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A Roving Commission by G. A. Henty

Though we remained a fortnight cruising about


"I

have had quite enough of plantations for the present, doctor, and I do think that sea air would do me more good than anything. I am sure I feel better already for the run from Cape Francois here."

The doctor smiled. "Well, you see, if you did remain on board you would be out of everything. You certainly would not be fit for boat service, you must see that yourself."

"I can't say that I do, sir; one fights with one's right arm and not with one's left."

"That is so, lad, but you might get hit on the left arm as well as the right. Besides, even on board, you might get hurt while skylarking."

"I would indeed be most careful, doctor."

"Well, we will see about it, and talk it over with the captain."

All that evening Nat was in a state of alarm whenever anyone came with a message to any of his mess-mates; but when it was almost the hour for lights out he turned into his hammock with great satisfaction, feeling sure that if it had been decided that he must go ashore next morning a message to that effect would have been sent to him. The sound of the boatswain's whistle, followed by the call "All hands to make sail!" settled the question. He had already dressed himself with Needham's assistance, but had remained below lest, if the captain's eye fell on him, he might be sent ashore.

As soon, however, as he heard the order he felt sure that all was right, and went up on deck. Here he took up his usual station, passing orders forward and watching the men at work, until the vessel was under sail. The want of success on the last cruise made all hands even keener than usual to pick up something worth capturing.

"I suppose there is no clue as to the whereabouts of those three pirates," he said to Needham as the latter, after the vessel was fairly under weigh, joined him.

"No; twice we had information from the captains of small craft that they had seen suspicious sail in the distance, but there is no doubt that the niggers had been either bribed or frightened into telling us the story, for in each case, though we remained a fortnight cruising about, we have never caught sight of a suspicious sail. When we returned here we found to our disgust that they must have been at work hundreds of miles away, as several ships were missing, and one that came in had been hotly chased by them, but being a fast sailer escaped by the skin of her teeth. That is the worst of these negroes, one can never believe them, and I think the best way would be when anyone came and told a yarn, to go and cruise exactly in the opposite direction to that in which he tells us he has seen the pirates."

"It is a pity we cannot punish some of these fellows who give false news," Nat said.

"Yes; but the difficulty is proving that it is false. In the first place, one of these native craft is so much like another that one would not recognize it again; besides, you may be sure that the rascals would give Port Royal a wide berth for a time. On our last cruise we did take with us the negro who brought the news, but that made the case no better. He pretended, of course, to be as anxious as anyone that the pirates should be caught, and as he stuck to his story that he had seen a rakish schooner where he said he did, there was no proof that he was lying, and he pretended to be terribly cut up at not getting the reward promised him if he came across them.

"I have no doubt that he was lying, but there was no way of proving it. You see, the idea of getting hold of a trader and fitting her up with a few guns and some men is all well enough when you have only got to deal with a single schooner or brigantine, but it would be catching a tartar if these three scoundrels were to come upon her at once. Of course they are all heavily armed and carry any number of men, nothing short of the frigate herself would be a match for them. And one thing is certain, we can't disguise her to look like a merchantman. Do what we would, the veriest landlubber would make her out to be what she is, and you may be sure the pirates would know her to be a ship of war as soon as they got a sight of her topsails."


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