When morning broke the vessel that the privateer had been watching in the night was seen to be three miles directly ahead. She was a large vessel, and for some time opinions differed as to whether she was a frigate or an Indiaman; but when it became quite light a patch or two in the canvas showed that she could not be a man-of-war, and all sail was at once crowded on to the privateer. The other ship at once shook out more canvas, but half an hour sufficed to show that the privateer was much the faster vessel. The stranger took in the extra canvas she had set, and continued her course as if altogether regardless of the privateer.
"They have made up their minds to fight," Jacques said to Ralph. "Now he finds that he can't outsail us he has got on to easy working canvas. She is a big ship, and I expect carries heavier metal than we do. It may be that she has troops on board."
The brig kept eating out to windward until she gained a position about a mile upon the starboard quarter of the Indiaman, then the long pivot-gun was leveled and the first shot fired. The crew had by this time all taken their places by the guns, and Ralph and the other boys brought up powder and shot from the magazine. It was not without a struggle that Ralph brought himself to do this; but he saw that a refusal would probably cost him his life, and as some one else would bring up the cartridges in his place his refusal would not benefit his countrymen.
He had just come on deck when the gun was fired, and saw the water thrown up just under the ship's stern, and the shot was dancing away to leeward. The next shot struck the merchantman on the quarter. A moment later the vessel was brought up into the wind and a broadside of eight guns fired. Two of them struck the hull of the privateer, another wounded the mainmast, while the rest cut holes through the sails and struck the water a quarter of a mile to windward. With an oath the captain of the privateer brought his vessel up into the wind, and then payed off on the other tack.
The merchantman carried much heavier metal than he had given her credit for. As she came round too, some redcoats were seen on her deck. Apparently well satisfied with the display she had made of her strength, the ship bore off again and went quietly, on her way, while the privateer was hove to and preventer stays put to the mainmast. Ralph remained below for some time; he heard the men savagely cursing, and thought it was best for him not to attract attention at present. The sails were lowered and the brig drifted quietly all day; but about ten o'clock Ralph heard a creaking of blocks, and knew that the sails had been hoisted again. Half an hour later the watch below was ordered to come quietly on deck. Ralph went up with the rest.
For a quarter of an hour he could see nothing, and then he made out a dark mass a few hundred yards to leeward; immediately afterward the helm was put up, and the brig run down toward the stranger. Two minutes later there was a sharp hail, followed instantly by shouts and the sound of feet; but before the crew could gain the deck and prepare for defence the brig was alongside, and a moment later her crew sprang upon the decks of the stranger. A few blows were given; but the resistance offered was slight, and in a very short time the crew were disarmed or driven below, and the vessel in the possession of the privateer. She proved to be a small bark on her way out to the Mediterranean. She carried only twenty hands and four small guns, and was laden with hardware.
The privateer's crew at once set to work upon her. At first Ralph could not understand what they were about, but he was not long in discovering. The wedges round the mainmast were knocked out, the topmast lowered to the deck, the shrouds and stays slacked off, and then the mast was lifted and carried on board the brig. As soon as this was done, the second mate of the brig with eight sailors went on board as a prize crew. Everything was made taut and trim for them by the brig's crew. The English prisoners had already been disarmed and battened down in the hold, and the prize crew then hoisted sail and prepared to take her under mizzen and foremast only to a French port. This, if she had luck, she would reach in safety, but if on the way she fell in with a British privateer or cruiser she would of course fall an easy prey.
No sooner was the bark on her way than the privateersmen set to work to lift out their injured mainmast, and to replace it with that they had brought on board from the bark. When daylight broke anxious glances were cast round the horizon; but although a few distant sails were seen, none of these were following a course that would bring them near the brig, and the latter without sail and with her foremast alone standing would not be likely to be noticed. Ralph could not help admiring the energy with which the crew worked. Ordinarily they were by no means a smart crew, and did their work in a slow and slovenly manner; but each man now felt the importance of getting everything into order before an enemy appeared, and so well did they work that by midday the new mast was in its place, and before sunset the topmast with all its yards and gear was up and the sails ready for hoisting.
Ralph had been in a state of anxiety in the early part of the night lest he should be sent on board the bark and carried as a prisoner to France. But no one seemed to give a thought to him, and it was not until far on in the morning that the captain happened to notice him hard at work with the rest.
"Ah, are you there?" he said. "If I had thought of it I should have sent you into Best in the bark."
Ralph did not understand the words but he guessed at the meaning, and said, smiling, "I am quite content to remain where I am."
"Tell him, Jacques Clery, that I have noticed that he works willingly, and as long as he behaves well he shall have the same treatment as if he belonged really to the crew; but warn him that if he is caught at any time making a signal, or doing anything to warn a vessel we may be approaching, his brains will be blown out at once."
Jacques translated the warning.
"That's all right," Ralph said. "Of course I should expect nothing else."
As soon as the repairs were completed the sails were hoisted and the brig proceeded on her way. In the days that followed it seemed to Ralph that the tactics of the privateer had changed, and that there was no longer any idea of making prizes. A sharp lookout was indeed kept for any English cruisers, but no attention was paid to any sail in the distance as soon as it was determined that these were not ships of war. Four days later, instead of there being as before five or six sail in sight at one point or other of the horizon, the sea was absolutely deserted. He remarked upon this to his friend Jacques. The latter laughed.
"We are out of their course now, my lad. We passed the latitude of Cape St. Vincent yesterday evening, and we are now pretty well off the coast of Africa. Nine out of ten of the ships we have seen were either bound to the Mediterranean or on their way home. Now that we have passed the mouth of the strait we shall not run across many sail."
"Where are we going to, then?" Ralph said.
"Well, I don't think there is any harm in telling you now, that we are bound south, but how far is more than I know. I expect first we shall go west and try and pick up some prizes among the islands, and after that perhaps go round the cape and lie in wait for Indiamen on their way home. You see, one of those ships is worth a dozen of these Mediterranean traders, and one is not bothered down there as one is between the strait and the channel with your cruisers and privateers; they swarm so there that one can hardly fire a gun without bringing them down on us. I don't suppose the captain would have meddled with that Indiaman if it hadn't been that he thought the owners would be pleased by a prize being sent in so soon. As to the bark, we were obliged to take her to get a new mast. It would never have done to have started on a long cruise with a badly-injured spar."
"But I should think it would be difficult to send home prizes from the West Indies," Ralph said.
"Well, you see, although you have taken most of our islands, there are still two or three ports we can take prizes into. Beside, we can take the best goods out, and if the ship isn't worth the risk of sending to France burn her. Then, too, one can spare hands for prizes better there; because one can always ship a few fresh hands—Spaniards, Mulattos, or blacks—in their place."
"But you can't do that in the case of the Indiamen."
"No; but a single laden Indiaman is enough to pay us well for all our trouble. We can put a crew of thirty hands on board her and send her home. There is little risk of a recapture till we get near France. We have only to hoist the English flag if we do happen to meet anything."
Ralph was glad to hear that the ship was bound for the West Indies, as he thought opportunities for escape would be likely to present themselves among the islands. Madeira was sighted three days later, and after running south for another four or five hundred miles, the brig bore away for the west. By dint of getting Jacques Clery to translate sentences into French, and of hearing nothing but that language spoken round him, Ralph had by this time begun to make considerable progress in the language. Not only was he anxious to learn it for the sake of passing away the time and making himself understood, but his efforts were greatly stimulated by the fact that if any of the crew addressed him in French a cuff on the head was generally the penalty of a failure to comprehend him. The consequence was that when six weeks after sailing the cry of land was shouted by the lookout in the tops, Ralph was able to understand almost everything that was said, and to reply in French with some fluency. As the brig sailed along the wooded shores of the first island they fell in with, Ralph was leaning against the bulwarks watching with deep interest the objects they were passing.
"I can guess what you are thinking about," Jacques Clery said, taking his place quietly by his side. "I have been through it all myself and I can guess your feelings. You are thinking how you can escape. Now, you take my advice and don't you hurry about it. You are doing well where you are. Now you begin to talk French and understand orders it's a good deal easier for you than it was, and the men are beginning to regard you as one of themselves; but you may be sure that you will be watched for a time. You see, they daren't let you go. If you were to get to one of the English ports here we should have five or six of your men-of-war after us in no time.
"If it was not for that I don't suppose the captain would object to put you ashore. He has evidently taken a fancy to you, and is pleased with the way in which you have taken things and with your smartness and willingness. Beside, I don't think he considers you altogether as a prisoner. Running you down in the way we did in the channel wasn't like capturing you in a prize, and I think if the captain could see his way to letting you go without risk to himself he would do it. As he can't do that he will have a sharp watch kept on you, and I advise you not to be in any hurry to try to escape. You must remember if you were caught trying it they would shoot you to a certainty."
"I should be in no hurry at all, Jacques, if it were not that the brig is hunting for English vessels. You know what you would feel yourself if you were on board a ship that was capturing French craft."
"Yes, that is hard, no doubt," Jacques agreed; "and I don't say to you don't escape when you get a chance, I only say wait until the chance is a good one. Just at present we are not specially on the lookout for prizes. We are going to join two other vessels belonging to the same owners. They have been out here some time and have got a snug hiding-place somewhere, though I don't think any one on board except the captain knows where."
For three weeks the brig cruised among the islands. They had picked up no prizes in that time, as the captain did not wish to commence operations until he had joined his consorts and obtained information from them as to the British men-of-war on the station. They had overhauled one or two native craft, purchased fish and fruit, and cautiously asked questions as to the cruisers. The answers were not satisfactory. They learned that owing to the numbers of vessels that had been captured by the privateers a very vigilant lookout was being kept; that two or three French craft that had been captured by the cruisers had been bought into the service, and were constantly in search of the headquarters of the privateers. This was bad news; for although the brig with her great spread of canvas could in light winds run away from any of the ships of war, it was by no means certain she would be able to do so from the converted privateers.
One morning two vessels—a schooner and a brig—were seen coming round a headland. The captain and officers examined them with their telescopes, and a flag was run up to the masthead. Almost immediately two answering flags were hoisted by the strangers, and an exclamation of satisfaction broke from the captain:
"We are in luck," he said. "If we had not run across them we might have had to search for the rendezvous. I have got the spot marked down on the chart, but they told me before sailing that they understood it was very difficult to find the entrance, and we might pass by within a hundred yards without noticing it."
In half an hour the ships closed up together, and the captains of the other crafts came on board in their boats. A hearty greeting was exchanged between them and the captain of La Belle Marie, and the three then descended to the cabin. After a time they reappeared, and the visitors returned to their respective ships. Five minutes later the schooner got under way, and La Belle Marie followed her, leaving the other brig to continue her cruise alone. Toward evening the schooner ran in toward a precipitous cliff, the brig keeping close in her wake. Ralph had no doubt that they were now close to the spot the privateers used as their rendezvous, but he could detect no opening into the cliff ahead, and it looked as if the schooner was leading the way to destruction. Not until within a cable's length of the shore could any opening be discovered by the keenest eye. Then when the schooner was within her own length of the cliff her helm was put about. She came round, and in a moment later disappeared. An exclamation of surprise broke from all on board the brig, for they now saw that instead of the cliff stretching in an unbroken line it projected out at one point, and the precipitous headway concealed an extremely narrow passage behind it.
A moment later the brig imitated the maneuver of the schooner and passed in between two lofty cliffs, so close that there were but a few yards to spare on either side of her. Fifty yards ahead the channel made a sharp turn again, and they entered a basin of tranquil water three or four hundred yards across. At the further end the shore sloped gradually up, and here several large storehouses had been erected, and ways laid down for the convenience of hauling up and repairing the vessels.
"What do you think of that, youngster?" Jacques said exultantly. "A grand hiding-place is it not?"
"It is indeed," Ralph replied. "Why, they might cruise outside for weeks looking for the place and they wouldn't find it, unless a boat happened to row along at the foot of the cliffs."
As soon as the anchor was down the crew were at once given leave to go ashore, and ramble about to stretch their legs after their two months' confinement on board. Ralph was proceeding to take his place in one of the boats when the captain's eye fell upon him.
"Come below with me, young fellow," he said in French. "Jacques Clery, I shall want you too."
"I do not think there is much need of interpreting, captain," the sailor said, as he followed the others into the cabin. "The lad can get on very fairly in French now, and will certainly understand the sense of anything you may say to him."
"Look here, my lad," the captain began, "you have been fairly treated since you came on board this brig."
"I have been very kindly treated," Ralph said. "I have nothing whatever to complain of."
"And we saved your life did we not?"
"Yes, sir, after first nearly taking it," Ralph said with a smile.
"Ah, that was just as much your fault as ours. Little fish ought to get out of the way of great ones, and I don't consider we were in any way to blame in that matter. Still there is the fact in the first place we saved your life, and in the second we treated you kindly."
"I acknowledge that, sir," Ralph said earnestly; "and I feel very grateful. You might have sent me with the crew of that bark to prison had you chosen, and I am thankful to you that you kept me on board and have treated me as one of the crew."
"Now, what I have to say to you is this lad: I know that you are comfortable enough on board, and I have noticed that Jacques here has taken you specially under his wing. You work willingly and well and have the makings of a first-class seaman in you; still I can understand that you would much rather be with your own people, and would be rather aiding them in capturing us than in aiding us to capture them. Consequently you will if you see an opportunity probably try to escape. I shall take as good care as I can to prevent you from doing so, and shall shoot you without hesitation if I catch you at it. Still you may escape, and I cannot run the risk of having this place discovered and our trade knocked on the head. I therefore offer you an alternative. You will either give me your solemn oath not in any case to reveal the existence of this place, or I will put you on shore in charge of the party who remain here, and you will stop with them a prisoner till we sail away from this cruising ground, which may be in three months or may be in a year. What do you say? Don't answer me hastily, and do not take the oath unless you are convinced you can keep it however great the temptation held out to you to betray us."
Ralph needed but a minute to consider the proposal. The oath did not bind him in any way to abstain from making an attempt to escape, but simply to guard the secret of the privateer rendezvous. If he remained here on shore he would have no chance whatever of escape, and might moreover meet with very rough treatment from those left in charge of him. "I am quite ready to take the oath not to reveal the secret of this place, captain," he said. "I do not think that in any case after having been so kindly treated by you I should have been inclined to betray you. However as you offer me the alternative I am ready to take any oath you like of silence, and that oath I will assuredly keep whatever pressure may be laid upon me, it being understood of course that the oath in no way prevents my taking any opportunity that may present itself of making my escape."
"That is quite understood," the captain said. "That is a mere matter of business. You try to escape if you can; I shoot you if I catch you at it. But I do not think you are likely to succeed. But in justice to my employers and friends I should not be justified in running even that slight risk unless convinced that if you succeed you will keep silence as to this. Now, what oath will you take?"
"No oath can be more binding to me than my promise, sir; but at the same time I swear upon my word of honor that I will never give any information or hint that will lead any one to the discovery of this harbor."
"That will do," the captain said. "I have liked your face from the moment you came on board, and feel that I can trust your word."
"I am sure you can do that, captain," Jacques put in; "from what I have seen of the boy I am certain he will keep the promise he has made."
"Very well then," the captain said; "that is settled. You can go on shore in the next boat, and I shall advise you to take the opportunity, for I warn you that you will not get the chance of rambling on shore again until we return here next time. You need not come on board before to-morrow morning."
Half an hour later Ralph went ashore with the last batch of sailors. He soon found that a general license had been granted. A barrel of rum and several casks of wine had been broached, and the men were evidently bent upon making up for the spell of severe discipline that they had lately gone through.
Jacques Clery had gone ashore in the same boat with Ralph.
"What are you going to do, lad?"
"I am going for a walk," Ralph said. "In the first place everything is new to me and I want to see the vegetation; and in the second place I can see that in a very short time most of the hands will be drunk, and I dare say quarrelsome, and I don't want either to drink or quarrel. I think I am better away from them."
"You are right boy, and I don't care if I go too. We will take a drink of wine before we start and fill up our pockets with those biscuits. I will get the storekeeper to give us a bottle of wine to take with us, and then we shall be set up for the day. This is my first voyage in these parts; but I have heard from others of their doings, and don't care about getting a stab with a knife in a drunken brawl. I can do my share of fighting when fighting has got to be done, but I do not care for rows of this sort. Still I know the men look forward to what you call a spree on shore, and the captain might find it difficult to preserve discipline if he did not let them have their fling occasionally."
Ralph and the sailor each took a biscuit and a draught of wine, and soon afterward started on their ramble provided with food as arranged. Both were delighted with the luxuriant vegetation, and wandered for hours through the woods admiring the flowers and fruits, abstaining, however, from tasting the latter, as for aught they knew some of the species might be poisonous. Presently, however, they came upon some bananas. Neither of them had ever seen this fruit before, but Ralph had read descriptions of it in books, Jacques had heard of it from sailors who had visited the West Indies before. They therefore cut some bunches. "Now we will bring ourselves to an anchor and dine. Time must be getting on, and my appetite tells me that it must have struck eight bells." Jacques sat down on the ground, and was about to throw himself full length when Ralph observed a movement among the dead leaves; an instant later the head of a snake was raised threateningly within striking distance of Jacques Clery's neck as he sank backward. Ralph gave a short cry—too late, however, to arrest the sailor's movements—and at the same moment sprang forward and came down with both feet upon the snake.
"What on earth are you doing?" Jacques asked as he scrambled to his feet. No answer was made to his question, but he saw at once that Ralph was stamping upon the writhing folds of a snake. In a minute the motion ceased.
"That was a close shave, Jacques," Ralph said smiling, though his face was pale with the sudden excitement. "I did not see it until too late to give you warning. It was just the fraction of a second, and even as I jumped I thought he would strike your neck before my boot came on him."
"You saved my life, lad," the other said huskily, trembling from head to foot, as he saw how narrowly indeed he had escaped from death. "I have been in some hard fights in my time, but I don't know that ever I felt as I feel now. I feel cold from head to foot, and I believe that a child could knock me down. Give me your hand, lad. It was splendidly done. If you had stopped for half a moment to think I should have been a dead man. Good heavens! what an escape I had."
"I am glad to have been of service for once. You have been so kind to me since I came aboard the brig that it is fair that I should do you a good turn for once. I am not surprised you are shaken, for I feel so myself. We had better both have a drink of wine, and then we can see about our meal."
"No more lying down on the ground for me," the sailor said. "Once is enough of such a thing as that. However, hand me the bottle. I shall feel better after that."
Ralph looked about and presently discovered an open space, free from fallen leaves or any other shelter for a lurking snake, and persuaded Jacques to sit down and eat his biscuit and bananas in comfort. The sailor did so, but the manner in which his glances kept wandering round him in search of snakes showed that he had not yet recovered his equanimity. When they had finished their meal Ralph proposed that they should climb up to the highest point of ground they could find, and take a view over the island. Two hours' walking took them to the top of a lofty hill. From the summit they were enabled to obtain a distant view. The island was, they judged, some seven or eight miles across, and fully twice that length. Several small islands lay within a few miles distant, and high land rose twenty miles off.
"This must be a large island," Ralph said. "Do you know where we are, Jacques?"
"I have no idea whatever," the sailor said; "and I don't suppose any one on board, except the officers, has, any more than me. The charts are all in the captain's cabin; and I know no more of the geography of these islands than I do of the South Seas, and that's nothing. It's quite right to keep it dark; because, though I don't suppose many fellows on board any of the three craft would split upon us if he were captured, because, you see, we each have a share in the profits of the voyage as well as our regular pay, and, of course, we should lose that if those storehouses, which are pretty well choked up with goods, were to get taken, there's never any saying what some mean scamp might do if he were offered a handsome reward. So the fewer as knows the secret the better."
"Look Jacques! Look at that full-rigged ship that has just come out from behind that island. She looks to me like a frigate."
"And that she is," the sailor replied. "Carries forty guns, I should say, by her size. English, no doubt. Well, we had better go down again, lad. I must report to the captain that this craft is cruising in these waters. It will be dark before we are back, and I don't want to be in the woods after dark; there's no saying what one might tread on. I thought that we would stretch ourselves out under the trees for to-night and go aboard in the morning, but I feel different now. Bless you, I should never close an eye. So I propose as we goes down so as not to be noticed by them chaps up at the store, and then gets hold of a boat and rows on board quiet."
"I am quite willing to do that Jacques. I don't think I should get much sleep either in the woods."
"No, I guess not, lad. Come along; the sun is halfway down already, and I would not be left in these woods after dark, not for six months' pay. The thought of that snake makes me crawl all over. Who would have thought now, when I lugged you in over the bowsprit of La Belle Marie that night in the channel, that you were going to save my life some day. Well, I don't suppose, lad, I shall ever get quits with you, but if there is a chance you can count upon me. You come to me any night and say I am going to escape, Jacques, and I will help you to do it, even if they riddle me with bullets five minutes afterward."
"I shall never ask that of you, Jacques," Ralph said warmly. "I consider we are quits now, though you may not. Indeed, I can tell you that I don't consider that two months of kindness are wiped out by just taking a jump on to the back of a snake."
There were loud sounds of shouting, singing, and quarreling as they passed near the great fires that were blazing near the storehouse. They reached the waterside without notice, and taking a boat rowed off to the brig. The captain looked over the side:
"Who is that?"
"Jacques Clery and the English lad, captain."
"You got tired of the noise on shore, I suppose?" the captain said.
"Not exactly that, captain, for we have not been near the others at all. We took a long walk through the woods up to the top of the hill in the middle of the island and we came back for two reasons. The first because I have been so badly scared by a snake, who would have bit me had not this young fellow leaped on to its back just as he was about to strike me in the neck, that I would not have slept on the ground for anything; and, in the second place, we came to tell you that from the top of the hill we saw a large frigate—English, I should say, from the cut of her sails—five or six miles off on the other side of the island, and I thought you ought to know about her at once."
"Thank you, Jacques; that is important. I was going to sail in the morning, but we must not stir as long as she is in the neighborhood. So this young fellow saved your life, did he?"
"That he did, captain; and it was the quickest thing you ever saw. I was just lying down at full length when he caught sight of the snake. There was no time to stop me; no time even to cry out. He just jumped on a sudden and came down on the brute as it was on the point of striking. Had he stopped for one quarter of a second I should have been a dead man hours ago."
"That was a near escape indeed, Jacques. Are they pretty quiet there on shore? I heard them shouting several times."
"They seem quarreling a bit, captain; but they are sure to do that with all that liquor on hand."
"They won't come to much harm," the captain said. "I gave the strictest orders that all weapons should be left behind before they landed, and that any man carrying even a knife would have his leave stopped during the rest of the cruise. Beside, the first mate is there to look after them. I will go ashore myself at daybreak and take a look round from the top of that hill. If that frigate is still cruising about near the island it must be because they have got some sort of an idea of the whereabouts of our hiding place. We must wait till she moves away. It won't do to risk anything."
Upon the following morning the captain and Jacques, accompanied by Ralph, landed. They passed close by the storehouse, and saw the men still asleep round the extinguished fires. The captain called out the storekeeper:
"You can serve out one pannikin of wine to each man," he said, "but no more. They will want that to pull them together. Tell the first mate to get them on board as soon as possible, and set them to work to tidy up the ship and get everything ready for setting sail at a moment's notice. Tell him an English frigate is reported as close to the island. I am going up to look after her."
Two hours' steady walking took them to the top of the hill. There were no signs of any vessel as far as they could see. The captain, who had brought his glass with him, carefully examined every island in sight. Presently he uttered an exclamation:
"There are three boats rowing together close under the cliffs there," he said, pointing to the nearest island. "No doubt the frigate is lying behind it. They must be searching for some concealed harbor like ours. Peste! this is awkward. What do you think, Jacques?"
"I should say you were right in what you said last night, captain. They must have got an idea that our rendezvous is somewhere hereabouts, though they don't know for certain where, and they are searching all the island round. If they come along here like that we shall be caught in a trap. A vessel might sail close by without suspecting there was an entrance here, however hard they might be looking for it; but if they send boats rowing along the shore they couldn't help finding it. Still, there is nothing to prevent our sailing away now, as the island is between us and them."
"That is so," the captain said. "But if they come while we are away, in the first place they would capture all the booty in the stores, and in the second place they might lie quiet in the harbor and would sink the other ships when they returned. I will go down to the port again, Jacques, and will send up two of the men from the storehouse to keep watch here, turn and turn about. Do you remain here until you are relieved. I will leave my glass with you. If there is anything fresh, leave the boy on watch and come down with the news yourself. I must talk this matter over with the mates. We have no direct interest in the stores, but we must do the best we can for our owners."
Jacques and Ralph watched the distant boats through the glass until they disappeared round the end of the island, then turned the glass seaward. Jacques was using it at the time. "See!" he exclaimed, "there are three sails together there."
"I can see them plainly enough," Ralph said. "What do you make them out to be?"
"A schooner, a brig, and a three-masted vessel. They are lying close together, and I fancy boats are passing between them. However, I couldn't swear to that. They must be fifteen miles away. I expect they are our consorts, and a merchantman they have captured."
"Can they see them from the other side of that island?" Ralph asked excitedly.
"I should say they could," Jacques replied after pausing to calculate the line of sight. "It depends how far round the frigate is lying, and how close in shore. But if they have sent any one up on the hill there, of course they can make them out as plainly as we can." Jacques handed the glass to Ralph.
"Yes, I think I can make out boats, Jacques. What do you suppose they are doing?"
"Most likely they are transferring the valuable part of her cargo on board."
"What will they do with her then?"
"I expect they will let her go; but of course that depends whether she is a new ship and worth taking the risk of carrying her to France."
"They don't burn or sink her, then?"
"No; there would be no good in that; for they wouldn't know what to do with the crew. Of course they don't want the bother of prisoners here, and they wouldn't want to turn them adrift in the boats. They might land on some island near and see us going and coming here, and carry the news to some of your cruisers. No, I expect they will take what is valuable and let them go—that is if the ship isn't worth sending home. I suppose that is so in this case; for if they were going to put a prize crew on board and send it to France, they would not be transferring the cargo. Well, we shall see in another half hour."