Facing the Flag

Page 31

Now and then Captain Spade joins him and both exchange a few words in a language that I can neither understand nor recognize.

It is with Engineer Serko, however, that the owner of the _Ebba_ converses more readily than with anybody else, and the latter appears to be very intimate with him. The engineer is a good deal more free, more loquacious and less surly than his companions, and I wonder what position he occupies on the schooner. Is he a personal friend of the Count d'Artigas? Does he scour the seas with him, sharing the enviable life enjoyed by the rich yachtsman? He is the only man of the lot who seems to manifest, if not sympathy with, at least some interest in me.

I have not seen Thomas Roch all day. He must be shut in his cabin, still under the influence of the fit that came upon him last night.

I feel certain that this is so, when about three o'clock in the afternoon, just as he is about to go below, the Count beckons me to approach.

I do not know what he wishes to say to me, this Count d'Artigas, but I do know what I will say to him.

"Do these fits to which Thomas Roch is subject last long?" he asks me in English.

"Sometimes forty-eight hours," I reply.

"What is to be done?"

"Nothing at all. Let him alone until he falls asleep. After a night's sleep the fit will be over and Thomas Roch will be his own helpless self again."

"Very well, Warder Gaydon, you will continue to attend him as you did at Healthful House, if it be necessary."

"To attend to him!"

"Yes--on board the schooner--pending our arrival."

"Where?"

"Where we shall be to-morrow afternoon," replies the Count.

To-morrow, I say to myself. Then we are not bound for the coast of Africa, nor even the Azores. There only remains the hypothesis that we are making for the Bermudas.

Count d'Artigas is about to go down the hatchway when I interrogate him in my turn:

"Sir," I exclaim, "I desire to know, I have the right to know, where I am going, and----"

"Here, Warder Gaydon," he interrupted, "you have no rights. All you have to do is to answer when you are spoken to." "I protest!"

"Protest, then," replies this haughty and imperious personage, glancing at me menacingly.

Then he disappears down the hatchway, leaving me face to face with Engineer Serko.

"If I were you, Warder Gaydon, I would resign myself to the inevitable," remarks the latter with a smile. "When one is caught in a trap----"

"One can cry out, I suppose?"

"What is the use when no one is near to hear you?"

"I shall be heard some day, sir."

"Some day--that's a long way off. However, shout as much as you please."

And with this ironical advice, Engineer Serko leaves me to my own reflections.

Towards four o'clock a big ship is reported about six miles off to the east, coming in our direction. She is moving rapidly and grows perceptibly larger. Black clouds of smoke pour out of her two funnels. She is a warship, for a narrow pennant floats from her main-mast, and though she is not flying any flag I take her to be an American cruiser.

I wonder whether the _Ebba_ will render her the customary salute as she passes.

No; for the schooner suddenly changes her course with the evident intention of avoiding her.

This proceeding on the part of such a suspicious yacht does not astonish me greatly. But what does cause me extreme surprise is Captain Spade's way of manoeuvring.

He runs forward to a signalling apparatus in the bows, similar to that by which orders are transmitted to the engine room of a steamer. As soon as he presses one of the buttons of this apparatus the _Ebba_ veers off a point to the south-west.

Evidently an order of "some kind" has been transmitted to the driver of the machine of "some kind" which causes this inexplicable movement of the schooner by the action of a motor of "some kind" the principle of which I cannot guess at.

The result of this manoeuvre is that the _Ebba_ slants away from the cruiser, whose course does not vary. Why should this warship cause a pleasure-yacht to turn out of its way? I have no idea.

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Facing the Flag Page 32

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Jules Verne

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