The Missing Ship; The Log of the "Ouzel" Galley, by W.H.G. Kingston
This is a long and exceptionally well-written book by this prolific author. It is full of interest and strong situations. The date of the events is supposed to be early in the eighteenth century, and of course all matters nautical are under sail (or oars). That date is stated in the Preface.
The copy of the book that was used for this transcription was quite hard to work with, mainly because the type appeared to have been set a bit close to the gutter (the fold down the centre of the open pages). However, it later appeared that the book had been kept for a long time in some position that caused a fold in the pages near to the gutter, so that the scans were more usable than was at first feared.
This book does make an exceptionally nice audiobook. The book is fifty percent longer than the average novel, and takes about 18 hours for the audiobook to play.
You will enjoy this book a great deal.
THE MISSING SHIP; THE LOG OF THE "OUZEL" GALLEY, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
THE MASTER OF THE OUZEL GALLEY—HIS SON AND DAUGHTER—THE FIRST MATE—A CALM—A GALE SPRINGS UP—A RAFT SEEN—OWEN RESCUES ITS OCCUPANT—DAN, AND POMPEY, THE BLACK COOK—SURMISES ABOUT THE STRANGER—THE GALE CEASES—THE STRANGER APPEARS ON DECK AND GIVES AN ACCOUNT OF HIMSELF— GIVES FIRST NEWS OF WAR BETWEEN ENGLAND AND FRANCE—LANCELOT CARNEGAN BECOMES SECOND MATE OF THE OUZEL GALLEY.
"No sign of a breeze yet, Owen?" asked Captain Tracy, as he lay in his cot, slung in the state-room of the Ouzel Galley, West India trader, of which stout bark he was the commander. His fair daughter Norah sat by his side fanning his pale cheek—for he, like several of his crew, had been struck down by fever, and he probably owed his life to her watchful care. For many days the vessel had lain becalmed on the glassy ocean under a tropical sun, the excessive heat tending greatly to increase the sickness on board, three of the crew, besides the second mate, having already succumbed to it. Day after day the survivors had been anxiously looking out for the wind to fill the sluggish sails hanging down against the masts; but each morning they had seen the fiery sun rise out of the calm ocean and pass across the blue vault of heaven, to sink again beneath the horizon, suffusing with a ruddy glow the whole western sky. The night brought relief from the heat, and hope revived; but when morning returned, again the suffering crew had to endure the scorching rays of the sun, from which even the shade cast by the sails afforded them but inadequate shelter. The chips from the carpenter's bench which had been thrown overboard still lay alongside; while the creaking of the yards and blocks, and the slight splashing sound as the vessel moved from side to side by the now scarcely perceptible undulations of the broad Atlantic, alone broke the silence which, reigned over the watery expanse on which she floated. Norah—a fair and beautiful girl, who, though scarcely sixteen summers had passed over her head, had already the appearance, and what was to her of the greatest consequence, the calm resolution of more mature age—stopping for a moment in her employment, looked up with an inquiring glance from her blue eyes towards the first mate, who had just then, hat in hand, entered the cabin.
"A bank of clouds has just appeared above the horizon in the sou'-west, sir, and from the rapid way in which it is rising we shall, if I mistake not, have the wind before long, and as much as we want of it," he replied.
"Thank Heaven!" ejaculated the captain. "See all ready for shortening sail. I must try to come on deck, for we are sadly short-handed."
"Oh! don't attempt it, father," said Norah; "you have scarcely strength to stand, and Mr Massey and the crew will do all that is necessary."
"Miss Norah is right, sir—stay where you are," said the mate. "I am inclined to furl everything at once, so as to be prepared for the wind when it reaches us; it is near the hurricane season in the West Indies, and they are sometimes felt as far to the eastward as this. Should the wind not prove as strong as I expect, we can easily make sail again."
"Do as you propose, Owen," said the captain; "you are always careful and prudent."
"Ay, ay, sir," answered the mate, and he sprang quickly on deck. "All hands shorten sail!" he shouted. "Be smart, my lads, or we may have old Harry Cane aboard us before we have time to open our weather eyes."
He knew well that a joke would tend to inspirit the downcast crew, most of whom were Irishmen—the Ouzel Galley belonging to Dublin, though trading chiefly to the fair port of Waterford. She was a deep-waisted vessel, with three masts, the foremast and mainmast square-rigged, while the aftermast carried a long lateen-shaped sail called the mizen, with a square topsail and topgallantsail. The mainsail and foresail having been brailed up and handed, Owen ordered the crew aloft to furl the main-topsail.
"Gerald, lend me a hand to furl the mizen!" he sang out to a lad who had been actively engaged in the former operation. Gerald Tracy, the captain's son, a fine-looking youth, sprang aft to the mizen-brails. The mate having already let go the sheet, the sail was drawn up close to the yard.
"Now, aloft to the mizen-topsail," cried the mate; "we must have every stitch of canvas off her before the wind reaches us; for, depend upon it, it is in no playful mood."
The mate and Gerald sprang up the rigging, and getting hold of the bunt of the sail, quickly furled it. Pompey, the black cook, and Tim Maloney, a boy, were on deck letting go or hoisting away at the ropes as required; every other man in the ship able to move was aloft. All the after sail having been taken off the ship, Owen, as he was about to descend from the yard, cast a glance to windward.
"Here it comes, sharp and strong," he sang out; "down—down, quick, all of you!" and, seizing the backstay, he glided like lightning on deck. Gerald followed his example. As soon as the mate reached the deck, he sprang to the deserted helm and gave another look in the direction from which he expected the wind to come. Already could be discerned a long line of white foam curling up above the hitherto calm sea, over the surface of which innumerable cat's-paws were playing, now sweeping across it, now vanishing, to reappear speedily in another direction. The men were in the mean time employed, under the mate's directions, in getting the ship snug.
"Gerald, do you go and assist them," he said; "we haven't a moment to lose."
The jib only remained set. Some of the crew had begun to grumble at having so much pulling and hauling, with apparently no object.
"What's the use of furling sails in a dead calm? we shall be after having to set them again, as I hope we shall get the breeze before long," exclaimed Dan Connor.
An active seaman was Dan, though he could seldom see much further than his own nose.
"Nebber fear dat," cried Pompey, "we get de wind 'tiff and 'trong as you and I like de grog, Dan—de mate hab um wedder eye open as 'wide as de captain—see what coming—look out, man—what say to dat?"
Those standing near him turned their glances over the larboard side, towards the south-west, the vessel then lying with her head to the north-west, where they saw a long line which had now assumed the appearance of a vast foaming wave, while at the same time a loud hissing roar reached their ears. The mate shouted for another hand to come to the helm. Dan Connor sprang aft at the mate's call; but scarcely had he grasped the spokes of the wheel, than the wind with a furious rush struck the vessel. Down she heeled, while a deluge of spray flew over her. For an instant it seemed as if she was irretrievably gone, but the jib happily standing, she drew ahead, and feeling her helm, round she spun, and, righting as suddenly as she had heeled over, away she flew before the hurricane. The young mate drew his breath.
"Gerald, go below and tell your father that we're all to rights and no damage done. We had a narrow squeak for it, though; but don't say that—it may trouble your sister," said Owen.
Gerald went into the cabin with the satisfactory intelligence. On entering he found Norah clinging to the sofa, which was placed athwart-ships, at the after end of the cabin. She looked pale and anxious; happily, the captain had escaped being thrown out of his cot when the vessel had been hove on her beam-ends.
"How goes it, Gerald?" he asked.
"All right, father," answered Gerald; "the stout ship is behaving beautifully. Thanks to Mr Massey, we were well prepared for the squall when it struck us—though it's my belief if we'd had our canvas set it would have been all over with the Ouzel Galley. We are now scudding along under bare poles at a rate which will soon carry us into Waterford harbour, if the wind holds as it is."
"Little chance of that, I'm afraid," observed the captain; "but, Gerald, tell the mate to have the dead-lights closed. The sea will be getting up presently, and we shall have it washing through the stern windows."
"Ay, ay, sir," answered his son, who knew that an order given must be delivered immediately, and was about to go.
"Stay, Gerald—tell him to set the fore-topsail closely reefed, and to rig preventer-braces; we must not run the risk of having the ship pooped, and there will be a great chance of that happening before long, unless we have merely caught the tail of the hurricane."
The boy hurried on deck and gave the orders he had received. He found that the mate had anticipated them. The carpenter was at that moment coming aft to close the stern-ports, while several hands were going aloft to loose the fore-topsail. The mate had seen the necessity for this, as already the furious wind had lashed the ocean, hitherto so calm, into wildly leaping seas, which came rushing up on both sides of the vessel, with foaming crests like war-steeds charging on the foe; but onward she flew before them, now rising to the summit of a wave, now pitching down into the trough on the farther side. It needed all the strength of the crew to reef and set the sail. The carpenter, as soon as he had performed his task, went forward again to assist the rest, while the mate and Gerald took the helm. The sail was at length set, and the men came down off the yard. The mate kept an anxious eye on the canvas, doubting much whether it would stand the tremendous strain put on it—he expected every moment to see it blown away from the bolt-ropes—but it was stout and new. He had little fear of the rigging, for every inch of it he had himself assisted in turning in and setting up, and not a strand had parted—all was thoroughly served. He now summoned one of the best hands to relieve him at the helm; he then had a spare fore-topsail got up on deck ready to bend, should the first be carried away. Having made every arrangement which as a good seaman he considered necessary, he sent Gerald back into the cabin to report to the captain; he would, he knew, be anxious to learn how things were going on. Gerald, who was an enthusiastic admirer of the mate, did not fail to tell all that had been done.
"He is a good seaman, father, that mate of ours," he exclaimed.
"I can always trust him to do the right thing," observed the captain.
"He is as fine a fellow as ever stepped," answered Gerald, warmly; "when I thought the ship was going over, I looked at him, and there he stood, as calm and unmoved as if we had been running before a light breeze with all sail set."
Norah's eye brightened as her brother spoke, and a smile played over her countenance, though she said nothing.
"You will do well to imitate him, Gerald," remarked the captain; "he is calm and confident because he thoroughly knows his business and what will have to be done under every emergency. A better seaman never trod the deck of a merchant vessel, or a king's ship either. When this voyage is over, as Norah insists on my not going to sea again, I intend to get the owners to give him the command of the Ouzel Galley—they know their own interests too well to refuse my request. Before long you will be old enough, Gerald, to become second mate, and perhaps, if the stout ship meets with no mishap, to command her one of these days, should Owen get a larger craft, or take it into his head to come and live on shore."
Gerald was glad to hear his father speak in this style; it showed that he was already getting better and recovering his spirits, which had been much cast down, especially since the death of so many of the crew. He now inquired how the others were getting on, and sent Gerald forward to learn. He soon came back with the report that two already seemed much better, but that the third had as yet shown no signs of amendment.
"They'll pick up, poor fellows, when we get into a cooler latitude," observed the captain. "I feel myself already another man, and hope to be on deck in a day or two."
Tim, the cabin-boy, now entered to prepare the table for supper. It still wanted an hour or more to-night, but that meal in those days was taken earlier than at present. Pompey, notwithstanding the way the vessel was tumbling about, had managed to keep his fire in and to cook some broth for the captain and the sick men—for they were unable to partake of more substantial fare. Norah had become so accustomed to a sea life in all weathers, that she was able to attend to her father and to take her seat at table. Tim, as soon as he had placed the dishes, well secured with the usual puddings and fiddles, went to summon the mate, who was generally on such occasions relieved by the boatswain; but Tim came back to say that Mr Massey could not quit the deck till the gale moderated. Gerald, having despatched his supper, quickly joined him.
"What do you think of the weather, Mr Massey?" he asked.
"That it is blowing big guns and small-arms," answered the mate, laughing. "Not that that much matters as long as it holds steadily in its present quarter; but I'm on the look-out lest it should change, and if it does, it will not give warning of its intention. It would be an ugly thing to be taken aback with this sea on, and it is that we must be prepared for."
The waves had indeed, since Gerald had been below, greatly increased, and were now rising far above the bulwarks, and as they curled over threatened to come down on the deck and overwhelm the good ship.
"Keep a tight hold of a stanchion or the mizen-mast, Gerald," said the mate; "if one of those seas breaks on board, you might be carried away in a moment. See, the men know what may possibly happen, and are doing as I advise you—though, if I had my will, you should remain below."
"My father and Norah would be ashamed of me if I did," answered Gerald; "depend on it, I will take good care to hold on with tooth and nail if we get so unwelcome a visitor."
Onward flew the ship; already the gloom of night had begun to steal over the waste of waters, when the look-out forward shouted, "A lump of timber or a boat capsized right ahead a point on the starboard bow!" Immediately afterwards he added, "It's a raft, sir, with a man on it; he's waving to us!"
The mate sprang into the mizen rigging, and having glanced at the position of the raft, of which he caught sight as it rose to the summit of a sea, he exclaimed, "We must save the poor fellow's life—port the helm half a point. Steady now. Get ropes ready to heave to him," he next shouted out; and, securing one round his own waist, he leaped into the fore-chains.
The ship flew on, but he had rightly calculated the position of the raft. There was a fearful risk, however, that she might run over it, or that the force of the sea might dash it against her side and crush its occupant. But no time was allowed for considering the risk to be run. Owen saw that the man had disengaged himself from the ropes by which he had been secured to the raft, and was holding on to one of them alone. He must have well known his terrible danger, for a sea might in a moment wash him away, in spite of his holdfast. The mate stood ready with another rope in hand to heave to him. The next instant the raft was driven against the side of the vessel, and the man lost his hold. Prompted by a generous instinct, Owen, at the great risk of his own life, sprang on to the raft, and, grasping him round the waist, put the rope into his hand, while he held him fast. The crew were in readiness, in the rigging or leaning over the bulwarks, and before another moment had passed both Owen and the stranger were drawn up and stood in safety in the main-chains, whence eager hands hauled them on board.
"You have rendered me a good turn, and I hope to live long enough to repay it," said the rescued man, as soon as he had sufficiently recovered his breath to speak; for he had been pretty nearly exhausted by the efforts he had made to hold on to the raft, and the sudden jerk he had received in being hauled on board.
He was evidently a seaman, for a seaman and a strong and determined man alone could have exerted himself as he had done to preserve his life. By his dress and manner, also, he appeared to be an officer. The physical suffering and mental anxiety he must have gone through had naturally so much exhausted him that, though able to stand, he was compelled to hold fast to the bulwarks to support himself. From his appearance, however, he looked like a man capable of enduring as much as most persons; he was strongly built, rather above the middle height, with a countenance which if not handsome was good-looking, and betokened courage and resolution.
"I am glad that I was fortunate enough to get hold of you, and to help you on board—though, as I should have tried to do the same for any human being placed in the situation in which you were, I do not feel that you have any special reason to be thankful to me," answered Owen.
"As to that matter, all I know is, that if you hadn't jumped on the raft at the moment you did and thrown me a rope, I should have been washed away, and have been by this time where many a bold fellow has gone before; and though a more exalted fate may be in store for me, according to the old saying, as I have no wish to leave the world just yet, I am bound to be grateful to you, captain—for I conclude that you are the skipper of this craft," said the stranger.
"No, I am but the mate," answered Owen; "the skipper is ill, and as the berths in the state cabin are occupied, I can only offer you mine—and I would advise you to get off your wet clothes and turn in between the blankets, with a stiff glass of grog, or you may be the worse for your wetting and exposure."
"I have knocked about too much up and down at sea, with all sorts of adventures, to be much the worse for what I've gone through. However, I will accept your offer. A stiff glass of grog, especially, will be welcome, and something to eat with it; for I had no opportunity of dining on the raft, as you may suppose," answered the stranger.
He said this in an off-hand, careless manner, laughing as he spoke; but notwithstanding his boasts, he was glad of the assistance of Owen and Dan Connor, on whose shoulders he rested while they conducted him to the cabin of the former. No sooner did he reach it than he sank down utterly exhausted, and it was not without considerable help from Dan that he was able to get off his garments and turn in to bed.
"You'll be all to rights now, your honour, and I'll be after bringing you a basin of soup and a glass of grog," remarked Dan, as he was gathering up the wet clothes to carry to the galley fire.
"Stay, there are some papers in my pockets which I wish to keep in my own possession," said the stranger, as he saw what Dan was about.
"They're like to be in a pretty mess, which it will take a pair of sharp eyes to read, by this time," observed Dan.
"They are in a tin case—hand it to me," was the answer, as Dan began to feel about in the pockets of the stranger's jacket. "You may take the clothes away now, my man; and don't be long in bringing me the grog, mind you," added the stranger, when he had possessed himself of the tin case and, in addition, a well-filled purse and several other smaller articles, which his pockets had contained.
"By-the-by, what's the name of this vessel, and to what port is she bound?" he asked.
"Shure, she's the Ouzel Galley, your honour," answered Dan, "and as sweet a craft as sails between the West Indies and Dublin city—though we're bound just now to Waterford, and we'll be after getting there, I hope, some day."
"And what's the name of your skipper and your mate, who pulled me out of the water?" continued the stranger.
"It's Captain Tracy you mane, and the mate's Mr Owen Massey, as fine a man as iver stepped a deck. I'm after belaving, if he wasn't, he wouldn't have done what he did just now, as your honour will be willing to own," answered Dan.
"You're right—it was a brave deed," said the stranger. As soon as Dan, bundling up the clothes, had left the cabin, its occupant eagerly opened the tin case and examined its contents, apparently to satisfy himself that they had escaped damage; then closing it, he placed it under his pillow, on which he sank down exhausted.
"Faith, I've had a narrow escape—but as this craft is bound to fair Waterford, I must either quit her before she gets there, or take care that none of my friends recognise me when I step on shore," he murmured to himself. "However, my good genius may enable me to escape that danger, as it has to scramble through many others. Strange that my life should have been saved by Owen Massey—he does not know me, however; but that is not surprising, as I am greatly changed since we were together. Few traces remain about me of the slight youth I then was. I must be on my guard not to betray myself to him, or he and his commander may take it into their heads that their loyalty obliges them to deliver me over to the Government. As long as they don't find out who I am, I shall have no difficulty in making my escape, even though I am compelled to set foot on shore in Waterford itself. I wish those fellows would bear a hand and bring me some food—that and a night's rest will restore my strength and enable me to consider what to do better than I now can. I have run many a narrow chance of losing my life, but never was I nearer to death than to-day—another hour or two on the raft would have finished me, and then where should I have been? Bah! I must not allow such thoughts to trouble me, or I shall become nerveless as a young girl."
In spite of all his efforts the thoughts he dreaded would intrude on the stranger's mind. He looked eagerly for the return of the seaman with the promised food and grog. Dan, in the mean time, with the bundle of wet clothes under his arm, had made his way forward to the caboose, where Pompey was busy blowing away at his fire and trying to get his kettle and a saucepan of broth to boil.
"Well, Dan, my jewel, who dis fellow just come on board? What you tink about him?" asked Pompey.
"Faith, it's more than he thought fit to tell me," answered Dan. "All I know is that he's a mighty fine-spoken gentleman, with a big purse of gold in his pocket."
"In which pocket?" asked Pompey eagerly, taking up the jacket.
"You big thief, you don't think I am after laving it to your itching fingers—no, no, Pompey, even if the gentleman himself hadn't taken it out, he's been too long at sea not to guess pretty shrewdly that the shiners would vanish if the purse found its way forrard," said Dan.
"You'll not be after calling me a big thief, Dan?" exclaimed Pompey, getting angry at this insinuation against his honesty.
"No, but I'll back your tongue to wag faster than any man's in this ship," replied Dan. "Come, bear a hand and get the water to boil, and then we'll hang up these clothes to dry, for the stranger doesn't look like a man who'll be content to lie in bed longer than he can help, and he'll be wanting to get up to-morrow morning and show himself on deck."
"He may be a mighty fine gentleman," muttered Pompey, "but I never did see much good come in hauling a man, whoever he was, out of de water."
"What's that you say, you old thief of the world?" exclaimed Dan. "Whether good or bad comes of it, it was as brave a thing as you or I or any man ever saw done, to leap on the raft as our mate did and manage to bring the stranger on board. We've some stout fellows among us, but not one would have dared to do that same. When the skipper hears of it he'll be after praising him as he deserves; and there's some one else, too, who'll not think the less of him than she does now. It won't be my fault if I don't let the skipper know how it all happened—though maybe the stranger won't forget to tell him—but as for the mate himself, he's as likely as not to make light of it, and just to say that it's what any other man would have done as well."
The opinion uttered by Dan was shared generally among the crew, with whom Owen Massey stood deservedly high.
"Come, bear a hand, Pompey," continued Dan; "the watch will be out before you get that fire to burn."
By dint of hard puffing Pompey succeeded in his object, and Dan went aft with a kettle of hot water in one hand and a basin of soup in the other. He then, having obtained the requisite amount of rum, repaired to the mate's cabin, where he found the stranger on the point of dropping off from exhaustion, and almost in a state of insensibility. The broth and grog, however, quickly revived him. He uttered but few words of thanks, and again falling back on his pillow, dropped off to sleep.
Gerald, who had witnessed Owen's gallant act, trembling lest he should fail and lose his life, gave a shout of joy when he saw him successful and safe again on board. Prompted by his feelings, he sprang towards the mate, and grasping his hand, exclaimed, "Bravely done, Mr Massey! Oh, how thankful I am that you got him on board! It did not seem possible. Had you been lost, it would have broken Norah's heart, and my poor father's too—for, sick as he is, he couldn't have borne it. I must go and tell them how it all happened—they'll think more of you than ever—but I'm very glad Norah wasn't on deck, for she would have felt as I did, and been terribly alarmed."
"Hush, Gerald, hush! you think more of the affair than it deserves," said Owen; "had I run any risk of losing my life, your father might have blamed me, as the safety of the ship while he is ill is committed to my charge; but remember that I took the precaution of having a rope round my waist, so that I couldn't come to any harm, and what I did any man with strength and nerve could have done likewise—so, Gerald, don't make a fuss about the matter. I saved the man's life, there's no doubt about that, and he, therefore, is the only person who need thank me."
Notwithstanding what the mate had said, Gerald hurried into the cabin and gave a report of what had occurred, not failing to express his own opinion of the gallantry of the act. Norah, who had listened with breathless interest while he spoke, uttered an ejaculation of thankfulness, forgetting to make any inquiry about the man who had been saved. Captain Tracy, however, expressed himself much as Owen expected he would.
"It was a rash though brave deed," he observed, "but I'll not blame him—he had no time, evidently, to think of the risk he was running, but acted as his gallantry prompted him. He did not get any hurt, I hope?"
"No, father, beyond a thorough wetting—it was all done in a moment—he was on board again almost before I could have looked round, walking the deck as if nothing had happened," answered Gerald.
"I am thankful for that," said the captain; "and where have they stowed the man he saved? Poor fellow! it would have been hard lines with him, in such a sea as is still running, if he had not been picked up."
"The mate put him into his own cabin," said Gerald; "the cook has been heating some soup for him, as he seemed very weak and pretty nigh exhausted."
"Owen might have let him go forward with the men; they would have looked after him carefully enough," observed Captain Tracy. "There was no necessity for Owen to give up his own cabin—but he is always generous and ready to sacrifice his own comforts for others."
"But the stranger from his way of speaking and dress seems to be an officer, and he would think himself badly treated if he had been sent forward," said Gerald.
"I must hear more about him from Owen," said the captain; "ask him to come here as soon as he can leave the deck and has got on dry clothes. How's the weather now, Gerald?"
"It is moderating rapidly, father, and the mate thinks we shall have smooth water and a light breeze before night," was the answer.
When Gerald returned on deck he found the mate giving orders to loose the topsails. As soon as this was done, the wind still decreasing, the foresail and mainsail were set, and before long the ship was bounding proudly over the seas with as much canvas as could be carried. At length, leaving the deck in charge of the boatswain, Owen repaired to the cabin and answered many questions put to him by the captain. He might well have been satisfied with the approbation he received from Norah, if not from her lips, from those bright blue eyes of hers—even the captain forgot to scold him as he had intended for his rashness.
"We shall hear more about the man to-morrow, when he has recovered," he observed; "he'll need a long rest, for he must have pretty well given up all hope of his life when you saved him, till the ship hove in sight— and even then he could scarcely expect to be picked up with the sea there was running at the time. Well, I trust that he'll be grateful."
The captain then made inquiries about the sick men, of whom Owen was able to give a favourable report.
"Thank God for that!" said the captain. "I feel myself quite another man to what I have been for many a day, and I hope to-morrow to be on deck again. If this stranger proves to be a seaman he may give you some relief by doing duty on board; you've had a trying time of it, Owen, and it is a mercy you've not knocked up."
Owen now bade the captain and mistress Norah good night, and went on deck, when he desired the boatswain—the only person besides himself to whom the charge of the ship could be confided—to turn in, that he might relieve him in the next watch, should the weather continue to improve as he hoped it would do. He was not disappointed; when the morning broke, the ship was running on before a fair and moderate breeze. The rest of the usual canvas was set, and under all sail the Ouzel Galley made good way towards her destination. With a thankful heart, soon after breakfast, Norah accompanied her father on deck. The other sick men were able to crawl up and enjoy the fresh air, their pallid faces showing, however, how near death's door they had been. It was evident that some time must elapse before they would be fit for duty. The stranger had not yet made his appearance; but Dan, who had dried his clothes, had taken them into the cabin, and reported that he was at length awake and expressed his intention of getting up. Norah was seated with her father under an awning stretched over the poop-deck, where both shade and air could be enjoyed. When the stranger came up the companion-hatch, the first person he saw was Owen. He put out his hand.
"Though I got but a glimpse of you last night, you are, I am sure, the man who hauled me off the raft, and I will again thank you heartily for saving my life," he said, in a frank tone. "I find that I have deprived you of your cabin; you must stow me elsewhere for the rest of the voyage, for I must not continue to incommode you."
"There is another berth I can take, so don't talk about that," answered Owen.
"As you wish," said the stranger, who having, to his own satisfaction it may be, expressed his thanks, took a seaman-like glance round the ship. As he did so, his eye fell on Norah and the captain. An expression of surprise crossed his countenance, succeeded by a look of admiration, as he beheld Norah, who appeared even more beautiful and attractive than usual, her colour heightened by the fresh breeze and her heart joyous with the thoughts of her father's recovery. She withdrew her gaze, which had naturally been turned towards the stranger who had thus unexpectedly appeared. He at once, guessing who the captain and his daughter were, stepped on to the poop and advanced towards them. Doffing his sea-cap with the manners of a man accustomed to the world, he bowed to the young lady, and then addressed the captain. "I have come without any formal invitation on board your ship, sir, but faith, I hadn't my choice—your mate hauled me on board without asking whether I wished it or no; and, to confess the truth, I am very much obliged to him, for had he stopped to inquire I should not have had the opportunity of answering, as in another moment I should have been carried to lie where many a brave fellow sleeps, at the bottom of the sea. I am therefore indebted to him for saving my life—what he did, he did well and gallantly, at no slight risk of losing his own."
"I am thankful that he succeeded," answered Captain Tracy; "and, for my part, all I can say is that you are very welcome on board—and glad I am to see you so much recovered this morning."
"A night's rest has worked wonders—yesterday evening I felt very much unlike myself, but I am now strong and well as usual." The stranger took two or three turns on deck to verify his assertion; again stopping, in an off-hand style he inquired how long the ship had been out, what weather had been met with, and where she was bound for—though, curiously enough, he did not offer to give any account of himself, apparently intending to let the captain put any questions to him on the subject he might think fit. Norah, not being destitute of the curiosity natural to her sex, was longing to learn who the stranger was—yet she did not like to ask him herself. She waited, hoping that her father would do so. She could at length restrain herself no longer.
"Had you been long in the water, sir?" she inquired.
"Five or six hours, I believe, more or less," he answered, smiling. "By-the-by, I must apologise for not having before given an account of myself. To the best of my belief, I am the only survivor of the gallant fellows who manned the Dragon privateer, of which I had the honour to be first officer. She carried sixteen guns and a crew of 110 hands, all told."
"A privateer!" exclaimed Captain Tracy. "What flag did you sail under? Has England again gone to war? We had heard nothing of it before we left Port Royal."
"Oh, that is not surprising—it is scarcely six weeks since England declared war against France," replied the stranger. "We knew what was in the wind, and sailed from Bristol, to which port the Dragon belonged, immediately the news reached us, in search of French homeward-bound ships, hoping to get hold of them before they had heard of the breaking out of war. We had, as you may judge, a quick run to the southward, having on our way made three captures, and by having to send prize crews away in them our strength was considerably diminished. Still our captain, Simon Avery—you may have heard of him, sir—was not the man to give up while there was a chance of falling in with other vessels. Short-handed as we were, we had to keep watch and watch; and yesterday morning, while the watch below were asleep, and most of the hands on deck much in the same state, the ship was struck by a squall, and before sheet or brace could be let go, over she went and began to fill. I had just time, with three others, to get hold of a half-hatch, to cut some spars adrift, and to shove off to a distance, when down she went, carrying with her every soul on board. I don't wish to harrow the young lady's feelings by describing the scene. A few floated up and shouted out for help, but we couldn't give it, for our own raft was already loaded. Before many minutes were over, even the stoutest swimmers had sunk beneath the surface. I had got hold of an axe and a coil of rope, and we managed to lash the spars to a grating. While so employed, one of the men slipped off; as he couldn't swim, he was drowned, and thus we had more room. The sea rapidly got up, and now another of my companions was washed away, and then the last. I secured myself to the raft, resolved to struggle for life while I had strength; but had not, fortunately, your ship stood towards me, and your brave mate gallantly hauled me on board, I should to a certainty have been lost."
"I am very thankful, sir, that my mate was the means of saving you," said Captain Tracy; "you cannot praise him too highly. He has sailed with me since he first came to sea, and though he took to the life somewhat later than most people do, he has become a better seaman than many of his elders."
"I don't doubt it, sir; I should judge from his looks that he is all you describe him to be," answered the stranger.
"You say," resumed Captain Tracy, "that the English and French are at loggerheads again—can you tell me whether any king's ships have been sent out for the protection of our commerce, or, what is of more consequence to us, whether many French privateers are already afloat?"
"As to that, it was reported that a fleet was fitting out at Portsmouth with all despatch to be placed under the command of Sir Edward Hawke; and it was said that Admiral Byng was to be sent to the Mediterranean with a squadron. Another fleet was already at sea, under the command of Admiral Holburne; and the news has arrived that he came up with and attacked the French fleet, commanded by Admiral Macnamara, off the American coast, and captured two 64-gun ships, with a considerable number of troops on board. It is evident, therefore, that the English are no longer asleep, as they have been for some time past, and are intending to carry on the war with vigour. With regard to the Frenchmen, they are pretty wide awake, though they may not have expected to be attacked so suddenly; and as far as I was able to learn, they have not been slow in sending both men-of-war and privateers to sea—and I would advise you to stand clear of any strange sail we may fall in with: it is wiser to avoid a friend than to run the risk of being caught by a foe."
"This is bad news indeed you give me, sir," said Captain Tracy, "though I have to thank you for it, as it is better to be forewarned; and you may depend on it, I will follow your advice. Had I thought it likely that war would break out, I should not have brought my young daughter to sea; but she was anxious to come as she had no one to look after her, and I intended this to be my last voyage, for I have knocked about enough on the ocean to long to settle down quietly on shore. We know that we must run all risks, but I cannot bear the thought of what might happen should we be captured by a picarooning privateer, for most of them are but little better than pirates." He said this in a low voice, aside, to the stranger, intending that Norah should not hear him.
"I sincerely hope that we shall not fall in with a Frenchman of any quality, either a man-of-war or one of the picarooning rascals you speak of," answered the stranger, in a somewhat sarcastic tone.
"Well, Mr—I beg your pardon, you haven't mentioned your name—I have again to thank you for the information and advice you have given me, and I hope you'll find yourself at home on board this chip. We're pretty well provisioned, and we'll not starve you, at all events," said Captain Tracy.
"Thank you, captain, I have no fear about the matter," answered the stranger; "and as to my name, I quite forgot to give it. Indeed, you are not likely to have heard of me before, for I have been knocking about in distant seas for most of my life—it is Lancelot Carnegan. I hail from Ireland, as you may suppose; and perhaps you may have already discovered a touch of the brogue—but it has been well-nigh washed out of me; still, though we children of Erin roam the world over, we never entirely get rid of our mother tongue."
"Bad luck to us if we do," answered the captain, laughing. "I might have guessed that you came from the old country—and now you'll have an opportunity, if you wish to remain when we reach harbour, of renewing your acquaintance with it and any friends you may have."
"There are few, if any, who know me," answered Mr Carnegan. "I played truant at an early age, and have seldom since then set foot on my native shore."
Norah had made no attempt to join in the conversation. The new-comer, now turning towards her, addressed her in a deferential tone, and with a look which clearly showed the admiration he felt. He inquired how she liked the West Indies, and what parts of the islands she had seen, and whether she enjoyed being at sea. They were but commonplace questions, but his manner encouraged her to speak freely, and she described with much graphic power the scenery and places she had visited.
"I delight in the sea," she added. "I enjoy it in all weathers; and even when a storm has been raging I have felt no fear, for I knew that the good ship is sound, and that those in command were well able to manage her. I should have been ready to accompany my father in as many more voyages as he might wish to make, and it is not I who have persuaded him to quit the sea. I fear, indeed, that he will soon get tired of the quiet life he will lead on shore."
A complimentary remark was rising to Mr Carnegan's lips, but he restrained himself, not quite certain how it might be taken, and merely said, "Captain Tracy will have no cause, I am sure, to regret his choice. Though I love the sea, I confess that I often long to take up my abode in some romantic spot in the old country, with the companionship of one whose happiness I could watch over. In truth, I could gladly spend the remainder of my days far away from war and strife, and out of sight even of the stormy ocean—for, should I catch a glimpse of that, I might at times be tempted to wish myself again bounding over the buoyant wave."
The speaker perhaps expected to see Norah cast down her eyes as he addressed her; but she looked up with a steady glance, and laughingly answered, "If you think that, you have very little confidence in your own resolution."
Mr Carnegan was about to reply, when the captain observed, "Let me advise you, sir, to keep to the sea, unless you have some better calling in view. An idle life on shore won't suit you, a young man of spirit; and those who try it have to repent of their folly. But you will excuse me when I say that I think you would find as honourable employment in the merchant service as on board a privateer—not but that I am ready to allow that many gallant fellows engage in that sort of work; though, when you look at it in its true light, privateering is but licenced robbery at the best."
"I cannot say that I so view it," observed Mr Carnegan; "while benefiting ourselves and lining our own pockets, we are serving the country. We capture our foes in fair and open fight, while we run the risk of being taken ourselves. However, to prove to you that I don't despise the merchant service, as you appear to be rather short-handed, I shall be happy to do duty on board as one of your mates, if you will trust me. I don't ask for wages, but it will be a satisfaction to me to feel that I am working my passage home."
"I don't doubt your knowledge of seamanship and navigation, and gladly accept your offer," answered the captain.
Mr Carnegan was accordingly duly installed in the office of second mate of the Ouzel Galley.
FURTHER DISCUSSIONS ABOUT THE STRANGER—MR. CARNEGAN SHOWS HIS ADMIRATION OF NORAH—APPROACHING IRELAND—A CONFESSION—A SAIL IN SIGHT—CHASED—THE ENEMY GAINS ON THE OUZEL GALLEY—NORAH AND GERALD SENT INTO THE HOLD—THE FIGHT BEGINS—THE OUZEL GALLEY HOLDS OUT BRAVELY, BUT IS RAPIDLY OVERTAKEN—BOTH MATES WOUNDED—THE FRENCHMEN BOARD THE OUZEL GALLEY—GERALD DEFENDS NORAH—THE FRENCH CAPTAIN'S COURTESY—THE OUZEL GALLEY IN THE HANDS OF THE FRENCHMEN—THE COQUILLE GOES OFF IN CHASE—A SLEEP-LOVING LIEUTENANT—AN IDEA OCCURS TO GERALD.
The wind continued fair and the weather fine, and the Ouzel Galley made good progress on her voyage. Norah was not free from anxiety with regard to her father, who had sufficiently recovered his strength to come on deck and carry on duty, but she longed to get him safe on shore, where alone she believed he would be restored to his usual health. The new mate showed himself to be a good seaman, and was evidently accustomed to command, as far as the captain could judge by the way in which he trimmed sails and issued his orders to the crew. They obeyed him as seamen always do an officer whom they look upon as a good sailor—not that they were particularly disposed to like him, for he never spoke to any of them except to tell them what to do, and his tone was always that of a person who intended to have his orders carried out. Had he come on board in the ordinary way, they would have taken this as a matter of course; but Pompey had expressed his opinion that there was some mystery about him—he might be a true man, but it was possible that he might be of the character of the well-known Flying Dutchman, and had appeared only for the sake of betraying them. The rest of the crew were well disposed to take up this opinion; indeed, few believed that a mortal man could have survived on the raft in the heavy sea there was running at the time; and Mr Carnegan was more narrowly watched than he suspected.
"I tell you what, mates," observed Pompey one evening, when he and two or three of his especial chums were seated together in the forecastle, "you may be sartain sure no good will come of having this stranger aboard. Why de captain make him mate is more than I can tell. De oder night, as he walked the deck shouting out to de hand on de fore-topsail yard-arm, I see a flame of fire come of his mouth, and den I says to myself, 'I know who you are.' I tell you only what true, as I am living man."
"Shure, he was only knocking the ashes out of his pipe," remarked Dan Connor; "it's one he brought on board with him, and I've seen him smoke it many a time."
"He may have a pipe, but dat was no pipe he was smoking den," answered the black.
"I ain't quite sure but as how Pompey isn't right," remarked Tom Stokes, an English seaman. "I've heard say that the Flying Dutchman he was speaking of plays all sorts of tricks to get aboard; sometimes he comes alongside in a boat with a bundle of letters, and woe betide the crew who take them on board! Their ship's doomed, and will be sure to blow up, or be burnt, or go to the bottom, or run on a sunken reef. To my mind, half the ships that are cast away are lost by some such trick as that. Maybe he thinks he's been found out, and is now trying a new dodge; if I had my will, we'd lay him by the heels some dark night and heave him overboard—it's the only chance there is of saving the ship."
Meantime the subject of these remarks would have been very indifferent to them had he heard what was said. He was doing his best to ingratiate himself with the captain and his fair daughter. Whenever Norah was on deck he was sure to be there also, and was always ready to assist her when the sea was running somewhat high and the ship was tumbling about more than usual. She appeared to receive these attentions as a matter of course, and always thanked him courteously. She could not, however, fail to remark that, where-ever he was standing, his eye was directed towards her; and especially, if her father and Owen were below, that he invariably drew near to enter into conversation. It is possible that she may have suspected the admiration she had excited, but she certainly never, by word, or look, or manner, did anything to encourage him. He also was on his guard not to say anything which might annoy or alarm her, while his manner was always deferential. He continued on friendly terms with Owen, and always spoke good-naturedly to Gerald, taking evident pleasure in describing the countries he had visited and the strange scenes he had witnessed, to which the boy always eagerly listened. Although the ship was short-handed, as it was of the greatest importance to get home as soon as possible, all sail which could be prudently set was carried night and day. At that period it was the custom on board merchant vessels to shorten sail at night, go that should the ship be caught by a squall she might the better be prepared for it; but as the two mates now took watch and watch during the hours of darkness, they allowed all the sails to remain standing which had been carried during the day. A bright look-out was kept from the mast-head from sunrise to sunset, and occasionally when a strange sail was seen, as soon as it was ascertained in what direction she was steering, the course was changed to avoid her. As each day brought the Ouzel Galley nearer to the shores of Ireland, the captain's spirits rose, as did his hopes of getting in safe. The second mate seemed quite as anxious on the subject as any one else on board; but Pompey was not yet satisfied.
"We're not in yet," he whispered to Dan Connor. "Why he not send de ship to de bottom before dis I not know; but you see—he play some scurvy trick before he done wid us."
Fortunately for the second mate, the rest of the crew were not so deeply imbued with Pompey's opinions as to induce them to act according to his advice; but they still regarded Mr Carnegan with suspicion, though they obeyed his commands with as much alacrity as at first. Several other strange sail were seen in the distance, and as before carefully avoided. The ship had got to about the latitude of Lisbon.
"How soon may we expect to get into port?" asked Norah of her father.
"If the wind holds fair, another week will carry us safe up to the quay of Waterford," answered the captain; "but we may meet with a head wind, and it may be a fortnight or three weeks before we make the land—but we'll hope for the best, and it will not be for lack of doing all that seamen can do if we don't succeed."
The sea was smooth, the wind being from the southward, while a light mist prevented the sun's rays being over oppressive. Norah as usual went on deck after breakfast with her work and a book. Owen was below; it was the second mate's watch, and soon after she had taken her seat he approached her.
"In a few days, Miss Tracy, we shall be doomed to part," he said, "It may be that, compelled by a cruel fate to wander over the world, I may never again meet you; but, believe me, the time I have spent on board this ship I shall ever look upon as the happiest of my life."
"You are very good to say so," answered Norah, "though I should have supposed, from the account you have given of yourself, that you would have met with many other opportunities of enjoying life far more than you could have done on board the Ouzel Galley."
"It is not the place, Miss Tracy, but the person with whom one is associated, on which one's happiness depends. I speak from the depths of my heart—if I could hope to enjoy existence with you, I would not exchange my lot for that of the proudest monarch on earth," said Mr Carnegan.
Before Norah could reply, the look-out from the mast-head shouted, "A sail on the larboard bow!" At that instant, as he spoke, the captain came on deck, followed by Owen.
"What course is she steering?" asked the former.
"About south-east, sir, close-hauled," was the answer.
While the captain was speaking Owen had gone forward, and was now making his way up the fore-rigging. He quickly reached the mast-head; he had not been there many seconds before the breeze freshening blew away the mist, disclosing to view a large ship under all sail, her hull already rising above the horizon. Unslinging his glass, he directed it towards her.
"What does she look like?" asked the captain.
"She is flush-decked, and I make out ten ports on a side, sir," answered Owen from aloft. Saying this, he quickly came down on deck, from whence the movements of the stranger, which was standing directly across the course the Ouzel Galley was steering, could be discerned as well as from the mast-head.
"If we hold on as we are now we shall be within range of her guns in less than an hour, and I much fear that she is an enemy, sir," said Owen, as he came up to the captain.
"We'll do our best, then, to keep out of her way," was the answer. "Port the helm—man the larboard braces—ease off the starboard braces and bowlines! We'll stand away to the sou'-west till we run her out of sight; it will cause us some delay, but it will be better than running the risk of capture."
The two mates and Gerald, with all hands, went to the ropes, while the captain taking the helm, the ship was brought on a wind, the mizen, which had hitherto been furled, being also set, and the Ouzel Galley stood away on a bowline under all sail to the south-east.
"She has the look of a fast craft, and is probably strong-handed," observed the second mate.
"We shall soon see which has, notwithstanding, the faster pair of heels—the Ouzel Galley is no sluggard, Mr Carnegan, and we may still hope to run the stranger out of sight. Let her go along, my lad," said the captain to the man at the helm; "she sails best two points off the wind; we'll run on till dark, Owen, and if by that time the stranger isn't to be seen, we'll tack, and may chance to give her the go-by."
"I trust we may, sir," said Owen, in a tone of some doubt; "we have the advantage of being well to windward, though, as Mr Carnegan was observing, if she has a strong crew she can tack in half the time we can, and we couldn't do better than to stand on till nightfall, as you propose, and then try to give her the slip."
The eyes of all on board were naturally turned towards the stranger. As yet, however, it was difficult to say whether or not she was gaining on them. Norah saw that her father and his mates were anxious on the subject, but, being sure that they were acting for the best, restrained her own feelings—yet, as may be supposed, she could not help reflecting what might be her and her father's fate should the stranger prove to be an enemy and capture them. She had often heard of the cruelties to which the prisoners of privateers were exposed, and she was well aware of her father's hatred to the system, although privateering was generally allowed to be honourable and lawful. The stranger, though an enemy, might be a king's ship; and, if so, she might hope to receive courteous treatment from the French officers. Though she had resolved not to ask questions, she listened to her father's and Owen's opinions as to the character of the stranger. At noon, which soon arrived, the captain and his mates came on the poop to take an observation in order to ascertain the ship's position. They had before this run some way to the northward of the latitude of Lisbon.
"Sure, it's enough to provoke a saint," exclaimed Gerald, who was accustomed to express himself somewhat vehemently; "if it hadn't been for that fellow out there we should have been half across the Bay of Biscay by this time or to-morrow. I only hope, if he comes up with us, that we'll be after giving him a good drubbing; it will serve him right if we send him to the bottom."
"What, do you think our father intends to fight the strange ship, should she prove to be an enemy?" asked Norah, with some natural trepidation in her voice.
"I'm sure we're not going to be taken, and lose the ship and our cargo, and be made prisoners and ruined without having a fight for it," answered Gerald, "especially as Owen says that he feels pretty sure she is a privateer. Why he thinks so, I can't quite make out, except that her masts rake more than those of most men-of-war and her sails are cut somewhat differently—it is impossible to be certain."
"Grant Heaven that, if there is a fight, our father and you and Owen may be preserved!" murmured Norah.
"They wouldn't fight without a good hope of success—but we must run our chance," said Gerald, laughing; "but, you know, we shall stow you down in the hold among the cargo safe enough."
"Oh no, no! I hope if there is a fight that I may be allowed to remain on deck, or at least in the cabin, where I may be ready to help any who are hurt," exclaimed Norah.
"That would never do," answered Gerald; "you might be hit as well as anybody else, and you wouldn't like to have a leg or an arm shot off."
Poor Norah shuddered at the thoughtless remark of her brother. Gerald observed the expression of her countenance.
"I didn't intend to frighten you," he said; "I hope that none of us will be hurt—only of course there's a risk, and we must save you from being exposed to it. We shall only make a running fight of it, and try to knock away some of the enemy's spars and prevent her from following us. If she were to come up with us, she is so much bigger than we are, and so much more heavily armed, with probably six times as many hands, that we should have no chance in a broadside fight."
"If we are captured what will happen?" asked Norah.
"I suppose we shall be carried into a French port, and be kept prisoners till the war is over, and you and I must learn to talk French. It won't be so very bad, after all, so you needn't look so grave, Norah," answered Gerald.
"It will break our poor father's heart, I fear," answered Norah, "and Owen will be miserable."
"Well, then, though wishing it won't exactly help us, we'll hope to escape, and that none of the dreadful things you expect will happen," said Gerald.
Though Gerald made light of the matter, others on board did not do so. From the first Owen had had little doubt that the ship chasing them was French. The captain differed from him, but agreed that she was probably a privateer. Though her masts raked, so did those of many British ships, especially of those sailing from Jersey and Guernsey, while there was nothing that he could see remarkable about the cut of her sails. The second mate expressed no opinion. After a time, however, a cloud was seen to gather on his brow.
"I thought you boasted of this craft being remarkably fast," he observed to Owen. "Now, as far as I can judge, that ship yonder is sailing nearly two feet to our one, and will be within hail of us before dark."
"She sails faster than we do, I acknowledge; but you over-estimate her speed," answered Owen. "I still expect that we shall keep well ahead of her till dark, and we may then alter our course and escape."
"I tell you your hopes are vain; yonder ship is as fast a craft as any out of a French port—we haven't a chance of escaping her," replied Mr Carnegan.
"You know her, then?" answered Owen.
"I have seen her more than once—before the war broke out, of course— and, from her size and the weight of her metal, if we attempt to fight her we shall be sent to the bottom," was the answer.
"The captain intends to try and knock her spars away, and thus to enable us to escape," said Owen.
"She is more likely to send our masts over the side than to suffer any harm our popguns can do her," observed the second mate.
Captain Tracy, who had been watching the stranger for some time, now summoned them both and asked their opinion. They repeated what they had before said. "Owen, we can trust our crew?" he observed.
"Even the sick men would be ready to fight—we can depend on all of them," said Owen.
"Then we'll train two guns aft, and fight them as long as our own masts stand," exclaimed Captain Tracy. "Hoist our ensign, that there may be no mistake—though I own that I have now little doubt of that fellow being a Frenchman. We shall soon see—yes—there, up goes the white flag with the lilies of France; it won't be long before she is within range."
"I think not, sir," observed the second mate, "and if you take my advice you will not attempt to fight—even if we do knock away a spar or two, with her crew of not less than a hundred and twenty men, I'll warrant she'll speedily repair her damages; and as she carries heavy metal, if I mistake not, her first broadside will send us to the bottom."
The captain made no reply. "Gerald," he said, "take your sister down to the hold—Dan Connor and Tim will arrange a secure place for her, and I put her under your charge—remember, you're to remain with her, and not to return on deck till I send for you."
Gerald looked very much disappointed, but he well knew that it would be vain to expostulate. He had fully expected to engage in the fight, or to "take part in the fun," as he called it. Norah had before this gone into the cabin, to which Gerald repaired, and with no very good grace delivered their father's orders. Without a murmur Norah prepared to obey them. The second mate and some of the men were engaged in dragging one of the guns aft. As she came on deck, Norah found her father standing near the companion-hatch. Embracing her, he kissed her brow and said, "Don't be alarmed, my child; we shall manage to escape the Frenchman, I hope, and come off without damage. Go into your nest, now, with Gerald, and I hope before long I shall have a good report to give you."
As she went forwards towards the main hatchway she glanced at Owen; he sprang to her side and without stopping to ask leave assisted her below. It was a dreary place which had been prepared for her among sugar-hogsheads, rum casks, and packages of other West India produce. Dan Connor, who had been till that moment busy in arranging it, appeared with a lantern to light them the latter part of the way. Norah looked with no little dismay at the dark recess in which she and Gerald were to pass the period of the impending action.
"Shure, Miss Norah, you'll find it more aisy and pleasant than you think for," said Dan, who observed the expression of her countenance, "when the lantern's hung up, as I'll be doing to give you light; and I'd make bold to say that if you'd brought a book to read, or just some work to amuse yourself, you'd be after finding the time pass pleasantly enough away."
Norah, as may be imagined, felt little disposed to read or work, or to fancy that the time could pass pleasantly. She almost smiled at the idea. It appeared to her that it would be the most dreadful period of her existence. On entering, however, she found that Dan had arranged a seat with some cushions and a grating to keep her feet off any moisture which might have oozed out of the casks, Dan secured the lantern, as he proposed, to a sugar cask, while Owen pressed Norah's hand.
"Hope for the best, dearest," he whispered. "I'd have given worlds to save you from this; but we can trust to One who rules all things for protection, and we may still escape the threatened danger. A calm may come on before the Frenchman gets up with us, or an English ship of superior force may heave in sight—hope for the best; I must stay no longer. Gerald, you heard the captain's orders—let nothing induce you to quit your sister. I know your spirit, and that you'd rather be on deck; but your duty is to remain below, and by doing your duty, however much against the grain it may be, you'll be showing truer courage than by going where round shot and bullets may be flying round your head like hail."
"You are right, Mr Massey, and you may depend on my not quitting Norah, whatever happens;" and Gerald sat himself down on a tub which Dan had placed for him, and resolutely folded his arms as if he felt that in no other way could he keep his post. The next moment Owen sprang upon deck, followed by Dan. Never before had Owen Massey been so anxious to avoid a fight—indeed, all on board were, for various reasons, much of the same mind. Captain Tracy was resolved to escape if he could, and to fight only if it would enable him to do so. The hope that a British ship of war might heave in sight had only just occurred to Owen when below with Norah, and as soon as he returned on deck he went up to the mast-head, almost expecting to see another ship standing towards the enemy; but though he swept the whole horizon with his glass, not a sail appeared in sight, and he had quickly to descend to attend to his duties. The crew, meantime, were bringing up powder and shot from below, and loading the guns. Two of the longest pieces had already been run out astern; they were of brass, and of small bore, but were able to send a shot as far as most guns in use in those days. The others were smaller pieces, carried for the purpose of defending the ship, should she be attacked by any of the picaroons, at that time the pest of the Caribbean Sea. When Owen again looked out, he saw that the enemy had considerably overhauled them since he went below. Had he before entertained any doubt about the character of the vessel chasing them, it completely vanished, and his experienced eye assured him that she must be a French privateer. The wind also continued as steady as at first, and with deep regret he was convinced that the stranger was superior to the Ouzel Galley on any point of sailing, whether before the wind, going free, or close-hauled; while her numerous crew would give her every possible advantage in manoeuvring, or repairing damages should any of her spars or rigging be knocked away.
Meantime, poor Norah and her brother remained in their dark cell far down in the hold of the ship, listening anxiously for any sounds which might betoken the commencement of the action. The air was close and redolent of unsavoury odours, and would of itself have been sufficient to weigh down their young hearts; it might be a place of safety, but they would both of them infinitely rather have been on deck and able to see what was going forward. Norah sat with her hands clasped on the couch Dan had arranged for her; while Gerald, soon losing patience, got up, and, as there was no room to pace backwards and forwards, could only give vent to his feelings by an occasional stamp of the foot, as he doubled his fists and struck out at an imaginary Frenchman.
"Oh, I do hope we shall thrash that fellow," he exclaimed, "big as he looks. I am glad our father didn't determine to give in without fighting. It wouldn't have been like him if he had, though the second mate advised him to do so. I should have thought Mr Carnegan was full of pluck, but he appeared to me to show the white feather, and I'm not at all sure how he'll behave—not that it much matters, for I am very certain that Owen will make the men stand to their guns as long as there's a shot in the locker."
"I only hope that we may avoid fighting altogether," said Norah. "Owen thought it possible that an English man-of-war might appear in sight and put the enemy to flight, or that we may keep ahead till nightfall, and then manage to escape."
"Depend upon it, the Frenchman is coming up much too fast to give us any chance of keeping ahead till dark—we must not expect that. I have more confidence in our knocking away some of his spars; Owen is a first-rate shot, and if it can be done he'll do it. Don't be cast down, Norah; it would never have done for you to remain where you might have run the risk of being hit. Our father was right in sending you here, though I wish he had allowed me to stay on deck—but then, you see, you couldn't be left alone; and if, after all, the Frenchmen do take us, why, there would have been no one to protect you. That consoles me for remaining here, and if the worst happens I'll fight for you. See, I've brought a cutlass, and a brace of pistols, and it would be a hard matter for any one to get in here without my leave."
"Oh, it would be dreadful!" cried Norah, shuddering at the thought of the ship being captured—for she could not conceal from herself that such might too probably be the case. "Don't attempt to fight if any of our enemies should find their way down here—it would be utterly useless, and only exasperate them."
"Well, perhaps they won't find their way down here," said Gerald, who directly he had uttered anything calculated to alarm his sister was anxious to remedy the mistake; "let us try and talk of something else, and wait patiently for what may happen."
The proposal was not as easily carried out as made; in another minute Gerald was again talking of what might or might not occur. Some time went by. "Hark! hark! what is that?" exclaimed Norah suddenly, as the boom of a gun, which from its faintness showed that it must have been fired at a distance, reached their ears.
"There comes the first shot, but it didn't strike us—the Frenchman is trying whether he has got us within range," said Gerald.
"It shows, though, that the enemy must be very near," cried Norah.
"It will be the sooner over," said Gerald. "We shall hear our guns go off soon—they'll make a much greater noise; but don't be frightened, Norah dear—they, at all events, will not injure you."
"I am not thinking of myself," answered Norah, "but for those on deck, and for our poor father—he is still so ill and so little able to bear all this anxiety—and for Owen, should they be struck by those dreadful cannon-balls."
"The round shot, you mean," said Gerald; "but they are not to be so much dreaded, after all. They may fall pretty thickly aboard without doing any harm. I've heard some of our men who were in the last war say that they've known ships firing away at each other for an hour or more without anybody being hit. Hark! there's another gun; that came from the enemy, but the shot missed us. I wonder we don't begin to fire—we soon shall, though, no doubt about that. I wish that I had brought down the boat's compass with us, to know how we were steering; we are keeping, however, on the same tack as before—I can tell that by the heel of the ship."
Norah, while Gerald was talking, held her breath, expecting every moment to hear the guns go off with a loud roar, not aware how much the sound would be deadened before it reached the hold. Neither she nor Gerald had at first observed the increased motion of the ship, or that she was heeling over to larboard considerably more than at first. Gerald now, however, remarked it.
"The breeze has freshened," he exclaimed, "though I don't know if that will be in our favour. I wish that our father had not told me to stay here without moving—I would run upon deck to see how things are going on, and be back in a moment."
"Gerald, not for my sake but for your own, I earnestly pray you to remain—remember, our father ordered you not to leave this, whatever might happen," exclaimed Norah.
"Yes, I know that; I was only saying what I should like to do," answered Gerald.
Nearly another minute elapsed, during which not a word was spoken; then came a much louder report than had before been heard.
"That was one of our guns, I am sure of it," exclaimed Gerald; though, from its deadness, Norah could scarcely believe that it was from one of the Ouzel Galley's guns.
"Hurrah! we've begun at last," cried Gerald, "no fear; I shouldn't be surprised to find that the shot had knocked away one of the enemy's topsail yards."
Another and another gun followed in rapid succession; at intervals could be clearly distinguished the firing of the enemy's guns, and every now and then a report succeeded by a loud thud, showing that the shot had struck some part of the Ouzel Galley.
"Fire away, my boys, fire away!" shouted Gerald. "I wish that I could be on deck, even if I'd nothing better to do than hand up the powder!"
Norah again entreated him to remain. For some time the firing continued, but from the sound of the enemy's guns it was pretty clear that the ships had not yet got to close quarters.
"Sure, we must be giving it them," cried Gerald. Scarcely had he spoken when there came a loud crashing sound, as if one of the masts had been knocked away and had fallen on the deck. Cries and shrieks of injured men writhing in pain penetrated even to the depths of the hold.
"Oh that some one would come and tell us what has happened!" exclaimed Norah. "I wonder our father or Owen don't send—it must be something dreadful."
"I've heard of ships holding out, even though a mast has been shot away," said Gerald; "we don't know what has happened to the enemy— perhaps she is worse off than we are."
Not another gun was fired from the deck of the Ouzel Galley; that was a bad sign, and presently afterwards there came a violent concussion and a grating sound, as if one ship had run alongside the other.
"Gerald, oh, what is taking place?" cried Norah, seizing her brother's hand.
"We are about to be boarded, or perhaps we are going to board the enemy," he answered; "I don't see why one thing shouldn't happen as well as the other."
"I am afraid it is as you first suggested," said Norah. "Hark to those loud shouts; they are the voices of Frenchmen—they must have boarded us. I hear their feet tramping on deck, and there they come down below. Our people must have been quickly overpowered; what resistance could such a mere handful offer to the numerous crew of the enemy? Oh! our poor father and Owen—can they wish us to remain here? They may be wounded and bleeding to death, and may require our help."
It was now Gerald's turn to insist on obeying orders. "Norah, Norah! stay where you are," he exclaimed. "Should the Frenchmen have boarded us, you might meet them, and we can't tell how they might behave. If any come here they'll have to repent their audacity," he added, placing himself with a pistol in one hand and a cutlass in the other at the entrance of Norah's retreat.
"I must fight for you if they come down here—it is my duty, and I'll do it," answered Gerald to his sister's expostulations; for she dreaded lest, by offering resistance, he might induce the enemy to kill him. He, however, would not listen to her entreaties. "At all events, don't speak, Norah," he said; "the Frenchmen may hear us and find us out— whereas if we remain quiet we may escape discovery till the boarders have gone back to their own ship and ours is left in charge of a prize crew, and we may be very sure that neither our father nor Owen will be induced to quit the Ouzel Galley without us."
Norah saw the prudence of this advice. She wisely also put out the lantern, the light from which would very certainly have betrayed their hiding-place.
We must now return on deck. As soon as Norah and Gerald had gone below, the captain addressed the crew and asked whether they would stick by him and assist in making every effort he could devise for escaping. They one and all declared that they were ready to fight to the last to preserve the Ouzel Galley from capture and to escape a French prison.
"Then we'll make a running fight of it, my lads," he said. "The enemy has probably much heavier metal and many more men than we have, but our two guns will be of as much service as her twenty if we can keep her as she now is, right astern—and that's what I intend to do."
The second mate had narrowly scanned the French ship. "I can tell you what, Captain Tracy," he said at length, "you haven't a chance of escaping from her. I know her and her commander well, and not a better or more determined seaman ever walked the deck of a ship. I have reason to be grateful to you for the way I have been treated on board this vessel, and to your first mate for saving my life; and for your own sake I would advise you to haul down your flag at once and surrender—you will probably be far better treated than if you lead the Frenchman a long chase and are taken at last."
"I am obliged to you for your good intentions in giving the advice you do," said Captain Tracy, "but my principle is to hold out till the last hope of success has gone—and we haven't quite arrived at that point yet. If you don't wish to fight you can go below."
"You mistake me," answered the second mate, in a somewhat angry tone, and he walked away. The next instant a puff of smoke was seen to issue from the bows of the French ship, and a shot came flying across the water; but it fell short of the Ouzel Galley.
"Stand by to fire our stern-chasers, Mr Massey," sang out the captain, "but we'll let the enemy find out the range before we throw a shot away."
The captain did not fail to keep his eye on the canvas, to be ready to alter his course should there be the slightest shift of wind. The second mate continued walking the deck in sullen silence, determined apparently to take no further part in defence of the ship. Owen stood ready, match in hand, to fire the stern-chasers. In the course of a few minutes the Frenchman fired another shot; it went ricocheting over the water, and passed the quarter of the Ouzel Galley.
"Our guns will carry as far as the Frenchman's," exclaimed the captain. "Now see what you can do, Owen."
The first mate, looking along his gun, fired; the shot struck the enemy. The crew of the Ouzel Galley watched eagerly for the effect of the shot. It went through the Frenchman's fore-topsail. A loud cheer showed their satisfaction.
"Well done, Owen—fire the other and try to wing him," cried the captain. While the crew were loading the first gun, Owen fired the second. The captain, who had his glass turned towards the enemy, shouted, "Hurrah! it's struck the fore-topsail yard."
The spar, however, remained standing, and some of the Frenchmen were seen running aloft to fish it. Owen sprang back to the first gun he had fired, and again discharged it; but the enemy at that moment kept away, and before what damage it had effected could be seen, clouds of smoke issued from her, and the shot from her whole broadside came rushing towards the chase. They were mostly aimed high, and either went through the sails or passed by without doing any injury; but two struck the quarter, and another glanced along the side, leaving a long white furrow.
"Those shots were well aimed, but if she plays that trick often we shall have a better chance of escaping," observed the captain, calmly; "try another shot, Owen."
The French ship quickly came up to the wind. Owen again fired, and one of the Frenchmen was seen to drop to the deck. The enemy had now brought a gun on the forecastle, from which they opened fire in return to the Ouzel Galley's stern-chasers. Both vessels then fired away as fast as the guns could be loaded and run out; but though most of Owen's shot told with some effect, the damage he produced was speedily repaired, while several of the Frenchmen's shot struck the Ouzel Galley, though as yet no one had been injured. The former was, however, in the mean time, creeping up nearer and nearer, and also, from sailing closer to the wind, weathering on the chase. The second mate, who had been walking the deck with as much calmness as if no fight was going on, again came up to the captain.
"I before warned you that it would be useless to contend with yonder ship," he said, "and before many minutes are over we shall have the shot from her broadside crashing on board us. By holding out you risk your own and your people's lives, and the lives of others dear to you—for it is more than possible that another broadside will send the ship and all in her to the bottom. We must—"
Before the captain could reply the enemy fired his two foremost guns, the shot from which shattering the bulwarks sent pieces of splinter flying about, one of which struck Carnegan on the arm.
"It might have been worse," he observed; and after staggering a few paces he recovered himself. He added, "I will thank some one to bind up my wound."
"Shure, I'll be glad enough to do that same," exclaimed Dan Connor; "and if you'll just step into your cabin, sir, we'll have you all to rights in a jiffy."
"I shall not be the only one hit," observed the second mate, as he allowed Dan to take off his coat.
Still the captain had not abandoned all hopes of escaping, and kept to his resolution of persevering to the last. He ordered the guns on the lee side to be hauled over to windward, and as they could be brought to bear on the enemy they were fired; but what effect they produced was not perceptible, as both vessels were encircled in smoke. Several more shot struck the Ouzel Galley, and at length two of her gallant crew fell, desperately wounded, to the deck, and the next instant a third had his head taken off. Still no one thought of giving in.
"We'll shift the stern-chasers, Owen," cried the captain; "they'll soon be of little use where they are."
"Ay, ay, sir," answered the first mate, and he with several hands began to haul one of the guns along the deck, when again the enemy fired his whole broadside. The guns had been elevated—the shot whistled overhead—a crash was heard, and down came the main-topmast of the Ouzel Galley on her deck, striking dead another of her crew. The survivors made a desperate effort to clear the wreck and prevent the fore-topmast from sharing the same fate, but even the captain now saw that all hope of escaping the enemy must be abandoned. On looking round to direct Owen to haul down the ensign, to his grief he saw that he too was wounded, and apparently severely so from the stream of blood flowing from his shoulder. At the same moment the French ship, which had rapidly shot up abeam, ran alongside and, throwing grappling-irons on board the chase, held her fast, while a party of the enemy headed by an officer leaped on the deck from the bows. Resistance was vain, but a few of the British crew instantly attempted to defend themselves with their cutlasses, the fallen topmast serving as a barricade; but the Frenchmen scrambling over it, the former were quickly driven aft. Owen had in the mean time hauled down the ensign by the captain's orders, and shouted out that they surrendered. The enemy, however, enraged at the stubborn resistance they had met with, were rushing aft, when the second mate appeared from the cabin with his arm in a sling and encountered the officer who led the boarders.
"You will not injure a beaten foe!" he exclaimed. "You know me, though you must be surprised to find me where I am. See, my shipmates have surrendered and can offer no further resistance."
As he spoke he put out his right hand, which the French officer grasped, and together they walked aside, where they held a hurried conversation while the survivors of the crew threw down their weapons. The Frenchmen, however, while their leader's eye was off them, rushed into the cabin and began ransacking the lockers and appropriating such articles as took their fancy. Dan, on observing this, sprang before them and placed himself at the door of Norah's berth, into which he would allow no one to enter.
"You can't come in here, mounseers," he exclaimed; "shure, you'll be too polite to frighten a lady out of her wits—and it's already fright enough she's had with hearing all the hullabaloo you've been after making."
Dan hoped by this artifice to prevent the Frenchmen searching for Norah, which he was afraid they might have done had they broken into the cabin and discovered female gear. As it was, he made them understand that the captain's wife was the occupant of the cabin.
Meantime Owen, overcome by loss of blood, sank exhausted on the deck. The French officer, a fair, slightly built man, with more the appearance of a Briton than a Gaul, now approached Captain Tracy and addressed him in English with but little French accent. "I must compliment you on your bravery, though I cannot do so on your discretion in attempting to resist me," he said. "Your vessel has become my prize, and, as I understand that your cargo is of value, I must send you into a French port; but having heard that you have the yellow fever on board, I will not remove any of your people to my ship, though I will leave an adequate prize crew to navigate her."
Just then the report of a pistol was heard, and a shriek was heard coming from the hold of the ship.
"What's that?" exclaimed the French officer.
"My daughter!—save her from your people!" cried Captain Tracy, hurrying towards the main hatchway. The more active Frenchman sprang before him and descended, followed by the captain and Carnegan, who, suffering from his wound, was less able than they were to move quickly. The Frenchman by his loud shouts soon let his men know that he was approaching. On reaching the hold he found Gerald in the hands of several of them, while Norah was endeavouring to protect him from their rage which he had excited.
"Let go that boy!" shouted the French officer, at the same time drawing his sword to enforce his order. He was quickly obeyed. "Who is this young lady?" he asked, turning to the captain; "I was not aware that she was on board."
"She is my daughter, sir; and I sent her down here to be out of danger during the fighting. I am sure I can trust to your gallantry to protect her," said Captain Tracy.
"You may depend on my doing so," answered the French officer; then addressing Gerald, he said, "Come here, my lad—you are a brave boy, I see, and thinking my people were about to insult your sister, you fought for her. The fellow you wounded deserved his punishment. Return on deck and go on board your own ship," he continued, addressing his crew in French. The men quickly obeyed him. "And now, young lady, let me escort you to your cabin," he added; "you need be under no further anxiety, as no one will venture to intrude on you."
Carnegan had before this reached the hold. He was about to assist Norah in ascending.
"I must claim that honour," said the Frenchman; and, offering his hand, he conducted Norah out of the dark place. No sooner had they reached the deck than her eyes fell on Owen lying wounded on the poop. Disregarding every one, she threw herself down by his side.
"Oh, speak to me, Owen—tell me where you are hurt!" she exclaimed. Owen tried to answer her, but could only point to his wounded shoulder. "He will bleed to death!" she cried. "Run, Gerald—get some bandages from the cabin. Oh, father, come and help me!"
"I will send my surgeon to dress the young officer's wound," said the French captain, approaching; "he will attend also to the other injured men, and I regret that I cannot remain near you to be of any further use."
Carnegan had watched Norah; an angry frown passed across his brow, but he made no remark. The French surgeon was quickly on board; he desired that Owen should be carried to his cabin, where he speedily dressed his wound and gave him a stimulant which restored him to consciousness. He then left directions with Norah how to treat his patient, assuring her that the hurt was very slight, and that he would soon recover.
"Come, my friend," said the French officer to Carnegan; "as you are not from the West Indies, we shall have no fear of your giving us the fever. I must therefore beg for your company—you will require the attendance of the surgeon, and one wounded man is enough for that young lady to look after."
Carnegan appeared to be expostulating; but the French officer refused to accede to his request, and hurried him on board, without allowing him even the opportunity of wishing farewell to Norah.
The French crew had in the mean time brought a fresh topmast on board the Ouzel Galley, to supply the place of the one shot away, and had been busily employed in getting it up. They had not, however, completed the work when the look-out from the mast-head of the French ship shouted, "A sail to the south-east!" and they were immediately summoned back to their own ship. A young lieutenant and seven men, forming the prize crew, then came on board the Ouzel Galley, the surgeon being the last person to quit her.
"Who is the officer who boarded us, and what is the name of your ship?" asked Captain Tracy, after expressing his thanks to the surgeon for his attention.
"He is Captain Thurot, and his ship is the Coquille, the most celebrated privateer out of Dunkirk," was the answer. "It is positively an honour to be captured by him—let that be your consolation, my dear sir."
"Faith, it's but a poor consolation, then," answered Captain Tracy; "but I thank you for suggesting even a shadow of comfort. I will follow your directions with regard to my poor wounded fellows, and once again beg to express my gratitude for what you have done for them."
The Coquille immediately casting off her prize, made all sail in chase of the stranger, the rapidly approaching shades of evening soon concealing her from sight. The French prize crew, aided by the seamen of the Ouzel Galley, went on with the work which had been left incomplete of setting up the main-topmast rigging and getting the yard across. Night compelled them to knock off before the work was finished. The wind, however, continued steady, and the ship ran on almost dead before it under her head-sails the French officer, Lieutenant Vinoy, was a remarkably polite young gentleman, but whether or not he was a good seaman remained to be proved. He expressed his wish in no way to incommode Mademoiselle, as he called Norah, and declared that he should be perfectly satisfied to occupy the second mate's cabin, and would on no account turn her or her father out of theirs. Besides himself, he had but one person, a petty officer, capable of taking charge of a watch, so that he had but very little time to bestow on the young lady those attentions which, under other circumstances, he might have been inclined to pay. She too was fully engaged in attending on Owen and in visiting with her father the wounded and sick men.
The night passed off quietly, and the whole of the first day was spent by all hands in setting up the topmast. It was not till supper-time that the lieutenant entered the cabin, and, throwing himself on a chair, expressed his satisfaction that the task was at length accomplished. "And your men, captain, deserve credit for the way they have worked," he observed; "they could not have done so more willingly had they been performing the task for their own advantage. For my part, I am pretty well worn out—you may be sure that I shall sleep soundly during my watch below."
"Do you generally sleep soundly, Lieutenant Vinoy?" asked Gerald.
"Yes, I am celebrated for it," answered the lieutenant, laughing; "it takes a good deal to awake me when once my eyes are closed. I am never idle, you see; I work hard and sleep hard—that is as it should be."
Gerald recollected the lieutenant's remark, and a thought at that moment came into his head which he kept there, turning it and round and over and over till he carried it into execution.
A HEAVY GALE AHEAD—THE WIND BECOMES FAIR—GERALD'S PLAN TO RECOVER THE SHIP—CARRIES IT OUT—NORAH'S RESOLUTION—THE LIEUTENANT CAUGHT NAPPING—THE FRENCHMEN'S WEAPONS SECURED—BUSSON AND THE FRENCH CREW OVERPOWERED—GERALD AND NORAH HOLD LIEUTENANT VINOY IN CHECK—THE OUZEL GALLEY REGAINED—A COURSE STEERED FOR WATERFORD—PRECAUTIONS AGAINST RECAPTURE—APPROACH THE LAND.
The Ouzel Galley had run very nearly as far north as the latitude of Ushant, though she was still some way to the westward. Her crew had got on very well with their captors, who called them bons garcons, and were perfectly willing to fraternise with them. No one coming on board would have suspected their relative positions. The lieutenant made himself at home in the cabin; he was polite and courteous to Norah and Captain Tracy, and in no way presumed on being, as he was, the real commander of the ship. Gerald, however, did not seem inclined to associate with him, and seldom came into the cabin when he was there. Gerald, indeed, spent most of his time in assisting Norah to attend on Owen, by whose side he would sit patiently for hours together; or else he was holding secret confabulations with Dan Connor and Tim Maloney. Although Owen had been greatly weakened by loss of blood, it saved him from fever, and his wound, which was not deep, rapidly healed. Of this, however, Gerald advised Norah not to tell the lieutenant. The other wounded and pick men continued in their berths, apparently making no progress towards recovery; so that, of the original crew of the Ouzel Galley, there were only five hands besides Gerald and Tim fit for duty. These, of course, the Frenchmen, with their officer, considered that they were perfectly able to keep in order. The weather, which had hitherto been especially favourable, now greatly changed for the worse; a strong north-easterly gale springing up threatened to blow the Ouzel Galley far away to the westward. Lieutenant Vinoy was in despair; he had been anticipating the pleasure of carrying his prize into Boulogne, the port to which Captain Thurot had ordered him to take her, in the course of two or three days—and now she might be kept out for a week, or three weeks for that matter, and the risk of being recaptured greatly increased. Still he did his best to hold his ground, keeping the ship close-hauled, now on one tack, now on the other; while either he or his mate, Jacques Busson, were ever on deck ready to take advantage of any change of wind.
"I shall sleep soundly when this vile wind from the eastward has ceased to blow," exclaimed the lieutenant one day, on coming down to dinner.
"I hope you will," said Gerald, looking him boldly in the face. "You deserve some rest after keeping watch and watch so long."
"Gerald," said Norah, when they were together in the cabin, the captain being on deck, "I suspect that you are thinking of attempting to recover the vessel, and that our father has not been told what you intend to do."
"Why should you suppose so?" asked Gerald.
"Because I see you constantly talking to the men in a way you never used to do, and because you avoid the French lieutenant and speak to him in so strange a manner," answered Norah.
"I won't deny that I have a plan in my head; but you are to know nothing about it till it has succeeded," replied Gerald. "One thing I'll tell you, that I'm very sure it can't fail of success if all hands are true to each other—and, Norah, don't be alarmed if you hear that two or three more of our people are down with the fever; and if our father says anything, you can just remark that I told you I was sure they would very soon be well again."
"I have confidence in your discretion," said Norah, "but I pray that there may be no necessity for violence, and that neither the young officer nor any of the men may be injured."
"That depends on circumstances," said Gerald; "no one wishes to hurt a hair of their heads if they behave themselves—if not, they must take the consequences."
The gale increasing, it taxed all the strength of the Frenchmen, and the few of the original crew who remained, to shorten sail; but anxious as Lieutenant Vinoy was to get into port, he refused to heave to, and continued beating the ship to windward. At length, one day, soon after noon, the wind began to decrease, and before dark a moderate breeze was blowing from the southward. Captain Tracy had every day taken an observation, the French officer not objecting to his doing so, and Gerald always asked him whereabouts they were, noting the spot carefully down on the chart when the lieutenant was on deck, so that his proceedings might not be remarked. This day, according to Gerald's calculations, they were exactly a hundred and fifty miles to the southward of Waterford. The night was cloudy, and, as there was no moon, it was darker than usual. One-half of the Frenchmen had turned in, as had Lieutenant Vinoy; Jacques Busson had the middle watch. Gerald had gone to his berth, but not to sleep; he merely pulled off his shoes and jacket, and then, lying down, drew the blanket over him. After waiting for about an hour he got up and groped his way to Lieutenant Vinoy's cabin; the door was partly open—the sound which issued from within showed that the French officer was fast asleep. Gerald cautiously entered and possessed himself of a brace of pistols which hung within reach of the lieutenant's hand at the head of his cot, as also of a sword suspended to the bulkhead. Carefully carrying them out, he then, quietly closing the door, made his way to Owen Massey's cabin.
"We could not have a better opportunity than the present," he whispered. "If you will get ready, I will call my father and warn Norah to keep quiet. Here are the lieutenant's pistols—do you take one of them, and I will carry the other and a sword to my father. You will have no difficulty in keeping the lieutenant shut up in his cabin, while I creep forward and get Pompey and Dan to come aft and secure Jacques Busson. Just as they do so I will give a whistle loud enough for you and my father to hear, and immediately you do so you both will spring on deck and overpower the man at the helm. The rest of our people are prepared to act as you have arranged; one of them will knock down the look-out forward, while the others will throw themselves upon the other Frenchmen and secure the hatches on those below. You wished Tim and me to keep ourselves free to act according to circumstances; Tim was to get into the boatswain's storeroom, and to cut as many lengths of rope as we shall require. He will have them in readiness for the moment they are wanted. There can be no mistake, I hope?"
"None, provided the Frenchmen don't take alarm," answered Owen. "You, at all events, understand the plan perfectly."
"We may carry it out, too, I trust, without bloodshed," said Gerald. "Shall I go forward and give the signal?"
"Yes. I feel well able to do my part, though my left arm may not be of as much use as I should wish," answered Owen. "Call your father and Norah, and then lose no time, or the lieutenant may be waking and give us more trouble than is necessary."