"Frank," said the poor girl, "before we meet again, I shall probably be a mother; and this hope alone alleviates the agony of separation. If I have not you, I shall, at least, be blest with your image. Heaven grant that it may be a boy, to follow the steps of his father, and not a girl, to be as wretched as her mother. You, my dear Frank, are going on distant and dangerous service—dangers increased tenfold by the natural ardour of your mind: we may never meet again, or if we do, the period will be far distant. I ever have been, and ever will be constant to you, till death; but I neither expect, nor will allow of the same declaration on your part. Other scenes, new faces, youthful passions will combine to drive me for a time from your thoughts, and when you shall have attained maturer years, and a rank in the navy equal to your merits and your connections, you will marry in your own sphere of society; all these things I have made up my mind to, as events that must take place. Your person I know I cannot have—but do not, do not discard me from your mind. I shall never be jealous as long as I know you are happy, and still love your unfortunate Eugenia. Your child shall be no burthen to you until it shall have attained an age at which it may be put out in the world: then, I know you will not desert it for the sake of its mother. Dear Frank, my heart is broken; but you are not to blame; and if you were, I would die imploring blessings on your head." Here she wept bitterly.
I tried every means in my power to comfort and encourage this fascinating and extraordinary girl; I forgot neither vows nor promises, which, at the time, I fully intended to perform. I promised her a speedy and I trusted a happy meeting.
"God's will be done," said she, "come what will. And now, my dearest Frank, farewell—never again endanger your life and character for me as you did last night. I have been blest in your society, and even with the prospect of misery before me, cannot regret the past."
I tenderly embraced her, jumped into a wherry, at Point, and desired the waterman to take me on board the I——, at Spithead. The first lieutenant was on deck when I came up the side.
"I presume it was you whom we fired at last night?" said he, smiling.
"It was, sir," said I; "absolute necessity compelled me to go on shore, or I should not have taken such an extraordinary mode of conveyance."
"Oh, with all my heart," said the officer; "had you told me you intended to have swum on shore, I should not have prevented you; I took you for one of the pressed men, and directed the marines to fire at you."
"The pressed men are extremely obliged to you," thought I.
"Did you not find it devilish cold?" continued the lieutenant, in a strain of good humour, which I encouraged by my manner of answering.
"Indeed I did, sir," said I.
"And the jollies fired tolerably well, did they?"
"They did, sir; would they had had a better mark."
"I understand you," said the lieutenant; "but as you have not served your time, the vacancy would be of no use to you. I must report the affair to the captain, though I do not think he will take any notice of it; he is too fond of enterprise himself to check it in others. Besides, a lady is always a justifiable object, but we hope soon to show you some higher game."
The captain came on board shortly after, and took no notice of my having been absent without leave; he made some remark as he glanced his eye at me, which I afterwards learned was in my favour. In a few days we sailed, and arrived in a few more in Basque Roads. The British fleet was at anchor outside the French ships moored in a line off the Isle d'Aix. The ship I belonged to had an active part in the work going on, and most of us saw more than we chose to speak of; but as much ill-blood was made on that occasion, and one or two very unpleasant courts-martial took place, I shall endeavour to confine myself to my own personal narrative, avoiding anything that may give offence to the parties concerned. Some days were passed in preparing the fire-ships; and on the night of the 11th April, 1809, everything being prepared for the attempt to destroy the enemy's squadron, we began the attack. A more daring one was never made; and if it partly failed of success, no fault could be imputed to those who conducted the enterprise: they did all that man could do.
The night was very dark, and it blew a strong breeze directly in upon the Isle d'Aix, and the enemy's fleet. Two of our frigates had been previously so placed as to serve as beacons to direct the course of the fire-ships. They each displayed a clear and brilliant light; the fire-ships were directed to pass between these; after which, their course up to the boom which guarded the anchorage, was clear, and not easily to be mistaken.
I solicited, and obtained permission to go on board one of the explosion vessels that were to precede the fire-ships. They were filled with layers of shells and powder, heaped one upon another: the quantity on board of each vessel was enormous. Another officer, three seamen, and myself, were all that were on board of her. We had a four-oared gig, a small narrow thing (nick-named by the sailors a "coffin"), to make our escape in.
Being quite prepared, we started. It was a fearful moment; the wind freshened, and whistled through our rigging, and the night was so dark, that we could not see our bowsprit. We had only our foresail set; but with a strong flood-tide and a fair wind, with plenty of it, we passed between the advanced frigates like an arrow. It seemed to me like entering the gates of hell. As we flew rapidly along, and our own ships disappeared in the intense darkness, I thought of Dante's inscription over the portals:—"You who enter here, leave hope behind."
Our orders were to lay the vessel on the boom which the French had moored to the outer anchors of their ships of the line. In a few minutes after passing the frigates we were close to it; our boat was towing astern, with three men in it—one to hold the rope ready to let go, one to steer, and one to bale the water out, which, from our rapid motion, would otherwise have swamped her. The officer who accompanied me steered the vessel, and I held the match in my hand. We came upon the boom with a horrid crash; he put the helm down, and laid her broadside to it. The force of the tide acting on the hull, and the wind upon the foresail, made her heel gunwale to, and it was with difficulty I could keep my legs; at this moment, the boat was very near being swamped alongside. They had shifted her astern, and there the tide had almost lifted her over the boom; by great exertion they got her clear, and lay upon their oars: the tide and the wind formed a bubbling short sea, which almost buried her. My companion then got into the boat, desiring me to light the port-fire, and follow.
If ever I felt the sensation of fear, it was after I had lighted this port-fire, which was connected with the train. Until I was fairly in the boat, and out of the reach of the explosion—which was inevitable, and might be instantaneous—the sensation was horrid. I was standing on a mine; any fault in the port-fire, which sometimes will happen, any trifling quantity of gunpowder lying in the interstices of the deck, would have exploded the whole in a moment: had my hand trembled, which I am proud to say it did not, the same might have occurred. Only one minute and a half of port-fire was allowed. I had therefore no time to lose. The moment I had lit it, I laid it down very gently, and then jumped into the gig, with a nimbleness suitable to the occasion. We were off in a moment: I pulled the stroke oar, and I never plied with more zeal in all my life: we were not two hundred yards from her when she exploded.
A more terrific and beautiful sight cannot be conceived; but we were not quite enough at our ease to enjoy it. The shells flew up in the air to a prodigious height, some bursting as they rose, and others as they descended. The shower fell about us, but we escaped without injury. We made but little progress against the wind and tide; and we had the pleasure to run the gauntlet among all the other fire-ships, which had been ignited, and bore down on us in flames fore and aft. Their rigging was hung with Congreve rockets; and as they took fire, they darted through the air in every direction with an astounding noise, looking like large fiery serpents.
We arrived safely on board, and reported ourselves to the captain, who was on the hammocks, watching the progress of the fire-ships. One of these had been lighted too soon; her helm had not been lashed, and she had broached to, close to our frigate. I had had quite enough of adventure for that night, but was fated to have a little more.
"Mr Mildmay," said the captain, "you seem to like the fun; jump into your gig again, take four fresh hands" (thinks I, a fresh midshipman would not be amiss), "get on board of that vessel, and put her head the right way."
I did not like this job at all; the vessel appeared to be in flames from the jib-boom to the topsail; and I own I preferred enjoying the honours I had already gained, to going after others so very precarious; however, I never made a difficulty, and this was no time for exceptions to my rule. I touched my hat, said, "Ay, ay, sir," sang out for four volunteers, and, in an instant, I had fifty. I selected four, and shoved off on my new expedition.
As I approached the vessel, I could not at first discover any part that was not tenanted by the flames, the heat of which, at the distance of twenty or thirty feet, was far from pleasant, even in that cold night. The weather quarter appeared to be clearest of flames, but they burst out with great fury from the cabin windows. I contrived, with great difficulty, to reach the deck, by climbing up that part which was not actually burning, and was followed by one of the sailors. The main-mast was on fire, and the flakes of burning canvas from the boom mainsail fell on us like a snow-storm; the end of the tiller was burnt to charcoal, but on the midship part of it I passed a rope, and, assisted by the sailor, moved the helm, and got her before the wind.
While I was thus employed, I could not help thinking of my type, Don Juan. I was nearly suffocated before I had completed my work. I shoved off again, and away she flew before the wind. "I don't go with you this time," said I; "J'ai ete", as the Frenchman said, when he was invited to an English foxhunt.
I was as black as a negro when I returned on board, and dying with thirst. "Very well done, Mildmay," said the captain; "did you find it warm?" I pointed to my mouth, for it was so parched that I could not speak, and ran to the water-cask, where I drank as much as would have floated a canoe. The first thing I said, as soon as I could speak, was "D—— that fire-ship, and the lubber that set her on fire."
The next morning the French squadron was seen in a very disastrous state; they had cut their cables, and run on shore in every direction, with the exception of the flag ships of the admiral and rear-admiral, which lay at their anchors, and could not move till high water; it was then first quarter flood, so that they had five good hours to remain. I refer my readers to the court-martial for a history of these events: they have also been commented on, with more or less severity, by contemporary writers. I shall only observe, that had the captains of His Majesty's ships been left to their own judgment, much more would have been attempted; but with what success I do not presume to say.
My captain, as soon as he could see his mark, weighed, ran in, and engaged the batteries, while he also directed his guns at the bottoms of the enemy's ships, as they lay on shore on their beam ends. Isle d'Aix gave us a warm reception. I was on the forecastle, the captain of which had his head taken clean off, by a cannon-ball; the captain of the ship coming forward at the same moment, only said, "Poor fellow! throw him overboard; there is no time for a coroner's inquest now." We were a considerable time engaging the batteries, and the vessels near them, without receiving any assistance from our ships.
While this was going on, a very curious instance of muscular action occurred: a lad of eighteen years of age was on the forecastle, when a shot cut away the whole of his bowels, which were scattered over another midshipman and myself, and nearly blinded us. He fell—and after lying a few seconds, sprang suddenly on his feet, stared us horribly in the face, and fell down dead. The spine had not been divided; but with that exception, the lower was separated from the upper part of the body.
Some of our vessels seeing us so warmly engaged, began to move up to our assistance. One of our ships of the line came into action in such gallant trim, that it was glorious to behold. She was a beautiful ship, in what we call "high kelter;" she seemed a living body, conscious of her own superior power over her opponents, whose shot she despised, as they fell thick and fast about her, while she deliberately took up an admirable position for battle. And having furled her sails, and squared her yards, as if she had been at Spithead, her men came down from aloft, went to their guns, and opened such a fire on the enemy's ships and batteries, as would have delighted the great Nelson himself, could he have been present. The results of this action are well known, and do not need repeating here; it was one of the winding-up scenes of the war. The French, slow to believe their naval inferiority, now submitted in silence. Our navy had done its work; and from that time, the brunt of the war fell on the army.
The advocates of fatalism or predestination might adduce a strong illustration of their doctrine as evinced in the death of the captain of one of the French ships destroyed. This officer had been taken out of his ship by one of the boats of our frigate; but, recollecting that he had left on board nautical instruments of great value, he requested our captain to go with him in the gig, and bring them away before the ship was burned. They did go, and the boat being very small, they sat very close side by side, on a piece of board not much more than two feet long, which, for want of proper seats, was laid across the stern of the boat. One of the French ships was burning at the time; her guns went off as fast as the fire reached them; and a chance shot took the board from under the two captains: the English captain was not hurt; but the splinters entered the body of the French captain, and killed him. Late in the evening, the other French line-of-battle ships that were ashore were set fire to, and a splendid illumination they made: we were close to them, and the splinters and fragments of wreck fell on board of us.
Among our killed, was a Dutch boatswain's mate: his wife was on board, and the stick which he was allowed to carry in virtue of his office, he very frequently applied to the shoulders of his helpmate, in requital for certain instances of infidelity; nor, with all my respect for the fair sex, can I deny that the punishment was generally deserved. When the cannon-ball had deprived her of her lawful protector and the guardian of her honour, she sat by the side of his mangled remains, making many unavailing efforts to weep; a tear from one eye coursed down her cheek, and was lost in her mouth; one from the other eye started at the same time, but for want of nourishment, halted on her cheekbone, where, collecting the smoke and gunpowder which surrounded us, it formed a little black peninsula and isthmus on her face, and gave to her heroic grief a truly mourning tear. This proof of conjugal affection she would not part with until the following day, when having seen the last sad rites paid to the body of her faithful Achilles, she washed her face, and resumed her smiles, nor was she ungrateful to the ship's company for their sympathy.
We were ordered up to Spithead with despatches, and long before we arrived, she had made the sergeant of marines the happiest of men, under a promise of marriage at Kingston church, before we sailed on our next cruise, which promise was most honourably performed.
A midshipman's vacancy having occurred on board the frigate, the captain offered it to me. I gladly accepted of it; and while he was in the humour, I asked him for a week's leave of absence; this he also granted, adding, at the same time, "No more French leave, if you please." I need not say that not an hour of this indulgence was intended either for my father or even the dear Emily. No, Eugenia, the beloved, in her interesting condition, claimed my undivided care. I flew to G——, found the troop; but she, alas! had left it a fortnight before, and had gone no one knew whither.
Distracted with this fatal news, I sunk into a chair almost senseless, when one of the actresses brought me a letter: I knew the hand, it was that of Eugenia. Rushing into an empty parlour, I broke the seal, and read as follows:—
"Believe me, my dearest Mildmay, nothing but the most urgent necessity could induce me to cause you the affliction which I know you will feel on reading these lines. Circumstances have occurred since we parted, that not only render it necessary that I should quit you, but also that we should not meet again for some time; and that you should be kept in ignorance of my place of abode. Our separation, though long, will not, I trust, be eternal; but years may elapse before we meet again. The sacrifice is great to me; but your honour and prosperity demand it. I have the same ardent love towards you that I ever had; and for your sake, will love and cherish your child. I am supported in this my trial, by a hope of our being again united. God in heaven bless you, and prosper all your undertakings. Follow up your profession. I shall hear and have constant intelligence of all your motions, and I shall pray to heaven to spare your life amidst all the dangers that your courage will urge you to encounter. Farewell! and forget not her who never has you one moment from her thoughts.
"P.S.—You may at rimes be short of cash; I know you are very thoughtless in that respect. A letter to the subjoined address will always be attended to, and enable you to command whatever may be necessary for your comfort. Pride might induce you to reject this offer; but remember it is Eugenia that offers: and if you love her as she thinks you do, you will accept it from her."
Here was mystery and paradox in copious confusion. "Obliged by circumstances to leave me—to conceal the place of her retirement"—yet commanding not only pecuniary resources for herself, but offering me any sum I might require! I retired to my bed; but sleep forsook me, nor did I want it. I had too much to think of, and no clue to solve my doubts. I prayed to Heaven for her welfare, vowed eternal constancy, and at length fell asleep. The next morning I took leave of my quondam associates, and returned to Portsmouth, neither wishing to see my father, my family, or even the sweet Emily. It however occurred to me that the same agent who could advance money could forward a letter; and a letter I wrote, expressing all I felt. No answer was returned; but as the letter never came back, I was convinced it was received, and occasionally sent others, the contents of which my readers will, no doubt, feel obliged to me for suppressing, love-letters being of all things in the world the most stupid, except to the parties concerned.
As I was not to see my Eugenia, I was delighted to hear that we were again to be sent on active service. The Scheldt expedition was preparing, and our frigate was to be in the advance; but our gallant and favourite captain was not to go with us; an acting captain was appointed, and every exertion was used to have the ship ready. The town in the meantime was as crowded with soldiers as Spithead and the harbour was with transports. Late in July, we sailed, having two gunboats in tow, which we were ordered to man. I applied for, and obtained the command of one of them, quite certain that I should see more service, and consequently have more amusement, than if I remained on board the frigate. We convoyed forty or fifty transports, containing the cavalry, and brought them all safe to an anchor off Cadsand.
The weather was fine, and the water smooth; not a moment was lost in disembarking the troops and horses; and I do not recollect ever having seen, either before or since, a more pleasing sight. The men were first sent on shore with their saddles and bridles: the horses were then lowered into the water in running slings, which were slipped clear off them in a moment; and as soon as they found themselves free, they swam away for the shore, which they saluted with a loud neigh as soon as they landed. In the space of a quarter of a mile we had three or four hundred horses in the water, all swimming for the shore at the same time; while their anxious riders stood on the beach waiting their arrival. I never saw so novel or picturesque a sight.
I found the gun-boat service very hard. We were stationed off Batz, and obliged to be constantly on the alert; but when Flushing surrendered we had more leisure, and we employed it in procuring some articles for our table, to which we had been too long strangers. Our money had been expended in the purchase of champagne and claret, in which articles we were no economists, consequently few florins could be spared for the purchase of poultry and butcher meat; but then these articles were to be procured, by the same means which had given us the island of Walcheren, namely powder and shot. The country people were very churlish, and not at all inclined to barter; and as we had nothing to give in exchange, we avoided useless discussion. Turkeys, by us short-sighted mortals, were often mistaken for pheasants; cocks and hens, for partridges; tame ducks and geese for wild; in short, such was our hurry and confusion—leaping ditches, climbing dykes, and fording swamps—that Buffon himself would never have known the difference between a goose and a peacock. Our game-bags were as capacious as our consciences, and our aim as good as our appetites.
The peasants shut all their poultry up in their barns, and very liberally bestowed all their curses upon us. Thus all our supplies were cut off, and foraging became at least a source of difficulty, if not of danger. I went on shore with our party, put a bullet into my fowling-piece, and, as I thought, shot a deer; but on more minute inspection, it proved to be a four months' calf. This was an accident that might have happened to any man. The carcass was too heavy to carry home, so we cut it in halves, not fore and aft down the backbone, as your stupid butchers do, but made a short cut across the loins, a far more compendious and portable method than the other. We marched off with the hind legs, loins, and kidney, having first of all buried the head and shoulders in the field, determined to call and take it away the following night.
We were partly seen, and severely scrutinized in our action by a neighbouring gun-boat, whose crew were no doubt as hungry as ourselves; they got hold of one of our men, who, like a fool, let the cat out of the bag, when a pint of grog got into it. The fellow hinted where the other half lay, and these unprincipled rascals went after it, fully resolved to appropriate it to themselves; but they were outwitted, as they deserved to be for their roguery. The farmer to whom the calf belonged had got a hint of what was done, and finding that we had buried one half of the calf, procured a party of soldiers ready to take possession of us when we should come to fetch it away; accordingly, the party who went from the other gun-boat after dark, having found out the spot, were very busy disinterring their prey, when they were surprised, taken prisoners, and marched away to the British camp, leaving the dead body behind.
We, quite unconscious of what was done, came soon after, found our veal, and marched off with it. The prisoners were in the meantime sent on board the flag ship, with the charge of robbery strongly preferred against them; indeed, flagrante delicto was proved. In vain they protested that they were not the slayers, but only went in search of what others had killed: the admiral, who was a kind-hearted man, said, that that was a very good story, but desired them "not to tell lies to old rogues," and ordered them all under arrest: at the same time giving directions for a most rigid scrutiny into the larder of the other gun-boat, with a view, if possible, to discover the remains of the calf. This we had foreseen would happen, so we put it into one of the sailor's bags, and sank it with a lead-line in three fathoms water, where it lay till the inspection was over, when we dressed it, and made an excellent dinner, drinking success to His Majesty's arms by land and sea.
Whether I had been intemperate in food or libation I know not, but I was attacked with the Walcheren fever, and was sent home in a line-of-battle ship; and, perhaps, as Pangloss says, it was all for the best; for I knew I could not have left off my inveterate habits, and it would have been very inconvenient to me, and distressing to my friends, to have ended my brilliant career, and stopped these memoirs, at the beginning of the second and most interesting volume, by hanging the Author up, like a scarecrow, under the superintendence of the rascally provost-marshal, merely for catering on the land of a Walcheren farmer. Moreover, the Dutch were unworthy of liberty, as their actions proved, to begrudge a few fowls, or a fillet of veal, to the very men who came to rescue them from bondage;—and then their water, too, who ever drank such stuff? for my part, I never tasted it when I could get anything better. As to their nasty swamps and fogs, quite good enough for such croaking fellows as they are, what could induce an Englishman to live among them, except the pleasure of killing Frenchmen, or shooting game? Deprive us of these pursuits, which the surrender of Flushing effectually did, and Walcheren, with its ophthalmia and its agues, was no longer a place for a gentleman. Besides, I plainly saw that if there ever had been any intention of advancing to Antwerp, the time was now gone by; and as the French were laughing at us, and I never liked to be made a butt of, particularly by such chaps as these, I left the scene of our sorrows and disgraces without regret.
The farewell of Voltaire came into my mind. "Adieu, Canaux, Canardes, et Canaille," which might be rendered into English thus:—"Good-bye, Dykes, Ducks, and Dutchmen." So I returned to my father's house to be nursed by my sister, and to astonish the neighbours with the history of our wonderful achievements.
First came great Neptune, with his three-forkt mace, That rules the seas, and makes them rise or fall: His dewy locks did drop with brine apace Under his diademe-imperiall: And by his side his queene with coronall, Fair Amphitrite
* * * * *
These marched farre afore the other crew.
I remained no longer at home than sufficed to restore my strength, after the serious attack of fever and ague which I had brought with me from Walcheren. Although my father received me kindly, he had not forgotten (at least I thought so) my former transgressions; a mutual distrust destroyed that intimacy which ought ever to exist between father and son. The thread was broken—it is vain to enquire how, and the consequence was, that the day of my departure to join a frigate on the North American station, was welcomed with joy by me, and seen unregretted by my father.
The ship I was about to join was commanded by a young nobleman, and as patricians were not so plentiful in the service at that time, as they have since become, I was considered fortunate in my appointment. I was ordered, with about thirty more supernumerary midshipmen, to take my passage in a ship of the line, going to Bermuda. The gun-room was given to us as our place of residence, the midshipmen belonging to the ship occupying the two snug berths in the cockpit.
Among so many young men of different habits and circumstances, all joining the ship at different periods, no combination could be made for forming a mess. The ship sailed soon after I got on board, and our party, during the voyage, was usually supplied from the purser's steward-room. I have thought it very wonderful, that a mess of eight or twelve seamen or marines will always make the allowance last from one week to another, and have something to spare; but with the same number of midshipmen the case is very different, and the larger the mess the more do their difficulties increase; they are never satisfied, never have enough, and if the purser will allow them, are always in debt for flour, beef, pork, and spirits. This is owing to their natural habits of carelessness; and our mess, for this reason, was particularly uncomfortable. The government was a democracy; but the caterer had at times been invested with dictatorial powers, which he either abused or was thought to abuse, and he was accordingly turned out, or resigned in disgust, at the end of two or three days.
Most of my messmates were young men, senior to me in the service, having passed their examinations, and were going to America for promotion: but when mustered on the quarter-deck, whether they appeared less manly, or were, in fact, less expert in their duty, I know not; but certain it is, that the first lieutenant appointed me mate of a watch, and placed several of these aspirants under my orders: and so strong did we muster, that we stood in each other's way when on deck keeping our watch, seldom less than seventeen or eighteen in number.
In the gun-room we agreed very ill together, and one principal cause of this was our short allowance of food—daily skirmishes took place, and not unfrequently pitched battles; but I never took any other part in them than as a spectator, and the observations I made convinced me that I should have no great difficulty in mastering the whole of them.
The office of caterer was one of neither honour nor emolument, and it was voluntarily taken up, and peevishly laid down, on the first trifling provocation. With the ship's allowance, no being, less than an angel, could have given satisfaction. The division of beef and pork into as many parcels as there were claimants, always produced remonstrance, reproof, and blows. I was never quarrelsome, and took the part allotted to me quietly enough, until, they finding my disposition to submit, I found my portion daily decrease, and on the resignation of the thirteenth caterer, I volunteered my services, which were gladly accepted.
Aware of the danger and difficulty of my situation, I was prepared accordingly. On the first day that I shared the provisions, I took very good care of number one, and, as I had foreseen, was attacked by two or three for my lion-like division of the prey. Upon this, I made them a short speech, observing, that if they supposed I meant to take the trouble of catering for nothing, they were very much mistaken; that the small difference I made between their portions and mine, if equally divided among them, would not fill a hollow tooth, and that, after my own share, all others should be distributed with the most rigid impartiality, and scrupulous regard to justice.
This very reasonable speech did not satisfy them. I was challenged to decide the point a la Cribb; two candidates for the honour stepped out at once. I desired them to toss up; and having soon defeated the winner, I recommended him to return to his seat. The next man came forward, hoping to find an easy victory, after the fatigue of a recent battle; but he was mistaken, and retired with severe chastisement. The next day I took my seat, cleared for action—coat, waistcoat, and neckcloth off. I observed that I should proceed as I had done before, and was ready to hold a court of Oyer and Terminer; but no suitors appeared, and I held the office of caterer from that day till I quitted the ship, by the strongest of all possible claims—first, by election; and, secondly, by right of conquest.
We had not been many days at sea, before we discovered that our first lieutenant was a most abominable tyrant, a brutal fellow, a drunkard, and a glutton, with a long red nose, and a large belly; he frequently sent half-a-dozen grown-up midshipmen to the mast-head at a time. This man I determined to turn out of the ship, and mentioned my intention to my messmates, promising them success if they would only follow my advice. They quite laughed at the idea; but I was firm, and told them that it should come to pass, if they would but behave so ill as just to incur a slight punishment or reprimand from "Nosey" every day; this they agreed to; and not a day passed but they were either mast-headed, or put watch and watch.
They reported all to me, and asked my advice. "Complain to the captain," said I. They did, and were told that the first lieutenant had done his duty. The same causes produced the same effects on each succeeding day; and when the midshipmen complained, they had no redress. By my direction, they observed to the captain, "It is of no use complaining, sir; you always take Mr Clewline's part." The captain, indeed, from a general sense of propriety, gave his support to the ward-room officers, knowing that, nine times in ten, midshipmen were in the wrong.
Things worked as I wished; the midshipmen persisted in behaving ill—remonstrated, and declared that the first lieutenant did not tell the truth. For a time, many of them lost the favour of the captain, but I encouraged them to bear that, as well as the increased rancour of "Old Nosey." One day two midshipmen, by previous agreement, began to fight on the lee gangway. In those days, that was crime enough almost to have hanged them; they were sent to the mast-head for three hours, and when they came down applied to me for advice. "Go," said I, "and complain. If the first lieutenant says you were fighting, tell the captain you were only showing how the first lieutenant pummelled the men last night when they were hoisting the topsails, and the way he cut the marine's head, when he knocked him down the hatchway." All this was fairly done—the midshipmen received a reprimand, but the captain began to think there might be some cause for these continued complaints, which daily increased both in weight and number.
At last we were enabled to give the coup de grace. A wretched boy in the ship, whose dirty habits often brought him to the gun, was so hardened that he laughed at all the stripes of the boatswain's cat inflicted on him by the first lieutenant. "I will make him feel," said the enraged officer; so ordering a bowl of brine to be brought to him, he sprinkled it on the lacerated flesh of the boy between every lash. This inhuman act, so unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman, we all resented, and retiring to the gun-room in a body, gave three deep and heavy groans in chorus. The effect was dismal; it was heard in the ward-room, and the first lieutenant sent down to desire we should be quiet; on which we immediately gave three more, which sent him in a rage to the quarter-deck, where we were all summoned, and the reason of the noise demanded. I had, till then, kept myself in the background, content with being the primum mobile, without being seen. I was always strict to my duty, and never had been complained of; my coming forward, therefore, on this occasion, produced a fine stage effect, and carried great weight.
I told the lieutenant we were groaning for the poor boy who had been pickled. This increased his rage, and he ordered me up to the mast-head. I refused to go until I had seen the captain, who at that moment made his appearance on deck. I immediately referred to him, related the whole story, not omitting to mention the repeated acts of tyranny which the lieutenant had perpetrated on us all. I saw in a moment that we had gained the day. The captain had given the most positive orders that no one should be punished without his express permission. This order the lieutenant had disobeyed, and that, added to his unpopular character, decided his fate. The captain walked into his cabin, and the next day signified to the first lieutenant, that he must quit the ship on her arrival in port, or be tried by a court-martial: this latter he knew he dared not stand.
I should have informed my reader that our orders were to see the East-India convoy as far as the tenth degree of north latitude, and then proceed to Bermuda. This was of itself a pleasant cruise, and gave us the chance of falling in either with an enemy or a recapture. Ships not intending to cross the line usually grant a saturnalia to the crew when they come to the tropic of Capricorn; it is thought to renovate their spirits, and to break the monotony of the cruise, or voyage, where time flows on in such a smooth, undeviating routine, that one day is not distinguishable from another. Our captain, a young man, and a perfect gentleman, never refused any indulgence to the men, compatible with discipline and the safety of the ship: and as the regular trade-wind blew, there was no danger of sudden squalls The ceremony of crossing the line, I am aware, has been often described—so has Italy and the Rhine; but there are varieties of ways of doing and relating these things; ours had its singularity, and ended, I am sorry to say, in a deep tragedy, which I shall remember "as long as memory holds her seat."
One beautiful morning, as soon as the people had breakfasted, they began to prepare, by stripping to their waists, and wearing nothing but a pair of duck trousers. The man at the mast-head called out that he saw something on the weather bow, which he thought was a boat; soon after, an unknown voice from the jib-boom hailed the ship; the officer of the watch answered; and the voice commanded him to heave to, as Neptune was coming on board. The ship was accordingly hove to with every formality, though going at the rate of seven miles an hour: the main-yard squared, the head and after-yards braced up.
As soon as the ship was hove to, a young man (one of the sailors) dressed in a smart suit of black, knee-breeches, and buckles, with his hair powdered, and with all the extra finery and mincing gait of an exquisite, came aft on the quarter-deck, and, with a most polished bow, took the liberty of introducing himself as gentleman's gentleman to Mr Neptune, who had been desired to precede his master and acquaint the commander of the vessel with his intended visit.
A sail had been extended across the forecastle by way of curtain, and from behind this, Neptune and his train, in full costume, shortly afterwards came forth.
The car of the god consisted of a gun-carriage: it was drawn by six black men, part of the ship's crew: they were tall muscular fellows, their heads were covered with sea-weed, and they wore a very small pair of cotton drawers: in other respects they were perfectly naked; their skins were spotted all over with red and white paint alternately; they had conch shells in their hands, with which they made a most horrible noise. Neptune was masked, as were many of his attendants, and none of the officers knew exactly by which of the men the god was represented; but he was a shrewd hand, and did his part very well. He wore a naval crown, made by the ship's armourer; in his right hand he held a trident, on the prongs of which there was a dolphin, which he had, he said, struck that morning; he wore a large wig, made of oakum, and a beard of the same materials, which flowed down to his waist; he was full powdered, and his naked body was bedaubed with paint.
The god was attended by a splendid court: his secretary of state, whose head was stuck full of the quills of the sea bird of these latitudes; his surgeon, with his lancet, pill-box, and his smelling-bottle; his barber, with a razor, whose blade was two feet long, cut off an iron hoop; and the barber's mate, who carried a small tub, as a shaving-box; the materials within I could not analyze, but my nose convinced me that no part of them came from Smith's, in Bond-street.
Amphitrite followed, on a similar carriage, drawn by six white men, whose costume was like the others. This goddess was personified by an athletic, ugly man, marked with the small-pox, dressed as a female, with a woman's night-cap on his head, ornamented with sprigs of sea-weed; she had a harpoon in her hand, on which was fixed an albicore; and in her lap lay one of the boys of the ship, dressed as a baby, with long clothes and a cap: he held in his hand a marlinspike, which was suspended round his neck with a rope yarn: this was to assist him in cutting his teeth, as the children on shore use a coral. His nurse attended him with a bucket full of burgoo, or hasty pudding, with which she occasionally fed him out of the cook's iron ladle. Two or three stout men were habited as sea nymphs, to attend on the goddess: they carried a looking-glass, some curry-combs, a birch-broom, and a pot of red paint, by way of rouge.
As soon as the procession appeared on the forecastle, the captain, attended by his steward, bearing a tray with a bottle of wine and some glasses, came out of his cabin, and the cars of the marine deities were drawn up on the quarter-deck. Neptune lowered his trident, and presented the dolphin to the captain, as Amphitrite did her albicore, in token of submission and homage to the representative of the King of Great Britain.
"I have come," said the god, "to welcome you into my dominions, and to present my wife and child." The captain bowed. "Allow me to ask after my brother and liege sovereign, the good old King George."
"He is not so well," said the captain, "as I and all his subjects could wish."
"More's the pity," replied Neptune; "and how is the Prince of Wales?"
"The Prince is well," said the captain, "and now governs as regent in the name of his royal father."
"And how does he get on with his wife?" said the inquisitive god.
"Bad enough," said the captain; "they agree together like a whale and a thrasher."
"Ah! I thought so," said the god of the sea. "His royal highness should take a leaf out of my book: never allow it to be doubtful who is commanding officer."
"And pray what might your majesty's specific be, to cure a bad wife?" said the captain.
"Three feet of the cross-jack brace every morning before breakfast, for a quarter of an hour, and half an hour on a Sunday."
"But why more on a Sunday than any other day?" said the captain.
"Why?" said Neptune, "why, because she'd been keeping Saturday night, to be sure; besides, she has less to do of a Sunday, and more time to think of her sins, and do penance."
"But you would not have a prince strike a lady, surely?"
"Wouldn't I? No to be sure, if she behave herself as sich, on no account; but if she gives tongue, and won't keep sober, I'd sarve her as I do Amphy—don't I, Amphy?" chucking the goddess under the chin. "We have no bad wives in the bottom of the sea: and so if you don't know how to keep 'em in order, send them to us."
"But your majesty's remedy is violent; we should have a rebellion in England, if the king was to beat his wife."
"Make the lords in waiting do it then," said the Surly god; "and if they are too lazy, which I dare say they are, send for a boatswain's mate from the Royal Billy—he'd sarve her out, I warrant you; and, for half a gallon of rum, would teach the yeomen of the guard to dance the binnacle hornpipe into the bargain."
"His royal highness shall certainly hear your advice, Mr Neptune; but whether he will follow it or not is not for me to say. Would you please to drink his royal highness's good health?"
"With all my heart, sir; I was always loyal to my king, and ready to drink his health, and to fight for him."
The captain presented the god with a bumper of Madeira, and another to the goddess.
"Here's a good health and a long life to our gracious king and all the royal family. The roads are unkimmon dusty, and we hav'n't wet our lips since we left St Thomas on the line, this morning. But we have no time to lose, captain," said the sea god; "I see many new faces here, as requires washing and shaving; and if we add bleeding and physic, they will be all the better for it."
The captain nodded assent; and Neptune, striking the deck with the end of his trident, commanded attention, and thus addressed his court: "Heark ye, my Tritons, you are called here to shave, duck, and physic all as needs, but I command you to be gentle. I'll have no ill-usage; if we gets a bad name, we gets no more fees; and the first of you as disobeys my orders, I'll tie him to a ten-inch mortar, and sink him ten thousand fathoms deep in the ocean, where he shall feed on salt water and sea-weed for a hundred years: begone to your work." Twelve constables, with thick sticks, immediately repaired to the hatchway, and sent down all who had not been initiated, guarding them strictly, until they were called up one by one.
The cow-pen had been previously prepared for the bathing; it was lined with double canvas, and boarded, so that it held water, and contained about four butts, which was constantly renewed by the pump. Many of the officers purchased exemption from shaving and physic by a bottle of rum; but none could escape the sprinkling of salt water, which fell about in great profusion; even the captain received his share, but with great good-nature, and seemed to enjoy the sport. It was easy to perceive, on this occasion, who were favourites with the ship's company, by the degree of severity with which they were treated. The tyro was seated on the side of the cow-pen: he was asked the place of his nativity, and the moment he opened his mouth, the shaving-brush of the barber, which was a very large paint brush, was crammed in with all the filthy lather with which they covered his face and chin; this was roughly scraped off with the great razor. The doctor felt his pulse, and prescribed a pill, which was forced into his cheek; and the smelling-bottle, the cork of which was armed with short points of pins, was so forcibly applied to his nose as to bring blood; after this, he was thrown backwards into the bath, and allowed to scramble out the best way he could.
The master-at-arms, and ship's corporals, and purser's steward, were severely treated. The midshipmen looked out for the first lieutenant; but he kept so close under the wing of the captain, that for a long time we were unable to succeed. At length, some great uproar in the waist induced him to run down, when we all surrounded him, and plied him so effectually with buckets of water, that he was glad to run down the after-hatchway, and seek shelter in the gun-room; as he ran down, we threw the buckets after him, and he fell, like the Roman virgin, covered with the shields of the soldiers.
The purser had fortified himself in his cabin, and with his sword and pistols, vowed vengeance against all intruders; but the middies were not to be frightened with swords or pistols: so we had him out, and gave him a sound ducking, because he had refused to let us have more spirits than our allowance. He was paraded to the main-deck in great form, his sword held over his head; his pistols, in a bucket of water, carried before him; and having been duly shaved, physicked, and soused into the cow-pen, he was allowed to return to his cabin, like a drowned rat.
The first lieutenant of marines was a great bore; he was always annoying us with his German flute. Having no ear of his own, he had no mercy on ours, so we handed him to the bath; and in addition to all the other luxuries of the day, made him drink, half a pint of salt water, which we poured into his mouth through his own flute, as a funnel. I now recollect that it was the cries of the poor marine which brought down the first lieutenant, who ordered us to desist, and we served him as hath been related.
Thus far all was hilarity and mirth; but the scene was very suddenly changed. One of the foretopmen, drawing water in the chains, fell overboard; the alarm was instantly given, and the ship hove to. I ran upon the poop, and, seeing that the man could not swim, jumped overboard to save him. The height from which I descended made me go very deep in the water, and when I arose I could perceive one of the man's hands. I swam towards him; but, O, God! what was my horror, when I found myself in the midst of his blood. I comprehended in a moment that a shark had taken him, and expected that every instant my own fate would be like his. I wonder I had not sunk with fear: I was nearly paralyzed. The ship, which had been going six or seven miles an hour, was at some distance, and I gave myself up for gone. I had scarcely the power of reflection, and was overwhelmed by the sudden, awful, and, as I thought, certain approach of death in its most horrible shape. In a moment I recollected myself: and I believe the actions of five years crowded into my mind in as many minutes. I prayed most fervently, and vowed amendment, if it should please God to spare me. My prayer was heard, and I believe it was a special Providence that rescued me from the jaws of the fish. I was nearly a mile from the ship before I was picked up; and when the boat came alongside with me, three large sharks were under the stern. These had devoured the poor sailor, and, fortunately for me, had followed the ship for more prey, and thus left me to myself.
As I went up the side, I was received by the captain and officers in the most flattering manner; the captain thanked me in the presence of the ship's company for my praiseworthy exertions, and I was gazed on by all as an object of interest and admiration; but if others thought so of me, I thought not so of myself. I retired below to my berth with a loathing and contempt, a self-abasement, which I cannot describe. I felt myself unworthy of the mercy I had received. The disgraceful and vicious course of life I had led, burst upon me with horrible conviction. "Caelo tonantem credidimus Jovem regnare," says Horace; and it was only by the excitement of such peculiarly horrid situations, that the sense of a superintending power could be awakened within me, a hardened and incorrigible sinner.
I changed my clothes, and was glad when night came, that I might be left to myself; but oh, how infinitely more horrid did my situation appear! I shuddered when I thought of what I had gone through, and I made the most solemn promises of a new life. How transient were these feelings! How long did these good resolutions last? Just as long as no temptation came in the way; as long as there was no excitement to sin, no means of gratifying appetite. My good intentions were traced in the sand. I was very soon as thoughtless and as profane as ever, although frequently checked by the remembrance of my providential escape; and for years afterwards the thoughts of the shark taking me by the leg was accompanied by the acknowledgment that the devil would have me in like manner, if I did not amend.
If after this awakening circumstance, I could have had the good fortune to have met with sober-minded and religious people, I have no doubt but I might have had at this time much less to answer for; but that not being the case, the force of habit and example renewed its dominion over me, and I became nearly as bad as ever.
Our amusements in the gun-room were rough. One of them was to lie on the mess table, under the tiller, and to hold by the tiller ropes above, while we kicked at all who attempted to dislodge us, either by force or stratagem. Whoever had possession, had nine points of the law, and could easily oppose the whole. I one day held this envied position, and kept all at bay, when, unluckily, one of the passed midshipmen, who had got very drunk with the gunner, came in and made a furious attack on me. I gave him a kick on the face, that sent him with great violence on his back, among the plates and dishes, which had been removed from the dinner-table and placed between the guns. Enraged, as much at the laughter against him as at the blow he had received, he snatched up a carving fork, and, before any one was aware of his intention, stabbed me with it four times. I jumped up to punish him, but the moment I got on my legs was so stiff, that I fell back into the arms of my messmates.
The surgeon examined the wounds, which were serious; two of them nearly touched an artery. I was put to bed sick, and was three weeks confined to my berth. The midshipman who had committed this outrage, was very penitent when sober, and implored my pardon and forgiveness. Naturally good-natured, I freely forgave, because I was disarmed by submission. I never trampled on a prostrate foe. The surgeon reported me ill of a fever, which was true; for had the captain known the real fact, the midshipman, whose commission was signed, and in the ship, ready to be delivered to him on his arrival at Bermuda, would certainly have lost his promotion. My kindness to him, I believe, wounded him more than my resentment; he became exceedingly melancholy and thoughtful, gave up drinking, and was ever after greatly attached to me. I reckon this among the few good actions of my life, and own I have great pleasure in reflecting upon it.
We arrived at Bermuda soon after, having left the convoy in the latitude of ten degrees north. The supernumeraries were all discharged into their respective ships; and before we separated, we had the pleasure to see the first lieutenant take his passage in a ship bound to England. Most sincerely did we congratulate ourselves on the success of our intrigue.
Where the remote Bermudas ride, In th' ocean's bosom.
There is a peculiar kind of beauty among these islands, which we might really believe to be the abode of fairies. They consist of a cluster of rocks, formed by the zoophyte, or coral worm. The number of the islands is said to be equal to the days of the year. They are covered with a short green sward, dark cedar trees, and low white houses, which have a pretty and pleasing effect; the harbours are numerous, but shallow; and though there are many channels into them, there is but one for large ships into the principal anchorage.
Numerous caverns, whose roofs sparkle with the spars and stalactites formed by the dripping water, are found in every part of the islands. They contain springs of delicious coolness, to quench the thirst, or to bathe in. The sailors have a notion that these islands float, and that the crust which composes them is so thin as to be broken with little exertion. One man being confined in the guardhouse for having got drunk and misbehaved, stamped on the ground, and roared to the guard, "Let me out, or, d—nour eyes, I'll knock a hole in your bottom, scuttle your island, and send you all to h—— together." Rocks and shoals abound in almost every direction, but chiefly on the north and west sides. They are, however, well known to the native pilots, and serve as a safeguard from nightly surprise or invasion.
Varieties of fish are found here, beautiful to the eye and delicious to the taste: of these, the best is the red grouper. When on a calm, clear day, you glide among these lovely islands, in your boat, you seem to be sailing over a submarine flower-garden, in which clumps of trees, shrubs, flowers, and gravel walks, are planted in wild, but regular confusion.
My chief employment was afloat, and according to my usual habit, I found no amusement unless it was attended with danger; and this propensity found ample gratification in the whale fishery, the season for which was just approaching. The ferocity of the fish in these southern latitudes appears to be increased, both from the heat of the climate and the care of their young, for which reason it would seem that the risk in taking them is greater than in the polar seas.
From what I am able to learn of the natural history of the whale, she brings forth her young seldom more than one at a time in the northern regions, after which, with the calf at her side, the mother seeks a more genial climate, to bring it to maturity. They generally reach Bermuda about the middle of March, where they remain but a few weeks, after which they visit the West India Islands, then bear away to the southward, and go round Cape Horn, returning to the polar seas by the Aleutian Islands and Behring's Straits, which they reach in the following summer; when the young whale, having acquired size and strength in the southern latitudes, is enabled to contend with his enemies in the north, and here also the dam meets the male again. From my own experience and the inquiries I have been enabled to make, I am tolerably certain that this is a correct statement of the migration of these animals, the females annually making the tour of the two great American continents, attended by their young.
The "maternal solicitude" of the whale makes her a dangerous adversary, and many serious accidents occur in the season for catching whales. On one occasion I had nearly paid with my life for the gratification of my curiosity. I went in a whale-boat rowed by coloured men, natives of the islands, who were very daring and expert in this pursuit. We saw a whale, with her calf, playing round the coral rocks; the attention which the dam showed to its young, the care she took to warn it of danger, was truly affecting. She led it away from the boats, swam round it, and sometimes she would embrace it with her fins, and roll over with it in the waves. We contrived to get the "'vantage ground" by going to seaward of her, and by that means drove her into shoal water among the rocks. At last we came so near the young one, that the harpooner poised his weapon, knowing that the calf once struck, the mother was our own, for she would never desert it. Aware of the danger and impending fate of its inexperienced offspring, she swam rapidly round it, in decreasing circles, evincing the utmost uneasiness and anxiety; but the parental admonitions were unheeded, and it met its fate.
The boat approached the side of the younger fish, and the harpooner buried his tremendous weapon deep in the ribs. The moment it felt the wound, the poor animal darted from us, taking out a hundred fathom of line; but a young fish is soon conquered when once well struck: such was the case in this instance; it was no sooner checked with the line than it turned on its back, and, displaying its white belly on the surface of the water, floated a lifeless corpse. The unhappy parent, with an instinct always more powerful than reason, never quitted the body.
We hauled in upon the line, and came close up to our quarry just as another boat had fixed a harpoon in the mother. The tail of the furious animal descended with irresistible force upon the very centre of our boat, cutting it in two, and killing two of the men; the survivors took to swimming for their lives in all directions. The whale went in pursuit of the third boat, but was checked by the line from the one that had struck her: she towed them at the rate of ten or eleven miles an hour: and had she had deep water, would have taken the boat down, or obliged them to cut away from her.
The two boats were so much employed that they could not come to our assistance for some time, and we were left to our own resources much longer than I thought agreeable. I was going to swim to the calf whale; but one of the men advised me not to do so, saying that the sharks would be as thick about him as the lawyers round Westminster Hall; and that I should certainly be snapped up if I went near: for my comfort he added, "These devils seldom touch a man if they can get anything else." This might be very true; but I must confess I was very glad to see one of the boats come to our assistance, while the mother whale, encumbered with the heavy harpoon and line, and exhausted with the fountain of black blood which she threw up, drew near to her calf, and died by its side; evidently, in her last moments, more occupied with the preservation of her young than of herself.
As soon as she turned on her back, I had reason to thank the "Mudian" for his good advice; there were at least thirty or forty sharks assembled round the carcasses; and as we towed them in, they followed. When we had grounded them in the shallow water, close to the beach, the blubber was cut off; after which, the flesh was given to the black people, who assembled in crowds, and cut off with their knives large portions of the meat. The sharks as liberally helped themselves with their teeth; but it was very remarkable, that though the black men often came between them and the whale, they never attacked a man. This was a singular scene; the blacks with their white eyes and teeth, hallooing, laughing, screaming, and mixing with numerous sharks—the most ferocious monsters of the deep—yet preserving a sort of truce during the presence of a third object: it reminded me, comparing great things with small, of the partition of Poland.
I found that there was neither honour nor profit for me in this diversion, so I no more went a whale fishing, but took my passage to Halifax, in a schooner; one of those vessels built during the war, in imitation of the Virginia pilot boats; but, like most of our imitations, about as much resembling the original as a cow is like a hare, and bearing exactly the same proportion in point of velocity. And as if it had been determined that these vessels should in every respect disgrace the British flag, the command of them was conferred on officers whose conduct would not induce captains to allow them to serve under them, and who were therefore very unwisely sent into small vessels, where they became their own masters, and were many of them constantly drunk; such was the state of my commander from the time I sailed until we reached Halifax. The example of the lieutenant was followed by his mate, and three midshipmen; the crew, which consisted of twenty-five men, were kept sober by being confined to their allowance, and I had a hopeful prospect.
Fortunately, drinking was not among my vices. I could get "fresh," as we call it, when in good company and excited by wit and mirth; but I never went to the length of being drunk; and, as I advanced in years, pride and cunning made me still more guarded. I perceived the immense advantage which sobriety gave me over a drunkard, and I failed not to profit by it.
Keeping constantly on deck, almost night and day, I attended to the course of the vessel and the sail she carried, never taking the trouble to consult the lieutenant, who was generally senseless in his cabin. We made Sambro' Lighthouse (which is at the entrance of Halifax harbour) in the evening, and one of the midshipmen, who was more than half drunk, declared himself well acquainted with the place, and his offer to pilot the vessel in was accepted. As I had never been there before, I could be of no use; but being extremely doubtful of the skill of our pilot, I watched his proceedings with some anxiety.
In half an hour we found ourselves on shore on Cornwallis Island, as I afterwards learned, and the sea made a fair breach over us. This sobered the lieutenant and his officers; and as the tide fell, we found ourselves high and dry. The vessel fell over on her side, and I walked on shore, determined to trust myself no more with such a set of beasts. Boats came down from the dockyard at daylight, and took me and some others who had followed my example, together with our luggage, to the flag-ship. After two days' hard labour, the vessel was got off, and brought into the harbour. The admiral was informed of the whole transaction, and one of the captains advised him to try the lieutenant by a court-martial, or, at least, to turn him out of the vessel, and send him home. Unfortunately, he would not follow this advice, but sent him to sea again, with despatches. It was known that all hands were drunk on quitting the port; and the vessel ran upon a reef of rocks called the Sisters, where she sank, and every soul perished. Her mast-heads were seen just above water the next morning.
The frigate I was to join, came into harbour soon after I reached Halifax. This I was sorry for, as I found myself in very good quarters. I had letters of introduction to the best families. The place is proverbial for hospitality; and the society of the young ladies, who are both virtuous and lovely, tended in some degree to reform and polish the rough and libertine manners which I had contracted in my career. I had many sweethearts; but they were more like Emily than Eugenia. I was a great flirt among them, and would willingly have spent more time in their company; but my fate or fortune was to be accomplished, and I went on board the frigate, where I presented my introductory letters to the nobleman who commanded her. I expected to have seen an effeminate young man, much too refined to learn his business; but I was mistaken. Lord Edward was a sailor every inch of him: he knew a ship from stem to stern, understood the characters of seamen, and gained their confidence. He was, besides, a good mechanic—a carpenter, rope-maker, sail-maker, and cooper. He could hand, reef, and steer, knot and splice; but he was no orator: he read little, and spoke less. He was a man of no show. He was good-tempered, honest, and unsophisticated, with a large proportion of common sense. He was good-humoured and free with his officers; though, if offended he was violent but soon calm again; nor could you ever perceive any assumption of consequence from his title of nobility. He was pleased with my expertness in practical seamanship; and before we left the harbour, I became a great favourite. This I took care to improve, as I liked him both for himself and his good qualities, independently of the advantages of being on good terms with the captain.
We were not allowed to remain long in this paradise of sailors, being ordered suddenly to Quebec. I ran round to say adieu to all my dear Arcadian friends. A tearful eye, a lock of hair, a hearty shake of a fair hand, were all the spoils with which I was loaded when I quitted the shore, and I cast many a longing, lingering look behind, as the ship glided out of the harbour; white handkerchiefs were waved from the beach, and many a silent prayer put up for our safe return from snowy bosoms and from aching hearts. I dispensed my usual quantum of vows of eternal love and fidelity before I left them, and my departure was marked in the calendar of Halifax as a black day, by at least seven or eight pairs of blue eyes.
We had not been long at sea before we spoke an Irish Guineaman from Belfast, loaded with emigrants for the United States: I think about seventeen families. These were contraband. Our captain had some twenty thousand acres on the island of St John's, or Prince Edward's, as it is now called, a grant to some of his ancestors, which had been bequeathed to him, and from which he had never received one shilling of rent, for the very best reason in the world, because there were no tenants to cultivate the soil. It occurred to our noble captain, that this was the very sort of cargo he wanted, and that these Irish people would make good clearers of his land, and improve his estate. He made the proposal to them, and as they saw no chance of getting to the United States, and provided they could procure nourishment for their families, it was a matter of indifference to them where they colonised, the proposal was accepted, and the captain obtained permission of the admiral to accompany them to the island, to see them housed and settled. Indeed, nothing could have been more advantageous for all parties; they increased the scanty population of our own colony, instead of adding to the number of our enemies. We sailed again from Halifax a few hours after we had obtained the sanction of the admiral, and, passing through the beautiful passage between Nova Scotia and the island of Cape Breton, known by the name of the Gut of Canso, we soon reached Prince Edward's Island.
We anchored in a small harbour near the estate, on which we found a man residing with his wife and family; this fellow called himself the steward, and from all I could see of him during our three weeks' stay, he appeared to me to be rascal enough for the stewardship of any nobleman's estate in England. The captain landed, and took me as his aide-de-camp. A bed was prepared for his lordship in the steward's house, but he preferred sleeping on clean hay in the barn. This noble lord was a man whose thoughts seldom gave much labour to his tongue; he always preferred hearing others to talking himself; and whoever was his companion, he must always be at the expense of the conversation. Nor was it by the usual mode of simple narrative, that his mind was completely impressed with the image intended to be presented to him; he required three different versions, or paraphrases, of the same story or observation, and to these he had three different expletives or ejaculations. These were hum! eh! and ah! The first denoted attention; the second, part comprehension; and the third, assent and entire approval; to mark which more distinctly, the last syllable was drawn out to an immoderate length, and accompanied by a sort of half laugh.
I shall give one instance of our colloquial pastime. His lordship, after we had each taken up our quarters for the night, on the soft dry hay, thus began:
"I say,"—a pause.
"What would they say in England, at our taking up such quarters?"
"I think, my lord, that as far as regards myself, they would say nothing; but as far as regards your lordship, they would say it was very indifferent accommodation for a nobleman."
This I knew was the signal for a new version. "I was observing, my lord, that a person of your rank, taking up his quarters in a barn, would excite suspicion among your friends in England."
"Eh?" says his lordship.
That did not do—either your lordship's head or mine is very thick, thinks I. I'll try again, though dying to go to sleep. "I say, my lord, if the people in England knew what a good sailor you are, they would be surprised at nothing you did; but those who know nothing, would think it odd that you should be contented with such quarters."
"Ah!" said his lordship, triumphantly.
What further observations he was pleased to make that night I know not, for I fell fast asleep, and did not awake till the cocks and hens began to fly down from their roosts, and make a confounded clamour for their breakfasts, when his lordship jumped up, gave himself a good shake, and then gave me another of a different sort: it announced the purpose, however, of restoring me to that reason, of which the cackling of the poultry had only produced the incipient signs.
"Come, rouse out, you d——- lazy chap," said my captain. "Do you mean to sleep all day? we have got plenty to do."
"Ay, ay, my lord," said I. So up I jumped, and my toilet was completed in the same time, and by the same operation, as that of a Newfoundland dog, namely, a good shake.
A large party of the ship's company came on shore with the carpenter, bringing with them every implement useful in cutting down trees and building log-houses. Such was to be our occupation, in order to house these poor emigrants. Our men began to clear a patch of land, by cutting down a number of pine-trees, the almost exclusive natives of the wood, and, having selected a spot for the foundation, we placed four stems of trees in a parallelogram, having a deep notch in each end, mutually to fit and embrace each other. When the walls, by this repeated operation, were high enough, we laid on the rafters, and covered the roof with boughs of the fir, and the bark of the birch-tree, filling the interstices with moss and mud. By practice, I became a very expert engineer, and with the assistance of thirty or forty men, I could build a very good house in a day.
We next cleared, by burning and rooting up, as much land as would serve to sustain the little colony for the ensuing season; and having planted a crop of corn and potatoes, and given the settlers many articles useful in their new abode, we left them agreeably to our orders, and to my great joy returned to dear Halifax where I again was blessed with the sight of my innocent harem. I remember well that I received a severe rebuke from the captain for inattention to signals. One was addressed to us from the flag-ship; I was signal midshipman; but instead of directing my glass towards the old Centurion, it was levelled at a certain young Calypso, whose fair form I discovered wandering along the "gazon fleuris:" how long would I not have dwelt in this happy Arcadia, had not another Mentor pushed me off the rocks, and sent me once more to buffet the briny waves!
Contrary to the opinion of any rational being, the President of the United States was planning a war against England, and every ship in Halifax harbour was preparing to fight the Yankees. The squadron sailed in September. I bade adieu to the nymphs of Nova Scotia with more indifference than became me, or than the reception I had met with from them seemed to deserve; but I was the same selfish and ungrateful being as ever. I cared for no one but my own dear self, and as long as I was gratified, it mattered little to me how many broken hearts I left behind.
At once the winds arise, The thunders roll, the forky lightning flies; In vain the master issues out commands, In vain the trembling sailors ply their hands: The tempest unforeseen prevents their care, And from the first, they labour in despair.
Halifax is a charming, hospitable place: its name is associated with so many pleasing recollections, that it never fails to extort another glass from the bottle which, having been gagged, was going to pass the night in the cellaret. But only say Halifax! and it is like "Open sesame!"—out flies the cork, and down goes a bumper to the "health of all good lasses!"
I related, in the last chapter, an adventure with an Irish Guineaman, whose cargo my right honourable captain converted to the profitable uses of himself and his country. Another of these vessels had been fallen in with by one of our cruisers, and the commander of His Majesty's sloop, the Humming Bird, made a selection of some thirty or forty stout Hibernians to fill up his own complement, and hand over the surplus to the admiral.
Short-sighted mortals we all are, and captains of men-of-war are not exempted from this human imperfection! How much, also, drops between the cup and the lip! There chanced to be on board of the same trader two very pretty Irish girls of the better sort of bourgeoisie; they were going to join their friends at Philadelphia: the name of the one was Judy, and of the other Maria. No sooner were the poor Irishmen informed of their change of destination, than they set up a howl loud enough to make the scaly monsters of the deep seek their dark caverns. They rent the hearts of the poor tender-hearted girls; and when the thorough bass of the males was joined by the sopranos and trebles of the women and children, it would have made Orpheus himself turn round and gaze.
"Oh, Miss Judy! Oh, Miss Maria! would ye be so cruel as to see us poor craturs dragged away to a man-of-war, and not for to go and spake a word for us? A word to the captain wid your own pretty mouths, no doubt he would let us off."
The young ladies, though doubting the powers of their own fascinations, resolved to make the experiment; so, begging the lieutenant of the sloop to give them a passage on board, to speak with his captain, they added a small matter of finery to their dress, and skipped into the boat like a couple of mountain kids, caring neither for the exposure of legs nor the spray of the salt water, which, though it took the curls out of their hair, added a bloom to the cheeks which, perhaps, contributed in no small degree to the success of their project.
There is something in the sight of a petticoat at sea that never fails to put a man into a good humour, provided he be rightly constructed. When they got on board the Humming Bird, they were received by the captain, and handed down into the cabin, where some refreshments were immediately prepared for them, and every kind attention shown which their sex and beauty could demand. The captain was one of the best natured fellows that ever lived, with a pair of little sparkling black eyes that laughed in your face.
"And pray, young ladies," said he, "what may have procured me the honour of this visit?"
"It was to beg a favour of your honour," said Judy.
"And his honour will grant it, too," said Maria; "for I like the look of him."
Flattered by this little shot of Maria's, the captain said that nothing ever gave him more pleasure than to oblige the ladies; and if the favour they intended to ask was not utterly incompatible with his duty, that he would grant it.
"Well then," said Maria, "will your honour give me back Pat Flannagan, that you have pressed just now?"
The captain shook his head.
"He's no sailor, your honour; but a poor bog-trotter: and he will never do you any good."
The captain again shook his head.
"Ask me anything else," said he, "and I will give it you."
"Well then," said Maria, "give us Felim O'Shaugnessy?"
The captain was equally inflexible.
"Come, come, your honour," said Judy, "we must not stand upon trifles nowadays. I'll give you a kiss, if you'll give me Pat Flannagan."
"And I another," said Maria, "for Felim."
The captain had one seated on each side of him; his head turned like a dog-vane in a gale of wind; he did not know which to begin with; the most ineffable good humour danced in his eyes, and the ladies saw at once that the day was their own. Such is the power of beauty, that this lord of the ocean was fain to strike to it. Judy laid a kiss on his right cheek; Maria matched it on his left; the captain was the happiest of mortals.
"Well, then," said he, "you have your wish; take your two men, for I am in a hurry to make sail."
"Is it sail ye are after making; and do ye mane to take all those pretty craturs away wid ye? No, faith! another kiss, and another man."
I am not going to relate how many kisses these lovely girls bestowed on this envied captain. If such are captain's perquisites, who would not be a captain? Suffice it to say, they released the whole of their countrymen, and returned on board in triumph. The story reached Halifax, where the good-humoured admiral only said he was sorry he was not a captain, and all the happy society made themselves very merry with it. The captain, who is as brave as he is good, was promoted soon after, entirely from his own intrinsic merit, but not for this action, in which candour and friendship must acknowledge he was defeated. The Lord-Chancellor used to say, he always laughed at the settlement of pin-money, as ladies were either kicked out of it or kissed out of it; but his lordship, in the whole course of his legal practice, never saw a captain of a man-of-war kissed out of forty men by two pretty Irish girls. After this, who would not shout, "Erin go bragh!"
Dashing with a fine breeze out of the harbour, I saw with joy the field of fortune open to me, holding out a fair promise of glory and riches. "Adieu!" said I, in my heart, "adieu, ye lovely Nova Scotians! learn in future to distinguish between false glitter and real worth. Me ye prized for a handsome person and a smooth tongue, while you foolishly rejected men of ten times my worth, because they wanted the outward blandishments."
We were ordered to Bermuda, and on our first quitting the port steered away to the southward with a fair wind at north-west. This breeze soon freshened into a gale at south-east, and blew with some violence, but after a while it died away to a perfect calm, leaving a heavy swell, in which the ship rolled incessantly. About eleven o'clock the sky began to blacken; and, before noon, had assumed an appearance of the most dismal and foreboding darkness; the sea-gulls screamed as they flew distractedly by, warning us to prepare for the approaching hurricane, whose symptoms could hardly be mistaken. The warning was not lost upon us, most of our sails were taken in, and we had, as we thought, so well secured everything, as to bid defiance to the storm. About noon it came with a sudden and terrific violence that astonished the oldest and most experienced seaman among us: the noise it made was horrible, and its ravages inconceivable.
The wind was from the north-west—the water as it blew on board, and all over us, was warm as milk; the murkiness and close smell of the air was in a short time dispelled; but such was the violence of the wind, that, on the moment of its striking the ship, she lay over on her side with her lee guns under water. Every article that could move was danced to leeward; the shot flew out of the lockers, and the greatest confusion and dismay prevailed below, while above deck things went still worse; the mizen-mast and the fore and main topmast went over the side; but such was the noise of the wind, that we could not hear them fall; nor did I, who was standing close to the mizen-mast at the moment, know it was gone, until I turned round and saw the stump of the mast snapped in two like a carrot. The noise of the wind "waxed louder and louder;" it was like one continued peal of thunder; and the enormous waves as they rose were instantly beheaded by its fury, and sent in foaming spray along the bosom of the deep; the storm stay-sails flew to atoms; the captain, officers, and men, stood aghast, looking at each other, and waiting the awful event in utter amazement.
The ship lay over on her larboard side so heavily as to force in the gun ports, and the nettings of the waist hammocks, and seemed as if settling bodily down; while large masses of water, by the force of the wind, were whirled up into the air; and others were pouring down the hatchways, which we had not had time to batten down, and before we had succeeded, the lower deck was half full, and the chests and hammocks were all floating about in dreadful disorder. The sheep, cow, pigs, and poultry, were all washed overboard out of the waist and drowned; no voice could be heard, and no orders were given; all discipline was suspended; every man was equal to his neighbour; captain and sweeper clung alike to the same rope for security.
The carpenter was for cutting away the masts, but the captain would not consent. A seaman crawled aft on the quarter-deck, and screaming into the ear of the captain, informed him that one of the anchors had broke adrift, and was hanging by the cable under the bows. To have let it remain long in this situation, was certain destruction to the ship, and I was ordered forward to see it cut away; but so much had the gale and the sea increased in a few minutes, that a passage to the forecastle was not to be found: on the weather side, the wind and sea were so violent that no man could face them. I was blown against the boats, and with difficulty got back to the quarter-deck; and going over to leeward, I swam along the gangway under the lee of the boats, and delivered the orders, which with infinite difficulty at last were executed.
On the forecastle, I found the oldest and stoutest seamen holding on by the weather rigging, and crying like children: I was surprised at this, and felt proud to be above such weakness. While my superiors in age and experience were sinking under apprehension, I was aware of our danger; and saw very clearly, that if the frigate did not right very shortly, it would be all over with us; for in spite of our precautions, the water was increasing below. I swam back to the quarter-deck, where the captain, who was as brave a man as ever trod a plank, stood at the wheel with three of the best seamen; but such were the rude shocks which the rudder received from the sea, that it was with the utmost difficulty they could prevent themselves being thrown over the ship's side. The lee quarter-deck guns were under water; but it was proposed to throw them overboard; and as it was a matter of life and death, we succeeded. Still she lay like a log, and would not right, and settled down in a very alarming manner. The violence of the hurricane was unabated, and the general feeling seemed be, "To prayers!—to prayers!—all lost!"
The fore and main-masts still stood, supporting the weight of rigging and wreck which hung to them, and which, like a powerful lever, pressed the labouring ship down on her side. To disengage this enormous top hamper, was to us an object more to be desired than expected. Yet the case was desperate, and a desperate effort was to be made, or in half an hour we should have been past praying for, except by a Roman Catholic priest. The danger of sending a man aloft was so imminent, that the captain would not order one on this service; but calling the ship's company on the quarter-deck, pointed to the impending wreck, and by signs and gestures, and hard bawling, convinced them that unless the ship was immediately eased of her burden, she must go down.
At this moment every wave seemed to make a deeper and more fatal impression on her. She descended rapidly in the hollows of the sea, and rose with dull and exhausted motion, as if she felt she could do no more. She was worn out in the contest, and about to surrender, like a noble and battered fortress, to the overwhelming power of her enemies. The men seemed stupefied with the danger; and I have no doubt, could they have got at the spirits, would have made themselves drunk; and in that state, have met their inevitable fate. At every lurch, the mainmast appeared as if making the most violent efforts to disengage itself from the ship: the weather shrouds became like straight bars of iron, while the lee shrouds hung over in a semi-circle to leeward, or with the weather-roll, banged against the mast, and threatened instant destruction, each moment, from the convulsive jerks. We expected to see the mast fall, and with it the side of the ship to be beat in. No man could be found daring enough, at the captain's request, to venture aloft, and cut away the wreck of the main-top mast, and the main-yard, which was hanging up and down, with the weight of the top-mast and topsail yard resting upon it. There was a dead and stupid pause, while the hurricane, if any thing, increased in violence.