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A Queen of Atlantis

Chapter 1: Dreams and Fancies

“DEAR LITTLE BOAT! GALLANT, SAUCY, little ship! Splendid, dashing, Saucy Fan! Isn’t this glorious?”

The words were spoken in tones of high enthusiasm by a girl of nineteen or twenty years of age, who stood on the high stern of the brig, Saucy Fan, which was reeling and tossing on the Atlantic rollers nearly half-way out on her voyage from Liverpool to Rio de Janeiro.

“This boat, today,” the speaker went on, with a hand on the rail, and swaying easily with the tumbling vessel, “puts me, somehow, in mind of a little thoroughbred mare I used to have in our home in the Argentine. I called her ‘Romping Chit.’ She was such a lovely creature! Without whip or spur she would carry you till she dropped, and she seemed to glory in it all the while. And the Saucy Fan is just the same. She keeps on her way unceasingly, untiringly, struggling up and down the swirling waves just as Romping Chit would canter all day long over the green, rolling pampas. She never showed a sign of fatigue, and was just as full of fun, just as ready to break into a romping gallop at the end, as at the beginning, of the day’s work. Don’t you enjoy a day like this, Mr. Wydale?”

Owen Wydale, the person thus addressed, was a well-built, fine-looking young fellow of some twenty-five years. He had a handsome, bronzed face, with dark hair, eyebrows, and moustache; and very clear, steady, grey eyes. His sturdy, well-set figure betokened somewhat of a military training; while the manner in which he managed to keep his balance, with hands quietly clasped behind him, showed that he was not unaccustomed to the sea.

“Just my feeling, Miss Dareville,” he replied. “This sort of thing has always had a great fascination for me.”

Since, however, he looked, while speaking, at his companion, it was not quite clear which “sort of thing” he referred to—the blue sky, the rocking vessel, and the white-crested waves, on the one hand, or the dainty, captivating face and form beside him, on the other.

Nor could it be much wondered at if he thought just then most of the latter, for Vanina Dareville was one of those who seem to have been born to tantalise and drive to distraction the soul of any male mortal upon whom they turn their glance.

She had a rather tall, but exquisitely-moulded figure, such as a sculptor would have chosen as a model for Diana; and a face and head that had a charm, a witchery that were unique. It was not merely, however, that she was beautiful; it was not only that she possessed lustrous brown eyes, and delicately chiselled features; all these gifts, charming and attractive as they are, were immeasurably enhanced by a most unusual, captivating expression; rather, it should be said, expressions. These came and went upon her face, each in turn seeming more seductive, more irresistible than the other. In the pouting lips, round which, as they curled one from the other, dainty little dimples played about, there was a coquettish roguishness that was inexpressibly bewitching.

Yet, with all these was sometimes mingled a suggestion of queenly pride and dignity that conveyed a warning; it would not be well, it seemed to intimate, to incur the look of contempt and scorn with which those same lips could curl, and those large eyes could flash, on those who should be rash enough to merit it. Today, the eyes were flashing only with innocent mirth; and, with her glowing colour, and the little white teeth that the lips at times disclosed, and that wondrous, inimitable smile that was all her own, made up a startling picture. And it was a picture that held Owen Wydale captive, bound in chains more hard to break than ever were fetters of hardened steel.

She was standing upon a piece of board that raised her just high enough from the deck to keep her feet out of the water which washed it every now and then, and with one hand on the rail she swayed freely to and fro with the motion of the brig; every turn, every pose, replete with rare and exquisite grace.

And her companion, noting all her winsomeness, found it no easy matter to turn his glance away from her to look upon the scene around them which had called forth her expressions of delight; while, she on her side, remained all unconscious of the admiration she inspired, her thoughts and interest being entirely given up to the enjoyment of the moment.

“Look, Mr. Wydale! Look at the water and see how daintily the Saucy Fan dips into one wave and then glides up gracefully over another. Oh! if every day at sea were such as this, I should never wish to go ashore again!”

For some minutes the two stood silently watching the great white-crested billows as they darted past, hissing, and seething, and dashing, and surging against the vessel’s sides, and finally following one another into the line of foam that marked her wake. The strong, warm, invigorating breeze that whistled through the rigging, and whirled the particles of spray into the face, seemed to bear with it a feeling of exhilaration and elation. At intervals, as though in very sport and mischief, and bent upon justifying her name, the Saucy Fan would bury her head in the snowy crest of some soaring, foam-crowned billow, sending up a shower of spray that reflected all the colours of the rainbow, and sparkled in the sunlight before it fell with a crash upon the fore-deck. Then, poising for a moment on the summit of the wave, she would give a coquettish shake, a sort of tremor, before taking the great plunge into the hollow below, mounting the side of the succeeding wave with one of those swinging leaps that all true lovers of the sea know so well, and so delight in. Indeed, the pretty brig, today, seemed bent upon a game of romps with the great Atlantic rollers that came sweeping up to her; almost, one might think, in imitation of a school of porpoises that were indulging in fantastic antics not far away. Some distance astern a solitary ship could be discerned, that rose and fell, and bobbed and nodded as though making friendly signs and salutes to its sister-bark in front. Otherwise, there was nothing to be seen on any side but the blue sky and glaring sun above, and the palpitating, heaving bosom of the marine expanse below.

On deck there were only the man at the wheel amidships, the burly skipper who walked to and fro beside him, and a man in oilskins, who lounged in the bow. While the vessel lurched and pitched and the sails strained at their fastenings, the cordage creaked and grated in a wild kind of harmony with the wind that whistled shrilly through the rigging, and, every now and then came the dull, hollow “boom” when a wave struck the bow, followed by the sound of the salt shower that fell pattering upon the deck.

Suddenly Vanina cried, “Look out!” and, with a merry laugh, dexterously ducked under a small canvas awning, just in time to escape a mass of water from a larger wave than usual. It had leaped up suddenly and unexpectedly, just where they were standing, and came rattling on the deck with the patter of a hail-storm. The squall carried away Wydale’s hat, which disappeared over the bulwarks.

A moment afterwards a young boy, clad in water­proofs, emerged from the head of the companion that led down into the main cabin, and came towards them. He was a bright-eyed, curly-headed, good-looking youngster of about thirteen or fourteen years of age, and he looked at the two with a bright smile as he approached. Vanina extended a hand to him, and pushed him well under the shelter of the scanty awning.

“You had better keep close there, Georgy,” she remarked; “we have just had a sea break over us.”

“I know, sister,” the boy replied. “We heard it down in the cabin, and Sydney sent me up to say he thinks the wind is freshening, and that you should come down.”

“I, too, fancy it is getting rougher,” put in Wydale. “Don’t you think we should all do well to seek some better shelter, Miss Dareville?”

“Not I,” the lady answered, with vivacity. “I love it! I think I was born with a love for the sea. But, as for you,” she went on to Wydale, with another merry laugh, “you’ll never make a sailor if you don’t learn to keep a better look-out. You were fairly caught that time, and, if I hadn’t called out, you would have been thrown upon the deck and been wet through. You should keep a sharper eye to windward. You had better go and find another hat.”

“I’ve got one,” Wydale answered, pulling a water­proof cap out of his pocket, and composedly putting it on his head. “The fact is,” he went on, “I was too much engaged—after what you said just now about your little mare—in thinking of you—of how you would look—”

“Well—what?” she asked archly, when he hesitated.

“On horseback—dressed as—as—as an Indian huntress, or— as—a warrior queen,” he went on, laughing.

“Do you mean in a circus?” she demanded, a little stiffly.

“Oh, no, no! In real life—such as it used to be ages and ages ago,” he returned hastily. “In the days when warrior princesses used to carry sword and shield, and ride in their chariots or on their war-horses, into the thick of the battle—and—and—cheer on their soldiers—and—all that sort of thing, you know,” he finished up—a little weakly, as he felt.

She looked earnestly at him, and drew a long, deep breath.

“Ah!” she said presently, “it is singular you should have such thoughts. That’s how I feel myself sometimes. What put that into your head?”

“I scarcely know; something in your manner at times. You have the face—aye—and the figure, too, for it.”

“I hope, all the same, that I don’t look like an Amazon,” she said. “For me, that kind of character has no attraction.”

“No; Diana—or rather, perhaps, say, Boadicea.”

“Leading a horde of savage ‘Ancient Britons’ clad in rough skins! No, thank you! I don’t think that would suit me either.”

“Jeanne d’Arc, then! Surely you will not object to that suggestion?

“Yes, yes! The very thing!” young George put in, with strong approval.

“I’m not good enough,” she answered simply. “I fear I should never make a Jeanne d’Arc.”

“You don’t know what you can do till you try,” George suggested hopefully, and it was asserted in a tone of such conviction that the others laughed.

“We are talking no end of nonsense,” Vanina presently declared; “I wonder what put such ideas into your head?”

“I’m sure I can’t quite explain,” responded Owen; “but it must, I think, as I said just now, be something in your face, or manner, or general air. Now I come to think about it, it is rather an odd notion; yet such ideas seem always to suggest themselves when I look at you.”

Vanina gazed dreamily out upon the waters, and seemed to be musing. And, for a space, there was unbroken silence.

“It is curious,” she said slowly, after a pause, “but I too, have very strange thoughts at times; and dreams—especially dreams.”

“What dreams? asked Owen.

“Dreams,” she went on, still slowly, as though recalling them one by one, “of martial hosts, of armoured knights, and men in mail; of clashing swords, and flashing spears. And often I seem, just as you have suggested, to be myself clad in mail, brandishing a sword or spear, and urging my followers on to battle. And it is all as in the times of long, long ago, ages ago, when there were no cannons, no pistols, no firearms of any sort or kind. I often fancy I must have had ancestors—chieftains—who lived and fought in those ancient times, and that they visit me in my dreams, and in them re-enact the scenes in which they bore a part. What strange days those must have been!”

“Perhaps better to think of, and read, and talk about, than to experience in their grim reality,” Owen observed.

“I don’t know; at least the men of those days were brave; or those who were not were soon found out. Men met one another face to face, foot to foot. They did not hide behind shelters and shoot at one another from places a mile or two apart. How strange it would be for us, if we were unexpectedly thrown back into those old times? How should we act? If we were suddenly to find ourselves back in the midst of such a world, what sort of figure should we cut, I wonder? A poor one, I am afraid, men and women too. Our women of today would lack the pluck and endurance of those old-time heroines, and, as for the men—how would they fare if their lives depended upon their skill with sword, and shield, and lance?”

Just then another young fellow came up the companion and called out:

“I want to have a word with you, Wydale. Do you mind coming down for a few minutes?” Then he turned and disappeared; and Wydale, with a brief word of apology to the young lady, followed him.

There came now a sort of lull, and the brother and sister remained for a while silently watching the waves that were racing past. Vanina’s thoughts returned to their former channel.

“I was telling Mr. Wydale, Georgy,” she said to her young brother, “how much I enjoy being at sea on a day such as this, and on board a boat like the Saucy Fan. How splendidly she goes through it! Almost like a well-found, well-behaved yacht!”

“Ah!” returned the boy in a low tone, and with a serious face, “that is all very well, sister, when you are a passenger; but you cannot picture to yourself how very different this same vessel appears to you if you are a poor beggar of a cabin boy, as I was once here, you know. You can scarcely believe what a place they made it for me!”

Vanina took his hand, and pressed it tenderly.

“I know, poor boy,” was her reply. “They must have ill-used you indeed, to drive you to—”

“It was just such a day as this,” he went on dreamily, “when I crawled out beyond the bowsprit yonder, the seas breaking over me every minute, to escape from the mate; and when Mr. Wydale came out after me and brought me back. It was a plucky thing for him to do, I can tell you. No one else on the whole ship would have risked it; and that ugly-faced skipper over there, and his mate—who are so meek and mild to you today—stood looking on, and would have let the two of us drown for all they cared.”

Vanina shuddered.

“I know, Georgy, dear,” she said fervently. “But let us not talk about it now. It makes me turn quite sick. Certainly I feel we can never, any of us, be sufficiently grateful to Mr. Wydale for what he did for you that day. He must be very brave, and very kind-hearted too.

“Brave? He’s more than that! He’s—he’s—” and the boy hesitated, and cast about for a simile; then wound up with, “he’s a regular brick!”

Meanwhile, the subject of this little talk was seated in the cabin of the brig, in close conference with the elder brother of the two, one Sydney Dareville. He was a well-built, good-looking man of nearly thirty; had been at one time a sailor, and at another had seen service as an officer in one or other of the endless civil wars that are ever breaking out in the volcanic regions of South America. A little thinner than Wydale, and a little taller, he also exhibited somewhat more of the swagger and dash that characterise the ex­soldier adventurer. Ordinarily, one could read in his laughing eyes something of the merry, boyish good-humour of his young brother, mingled with the roguish high spirits that characterised his sister. Today, however, he was grave, and evidently disturbed in mind.

“Fancies or no fancies,” he was saying, “I cannot put aside these feelings of vague suspicion and distrust that have laid hold of me. In my father’s time all our vessels were manned by honest, decent men. How has it come about that my precious step-father and his present partner should send old and tried servants packing, to put in their places rascals like Durford, our cheerful skipper here, and Foster, his scoundrel of a mate, and the rest of our hang-dog looking crew? Can you explain that to me?”

“That they are a bad lot—at least, with the possible exception of Peter Jennings, the ship’s carpenter—I have good reason to know,” Wydale agreed.


“And what is that vessel behind us?” the other interrupted. “And why does she follow us as she has, taking in sail again and again, as I have seen with my own eyes, to keep in our wake when she had been overhauling us?”

“That may be but a fancy on your part; they may have feared foul weather. It has been squally and unsettled for some days. Of course, I can see what you are hinting at, but really cannot understand what anyone would have to gain by such a crime. The cargo is ours, or ours and your friend Casella’s jointly. The brig itself is partly yours—”

“Aye, this brig carries all I have left in the world to call my own,” Dareville interrupted gloomily.

“—And the insurance is made out in your joint names. Where, then, would be the gain to those you have in your mind?”

Sydney Dareville regarded his companion for a moment fixedly, then with a dry smile replied:

“What have they to gain? Nothing much on the ship and cargo, truly; but—if my sister and young brother were to die before coming of age—my respected step-father would come into—fifty thousand pounds.”

Wydale started, and looked incredulously at the speaker.

“I never heard of that,” he murmured; “you never told me. I had no idea that your sister was—that is, that your brother and sister were—” He hesitated.

“You didn’t know that Vanina was an heiress,” Dareville answered, with a hollow laugh. “Yes, very much so, my friend. And now you can understand why it would suit certain persons very well indeed if the three of us went to Davy Jones’s Locker, as the outcome of this voyage. And you know now why I am distrustful and uneasy, and want you to be watchful and to help me to keep a sharp eye upon all that goes on. Now I must go up and fetch those two young people down. I can hear that the wind is getting up again.” With that he rose and went on deck.

And Owen Wydale, turning over in his mind all that had been said, could not help recalling the talk he had had on deck concerning Vanina Dareville’s dreams.

“Well, they, at least, were but dream-fancies,” he at last said to himself. “Heaven send that these misgivings of Dareville’s may turn out to be fancies, too.”