Entered according to act of Congress in the years 1897, 1898 and 1899 By STREET & SMITH, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, D. C.
I. THE SAVING OF GRAY MOOSE. 5 II. THE HOTEL IN BONAVENTURE STREET 11 III. FLORA HATHERTON. 17 IV. MUTUAL EXPLANATIONS. 22 V. THE ALARM IN THE NIGHT. 28 VI. PREPARATIONS FOR FLIGHT. 31 VII. THE SKIPPER OF THE SPEEDWELL. 36 VIII. CLOSE TO PORT. 42 IX. AT THE MERCY OF THE SEA. 45 X. THE DAWN OF DAY. 51 XI. A COPY OF "THE TIMES." 54 XII. A WARNING IN WOODCRAFT. 60 XIII. THE AMBUSCADE. 64 XIV. AN INDIAN'S GRATITUDE. 68 XV. FORT ROYAL. 72 XVI. A RESOLVE THAT FAILED. 76 XVII. A STRANGE WARNING. 80 XVIII. A STOLEN INTERVIEW. 86 XIX. ANOTHER VISITOR. 90 XX. THE LOST LOCKET. 93 XXI. THE BEGINNING OF THE END. 99 XXII. HOT WORK. 103 XXIII. THE SECOND RUSH. 108 XXIV. A BLACK NIGHT. 114 XXV. A RAY OF HOPE. 118 XXVI. AS TWILIGHT FELL. 123 XXVII. THE SIEGE OF THE HOUSE. 126 XXVIII. THE END OF HOPE. 131 XXIX. THE SECRET OF THE FACTOR'S DESK. 136 XXX. A STRANGE DISCOVERY. 141 XXXI. A CRY IN THE NIGHT. 146 XXXII. THE TRAVELER FROM ALASKA. 150 XXXIII. A CONVIVIAL MORNING. 156 XXXIV. ON THE WAY. 161 XXXV. RETRIBUTION. 165 XXXVI. A PAINFUL MYSTERY. 170 XXXVII. REST AND HAPPINESS. 174 XXXVIII. GOOD NEWS. 177 XXXIX. A MESSAGE. 182 XL. A STARTLING CHANGE. 186 XLI. BACK FROM THE DEAD. 191 XLII. TRUNK 409. 196 XLIII. A DRAMATIC INTERRUPTION. 200 XLIV. THE RIGHTFUL CLAIMANT. 205 XLV. FORGING THE LINKS. 209 XLVI. THE ALARM. 215 XLVII. CONCLUSION. 218
THE SAVING OF GRAY MOOSE.
I have long had in mind to set down the story of my early life, and now, as I draw pen and paper to me for the commencement of the task, I feel the inspiration of those who wrote straight from the heart. It is unlikely that this narrative will ever appear in print, but if it does the reader may rely on its truthfulness and accuracy from beginning to end, strange and incredulous though parts of it may seem.
Thirty years ago! It is a long time, but the magic power of memory laughs at wider gulfs. Every incident comes back to me with the vividness and clearness of yesterday. I hear the echo of voices that have been silent these many years. Dead faces, some smiling and some looking fierce-haired, take dim shape in the corners of the room.
Beyond the open window, where birds are twittering in the overhanging ivy, an English landscape of meadow and woodland, hills and hamlets, rolls far in the sunshine of a June morning. It is the year 1846, in the reign of her gracious majesty, Queen Victoria. I close my eyes, and I am back in another world. I see the Great Lone Land—its rivers and lakes, its plains and peaks, its boundless leagues of wilderness stretching from sea to sea. I sniff the fragrant odors of snow-clad birch and pine, of marsh pools glimmering in the dying glow of a summer sun. I hear the splash of paddles and the glide of sledge-runners, the patter of flying moose and deer, and the scream of the hungry panther. I feel the weird, fascinating spell of the solitude and silence.
The Great Lone Land! Truly, to those who have known it, a name to conjure with! As it was then so it remains to-day, that vast, mysterious, romantic realm of the Canadas. The territory of the Hudson Bay Company, chartered remotely and by royal warrant when Charles II was king; the home of the Red Indian and the voyageur, the half-breed trapper and hunter, the gentlemen adventurers of England, Scotland and France; a land of death by Indian treachery and grizzlies, starvation and freezing, snowslides and rapids; a mighty wilderness, with canoes and sledges for the vehicles of travel and commerce, and forest trails joining the scattered trading posts.
There I, Denzil Carew, was born. There was my home from the cradle to manhood, and there my story lies. In that wild country I was nurtured and bred, schooled in the lore of the woods, taught to shoot and swim, to bear fatigue and to navigate dangerous waters. Nor did I grow up in ignorance of finer arts, for my father, Bertrand Carew, was an Englishman and a gentleman, and he took pains to give me the benefit of his own education and culture. Who his people were, or what had brought him out to the Canadas, were things he never told me.
My mother was the daughter of a company factor in charge of Fort Beaver. I do not remember her, for she died when I was a year old. At the factor's death my father succeeded to the post, and ten years later he was killed by a treacherous Indian. Fort Beaver was then abandoned, a new post having been recently built, seventy miles farther north. This was Fort Royal, on the Churchill River, one hundred miles south of Hudson's Bay, and I went there as assistant factor—I had already worn the company's uniform for three years.
At that time I was twenty years old—very tall, and built in proportion, with light hair and eyes, and a mustache in which I took some pride. I knew as much of the wilderness and the fur trade as any voyageur, and I had been twice to Quebec and other towns of Lower Canada.
I liked the life at Fort Royal, and I liked the factor, Griffith Hawke. We got on well together, and I performed my duties to his satisfaction. Thus five years passed way, and the closing of that uneventful period brings me to the opening proper of my story—to the mission that sent me five hundred miles down country in the dead of winter to Fort Garry, where the town of Winnipeg now stands, and thence more than a thousand miles eastward to Quebec. Concerning the purpose of the journey I shall speak later, but it was not a thing to my taste or experience.
Distinctly I recall that frosty morning of March in the year 1815. The picture of life and color, breaking on a scene of wintry grandeur and solitude, rises before my eyes. I see the frozen, snow-covered waste of the Lake of the Woods, the surrounding evergreen forests and towering hills, the low leaden sky overhead. Along the edge of the scrubby-timbered shore, five husky dogs come at a trot, harnessed in single file to a sledge. The dogs are short-legged and very hairy, with long snouts, sharp-pointed ears, and the tails of wolves; the sledge is a simple toboggan made of two pieces of birch nine feet in length, their ends turned high in front. Buckskin thongs hold the load in place, and at either side of this vehicle of the woods a brightly-clad figure on snowshoes glides swiftly.
Of the two men, one was myself, and the other was my half-breed servant Baptiste. I wore the winter uniform of the Hudson Bay Company—a furred leather coat lined with flannel, a belt of scarlet worsted, breeches of smoked buckskin, moccasins of moose-hide, and blue cloth leggings. A fur cap was on my head, and a strip of Scotch plaid about my neck. Baptiste was dressed like all the company's voyageurs and hunters, in a blue capote, red flannel shirt, beaded corduroy trousers and fringed leggings, and a cap decked out with feathers. We each carried a musket and a hunting knife, a powder horn, and a bullet pouch.
Fort Garry, where we had stopped for a few days after a fortnight's steady travel from the Churchill River, was a week's journey behind us, and we were likely to be another month in the wilderness before we should reach Quebec. But we liked the wild life better than the turmoil of towns, Baptiste and I, and we were in no haste to have done with it. The strange thing that was taking me to Quebec would not be ripe for accomplishment until the coming of the tardy June spring of the Canadas, which was as yet eight or nine weeks off.
The weather was bitterly cold that March day, and we kept the dogs at such a pace that by noon we had covered a matter of twenty miles. Then, as we were speeding along the frozen river that leads from the Lake of the Woods to Lake Superior, we heard the report of a musket, followed by the cry of a human voice and the growl of a beast. Baptiste and I stopped and at a word the dogs stood still and barked with uplifted snouts. The sound had come from close by on our left, but now we heard only a faint and receding patter on the snow crust.
"Nom de Dieu, there are two running!" cried Baptiste. "It is a chase."
"And the dogs smell a bear," I replied. "I am off to the rescue, Baptiste. Do you wait here with the sledge, and if I shout for help, come quickly."
With that I turned and made into the forest, unslinging my musket as I ran. Fifty yards through scrub and timber brought me to a spot that bore the imprint of big claws and moccasined feet. Here were a few drops of blood on the snow, and the parts of a broken gun lying near. I had no need to follow the trail, for as I pushed on with great strides the noise of a struggle guided me straight.
It was but a short distance further. Breaking from the trees into a rugged hollow, I came upon a thrilling scene. An Indian had sought refuge in a shallow crevice between two tall bowlders, and he was in sore peril of his life from a monstrous grizzly that was striving to tear him out. The bear—I had never seen a larger one—was dealing blow after blow with his heavy paws, and the redskin was making the best use of his knife that his cramped position would allow. The clamor of beast and man made a blood-curdling din.
I mastered the situation at a glance and vowed to save the Indian. I was as likely to hit him as the bear from where I stood, so I circled quickly around to one side. But the grizzly both heard and smelled me, and I had scarcely lifted my musket when he turned with a snarl of rage, and came at me. I aimed and fired. Bang!
It is difficult to kill a grizzly with a single shot, and as the smoke drifted aside I saw the brute advancing on hind legs. His eyes were like balls of fire, his open jaws dripped foam, and he roared horribly with pain and anger. Blood was trickling from a wound close to the heart, made by my bullet, and there was another bleeding hole in his neck.
I had no chance to reload, and there was barely time to flee. But my temper was up, and it drove me to a reckless determination. I stood my ground for an instant, while the grizzly shambled on, pawing viciously at the air. Then I drew my long-bladed knife, darted out of the way, and as swiftly turned and struck under the sheltered fore feet. It was a foolish trick, and my agility barely saved me from a crushing blow. As it was, I had to leave the knife sticking deep in the wound. But the thrust had gone straight to the heart, and I gave a yell of delight as the great beast came down with a crash. He lay quite still after a brief struggle that churned the snow crust to powder.
The bear was dead, and my first step was to withdraw the knife and wipe it clean. Then, having shouted to Baptiste, I approached the crevice just as the Indian crawled out. Too weak to rise, he propped himself against a rock. He was bleeding profusely from a dozen wounds. His shirt of buffalo skin, his breech-clout, his fringed leggings of antelope, all had been ripped to tatters by the grizzly's claws; his feathered scalp-lock was half torn from his head, and one shoulder was mangled.
I was full of pity at first, but my heart hardened when I recognized the savage. He was Gray Moose, a Sioux of much influence, and he and his people were said to be carrying on underhand dealings with the Northwest Company, which was the great and dangerous rival of the Hudson Bay Company. We were known to each other, having met before on several occasions. Whether the above rumor was true or not, I was aware to a certainty that he held the Hudson Bay men in no favor; and I half regretted that I had saved his life.
"How came you in such straits?" I asked coldly.
He explained in a few words, and in fairly good English. The grizzly had come upon him unawares, and in his haste to fire he had inflicted only a slight wound. Then he fled, and took shelter in the rock cranny as a last resort.
"The red man is grateful to Pantherfoot," he concluded, addressing me by a name which my skill at tracking game had won for me among the Indians. "Gray Moose will not forget. Now let white man go his way."
But it was not in my nature to leave the poor wretch wounded and helpless, and I told him so. On questioning him, I learned that a village of his people was within a few miles, and I decided to take him there. By this time Baptiste had arrived with the team, and after dressing the Sioux's injuries as well as I could, I fixed him comfortably on the sledge, the half-breed and I shouldering the displaced part of the load.
On the way my servant had picked up the broken musket, and when Gray Moose saw that the weapon was beyond mending—the grizzly had shattered it by a terrific blow—such a look of misery came into his eyes as softened my heart at once. I knew the value an Indian set on his shooting-piece, and I gave him an extra gun which I chanced to have on the sledge.
Baptiste upbraided me for my folly, and, indeed, I repented the act the next moment; but the savage's gratitude was so sincere that I could not bring myself to take back the gift.
An hour's tramp—the direction was quite out of our way—brought us to the Sioux village. We left Gray Moose with his friends, and pushed on, refusing an invitation to spend the night. I attached no significance to the affair at the time, nor did I give it much thought afterward, but the future was destined to prove that my trivial dead of kindness was not wasted, and that even a bad Indian will remember a benefactor.
I need make no further mention of our journey through the wilderness to Quebec, where we arrived safely in a little less than four weeks. But at this point, for the better understanding of my narrative, I must set down a brief statement of the ugly and threatening situation in the Canadas at the period of which I write. Long before—during many years, in fact—the Hudson Bay Company had vainly tried to obtain from the English Parliament a confirmation of the charter granted them by Charles II. But Parliament refused to decide the matter in one way or the other, and on the strength of this a number of French and Scotch merchants of Upper Canada formed themselves into the Northwest Trading Company in 1783. They established posts here and there, and in 1804 they erected one on the very shore of Hudson's Bay.
Within the next few years their forts grew to outnumber those of the older company, being scattered about in Prince Rupert's Land, and even across the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia. Then, in 1812, the Hudson Bay Company made a bold move. Lord Selkirk, a prominent official of the company in London, sent out a large colony of Scotchmen who had been evicted from their homes in Sutherlandshire. He hoped thus to build up a stronghold and seat of government that would brook no rivalry. The colonists came and settled at Fort Garry, at the forks of the Red River; but matters grew worse instead of better. Each company claimed to be in the right, and was resolved to drive the other out of existence. During the next few years the men of the Northwest Company and of the Hudson Bay Company came to blows more than once, and finally, in October of 1814, the Northwest Company were ordered to remove from the territory within six months—a mandate which they treated with contempt and derision.
It was early in the following year, the reader will recall, that Baptiste and I left Fort Churchill for Lower Canada, and from what we had seen at and about Fort Garry when we stopped there, we were satisfied that serious trouble was brewing, and that it would break out when navigation opened in the spring. We knew that the Northwest Company were plotting to secure the aid of the Indians, and we were also aware that the feeling throughout Lower Canada—even among the government officials—was strongly in favor of the Hudson Bay Company's enemies.
Such being the situation, I was naturally anxious to get back to my post as soon as possible; for though I was not so hot-headed as to wish for war, I was ready to fight for the supremacy of the company I served, and which my father had served before me. But I foresaw with distaste that I should probably be detained in Quebec until the summer months—since I was to await the arrival of a certain ship from England—and I entered that town with but a poor zest for my task.
THE HOTEL IN BONAVENTURE STREET.
It was nine o'clock on a Monday evening in the fourth week of June, and I was sitting, as was my nightly custom, in the cozy coffee room of the modest hostelry where I had taken lodgings when I first came to Quebec. This was the Hotel Silver Lily, kept by Monsieur Jules Ragoul and madame, his wife. It was a quiet little place in Bonaventure Street, which was one of the oldest and narrowest thoroughfares of the lower town.
I was alone in the room, save for an elderly man who was sound asleep in a big chair on the far side of the table, remote from the candlelight. He had been there when I entered, and I could not recall having seen him before about the hotel; but of this I was not certain, since his face was in shadow and half-covered by his hat. In the adjoining bar, to judge from the clinking of glasses and bottles and the hum of conversation, Madame Ragoul was busy with a few customers. The evening was warm, and as I sat by the open window sucking at my long pipe, I could hear on the one side the occasional challenge of the sentries high up on the ramparts of the citadel. From the other direction came the boisterous voices of boatmen and sailors down by the quays of the St. Lawrence.
Two long months had passed since my arrival in Quebec. I was heartily tired of its noisy, brawling life, hungry for the solitude of my native wilderness. At first I had found much to see and enjoy, but the novelty soon wore off. I had but few acquaintances in the town, and none of them were to my fancy. I preferred the seclusion of the hotel, and the company of the honest little Frenchman and his wife. Not so with Baptiste. He had fallen in with a loose set of his own kind, and frequented the low taverns by the riverside. That very evening I had brought him home helplessly drunk, and seen him safely abed.
But before I go on, if you please, a word or two concerning the business that brought me to Quebec. I have spoken of Griffith Hawke, the factor of Fort Royal. He was a man of fifty-odd years, simple-hearted, absorbed in his duties, and with not a spark of romance or sentiment in his being. Would you believe that such a one could think of marriage? Yet it was even so! A wife he suddenly resolved to have, and he sent for one to the head office in London, as was a common custom in those days. Many a woman was sent out by the company to cheer the lonely lot of their employees.
To be brief, a correspondence was carried on for two years between Fort Royal and London—that meant but a couple of letters on either side—and the result of it was that I was now in Quebec to meet the bride of Griffith Hawke and escort her to her distant home.
She was due in the early summer, being a passenger on the ship Good Hope. I was to put her in care of Madame Ragoul, and we were both to sail for Hudson's Bay at the first opportunity in one of the company's vessels. The factor had not been able to leave his post for so long a time, and he had sent me on this errand with evident reluctance. He would meet us at Fort York, where there was a priest to perform the marriage ceremony.
As I said before, the task was not to my liking. Love was a word without meaning to me. I knew nothing of women, and had reached the age of twenty-five without giving a thought to the other sex. I was completely ignorant of the purport of the letters that had passed between Griffith Hawke and the head office, and as I never questioned him about particulars, he never vouchsafed me any. I naturally expected to meet a middle-aged dame who would make a suitable partner for the prosaic factor, and would adapt herself to the crude life and customs of the lonely trading post.
A mission of adventure and deadly peril would have been more to my taste, but this strange enterprise was put upon me in the capacity of a company's servant, and I was resolved to carry out my instructions to the best of my ability. I was pondering the matter as I sat in the hotel that June night, and reflecting, with some relief, that I should not be much longer detained in Quebec, for the Good Hope was expected in port at any day or hour.
Having finished my third pipe, I knocked the ashes out gently so as not to disturb my still sleeping companion. I rose to my feet, stifling a yawn, and just then a man entered the room from the bar, closing the door behind him. While he stood hesitating, I took in his appearance by a brief glance. He was tall, slim and wiry, with tawny yellow hair worn long, and thick, drooping mustache. His eyes were of a cold steel-blue, and his face, though very handsome, had something sinister and fierce about it. From his attire I judged him at once to be a polished man of the world, who had seen other lands than the Canadas. He wore a lace-trimmed coat of buff, breeches of the same material, top boots of tanned buckskin, and abroad felt hat of a claret color. For the rest, a sword dangled at his side, and a brace of pistols peeped from his belt. He looked about fifty, and by his flushed countenance I saw that he was more or less under the influence of liquor.
I noticed all this even before the man drew closer. Then seeing me clearly in the light shed from the candles, he gave a sudden start. The color left his cheeks, and he stared at me with an unmistakable expression of bewildered surprise, of something like sharp fear and guilt. I never doubted that he mistook me for another person.
"Have we met before, sir?" I asked courteously.
The stranger laughed, and his agitation was gone.
"Pardon my rudeness," he replied. "I had a spasm of pain, to which I am subject at times, but it has passed off." He pointed to my blue capote with brass buttons—the summer uniform of the company. "You are a Hudson Bay man," he added, "and I am another. That is a bond of friendship between us; is it not so?"
His manner was so captivating that I forgot my first unfavorable impression cf him; moreover, I felt flattered by the condescension of so fine a gentleman. I was easily induced to state my name and the position I held at Fort Royal.
"We shall meet again," he cried, "for I shall be in those parts ere the summer is over."
"Are you indeed in the company's service?" I asked. "You do not wear—"
"The uniform?" he interrupted, with a touch of hauteur. "No; my duties are not the same as yours. But I will be as frank as you have been—" He handed me a folded paper. "Read that," he said in a confidential tone, leaning over me and exhaling the fumes of wine.
I opened the document, and scanned it briefly. The writing showed, beyond a doubt, that my new acquaintance was in the secret service of the Hudson Bay Company, and that he stood high in favor of the governor himself. I was glad that he had revealed as much to me—a thing he would not have done but for his potations; for it had dawned on me a moment before that I had been indiscreet to unbosom myself so freely to a stranger, who, for aught I knew to the contrary, might be a spy or an agent of the Northwest Company. I handed the paper back to him, and he buttoned it tightly under his coat.
"Is that credential enough for you?" he asked.
"I am more than satisfied," I replied.
"Then permit me to introduce myself. I am Captain Myles Rudstone, at your service—ex-officer of Canadian Volunteers, formerly of London and Paris, and now serving under the same banner as yourself. In short, I am a man of the world."
"I judged as much, sir," said I.
"Your perception does you credit," he exclaimed.
"I see that you are a gentleman. And now let us drink together to celebrate our first meeting."
"With all my heart!" I replied cordially.
I expected that he would ring the bell for madame, but instead of that he strode around the table to the sleeping stranger in the chair, and clapped him heavily on the shoulder. The man was roused instantly, and as he sprang to his feet I saw that he was tall and middle aged. His face was shrewd and intelligent, clean-shaven, and slightly wrinkled. He wore a white neck-cloth, antiquated coat and breeches of rusty black, and gray stockings with silver buckles at the knee; a cluster of seals dangled from his watch chain, and his fingers were long and white.
"What the devil do you mean by striking me, sir?" he demanded angrily.
"I merely gave you a tap," Captain Rudstone replied coolly. "I wish you to join this gentleman and myself in a drink."
"I have no desire to drink."
"But I say you shall!"
"And I say I shall not. I am a man of peace, but by Heavens, sir, I will swallow no affront tamely."
"I believe you are a spy—an emissary of the Northwest Company," cried the captain; and I knew by his manner that he had really suspected the stranger from the first.
"Then you lie, sir!" declared the man in black. "Here is my card."
He tossed a slip of pasteboard on the table, and picking it up, I read the following:
"CHRISTOPHER BURLEY. "For Parchmont and Tolliver, Solicitors, "Lincoln's Inn, London."
I handed the card to Captain Rudstone, and he glanced at it disdainfully.
"A law clerk," he sneered. "But come, I will overlook your menial position. I am not too proud to clink glasses with you."
"The boot is on the other leg, sir," cried the man of law. "I pick my company, and I refuse to drink with a swashbuckler and a roysterer."
"You shall drink with me," roared the captain, drawing his blade, "or I will teach you civil manners with the point of this!"
I judged that it was time to interfere.
"Captain Rudstone, you are behaving unseemly," said I. "There is no cause for a quarrel. You will think better of it in the morning. I beg you to drop the matter. Let us retire to the next room and have our friendly drink."
I thought he would have run me through for my interference, so blackly did he glare at me; but the next instant he sheathed his sword and laughed.
"You are right," he said. "I have had a drop too much for the first time for months. I offer my apologies to the offended law. Come, Mr. Carew, I will take another cup to your good health."
As he spoke he approached the door, and as I followed him the law clerk stopped me by a touch on the shoulder.
"My thanks to you, young gentleman," he said. "I like your face, and I put no blame on you for what has occurred. A word with you, if I may. I see that you are in the service of the Hudson Bay Company."
"Yes," I assented.
"And do you know the Canadas?"
"As well as you know London," I replied.
His face brightened at that.
"I came over a month ago on important business," he went on, "and I have been lately in Montreal and Ottawa. Did you ever, in the course of your wanderings, hear of a certain Osmund Maiden? He landed in Quebec from England in the year 1787."
"I never heard the name, sir," I answered, after a moment's thought.
As I spoke I looked toward the door, and encountered the gaze of Captain Rudstone, who was standing in a listening attitude with his hand on the latch. I scarcely knew him. His cheeks were colorless, his lips were half-parted, and a sort of frozen horror was stamped on his features. Had he been seized by another spasm of pain, I wondered, or was there a deeper cause for his agitation?
"So you can give me no information?" said Christopher Burley, in a tone of disappointment.
"I know nothing of the man you seek," I answered.
Just then the door was flung open, and Jules Ragoul burst excitedly into the room.
"Bonne nouvelles!" he cried. "News, Monsieur Carew! Good news! The Good Hope is in the river, and she will land her passengers early to-morrow!"
All else was forgotten, and I eagerly questioned the little Frenchman. When I was done with him I looked about for Captain Rudstone and the law clerk. Both had vanished, and I saw them no more that night.
The next morning, at the hour of seven, I might have been found on the landing-quay by the river. The Good Hope, I was informed, still lay a short distance below the town, where for some reason she had anchored during the night. It was unlikely that I should be kept waiting long, yet I was in no haste to play the unaccustomed role of gallant. To conceal my nervousness I tried to affect an air of jaunty composure. I repeated over and over the words of greeting that I had chosen for the occasion.
It was as fine a day as ever dawned on Quebec. A crisp, cool air blew from the St. Lawrence, ruffling the water into little tips of foam. From a blue and cloudless sky the rising sun shone on the scattered shipping, on the green hills and islands, on the rugged and historical heights of the town. Many others besides myself were on the quay, doubtless drawn hither for the same purpose—priests, soldiers, soberly-clad citizens, several coureurs-de-bois, and a redskin or two. I had a distant view of Christopher Burley, and closer at hand I saw Captain Myles Rudstone in conversation with a group of men. By-and-by he discovered me, and strolling forward he gave me a pleasant word of greeting.
"It is quite an event, the arrival of a ship from England," said I.
"An event of importance," the captain replied. "But for the early hour the quay would be crowded."
His manner was reserved and dignified, and I liked him better in this mood. Yet I observed that his face wore a puzzled and uneasy expression as he glanced at me, and that he seemed disinclined to look me straight in the eyes. He ignored the events of the previous night, neither making any reference to them nor offering the slightest apology. He chatted indifferently for a moment or two, and then asked abruptly:
"You are waiting for the Good Hope, Mr. Carew?"
I nodded assent.
"Expecting a friend, perhaps?" he went on, carelessly; and I detected a masked note of curiosity in his voice. It put me on my guard.
"Not exactly a friend," I replied evasively. "I am to meet a person whom I have never seen."
"A strange coincidence, indeed!" said the captain, with a laugh. "That is precisely my situation." He bent his head a little closer. "I am on duty this morning," he added. "Secret work for the company, you understand."
If he hoped by this confidence to draw my own in return he was disappointed, though there was in truth no reason why I should not speak freely; but it pleased me to be as mysterious as himself, so I answered him by nodding my head wisely. Our eyes met, and he hastily turned and looked out on the river.
"The ship is coming!" he exclaimed; and with that he bowed curtly and strode away. He was soon lost to view in the crowd.
I gave him no further thought at the time. For a few moments I was all in a flutter, and half-minded to take to my heels like a foolish boy. But for very shame I presently plucked up courage and sought a point of vantage at the edge of the quay.
Now the people were cheering loudly, and joyous hails floated shoreward over the water. Nobly the Good Hope came in, her bulwarks and poop-deck crowded with figures, the breeze bellying her canvas and fluttering the flag of England at the masthead. I was fairly carried away by the novel excitement, and I only came to my sober senses when the vessel was at last moored alongside the quay and the gangway rattled down almost at my feet.
I stuck to my place in spite of pressure and crowding. The first to come ashore were all men—English merchants, returning Canadians, a couple of uniformed officers, Frenchmen decked out in lace and fine clothing, and a motley sprinkling of others. They passed on, some being met and embraced by waiting friends; and next came an elderly, sour-looking dame, who regarded me with ill-favor. I followed her a few paces beyond the crowd, never doubting that I was right. Then I stepped boldly up to her and doffed my cap.
"Do I address Miss Hatherton?" I began.
"No!" she snapped. "Wretch, how dare you?"
I fell back in confusion, with a titter of mocking laughter ringing in my ears. I longed to hide my face, and I vowed that I would make no more rash ventures. I was about to stride away when a hand touched me on the shoulder, and a sweet voice asked:
"Pardon me, sir, but did I hear you inquire for Miss Hatherton?"
I turned round quickly, and what I saw brought my heart to my mouth and the hot blood to my cheeks and temples. Before me stood a young girl of no more than nineteen, slight and graceful of figure, with eyes of a purple hue, a complexion like a ripe peach, and little curls of brown hair straying from under her dainty bonnet. By her fine clothing and her clear-cut features I knew that her station in life was of the best. I, who had given no second thought to a woman in all my life, felt a thrill of admiration. I stared at this fair creature as though she had been a goddess, for I had never seen anything so lovely before. For a moment I was speechless, and the girl repeated the question with some spirit, accompanying it by a tap of the little foot.
"I—I did ask for Miss Hatherton," I stammered, "but surely you are not—"
"I am Flora Hatherton," she interrupted; and as she spoke she made a sudden and strange sign that puzzled me. "Who sent you to meet me, sir?" she added impatiently.
Again I was at a loss for words. A great pity and resentment swelled up in my heart. I still hoped that there might be a mistake somewhere. I shrank from picturing this young and beautiful girl as the wife of old Griffith Hawke, sharing with him the uncouth and half-barbarous life of a wilderness trading post. It was too cruel for belief!
"Who sent you, stupid?" she repeated.
"Are you truly Miss Hatherton?" I asked.
"Of course I am!"
"Then I am at your service," said I, "and I am here to meet you in behalf of the factor of Fort Royal."
Her eyes dropped and her face saddened.
"Oh," she exclaimed, "I thought you might be—"
But before she could finish the sentence a tall figure was thrust impetuously between us, and I looked up to recognize Captain Rudstone. He paid no heed to my presence, but made a swift sign to the girl. She answered it as quickly, and then said, with a smile:
"You are Captain Rudstone?"
"The same, mademoiselle," he replied, with a courteous bow.
They moved a few paces to one side, and began to talk in low tones. I hung back in confusion and anger, feeling bitterly the slight that had been put upon me, and quite at a loss to know what the affair meant. I overheard the words "Lord Selkirk" and "dispatches," and then I saw the girl draw the end of a sealed packet of papers from her bosom; but she thrust them out of sight again at a sharp command from Captain Rudstone. The latter looked round just then, and I could have sworn that he sneered contemptuously when he met my glance. My temper was ruffled by the neglect and the sneer, and I stepped forward.
"Will Miss Hatherton permit me to escort her to the lodgings where she is expected?" I asked the girl.
"My claim to this young lady's attention is prior to yours, sir," broke in Captain Rudstone.
"I deny that, sir!" I cried hotly. "Will you be so kind as to state your claim?"
"My word is enough. Be careful lest you provoke me further, Mr. Carew."
"I beseech you not to quarrel on my account, sirs," exclaimed Miss Hatherton. "You are both right." The captain scowled at me.
"Which of us is to have precedence, mademoiselle?" he asked curtly.
But before the girl could answer an abrupt and unexpected interruption fell upon us.
From a distance a man had been watching us steadily—I had observed him before—and now he came quickly and with an air of bravado to where we stood. He was about my own age, but a little shorter and slighter, clean-shaven, with dark eyes and thick, black hair. Though handsome in a way, the stamp of an evil and unscrupulous nature was on his bronzed features. His dress was that of a gentleman.
"Can I be of any service to you, Miss Hatherton?" the fellow began, darting an impertinent glance at the captain and myself.
The girl shrank from him with aversion in her eyes.
"I need no assistance," she replied. "And I thought we had spoken the last word on the ship, Mr. Mackenzie."
"I was no party to that agreement, you will remember," the man answered, looking at her with fierce admiration. "I have been searching for you, and when I caught sight of you but a moment ago, I judged that these gentlemen were paying you unwelcome attentions. Certainly they were on the point of an altercation."
I looked to Captain Rudstone to take the matter up, but to my amazement he bowed and walked away, whispering at my ear as he passed me:
"Be prudent. I will join you at the Silver Lily."
To put his desertion down to cowardice was the only construction open.
I held my ground, wondering what strange thing would happen next. The dark man eyed me insolently for a moment, evidently expecting and hoping that I would follow my companion. Then he bent closer to Miss Hatherton.
"Why will you persist in this folly?" he asked. "You are alone in a strange land—in a strange town. I urge you to accept the shelter of my sister's house. It is but a short distance from here."
"And I refuse!" the girl cried indignantly. "I wish no further speech with you, Mr. Mackenzie. I am not friendless, as you think. I am going with this gentleman."
"It's a devilish bad choice!" the man exclaimed angrily.
"What do you mean by that?" I cried, ruffling up.
"Miss Hatherton, I beg you to listen to me," he went on, ignoring my demand. "It is for your own good—"
"Not another word, sir," she interrupted, edging nervously toward me as she spoke.
"You shall hear me!" he insisted; and with that he caught her brutally by one arm.
The girl struggled in his grasp and gazed at me with such mute and earnest pleading, with such fear and distress in her lovely eyes, that I must have been more than human to resist taking her part. I was in a hot rage, as it was, and I did not hesitate an instant. I shot out with my right arm—a straight, hard blow from the shoulder that took the ruffian between the eyes. He reeled and fell like a log.
The deed was no sooner done than I regretted—for Miss Hatherton's sake—that I had gone to such extremities. But I made the best of it by quickly leading the girl away, and she clung tightly to my arm as we hurried through the curious group of people on the quay. To my relief, no one stopped us, and indeed the incident had attracted little attention. Looking back, I saw that Mr. Mackenzie was on his feet, the center of a small crowd who were bent on preventing him from following us.
It was not long before we were off the quay, and in the shelter of the quiet streets of the town. By a few words Miss Hatherton gave me to understand that she was aware of the arrangements made for her, and that the trunk was to be sent to the Silver Lily. Then she looked into my face with a sad and grateful smile that set my heart to fluttering.
"I am glad to have found such a friend and protector," she said. "You have done me a great service, and one that I will not forget, Mr. Carew—I think that is your name. But I fear you have not seen the last of Mr. Mackenzie."
"He will be wise to let the affair drop," I replied. "I count it an honor and a pleasure, Miss Hatherton, that I had the opportunity of helping you. If the man seeks satisfaction, he shall have it."
She glanced at me with some surprise, and with a tinge of amusement, I fancied.
"Are you a Canadian?" she asked.
"A native-born child of My Lady of the Snows," said I.
"And you have never been in England?"
"No nearer than Quebec," I answered.
"I should not have believed it," she replied. Then, after a pause: "I met Cuthbert Mackenzie on board the Good Hope. He sailed with me from London, and from the first I disliked him. He constantly forced his attentions upon me, though he saw that they were hateful to me; and when I refused to have anything to do with him, he even went so far as to threaten. I hope I have seen the last of him."
"He shall not annoy you again," said I.
She was silent for a moment.
"Shall we find Captain Rudstone at the hotel?" she asked.
"I believe so," I answered, hiding my annoyance at the question. "He made an abrupt departure, Miss Hatherton."
"Perhaps he had good reasons," she replied; and with that the matter dropped.
The rest of the distance was all too short for me. It was a novel thing that I, who had scarce spoken ten words to a woman before in my life, should be playing the gallant to as pretty a girl as could be found in Quebec. But she had put me quite at my ease, and mightily proud I felt when I gave her into the care of Madame Ragoul, though the thought that she was the promised bride of old Griffith Hawke seemed to bring a lump to my throat. I bade her good-by for the present in the upper hall of the house, and going downstairs, I sauntered into the room behind the bar. There sat Captain Rudstone, a glass of wine before him.
"You have just come?" said I.
"But a moment ago," he answered coldly, and with a sour look. "What is the meaning of this strange affair, Mr. Carew?"
"I had to knock the impertinent rascal down," I replied.
"I do not refer to that," said he, with a grim smile. "I witnessed the whole trouble."
"From a distance?" I ventured.
His eyes flashed.
"Have a care," he muttered. "I am not in a trifling mood. Tell me, what took you to the quay this morning to meet Miss Hatherton?"
"I might ask you the same question," I replied.
"Will you answer me, sir?"
"There is no reason why I should not," said I. "Miss Hatherton was sent over to become the wife of the factor of Fort Royal. I met her in accordance with my instructions, and we are to take the first ship that sails for Hudson's Bay."
Captain Rudstone's hard expression softened; he looked astonished and relieved.
"I am glad the matter is cleared up," he said. "It is plainly a case of killing two birds with one stone. I will be equally frank, Mr. Carew. I was directed by the governor of the company to await the arrival of the Good Hope, and to receive from Miss Hatherton a packet of important dispatches secretly intrusted to her in London by Lord Selkirk."
It was my turn to be amazed. I saw that each of us had suspected the other without cause.
"I also sail on the first ship for the Bay," the captain went on. "I am charged with the duty of delivering Lord Selkirk's letters of instructions to the northern forts. This is a serious matter, Mr. Carew. There is trouble brewing, and it may break out at any time. So the head office is zealously preparing for it. By the bye, do you know who this Mr. Mackenzie is?"
I shook my head.
"He is an official and a spy of the Northwest Company," said Captain Rudstone, "and he has been in London working for the interests of his people. I was aware of this when he approached us on the quay, and I hurried away so that he might be the less suspicious as to my dealings with the young lady."
"I did you an injustice," said I. What I had just heard caused me much uneasiness, and I foresaw possible unpleasant complications.
"It was a natural mistake," replied Captain Rudstone. "I overlook it. But speaking of Mackenzie—the letters would be of the utmost value to him if he could get hold of them. I don't believe he suspected the girl during the voyage, or he would have robbed her; but I am afraid he saw her withdraw the packet from her bosom. I made her put it back at once."
"He was standing near us on the quay for some time," said I, "does he know who you are?"
"It is quite likely! Hang it all, Mr. Carew, I don't like the look of things! I'm going to do a little spying about the town on my own account; but, first it is important that I should see Miss Hatherton."
I did not relish the idea of disturbing the girl so soon after her arrival, and I was about to say as much. But just then appeared Madame Ragoul with a request that my companion would accord an interview to Miss Hatherton. He departed with alacrity, and I took it with an ill grace that I should be left out of the matter. I waited for a long time, seeking consolation in the thought that I alone would be the girl's protector in future, and at length Captain Rudstone returned.
"I have the dispatches," he announced, tapping his breast.
"You were an hour about it," said I petulantly.
"Oh, ho!" he laughed; "so the wind blows from that quarter! But I am no lady's man, Mr. Carew. And Miss Hatherton is not for either of us, rare beauty though she is—ay, and a girl of pluck and spirit. She is bound by a sacred promise—a promise to the dead—to marry that old fossil, Griffith Hawke. I knew him seven years ago. A fine husband indeed for such a maid!"
The captain's foolish insinuation angered me, and I felt myself blushing furiously, but I said nothing.
"It is a sad story," he went on. "I persuaded the girl to give me her confidence. It seems that her father, a gentleman of good family, was a friend of Lord Selkirk. Some months ago he lost every shilling he had in the world through unwise speculation, and the shock killed him. On his deathbed he sent for Selkirk, and begged him to care for his daughter, who would be left quite alone in the world. The old rascal persuaded the father that the girl could not do better than go out to the Canadas and marry the factor of Fort Royal—he had received Hawke's application for a wife at about this time. The result was that Flora yielded and consented—I daresay there was no way out of it—and Selkirk took advantage of the opportunity to send these important letters with her; he knew she was the last person that would be suspected of having them. This much may be put in Selkirk's favor: he visited Canada some years ago, and took a fancy to Hawke."
"The factor is a gentleman born," said I, "but he is past fifty. And think of the life! It is a sad pity for the girl."
"She knows what is before her," replied the captain, "and she seems to be resigned. To tell the truth, though, I half-believe there is something at the back of it all—that some deeper cause drove her out here. Nothing to her discredit, I mean."
"What makes you think so?" I asked.
"A chance remark that she let fall," he answered.
I would have questioned Captain Rudstone more closely, but just then he drained his glass and rose with an air of sudden determination.
"I have work to do," he said gravely, as he put on his hat. "I must keep track of Cuthbert Mackenzie. Miss Hatherton knew nothing of his real character, and I am satisfied that he knew as little of her while they were at sea. But what he may have learned since landing is a different matter. I will come back here this evening, and meanwhile I would advise you to remain in the hotel. There is a ship sailing for the Bay in a week as you probably know, and I shall be heartily glad when we are at sea. Cuthbert Mackenzie is a serpent that stings in the dark."
He bade me good morning and was gone.
THE ALARM IN THE NIGHT.
It was about eleven o'clock of the forenoon when Captain Rudstone departed. I smoked a quiet pipe, and then sought out Baptiste; he had a little box of a room over the hotel kitchen. I found the rascal but half-sobered, so heavily had he liquored on the previous night, and I angrily bade him stay in bed for the rest of the day. Miss Hatherton did not come down to dinner, and I had for company in the coffee room Mr. Christopher Burley; there were no other guests in the house at the time.
Neither of us was in a talkative mood, and very brief speech passed between us. But shortly after the meal I met him again at the bar, where he was paying his account. He looked ready for a journey, having his hat on and a portmanteau in his hand.
"You are leaving, sir?" I asked politely.
"I return to Montreal to-day," he replied, "and later I go West. You, I believe, are bound shortly for the North?"
I nodded assent.
"We may meet in the future," he went on; "and meanwhile I trust you will remember that name—Osmund Maiden."
"I will bear it in mind," I promised, "and I wish you every success in your errand."
With that we parted, the law clerk thanking me warmly and giving me his hand. That I should ever see him again, or run across the man of whom he was in search, were things so utterly improbable that I gave them no second thought. But I was to learn in later days how small a place the world really was.
I spent the afternoon in the hotel, for I was satisfied that Captain Rudstone's caution against venturing in the streets was not to be despised. He had gone up several degrees in my estimation since the little cloud of mutual suspicion had cleared away. I did not doubt that he was as zealous for the interests of the company as myself, and, moreover, I felt that he would prove a trusty friend should Mr. Cuthbert Mackenzie try to give me any trouble. That the captain was to sail on the same ship to the Bay was a matter less to my liking, though I hardly knew why. He was of a type that a youngster like myself usually looks up to, and he had flattered me by giving me his full confidence: but he never seemed quite at ease in my presence, or inclined to stare me straight in the eyes, which I could not account for.
The time passed listlessly. I chatted for awhile with Monsieur Ragoul, and watched the customers who came in to drink. I could not put Miss Hatherton out of my mind. As often as I remembered that she was to share the long sea voyage with me, the joy of it was marred by the picture of old Griffith Hawke waiting at Fort York for his bride. I was angry at myself for taking the thing so much to heart—uneasy because a woman could thus interest me.
I had hoped to see her that afternoon, but she did not make her appearance until the late supper-time. We sat down to table together, and it gave me a strange thrill to see her sitting opposite. She looked more lovely than ever without her bonnet, and in a black gown relieved by some touches of creamy lace. I fear I stared at her stupidly, and was dull of conversation; but she chatted freely of the wonderful things to be seen in London, and I was sorry when the meal was over. Miss Hatherton then offered me a dainty hand and bade me good-night, saying that she had not been able to sleep all day, and intended to retire early.
I finished my bottle of wine, and went upstairs to my room on the third and top floor of the hotel—a meager little hole where I, used to a blanket and fir boughs, had always felt cramped and stifled. But now I wished to be alone, and for some hours I sat there without a light, smoking and thinking. A distant clock had just pealed eleven when I heard the unbolting of a door downstairs—the house had been closed for the night. A little later, after the stir and sound of voices had died away, light footsteps fell on my ear, and there was a rap at the door. I hurriedly lit a candle.
"Come in!" I cried, thinking I knew what it meant.
Captain Rudstone entered, closing the door softly behind him. With a nod he threw himself into a chair, helped himself to a pipeful of my tobacco, and looked inscrutably at me through a cloud of smoke.
"So you are still up?" he began. "I expected to find you in bed. Have you been away from the hotel?"
"Not outside of the door," I replied.
"I have left my old lodging," he went on, "and Monsieur Ragoul has given me a room next to yours."
"I rejoice to hear it," I said politely. "And have you learned anything to-day?"
"Mr. Mackenzie will demand satisfaction for that blow," the captain answered coolly.
"He shall have it," said I.
"He is a skilled swordsman and a deadly shot, Mr. Carew."
"I will meet him with either weapon," I declared hotly.
"There must be no fighting, if it can be avoided," replied the captain.
"That is a matter which rests with me," said I. "But how do you know all this?"
"I put a man on the track," was the reply. "He overheard Mackenzie talking with two boon companions who are as deep in the plotting of the Northwest Company as himself. Unfortunately, he learned no more than I have told you, and he lost the trail at an early hour this evening in the upper town."
"I shall depend on you to see me through the affair," said I.
"I fear there is mischief brewing in another quarter," the captain replied. "To be frank, Mr. Carew, you and I, and Miss Hatherton are in a decidedly unpleasant situation. Or, to leave the girl out of it, you and I must decide a very delicate question. Shall we stand by our honor, or shall we choose the best interests of the company we serve?"
"Make your meaning plainer," said I. "As yet I am in the dark."
"The point is this," the captain answered gravely. "If we wait for the company's ship, which sails in a week, serious things may happen—not to speak of the duel. I happen to know that a trading-vessel leaves the river to-morrow morning for the Bay. The captain is a friend of mine, and he will give the three of us a passage."
"This is the last proposition I should have looked for from you, Captain Rudstone," I replied indignantly. "Would you have me slink away like a thief in the night, giving Cuthbert Mackenzie the pleasure of branding me far and wide as a coward? It is not to be thought of, sir."
The captain shrugged his shoulders, and meditatively blew a cloud of smoke ceilingward.
"I admire your spirit," he said, "but not your discretion. Am I to understand, then, Mr. Carew, that you choose honor before duty?"
I looked at him speechlessly. He had a cutting way of putting things, and it dawned on me that there was indeed two sides to the question. But before I could find words to reply, the silence of the June night was broken by a shrill scream directly below us. It was followed by a cry for help, and I was sure I recognized Miss Hatherton's voice.
With one impulse Captain Rudstone and I drew our pistols and sprang to our feet. In a trice we were out in the hall, and plunging recklessly down the stairs. We heard distant calls of alarm from the lower part of the house, and a woman's voice, ringing loudly and close at hand, guided us to Miss Hatherton's room. Captain Rudstone burst the door from its fastenings by a single effort, and I followed him over the threshold. The moon was shining through an open window, and by its pale light the girl darted toward us, her snowy night dress trailing behind her, and her disheveled hair flowing about her shoulders.
"Save me!" she cried hysterically. "Save me from Cuthbert Mackenzie!"
PREPARATIONS FOR FLIGHT.
When I heard Mackenzie's name pronounced by those fair lips and realized that the scoundrel had dared to force his way to Miss Hatherton's bedchamber, I was put in such a rage as I had never known before. I did not wait for further information, but, brushing past the girl, I leaped through the open window. There was a narrow balcony beyond it—as I knew—which ran along the side of the house, and looked down on a paved courtyard overshadowed by an adjoining building.
Being familiar with the hotel, I was at no loss to account for the means by which the villain had entered and fled. I dashed at once to the end of the balcony, which was within easy reach of the limbs of a tree that grew up from the court. As I peered down from the shadows, I heard a rustling noise, and the next instant I saw a man at the base of the tree; it must have taken him all this time to descend the trunk. I was sure that I recognized Mackenzie, and as he made off I took aim with my pistol and fired. A sharp cry and an oath followed the report, but the fellow sped on to the end of the court, where a passage led out to a back street. Here a voice hailed him; showing that one or more had shared his enterprise.
But a moment had passed since I leaped out of the window, and now I found Captain Rudstone at my side.
"Did you hit him?" he demanded.
"I think so," I replied; "but he ran like a deer."
"He'll not run far if I can get sight of him. To take the scoundrel will be a good card in our hands!"
With that the captain swung himself into the tree, and went down hand over hand, from limb to limb, with the agility of a cat. He was on the ground before I could have counted ten.
"Do not follow me," he called up: and then he vanished in the shadows across the court.
I would have preferred to take a part in the chase, but I swallowed my disappointment and returned along the balcony. The pistol-shot had raised some clamor in the neighborhood. I could hear men shouting, and several lights were moving in the opposite house. I climbed through the window into the room, where I found Monsieur and Madame Ragoul and their three servants all in a state of excitement. Miss Hatherton had by this time put on a dressing-gown and slippers, and seemed to have entirely recovered from her fright. She blushed prettily as she saw me.
"You have not killed him. Mr. Carew?" she asked.
"I fear not," I replied; "but Captain Rudstone hopes to take him."
"It will be a shame if he escapes," cried Madame Ragoul. "Oh, the pig—the wicked robber! He might have strangled the pretty English mademoiselle!"
The servants were rolling their eyes and shivering with fear, and Monsieur Ragoul was dancing about, with his red nightcap hanging to one ear.
"I am ruined!" he wailed. "The good name of my house is gone! Never—never did such a thing happen before! The officers of the law will enter—they will demand why a pistol is fired to waken the quarter!"
"Coward, be quiet!" snapped his wife. "The affair is no fault of ours."
I judged it was time to interfere. The distant clamor had not perceptibly increased, and I saw some chance of keeping the matter a secret, which was a thing greatly to be desired.
"Monsieur Ragoul, I think there need be no publicity," said I. "Will you be so good as to close the window and draw the curtains, and also put out that candle you are holding?"
He obeyed me promptly, and just as the room was darkened Baptiste made a tardy appearance. I explained the situation to him in a few words, and then I turned to Miss Hatherton.
"I trust you are none the worse," I said. "I deeply regret that you should have suffered such an outrage—"
"And I am sorry to have put you to so much trouble on my account," she interrupted. "This is twice you have come to my help at a time of need."
"Then I am twice honored," I replied. "But, tell me, was the scoundrel indeed Mr. Mackenzie?"
"I am sure of it, Mr. Carew. I woke suddenly, and saw him standing in the moonlight at the foot of my bed. When I screamed the second time he vanished through the window. It was the shock that unnerved me. I beg you to believe that I am not ordinarily a coward."
"The adventure would have terrified the bravest of women," I answered. Bending to her ear, I added, in a whisper: "As for Mr. Mackenzie, I take it he was seeking the dispatches?"
"Yes, he doubtless thought I still had them," Miss Hatherton replied. "I am afraid he will pay dearly for his folly if Captain Rudstone overtakes him."
Even as she spoke a startling thing happened. In the silence of the room we all heard the faint report of a pistol. The sound came from some distance away, and in the direction of the upper town.
"That was the captain's shot," I declared.
"Or Mr. Mackenzie's," the girl suggested, in a tone of alarm.
"The saints save us!" cried Monsieur Ragoul. "This is worse and worse!"
I was for going out to investigate, but Miss Hatherton would have it that such a step meant danger, and I yielded reluctantly to her pleadings. However, I persuaded the little Frenchman to let me into the courtyard, by which way I knew the captain would return if he was able. We went downstairs, accompanied by Baptiste, and Monsieur Ragoul unbarred and opened the side door. .
When I stepped into the court I was relieved to discover that the immediate neighborhood was comparatively quiet. But at a distance, in the direction whence the shot had come, a confused clamor was audible. I had been listening no more than a minute when I heard footsteps, and across the moonlit court came Captain Rudstone. My heart leaped for joy at the sight of him. Without a word he motioned us into the house, and closed and fastened the door. Then I knew that he had bad news.
"Monsieur Ragoul," he said, "will you go and tell Miss Hatherton to dress at once and to put in a parcel as many of her belongings as she can carry in one hand. Be quick!"
The Frenchman dared not ask any questions. He departed in a state of alarm and mystery, and Baptiste and I were left alone with the captain. The latter rested a hand on my shoulder.
"Mr. Carew," he said gravely, "you remember the question I put to you an hour ago? You have no longer any choice in the matter; we must leave Quebec at once—within a few minutes. That is, if we can."
"What do you mean?" I asked hoarsely. "What has happened?"
"Much," he replied. "In the first place, you wounded Mr. Mackenzie in the right arm. In the second place, I followed the ruffians for a quarter of a mile—there were two of them—and finally came up with them at a lonely spot. I tried to take them both, but they resisted fiercely. To save my own life I shot and killed Mackenzie's companion, a Northwest man named Tredennis. Mackenzie fled, raising the alarm as he ran, and by a detour I got back to the hotel unobserved."
"There is likely to be trouble over the affair," said I; and indeed I felt more alarm than I put into my voice.
"Trouble?" cried the captain, with some irritation. "By Heavens, Mr. Carew, it's as black an outlook as I ever faced! Mackenzie knows his power, and he will hatch up a devil of a lie. In Quebec feeling runs high against the Hudson Bay people, and the authorities openly favor the Northwest Company. I tell you there will be warrants out for our arrest within the hour—perhaps in less time. And you must perceive what the result will be if we are taken. Lord Selkirk's dispatches will fall into the hands of our enemies; you and I will be thrown into prison. And God only knows what will become of Miss Hatherton!"
I felt a sensation as of a hand clutching at my heart. I knew that the situation was as dismal as Captain Rudstone had painted it—that we could not expect fair dealing from the authorities of Quebec. And the thought of the girl's peril, if she should be left to the wiles of Cuthbert Mackenzie, put me in a mind to accept any opportunity of escape that offered.
"What is your plan?" I asked.
"The Yankee ship Speedwell sails for the Bay in the morning," the captain replied. "She lies anchored a short distance down the river, and we must get on board as soon as possible. I have known her master, Hiram Bunker, of Salem, for several years."
I made no objection to the arrangement. Baptiste had been listening, and a few sentences put everything clear. He was trusty and I saw a way to utilize him.
"Off with you to the river—to the landing at the foot of Bonaventure Street," I directed. "There are plenty of boats about. Get possession of one, and wait for us."
Captain Rudstone warmly approved this step. We let Baptiste into the court, locked the door, and hurried upstairs. In the hall we encountered Miss Hatherton, fully dressed and carrying a small bundle. The brave girl had promptly obeyed instructions, though ignorant of what they meant. When we explained our purpose she showed an admirable pluck and spirit, putting herself entirely in our hands, and urging us to be off without delay. Monsieur Ragoul seemed disposed to give us some trouble at first, but that blew over when we presented him with a few gold pieces, and pointed out to him that our departure was for his own good. Our destination, of course, we did not reveal.
In ten minutes more we were ready to start. My musket was strapped to my back, and the captain and I had each a bundle containing a change of clothes. We came quietly down the dark stairs, monsieur and madame leading the way, and the servants bringing up the rear—traversing the hall, we turned toward the side exit. And just then, on the front door of the hotel we heard a loud and sudden thumping.
THE SKIPPER OF THE SPEEDWELL.
The alarm took us by surprise, for we had expected to get the start on our enemies by at least half an hour. That the officers of the law were at the door none of us doubted. We stood still where we were, and in a whisper the captain admonished us to be quiet. There was a brief silence, and then the rapping began again.
"What am I to do?" whispered Monsieur Ragoul, and so loudly that his wife promptly clapped a hand over his mouth.
"They have come to seize us," said I, in a low voice. "I fear we are in a trap, with no choice but to yield or fight."
"Resistance would be folly," Captain Rudstone replied quickly, "and for Miss Hatherton's sake we must not be taken. There is a chance for us yet—it is possible that the back way of the house has been left unguarded."
"Then let us be off at once," I urged, taking courage from his suggestions.
As I spoke, a lull came in the pounding, and a voice cried loudly, "Open! Open!"
Monsieur Ragoul was fairly beside himself with terror and the servants were as helpless as himself; so the captain and I had to act for ourselves, and that without the loss of another second. We found the side door, opened it, and closed it softly behind us when we stepped into the court. The pounding at the front of the house had started afresh, and there was a clamor off in the distance; but so far as we could see by the moonlight this rear avenue of escape was open.
The captain led the way forward, and I followed with Miss Hatherton at my side; her hand rested on my arm, and I could not detect the slightest tremor in her touch. We glided swiftly across the court, and entered a narrow passage leading to the street beyond. We were just at the end of it when a man appeared abruptly from one side and barred the way.
"Not so fast!" he exclaimed, with a movement to draw a weapon. "Stop, in the name of—"
The fellow got no further, for quickly the captain had him pinned by the throat. The two fell after a brief scuffle, and I heard somebody's head give the stone an ugly rap. The captain jumped to his feet, but the other man lay motionless and quiet.
"Is he dead?" Miss Hatherton asked, in a horrified whisper.
I bent over the fellow, and recognized him as one of the town watch.
"He is only stunned," I replied, "but he got a bad fall, and won't know anything for a couple of hours."
Meanwhile Captain Rudstone had ventured out of the passage to reconnoiter, and he called to us sharply to join him. We did so, and were relieved to find that the street was dark and empty.
"I feared the man would have companions with him," said I. "It seems he came round here alone."
"Yes, luckily for us," the captain replied. "There will be a pretty row before long; that scoundrel Mackenzie has wasted no time in showing his hand. But I think we are fairly safe, and if the skipper of the Speedwell is open to reason we shall be going down the river under full sail within the hour."
"I hope so, indeed," I replied. "You say the man is a friend of yours?"
"He owes me more than one service, Mr. Carew, but enough of speech! Do you and Miss Hatherton follow me closely, and avoid any appearance of alarm or haste."
We had already crossed the street that lay in the rear of the Silver Lily, and entered one at right angles to it. There was a great deal of noise behind us, and for this reason there was the more danger to be apprehended from the front, since the alarm had roused some of the inhabitants of the quarter from their beds. Here and there men passed us with sharp glances, and curious faces stared down at us from open windows. But none stopped us, so boldly and with such unconcern did we comport ourselves, and after treading a maze of the straggling and dirty little thoroughfares, we came out on Bonaventure Street at a point close to the river.
And now we made a discovery that was very discomforting. Looking up in the direction of the hotel, we could see vaguely-moving figures, and there was a sound of shouting and running that swelled louder on the air.
"Our escape has been discovered," said I.
"Without a doubt," replied Captain Rudstone; "and what is worse, the chase is coming this way. Some persons whom we met have given information. But the river is close at hand, and our pursuers have barely started from the Silver Lily."
"Will we escape them?" Miss Hatherton inquired anxiously.
"Assuredly," said I, in spite of a lurking doubt. "Keep up your courage. We are almost within reach of safety."
We quickened our pace—this end of the street was deserted—and fifty yards more brought us to the water's edge. The captain and I felt a fear that neither of us put into words, but happily it proved unfounded; for at the landing-steps, a short distance below, the faithful Baptiste was waiting with a boat—a deep, roomy little craft which he had found near by. At once we got in, Baptiste retreated to the bow, and Miss Hatherton and myself occupied the stern seat. The captain took the oars, and he wisely made the most of the opportunity by pulling straight out from shore and in between the shipping that was anchored hereabouts. It is a wonder we fared so well, for swinging lanterns shed their light upon us, and we passed under decks where men were pacing their night watches. But no inquisitive voices hailed us, and we glided safely through to the open river and turned downstream with the current. The tangle of masts and spars receded behind us, hiding the spot where we had embarked, and for five minutes we drifted on in the moonlight, our hearts too full for speech. Then Miss Hatherton broke the silence.
"Is the ship that we are seeking near or far?" she asked.
Captain Rudstone turned in his seat, and pointed to a dark object about half a mile below us.
"There lies the Speedwell," he replied, "a quarter of a mile out from shore, and by herself."
This was reassuring news, but there were perils to be reckoned with. A great hue and cry was spreading along the town's edge, mainly in the direction of the landing-stairs, and we looked for a boat to appear behind us at any moment. Also, to my mind, there was some uncertainty as to the reception the Speedwell's skipper would give us.
However, there was no sign of pursuit within next five minutes, and by that time we were alongside of the ship, which was a tidy brig of some hundred and fifty tons burden. Her sea gear was rove and her sails stowed. Several heads looked over her bulwarks as we made fast, and a voice hailed us sharply.
"That you, Bunker?" the captain replied.
"Yes. Who are you?" came suspiciously.
There was an exclamation of surprise, and a moment later a rope ladder was thrown down to us. Baptiste and I and the girl preceded the captain, and as he followed us he cast the boat adrift. At the first sight, seeing him on deck by the glare of a lantern, I was favorably impressed by Hiram Bunker. He was a short, thick-set man, with a sandy beard and a shrewd, good natured face. He scanned Miss Hatherton and myself with open amazement, and shook hands heartily with Captain Rudstone.
"Glad to meet you again, sir," he cried in a nasal voice. "My mate wakened me up to listen to the row over yonder," pointing to the shore, "and that's why I'm on deck at this hour. I might have guessed you had a hand in the rumpus. But what does it mean, anyway?".
The captain explained, making the situation thoroughly clear, and the little skipper listened with thoughtful attention.
"It's an ugly scrape," was his grave comment.
"It is that; but you can get us out of it. What do you say?"
"I say I'll do it," cried the skipper. "I'm a Hudson Bay man at heart, and I'll save the lot of you—hang the risk!"
"And you will sail at once?"
"At once. I've got my full cargo on board, and I was only waiting for daylight to start. It's not far off that now. But, shiver my timbers, if there don't come the rascals you thought you had slipped!"
He pointed up the river, and I saw a longboat approaching swiftly. It was still a good distance off, but there was not a moment to lose, and the skipper was aware of the fact. He hastily roused the crew, and I never saw a more pleasing sight than that hardy lot of men as they set to work to unfurl the sails and get the vessel under way.
Miss Hatherton stood with me at the bulwark, holding to my arm, and asking me what I thought of the situation. I hardly knew how to answer her, for there was no telling as yet what was going to happen. A stiff breeze was blowing ready for the canvas, and when the anchor was lifted we began to drift. But meanwhile the boat had come up close, and with evident determination to board us. It held ten men, and they were mostly at the oars.
"Sheer off, there!" cried the skipper. "What do you want?"
"You are sheltering fugitives from the law," a harsh voice replied. "Give them up. It's a case of murder!"
The skipper refused in plain terms, and catching a sudden gleam of steel, he shouted savagely:
"If you come any nearer or fire a single shot I'll give you a volley of ten guns!"
By this time the ship was under way and moving with full canvas spread. The pursuing boat fell back, its occupants yelling curses and threats; and so the danger passed. The Speedwell bore swiftly on, leaving a foamy wake dancing on the bosom of the St. Lawrence, and in my delight I felt tempted to throw my arms about Miss Hatherton. Captain Rudstone joined us, and with thankful hearts we watched the lights of Quebec fading in the distance.
CLOSE TO PORT.
I need make but brief mention of the long cruise that followed our escape, of the days that passed slowly while we worked our way down the mighty St. Lawrence, out to the open Atlantic by the rocky gates of Newfoundland, and thence up the coast of Labrador to Hudson Straits. For the most part wind and weather favored us, yet it was a matter of six weeks before we got into the bay and made sail across that inland waste of water toward our destination, Fort York, which was far down in the southwestern corner. The distance from Quebec by land would have been far less. Our course, as a map will show, was along the three sides of a square.
The Speedwell was a sound little ship, and carried a mixed cargo to be delivered at the Hudson Bay posts. We were well fed and snugly berthed, Miss Hatherton having a cozy cabin all to herself. The crew were good fellows, and Hiram Bunker was a typical New England skipper—bluff, honest and popular. I did not see very much of him, for he and Captain Rudstone became boon companions and stuck well together. It was the same with the captain. Indeed, he seemed to take pains to avoid me, except when others were present, thereby causing me some perplexity and chagrin. And if we happened to find ourselves alone he appeared ill at ease, and would look at me in a strange and shifty manner, as though he had something on his mind. But for all that the time did not hang heavily on my hands, nor was the voyage an uneventful one to me, as I shall relate in a few words.
It came about naturally enough that Miss Hatherton and I spent the long days together. In less than a fortnight we were calling each other by our Christian names. Secluded in some nook of the deck, we would talk for hours, or I would read aloud from one of the few volumes that the skipper's cabin afforded. She told me much of her life in London. Her father had been a gentleman of some means until speculation wrecked him, and later she confided to me the whole of her sad story.
There was more than I had known before, as Captain Rudstone suggested. It seems that prior to her father's death the only son of Lord Selkirk fell in love with the girl. She did not return his affection, and, indeed, she disliked the young man. But the old lord was either ignorant of this fact or would not believe it. He had higher matrimonial views for his son, and so, in order to get Miss Hatherton out of England, he hatched the plot that resulted in the poor girl making her father a sacred promise that she would go to the Canadas and marry Griffith Hawke. She had no relatives to interfere, and a cruel disadvantage was taken of her helplessness and poverty. She spoke of the matter only on the one occasion, and it did not come up between us again. Nor had I the heart to mention it, since she was clearly resigned to her future.
But I pitied the girl deeply, and I would have been more than human, with the opportunities afforded, had I not fallen a victim to her charms and loveliness. I did not perceive where I was drifting. I did not realize my danger until it was too late. In short, I, who had hitherto felt but contempt for all womankind, suddenly discovered that I was a slave to the great passion. It was a sharp awakening, and it destroyed my peace of mind. To me Flora Hatherton was a divinity, a goddess. It gave me the keenest torture to think that she would soon be the wife of old Griffith Hawke. I knew that she was as far out of my reach as the stars above, and yet I felt that I should love her passionately all my life—that the memory of her sweet face would shatter all the joys of existence for me.
I could have cursed myself for being such a fool, and I hated the factor for sending me on such a mission. It never entered my head to play him false and try to win Flora, nor did I believe there was any chance of doing so. Day after day we were together, and with Spartan courage I hid my feelings—or, at least, I thought I was hiding them. It was a hard task, for every word or look that the girl gave me seemed to turn my blood to fire. That she was indifferent to me—that she regarded me only as a friend—I was convinced. I was a youngster and inexperienced, and so I was blind to the girl's pretty blushes, to the averting of her eyes when they would meet mine, and to other signs of confusion that I remembered afterward. To remain at Fort Royal, a witness of Griffith Hawke's domestic happiness, I knew to be impossible. I determined to seek a new post, or to plunge far into the northern wilderness, as soon as I should have delivered Flora at her destination.
The days slipped by fraught with mingled joy and bitterness, and at sunset one chilly August evening I stood alone on deck by the port bulwark. The wind was rising, and there was a clammy mist on the gray, troubled waters. We were nearly across the bay, and in the morning we expected to sight the marshy shores that lay about Fort York. Flora was in her cabin. She had seemed depressed all day and I remembered that an hour before, when the skipper told her how near we were to land, she had smiled at me sadly and gone below. I had no wish for the voyage to end. The thought of the morrow cut me like a knife, and I was lost in gloomy reflections, when a hand clapped me on the shoulder. I turned round with a start, and saw Captain Rudstone.
"A few hours more, Mr. Carew," he said, "and we shall have dropped anchor under the walls of the fort. Do you expect to meet your factor there?"
"It is doubtful," I replied. "He will hardly look for our arrival so soon. We took an earlier ship, you will remember, and our passage has been a swift one."
"It was a dangerous passage," he said meaningly—"at least, for you. I take it you will be glad of a few days of grace. But may I ask—I happen to have a curiosity—how this thing is to end?"
"What thing?" I cried, ruffling at once.
"You love Miss Hatherton," he answered with a smile.
I felt my face grow hot.
"Does that concern you?" I demanded curtly. "I will thank you to mind your own affairs, Captain Rudstone."
"The girl loves you," he replied calmly.
"I don't believe it," said I.
"Bah! you are a blind fool," he muttered. "I gave you credit for more perception. But it is just as I said—the girl returns your affection. What are you going to do about it? Will you allow her to marry Griffith Hawke?"
I could have struck the captain for his jesting tone, and yet at the same time I detected a ring of truth in what he had said. It flashed upon me that I had indeed been blind, and the revelation thrilled my heart.
"Miss Hatherton is the promised wife of Griffith Hawke," I answered hoarsely; "and Griffith Hawke is my superior officer. I am acting under his orders, and I dare not betray my trust. I am a man of honor, and not a knave. I scorn your suggestion, sir."
"Do you call it honorable," sneered the captain, "to help this innocent girl, whose heart belongs to you, to marry another man?"
I looked at him with some confusion for, to tell the truth, I had no answer ready to my lips. And just then Hiram Bunker strode up to us, his countenance unusually grave.
"It's going to be a nasty night, or I'm no mariner," he exclaimed. "There's a storm brewing, and we are perilously near the coast. I don't like the prospect a bit, gentlemen."
Captain Rudstone made some fitting reply, but I was in no mood to heed the skipper's words, or to give a second thought to the prophecy of a storm. I left the two together, and with my brain in a whirl I crept down to the seclusion of my cabin.
AT THE MERCY OF THE SEA.
For an hour or more I sat on the edge of my berth, pondering the matter first in one way and then in another. The captain's plain speech had opened my eyes, as it were, and as I recalled many little incidents of the past, looking at them now in their true light, I saw that I had indeed been dull-witted and slow of comprehension. I had won Flora's heart—she returned my affection. That was the meaning of her frequent blushes and confusion—signs which I had interpreted as indifference when I thought of them at all.
The discovery both caused me an exquisite joy and added to my wretchedness. At the first I painted a bright and glowing picture of the future. Flora should be mine! I would make her my wife, and carry her off into the wilderness or to one of the lower towns. I was young and strong. I had some money laid by, and it would be but a delightful task to carve a home and a fortune for the two of us. So I reasoned for a time, and then a more sober mood followed. I saw that I had been indulging in an empty dream.
"There is no such happiness for me!" I groaned aloud. "I was a fool to think of it for a moment. The girl loves me, it is true, but no persuasion of mine could ever induce her to break her promise. She belongs to Griffith Hawke, and she will marry him. And even if it were possible to win her, honor and duty, which I have always held sacred, would keep me from such a knavish trick. If I proved unfaithful to my trust, could I ever hold up my head among men again?"
Thus I revolved the matter in my mind, and I confess that I was sorely tempted more than once to stake all on the chance of making Flora my own. But in the end I resolved to be true to my manhood—to the principles my father had been at such pains to teach me. Without taking the trouble to undress, I stretched myself on my bed—the hour was late—and for a long time I dozed or tossed restlessly at intervals. At last I fell into a sound sleep, and it could have been no great while afterward when I was rudely awakened by a crash that pitched me out of my bunk to the floor. A second and far louder crash followed at once, immediately overhead, and then a shrill commotion broke out. I knew the ship had struck, and I lost no time in getting to my feet. Luckily no bones were broken, and with some difficulty—for the vessel was pitching heavily—I groped my way through the darkness to the deck.
Here I beheld such a scene as I trust I may never see again. The mainmast had fallen, tearing a great gap in the bulwark, and crushing two sailors under its weight. Hiram Bunker and some of his men were rushing to and fro, shouting and yelling; others were gazing as though stupefied at the wreckage of shattered spars, flapping canvas, and twisted cordage. The ship was plunging fore and aft—a sure sign that she was not now aground. The mist had partly cleared, and the air was raw and cutting. A storm of wind and rain was raging, blowing from the starboard or seaward side. Several of the crew had followed me above, but most of them had evidently been busy on deck at the time of the disaster.
A single lamp was burning, and at first none observed my presence. All was seemingly confusion and panic, and the skipper's orders were being tardily obeyed. I moved forward a little, and recognized Captain Rudstone holding to the snapped-off end of the mast.
"What has happened?" I demanded anxiously. "Are we in danger?"
"Little doubt of it, Mr. Carew," he answered calmly. "The ship struck on a submerged rock—probably the side edge of it—and immediately sheered off into deep water. It was a hard blow to shatter the mast, which crushed two poor fellows to death in its fall."
"What is the time?" I asked.
"Two o'clock in the morning, and we are close to the shore."
"The vessel might have fared worse," said I. "But is she leaking?"
"Ay, there's the rub," the captain replied. "The water is pouring in, and the ship is already beginning to settle."
"God help us," I cried, "if that is true!"
I wanted further confirmation, and I hurried away to seek the skipper. I found him close by, and as I hurried up to him he was joined by another man, a bearded sailor, who called out excitedly:
"There is four feet of water in the well, sir, and it is steadily increasing. We can't keep afloat long."
"Stick to the pumps, Lucas, and do what you can," the skipper directed. "Get some food ready, men, and prepare to lower the boats," he shouted loudly to the crew. Then he turned to me.
"'Tis is a bad business, Mr. Carew," he said hoarsely. "It's all up with my ship, and I'm a ruined man. But I'm going to save all hands, if it is possible. Where is Miss Hatherton?"
"In her cabin," I replied.
I had not forgotten the girl, but I had felt reluctant to rouse her until I knew what danger threatened us. Now there was no time to lose, and I hastened to the companion way. At the foot of it, where there was some depth of water, I dimly perceived Flora wading toward me. She uttered a little cry of joy and clasped my arm.
"So you are up and dressed," I exclaimed. "I was just coming for you."
"I was awakened by the crash," she replied, "and I prepared for the worst at once. Is the ship sinking, Denzil?"
"She will go down ultimately," I answered; "but there is plenty of time for all hands to escape. Do not be alarmed."
"I am not frightened," she said bravely. "I know that I am safe with you."
There was a tenderness in her voice that tempted me to some mad reply, but I checked the impulse. I bade her stay where she was while I went to my cabin for some articles of value. I was quickly back, and as soon as the companion was clear—the skipper and some of the crew were swarming down—I helped Flora up. We went forward to the bulwark, Captain Rudstone joining us, and there we waited for a quarter of an hour of suspense and anxiety.
In spite of the sucking of the pumps, the ship settled steadily, bows first, and rolled less and less to the waves. It was very dark, and the wind shrieked and whistled dismally; the rain fell unceasingly, soon drenching us from head to foot. The worst of it was that we had shortly to face a deadly peril. The boats were frail, the sea rough, and the storm-beaten coast of the bay was no great distance off. I had not the heart to tell Flora how slight was our chance of life, and I do not know if she suspected it. At all events, she was perfectly calm and collected.
The men were under control now, and there was little confusion. They promptly obeyed orders, and Hiram Bunker seemed to be everywhere at once. We could do nothing but look on, with a growing uneasiness, for which there was good cause. But at last all was in readiness, and none too soon, for the bows of the sinking ship were close to the water. It was from this quarter that the two boats—the longboat and the jolly-boat—were lowered.
The latter was the smaller, and it was quickly filled by Miss Hatherton, Captain Rudstone, Baptiste, and I, and four seamen. The first mate, who had a lantern lashed to his waist, let down some food and then followed us. The skipper and the rest of the crew occupied the long boat, which was lowered at the same time from the opposite side. Both craft were hurriedly thrust off by the aid of boathooks, and there we were on the open surface of Hudson Bay, exposed to the fury of the storm, and drifting away into the black maw of the night.
How narrow an escape we had made of it we were quickly to learn, for we had gone no more than a hundred yards when I heard a bitter cry from Hiram Bunker, followed by shouts of "Look! Look!" I glanced back from the stern seat, and at that moment the Speedwell went to her doom. There was a sound of creaking planks, her bow dipped under and her stern rose high the air, and then the waves closed over the poop-deck and blotted out the swinging lantern.
We were beyond the reach of the vortex, and our men pulled hard away from the fatal spot. The sea grew rougher, and the rain poured in torrents; we were compelled to keep bailing the water out. The wind-lashed gap between the two boats widened swiftly, and in a short time the long boat was lost to sight in the darkness. Again and again we shouted at the top of our voices, but no reply came back. The wind shrieked, the billows roared and crashed, and the shadow of death seemed to be lowering on us from the black sky overhead.
"How are we going?" Captain Rudstone asked of the first mate, who was at one of the oars.
"Badly enough, sir," the man replied. "It's no use trying to keep off the shore, pull as hard as we may."
"Is there no hope?" Flora asked of me in a whisper.
"Very little," I replied hoarsely. "It is better to prepare for the worst."
I put one arm round her, and she voluntarily snuggled closer to me. Thus we sat for twenty minutes or half an hour, expecting constantly to be capsized and flung into the sea. The storm still raged with undiminished violence, but it was growing a little lighter now, and as often as we rose to the top of the swell we could see the faint blur of the land far off. It was an ominous sight, for most of us knew what the shore of the bay was like in a tempest. Wind and tide were drifting us steadily nearer.
"Look! Look!" Captain Rudstone suddenly shouted. "Pull hard about, men! Quick, for your lives!"
But it was too late to avert the danger. I had scarcely glanced behind me, where I saw a mighty wave, yards high, rolling forward swiftly, when the jolly-boat was pitched far into the air. It hovered an instant on the crest of the wall of water and then turned bottom up, shooting us all down the slope into a foamy trough.