Facing the Flag

Page 17

Beyond Sivan Island lighthouse is Ocracoke inlet, and next is the inlet of Hatteras. There are also three others known as Logger Head inlet, New inlet, and Oregon inlet. The Ocracoke was the one nearest the _Ebba_, and she could make it without tacking, but the _Falcon_ was searching all vessels that passed through. This did not, however, make any particular difference, for by this time all the passes, upon which the guns of the forts had been trained, were guarded by government vessels.

The _Ebba_, therefore, kept on her way, neither trying to avoid nor offering to approach the searchers. She seemed to be merely a pleasure-yacht out for a morning sail.

No attempt had up to that time been made to accost her. Was she, then, specially privileged, and to be spared the bother of being searched? Was the Count d'Artigas considered too high and mighty a personage to be thus molested, and delayed even for an hour? It was unlikely, for though he was regarded as a distinguished foreigner who lived the life of luxury enjoyed by the favored of fortune, no one, as a matter of fact, knew who he was, nor whence he came, nor whither he was going.

The schooner sped gracefully over the calm waters of the sound, her flag--a gold crescent in the angle of a red field--streaming proudly in the breeze. Count d'Artigas was cosily ensconced in a basket-work chair on the after-deck, conversing with Engineer Serko and Captain Spade.

"They don't seem in a hurry to board us," remarked Serko.

"They can come whenever they think proper," said the Count in a tone of supreme indifference.

"No doubt they are waiting for us at the entrance to the inlet," suggested Captain Spade.

"Let them wait," grunted the wealthy nobleman.

Then he relapsed into his customary unconcerned impassibility.

Captain Spade's hypothesis was doubtless correct. The _Falcon_ had as yet made no move towards the schooner, but would almost certainly do so as soon as the latter reached the inlet, and the Count would have to submit to a search of his vessel if he wished to reach the open sea.

How was it then that he manifested such extraordinary unconcern? Were Thomas Roch and Gaydon so safely hidden that their hiding-place could not possibly be discovered?

The thing was possible, but perhaps the Count d'Artigas would not have been quite so confident had he been aware that the _Ebba_ had been specially signalled to the warship and revenue cutters as a suspect.

The Count's visit to Healthful House on the previous day had now attracted particular attention to him and his schooner. Evidently, at the time, the director could have had no reason to suspect the motive of his visit. But a few hours later, Thomas Roch and his keeper had been carried off. No one else from outside had been near the pavilion that day. It was admitted that it would have been an easy matter for the Count's companion, while the former distracted the director's attention, to push back the bolts of the door in the wall and steal the key. Then the fact that the _Ebba_ was anchored in rear of, and only a few hundred yards from, the estate, was in itself suspicious. Nothing would have been easier for the desperadoes than to enter by the door, surprise their victims, and carry them off to the schooner.

These suspicions, neither the director nor the _personnel_ of the establishment had at first liked to give expression to, but when the _Ebba_ was seen to weigh anchor and head for the open sea, they appeared to be confirmed.

They were communicated to the authorities of New-Berne, who immediately ordered the commander of the _Falcon_ to intercept the schooner, to search her minutely high and low, and from stem to stern, and on no account to let her proceed, unless he was absolutely certain that Roch and Gaydon were not on board.

Assuredly the Count d'Artigas could have had no idea that his vessel was the object of such stringent orders; but even if he had, it is questionable whether this superbly haughty and disdainful nobleman would hove manifested any particular anxiety.

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Facing the Flag Page 18

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Jules Verne

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