of the brig. Keep an eye on the corvette and schooners, and sink them rather than allow them to escape."
"You may depend on it that we will, sir," was the answer. "I only wish that we could get our friends on board, that we might stand in and batter their town about the ears of the rascals."
"They have had a pretty severe lesson already," said Murray, "and I have hopes that they will not refuse to accede to my demands. Get the gig ready, with an ensign and a flag of truce. There's no time to be lost."
Higson went on deck, and the gig's crew were piped away.
"I say, Higson, do ask the captain if I may accompany him, there's a good fellow!" said Desmond. "Perhaps I may be of some use in getting Miss O'Regan and our fellows out of the prison."
"I don't know how you'll do that," answered Higson.
"Nor do I," said Desmond; "but at all events I know the way into it, and I think, if Mr Murray will take Needham as well, he and I would manage somehow or other to get our friends out, if they are still in the room in which we left them."
Murray, to Gerald's great satisfaction, consented to take him and Needham. He had borrowed a new uniform from one of the midshipmen on board, and no one was likely to recognise him, so different did he look from what he had done in the dirty worn-out clothes in which he had escaped from the prison.
Murray steered directly for the landing-place, and boldly stepped on shore, regardless of the crowd collected to gaze at the commander of the dare-devil Englishmen, who had so quickly beaten their fleet. They, however, treated him with respect, drawing back on either side to allow him a free passage, as he marched with his flag and attendants towards the consul's house. He found that functionary and the vice-consul in a state of great agitation.
"You have indeed, captain, taught the Government here a lesson which they will not easily forget, but I'm afraid that you have overdone it. General Carmona sent to warn me that on the first shot fired he would shoot all his prisoners, and I greatly fear that he has carried out his threat."
"Surely he would not dare to murder Colonel O'Regan and his daughter, and the English midshipmen," exclaimed Murray, his voice trembling with agitation.
"I scarcely dare to say what he may have done," answered the consul; "he is a villain of the first water, and would shoot his own father and mother if they offended him."
Murray could scarcely speak for some time, so overpowering were his feelings. By a great effort he recovered himself, and said, "I must beg you to accompany me at once to the general, and I will insist on seeing him."
It was evident that neither the consul nor vice-consul liked the duty imposed on them, but they could not refuse to comply with the young commander's request.
The ladies of the latter's family evidently thought that he was going on a dangerous expedition, as they clung round him, weeping, as if they were parting from him for ever.
"Pray don't be alarmed," exclaimed Paddy Desmond, who did not see anything so very hazardous in the undertaking; "depend on it, your respected papa will come back with a whole skin, and if not, we shall have the satisfaction of knocking the city down over the ears of its inhabitants."
The young ladies, who had not before recognised Paddy, now knew him by the sound of his voice.
"What!" they all cried out together; "are you the young officer who got out of prison in such a wonderful way? The people affirmed that you got out with the help of a magician, as they have never discovered how you made your escape; and the gaoler, who declares that you were safely shut up when he last visited you, swears that it is impossible you should have done so, either by the door or windows."
"How we escaped I'll tell you by-and-by, but pray excuse me for the present, as your papa and the consul are ready to start," answered Gerald.
This conversation took place while the vice-consul was putting on his uniform coat, and, with the aid of his wife, buckling his sword-belt round the wide circuit of his waist.
Murray and the two officials then set forth, Desmond carrying the flag of truce, and Needham the British ensign, that flag which every nation of the earth has learnt to respect, though some may regard it with no very friendly feelings. After a walk of about twenty minutes they reached General Carmona's residence. In front of the building was drawn up a guard of soldiers, who cast scowling glances at the party as they advanced. In a short time an officer appeared, who promised to announce their arrival to the general. They were then conducted into a courtyard, and told to wait. The officer soon returned and led the way to a large hall, with a long table in the centre, at the end of which sat a personage in military uniform, with several officers collected round him, some seated, and others standing about talking eagerly together.
"To what cause am I indebted for the honour of this visit?" asked the general, who rose with his officers as Murray and the consuls entered.
"This officer, the commander of the British man-of-war, now in the harbour, comes to demand the liberation of certain subjects of the Queen of England, detained by your government as prisoners," answered the consul, introducing Lieutenant Murray.
The general, a tall, cadaverous personage, with long moustaches sticking out on either side of his face, tried to look very fierce and important, but ill succeeded in concealing his trepidation and annoyance.
"I might rather ask why the English brig-of-war has sunk one of my vessels, and captured the remainder of my fleet; though it seems a miracle to me how it should have happened."