Facing the Flag

Page 16

It would take at least an hour before the warship could be got ready to steam out, and the schooner might by that time have gained a good start.

"Shall I weigh anchor?" demanded Captain Spade.

"Yes, as we have a fair wind; but you can take your time about it," replied the Count d'Artigas.

"The passes of Pamlico Sound will be under observation," observed Engineer Serko, "and no vessel will be able to get out without receiving a visit from gentlemen as inquisitive as they will be indiscreet."

"Never mind, get under way all the same," ordered the Count. "When the officers of the cruiser or the Custom-House officers have been over the _Ebba_ the embargo will be raised. I shall be indeed surprised if we are not allowed to go about our business."

"With a thousand pardons for the liberty taken, and best wishes for a good voyage and speedy return," chuckled Engineer Serko, following the phrase with a loud and prolonged laugh.

When the news was received at New-Berne, the authorities at first were puzzled to know whether the missing inventor and his keeper had fled or been carried off. As, however, Roch's flight could not have taken place without the connivance of Gaydon, this supposition was speedily abandoned. In the opinion of the director and management of Healthful House the warder was absolutely above suspicion. They must both, then, have been kidnapped.

It can easily be imagined what a sensation the news caused in the town. What! the French inventor who had been so closely guarded had disappeared, and with him the secret of the wonderful fulgurator that nobody had been able to worm out of him? Might not the most serious consequences follow? Might not the discovery of the new engine be lost to America forever? If the daring act had been perpetrated on behalf of another nation, might not that nation, having Thomas Roch in its power, be eventually able to extract from him what the Federal Government had vainly endeavored to obtain? And was it reasonable, was it permissible, to suppose for an instant that he had been carried off for the benefit of a private individual?

Certainly not, was the emphatic reply to the latter question, which was too ridiculous to be entertained. Therefore the whole power of the State was employed in an effort to recover the inventor. In every county of North Carolina a special surveillance was organized on every road and at every railroad station, and every house in town and country was searched. Every port from Wilmington to Norfolk was closed, and no craft of any description could leave without being thoroughly overhauled. Not only the cruiser _Falcon_, but every available cutter and launch was sent out with orders to patrol Pamlico Sound and board yachts, merchant vessels and fishing smacks indiscriminately whether anchored or not and search them down to the keelson.

Still the crew of the _Ebba_ prepared calmly to weigh anchor, and the Count d'Artigas did not appear to be in the least concerned at the orders of the authorities and at the consequences that would ensue, if Thomas Roch and his keeper, Gaydon, were found on board.

At last all was ready, the crew manned the capstan bars, the sails were hoisted, and the schooner glided gracefully through the water towards the Sound.

Twenty miles from New-Berne the estuary curves abruptly and shoots off towards the northwest for about the same distance, gradually widening until it empties itself into Pamlico Sound.

The latter is a vast expanse about seventy miles across from Sivan Island to Roanoke. On the seaward side stretches a chain of long and narrow islands, forming a natural breakwater north and south from Cape Lookout to Cape Hatteras and from the latter to Cape Henry, near Norfolk City, in Virginia.

Numerous beacons on the islands and islets form an easy guide for vessels at night seeking refuge from the Atlantic gales, and once inside the chain they are certain of finding plenty of good anchoring grounds.

Several passes afford an outlet from the Sound to the sea.

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Jules Verne

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