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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v3 - 8/8 -
Debney shrugged a shoulder. "Try Nob Hill, Fifth Avenue, and the Champs Elysees. What does a poor man-o'-war's-man know of such things?"
An hour later they were aboard the Cormorant dining with a number of men asked to come and say good-bye to Mostyn, who was starting for England the second day following, after a pleasant cruise with Debney.
Meanwhile, from far beyond that yellow lane of light running out from Golden Gate, there came a vessel, sailing straight for harbour. She was an old-fashioned cruiser, carrying guns, and when she passed another vessel she hoisted the British flag. She looked like a half-obsolete corvette, spruced up, made modern by every possible device, and all her appointments were shapely and in order. She was clearly a British man- of-war, as shown in her trim-dressed sailors, her good handful of marines; but her second and third lieutenants seemed little like Englishmen. There was gun-drill and cutlass-drill every day, and, what was also singular, there was boat-drill twice a day, so that the crew of this man-of-war, as they saw Golden Gate ahead of them, were perhaps more expert at boat-drill than any that sailed. They could lower and raise a boat with a wonderful expertness in a bad sea, and they rowed with clock- like precision and machine-like force.
Their general discipline did credit to the British Navy. But they were not given to understand that by their Commander, Captain Shewell, who had an eye like a spot of steel and a tongue like aloes or honey as the mood was on him. It was clear that he took his position seriously, for he was as rigid and exact in etiquette as an admiral of the old school, and his eye was as keen for his officers as for his men; and that might have seemed strange too, if one had seen him two years before commanding a schooner with a roving commission in the South Seas. Then he was more genial of eye and less professional of face. Here he could never be mistaken for anything else than the commander of a man-of-war--it was in his legs, in the shoulder he set to the wind, in the tone of his orders, in his austere urbanity to his officers. Yet there was something else in his eye, in his face, which all this professionalism could not hide, even when he was most professional--some elusive, subterranean force or purpose.
This was most noticeable when he was shut away from the others in his cabin. Then his whole body seemed to change. The eye became softer, and yet full of a sort of genial devilry, the body had a careless alertness and elasticity, the whole man had the athletic grace of a wild animal, and his face had a hearty sort of humour, which the slightly-lifting lip, in its insolent disdain, could not greatly modify. He certainly seemed well pleased with himself, and more than once, as he sat alone, he laughed outright, and once he said aloud, as his fingers ran up and down a schedule--not a man-o'-war's schedule--laughing softly:
"Poor old Farquhar, if he could see me now!" Then, to himself: "Well, as I told him, I was violently tossed like a ball into the large country; and I've had a lot of adventure and sport. But here's something more the biggest game ever played between nations by a private person--with fifty thousand pounds as the end thereof, if all goes well with my lone corvette."
The next evening, just before dusk, after having idled about out of sight of the signal station nearly all day, Captain Shewell entered Golden Gate with the Hornet-of no squadron. But the officers at the signal station did not know that, and simply telegraphed to the harbour, in reply to the signals from the corvette, that a British man-of-war was coming. She came leisurely up the bay, with Captain Shewell on the bridge. He gave a low whistle as he saw the Cormorant in the distance. He knew the harbour well, and saw that the Cormorant had gone to a new anchorage, not the same as British men-of-war took formerly. He drew away to the old anchorage--he need not be supposed to know that a change was expected; besides--and this was important to Captain Shewell--the old anchorage was near the docks; and it was clear, save for one little life-boat and a schooner which was making out as he came up.
As the Hornet came to anchor the Cormorant saluted her, and she replied instantly. Customs officers who were watching the craft from the shore or from their boats put down their marine glasses contentedly when they saw and heard the salutes. But two went out to the Hornet, were received graciously by Captain Shewell, who, over a glass of wine in his cabin- appropriately hung with pictures of Nelson and Collingwood--said that he was proceeding to Alaska to rescue a crew shipwrecked which had taken refuge on a barren island, and that he was leaving the next day as soon as he could get some coal; though he feared it would be difficult coaling up that night. He did not need a great deal, he said--which was, indeed, the case--but he did need some, and for the Hornet's safety he must have it. After this, with cheerful compliments, and the perfunctory declaration on his part that there was nothing dutiable on board, the officers left him, greatly pleased with his courtesy, saluted by the sailors standing at the gangway as they left the ship's side. The officers did not notice that one of these sailors winked an eye at another, and that both then grinned, and were promptly ordered aft by the second lieutenant.
As soon as it was very dark two or three boats pushed out from the Hornet, and rowed swiftly to shore, passing a Customs boat as they went, which was saluted by the officers in command. After this, boats kept passing backward and forward for a long time between the Hornet and the shore, which was natural, seeing that a first night in port is a sort of holiday for officers and men. If these sailors had been watched closely, however, it would have been seen that they visited but few saloons on shore, and drank little, and then evidently as a blind. Close watching would also have discovered the fact that there were a few people on shore who were glad to see the safe arrival of the Hornet, and who, about one o'clock in the morning, almost fell on the neck of Captain Shewell as they bade him good bye. Then, for the rest of the night, coal was carried out to the Hornet in boats and barges.
By daybreak her coal was aboard, then came cleaning up, and preparations to depart. Captain Shewell's eye was now much on the Cormorant. He had escaped one danger, he had landed half a million dollars' worth of opium in the night, under the very nose of the law, and while Customs boats were patrolling the bay; there was another danger--the inquisitiveness of the Cormorant. It was etiquette for him to call upon the captain of the Cormorant, and he ought to have done so the evening before, but he had not dared to run the risk, nor could he venture this morning. And yet if the Cormorant discovered that the Hornet was not a British man-of-war, but a bold and splendid imposture, made possible by a daring ex-officer of the British Navy, she might open fire, and he could make but a sorry fight, for he was equipped for show rather than for deadly action. He had got this ex-British man-of-war two years before, purchased in Brazil by two adventurous spirits in San Francisco, had selected his crew carefully, many of them deserters from the British Navy, drilled them, and at last made this bold venture under the teeth of a fortress, and at the mouth of a warship's guns.
Just as he was lifting anchor to get away, he saw a boat shoot out from the side of the Cormorant. Captain Debney, indignant at the lack of etiquette, and a little suspicious also now--for there was no Hornet in the Pacific Squadron, though there was a Hornet, he knew, in the China Squadron--was coming to visit the discourteous commander.
He was received with the usual formalities, and was greeted at once by Captain Shewell. As the eyes of the two men met both started, but Captain Debney was most shaken. He turned white, and put out his hand to the bulwark to steady himself. But Captain Shewell held the hand that had been put out; shook it, pressed it. He tried to urge Captain Debney forward, but the other drew back to the gangway.
"Pull yourself together, Dick, or there'll be a mess," said Shewell softly.
"My God, how could you do it?" replied his brother aghast.
Meanwhile the anchor had been raised, and the Hornet was moving towards the harbour mouth. "You have ruined us both," said Richard Debney. "Neither, Dick! I'll save your bacon." He made a sign, the gangway was closed, he gave the word for full steam ahead, and the Hornet began to race through the water before Captain Debney guessed his purpose.
"What do you mean to do?" he asked sternly, as he saw his own gig falling astern.
"To make it hard for you to blow me to pieces. You've got to do it, of course, if you can, but I must get a start."
"How far do you intend carrying me?"
"To the Farilones, perhaps."
Richard Debney's face had a sick look. "Take me to your cabin," he whispered.
What was said behind the closed door no man in this world knows, and it is well not to listen too closely to those who part, knowing that they will never meet again. They had been children in the one mother's arms; there was nothing in common between them now except that ancient love.
Nearing the Farilones, Captain Debney was put off in an open boat. Standing there alone, he was once more a naval officer, and he called out sternly: "Sir, I hope to sink you and your smuggling craft within four- and-twenty hours!"
Captain Shewell spoke no word, but saluted deliberately, and watched his brother's boat recede, till it was a speck upon the sea, as it moved towards Golden Gate.
"Good old Dick!" he said at last, as he turned away toward the bridge. "And he'll do it, if he can!"
But he never did, for as the Cormorant cleared the harbour that evening there came an accident to her machinery, and with two days' start the Hornet was on her way to be sold again to a South American Republic.
And Edward Debney, once her captain? What does it matter?
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Answered, with the indifference of despair Mystery is dear to a woman's heart Never looked to get an immense amount of happiness out of life There is nothing so tragic as the formal
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