Frank agreed that it would certainly be better, and more bearable than having to answer questions about Bertha to every visitor who called on her. He crossed that evening to Ostend, and at ten o’clock next morning George Lechmere received the following message:
“Make inquiries as to small brigantine that looked like converted yacht: had very large yards on foremast. I saw her pass Cowes on Tuesday afternoon. Let Hawkins go to Portsmouth and Southampton. Find out yourself whether she anchored between Osborne and Ryde. If not, inquire at Seaview whether she passed there going east. Telegraph result tomorrow morning to my chambers. Shall cross again tonight.”
Lechmere had the gig at once lowered, and started, with four hands at the oars, eastward, while the captain went ashore in the dinghy to leave for Southampton by the next boat. The tide was against Lechmere, who, keeping close in round the point, steered the boat along at the foot of the slopes of Osborne, and kept eastward until he reached the coast-guard station at the mouth of Wootton creek.
“Oh, yes, we noticed her,” the boatswain in charge replied in answer to his question. “We saw her, as you say, on Tuesday afternoon, going east. We could not help noticing her, for she was something out of the way. We should not have thought so much of it, if she had not come back again just before dusk the next day, and anchored a mile to the west. We kept a sharp lookout that night, thinking that she might be trying to smuggle some contraband ashore; but everything was quiet, and next morning she was gone. The man who was on the watch said he thought that he made her out with his night glass going east at about eleven o’clock; but it was a dark night, and it might have been a schooner yacht or a brig.”
“You don’t happen to know whether she stopped at Ryde the first time she passed?”
“Yes; having been all talking about her, we watched to see if she was going to anchor there or keep on to the east. She lowered a boat as she passed, and two men landed. They threw her up into the wind and waited until the boat came off again. The men did not come back in her. They hoisted the boat up again and went east. She stopped off Seaview; then she came back and sent the boat ashore, and two men went off in her. Of course, I can’t say whether they were the same. It was as much as I could do to make out that there were two of them, though our glass is a pretty good one. Is there anything wrong about the craft?”