“I fancy that it is as I expected,” Frank said. “They have one regular headquarters to which they return frequently. It may be some very secluded spot. It may be up one of these small rivers marked on the chart—there are a score of them between Cape la Move and here. She does not seem to have been seen as far east as this. Of course, she has not put in here, because there are some eight or ten foreign ships here now. Every one of these twenty rivers has plenty of water for vessels of her draught for some miles up. I fancy our best chance will be to meet her cruising.”
“The worst of that would be, Major,” George Lechmere said, “that she would know us, and if she sails as well as she used to do, we should not catch her before night came on—if she had seven or eight miles’ start—especially if we both had the wind aft.”
“That is just what I am afraid of. I have no doubt that we could beat her easily working to windward in her present rig, but I am by no means certain that she could not run away from us if we were both free; and if she once recognised us there is no saying where she might go to after she had shaken us off. Certainly she would not stay in these waters.
“The question is, how can we disguise ourselves? If we took down our mizzen and dirtied the rest of our sails, it would not be much of a disguise. Nothing but a yacht carries anything like as big a mainsail as ours, and our big jib and foresail, and the straight bowsprit would tell the tale. Of course, we could fasten some wooden battens along her side, and stretch canvas over them, and paint it black, and so raise her side three feet, but even then the narrowness of her hull, seen end on as it would be, in comparison to the height of the mast and spread of canvas, would strike Carthew at once.”
“We could follow his example, sir, and make her into a brig. I dare say we could get it done in a week.”
“That might spoil her sailing, and as soon as he found that we were in chase of him, he would at once suspect that something was wrong. That would, of all things, be the worst, especially if he found—which would be just as likely as not—that he had the legs of us.
“I believe the most certain way of all would be to search for her in the boats. If we were to paint the gig black, so that it would not attract attention, give a coating of grey paint to the oars, and hire a black crew, we could coast along and stop at every village, and search every bay, and row far enough up each river to find some village or hut where we could learn whether the Phantom has been in the habit of going up there. It would take some time, of course, but it might be a good deal of time saved in the long run. We could do a great deal of sailing. The gig stands well up to canvas when the crew are sitting in the bottom, and we could fit her out with a native rig.