Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/184

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Just then an accident happened, which might have proved very serious. La Loire accidentally slipped a great tow-rope, which got entangled in the screw of the Seignelay; and, misunderstanding the signal to lower sail, the ponderous old vessel nearly ran down the lighter steam-ship, which could neither work her screw nor answer to her helm, but had to hoist sail and run before the wind. Being unable to turn, she had to sail straight out to sea for some hours, far out of sight.

I watched this inexplicable movement from the semaphore—a high station commanding a magnificent view of town and harbour, and of the distant isle of Moorea. The old sailor in charge was as much perplexed as myself. He decided that the Seignelay must have been despatched to the Marquesas or elsewhere, with secret orders; while I decided that she must have "revolutioned," and gone off to France. However, this evening she returned, under sail, and was able to go to the assistance of a vessel that had drifted on to the reef; so, on the whole, it was rather a fortunate episode, as it helped to distract the thoughts of all on board.

Most of the residents here, bitterly as they regret the whole business, seem to agree that the admiral has really taken the wisest course, both as preventing (in the sense of prévenant) any possible remonstrance from England—in case she should espouse the cause of that very shady Anglo-American Fijian-Samoan house, with its convenient variety of flags—and perhaps, also, as saving M. Aube from harder judgment in France. But of course none of the officers can realise what a foolish episode that night's work appears to every one here.

I have not yet told you anything of my own movements. On Sunday afternoon, M. de Gironde escorted me to the British consulate, there duly to report myself to Mr Miller, who for thirty years has been England's popular representative here; indeed he has never left Tahiti since the day he first landed here, with his bright, sensible, little Peruvian bride. Now they have three grown-up sons, and a pleasant daughter, married to M. Fayzeau, a French naval officer, in charge of native affairs. He is a charm-