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"Oh, the tempest! the tempest!" she cried. "AND TO BE DROWNED IN THE DARK!"
"Tempest? It is blowing half a gale of wind; that is all."
"Half a gale! Ah! that is the way you always talk to us ladies. Oh, pray give me my light, and send me a clergyman."
Dodd took pity, and let her have her light, with a midshipman to watch it. He even made her a hypocritical promise that should there be one grain of danger, he would lie to; but said he must not make a foul wind of a fair one for a few lee lurches. The _Agra_ broke plenty of glass and crockery though, with her fair wind and her lee lurches.
Wind down at noon next day, and a dead calm.
At two P. M. the weather cleared; the sun came out high in heaven's centre; and a balmy breeze from the west.
At six twenty-five, the grand orb set calm and red, and the sea was gorgeous with miles and miles of great ruby dimples: it was the first glowing smile of southern latitude. The night stole on so soft, so clear, so balmy, all were loth to chose their eyes on it: the passengers lingered long on deck, watching the Great Bear dip, and the Southern Cross rise, and overhead a whole heaven of glorious stars most of us have never seen, and never shall see in this world. No belching smoke obscured, no plunging paddles deafened; all was musical; the soft air sighing among the sails; the phosphorescent water bubbling from the ship's bows; the murmurs from little knots of men on deck subdued by the great calm: home seemed near, all danger far; Peace ruled the sea, the sky, the heart: the ship, making a track of white fire on the deep, glided gently yet swiftly homeward, urged by snowy sails piled up like alabaster towers against a violet sky, out of which looked a thousand eyes of holy tranquil fire. So melted the sweet night away.
Now carmine streaks tinged the eastern sky at the water's edge; and that water blushed; now the streaks turned orange, and the waves below them sparkled. Thence splashes of living gold flew and settled on the ship's white sails, the deck, and the faces; and with no more prologue, being so near the line, up came majestically a huge, fiery, golden sun, and set the sea flaming liquid topaz.
Instantly the look-out at the foretop-gallant-mast-head hailed the deck below.
"STRANGE SAIL! RIGHT AHEAD!"
The strange sail was reported to Captain Dodd, then dressing in his cabin. He came soon after on deck and hailed the lookout: "Which way is she standing?"
"Can't say, sir. Can't see her move any."
Dodd ordered the boatswain to pipe to breakfast; and taking his deck glass went lightly up to the fore-top-gallant-mast crosstrees. Thence, through the light haze of a glorious morning, he espied a long low schooner, lateen-rigged, lying close under Point Leat, a small island about nine miles distant on the weather bow, and nearly in the _Agra's_ course, then approaching the Straits of Gaspar, 4 latitude S.
"She is hove-to," said Dodd very gravely.
At eight o'clock, the stranger lay about two miles to windward, and still hove-to.
By this time all eyes were turned upon her, and half a dozen glasses. Everybody, except the captain, delivered an opinion.
She was a Greek lying-to for water: she was a Malay coming north with canes, and short of hands: she was a pirate watching the Straits.
The captain leaned silent and sombre with his arms on the bulwarks, and watched the suspected craft.
Mr. Fullalove joined the group, and levelled a powerful glass, of his own construction. His inspection was long and minute, and, while the glass was at his eye, Sharpe asked him half in a whisper, could he make out anything?
"Wal," said he, "the varmint looks considerable snaky." Then, without removing his glass, he let drop a word at a time, as if the facts were trickling into his telescope at the lens, and out at the sight "One--two--four--seven, false ports."
There was a momentary murmur among the officers all round. But British sailors are undemonstrative: Colonel Kenealy, strolling the deck with his cigar, saw they were watching another ship with maritime curiosity, and making comments but he discerned no particular emotion nor anxiety in what they said, nor in the grave low tones they said it in. Perhaps a brother seaman would though.
The next observation that trickled out of Fullalove's tube was this: "I judge there are too few hands on deck, and too many--white--eyeballs--glittering at the portholes."
"Confound it," muttered Bayliss, uneasily; "how can you see that?"
Fullalove replied only by quietly handing his glass to Dodd. The captain thus appealed to, glued his eye to the tube.
"Well, sir; see the false ports, and the white eyebrows?" asked Sharpe ironically.
"I see this is the best glass I ever looked through," said Dodd doggedly, without interrupting his inspection.
"I think he is a Malay pirate," said Mr. Grey.
Sharpe took him up very quickly, and indeed angrily: "Nonsense. And if he is, he won't venture on a craft of this size."
"Says the whale to the swordfish," suggested Fullalove, with a little guttural laugh.
The captain, with the American glass at his eye, turned half round to the man at the wheel: "Starboard!"
"Starboard it is."
"Ay, ay, sir." And the ship's course was thus altered two points.
This order lowered Dodd fifty per cent. in Mr. Sharpe's estimation. He held his tongue as long as he could: but at last his surprise and dissatisfaction burst out of him, "Won't that bring him out on us!"
"Very likely, sir," replied Dodd.
"Begging your pardon, captain, would it not be wiser to keep our course, and show the blackguard we don't fear him?"
"When we _do!_ Sharpe, he has made up his mind an hour ago whether to lie still or bite; my changing my course two points won't change his mind, but it may make him declare it; and _I_ must know what he does intend before I run the ship into the narrows ahead."
"Oh, I see," said Sharpe, half convinced.
The alteration in the _Agra's_ course produced no movement on the part of the mysterious schooner. She lay-to under the land still, and with only a few hands on deck, while the _Agra_ edged away from her and entered the Straits between Long Island and Point Leat, leaving the schooner about two miles and a half distant to the N.W.
Ah! The stranger's deck swarms black with men.
His sham ports fell as if by magic, his gums grinned through the gaps like black teeth; his huge foresail rose and filled, and out he came in chase.
The breeze was a kiss from Heaven, the sky a vaulted sapphire, the sea a million dimples of liquid, lucid gold.
AMONGST the curiosities of human reasoning is this: one forms a judgment on certain statements; they turn out incorrect, yet the judgment sound.
This occurs oftenest when, to divine what any known person will do in a case stated, we go boldly by his character, his habits, or his interest: for these are great forces, towards which men gravitate through various and even contrary circumstances.
Now women, sitting at home out of detail's way, are somewhat forced, as well as naturally inclined, to rely on their insight into character; and, by this broad clue, often pass through false or discoloured data to a sound calculation.
Thus it was Mrs. Dodd applied her native sagacity to divine why Richard Hardie declined Julia for his son's wife, and how to make him withdraw that dissent: and the fair diviner was much mistaken in detail but right in her conclusion; for Richard Hardie _was_ at that moment the unlikeliest man in Barkington to decline Julia Dodd--with Hard Cash in five figures--for his daughter-in-law.
I am now about to make a revelation to the reader, that will incidentally lead him to Mrs. Dodd's conclusion, but by a different path.
The outline she gave her daughter and my reader of Richard Hardie's cold and prudent youth was substantially correct; but something had occurred since then, unknown to her, unknown to all Barkington. The centuries had blown a respectable bubble.
About two hundred and fifty years ago, some genius, as unknown as the inventor of the lathe, laid the first wooden tramroad, to enable a horse to draw forty-two cwt. instead of seventeen. The coalowners soon used it largely. In 1738, iron rails were invented; but prejudice, stronger than that metal, kept them down, and the wooden ones in vogue, for some thirty years. Then iron prevailed.
Meantime, a much greater invention had been creeping up to join the metal way; I mean the locomotive power of steam, whose history is not needed
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