A NIGHT ON SHIPBOARD, AND CONCERNING THE PASSENGER.
The corvette, instead of going to the south and steering towards Saint-Catherine's, bore to the north, then turned to the west and ran resolutely into the arm of the sea between Sark and Jersey, called the passage de la Déroute. There was at that time no lighthouse on any point along these two coasts.
The sun had set, the night was dark, more so than usual in summer; there was a moon, but heavy clouds more like autumn than summer covered the sky like a ceiling, and to judge from all appearances the moon would not be visible till she touched the horizon just before setting. Clouds hung low over the sea, and covered it with fog.
All this darkness was favorable.
The intention of the pilot, Gacquoil, was to leave Jersey on the left and Guernsey on the right, and by a bold course between the Hanois and the Douvres to make for a bay somewhere on the shore of Saint-Malo, not so short a route as by the Minquiers, but safer, because the French cruisers had standing orders to keep especial watch between Saint-Hélier and Granville.
If the wind were favorable, if nothing unexpected occurred, and by setting all sails, Gacquoil hoped to reach the French coast by daybreak.
All was going well; the corvette had just passed Gros-Nez; about nine o'clock it began to grow sulky, as the sailors say, and there was some wind and sea; but the wind was favorable, and the sea strong without being violent. However, occasionally a heavy sea swept over the bow of the vessel.
The "peasant"Lord Balcarras had called "general," and to whom the Prince of la Tour d' Auvergne had said, "Cousin" had sea-legs walked the deck with calm unconcern. He did not seem to notice that the vessel was very much tossed about. Now and then he drew out of his pocket a cake of chocolate, broke off a piece and ate it; although his hair was white, he had all his teeth.
He spoke to no one, except occasionally a few words in a low tone to the captain, who listened with deference, and seemed to consider this passenger more the commander than himself.
The "Claymore," skilfully piloted, sailed, unnoticed in the fog, by the long northern cliff of Jersey, hugging the shore on account of the dangerous reef Pierres-de-Leeq, in the middle of the straits between Jersey and Sark. Gacquoil, standing at the helm signalling la Grève de Leeq, Gros-Nez, and Plimont in turn, guided the vessel through these chains of reefs, groping his way, as it were, but still with the certainty of a man who is at home and knows his way on the ocean. The corvette had no light forward, for fear of betraying its passage in these guarded waters. They congratulated themselves on having the fog. They reached the Grande-Etape; the fog was so thick that the outline of the tall pinnacle could hardly be discerned. Ten o'clock sounded from the tower of Saint-Ouen, a sign that the wind was still abaft. All continued to go well; the sea grew more tempestuous as they drew near to la Corbière.
A little after ten, the Count de Boisberthelot, and the Chevalier de la Vieuville accompanied the man in peasant's garb to his cabin, which was the captain's stateroom. Just as he was about to enter it, lowering his voice, he said to them,—
"You know, gentlemen, the important secret. Be silent till the moment the explosion occurs. You two are the only ones here who know my name."
"We will carry it to the grave," replied Boisberthelot. "As for me," replied the old man, "if I were to die, I would not utter it."
And he entered his cabin.