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A Roving Commission by G. A. Henty

And the Cerf was headed towards the land


"Very

well, sir."

The two vessels headed south under easy canvas, passed the point of Margarita at the hour that had been arranged, and then taking in still more sail proceeded slowly on until, about one o'clock in the morning, the island could be made out with the night-glasses. Then both were laid to, Captain Crosbie having forbidden anchoring, in the first place owing to the great depth of water, and in the next because, although the island was three miles away, the chain-cable running out might be heard at night if the pirates had anyone on watch on the hill. Nat, whose watch it was, saw the gig shoot away from the side of the frigate. An hour later and there was a bustle and stir on board the _Orpheus_, and all her boats were lowered. At five bells the crew began to take their places in them, and soon afterwards the gig returned. The watch below were called up and sail was made, and at half-past three the boats started, and the _Cerf_ was headed towards the land. Dawn was just breaking when they reached the island. All was still. It had been arranged that, unless discovered, the attack on the batteries was not to be made until five o'clock, and just at that hour the _Cerf_ arrived off the narrow entrance to the port. Half an hour before, a musket had been discharged on the hill above them, and it was clear that their coming had been observed; but as no sound of conflict could be heard inland there was every reason to suppose that the pirates had

no suspicion of a landing having been effected on the other side.

"That is what I call being punctual," Nat said to Curtis as two bells rang out just as they opened the passage.

A light kedge anchor was dropped, and as this was done a patter of musketry broke out from the hill above them. Their action showed that the arrival of the brigantine was no matter of chance, but that she was there expressly with the intention of attacking the pirates' stronghold, and those who had been watching her, therefore, saw that any further attempt at concealment was useless. In the night the canvas band had been taken down, as there was no longer any reason for concealing the identity of the brigantine. The musketry fire only lasted for a minute, for suddenly a roar of battle broke out within a hundred yards of the mouth of the entrance. The sailors burst into a loud cheer. It was evident that the landing-party had met with complete success so far, and had approached the batteries unobserved, and that a hand-to-hand fight was going on.

Above the cracking of pistols the cheers of the seamen could be plainly heard, but in two or three minutes the uproar died away, and then three guns were fired at short intervals. The boats were already in the water, the kedge lifted, and the crews bending forward in readiness for the signal.

"Take her in, lads!" the lieutenant shouted, and the schooner's head at once began to turn towards the inlet.

A moment later two broadsides were fired.

"There are two of their craft in there!" Curtis exclaimed. "Now our fellows have carried the batteries they have opened fire on them."

As he spoke there was another broadside, which was answered by a hurrah from all on deck. It was clear that they had had the good luck to catch all the pirates at once. Three minutes' rowing and the boom was in sight. Mr. Playford called to one of the boats to take a rope from the stern to the battery on the right-hand side, and ordered the others to cease rowing.


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