Изображения страниц
PDF

Sir John. His head was bent, but as I entered he looked at me from under his brows and glared angrily. Lord Bedford was standing and was speaking when I drew near. “We saw the ship blown up, Sir John, and immediately sent two boats, in one of which I went myself. We picked up the maid here, and Lieutenant Trelawney went on to investigate. He reports that there was no sign of any one else, and that, except for a little wreckage on the shore, he found nothing. There was no evidence of any one having landed.” “Do you mean to tell me they blew up the ship with all hands?” growled Sir John, not looking at Lord Bedford, but staring at me beneath his brows. “It seems likely,” was the answer, “for the boats were all at their davits except the one this maid came in ; of that there is no doubt.” “A fool's tale !”-Sir John snapped. “Hold, and let me question the girl. Now, miss, the truth, or 't will be the worse for you. Tell us how came this accident to the Bouncing Betsey.” “”T was not an accident,” I answered, as calmly as I could. “'T was by design.” “How know you that?” he demanded. “I heard the captain talk about it to Mr. Green, the mate. He said he would send her to the bottom with all hands before he would let you take her.” “Did the men leave the ship before or after you?” was his next question, and his eye had a cunning look in it as if he thought to trap me. “I saw none leave the ship before or after,” I replied. “But ’t is unbelievable !” cried Sir John, angrily. “The shore was scarce a mile away. They could have escaped to the land.” “They feared the troops ashore,” I put in voluntarily, for I knew that Captain Timmons wished those on board the Good Will to believe that all hands had gone down. “So they knew that, did they?” said Sir John, more to himself than to any one else. “I would like to know how they found out”; then, seeming to break into a sudden rage, he brought his fist down on the table with a resounding thwack. “I 'll not believe I'm to be balked by a lot of rascally rebels s” he shouted. “But, Sir John,” one of the officers put in mildly, “it can scarce make any great difference. The powder is lost to them, and if the men have got ashore, which seems monstrous doubtful, they will be captured within two hours of their landing.” “But the powder is the smallest part of it !”

cried Sir John. “They carried aboard their ship something that meant more than ten times the powder.” He rose from his chair and began pacing the room, glowering fiercely all the while;

..and the others stood in silence, shifting from one

foot to another and seeming as uncomfortable as I. At last Sir John stopped and addressed Lord Bedford. “Was there aught else in the boat but this girl?” “There were some boxes and a portmanteau evidently holding her belongings. They are on deck awaiting your orders.” “Have them searched at once,” he commanded, “and bring me every bit of writing you can find. Look sharp, now, for this is no paltry matter of a few pounds of powder. T is not unlikely these scoundrelly rebels might make a messenger of the maid, thinking to trick us. Look to it, and bring me every scrap of writing that is found.” As Lord Bedford hurried away to search the boxes, my heart sank, for I knew, if no one else in that room did, for what Sir John was looking. It was, of course, the paper Captain Timmons had been so much concerned about, and which, at that moment, was hidden in the little book of Moral Maxims in my portmanteau. Now, it seemed to me that Sir John would surely find it, and I trembled for fear of what was to come, but I hid my anxiety and tried to look as indifferent as I could, for I knew that he was searching my face to see if, perchance, I might betray any knowledge of what he had hinted at. I took my courage in my two hands as Mr. Vernon had bade me, and, for love of the cause of liberty with which Captain Timmons had imbued me, I determined to do my best to keep the secret; but in my heart I was fearful. While we waited, Sir John began to quiz me again. “Why were you on the ship at all?” he asked abruptly. “I was going to my relative in America,” I answered. “And who is that?” was his next question. “Mr. John Travers, of Germantown,” I replied, and then, thinking of another hint Mr. Vernon had given me, I added, “the Travers are cousins to Lord Harborough and to Sir Horace Travers of Kent.” I watched to see how he would receive this news, and was glad to note that it had made an impression, for he looked at me more closely than before, and stopped in his walk up and down the cabin. “Is your relative the Lord Harborough who lately married with the daughter of His Grace the Duke of Beaumont?” he said with a hint at a sneer, but I could see that, although he was not inclined to believe me, he was uncertain. “'T is the same,” I replied; “and it was because of the marriage that I am going to my cousin, Mr. Travers.” “A rigmarole,” Sir John shouted. “Think you I believe such a tale from a waif picked up from a rebel ship? Stuff! Is Harborough like to have his cousins half over the world? I tell you plainly, girl, I do not believe you.” His doubting made me very angry all in a mint1te. “Nevertheless it is true as is all else I have told you,” I retorted, and I could feel my face flushing, which he noted as well, for his manner became a little more civil. “Who is this relative to whom you are going?” he asked, after a moment's thought. “'T is Mr. Travers, of Germantown.” “What kind of a man is he ” was the next question. “I know but little of him except that he is an old gentleman and is reputed well to do.” “Of Germantown,” Sir John muttered, repeating my words. And then he looked about the company in the cabin as if in search for some One. “Where is Mr. Vernon P” he demanded. A messenger went out of the cabin hurriedly, and a moment later entered again with Mr. Vernon, who stepped up to Sir John, saluting in the naval fashion. “I have heard that you have lately visited in the colonies, Mr. Vernon,” Sir John began, “and that you had acquaintance with many people in Philadelphia. Did you by any chance ever come up with a Mr. Travers, of Germantown P” “Oh, yes,” answered Mr. Vernon; “Jack Travers I knew very well, indeed.” “Is he, mayhap, a rebel?” asked Sir John. “I fear so, Sir John,” answered Mr. Vernon. “'T is only to be expected from a hot-headed young fellow with plenty of money.” “Young fellow 7" demanded Sir John. “Why, yes,” said Mr. Vernon. “He came into his majority but last year. I was at the supper, and a good one it was, too.” But no one paid the slightest attention to the last remark, for Sir John had turned on me furiously. “So, miss,” he roared, “your old Mr. Travers turns out to be a young, hot-headed rebel ! I did well to doubt you, and I believe you have that for which I am looking, in spite of your childish ways and your seeming ignorance about it.”

And then, as if to put a cap to all my woes, Lord Bedford came in hurriedly and handed my little book of Moral Maxims to Sir John, who snatched it eagerly. But I covered my face with my hands, for very shame that my word had seemingly been proved false and that the paper was like to be discovered. When I had gained control of myself sufficiently to take my hands from my face, I saw Sir John again seated at the table with my book before him. He regarded it curiously for a moment or two, taking particular interest in the worked cover, so that my heart stood still, for fear he should discover the paper hidden therein. Then, to my great relief, he picked it up and ruffled the leaves, expecting, no doubt, that what he looked for would fall out. Failing in this, he began to go through it, leaf by leaf, but I noted that here and there he stopped to read what had been written, and, as he read, the scowl on his face grew deeper and deeper. All in the room watched him, I, you may be sure, closest of all; and when, at last, he came to the end and shut the little volume with a bang, I had all I could do to keep back an audible sigh of relief. Sir John glared at me, and then faced Lord Bedford. “Was there naught else?” he asked. “Nay, Sir John,” was the answer. “There was no other writing, and we searched her boxes diligently.” Once more the commander turned his attention to me. “So, cousin to Lord Harborough,” he began, with a sneer, “you are naught better than a rebel spy. Why, there is enough treason in this book of yours to hang a dozen men Take her away, Bedford, and have an eye kept on her till we come up with the rest of the fleet; then back to England we will ship her, where I have no doubt she will soon find other cousins a-plenty.” Lord Bedford nodded to Mr. Vernon, who stepped forward to lead me away; but I was in a panic at the thought of being sent back to England, with the fear added that I should not be able to deliver that paper after all. I knew not what to do, but my desire was to have back my property, so I stepped forward and held out my hand. “I want my book,” I said, as resolutely as I could. “The book that Granny gave me.” “Oh you want your book, do you?” Sir John mocked. “Well, get that whimsy out of your head; I shall keep it. It will make interesting reading for Admiral Howe when we join him.” “But 't is mine, and you have no right to it!” I burst out recklessly, for I was become fair desperate, and felt I must have the book, not alone because of my fondness for it, but for what it contained. “Right ! right !” shouted Sir John, as if he scarce believed his ears; “you talk to me of right? Look you here, girl, "t is my right to clap you in irons for a rebel wench, with a cock-andbull story of being cousin to Lord Harborough. Don't prate to me of right, and be off with you.” “'T is no Englishman, but a brute you are " I cried, and would have gone on but that Mr. Vernon, catching me by the shoulder, whirled me round and gave me a little push toward the door. “Hush,” he whispered, “or you 're like to land in the brig. Save your breath, for ’t is not Sir John who has the last word.”

CHAPTER XI I MAKE A FRIEND

MR. VERNoN led me on deck and found a place for me to sit on one of the gun-carriages. He tried his best to console me, but, at first, I would not listen to him, being angered as never before in my life, and at my wit’s end what to do, for I must have the book. Finally, seeing that I paid not the slightest heed to him, he spoke of it. “And how have I offended, Mistress Prisoner?” he asked, assuming a most humble posture. “Was it not you who shamed me before them all by saying that Mr. Travers was a young man, when you know it is otherwise?” I burst out. “They all believe that I have not spoken the truth, because you, forsooth, did not tell it.” “But Mr. Travers is a young man,” he insisted with a smile, and as I looked at his face I knew that he was not lying, though it seemed impossible to believe. “Are you sure?” I asked anxiously, for here was another source of trouble for me. “Oh, yes, I am quite sure,” he answered, “and, to speak plainly, Mistress Beatrice, it did seem a

trifle strange to me that you should be going out

to him, though I never doubted your word.” “But he has a father?” I pleaded. “Nay, his father died a year or so ago, leaving only John Travers, the son, who has just come of age,” replied Mr. Vernon, and from that I saw how the mistake had happened. Aunt Prudence had thought she had written to old Mr. Travers, knowing nothing of a son, and, the names being alike, the young man had answered, never realizing that she was unaware of his father's death. Here was a further compli

cation. It might well be that an old man would take in a girl when he expected a boy, but what would a young man think of it? His letter to Granny showed all too plainly. “I will take one of the boys, but, as I have no wife, I cannot take a maid.” “What shall I do " I exclaimed, more to myself than to Mr. Vernon; but he answered quickly and sympathetically, for he must have seen that my distress was deep indeed. “If you will tell me all about it,” he said, in a most kindly way, “mayhap I can help; and, under any circumstances, I promise no one else shall know of it; but if, perchance, you hold any rebel secrets such as Sir John seems to suspect, keep them. Tell but about yourself, Mistress Beatrice, for you are n't a very big girl, after all, and you do seem to have more than your share of trouble.” So then and there, I told Mr. Vernon how I had come to leave home, and about Mr. Van der Helst shipping me off to a relative of whom we knew very little; but I said naught of the paper hidden in the book of Maxims, for reasons which any one will understand. “'T is easy to see how you have been mistaken about Mr. Travers,” he said, “and there is no need to be downhearted about it. You 'll find Admiral Howe a very different person from Sir John, and with him will rest the decision, for, whatever was aboard the Bouncing Betsey that Sir John is seeking, it seems to be of such importance that a report is to be made to Lord Howe.” Now that was the first of many long talks I had with Mr. Vernon. That afternoon, a good wind sprang up. The sailors set the sails, and we bore down the coast; but the wind freshening constantly, the ship was headed out to sea, and before long we lost sight of land again. That night a great storm came up, and we were blown out of our course, so that it was near a week before we made the rendezvous off New York. In that time, I became quite friendly with the younger officers, and was made much of among them. Mr. Vernon, in particular, seemed to have taken a liking to me, and it was from him I learned what took place on the Good Will after we saw her in the Thames. It seemed that when Lord Howe's great fleet was preparing, the Good Will had been sent to London to refit, and that there had been general instructions to detain all American vessels, but no special word about the Bouncing Betsey. Captain Timmons had fooled them all completely, except Bedford, who was the officer with the trumpet. He had insisted upon stopping us, but the others, certain that any vessel that manifested such enthusiasm over one of His Majesty's ships must be honest, had laughed at the idea that she was an American. Moreover, they were anxious to get to London without delay, for they knew that they were soon to sail again, and grudged the time necessary to investigate us. Once in London, however, the news of what we were reached them as soon as they came to anchor, and so chagrined was the admiralty that we had gotten clear, that the man who had then been in command of the Good Will had been dismissed from the service, and Sir John put in his place. They all seemed to think that this was a great pother to make over the escape of a trading vessel; but it had become evident that she carried something of great importance, for the Good Will was provisioned with all speed, and sent off to capture her at any cost. They had guessed that the Betsey would not sail to her accustomed port, and this was borne out by the reports of two ships that had sighted us (for the Good Will had halted every vessel she met to get news of us). So they had followed, scarce more than a day behind, but we had had good luck until the wind failed, and then the capture was certain. “We should have boarded you that afternoon,” said Mr. Vernon, “but ’t is ever our witless way to wait until the morrow, so we put it off, thinking we had you safe caught, and gave your Captain Timmons a chance to do—” he shrugged— “I know not what “Sir John, I fancy, was none too pleased to find his prize sunk and its crew dispersed, whether drowned or not makes little odds. So, young lady,” he ended, “you are all he has to show for his trouble, and he is like to make you out something of importance to justify himself.” This, you may be sure, was far from pleasing news to me, and Mr. Vernon, although he encouraged me to be brave and hope for the best, felt near certain that, in the end, I would be sent back to England, unless, by some chance or other, they found what they were looking for, in which case they might let me off, as having no further interest. Of Sir John I saw very little. He was too great a man, or at least so thought himself, to be at all intimate with his inferiors aboard the ship, and contented himself with staying in his own quarters, only coming up occasionally to pace the quarter-deck, scowling at everything. At dinner, however, he always sat at the head of the long table, and I, placed among the younger officers, at the foot, tried not to attract his attention, for I knew I had made an enemy

of him and thought it best not to intrude my presence. He, however, had not forgotten me, and occasionally, usually at some pert sally of mine which had brought peals of laughter from the young officers, he would look down the table and frown; but, as a rule, the gentlemen at the head did not trouble about us at the foot, so I was teased and spoiled by turns by the gay young fellows, who were glad enough to have something to amuse them. Dinner was a very serious and ceremonious affair on board the Good Will, the officers all appearing in full dress and standing at attention until Sir John took his seat, so that it was indeed imposing; and I put on my best fallals, feeling very grown-up and important. It was, of course, proper for me to leave the table with the sweets, and I would make my courtesy to those near me, many of whom would rise at my going and salute me most gravely, although this I liked not, for it always brought Sir John's scowl.

CHAPTER XII ABOARD THE FLAG-SHIP

ALL this time, you may be sure, there was hardly a moment when the question how to regain my precious book of Maxims was not in my mind. The more I heard, the more certain I became of the value of the paper hidden therein, and the more needful it became that I should recover it. I appreciated that if the English had gone to such trouble to get it as to send a ship of the line after the Bouncing Betsey, then surely it must be equally important to the colonies. Everything that Mr. Vernon told me confirmed this, and, moreover, I was sensible enough to know that Sir John would not have paid so much attention to me unless he believed that in some way I was getting the better of him in a grave matter. But, on second thought, I was not getting the better of him by any means; for, although he knew it not, the paper was in his possession, and at any time might be discovered. Also, I dared not put too much stress upon its recovery, nor continue making demands for it; that would only serve to excite suspicion, and they might go to the length of cutting the book apart to find out why I was so anxious to have it back. I spoke of it to Mr. Vernon once or twice, explaining that I had had it all my life, and treasured it on that account. He cautioned me to be patient, expressing the belief that sooner or later it would be returned; but he was by no means certain. “You and that book are all they have to show for an eight weeks' chase across the ocean,” he said; “and be sure they 'll make the most of it.”

o HE BEGAN PACING THE ROOM, GLOWERING FIERCELY ALL THE WHILE." (see PAGE 597.) Vol. XXXIX. —76-77. 6or

[graphic]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »