It was a sharp squall that suddenly struck the Guardian-Mother, heeling her over so that everything movable on her decks or below went over to the lee side, and sending no small quantity of salt water over her pilot-house. It had begun to be what the ladies called rough some hours before; and with them Captain Ringgold’s reputation as a prophet was in peril, for he had predicted a smooth sea all the way to Bombay.
The Blanche, the steam-yacht of General Noury, which was only a trifle larger than the Guardian-Mother, rolled even more. She was following the latter, and seemed to be of about equal speed, though no trial had been made between them. Miss Blanche and Louis had retreated to a dryer place than the promenade when the shower of spray broke over the pilot-house upon them, leaving the commander and Mr. Scott there.
Captain Ringgold frowned as he looked out on the uneasy waves, for the squall appeared to be a surprise to him; but it proved to be more than a white squall, which may come out of a clear sky, while with a black one the sky is wholly or partly covered with dark clouds. It continued to blow very fresh, and the commotion in the elements amounted to nothing less than a smart gale.
“This is uncommon in the region of the north-east monsoons,” said the commander, who was planking the promenade deck with Scott. “During January and February the wind is set down as moderate in these waters. I have made two runs from Cape of Good Hope to Bombay, and we had quiet seas from the latitude of Cape Comorin to our destination both times; and I expected the same thing at this season of the year on this voyage.”
The captain was evidently vexed and annoyed at the failure of his prediction, though squalls were liable to occur in any locality; but the present rough weather had begun to look like a gale which might continue for several days. The north-east monsoons were what he had a right to expect; but the gale came up from the south south-west. The commander appeared to be so much disturbed, that the young officer did not venture to say anything for the next half-hour, though he continued to walk at his side.
At the end of this time the commander descended to his cabin, inviting Scott to go with him. On the great table was spread out the large chart of the Indian Ocean. From Aden to Bombay he had drawn a red line, indicating the course, east by north a quarter north, which was the course on which the steamer was sailing.
“Have you the blue book that comes with this chart, Captain Ringgold?” asked Scott, rather timidly, as though he had something on his mind which he did not care to present too abruptly; for the commander was about the biggest man on earth to him.
“This chart is an old one, as you may see by the looks of it and the courses marked on it from the Cape of Good Hope,” replied the captain, looking at the young officer, to fathom his meaning. “I put all my charts on board of the Guardian-Mother when we sailed for Bermuda the first time. If I ever had the blue book of which you speak, I haven’t it now; and I forget all about it.”