« НазадПродовжити »
The top spars of the Bess had been slung west-nor’-west, then a red and blue from while we were ashore, and by this time we north-west by west. Presently there was had also knocked away the ugly and hin- another, from abreast of and close in to dering false work on bow and stern, so that the bar. And we knew there were more with her lifting foreyards which would have in waiting than had signalled. It was aldone for a sloop of war, and on her driv- ready a solid line across the mouth of the ing fore and aft sails which could have river. served the mizzen of a two-thousand-ton If those ships guarding the river's mouth bark, the Bess was now herself again. And were only anchored, our problem would she had need to be for the work before her. have been simplified; but they were con
Captain Blaise ordered her foresails stantly shifting, and as they showed no sailbrailed in to the mast to windward and her ing lights, no telling where, after a signal foreyards braced flat, this that she might flashed, they would fetch next up; and alsail closer to the wind.
ways, showing no signal light whatever, Entering the narrow passage, she was would be the others guarding what they held to the edge of the low but steep bank would like to have us mistake for an open to windward; so close that where the low- passage in the dark. lying reeds grew outward we could hear Their sending up so many signals indithem swishing against her sides as we cated a bewilderment as to our wherepassed on.
abouts. By this time they must have Miss Cunningham, having seen her fa- known ashore that we were not anchored ther comfortably established with Ubbo in inside the bar; and out to sea they must the cabin, had come on deck, and Captain have known we had not foundered in the Blaise, busy though he was, took time to surf, and also by this time they had probmake her welcome. No need for him to ably discovered that we were not in the boast of his seamanship—the whole coast lagoon. could tell her that; but how often had a “They will puzzle it out soon. Get your beautiful girl a chance to see the proof of it? floating mines ready,” ordered Captain
We followed the curve of the river's bank Blaise. That was my work, and in analmost as the running stream itself. When ticipation of it I had knocked together two we came to a sharp-jutting point, Captain small rafts loaded with explosives and a Blaise himself, or me to the wheel, would large one with explosives and combustible let her fall away until her jib-boom lay over stuff to burn brightly for half an hour or so, the opposite bank; and then, her sails well “What does this mean?” Miss Cunfilled, it was shoot her up into the wind and ningham was at Captain Blaise's elbow. past the point before us. Twenty times She could not have asked a question more we had to weather a point of land in that pleasing to him. fashion. Fill and shoot, fill and shoot, “It means that we are like a rat in a hole never a foot too soon, never a foot too late- and half a dozen big cats guarding the exit. it was a beautiful exhibition, and only a It is an acutely angled corner we are in, pity it was not light for her to see it better. Miss Shiela, and a string of corvettes and
We were clear of the river at last; that sloops of war stretched, no knowing just is, we were in the river's V-shaped mouth, where, across the narrow way out. So far the delta. The south bank extended west- they do not know we are here, but before erly, two miles or so farther to the sea, and long it is bound to occur to some of them the other bank north-westerly toward Mom- that this is the Dancing Bess and that she ba Bar. Now we were able to get a view of has made the Momba River passage—and the coast line, and northward to beyond the then they will crowd in and pounce on bar it was an almost unbroken line, we us. That is, if we don't get out before could see, of lights flaring from high points that." along the shore.
“I see. I must go down and tell father. Captain Blaise hove her to until he He's not worrying but he wants to know should see a guiding rocket from the men- what's going on.” of-war which he knew were waiting. And He let the brigantine now run offshore, presently one came, a blue and gold from due parallel with the southern bank, almost to west, and another red and gold from the the entrance. Then we doubled back on our course. As we came about he called, Blaise, reckoning where she should be, laid "Ready with your mines, Guy?”
the Bess's course for her. “She's used to "Ready, sir!"
having a little loose water on her deck"Let go!"
let her have it again,” he said, and at this At the word over went the big raft. We time we had everything on her, and if I have sailed on for a quarter mile or so. “Let not made any talk of it before, I'll say it go!” Over went the second. A quarter now—the Bess could sail. mile farther and the third one went. Each We were now heading about a point off mine had its fuse. In a very few minutes, the edge of the outer line of heavy breakers, the Bess was in by the corner of the delta and as the Bess had the least freeboard again-the inshore mine exploded. of any ship of her size sailing the trades,
Following the noise and flame there was she was soon carrying on her deck her full a quiet and a great darkness, and then from allowance of loose water. Amidships, when the southerly guard-ship a rocket, while she lay quietly to anchor, a long-armed man from the shore burst forth new lights. If could lean over her rail and all but touch the surf had not been roaring, we knew his fingers in the sea. Now, with the wind that we could have heard those joyful yells beam, over her lee rail amidships the heavy from the watchers up that way. Every- seas mounted. On the high quarter-deck body on the coast knew that the Bess car- we had only to hang onto the weather rail, ried two long-toms and no lack of ammu- but the men stationed amidships had to nition for them. We could imagine their watch sharp to keep from being swept overchuckling over our explosion.
board. Then came the second explosion, and she was long and lean. It was her five minutes later the third, and from her depth, and not her beam, which had held a great flame which continued to burn the Bess from capsizing in many a blow.
"Captain Blaise, I don't understand. Ten years Captain Blaise had had her, and Why that fire-raft?”
in those ten years, whether in sport or need, “Why? We are hoping that they will he had not spared her. She was long and think that we are sailing out to sea in line of lean, and as loose forward as an old market the explosions, just the opposite from what basket. we are doing. If they will but think that Loose and lean and low, she was wiggling that burning raft is our burning hold and like a black snake through the white-topped that we are in distress, why, Look, Miss seas. We had men in our foretop lookShiela!”
ing for the guard-ship, and because they Two war-ships were now signalling to knew almost exactly where to look for her, each other recklessly, and their signals gave we saw her in time and swung the Bess inus a chance to reckon pretty nearly the side her, yet close to the breakers. Her course that they were steering. Both ships big bulk piled toward us, her great sails were headed straight for the burning raft. reached up in clouds—shadows of clouds. As they came on they uncovered their sail- Past our bow, past our waist, past our quaring lights, to prevent collision with each ter. We could pick the painted ports and other, and watching these two ships' lights, the protruding black muzzles of her port we might have picked a way directly be- battery, she was past, a huge shapeless tween them. But if they happened to have shadow racing one way, and we going the another ship under cover in that apparently other way like some long, sinuous, black open water, we would be lost; and also, in devil of a creature streaking through a passing between, we would have blocked white-bedded darkness. off the lights of each in turn to the other We were by before they were alive to it. and then they would have us.
A voice, another voice, a hundred voices, Between the bar and the sailing lights of and then we saw her green sidelight swing the inshore ship of the pair now bearing in a great arc; but long before then we were down, we knew there was another ship. away on the other tack, and so when her We had seen her signal early, and that broadside belched (and there was metal ship, we knew, would be held as close to the sufficient to blow us out of water), we were line of surf as her draught and the nerve half a mile to the westward and leaping like of her commander would allow, Captain a black hound for home.
A score of rockets followed the broad- Guy.” And I answered, “No fear,” and side. Captain Blaise glanced astern, then then her face seemed to melt away in a mist ahead, aloft, and from there to the swing- under the cabin lamp. ing hull beneath him. He started to hum Astern of us the dawn leaped up. It had a tune, but broke it off to recite:
been black night; in a moment, almost, it “O the woe of wily Hassan
was light again. I remembered what CapWhen they break the tragic news!”
tain Blaise had said of a sunset in Jamaica;
but here it was the other way about-a purAnd from that he turned to Miss Cunning- ple, round-rimmed dish, and from a segham with a joyous, “And what d'y' think ment of it the blood-red salad of a sun upof it all?"
leaping. And pictured clouds rolling up She looked her answer, with her head above the blood-red. And against the held high and breathing deeply.
splashes of the sun the tall palm trees. “And the Dancing Bess, isn't she a little And in the new light the signal flambeaux jewel of a ship? Something to love? Aye, paling. And the white spray of the bar she is. And you had no fear?”.
tossing high, and across the spray the “Fear!” Her laughter rang out. “When white-belted squadron tacking and filling father went below, he said, 'Fear nothing. futilely. If Captain Blaise gets caught, there's no I grew cold and wondered what was help for it-it's fate.'”
wrong. I dimly saw Captain Blaise come And I knew he was satisfied. She had running to me. “Guy! Guy!” he called. seen him on the quarter of his own ship and I remember also myself saying, “Nothing he playing the game at which, the Bess un- wrong with me, sir—and no harm if there der his feet, no living man could beat him; is. It's sunrise on the Slave Coast and the and in playing it he had brought her father Dancing Bess she's bound to the west'ard!” and herself to freedom. It was for such moments he lived.
V The night was fading. We could now see things close by. He took her hand and The blue-belted trades! Day and day, patted it. “Go below, child, and sleep in week and week, the little curly, white-headpeace. You're headed for home. Look ed seas, the unspecked blue sky, and the at her slipping through the white-topped ceaseless caress of the pursuing wind. No seas, and where she lays down to her work yard nor sail, never a bowline, sheet, or hal—there's nothing ever saw the African yard to be handled, and the Bess bounding coast can overhaul us. No, nothing that ever ahead. Beauty, peace, and a leaping ever leaped the belted trades can hold her log—could the sea bring greater joy? now, not the Bess—while her gear's sound Captain Blaise had located the bullet and she's all the wind she craves for.” —the second shot it must have been
“I believe you, Captain.” She looked which had lodged under my right shoulder over the roaring side. Long and loose and and cut it out. We were nearing home, lean, she was lengthening out like a quarter- and the fever was now gone from me, but I horse, and he was singing, but with a puz- was not yet able to take my part on deck. zling savageness of tone:
“Perhaps to-morrow," she had said. And
to-morrow was come, and I lay there think“Roll, you hunted slaverRoll you battened hatches down—"
ing, and at times trying to write.
She had left me alone for a while. Her “Good-night, Captain.” She turned to father had called her to hear another of the me. She was pale, but 'twas the pallor of Captain's stories. Through the cabin skyenduring bravery. There was no paling light I could see her, or at least the curve of her dark eyes. Even darker were they of her chin, and her tanned throat, and now. “Good-night — ” She hesitated. one shoulder pressing inward under the sky“Good-night, Guy."
light shutters. Her face was turned tow“Good-night, Miss Shiela," and I hand- ard Captain Blaise, whose head and shouled her down the companion-way. At the ders, he pacing and turning on the quarter, foot of the stairs she looked up and whis- came regularly within range. But she was pered, “You must take care of that wound, not forgetting me; every few minutes she thrust her head within the skylight opening with remorse, I know; but I was not. I and looked down to see that I wanted for tried to grieve for my hasty judgment of nothing, and always she smiled.
Captain Blaise; and I did. But for the I was propped up in an easy chair. Up Governor's son, not a qualm. I too, like to two days back I had been on a cot. Captain Blaise, had become the creature of Mr. Cunningham had improved so rapidly hereditary instincts and overpowering emothat for more than a week now he had been tion. Never in all my life before had I allowed on deck, and there he was now, as thought that any sin or shortcoming of I said, listening with his daughter to the mine was ever to be anybody's business but tales of Captain Blaise. His laughter and my own. My salvation lay in the future, her breaths of suspense, I could hear the which, now that my conscience was awakone and feel the other.
ened, I would have only myself to censure I took up my pad of paper and resumed if it did not become what I wished. my writing. And reviewing my writing, But these serious thoughts were of preI had to smile at myself, even as I used vious days. This morning I was to have to smile at Captain Blaise when he would some little composition ready for her when submit his couplets or quartrains for my she came down. I turned to my paper and judgment. He might marshal off-hand a pencil and began to write. But thoughts, stanza or two of his vagabond thoughts, such thoughts as I conceived would please but here was I carefully composing with her, came slowly. My new conscience or pencil and paper, and had been for a it may have been the voices of the quarweek now.
ter-deck-her father's questions, Captain I had never been ill before, never for five Blaise's muffled answers, her exclamations minutes. And this illness had driven me of delight and wonder-all these diverted to a strange introspection. There had me. In despair I tried to catch, as I usubeen time to think. I had smiled at Cap- ally could, what Captain Blaise was saying; tain Blaise's amateurish rhymings on the but to-day he spoke in so low a tone that I veranda of the manor house. I had con- could not quite. demned him in my own mind for this death Ubbo came down for a chart, a particular or that death of his irregular career; on chart which Captain Blaise has always kept that last night on the veranda I had even apart from the others. I pointed out to allowed him to read my thoughts of such him where he would find it. And my eye matters. And now I could not recollect followed his figure up the cabin steps. În of his having ever killed or maimed except a sailor's costume Ubbo was proud but in defence of his life or property; and yet perspiring, though devotion shone out in that night in Momba I had shot, caring not every drop of perspiration. whether I killed or no. Self-defence? At Through the skylight I saw Captain the instant of shooting I had thought, had Blaise take the chart from Ubbo, unroll and almost spoken it aloud: “There! There's scan it. “I was right. Yes, here's the for a channel to let the starlight into your spot.” He was addressing Shiela. “In unclean brain.” Self-defence? Tish! He red ink, see, and here's about where we are desired, possibly loved in his way, a girl that now—not ten miles from here, north by I had known no longer than I knew him, east." and there it was—I loved her, too! Cap- Shiela was bending over the chart when tain Blaise himself had probably never “Sail-ho!” rang out from the lookout in killed on less provocation; and meditating the foretop. He had a grand voice, that on his emotional side, on his many provo- man on watch. cations, his lifelong environment, I had to With one hand Captain Blaise held the concede that the Captain Blaise I con- chart so Shiela still could read it; with the demned was a less guilty man than I. other he reached through the skylight
This, as I was beginning to see, was but opening for his long glass. After a long an argument with myself for a final dis- look I saw that he did not resume his narramissal of my old life. Surely I should be tive. By that I knew that the stranger was ashamed to admit that in such fashion was troubling him. my brain trying to fool my soul; but so itShiela came below to see me. The traces was. Remorse? I should have been worn of tears were in her eyes.
“It's a large ship to the northward,” she “Oh, he wore plumes in his broad hat said. “From something Captain Blaise
And jewelled buckles on his shoon,
And 0, the sparkle in his eye! whispered to father it may be a man-o'-war,
And yet his love could die so soon! though I hope not. But what have you done since I've been gone? You mustn't "H-m. Suggests satin breeches and feel put out when I have to go on deck. hair-powder, men who could navigate a It's an ungrateful girl, you know, who is not ball-room floor more safely than the Tardes, courteous to her host, especially when that doesn't it? Wherever did you get such host is Captain Blaise. Think what father notions?” and I owe him! And what a wonderfully I showed her a volume, one of Capinteresting man he is! And what adven- tain Blaise's, an anthology of the Elizatures he has had!”
bethan and Restoration poets. “I was “But what made you cry?”.
trying to write like one of 'em," I ex“Captain Blaise was telling of a happen- plained. “And I thought it was pretty ing on this very spot almost. It was a ship good.” from Cadiz for Savannah. She had taken “I don't — a poor girl believing that fire. He picked up among others three Heaven made her kind for the high peopeople lashed to some pieces of wreckage— ple's pleasure. No, I don't like that. And a man, a woman, and their baby. She was ‘hair as silk as tasselled corn! Do you dead and he dying. He did die later aboard like tasselled corn hair?” his ship, the predecessor of the Bess. The “Why, no-in a man. But my own bebaby lived. Do you recall the story?” ing black- "
“No, he never told me that one. And “Hush! Black's best. No, you're not the baby?”
intended for that kind of writing." “The father had practically supported “But here-listen: the baby in the water for four days—the
‘True love can neither hate nor scorn, baby was less than a year old—and the
And ne'er will true love pass away. mother had nursed him till she died. For two days, the man said, with nothing to eat Don't you like that?”. herself. She and he, they had practically “Something like it's been said so often. killed themselves for the baby boy. She was Why don't you put it in your own words?” a Spanish woman-a lady. The father died She took up another sheet. “What's this aboard Captain Blaise's ship. He was an about?” American who had married abroad without “That's about a day and night at seaconsulting his father, and the old gentleman a fine day in the trades, such a day as tomade such a fuss about it that the young man day-and last night.” had stayed away-intended to stay away “It was a beautiful moon last night, and renounce his heritage; but at last the wasn't it?” And she read to herself. father had sent for him, and he was then on Coming to the last stanza, she read aloud, his way home. But you should have heard unconsciously I think: Captain Blaise tell it. He made us feel that mother's love for her baby, that mother who
""The stars gleamed out of a purple light,
The moon trembled wide on the sea; was dead before he picked her up, and made
The Western Ocean smiled that nightus feel, too, what a man the father was. What Sweetheart, 'twas a dream of thee!!” an actor he is! I tried not to cry, but I did. But let me see—what have you there?” She paused. “But the ocean doesn't
I showed her some things. She picked smile.” up the nearest and read it aloud:
“But it does. Smiles and frowns, and
roars and coos, and coaxes and threatens, "I was walking down the glen
and strikes and caresses, and leaps and O my heart !-on a summer's day.
rolls—and so many other things. I've seen He passed me by, my gentlemanWould I had never seen the day!
it. And Captain Blaise will tell you the
same." ""True love can neither hate nor scorn,
She looked strangely at me. In the And ne'er will true love pass away. And his hair was silk as tasselled corn,
deep sea I had seen, at times, that deep dark My heart alack--that summer's day! blue of her eyes—ultramarine, they call it;