Their crews were now employed in repairing their damaged rigging, and so well trained and diligent was that of the Phoenix that in a short time they had knotted and spliced her rigging and rove fresh braces. While so employed, about noon, they were encouraged by seeing the Didon's foremast fall over the side.
The crew of the Phoenix had still a difficult duty to perform. Their prisoners greatly outnumbered them, and not only had they to refit the two ships, but to keep a strict watch on their captives. The Didon's main-mast was so severely wounded that it had immediately to be cut away, when the Phoenix, taking her in tow, steered for a British port.
In a short time the Didon's larboard bow ran against the starboard-quarter of the Phoenix, both ships lying nearly in a parallel direction, the former having only one gun which could be brought to bear on her antagonist. At that moment the Frenchmen in vast numbers attempted to board the Phoenix, but were vigorously repulsed; while the marines of both ships exchanged a warm and destructive fire.
At this juncture a young midshipman, Edward Phillips, observed a man upon the Didon's bowsprit end taking deliberate aim at Captain Baker, close to whom he was standing. Being armed with a musket, he, thrusting the captain on one side, fired. At the same moment the Frenchmen fell into the water, while the bullet intended for the captain's head tore off alone the rim of his hat.
When, however, it once opened fire, its effects were terrible indeed, full twenty of the Frenchmen being struck down at the first discharge. Meantime the English marines kept up so hot a fire on the Didon's forecastle, that the seamen could not venture on it to fire the gun which had been placed there. At length, however, the antagonists separated, both presenting a woeful appearance.
The newspapers are robbed of all their old interest, and the very soul of intrigue is destroyed. Poor Marie, when she heard her fate, would certainly have gladly hanged Mr Scudamore. When the gentleman had made his speech, she offered no further opposition. Looking into Didon's face and bursting into tears, she sat down on one of the boxes.
We wouldn't go together, but we'd get on board just at the last moment. If they wouldn't marry us on board, they would at New York, instantly. 'That's Didon's plan? 'That's what she thinks best, and she'll do it, if you'll give her £50 for herself, you know. The "Adriatic," that's a White Star boat, goes on Thursday week at noon. There's an early train that would take us down that morning.
The officers from the police station were already there when the woman who now filled Didon's place in the house communicated to Madame Melmotte the fact that she was a widow. It was afterwards said by some of those who had seen her at the time, that Marie Melmotte had shown a hard heart on the occasion. But the condemnation was wrong.
They must leisurely look for the big boxes and other things, and need say nothing about the steam packet till they were in a cab. Marie's big box was directed simply 'Madame Racine, Passenger to Liverpool; so also was directed a second box, nearly as big, which was Didon's property. Didon declared that her anxiety would not be over till she found the ship moving under her.
How much further the revelations as to Père Didon's iniquity might have gone, Miss Talbot could not say, but at that moment there came an interruption. From the opposite doorway appeared the figure of Mlle. Beaucaire, carrying a small bag. She was followed by a man, tall, slight, and closely muffled up, who shouldered a larger portmanteau.