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Chapter VI THE "FORTUNA"
THE next few days were spent in making preliminary plans and preparations for our voyage in search of the "San Philipo" treasure. As I have already stated, the pater had fixed upon most of the details, and he now confided to us the nature of his programme.

Briefly, he proposed to purchase a yacht of sufficient tonnage to make the adventurous passage, yet as small as was compatible with comfort and safety. Seventy tons was the approximate displacement of the vessel he required, and, taking as an example Captain Voss's voyage round the world in the dug-out canoe "Tilikum," Slocum's single-handed cruises across the Atlantic in the comparatively diminutive "Spray," and the instance of a Falmouth quay punt of but thirty feet in length, with a crew of about five hands, making a successful voyage to South Australia, this tonnage should provide an ample margin of safety.

When a suitable vessel had been acquired he proposed to man her with a strong crew, lay in a good supply of stores and salvage gear, and shape a course for the Pacific via the Suez Canal, Indian Ocean, and the Malacca Straits, preferring to take the longer route than to risk the nerve-racking ordeal of a beat round Cape Horn.

Financially we had nothing to fear, for the amount of hard cash received under the terms of Ross Trevena's will would amply cover the expenses of the expedition, and, as the pater remarked with true Cornish philosophy, "as he had never had the making of it he would never miss the spending." In addition, the sudden activity of the Cornish mining industry, had resulted in some shares that my father had in the "Wheal Treganna," and which we had long regarded as a bad investment, rising rapidly considerably, above par, and, by promptly selling out, there was a substantial credit in the family exchequer, so that from a pecuniary point of view our position was a decided improvement to what it had been before Uncle Herbert's hurried trip to Pernambuco.

As a matter of fact, there was no necessity to make this expedition to the far-off Pacific, but so intent was my father on seeing the whole business through (as were my uncle and I), that not for one moment did he swerve from his purpose. "If we find the treasure, as I confidently expect to do, well and good; if we do not, well, at the very least it is a holiday at my uncle Ross Trevena's expense."

With the object of purchasing a suitable craft, a sharp eye was kept on the advertisements in the yachting press, till one day the following announcement caused the pater to make a sudden rush for a railway time-table——

FOR SALE, by order of the executors: The modern 70-ton auxiliary yacht "Fortuna," built 1904 to Lloyd's highest class. Ketch-rigged. Ideal ocean cruiser, fully found, and in perfect condition. Low price to immediate purchaser. Mitcham motor new this year.—Apply Roach & Co., sole agents, Hamble, near Southampton.

"Herbert, old boy," he exclaimed excitedly, "that's just the craft I'm looking for; ketch-rigged—the ideal sail-plan for rough work; 'Mitcham' motor, therefore no risk of being becalmed in the Tropics for weeks at a stretch. When's the next train to Southampton? We'll start at once."

"But why not write for particulars first?" asked my uncle, who, though impetuous, certainly possessed a certain amount of caution.

"And have the yacht snapped up under our very noses? No, no. A well-known firm like Roach & Co. would not deal in rubbish nor act as agents for any craft unless she were exactly as represented. Look sharp and get together what gear you require; and you too, Reggie. Ha, ha! I can already see myself on the deck of the 'Fortuna.'"

"But how about leaving young Johnston?"

"He's able to look after himself now."

"Aren't you afraid he'll clear the place out and make off?"

"Herbert, I don't think I am mistaken. That young fellow could be trusted anywhere. It was his misfortune, not his fault, that first led him into trouble. So I'll trust him, and I'll stake my all that my confidence will not be misplaced."

As the result of my parent's hurried preparations, in less than an hour we were steaming out of Fowey Station in a train which was due at Plymouth in time to catch the 12.18 to Salisbury, a telegram having been dispatched to apprise Roach of our visit.

Throughout the long journey my father, who, much to my surprise, had taken single tickets, was like the proverbial cat on hot bricks. His ill-concealed impatience reminded me forcibly of a child being taken to a toy-shop to purchase a new toy. Uncle Herbert, although also excited, managed to content himself with a couple of newspapers and some weekly journals, though I observed him surreptitiously signing the insurance coupons in the latter. For my part, I was deeply interested in the ever-changing landscape, as the red earth and vivid green foliage of Devon gave place to the dazzling chalk and duller verdure of Dorset and Wilts, till, with remarkable swiftness, the four hours passed and we glided into Salisbury station, from which I had my first glimpse of the slender, needle-like spire of the cathedral.

We made a hasty change of carriages, and, notwithstanding my parent's muttered objurgations on the slowness of the train, it literally crawled into Southampton, where on our arrival I ventured to remind him that we had had nothing to eat since eight that morning—a fact that he, in his excitement, had completely overlooked.

"Grin and bear it, Reggie," he replied. "If we stop here for tea we shall miss the next train to Bursledon. Once there you can eat as much as you like."

It was nearly six when the train drew up at Bursledon, one of the most delightfully situated stations it is possible to imagine. It is perched on the side of a steep hill, with the placid waters of the Hamble River washing the foot of the well-wooded declivity. Notwithstanding the gentle summer's breeze that was swaying the treetops, not a ripple disturbed the surface of the stream, except when an occasional dinghy put off to one or other of the numerous small yachts that swung easily at their moorings. "You ought to have alighted at Netley," remarked the station-master, in reply to an inquiry as to the best means of reaching Hamble village. "But you may possibly get a conveyance, or a boatman down there will row you down-stream."

"Excuse me, sir," exclaimed a tall, bronzed, and bearded individual, rigged out in a tanned jersey, white boating hat, and flannel trousers tucked into a pair of sea-boots, the whole costume liberally bespattered with river mud. "I overheard you say that you wanted to get down to Hamble. My motor-launch is going there in half an hour's time, should you care to take a passage in her."

The pater assented. "It will give us time to get tea," he added. "Where shall we pick up your boat?"

"On the quay by that cottage you can see down there," he replied, pointing to a prettily situated, creeper-covered house close to the water's edge. "We start at seven."

And, touching his hat, the mud-stained individual strolled away with the peculiar slouching gait affected by most seafaring men. "What ought we to give him for the passage down?" asked my father of the station-master, after the motor-boat person had taken his departure. The official smiled in a very amused fashion.

"I don't think I would offer him anything, if I were you," he replied. "He is the Hon. George Pycrust, owner of the steam-yacht 'Chimborazo,' member of the Motor-Yacht Club, and I don't know what else besides. There's no room for snobs on this river, and yachtmen do each other a good turn whenever they have a chance."

We were directed to a little inn on the hill above the railway-station, and here in a few minutes we were enjoying a substantial tea, including a determined attack upon a freshly boiled Warsash crab, a delicacy for which the district is famous, although the flavour is distinctly different from that of the shell-fish caught on our part of the coast.

Punctually at seven o'clock we arrived at the private quay where the Hon. George's motor-launch was waiting, and with the faintest tremor her powerful engine was started and we sped rapidly down the river, my father keeping up an animated conversation with the mud-stained scion of a noble house on the ever-ready subject of yachting.

Quickly the lead-coloured hulks of the obsolete gunboats were left astern, and the three-masted training ship "Mercury" passed, and we came in sight of the red-tiled roofs of Hamble village, fringed with a forest of yachts' masts and backed by a dense mass of trees.

"I'll land you at Roach's private steps," observed our kindly benefactor. "There will be just time to see the 'Fortuna' before dusk. She's a perfect beauty. I came across from Cherbourg in her in a regular sou'-easter, and a better sea boat you could not possibly imagine. If you decide to have her, and keep her in this station, I shall doubtless come across you at times. Here we are. Out fenders and stand by with the boathook," he added, addressing the launch's boy. With scarcely a jar the boat ran alongside the floating landing-stage, and, taking a hearty adieu of the kindly owner, we stepped ashore.

From the pontoon a narrow plank gangway brought us to another broader pier-like structure that ran parallel to the shore over a stretch of soft mud. Here, packed like sardines in a box, were rows of yachts of all sizes and rigs, lying snugly in their mid-berths.

"Ah! Here is Roach, I believe," exclaimed my father, as an alert-looking personage in a yachtsman's uniform came hurrying along the gangway to meet us.

"My name's Trevena. I wired you this morning about the 'Fortuna.' You are Mr. Roach, I presume?"

"The same. We hardly expected so prompt a reply to the advertisement, especially in the shape of a personal call, although we have had several inquiries by letter," replied the yacht-builder, indicating a bundle of communications in his hand. "There is the 'Fortuna'—the fourth yacht in the tier. Would you care to see her now?"

"At once, if you've no objection," replied my father.

"None whatever; everything is open to inspection. I will accompany you, if you like, although most purchasers prefer to make an absolutely private inspection without being influenced by any one interested in the sale."

"Just so. Then we will go alone. Where shall we see you again?"

"I am to be found in that house-boat," he replied, pointing to a large dismasted yacht which had been converted into a floating dwelling.

"Did you ever see such a fine-looking craft?" exclaimed my parent enthusiastically. "Look at her bow—what a fine entry! And what a clean run aft! Get aboard, both of you, as fast as you can." And, scrambling up a narrow swaying plank, we stood on the deck of the yacht "Fortuna."

A flush deck, broken only by a skylight and companion, with fairly high bulwarks fitted with ample scuppers, showed there need be little fear of seas breaking inboard.

For'ard a small booby hatch and a compact yet powerful winch alone encumbered the fo'c'sle deck, while on either side amidships were davits for carrying a gig and a whaler.

A quick yet comprehensive survey of the deck satisfied the pater; then, diving down the companion, with us following closely on his heels, he began a tour of the cabins.

On either side of the companion was a little cabin, comfortable-looking in spite of being dismantled, the one on the starboard side being the owner's, that to the port apparently for the use of a guest.

Both of these opened out of the main saloon, which, with its mahogany swing-table, sideboards, bookcases, and sofa-berths, seemed quite a large apartment compared with the cabin on board our cutter "Spray." This cabin was lighted by the skylight on deck, and at night by a large swinging lamp, judging by the fittings on the deck-beams.

For'ard of the saloon were two small staterooms, separated by a narrow alleyway which gave access to the pantry, captain's cabin, and the fo'c'sle. The latter had accommodation for five men, the iron framework of the folding cots being still in position.

"Plenty of room for a fairly large crew, with slight alterations," remarked my father. "We can easily throw the skipper's cabin and the two staterooms into the fo'c'sle, and make a solid bulkhead across just abaft the pantry."

"Yes, a dozen hands would be comfortably stowed away in that case," replied my uncle. "I suppose you have already made up your mind about her?"

"Nearly."

"Remember the proverb about buying a pig in a poke."

"Also the adage 'Never leave till to-morrow what you can do to-day,'" replied my father, laughing. "Here, give a hand with this trap-hatch, and let's see what she is like."

Underneath the floors the lead ballast had been removed to store, and the timbers and frames carefully cleaned and tarred, so that, as my uncle expressed it, "she was as sweet as new-mown hay." There was no doubt that she had been well looked after. However, the daylight was rapidly fading, so we were forced to bring our investigations to a close, after a hasty inspection of the ladies' cabin abaft the companion.

"Does the 'Fortuna' come up to your expectations?" inquired the yacht-builder when we rejoined him.

"As far as I can judge," replied my father. "Have you an inventory?"

"Here it is, complete in every detail; and you are perfectly at liberty to call in an independent surveyor whenever you like."

"I don't think there is any necessity for that," replied my father. "When could she be ready for sea?"

"We can get her off these next tides—say, the day after to-morrow—and everything could be placed aboard by Thursday night."

"And the price?"

"Seven hundred and fifty pounds; including fitting out."

"Very well, then. We will regard the transaction as completed; allow me to have the use of your office while I write out a cheque."

I doubt whether a yacht had ever before been sold in such a record time; but such was the ease, and before leaving the shipyard we were in possession of the yacht's papers, Mr. Roach having reiterated his promise to have the "Fortuna" ready for sea in four days' time.

I understood now why the pater had taken single tickets; he had set his heart on the "Fortuna" directly he saw the announcement, and had meant to bring her back to Fowey.

The four days, in, spite of the long hours (for we were up from sunrise to sunset), passed very quickly, and, true to his word, Roach had the yacht afloat, her spars varnished and sails bent, the motor reinstalled, and all gear and stores on board within the specified time. No doubt we should have been quite capable of working her home without assistance, but, acting on Uncle Herbert's advice, we engaged a couple of hand's to be on the safe side in case of heavy weather.

Just before ten on the Thursday night the "Fortuna" slipped her moorings and made for the mouth of the river. It was a clear moonlight night, with the faintest suspicion of a breeze from the nor'-east, so the motor was brought into use, and with a gentle purring the powerful little engine urged the yacht through the calm waters of the land-locked estuary.

I remained on deck as we glided down the Solent, with its host of moving lights. We were soon rolling slightly in the tidal race of the Needles Channel. Once clear of the land, we caught the following breeze, and gallantly the ketch responded to the steadily drawing sails.

"Here we are, in the open Channel once more, Reggie," exclaimed my father, who had just relinquished his "trick at the helm" to one of the men. "Hurst Castle light away on our port quarter, the Needles light bears directly astern, and yonder in the distance you can see the flash of St. Catherine's, one of the most powerful lights in the world. See that flash ahead on the starboard bow? That's Anvil Point, on the Dorset coast, so that, provided the weather is clear, navigation on this part of the coast is as safe as can possibly be imagined. We'll have supper now, and then we'll turn in, for it's nearly one o'clock. By the time you are awake I hope we shall be well across West Bay."

So saying, my father took me below, where supper was served in the main saloon. Uncle Herbert had just finished his, and was struggling into his great-coat prior to taking his watch on deck. It was the first time I had seen the cabin by artificial light, and in the swinging rays of the hanging lamp it looked a picture of comfort; the red cushions on the sofa bunks, the thick Turkey carpet on the floor, the curtains across the doors and skylights, and the well-laid swing-table, all combined to make the saloon look a veritable floating home.

"What do you think of it, eh?" asked my father, reading the interested look in my face. "A slight improvement on the 'Spray,' I take it? Well, sit down and make yourself comfortable, for the 'Fortuna's' to be your home for the next eighteen months, I reckon."

Supper over, I turned in on a bunk in the cabin opposite to my father's, which was to be my own, and, lulled by the rhythmical purr of the motor and the gentle undulations of the vessel, I soon fell into a dreamless sleep.

When I awoke it was broad daylight. The yacht was pitching considerably, so that dressing was accomplished under difficulties. Upon going on deck I found my father had already forestalled me, and the meagre crew were engaged in stowing the mizzen, as, owing to the freshening wind, which was coming right aft, it was the canvas which could be most profitably stowed.

It was a grey, misty morning, the sun barely showing through the fleecy clouds overhead. We had just cleared the tail of Portland Race, the, "Bill" showing clearly over our starboard quarter, and the cliffs of West Bay fading away in the haze on our starboard hand. About a mile way to port a large liner was tearing up Channel, and, with a couple of topsail schooners, were the only vessels to be seen.

The compass showed a bearing of S. 84° W., which, allowing for the slight indraught, would bring the yacht close to the Start, although that headland, forty-five miles distant, was, of course, invisible.

"Had a good night, Reggie?" asked my father.

"Splendid!"

"Then you had better go for'ard and get breakfast ready," he replied with a merry laugh. "With so small a crew there can be no idlers, so you must act as steward. But wait till we ship a proper crew, and I'll warrant we'll be as comfortable as at home."

"I notice the motor isn't running."

"No, it would be almost useless in a strong breeze like this; but in a calm it is indispensable. Now cut along and get breakfast; we are all famishing."

I did as I was bid, and the three of us had quite a respectable meal in the saloon, the two hands being left on deck with instructions as to how the yacht's head was to be kept.

After breakfast I went on deck, leaving my father and uncle to overhaul the numerous lockers to become acquainted with their stowage capacity, and to consider the necessity of increasing the space intended for the crew.

About eight o'clock we passed close to a fleet of Brixham trawlers, their rich-coloured tanned sails making a picturesque sight as they beat out towards the trawling grounds. Soon afterwards we sighted the bold headland of Start Point, and with the aid of glass the white lighthouse could be discerned. All this time the "Fortuna" was tearing through the blue water, without the necessity of touching a single sheet or runner, and, provided the wind held, there was a possibility of reaching Fowey before nightfall.

At 1 p.m. the Start was abeam, and here began one of the most interesting stretches of coast that is to be found around the British Isles, and for hours I watched the ever-changing panorama, plying both my father and uncle with numerous questions, and gaining quite a wealth of information about the many noted shipwrecks that have taken place betwixt the Start and the entrance to Plymouth Sound.

We weathered the frowning Bolt Tail just within two hours after leaving the Start, and soon the well-known needle-like shaft of the Eddystone showed up on the sky-line on our port bow.

"Nearly home!" exclaimed Uncle Herbert, indicating the dim outlines of Rame Head. "It's a rattling good passage."

"It will be a bit of a surprise for the fellows at the yacht Club to see the 'Fortuna,' with the club burgee and my house flag flying, bring up in Polruan Pool."

"I think it will be a bigger surprise when she comes back to Fowey with a few tons of silver from the 'San Philipo' lying on her ballast," replied my uncle enthusiastically.

"I hope so," said my father. "Another fortnight will see us under way for Southern seas."

Unfortunately for my father's anticipation, however, the wind fell light, and it was dark before we picked up the friendly gleam of St. Catherine's; and just as the parish church clock was striking midnight the "Fortuna's" anchor fell with a splash and a rattle of chain to the bottom of Fowey Harbour.



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