The Pirate of the Mediterranean, a Tale of the Sea, by W.H.G. Kingston.
A long book—nineteen hours—full of adventure and tense situations. I was a bit disappointed to find that the Pirate was a Greek who preyed mostly upon Italian, Greek and Turkish vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean, because I had hoped that Kingston would address himself to the problem in the previous century, where Barbary and Algerine pirates were harrying European craft, taking their passengers prisoner as slaves, whom they used to carry out the building works of their cities.
Nevertheless, it is another admirable book from the pen of a great author, and I recommend it to you.
THE PIRATE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN, A TALE OF THE SEA, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
Malta, which I have selected as the opening scene of the following story, is, from its historical recollections, its fine climate, and brilliant skies, a very interesting spot; although, for such beauty as its scenery possesses, it must be acknowledged that it is indebted very much more to art than to nature. Notwithstanding, however, the noise it has made in the world, and will, I suspect, should we ever be driven into a war with our vivacious continental neighbour, again make, it is but a rock some twenty miles long, and twelve broad, in the middle of the Mediterranean, with a smaller rock, Gozo, to the north of it, and was, probably, at one time of this planet's existence, merely a continuation of Sicily or Italy's toe, or a lump, as it were, kicked off into the middle of the sea. If, also, report speaks true, the very soil which gives verdure to its valleys, and nourishes its sweet-scented orange-groves, was imported from richer lands; yet, notwithstanding this, a larger number of inhabitants of every religion, colour, and costume, continue to exist on its surface, than on any similar-sized portion of the globe. But in its capital, Valetta, with its magnificent fortifications, and superb harbour, are centred its chief attractions, and which have gained for it a name imperishable on the page of history as the bulwark of Christendom, against the pagan hosts of the Saracens.
But as my tale is with the present rather than with the past, I will not stop to describe how, when it was called Mileta, Saint Paul landed on the island,—how the Vandals and Goths took possession of it, and were driven out by Belisarius,—how in 1530, the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, driven away from Rhodes, here settled,—how they built a fortress which withstood the mighty army of the Turks, and how those gallant gentlemen hurled back the infidels defeated and disgraced,—how they at length degenerated, and its inhabitants, deceived by treachery from within and without their gates, yielded their liberty to the great enemy of Europe, Buonaparte, and were unmercifully ill-treated, and pillaged,—and how, in the year 1800, with the the aid of an English fleet and a small English army, they drove out their conquerors, and put themselves under the protection of Great Britain.
How Mr Cameron was first Civil Commissioner, and was succeeded by Sir Alexander Ball, a man justly endeared to the inhabitants as the sharer of their toils and victory,—how he was followed by Sir Hildebrand Oakes, after whom reigned, as their first Governor, for eleven years, commencing in 1813, Sir Thomas Maitland, called by irreverent lips, King Tom; a gallant soldier, and the terror of ill-doers, on whose decease the Marquis of Hastings and General Ponsonby successively became chiefs.
It was during the time that one of the three last-mentioned governors ruled the land, that the events I am about to narrate took place, and as it is in the capital, Valetta, and its magnificent harbour, that our scene more particularly lies, it is somewhat important that the reader should have them described to him.
Valetta is situated on that side of the island which faces the north-east, though towards the southern end of it. The harbour is of a very peculiar shape, and if the reader should not happen to possess a chart of it, he may form one by placing his left hand on the table, with the fingers separated as widely as possible from the middle finger: then let him bend up the third finger of his right hand, and place, widely apart, the tips of the others over the forefinger of his left hand. The middle finger of his left hand is Valetta, with Saint Elmo Castle on the nail, and its palaces and ramparts running along up to the knuckles. The space on the right is the Great Port, and on the left, Port Marsa Musceit, or the Quarantine Harbour. The tip of the little finger of the right hand is Port Ricasoli. On the bent-up third finger is the Bighi Palace, now a naval hospital, built by Napoleon as a residence for himself. The middle finger is the Burgh, with Port Saint Angelo at the end. The fore-finger is called Isola, with the Cotonera fortifications at the knuckle, and the thumb is denominated Carodino, where the Palatario is situated, while the spaces between each of the fingers are smaller harbours of great depth and security; and from Port Saint Angelo, numerous tiers of frowning batteries completely enfilade the entrance of the harbour—the approach to which is further defended by Forts Saint Elmo and Ricasoli. On the opposite side of Port Marsa Musceit, are two forts—Port Tigne at the entrance, and Fort Manuel; and there are several indentations, but of less depth and importance than those to the south. Besides the forts I have mentioned, the city is protected by the Floriana lines, and several other works. Indeed, it is said that there are sixty miles length of walls, which, in these economical times, are allowed slowly to crumble away. If our merchants value their trade with the East—if our rulers value our possession of India—if our philanthropists value the civilisation of the world, and the continuance of peace, let not Malta be neglected. To open the door is not the way to keep out a thief.
Valetta is a place of life, bustle, and animation. The Maltese are a busy people, given to gesticulation; and it is full of naval and military officers, and soldiers, and sailors, who are not addicted to quietude, especially the latter; and there are Greeks, and Moors, and Spaniards, and Italians, and Jews innumerable, congregated there, and priests and friars of all orders, who delight in the ringing of bells, so that silence is little known in this city of ramparts, steps, big guns, and churches. The streets are wide and handsome; those running along the middle finger, as I have described, are on a level, while those which lead up from the water are at right angles to them, and are occasionally steep, so that, in most instances, they consist of a broad flight of steps, the best known of which are the Nix Mangiare stairs, leading from the chief landing-place at the Great Port to the upper part of the town. The houses are balconied, lofty, and spacious, with terraces on the roofs, whence, in clear weather, Etna is visible; and where, in the cool of the evening, the inhabitants may enjoy the refreshing breeze from the sea, and behold it, in its intense blueness, dotted with white sails gliding in all directions over its surface. It is full of fine churches, the towers of which rise above the flat roofs of the palace-like houses, the whole surrounded by a broad walk, and a fringe of ramparts bristling with cannon.
It is to that part of the fortifications facing the mouth of the Great Port that I particularly wish to conduct the reader.
It was some four hours or so past noon when the boat of a British man-of-war ran in alongside the landing-place at the fort of Nix Mangiare stairs, and out of her stepped two persons, whose blue jackets, adorned with crown-and-anchor buttons, and the patches of white cloth on their cohars proclaimed them to belong to the exalted rank of midshipmen in the Royal Navy. But many might envy the free joyous laugh in which they indulged, seemingly on finding themselves on shore, and the light elastic tread with which they sprang up the long flight of steps before them, distancing, in a moment, several civilians and soldiers of various ranks, who, puffing and blowing, with handkerchiefs at their foreheads, were toiling upwards, while they arrived at the summit without even giving way to a gasp, and as cool, apparently, as when they landed. Their ears, as they went up, were saluted by—
"Yah hassare, carita—Nix mangiar these ten days, sar—Mi moder him die plague, sar! mi fader him die too," and other pathetic cries and similar equally veracious assertions, from numerous cripples, deformed creatures, and children of all ages, in rags and tatters, who endeavoured to excite their compassion by exhibiting their wounds and scars. The two youths had time to put their hands in their pockets, and to distribute a few pence to the wretched-looking beings on their way; both pocket and heart, if that were possible, being made lighter thereby. On reaching the top of the flight of stairs, without stopping to contemplate the height they had ascended, they turned to the right, and took the way along the ramparts towards Fort Saint Elmo. There seemed not to have been the slightest necessity for their hurry, as they appeared to have come on shore simply to take a walk, for they now slackened their pace, and proceeded on side by side.
"Well, I'm so glad, Duff, that you have joined us," exclaimed the one who appeared to be somewhat the eldest. "Who'd have thought it, when we parted four years ago at old Railton's that we were next to meet out here. I didn't think you would have got leave to enter the service."
"Neither did I expect to get afloat, and still less to become your messmate, when you, lucky dog that I thought you, left school. I moped on there for nearly another year, and then wrote to my governor and told him that if he didn't let me go to sea I should never be fit for anything. At last he believed that I was in earnest, and with a light heart I turned my back upon Brook-green, and shipped on board the old Rodney. But, I say, old fellow, what sort of a chap is our skipper? He looks like a taut hand."
"There is not a better fellow afloat," was the answer. "He's none of your milk-and-water chaps who'll let butter melt in their mouths, of that you may be assured; but he knows what ought to be done, and what man can do; and he makes them do it too. There's no shirking work or being slack in stays when he carries on the duty, and there's not a smarter ship in the service, nor a happier one either, though he won't allow an idler on board. The fact is, my boy, both officers and men know that no one can shirk their work, so it comes easy to all, and we have more leave and less punishment than nearly any other vessel on the station.
"But, I say, Jack Raby, is it true, that he makes the midshipmen do the duty of topmen?" asked the youngest of the two.
"I believe you, my boy," answered Jack Raby. "He makes all the youngsters lie out in the topsail-yards, and hand the canvas in fine style, ay, and black down the rigging at times too. By Jove, he's the fellow to make your kid-glove-wearing gentlemen dip their hands in the tar-bucket, and keep them there, if he sees they are in any way squeamish about it."
"By jingo, he seems to be somewhat of a Tartar," exclaimed the midshipman called Duff, with a half-doubtful expression of countenance, as if his new shipmate was practising on his credulity.
"Not a bit of it," was the rejoinder. "Let me tell you, that you'll soon find that your slack captains are the worst to sail with. They let every one do as they like till all hands begin to take liberties, and the hard work falls on the most willing, and they then suddenly haul up, and there is six times more flogging and desertion than in a strict ship, and she soon becomes a regular hell afloat. I hate your honey-mouthed, easy-going skippers, who simper out, 'Please, my good men, have the goodness to brace round the foreyard when the ship's taken aback.' No, no—give me a man who knows how to command men. Depend on it. Duff, you'll like Captain Fleetwood before you've sailed with him a week, if you are worth your salt, mind you, though."
By this time they had reached an angle of the ramparts, where, jumping up on the banquette, they could enjoy a good view up the harbour.
"There," exclaimed Raby, pointing to a fine man-of-war brig, which lay at the mouth of the dockyard creek just off Fort Saint Angelo. "Isn't the Ione a beauty now?"
"Yes, she is, indeed; and a fine craft, I dare say, in every respect," answered Duff.
"Oh, there's nothing can come up to her!" exclaimed Jack Raby, warming with his subject. "She'll sail round almost any ship in the fleet; and I only wish, with Charlie Fleetwood to command her, and her present crew, we could fall in with an enemy twice her size. We should thrash him, I'd stake my existence on it, and bring him in as a prize before long."
"Glorious!" exclaimed the other youth, catching the enthusiasm of his companion. "It's a pity the war is over. I'm afraid there's no chance of any fun of that sort."
"Oh, you don't know—something may come out of this row between the Greeks and the Turks; and we, at all events, shall have some amusement in looking after them, and cruising up the Archipelago—where I hear we are to be sent, as soon as we are ready for sea."
Jack Raby was the speaker.
"How soon will that be?" asked his companion. "We might sail to-morrow, I should have thought."
"Why, you see, there are more reasons than one for our not being ready," observed Jack. "And I suspect the skipper himself is in no hurry to get away; for, don't you go and talk about it now, but the fact is, he has been and fallen desperately in love with a sweetly pretty girl, who, from what I can observe, likes him not a little in return, so he'll be very sorry to get out of sight of her smiles; at least, I know that I should be loath to be beyond hailing distance if I were in his place. Let me give you a piece of advice, Duff; don't go and fall in love. It is a very inconvenient condition for a midshipman to be in, let me tell you."
"Not if I can help it," said Duff. "At least, till I am a lieutenant. However, I felt rather queer about the region of the brisket the other night, when I was dancing with that pretty little Maltese girl, with the black eyes, and cherry lips, though we neither of us could understand a word the other said, and I didn't know what was to come of it. Fortunately, next morning, the sensation had gone off again, and I got out of the scrape. But the fact is, since I grew up (the rogue was scarcely fifteen), I have been so little on shore, that I have had no time to lose my heart."
Jack Raby, who was a year older, and therefore considered himself a man at all events, burst into a loud fit of laughter, in which his companion joined him, at the absurdity of their conversation; of which, although they had spoken in earnest, they were both somewhat conscious. "But I say, old fellow, without any more humbug about love and such like bosh, just look at the dear old craft! how beautifully she sits on the water— what a graceful sheer she has—and how well her sixteen guns look run out, like dogs from their kennels, all ready to bite. You should see her under weigh though, and how beautiful she looks with her canvas spread! You'd know her for a man-of-war twenty miles off by the cut of her royals. See, what square yards she's got! and how well her masts stand. How light she looks aloft—and yet everything that is required— not a block too large—and yet everything works as easy as possible. On deck, too, you'll find there's no jim-crack nonsense about her— everything is for service, and intended to last; and yet, where there is any brass or varnished wood, it's kept as bright and clean as can be. There isn't a ship on the station can come up to us in reefing or furling; and, let them say what they like in other ships, there isn't a happier berth, or a better set of fellows to be found, on board any of them—take my word for it, Duff."
"Well, from all you say, I haven't a doubt but that I shall like the little Ione very much," observed the other. "And, at all events, I wouldn't mind a worse ship, for the sake of being with you. But, I say, who is the young lady your skipper—I may now, though, call him our skipper—has fallen in love with?"
"A Miss Garden. She is very young, and very fair, and very bright and lively. I'm not surprised at any one's admiring her! it's much more wonderful that everybody doesn't fall in love with her over head and ears: for my part, though I've only seen her two or three times, I'm ready to fight and die for her, too, if it were necessary."
"Oh, of course! that we should all be ready to do, as in duty bound, for our skipper's wife, and much more for the lady of his love," observed Duff; "but I want to know who she is?"
"I was going to tell you. She has no father nor mother; and her only living relation, that I know of, is an old colonel Gauntlett, on whose protection she is entirely thrown. He is rather a grumpy old chap, they say—but she has no help for it; and he takes her about wherever he goes. He has got some money—but he hates the navy, and swears she shall never marry a sailor, or if she does he'll cut her off with a farthing. He came out here some months ago, and has never let any one with a blue jacket come inside his door; but, somehow or other, Captain Fleetwood got introduced to her, and as he was in mufti, the old chap didn't know he was in the navy, and told him he should be happy to make his acquaintance. He did not find out his mistake for some time; and when he did—my eyes, what a rage he was in! He did not mind it so much, though, afterwards, as he is going away in a few days, and thought the captain and his niece were not likely to meet again; but the skipper, you see, is not the man to let the grass grow under his feet in making love, more than in anything else, and in the mean time he had managed to come it pretty strong with Miss Garden. How it will end I can't say—I only know that our captain is the last man in the world to yield up a lady if he loves her, and believes she loves him—he'd as soon think of striking his flag to an enemy while he had got a shot in the locker; so, I suppose, he'll either win over the old cove, or run off with her, and snap his fingers at him—he doesn't care for his money;—and, to my idea, that would be the best way to settle it."
"So I think," observed the other youngster. "I've made up my mind, when I want to marry, if I cannot get the old one's consent, to take French leave, and settle the matter in an offhand way. But where do you say the grumpy colonel and his pretty niece are going to; for the captain must look sharp after her, or he'll be carrying her away somewhere inland, out of sight of salt water, where he can't get at her."
"No fear of that; the old dragon has too great an opinion of his own soldiership not to fancy that he can keep guard over his ward," observed Raby. "But we'll see if a sailor can't weather on him. Nothing I should like so much as to help the skipper, and I only hope he may ask me. He hasn't much time to lose, either; for we heard that the colonel and his niece were bound shortly for Cephalonia, or one of the Ionian Islands, where he has got an appointment. If we were ordered there also, we might find an opportunity; but, you see, the captain won't have the chances of meeting her without being observed, which he has here, and a hundred to one the uncle claps half a dozen lobsters as sentries over her, if he sees the Ione come off the place."
"Then I should be for carrying her off at once, if I were the captain, and letting the old lion growl away without her," exclaimed Duff; and the two midshipmen walked on fully persuading themselves into the hope, that they should be called upon to assist their captain in running away with Miss Garden.
There were few people abroad to interrupt their conversation; for the heat of the sun kept most of the Maltese within doors. As the Italians, or Spaniards, I forget which, observe, none but dogs and Englishmen walk the streets when the sun shines in summer. There were, however, sentries on duty, and a few seamen belonging to men of war; or merchantmen of various nations would pass by; and here and there a cowled priest, a woman in the dark faldetta, a ragged beggar boy—or an old gentleman in three-cornered hat, a bag-wig, riding on a donkey, with a big red cotton umbrella over his head, would appear from one of the neighbouring streets, as necessity called him forth.
On the two happy youths went, careless of the heat, till they reached that part of the ramparts called the lower Barraca. It is a broad open space directly above the water, where stands a conspicuous object from the sea, in the form of a Grecian temple, a monument to the memory of that excellent man, and brave officer, Sir Alexander Ball, one of Lord Nelson's most steemed captains. As they reached the spot, they encountered a person, who was apparently about to descend the way they had come; he was a man of about forty years old, with a countenance slightly weather-beaten, and hands which showed that they were no strangers to ropes and tar, and there was an undeniable roll in his gait, which betrayed the seaman, though his costume was that of a denizen of the shore; he wore a long, swallow-tailed, black coat, a round beaver hat, and a coloured waistcoat; but the wide duck trousers, and low shoes were those of a thorough salt. Jack Raby looked at him earnestly, and then held out his hand, which was shaken warmly by the other.
"What, Bowse, as I live," he exclaimed; "what has brought you to Malta, old fellow? I thought you were snugly housed at home with Mrs Bowse, and had given up the sea altogether."
"Well, sir, so did I think too, and for a time I was comfortable enough; but at last I began to wish to have a look at the blue water again; and I grew sick, and then sicker, till I felt that nothing but a sniff of the salt air would do me good. You know, sir, when I was bo'sun of the jolly little Dart, your first ship, I took to learning navigation, and was no bad hand at it. Ah! I loved that craft, and nothing but having that windfall of a fortune would have made me leave her. Well, as I was saying, when I wished to go to sea again, I turned in my mind that I could not do better with my money than take a share of a merchantman, and go master of her. No sooner said than done. Up I went to London, where I knew a respectable shipowner. He was glad enough to favour my wishes, for he knew he could trust me; and I soon became part owner and master of the Zodiac, a fine brig, of a hundred and sixty tons. I have made two voyages in her, and am now bound to the eastward to Cephalonia and Zante. I sail to-morrow or next day, according to circumstances. If you'll step up here, sir, I think you'll see her, for we've hauled out ready for a start, as soon as my passengers come on board."
As the master of the merchantman spoke, he advanced to a part of the ramparts over which they could look down upon the great harbour, where, some way below the custom-house, was seen a merchant brig, laden and ready for sea.
"She's as fine a sea boat as ever floated, I can assure you, sir. It's a pleasure to be her master," he continued, as he pointed with pride to her. Every good seaman is fond of his vessel, and overlooks her faults, whatever they may be, as a good husband does those of his wife.
"I am heartily glad of your success, Bowse, I can assure you," said the midshipman warmly; "I owe you much; for you gave me my first lessons in seamanship, and I shall never forget them. You must come and dine with us to-morrow, and I shall introduce you as my friend, Captain Bowse."
"No, sir—no, pray don't do so," answered the mariner; "I've served on board a man-of-war, and I know my place and rank better. Captains of king's ships, if you please, sir,—but masters of merchantmen. I know the difference between a collier and a seventy-four, I think. But I'll dine with your mess, sir, with much pleasure, if I don't go to sea to-morrow."
"We shall expect you, then, if we see the Zodiac still in the harbour," said Raby. "I see you've got a spy-glass there, let me take a squint at her. You carry six guns, I observe; and I must say I like the look of your craft."
"Very necessary, too, in the places to which we trade," answered the master. "Those Greek chaps among the islands don't scruple to plunder any vessels they may find unarmed, particularly in these times; but the truth is, two of those are quakers—their look is much worse than their bite. However, between this and Cephalonia there's no danger."
"Why, you know, if any pirates attacked you, and were caught, you'd have the satisfaction of having them strung up by King Tom, like those chaps yonder," said Raby. "By the bye, Duff, did you ever observe King Tom's Rubber of Whist?"
"No," answered Duff. "What do you mean?"
"Take that glass, and look at the outer bastion of Port Ricasoli. What do you see there?"
"Four figures, which are hanging by their necks from gibbets," answered Duff. "What are they?"
"Those are four Englishmen,—at least, one, by the way, was a Yankee, their master,—who turned pirates, and tried to scuttle another English brig, and to drown the people. It's too long a story to tell you now. But old King Tom got hold of them, and treated them as you see."
"That fellow, Delano, the Yankee master, was a terrible villain," observed Captain Bowse, shuddering. "It was not the first black deed of the sort he had done, either. One doesn't know what punishment is bad enough for such scoundrels. It's a hundredfold worse when such-like acts are done by our countrymen, than when Greeks or Moors do them, because one does not expect anything better from their hands. But I see, sir, you are casting an eye at one of those strange-looking native crafts standing in for the land with the sea breeze."
Raby had the telescope at his eye, and he was pointing it towards a sail which was rapidly approaching the shore. So broad and lofty was the canvass, that the hull looked like the small car of a balloon, in comparison to it, as if just gliding over the surface of the blue and unruffled sea.
The view both up and down the harbour, and in every direction, was very interesting. Directly facing them was Port Ricasoli, with its tiers of guns threatening any invader, and the black, wave-washed rocks at its base. A little to the right, in a sort of bay between it and Port Saint Angelo, appeared the white and elegant buildings of the Naval Hospital; and further on, towering upwards from the water, the last-mentioned fort, with its numerous rows of heavy guns, having behind it the Dockyard creek, or Galley harbour, where, in the days of yore, the far-famed galleys of the knights were drawn up, and secure from attack. On either side were white stone walls and buttresses, glittering in the sunshine; overhead a sky of intense blueness; and below, a mirror-like expanse of waters, reflecting the same cerulean hue, on which floated innumerable crafts, of all shapes, sizes, and rigs, from the proud line-of-battle ship which had triumphantly borne the flag of England through the battle and the breeze, to the little caique with its great big eyes in its bow and strange-shaped stem and high outlandish stern, filled with its swarthy, skirmish crew of vociferating natives. Among the merchantmen, the ensigns of all nations might be seen—the stars and stripes of Uncle Sam's freedom-loving people alongside the black lowering eagle of Russia; the cross of the Christian Greek, and the crescent of the infidel Turk; there was the banner of the Pope, and of Sardinia, and of various other Italian States; but outnumbering them all, by far, was the red flag of Britain. Far out to the eastward, where the sky and sea formed the horizon, there was a slight, gauze-like, whitish haze, through which could be seen the lofty canvas of several vessels, rising, as it were, like spirits from the watery deep, and just catching the rays of the sun declining in the opposite direction, which gave an unusual brilliancy to their wide-spread sails. But the craft which most attracted the attention of our friends was the one Raby had been looking at.
He pointed her out to his brother midshipman, and handed him the telescope.
"What do you think of her?" he asked. "She is a rum one to look at, isn't she?"
Duff burst into a fit of laughter.
"Why, if the fellows haven't set their jib right between the long poking yards of their foresail and mainsail," he exclaimed, "I never did see such an odd rig as that before. What in the world is she?"
"That's what they call a speronara in these parts, sir," answered Bowse; "but you'll see rummer rigs than that before long, when you go up the Archipelago. You see that wide spread of canvass is made by crossing her two latine sails, and setting their jib as a topsail between them. They can lower that down, and haul their wind in an instant. These sails, to my mind, are very good where light airs and smooth seas prevail, though they would not answer in our northern latitudes; and they require a good many more people to handle them than we could spare for the work. They reef their canvas, not like fore-and-aft sails in general, by the foot, but by the leach along to the yard. There's no doubt, however, though they have an outlandish look, that they sail well on a wind, and not badly before it, too, as we see by the craft below us there."
Onward gracefully glided the speronara—such is the name given to the craft which ply between Malta and Sicily with goods and passengers, and from some port in the latter island she seemed to have come, from the direction in which she appeared. On she came very rapidly, considering the light breeze; she was evidently a very fast craft of her class. She came abreast of Fort Saint Elmo, and soon after took in her outlandish topsail, as Duff called, just before she passed close under the spot where our friends were posted, so that they could look directly down on her deck. She seemed to be full of men habited in the long blue caps and striped shirt of Mediterranean mariners, with light-blue trowsers, and a red sash round the waist. She was of considerable size, and, what is unusual with craft of her description, she was decked fore-and-aft, though her between-decks must have been inconveniently low. There was a place sunk aft where stood the helmsman holding his long tiller, and on either side were arranged, ready for use, several long sweeps; but the wind was at present sufficient to impel the vessel along without their aid. Thus much was seen as she ran up the harbour. She passed close to the Zodiac, the mate of which, by his gestures, seemed to be speaking to the crew, and scolding them for the risk they ran of getting foul of her, and they then appeared to be uncertain where to bring up. At last she crossed over to the Ione, and finally rounding to, took in her foresail, and dropped her anchor off the custom-house.
The midshipmen and their companion soon got tired of looking down upon the harbour. Captain Bowse was obliged to part from them, as he had business to transact; and they finally agreed, as they had still a couple of hours of daylight, to hire a couple of horses of old Salvatore, in the Palace-square, and to take a gallop into the country, as a preparation for a grand ball which was to take place that evening at the Auberge de Provence, and where Raby promised Jemmy Duff he would point him out Miss Garden. Away hurried the two happy youngsters, without casting another thought on the speronara. I, however, particularly wish my readers not to forget her, and also to remember the man-of-war brig, and the merchantman, as both are destined to play a conspicuous part in the following narrative.
The speronara would, on a near inspection by a nautical eye, appear somewhat different to the general run of vessels of her rig and build. There was evidently the greatest attention paid to her ropes, spars, and oars. They were of the best hemp and toughest wood; not a stranded or even worn sheet or halyard was to be seen; every spar was sound, and her canvas was new and strong. Her crew, or those who sent her out of port, seemed to consider that much might depend on her speed and capability of keeping the sea.
If, however, she was employed in carrying passengers between Sicily and Malta, it was very natural that her owners should make her appear as seaworthy as possible, to induce people to trust their lives and property in her. We will suppose her still outside the port, soon after Jack Raby and his companions first saw her. Evidently the most important person on board was a young man of very pleasing exterior. He was rather tall than otherwise, and though slight, possessed a breadth of chest which gave promise of great strength and activity. His complexion was sunburnt, if not dark by nature, and his lip, which betokened scorn and firmness, and gave an unattractive expression to his countenance, was shaded by a thick curling moustache. His features were decidedly regular and handsome; and had they been otherwise, his large, flashing, dark eye would have challenged observation. His age was probably about two or three-and-thirty—he might have been younger—and he was certainly a very remarkable person. Those who saw him even but for a moment, went away fancying that they had been long acquainted with his features. His costume at once betrayed his nation; for he wore the red fez, the embroidered jacket and full white kilt, and richly-worked leggings and slippers of the Greek, and the cast of his countenance made one also conclude that he belonged to that nation. The only other person on board dressed in the Greek costume, was evidently some years younger, and was neither so tall nor so strongly built as his companion. His countenance was decidedly handsome, and what would be called aristocratic. It was very grave, and, indeed, melancholy in the extreme; and an accurate observer of character might have divined, from the form of his mouth and expression of his eyes, that he was sadly in want of firmness and decision in his actions, which idea, probably, would not have been very far from the truth. His dress, though the materials were good, was as plain as the costume he wore would allow; but it could not be otherwise than elegant and handsome, and it sat well upon his graceful figure.
Those two persons were earnestly engaged in conversation with another, who appeared to be the master of the vessel, and they were standing leaning over the side, away from the rest of the people on board.
"Remember, now," observed the principal Greek to the master, "you are to be ready to weigh and make sail at a moment's notice; it may be to-night, even—it may be tomorrow or on the following day—I cannot say, but you must be prepared."
"Signor, si," answered the master in a tone of deep respect. "I will take care to obey your commands to the letter; but I am afraid there may be some difficulty with the authorities at the custom-house. They once suspected me of smuggling, though I was as innocent as the babe unborn, and they may detain me."
"You know the consequences," returned the Greek, with a fierce look; "I will listen to no excuse if anything miscarries, so look to it!"
"It is a dangerous expedition you go on, signore," observed the Sicilian master.
"Dangerous!" exclaimed the Greek, in a tone of contempt. "Danger is the food we live on, the air we breathe; without it life would lose half its zest. I'll tell you what, my friend, he is but a base-born slave who knows not how to live, and fears to die. Give me a life of activity and excitement, and when that ceases death will be welcome."
"You, signore, are the best judge of your own taste," answered the Sicilian; "for my part, I am content to make an honest livelihood by trading between my native city of Syracuse and yonder good port of Valetta, where, please the holy saints, we shall drop our anchor in the course of ten minutes."
"And anything else by which you may turn a colonna," muttered the Greek.
The speronara continued in her course, and as she came off Fort Ricasoli, the other person habited as a Greek, who had not hitherto spoken, observed the four figures suspended on the southern bastion.
"Holy Virgin, what are those?" he exclaimed in Italian.
"Those, signore," answered the padrone, as the master of the speronara was called, with particular emphasis, "are pirates."
"Pirates!" ejaculated the young man, while a shudder ran through his frame.
"Si, signore, pirates," answered the padrone, with a significant look. "They had a short life of it after they had committed the acts for which they were condemned. They had reached Smyrna with their booty, when they were captured by the British and brought back here."
"An awful lesson to others to be more careful how they manage affairs," observed the principal Greek, laughing. "Now, I dare say, if the truth was known, those fellows blundered terribly. It's always the case when people get into the clutches of the law."
The other Greek shuddered and turned his head aside. "It is not a pleasant sight," he observed.
"Oh! those English are terrible fellows for punishing those engaged in any little transaction of that sort," said the padrone. "They are good people, though."
"They are remarkably conceited," said the Greek, twirling his moustache—"they believe that they can make the whole world obey them; but it is time that we should look about us. Ah! steer near that merchant-brig there, in the mouth of the harbour, I should like to have a look at her that I might know her again."
The man at the helm put it so much to port, that the end of one of the long tapering yards of the speronara nearly got foul of the Zodiac's fore-yard.
"What the deuce are you lubbers about, that you cannot keep yourself clear of your neighbours?" sung out Bowse's mate, from the main rigging. "I'll teach you better manners if I catch you at sea, that's all."
"The Englishman seems angry," said the Greek, laughing. "That brig, though, looks as if she had a valuable cargo on board. I must learn more about her."
Conversation was now put a stop to, in consequence of the caution necessary for steering into a thickly-crowded harbour, and the hurry of bringing up.
She dropped her anchor among a number of similarly-rigged craft, close inshore, where she lay exciting little or no observation, except that a few boatmen saw her, and were calculating their prospects of having to transport her passengers or merchandise to the landing-place.
As soon as her sails were stowed, which was speedily done, the health-boat came alongside, and as it appeared she had come from Sicily, pratique was immediately given her. She was next visited by the custom-house boat. The officer, for some reason or other, seemed to consider that there was something suspicious about her, for he examined her papers very minutely, and read them over more than once, but was at last obliged to pass them as correct. The vessel next underwent a strict search, but nothing contraband was found on board her, and at last he took his departure, even then casting back a look of doubt at her, as if he was not thoroughly convinced that all was right.
During these proceedings the Greek sat in the after part of the vessel, maintaining a perfect silence, while he played with the handle of a short poniard which he wore in his sash.
"You appear to be suspected, my friend," he observed to the master, as soon as the officers had gone.
"So it seems, signore," he answered. "The fact is, once upon a time, I had a few bales of goods on board, which I contrived to land without paying the duties, and I have ever since been watched as if I were a smuggler."
"It was clumsy in you to be discovered," observed the Greek. "In the present instance I might find it inconvenient."
A man in a small boat, who had been paddling quietly at a little distance from the speronara, as soon as the government officials had left her, darted alongside.
"Ah! Signor Sandro, welcome back to Malta," he exclaimed, addressing the master of the little vessel. "I have not seen you here for a long time."
"Not the less welcome I hope, Manuel," said the master.
"Few are who remember their friends and pay well," said the boatman. "How can I best serve you, signore?"
"By landing my passengers, and giving them all the information they may require," said the master. "Hark you, Manuel—put your head nearer—my boy's life is answerable for their safety—so, as you love me, take care that they get into no trouble. They seek a passage to some part of their own country on board a merchantman, and have come here to look for one to suit them."
"I understand clearly, signor," said the boatman, significantly. "But who are they? What is their calling, or occupation?"
"Oh! mother of Heaven, don't ask me!" answered the padrone, with a terrified look. "They may overhear you. It is not my business to put questions to them. It is enough that they pay well, and do not wish to be known. Besides, they would not scruple to cut my throat if they were offended—and most assuredly their friends would string up my poor boy, if anything went wrong with them. Even now, look at the captain—I mean the best dressed of the two. How he is playing with the hilt of his dagger there. He is meditating sticking it into my ribs because I am talking so long to you. I tell you, you must watch over their safety; and, in the name of the saints, aid them to get away as fast as possible—for, till they are out of the place, I shall not feel my head secure on my shoulders."
"Oh! I understand. They are political offenders disguised as Greeks, who do not wish their movements to be known;" said the sharp-witted boatman, jumping at a conclusion. "I'll undertake to serve you and them—not forgetting myself—and, I trust, that they will make it worth my while."
"No fear of that," the padrone was saying, when the Greek's voice summoned him aft.
"What were you saying to the boatman?" he asked in an angry tone.
"I was making arrangements with him to take you on shore, signor, and do your bidding," was the answer.
"Well, he may land me at once," said the Greek. "Paolo, do you remain on board till I send for you, and let not a man quit the vessel on any excuse," he whispered. "Such provisions as they require, the boatman can bring off for them, and I will manage to make him faithful."
The Greek, without further remarks, swung himself over the side of the vessel and took his seat in Manuel's boat.
"Hist, Manuel," he said, in the lingua Franca, well understood by the Maltese boatmen; "you are debating in your mind whether you will inform the authorities that a suspicious character has landed on the island, and get a reward from them, or whether you will take the chance of pocketing what my generosity may induce me to bestow. Now, mark me, my honest friend. In the first place, I could get you hung for a little transaction, of which you know."
The boatman started, and looked round with a suspicious glance.
"Que diavolo, who can this be?" he muttered.
"In the second, remember the English do not detain a man on bare suspicions, and but shabbily reward an informer. On the other hand, twenty colonati are yours, if you do my bidding. I do not want an answer—you are not a fool. Now row on shore as fast as you can."
The Greek was a judge of character; and he seemed not to be altogether unacquainted with Manuel, the boatman. The boat ran into the public landing-place, and he stepped on shore with an independent and fearless air, where he mingled among the busy and motley throng who crowded the quay. The boatman, Manuel, sat in his boat a little distance from the shore, watching him, and ready, apparently, to obey his orders when he should be required.
The Greek proceeded onward through the lower parts of the town, eyeing those he passed with a quick keen glance, which seemed to read their very thoughts. People were too much accustomed to see the varied costumes of the East to regard him with unusual curiosity, or to incommode him in his progress by stopping to stare at him; at the same time that many remarked him as he slowly sauntered on and wondered whence he had come. He seemed to have nothing more to do than to amuse himself by viewing the city, though he had certainly not selected the most interesting or cleanest quarter. He apparently was a stranger to the place, by the way in which he hesitated at each crossing, which turning he should take, till he had carefully deciphered the name on the wall. Now he stopped to look into a shop, then to gaze up at the windows of a house as if he expected to see some one there, and then to throw a copper to some importunate beggar. He walked with an air of so much independence and nonchalance, indeed, at times, almost of haughtiness, that it was difficult to suppose he had the slightest apprehension of danger. Not a person, however, who, passed him, escaped his scrutiny; and even when he appeared to stop carelessly, or for the sake of considering the way he was to take, he cast a hurried glance behind him to satisfy himself that no one was acting the spy on his movements. He had evidently seen enough to convince him that the vessel, in which he had come, was in bad odour, and he naturally concluded that her passengers would be narrowly watched. Of the crowds who passed, not a human being seemed to know him, and if he was in reality particularly observed, it was done so cleverly and so cautiously, that with all his ingenuity, he failed to discover whether such was the case or not. He had already traversed a number of streets—ascending several flights of steps and descending others—when, at the corner of a narrow lane, his eye fell on a squalid-looking beggar who was lustily calling on the passers-by, in the name of all the saints, to preserve him from starvation. A broad-brimmed hat with a crown similar to those worn by Italian bandits, but sadly battered and brown with age and dirt, was worn slouchingly on his head, so as almost to hide his features, which were further concealed by a handkerchief tied under his chin, and a black patch over one of his eyes. A tattered cloak, the cast-off finery of a dandy of the palmy days of the old Knights of Malta, covered his shoulders, as did, in part, his legs, a pair of blue cloth trousers, through which his knees obtruded, and which were fringed with torn stripes at the feet. Such of his features as were visible were as ill-favoured as well could be. His voice, too, had a peculiarly disagreeable tone, as in the lingua Franca of the Maltese mendicants he begged for alms.
This interesting personage was supporting himself carelessly on a pair of crutches, while he rested on one foot, and stretched forth the palm of his right hand to grasp whatever might be put into it. The Greek stopped and put his hand into his pocket to draw out a piece of money, while he did so narrowly eyeing the beggar. The man's voice changed instantly that he saw the stranger looking at him; from a half whining yet impudent tone, it began to sink and tremble with alarm, and finally he became perfectly mute and forgetful of his calling.
"I thought you would know me," said the Greek. "And you must remember I never forget those I have once seen either as friends or foes."
"No, signor, I perceive you do not," replied the beggar, trembling with alarm. "Have mercy on me."
"That depends upon yourself," said the stranger. "At present, you deserve no mercy at my hands; but I will now give you an opportunity of serving me; and if you do so faithfully, I will overlook the past."
"You are very generous, signor—you always were," exclaimed the beggar, trying to fall down and embrace his knees, which the Greek prevented. "I will go to any part of the world. I will go through fire and water to serve you."
"You have not to go far to perform my directions; but I want faithfulness in the discharge of the duty I shall impose on you," said the Greek, sternly. "And, mark me, Giacomo—if you play me false, as you have done others, I will find you out, and finish your worthless life with as little compunction as I would that of a rabid dog."
"Si, signor capitan, I very well know that you are not a man to be trifled with," answered the beggar, bowing his head.
"Tell me what you want, and by the Holy Virgin and all the saints in heaven I will perform the work faithfully."
"Your oath is superfluous, as you would break it for a copper-piece, so don't insult me with it," replied the Greek, scornfully. "But, listen: there is a certain Jew—Aaron Bannech by name—his office—his den—the place where he cheats, and robs, and lies, is beneath the Albergo—in the Strada. Do you hear?"
"Si, signor, si,—I know the place—I know the man," said the beggar, hastily.
"You know him; it is well that you should—you are an admirable pair. He would sell his soul for a dollar, and would then try to cheat the devil out of it. You are a meaner knave. Half that sum would buy you. You both are useful to me, though. Hasten to him, and tell him that I am here. Say that he must clear out his den of visitors, clerks, or other prying knaves, and that I will be with him in half an hour. When you have done this, go down to the port, and learn what vessels are about to sail, shortly, for the eastward, with all particulars about them—their cargoes—armed force—and number of men—also what ships are expected to arrive shortly from the same quarter. Having gleaned this information, which you well know how to do, come up with it to the residence of the Jew. Listen, also, if anything is said about the Speronara Volante, from Syracuse, by which I arrived. Alessandro is her master—or, if any remarks are made respecting me. I am, probably, unnoticed; but it is as well to be cautious."
"I will strictly obey your directions, signor," said the beggar. "Have you further orders?"
"No—you may go. I have been talking to you too long already, and may have been observed."
"Rest assured of my fidelity," said the beggar, hobbling off up the street on his crutches, at a far more rapid rate than he was generally wont to move.
No sooner, however, had he got out of sight of the Greek, than he slackened his pace.
"Now, I wonder what I should get by denouncing him to the authorities," he muttered to himself. "They are stingy in rewarding informers though, and he, probably, will pay better; besides, as he says, he may get me hung by a word; and if I get him into trouble, some of his friends are certain to avenge him. After all, too, he would probably make his story good, and I should not be believed. You can never catch those Greeks asleep; their wit is so keen, and they twist, and turn, and double in such a manner, that if they get into a scrape, they are certain of working their way out of it. No, it won't do. I must keep to my word, and be honest with him. Curse him! Here am I a beggar on crutches, and a far greater rogue lords it over me as if he were a prince."
So the beggar hobbled on towards the house of the Jew to fulfil his mission. I am afraid that there are too many people in the world like Giacomo, the Maltese beggar, who are honest as long only as it suits their purpose.
The Greek, little dreaming of the danger to which he was exposed, or, at all events, little fearing it, turned on his heel, and retraced his steps for some part of the distance he had come. His air was more buoyant and independent than before.
"So much for business," he muttered. "And now for amusement. We'll try what this brave city can afford. Let me see, I passed a tratoria or a caffe but just now; I'll look in there, and learn what is going forward!"
He soon reached the place he spoke of; and throwing open the folding-doors at the entrance, entered with his usual careless air, and took his seat at a marble table, which chanced to be unoccupied. There was a billiard-table in the room beyond, and upstairs were more secret apartments, where games of chance were, at times, played.
The place was full of persons of all descriptions. English and Maltese, and others of various nations. Those belonging to the army and navy, were either of inferior rank, or were harum-scarum fellows, who cared not at all with whom they associated. There were, also, masters and mates of merchantmen, Frenchmen and Italians; and there was a representative, indeed, to be found of almost all the people dwelling on the shores of the Mediterranean, as also, of more distant nations. Some were smoking, and others drinking; but the greater number were idling about, laughing and talking, as if they had come there to kill time; and when, by chance, any pause occurred, the noise of the billiard balls was heard, and the cry of the marker from the next room. The Greek seemed to excite less observation even here than in the street, except from two or three of his countrymen, who were in the room, and who eyed him narrowly. He rose and sauntered into the billiard-room, perhaps to avoid their scrutiny, perhaps simply to amuse himself by looking on at the game. He soon, however, returned, and ordering some coffee, he took up a Maltese newspaper, which appeared to afford him considerable interest.
"Ah! here we have a complete list of all the vessels about to sail from this port," he muttered to himself. "It will serve to compare with old Bannech's and Giacomo's account," and taking out a pocket-book he quickly copied the list. "And let me see," he continued. "What have we here? A ball to-night at the Auberge de Provence. By Saint Genario; it will be a good amusement to go there. I shall pick up not a little useful information of what is going forward in the great world, what way the wheel is next to turn, and how those English are going to act with regard to Greece,—whether we are to have a loan or an army to assist us. Heaven defend us from the latter, and afford us good pickings from the first. But, with regard to this ball. A stranger, I suppose, would not be admitted without an introduction. They are, I know, of old, very suspicious in this place. Well, I must make old Bannech settle that matter also for me. He must forge some good introductions, if he cannot procure them for me in any other way. He is well able to do so, for he keeps his hand in at the work, and knows everybody here and elsewhere."
While he sat meditating and sipping his coffee, the three Greeks, at another table, continued eyeing him narrowly, and, at the same time, whispering among themselves. If he was conscious that their glances were fixed on him, he stood the scrutiny admirably, without the slightest change of colour, nor did his eye quail in the least. Looking suddenly up, however, he appeared first to discover that their eyes were turned towards him. Immediately rising, with a bland smile, he walked up to them.
"You seem to know me, gentlemen," he observed, with a courteous tone, in pure Romaic. "Unfortunately, I do not enjoy the same happiness. Will you inform me where it was we met?"
"Pardon, sir, for our rudeness," answered one of the three, rather abashed. "We mistook you for another person—we were trying to recollect where we had seen you."
"It is not impossible that you may have met me before, if you have been in Italy, in which country I have resided for some years; or lately in Sicily," answered the Greek. "In the fair city of Valetta you could not have seen me, as I only landed an hour ago from the last-mentioned island, and in our native Greece, I have not been since the days of my early boyhood, though I am on the very point of returning thither."
"Then, clearly, we are mistaken," replied another of the three. "We, ourselves, arrived here only yesterday from Greece, after encountering numerous hardships and dangers. Among others, when off the southern end of Cerigo, our vessel was boarded by a rascally pirate, manned, too, by our own countrymen, who robbed us of everything we possessed, which they could carry off, and we fully believe they would have sunk the ship, and murdered us, had not a British man-of-war hove in sight, and made them sheer off before they had completed their work."
"I dare say they would," replied the Greek, quietly. "Such gentry, I have heard, generally consider that the only safe plan of avoiding detection, and the troublesome affair of a trial, and perhaps a very disagreeable result, is to stop the mouths of those they plunder beneath the waves, lest they should afterwards tell inconvenient tales of them. If they thought you had escaped, they would take very good care another time not to commit such a blunder."
"Why, it was certainly from no leniency on the part of the villains that we were not drowned, for they had bored holes in our ship's bottom, and thought we should have sunk at once; but, fortunately, a fresh breeze brought up the man-of-war alongside of us before we went down, and her people stopped the leak, and saw us safely into port."
"I regret to hear this account you give me," said the stranger, in a sympathising tone; "though I congratulate you on your narrow escape,—I may call it miraculous. You are far more fortunate than the generality of people who fall into the hands of those gentry, I should think. I was in hopes that our countrymen, since the commencement of the glorious struggle to throw off the foul Turkish yoke, had abandoned all their malpractices, and had joined heart and hand in the great cause against the common enemy. I, too, am personally interested; as I am about to embark on board some merchant vessel for the East and may fare as badly as you have done, if not worse. Do you know any particulars of the pirate who attacked you? I should like to learn all about him, that we may, if possible, avoid the vessel if we see her at a distance."
"It was dark when she boarded us, so that we had not an opportunity of scrutinising her near," answered the person addressed, who was evidently, by his costume and appearance, a Greek merchant, and, as it afterwards appeared, the two younger men with him were his sons. "Our misfortune happened in this way. We sailed, you must know, on board a Neapolitan brigantine from Athens, bound to Syracuse. The first part of our voyage was performed in safety; but when some ten miles or so to the south of Cerigo, we lay becalmed the whole day. Our captain and the mariners set to work to pray to those accursed little images they call their saints, for a breeze; and, at last, it came; but to prove what sort of characters their saints are, at the same time appeared in the north east, a large polacca brig, of a very rakish look, stealing round the east end of the island. The stranger brought the wind up with her, and, as she neared us, the captain, who had been eyeing her earnestly, grew into a state of great trepidation, and began to pray harder than ever; but this time his saints would not listen to him. He wrung his hands, and beat his breast, and said that the stranger had a very suspicious look, and that he did not like it at all. After stamping on the deck, and weeping, and tearing his hair for some time, in which he was imitated by most of his crew, he bethought himself of getting more sail on his craft, and of trying to escape from the enemy, if enemy she were. A wild boar might as well try to outstrip the fleet hunter. The stranger came up with us hand over hand; our only hope of getting away from him was in the coming darkness. At last the seamen managed to set all the sail the vessel could carry, and, with the wind right aft, we began to glide through the water. On, however, came the stranger after us; if we wished to get away, he did not intend that we should do so, and all of a sudden he yawed to port, and let fly a bow chaser right at us; the shot did not hit us, but it frightened our captain excessively— for it flew directly over our heads. I verily believe, if we had not stopped him, he would have let fly everything, and waited patiently to be robbed and murdered. We caught hold of him, and urged him to be calm, and that we might yet have a chance of escaping. The breeze freshened, and we held on, and, though the stranger still continued to overhaul us, he did not come up so fast as at first. Every instant, too, it was growing dark; and as there was no moon shining, we hoped, by hauling our wind, to slip away from him, if we could contrive to run on without being hit till darkness had completely set in. He, however, seemed in a hurry, and again yawing, let fly another shot at us; though his gunnery was not particularly good—for he again missed us—it had the effect of setting the Neapolitan master and his crew dancing like madmen; they leaped and jumped, and twisted and turned, and tore their hair, and prayed and swore, all in the same breath. They prayed for themselves, and swore at their enemies, and at their own hard fate should they be taken; for they all had a venture on board, I believe. Though two shots had missed, it was not to be expected that all should have such ill-luck, and accordingly, when the brig yawed a third time and fired, down came our fore-topsail by the run. If the crew had been in a fright before, when they were not hit, it must be supposed that they were now in a complete paroxysm of terror; their first impulse was to let fly all the tacks and sheets, and to jam down the helm, so as to let the vessel fly up into the wind; their next was to rush below to put on their best clothes, and the very little money they had in their pockets, and then to fall to again at praying and beating their breasts. Cowardly fools that they were; had they held on like men, as matters turned out, we should have escaped being plundered at all. In ten minutes after the last shot had created such confusion on board, a boat pulled alongside, and a dozen fellows in Greek dresses jumped over the bulwarks down upon our decks. We three, my sons and I, sat aft as dignified as Turks, and as all the crew were below, there was not the slightest show of resistance. Our countrymen—for such I am sorry to say they were—seemed inclined to be civil to us, but vowed they would punish the Neapolitans for making them expend the three shots, and they forthwith began plundering the vessel; and hauling out the master from his berth, into which he had crept, they made him point out whatever was most valuable on board—brightening his wits up every now and then with a rope's end. How the poor fellow did howl! but he deserved it; for he was an arrant coward. The leader of the pirates who boarded us was a very polite young man: he told us, that he should be sorry to be under the necessity of cutting our throats, or of otherwise sending us out of the world; but that he was afraid he should be compelled to do so, except we would consent to come on board his vessel, where he would make us take the vow of secrecy, and re-land us in Greece. He told us that he was in earnest, and would give us till the last moment to consider on the subject before he quitted the vessel. By this we concluded that he intended to murder all hands in cold blood, or to sink the brigantine. It is very extraordinary, and I hope that you will pardon me the remark, but he bore a very striking resemblance to you, except that he looked younger, and it was this circumstance that first attracted our attention to you."
The Greek stranger who had been standing against the wall, with his arms folded and his legs crossed in an easy attitude during this narrative, at different parts indulging in a slight smile, now laughed outright. "An extraordinary coincidence as you say, my friend, though I confess that I would rather not bear so striking a resemblance to the cut-throat gentleman you describe. The consequences at times might be unpleasant; and I trust that no relative of mine—no younger brother nor cousin, has turned his hand to so disreputable an occupation. Men of the first families, it is true, have become pirates, especially in these disordered times; but they usually make war only against their natural enemies, the Turks or Moors. I cannot solve the mystery; however, I am very interested in your tale—pray go on with it."
"Before I say another word, I must entreat your pardon for the remark I just made," said the Greek merchant; "I was compelled to do so to account for our apparent rudeness."
"Oh, certainly, my friend," said the stranger, "I pardon you with all my heart. Nothing was more natural—only I must beg that you will not repeat the observation to any one else. The consequences you know might be unpleasant, as it might create disagreeable suspicions in men's minds as to the rectitude of my character; but pray continue your tale."
It must be remembered that although there were numbers of people within earshot, as this conversation was carried on in the Romaic, none of them understood it, which was, perhaps, fortunate for our stranger friend, as it would certainly have drawn their attention towards him; and if a man happens to be unknown in a place, the slightest shade of suspicion thrown on him, is sufficient to blacken his character to the darkest tint.
The Greek rubbed his red cap off and on his head two or three times to brighten his recollection, and then continued—
"While the pirates were ransacking below, their vessel ran alongside, and our decks were soon crowded with a cut-throat set of fellows, who speedily joined their comrades in the work of plunder, and in transporting everything they considered of value to their own ship. It is extraordinary with what rapidity bales and packages were handed out of one vessel into the other. The rascals must have been well accustomed to the work. Everything was done with the greatest regularity; their young leader directing all their movements. It did not take them a quarter of the time to unload that it had taken to load the vessel. Such discrimination, too, as the villains showed in selecting the most valuable merchandise.
"In the midst of the work, however, a cry was raised that a strange sail was in sight, right to windward, bearing down on us. With all their avidity for booty, the fellows had kept their eyes about them in the dark. Their leader sprang on board his own vessel to have a clearer view. He was convinced that the strange vessel was an enemy to him at all events, though a friend to us; and calm and collected as if he was enjoying a game of play, he issued his orders. The first was to tell his people to quit the brigantine, and to make sail on the brig. The second, part of which I heard, made my heart sink within me, and my blood run cold. He did not seem to think it had reached our ears,— indeed, I believe he had forgotten all about us; the words were—
"'Sink her—drown the people. No help for it—patience; we should otherwise be suspected.'
"Directly afterwards, several men with carpenters' instruments for boring holes, went below, and quickly returning, knocked our boat to pieces, and jumped on board their own vessel. As soon as all the pirates had quitted us, the brig sheered off. Just as she did so, I heard some one exclaim—
"'Our countrymen, our dear compatriots, where are they? We have forgotten them.' However, I don't think their regret for us could have been very great, for the next moment they fired a broadside slap into our hull, between wind and water, to try to make us sink the faster; and, making all sail, stood away from us as fast as a rattling breeze would carry them. Two of the crew had been knocked on the head by the pirates, and their broadside killed two more. The master and the survivors were utterly incapacitated from helping themselves; so we three Greeks, with the black cook, feeling some wish to preserve our lives, rigged the pumps which had escaped destruction, and set to work to keep the water from gaining enough on her to send us to the bottom. This we found we could easily do; and the cook, going below, was able to plug several of the holes, which had been very imperfectly bored. Some of the crew, also, at last recovered their senses and assisted us in our labours; so that we continued to keep the craft afloat till the vessel, which had frightened away the pirates, came up to us. She proved to be the British brig-of-war, the Cockroach, and a boat immediately came on board to learn what all the firing was about. Our condition proved the truth of our story; and we entreated the officer who boarded us not to desert us, as the sacrifice of our lives would have been the inevitable consequence; whereas, the improbabilities of his catching the pirate were very great. The British are a very humane people, I will say that for them; and the captain of the brig accordingly sent two boats' crews on board us, with the carpenter and his crew, and they plugged the holes, and thrummed a sail, and got it under our bottom. Some manned the pumps, to which they quickly drove the Neapolitans with a rope's end; and next morning we made sail for Zante, which we reached in safety, escorted by our preservers, who immediately afterwards started again in search of the pirate."
"Did they fall in with him, do you know?" asked the Greek, carelessly.
"Can you catch a sunbeam?" said the first speaker. "She must be a fast craft to come up with him. They say nothing can catch him."
"What, then, you learnt who your friend was?" said the stranger.
"Oh, yes! we heard a good deal about him in Zante. He is the very terror of all honest, quiet-going traders in those parts."
"And who is this formidable, light-heeled gentleman, may I ask?" said the stranger.
"No other than that daring devil, Zappa," said the merchant. "You have heard of him, doubtless?"
"I think I have somewhere heard his name mentioned," said the stranger. "But has he already established so terrific a name for himself? You described him as very young."
"Ay, but old in crime. A man who murders all his captives, and sinks every ship he plunders, soon gets his name up in the world. It is one of the various methods to gain notoriety. Each man to his taste."
"You are right, my friend," said the stranger, stretching out his arms and yawning; "there are many methods by which a man may gain an elevated position; and your friend, Signor Zappa, as you call him, seems to have chosen a very certain one, at least, if he falls into the hands of the governor of this island; who, judging from the specimens I saw hanging up at the entrance of the port, treats such gentry with no slight distinction, by placing them in the most conspicuous posts within his jurisdiction."
"You joke merrily on the subject; but it is no laughing matter to those who have been robbed and nearly murdered," said the Greek merchant. "I only wish I could get the villains in my power, I would hang them all without mercy, as high as Haman."
"I dare say you do," said the stranger, smiling. "Such is but a natural impulse. Yet, as I have not suffered, I cannot enter quite so warmly into your feelings. However, I am grateful to you for your account; and I shall take very good care to keep out of the way of your friend Zappa. May I ask, by the way, the appearance and name of the vessel commanded by this renowned cut-throat?"
"Certainly," said the merchant, "though, as I said, it was nearly dark when he boarded us; but I should describe her as a rakish polacca brig, of about two hundred and fifty tons burden; and from what we learnt afterwards, we discovered that she must be the celebrated Sea Hawk. It is said that she is so fleet that nothing could ever catch her, and that she comes up with everything she chases; so that, my friend, you may not avoid her quite so easily as you may wish."
"It is something to know what she is like; and, if we cannot run from her, we must fight her," returned the stranger. "However, before we part, let me assure you that I shall be most happy to be of any service to you in my power. When do you again sail from hence?"
"In a few days our mission here will be concluded. We then return to our beloved Greece," replied the merchant.
"What! and run the risk of being chased by the Sea Hawk, and of falling into the hands of that rogue, Zappa!" exclaimed the stranger. "However, as, by the law of chances, you could scarcely encounter him twice, I should much like to accompany you, for I should then consider myself safe from him. By what vessel do you go?"
"A Venetian merchant schooner, the Floriana. She sails hence in four days; and, as she has a rich cargo, she is well-armed and has plenty of men—so we need not fear Zappa or any other pirate."
"Just as I should wish. I will look out for her, depend on it," exclaimed the stranger, quickly. "But I must, for the present, wish you farewell, gentlemen. I have an appointment, and I have already overstayed my time."
Saying this, the stranger bowed to his new acquaintance; and throwing down his reckoning with a haughty air, quitted the coffee-house.
"He seems an honestly fair spoken gentleman," said one of the young Greeks to his father. "He will be a great addition to our society on board."
"I am not quite so certain of that," replied the more sagacious merchant. "Fair spoken he is without doubt; but for honesty, why you know the safe rule is to look upon all men as knaves till you find them otherwise. Therefore, my sons, never consider a stranger honest, or you may discover, when too late, that he is a rogue. Now, though it is doubtless fancy, I cannot help thinking that our friend there bears a very striking resemblance to the pirate Zappa."
There is an old saying, that, "Give a dog a bad name, it is sure to stick by him." On this account I suppose it is that Jews are always considered rogues. I am very far from saying that they really are so invariably, or even generally. On the contrary, I believe that there are a great number of very honest, generous, kind-hearted, hard-working people among them in all countries where they enjoy the privileges of free men.
That, in those times and countries where they have been treated as worse than slaves, despised, insulted, and robbed on every occasion, they should have become, what they are often described as being, is not only not surprising, but is according to the laws which govern mankind. Tyranny and wrong, invariably make the people, who submit to them, grow mean, treacherous, and false. Cut off from all honourable pursuits, they have recourse to such as are within their power; and thus the Jews, who were unable to hold even land in their possession, became the money-makers; and, consequently, moneylenders of the world—and, as they were frequently pillaged and deprived by extortion of their wealth, they naturally endeavoured to regain, by every means left to them, that of which they had been robbed.
Now, though there are many Jews whose upright conduct is sufficient to retrieve the characters of their whole people, such cannot be said for the old Maltese Jew, Aaron Bannech. He was a rogue ingrain. To lie, cheat, and rob, where he could do so without risk of detection, was his occupation and delight. Lying, cheating, and robbery, were in him a second nature. He considered them not only lawful, but praiseworthy employments. He could not help lying and cheating if he tried. By so doing, he had heaped up hoards of wealth—he had raised himself from abject penury, and how could he be expected to persuade his conscience, or what stood him in place of one, that he had not been acting rightly. True his gold was of no real use to him—he had no one to enjoy it with him—he had no relative to whom he could leave it. Some might say that it would serve to repurchase Judea for his people; but he cared no more for Judea than he did for Home. He would not have parted with a sixpence to rebuild Jerusalem, unless he could have got a very large interest for his money—indeed he would probably have required very sufficient security, before he would have consented to part with it. His appearance was far from peculiar or striking as he sat in a dingy underground den, which he appeared to have burrowed out for himself beneath the groaning walls of one of the old mansions of Valetta. He had sharp, ferrety eyes, a hooked nose, and a long, dirty, grey beard; indeed, no difference could be discerned between him and his countrymen employed in selling old clothes in London. He wore a brown cap on his head, anila, long serge overcoat, the colour of which it was impossible to determine; and a pair of slippers, which had once been yellow, but were now stained with many a varied tinge. The chamber in which he sat was fitted up with a desk, and a table covered with packages of papers and account-books, two high stools, and three or four rickety chairs. He was by himself, waiting in expectation of the arrival of the Greek. The time appointed had already passed, and he was beginning to think that some accident must have occurred to his acquaintance. Ten minutes more elapsed—his suspicions increased.
"Can the myrmidons of the law have got hold of him?" he muttered. "That rascal Giacomo—he may have informed, and will receive the reward which ought to be mine. If I dared, I would secure the prize at once—but then, I suspect, before long, the amount will be increased. Yes, it must be. The fruit is not yet ripe for plucking."
He stopped, either to chuckle at his own wit, or to calculate the sum he might expect for betraying the man who trusted him. His virtuous meditations were interrupted by the entrance of the Greek. His manner was as free and joyous as ever. He addressed the Jew in Italian, with a remarkably pure accent.
"Ah! my dear correspondent—my noble friend—my prince of money-lenders, how fares it with you? Still at the old trade of coining gold, eh? Well, we must all live either by fraud or force; cunning or strength are the weapons put by nature into our hands. To some she gives one; to others the latter: nature is most impartial. To the lion she gives claws and teeth; to the horse his hoofs and fleetness. To a woman, beauty and softness; to a man, strength and courage. She intends all these attributes to be employed. So, friend Bannech, you live by fraud, and I by force. Is it not so?"
"I cannot dispute the correctness of your assertion: for, to say the truth, you have spoken so rapidly, that my poor comprehension could not follow you, noble signor," said the Jew, bending low, and placing a chair for his visitor. "But may I inquire what thus unexpectedly brings you to Malta?"
"Pleasure, Bannech—pleasure, and, perhaps, the hopes of a little profit," said the Greek, laughing. "Now, though I may not just yet tell you what brings me to Malta, I will tell you a little more of my history than you are at present acquainted with. Know, then, most worthy Jew, that I am, by name, Argiri Caramitzo, a patriot Greek chief, or prince, call me, of Graditza. That I have been educated in Italy—that years have passed since I set foot in my native land—and that I am now hastening thither to join in the noble struggle to emancipate Greece from the thraldom of the infidel Turk. I have travelled from that city of learning and piety, Pisa, to Naples, thence to Syracuse; and from that ancient city, I have crossed the sea hither. All this you must remember, Bannech, should you be questioned."
"I will not forget it, most noble prince," said the Jew, bending his head. "I like the story much. It has a probability about it which cannot fail to make it be believed—an essential point too frequently overlooked by bunglers in lying."
"I am glad you like it," observed the Greek, or prince—as we may now call him. He took no notice of the last, not very flattering, observation of the Jew. "But now, Bannech, I wish to know what vessels are sailing hence for Greece, as I desire, you must remember, to secure a passage by one of them."
The Jew looked at him for a moment, doubting whether he was in earnest.
"Oh, I understand," he said at length. "Why, there are several sailing in the course of a few days, but the one which will best suit your purpose quits the harbour to-morrow. She carries passengers—one of whom an English colonel is said to be rich, so he will doubtless have a store of gold on board. He has a daughter or niece with him, who is reported handsome. If she was, by chance, to fall into the hands of such gentry, as we wot of, she would gain them a large amount for her ransom. The vessel I speak of is the Zodiac, John Bowse, master."
"I passed her as we entered the harbour," remarked the Greek. "I will go on board this very evening. But I wish to know more about her passengers. Could not they be induced to carry a large amount of gold with them? It would be very convenient. Tell me, how can I become acquainted with them?"
The Jew shook his head.
"I do not know how it can be managed. These English people, with their proud manners, do not like making the acquaintance of foreigners of whose history they are ignorant."
"Do not tell me that it cannot be done," exclaimed the Greek impatiently. "I tell you, signor, that you must find means of doing it. Surely a Greek prince would not be refused admittance into the best society of an insignificant island dependency like this."
"There are a great many arrant rogues bearing that title," said the Jew, his eyes twinkling as he spoke. "And among the English here the rank alone does not bear much weight. You should have letters of introduction, and how they are to be procured, I cannot say."
"How they are to be procured! Why, forge them to be sure, my friend," exclaimed the Greek. "Nothing is so easy. Come, come, you are well accustomed to the work, I know."
"Oh, father Abraham, suppose I was to be discovered!" ejaculated the Jew. "My credit would be gone, and I should be completely ruined and undone."
"Oh, no fear of that, while your wits are as keen as at present," said the Greek. "Come, has not the colonel some acquaintance or other in Italy, who would be likely to introduce a distinguished foreigner, his friend, visiting the island, or do you know of some other person to whom a letter of introduction might be addressed?"
The Jew meditated for some time, and if with any other sensation than that of grasping avarice, and all its accompanying hopes and fears, it was with that of admiration for the Greek's daring and versatility of talent. He was thinking of the value of which they might be to himself.
"I have it," he exclaimed. "There is a client of mine, a young spendthrift, who has lived much in Italy, and many of whose acquaintance I know. Stay, I have a letter by me from his friend the Count Montebello of Florence. He shall be your introducer. Do you know him?"
"I know nothing of him," said the Greek, "make me a friend of his friend. It will be safer and will be sufficient."
"Excellent, excellent," exclaimed the Jew, chuckling at the thoughts of the fraud. "You should have been bred a lawyer instead of a sailor, prince. Now, remember, this client of mine is acquainted with Colonel Gauntlett, and is, indeed, a suitor of his niece's, for the sake of the money he expects she will receive from her uncle. You will know how to talk to him."
"Admirable! My plan must prosper. There is a ball, too, I understand to-night, at which I suppose all the principal people in the place will be present, and among them, the colonel, his niece, and my new friend. I must be prepared for the occasion; so, friend Bannech, send for the best tailor in the place forthwith; for it will never do to appear in this barbarian costume."
The Greek having thus fully concocted his plan, overruled all the objections thrown out by the Jew, and, as he was a man of action, he insisted on a tailor being instantly sent for. In ten minutes afterwards the well-known artist Paolo Muhajiar made his appearance, and, though he was somewhat astounded at the shortness of the time allowed him to rig the Greek stranger in a suit of mufti, a show of some broad gold pieces overcame all difficulties, and he promised to set every hand at his establishment on to the work.
Little did the honest Paolo dream, as with a profound bow, he gathered up his measures and patterns, and took his departure, who was the distinguished foreigner for whom he was about to labour. The Greek desiring the Jew to detain the beggar Giacomo till his return, with a triumphant look soon after set out to inspect the good brig the Zodiac.
Argiri Caramitzo was a man who hated inactivity; he was never happy except he was in motion, and never contented unless he had a prospect of change before him. Born in England, he would have been a universal philanthropist or a radical reformer, or an inventor of patent machines, or, in late days, a railroad projector; he would have employed his time in haranguing popular assemblies on the rights of man, and the freedom of religion, and he would have been a loud advocate of the cause of the Poles, and Greeks, and Hungarians; but, as he happened to have been born in Greece, he cared not a jot for the Greeks, and employed his talents, sharpened by use, in making a fortune in the way most clearly open to him, and most suited to his taste.
He now hurried down to the quay, off which he saw Manuel at his post, waiting for his return. He beckoned him to approach, and, taking his seat, ordered him to pull alongside the English brig the Zodiac; he soon stood on her deck, to the no small astonishment of Captain Bowse, who had just before got on board. It may be supposed that they would have had no little difficulty in understanding each other; but there is a lingua Franca used in the Mediterranean, which all mariners, who traverse that sea, very quickly pick up; and, what with that and the aid of signs, they made themselves tolerably intelligible to each other; at all events the Greek learned all he wished to know; even before he had spoken, his quick glance had made him acquainted with the armament of the vessel, and her probable seaworthy qualities. His foot, too, as he walked aft, happened to strike one of the carronades, the look of which he considered suspicious, and he smiled as he found that it was of wood. He soon made known his object in visiting the ship; he was looking out for a passage to Greece by some vessel shortly to sail thither, and, as the appearance of the Zodiac pleased him, he should like to engage a cabin on board her.
"Cannot, though, receive you on board, sir; sorry for it: but all my accommodation is taken up by an English colonel and his family, and he would not allow anybody else on board, even if it was the Pope himself," answered Captain Bowse.
"But I am not at all particular as to the sort of accommodation you can find for me," urged the Greek. "I have been at sea before, and can rough it as well as any of you mariners."
"No matter, Mr Prince; the colonel would not allow any stranger on board, so, with all the will in the world to serve you, I cannot do it."
"But suppose the colonel should not object, would you then receive me?" asked the stranger.
"That would alter the case, sir, and we would rig you up the best berth we could manage," answered Captain Bowse.
"So far, so good," said the Greek. "About the passage-money we shall not disagree; but tell me of what does your cargo consist? I have the greatest horror of sleeping over gunpowder, or anything likely to explode."
"Oh, we have no gunpowder except a few charges for our guns there; but we have some cases of muskets consigned to a merchant at Cephalonia, and which will, I suspect, soon find their way over to your friends on the main; and we have besides an assortment of hard goods, and of silks and clothes, and cottons, and such things, indeed, as would only be shipped in a sound ship—high up in Lloyd's list, let me tell you, sir. There isn't a finer craft out of London than the Zodiac, and none but a good ship would have weathered the gale we fell in with t'other day, though, as it was, we met with a little damage, which made us put in here to repair."
"I have no doubt of the Zodiac's good qualities, and I hope that I may yet have the satisfaction of proving them," said the Greek, as he stepped over the side. "Adieu, captain; a prosperous voyage whether I sail with you or not."
A grand ball was taking place at the Auberge de Provence, in the Strada Reale, at Valetta. All the rank and fashion of the city were assembled. They consisted of the naval, military, and civil officers of the crown stationed there, their wives and daughters; a few English visitors attracted to the island to recruit their health, or to indulge their curiosity; and some foreigners, illustrious and otherwise, who had come there chiefly on the latter account; though a small portion might have been travelling diplomatists or scientific savants. Few ball-rooms could display a larger number of glittering uniforms, both naval, military, and consular; and there was a very fair proportion of beauty among the younger ladies, and diamonds among the dowagers. The soldiers certainly took the lead. They consider that possession is nine parts of the law; and thus as they live in the island, while their naval brethren are merely visitors, they could not help feeling their superiority. Captains of line-of-battle ships and frigates are, of course, however, held in high consideration by the fair sex; but midshipmen were sadly at a discount; and even lieutenants, unless they happened to have handles to their names, or uncles in the ministry, were very little thought of. Such was the case at the time of which I write. I suspect very little alteration has, since then, taken place.
So our two young friends, Jack Raby and Jemmy Duff, seemed to feel as they sauntered into the ball-room, and cast their eyes round in a somewhat unusually bashful manner, in search of any young lady who would deign to bestow a bow on them, and accept them as partners. At last, Jemmy Duff exchanged a nod and a smile with the little Maltese girl who had before attracted him, and he was soon, according to his own fashion, engaged in making desperate love to her, evidently as much to her amusement as to his satisfaction. Poor Raby stood looking on, and could scarcely help feeling jealous at his friend's good fortune; for not a single lady did he know in the room, when a hand was placed on his shoulder. He looked up, and a bright smile irradiated his countenance as he saw who it was.
"What, Raby, don't you intend to show some of these fair ladies how well the Ione lads can kick their heels?"
The speaker was a young, intelligent-looking man, with a complexion which would have been fair, had it not been sunburnt, with thick, light, curling hair. He was strongly but gracefully made, of the ordinary height, and would have been by every one considered good looking; his forehead and mouth were decidedly handsome, the latter expressing great firmness, at the same time a great amiability of disposition. His dress was that of a commander in the navy.
"I can't get a partner, sir," answered the midshipman; "I don't know a lady in the room."
"Oh! we will soon find you one. I must not have my boys thought to be misanthropic."
"Captain Fleetwood," said a lady near, "can you introduce a partner to my niece?"
"Oh, certainly," answered the officer, seizing Jack Raby by the arm, "allow me to introduce Mr Raby, of her Majesty's brig Ione, who will be happy to dance the next quadrille with you."
The young lady to whom he spoke, smiled, and said she should be very happy; but the aunt made a wry face, and observed that she intended to have asked him to introduce his friend, Major White of the —.
"I hope my young friend, Raby, will do as well. He is a nephew of Lord —," observed Captain Fleetwood, in a slightly satirical tone. "I will bring up White, in tow, to your ladyship, as soon as I can sight him."
Captain Fleetwood was always more thoroughly nautical in his mode of expression at Malta than in any other place.
"Oh, certainly, I am most happy to know any of your officers, especially a nephew of Lord —, whose brother is a great friend of my husband's cousin."
Captain Fleetwood might have made a rejoinder; but at that moment his eye glanced towards the door, at which was entering a stout, oldish gentleman, in plain clothes, and hanging on his arm, a fair, young, and very pretty and interesting girl. He instantly hurried forward, and claimed her hand for the next dance, which, with one of the sweetest possible smiles, she promised to give him, while the old gentleman, though he nodded to him, evidently regarded him with far from amiable feelings.
The young officer, however, who appeared accustomed to the old man's surly looks, and indifferent to them, remained by her side, and engaged her in an animated conversation. At last her companion lost all patience, and tugging at her arm, he exclaimed—
"Come along, Ada, we must look for a seat somewhere till the dancing begins, for I cannot undertake to stand on my legs all night. Captain Fleetwood, you will find Miss Garden at the farther end of the room, probably, when you wish to claim her hand for the next quadrille; but as she is soon to commence a long sea voyage, I cannot allow her to fatigue herself by dancing much this evening."
Colonel Gauntlett, for the speaker was the uncle of Ada Garden, said this in a grave, cold tone, sufficient to freeze the heart of any ordinary lover; and, pressing his niece's arm as if to prevent her from escaping, he dragged her through the crowd towards a seat which he found vacant.
"Ada," said the colonel, as he walked on, "I will not have you intimate with any of those sea officers. I cannot bear them, from the highest to the lowest. One of them had the impertinence to interfere between me and a lady to whom I was paying my addresses. By Jove, miss, he carried her off before my eyes. I have hated them ever since, with their easy-going, devil-me-care ways."
"But surely, uncle, you would not make all suffer for the fault of one; and I suppose your rival loved the lady," urged Ada.
"Love her, I suppose he did love her; but he had no business to do so, I tell you. I already looked upon her as my wife!" exclaimed the colonel, stamping down his stick vehemently on the floor, and speaking so loud that several people must have heard him.
"But did the lady confess her affection for you, uncle?" asked his niece.
"Confess her love!—why, ay, no—that is, I never asked her; or, rather, she took it into her head to refuse me altogether."
Fleetwood was about to follow, but he suddenly stopped.
"It will only enrage the old man, and excite suspicions in his mind. Perhaps he will insult me to get rid of me altogether,—I had better not."
Ada found herself seated next to Lady Marmion, with whose niece Jack Raby was dancing. Her attention was easily riveted by the praises which her ladyship lavished on Captain Fleetwood, and the secret of her affection, if secret it could be called, was easily penetrated by the astute dame.
"Now, my dear, you know I like him, though I do not like the navy in general. Their coats smell of tar and cockroaches, and their conversation is all about their ships and their adventures at sea and on shore; and then you know they are generally so poor, that it is dangerous to let a girl talk to them. Captain Fleetwood is not very rich, I believe; but then he has prospects, and they should be taken into consideration."
"I really do not know," said Ada. "It never occurred to me to calculate the fortunes of the gentlemen with whom I am acquainted."
"Oh, you will grow more prudent, my dear, some day," observed her ladyship. "But who can that particularly handsome man be walking this way, with Captain Dunnup? By the way, my dear, I should recommend you to keep that Captain Dunnup at a distance. I gave Jane the same advice, for you know he has entirely run through his property; and they say, besides, that he is completely in the hands of the Jews. Dear me, here he comes with the stranger."