Read CHAPTER XI - THE LULL of Hurricane Island , free online book, by H. B. Marriott Watson, on ReadCentral.com.

When you consider how I had parted from the Prince, his subsequent conduct must be regarded as creditable. After my watch I fell dead asleep in my bunk, and might have slept till night had it not been for the sense of discipline possessed and exhibited by his Royal Highness. He visited me in person, and did me the honour to arouse me from my dreamless slumber, whereat I sat up cursing.

“It is natural you should feel irritated, Dr. Phillimore,” said he calmly. “But when you come to yourself you will perceive that duty must be performed. It is your watch.”

“Oh, ah!” I blurted forth. “You must excuse me; sir, but I have had a night of it.”

He nodded amiably. “If you will come to my cabin after your watch,” he observed, “I shall have something to say to you.”

I do not know that I looked forward to the interview with any interest. I expected some censure of my conduct earlier in the day, and I was resolved to defend myself. But the Prince proved mild and even amiable. He offered me a cigar, and condescended to discuss some points of policy with me.

“I have been told,” said he, “that you have been in the forecastle, and have seen Mr. Legrand. You think that there is some chance of his joining us? Well, it is good hearing. I have no doubt that we shall succeed in destroying the traitors.”

“Mr. Morland,” said I, leaning forward to him, “I would not like to leave you in the thought that this is going to be easy.”

“Oh, no; it will not be easy,” he agreed.

But plainly he was confident that it was possible, which I was not. If there was any one in that ship that doubted, it was I. I said nothing, however, but remarked that Holgate was a man of resource and capacity.

“I am willing to believe that,” he said after a pause. “He is a very clever scoundrel. Oh, yes.”

“We might be in a better position to counter his plans if we fathom them,” I suggested.

He looked at me, interrogation in his blue eyes, which were, and were not, so like his sister’s.

“The question that puzzles me, sir, is why Holgate did not seize the saloon and the deck below last night when he had the chance for down there is what he wants.”

“He had us locked up in the chart-house,” replied the Prince with assurance. “He did not anticipate that we should escape; and the yacht was running into danger.”

Yes; that was the explanation that had occurred to me; indeed, it was the explanation that hitherto we had all accepted. But was it true?

“It was his intention to possess himself of the papers at his leisure,” continued Prince Frederic, smoking and gazing at me with the air of a preceptor instructing a pupil.

“Why should he?” I asked bluntly.

The Prince smiled pleasantly. “I will tell you, Dr. Phillimore,” he answered. “When I left London, and Europe, for good, I instructed my lawyers to put my property into three forms of goods drafts on bankers, Bank of England notes, and English currency. Each kind would be of service to me, whose destination was not quite settled. But these would make a bulky load for any man. There is a large amount of specie, and is it not the Bank of England that says, ’Come and carry what gold you will away in your pockets provided you give us L5,000’? Well, there is that difficulty for these villains.”

“But,” I objected, “do they know how the treasure is made up?”

He cast a dark glance at me. “I have told you,” he said, “I trust such as you in my service, doctor. But there has been treachery. Who I am and what I carry became known. How, I cannot say. But it was treachery. The whole thing is a conspiracy,” he cried, hammering on the table, “and it may be that my enemies in Hochburg are at the bottom of it. I will find out. But, see you, doctor, I am Mr. Morland here and hereafter. Let that be understood, and it is as Mr. Morland I will hang these ruffians.”

His frown knit his eyebrows closely, and his nostrils heaved, while the blue eyes were fired with sudden flame. If he had ideas on democracy, as reports of him had declared, he had also beyond question the temper of the martinet. It was possible, no doubt, to recognise these strange contradictions, but at the first sight it seemed difficult. I had yet to learn that I was dealing with a type of the fanatic, and a representative of that type, moreover, who exemplified in his blood the fatalism of his ascendants. Yet the glimpse I had of the man was interesting. I began to understand him, and even to sympathise with him. He had foregone much for the sake of an ideal, and that was something. But just then I should like to have known exactly what his sister’s attitude to that ideal might be. For Princess Alix, strange as her brother was, was even more baffling than he.

Though we kept a rigid watch all that day and night, no attack was delivered, and I began once again to speculate as to Holgate’s policy. Was he trying to tire us out before he made his assault, or had he other ends in view? The second day passed as tranquilly as the first, and the yacht was still making her best southward. She had passed the mouth of the Rio La Plata, and was forging along the Argentine coast, bound for we knew not whither. Her destination was in other hands, and we must be content to abide the issues, alert and equipped for any emergency.

On the second day I revisited the forecastle, with my flag, and found Holgate as amiable as before.

“You give me your word, doctor, that you have no weapons?” said he, when I had attended to his wounded men, and was proceeding to the hold where the prisoners lay.

“I give you my word,” I replied.

He nodded, and gave orders for the removal of the hatch; and down I went, this time unaccompanied. Legrand still lay on his back, staring vacantly, and the sailors were grouped about, a despondent company, in that dark and stuffy hole.

“Any improvement?” said I to one of them.

“Not much, sir,” said he, with a glance towards the open hatchway, where, no doubt, one of the mutineers stood on guard.

“Does Mr. Legrand take any nourishment?” I asked.

“A bit, sir, but not too much. He doesn’t seem to relish his food,” the man answered.

“Does he talk?” I asked.

“He has spoken about a dozen sentences, sir, but there don’t seem much sense in them.”

“Ah, I feared as much,” I said. I was certain that Holgate, for all his lordly air of unconcern, had taken steps to know what was forward in the hold.

I made another examination, and was the more convinced that there was nothing seriously the matter with Legrand. This time he frankly grinned in my face, as I laid him down. No doubt the sailors were in his secret, and primed for it.

“I daresay I shall have to operate,” I said, and, bidding them farewell, I ascended to the deck.

Holgate waved his hand cheerily at me. “Always glad to see you, doctor,” he called out, and went on with the conversation in which he was engaged.

I could have whipped myself that I could not guess what his crafty design was.

But, if I was ignorant, no one was likely to assist me. Barraclough had no views; all that his purview compassed was the probability of an immediate fight, to which he looked forward with unconcern. Lane was ridiculously inept in his suggestions, one of which involved the idea that Holgate desired to “bag ladies and treasure with one gun.” This suggestion irritated me, and I snubbed him, so far as any one could snub Lane. The Prince, I knew, was secure in his obstinate conviction, and naturally Ellison had no views any more than Barraclough. They were both very excellent examples of pure British phlegm and unimaginativeness. This seemed to cast the burden upon me, for Pye was still confined to his cabin. The little man was undoubtedly shaken by the horrid events he had witnessed, and though he was confessedly a coward, I could not help feeling sorry for him. He was an abject creature now, and clung to his bunk, keeping out of the Prince’s way and Barraclough’s as much as possible, and pestering me with his consultations.

“I believe I should be better, doctor, if we were to get into warmer weather,” he said pleadingly. “Cold does affect a man’s nerves, doesn’t it?”

“Well, you’ll have to make love to Holgate, if you want that,” said I drily. “We’re at his mercy.”

We were all, I think, conscious of that, if we did not always openly acknowledge the fact. Yet it was astonishing that no attack was made on the state-rooms. Holgate had promised it, and had even struck the shadow of deeper terrors during the concluding words of his interview in the corridor. But things went on peacefully; the sun rose in blurred heavens of blue and grey, and declined into rolling waters, and no event of consequence took place. The bells were sounded as of old; the wheelman in his armoured turret steered the yacht upon her course, and every day the Sea Queen drew southward under the ordinary maritime routine. Were it not for our memories, and for the outward facts of our predicament, we might have fancied ourselves merely upon a pleasant excursion.

There was, however, this lacking, that no one knew our destination. The secret was locked in Holgate’s bosom, or perhaps he shared it with one or more of his desperadoes.

And, as if to lull us into a sense of security and to persuade us that all was normal, Mademoiselle suddenly developed and exhibited a remarkable liveliness. She was a thing of moods and impulses, restrained by no reason or consideration for others, so far as I could judge. And, having once got the better of her hysteric fear of the mutiny, she promptly discarded any thought of it. We were prisoners in our part of the yacht, it is true, but that did not interfere with our comfort. We had food and wine to spare; we were supplied with every luxury; and no one gave us any trouble. The guards were set regularly, but Mademoiselle had no concern with that. I doubt if she even recognised that such precautions were taken. There was a certain romance in the situation which appealed to her and inflamed her imagination. She lived most of the day in her cabins, being tired by her maid, or playing dominoes or some other childish game; and in the afternoon she emerged upon us, a glorious figure in fine clothes, and gave us the benefit of her society.

Naturally she spent much of her time in company with the Prince and his sister, but Barraclough and myself were by no means denied her favours. Barraclough spoke French very indifferently as indifferently, indeed, as Mademoiselle spoke English, but that did not prevent them from getting on very well together. As I have explained, Barraclough was a tall, handsome fellow, lean and inflexible of face, with the characteristic qualities of his race. His eyes admired the lady profoundly, and he endeavoured to keep pace with her wits, a task rendered difficult by the breaches in two languages. This vivacity was crowned by exhibitions of her voice, to which she began to treat us. She had, as I remembered, a wonderful mezzo-soprano, and, being pent up in this comfortable prison, and denied access to the promenade, she used it to effect. As I have said, the music-room surrounding the saloon below, as a balcony, was in our suite, if I may put it in that way, and thither was Mademoiselle accustomed to repair of an afternoon to keep her voice in practice, as she explained. The Prince usually followed her there, and I have seen him more than once seated in the dimness of the farthest corner of the balcony, staring before him as a man lost in thought, or as one rapt out of himself into some sentimental ecstasy at the sounds of that divine music. Here we felt, more or less, that we were in Liberty Hall, and, to do him justice, Prince Frederic encouraged us to feel this. It was understood that the saloon was open to all, and it became a resort for such of us as were off duty in those days a resort that would have been improved by more light; for the windows were all barred and shuttered, and only the skylights admitted the day.

The weather was now grown much colder, for we were off the coast of Patagonia, and Holgate appeared to be bent on doubling the Horn and getting into the Pacific. In the wilds of that wide domain there would be more chances for this crew of scoundrels to find refuge and security from the arm of the law. Was it for this he was waiting? And yet that was no argument against an immediate attack, for it was clear that he might get the business over, deal with us as he chose, and make for his destination afterwards and at his leisure. Nor could it be that he doubted as to the issue of the struggle, for his forces outnumbered ours greatly, and, if I knew anything of men, Holgate was utterly without fear. But, on the other hand, he had a great deal of discretion. The only conclusion that emerged from these considerations was the certainty that in the end Holgate had decreed our fate. That had been settled when Day fell, perhaps even before that, and when poor McCrae was shot by his engines. We were doomed to death.

If any doubt as to our fate dwelt in Princess Alix’s mind she did not show it. She was a girl of spirit and energy, and she had neat hands. Thus her time was spent in such work as she deemed useful in the circumstances, or such as occupied her mind healthily. She made a handsome fur cap for herself against the biting wind, which now came snapping off the icy highlands of the coast, and she sketched, and designed, and photographed. Above all, she was cheerful and self-reliant. There was not much in common between the brother and the sister save perhaps their aloofness from strangers. I questioned much if the Princess had any of her brother’s sentimentality. She had all her brother’s decision and fire, however, as I was to see exemplified more than once.

It was on the third of our quiet afternoons that I was sitting in the corridor with a volume in my hand, conscious merely of the many sounds in that silence, and scarcely aware of what I read. The voyage seemed to partake of the nature of that fabled voyage of the ancient mariner. Some strange doom hung over us all, and yet the sky smiled, as it did that moment, and the cold breath of the blue sea was inspiring in one’s nostrils like wine in the blood. I was aware in this dream that a door had opened and shut, and that the Princess had come into the corridor. She sat on a chair not far from me and plied her needles in a way that struck me now, as I roused myself, as very homely and pleasant. I shot a glance at her. She was very simply dressed in what, for all I know, may have been a very extravagant fashion. She had the knitted waistcoat she was making (I concluded for her brother) across her knee, and I had a full view of her as she swayed and moved about her task. Those flowing lines, that sweet ripeness, the excellent beauty of her face, impressed me newly. She met my glance, and smiled.

“What do you find interests you, Dr. Phillimore?” she asked in her pleasant voice.

“I was reading, or pretending to read, a book of poems,” I answered.

“Poems,” she replied, plying her needles, and then in a little, “It is strange you should be reading poems and I knitting here.”

“It puzzles me,” said I. I rose and went to the window behind her which was not shuttered, and for the light from which she had seated herself there. The crisp sparkle of the sea rose to eyes and ears. When I turned, Princess Alix had ceased from her work and was looking towards me.

“You wonder why?” she asked.

“I have made many guesses, but have never satisfied myself yet why the mutiny is not pushed to its logical conclusion.”

“Which would mea” she said thoughtfully.

“Which would mean,” I interrupted quickly, “the possession of the treasure.”

There was something deeply significant in her gaze, something that was brave, and appealed, and winced at the same time. She went on slowly with her knitting.

“He is waiting his time,” she remarked in a low voice.

“He will wait too long,” I said with a little laugh.

“Do you think so?” she asked, and, laying down her work, went to the window as I had done. “It is cold.”

“We are off an icy shore,” I said.

“Yes, I found it on the map this morning,” she nodded. “We are close to the Straits of Magellan!”

At that moment the sound of the piano sailed through the door at the end of the corridor. She turned her head slightly, and then moved away restlessly. She went to the chair on which I had been sitting and picked up my Tennyson.

“I know him pretty well,” she remarked, turning the pages. She halted where I had inserted a marker.

“‘The Princess,’” she said slowly. She drummed her fingers on the leaf, read for a minute or two, and dropped the book lightly. “We have no literature in comparison with yours, Dr. Phillimore; but we have sometimes done better than that.”

“Oh, not than the lyrics,” I protested lightly. “Ask me no more

The music from without broke into louder evidence, and she turned frowning towards the door.

“Do you know, Dr. Phillimore,” she asked hesitatingly, “if Mr. Morland is in his room?”

“He went after lunch,” I answered. She stood considering.

“Mademoiselle has a beautiful voice,” I said tentatively.

“Oh, yes,” she assented. “It is of good quality and training.” Her tone was curt, as if she were unwilling to continue the conversation, but she still listened.

Einsam Wandelt dein Freund im Fruehlings garten.

It seemed to me that I could almost hear the words in that uplifted music. The song has always been a passionate fancy of mine, beguiling the heart of rock to romance. Sentiment is on wing in every corner of one’s consciousness when that song rises in its fulness and falls in its cadences on one’s ears and deeper senses.

In der Spiegelnden Fluth, in Schnee der Alpen....
... strahlt dein Bildniss.

I could see Mademoiselle Trebizond at the piano with the vision of the mind, her soul enrapt, her features transfigured. She was a figment of the emotions. And the Princess and I listened, she with a little dubitating look of perplexity, paying me no heed now, and I singularly moved. I walked down the corridor, past where Princess Alix stood, and as I went by I could have put out my arm and drawn her to me. She was wonderful in her beauty and her pride.

Deutlich schimmert auf jedem purpur blaettchen.

But I went by and opened the door that gave upon the saloon stairs. Instantly the flood of music rolled into the room in a tide, and, glancing back, I saw the Princess stir. She came towards me.

“A voice is a beautiful machine,” she said uncertainly as the notes died away.

I could not answer; but she may have read an answer in my eyes. She passed me just as the singer broke into something new, and entered the music gallery. A shaft of light struck out her figure boldly. I walked round to the second door at the head of the stairs. Right away in the corner was Mademoiselle, and by her Sir John Barraclough lounged on the sofa, stroking his moustache uneasily. But my eyes lingered on the two not at all, for they were drawn forthwith to another sight which filled me with astonishment. The barriers had been removed from several of the windows, the windows themselves were open, and I could discern the figures of men gathered without on the deck.

With an exclamation I ran forward, interrupting the mellifluous course of Schubert’s Serenade, and Barraclough started to his feet.

“What is it?” he asked abruptly.

Mademoiselle turned on her stool and regarded me with curiosity, and behind the Princess was approaching slowly.

“The windows, man!” said I.

Mademoiselle burst into laughter. “It was so dark,” she said prettily, “I could not see plainly. I must always have light when I play. And I made Sir John open them.”

Barraclough fidgeted, but turned a cold face on me.

“What’s all the fuss about?” he asked surlily.

I pointed to the figures which we could see through the open windows.

“Well, that’s my business,” he said shortly. “I’m in command, and I’m not a fool.” As he spoke he fingered his revolver.

“Oh, do not be afraid. It is all right,” said Mademoiselle cheerfully. “See, we will have more open. I will play them something. They are listening to my music. It will soothe them.”

She cast a look at Sir John from her laughing dark eyes, and let her hands down on the keys with a bang, breaking into a jolly air of the boulevards.

“Stay,” she cried, stopping quickly, “but I know one of your English tunes suitable for the sea. How do you call it? Tom-bolling!”

As she spoke she swerved softly into that favourite air, the English words running oddly from her lips.

“’Ere a sheer ’ulk lies poor Tom Bo-olling...”

From the deck came a burst of applause. She laughed in delight, and winked up at me.

“I can do more with them than your guns,” she said boldly, and was sailing into the next verse when the Princess intervened.

“Mademoiselle,” she said in French, “you are inconveniencing the officers. They have much to do.”

Mademoiselle turned about angrily and met the Princess’ gaze. She seemed about to fly out in a tempest, but as suddenly checked herself, leaving only a little frown on her forehead to witness to her annoyance. She had been engaged in a little triumph that suited her vanity, and she had been called away from it. I really do not think there was anything more than that in it not then, at any rate. She rose.

“You are a tyrant, my princess,” she said, and nodding sweetly to Barraclough and myself, left the gallery.

Princess Alix followed, her face pale and still. More than ever was I convinced that, whatever feelings the lady had inspired in the Prince, his sister was not party to them.