The appearance of the Princess Royal was extraordinary. We had seen her cast on shore and left on her beam-ends. At present she was perfectly upright, the ground beneath her keel, during the earthquake, having given way: and there she lay, securely embedded, without the possibility of ever being set afloat again, about a quarter of a mile from the beach. Two other vessels had been driven higher on shore, but lay on their beam-ends. It was at once proposed to utilise the vessel, by making her the home of the houseless inhabitants; and forthwith the women and children, and men unable to labour, were collected on board her. As I surveyed the effects of the hurricane, I naturally felt very anxious about my ship, fearing that she might have been at sea, and been lost. I afterwards learned that it was only the eastern wing of the hurricane that had swept by the western end of Jamaica, but that its influence in a less degree had been felt over the whole island. As soon as the news reached Kingston, vessels were despatched with provisions, and such relief as could be afforded, for the sufferers. As I was anxious to get back, I took my passage with Larry on board the Rose schooner. The captain promised to land us at Port Royal in a couple of days; "always providing that we are not snapped up by the enemy, or that another hurricane doesn't come on," he observed.
As we sailed out of the harbour, I could see at one glance, more clearly than before, the destruction worked by the hurricane and earthquake. The whole town appeared to be reduced to heaps of ruins, with here and there a few shattered walls standing up in their midst. The skipper of the Rose could give me no information about the Liffy, There were a considerable number of men-of-war in the harbour, and he had not taken especial note of any of them.
"If she was at sea during the hurricane, it is a hundred to one that she escaped," he observed.
We made all sail, and kept in shore as much as we could, lest the enemy's privateers might spy us out, and carry us off to Saint Domingo, or elsewhere. We, however, escaped all dangers; and, to my great joy, on entering Port Royal I made out the Liffy among the other men-of-war at anchor. The Rose's boat took me alongside. Mr Saunders was on deck, so I went up to him.
"Come aboard, sir," I said, touching my hat.
"What, my lad! is it you?" he exclaimed. "I'm glad to see you. There was a report that you had perished during the hurricane at Savannah. How is your leg? Able to return to your duty, I hope?"
"As able and willing as ever, sir," I answered.
"That's all right; there'll be work for us all, ere long."
As I entered the berth there was a regular shout, "Hurrah, Paddy Finn!"
"Glad to have you back, youngster," cried Nettleship.
Tom Pim grasped my hand, and seemed unwilling to let it go, though he didn't say as much as many of the others. I had to answer whole volleys of questions from my messmates, who were all eager to know what had happened to me. I described our narrow escape from the town, and modestly touched on the part I had taken in rescuing Mr Martin and his wife and daughter.
"Glad to see you uphold the honour of the cloth," said Nettleship; "we should never see anybody in danger, and not try to help them at the risk of our lives."
I was amply repaid by the praises my messmates bestowed upon me, for they knew that I had only told them the truth without exaggeration. I asked what they expected we should do next.
"Look out for the French and Spanish fleets, which have long been threatening to pay the island a visit, and take possession of it, if they can," answered Nettleship. "Why they have not come before now I don't know; but there's some reason for it, I suppose."
The sound of music, and the stamp of feet, as I went forward in the evening, showed me that Larry's fiddle had been taken care of; and there he was, scraping away in high glee, setting his messmates dancing merrily to his music, they not troubling their heads about the fierce work which was in store for them. He had received, he afterwards told me, a hearty welcome from all hands, who were delighted to get him back among them.
The next morning Nettleship went on shore. We were most of us in the berth when he returned.
"I have grand news, boys; not so much for us, though, as for the people of Jamaica. The governor has received information that the Spanish and French fleets were caught in the late hurricane, as they were cruising off Cape Francois. Two Spanish ships foundered, two more were driven no one knows where, and four were dismasted. Two Frenchmen were dismasted, one went to the bottom, and another was driven on shore, while the rest, considerably battered, had to bear away to Havanna."
"How do you know that it's all true?" asked several of the mess.
"I heard it from the captain himself, and, what's more, we're to sail forthwith to carry the information to Sir Samuel Hood, who is supposed to be at Barbadoes. He sent me on to direct Mr Saunders to get the ship ready for sea, so that we may sail the moment he comes on board."
The boatswain's call, summoning all hands on deck, prevented us from asking any further questions. It not being known at what moment the ship might be sent to sea, she was kept well provided with water and fresh provisions, so that we had nothing to wait for from the shore, except a few of the officers, who had gone to Port Royal.
Blue Peter was hoisted and a gun fired, as a signal for them to come off. The topsails were loosed, the cable hove short, and we were ready to start at the first puff of the land breeze that might come off the mountains. We were all anxiously looking out for the appearance of the captain. The moment his gig came alongside, she was hoisted up, the anchor hove in, the sails let fall, and we glided out of the harbour. Under the influence of the land breeze, with studding-sails set below and aloft, we ran on at a rapid rate, expecting that we should reach Barbadoes in about a week at the furthest. When once away from the land, the wind dropped, and for hours we lay becalmed. The next morning we got a light breeze, which enabled us to steer our course. A constant look-out was kept for the enemy, for though the main body of the French fleet was said to be in harbour, it was likely that their cruisers would be met with.
Nettleship, Tom Pim, and I were in the morning watch. The first ruddy streaks, harbingers of the rising sun, had appeared in the eastern sky, when the look-out who had been sent aloft shouted, "A sail on the lee-bow."
There had been a stark calm since the commencement of the middle watch. The sails still hung up and down against the masts.
"What does she look like?" inquired Mr Bramston, the lieutenant of the watch.
"A ship, sir," was the answer.
Nettleship, with his glass at his back, sprang up the rigging to take a look at the stranger.
"She's a ship, sir, but appears to me to be a small one," he observed as he came down. The chances are that it's all we shall know about her. If she gets a breeze before us she'll soon be out of sight.
Soon after, some catspaws began to play across the water.
"Hurrah! we shall get the breeze before the stranger feels it," cried Nettleship.
Now the canvas began to bulge out; now it again dropped. The royals and topgallant sails filled, and the frigate moved slowly through the water. Her speed soon increased, however, as the breeze freshened. At length we could see the stranger from the decks, for, as she still lay becalmed, we were quickly coming up with her. Nettleship again went aloft, and I followed him.
"What do you think of her?" I asked.
"She's Spanish or French; I'm pretty certain of that. A flush-decked ship, probably carrying twenty to six-and-twenty guns."
"If she can't escape, will she fight, do you think?" I inquired.
"If her captain has any pluck in him, he may hope to knock away some of our spars, though he can't expect to take us," he said.
When we again came below, and Nettleship made his report, the drum beat to quarters. Every stitch of canvas we could carry had been set, below and aloft. We were carrying down the breeze as we glided on towards the stranger. She also made all sail, though she still lay becalmed; but every moment we expected to see her canvas blow out, when, if she was a fast vessel, she might lead us a long chase before we could come up to her. As our object was to get down to Barbadoes with all speed, the captain might consider it his duty to let her go, rather than be led out of his course. As we approached, our bow-chasers were got ready, to send her an unmistakeable message that she must strike, or run for it. Hitherto she had shown no colours. Presently the French ensign was run up at her peak. Immediately afterwards a flash issued from her stern, and a shot came bounding over the water towards us; but we were not yet within range.
"That's a long gun," observed Nettleship. "If she keeps ahead, she may do us some damage with it before we get alongside of her."
"Give her the starboard bow gun, Mr Saunders," cried the captain.
The gun being trained as far forward as possible, we yawed slightly to port. We watched the shot as it flew across the water. It was well aimed, for it struck the counter of the chase; but its force must have been nearly expended, for it fell back into the sea.
All the sails of the chase were now drawing, and away she went before the wind.
"She may still lead us a long dance, unless we can knock away some of her spars," observed Nettleship. "She's evidently a fast craft, or her commander would not attempt to escape. We are, however, as yet gaining on her; and, if we can once get her under our broadside, we shall soon bring down her colours."
While he was speaking, another shot was fired from the Frenchman's stern. Ricochetting over the surface, it passed close to our side. After this she continued firing shot after shot. Two went through our canvas, others missed us. At last one came on board, and carried off a man's head.
Captain Macnamara, anxious to get up to her, would not lose way by again yawing to fire; and we had to receive her shot without returning the compliment.
"It's very annoying to be bothered by a small craft like that," said Tom. "However, we'll pay her off when we do get up with her."
Fast as she was, our wider spread of canvas enabled us before long to bring our foremost guns to bear. They were fired in rapid succession. The first discharge produced no apparent damage; but at the second, down came her mizen-yard. On seeing this, our crew cheered lustily, and our guns were quickly run in and reloaded. The enemy, however, showed no intention of striking.
Just as we were again about to fire, putting her helm to starboard, she brought the whole of her larboard broadside to bear on us, and a dozen round shot came crashing aboard the frigate.
Three of our men fell, and several others were wounded, mostly by the splinters which flew about the deck. None of our spars, however, were shot away.
Before she could again keep before the wind the whole of our starboard broadside was poured into her. It was better aimed even than hers. The sound of the shrieks and cries rising from her deck told us of its fearful effects. Still her colours were flying.
Again keeping before the wind, she stood on, blazing away at us from two long guns in her stern. The loss of her mizen told on her sailing. Slowly but surely we got nearer and nearer.
"Shall we not soon be up with her?" I asked Nettleship; for it was trying work to be peppered at without being able to return more than a single shot occasionally.
"As surely as the sun sets and rises again, unless she knocks away one of our masts, or brings down our main or fore-yard; and then it's possible that she may get off after all."
"I made sure we should have her before many minutes were over," I observed.
I remarked the eager countenances of the men as they stood at their guns, expecting every moment the order to fire. It came at last. Once more we kept away.
"Give it them now!" cried the captain, and every gun sent forth a sheet of flame.
Our shot told with fearful effect on the enemy's deck. There seemed to be confusion on board, and then a man was seen to spring aft, and down came the colours.
A cheer rose from our men at the sight. We stood on, however, till we were close enough to hail, when the captain ordered through the speaking-trumpet the Frenchman to heave to, threatening to fire another broadside if he failed to do so. The order was obeyed; and we also having hove-to, a boat was lowered to send on board and take possession. Mr Bramston went in her, and I accompanied him.
On reaching the deck of the prize, a glance showed me the fearful damage our guns had produced. In all directions lay numbers of dead seamen, the deck slippery with gore. The bulwarks were shattered, two of the boats knocked to pieces, and the ship was otherwise severely damaged.
A lieutenant stepped up to us.
"My captain lies there," he said, and he pointed to a body concealed beneath a flag; "another of my brother officers is killed, the rest are wounded, and I alone am unhurt."
Mr Bramston complimented him on his bravery, and told him to prepare for going on board the frigate.
Meantime other boats came alongside and removed the crew of the prize, which proved to be the Soleil carrying eighteen guns and six carronades, with a crew of one hundred and eighty men, upwards of thirty of whom were killed or wounded.
Mr Bramston sent me back with this information. The captain at once decided to remove the prisoners, and send the prize to Port Royal.
As no time was to be lost, the boats were lowered, and the prisoners soon brought on board.
The captain at once sent for Nettleship, Tom, and me.
"I intend to send you in charge of the prize, Mr Nettleship," he said, "and these two youngsters can accompany you. Fifteen men are all I can spare you, so you must make the most of them. All the prisoners will be removed, with the exception of about a dozen, who may volunteer to assist in working the ship, so that you'll easily look after them."
"Thank you, sir, for the confidence you place in me," said Nettleship, who would gladly have accepted the command, even if he had had but half a dozen men.
Tom and I promised to do our best, and hurried below to get our traps ready.
I took care to apply for Larry, and to remind him to bring his riddle with him, but I didn't hear what other men were selected to form the prize crew. Ten of the Frenchmen only could be induced to promise their assistance. Tom and I, without loss of time, accompanied Nettleship on board. As soon as the dead were put overboard, the decks washed down, and the damages the prize had received were repaired, the men who had come from the frigate to assist us returned to her. She stood to the southward, and we made sail for Port Royal. Among the first men on whom my eyes fell was Dan Hoolan, looking as sulky and morose as ever, though he was going about his work with more activity than he generally displayed. As I caught sight of the rest of the crew, I found that three more of the Irishmen pressed with him were among them.
"I hope that by this time they are content with their lot, and will do their duty like men," I thought to myself; "still I would rather have had any others."
"We are terribly short-handed, I must confess," said Nettleship, as he and I were seated at dinner in the captain's cabin, while Tom Pim was acting as officer of the watch. "I know I can trust you two fellows, however, and we must make the most of the men we've got. There are many of them about the worst on board; but if we have fine weather, they won't have much to do, and we may hope not to catch a Tartar on the way. We must take to our heels if we see a suspicious stranger, and the Soleil appears to have a fast pair, at all events, so we may hope to escape. Though I would rather be in a condition to fight than have to run away."
"The Frenchmen only promised to assist in navigating the ship. We mustn't trust them to man the guns," I said.
"We'll see what our own men can do without them, then," said Nettleship in a cheery tone.
We hurried over our dinner to let Tom come down and take his, while Nettleship and I went on deck. The weather looked favourable, and Nettleship was in high spirits at finding himself in command of a fine ship. Should he take her to Port Royal in safety, he might reasonably expect to obtain his long waited-for promotion. Although the majority of the men sent with us were the least reliable of the crew, we had an old quartermaster, Ben Nash, and three other seamen, who were first-rate hands, and we took care to put two of them into each watch. Of course there was plenty of work to do in getting the ship to rights. As soon as the men knocked off we heard Larry's riddle going. Stepping forward, I found that he had set all the Frenchmen dancing, and some of our own men, too, who were enjoying themselves to their hearts' content. "Larry will take good care to keep the people in good temper," I thought to myself, as I turned aft.
When night came on, Nettleship thought it prudent to shorten sail, as is the custom of careful merchant skippers, who can't perform that operation in a hurry. We lost nothing by so doing, as for some hours it was a stark calm. Tom and Ben Nash were in one watch, Nettleship and I in another. Night passed quickly away. Towards morning we got a breeze, and were once more standing on our course. We kept a bright look-out, not, as we should have liked, to watch for a prize, but to run away should a suspicious sail be sighted. We kept no colours flying, for should a Frenchman see us, we might have a better chance of avoiding an encounter. At daylight, as we had a fair breeze, all sail was again set, and we stood gaily on our course.
"If this weather holds, we shall be safe at anchor in a couple of days in Port Royal," said Nettleship.
"A sail ahead!" shouted the look-out, from aloft.
"We must continue on our course till we see what she is," said Nettleship.
Tom Pim, who went aloft to have a look at her, on his return said that she was a brig, standing to the westward, but too far off at the time to judge of her size. She appeared to be almost becalmed, while we, carrying the breeze along with us, rapidly neared her. At length we could see her clearly from the deck.
"She has hoisted her colours," observed Nettleship. "Though from the cut of her canvas she's English, as far as I can make out, her flag is French."
We had not yet hoisted our colours; indeed, as we were standing, the Frenchman could not have seen them even if we had.
"There's no doubt about the flag," observed Tom, who had taken the glass; "that is French, though she's an English merchantman, if I ever saw one. The people on board her recognise this ship as one of their own cruisers, and take us for a friend."
"I believe you're right, Tom," said Nettleship, "and we'll not undeceive them."
The stranger, having now got a breeze, hove-to, apparently wishing to speak us. We had to luff up a little to reach her.
"Hoist the French ensign," said Nettleship to me; and I ran it up to the peak.
As we got nearer it became necessary to shorten sail, that we might lower a boat to send on board and take possession, should it be found that the brig had been captured by the French. Whether or not it was from the slow way in which we performed the operation, the suspicions of the Frenchmen were aroused, and putting up their helm, they filled their sails and ran off before the wind. We immediately let fall our courses, and hauling down the French flag and hoisting the English, stood away in chase.
"Give her a shot, Tom," said Nettleship. "We mustn't let her lead us out of our course."
Tom and I hurried forward, and, training the gun ourselves, fired. The chase took no notice of the first shot, but we quickly again loaded, and managed to send a second plump on board her. To our satisfaction, she immediately rounded to, when we were soon up to her, we also heaving to to windward.
"You shall board her, Paddy," said Nettleship. "Take care to let the Frenchmen understand that it was fortunate for them we didn't sink the brig."
Larry, Hoolan, and four other men, formed my boat's crew, all of us of course being armed to the teeth. We found only ten men on board, three of whom were blacks, the rest French, under the command of a young French midshipman. He at once handed me his sword, with a polite bow. As I understood French,—I forget if I before said so,—I learnt from him that the brig was, as we supposed, English; that she had been captured a week before by a French corvette; and that he was on his way to Saint Domingo. He looked a little downcast on losing his command, but shrugged his shoulders, and observed that it was "la fortune de la guerre." I requested him and five of his white crew to accompany me on board my ship. He replied that he was ready, and begged that he might be allowed to carry his traps with him.
"Certainly, monsieur," I replied; and he dived down below, as he said, to pack them up. As he was much longer in the cabin than I considered necessary, I grew impatient, and followed him. I found him talking to a person in bed in one of the side-berths.
"I ought, monsieur, to have told you that I have a brother aspirant, who is very ill; and I fear that it might cause his death were he to be removed. Your captain would be conferring a great favour on us both, were he to allow me to remain with him, as no one else is so well able to nurse him as I am."
"I'll ask him," I said, looking at the sick youth, who certainly appeared very ill. I regret, however, that I cannot delay longer, so you must come with me.
"I'll obey you, monsieur," said the midshipman; and exchanging a few more words with his sick companion, he followed me on deck.
Leaving Larry and two other men on board, I made three of the Frenchmen take their places in the boat, and returned to the Soleil with the young Frenchman. I told Nettleship of the request he had made.
"I don't like to refuse him, as what he says is no doubt true," said Nettleship; "but we must take care that he plays us no tricks."
"Then am I to tell him that he may return on board the brig?" I asked.
"Yes, you may take him with you, for I intend to send you in charge of the prize, as I can't spare Tom; but Nash shall go with you,—you couldn't have a better man;—and so with five hands, and the help of the blacks you speak of, and a couple of the Frenchmen, you'll be able to work the vessel, and by keeping in our wake you'll easily find your way to Port Royal." I was highly pleased at the confidence Nettleship placed in me, especially as Tom was not a bit jealous.
"Nettleship thinks that as I'm a little chap I shouldn't inspire the same respect among the Frenchmen that you will," he said, as we shook hands before I went down the side.
The brig was the Good Luck, bound from Barbadoes to Halifax when she had been captured. The French midshipman, who was profuse in his expressions of gratitude for being allowed to return to look after his sick messmate, told me that his name was La Touche.
As soon as the boat which had brought me on board had gone back to the Soleil she made sail, and I followed in her wake. I at once mustered my crew. The two Frenchmen said that they were perfectly ready to do as their officer wished.
"I desire you, then, to obey monsieur, who is in command of this vessel," said La Touche.
"Certainly we will obey him," answered the Frenchmen, making flourishing bows.
The blacks, two of whom spoke English, said also that they were ready to obey me.
On looking at the men, I saw that not only Dan Hoolan, but two of the men who had been pressed with him, had also been sent; but then I had Ben and Larry, on whom I could thoroughly rely; and the others, while we kept close to the Soleil, would not venture to attempt any treachery.
In less than an hour the wind fell very light. I saw, notwithstanding this, by the way in which the brig slipped through the water, that she was remarkably fast for an English merchant vessel. This was satisfactory, as I felt sure that during the night I was not likely to fall behind the Soleil.
As the day drew on the wind fell altogether, and we lay becalmed at a short distance from each other. I divided my crew into two watches. I took one with Larry, two of our own crew, a Frenchman, and a black. Ben had charge of the other, with the remainder. I did not think it prudent to let La Touche take a watch, though he politely offered to do so. The night was excessively hot, and I felt more inclined to remain on deck than below. After La Touche and I had had supper, he said he would remain in the cabin to look after his sick friend. One of the Frenchmen acted as steward, and the other as cook. The former frequently came into the cabin to bring us our meals, and to take food to the sick midshipman.
I kept the first watch, and Ben relieved me at midnight, when I lay down on deck, on a mattress I had brought up from the cabin, under a small awning rigged near the after-part of the vessel. I had been asleep for a couple of hours or more, when I was awakened by feeling the vessel heel suddenly over.
"All hands on deck! Shorten sail!" shouted Ben in a lusty voice.
I sprang to my feet. There was not a moment to lose. La Touche, who had been awakened at the same time, rushed up on deck, followed by another person, who appeared to be as active as any one. As rapidly as we could, we let fly the topgallant sheets, lowered the peak, and brailed up the foresail, while the helm was put up. The brig righted, fortunately not carrying away the masts, and off we flew before the wind. The Frenchmen and blacks behaved remarkably well, and ran aloft to reef the topsails, and stow the lighter sails, which were flapping loudly as they blew out with the wind.
The sky had become overcast; the scud flew rapidly along, just above our heads, as it seemed, while the spoon-drift, blown off from rising seas, covered the ocean with a sheet of white.
When all immediate danger was over, the stranger who had so mysteriously shown himself slipped down the companion ladder, and I was too busy to ask La Touche who he was. I naturally concluded that he was the sick midshipman La Touche had been so tenderly nursing.
As soon as we had got the brig to rights, I looked out for the Soleil but could nowhere distinguish her. Had she borne up? or having shortened sail in time, was she still keeping her course? I hoped that the latter was the case, and resolved to attempt hauling to the wind, and steering for Port Royal. I told Ben of my intention, as he, I considered, was the best seaman among my crew.
"It will be as much as we can do, sir, if we could do it at all," he answered. "The brig is not particularly stiff, or she would not have heeled over as sharply as she did just now."
"The French officer knows better than we can what sail the brig will bear. I might ask his opinion," I remarked.
"Beg pardon, sir, but I would not ask him if I were you," said Ben. "He'll of course say, 'Keep before the wind; but he won't say that if we do we shall chance to run right into the midst of a Spanish or French fleet, or up to one of their cruisers, if so be this is only a passing gale."
"I fear that it is not merely a passing gale; but still, if we can keep the brig on a wind, we'll try and do it," I said.
I gave the order to man the braces, waiting for an opportunity to put the helm down and bring the brig up to the wind. Scarcely was the order given, however, than a blast more furious than before struck the brig, and which, had I not delayed carrying out my intention, would either have hove her on her beam-ends or carried away the masts. On we flew before the wind, which was every moment increasing; while the seas rose higher and higher, and came roaring up around us. Even now we had more sail set than we could safely carry, and I at once ordered the hands aloft to furl the main-topsail, and to closely reef the fore-topsail. Yet even when this was done, the brig flew on at a tremendous pace.
"To my mind, we've got old Harry Cane on board, sir," said Ben; "and the sooner we get our fore-topsail stowed the better, to save it from being blown out of the bolt ropes, and the less likely we shall be to lose the masts. If the foremast goes, the mainmast will be pretty sure to follow."
"You're right, Ben," I answered, and I gave the order to furl the fore-topsail.
Ben and Larry led the way aloft, and most of our own men followed; but the two Frenchmen didn't seem to like the look of things, and remained on deck. I ordered them up, but they stood holding on to the bulwarks without moving, and I had no power to compel them. My own men, however, were able to perform the operation without their aid, and at length, having stowed the sail, they came down on deck.
Even now the brig dashed on at a furious rate, while the sea, roaring up astern, threatened constantly to poop her. Fortunately, we had plenty of sea-room, and unless the wind should suddenly shift round to the opposite quarter, as I knew it might do, I hoped that we should keep afloat till the hurricane had abated.
Consulting with Ben, I did everything he advised to secure the masts and spars.
When La Touche saw how we were employed, he went to the Frenchmen and blacks, and induced them to assist; indeed, without their help we could scarcely have done what was necessary.
As soon as we had finished all that was required, I went into the cabin, and asked La Touche to find me a chart, and calculating where we had been when the hurricane first struck us, I marked down as well as I could the course we had since run, that I might better be able to find my way back to Port Royal. I was not a very experienced navigator, still, having the exercise of my wits, I hoped to succeed, and I felt not a little proud at the thought that I must trust to my own resources. I could not expect assistance from La Touche, and no one else on board, except the sick midshipman knew anything about navigation.
Expecting to follow close in the wake of the Soleil I had not brought a quadrant with me, but I found one in the cabin, as well as a French nautical almanack; and I hoped, when the hurricane was over and the sky had cleared, to be able to use them.
La Touche had hitherto occupied the state-room, but supposing that I should turn him out, he had removed his things to a berth on the opposite side, close to that of his messmate.
Having placed the chart and quadrant with the almanack in what was now my cabin, I locked the door, and returned on deck.
The hurricane showed no signs of abating; but the brig, which was fortunately not fully laden, behaved beautifully, and literally bounded over the waves as she ran before the wind. The crew continued on deck, holding fast on to the stanchions, belaying-pins, and the rigging, to save themselves from being washed away; for every now and then a sea tumbled on board, and swept along the deck, sometimes over one quarter, sometimes over another, and frequently over the bows; but the hatches had been battened down, and no water got below.
"We shall do well, I hope, and carry the brig safely into Port Royal," I observed to La Touche.
He shrugged his shoulders, and answered—
"For your sake I may wish it, though I shall not be sorry if we fall in with one of our own cruisers before the voyage is ended."
"Very naturally; but should she appear, we will try our best to get away from her," I said, laughing.
At length daylight broke. A wild scene the ocean presented; the foaming seas dancing up on all sides, through which the brig was struggling onwards. It seemed to me that the wind was blowing stronger than ever, and I began to fear that we should be driven over towards the reefs and shoals upon the American coast before it had ceased. If so, shipwreck was almost certain, and the chance of saving our lives would be small indeed. Still I kept up my spirits, and took care not to express my fears to my shipmates.
Suddenly about noon the wind dropped, but whether or not it was gaining strength for a fresh blow I was not certain. I asked La Touche. He replied that he could not tell, but that it might be so, and that it would be wise to be prepared for it. The seas tumbled about so much that I could not bring the brig to the wind. I, however, first set the fore, and then the main-topsail, and kept her before it to avoid the risk of the seas pooping us. The clouds at length began to disperse, and in a short time the sea itself went down.
I lost no time in bringing the brig to the wind, making more sail, and shaping a course for Jamaica. Before nightfall the clouds had entirely disappeared; and the setting sun cast a radiant glow over the sky and sea, as the brig, heeling over to the breeze, sped on her way.
"I congratulate you, monsieur, on the change of weather, for I should have been grieved as much as you would, had the brig been lost," said La Touche, coming up to me. "Still there's many a slip between the cup and the lip,"—he gave an equivalent proverb in French. "If one of our cruisers appears, you'll have to congratulate me, though I hope you'll receive the same courteous treatment that I have enjoyed from you, and for which I have to thank you."
"I have no fear of that," I replied. "Your cruiser has not yet appeared. The Good Luck is fortunately a fast craft, and we'll do all we can to put her at her best speed."
We had been unable to sit down to table during the hurricane, and had had no time to take a regular meal since; but me of the French seamen, who acted as steward, now placed a very substantial one on the table. I played the part of host, and La Touche that of guest. His messmate was too ill to get up, he said, but notwithstanding, though a sick man, he managed to consume a fair quantity of the viands La Touche took to him.
"There ought to be some good wine in this locker, if the bottles were not broken during the hurricane," said La Touche, rising and lifting up the lid. Groping about, he produced a couple of bottles of claret, and another of cognac.
"There are several more here, so that we need not stint ourselves," he said, laughing.
A corkscrew was soon found. I took a couple of glasses. The wine was excellent, there was no doubt about that. La Touche pressed me to take a third. "Come, we must pledge each other," he said, replenishing my glass, and filling up his own. "Here's to the continuance of our friendship."
I felt pretty well tired, as I had been up the whole of the last night, and a good portion of the previous one, so I was not sorry to have something to set me up. We struck our glasses together, and wished each other health, prosperity, and promotion.
"You like the wine," said La Touche. "Come—another glass; now we must finish the bottle, and I don't wish to take a larger share than you have."
"No, no, my friend," I answered, thinking there was something peculiar in his manner. "I command this craft, and must keep a cool head on my shoulders, but I have no objection to your finishing the bottle, and taking a second, if you like."
In vain he pressed me, for the more he pressed, the more determined I became not to take another drop. I found the wine indeed stronger than I had supposed it was. Besides which, I recollected the major's advice, which strengthened me in my resolution.
After supper we rose to go on deck. I observed as we did so, that La Touche replaced the bottle in the locker. I felt more inclined to go to sleep than to pace the deck, but I resolved to take the first watch, that Nash might have the middle one. The wind had fallen still more, the moonbeams cast a silvery light over the ocean. La Touche, who had followed me out of the cabin, joined me, and we walked up and down for some time. At length, giving a yawn, he said—
"If monsieur does not wish me to keep watch, which I shall be happy to do, I shall turn in, for I can scarcely keep my eyes open."
"Thank you," I said; "but I cannot disobey my orders, though I should place perfect confidence in your honour."
"I am much obliged to you for the compliment," he replied in a hesitating tone; and wishing me good-night, and a pleasant watch, he dived below.
I continued walking up and down the deck, doing my utmost to keep myself awake. Seeing Larry, I called to him to come to me. One of our men was at the helm. I asked Larry how the people were getting on forward.
"We're all as friendly as bees, Mr Terence. Shure the Frenchmen are mighty pleasant fellows, though I wouldn't be after trusting to them too much. The steward has got some bottles of the crathur, and he's been serving it out pretty freely. I have been afraid that Dan Hoolan and Mat would be after taking more than is good for them, though Dan's head, to be sure, could stand lashins of liquor, and be none the worse for it."
"Take care, and not be tempted yourself, Larry," I said.
"No, no, Mr Terence, I know my duty too well for that, though the Frenchmen in their love of me tried to force it down my throat."
"I wish you could manage to find the bottles of liquor, and bring them aft, or heave them overboard; it would be putting temptation out of the men's way," I said.
"Shure, Mr Terence, I'll obey your orders, though the Frenchmen won't be loving me so much, if they find out it was myself that did it."
While Larry went forward to carry out my directions, I continued my solitary walk. I was afraid even to rest against the bulwarks for a moment, or I should have been off to sleep like a shot. Even as it was, as I stood on deck watching the canvas, to see that the man at the helm was steering properly, I more than once became unconscious of where I was. Though my eyes might not have closed, I lost the power of seeing, now fancying myself on the deck of the frigate, now on board the Soleil, and I heard the voices of Nettleship and Tom Pim talking to each other, though except that they were speaking about me, I could not make out what they said. Now I opened my eyes. "No higher!" I sang out, as I saw the head-sails almost aback. The helmsman turned the spokes of the wheel, and the sails filled I continued my walk, but soon again stopped. I went to the binnacle lamp to look at my watch. It still wanted half an hour to midnight. I would have given much to have had that half hour over; and it was with the greatest difficulty that I managed to stand upright. Once more as I stood, now looking out forward, now at the sails, strange voices sounded in my ears, and my senses wandered.
"Faith, Mr Terence, the spalpeens have been too sharp for me; I could only find one bottle of spirits, and that was empty. The blacks are as drunk as fiddlers, and the Frenchmen seem to have lost their senses, while Dan Hoolan and the rest of our men are much the same, barrin' Tim Logan here, at the helm, and Ben Nash, and he's fast asleep, waiting for me to call him, and relieve you."
"Well, then, Larry, go and rouse him up at once, for if he doesn't come down soon there'll be only you and Logan to look after the ship, as I'm pretty well done up."
"Hush, Mr Terence! I'd like to see Logan kept at the helm," said Larry, putting his hand to his mouth; "for when he goes forward I am after thinking that the Frenchmen will be tempting him with the liquor, and he's not the boy to refuse a glass of the crathur when it's put before his nose."
"I'll speak to Nash when he comes," I said. "Take a look-out ahead before you go below."
In a short time Ben Nash came aft, hitching up his trousers and rubbing his eyes as if just awakened out of sleep. I gave him my directions, and inquired about the rest of the crew.
"Why, sir, the watch below don't seem inclined to turn out and the men forward seem more asleep than awake," he answered. "It seems to me that they have been having a drop too much; I only hope we shan't have to shorten sail, or there won't be many of them fit to go aloft."
Ben's reply confirmed what Larry told me. It made me very unwilling to turn in, but so overpowerful was my sleepiness, that I knew it would be impossible for me to keep awake much longer.
"I must lie down for half an hour or so," I said, "and if you observe anything unusual, send Larry down to call me. Let him stay by you if he can manage to keep awake, while Logan remains at the helm a short while longer."
"Never fear, sir," answered Nash. "I'll do as you order me."
Under other circumstances I should have myself gone forward and roused up the watch, but from the reports Nash and Larry had given me, I knew that it would be useless, as I had no power to enforce obedience. I therefore very unwillingly went below, and threw myself on the bed all standing, and in half a minute was fast asleep.
I didn't dream; not a thought passed through my brain till I was at length partly awakened by a noise overhead. What it was I couldn't make out. Presently I heard some one come down, as I supposed, to call me. Now fully awake, I was on the point of jumping up to hurry on deck, when I became aware that two persons were standing close to my berth.
"Soyez tranquille, monsieur," said the voice of La Touche. "The brig is no longer under your command; most of your people have joined my men, and they insist on carrying her into the Havanna."
"Impossible!" I exclaimed. "My men would not have turned traitors. I'll go on deck and see how matters stand."
"That we cannot allow. I did not instigate my men to recapture the vessel, they managed it themselves; but now that they have possession, I dare not order them to give her up."
"I know that two of my people would have fought to the death rather than have turned traitors," I exclaimed.
"Those two you speak of—the old man and the Irish lad—were overpowered, and are stowed safely below, with handcuffs on their wrists," he answered. "Have I your word that you'll not interfere? You treated me with courtesy, and I wish you to be allowed to remain at liberty; but if you decline to give me your word, I cannot prevent you being treated as they are."
While he was speaking, I felt for my pistols, which I had placed at the head of the berth, intending to spring up suddenly, knock him and his companion over, and gain the deck, but they were gone. My sword had also been taken away.
I observed by the light of the lantern that his companion held, that both of them were fully armed, and prepared to resist any attack I might make on them. The countenance of the other person, who wore the uniform of a lieutenant, I did not recognise, but I guessed he must be the sick messmate to whom La Touche had been so attentive. I could not help thinking also that La Touche was not so ignorant altogether of the intentions of his crew as he asserted.
"I'll consider the subject, and let you know in the course of a few minutes, if you'll give me that time for reflection," I answered.
I was anxious to gain time, for I still had a lingering hope that Nash and Larry had managed to retain their liberty, and that if I could once get on deck, we might recover possession of the brig.
"I'll not hurry you, monsieur, but shall be very much grieved if you will not give me your word, as I shall be under the painful necessity of subjecting you to an indignity such as I would willingly avoid," observed the lieutenant.
I spent the time in considering what I would do, and finally came to the conclusion that it would be useless to refuse the freedom offered me, as, were I handcuffed and imprisoned below, I could not assist my two faithful men, or make any attempt to recover the brig.
I therefore said, with as good a grace as I could command, "I accept your offer, Monsieur La Touche."
"You must give your word to this gentleman, who is my superior officer," said La Touche, turning to the supposed sick man.
I said nothing; but I had a shrewd suspicion that he had remained on board for the purpose of carrying out the plan which had been so completely successful. I felt, however, very much downcast, and very foolish at being outwitted, and indignant at the treacherous conduct of my own men. Yet what more could I have expected from Hoolan and his associates?
"Monsieur, I promise not to interfere with the discipline of the brig, provided I am allowed to retain my liberty," I at length said, addressing the lieutenant.
"That is well," he replied. "I would advise you to lie down again and finish your sleep. You will be in better heart to-morrow to bear your misfortune, and we wish to return the courtesy which we have received at your hands. It is the fortune of war, and we have acted fairly."
I was not so clear about that, but there was no use in complaining, so I at once threw myself into the berth, and in a minute was in happy forgetfulness of all that had occurred.
Next morning, when I went on deck, I found the brig was steering to the north-west. How different I felt to the day before; then I was in command, now I was a prisoner. As I cast my eye along the deck, I caught sight of Hoolan and the other mutineers. He scowled at me maliciously, but did not approach, and the others continued the work on which they were engaged. La Touche had charge of the deck. I had my misgivings as to how it had fared with Larry and Nash.
I turned to the French midshipman, and said—
"I should like to see my people who did not mutiny. Where are they?"
"Two are in the hold, and the one who was at the wheel was struck down and killed with an axe, and is overboard. It was a case of necessity, and the fortune of war."
I made no answer, for I was too indignant to speak. At last I said—
"Will you give me permission to go down and see my poor men? It will be a consolation to them to know that I am safe, for one who is my foster-brother is much attached to me, and the other is a faithful fellow."
The midshipman seemed struck at hearing this, and at once said that he would obtain permission from his lieutenant. He went into the cabin, and quickly returned, saying that I might go and see the men. Taking a lantern which he ordered one of the crew to bring me, I went down into the hold, and there, in a small space on some planks placed on the cargo, and surrounded by casks, I found Larry and Ben Nash, with handcuffs on their wrists, and their legs tied, seated side by side.
"Is it yourself, Mr Terence?" exclaimed Larry, as I appeared. "Have you come to set us free? Have you got the brig again?"
"I wish that I had," I answered, "but there's no such good luck for us. I'm a prisoner at large, and I have obtained permission to come and see you, as I wanted to know how you're getting on, and how it all happened."
"Shure it's bad enough for myself, Mr Terence, but it's worse for poor Ben here, for just look at him,—he's got a mighty ugly prong in his side, another in his shoulder, and a knock in his head, which was enough to do for him. Tim Logan was killed entirely; but don't mind me, just look to Ben, he can scarcely speak."
Ben's face was pale as death.
"Where are you hurt, Nash?" I asked.
He groaned as he told me.
"But it's water I want, sir; the fellows haven't brought us any since we were down here. Once Dan Hoolan came to look at us, and when I asked him for some, he turned away with a growl, swearing I might die of thirst before he would bring me any."
Immediately on hearing this I sprang on deck, and begged La Touche to let me have a jug of water. He ordered one of the Frenchmen to bring it to me, and I returned with it. I first gave some to Nash, who, though he eagerly bent forward his head as I lifted the jug to his lips, seemed to have a difficulty in swallowing. I next put it to Larry's mouth, and he quickly gulped down the contents.
"Shure, that does a boy good," he exclaimed, drawing breath. "I wouldn't have taken it all, if I had been after thinking that Ben would have been wanting it."
"I hope easily to get some more if he requires it," I said; but on looking at poor Ben it appeared to me that neither water nor food would restore him. He was leaning back, gasping violently. His eyes, as I held the lantern to them, appeared to have lost all animation. I put the lantern down on the deck, and supported him in my arms.
"It's cruel in those fellows to keep the manacles on him while he's suffering thus," I exclaimed. "I'll ask La Touche to have them taken off. He could no longer, even if he had a will, interfere with them."
Springing on deck, I made my request to La Touche; he replied that he would go below and consult his commanding officer. He soon returned.
"If you think that the man is really dying, Lieutenant Dubois will give you leave to do as you desire," he said, "but you must be answerable for him."
"I feel certain that he will die unless he is properly cared for," I answered.
He called to one of the blacks who belonged to the armourer's crew on board the French frigate, and told him to go below and knock off the Englishman's irons. I thought I might put in a word for Larry.
"May they release my foster-brother?" I asked. "Poor fellow, he did but his duty in defending the brig, and I'll be responsible for his good conduct."
"Yes. Lieutenant Dubois fancied that I spoke of both of them, and for my part, I am very willing to do as you wish," he answered.
I hurried below, accompanied by the black. Nash was still breathing hard, and scarcely had the armourer commenced operations, when the poor fellow fell back in my arms, his spirit set free before his body was liberated from the irons. The black continued knocking away, quite indifferent to what had occurred.
"It's all over with poor Ben," exclaimed Larry, who was eagerly watching the operation.
"Yes, he's gone," I answered, as I felt the honest seaman's wrist.
The black finished his work, and then stretched the body out on the deck.
"And now, my friend, I'll beg of you to release this young fellow," I said. "You wouldn't like to have irons on your wrists longer than you could help."
"Not de first time I hab dem on, and big chain too; but dis nuttin'," said the black, and a few blows sufficed to set Larry free.
He sprang to his feet, knocking his head against the deck above him with a force which brought him down again, but fortunately the crown of an Irishman's head is thicker than that of most people, and he quickly recovered himself.
Telling him to sit quiet till I got leave for him to appear, I went on deck to report the death of Nash.
"Ah, they told me the man was badly hurt," said La Touche. "He was a brave fellow, for he fought desperately. We will bury him forthwith."
"And my follower, may he return on deck?" I asked. "Both of us will be glad to assist in navigating the ship, if our services are required."
"Yes, you can do so; but I do not think that you will return the compliment we paid you, by attempting to retake the brig from us," he answered, laughing.
"You are right, monsieur," I answered. "I have given you my word to that effect, and the word of an English officer is never broken."
La Touche winced. "I took no part," he observed, "in capturing the brig; you'll understand that."
I made no reply, though I was convinced that all along he was cognisant of the plot and plans of his lieutenant. The treachery of Hoolan and his companions enabled him to succeed with greater ease than he could otherwise have expected.
With the assistance of the black armourer, Larry and I sewed Ben up in a piece of canvas which he obtained for us, with a shot at the feet. We then together carried the body to a port, and launched it overboard, no one offering to render assistance, but at the same time not interfering with our proceedings. When Lieutenant Dubois came on deck, he bowed politely to me, and we exchanged a few words, but he didn't appear inclined to enter into conversation. Perhaps he felt conscious that he was guilty of treachery in allowing his men to mutiny, even if he had not instigated them to do so, after the kind way in which he had been treated. Of course Nettleship made a great mistake in allowing him and the midshipman to remain on board; but judging them by his own sense of honour, he could not suppose it possible they would take advantage of his generosity, and even dream of attempting to recapture the brig.
Larry, when I was on deck, always kept close to me, and he asked whether I could obtain permission for him to sleep under the companion ladder, or anywhere aft, so that he might be within call.
"In truth, Mr Terence, I'm not fond of the looks Dan Hoolan casts at me when I go forward," he said. "I shouldn't be surprised on waking some night to find him after cutting my throat or giving me a knock on the head, for he knows that if it hadn't been for poor Ben and Tim Logan and me, he would have tried to kill you, Mr Terence, that you might not appear against him; but we fought as long as we could, till the French lieutenant came on deck, and there was only myself remaining unhurt."
I felt very certain that what Larry said was true, and La Touche afterwards corroborated the account. How Larry had escaped seemed a wonder, till I heard that he had seized a handspike, and using it as a shillelah, or rather as a singlestick, had kept his enemies at bay, and defended himself. Whenever I saw Hoolan on deck, I observed that he cast sinister looks at Larry and me, and I felt very sure that if he had an opportunity he would carry out his threat of putting an end to us. When I told La Touche of Larry's wish, and his reason for it, after speaking to the lieutenant, he said it should be complied with. At meal-time the officers invited me into the cabin, and, to do them justice, treated me with as much courtesy as if I had been a willing guest.
"We have changed places, but we hope that you don't bear us any ill-will," said La Touche, filling up my glass with claret. "Here's to your health, and may our friendship endure as long as our lives. When peace is established between our two countries which I suppose will be some day or other, I shall be enchanted if you will pay me a visit at my father's chateau in Normandy."
"With the greatest pleasure in the world," I answered; "though I confess I didn't think you would play me so cruel a trick." I didn't wish to use a harsher expression.
"Believe me, monsieur, that it was from no design of mine. I but performed my duty. Until the vessel was in the hands of the mutineers, I was not aware myself of what was going to happen. Monsieur Dubois will corroborate what I state."
"La Touche speaks but the truth," said the lieutenant. "He acted under my orders, for, knowing his sense of honour, I didn't confide my plan to him."
I was very glad to hear this, as I was much inclined to like La Touche, and was grieved to suppose that I had been disappointed in him.
The weather, after the hurricane which had been the chief cause of my misfortune, rapidly moderated, and became very fine; and though the wind was generally light, the brig made good way to the south-westward. During the day one of the Frenchmen, or La Touche himself, was constantly at the masthead, on the look-out for vessels, either to avoid suspicious strangers, or hoping to fall in with one of their cruisers. The lieutenant had at first intended to steer for Havanna, on the northern coast of Cuba; but just as we passed the latitude of Jamaica the wind shifted to the westward, and he determined to run for Port-au-Prince, at the westward end of Saint Domingo. He didn't conceal his intentions from me; indeed there was no object in his doing so. He asked me whether we were likely to fall in with English cruisers between Jamaica and Cuba. I told him what I believed to be the case, that they would most probably be found on the south or west side of the island, looking out for the French and Spanish fleets expected to be coming from Havanna.
"I am surprised, indeed, that we have not fallen in with one of our cruisers already," I said.
"There is a reason for that," he remarked. "The hurricane, of which we only felt the edge, will have driven them into port, or have sent them ashore, or to the bottom. I thought of that before I ventured here, and calculated that it must have been some days before they could put to sea again."
I believed that the lieutenant was right, and it lessened my hopes of the brig being retaken; still I did not abandon them altogether, and the thought contributed to keep up my spirits.
Supper over, after a few turns on deck I begged leave to turn in and finish out the sleep which had been so disagreeably interrupted the previous morning. Both the officers begged I would return to the berth I had previously occupied. I thought it best to accept their courtesy. When Larry saw me go below, he came down the companion ladder, and after attending on me, as I told him he might do, he stowed himself away under it. When I awoke next morning, finding myself in my old berth, for a few seconds I forgot all that had occurred, and fancied myself still in command of the brig, but the reality soon came back to me. With anything but pleasant feelings I turned out, and having dressed, went on deck. Larry, who had slept undisturbed, followed me up.
"I'm after thinking, Mr Terence, that Dan was looking for me, but, as good fortune would have it, I found an empty biscuit cask, so what did I do but poke my head into it, and cover my neck up with a thick handkerchief," said Larry, as he stood by my side. "Thinks I to myself, if Master Dan wants to be after giving me a whack on the skull, I shall have had time to jump up before he has done for me; but the spalpeen did not find me out, I've a notion, and I'll be on the watch for him if he does, another night."
I found La Touche on deck, and we exchanged salutations. The brig was under all sail, standing to the eastward. I cast my eye eagerly astern, half hoping to see a British man-of-war in chase of us; but I found that the Frenchmen were carrying all sail, as was but natural, to reach their destination as fast as possible. I could just distinguish to the southward the distant mountains of Jamaica, rising like a blue irregular line above the horizon. Nothing could be more beautiful than the weather. The sky was bright; the ocean glittered in the rays of the rising sun.
In spite of this, I could not keep my spirits up, and put away the thoughts of the fate in store for me. Instead of serving my country, gaining honour and promotion, and passing my time in the society of shipmates to whom I was much attached, I was doomed to be imprisoned in some out-of-the-way part of Saint Domingo, or sent across the Atlantic to be shut up in a French fortress, as I knew that other officers had been.
Now that their hopes of escaping increased, the Frenchmen became still more courteous, and did their best to make my stay on board pleasant. I should have been glad to have regained my liberty, but certainly should have pitied them if we had been captured.
At length we made the west side of Saint Domingo, and, entering the Bay of Gonavez, ran up to the harbour at its eastern extremity. Here we found a considerable number of men-of-war at anchor. We were at once visited by several officers, who seemed surprised to hear that we had been at sea and escaped being wrecked, every ship in the harbour having lost masts or spars, or received other serious damage.
Lieutenant Dubois had promised that he would keep us on board as long as possible, as we should, on being landed, have been moved away into the interior. I was, of course, very glad to take advantage of his kind offer.
We had not been long at anchor before an officer came off from the shore with an official-looking packet. I was in the cabin when he delivered it to Lieutenant Dubois.
"The governor has heard of your arrival, and of the undamaged condition of your vessel," said the officer. "He is desirous of sending important information to Admiral the Count de Grasse, who will probably be found at the island of Guadaloupe, and he desires that you will sail forthwith, and convey these despatches. There is no vessel in harbour fit to go, and he considers your arrival a fortunate circumstance."
Dubois at once expressed his satisfaction, and promised to sail without a moment's delay. I was afraid that he might consider it necessary to send Larry and me on shore; but I thought it prudent to say nothing, and continued seated as if I belonged to the vessel. The French officer from the shore made no remark, and having performed his commission, speedily took his departure.
"All right," said Dubois to me; "I'm not compelled to land you, and if you like we can continue our voyage together. It will give you a better chance of escape if the fortune of war should throw me into the hands of one of your ships; but I have no intention of being caught if I can help it."
I thanked him very much, and assured him that nothing would give me greater pleasure than being once more able to play the host to him.
Before we sailed, however, six more hands, whom he had asked for, were sent on board to strengthen his crew; but Hoolan and the other mutineers were allowed to remain, for which I was sorry. Perhaps they would rather have gone on shore, for if the brig were recaptured, they would, to a certainty, have to grace her yard-arms before many days had passed over their heads.
We had to beat out of the harbour, but rounding Cape Tiburon we got a fair wind, and stood away for Guadaloupe.
We had a long passage before us, and I was continually thinking of what the fortune of war might bring about. My fear was that we might fall in with a French cruiser, to which Lieutenant Dubois might consider it his duty to deliver up his despatches, that they might be conveyed more speedily to their destination, and that we might have to return to Saint Domingo. Still I did my utmost to look at the bright side of the picture; and I fancied how pleasant it would be to find the brig under the guns of an English frigate,—perhaps the Liffy herself.
I had another secret source of satisfaction: I had given my word to La Touche simply not to interfere with the discipline of the ship, and I had made myself answerable that Larry would not; although I had said nothing about not attempting to make my escape, should an opportunity occur, though that was very remote indeed. In a French port it would be useless, as I should only tumble out of the frying-pan into the fire, or find myself among enemies. I could not speak French well enough to pass for a Frenchmen, and Larry's tongue would at once have betrayed him. Still hope kept me up, although what to hope for was indistinct and uncertain.
Larry, having somewhat got over his unpleasant suspicions of Hoolan's intentions, was as merry as usual, and in the evening kept his fiddle going, and the Frenchman and blacks dancing to their heart's content. He, however, was disinclined to remain forward after dark, and came back to his hiding-place under the companion ladder, where he was allowed to sleep under the supposition that he was there to attend on me.
I should have said that when the officer from the shore had delivered his despatches to Lieutenant Dubois, the latter, instead of locking them up in his own berth, put them into a drawer in the cabin table. Of their contents I, of course, was kept in ignorance,—indeed, I was not certain that Lieutenant Dubois himself knew their purport.
I do not even now like to speak of the thoughts which passed through my mind about these despatches. I was greatly troubled by them. Sometimes the idea occurred to me that when no one was in the cabin, I might throw them out of the stern port, and take the consequences of my act; but then I should be making an ungrateful return to the young French officers who had treated me so courteously. I dreaded to commit an act which might be dishonourable; at the same time, it was evident that by destroying the despatches I should be benefiting my country. From the eagerness which the officer who brought the packet had shown to get it off, I was convinced that it was of great importance, and that perhaps the fate of some of our islands might depend on its delivery. I was surprised at Dubois' carelessness at leaving it exposed, though less at La Touche, who, though a good-natured fellow, was harum-scarum and thoughtless in the extreme. Perhaps he might have returned me the compliment.
The wind was light; and there seemed every probability that we should make a long passage. So much the better, I thought. While we were at sea I was in good spirits, for I knew that there was a good chance of the brig being recaptured. Larry kept the crew alive with his fiddle forward, and even Dan Hoolan looked somewhat less surly than usual; at the same time Larry kept out of his way, and never trusted himself at night on deck when I was not there. Whether he was right in his suspicions or not was uncertain, but at all events Hoolan was a ruffian, and a traitor to his country.
I treated Larry as, of course, an officer does not usually treat an ordinary seaman. He was one night walking the deck with me, and we were talking of Ballinahone and our early days, when he suddenly said, "Shure, Mr Terence, there's something on your mind. I've thought so more than once. Just say now what it is."
"You are clever, Larry, to find that out," I answered. "It's your love for me enables you to do it. It's nothing you would think much about. I'm troubled with the thoughts that we are carrying despatches to the French admiral, which, if delivered, may cause some serious injury to our country. They are kept in the drawer of the cabin table, and I might at any moment throw them overboard, and defeat the Frenchmen's object."
The moment I said this I regretted it, as it struck me that it was like instigating Larry to do what I would not do myself. The effect on him was what I supposed my words would produce, for he at once replied, "Thin, shure, overboard they go before the world's many hours older."
"No, no, Larry! you mistake me," I exclaimed. "That's just what I don't want you to do. If it has to be done, I'll do it myself, and I forbid you to touch the packet I insist on your promising me that you will not."
Very unwillingly Larry gave the promise, and I knew that I could trust him. I then let the subject drop, regretting that I had broached it to my faithful follower.
"If the Frenchman choose to hang me, I will not bring the same fate on him," I thought.
Day after day went by. Though we occasionally saw a sail, we kept out of her way.
At length, one morning the look-out shouted, "A sail on the starboard quarter!"
We were just then setting royals, which we did not carry at night. We watched the stranger. "She has borne up in chase," cried La Touche, who had gone aloft.
Dubois immediately ordered the brig to be kept before the wind, and studding-sails to be set on either side. The wind freshened, and away we flew before it. The brig being lightly laden, it was her best point of sailing, as I had observed. It took us out of our course, however. I sincerely hoped that the wind would increase, and that it should carry away some of our spars, and thus enable our pursuer to come up with us, for I took it for granted that she was English. The Frenchmen watched her eagerly, for we could see her topsails from the deck.
"Do you think we shall get away from her?" I asked La Touche in an indifferent tone, as if it were a matter of no consequence to me.
"I hope so," he replied. "This brig is a regular little fly-away, and your frigates are not generally fast sailers."
"But why do you think she is one of our frigates?" I asked. "She may be French after all, and you may be running away from a friend."
"I think she is English, because none of our cruisers are likely to be hereabouts at present," he answered; and then, as if he had said something without thought, correcting himself, he added, "Of course she may be French; but we think it safest to keep out of the way of all men-of-war."
The topsails of the stranger rose gradually above the horizon; she was evidently a large vessel—a frigate, if not a line-of-battle ship. The little brig flew on gaily, as if feeling as eager to get away as were those on board.
"Ah, my friend! a stern chase is a long chase," observed Dubois, who saw me watching the stranger. "You are not going to rejoin your ship just yet."
"I have made up my mind to be content with whatever happens," I said.
"You are wise," answered Dubois. "It is the best thing under all circumstances."
Still I did not despair of being overtaken. Perhaps she might be the Liffy herself, which had gone back to Jamaica, and was now returning to the south. We had a brisk breeze, though it did not increase, and the brig continued running on at her utmost speed. When I looked again, some time afterwards, it did not appear to me that the stranger had gained on us. The hours passed slowly on; evening, however, at length approached, and I was afraid that during the night Dubois would alter the brig's course, and that we should manage to escape. When I went below for our meals, I endeavoured to maintain as calm a countenance as I could, and to appear as cheerful as usual.
"You are a brave garcon," said Dubois, as we sat at supper. "We should be very sorry to lose your society, and I'll endeavour to keep you on board as long as I can."
I thanked him, and said that I hoped to have the satisfaction of returning his courtesy, should the tables once more be turned. At last darkness came on, and our pursuer was lost to sight. As it was useless to remain on deck, I turned in, and Larry as usual followed me below. Whether it was from the excitement I had gone through, or from having remained on deck all day, I cannot say; but I fell asleep immediately my head touched the pillow, and slept as soundly as a top. When I awoke, I saw by the dim light coming through the bull's-eye that the day had broken, and I hurried on deck, anxious to know if our pursuer was still in sight Dubois and La Touche were there. I saluted them as usual. They did not appear quite as cheerful as they did on the previous day. The brig was still before the wind, with every stitch of canvas she could carry set. On looking astern, there was our pursuer, though hull down, but considerably nearer than before.
"Do not be too sanguine that she will come up with us. When the breeze freshens, we shall again get away from her," said Dubois.
"It is of course what you wish, monsieur," I observed.
"I've been after dreaming, Mr Terence, that that craft is the Liffy, and that we were again on board her, as merry as crickets," said Larry, coming to my side.
"But dreams, they say, go by contraries," I answered. "It would have been better not to have dreamed that."
"Shure, thin, I wish that I had dreamed that we had run her out of sight," he answered.
Soon after the wind got up, and was soon blowing as freshly as on the day before. The Frenchmen's spirits once more rose. Larry's and mine fell. The big ship, however, continued about the same distance off; but as long as she did not gain on us, our captors did not mind. At length it seemed to me that we were actually drawing ahead. Perhaps we might be leading our pursuer further out of her course than she wished to go, and she would give up the chase. The Frenchmen, from their remarks, seemed to think so.
Mid-day arrived; an observation was taken. I found that we were in the latitude of the Virgin Islands, still a long way from Guadaloupe. When once among the islands, we should very easily escape during the night. Dubois and La Touche were congratulating themselves, when the look-out aloft shouted, "Several sail in sight to the south-east!"
La Touche, immediately on hearing this, went to the masthead. I should have liked to have followed him, eager to know what they were. He said nothing till he came down. I then saw by the way he spoke to Dubois that he considered them to be enemies. After a short consultation the helm was put to starboard, and the brig headed more to the north; the yards were braced up, though the studding-sails were still set. In my eagerness to ascertain what the strangers were, I sprang aloft without waiting to ask leave of Dubois. He did not, however, call me down. As I got to the topgallant masthead I looked eagerly to the southward, and I made out what I took to be a large fleet standing to the eastward, while here and there ships were scattered about, which I took to be frigates. I had no doubt that Dubois concluded they were English, and had therefore no wish to run in among them. We had heard before we left Jamaica that Sir George Rodney was expected out to join Sir Samuel Hood, and I had little doubt but that the fleet in sight was that of either the one or the other of those admirals. Whether the brig would escape them or not was doubtful, and I expected every instant to see either a frigate or corvette coming in chase of us. Our other pursuer could not have seen the ships visible from our masthead, and would therefore not understand the reason for our change of course. Had it been earlier in the day, our capture by either one or the other would have been certain; but Dubois might now manage, by good seamanship, to slip between the two. The wind increased, and our starboard studding-sails were taken in; we carried those on our larboard side to the last. Having satisfied myself, I returned on deck.
"Do you know what those ships are away to the southward?" asked Dubois.
"Yes, monsieur, I believe them to be English," I answered. "And you expect them to catch us, do you?" he said.
"That depends on circumstances," I replied; "but I know your determination, and believe that you will make every effort to escape."
"You may be sure of that," he said, laughing. "See how I'm carrying on. Many would have shortened sail before this."
I made no reply, but looked aloft. The brig was literally tearing through the water; the breeze was increasing; the sails were bulging out, every rope stretched out to its utmost tension; the studding-sails pulled and tugged as if eager to fly away. Presently there came a loud crack, and both studding-sail booms broke off close to the irons. The men attempted to get in the fluttering canvas.
"Cut! cut!" cried Dubois. "Let them go!"
The wind shifted a point or two, and we had to haul still more up. As I had been unable lately to look at the chart, I could not make out exactly for what place we were steering, but I could distinguish several blue hillocks rising out of the ocean, which I knew must be small islands, either the Virgin Islands or others in their neighbourhood. We were now steering due north. I again went aloft. The main body of the fleet was no longer in sight, but three or four white sails could be seen shining brightly in the rays of the setting sun far away astern, while our pursuer could still be distinguished over our larboard quarter, yet apparently no nearer than before. On returning on deck Dubois looked at me with a smile of satisfaction.
"We are not caught yet," he said. "But bear it patiently, my young friend. We all have our trials."
I made no reply, but walked to the other side of the deck. It was again night; the steward came and invited me down to supper, in which I joined Dubois, while La Touche remained on deck. He did not think fit to tell me what were his intentions, and though I should have liked to have known, I did not ask him. At last I turned in, and tried to go to sleep. I should not have minded hearing the brig go crash on shore, so vexed did I feel at the idea of her having escaped. Still I could not but admire the determination of the two young French officers, and again better feelings rose in my breast. At length I fell fast asleep. As I had no watch to keep, I slept on, as usual, until daylight streamed in through the bull's-eye over my head, when, to my surprise, I heard the sound of the cable slipping out, and knew that the brig had come to an anchor. I dressed as speedily as I could, and went on deck. We were in a fine harbour with numerous vessels of all sizes and nations—Spanish, French, Dutch, and Danish (the latter predominating)—floating on its bosom, and among them a frigate, with the colours of England flying at her peak. I knew, therefore, that we were in a neutral port, for which Dubois had steered when he found he could not otherwise escape. On examining the frigate more narrowly, my heart gave a bound, for I felt almost sure that she was the Liffy, but as several vessels were between us I could not make her out very clearly.
Dubois, who had probably been on deck most of the night, had gone below; and La Touche was engaged in issuing his orders to the crew. I took care to conceal my feelings, and on speaking to Larry I found he had not suspected that the frigate was the Liffy. Still he might do so, and I told him that I believed her to be our ship, charging him on no account to exhibit his feelings.
"Shure, Mr Terence, that's a hard matter," he exclaimed. "I half feel inclined to leap out of my skin and get aboard her."
"We must try to do that by some means or other," I said; "but how to accomplish it is the question. Even if Captain Macnamara knew that we were on board this brig, he could not come and take us by force."
"Why not, Mr Terence?" exclaimed Larry in surprise. "Shure if I see one of our boats pulling by, I'll be after shouting at the top of my voice, to tell them we're here, and to axe them to come and take us off. Our captain's not the man to desert us, nor Mr Saunders either; and as soon as they know that we're prisoners, they'll be after sending a couple of boats to release us; or maybe they'll bring the frigate round, and blaze away at the brig till they sink her."
"That would be an unpleasant way of proceeding for us, at all events," I answered, laughing. "The reason they can't take us by force is, that this is a neutral port, and all vessels in here must keep the peace towards each other; so that if Monsieur Dubois refuses to give us up, our captain can't compel him. We must therefore manage to get away by ourselves if we are to be free."
"Thin, Mr Terence, that's just what we will be after doing," said Larry, taking off his hat and scratching his head while he considered how the undertaking could be accomplished. "Couldn't we just slip overboard at night and swim to the frigate? It wouldn't be further than I have swum many a time in the Shannon."
"But the Shannon and this place are very different," I answered. "Jack Shark keeps as sharp a look-out here as he does in Port Royal harbour; and we may chance to have our legs nipped off before we can get up the side of the frigate."
"Shure, Mr Terence, thin I never thought of that," said Larry; "but maybe the officers will go on shore, and they don't keep very strict watch aboard here, so I might just manage to slip a grating and a spar or two over the side, to make a raft; then we might paddle on it to the frigate."
"I don't see any better plan than you propose," I answered; "though I would risk a swim and the chances of encountering a shark rather than not make the attempt to escape; for, even supposing the frigate on the other side of those merchantmen should not prove to be the Liffy, we should be welcome on board. It is of the greatest importance that the captain should know of the despatches the brig is carrying to Guadaloupe, so that a watch may be kept on her movements, and that she may be pursued and captured outside the harbour."
"Thin, Mr Terence, let me go alone; I'd have no difficulty in slipping overboard, and there's less chance of my being missed," said Larry. "When her captain knows that you're aboard the brig, he'll be after her in a jiffy."
"No, no, Larry; I can never let you go alone. Whatever we do, we'll do together."
"That's like you, Mr Terence. Just trust to me, thin; only do you be ready for a start directly it's dark, and I'll be keeping a look-out on deck for the chance of one of the Liffy's boats coming near, to let them know that we're aboard."
Tantalising as it was to see the ship, as I supposed, to which I belonged within a short distance of me, and yet not be able to communicate with her, I felt that I could do nothing for the present, and that it was prudent not to be seen talking too much with Larry. I therefore told him to keep away from me during the day, unless he had something particular to say, while I went below again, to finish my toilet and wait for breakfast.
La Touche had been too busy to speak to me, and Dubois was still asleep. I remained in my berth until the steward announced that breakfast was ready, when I met the two officers, who had just come below. They politely invited me to take a seat at the table.
"Well, you see, we have managed to escape your cruisers," said Dubois, as he poured me out a cup of coffee. "We have reason to congratulate ourselves, as we were very hard pressed."
"I must compliment you, monsieur, on your skilful seamanship," I said. "I do so with sincerity, although I should have been very glad had you been caught. However, I am prepared to bear my disappointment philosophically. We have not yet reached Guadaloupe, and I don't despair of regaining my liberty, though I conclude you'll not consider yourself justified in letting me leave the brig?"
"For your sake I wish that we could," said La Touche; "but you are known to be on board, and we should have to account for you; so I'm afraid you must exercise the philosophy you speak of." Imitating the Frenchman, I shrugged my shoulders, as if I was perfectly resigned to my fate. I made no remark about the English frigate in the harbour, as the Frenchmen didn't allude to her, though they could not have supposed that I was ignorant of her being there.
I saw that the brig was riding at single anchor and hove short, and I expected that Dubois was waiting for an opportunity of slipping out of the harbour before the frigate was prepared to follow him. That she would do so, should the brig be discovered to be an English vessel, a prize to the French, there could be no doubt, unless detained by some matter of more importance.
After breakfast we walked the deck for some time, and then Dubois ordered La Touche to take a boat and pull round the harbour.
"See as you pass yonder frigate there, how she's riding," he said; "whether she appears to be ready to put to sea, and learn, if you can ascertain, what brought her in here. I wouldn't have come in had I known that we should have found so unpleasant a neighbour."
"Do you know what frigate she is?" he asked, turning to me.
"As I can't see her hull clearly, were I perfectly acquainted with her I should be unable to answer your questions, monsieur," I replied.
"Well, then, favour me by going aloft with my telescope, and you'll then, by looking down on her deck, be able to tell me whether you recognise any of those on board, or have to your knowledge seen the frigate before."
From his manner I believed he had not an idea that I suspected the frigate to be the Liffy.
I willingly agreed; and, taking the glass, went aloft. All my doubts were at an end. I at once made out Captain Macnamara walking the starboard side of the quarter-deck with Mr Saunders. On the opposite side, I distinguished several of my messmates by their figures. Some of the men were forward, but the greater number were below, and I could see no signs of any intentions of getting under way. I waited a considerable time, and heartily I wished for a pair of wings, that I might fly over the masts of the other vessels, and pitch down on her deck. No sight could have been more tantalising. I descended at last, and returning the telescope to Dubois, said—
"I confess frankly that I know the frigate. She is the one to which I belong."
"Is she a fast vessel?" inquired Dubois.
"She is considered so, monsieur," I answered.
"Faster than this brig?" he asked.
"Certainly, unless in a very light wind," I said. "If you expect to be chased, you have very little chance of escape from her, I should think."
"I must hope for the best," he said. "There's a fine breeze out of the harbour, and we may be off again before the frigate finds we are moving. We have the advantage of being concealed from her sight, and she dare not fire a gun or send a boat after us, even should she wish it, till we're three leagues outside the harbour."
Dubois spoke in a confident tone, as if he did not think that there was the slightest chance I should even try to make my escape. I was dreading all the time that he would ask me to give my word not to do so. He didn't, however, appear to think of that. In a short time La Touche came back, and reported, as I knew he would, that the frigate didn't appear to be preparing to sail. Scarcely had he come on board than the wind began to drop, till it became a stark calm. I saw the officers exchange looks with each other as they observed the dog vane hanging right up and down. It was very certain that we could not move, for we had not boats sufficient to tow the brig out of the harbour. There was every prospect of the calm continuing for many hours. The Frenchmen, by the way they paced the deck, showed their vexation, every now and then giving an impatient stamp with their feet.
At last La Touche stopped and said—
"Wouldn't it be well to go on shore and try and pick up some news? We may gain intelligence which may be of importance; at all events, we shall pass the time more pleasantly than on board."
"A good idea," answered Dubois. "We will go. You'll be content to remain on board?" he added, turning to me. "It might be inconvenient to take you with us, as we might meet some of your brother officers; but I brought a few books of light literature in my portmanteau, besides my nautical almanack, and you can read them while we're on shore."
I thanked him, and was very glad to find that he didn't wish me to go; as, although by landing I might have a chance of making my escape, I would not do so without Larry.
They did not wait for dinner; but telling the steward to bring me mine at the usual hour, pulled away in one of the boats, leaving the brig under the charge of a quartermaster, who had come on board at Gonavez Bay. He was a sharp-eyed old fellow, and had evidently been directed to keep a watch on Larry and me. Several shore-boats came alongside, but after some fresh provisions had been purchased, the others were ordered to keep off.
Soon after the officers had gone Larry came up to me.
"Hwist, Mr Terence," he said in a low voice. "Dan Hoolan and the other boys know that the frigate out there is the Liffy, and I heard Dan say to one of them that they must take care we don't get away to her, for he's afraid, if we do, that Captain Macnamara, when he hears of the mutiny, will consider that he has a right to retake the brig, and that they'll all be triced up to the yard-arm before many hours are over afterwards."
"We must try, then, to throw them off their guard, Larry," I said. "Have you thought of any other plan for escaping?"
"Not just yet, Mr Terence; but I'm still hoping that something will turn up. I'll tell you all about it presently; but I mustn't stop long aft, for I have a notion that Dan and the rest have got something into their heads, and that they won't be stopping aboard if they can help it, to run the risk of hanging."
Larry again went forward, and I returned to the cabin. I cannot say that the books Dubois left me were edifying; and after I had turned over a few pages, I threw them aside as abominable trash, not fit for any gentleman's eyes to rest on. They were such works as contributed to prepare the way for the French Revolution. The steward brought me an excellent dinner, and placed a bottle of claret on the table, of which, however, I partook very moderately. I passed the afternoon as best I could, now and then going on deck to have the pleasure of taking a look at the Liffy, and hoping to see one of her boats passing. I determined, should one pull by, to hail her and say who I was; for I was afraid that Nettleship might suppose the brig had been lost, and that the report of my death might, by ill-luck, reach Ballinahone. I watched, however, in vain. As evening approached I expected that Dubois and La Touche would return. Something kept them on shore; probably, finding the calm continue, they were carrying out their intentions of amusing themselves. At last darkness came on, and I went back into the cabin. I should have said that the brig carried a small boat hoisted up astern, but which was in a dilapidated condition, and considered not fit to put into the water. As we had no carpenter on board able to repair her, she was allowed to remain hoisted up. I had been in the cabin some time, and I believe I must have dropped off into a doze, when I heard a sound of blocks creaking, and presently there was a splash in the water. Springing up, I looked out of one of the stern ports, which was open, and could distinguish a boat just below me with a man in her, moving round the quarter. At first I thought he was Larry, and then I felt sure that Larry would not have taken a boat without first giving me notice of his intentions. In less than a minute afterwards, however, he poked his head into the cabin.
"Hwist, Mr Terence, it's just as I thought it would be," he whispered. "Dan Hoolan and the rest are going to pull on shore. They have made the watch below drunk, and they have seized the anchor watch and put them in limbo. They fancy that if they can get away up the country, they'll be safe, and I have a mind to go with them and pull the boat back, and take you off. Keep a look-out of the cabin window, Mr Terence; maybe I'll come under the counter, and you can squeeze through the port without anybody on deck finding us out. Now I'm off."
Larry hurried out of the cabin, leaving me in a state of anxious doubt as to whether he would succeed. I was afraid of going on deck lest I should be seen by the mutineers, and I at once therefore went to the port, hoping that I might catch a glimpse of them pulling away. Even if Larry got off with them, there might be many chances against his returning. The boat even might fill before she could reach the shore, or she might encounter the French officers returning to the brig, and be seized. I wondered at their carelessness in leaving the vessel with such a crew as theirs; for those who had proved traitors to me might have been expected to turn traitors to them.
Scarcely a minute had elapsed before, to my surprise, I heard a "hwist" come from under the counter, and Larry's voice saying—
"Lend a hand, Mr Terence, and catch the painter as I chuck it up."
I did as he desired, and presently he climbed up in at the port.
"Hold fast there, Mr Terence," he said, as he squeezed through, and springing forward locked the cabin door. "I'll tell you all about it when we're free of the brig," he whispered.
Quick as thought he made the painter fast to an eye-bolt, used to secure the dead-light. "Now jump into the boat, Mr Terence, and we'll be off," he added.
As he bid me, I slid down the painter, expecting him to follow immediately. For a few seconds he didn't come, and I feared that something had happened to him; but he soon appeared, and slid down as I had done, holding in his mouth a knife, with which he quickly cut the rope.
I had taken one of the oars, he seized another, and giving a shove against the counter, sent the boat off from the brig. We paddled away with might and main, making, however, as little noise as we could. Scarcely, however, had we gone half a cable's length than I heard a gruff voice, which I recognised as Dan Hoolan's, uttering a fearful oath, and inquiring what had become of the boat. Several others replied in the same tones; and one of them, who had apparently run aft, exclaimed, "Shure there she is, and that so-and-so Larry Harrigan has gone off with her."
"Come back, come back, you villain!" shouted the men.
"It's mighty likely we'll be after doing that," Larry was on the point of shouting out, when I told him to be silent; and there being now less necessity for caution, we bent to our oars with all our might.
"I wonder the villains don't fire at us," I said.
"Shure the cabin door's locked, and they can't get at the muskets, or they would be after doing the same," answered Larry.
We had ample reason to pull hard, for the water was leaking in through every seam in the boat; but I hoped that she might keep afloat long enough to enable us to reach the side of the frigate. Hoolan and his companions, finding that it was of no use, had ceased hailing us. We had gone a short way when I saw a boat coming off from the shore. "A hundred to one the French officers are in her," I thought; "and if they have heard the shouting from the brig, they will fancy that something has happened, and be on the look-out. However, we are in for it." We were at first pulling ahead of the vessels which were at anchor between us and the frigate; but, on seeing the boat, I told Larry we would pass under the stern of the one nearest us, and thread our way in and out among them, so that we might be concealed from the sight of those coming off from the shore, in case they should make chase after us. In a short time, however, the boat was half full of water.