Read CHAPTER V of The Rose of Paradise, free online book, by Howard Pyle, on ReadCentral.com.

In those hot latitudes, such as Madagascar, the darkness cometh very sudden after sunset, and with no long twilights such as we have in England, so that within half an hour after the pirate had saluted us with a round shot, as told above, it had passed from daylight to night-time, and there being no moon until about four o’clock in the morning, it was very dark, with an infinite quantity of stars shining most beautifully in the sky.

I ordered my gig to be made ready, and went aboard the Greenwich, where I found Captain Kirby suffering under the utmost consternation of spirits. He took me straight to his cabin, where, when we were set down, he fell to blaming himself most severely for not having clapped chains upon the fourteen pirates whom he had found on the island upon his arrival at that place, and who, it was very plain to see, had given such information to their fellows as had brought a great number of them down upon us.

So soon as I was able I checked him in his self-reproaches. “Come, come, Captain Kirby,” says I, “’tis no time for vain regrets, but rather to be thinking to protect ourselves and those things that we have in trust from these bloody wretches, who would strip us of all.”

So, after a while, he quieted in some measure, and the captain of the Ostender coming aboard about this time, we made shift betwixt us to settle some sort of a plan for mutual protection.

According to my suggestions it was determined to get out warps upon the port side of all three crafts, which now lay heading towards the south, because of the set of the current. By means of these warps the vessels might be brought to lie athwart the channel, which was so narrow at this place that, should the pirate craft venture into the harbor, she would be raked by all three in turn. These matters being settled, I returned to the Cassandra again.

That night I had but little sleep, but was in and out of my cabin continually. Whenever I was upon the deck I could hear the “click, click, click” of the capstan aboard the pirate vessel, sounding more clearly through the dampness of the night than in the daytime. There was still not a breath of air going, and I thought it likely that the pirate intended making her way into the harbor that night, but about three o’clock in the morning the noise of working the capstan ceased, and I fancied that I heard a sound as of dropping anchor, though I could make out nothing through the darkness, even with the night-glass.

Nor was I mistaken in my surmise that the pirate craft had come to anchor, for when the day broke I perceived that she lay between two and three miles away, just outside of the capes, and directly athwart the channel, being stayed by warps, broadside on, as we ourselves were in the harbor, so as to rake any vessel that should endeavor to come out, as we might rake any that would endeavor to come in.

As this day also was very quiet, with not a breath of wind stirring, I expected that the pirate would open fire, though at such a long range. However, this she did not do, but lay there as though watching us, and as though to hold us where we were until some opportunity or other had ripened. And so came the night again, with nothing more of note having happened than the day before.

Ever since we had lain at this spot native canoes (called by the sailors bumboats) had come from the shore from day to day, laden with fruit and fresh provisions, which are most delicious, refreshing luxuries after a prolonged sea-voyage, such as ours had been. That day they had come as usual, though there was little humor for bartering with them upon such a serious occasion.

However, I had observed, and not without surprise, that Captain Leach, though he knew the nature of the pirate craft, and the serious situation in our affairs, appeared so little affected by the danger which threatened us that he bought a lot of fresh fruit, as usual, and held a great deal of conversation with one of the natives, who spoke a sort of English which he had picked up from our traders.

I had not thought much of this at the time, although, as I had observed before, it was not without surprise that I beheld what he did; beyond this I reckoned nothing of it, nor would have done so had not matters of the utmost importance afterwards recalled it to my attention.

That night I had no more appetite for sleep than the night before, and finding little rest or ease in my cabin, was up upon deck for most of the time. Though I did not choose just then to hold conversation with my passengers, I noticed that they were all upon deck, where they sat talking together in low tones. As the night advanced, however, they betook themselves to their cabins, one after another, until only Captain Leach was left sitting alone.

He remained there for maybe the space of half an hour, without moving a hair’s-breadth, so far as I could see. At the end of about that length of time, being in a mightily anxious state, I stepped forward to see for myself that the watch was keeping a sharp lookout. I was not gone for more than a minute or two, but when I came back I saw that Captain Leach was no longer where he had been before; yet although I noticed this circumstance at the time, I gave no more thought to it than I would upon an ordinary occasion.

As there was no one on the poop, I myself went up upon that deck, it being so much cooler there than on the quarter-deck below. I took out my pipe and filled it, thinking to have a quiet smoke, which is a most efficacious manner of soothing any perturbation or fermentation of spirits. Just as I was about to strike my flint for a light, I heard a noise under the stern-sheets, as of some one stepping into a boat, and almost immediately afterwards a slight splash, as of an oar or a paddle dipped into the water. I ran hastily to the side of the vessel, and looked astern and into the water below.

Although the sky was clear, the night was excessively dark, as one may often see it in those tropical latitudes; yet I was as well assured that a boat of some sort had left the ship as if I had seen it in broad daylight, because of the phosphorescent trail which it left behind it in its wake.

I had slipped a pistol into my belt before quitting my cabin, and as I hailed the boat I drew it and cocked it, for I thought that the whole occurrence was of a mightily suspicious nature. As I more than half expected, I got no answer. “Boat, ahoy!” I cried out a second time, and then, almost immediately, levelled my pistol and fired, for I saw that whoever the stranger was, he had no mind to give me an answer.

At the report of the pistol both Mr. Langely and Mr. White came running to where I was, and I explained the suspicious circumstances to them, whereupon Mr. Langely suggested that it might have been a shark that I had seen, vast quantities of which voracious animals dwell in those and the neighboring waters. I did not controvert what he said, although I knew beyond a doubt that it was a craft of some sort which I had discovered possibly a canoe, for the dip of the paddle, which I had distinctly seen in the phosphorescence of the water, appeared first upon the one side of the wake and then upon the other, as the blade was dipped into the water from side to side; so although, as I said, I did not undertake to controvert Mr. Langely’s opinion, I was mightily discomposed in my own mind concerning the business.

At this time there was a vast deal of disturbance aboard the Greenwich and the Ostender because of my hail and the discharge of the pistol, which, however, soon quieted down when they found that nothing further followed upon the alarm.

I walked up and down the poop-deck for a great while, endeavoring to conceive what could be the meaning of the boat, which had most undoubtedly been lying under the stern of the Cassandra, and how it came that the watch had failed so entirely to discover its arrival. It would not have been possible for an ordinary ship’s boat to come upon us so undiscovered, for, as I myself knew, the watch were keeping a sharper lookout than usual; therefore this circumstance, together with that which I had above observed concerning my opinion that the craft had been rowed with a paddle, led me to conclude that it was one of the native canoes, though I was as far as ever from guessing what the object of the visit had been, or what it portended. As I sat ruminating upon this subject, looking straight ahead of me, without thinking whither my observation was directed, I presently perceived that I was looking absently at the spot where Captain Leach had been sitting a little while before. This led me to think of him, and from him of the jewel that was in my keeping, and of its excessive value. Of a sudden it flashed into my mind, as quick as lightning, what if Captain Leach should have it in his mind to practice some treachery upon us all?

I may truly say that this thought would never have entered my brains had not the circumstance of Captain Leach’s conversation with me in my cabin tended to set it there. But no sooner had this gloomy suspicion found place in my mind than it and those troubles which had beset me of late, and the loss of that sleep which I had failed to enjoy the night before, together cast me into such a ferment of spirits as I hope I may never again experience. Nor could I reason my mind out of what I could not but feel might be insane and unreasonable fancyings.

At last I could bear my uncertainties no longer, but went down into the great cabin, and so to the door of the berth which Captain Leach occupied. I knocked softly upon the door, and then waited a while, but received no answer. After that I knocked again, and louder, but with no better success than before. Finding I was like to have no answer to my knocking, I tried the door, and found that it was locked.

My heart began to beat at a great rate at all this; but I suddenly bethought me that perhaps the captain was a sound sleeper and not easily roused. If this were so, and he were in his cabin, and had locked the door upon himself, I could easily convince myself of the fact, for it hardly could be doubted but that the key would be in the key-hole. I drew out my pocket-knife, opened a small blade which it contained, and thrust it into the key-hole. There was no key there!

This discovery acted upon my spirits in such a manner that a douse of water could not have cooled me quicker; for now that my worst suspicions were so far confirmed for I felt well assured that Captain Leach was nowhere aboard the ship my perturbation left me, and I grew of a sudden as calm as I am at this very moment. However, to make matters more assured, I rapped again upon the door of the cabin, and this time with more vigor than before; but although I repeated the knocking four or five times, I received no answer, and so went upon deck to consider the matter at my leisure.

My first thought was of the jewel in my keeping, and that Captain Leach had made off with it. My cooler reason told me that this could not be, I having taken such effectual means to hide it, as before stated. Nevertheless, I went to my cabin and examined my hiding-place to set my mind at rest, finding, as might be expected, that the jewel was safely there.

My first impulse was to tell Mr. Langely of my suspicions, but in digesting the matter it appeared to me best to keep them to myself for the present; for if I should, after all, prove wrong in my surmise, it would only add to the entanglement to have another involved in the business before anything certain had been discovered; moreover, should I observe sufficient cause for using extreme measures against Captain Leach, I might easily arrest him at any time, having him entirely in my power.

Having settled this matter to my own satisfaction, I determined to lie in wait for his return, and to discover how he himself would explain his absence.

I surmised that he must have left the ship from the boat which was hanging to the davits astern, and on inspecting the matter, found that I was correct, and that a stout line, such as might easily bear the weight of a man, had been lashed to one of the falls, and hung to within a foot or two of the water. I was then well assured that Captain Leach must have clambered into the boat astern whilst I had gone forward, as told above, and had dropped thence into the canoe by means of the line just spoken of. The noise which I had heard I conceived to have been caused by his making a misstep, or by the canoe rising with the ground-swell more than he had expected.

Now, if he left the ship in that manner, of which, according to my mind, there could be but little doubt, there was equal certainty that he would return by the same way; so I determined to lie in watch for him there, and to tax him with his absence so soon as he should come aboard. Accordingly I laid myself down in the boat astern as comfortably as I could contrive, and lighting my pipe, watched with all the patience I could command for the return of the fugitive.

I judge that I lay there for the space of two or three hours, and in all that time saw or heard nothing to arouse my suspicions; nor do I believe that I would have discovered anything had I not been watching at that very place, for so quiet was Captain Leach’s return that I heard no sound of oars nor knew anything of it until I saw the line that hung at the davits moved from below by some one climbing aboard. I lay perfectly still and made no noise until he had clambered into the boat and stood within a few feet of me.

“Well, sir,” says I, as quietly as I could speak, “and may I ask where you have been for all this long time?”