Facing the Flag

Page 12

A couple of steamers passed, sending up volumes of black smoke and myriads of sparks from their double stacks, and lashing the water into foam with their powerful paddles.

At eight o'clock the Count d'Artigas appeared on the schooner's deck accompanied by a man about fifty years of age, to whom he remarked:

"It is time to go, Serko."

"Very well, I will tell Spade," replied Serko.

At that moment the captain joined them.

"You had better get ready to go," said the Count.

"All is ready."

"Be careful to prevent any alarm being given, and arrange matters so that no one will for a minute suspect that Thomas Roch and his keeper have been brought on board the _Ebba_."

"They wouldn't find them if they came to look for them," observed Serko, shrugging his shoulders and laughing heartily as though he had perpetrated a huge joke.

"Nevertheless, it is better not to arouse their suspicion," said d'Artigas.

The boat was lowered, and Captain Spade and five sailors took their places in it. Four of the latter got out the oars. The boatswain, Effrondat, who was to remain in charge of the boat, went to the stern beside Captain Spade and took the tiller.

"Good luck, Spade," said Serko with a smile, "and don't make more noise about it than if you were a gallant carrying off his lady-love."

"I won't--unless that Gaydon chap--"

"We must have both Roch and Gaydon," insisted the Count d'Artigas.

"That is understood," replied Spade.

The boat pushed off, and the sailors on the deck of the schooner watched it till it was lost to sight in the darkness.

Pending its return, no preparations for the _Ebba's_ departure were made. Perhaps there was no intention of quitting the port after the men had been kidnapped. Besides, how could the vessel have reached the open sea? Not a breath of air was now stirring, and in half an hour the tide would be setting in again, and rising strongly and rapidly for several miles above New-Berne.

Anchored, as has already been said, a couple of cable-lengths from the shore, the _Ebba_ might have been brought much nearer to it, for the water was deep enough, and this would have facilitated the task of the kidnappers when they returned from their expedition. If, however, the Count d'Artigas preferred to let the vessel stay where she was, he probably had his reasons.

Not a soul was in sight on the bank, and the road, with its borders of beech trees that skirted the wall of Healthful House estate, was equally deserted. The boat was made fast to the shore. Then Captain Spade and his four sailors landed, leaving the boatswain in charge, and disappeared amid the trees.

When they reached the wall Captain Spade stopped and the sailors drew up on each side of the doorway. The captain had only to turn the key in the lock and push the door, unless one of the servants, noticing that the door was not secured as usual, had bolted it. In this event their task would be an extremely difficult one, even if they succeeded in scaling the high wall.

The captain put his ear to the key-hole and listened.

Not a sound was to be heard in the park. Not even a leaf was rustling in the branches of the beeches under which they were standing. The surrounding country was wrapt in the profoundest silence.

Captain Spade drew the key from his pocket, inserted it in the lock and turned it noiselessly. Then he cautiously pushed the door, which opened inward.

Things were, then, just as he had left them, and no one had noticed the theft of the key.

After assuring himself that nobody happened to be in the neighborhood of the pavilion the captain entered, followed by his men. The door was left wide open, so that they could beat a hurried and uninterrupted retreat in case of necessity. The trees and bushes in this shady part of the park were very thick, and it was so dark that it would not have been easy to distinguish the pavilion had not a light shone brightly in one of the windows.

No doubt this was the window of the room occupied by Roch and his guardian, Gaydon, seeing that the latter never left the patient placed in his charge either by night or day.

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Facing the Flag Page 13

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Jules Verne

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