"There's a nice breeze," Ralph said as he joined the fisherman at the appointed hour.
"Yes, it's just right; neither too light nor too heavy. It's rather thick, and I shouldn't be surprised if we get it thicker; but that again don't matter." For in those days not one ship plowed the waters of our coast for every fifty that now make their way along it. There were no steamers, and the fear of collision was not ever in the minds of those at sea.
"Where's Bill, Joe?"
"The young scamp!" the fisherman said angrily. "Nothing will do for him but to go a-climbing up the cliffs this morning; and just after you left us, news comes that the young varmint had fallen down and twisted his foot, and doctor says it will be a fortnight afore he can put a boot on. Then the old woman began a-crying over him; while, as I told her, if any one ought to cry it would be me, who's got to hire another boy in his place to do his work. A touch of the strap would be the best thing for him, the young rascal!"
"You are not going to take another boy out to-night are you, Joe?"
"No, Master Conway, I knows you like a-doing things. You have been out enough with me to know as much about it as Bill, and after all there ain't a very great deal to do. The trawl ain't a heavy one, and as I am accustomed to work it with Bill I can do it with you."
The Heartsease was a good-sized half-decked boat of some twenty-six feet long and eight feet beam. She was very deep, and carried three tons of stone ballast in her bottom. She drew about six feet of water. She had a lot of freeboard, and carried two lug-sails and a small mizzen.
They got in the small boat and rowed off to her.
"There was no call for you to bring that basket, Master Conway. I know you are fond of a fish fried just when it is taken out of the water; and I have got bread and a keg of beer, to say nothing of a mouthful of spirits in case we get wet. Not that it looks likely we shall, for I doubts if there will be any rain to-night I think there will be more wind perhaps, and that it will get thicker; that's my view of the weather."
They sailed straight out to sea. Joe had fitted his boat to be worked with the aid of a boy only. He had a handy winch, by which he hoisted his heavy lug-sails, and when the weather was rough hauled up his trawls. Of these he carried two, each fourteen feet long, and fished with them one out on each quarter. When he reached the fishing ground six miles out, Joe lowered the mizzen lug and reefed the main, for there was plenty of wind to keep the boat going at the pace required for trawling under the reduced sail. Then the trawls were got overboard, each being fastened to the end of a stout spar lashed across the deck, and projecting some eight feet on either side, by which arrangement the trawls were kept well apart. They were hauled alternately once an hour, two hours being allowed after they were put down before the first was examined.
By the time the first net came up the sun had set. The wind had freshened a bit since they had started, but there was no sea to speak of. The night had set in thick, and the stars could only occasionally be seen. Joe had picked out two or three fine fish from the first haul, and these he took down and soon had frizzling in a frying-pan over the fire, which he had lighted as soon as the boat was under sail.
"These are for you, Master Conway," he said. "With your permission I shall stick to that ere piece of beef your mother was good enough to send. Fish ain't no treat to me, and I don't often get meat. Keep your eye lifting while I am down below. There ain't many craft about in these days, still we might tumble against one."
"I should not see a light far in this mist, Joe."
"No, you couldn't; and what's worse, many of them don't carry no lights at all."
"It would be a good thing, Joe, if there was a law to make all vessels carry lights."
"Ay, ay, lad; but you see in war times it ain't always convenient. A peaceful merchantman don't want to show her lights to any privateers that may happen to be cruising about, and you may be sure that the privateer don't want to attract the attention of peaceful traders until she is close upon them, or to come under the eye of any of our cruisers. No, no; there ain't many lights shown now, not in these waters. Folks prefer to risk the chance of running into each other rather than that of being caught by a French privateer."
Now that the trawls were out there was no occasion for any one to attend to the helm, consequently when Joe announced that the fish were ready Ralph went down and joined him in the cabin. The first hours of the night passed quietly. Once an hour a trawl was hauled in and got on board, and as the catches were satisfactory Joe was in capital spirit.
"You have brought good luck, Master Conway; and I notices I generally do well when you are out with me. I am getting more fish to-night than I have any night for weeks, and if it goes on like this till morning I shall make a good thing of it. I wants it bad enough, for I am in arrears a bit with my rent. The war has made everything so terrible dear that it is as much as a poor man can do to keep his head above water.
"What time is it now, Joe, do you think?"
"About two o'clock, I reckon. It will begin to get light in a couple of hours, and at five we will up nets and make our way back."
He had scarcely spoken when he shouted "Ship ahoy! Look out for yourself, lad!" Startled by the suddenness of the cry Ralph looked round. He saw a crest of white foam a few yards away in the darkness. A moment later something dark passed over his head and a rope brushed his cheek, and as it did so a black mass struck the boat. There was a crash, a shock, and the Heartsease, after first heeling deeply over under the pressure, suddenly sank down like a stone. Ralph had staggered under the force of the collision, and would have fallen back as the boat heeled over, but instinctively he threw up his arms and his hand came in contact with the rope that had an instant before touched his cheek. He seized it with both hands, and threw his legs round it as the boat went down from under his feet, the whole thing being so sudden that it was nearly a minute before he could realize what had happened. Then he heard voices talking close by and, as it seemed, above him.
"Hullo!" he shouted. "Help!" A few seconds later the light of a lantern was flashed down upon him. Then a figure crawled out on the spar projecting above his head, seized him by the collar, and lifted him from the bobstay to which he was clinging on to the bowsprit. A minute later he was standing on the deck.
"Thank you!" he exclaimed. "Have you seen anything of the man who was with me? There were two of us on board. If not, please look for him at once."
"I am afraid it's no use," one of the men said, with a strong foreign accent; "he has gone down and will never come up again. You come along with me to the captain."
An uneasy feeling seized Ralph as he listened. He could see nothing, for the lantern had been placed in a bucket the moment that he touched the deck. At this moment a hail came from the stern of the vessel, and Ralph's fears were at once realized, for it was in French. The reply was in the same tongue, and he was led aft. "Take him down below, Jacques, and let's see what he is like. We have suffered no damage, I hope?"
"Not as far as I could see by the light of the lantern, but the carpenter has gone below to see if she is making water."
The captain led the way down into the cabin. This was comfortably furnished and lighted by a swinging lamp. "Do you come, down Jacques, I shall want you to interpret."
The captain was surprised when he saw by the light of the lamp that the person they had rescued was a lad, well dressed, and evidently above the condition of fishermen.
"Now, young sir, who are you," he asked, "and what have you to say for yourself?" The question was translated by Jacques.
"I like that," the lad said indignantly. "What have I to say for myself! I think it's what have you to say for yourselves? We were quietly fishing when you ran over us and sank the boat and drowned my friend Joe, and haven't even stopped for a moment to see if you could pick him up. I call it shameful and inhuman!"
The French captain laughed as Jacques translated the speech, the purport of which he had, indeed, made out for himself, for although he did not speak English he understood it to some extent.
"Tell him it was his fault as much as ours. We did not see him till we struck him. And as for his companion, what chance was there of finding him on such a dark night as this? Why, by the time we had hove round and got back again we might not have hit it within a quarter of a mile. Besides, if he had been alive he would have shouted."
Ralph saw, when he understood what the captain said, that there was truth in his words, and that the chances of discovering Joe would indeed have been slight even had the vessel headed round.
"May I ask," he said, "what ship this is, and what you are going to do with me?"
"The ship is La Belle Marie of Dunkirk; as to what we are going to do with you it is not so easy to say. Of course you can jump overboard again if you like, but if not you can stay on board until we have an opportunity of putting you ashore somewhere. How did you come to be on board a fishing smack? For I suppose it was a smack that we run down."
"I live at Dover," Ralph replied, "and had only come out for a night's fishing."
"Well, you are out of luck," the captain said. "That will do, Jacques. Take him forward and sling a hammock for him. Hang up his clothes in the cook's galley, they will be dry by the time he wakes."
Ralph asked no questions, as he was taken forward, as to the character of La Belle Marie. Six guns were ranged along on each side of her decks, and this, and the appearance of the captain's cabin, was sufficient to inform him that he had fallen into the hands of a French privateer. The craft had, indeed, left Dunkirk soon after nightfall, and was making her way down channel with every sail set when she had run down the unfortunate fishing boat.
Jacques, as he hung up the hammock, explained to the sailors who crowded round the character of the passenger who had so unexpectedly come on board.
"Poor lad," one of the sailors said good-naturedly, "he will be some time before he sees his mother again. He hasn't got a very bright lookout before him—a long voyage, and then a prison. I will go and see if the cook has got some water hot. A glass of spirits will do him good."
A few minutes later Ralph was wrapped up in a blanket and the warm glow produced by that and the glass of strong grog soon sufficed to send him soundly to sleep, in spite of the painful uncertainty of his position and of his sorrowful thought of his mother, who would in the morning be inquiring for him in vain. It was nearly midday before he woke. Looking round he saw that he had the forecastle to himself. His clothes were lying on a chest close by, and in a few minutes he was on deck. A sense of disappointment stole over him. He had, while he was dressing, entertained the hope that on going on deck he should see an English cruiser in pursuit; but the wind had dropped and it was still thick, and his vision was confined to a circle a quarter of a mile in diameter. Jacques nodded to him good-temperedly, for all on board the privateer were in high spirits. Their voyage had begun propitiously; the darkness of the preceding night had enabled them to ran the gantlet of the British cruisers in the narrow part of the channel, they were now well down the coast of France, and the fog reduced their chances of being seen by an enemy to a minimum.
"Where about are we?" Ralph asked.
"We are somewhere off the mouth of the Seine, and I guess some fifteen miles from land."
"Oh, we are working down the channel then," Ralph said. "And where are we going to?"
"Ah! that question is for the captain to answer if he chooses," Jacques said.
"Are we going to touch at the next French port?" Ralph asked anxiously.
"Not that I know of, unless we have the luck to pick up one of your merchantmen, and we might then escort her into port. But unless we do that we do not touch anywhere, luckily for you; because, after all, it is a good deal pleasanter cruising in the Belle Marie than kicking your heels inside a prison. I know pretty well, for I was for four years a prisoner in your English town of Dorchester. That is how I came to speak your language. It was a weary time of it; though we were not badly treated, not half so bad as I have heard that the men in some other prisons were. So I owe you English no ill-will on that account, and from what I have heard some of our prisons are worse than any of yours. I used to knit stockings and wraps for the neck. My old mother taught me when I was a boy. And as we were allowed to sell the things we made I got on pretty comfortable. Beside, what's the use of making yourself unhappy? I had neither wife nor children to be fretting about me at home, so I kept up my spirits."
"How did you get back?" Ralph asked. "Were you exchanged?"
"No," Jacques answered. "I might have waited long enough before that. I can't make out myself why the two governments don't agree to exchange prisoners more quickly. I suppose they take about an equal number. Your men-of-war ships capture more prisoners than ours, but we make up for it by the numbers our privateers bring in. At any rate they might exchange as many as they can, say once in six months. One would have thought they would be glad to do so so as to save themselves the trouble and expense of looking after and feeding such a number of useless mouths. Governments always have curious ways."
"But how did you get away from prison?" Ralph asked.
"It was a woman," the man replied. "It is always women who help men out of scrapes. It was the wife of one of the jailers. She used to bring her husband's dinner sometimes when we were exercising in the yard. When I first went there she had a child in her arms—a little thing about a year old. I was always fond of children; for we had a lot at home, brothers and sisters, and I was the eldest. She saw me look at it one day, and I suppose she guessed it reminded me of home. So she stopped and let me pat its cheek and talk to it. Then I knitted it some socks and a little jacket and other things, and that made a sort of friendship between us. You can always win a woman's heart by taking notice of her child. Then she got to letting me carry it about on my shoulder while she took her husband's dinner in to him, if he did not happen to be in the yard. And when the little thing was able to totter it would hold on to my finger, and was always content to stay with me while she was away. So it went on till the child was four years old.
"One day it was running across the court to its mother as she came out from the prison. Two of the men were what you call skylarking, and running one way while the child was running the other. One of them knocked it down heavily. It was an accident, and if he had picked it up and been sorry, there would have been an end of it; but instead of that the brute burst into a loud laugh. By this time I was as fond of the child as if it had been my own, and I rushed furiously at him and knocked him down. As he sprang to his feet he drew a knife he used in wood-carving and came at me. I caught the blow on my arm and closed with him, and we fell together. The guard in the yard rushed up and pulled us apart, and we both got a fortnight's close confinement for fighting.
"The first time I came into the yard again and met the woman with her child, the little one ran to me; but the woman, a little to my surprise, said nothing. As she passed I lifted the child up, and after giving me a hug and a kiss she said: 'Mammy gave me this to give to you;' and she put a little note into my hand. I took the first opportunity to read it in a quiet corner. It was as follows: 'Dear Jacques—I saw how nobly you stood up for my Carrie the other day, and how you got wounded in protecting her. You have always been good to her. I have often thought I might help you to escape, but was afraid to try. Now I will do so. It will not be easy, but I will manage it. Do not be impatient; the child will give you another note when I have quite arranged things. I shall not talk much to you in future, or else when you have got away I may be suspected; so do not be surprised at my seeming cold.'
"After that the woman only brought her child once a week or so to the prison, and only gave me a nod as she passed through the yard. Upon the third visit of the child it gave me a little packet containing two or three small steel saws and a little bottle of oil. On the paper which held them was written, 'For the bars. You shall have a rope next time.' Sure enough next time the child had hidden in its frock a hank of very thin cord, which I managed as I was playing with her to slip unobserved into my breast. 'Mammy says more next time.' And next time another hank came. There was a third, and a note, 'Twist the three ropes together and they will be strong enough to bear you. On the third night from this, saw through the bars and lower yourself into court. There will be no moon. Go to the right-hand corner of the court in the rear of the prison. Fasten a knife to one end of the cord and throw it over the wall. I shall be waiting there with a friend. Directly you feel the cord jerked climb up to the top of the wall. If you can find something to fasten your end of the rope to you can slide down it. If not, you must jump. There will be a boat ready to take you away.'
"It all turned out well. It was a pitch dark night, raining and blowing, and the sentries kept inside their boxes. I got up to the top of the wall all right, and was able to fasten the rope on to the spikes and slide down on the other side. The woman was there with a man, whom she told me was her brother. They took me to a creek two miles away and there put me on board a boat, and I was rowed out to a smuggling craft which at once set sail, and two days later was landed at Cherbourg. So that's how I came to learn English."
"Did you ever hear whether the woman who helped you was suspected?"
"I saw her brother two months afterward on one of the trips that the craft he belonged to made. He said that of course there were a great many inquiries made, and his sister had been questioned closely. She swore that she had hardly spoken to me for the last two months and that she had given me nothing; which in a way was true enough, for she had not handed them to me herself. The prisoners bore her out about her not coming near me, for it had been noticed that she was not as friendly as she had been. Some had thought her ungrateful, while others had fancied that she was angry at my interfering and making a tumult about the child. Anyhow, whatever suspicions they might have had they could prove nothing. They forbade her entering the prison in future; but she didn't mind that so long as her husband, who had been employed a good many years there, did not lose his situation. He had been kept by her in entire ignorance of the whole affair, and was very indignant at her having been suspected. I sent her a letter of thanks by her brother, and a little present for her and one for the child. The brother was to give them to her as if from himself, so that the husband should not smell a rat, but of course to make her understand who they came from."
"Well, I only hope, Jacques," Ralph said, "that when I get shut up in one of your prisons I shall find some French woman to aid me to escape, just as you found an English woman to help you; only I hope it won't be four years coming about."
"I think we look sharper after our prisoners than you do; still it may be. But it will be some time before you are in prison; and if you play your cards well and learn to speak our language, and make yourself useful, I do not think the captain is likely to hand you over to the authorities when we get back to a French port again."
"I am quite ready to do my best to learn the language and to make myself useful," Ralph said. "It is always a good thing to know French, especially as I am going into the army some day; that is if I get back again in time."
"Oh, I think you will do so," the man said. "You keep up your spirits well, and that is the great thing. There are many boys that would sit down and cry if they found themselves in such a scrape as you have got into."
"Cry!" Ralph repeated indignantly. "You don't suppose a boy of my age is going to cry like a girl! An English boy would be ashamed to cry, especially when Frenchmen were looking on."
Jacques laughed good-temperedly. "There would be nothing to be ashamed of. We are not like you cold English! A Frenchman laughs and sings when he is pleased, and cries when he is sorry. Why shouldn't he?"
"Oh, I can't tell you why," Ralph replied, "only we don't do it. I don't say I shouldn't halloo out if I were hurt very much, though I should try my best not to; but I feel sure I shouldn't cry like a great baby. Why, what would be the good of it?"
Jacques shrugged his shoulders. "People are different," he said. "A man is not a coward because he cries. I have seen two boys fighting and pulling each other's hair and crying all the time, but they fought on. They did not cry because they were afraid."
"Pulling each other's hair!" Ralph repeated contemptuously. "They ought to have been ashamed of themselves, both of them. I don't call that fighting at all. I should call it disgusting. Why, in England even girls would hardly pull each other's hair. I have seen two or three fights between fishwomen in Dover, and even they did not go on like that. If that's the way French boys fight, no wonder our soldiers and sailors—" But here it struck Ralph that the remark he was about to make would be altogether out of place under present circumstances. He was therefore seized with an opportune fit of coughing, and then turned the conversation by asking Jacques at what rate he thought the vessel was slipping through the water.
A few minutes later the first mate came up and told Jacques to inform Ralph that the captain had ordered him to be supplied with clothes similar to those worn by the rest of the crew, and that he was to be told off to take his post regularly as a boy in the starboard watch. Ralph was well pleased at the news. He felt that his best chance was to make himself useful on board, and to become one of the crew as soon as possible, so that in case an English merchantman was met with and captured he should not be sent with her crew as a prisoner to a French port. As long as he was on board various opportunities of escape might present themselves. He might slip away in port, or the brig might be captured by an English cruiser or privateer; whereas, once lodged in a French prison, the chances of such good fortune as had befallen Jacques were slight indeed. He therefore at once turned to with alacrity.
That he would have a hard time of it for a bit he felt sure; for although in Jacques he had evidently found a friend, he saw by the scowling glances of several of the men as he passed near them that the national feeling told heavily against him. Nor was it surprising that it should be so. The animosity between the two nations had lasted so long that it had extended to individuals. Englishmen despised as well as disliked Frenchmen. They were ready to admit that they might be brave, but considered them as altogether wanting in personal strength. The popular belief was that they were half-starved, and existed chiefly upon frogs and hot water with a few bits of bread and scraps of vegetables in it which they called soup, and that upon the sea especially they were almost contemptible. Certainly the long succession of naval victories that our fleets had won afforded some justification for our sailors' opinion of the enemy. But in fights between detached vessels the French showed many times that in point of courage they were in no way inferior to our own men; and indeed our victories were mainly due to two causes. In the first place, the superior physique and stamina of our men, the result partly of race and partly of feeding; they were consequently able to work their guns faster and longer than could their adversaries. In the second place the British sailor went into battle with an absolute conviction that he was going to be victorious; while the Frenchman, on the other hand, although determined to do his best to win, had from the first doubts whether the British would not be as usual victorious.
It is probable that the French sailors hated us far more than our men did them. We had lowered their national prestige, had defeated them whenever we met them, had blockaded their ports, ruined their trade, inflicted immense damage upon their fisheries, and subsidized other nations against them, and were the heart and center of the coalition against which France was struggling to maintain herself. It was not therefore surprising that among the hundred and ten men on board La Belle Marie there were many who viewed Ralph with hostile eyes and who only refrained from personal violence owing to the strict order the captain had given that he should be well treated.
Toward midday the fog lifted suddenly and the wind freshened, and lookouts were stationed in the tops. There was little hope indeed of any English merchantmen having come over so far toward the French coast, but British cruisers might be anywhere. A few distant sails could be seen far out on the horizon proceeding up or down channel; but the captain of La Belle Marie had no idea of commencing operations until very much further away from the shores of England. All day the vessel ran down the French coast; and although he was a captive, and every mile reeled off the log took him further from home, Ralph could not help admiring the speed at which the brig slipped through the water, cutting the waves with her sharp bow and leaving scarcely a ripple behind her, so fine and clean was her run. Very different was this smooth, gliding motion from the quick plunge and shock of the bluff-bowed fishing boat to which he was accustomed. The sails had been scrubbed until there was not a speck upon them. The masts were lofty and tapering, the rigging neat and trim, and every stay as taut as iron.
We could fight our ships better than the French, but as far as building and rigging went they were vastly our superiors; and La Belle Marie looked to Ralph almost like a gentleman's yacht in its cleanness and order, and in these respects vied with the men-of-war that he had so often watched from the heights of Dover. He had, however, but little time for admiration; for he was kept at work rubbing and polishing the guns and brass-work, and was not idle for a minute from the time he came on deck dressed as a cabin-boy on the morning after he was picked up until sunset. There were two French boys about his own age forward, and as soon as his work was done and the evening watch set they began to torment him; for, acting as they did as servants to the officers, they did not take share in the watch.
Fortunately Jacques had gone below at the same time as Ralph; and when the boys, finding that their taunts had no effect whatever upon Ralph, began to get bolder, and one of them snatched off his cap, Jacques interfered at once. "Look here, youngsters," he said, "this young English boy is at present one of the crew of this brig, and he has just the same right to fair treatment as any one else, so I warn you if you interfere with him you will have to fight him fairly. I know enough of these English boys to know that with your hands you would not have the least chance with him. He could thrash you both at once; for even little English boys do not wrestle, tear, and kick, but hit straight out just as the men do.
"With swords it would be different, but in a row between you and him it would be just the naked hands. So I advise you to leave him alone, for if you make him fight I will see fair play. All the time I was a prisoner in England I was well treated by his people, and just as I was treated myself and saw other French prisoners treated so I will see him treated. Before this voyage is over it is not impossible the tables will be turned, and that you may find yourselves prisoners in the hands of the English; so I recommend you to behave to him in the same way you would like to be treated yourselves if you were taken prisoners. I can see the lad is good-tempered and willing. He is a stranger here among us all, he can't speak a word of our language, and he has a right to fair treatment. When he gets to know our language he will be able to shift for himself; but until he does I mean to look after him, and any one who plays tricks on him has got to talk to me."
As Jacques Clery was one of the most powerful and active men on board the brig, this assertion was sufficient to put a stop to practical joking with Ralph, and the lad had a much easier time of it than he expected. The men, finding him willing to work and anxious to oblige in every way, soon took to him; and by paying attention to their talk, and asking the French name of every object on board the ship, it was not many days before Ralph found himself able so far to understand that he could obey orders, and pull and haul on any sheet that needed handling.
Upon the second day, the wind having dropped again, more sail was set, and when the word was given to go aloft he went up with the rest; and although he was of little practical use in loosing the gaskets, he soon shook off his first feelings of discomfort and nervousness on seeing how carelessly and unconcernedly the men on each side of him did their work, and before he had been many days at sea was as quick and active aloft as any of the hands on board the brig. After running down nearly as far as Bordeaux the vessel's head was pointed west, and by nightfall the French coast was out of sight. A vigilant lookout was now kept, one man being constantly stationed aloft, and by the increased animation of the crew Ralph judged that they would soon arrive at a point where they should be on the course of homeward bound merchantmen. He had quite made up his mind that, although ready in all other matters to do his duty as one of the crew of La Belle Marie, nothing should induce him to take part in a fight against his own countrymen.
As soon as night fell sail was reduced, and in the morning when at eight bells Ralph came on deck with his watch he found that the whole of the upper sails had been taken off her and the topsails lowered on the cap, and the brig was only moving through the water at the rate of two or three knots an hour. He guessed that she must be just upon the track of ships, and that her object in thus taking off sail was to catch sight of vessels in the distance while she herself would be unobserved by them. During the course of the day several sail were seen passing, but all at a considerable distance. Either the captain did not think that it was safe to commence operations at present, or he did not like the look of some of the passing vessels; but at any rate he made no movement to close with any of them, and it was not until nightfall that sail was again hoisted and the brig proceeded on her course.
Ralph noticed that she carried no light, and that even the binnacle was carefully shaded so that its light could not be seen except by the helmsman. At midnight his watch went on deck, and Ralph perceived that while he had been below the sail had again been greatly reduced, and noticed that from time to time the officer on watch swept the horizon with his night-glass. He apparently observed nothing until about two o'clock, when he stood for some time gazing intently astern. Then he turned, gave an order to a sailor, who went below, and two or three minutes later the captain came on deck. After speaking to the officer he too gazed intently astern. Then the ship's course was suddenly changed, the sheets eased off, and for half an hour she ran at a sharp angle to the course she had before been following, then she was brought up into the eye of the wind and laid to.
Although Ralph strained his eyes in the direction in which the captain had been looking, he could see nothing; but he had no doubt a sail had been seen coming up astern, and that the object of the change of course was to let her pass them without their being seen. He rather wondered that, instead of running off the wind, the captain had not put her about so as to take her position to windward instead of to leeward of the vessel behind; but he soon arrived at the object of the maneuver. There were no stars to be seen, and the bank of clouds overhead stretched away to the east, and the horizon there was entirely obscured; but to the west the sky was lighter, and a vessel would be clearly visible to the eye. The brig, therefore, in the position she had taken up could not be seen, while she herself would obtain a full view of the other as she passed her.
In an hour the other ship came along. She was a large ship, full rigged, and the French sailors, who had all come on deck, now clustered against the bulwarks and eagerly discussed her. She was about two miles to windward, and opinions differed as to whether she was a man-of-war or an Indiaman. Ralph rather wondered that the privateer had not tried to get alongside in the darkness and take the vessel by surprise, but he understood now that there was a strong probability that the Belle Marie might have caught a tartar and have suddenly run herself under the guns of a British frigate. As soon as the vessel had passed, the braces were manned and the yards swung round, and the brig continued her course. She was brought up almost to the wind's-eye and sailed as closely as possible, so that when morning broke she should have recovered the leeway she had made and should be to windward of the vessel she was pursuing, no matter how much astern.