I confess that I felt gratified at this acknowledgment of a danger which none dare face. I waited a few seconds, to see if a volunteer would step forward, resolved, if he did, that I would be his enemy for life, inasmuch as he would have robbed me of the gratification of my darling passion—unbounded pride. Dangers, in common with others, I had often faced, and been the first to encounter; but to dare that which a gallant and hardy crew of a frigate had declined, was a climax of superiority which I had never dreamed of attaining. Seizing a sharp tomahawk, I made signs to the captain that I would attempt to cut away the wreck, follow me who dared. I mounted the weather-rigging; five or six hardy seamen followed me; sailors will rarely refuse to follow where they find an officer to lead the way.
The jerks of the rigging had nearly thrown us overboard, or jammed us with the wreck. We were forced to embrace the shrouds with arms and legs; and anxiously, and with breathless apprehension for our lives, did the captain, officers, and crew, gaze on us as we mounted, and cheered us at every stroke of the tomahawk. The danger seemed passed when we reached the catharpens, where we had foot room. We divided our work, some took the lanyards of the topmast rigging, I, the slings of the main-yard. The lusty blows we dealt, were answered by corresponding crashes; and at length, down fell the tremendous wreck over the larboard gunwale. The ship felt instant relief; she righted, and we descended amidst the cheers, the applauses, the congratulations, and, I may add, the tears of gratitude, of most of our shipmates. The work now become lighter, the gale abated every moment, the wreck was gradually cleared away, and we forgot our cares.
This was the proudest moment of my life, and no earthly possession would I have taken in exchange for what I felt when I once more placed my foot on the quarter-deck. The approving smile of the captain—the hearty shake by the hand—the praises of the officers—the eager gaze of the ship's company, who looked on me with astonishment and obeyed me with alacrity, were something in my mind, when abstractedly considered, but nothing compared to the inward feeling of gratified ambition, a passion so intimately interwoven in my existence, that to have eradicated it, the whole fabric of my frame must have been demolished. I felt pride justified.
Hurricanes are rarely of long continuance; this was succeeded by a gale, which, though strong, was fine weather compared to what we had seen. We fell to work rigged our jury-mast, and in a few days presented ourselves to the welcome gaze of the town of Halifax, which, having felt the full force of the hurricane, expressed very considerable alarm for our safety. My arms and legs did not recover for some time from the effects of the bruises I had received in going aloft, and for some days I remained on board. When I recovered I went on shore, and was kindly and affectionately received by my numerous friends.
I had not been long at Halifax, before a sudden change took place in the behaviour of my captain towards me. The cause I could never exactly discover, though I had given myself some room for conjecture. I must confess, with sorrow, that notwithstanding his kindness to me on every occasion, and notwithstanding my high respect for him, as an officer and a gentleman, I had raised a laugh against him. But he was too good-humoured a man to be offended at such a harmless act of youthful levity; and five minutes were usually the limits of anger with this amiable man, on such occasions as I am about to relate.
The fact was this; my truly noble captain sported a remarkable wide pair of blue trowsers. Whether he thought it sailor-like, or whether his tailor was afraid of putting his lordship to short allowance of cloth, for fear of phlogistic consequences, I know not; but broad as was the beam of his lordship, still broader and more ample in proportion were the folds of this essential part of his drapery, quite enough to have embraced twice the volume of human flesh contained within them, large as it undoubtedly was.
That "a stitch in time saves nine," is a wise saw; unhappily, like many others of the same thrifty kind, but little heeded in this our day. So it was with Lord Edward. A rent had, by some mischance been made in the central seam, and, on the morning of the hurricane, was still unmended. When the gale came, it sought a quarrel with any thing it could lay hold of, and the harmless trowsers of Lord Edward became subject to its mighty and resistless devastation; the blustering Boreas entered by the seam aforesaid, and filled the trowsers like the cheeks of a trumpeter. Yorkshire wool could not stand the inflated pressure—the dress split to ribbons, and soundly flagellated the very part it was intended to conceal. What could he do, "in sweet confusion lost and dubious flutterings"—the only defence left against the rude blast, was his shirt (for the weather was so warm that second garments were dispensed with), and this too being old, fled in tatters before the gale. In short, clap a sailor's jacket on the Gladiator in Hyde-park, and you have a fair view of Lord Edward in the hurricane.
The case was inconvenient enough; but as the ship was in distress, and we all expected to go to the bottom in half an hour, it was not worth while to quit the deck to replace the dress, which would have availed him nothing in the depths of the sea, particularly as we were not likely to meet with any ladies there; nor if there had been any, was it a matter of any moment whether we went to Davy's Locker with or without breeches; but when the danger was passed, the joke began to appear, and I was amusing a large company with the tale when his lordship came in. The titter of the ladies increased to a giggle, and then, by regular gradation, to a loud and uncontrollable laugh. He very soon discovered that he was the subject, and I the cause, and for a minute or two seemed sulky; but it soon went off, and I cannot think this was the reason of his change of sentiments; for, although it is high treason in a midshipman to look black at the captain's dog, much less to laugh at the captain under any circumstances, still I knew that my captain was too good a fellow to be offended with such a trifle. I rather suspect I was wished out of the ship by the first lieutenant and gun-room officers; and they were right, for where an inferior officer is popular with the men, discipline must suffer from it. I received a good-natured hint from Lord Edward, that another captain, in a larger frigate, would be happy to receive me. I understood him; we parted good friends, and I shall ever think of him with respect and gratitude.
My new captain was a very different sort of man, refined in his manner, a scholar and a gentleman. Kind and friendly with his officers, his library was at their disposal; the fore-cabin, where his books were usually kept, was open to all; it was the school-room of the young midshipmen, and the study of the old ones. He was an excellent draughtsman, and I profited not a little by his instructions; he loved the society of the ladies, so did I; but he being a married man was more select in his company, and more correct in his conduct than I could pretend to be.
We were ordered to Quebec, sailed through the beautiful Gut of Canso, and up the spacious and majestic St Lawrence, passing in sight of the Island of Anticosta. Nothing material occurred during the passage, save that a Scotch surgeon's-assistant, having adopted certain aristocratic notions, required a democratical lecture on heads, which was duly administered to him. He pretended that he was, by birth and education (at Edinburgh), entitled to be at the head of our mess. This I resisted, and soon taught the ambitious son of Esculapius that the science of defence was as important as the art of healing; and that if he was skilful in this latter, I would give him an opportunity of employing it on his own person: whereupon I implanted on his cinciput, occiput, os frontis, os nasi, and all other vulnerable parts of his body, certain concussions calculated to stupify and benumb the censorium, and to produce under each eye a quantity of black extravasated blood; while, at the same time, a copious stream of carmine fluid issued from either nostril. It was never my habit to bully or take any unfair advantage; so, having perceived a cessation of arms on his part, I put the usual interrogatives as to whether the party contending was satisfied; and being answered in the affirmative, I laid by my metacarpal bones until they might be farther wanted, either for reproof or correction.
We anchored off Cape Diamond, which divides the St Lawrence from the little river St Charles. The continuation of this cape, as it recedes, forms the Heights of Abraham, on which the immortal Wolfe defeated Montcalm, in the year 1759, when both the generals ended their glorious career on the field of battle. The city stands on the extremity of the cape, and has a very romantic appearance. The houses and churches are generally covered with tin, to prevent conflagration, to which this place was remarkably subject when the houses were covered with thatch or shingle. When the rays of the sun lay on the buildings, they had the appearance of being cased in silver.
One of our objects in going to Quebec was to procure men, of which the squadron was very deficient. Our seamen and marines were secretly and suddenly formed into press-gangs. The command of one of them was conferred on me. The officers and marines went on shore in disguise, having agreed on private signals and places of rendezvous; while the seamen on whom we could depend, acted as decoy ducks, pretending to belong to merchant vessels, of which their officer was the master, and inducing them to engage, for ten gallons of rum and three hundred dollars, to take the run home. Many were procured in this manner, and were not undeceived until they found themselves alongside of the frigate, when their oaths and execrations may be better conceived than described or repeated.
It may be proper to explain here that the vessels employed in the timber trade arrive in the month of June, as soon as the ice is clear of the river, and, if they do not sail by or before the end of October, are usually set fast in the ice, and forced to winter in the St Lawrence, losing their voyage, and lying seven or eight months idle. Aware of this, the sailors, as soon as they arrive, desert, and are secreted and fed by the crimps, who make their market of them in the fall of the year by selling them to the captains; procuring for the men an exorbitant sum for the voyage home, and for themselves a handsome douceur for their trouble, both from the captain and the sailor.
We were desired not to take men out of the merchant vessels, but to search for them in the houses of the crimps. This was to us a source of great amusement and singular adventure; for the ingenuity in concealing them was only equalled by the art and cunning exercised in the discovery of their abodes. Cellars and lofts were stale and out of use; we found more game in the interior of haystacks, church steeples, closets under fireplaces where the fire was burning. Some we found headed up in sugar-hogsheads, and some concealed within bundles of hoop-staves. Sometimes we found seamen, dressed as gentlemen, drinking wine and talking with the greatest familiarity with people much above them in rank, who had used these means to conceal them. Our information led us to detect these excusable impositions.
I went into the country, about fifteen miles from Quebec, where I had heard of a crimp's preserve, and after a tedious search, discovered some good seamen on the rafters of an outhouse intended only to smoke and cure bacon; and as the fires were lighted, and the smoke ascending, it was difficult to conceive a human being could exist there: nor should we have discovered them if one of them had not coughed; on which he received the execrations of the others, and the whole party was instantly handed out. We immediately cut the strings of their trowsers behind, to prevent their running away, (this ought never to be omitted), and, placing them and ourselves in the farmer's waggon, made him put his team to and drive us all to Quebec, the new-raised men joining with our own in all the jokes which flew thick about on the occasion of their discovery. It was astonishing to me how easily these fine fellows reconciled themselves to the thoughts of a man-of-war; perhaps the approaching row with the Yankees tended very much to preserve good humour. I became an enthusiast in man-hunting, although sober reflection has since convinced me of its cruelty, injustice, and inexpediency, tending to drive seamen from the country more than any measure the government could adopt; but I am not going to write a treatise on impressment. I cared not one farthing about the liberty of the subject, as long as I got my ship well manned for the impending conflict; and as I gratified my love of adventure, I was as thoughtless of the consequences as when I rode over a farmer's turnips in England, or broke through his hedges in pursuit of a fox.
A tradesman at Quebec had affronted me, by refusing to discount a bill which I had drawn on my father. I had no other means of paying him for the goods I had purchased of him, and was much disconcerted at his refusal, which he accompanied with an insult to myself and my cloth, never to be forgotten. Turning the paper over and over, he said, "a midshipman's bill is not worth a farthing, and I am too old a bird to be caught with such chaff."
Conscious that the bill was good, I vowed revenge. My search-warrant enabled me to go wherever I could get information of men being concealed—this was easily obtained from a brother mid (the poor man might as well have been in the hands of the holy brotherhood). My companion stated his firm conviction that sailors were concealed in the house; I applied to the captain, and received orders to proceed by all means in execution of my duty. The tradesman was a man of consequence in Quebec, being what is there called a large storekeeper, though we in England should have called him a shopkeeper. About one o'clock in the morning we hammered at his door with no gentle tap, demanding admittance in the name of our sovereign lord the king. We were refused, and forthwith broke open the door, and spread over his house like a nest of cockroaches. Cellars, garrets, maids' room, ladies' rooms, we entered, sans ceremonie; paid little regard to the Medicean costume of the fair occupants; broke some of the most indispensable articles of bedroom furniture; rattled the pots and pans about in the kitchen; and, finding the two sons of the master of the house, ordered them to dress and come with us, certain, we said, that they were sailors.
When the old tradesman saw me he began to smell a rat, and threatened me with severe punishment. I shewed him my search-warrant, and asked him if it was a good bill. After having inspected every part of the house, I departed, leaving the two young cubs half dead with fear. The next day, a complaint was lodged at the government-house; but investigation is a long word when a man-of-war is ordered on service. Despatches from Albany reached Quebec, stating that the President of the United States had declared war against England; in consequence of which, our captain took leave of the governor, and dropped down the river with all speed, so I never heard any more of my tradesman.
We arrived at Halifax full manned, and immediately received orders to proceed to sea, "to sink, burn, and destroy." We ran for Boston bay, when, on the morning we made the land, we discovered ten or twelve sail of merchant vessels. The first we boarded was a brig; one of our boats was lowered down; I got into her, and jumped on the deck of the Yankee, while the frigate continued in chase of the others. The master of the vessel sat on a hen-coop, and did not condescend to rise or offer me the least salute as I passed him; he was a short, thick, paunchy-looking fellow.
"You are an Englishman, I guess?"
"I guess I am," I said, imitating him with a nasal twang.
"I thought we shouldn't be long in our waters afore we met some of you old-country sarpents. No harm in what I've said, I hope?" added the master.
"Oh, no," said I, "not the least; it will make no difference in the long run. But where do you come from, and where are you bound?"
"Come from Smyrna, and bound to Boston, where I hope to be to-morrow morning, by the blessing of God, and a good conscience."
From this answer, I perceived that he was unacquainted with the war, and I therefore determined to play with him a little before I gave him the fatal news.
"And pray," said I, "what might your cargo consist of? you appear to be light."
"Not so light neither, I guess," said the man; "we have sweet oil, raisins, and what we calls notions."
"I have no notion," said I, "what they might be. Pray explain yourself."
"Why, you see, notions is what we call a little of all sorts like. Some likes one thing, you know, and some another: some likes sweet almonds, and some likes silk, and some likes opium, and some" (he added, with a cunning grin) "likes dollars."
"And are these the notions with which you are loaded?" said I.
"I guess they are," replied Jonathan.
"And what might your outward cargo have been?" said I.
"Salt fish, flour, and tobacco," was his answer.
"And is this all you have in return?" I asked. "I thought the Smyrna trade had been a very good one."
"Well, so it is," said the unwary Yankee. "Thirty thousand dollars in the cabin, besides the oil and the rest of the goods, an't no bad thing."
"I am very glad to hear of the dollars," said I.
"What odds does that make to you?" said the captain; "it won't be much on 'em as'll come to your share."
"More than you may think," said I. "Have you heard the news as you came along?"
At the word "news," the poor man's face became the colour of one in the jaundice. "What news?" said he, in a state of trepidation that hardly admitted of utterance.
"Why, only that your president, Mr Madison, has thought fit to declare war against England."
"You're only a joking?" said the captain.
"I give you my word of honour I am serious," said I; "and your vessel is a prize to his Britannic majesty's ship, the ——."
The poor man fetched a sigh from the waistband of his trowsers. "I am a ruined man," said he. "I only wish I'd known a little sooner of the war you talk about: I've got two nice little guns there forward; you shouldn't a had me so easily."
I smiled at his idea of resistance against a fast-sailing frigate of fifty guns; but left him in the full enjoyment of his conceit, and changing the subject, asked if he had any thing he could give us to drink, for the weather was very warm.
"No, I ha'n't," he replied, peevishly; "and if I had—"
"Come, come, my good fellow," said I, "you forget you are a prize; civility is a cheap article, and may bring you a quick return."
"That's true," said Jonathan, who was touched on the nicest point—self; "that's true, you are only a doing your duty. Here, boy, fetch up that ere demi John of Madeira, and for aught I know, the young officer might like a drop o' long cork; bring us some tumblers, and one o' they claret bottles out o' the starboard after locker."
The boy obeyed—and the articles quickly appeared. While this dialogue was going on, the frigate was in chase, firing guns, and bringing-to the different vessels as she passed them, dropping a boat on board of one, and making sail after another. We stood after her with all the sail we could conveniently carry.
"Pray," said the captain, "might I offer you a bit of something to eat? I guess you ha'n't dined yet, as it isn't quite meridian."
I thanked him, and accepted his offer: he ran down instantly to the cabin, as if to prepare for my reception; but I rather thought he wished to place some articles out of my sight, and this proved to be the case, for he stole a bag of dollars out of the cargo. In a short time, I was invited down. A leg of cured pork, and a roasted fowl, were very acceptable to a midshipman at any time, but particularly so to me; and, when accompanied by a few glasses of the Madeira, the barometer of my spirits rose in proportion to the depression of his.
"Come, captain," said I, filling a bumper of claret, "here's to a long and bloody war."
"D——n the dog that won't say amen to that," said the master; "but where do you mean to carry me to? I guess to Halifax. Sha'n't I have my clothes, and my own private venter?"
"All your private property," said I, "will be held sacred; but your vessel and cargo are ours."
"Well, well," said the man, "I know that; but if you behave well to me, you sha'n't find I'm ungrateful. Let me have my things, and I'll give you a bit o' news, as will be of sarvice to you."
He then told me, on my promising him his private venture, that we had not a moment to lose, for that a vessel, just visible on the horizon, was from Smyrna, richly laden; she was commanded by a townsman of his, and bound to the same place. I turned from him with contempt, and at the same moment made the signal to speak the frigate. On going on board, I told the captain what I had heard from the master of the prize, and the promise I had given. He approved of it; the proper number of men were instantly sent back to the brig, the prisoners taken out, and the frigate made sail in chase of the indicated vessel, which she captured that night at nine o'clock.
I would not willingly believe that such perfidy is common among the Americans. On parting with the master of my brig, a sharp dialogue took place between us.
"I guess I'll fit out a privateer, and take some o' your merchanters."
"Take care you are not taken yourself," said I, "and pass your time on board one of our prison ships; but, remember, whatever may happen, it's all your own fault. You have picked a German quarrel with us, to please Boney; and he will only spit in your face when you have done your best for him. Your wise president has declared war against the mother country."
"D——n the mother country," muttered the Yankee; "step-mother, I guess, you mean, tarnation seize her!!!"
We continued following the ship, and by night-time the frigate had secured eight prizes; one of them being a brig in ballast, the prisoners were put on board of her, my Yankee friend among the number, and turned adrift, to find their way home. We took care to give to all of them their private ventures and their clothes. I was in hopes of being allowed to go to Halifax with my prize; but the captain, knowing how I was likely to pass my time, kept me with him. We cruised two months, taking many privateers, some large and some small; some we burned, and some we scuttled.
One day we had one of these craft alongside, and having taken every thing out of her that was worth moving, we very imprudently set her on fire before she was clear of the ship's side; and as we were on a wind, it was some minutes before we could get her clear. In the meantime the fire began to blaze up in a very alarming manner under the mizzen chains, where, by the attraction of the two floating bodies, she seemed resolved to continue; but on our putting the helm up, and giving the vessel a sheer the contrary way, as soon as we were before the wind, she parted from us, to our great joy, and was soon in a volume of flame. Our reason for setting her on fire alongside was to save time, as we wanted to go in chase of another vessel, seen from the mast-head, and lowering a boat down to destroy this vessel would have detained us.
Before the end of the cruise, we chased a schooner, which ran on shore and bilged; we boarded her, brought away her crew and part of her cargo, which was very valuable. She was from Bordeaux, bound to Philadelphia. I was sent to examine her, and endeavour to bring away more of her cargo. The tide rising in her, we were compelled to rip up her decks, and discovered that she was laden with bales of silk, broad cloths, watches, clocks, laces, silk stockings, wine, brandy, bars of steel, olive-oil, &c, &c. I sent word of this to the captain; and the carpenter and plenty of assistants arriving, we rescued a great quantity of the goods from the deep or the Yankee boats, who would soon have been on board after we left her. We could perceive in the hold some cases, but they were at least four feet under water. It was confoundedly cold; but I thought there was something worth diving for, so down I went, and contrived to keep myself long enough under water to hook one end of a case, by which means we broke it out and got it up. It was excellent claret, and we were not withheld from drinking it by any scruples of conscience; for if I had not dived for it, it would never have come to the mouth of an Englishman. We discussed a three-dozen case among just so many of us, in a reasonable short time; and as it was October, we felt no ill effects from a frequent repetition of the dose.
I never felt colder, and diving requires much stimulant. From practice at this work, I could pick up pins and needles in a clear, sandy bottom; and, considering the density of the medium, could live like a beaver under water; but I required ample fees for my trouble. When we returned on board, we were very wet and cold, and the wine took no effect on us; but as soon as we thawed, like the horn of the great Munchausen, the secret escaped, for we were all tipsy. The captain inquired the cause of this the next day, and I very candidly told him the whole history. He was wise enough to laugh at it; some captains would have flogged every one of the men, and disgraced the officers.
On our return into port, I requested permission to go to England in order to pass my examination as lieutenant, having nearly completed my servitude as a midshipman. I was asked to remain out, and take my chance for promotion in the flag-ship; but more reasons than I chose to give, induced me to prefer an examination at a sea-port in England, and I obtained my discharge and came home. The reader will no doubt give me credit for having written some dozen of letters to Eugenia: youth, beauty, and transient possession had still preserved my attachment to her unabated. Emily I had heard of, and still loved with a purer flame. She was my sun; Eugenia my moon; and the fair favourites of the western hemisphere, so many twinkling stars of the first, second, and third magnitude. I loved them all more or less; but all their charms vanished, when the beauteous Emily shone in my breast with refulgent light.
I had received letters from my father, who wished me to come home, that he might present me to some of the great men of the nation, and secure my promotion to the highest ranks of the service. This advice was good, and, as it suited my views, I followed it. I parted with my captain on the best terms, took leave of all my messmates and the officers in the same friendly manner, and last, not least, went round to the ladies, kissing, hugging, crying, and swearing love and eternal attachment. Nothing, I declared, should keep me from Halifax, as soon as I had passed; nothing prevent my marrying one, as soon as I was a lieutenant; a second was to have the connubial knot tied when I was a commander; and a third, as soon as I was made a captain. Oh, how like was I to Don Galaor! Oh, how unlike the constant Amadis de Gaul! But, reader, you must take me as I was, not as I ought to have been.
After a passage of six weeks, I arrived at Plymouth, and had exactly completed my six years' servitude.
Examine him closely, goodman Dry; spare him not. Ask him impossible questions. Let us thwart him, let us thwart him.
BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.
Soon after my arrival at Plymouth, notice was given by a general order, issued from the flag-ship, that a passing-day for the examination of midshipmen, as touching their qualifications for the rank of lieutenant, would be held on board the Salvador del Mundo, in Hamoaze. I lost no time in acquainting my father with this, and telling him that I felt quite prepared, and meant to offer myself. Accordingly, on the day appointed, your humble servant, with some fourteen or fifteen other youthful aspirants, assembled on board the flag-ship. Each was dressed out in our No. I suits, in most exact and unquizzable uniform, with a large bundle of log-books under our arms. We were all huddled together in a small screened canvas cabin, like so many sheep ready for slaughter.
About eleven o'clock, the captains who were to be our Minos and our Rhadamanthus, made their appearance, and we all agreed that we did not much like the "cut of their jibs." At twelve o'clock the first name was called. The "desperate youth" tried to pluck up a little courage—he cleared his throat, pulled up his shirt collar, touched his neck-handkerchief, and seizing his cocked hat and journals, boldly followed the messenger into the captain's cabin, where three grave-looking gentlemen, in undress uniform, awaited him. They were seated at a round table; a clerk was at the elbow of the president; Moore's navigation, that wise redoubtable, lay before them; together with a nautical almanack, a slate and pencil, ink and paper. The trembling middy advanced to the table, and having most respectfully deposited his journals and certificates of sobriety and good conduct, was desired to sit down. The first questions were merely theoretical; and although in the gun-room, or in any other company, he would have acquitted himself with ease, he was so abashed and confounded, that he lost his head entirely, trembled at the first question, stared at the second, and having no answer to make to the third, was dismissed, with directions "to go to sea six months longer."
He returned to us with a most woe-begone countenance. I never saw a poor creature in greater mental torment. I felt for him the more, as I knew not how soon his case might be my own. Another was called, and soon returned with no better success; and the description he gave of the bullying conduct of the youngest passing captain was such as to damp the spirits, and enough to stultify minds so inexperienced as ours, and where so much depended on our success. This hint was, however, of great use to me. Theory, I found, was the rock on which they had split; and in this part of my profession, I knew my powers, and was resolved not to be bowled out by the young captain. But while I thus resolved, a third candidate was returned to us re infecta; and this was a young man on whose talents I could have relied: I began to doubt myself. When the fourth came out with a smiling face, and told us he had passed, I took a little breath; but even this comfort was snatched from me in a moment, by his saying that one of the passing captains was a friend of his father. Here then was solved an enigma; for this fellow, during the short time I was in his company, gave proof of being no better than a simpleton.
On my own name being called, I felt a flutter about the heart which I did not feel in action, or in the hurricane, or when, in a case more desperate than either, I jumped overboard at Spithead, to swim to my dear Eugenia. "Powers of Impudence, as well as Algebra," said I, "lend me your aid, or I am undone." In a moment the cabin door flew open, the sentinel closed it after me, and I found myself in the presence of this most awful triumvirate. I felt very like Daniel in the lions' den. I was desired to take a chair, and a short discussion ensued between the judges, which I neither heard nor wished to hear: but while it lasted, I had time to survey my antagonists from head to foot. I encouraged myself to think that I was equal to one of them; and if I could only neutralise him, I thought I should very easily floor the other two.
One of these officers had a face like a painted pumpkin; and his hand, as it lay on the table, looked more like the fin of a turtle; the nails were bitten so close off, that the very remains of them seemed to have retreated into the flesh, for fear of farther depredation, which the other hand was at the moment suffering. Thinks I to myself, "If ever I saw 'lodgings to let, unfurnished,' it is in that cocoa-nut, or pumpkin, or gourd of yours."
The next captain to him was a little, thin, dark, dried up, shrivelled fellow, with keen eyes, and a sharp nose. The midshipmen called him "Old Chili Vinegar," or, "Old Hot and Sour." He was what we term a martinet. He would keep a man two months on his black list, giving him a breech of a gun to polish and keep bright, never allowing him time to mend his clothes, or keep himself clean, while he was cleaning that which, for all the purposes of war, had better have been black. He seldom flogged a man; but he tormented him into sullen discontent, by what he called "keeping the devil out of his mind." This little night-mare, who looked like a dried eel-skin, I soon found was the leader of the band.
The third captain was a tall, well-looking, pompous man (he was the junior officer of the three), with a commanding and most unbending countenance: "He would not ope his mouth in way of smile, though Nestor swore the jest was laughable."
I had just time to finish my survey, and form a rough estimate of the qualities of my examiners, when I was put upon my trial by the president, who thus addressed me,
"You are perfect in the theory of navigation, I presume, Sir, or you would not come here?"
I replied, that I hoped I should be found so, if they would please to try me.
"Ready enough with his answer," said the tall captain; "I daresay this fellow is jaw-master-general in the cockpit.—Who did you serve your time with, Sir?"
I stated the different captains I had served with, particularly Lord Edward.
"Oh, ay, that's enough; you must be a smart fellow, if you have served with Lord Edward."
I understood the envious and sarcastic manner in which this was uttered, and prepared accordingly for an arduous campaign, quite sure that this man, who was no seaman, would have been too happy in turning back one of Lord Edward's midshipmen. Several problems were given to me, which I readily solved, and returned to them. They examined my logs and certificates with much seeming scrutiny, and then ventured a question in the higher branches of mathematics. This I also solved; but I found talent was not exactly what they wanted. The little skinny captain seemed rather disappointed that he could not find fault with me. A difficult problem in spherical trigonometry lay before them, carefully drawn out, and the result distinctly marked at the bottom; but this I was not, of course, permitted to see. I soon answered the question; they compared my work with that which had been prepared for them; and as they did not exactly agree, I was told that I was wrong. I was not disconcerted, and very deliberately looking over my work, I told them I could not discover any error, and was able to prove it by inspection, by Canon, by Gunter, or by figure.
"You think yourself a very clever fellow, I dare say," said the little fat captain.
"A second Euclid!" said the tall captain. "Pray, Sir, do you know the meaning of 'Pons Asinorum?'"
"Bridge of Asses, Sir," said I, staring him full in the face, with a smile under the skin.
Now it was very clear to me that the little fat captain had never heard of the Asses Bridge before, and therefore supposed I was quizzing the tall captain, who, from having been what we used to term a "harbour-duty man" all his life, had heard of the Pons Asinorum, but did not know which of the problems of Euclid it was, nor how it was applicable to navigation. The fat captain, therefore burst into a horse laugh, saying, "I think he hits you hard; you had better let him alone: he will puzzle you presently."
Nettled at this observation of his brother officer, the tall captain was put upon his metal, and insisted that the question last proposed was not satisfactorily answered, and swore by G—— that he never would sign my certificate until I did it.
I persisted; the two works were compared: I was threatened to be turned back; when, lo, to the dismay of the party, the error was found in their own work. The fat captain, who was a well-meaning man, laughed heartily; the other two looked very silly and very angry.
"Enough of this, Sir," said the martinet: "now stand up, and let us see what you can do with a ship." A ship was supposed to be on the stocks; she was launched; I was appointed to her, and, as first lieutenant, ordered to prepare her for sea. I took her into dock, and saw her coppered; took her along the sheer-hulk, masted her; laid her to the ballast-wharf, took in and stowed her iron ballast and her tanks; moved off to a hulk or receiving ship, rigged her completely, bent her sails, took in guns, stores, and provisions; reported her ready for sea, and made the signal for a pilot; took her out of harbour, and was desired to conduct her into other harbours, pointing out the shoals and dangers of Portsmouth, Plymouth, Falmouth, the Downs, Yarmouth Roads, and even to Shetland.
But the little martinet and the tall captain had not forgiven me for being right in the problem, and my examination continued. They put my ship into every possible situation which the numerous casualties of a sea life present in such endless variety. I set and took in every sail, from a sky-sail to try-sail. I had my masts shot away, and I rigged jury-masts: I made sail on them, and was getting fairly into port, when the little martinet very cruelly threw my ship on her beam-ends on a dead lee-shore, a dark night, and blowing a hurricane, and told me to get her out of that scrape if I could. I replied that, if there was anchorage, I should anchor, and take my chance; but if there was no anchorage, neither he nor any one else could save the ship, without a change of wind, or the special interference of Providence. This did not satisfy old Chili Vinegar. I saw that I was persecuted, and that the end would be fatal to my hopes: I therefore became indifferent; was fatigued with the endless questions put to me; and, very fortunately for me, made a mistake, at least in the opinion of the tall captain. The question at that time was one which was much controverted in the service; namely, whether, on being taken flat aback, you should put your helm a turn or two alee, or keep it amidship? I preferred the latter mode; but the tall captain insisted on the former, and gave his reasons. Finding myself on debatable ground, I gave way, and thanked him for his advice, which I said I should certainly follow whenever the case occurred to me; not that I felt convinced then, and have since found that he was wrong; still my apparent tractability pleased his self-love, and he became my advocate. "He grinned horribly a ghastly smile," and, turning to the other captains, asked if they were satisfied.
This question, like the blow of the auctioneer's hammer, ends all discussion; for captains, on these occasions, never gainsay each other; I was told that my passing certificate would be signed. I made my best bow and my exit, reflecting, as I returned to the "sheep pen," that I had nearly lost my promotion by wounding their vanity, and had regained my ground by flattering it. Thus the world goes on; and from my earliest days, my mind was strengthened and confirmed in every vice by the pernicious example of my superiors.
I might have passed much more easily abroad. I remember, one fine day at sea, in the West Indies, a boat was lowered down, and sent with a young midshipman (whose time was not fairly served, and whose age and appearance indicated anything but nautical knowledge) to a ship then in company; in a quarter of an hour he returned, with his passing certificate. We were all astonished, and inquired what questions were put to him; he said, "None at all, except as to the health of my father and mother; and whether I would have port or white wine and water. On coming away," the brat added, "one of the captains desired I would, when I wrote home, give his best respects to Lord and Lady G. He had ordered a turkey to be picked and put in the boat for me, and wished me success."
This boy was soon afterwards made a post-captain; but fortunately for the service, died on his passage to England.
There was certainly some difference between this examination and mine; but when it was over, I rejoiced at the severity of my ordeal. My pride, my darling pride, was tickled at the triumph of my talents; and as I wiped away the perspiration from my forehead, I related my difficulties, my trials, and my success, with a degree of self-complacency that in any other person I should have called egregious vanity. One good effect resulted from my long examination, which continued an hour and a half—this was, that the captains passed all the other midshipmen with very few questions. They were tired of their employment; and thus it was only the poor unlucky devils that took off the fiery edge of their morning zeal, who suffered; and among "the plucked," it was known there were much cleverer fellows than many of those who had come off with flying colours.
There was one circumstance which amused me. When the captains came on deck, the little Chili Vinegar called me to him, and enquired whether I was any relation of Mr ——. I replied that he was my uncle.
"Bless my soul, Sir! why he is my most intimate friend. Why did you not tell me you were his nephew?"
I answered with an affected humility, very nearly allied to impertinence, that I could not see by his face that he knew my uncle; nor, indeed, had I known it, should I have thought it delicate to have mentioned it at such a time; as it might not only have implied a want of confidence in my own abilities, but also a suspicion that he might, by such a communication, have been induced to deviate from the rigid path of his duty, and might therefore have received it as a personal affront.
"All that is very fine, and very true," said the veteran; "but when you have an older head upon your shoulders, and have seen a little more of our service, you will learn to trust at least as much to friends as to merit; and rely on it, that if you could make yourself out cousin-german to the old tom-cat at the Admiralty, you would fare all the better for it. However, it's all over now, and there's an end of it; but make my compliments to your uncle, and tell him that you passed your examination in a manner highly creditable to you."
So saying, he touched his hat to the serjeant's guard, and slipped down the side into his gig. As he descended, I said to myself, "D——n your monkey face, you coffee-coloured little rascal—no thanks to you if I have passed. I suppose your father was breeches-mender to the first lord's butler, or else you shared your mother's milk with a lord in waiting, and that's the way you got the command of the ——."
Elated with the result of the day, I threw myself into the mail that evening, and reached my father's house in a short time after. My reception was kind and affectionate; but death had made sad havoc in my family during my late absence. My elder brother and two sisters had been successively called to join my poor mother in heaven, and all that remained now to comfort my father was a younger sister and myself. I must confess that my father received me with great emotion; his own heavy afflictions from the loss of his children, and the dangers I had undergone, as well as the authentic assurances he had received of my good conduct were more than sufficient to bury all my errors in oblivion; and he appeared, and I have no doubt really was, fonder and prouder of me than ever.
As to what my own feelings were on this occasion, I shall not attempt to disguise them. Sorry I certainly was for the death of my nearest relatives; but when the intelligence reached me, I was in the midst of the most active service. Death in all its forms had become familiar to me; and so little impression did the event make on my mind, that I did not interrupt the thread of my history to speak of it when it occurred. I take shame to myself for not feeling more; but I am quite sure, from this one instance in my life, that the feelings are blunted in proportion to the increase of misery around us; that the parent who, in a moment of peace and domestic tranquillity, would be agonized at the loss of one child, would view the death of ten with comparative indifference, when surrounded by war, pestilence, or famine.
My feelings, never very acute in this respect, were completely blunted by my course of life. Those fond recollections which, in a calm scene, would have wrung from me some tears to their memory, were now drowned or absorbed in the waste, the profligacy, and the dissipation of war; and shall I add, that I easily reconciled myself to a loss which was likely so much to increase my worldly gain. For my eldest brother, I own that, even from childhood, I had felt a jealousy and dislike, fostered, as I think, in some measure unwisely, and in part unavoidably, by the conduct of my parents. In all matters of choice or distinction, Tom was to have the preference, because he was the oldest: this I thought hard enough; but when Tom had new clothes at Midsummer and Christmas, and his old ones were converted to my use, I honestly own I wished the devil had Tom. As a point of economy, perhaps, this could not be avoided; but it engendered a hatred towards my brother which often made me, in my own little malignant mind, find excuses for the conduct of Cain.
Tom was, to be sure, what is called a good boy; he never soiled his clothes, as I did. I was always considered as a rantipole, for whom any thing was good enough. But when I saw my brother tricked out in new clothes, and his old duds covering me, like a scarecrow, I appeal to any honourable mind whether it was in human nature to feel otherwise than I did, without possessing an angelic disposition, to which I never pretended; and I fairly own that I did shed not one fiftieth part so many tears over Tom's grave, as I did over his dirty pantaloons, when forced to put them on.
As for my sisters, I knew little about them, and cared less: we met during the holidays, and separated, without regret, after a month's quarrelling. When I went to sea, I ceased to think about them, concluding there was no love lost; but when I found that death had for ever robbed me of two of them, I felt the irretrievable loss. I reproached myself with my coldness and neglect; and the affection I had denied to them, I heaped threefold on my remaining sister: even before I had ever seen her on my return, the tide of fraternal love flowed towards her with an uncontrollable violence. All that I ought to have felt towards the others, was concentrated in her, and displayed itself with a force which surprised even myself.
Perhaps the reader may be astonished that my first inquiry in London, when I had seen my father and my family, should not have been after poor Eugenia, whom I had left, and who also had quitted me, under such very peculiar and interesting circumstances. I cannot, however, claim much credit for having performed this duty. I did go, without loss of time, to her agent; and all that my most urgent entreaty could obtain from him was that she was well; that I still had credit at his house for any sum I chose to draw for in moderation; but that her place of abode must, till farther orders from her, remain a secret.
As my father did not want interest, and my claims were backed by good certificates, I received my commission as a lieutenant in his Majesty's navy about a fortnight after my arrival in London; but not being appointed to any ship, I resolved to enjoy the "otium cum dig.," and endeavour to make myself some amends for the hard campaign I had so lately completed in North America. I felt the transport of being a something: at least, I could live independent of my father, let the worst come to the worst; and I shall ever think this step gave me more real pleasure than either of the two subsequent ones which I have lived to attain. No sooner, therefore, had I taken up my commission, than my thoughts turned on my Emily; and two days after the attainment of my rank, I mentioned to my father my intention of paying a visit to —— Hall.
He was at the time in high good humour; we were sitting over our bottle of claret, after an excellent tete-a-tete dinner, during which I contributed very much to his amusement by the recital of some of my late adventures. He shuddered at my danger in the hurricane, and his good-humoured sides had well nigh cracked with laughter when I recounted my pranks at Quebec and Prince Edward's Island. When I spoke of Miss Somerville, my father said he had no doubt she would be happy to see me—that she was now grown a very beautiful girl, and was the toast of the county.
I received this information with an apparent cool indifference which I was far from feeling inwardly, for my heart beat at the intelligence. "Perhaps," said I, picking my teeth, and looking at my mouth in a little ivory etui—"perhaps she may be grown a fine girl: she bade fair to be so when I saw her; but fine girls are very plenty now-a-days, since the Vaccine has turned out the small-pox. Besides, the girls have now another chance of a good shape; they are allowed to take the air, instead of sitting all day, with their feet in the stocks and their dear sweet noses bent over a French grammar, under the rod of a French governess."
Why I took so much pains to conceal from the best of parents the real state of my heart, I know not, except that, from habit, deceit was to me more readily at hand than candour; certainly my attachment to this fair and virtuous creature could not cause me to blush, except at my own unworthiness of so much excellence. My father looked disappointed; I know not why; but I afterwards learned that the subject of our union had, since my brother's death, been discussed and agreed to between him and Mr Somerville; and that our marriage was only to be deferred until I should have attained the rank of captain, provided always that the parties were agreed.
"I thought," said my father, "that you were rather smitten in that quarter?"
"Me smitten, Sir?" said I, with a look of astonishment. "I have, it is true, a very high respect for Miss Somerville; but as for being in love with her, I trust no little attentions on my part have been so construed. I have paid her no more attention than I may have done to any pretty girl I meet with." (This was, indeed, true, too true.)
"Well, well," said my father, "it is a mistake on my part."
And here the conversation on that subject was dropped.
It appeared that after the little arrangement between Mr Somerville and my father, and when I had gone to join my ship in America, they had had some communication together, in which Mr Somerville disclosed, that having questioned his daughter, she had ingenuously confessed that I was not indifferent to her. She acknowledged, with crimson blushes, that I had requested and obtained a lock of her hair. This Mr Somerville told my father in confidence. He was not, therefore, at liberty to mention it to me; but it sufficiently accounts for his astonishment at my seeming indifference; for the two worthy parents had naturally concluded that it was a match.
Confounded and bewildered by my asseveration, my father knew not whose veracity to impeach; but, charitably concluding there was some mistake, or that I was, as heretofore, a fickle, thoughtless being, considered himself bound in honour to communicate the substance of our conversation to Mr Somerville; and the latter no sooner received it, than he placed the letter in Emily's hands—a very comfortable kind of avant-courier for a lover, after an absence from his mistress of full three years.
I arrived at the hall, bursting with impatience to see the lovely girl, whose hold on my heart and affection was infinitely stronger than I had ever supposed. Darting from the chaise, I flew into the sitting-room, where she usually passed her morning. I was now in my twenty-second year; my figure was decidedly of a handsome cast; my face, what I knew most women admired. My personal advantages were heightened by the utmost attention to dress; the society of the fair Acadians had very much polished my manners, and I had no more of the professional roughness of the sea than what, like the crust on the port-wine, gave an agreeable flavour; my countenance was as open and as ingenuous as my heart was deceitful and desperately wicked.
Emily rose with much agitation, and in an instant was clasped in my arms: not that the movement was voluntary on her part; it was wholly on mine. She rather recoiled; but for an instant seemed to have forgotten the fatal communication which her father had made to her not two hours before. She allowed me—perhaps she could not prevent it—to press her to my heart. She soon, however, regained her presence of mind, and, gently disengaging herself, gave vent to her feelings in a violent flood of tears.
Not at the time recollecting the conversation with my father, much less suspecting that Emily had been made acquainted with it, I cannot but confess that this reception surprised me. My caresses were repulsed, as coming from one totally disqualified to take such freedom. She even addressed me as Mr Mildmay, instead of "Frank."
"What may all this mean, my dearest Emily," said I, "after so long an absence? What can I have done to make so great an alteration in your sentiments? Is this the reward of affection and constancy? Have I so long worn this dear emblem of your affection next my heart, in battle and in tempest, to be spurned from you like a cur on my return?"
I felt that I had a clear right to boast of constancy; nor were the flirtations of Halifax and Quebec at all incompatible with such a declaration. The fair sex will start at this proposition; but it is nevertheless true. Emily was to me what the Dutchman's best anchor was to him—he kept it at home, for fear of losing it. He used other anchors in different ports, that answered the purpose tolerably well; but this best bower he always intended to ride by in the Nieu deep, when he had escaped all the dangers and quicksands of foreign shores: such was Emily to me. I thought of her when in the very jaws of the shark; I thought of her when I mounted the rigging in the hurricane; I thought of her when bored and tormented to madness by the old passing captains; all, all I might gain in renown was for her. Why, then, traitor like, did I deny her? For no other reason that I can devise than that endless love of plot and deceit which had "grown with my growth."
Madame de Stael has pronounced love to be an episode in a man's life; and so far it is true. There are as many episodes in life as there are in novels and romances; but in neither case do they destroy the general plot of the history, although they may, for the time, distract or divert our attention. Here, then, is the distinction between passion and love. I felt a passion for Eugenia, love for Emily. And why? Because although it was through my own persuasions and entreaties that her scruples had been overcome; although it was through her affection for me which would not allow her to refuse me any demand, even to the sacrifice of herself, that Eugenia had fallen, still, in the eyes of society, she had fallen; and I did not offer up a pure and holy love to that which was not accounted pure. In this I gave way, ungratefully, to the heartless casuistry of the world. But Emily, enshrined in modesty, with every talent, equal, if not superior charms, defended by rank and connection, was a flower perpetually blooming on the stem of virtue, that it would have amounted to sacrilege to attempt to have plucked; and the attempt itself would have savoured of insanity, from the utter hopelessness of success. Every sentiment connected with her was pure, from mere selfishness. Not for worlds would I have injured her; because in destroying her peace of mind, my own would have fled for ever. When I contemplated our final union, I blushed for my own unworthiness; and looked forward to the day when, by repentance and amendment, I might be deemed worthy to lead her to the altar.
I had not time to pursue these reflections any farther. Emily heard my appeal, and rising from her seat in the most dignified manner, addressed me in the commanding language of conscious virtue and injured innocence.
"Sir," said she, "I trust I am too honest to deceive you, or any one; nor have I done that of which I need be ashamed. Whatever reasons I may have to repent of my misplaced confidence, I will make no secret of that which now compels me to change my opinion of you; you will find them amply detailed in this paper," at the same time putting into my hand a letter from my father to Mr Somerville.
In a moment the mystery was unravelled, and conviction flashed in my face like the priming of a musket. Guilty, and convicted on the clearest evidence, I had nothing left for it, but to throw myself on her mercy; but while I stood undecided, and unknowing what to do, Mr Somerville entered, and welcomed me with kind, but cool hospitality. Seeing Emily in tears, and my father's letter in her hand, he knew that an eclaircissement had taken place, or was in progress. In this situation, candour, and an honest confession that I felt a mauvaise honte in disclosing my passion to my father would undoubtedly have been my safest course; but my right trusty friend, the devil, stepped in to my assistance, and suggested deceit, or a continuation of that chain by which he had long since bound me, and not one link of which he took care should ever be broken; and fortunately for me, this plan answered, at the time, better than candour.
"I must acknowledge, sir," said I, "that appearances are against me. I can only trust to your patient hearing, while I state the real facts. Allow me first to say, that my father's observations are hardly warranted by the conversation which took place; and if you will please, in the first place, to consider that that very conversation originated in my expressing a wish and intention of coming down to see you, and to produce to your daughter the memento so carefully guarded during my long absence, you must perceive that there is an incongruity in my conduct, difficult to explain; but still, through all these mazes and windings, I trust that truth and constancy will be found at the bottom. You may probably laugh at the idea, but I really felt jealous of my father's praises so lavishly bestowed on Miss Somerville; and not supposing he was aware of my attachment, I began to fear he had pretensions of his own. He is a widower, healthy, and not old; and it appeared to me that he only wanted my admiration to justify his choice of a step-mother for myself and sister. Thus, between love for Miss Somerville, and respect for my father, I scarcely knew how to act. That I should for one moment have felt jealous of my father, I now acknowledge with shame: yet labouring under the erroneous supposition of his attachment to an object which had been the only one of my adoration, I could not make up my mind to a disclosure, which I feared would have renewed our differences, and produced the most insuperable bars to our future reconciliation. This thought burned in my brain, and urged the speed of the jaded post-horses. If you will examine the drivers, they will tell you, that the whole way from town, they have been stimulated by the rapping of a Spanish dollar on the glass of the chaise. I dreaded my father getting the start of me; and busy fancy painted him, to my heated imagination, kneeling at the feet of my beloved Emily. Condemn me not, therefore, too harshly; only allow me the same lenient judgment which you exercised when I first had the pleasure of making your acquaintance."
This last sentence delicately recalled the scene at the inn, and the circumstances of my first introduction. The defence was not bad; it wanted but one simple ingredient to have made it excellent—I mean truth; but the court being strongly biassed in favour of the prisoner, I was acquitted, and at the same time, "admonished to be more careful in future." The reconciliation produced a few more tears from my beloved Emily, who soon after slipped out of the room to recover her flurry.
When Mr Somerville and myself were left together, he explained to me the harmless plot which had been laid for the union between his daughter and myself. How true it is, that the falling out of lovers is the renewal of love! The fair, white hand extended to me, was kissed with the more rapture, as I had feared the losing of it for ever. None enjoy the pleasures of a secure port, but he who has been tempest tossed, and in danger of shipwreck.
The dinner and the evening were among the happiest I can remember. We sat but a short time over our wine, as I preferred following my mistress to the little drawing-room, where tea and coffee were prepared, and where the musical instruments were kept. Emily sang and played to me, and I sang and accompanied her; and I thought all the clocks and watches in the house were at least three hours too fast, when, as it struck twelve, the signal was made to retire.
I had no sooner laid my head on my pillow than I began to call myself to a severe account for my duplicity; for, somehow or other, I don't know how it is, conscience is a very difficult sort of gentleman to deal with. A tailor's bill you may avoid by crossing the channel; but the duns of conscience follow you to the antipodes, and will be satisfied. I ran over the events of the day; I reflected that I had been on the brink of losing my Emily by an act of needless and unjustifiable deceit and double-dealing. Sooner or later I was convinced that this part of my character would be made manifest, and that shame and punishment would overwhelm me in utter ruin. The success which had hitherto attended me was no set-off against the risk I ran of losing for ever this lovely girl, and the respect and esteem of her father. For her sake, therefore, I made a vow for ever to abandon this infernal system. I mention this more particularly as it was the first healthy symptom of amendment I had discovered, and one to which I long and tenaciously adhered, as far, at least, as my habits and pursuits in life would allow me. I forgot, at that time, that to be ingenuous it was necessary to be virtuous. There is no cause for concealment when we do not act wrong.
A letter from Mr Somerville to my father explained my conduct; and my father, in reply, said I certainly must have been mad. To this I assented, quoting Shakspeare—"the lunatic, the lover, and the poet, &c.!" So long as I was out of the scrape, I cared little about the impeachment of my rationality.
The days at the Hall flew, just like all the days of happy lovers, confoundedly fast. The more I saw of Emily, the firmer and faster did she rivet my chains. I was her slave: but what was best, I became a convert to virtue, because she was virtuous; and to possess her, I knew I must become as like her as my corrupt mind and unruly habits would permit. I viewed my past life with shame and contrition. When I attended this amiable, lovely creature to church on a Sunday, and saw her in the posture of devotion before her Maker, I thought her an angel, and I thought it heaven to be near her. All my thoughts and sentiments seemed changed and refined by her example and her company. The sparks of religion, so long buried in the ashes of worldly corruption and infidelity, began to revive. I recalled my beloved mother and the Bible to my recollection; and could I have been permitted to have remained longer with my "governess," I have no doubt that I should have regained both purity of mind and manner. I should have bidden adieu to vice and folly, because they could not have dwelt under the same roof with Emily; and I should have loved the Bible and religion, because they were beloved by her: but my untoward destiny led me a different way.
And oft his smooth and bridled tongue Would give the lie to his flushing cheek: He was a coward to the strong: He was a tyrant to the weak.
My father, as soon as he had obtained my promotion, asked for my being employed; and having had a promise from the Admiralty, that promise, unlike thousands of its predecessors and successors, was too rapidly fulfilled. I received a letter from my father, and a bouncing one from the Admiralty, by the same post, announcing officially my appointment to the D—— brig, of eighteen guns, at Portsmouth, whither I was directed to repair immediately, and take up my commission. In this transaction I soon after found there was an underplot, which I was too green to perceive at the time; but the wise heads of the two papas had agreed that a separation between the lovers was absolutely necessary, and that the longer it was delayed, the worse it would be for both of us: in short, that until I had attained my rank, nothing should be thought of in the way of matrimony.
As the reader is, no doubt, by this time pretty well versed in all the dialogue of parting lovers, I shall not intrude upon his or her patience with a repetition of that which has been much too often repeated, and is equally familiar to the prince and the ploughman. I should as soon think of describing the Devil's Punch Bowl, on the road to Portsmouth, where I arrived two days after my appointment.
I put up at Billett's, at the George, as a matter of course, because it was the resort of all the naval aristocracy, and directly opposite to the admiral's office. The first person for whom I made my kind inquiries was my captain elect; but he herded not with his brother epaulettes. He did not live at the George, nor did he mess at the Crown; he was not at the Fountain, nor the Parade Coffee-house; and the Blue Posts ignored him; but he was to be heard of at the Star and Garter, on the tip of Portsmouth Point. He did not even live there, but generally resided on board. This does not savour well; I never like your captains who live on board their ships in harbour; no ship can be comfortable, for no one can do as he pleases, which is the life and soul of a man-of-war, when in port.
To the Star and Garter I went, and asked for Captain G. I hoped I should not find him here; for this house had been, time out of mind, the rendezvous of warrant-officers, mates, and midshipmen. Here, however, he was; I sent up my card, and was admitted to his presence. He was seated in a small parlour, with a glass of brandy and water, or at least the remains of it, before him; his feet were on the fender, and several official documents which he had received that morning were lying on the table. He rose as I entered, and shewed me a short, square-built frame, with a strong projection of the sphere, or what the Spaniards call bariga. This rotundity of corporation was, however, supported by as fine a pair of Atlas legs as ever were worn by a Bath chairman. His face was rather inclined to be handsome; the features regular, a pleasant smile upon his lips, and a deep dimple in his chin. But his most remarkable feature was his eye; it was small, but piercing, and seemed to possess that long-sought desideratum of the perpetual motion, since it was utterly impossible to fix it for one moment on any object: and there was in it a lurking expression, which, though something of a physiognomist, I could not readily decipher.
"Mr Mildmay," said my skipper, "I am extremely happy to see you, and still more so that you have been appointed to my ship; will you be seated?"
As I obeyed, he turned round, and, rubbing his hands, as if he had just laid down his soap, he continued, "I always make it a rule, previous to an officer joining my ship, to learn something of his character from my brother captains; it is a precaution which I take, as I consider that one scabby sheep, &c. is strictly applicable to our service. I wish to have good officers and perfect gentlemen about me. There are, no doubt, many officers who can do their duty well, and with whom I should have no fault to find; but then there is a way of doing it—a modus in rebus, which a gentleman only can attain to; coarse manners, execrations, and abusive language render the men discontented, degrade the service, and are therefore very properly forbidden in the second article of war. Under such officers, the men always work unwillingly. I have taken the liberty to make some inquiries about you; and can only say, that all I have heard is to your advantage. I have no doubt we shall suit each other; and be assured it shall be my study to make you as comfortable as possible."
To this very sensible and polite address, I made a suitable reply. He then stated that he expected to sail in a few days; that the officer whom I was to supersede had not exactly suited his ideas, although he believed him to be a very worthy young man; and that, in consequence, he had applied and succeeded in obtaining for him another appointment; that it was necessary he should join his ship immediately; but, of course, he must first be superseded by me. "Therefore," said he, "you had better meet me on board the brig to-morrow morning at nine o'clock, when your commission shall be read; and after that I beg you will consider yourself your own master for a few days, as I presume you have some little arrangements to prepare for your cruise. I am aware," pursued he, smiling most benignantly, "that there are many little comforts which officers wish to attend to; such as fitting their cabins and looking to their mess, and a thousand other nameless things, which tend to pass the time and break up the monotony of a sea-life. Forty years have I trod the king's planks, man and boy, and not with any great success, as you may perceive, by the rank I now hold, and the life I am leading; for here I sit over a glass of humble grog, instead of joining my brother captains in their claret at the Crown; but I have two sisters to support, and I feel more satisfaction in doing my duty as a brother, than indulging my appetite; although I own I have no dislike to a glass of claret, when it does not come before me in a questionable shape: I mean when I have not got to pay for it, which I cannot afford. Now do not let me take up any more of your time. You have plenty of acquaintances that you wish to see, I have no doubt; and as for my yarns, they will do to pass away a watch, when we have nothing more attractive to divert us." So saying, he held out his hand, and shook mine most cordially. "To-morrow, at nine o'clock," he repeated; and I left him, much pleased with my interview.
I went back to my inn, thinking what a very fortunate fellow I was to have such an honest, straight-forward, bold, British hero of a captain, on my first appointment. I ordered my dinner at the George, and then strolled out to make my purchases, and give my orders for a few articles for sea service. I fell in with several old messmates; they congratulated me on my promotion, and declared I should give them a dinner to wet my commission, to which I readily consented. The day was named, and Mr Billett was ordered to provide accordingly.
Having dined solus, I amused myself in writing a long letter to my dear Emily; and with the assistance of a bottle of wine, succeeded in composing a tolerably warm and rapturous sort of a document, which I sealed, kissed, and sent to the post-office; after which, I built castles till bed time; but not one castle did I build, in which Emily was not the sole mistress. I went to bed, and slept soundly; and the next morning, by seven o'clock, I was arrayed in a spick-span new uniform, with an immensely large epaulette stuck on my right shoulder. Having breakfasted, I sallied out, and, in my own conceit, was as handsome a chap as ever buckled a sword belt. I skimmed with a light and vigorous foot down High-street.
"Boat, your honour?" said a dozen voices at once, as I reached New Sallyport; but I was resolved that Point-street should have a look at me, as well as High-street; so I kept a profound and mysterious silence, and let the watermen follow me to Point, just like so many sucking fish after a shark. I had two or three offers for volunteers to serve with me as I went along; but they were not of the right sex, so I did not take them.
"Boat to Spithead, your honour?" said a tough old waterman.
"Ay, you'll do," said I; so I jumped into his wherry, and we shoved off.
"What ship is your honour going to?" said the man.
"To the D—— brig."
"Oh, you are a-going to she, are you? To belong to her, mayhap?"
"Yes," I replied.
The waterman gave a sigh, feathered his oar, and never spoke another word till we came alongside. I did not regret his taciturnity, for I was always more amused with my own thoughts, than in conversing with illiterate people.
The brig was a most beautiful vessel. She mounted eighteen guns, and sat on the water like a duck. I perceived that the pendant was up for punishment, and this I thought rather an unusual sight at Spithead: I took it for granted that some aggravated offence, such as theft, or mutiny, had been committed. Seeing I was an officer, I was admitted alongside; so I paid the waterman, and sent him away. As I went up the side, I saw a poor fellow spread-eagled up to the grating, "according to the manners and customs of the natives," while the captain, officers, and ship's company stood round witnessing the athletic dexterity of a boatswain's mate, who, by the even, deep, and parallel marks of the cat on the white back and shoulders of the patient, seemed to be perfectly master of his business. All this did not surprise me: I was used to it; but after the address of my captain on the preceding day, I was very much surprised to hear language in direct violation of the second article of war.
Cursings and execrations poured out of his mouth with a volubility equal to any the most accomplished lady on the back of the Point.
"Boatswain's mate," roared the captain, "do your duty, or by G—— I will have you up, and give you four dozen yourself. One would think, d——n your b——d, that you were brushing flies off a sleeping Venus, instead of punishing a scoundrel, with a hide as thick as a buffalo's, and be d——d to him—do your duty, Sir, d——n your soul."
During this elegant address, the unhappy wretch had received four severe dozen, which the master-at-arms had counted aloud, and reported to the captain. "Another boatswain's mate," said he. The poor creature turned his head over his shoulders with an imploring look, but it was in vain. I watched the countenance of the captain, and the peculiar expression, which I could not decipher at my first interview, I now read most plainly: it was malignant cruelty, and delight in torturing his own species; he seemed to take a diabolical pleasure in the hateful operation which we were compelled to witness. The second boatswain's mate commenced, with a fresh cat, and gave a lash across the back of the prisoner, that made me start.
"One," said the master-at-arms, beginning to count.
"One!" roared the captain; "do you call that one? not a quarter of a one. That fellow is only fit for fly-flapper at a pork shop! I'll disrate you, by G——d, you d——d Molly Mop; is that the way you handle a cat; that's only wiping the dirt off his back. Where's the boatswain?"
"Here," said a stout, gigantic, left-handed fellow, stepping forward, with a huge blue uniform coat and a plain anchor button, holding his hat in his left hand, and stroking his hair down his forehead with his right. I surveyed this man, as he turned himself about, and concluded, that the tailor who worked for him had been threatened with a specimen of his art, if he stinted him in cloth; for the skirts of his coat were ample, terminating in an inclined plane, the corners in front being much lower than the middle of the robe behind; the buttons on the hips were nearly pistol shot asunder.
"Give this man a dozen, Sir," said Captain G.; "and if you favour him, I'll put you under arrest, and stop your liquor."
This last part of the threat had more effect with Mr Pipe than the first. He began to peel, as the boxers call it; off came his capacious coat; a red waistcoat—full-sized for a Smithfield ox—was next deposited; then he untied a black silk handkerchief, and showed a throat, covered like that of a goat, with long brown hairs, thick as pack-thread. He next rolled up his shirt-sleeves above his elbow, and showed an arm and a back very like the Farnese Hercules, which, no doubt, all my readers have seen at the foot of the staircase at Somerset-house, when they have been to the exhibition.
This hopeful commentator on articles of war, seized his cat: the handle was two feet long, one inch and three quarters thick, and covered with red baize. The tails of this terrific weapon were three feet long, nine in number, and each of them about the size of that line which covers the springs of a travelling carriage. Mr Pipes, whose scientific display in this part of his art, had no doubt procured for him the warrant of a boatswain, in virtue of which he now stood as the vindicator of the laws of his country, handled his cat like an adept, looked at it from top to bottom, cleared all the tails, by the insertion of his delicate fingers, and combing them out, stretched out his left leg—for he was left-legged as well as left-handed—and measuring his distance with the accurate eye of an engineer, raised his cat high in air with his left hand, his right still holding the tips of the tails, as if to restrain their impatience; when, giving his arm and body a full swing, embracing three-fourths of the circle, he inflicted a tremendous stroke on the back of the unfortunate culprit. This specimen seemed to satisfy the amateur captain, who nodded approbation to the inquiring look of the amateur boatswain. The poor man lost his respiration from the force of the blow; and the tails of the cat coming from an opposite direction to the first four dozen, cut the flesh diamond-wise, bringing the blood at every blow.
I will not wound the feelings of my readers with a description of the poor wretch's situation. Even at this distance of time, I am shocked at it, and bitterly lament the painful necessity I have often been under of inflicting similar punishment; but I hope and trust I never did it without a cause, or in the wanton display of arbitrary power.
The last dozen being finished, the sum total was reported by the master-at-arms, "five dozen."
"Five dozen!" repeated Captain G; "that will do—cast him off. And now, sir," said he, to the fainting wretch, "I hope this will be a warning to you, that the next time you wish to empty your beastly mouth, you will not spit on my quarter-deck."
"Heavens!" thought I, "is all this for spitting on the quarter-deck? and this, from the moralist of yesterday, who allowed neither oaths nor execrations, and has uttered more blasphemy in the last ten minutes, than I have heard for the last ten weeks?"
I had not yet caught the captain's eye—he was too intent on his amusement. As soon as the prisoner was cast loose, he commanded to pipe down, or in other words, to dismiss the people to their usual occupations, when I went up to him, and touched my hat.
"Oh! you are come, are you? Pipe, belay there—send every body aft on the quarter-deck."
My commission was then read: all hats off in respect to the sovereign, from whom the authority was derived. After this, I, being duly inaugurated, became the second lieutenant of the sloop; and the captain, without condescending to give me another word or look, ordered his gig to be manned, and was going on shore. I was not presented by him to any of the officers, which, in common courtesy, he ought to have done. This omission, however, was supplied by the first lieutenant, who invited me down into the gun-room, to introduce me to my new messmates. We left the tiger pacing up and down on his quarter-deck.
The first lieutenant was of the medium stature, a suitable height for a sloop of war, a spare figure of about forty years of age; he had but one eye, and that eye was as odd a one as the captain's. There was in it, however, unlike the captain's, an infinite deal of humour, and when he cocked it, as he constantly did, it almost spoke. I never saw three such eyes in two such heads. There was a lurking smile in the lieutenant's face, when I told him that the captain had desired me to come on board and read my commission, after which I might have two or three days to myself to prepare for sea.
"Well," said he, "you had better go and ask him now; but you will find him a rum one."
Accordingly, up I went to him. "Have you any objection to my going on shore, Sir?"
"Shore, Sir!" bellowed he "and who the devil is to carry on the duty, if you go on shore? Shore, eh! I wish there was no shore, and then d——n the dog that couldn't swim! No, Sir; you have had shore enough. The service is going to h——l, Sir! A parcel of brats, with lieutenants' commissions before they should have been clear of the nursery! No, Sir: stay on board, or, d——n me, I'll break you, like an egg-shell, before you have taken the shine out of that fine new epaulette! No, no, by G——; no more cats here than catch mice. You stay on board, and do your duty: every man does his duty here; and let me see the —— that don't do it!"
I was in some measure prepared for this sublime harangue; but still there was sufficient room in my mind to admit of great astonishment at this sudden change of wind. I replied that he had promised me leave yesterday, and that, upon the strength of that promise, I had left all my things on shore, and that I was not in any way prepared to go to sea.
"I promised you leave, did I? Perhaps I did; but that was only to get you on board. I am up to your tricks, you d——d young chaps: when you get on shore, there is no getting you off again. No, no; no-catchee no-habee! You would not have made your appearance these three days, if I hadn't sugared the trap! Now I have got you, I'll keep you, d——n my eyes!"
I repeated my request to go on shore; but, without condescending to offer any farther reasons, he answered—
"I'd see you d——d first, Sir! And observe, I never admit of expostulation. Nothing affords me more pleasure than to oblige my officers in every thing reasonable; but I never permit reply."
Thought I to myself, "You certainly have escaped from hell, and I do not see how the infernal regions can do without you. You would have been one of the most ingenious tormentors of the damned. Domitian would have made you admiral, and your boatswain captain of the fleet!"
Having made this reflection, as I took a turn or two on deck, thinking what was best to be done, and knowing that "the king could do no wrong," the officer whom I had just superseded came up the hatchway, and, touching his hat very respectfully to the captain, asked whether he might go on shore.
"You may go to hell, and be d——d, Sir!" said the captain (who hated bad language); "you are not fit to carry guts to a bear!—you are not worth your salt; and the sooner you are off, the cleaner the ship will be! Don't stand staring at me, like a bull over a gate! Down, and pack up your traps, or I'll freshen your way!" raising his foot at the same time, as if he was going to kick him.
The young officer, who was a mild, gentlemanly, and courageous youth, did as he was bidden. I was perfectly astonished: I had been accustomed to sail with gentlemen. I had heard of martinets, and disciplinarians, and foul-mouthed captains; but this outdid all I ever could have conceived, and much more than I thought ever could have been submitted to by any correct officer. Roused to indignation, and determined not to be treated in this manner, I again walked up to him, and requested leave to go on shore.
"You have had your answer, Sir."
"Yes, I have, Sir," said I, "and in language that I never before heard on his Majesty's quarter-deck. I joined this ship as an officer and a gentleman, and as such I will be treated."
"Mutiny, by G——!" roared the captain. "Cock-a-hoop with your new commission, before the ink is dry!"
"As you please, Sir," I replied; "but I shall write a letter to the port-admiral, stating the circumstances and requesting leave of absence; and that letter I shall trouble you to forward."
"I'll be d——d if I do!" said he.
"Then, Sir," said I, "as you have refused to forward it, and in the presence of all the officers and ship's company, I shall forward it without troubling you."
This last shot of mine seemed to produce the same effect upon him that the last round does upon a beaten boxer; he did not come to time, but, muttering something, dived down the companion, and went into his cabin.
The first lieutenant now came up, and congratulated me on my victory. "You have puzzled and muzzled the bear completely," said he; "I have long wanted a coadjutor like yourself. Wilson, who is going to leave us, is the best creature that ever lived: but though brave as a lion before an enemy, he is cowed by this incarnate devil."
Our conversation was interrupted by a message from the captain, who desired to speak with me in his cabin. I went down; he received me with the benignant smile of our first acquaintance.
"Mr Mildmay," said he, "I always assume a little tartness with my officers when they first join" ("and when they quit you too," thought I), "not only to prove to them that I am, and will be the captain of my own ship, but also as an example to the men, who, when they see what the officers are forced to put up with, feel themselves more contented with their lot, and obey more readily; but, as I told you before, the comfort of my officers is my constant study—you are welcome to go ashore, and have twenty-four hours' leave to collect your necessaries."
To this harangue I made no reply; but, touching my hat, quitted the cabin. I felt so much contempt for the man that I was afraid to speak, lest I should commit myself.
The captain shortly after quitted the ship, telling the first lieutenant that I had permission to go on shore. I was now left at liberty to make acquaintance with my companions in misery—and nothing conduces to intimacy so much as community of suffering. My resistance to the brutality of our common taskmaster had pleased them; they told me what a tyrant and what a disgrace to the service he was, and how shameful it was that he should be entrusted with the command of so fine a vessel, or of any vessel at all, except it were a convict ship. The stories they told me of him were almost incredible, and nothing but the too well founded idea, that an officer trying his captain by a court-martial, had a black mark against him for ever after, and was never known to rise, could have saved this man from the punishment he so richly deserved: no officer, they said, had been more than three weeks in the ship, and they were all making interest to leave her.
In my report of what occurred in this vessel during the time I belonged to her, I must, in justice to the captains and commanders of his Majesty's navy observe, that the case was unique of its kind—such a character as Captain G—— was rarely met with in the navy then, and, for reasons which I shall give, will be still more rare in future. The first lieutenant told me that I had acted very judiciously in resisting at first his undue exertion of authority; that he was at once a tyrant, a bully, and a coward, and would be careful how he attacked me again. "But be on your guard," said he, "he will never forgive you; and, when he is most agreeable, there is the most mischief to be dreaded. He will lull you into security, and, whenever he can catch you tripping, he will try you by a court-martial. You had better go on shore, and settle all your business, and, if possible, be on board before your leave is out. It was only your threat of writing to the port-admiral that procured you leave of absence. You have nothing to thank him for: he would have kept you on board if he dared. I have never quitted the ship since I joined her; and never has a day passed without a scene similar to what you have this morning witnessed. And yet," continued he, "if it were not for his cruelty to the men, he is the most amusing liar I ever heard. I am often more inclined to laugh than to be angry at him; he has a vein of wit and rich humour that runs through his composition, and never quits him. There is drollery even in his malice, and, if we cannot get clear of him, we must make the best of him."
I went on shore, collected all my clothes and the other articles of which I stood in need, and was on board my ship again the next morning before eight o'clock.
He will lie, Sir, with such volubility, that you would think truth were a fool: drunkenness is his best virtue; for he will be swine-drunk; and in his sleep he does little harm.—SHAKSPEARE.
When Captain G—— made his appearance, he seemed to be in the most amiable humour possible. As soon as he saw me, he said, "Ah, this is what I like; never break your leave even for five minutes. Now that I see I can trust you, you may go on shore again as soon as you please."
This speech might have done very well to any person before the mast; but as applied to an officer, I thought it rude and ungentlemanly.
The caterer had prepared lunch in the gun-room: it consisted of beef-steaks and broiled bullocks' kidneys, with fried onions; and their savoury smell rose in grateful steams up the skylight, and assailed the nostrils of the skipper. His facetious small-talk knew no bounds; he leaned over the frame, and, looking down, said—"I say, something devilish good going on there below!"
The hint was taken, and the first lieutenant invited him down.
"I don't care if I do; I am rather peckish."
So saying, he was down the hatchway in the twinkling of one of his own funny eyes, as he feared the choice bits would be gone before he could get into action. We all followed him; and as he seated himself, he said—