"We must get this out, or we shall be sinking," I said.
There was no bailer; but I had seized my hat before I had got out of the cabin window, and putting in our oars we bailed away as hard as we could. We had succeeded in partly freeing the boat of water, when we heard the splash of oars coming from the direction of the brig. Once more we gave way, the water still coming in. I very much doubted that we should reach the frigate without having again to stop. The boat, however, was gaining on us. Should she come up before we could get under our own flag, we might lawfully be recaptured; the water was already up to the thwarts, and the boat pulled heavily; our pursuers were getting closer and closer. We were nearing the frigate.
I looked round. I saw her high sides and tall masts against the sky.
I shouted at the top of my voice, "Liffy ahoy! help, help here!"
Larry shouted still louder, for he had a voice of his own when he tried to exert it. The boat pulled more heavily than ever. If it had not been for the dread of the sharks, I should have jumped overboard and tried to swim to the frigate. Still we made her move. I can't say what a leap my heart gave as we ran up against her side. Some ropes were hove to us, for our shouts had attracted attention, and, swirming up them, we each reached a port in time to see our boat's gunwale flush with the water, and our pursuers turning round to pull away. As we got on deck the quartermaster brought a lantern, which he held so as to throw a light on our faces, and at the same time a midshipman ran up.
"Who have we here?" he exclaimed, and I recognised Chaffey's voice. "What! Paddy Finn, my boy, where in the world have you come from?"
"From a brig—a prize to the French," I answered. "But I say, Chaffey, I want to see the captain at once. If there comes a breeze she'll be slipping out of the harbour, and we must be ready to go after her."
"Why, we thought you were on board the Soleil, and expected she would be put into commission, and be sent out to rejoin us, as we want small craft to watch the movements of the French."
I briefly told him what had happened. He in return told me what I was sorry to hear, that nothing had been heard of the Soleil, though the idea was that she had got safely into Port Royal harbour.
"The captain doesn't like to be roused up; but I suppose as your information is of importance, he won't give me a wigging for disturbing him," he said, as we reached the cabin door. Mentioning his object, the sentry stationed there allowed him to pass, and I stood for a time outside, trying to squeeze the water out of my nether garments. I had formed a little pool round my feet by the time Chaffey returned.
"You're to go into the captain, Paddy," he said. "He fired off his great guns and small arms at me, so he'll receive you pleasantly, I hope."
Giving a final wring to my coat tails, I made my way to the after cabin. The captain, with night-cap on head, had just got into his breeches.
"Glad to see you safe on board, Finnahan," he said. "Now give me the information you have brought. I'll hear about your adventures afterwards."
"I have just escaped from a brig, sir, that is carrying despatches to the French admiral at Guadaloupe, and as she may at any moment slip out of the harbour, I thought you would like to know of it, that you may follow and capture her as soon as she gets to a sufficient distance from this place."
"How do you know she has despatches?" he asked.
"I heard the French officer who came on board tell the lieutenant in command of the brig what they were, and I saw them in the drawer of the cabin table. I supposed that the lieutenant put them there that they might be handy to throw overboard, should he find at any time that the brig was likely to be recaptured."
"Then why didn't you bring them away with you?" asked the captain. "You made your own escape—you might easily, I should have thought, have got hold of them."
"I felt in honour bound not to do so, sir. I was trusted on board; but as I had not given my word not to escape, I felt justified in getting away when the opportunity offered."
"I consider you acted rightly," said the captain. "A man cannot have too nice a sense of honour; at the same time I believe you would have gained great credit if you had brought them off. Much may depend on our getting hold of them. However, we must do our best to capture the brig, and prevent her delivering them to the French admiral. You deserve credit as it is for making your escape, and I'm glad you got off without breaking your parole. I should have regretted to find that you had done that. Now call Mr Saunders, and—hillo! my lad, you're dripping wet! Go and shift into dry clothes, or rather, if you're not wanted, turn into your hammock and get some sleep. You have not had much of that to-night, I conclude."
Getting a lantern from the sentry, I at once repaired to old "Rough-and-Ready's" cabin.
"Mr Saunders," I shouted, "the captain wants to see you." He jumped up in a moment wide awake—a good first lieutenant always sleeps with one eye open.
"Why, where do you come from, youngster?" he asked, as, throwing his night-cap on the pillow, he rapidly slipped into his clothes.
I very briefly told him while he finished dressing, which took him scarcely a minute, and he then hastened to the captain's cabin, while I gladly went below and had my marine roused up to get me out some dry clothes from my chest and to sling my hammock. I inquired for Larry, who I found had gone forward. In a short time he came aft, having also got into dry clothes.
"Mighty glad we've got away from the brig, Mr Terence," he said; "but still I'm as sorrowful as a pig in a gale of wind. The first thing the men axed me for was my fiddle, and bedad I left it aboard the brig; so if she gets away I'll never be after seeing it again."
"We must hope to take her," I said. "Depend on it the captain will keep a look-out on her movements, and we shall then recover your fiddle, though I'm afraid we shall not get hold of the despatches."
"Is it them bundle of papers in the drawer you're speaking of?" asked Larry. "I was after thinking it would be as well to bring them away, in case the captain should like to have a look at them, so I just put them in my shirt before I slipped out of the cabin window. I hope I won't be called a thief for taking them. Here they are, Mr Terence;" and he handed me the packet which I had seen in the drawer.
I hurried aft with it to the captain. I found him and the first lieutenant in the cabin.
"Why, what's this?" exclaimed the captain, as I gave him the packet.
I told him that I believed it contained the despatches sent from Port-au-Prince; and that my companion, Larry Harrigan, unknown to me, had brought them away.
"What! and you gave him a hint to do so?" said the captain.
"No, indeed I didn't, sir," I answered firmly, though I blushed as I then explained, that although I had spoken to Larry about them, it was with no intention of inducing him to do what I was unwilling to do myself. "I had told him of them, sir," I said; "but I give you my word of honour that I had no thought at the time of his getting hold of them. I did meditate, I confess, throwing them overboard; but under the circumstances I came to the conclusion that I had no right to do that, independent of the risk of being severely dealt with by the Frenchmen, should my act be discovered."
"Well, well, I believe you, Finnahan," said the captain in a kind tone. "We have got them, and we must take them at once to Sir Samuel Hood. We need care very little about the brig now."
"Hadn't you better, sir, see what they contain?" observed Mr Saunders. "It's just possible, too, that the commander of the brig knows their contents, and will communicate it verbally to the French admiral, or perhaps he may have duplicates on board."
"I don't think he has that, sir," I remarked. "I saw the packet delivered to the French lieutenant, and he certainly did not open it, though I can't say whether he knows the purport of the despatches."
"It's likely enough that he does, though; and at all events we must prevent him, if we can, from communicating with his admiral," said Captain Macnamara. "When he finds that you have made your escape, he'll be eager to be off, and still more so if he discovers that the despatches are missing. Send a boat, Mr Saunders, at once to watch the movements of the brig. Heave the cable short, and be ready to sail the moment we get a breeze."
Mr Saunders left the cabin to carry out the orders he had received. I hadn't yet told the captain of the way the brig was taken from me, and of the mutiny. I now, by his desire, gave him a detailed account of the circumstances.
"There's no blame attached to you, Finnahan," he said; "though as far as I can make out, the French officers didn't behave in an honourable way, and I hope those mutinous scoundrels will get their deserts before long. I'm sorry they are our countrymen, but I can show them no favour on that account. If we take the brig, every one of them will be hanged."
"I rather think, sir, that the French officers will have saved us the trouble; for when they get on board and find what Hoolan and his mates have been about, they won't be inclined to treat them leniently."
"I wish that we had left them ashore at Cork," observed the captain. "We should have been better without such scoundrels. Now, with regard to these despatches. I don't understand a word of French, nor does the first lieutenant, nor any other officer in the ship except yourself, Finnahan; still it may be necessary to act immediately on them. I'll open them, and you must translate their contents."
I would thankfully have excused myself; for though I could jabber French pretty glibly, I was very little accustomed to write or translate it. The captain got out pens and paper from his desk and, telling me to sit down, opened the packet, and put it into my hands. The hand-writing greatly puzzled me, for it was not a style to which I was accustomed. I spelt out the words, however, as well as I could, and tried to get at the sense. It contained an account of the intended sailing of the Marquis de Boullie with four thousand troops for the relief of Guadaloupe, which was at that time being attacked by the English under General Prescott. There were also various directions for the guidance of the French forces in those seas; but the most important was a plan for the concentration of the fleet, carrying a large body of soldiers, so that they might pounce down on Jamaica while the English squadrons were being led away in opposite directions. It was some time before I arrived at the gist of the matter.
"This is important," exclaimed the captain. "You would have rendered essential service to the country by bringing these on board, and I must see that Harrigan is rewarded; while the part you have played must not be forgotten, as, though your sense of honour prevented you from taking the packet, it is owing to your courage and determination that we have obtained it. However, we will talk of that by and by. We must look out, in the meantime, that the brig doesn't escape us; for though I have got the information to put Sir Samuel Hood on his guard, the French may obtain it also, and act accordingly."
While we were speaking, Mr Saunders came in to say the boat was ready, and the cable hove short; but that, as it was still a stark calm, there was no chance at present of the brig getting under weigh.
"You must go in the boat, Finnahan, and make sure that we watch the right brig. As we can't see her from the ship, we may be following the wrong vessel," said the captain.
Though I would much rather have turned in and gone to sleep, I of course obeyed orders.
Mr Harvey, the third lieutenant, was in charge of the boat, and as I stepped into her, I found that Larry Harrigan formed one of the crew. They pulled away under my directions, and soon gained sight of the brig.
"It's mighty hard that we can't jump aboard and take her," I heard Larry say to the stroke oar, behind whom he was sitting. "I'd be after getting back my fiddle, at all events, if we could."
"It's agen' the law of nations," answered the man; "though I should like to punish the rascal Hoolan for murdering poor Ben Nash and Tim Logan."
"Silence, men," said Mr Harvey; "we must not let the people on board the brig find out that we are watching them. They'll probably take us for a guard-boat, but if they hear our English voices, they'll know who we are."
We kept under the shade of one of the neighbouring vessels. All was quiet on board the brig. There were no signs of her being about to trip her anchor. I wondered whether Dubois had put Hoolan and the rest in irons when he discovered how they had behaved. I could scarcely suppose that they would have contrived to seize him and his boat's crew when they returned on board; yet such was possible, and would have been retributive justice on him for having taken the brig from us. Still I should have been very sorry indeed to hear that he and La Touche had met with any injury.
We waited and waited, till it appeared that we were not likely to wait to any purpose.
At last Larry, who seemed to have forgotten the order he had received to keep silence, suddenly exclaimed—
"Couldn't we go aboard just to axe the Frenchmen to give me back my fiddle. That wouldn't be agen' the law of nations, would it, Mr Terence?"
"Silence there," said Mr Harvey, scarcely able to restrain his laughter. "I ordered you men not to speak."
"Shure I forgot the same," said Larry in a suppressed tone. "Och! my fiddle, my fiddle! what will I be after doing without it!"
At length daylight dawned; and according to the orders Mr Harvey had received, we returned on board. As the sun rose, a light breeze began to play over the surface of the harbour. A look-out was sent aloft to keep watch on the brig, while every preparation was made for heaving up the anchor and making sail, should she be seen to get under weigh.
Dubois, knowing that Larry and I had gone aboard the frigate, must have been aware that the captain was acquainted with the character of his vessel, and also that she was carrying despatches. He would certainly, I thought, suppose that we should follow him, should he put to sea. I therefore scarcely fancied that he would venture out of the harbour during daylight, but fully expected that he would wait another night, on the chance of there being a breeze during the time to enable him to get away. I was therefore greatly surprised when the look-out hailed—
"The brig is loosing her topsails, and heaving up her anchor."
The breeze at this time had freshened considerably. Scarcely had the words been uttered than I saw, between the other vessels, the brig, with her topsails and courses set, steering towards the narrow entrance, through which only small or light vessels could venture.
The capstan was instantly manned; the hands were ordered aloft, and topsails, and topgallant-sails were let fall; but before we could cant the right way, the brig had passed us, and had already reached the passage, when, the head-sails filling, the anchor was tripped, and being run up to the bows, we steered for the broader and only safe channel.
What had induced Dubois to put to sea, and leave the safe shelter of the harbour, I could not divine. It made me suspect that he had not discovered the loss of the despatches, and knowing the importance of delivering them without delay, he had determined to run every risk for that object. He probably expected, by getting the first of the breeze, to be a long way ahead before we could follow, trusting to the various chances which might occur to effect his escape. Had we been able to go through the narrow passage, he must have known that he would to a certainty have been caught; but our captain, from remarks I heard, seemed to think that the brig might possibly succeed in getting off, though he was resolved to use every exertion to overtake her, provided we were not led out of our course, for it was of still greater importance to get down to Barbadoes, or wherever the English admiral might be.
During the stay of the Liffy in the harbour, information had been obtained of the movements of the French fleet, as also that they had a large number of troops on board. Their object was to capture as many of our West India Islands as they could, and several had already fallen into their hands. Saint Christopher's, however, had hitherto held out; Jamaica was prepared to resist to the last; and Barbadoes, our pet island, was strongly protected by Sir Samuel Hood's fleet.
The French were, I should have said, vastly superior in numbers to the English. We had, however, brave and vigilant commanders, who took good care not to let the grass grow beneath their feet.
Had Captain Macnamara been certain that Lieutenant Dubois was ignorant of the contents of the packet Larry had carried off, he would have cared very little about letting the brig escape. He thought, however, that Dubois might possibly have duplicates, or might have learned the information they contained.
The wind freshened as we got outside. We could now see the brig about five or six miles away to the southward, for she had got the first of the breeze, and had carried it along while we were getting under weigh. All sail being made, however, we rapidly gained on her.
"It'll be a bad job for Dan Hoolan if we come up with the little hooker, Mr Terence," said Larry. "If the Frenchmen haven't shot him already, our captain will be shure to run him up to the yard-arm, with the poor fellows he decaived."
"It's what he richly deserves," I replied; "but I wish that he had never been pressed. It would have been better to have left him on shore, to stand his chance of hanging, or turning honest."
"Ah, shure there's but little honesty likely to come out of Dan Hoolan," observed Larry, who disliked him more than ever since he had caused the deaths of Tim Logan and Ben Nash.
The brig was steering south-east directly for Guadaloupe, and we followed in the same direction; but as there were numerous islands in her course, she might, if she could retain her distance ahead till dark, escape by keeping round them, or if hard pressed, run on shore, when the French officers would probably endeavour to forward the information they were conveying by some other vessel. She was, as I have said, very fast, and she was now carrying every stitch of canvas she could set. The Liffy was no laggard, and we pressed after her. The chase was as exciting as it could well be. Scarcely any of the officers left the deck, except to take a hurried breakfast, and every glass on board was in requisition. Now, when the breeze freshened, we appeared to be gaining on her; now, when it fell, she seemed to draw ahead of us. We passed between the islands of Saint John and Tortola; we sighted the east end of Santa Cruz, and then made out the curious conical hill of Saba, to the north of Saint Eustatia. Noon had passed, and the wind again freshening, we gained rapidly on the chase. The look-out aloft hailed that he saw several sail right ahead. It was a question whether they were English or French. If the latter, the brig might lead us under their guns, and it was necessary to be cautious. Dubois must have seen them also, but probably was as uncertain about their character as we were. He might, after all, be captured should he stand on. At length he altered his course, and appeared to be making for Saint Eustatia, and from this it was pretty evident that he took the fleet ahead to be English. Whether he was right in that respect or not we could not tell, but he made a mistake in hauling his wind. In another half hour we got near enough to send a shot, which fell aboard him; another and another followed, when, letting fly his head sheets, he put his helm to starboard, and hauled down his colours. We at once hove-to. A boat was lowered, and I, being able to speak French, was sent with Mr Harvey to take possession. We were soon alongside. Dubois must have recognised me when in the boat. As we stepped on deck he and La Touche advanced, and presented their swords to Mr Harvey, at the same time each of them made me a very formal bow. I returned it, and said, as I stepped forward—
"What is the meaning of this, Monsieur Dubois? You have made a gallant attempt to escape. It's the fortune of war that you have failed; but why do you treat me as a stranger? I wish to behave towards you as old friends, and will do all in my power to help you."
"We do not desire the friendship of one who has been guilty of such an act as you have committed," answered Dubois stiffly.
"What act do you speak of?" I asked, suspecting, however, to what he alluded.
"You were trusted. You made your escape, and carried off the despatches," he answered.
"I had a right to make my escape, for I had not given you my word to remain," I said. "I did not carry off the despatches, nor did I instigate any one to do so. You'll find that I speak the truth."
"I have, then, to beg your pardon," said Dubois, with French politeness, though he looked doubtfully at me.
There was little time for conversation, however. Mr Harvey desired the two French officers to prepare for going on board the frigate. "I understand that you have some English seamen on board. Where are they?" he asked.
"Two of them lie there," said Dubois, "and the third, in trying to swim on shore, was seized by a shark. We are well rid of them, for they were mutinous rascals."
I looked forward; there, on the deck, lay Dan Hoolan and the other mutineer. A shot had struck him on the chest, and nearly knocked the upper part of his body to pieces, while it had cut his companion almost in two, but I recognised his features, grim and stern, even in death. One of the French seamen had also been killed, and his countrymen, without ceremony, hove his body overboard. Mr Harvey ordered our men to dispose of the mutineers in the same manner, and to wash down the deck, for the sight was not such as any of us cared to look at longer than was necessary. Dubois and La Touche, who had gone below to get their valises, now returning with them, stepped into the boat, and Mr Harvey left me in charge of the brig. I felt somewhat elated at finding myself on board the craft of the command of which I had been so suddenly deprived, and began to hope that I was to retain it. I resolved, at all events, should any of the Frenchmen be left in her, to be careful that they didn't again take her out of my hands.
I was sorry that I didn't know rather more about navigation, but I thought that I could manage, by carrying on, to keep in sight of the frigate. I was especially thankful that we had not been compelled to hang Dan Hoolan and the other men, for ruffians as they were, and outlaws as they had been, I felt for them as countrymen, and should have been sorry to see them suffer so ignominious a fate. The brig was still hove-to, and I was pacing the deck with all the dignity of a commanding officer, when I saw another boat come off from the frigate, full of men. In a short time, Sinnet stepped up the side.
"I have come to supersede you, Paddy," he said. "The captain doubts your capabilities as a navigator; besides which, he wants you as an interpreter, so you need not consider yourself slighted."
"Not a bit of it," I answered. "Only look out that the Frenchmen don't take the brig from you."
"The captain has made sure that that won't be the case, by ordering all the prisoners to be sent to the frigate," he replied.
I saw Larry step on deck with the new arrivals, and fancied that he had been sent to form part of the brig's crew. I asked him if we were to be separated.
"No, Mr Terence, I'm thankful to say; but I axed leave of Mr Saunders to come and look for my fiddle. 'To be shure,' said he; 'it puts life into the men, and you may go.' So I've come, Mr Terence. If Dan Hoolan hasn't hove it overboard, I'll be after setting the men a-jigging this very evening, supposing we haven't to fight the French, or do any other trifle of that sort!"
"Be smart, then, Larry, about it," I said, "for I have to be off;" and Larry dived below. I ordered the Frenchmen to tumble into the boat,— they obeying in their usual light-hearted manner, not in any way looking as if they were prisoners. The last man had got into the boat, when Larry came up from below with his fiddle-case under his arm.
"Hooray, Mr Terence! shure I'm in luck, for I've got back my Cremona!" he exclaimed, as he came down the side, "I'll set your heels going, mounseers, so don't be down-hearted, my boys," he said, addressing the French prisoners.
They seemed to understand him. Some exclaimed, "Bon garcon!" snapping their fingers, and moving their feet, to show that they were ready enough to dance notwithstanding that they were prisoners.
"It's a wonder, Mr Terence: I've been after looking for Dan Hoolan, but never a sight could I get of him, or Phelan, or Casey," said Larry.
When he heard of their fate, he'd scarcely believe it, till I told him that I had seen two of them dead on the deck, and that Dubois had accounted for the other.
"Well, I'm mighty thankful, for they might have had a worse ending, and it wasn't to be supposed that they'd come to a good one," he remarked.
Soon after I got back to the ship the captain sent for me into the cabin.
"I wish you, Finnahan," he said, "to try and ascertain from these two young French officers what they know about the proceedings of their fleet, and also learn whether they suppose the ships ahead are those of our country or theirs."
I promised to do as he desired. I found Dubois walking the deck, looking somewhat disconsolate. He received me as before, in a cold manner, though La Touche held out his hand when I offered him mine.
"It's of little consequence now," he said; "but I confess that we suspect you of carrying off the packet. We only discovered that it was gone after we left the harbour."
I told him exactly how it had happened, and that I myself considered that under the circumstances I should not have been justified in taking it.
"You have acted honourably, monsieur. I apologise for our wrong suspicions, and I hope Dubois will do the same," he said.
"Certainly," said Dubois. "I vowed, when I discovered our loss, that I would never trust an English officer again."
"You will now acknowledge, then, that though we are compelled to be enemies, we act honourably towards you," I remarked. "However, all is said by you to be fair in love or war—is it not?"
"We have got the saying, though it may not be a true one, for all that," he answered.
I now tried to carry out the captain's instructions, but I confess that I could gain very little either from Dubois or La Touche. Perhaps they didn't know much about the movements of their own fleet. Their opinion was that the ships they had seen ahead were English, or they would not have gone out of their course to avoid them. Captain Macnamara was not quite satisfied on that point.
We continued standing to the southward, with the brig following in our wake, while a bright look-out was kept aloft, that we might haul our wind, and get out of their way, in case they should prove enemies. It was fortunate that we were cautious, for, just before dark, the ships in sight were made out to be certainly French, and we immediately stood away to the southward to avoid them. Two frigates were seen coming in chase, but we made all sail, and night hid them from our sight. Whether or not they were still pursuing us we could not tell, but no lights were shown, and it was important to avoid an engagement, especially with enemies of a superior force. A careful look-out, however, was kept, lest they should come up with us during the night. When morning dawned we found that we had run them out of sight, and we now once more steered our course for Barbadoes.
On reaching Carlisle Bay, we found the fleet under Sir Samuel Hood moored in order of battle. It was evident from this that the admiral expected an attack from the French fleet, and we afterwards learned that he had gained information that it had sailed from Martinique in great force for the purpose of attacking the island. In an hour afterwards Sinnet brought in the brig in safety, when he had to deliver her up to the prize agents.
It was a fine sight to me, for I had never seen so many line-of-battle ships together, with their broadsides pointed in the same direction, sufficient, it seemed, to blow the whole navy of France into the air. Captain Macnamara, immediately on bringing up, sent Mr Harvey with the despatches to the admiral, and directed him to ask for instructions as to our future course.
We waited hour after hour in expectation of the French fleet.
"We shall have a good stand-up fight for it," observed Sinnet to me. "I only wish that I had kept command of the brig, and I would have blazed away at the Frenchmen with my pop-guns."
The night passed away. Early the next morning a sail was seen in the offing, standing towards the bay. We all supposed her to be one of the advance frigates of the French, sent ahead to ascertain our strength; but as the light increased she was seen to be a corvette, though at the same time she had a French appearance. She came steering directly for the admiral, and hove-to inside him.
"Why, I do believe it's the craft we took soon after we left Jamaica, and Nettleship and you were sent away in charge of," exclaimed Sinnet, who had been watching her.
I had also been examining her minutely, and had come to the same conclusion.
Directly she had furled sails, a boat went off from her to the admiral, and remained alongside for some time. We were thus left in doubt as to whether we were right. At length the boat, which had returned to the corvette, came pulling towards us.
Sinnet was watching her through a telescope.
"Why, I say, Paddy, I'm nearly certain I see old Nettleship in the stern-sheets, and Tom Pim alongside him," he said.
"Then there can be no doubt that the corvette is the Soleil; but Nettleship hoped to get his promotion, and if so, he has been made one of her lieutenants," I remarked.
"He hasn't got on a lieutenant's uniform, at all events," said Sinnet, looking through the telescope.
In a short time the boat was alongside, and our doubts were solved, by seeing Tom Pim and Nettleship come on deck. They went aft at once, and reported themselves to Captain Macnamara. As soon as they were dismissed they joined us. They both gave a start of surprise at seeing me.
Tom grasped my hand and said, "Well, I am glad, Paddy, to find you safe aboard. We fully believed that the brig was lost in the hurricane, and never expected to set eyes on you again."
Nettleship also greeted me warmly, though he looked somewhat down in the mouth. The cause of this soon came out.
"Why, Nettleship," I said, "I thought you would have been made long before this."
"It's my ill-luck that I'm not, Paddy," he answered. "I thought so too. I got highly complimented for bringing the prize into Port Royal, and I was then told to rejoin my ship as soon as possible; while the Soleil was commissioned, and a commander and two lieutenants, who had just come out from England with strong recommendations from the Admiralty, were appointed to her."
"Well, cheer up, old fellow; we are very glad to have you still with us," said Sinnet.
Tom afterwards told me that Nettleship got blamed by the admiral at Jamaica for sending me aboard the brig with so few hands, and for allowing the prisoners to remain on board, as he shrewdly suspected what had really happened, that if we had managed to escape the hurricane, they had risen on us and taken possession of the vessel.
The Soleil had brought intelligence which she had gained from the crew of a prize she had captured a few days before, that the Count de Grasse had borne away for Saint Christopher's, where he had landed a force under the Marquis de Boullie, which it was feared would overpower General Fraser. The news soon ran through the fleet that, instead of waiting to be attacked, we were forthwith to sail in search of the French, to attack them. In a short time, at a signal thrown out from the flag-ship, the fleet, consisting of twenty-two sail of the line and several frigates, got under way, and stood out from Carlisle Bay. We first proceeded to Antigua, where we obtained fresh provisions, and took on board the 28th regiment of foot and two companies of the 13th, under the command of General Prescott; and on the evening of the same day we sailed for Saint John's Roads, and stood under easy sail for Basse Terre, two of our frigates going ahead to give timely notice of what the French were about. We and the Nymph frigate were on one flank, and two others on the opposite side. We were fully expecting that we should have warm work in the morning. Few of the officers turned in. When a large fleet is sailing together, it is necessary to keep a very bright look-out. We could dimly see the other ships, with their lights burning, as we glided over the water.
Presently Nettleship, near whom I was standing, remarked—
"There are two of them closer together than they should be;" and the next instant he exclaimed, "They're foul of each other! I feared that it would be the case."
Signals of distress were now thrown out from both the ships. We on this closed with them; and Captain Macnamara ordered the boats to be lowered, to ascertain what had happened, and to render assistance. I went in one of them with our second lieutenant. The first we boarded proved to be the Nymph. She had been run into by the Alfred. She was dreadfully knocked about, being almost cut in two. We heard aboard her that the Alfred herself had also been severely damaged. A boat was at once sent to report what had happened to the admiral, and as soon as daylight dawned he threw out signals to the whole fleet to lay to while the injuries the Alfred had received were being repaired. The Nymph herself was too severely damaged to proceed, and was ordered at once to return to Antigua.
While we were lying to, a sail was seen in the distance, when the admiral ordered by signal the Liffy to chase. Before long we came up with her. She proved to be a large French cutter, laden with shells and ordnance stores for the besieging army.
Nearly the whole day was spent in repairing the damages the Alfred had received, and on our approaching Basse Terre, to our bitter disappointment, we found that the Count de Grasse had put to sea. The next night was spent in doubt as to what had become of him, but in the morning the French fleet, consisting of about twenty-nine sail of the line, was perceived about three leagues to leeward, formed in order of battle. Sir Samuel Hood immediately ordered the British fleet to bear down as if to attack him. This had the effect of driving him still farther to leeward, when, to our surprise, the admiral threw out another signal, directing the fleet to stand for Basse Terre.
In the evening we entered Frigate Bay, and anchored in line of battle. The object of this was to cut off the French from all communication with their forces on shore. Before we had brought up, the Count de Grasse stood towards us, and commenced a furious attack on the rear of our fleet, commanded by Commodore Affleck. He, supported by the Canada, Captain Cornwallis, and the Resolution, Lord Robert Manners, kept up so incessant a fire on the French, that, finding they could make no impression on us, their squadron bore up and stood again to sea. I mention these events to show the sort of work in which we were engaged.
The night passed quietly, but in the morning the French fleet was seen again approaching. On they came, passing along our line, and pouring their broadsides into us. Though superior to us in numbers, we returned so furious a fire, that after a time, finding we remained firm, they wore, and again stood out to sea. In the afternoon the French again appeared, but we again pounded them so severely that they at length, having had enough of it, once more retired, evidently having suffered severe loss.
The French flag-ship, the Ville de Paris, was seen to be upon the heel, blocking up the shot-holes she had received between wind and water.
All this time on shore the French were attacking General Fraser, who had been compelled to retire to a fort on Brimstone Hill, and with whom it had become exceedingly difficult to communicate. I was in the berth when I received a message from the captain, to go to his cabin.
"I have just come from the admiral," he said. "He wishes to send some one on shore to communicate with General Fraser at Brimstone Hill. I told him at once that you would be able to succeed if any one could; though I warn you that the risk of being shot or captured by the enemy is considerable. Are you, notwithstanding, ready to go?"
"With all the pleasure in the world, sir," I answered, "if I am likely to be able to find my way to the fort."
"You'll not have much difficulty in doing that," he said, unless you're stopped, for you'll be furnished with an exact plan.
"Am I to go in uniform, sir, or in disguise?" I asked.
"I wouldn't have you risk your life by going in disguise," he replied. "If you were caught you would be shot as a spy. You must make the attempt at night, and by wearing a cloak you may escape detection, unless you happen to encounter any of the French soldiers; in that case you'll have to yield yourself a prisoner."
"Whatever the difficulties, I'm ready to go through with them, sir," I said; "and as I speak French, though not very well, should I meet any French soldiers, I may perhaps be able to make my escape from them."
"The captain told me that the object of the admiral was to establish a communication between the fleet and Brimstone Hill, by means of signals, which I was to carry with me, the general not being supplied with them. It will be safer to take a man with you to convey the flags, while you carry the code of signals, which you must endeavour to destroy should you be made prisoner," he said.
I had still some hours to wait, however, before it was dark enough for me to land. I soon afterwards met La Touche. Both he and Dubois made themselves very happy on board, caring apparently very little about being prisoners. I told him of my intended expedition.
"If you succeed, well and good," he said; "but if you are taken prisoner, I hope you'll mention Dubois and me to the Marquis de Boullie, and suggest that he should make an offer to exchange you for me. Perhaps he has captured another English officer, who would gladly be exchanged for Dubois. Not that we are weary of our captivity, as you all do your best to make it as light and agreeable as possible."
I told La Touche that I should be happy to carry out his wishes should I be taken prisoner, though I had no intention of being made one if I could help it.
When I told Tom Pim of what I had to do, he declared that he was jealous of me, and that he thought he should try to get leave to go. I said that I should like to have his company, and accordingly we went together to the captain to ask leave. He, however, refused, saying that he would not risk the loss of two midshipmen at the same time.
"You may, however, take Harrigan with you," he said; "he is a sharp lad, and will serve you better than any other man in the ship."
Though I should have been unwilling to ask for Larry, for fear of exposing him to danger, I was very glad to have him with me.
Just before dark a boat was lowered and manned, and Nettleship was ordered to take me and Harrigan on shore. I shook hands with my messmates.
"We hope you'll get back, Paddy," said Sinnet. "If you're killed or taken prisoner, we will mourn over your hard fate. However, you're too sharp to be caught, and we shall see you back again before long, I daresay."
The captain desired to see me before I started, and gave me further instructions, making me study well a plan of the road to the fort, so I did not fear that I should lose my way. At length we shoved off. Instead, however, of pulling directly for the shore, we steered over to the opposite side of the bay to that where the enemy were encamped.
Nettleship seemed very anxious about me.
"I wish that an older man had been sent, Paddy," he said; "and I'm ashamed of myself that I don't understand French, or I might have been employed in the service. I envy you for the opportunity you have of distinguishing yourself."
"I don't see that I shall have much to boast of, having only to creep along in the dark up to the fort and back again. There's no great difficulty in the undertaking, besides having to keep out of the way of the French pickets."
"It's not so much what you have to do, as the object to be attained, and the danger of doing it, which will bring credit on you," he answered.
It was perfectly dark before we reached the place which had been fixed on for landing, so that we ran no risk of being observed from the shore. It was arranged that Nettleship was to wait off it until I made the signal for him to come in and take me aboard. Not a word was spoken as Larry and I stepped on to the beach, he carrying the signals and I the book and the admiral's letter. We kept first to our right till we found a path leading inland through a wood. We went on as rapidly as the nature of the ground would allow. The snake-like roots ran across the path, and creepers hung low down in festoons, forming nooses, which might have brought us sharply up if we had run our heads into them. Now and then I fancied that I saw a huge snake winding its way along before me; and tree-frogs, crickets, and other nocturnal insects, kept up a noisy chorus as we went on. Sometimes it was so dark that it was with the greatest difficulty I could make my way with the stick I carried. I was very glad when, getting out of the wood, we found ourselves on the borders of a sugar-cane plantation. This I knew I should have to skirt till I reached another path leading almost directly up to the fort.
THE LAST OF THE "LIFFY."
We had proceeded some distance when the voice of a sentry hailing a passer-by struck my ear. The challenge was in French, as was the answer. It appeared to be some way off, and I hoped might come from one of the extreme outposts. Still I knew that it was necessary to proceed with caution, or we might suddenly find ourselves close upon another. We went on and on, occasionally stopping to listen. No other sounds besides those of noisy insects broke the silence of night. Already we could see the top of Brimstone Hill rising against the dark sky. In another quarter of an hour or so we might reach it. I hoped that we might find nothing to stop us in passing over the intervening space. We continued on, concealing ourselves as much as possible beneath the hedges of cacti, or the trunks of trees. We had got close to a thick copse, as we should call it, only that the plants were of a very different character, when I heard a sound of feet passing apparently before us. Then I heard a remark made in French by one person to another, who answered it in the same tongue. Grasping Larry's arm, I dragged him towards the wood. Fortunately we found some thick bushes, behind which we crouched down. Presently the sounds of the footsteps grew louder, and I could just distinguish the dim outline of a party of men and several officers, passing along the road towards the left, where the French army were supposed to be encamped. They had evidently been out on a reconnoitring expedition, and were now returning. Had we gone on we should certainly have fallen into their hands. I waited until they were out of hearing, and then, whispering to Larry, we got up and made our way directly towards the fort, with much less fear than before of meeting any one. Still I knew that we were not safe until we had actually gained our destination.
At last we were hurrying on, when I heard a voice say, "Who goes there?" and I answered, "A friend from the fleet, with a letter for the general." The sentry told us to pass on. In another minute we reached the picket, a soldier from which was sent up with us to the fort. We were at once admitted into the presence of General Fraser, to whom I delivered the despatches and signals.
"You have performed your service well, young gentleman," said the general. "Are you to remain here, or to return to the fleet?"
I told him that my directions were to get back as soon as possible.
"I'll detain you, then, but a short time, while I write a letter to Sir Samuel Hood," he said. "I hope that you'll be as successful on your journey back, as you were in coming here."
Before he began to write, he ordered a servant to bring me refreshments, and to look after my companion. The walk had given me an appetite; and I did justice to the food placed before me.
The general had soon finished his letter; and, giving it to me, with a warm shake of the hand, told me that I was at liberty to set out when I was ready.
"My orders are to return without delay, sir," I answered, and took my leave.
The sentry accompanied Larry and me to the outer picket, thence we hurried on as fast as we could manage to get along. Still I maintained the same caution as in coming, for at any moment we might fall in with some of the enemy, who might be watching the fort from a distance. The farther we got, the more my hopes of succeeding increased. I could already make out the lights of the ships in the bay, and the sheen of the intermediate water. We reached the wood through which we had before passed, and had just made our way to the outside, when I caught sight of a body of men, apparently a patrol, a short distance to the right. We were still under the shade of the trees, and I hoped that we should not be discovered. We drew back to see in what direction they were coming. It appeared to me that they had already passed, and that we might gain the landing-place, even should they see us making towards it. We accordingly, after waiting a short time, darted forward, running at our full speed. Scarcely, however, had we begun to run, than I heard a shout of—
"Arretez la!"—Stop there, stop!
It was an order we were not likely to obey. It was too late to return to the wood, so, scampering as fast as our feet could move, we ran on to where we expected to find the boat.
Again the Frenchmen shouted to us, and presently a shot came whistling by my ear.
"Stoop down, Larry," I cried, "as low as you can; it doesn't do to present a larger target to the enemy than is necessary."
I hoped that the shots would attract the attention of Nettleship, and that he would pull in to take us aboard. I turned my head for a moment, and saw the soldiers running towards us; still, as we were some way ahead, I expected that we should have time to reach the boat, and to shove off to a distance before they came up.
To make sure, I shouted out—
"Nettleship, ahoy! Pull in as hard as you can."
Though I could see lights on board the ships, close to the water as it was, I could not distinguish the boat, and I was afraid that, not expecting us so soon, Nettleship had pulled to a distance. Should he not arrive our capture was certain. We had nearly gained the rocks on which we had landed, when I made out a dark object on the water approaching. That must be the boat, I thought, and again hailed. Nettleship, recognising my voice, answered, and I guessed by the sound of the oars that the men were bending to them with all their might. Larry and I stood ready to spring in. We could hear the footsteps of the Frenchmen approaching rapidly. By stooping down we managed to conceal ourselves, and to avoid several more shots which were fired. The moment the bowman touched the rock with his boat-hook, Larry and I sprang on board. I scrambled aft, while Nettleship shouted out—
"Back oars all. Now, starboard oars, give way."
The boat was quickly got round, but we had pulled to no great distance before the Frenchmen, reaching the beach, began to blaze away at us. We returned the compliment by firing the only two muskets which had been brought. The Frenchmen standing up on the rock presented a good target. First one shot struck the stern, and another the blade of an oar, but no one was hurt, and the Frenchmen, finding that they were the greatest sufferers, prudently retired from the beach.
After a long pull we got back to the frigate. The captain, to whom I delivered General Fraser's letter, complimented me on having performed the duty.
"Your conduct will be noted, Finnahan, and you may depend upon obtaining your promotion as soon as you are old enough."
I expected to be able to turn in, but he sent me with the letter at once on board the flag-ship, and I delivered it in person to Sir Samuel Hood.
The admiral almost repeated what the captain had said; and I had good reason to congratulate myself at the success of my adventure.
Next day, General Prescott's division was re-embarked, as it was not a sufficient force to fight its way to General Fraser at Brimstone Hill. Other attempts were made to communicate with him, and two officers were captured; so that I had good cause to be thankful that I had escaped.
Dubois and La Touche confessed that they were very sorry to see me back.
"I felt sure that you would be made prisoner, and fully expected to have had the satisfaction of being exchanged for you," said the latter. "But we have to practise patience and laugh at our misfortunes, to get on in this world."
"I'm very glad you were not caught, Paddy," said Tom Pim. "I envy you your success, and only wish that I could talk French as you do, to be employed on the same sort of service. La Touche is teaching me, and I'm trying to teach him English, but we make rum work of it without a grammar or dictionary, or any other book. I suspect he gets more out of me than I do out of him, though I try very hard to pronounce the words he says."
We could hear the French guns thundering away at the fort, and those of the fort replying, hour after hour, without intermission, but the signals made by General Fraser were not supposed to be satisfactory.
At last, one day, we saw the flag hauled down; the guns at the same time ceased, and we knew that all was over, and the gallant garrison had been compelled to capitulate. Information of this was sent on board to the admiral, with a flag of truce, by the Marquis de Boullie.
That evening we sailed on a cruise to ascertain the movements of the French fleet. We had not been to sea many hours when we saw them standing in for Nevis Point, where they came to an anchor; and counting them, we found that they numbered no less than twenty-four sail of the line, several ships having lately joined them. We at once returned with the information to Sir Samuel Hood. It was now discovered that the French had been throwing up gun and mortar batteries on a hill, which would completely command the fleet.
We were seated in the berth after we had brought up, discussing the state of affairs.
"We're in a nice position," said Chaffey. "We shall be pounded at from the shore, and shall have the French fleet, with half as many more ships as we possess, down upon us before long, and it will be a tough job to fight our way out from among them."
"Just trust our admiral," answered Tom; "he knows what he's about, depend on that; he won't let us be caught like rats in a trap."
As he was speaking, Nettleship came into the berth.
"The captain was sent for on board the flag-ship, and he's just returned," he said. "I hear that he met all the captains of the fleet on board, and the admiral told them to set their watches by his timepiece, and directed all the ships to slip or cut their cables at eleven o'clock. The sternmost and leewardmost ships are to get under weigh first, and so on in succession, and we're to stand on under easy sail, in sight of each other, till we receive further orders from the admiral."
No one turned in; the crews were at their stations; not a sign was shown which might allow the French—who were of course watching us from the shore—to discover that any movement was in contemplation. At the appointed time, the Alfred, the most leeward of our ships, was seen to get under weigh, followed in rapid succession by the Canada the President, and the rest of the line-of-battle ships, which stood out of the bay, accompanied by the frigates, before probably the French were aware what we were about.
It was a masterly movement, as it would have been madness to have stopped to be attacked by so superior a force as the French possessed; for though we might have driven them off, we must have suffered severely, and have had to return into harbour to refit. At this time we were outnumbered, and even out-manoeuvred, by the French, who took possession of several of our islands, which we were unable to protect.
We were not to be idle, for there was plenty of work for the frigates in watching the enemy, and occasionally in engaging their frigates.
We had not been long at sea when our captain received orders from Sir Samuel Hood to stand in towards where the French fleet were supposed to be, and ascertain what they were about.
We had sighted the island of Antigua on our starboard bow, and were standing in towards Nevis, when three sail appeared to the westward. One of the lieutenants went aloft to examine them. On returning on deck, he reported that one was a line-of-battle ship, and the other two frigates. As there could be no doubt, from their position, that they were enemies, the captain ordered our course to be altered, intending to pass to the northward of Antigua. We had been seen by the enemy, who were making all sail in chase. I saw Dubois and La Touche watching them eagerly.
"You expect this time to gain your liberty, my friend?" I said to La Touche. "Don't be too sure that your countrymen will come up with us, or if they do, that they will make the Liffy strike her flag."
"I would rather be set at liberty in any other way," he answered, in his usual cordial tone; "but they appear to me to be gaining on us."
"Perhaps they are, and if so we must fight them, and drive them off," I observed.
"It would be madness to do that," he remarked. "You cannot cope with a line-of-battle ship alone, independent of two frigates, each of which is a match for the Liffy."
It was soon seen that our captain had no intention of striking his flag without striking very hard first at the enemy. The strangers appeared to have a stronger breeze than filled our sails, and were coming up hand over hand with us. Still we might get the wind, and run into an English harbour. It was the first time the Liffy ever had to run, and we didn't like it. I asked Nettleship what he thought about the matter.
"We shall have a tough fight, at all events; but if we can save our spars, I don't think, notwithstanding, the enemy will take us."
This was the general feeling of all on board.
We had sighted Nevis, when two other ships were made out to the south-east. Presently several more appeared in that direction. It was a question, however, whether they were friends or foes. Had we been certain that they were friends, we should have stood towards them, but our captain was unwilling to run the risk of finding that he had made a mistake. A look-out was kept on them from aloft; and before long they were pronounced to be enemies. I saw by the looks of our captain that he didn't like it, though he tried to appear as confident as usual. The rest of the officers kept up their spirits.
It was very evident that we were now in a difficult position. The line-of-battle ship was the closest; the two frigates, one to the north of us, the other some way to the south of her; while the new enemies we had discovered prevented us escaping in the opposite direction. Our only hope was to knock away some of the spars of the line-of-battle ship, and then fight our way past the two frigates. The line-of-battle ship was rapidly approaching. A single broadside, should we be exposed to it, would almost sink us.
Every preparation had been made for fighting; and not a man flinched from his gun. The officers were at their stations; the powder-monkeys seated on their tubs; the surgeons below, preparing for the wounded; and we, the younger midshipmen, ready for any duty we might be called on to perform.
At length a puff of smoke was seen issuing from the line-of-battle ship. The shot fell close to our counter.
"That was fired from her forecastle," observed Nettleship, "from a long gun, too. It will play Old Harry with us if well served, before we can return the compliment."
A second shot quickly followed, and struck the hammock-nettings on the starboard side, knocking several overboard.
We at length luffed up; and the captain ordered the whole of our starboard broadside to be fired. Our guns were well aimed, and immediately we had fired we again kept away. Our shot did considerable damage to our pursuer, but she still kept on, while we expected every moment to have her broadside crashing into us.
Fortunately for us the wind fell, and our light frigate moved rapidly through the water. The other frigates were, however, coming up.
"What does the captain intend to do?" I asked of Nettleship.
He pointed ahead where the island of Nevis rose green and smiling out of the blue water.
"Depend on it he won't let the enemy have our tight little frigate if he can help it," he answered. "My idea is that he'll try and get close in, and stand round the island, to give a chance to our big enemy to run on shore."
Shortly after this I heard Nettleship involuntarily exclaim, "See! see! here it comes!" and as I looked aft I saw the line-of-battle ship luffing up, and as she did so her whole broadside was discharged at us.
With a fearful uproar the shot came crashing on board. Cries and shrieks arose from all sides. Well-nigh a dozen of our men were struck down, and many more were wounded. The most severely hurt of the latter were carried below. Comparatively little damage, however, had been done to our spars and rigging, though the rents in our sails showed where the shot had passed through; while blocks came rattling down on deck, and several ropes hung in festoons from the yards. Still our stout-hearted captain held on.
To return the enemy's fire would have been useless, and only the sooner insure our destruction. We got nearer and nearer the island. The men were ordered into the chains to heave the lead. The captain and master examined the chart, which had been brought from the cabin. We had no doubt of what their intentions were, but we couldn't hear a word they said. We were gaining on our pursuer, but at the same time the two frigates were not far astern, while the other ships, which had last been seen, were coming up rapidly. The men in the chains were heaving the lead. We were shoaling our water.
"By the mark, nine," was called, and immediately followed by "By the mark, eight." Before the men in the chains could again cry out, a loud crash was heard,—every timber in the ship trembled,—the tall masts quivered.
"We're on shore," I cried out.
"No doubt about that," said Nettleship, "and likely to remain there too."
The captain at once ordered the men aloft to furl sails.
Our pursuer, not wishing to meet with the same fate, hauled her wind, and stood to a distance, which left us beyond the reach of her guns.
"Roll them up anyhow. Be smart about it," cried Mr Saunders.
It was done. Then the order came,—"Out boats!"
Every boat was got into the water, and brought over to the starboard side, with a few hands in each.
"We shall have to cut away the masts," said Nettleship, whom I again passed.
The ship was still forging over the ledge on which she had struck, closer and closer towards the shore. The order which he expected quickly came.
"Stand from under," shouted Mr Saunders. Some of the men sprang below, others forward. We, the officers, rushed aft. The carpenter, with his mates, and the boatswain, stood ready, with their gleaming axes in their hands.
"Cut!" cried the captain.
The shrouds were severed at one side, then the axes descended. A few strokes, and the masts in rapid succession fell overboard. We had all been so engaged in this operation that we had not watched our enemies. We now saw the line-of-battle ship signalling the frigates. Shortly after they were seen to stand in, apparently for the object of attacking us.
"It must be done," cried Captain Macnamara. "Lads, I'm sorry to say we must leave our stout ship. We must not allow her, however, to fall into the hands of the enemy. Get your clothes, and anything you value most, as I have resolved to destroy her."
Every one now hurried below to get their clothes, and such other things as they desired to preserve. The purser appeared with the ship's papers, the master with the ship's log, and the captain with a few instruments. Muskets and ammunition, pistols and cutlasses, were then served out, so that we might have the means of resisting the enemy should they attempt to land. All were now ready for embarking. He would allow none of us to take larger sized packages than the men were permitted to carry away. The crew were now all told off to take their places in the boats. The midshipmen and boys, as in the case of fire or shipwreck, were sent first. Larry was in my boat.
"It's a sad day this, Mr Terence, which I never thought to see," he said; "but arrah! I've not forgotten my fiddle, and it will be mighty convenient to cheer the hearts of our poor fellows when we get ashore."
Most of the men took the matter very philosophically. Those who suffered most were the unfortunate wounded, who had previously been lowered into the boats, with the surgeons to look after them. Our two prisoners, Dubois and La Touche, had, I fancied, formed some plan for remaining on board, but a hint from Rough-and-Ready made them very quickly follow me into the boat, accompanied by a marine.
"Take care, Finnahan, those two foreigners don't give you the slip," shouted the first lieutenant. "Let them understand that they must remain under charge of the sentry, and that if they give leg-bail he has orders to shoot them. Now shove off."
I told my friends what Mr Saunders had said.
"Ah, that lieutenant of yours is very suspicious," remarked Dubois. "We wish to get away! What folly to think of it."
I said nothing more, but there was a twinkle in Dubois' eye, which made me fancy he did think of it.
The shore was soon reached; providentially there was no surf, and the men quickly landed. On this the boats at once put off to bring away the remainder of the crew. The men bent to their oars. There was no time to be lost, for the French frigates were approaching, and would soon be blazing away at our ship. On they came under all sail.
"We'll have them right enough if they run ashore," cried one of the men; "there'll then be fair play maybe."
"I wish that our captain would only just let us go back and fight them," exclaimed another; "we'd soon show them that the saucy Liffy hasn't done barking yet."
But the Frenchmen seemed to have no intention of running ashore if they could help it. As we got alongside they had come almost within range of our guns. The remainder of the crew and officers stood ready to embark. Just at that moment I recollected that I had come away without my grandfather's sword, which was hung up in the berth. I sprang on deck and rushed down below to obtain it. Having got it in my hand, I was hurrying out of the berth, when I saw the captain, accompanied by Mr Saunders with the gunner and his crew, just coming aft. At the same time I observed a dense smoke issuing from the fore-hold. They had matches in their hands, with which they had lighted some trains which had been laid leading to the after-part of the ship. I sprang back into the boat, into which the gunner and his crew followed me, the captain's gig still waiting alongside. Mr Saunders came down and took his seat. The captain stood for some moments gazing along the deck, then, lifting up his hat, he also descended. "Shove off!" I heard him cry out, in a husky voice, just as we were pulling away.
He was the last man to leave the frigate. As he did so several shot came crashing aboard her from the opposite side. We pulled away as fast as we could lay our backs to the oars, for we had a good chance of being hit. The shot dropped round us pretty thickly, but we escaped uninjured. As we looked astern thick wreaths of smoke were issuing from every part of our gallant frigate.
"Her fighting days are over," I observed.
"Not just yet, sir,—not just yet. Wait a minute and you'll see," exclaimed the coxswain.
He was right. Before we landed the flames had reached the guns, and her whole broadside, pointed towards the Frenchmen, went off in rapid succession.
"Hurrah! hurrah!" shouted all the men; "the old girl dies game to the last."
What damage the guns of our ship effected on the French frigates we could not discover, but they were seen to haul their wind and to stand off as fast as they could from the land. We soon gained the shore, which was as captivating in appearance as any shipwrecked mariner has ever landed on. It seemed like a perfect garden, with churches and planters' houses peeping out from among the trees, in the midst of the most picturesque scenery. In the centre rose a lofty cone, surrounded by a ruff of trees, below which all was one mass of verdure. We had little time or inclination just then to admire the beauties of nature. The crew having been mustered, none being missing except the poor fellows who were known to have been killed, the wounded were placed on litters formed of sails, and we were set off to march towards Charlestown, the smart little capital of the island, whence Captain Macnamara expected to be able to send intelligence of the disaster to the admiral.
We had gone some distance, and were all feeling hungry and thirsty, when we came in sight of the house of a planter. Our approach was perceived. The master of the mansion came forth, and, addressing Captain Macnamara, insisted on our halting, and taking such refreshment as he could provide. His offer was gladly accepted. As the house wouldn't hold us all, we youngsters stopped in the shade of of a grove of trees close to it, the captain and gun-room officers being invited inside. The men threw themselves on the ground, in every variety of attitude, waiting for the expected feast. We of the midshipmen's berth formed a group by ourselves a little way from the men, close to a fountain, which sent up a jet of water into the quivering air. The sight of it alone was calculated to cool us, and we needed cooling, for our march had been hot and fatiguing. Some of the men suffering most from thirst rushed to the fountain, and baled the water into their mouths, or lapped it up like dogs.
"I say, Paddy, what has become of your French friends?" asked Nettleship, looking round. "I thought La Touche would at all events have been with us, though Dubois might have considered himself privileged to go in with the gun-room officers."
"I haven't set eyes on them—since—since—let me see—not since we left the shore," I answered. "I suppose they must be in the house."
Just then I saw the marine who had had charge of the prisoners. I asked him what had become of them. He had been ordered to fall into the ranks with his comrades, and had handed them over, he said, to the second lieutenant,—Simon Silk,—known among us as Softy. I told Nettleship this.
"Oh, then of course they are in the house," he remarked.
"Not so sure of that, if Softy had charge of them," said Tom.
In a short time a number of blacks came out, bringing provisions of all sorts. Huge jugs of sangaree, baskets of pink shaddocks, bananas, oranges, pomegranates, figs, and grapes, in addition to the more substantial fare. How we did peg into the fruit, which we enjoyed the more from having been lately on salt provisions. To the poor wounded fellows the fruit was especially refreshing, and I believe the lives of several were saved who would otherwise have succumbed.
"Well, I shouldn't mind being shipwrecked occasionally, if I could always land in such a place as this," said Chaffey, devouring a superb shaddock, while the rest of us were similarly employed, or sucking oranges, or popping grapes into our mouths.
As we were at no great distance from Charlestown, our kind host advised the captain to remain, and to pursue his march in the cool of the evening, undertaking to send on to the authorities that quarters might be provided for us. We were not at all sorry to hear this, as all of us needed rest. We ate the delicious fruit till we could eat no more, and then threw ourselves on the ground. Our host came out and invited us into the house, but Nettleship, who considered that he might have done so at first, declined his offer; indeed, we were far better off under the trees than between walls, and certainly more at our ease. At length Mr Saunders came out, and ordered us to get ready for marching; the men were formed in ranks, and, giving a cheer for our host, we set out.
I had been looking about for Dubois and La Touche, when I saw Lieutenant Silk. I asked him if he knew where they were.
"Bless me! why, have they not been with you all this time?" he exclaimed. "I understood them to say that they would join you when we arrived at Mr Ballahoo's, and I never dreamed of their not doing so."
The marine officer looked somewhat aghast on hearing that we had not even seen the Frenchmen.
"Whether he dreamed it or not, they are off as sure as a gun," observed Nettleship, when I told him.
Such proved to be the case; and though Softy had to march back with a party of his men to look for them, they were nowhere to be found. I do not think that the captain was very much put out, though I was sorry to part from my polite friends without saying good-bye. As the enemy were in the neighbouring island, it was probable that they would send a force across to capture Nevis, so that we fully expected to have work to do, as the governor was resolved to oppose them.
We arrived at Charlestown just at sunset, and were hospitably received by the inhabitants, among whom we were billeted, the wounded being sent to the hospital. We were expecting to have a pleasant stay in the town, but next day a frigate appeared off the place and sent her boat ashore, when our captain applied for a passage for himself and men to join the admiral. We had at once, therefore, to embark on board the Thisbe. Next day we stood across to Antigua, and, having passed that island, we beat to the southward, when a large fleet was seen ahead. We approached cautiously till we got within signalling distance, when the fleet was found to be that of Sir Samuel Hood, steering for Antigua. We were ordered to join it, and the next day brought up in Saint John's roads. We here remained at anchor for some time, till we were joined by Sir George Rodney, who had come out from England with several sail of the line. Sir George Rodney became commander-in-chief, and now considered himself strong enough to cope with the French and Spanish.
While the officers and crew of the Liffy were together, we were merry enough; but after we had undergone the trial for her loss, and our captain and his subordinates had been honourably acquitted, the time came for our separation. We were distributed among the different ships of the fleet. Nettleship, Tom Pim, and I were ordered to join the Cerberus, 74, with a portion of our men, among whom was Larry. Tom and I agreed that we felt lost in so big a ship. We soon, however, got accustomed to her, and became intimate with our new messmates, several of whom were very good fellows. Tom declared that he should never like the gun-room after our snug little berth, for, should he once fetch away, he shouldn't bring up again until he had cracked his head against a gun or against the ship's side. For some time we had fine weather, so that he had no opportunity of experiencing the inconvenience he anticipated. We heard that the very day we left Nevis the French had thrown an overwhelming force across and taken possession of the island.
"I don't know that we should have prevented that," said Tom, "so I am glad that we got away, or we might have been killed or made prisoners."
The fleet being strengthened as I have described, we proceeded to Saint Lucia to complete our water. We now had to sail in search of a large French convoy which was expected to arrive from Europe, and anticipated a rich prize; but the French were too sharp for us, for though a vigilant look-out was kept by the frigates, they managed, by sailing close under Dominique and Guadaloupe, to reach Port Royal Bay unperceived by any of our ships. When Sir Samuel Hood got information of this unlucky event, the line-of-battle ships returned to Saint Lucia to refit, while the frigates were employed in watching the movements of the enemy. The object of the French and Spaniards was well known. It was to unite their fleets, and thus, forming a powerful force, to proceed to the conquest of Jamaica. Our object was to prevent them from doing this. The frigates had ample work in watching their movements, and many ran a great risk of being captured in the anxiety of their captains to keep a vigilant watch on them. Our fleet lay ready for a start as soon as information was brought of the enemy having put to sea.
LUCY TALBOYS AGAIN.
At length, at daylight on the 8th of April, when I, acting as signal midshipman, was on the look-out, I saw a frigate standing towards us and making signals. I immediately communicated the information to the commander, who was on deck.
"The Andromache, Captain Byron," he exclaimed. "She tells us that she has seen the enemy's fleet with a large convoy coming out of Port Royal Bay, and standing to the north-west."
Tom Pim was immediately sent down to call the captain, and, as he appeared, the admiral threw out a signal from the Formidable to put to sea in chase of the enemy. Cheers resounded from ship to ship, and never did fleet get under weigh with more alacrity. By noon we were clear of Gros Islet Bay, when we stretched over to Port Royal, but, finding none of the French ships there or at Saint Pierre, we stood after them in the direction they were supposed to have taken. We continued on for some hours during the night, still uncertain as to whether we should overtake the enemy, when, to our joy, we discovered their lights right ahead.
As morning broke, a large portion of the convoy was discovered under Dominique, while to windward we could see the French fleet forming the line of battle. As the light increased, the admiral threw out signals to prepare for action and to form the line.
It was welcomed by a hearty cheer from ten thousand throats. As, however, we got under Dominique, to our bitter disappointment the sails flapped against the masts, and most of the ships lay becalmed, unable to obey the orders which had been received. It was tantalising in the extreme. At length, however, the lighter canvas filled, and the sea-breeze freshened. The Barfleur, Sir Samuel Hood's flag-ship, then our ship, then the Monarch and Warrior, the Valiant and Alfred got the wind, and the whole of the van division, of which we formed a part, stretched to the northward on the starboard tack in chase, while the central and rear divisions, under Sir George Rodney, lay still becalmed and unable to join us. Our gallant admiral, however, anxious to bring on an action, continued his course, when we saw the French fleet also forming their line on the starboard tack, in the hope of attacking us before we could be joined by Sir George Rodney.
"Now, Paddy, we shall see what a real fight is like," said Tom Pim, as we stood on the quarter-deck.
"I hope we shall see what a victory is like, too," I answered, as I eyed the approaching enemy, numbering fifteen ships, to oppose which we had but eight. Sir Samuel Hood, however, knew what he was about, and the order was given to heave to, which brought our broadsides to bear upon the French, and at the same time would allow the other two frigates to come up with us as soon as they could get the wind. The first shot was fired from the Barfleur a few minutes before 10 a.m., and then all our eight stout ships began blazing away at the French, as they stood down intending to break our line; but so tremendous was the fire with which they were received, that they found the attempt hopeless. They, however, returned it vigorously, and for a full hour we were pounding away at each other, not a few of our brave fellows being killed, and many more wounded. Towards the end of the time, as the smoke cleared away, I saw the rest of our fleet coming up with the breeze, which had at length reached them. The French admiral also saw them, and, having had a taste of how eight ships could treat him, he stood away under all sail after the remainder of his fleet. Sir George Rodney now threw out a signal for a general chase, but the Frenchmen beat us hollow in running away, and we in vain attempted to come up with them. For two whole days we were engaged in chasing.
"I'm afraid, after all, the mounseers will get off, and reach Jamaica before us," said Tom Pim to me; "and if they do, what will become of Mr Talboys and his family? Poor Lucy! she will be marrying a French count, perhaps, and I shall never see her again."
"They are not quite out of sight, and though they're gaining on us, the wind may change, or some other accident may occur, and we shall have another stand-up fight," I answered.
This was soon after sunrise on the 12th of April, when our fleet was standing to the northward, about five leagues north-west of Prince Rupert's Bay, with a light breeze. The French were upon the same tack to windward of the Saintes, with a fresh sea-breeze. The light increasing, we saw a ship which had lost her foremast and bowsprit, in tow of a frigate standing in for Guadaloupe. On perceiving this the admiral threw out a signal for us and three other ships to chase; and, disabled as the French line-of-battle ship was, we made sure of capturing her.
"We shall get hold of one ship, at all events, and the frigate too, if she doesn't up stick and run," said Nettleship, as he watched the two Frenchmen ahead.
Presently he exclaimed, "Not so sure of that, though. I see the French admiral making signals, and we shall know what he has been saying presently."
A short time afterwards he added, "His fleet is bearing up for the purpose of protecting the wounded bird."
We stood on, however. The captain told Tom Pim, who was signal midshipman, to keep a sharp eye on our admiral.
"If he keeps on that course he'll give us the weather gage, and we shall catch him as sure as his name is De Grasse," cried Nettleship.
Our crew of course were at their quarters, and we expected ere long to be exchanging broadsides with the enemy. Presently the French again altered their course, and formed their line on the larboard tack.
"The admiral has hoisted the recall signal," cried Tom. Directly afterwards we saw the signal made for our ships to form the line of battle on the starboard tack. Rear-Admiral Drake's division was now leading, the Marlborough being ahead. The island of Dominique was on our starboard hand, the wind coming off the land, and the French between us and it. Thus they were to windward of us, standing almost directly for Guadaloupe. We were now gradually nearing each other. Just at 8 a.m. the Marlborough, in gallant style, opened fire on the rear of the French. At the same time Rodney made the signal for close action. Soon after it was hoisted all the other ships and Rear-Admiral Drake's division commenced firing their broadsides. For a time Admiral Hood's division was almost becalmed, as were many of Sir George Rodney's ships, but as they drew ahead they got the wind much stronger clear of the land. After the action had continued for some time, the wind shifted, enabling us to get to windward of the enemy.
"Look out there, Paddy, at the Duke. See, that gallant fellow Gardner is endeavouring to force the Frenchman's line," cried Nettleship.
We watched for some minutes, when a shot carried away the Duke's main-topmast, and she dropped to leeward, and Sir George Rodney, followed by the Namur and Canada, stood right in between the enemy's ships, not far from the Ville de Paris, carrying their admiral's flag. Others quickly followed, when Rodney wore and doubled upon the enemy, all the time, it must be understood, keeping up a tremendous and incessant fire. By this gallant manoeuvre the French line was completely broken, and thrown into the utmost confusion. Their van bore away, and endeavoured to form to leeward, but our division, under Sir Samuel Hood, now getting the breeze, came up, and joined in the close fight which had long been going on. To describe it so that my account should be understood would be difficult in the extreme. All the time the shot of the enemy came crashing aboard. Our object was to catch sight of the hulls of the Frenchmen amid the clouds of smoke, and to pound away at them. Each of our ships did the same. Amongst the ships was the Glorieux, commanded by the Vicomte d'Escar. Though surrounded by enemies, he continued to fire his broadsides until his masts and bowsprit were shot away by the board, and not till he saw that he must abandon all hope of rescue did he haul down his colours. We almost immediately afterwards came up with another ship, which we found to be the Caesar, Captain M. de Marigney. We got so close up to her that our guns almost touched, and began furiously pounding away at her sides. She had already been severely battered before we attacked her. The gallant Frenchman, however, continued to engage us, and, looking up, as for an instant the smoke was blown aside, we saw that he had nailed his colours to the mast.
"We must knock them away notwithstanding," said Nettleship.
Soon afterwards down came the enemy's mainmast, followed by her mizzenmast, fortunately falling over on the opposite side.
Still the Frenchmen continued working their guns, but one after the other ceased firing, and at last an officer waved a handkerchief, to show that they surrendered. As he did so the foremast went by the board. We immediately ceased firing, and our second lieutenant was sent to take possession in one of the few of our boats which could swim. I accompanied him. I by this time had seen a good deal of fighting, but I had never yet witnessed any scene so dreadful as the decks of the Caesar presented. On reaching the upper deck, one of the first objects which met our eyes was the body of the gallant captain, who had just breathed his last. Near him lay three or four other officers, and a little farther off two young midshipmen; while fore and aft lay the dead and wounded, their shipmates having had no time as yet to carry the latter below. Everywhere there was wreck and confusion, masts and rigging trailing overboard, the stumps alone remaining, the bulwarks shattered, the guns upset, the carriages of some knocked to pieces, every boat damaged, while it was impossible, as we stepped along, to avoid the pools of blood and gore. The third lieutenant, his head bound up, stepped forward, saying that he was the officer of the highest rank remaining, and offered his sword. In the meantime the fight continued raging: the Ardent struck to the Belliqueux, and the Hector to the Canada; but the gallant Cornwallis, leaving his prize, made sail after the Count de Grasse, who, together with his second, was endeavouring to rejoin his flying and scattered ships. We were fast approaching. Notwithstanding this, the Count de Grasse held out till the Barfleur came up, and poured in so tremendous and destructive a fire, that at length the gallant Frenchman, deserted by his ships, was compelled to haul down his flag, just as the sun sank beneath the horizon.
The French fleet were now going off before the wind, pursued by some of our ships. Others would have joined in the chase, but Sir George Rodney, wishing to collect the fleet and secure his prizes, made the signal to the fleet to bring to.
Our captain meantime had ordered us at once to commence removing the prisoners.
I had shoved off with one boat-load, and just got alongside the Cerberus, when I heard the cry, "The Caesar is on fire!" I hurried the prisoners up the side, eager to assist in extinguishing the flames, or to bring away as many as I could of those on board. Several of the other ships were also sending their uninjured boats to the rescue; but before they could reach the blazing ship, we heard a fearfully loud explosion. Up went her decks. Fragments of planks and timbers, and even heavy guns, with human bodies torn and rent asunder, rose in the air; the whole ship blazed furiously, lighting up the surrounding vessels with a lurid glare, when suddenly her hull sank, and all was dark around. In her perished our third lieutenant and boatswain, and fifty of our gallant crew, besides four hundred Frenchmen.
Our most valuable prize was the Ville de Paris, as she had on board a quantity of specie, and she was considered the finest ship afloat; but we had a heavy price to pay for our victory: Captain Bayne, of the Alfred, and Captain Blair, of the Anson, were killed, besides several lieutenants and other officers. Altogether we lost two hundred and fifty-three men killed, and eight hundred and sixteen wounded. The French ships, having numerous troops on board, and carrying more men than ours, suffered more severely in proportion, and it was generally believed that three thousand were killed, and double the number wounded. On board the Ville de Paris alone four hundred were slain.
We remained three days under Guadaloupe, repairing damages, when Sir George Rodney ordered Sir Samuel Hood to proceed with his division in search of stragglers. In spite of the fighting we had had, with cheerful alacrity we stood away; and on the 19th sighted five of the enemy's ships. They were standing for the Mona passage.
"They hope to escape us," said Nettleship. "But never fear, if they can get through, so can we."
This proved to be the case. Just then Sir Samuel Hood threw out the signal for a general chase. A shout rose from our deck when it was seen that the wind had died away, and that the enemy lay becalmed.
The Valiant early in the afternoon got alongside the Caton, which immediately struck. Captain Goodall then stood on, leaving us to pick her up, and attacked the Jason, of the same force, with so much impetuosity, that after a stout resistance of twenty minutes she also hauled down her colours. Two other smaller ships were shortly afterwards captured, and only one, which got through the passage, effected her escape.
A few days afterwards we rejoined Sir George Rodney under Cape Tiberoon, and with him proceeded to Jamaica.
Great was the rejoicing of the inhabitants. Guns were thundering, flags flying on steeples and houses and hundreds of flagstaff's; and the whole town of Kingston turned out, with the military and civic authorities at their head, to receive the conqueror as he landed, accompanied by the Count de Grasse, the admiral who had threatened their subjugation.
We aboard the Cerberus saw little of the festivities which took place, as we were engaged in repairing her, and fitting her for sea,—it being understood that in consequence of the damages she had received she was to be sent home.
Tom and I got leave only for one day to go up to Kingston, in the hopes of seeing our friends the Talboys. Tom was in a great state of excitement.
"I say, Paddy, I wonder whether Lucy still cares for me," he said. "Perhaps she'll have forgotten all about me by this time; and if that fellow Duffy has been stationed at Kingston, as soon as we left he'll have done his best to cut me out."
"I don't think her papa, at all events, would prefer an ensign to a midshipman; and depend upon it, that if she has transferred her affections, it would be to a post-captain or a colonel," I answered. "But cheer up, Tom, don't be down-hearted; we'll hope for the best."
Almost the first gentlemen we saw on landing were two French officers, strolling along arm in arm. As we got close to them they turned their heads, and I recognised Lieutenant Dubois and La Touche. They knew me in a moment, and held out their hands with more cordiality than I should have expected.
"You see us again prisoners to your brave nation; but we have given our parole, and are allowed to be at large during the day," said Dubois.
"You'll come to our lodgings, I hope, and allow us to show you some hospitality," added La Touche. "In this life we have many ups and downs. One day you are prisoners to us, and the next day we are prisoners to you. What matters it if we retain our honour and our lives. It's a miracle that we're alive."
"How is that?" I asked.
"We were aboard the Ville de Paris," he said, "and were doing duty on the lower deck. We fought to the last, and fully believed that the ship would go down. At one time the admiral was the only person left unwounded on the upper deck. Officer after officer was killed as they went up to join him. We were about to follow, when our flag was hauled down. However, we expect to be exchanged soon, when, for my part, I intend to return to France."
This was said as we walked along with the young Frenchmen.
The lodgings to which they introduced us consisted of a single room, in which they slept and took their meals; but they didn't seem a bit ashamed of it, and did the honours with as great an air as if they were receiving us in a magnificent saloon. They had evidently won the heart of their mulatto landlady, who placed an elegant repast on the table,— indeed, in a country where fruits and delicacies are abundant, that is not any difficult matter.
"The English are very polite to us here; and some of the young ladies are charming," observed Dubois. "There is one family especially polite,—that of a Monsieur Talboys. Ah! ma foi! his little daughter is perfectly charming."
On hearing the name of Talboys, Tom Pim pricked up his ears and looked at me, for he was not able to understand all that was said.
"We are acquainted with Mr Talboys," I observed, "and all must admire his daughter. Is she not engaged to be married yet?"
"Ah, yes, there's the pity," said Dubois, shrugging his shoulders; "to a military officer, I'm told,—the Capitaine Duffy. He has lately obtained his promotion, and appeared at a ball in a bright new uniform, which completely captivated the young lady's heart."
"I'll not believe it until I see her, and she tells me so," exclaimed Tom, starting up. "You must have been misinformed, monsieur."
"Ma foi! I hope so," said Dubois; "for I thought I was making great way, and resolved, if her father would accept me as his son-in-law, to give up the sea and settle down as a planter in Jamaica."
On hearing this Tom became very fidgety, and proposed that we should go in search of our friends. As I was afraid that he might say something which might annoy our hosts, I agreed, and, wishing them good-bye, Tom and I started for Mr Talboys' town house.
We had no great difficulty in finding it. Just as we reached the entrance, who should I see but Duffy himself, strutting out in a captain's uniform. He didn't know me at first, until I hailed him.
"What, Duffy!" I exclaimed. "It must be yourself or your elder brother. Let me congratulate you on obtaining your captain's commission. You have faster promotion in your service than we have in the navy."
"Ah, Paddy! is it you?" he cried, taking me by the hand. "It's myself, I can assure you. Thanks to this torrid climate, sangaree, and Yellow Jack, you're right, my boy. All the fine fellows you knew at Savannah are invalided home, or are under the sod; but as I eschew strong drinks, and keep in the shade as much as I can, I have hitherto escaped the fell foe. I suppose you're going to call on my friends the Talboys? They will be very glad to see you. We often talk about you, for the gallant way in which you, Pim, and your other messmates behaved when the house was attacked."
"Here is Pim," I said.
"What! I beg your pardon," said he; "I really did not recognise you;" and he put out his hand, which Tom took rather coldly. "We all owe you a debt of gratitude which none of us know how to repay."
"I don't require payment," said Tom, drawing himself up stiffly. "Good morning, Captain Duffy! I don't wish to detain you."
"Well, as I have to go on guard, I mustn't stop, or I should like to go back and join Lucy in thanking you."
"I don't require thanks," said Tom, gulping down his rising anger. "Come along, Paddy."
As I saw that the sooner the interview was brought to an end the better, we entered the house. Tom was even half inclined to turn back, and I think he would have done so had not Mr Talboys seen us, and insisted on our coming into the drawing-room.
Both of us followed him over the slippery floor, and nearly pitched down on our noses, making a somewhat eccentric entrance into the room.
Mrs Talboys, with Lucy and her younger girls, were seated on cane-bottomed sofas, dressed in white, with fans in their hands. The weather was unusually hot. A blush rose to Lucy's cheek as she saw Tom. She, however, came frankly forward, and we all shook hands. Nothing was said about Duffy. They were all eager to hear our adventures, which we narrated as briefly as we could. They knew Dubois and La Touche, and Mr Talboys thought them very agreeable Frenchmen, but they didn't appear to be much in Lucy's good graces. I was much inclined to speak of Duffy, but Lucy evidently didn't wish to mention him. We had observed the marks of fire on some of the houses as we came along, and Mr Talboys told us that since we had been there there had been a fearful conflagration; and had not the wind shifted, the whole town would have been burned down. He and his family were at that time in the country, and so escaped the alarm which the fire caused.
Mrs Talboys invited us to spend the evening at the house, but Tom at once answered for himself and me, and said that we had to return on board, and we were not pressed to stay. At last we got up to take our leave.
"Lucy is very anxious again to thank you, Mr Pim, for your brave conduct in saving her from the blacks. Perhaps you'll meet in England, as she expects to go there shortly, should peace be established; but we are unwilling to allow her to risk the danger of the passage in war time."
Lucy had managed to get Tom to the window, so I didn't hear what she said, but he looked far from happy.
"I must tell you, Mr Finnahan, that my daughter will probably be soon married. Captain Duffy," said Mrs Talboys, "her intended, is an excellent young man, and heir to a good estate, with a sufficient fortune already in possession; and she could not expect to make a more satisfactory match. It has our entire approval. You know him well, he tells me?"
I of course said that I did, that he had treated me very kindly at Savannah, and that I must congratulate him on his good fortune.
While we were speaking, Tom came up, and said somewhat abruptly, "Paddy, we must not delay longer." He didn't again turn towards Miss Lucy, to whom I went up and wished good-bye. Tom and I then paid our adieus to the rest of the family. Lucy was well-nigh crying, I thought, but the yellow light admitted through the blinds prevented me from seeing clearly.
"It's all over," cried Tom, as we got outside. "I thought it would happen. I've been and made a fool of myself, and I'll never do so again as long as I live; no, never—never!"
I comforted Tom as well as I could, and indeed he soon recovered his equanimity. I told him I was sure that Miss Lucy was very grateful, though she was not inclined to wait till he had become a post-captain, or even a commander, to marry him.
We looked in on our way down to the harbour on our two French friends. We found them in high spirits, for they had just received information that they were to accompany the Count de Grasse, and other French officers, who were about to return home, on board the Sandwich, Sir Peter Parker's flag-ship, on their parole. As Sir Peter was on the point of sailing in charge of a homeward-bound convoy, Sir George Rodney remained as commander-in-chief at Jamaica. A short time after, Admiral Pigot arrived out from England to supersede him, and Sir George returned home in the Montague.
At length, after lying idle for some time, Admiral Pigot, with his flag on board the Formidable made the signal for the whole fleet to put to sea.
A report reached us just before this that we and the other ships were to return to England, and highly delighted every one was at the thoughts of going home. We were, however, kept cruising for some time, till we fell in with the fleet of Admiral Graves off Havanna; thence we proceeded to Bluefields, on the south coast of Jamaica, towards its western end.
Here Admiral Graves, whose flag was flying aboard the families, received orders to convoy a hundred sail of merchantmen, together with the French prizes, consisting of the Ville de Paris, no guns, the Glorieux and Hector; of 74 guns each, and the Ardent and Jason, of 64 guns each. The men-of-war accompanying them were the Canada, our ship the Cerberus, of 74 guns each, and the Pallas, of 36 guns.
"It's to be hoped that we shall have fine weather," said Nettleship one day at mess. "Even now we're obliged to keep the pumps going every watch. It's a wonder the hull and rigging hold together; while we're terribly short-handed, and, as far as I can judge, the rest of the ships are in no better condition, and the prizes are still more battered."