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A Roving Commission by G. A. Henty

The prisoner had been placed on board the Cerf


The

poor creatures were well satisfied with this. They were overjoyed at being united to their relations and friends, and to know that they would still be together; and were assured that they would be well cared for, and in time be as much their own masters as if at their villages in Africa. The schooner was sold; the brigantine was, as the captain had expected, bought into the service; Mr. Playford was offered and accepted the command of her. Mr. Normandy took his place as second lieutenant of the _Orpheus_, and Mr. Marston received his promotion and the post of third officer. As the _Cerf_--which was the name of the brigantine--was to be considered as a tender of the frigate, those on board her were still borne on her books. Curtis and Glover were appointed to her, with a petty officer and forty men.

The pirates were tried and executed, with the exception of one, who was a mere lad. He had, he asserted, been forced to join the pirates--being spared by them when the rest of his comrades had been murdered, as they had lost their cook's mate, and required someone to fill his place. This, however, would not have saved his life had he not promised to lead his new captors to the chief rendezvous of the pirates, which had so long eluded the search that had been made for it. He acknowledged, however, that he was not acquainted with its exact position. He had sailed in and out four or five times, and had only a general idea of its position, but asserted

that he should certainly know the island if he saw it. A fortnight after reaching Port Royal, the frigate and brigantine sailed in company.

The indications given by the boy pointed to an island lying a short distance off the northern coast of Venezuela.

There were originally, he said, four vessels working together, three brigantines and a large schooner, one of which had arrived from France only a short time before the _Cerf_ sailed on her last voyage. The entrance to the pirates' stronghold was on the south side of the island, and was, he said, so well concealed that vessels might sail past the place a thousand times without noticing it. There were two batteries at the water's edge, inside the entrance, each mounting twelve eighteen-pounder guns that had been taken from prizes. The channel here was not more than fifty yards across. A very heavy boom was at all times swung across it just above the batteries, and this was opened only when one of the craft entered or left.

There was, however, he said, a spot on the outer side of the island where a landing could be effected, at a little ravine that ran down to the shore. This was thickly wooded, and some large trees growing at its mouth almost hid it from passing vessels. At other points the shore was steep, but there was so much vegetation on every ledge where trees or bushes could obtain a foothold, that from the sea it would seem that the cliffs were not too steep to scale.

The prisoner had been placed on board the _Cerf_, which, as soon as she was fairly at sea, was altered as far as possible in appearance by a white band with ports painted along her sides; a false stem of an entirely different shape from her own was fastened to her, her light upper spars sent down and replaced by stumpy ones, and other changes made that would help to alter her appearance.

Were she recognized by the pirates as she sailed past their island it would at once be suspected that one of the men recently captured had revealed the rendezvous, and that she was cruising near it to obtain an exact idea of the best mode of attack before other craft came up to assist her. They had no doubt that the pirates had already received news of the surprise and capture of the brigantine. Some of the men who escaped would doubtless have made for the nearest port, and hired a negro craft to take them to their own island, which they would have reached before the _Orpheus_ arrived at Port Royal with her prizes. The pirates would therefore be on their guard, and would either have deserted their head-quarters altogether or have added to their defences. The sight of their late consort would confirm their fears that their whereabouts had become known, and it was therefore of importance that her identity should not be suspected.


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