Facing the Flag

Page 19

In the first place they descended the main hatchway to the after saloon--a luxuriously-appointed place, filled with art objects of great value, hung with rich tapestries and hangings, and wainscotted with costly woods.

It goes without saying that this and the adjoining cabins were searched with a care that could not have been surpassed by the most experienced detectives. Moreover, Captain Spade assisted them by every means in his power, obviously anxious that they should not preserve the slightest suspicion of the _Ebba's_ owner.

After the grand saloon and cabins, the elegant dining-saloon was visited. Then the cook's galley, Captain Spade's cabin, and the quarters of the crew in the forecastle were overhauled, but no sign of Thomas Roch or Gaydon was to be seen.

Next, every inch of the hold, etc., was examined, with the aid of a couple of lanterns. Water-kegs, wine, brandy, whisky and beer barrels, biscuit-boxes, in fact, all the provision boxes and everything the hold contained, including the stock of coal, was moved and probed, and even the bilges were scrutinized, but all in vain.

Evidently the suspicion that the Count d'Artigas had carried off the missing men was unfounded and unjust. Even a rat could not have escaped the notice of the vigilant searchers, leave alone two men.

When they returned on deck, however, the officers, as a matter of precaution looked into the boats hanging on the davits, and punched the lowered sails, with the same result.

It only remained for them, therefore, to take leave of the Count d'Artigas.

"You must pardon us for having disturbed you, Monsieur the Count," said the lieutenant.

"You were compelled to obey your orders, gentlemen."

"It was merely a formality, of course," ventured the officer.

By a slight inclination of the head the Count signified that he was quite willing to accept this euphemism.

"I assure you, gentlemen, that I have had no hand in this kidnapping."

"We can no longer believe so, Monsieur the Count, and will withdraw."

"As you please. Is the _Ebba_ now free to proceed?"

"Certainly."

"Then _au revoir_, gentlemen, _au revoir_, for I am an _habitue_ of this coast and shall soon be back again. I hope that ere my return you will have discovered the author of the outrage, and have Thomas Roch safely back in Healthful House. It is a consummation devoutly to be wished in the interest of the United States--I might even say of the whole world."

The two officers courteously saluted the Count, who responded with a nod. Captain Spade accompanied them to the gangway, and they were soon making for the cruiser, which had steamed near to pick them up.

Meanwhile the breeze had freshened considerably, and when, at a sign from d'Artigas, Captain Spade set sail again, the _Ebba_ skimmed swiftly through the inlet, and half an hour after was standing out to sea.

For an hour she continued steering east-northeast, and then, the wind, being merely a land breeze, dropped, and the schooner lay becalmed, her sails limp, and her flag drooping like a wet rag. It seemed that it would be impossible for the vessel to continue her voyage that night unless a breeze sprang up, and of this there was no sign.

Since the schooner had cleared the inlet Captain Spade had stood in the bows gazing into the water, now to port, now to starboard, as if on the lookout for something. Presently he shouted in a stentorian voice:

"Furl sail!"

The sailors rushed to their posts, and in an instant the sails came rattling down and were furled.

Was it Count d'Artigas' intention to wait there till daybreak brought a breeze with it? Presumably, or the sails would have remained hoisted to catch the faintest puff.

A boat was lowered and Captain Spade jumped into it, accompanied by a sailor, who paddled it towards an object that was floating on the water a few yards away.

This object was a small buoy, similar to that which had floated on the bosom of the Neuse when the _Ebba_ lay off Healthful House.

The buoy, with a towline affixed to it, was lifted into the boat that was then paddled to the bow of the _Ella_, from the deck of which another hawser was cast to the captain, who made it fast to the towline of the buoy.

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Jules Verne

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