THE BLUE PAVILIONS

CHAPTER XIII.

CAPTAIN SALT EFFECTS ONE SURPRISE
AND PLANS TWO MORE.

On the sixth day after his departure Captain Salt returned to Dunkirk unexpectedly.

He arrived about four in the afternoon and was rowed at once to the Commodore's galley. He climbed on deck and looked about him. The lieutenant stepped forward. Captain Salt shook hands and asked:

"Where is the Commodore?"

"In his cabin."

"Alone?"

"No; he is holding a council of war. All his captains are there."

Captain Salt whistled softly to himself.

"How long have they been sitting?" he asked.

"Less than ten minutes. In fact they have but just arrived."

"Thank you. I'll go down and look in."

"My friend," he said to himself, as he walked aft and descended the ladder, "the chance has come sooner than you expected. You'll have to play this game boldly."

He knocked at the cabin door and entered, with the dust of travel thick upon him. He had ridden thirty-six miles since breakfast along dusty roads and under a broiling sun. Nevertheless his manner was cool enough as he bowed to all present.

"I must apologise, gentlemen, for the state of my clothes; but I heard you were sitting and could not rest until I had saluted you."

They welcomed him heartily as he dropped into a vacant chair. M. de la Pailletine reached across the table and shook hands with him.

"It is very thoughtful of you," said the Commodore. "We were about to draw up a plan of the cruises to be taken this week and shall be glad to have your advice."

"I'm afraid, gentlemen, I'm too weary to offer much advice. But that need not prevent my listening with attention to the wisdom of others."

There was the faintest shade of derision in his voice, if they had any cause for suspecting it. As it was, however, not a man present had the slightest mistrust of him. He had conquered all their prejudices.

The Commodore resumed the short speech he had been making; and when he had concluded, one captain followed another with criticism and fresh proposals—Captain Baudus, of Le Paon, the Chevalier de Sainte-Croix, of La Merveille, Captain Denoyre, of the Sanspareil. During their speeches Captain Salt sat perfectly silent, either resting his head on his hands and stifling his yawns as though politely concealing his weariness, or drumming quietly with his fingers on the table and staring up at the ceiling like one lost in thought.

But, all of a sudden, as M. de la Pailletine was in the act of offering some remarks upon a scheme of Captain Denoyre's for a descent upon the Isle of Thanet, the Englishman, still yawning, got upon his legs and said very carelessly:

"I regret to interrupt M. le Chef d'escadre, but we waste time."

The Commodore paused, open-mouthed, in the middle of a sentence, and stared.

"Yes, yes," repeated Captain Salt, nodding at him with the coolest assurance; "we are really wasting time. Be so good as to lend me your attention while I sketch out a little plan that I have drawn up for a descent upon Harwich."

The officers round the board were fairly taken aback by this stroke of impudence. The Commodore was the first to recover his presence of mind, and said, drawing himself up:

"Monsieur appears not to have observed that I was speaking."

"Pardon, sir, but I observed that you were speaking overmuch. But let me proceed. Harwich, as you know, is a port at the mouth of the River Stour, at the extreme north-east corner of Essex. I give you this information, gentlemen, as I am not sure if any of you have travelled so far."

The captains looked at one another and the eldest among them, M. Baudus, of Le Paon, stood up.

"Monsieur will forgive the remark," he said, "but it appears to me that he forgets his place." "Tut, tut," answered the Englishman, with an air of slight impatience; "I must trouble you to sit down, sir, and attend. Really," he continued, looking around, "I must insist upon the attention of everyone, as I shall need your intelligent co-operation. My plan is this: I mean to make this a night attack. We should leave the harbour here in four days' time—that is to say, on the 23rd, if the weather holds, and not later than six o'clock in the morning. It may possibly be earlier, but that will depend to some extent on the wind."

M. de la Pailletine by this time was white with passion. He began to comprehend that his guest would not dare to speak thus without some high authority to back him.

"Are we to understand, sir, that in this proposed expedition we sail under your orders?"

"Certainly."

"May I ask to see your authority?"

"Of course you may."

Captain Salt put a hand into his breast and drew out a folded paper. Laying this on the table, he let his eyes travel round with a quiet smile.

It was signed in the handwriting and sealed with the seal of his Majesty King Lewis.

M. de la Pailletine picked up the paper with a shaking hand and read it through. There was no room for demur. The King commanded him, as chief of the squadron of galleys lying in Dunkirk, to place his ships, officers, and crews at Captain Salt's disposal and to follow his instructions implicitly throughout the expedition. Moreover, the Intendant was ordered to furnish whatever stores, artillery, etc., Captain Salt should find necessary to the success of his design. If he should require it, the fighting strength of the galleys should be supplemented by drafts from the regiments stationed in the citadel, the Rice-bank, and Forts Galliard, Rever and Bon Esperance.

The Commodore read all this and laid the paper down on the table. The officers around him scanned his face and saw there was no hope of resistance. Nevertheless, for a moment they looked mutinous.

Their superior officer, however, set the example of graceful obedience. He stood up and looked the Englishman straight in the face. Then he spoke with a voice that trembled a little over the opening words, but after that proceeded smoothly and composedly enough.

"Monsieur, it is my honour to serve his Majesty without reservation, even when he chooses to put a slight upon his tried servants. Unfold your scheme. We will listen and lend you our best co-operation."

"I thank you, monsieur. Is that all?"

"No, sir; not quite all. You will permit me in addition to remark that you are a very dirty blackguard, and that if you choose to resent this criticism, I am your very obedient servant."

"Ah, yes! We will discuss that, if you please, as soon as this business is over. Meanwhile let me proceed with my remarks."

That same evening Captain Salt assumed the command and within half an hour it was patent to every slave in the squadron that something beyond the ordinary was afoot. The new commander began to issue orders at once. Curiously enough, one of the first of these was given to the fishing-smack with the green pennant, which had brought him the Earl of Marlborough's letter five days before and had lain at anchor ever since in the Basin. It was pretty well known to everyone in Dunkirk that this little craft plied to and fro in the Jacobite service and was allowed to pass the forts without challenge. Indeed, she had a special permit. Therefore nobody wondered when Captain Salt paid her red-bearded skipper a visit that evening, on his way to the citadel; nor was the skipper astonished to receive a letter for the Earl of Marlborough's secret agent at Ostend, and be bidden to leave the harbour that night.

Yet the red-bearded skipper would have been considerably astonished had he been able to read the cipher in which this letter was written, or had he the faintest idea that the small mark on the corner of the wrapper meant that it was to be translated at once and dispatched post-haste to King William.

For, indeed, the Captain was now playing not merely a double, but a triple and perhaps a quadruple game. He was not only playing for William against James, and for James against William, but for the Earl against both, and for himself above all. For the moment he wished to get to Harwich with power over the two old men who (as he conceived it) were defrauding him of his privileges; and to obtain full possession of those privileges he must stand well with William, who at present suspected him.

What better proof could he offer that his journey had been all in his master's interest than by engaging the six galleys at Dunkirk in an attack upon Harwich, and forewarning the King of his design? Or how could the Earl have a better chance of clearing himself of the King's suspicions than by receiving this warning and passing it on to the King?

Unfortunately this accomplished schemer omitted to take account of three accidents, for the simple reason that he could not have anticipated them: first, the two old men whom he meant to terrify at Harwich were at that moment in Holland; and, second, the son, in whose name he meant to terrify them, slept every night within a foot of his head, a galley-slave, disguised beyond recognition and filled with a just resentment. Number three will be mentioned hereafter.

The little fishing-smack sailed out of Dunkirk that evening, an hour after sunset.

During the next three days Captain Salt worked hard. Sufficient stores were laid in to last for a week's cruise. The slaves who worked on shore were brought on board. The galleys' beaks were tested, the guns examined, oars and rigging carefully overhauled. A fresh supply of ammunition was drawn from the citadel and the fighting crew of each vessel increased by fifty men, with a few Swiss artillerymen from the batteries of Bourgogne, Auguenois and Santerre. In all this M. de la Pailletine lent the readiest aid. He had postponed his animosity to the day when they should return to harbour; and to the casual eye he and the Englishman were excellent friends.

By the night of August 22nd all was ready.

At nine o'clock next morning the six galleys started in solemn procession past the forts and out into the open sea, which was smooth as glass. A light but steady breeze breathed across the sky from the Northeast. They could have hoped for nothing better. The broad lateen sails were spread, and the slaves sat quietly before their oars, ready to row, though for hour after hour there was no need of rowing. The six vessels kept within easy distance of each other, and Captain Salt, on the deck of L'Heureuse, directed their movements with a serenity that cheered even the poor men on the benches below him. As the awning shook and the masts creaked gently above them, they stretched their limbs, drew long breaths, and felt that after all it was good to live.

So steady did the wind keep all day that about five in the evening they brought the English coast in sight. It was the opinion of all the captains that they should run up for Harwich at once; but the Englishman had other views.

"It is too early," he told M. de la Pailletine. "There are cruisers about, and if we are seen the game will be spoiled."

He gave orders to lower the sails and stand off till nightfall. The captain, of course, obeyed.

They had not lain to above an hour when the man who had been sent to the masthead of L'Heureuse shouted out:

"A fleet to the north!"

"Whither bound?" called up Captain Salt.

"Steering west."

"What number?"

The man was silent for a moment, then answered:

"Thirty-six sail, all merchant-built, and an escort."

"What is she like?"

"A frigate, of about thirty guns."



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