"What's the use of talking to sucking babies like Paddy and Tom here about their promotion, in these piping times of peace which are coming on us," cried old Grumpus, "if we couldn't get ours while the war was going on?"
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
FESTIVITIES AT HOME.
The news of peace was received perhaps with more satisfaction by the men who had no promotion to look for, and who now expected to visit their families, or enjoy themselves in spending their prize-money according to their own fashion on shore.
Parting from the Thetis, we continued beating backwards and forwards for another week, when the wind shifting suddenly to the southward, we ran up to Plymouth, and at last dropped anchor in Hamoaze. We lived on board till the ship was paid off. In the meantime, I wrote home to say that Larry and I would return as soon as we could manage to get a passage to Cork. Tom Pim was uncertain of the whereabouts of his family, so he also waited till he could hear from them. Nettleship had told us that his mother and sister lived near Plymouth, and he got leave to run over and see them.
"It won't be a good thing for you youngsters to be knocking about this place by yourselves," he said, on his returning; "and so, having told my mother this, she has invited both of you, with Larry, to come up and stay with us till you can go home. You'll be much better off than in lodgings, or stopping at an inn, even though you may find it somewhat dull."
Tom at once accepted the invitation, and persuaded me to do so, though I wanted to see some of the fun of Plymouth, which my other shipmates had talked about. I won't describe the scenes which took place on board,— the noise and uproar,—the characters of all descriptions who crowded the ship, eager to take possession of the sailors, or rather of the money which lined their pockets. I saw very much the contrary of fun in it. We had then a midshipman's paying-off dinner on shore, to which some of the ward-room officers were invited. The wine flowed freely. Healths were drunk and sentiments given, and in a short time most of the party became very uproarious, those who were sober enough on shore being as bad as the rest.
"Come, Paddy," said Nettleship, "we have to get home to my mother's house to-night, and I can't introduce you, remember, if you're not quite yourself."
Tom Pim was ready.
"So am I," I said. "I'll not take another drop."
Our intended departure being discovered, we were assailed with hoots, and shouts, and groans.
"Never mind them," said Nettleship. "If we were to be moved by that sort of stuff, those very fellows would be the first to laugh at us another day."
On seeing us gaining the door, several jumped up, intending to bring us back.
"Run for it, Paddy; run, Tom," cried Nettleship. "I'll guard your retreat. They'll not stop me."
"Hands off," he shouted, as Grumpus and some others attempted to seize him. "I have made up my mind to go, and go I will, though every one in the room were to jump up and try to bar my passage."
Tom and I got safe into the street, where we were joined by Larry, who had been waiting for us; and Nettleship came up, saying that he had got clear off, at the cost of flooring two or three of his assailants.
"Not a satisfactory way of parting from old friends," he said, "but the only one which circumstances would permit."
We at once set off, walking briskly, to get as soon as possible away from the scene of our shipmates' revels. We at length reached a pretty little cottage, a short way out of Plymouth, where Mrs Nettleship and her daughter received us in the kindest manner possible. I was struck by the appearance of the two ladies, so nicely dressed, and quiet in their manners, while the house seemed wonderfully neat and fresh, greatly differing from the appearance of Ballinahone. It was the first time in my life that I had ever been in an English house. When Nettleship talked of his mother's cottage, I had expected to see something like the residence of an Irish squireen. Both inside and out the house was the same,—the garden full of sweetly-scented flowers, the gravel walks without a weed in them, and the hedges carefully trimmed. Then when Tom and I were shown to the room we were to occupy, I was struck by the white dimity hangings to the beds, the fresh curtains and blinds, the little grate polished to perfection, and a bouquet of flowers on the dressing-table. Tom was not so impressed as I was, though he said it reminded him of his own home. Miss Fanny was considerably younger than Nettleship, a fair-haired, blue-eyed, sweetly-smiling, modest-looking girl, who treated Tom and me as if we were her brothers.
Nettleship and Tom accompanied me into Plymouth each morning, that I might learn if any vessel was sailing for Cork, and thus be saved the journey to Bristol, with which place and Ireland, as there was a considerable amount of trade carried on, I was told that I should have no difficulty in obtaining a vessel across. I was so happy where I was, however, that I was less in a hurry than might have been supposed. I had no want of funds for the purpose, for I had received my pay; and a good share of prize-money for the vessels we had captured was also due to me, though, as Nettleship told me, I must not count upon getting that in a hurry.
At last, one morning, on going to a shipbroker, who had promised to let me know of any vessel putting into Plymouth on her way to Cork, he told me that one had just arrived, and would sail again in a few hours. I at once went on board the Nancy schooner, and engaged a passage for Larry and myself, and then hurried back to wish Mrs Nettleship and her daughter good-bye. My old shipmates returned with me, and Larry carried our few traps over his shoulder, as I had not possessed a chest since mine was lost in the Liffy.
"Good-bye, Paddy, old fellow," cried Nettleship. "If I get appointed to a ship I'll let you know, and you must exert your interest to join her; and I hope Tom also will find his way aboard. We have been four years together without so much as a shadow of a quarrel; and if we were to spend another four years in each other's company, I'm sure it would be the same."
Tom merely wrung my hand; his heart was too full to speak.
"Good-bye, Mr Pim," said Larry, as the schooner's boat was waiting for us at the quay. "Your honour saved my life, and I would have been after saving yours, if I had had the chance, a dozen times over."
"You saved it once, at least, Larry, when you helped to get me out of the water as the boat was leaving the Cerberus and I hope that we may be again together, to give you another chance."
"There's nothing I'd like better. May Heaven's blessing go with your honour," said Larry, as Tom held out his hand and shook his warmly.
Our friends stood on the shore as we pulled across the Catwater to the schooner, which lay at the entrance. Directly we were on board she got under weigh, and with a fair breeze we stood down Plymouth Sound. She was a terribly slow sailer, and we had a much longer passage to Cork than I had expected. We had no longer any fear of being snapped up by a privateer, but, seeing her style of sailing, I hoped that we should not be caught in a gale on a lee shore, or we should have run a great chance of being wrecked.
Larry made friends with all on board, keeping them alive with his fiddle, which he was excessively proud of having saved through so many and various dangers.
"Shure, I wouldn't change it for all the gold in the Ville de Paris, if it could be fished up from the bottom of the say," he exclaimed, "for that couldn't cheer up the hearts of my shipmates as my old fiddle can be doing. Won't I be after setting them toeing and heeling it when we get back to Ballinahone!"
At length our eyes were rejoiced by a sight of the entrance to Cork Harbour, and the wind being fair, we at once ran up to Passage, where I engaged a boat to take us to Cork. As we had no luggage except what Larry could carry, and he wouldn't let me lift an article, we proceeded at once to the inn at which my uncle and I had put up.
I was just about to enter through the doorway, when I saw a tall figure standing before me, not older by a wrinkle than when I, a stripling, had last seen him, standing on the quay waving me a farewell; his hat and coat, the curl of his wig, every article of dress, was the same. For a moment he looked at me as if I were a stranger; then, recognising my features, though in height and breadth I was so changed, he stretched out his arms, exclaiming—
"Terence, my nephew! Is it you, indeed?" and embracing me, his feelings overcame him, and he could say no more for some minutes. "I came on the chance of meeting you, though I knew not when you would arrive," he said at length. "I have been waiting day after day, every hour in expectation of seeing you; but faith, when my eyes first fell on your figure I forgot the change that four years would have produced in you, and took you for a stranger. And you have brought back Larry safe from the wars? Glad to see you, boy. I thought you would be taking care of the young master."
"Faith, your honour, I should have been mighty grieved at myself if I hadn't done the best I could; and it's a pleasure to hand him back to you, major, without a wound or a scratch, though the round shot and bullets have been flying about pretty quickly round him; and we've escaped from fire and hurricane, and shipwrecks and earthquakes, and a mighty lot of other things besides."
"And you, uncle, don't look a day older than when I went away," I said.
"You must not trust too much to appearances, Terence," he answered, shaking his head. "The enemy has been sapping the foundations, though he has not as yet taken the fortress. I have a good many things to try me. Matters at home are not in a satisfactory state."
"It was about them all I was going to ask, uncle," I said. "How are my father and mother, the girls and the boys?"
"Your mother is not so strong as she was, though she bears up bravely; but your poor father has greatly changed. Though he has given up his claret, he still sticks to his potations of rum shrub and whisky punch, which are rapidly bringing him to his grave, though he won't believe it Kathleen and Nora are married; Kathleen to Eustace Fitzgerald, and Nora to Tim Daley. I would rather they had found steadier husbands, but they'll bring the boys into order, I hope, in time. Your brother Maurice got his commission soon after you left home, and, having seen some service in America, has lately returned home on leave. I was in hopes that he would have fallen in with you. Denis stops at home to help me mind the house and keep things in order. The rest have grown into strapping lads, and it's time to be sending them out into the world to seek their fortunes. The Fitzgeralds and the Daleys are staying at the Castle, and they'll be mightily pleased to see you. We will start to-morrow morning at daylight. I brought horses for you and Larry, with Tim Sweeney to look after them, for I suppose that Larry will scarcely know the head from the tail of one by this time."
"Och, your honour, I'll soon be after remembering which is which when I see the bastes again, though I haven't crossed a horse's back since I left," said Larry, in answer to my uncle's remark.
"I'll trust you for that, my lad," said the major; "and now, Terence, we will go in and order supper, and while it's coming, you shall give me an account of your adventures."
I was soon seated before the fire, briefly describing what I had gone through, in as clear a way as I could. My uncle was deeply interested, and constantly stopped me to put questions, when he did not clearly understand my descriptions. Even when we were at supper he made me talk on, appearing scarcely to think about what he was eating, so eager was he to listen to me. He was much struck on hearing of Dan Hoolan's fate.
"I can't say the country is much the quieter, for unfortunately there are too many boys of the same character to take his place," he remarked, "but I hope we shall reach Ballinahone without meeting any of them."
At last, seeing that I was getting sleepy, he advised me to turn in, to be ready to start in the morning.
Larry in the meantime had been well taken care of by Tim Sweeney,— indeed, too much taken care of; for when he came into my room to see if I wanted anything, he stood balancing himself with difficulty, and talking away, until I was obliged to turn him out and bid him go to bed as fast as he could.
The next morning we were on the road, the major sitting his horse as firmly as ever; and indeed, except that we were going in an opposite direction, I might have fancied, until I looked at Larry and felt the change that had come over myself, that we were but continuing our journey of four years back.
Having plenty to talk about, I rode alongside my uncle, Larry and Tim following us, the latter listening with eager ears to the wonderful accounts Larry was giving him. We pushed on as fast as our horses would carry us, but as the roads were none of the best, our progress was much slower than I liked.
The afternoon of the second day my uncle proposed that, instead of stopping at the village through which we were then passing, we should push on to a little roadside inn, that we might be so much the further on our way next morning. It was almost dark when we arrived, but the landlord, Pat Casey, who knew my uncle well, received us warmly, promising to give us all the accommodation we could desire, and a supper and breakfast not to be despised. Pat at once fulfilled his promise by placing some rashers of bacon and fresh eggs, and actually a white loaf, which with several others he said he had received that morning, on the table.
"I would be after having some tay for breakfast, but I wouldn't dream of giving it to your honours for supper," he said, as he placed instead on the table a bottle of the cratur, from which, he observed with a wink, the revenue had not in any way benefited, while a bowl of smoking hot potatoes formed the chief dish of the feast. I remember doing good justice to it, and was not sorry when my uncle proposed that we should retire to our downy couches. Unpretending as was the outside of the inn, they were far superior to what I should have expected; mine was a feather bed to which many hundreds of geese must have contributed, while the curtains were of silk, faded and patched, to be sure, but showing that they had come from some grand mansion. I slept like a top, till my uncle roused me up in the morning with the announcement that breakfast was nearly ready. To that I was prepared to do more ample justice than I did to the supper.
"Come, Terence, let us take our seats," said my uncle. "Biddy has just placed the things on the table, and they will be getting cold."
The breakfast looked tempting. There was a pile of buttered toast, plenty of new-laid eggs, a beautiful griskin broiled to perfection, and water boiling on the hot turf fire in a saucepan. The teapot having taken to leaking, as Biddy said, she had made the tea in the potheen jug. I was just about to follow my uncle's example, when there came a rap at the outside door of the paved parlour in which we were sitting.
"Come in," said my uncle.
No one answered.
"Go and see who it is, Terence; maybe it's some modest fellow who doesn't like to open the door."
No sooner had I lifted the latch than I felt a heavy shove. The door flew open, and before I could get out of the way, in rushed a huge sow, knocking me over in a moment; and while I was kicking my heels in the air, over my body came nearly a dozen young pigs, their amiable mother making her way round the room, grunting, snorting, and catching the air through her enormous proboscis.
"Jump up, Terence! jump up, or she'll be at you!" said my uncle, coming to my assistance; but the sow was too rapid in her movements, and, ere he could reach me, charged furiously at his legs. Fortunately he escaped her by springing with wonderful agility out of her way, and, mounting on a chair, got up on the top of a chest of drawers, which formed a convenient place of retreat. In the meantime I got on my legs, and, seeing the savage sow was inclined to attack me, I sprang on to the chest of drawers, the only safe place I could discover. Here we sat, regularly besieged, for our weapons of offence and defence had been left on the table. The sow, seeming to know the advantage she had gained, kept eyeing us savagely. Indeed, unless we had thought it worth while to run the risk of an attack from her, we saw that we must make up our minds to remain where we were. The louder we shouted for help, the more enraged the sow became, thirsting, as we had reason to believe, for our blood. She was the lankiest, the tallest, and grisliest beast I ever saw; her back, arching higher than a donkey's, resembled a rustic bridge; her loose-flapping ears nearly hid her small sunken, fiery eyes, their ends just covering one half of her mouth, which divided her head, as it were, into an upper and under storey, clearly showing that she had the means of taking a huge bite out of our legs, could she get at them. Her tusks, like those of a boar, projected from under her nostrils, and the ring and hook in her nose was a formidable weapon of offence, though intended to prevent her from digging up the ground. Her promising family were not little pigs, but had nearly attained the age when they would be turned out to shift for themselves, regular hobbledehoys of swinehood.
After rampaging round the room, sniffing the air, and vainly attempting to get at us, the sow ran under the table, which she unceremoniously upset, when, with a peculiar grunt summoning her progeny to the feast, she and they immediately commenced gobbling up our viands. Seeing this, I jumped down, intending to drive her away, but scarcely had I reached the ground when she made so savage a rush at me that I was glad to regain my former position.
"This is too bad," cried the major; and, slipping off the drawers, he seized a chair, with the intention of belabouring our assailant, when just at that moment one of the young pigs, of an inquisitive disposition, hearing the bubbling water on the fire, attempting to look into the pot, brought the scalding contents down upon itself. On feeling its tender bristles getting loose, it set up the most terrific cries, louder even than the most obstinate of its race when the butcher is making preparations for manufacturing it into corned pork. The sow, attributing the cries of her darling to some torture inflicted by us, rushed to the drawers, making several savage attempts to rear up against them so that she could seize us by the legs. Every moment we expected to be caught hold of by the hook in her nose, when we should have inevitably been brought down. In vain we kicked and stamped at her to drive her off, while we shouted loudly for assistance.
As it turned out, Larry and Tim were in the stables attending to the horses, while the landlord and his family, having performed, as they supposed, all their required duties in attending on us, had gone to the potato garden. Not for some minutes did Pat hear our voices, and then in he rushed, with astonishment depicted on his countenance. Seizing a stick, he began belabouring the sow, bestowing on her epithets numberless and profuse.
"Och! the curse of Crummell light on you for a greedy old sow as ye are," he exclaimed, whacking away at the creature, who didn't care for his blows, though she dared not attack him. At length Tim and Larry came in, and, seizing the sow by the tail, attempted to drag her out; she, supposing that they wanted her to go into the room, in the usual swinish spirit of contradiction turned to snap at their legs, and, followed by her hopeful progeny, bolted out of the door. My uncle and I burst into fits of laughter, though in reality it was no laughing business as far as our breakfast was concerned. Pat expressed his fear that there was not another morsel of food in the house; however, Biddy and her assistant, coming in from the potato garden, soon set matters to rights, and put some water on to boil, hunted up some fresh eggs, and produced another loaf. We were too hungry to let them toast and butter it, however. We made a very good breakfast after all, our appetites being sharpened by the exercise of our lungs, not to speak of the alarm we had been in. The occurrence delayed our departure till a later hour than we intended, and we pushed on to try and make up for lost time.
I confess that I occasionally looked round, half expecting to see some of Dan Hoolan's successors come out from behind the rocks or bushes, and demand our valuables; but if any were lying in wait in the neighbourhood, they probably thought four well-armed men too formidable to be assailed, and we proceeded towards our journey's end without molestation. I had at first felt a sort of callousness about reaching home, and should have been indifferent had any delay occurred; but as I approached Castle Ballinahone I became more and more eager to be there, and could scarcely restrain my feelings when I saw the towers rising beyond the trees in the distance, and the Shannon shining brightly in the rays of the setting sun. My uncle and I gave our horses the rein, and our two attendants clattered after us. The gate of the park was open, and as we dashed up the avenue at full speed, the sounds of our horses' hoofs attracted the attention of the inmates of the castle. The door was thrown open, and my mother and sisters, and Maurice and Denis and my two brothers-in-law, appeared on the steps, down which the younger boys came springing towards us; while from the servants' wing out rushed a whole posse of men and girls and dogs,—tumbling over each other, the dogs barking, the girls shrieking, and the men shouting with delight, as they surrounded Larry, and half pulled him off his horse. Dismounting, I sprang up the steps into my mother's arms, where she held me for some time before she was willing to let me go. I received a similar welcome from my sisters. "You see I have brought him back safe after all," said the major, benignantly smiling. My hands were next seized by my brothers and brothers-in-law, who wrung their fingers after receiving the grips which I unconsciously bestowed upon them.
"And my father?" I asked, not seeing him.
"He is in the parlour," answered my mother in an altered tone; and she led me in. He was seated in his wheelchair, a look of dull imbecility on his countenance.
"What! are you Terence?" he asked in a quavering tone. "Come back from the wars, eh? I suppose you are Terence, though I shouldn't have known you. We will drink your health, though, at supper in whisky punch, if he'll let me have it, for we can't afford claret now,—at least so he says, and he knows better than I do."
I was much pained, but tried to conceal my feelings from my mother, though my father's changed appearance haunted me, and prevented me from being as happy as otherwise would have been the case. His state had been that of many of his neighbours, whom he was fond of boasting he had seen under the sod,—once fine intelligent men, who might have lived out their natural course of years in health and happiness, with everything to make their lives pleasant, had it not been for the drinking habits so general among their class. After the greetings with my family were over, I went into the servants' hall to have a talk with the old domestics. Larry was in the height of his glory, just getting out his fiddle to give them a tune in honour of our return. They all crowded round me, each eager to grasp my hand, and congratulate me on having escaped the dangers of the wars. I felt myself more of a hero than I had ever done before. The moment I retired I heard Larry's fiddle going, and the boys and girls beginning to make use of their feet, for it was impossible to keep them quiet while such notes sounded in their ears. After a visit to my chamber, which had long been prepared for me, accompanied by Denis, who wanted to hear all I had got to tell him, I returned to the drawing-room. I there found the family assembled, fully as anxious as my brother to have a narrative of my adventures. My mother, taking my hand, which she held in hers, led me to the sofa, and fondly looked in my face as I described the battles I had been engaged in and the shipwrecks I had encountered. My uncle nodded approvingly as I described the actions in which I had taken a prominent part. My poor father, who had been wheeled into the room, stared with lack-lustre eyes, evidently only comprehending a portion of what I said. The rest of the family occasionally uttered exclamations of surprise and astonishment, now and then putting questions to help me along, when I stopped for want of breath or to recollect myself. I had never in my life talked so much at a stretch.
At last we went in to supper. My poor father, lifting his glass with trembling hands to his lips, drank my health. My brothers-in-law, Maurice and Denis, followed his example. The major kindly nodded.
"You have done well, Terence, and I'm proud of you," he exclaimed; "and though the war is over, I hope you'll still find means to climb up the rattlings, as you say at sea."
Several neighbours looked in, hearing of my arrival, to congratulate me and my family. The whisky-toddy flowed fast. I as usual drank but little; in truth, I had no taste for the stuff, though probably it would have grown upon me, as it does upon others.
My uncle looked at me approvingly. "I'm glad to see, Terence," he said, "that you possess one of the qualities of a good officer, and that even when off duty you retain the habit of sobriety."
My brothers-in-law glanced at each other and laughed, but took care that the major should not observe them. The guests took no notice of my uncle's remark, evidently intending to make the whisky punch flow freely, the great object for which they had come. Toasts and sentiments, according to the fashion of the day, were given. My father tried to sing one of his old songs, but soon broke down. Several of the other gentlemen, however, took up his stave, and soon began to be uproarious. My mother on this got up, and beckoned to my sisters to follow her. They whispered to their husbands, who, however, only nodded and laughed. My uncle's object was rather to guide than to suppress the hilarity, and when he observed anything like a dispute arising, he put in a word or two nipping it in the bud in a calm, determined way, to soothe irritated feelings. In a short time Dan Bourke came in, and, putting his hands on the back of my father's chair, said, "By your leave, gentlemen, I'm come to wheel the master away;" and without more ado, though my poor father stretched out his hand trying to grasp his glass, before he could reach it he was at a distance from the table. It was a melancholy spectacle, and I almost burst into tears as I saw him moving his arms like a child, and trying to kick out with his gouty feet. As Dan wheeled him round towards the door, he shouted and cried, "Just let me have one glass more, Dan, only one; that can't be after doing me harm."
One of the guests exclaimed, "Can't you be leaving the master alone, and let him have a glass to comfort his soul? Just one glass can make no matter of difference."
But Dan was obdurate, and, looking over his shoulder, he said, "It's the orders of the mistress, and they're to be obeyed."
Had the major's eye not been upon him, I don't know how Dan would have behaved, but without another word he wheeled my poor father out of the room, and closed the door behind him. It was almost the last time he appeared at table. His state made a deep and lasting impression on me.
As soon as he was gone, the guests went on talking and singing as before, and would probably have kept up their revels till a late hour, had not my uncle reminded them that he and I had just come off a long journey.
"As I've been playing the part of host, I can't be so rude as to leave you at table, gentlemen."
The hint, as he intended it to be, was too broad not to be taken, and those whose brains had still some sense left in them rose to take their departure, hoisting the others in a friendly way out of their seats, when arm-in-arm they staggered to the door.
"The ladies have retired, so you need not stop to pay your farewell respects to them," said my uncle; and he told Dan Bourke, who was in the hall, to order the gossoons to bring round the gentlemen's horses. Some mounted without difficulty, but others had to be helped up on their steeds by my brothers-in-law and Denis. I thought they would have tumbled off.
"They'll be all to rights when once in their saddles," said Denis. "They're accustomed to ride home in that state. To be shure, one of them now and then dislocates his neck or breaks his head, but that's a trifle. It's too common a way for an Irish gentleman to end his mortal career for anything to be thought of it."
"I hope, Denis, that you'll not be after following their example," I remarked.
"Faith, the major keeps me in too strict order for that at present," he said; "I don't know what I should do if I hadn't his eye upon me, but I'll acknowledge I have no wish to become a brute beast, as some of them are."
My first day at home was over. I felt less happy than I had expected. My father's melancholy condition,—my mother's sorrow, which she in vain tried to conceal,—and the fallen fortunes of the family, damped my spirits. My brothers-in-law were fine young fellows, but not altogether what I liked; and my sisters were graver than they used to be. Everything about the house looked in a dilapidated condition. My mother and sisters wore old dresses; the furniture was faded; the servants, if not ragged, were but poorly habited. Had it not been for the major, the family, I suspect, would long ere this have been turned out of house and home. I must not spend much time in describing my life at Castle Ballinahone. I soon got tired of it, and began to wish myself at sea again, for I knew that my only chance of promotion was to keep afloat. I told the major. He said that he perfectly agreed with me, and that he would at once write to Captain Macnamara, who was in London, and to two or three other friends, and ask them to try and get me appointed to a ship without delay. After I had been at home a few days, Fitzgerald and Daley invited me to accompany them to the fair at Mullyspeleen, where they wished to dispose of some horses they had bred on my father's property. Larry begged that he might come, just to see the fun. I observed, as he mounted, that he had strapped his fiddle-case on his back. My journey had made me as much at home as ever on horseback, so that I was enabled to keep up with my brothers. The distance we had to go was about fifteen miles, through beautiful country, with a range of hills in the distance, below which is situated the old castle of Tullinhoe, once the seat of a powerful family, many of the descendants of whom were now probably selling pigs at the fair. We met people wending their way towards the place of meeting, some on foot, some on horseback, others in cars and carts of primitive construction, all grinning and shouting in high glee at the thoughts of the fun to be enjoyed. What that fun was we were soon to witness. Not only were there men, but women and children, down to small babies in arms,—the men with frieze coats, with shillelahs in hands, the women in cloaks and hoods, and caps under them. Others had gaily-coloured handkerchiefs tied over their heads. As we got near the fair the crowd increased, till we sometimes had a difficulty in making our way among the people. As we pushed them aside, however, they were in no way offended, but good-humouredly saluted us with jokes of all sorts. There were tents and booths of various descriptions, the most common among them being formed of wattles,—that is, young saplings cut from some neighbouring estate, the thick ends stuck in the ground some distance apart, and the thin ends bent down till they met, when they were fastened together with haybands. Some twenty or thirty of such arches having been formed, and further secured by a long pole at the top, were covered over with blankets, sheets, and quilts, borrowed from the nearest cottages, occasionally eked out with petticoats and cloaks of varied hue; the quilts, being of every variety of pattern, and of all the colours of the rainbow, had a very gay appearance. The tables were composed of doors carried off from farm buildings and cottages, elevated on hillocks of clay dug from underneath. The benches on either side generally consisted of doors cut longitudinally in two or three parts, and to be nailed together again when done with. Outside several of the tents were huge turf fires, on which pots were boiling, some containing lumps of salt beef and cabbage, while fried herrings were sending up a fragrant odour attractive to hungry visitors. There were cold viands also displayed, to tempt those disposed for a snack, rounds or rumps of beef, hams, bread and cheese, and whisky enough to make every soul in the fair moderately drunk if equally divided. Here and there were booths containing toys and trinkets; but the great object of the fair was for the sale of horses, cows, pigs, and poultry. Besides these were the more pretentious booths of the frieze merchants, who were likely to run a good trade to supply the place of the garments which would be torn into shreds before the fair was over. In other booths, earthenware, knives, and agricultural implements were to be procured. My brothers-in-law having disposed of their horses at a good price,— especially good to them, as the animals had cost them nothing since they were foals,—we agreed to ride round the fair and see the fun, which had now been going on for some time, while, as the eating and drinking booths had been constantly filled and emptied, a large portion of the visitors were already in a hilarious condition. We were passing a booth, when a man came out, who, taking off his long frieze coat, which he trailed along behind him on the ground, at the same time flourishing his shillelah, shouted out—
"Who'd be after daring to put a foot on that, I should like to know?"
He hadn't gone far, when from another tent out sprang a stout fellow, holding a cudgel big enough to fell an ox with. Rapidly whirling it in the air, he exclaimed—
"That's what I'll dare to do!" and he made a fierce blow at the head of the owner of the coat, which would have felled him in a moment, had he not been prepared to defend himself with his shillelah. A clatter of blows succeeded, when the owner of the coat fell, stunned, to the ground.
At the same instant numbers of fellows in frieze coats, brogues, and battered hats, rushed forth from the various tents, flourishing their shillelahs, and shouting at the tops of their voices, some siding with the fallen man, others with the victor, till a hundred or more were ranged on either side, all battering away, as fast as they could move their arms, at each other's heads. Now one party would scamper off as if in flight; then they would meet again, and begin cudgelling each other, apparently with the most savage fury, while the women and children stood around, the latter forming a squalling orchestra, which kept time to the blows. When matters were becoming serious, a number of the women, handing their babies to their companions, sprang into the fight, shrieking out, "Come out o' that, Pat!"
"Come out o' that, Tim!" and dragged their husbands, or sons, or lovers, away from each other.
The men mostly, however, endeavoured to release themselves by leaving their coats in the women's hands, exclaiming—
"Let me get at them, Biddy. I'll not be held back!"
The women succeeded in dragging but a very few out of the fray, and again the combatants went at it, till one after the other was stretched on the ground.
At length a priest arrived, and exhorted those who were of his flock to desist; and, rushing in among them, where words were ineffectual, dealt them pretty hard blows with his own cudgel. I was inclined to go and assist his reverence, but Fitzgerald advised me to do nothing of the sort.
"They treat him with some sort of respect," he observed, "but they would treat you with none, and a broken head would be the consequence."
The tumult and uproar had made our horses restive; and as a party of the combatants, with loud shrieks and clashing of shillelahs, came rushing against mine, he began to kick and plunge, and at length bolted with me, scattering the people in his course right and left.
Shouts and imprecations followed me, but though I pulled at the rein with all my might, I could not stop him. On he went, upsetting a booth of crockery and scattering the contents; he dashed in among a herd of pigs, which scampered off in all directions; when finally, attempting to leap over a tent in our course, he went through one side of it, pitching me before him, and down he came on to the middle of the table, with his hind legs under the bench, and very nearly on the top of me.
I scrambled out of the way, bruised and scratched, receiving no very friendly greeting from the owner of the booth. Larry, who had seen what was going on, followed, and assisted to extricate my steed as well as me.
Its knees were cut and hind legs sprained, and I felt as if every bone in my body was broken, though I managed to get on my feet, and, giving myself a shake, had the satisfaction of discovering that nothing of the sort had occurred.
My brothers-in-law, coming up, paid the men for the damage done to the crockery booth and the tent my steed had upset, out of the proceeds of their sale; and I, to show that I was not daunted, remounted my horse.
"Have you sufficiently enjoyed the humours of the fair, Terence?" asked Fitzgerald.
"Faith, indeed I have, and sufficient to last me a mighty long time," I answered.
In one place there were a dozen fellows piled up, one upon another, struggling and kicking, with their heads cut and their noses bleeding; but few of them had lost their voices, and not one of them was mortally wounded.
I had charged Larry not to join in any of the fights; and though he confessed that he had been sorely tempted, he had become too well disciplined at sea to disobey me. He came out of the fair, therefore, with a whole skin, having employed himself for a good portion of the time in amusing the boys and girls with some tunes on his fiddle. I took care to see him clear of the fair, and free from danger, before we put our horses into a trot.
The whole scene gave me some idea of the state of my native country, to become still more unhappy before many more years were over, owing to the misguiding of hot-headed men, and the cruel treatment of a Government whose only notion of ruling was by stern suppression and terrorism.
We rode too fast to allow of Larry playing his fiddle, so he was obliged to put it in its case, and trot after us.
I felt dreadfully stiff for several days after this adventure, and but little inclined to ride, though I managed to walk about.
Denis begged me to go with him to fish in a stream which ran into the Shannon three or four miles from the house. I agreed, for the sake of having his society, although no adept in the art of throwing a fly. Larry accompanied us, to carry our baskets, and the fish we intended to bring home. We started later in the day than we had intended, so that the best part of it had gone by before we could reach the stream.
I was more successful than I had expected, and succeeded in hooking and landing a brace of tolerably-sized salmon,—Denis having caught twice as many. This encouraged us to go on, and the shades of evening had already begun to spread over the beautiful landscape before we thought of giving in. At length Larry came up to me.
"I wouldn't be after wishing to frighten you, Mr Terence," he said in a whisper, "but I have just now seen something I don't like."
"What is it, Larry?" I asked. "Is it in human shape, or with four legs, a couple of horns, and a tail?"
"Don't be laughing at it, Mr Terence. I'm thinking you don't know where we are, or you wouldn't be after doing that," he whispered.
"We are fishing in the stream of Corregan," I said.
"But does your honour know what happened here?" he asked, in a low voice. "It's his ghost I've seen, as sure as I'm a living man, just behind yon clump of trees there hanging over the water; and I'm thinking he'll be showing himself again if we stop here longer."
"I shall be very happy to make his acquaintance, whoever he is," I said. "Does Mr Denis know anything about him?"
"Master Denis would be only laughing at me if I were to speak to him about it," said Larry.
I called to Denis, and said that I was ready to put up my rod, as I wished to make the acquaintance of a suspicious individual who was said to be lurking about the stream. He replied that he would be ready to come as soon as he had landed a salmon he had lately hooked.
"Come, Larry, tell me all about this ghost, or spirit, or whatever it was, you fancy you saw just now," I said, while engaged in winding up my line.
"Hish! your honour; we mustn't speak loud about him, if you plaise, and I'll tell you," he answered. "It's just this, your honour: while we were away in foreign parts, there was a broth of a boy,—I knew him well,—Dominic Brian. Well, Nick was one evening going home from reaping, along this very part of the stream, when what did he do but cut his own head off. Why he did it no one to this day can tell; but certain sure his body was found on the bank, with his bloody scythe beside him, but his head was gone. They say he comes every evening at the same hour to look out for his head, since he doesn't rest quiet in his grave without it. When they told me about it I laughed, thinking it couldn't be true; but seeing's believing, and as sure as I'm a living man, I saw Dominic Brian this very evening with his head under his arm."
"I thought you said that he always came to look for his head?" I observed.
"Shure so I did, Mr Terence; but the ghost I saw had his head tucked under his arm, just as if it had been a keg of potheen."
"Whether he has his head under his arm or has got it on at all, I'll rout him out," I exclaimed.
"Oh, don't, Mr Terence, don't!" cried Larry. "No one can tell what he'll be after doing to you. Shure it will be safer for us to be away from this as fast as our legs can carry us. Just shout to Master Denis to make haste, or we don't know what will be happening."
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
A GHOST AND A WEDDING.
Laughing at Larry's fears, I, having just finished winding up my line and disconnecting my rod, bade him take up the fish, while I walked towards the clump of trees where he had seen the headless ghost.
I didn't feel altogether sure that something would not appear. I had not gone many paces before I caught sight of a white object. Larry saw it also, and my gallant follower, who would have tackled a dozen Frenchmen with a cutlass in his hand, fairly turned tail and scampered away, shouting out—
"The ghost! the ghost! It's Nick Brian himself, barring his head. Run, Mr Terence! Run, Mr Denis! or he'll be taking hold of us, and carrying us off into the river to help him to look for it."
In spite of Larry's shouts, I still went on, although not feeling over comfortable, when, as I got nearer, out flew, with a loud hiss, a large white swan, whose nest was probably thereabouts. Though I might have defended myself with the end of my rod, I thought it prudent to beat a retreat and leave her in quiet possession of the locality. On seeing this she also returned to her nest. When I overtook Larry,—who, finding that I was not following him, had halted,—I assured him that the ghost was only a swan. He, however, still remained incredulous, declaring that it might have appeared like a swan to me in the gloom of the evening, but he felt sure it was Nick Brian, and no one else. In vain I endeavoured to induce him to return with me.
"I'd rather not, Mr Terence, if it's the same to you," he answered. "It's not wise to be hunting up them sorts of things."
Denis now joined us, and though he laughed at the idea of a ghost, he remarked that it would be as well, while there was sufficient light to see our way, to commence our return home, which, as it was, we should not reach till long after dark. I saw Larry every now and then turning his head round, evidently expecting that Nick Brian the headless would be following us.
We got home without any other adventure, where Larry gave a full account of our encounter with Nick Brian's ghost, and the gallant way in which Mr Terence had faced him, though he was not ashamed to confess that he had not backed me up as he should have done, had I been attacked by a human foe.
Though Denis had not seen the ghost, and I assured every one that it was only a white swan, I found that Larry's account was believed in preference to mine; the general opinion being that I fancied I had seen the bird, though it was a ghost notwithstanding.
To do honour to my return, and to keep up the dignity of the family, my mother and sisters considered it necessary to give a ball to the neighbours, and invitations were issued accordingly. The major was rather against the matter, on the score of expense, but he didn't hold out as stoutly as usual. The preparations, however, were not on a very extensive scale. Such flags and banners as were to be found in the castle—many of them tattered and torn—were arranged so as to decorate the entrance hall. The furniture was carried out of the dining-room— the largest room in the house—and piled up in the dingy study. Supper-tables were placed on one side of the hall; and my mother and sisters, and all the females in the establishment, were engaged for some days in manufacturing pasties, tarts, and jellies; while at the same time sundry pieces of beef, ham, turkeys, and poultry were boiling and roasting at the kitchen fire.
At the usual hour the guests began to arrive,—some in family coaches, once covered with paint and gilt, but now battered and dingy; others came in cars and gigs, and a considerable number of the fair sex on horseback, having sent their ball dresses on before, by the invitation of my sisters, who had promised their assistance in bedecking them. My father complained that he was hurried away from the dinner-table that due time might be obtained for making the necessary preparations. He was left in his chair in the corner of the room, whence he watched the proceedings with an expression which showed that he could not make out exactly what was being done. I went up to him several times and tried to make him understand.
At last the O'Maleys, the O'Flahertys, the Frenches, the Fitzgeralds, the Burkes, the Geraldines, and the members of numerous other families began to arrive, and Larry, habited in a sky-blue coat, a huge frill to his shirt, pink breeches and green stockings, with four or five other musicians, similarly attired, playing various instruments, took their places on a raised platform which served as an orchestra.
A country dance was speedily formed, the couples standing opposite each other, reaching from the top to the bottom of the room, and I had the honour of leading out Miss Nora O'Flaherty, who was considered one of the beauties of the county, though in many respects I doubt whether Tom Pim would have looked upon her with the same eyes as he had done on Lucy Talboys. Taking my partner, I led her prancing down the centre, and proud enough I felt as I heard the remarks made upon us. Then we had to come back and turn each couple, and so on in succession till we reached the bottom. It was pretty hard work, though my fair partner seemed to enjoy it amazingly. Of course, as was the custom of those days, I could not take another partner, and I had every reason to congratulate myself on having obtained so good a one. I suspect that many envied me. I was naturally over head and ears in love with her before the evening was over. There was very little rest between the dances. As soon as one was over another was started, the musicians playing away with might and main. We got through a few minuets, but such dances were too tame for my fair countrywomen; indeed, but few of the men were able to perform them, whereas all took to the country dances as if by instinct.
While we younger ones were thus amusing ourselves, the older people passed the time playing cards, and afterwards did ample justice to the supper. Indeed, very few of the young ladies were very backward at that. Even Nora managed to discuss the wing and breast of a chicken, with ham and a slice of beef, not to speak of tartlets and other delicacies, without the slightest difficulty.
I saw her to her family coach, which conveyed her mamma, two sisters, and a he cousin besides, of whom I felt prodigiously jealous. I could think of nothing and talk of nobody but Nora O'Flaherty all the next day, and proposed riding over to pay my respects to the family.
"You'll do nothing of the sort, Terence!" said my uncle. "I should be the first to say 'Go,' if I thought it would add to your happiness; but, to the best of my belief, the young lady is engaged to her cousin; and even supposing that she cared for you, and would consent to wait till you became a post-captain, you would then only have your pay, and she has not a stiver in the world, and you would thus be doing her a great injustice. Talk of her as you like, think of her as a perfect angel; but angels don't make good wives down here on earth, whatever they might do in ethereal regions."
In fine, my uncle talked and laughed me out of my first love. Instead of going over to Castle Moirty, I employed myself in fishing, shooting, and other rural sports with my brothers and my brothers-in-law, and occasionally with the major. This sort of life, however, didn't suit my taste, and I began to wish myself once more afloat.
Among the young ladies present at the ball given in honour of my return was a Miss Kathleen O'Brien, to whom I observed my brother Maurice paid the most devoted attention, and I guessed, as I afterwards discovered, that he was over head and ears in love with her. It was not a matter of surprise, considering that she was among the prettiest of the very pretty girls present. As she was an only daughter, and heiress of a very fine estate, my family were highly delighted at the prospect of his winning her; and as he was supposed to be crowned with laurels, had a couple of honourable wounds in his arms, and our family was equal to hers, it was hoped that no impediment would be thrown in the way of their marriage, provided the young lady would accept him. Young ladies in those days in Ireland had a free will of their own, and Maurice acknowledged that he was not certain what way he had made in her affections. My mother and sisters, however, encouraged him, and, considering that there was no young man like him in that part of the country, assured him that he had no cause to fear. Thus it appeared to me that the battle was half won, and I had no doubt, when he set out the next morning, attired in his red military suit, to pay his respects at Castle Blatherbrook, that he would return back an accepted lover. We cheered him as he set forth.
"Good luck go with you," cried Denis. "We will welcome you as an intended Benedict when you come back again. Kathleen's tender heart will never stand that gay coat and clashing sword. Talk of your laurels, Maurice, and tell her how beautiful she will look with a wreath of orange-blossoms across that fair brow of hers."
Maurice, a good-natured fellow, took all our jokes in good humour, and, waving his hand as he put spurs to his steed, galloped off; while Denis and I went to amuse ourselves with our fishing-rods, in hopes of obtaining some variety to our usual fare. On our return we found that Maurice had not come back from his wooing. This was considered a good sign, as it was hoped that he was detained at the castle as an accepted suitor. Our own meal was over, and evening was approaching; still Maurice did not appear. My mother and sisters were very positive that he had won the lady. At length, just as it grew dark, his horse's hoofs were heard clattering up the avenue.
"You must not be disappointed," said the major, as we were all rushing out to welcome him. "Girls are not always to be won by once asking."
Maurice threw his rein to Larry, who had taken up his old office of groom, with what we thought a disconsolate air.
"Well, my dear boy, has she accepted you?"
"Yes, I'm sure she has. She could not have said no," exclaimed my mother, taking him by the hand.
"Faith, then, she has," cried Maurice, "and I ought to be, and fancy I am, the happiest man under the sun. But I am to quit the army, and turn my sword into a ploughshare, and gather oats instead of laurels; and I am not quite certain how I shall take to that sort of life."
We all congratulated him on his good fortune, and assured him that he would soon get accustomed to a domestic state of existence.
After this I had very little of his society, as he rode off every morning to Blatherbrook. He used to look bright and happy enough when he came back, and Denis and I agreed that he was by degrees getting accustomed to the thoughts of his expected change of life. This was very good fun for Maurice, but I began to find it rather dull, and even to wish myself afloat again. However, I wanted to wait for the wedding, which, to my great satisfaction, I found was fixed for an early day. I managed to spend the intermediate time much as before,—fishing or sailing and shooting on the Shannon, with Larry as crew and old Mike O'Hagan as pilot, when we explored not only the banks of the beautiful river, but the various lochs which opened out of it. At last the happy day arrived which was to see my brother united to his lady love. The ceremony was to take place at her father's house, as was the custom of those days among people of rank and fashion. Everything was arranged on a splendid scale. All our neighbours from far and near assembled at Castle Ballinahone, to see the bridal party set off, and to wish us good luck. We had wedding favours down from Dublin, and wedding clothes of resplendent hue, no one just then troubling themselves much as to how they were to be paid for. My sisters were adorned with silks and satins, and looked unusually handsome; but my mother, as became her position, was attired in a costume of silver satin, so that when she put it on the evening before, the light of the lamps made her resemble a moving constellation. My brother, as became his military character, was habited in a scarlet uniform, to which the tailor had added a sufficient amount of gold lace to adorn the coats of half a dozen field-marshals, white satin breeches, silk stockings, and diamond buckles in his shoes, setting him off to great advantage, and we all agreed that a more gallant bridegroom never set forth on a matrimonial expedition. The family coach had been burnished up for the occasion, and was drawn by four of the sleekest steeds in the stable, Larry and the other boys having been employed for many a day previously in currying them down. Dan Bourke was turned into coachman for the occasion, dressed in a magnificent bright blue coat and hat adorned with gold lace. The footboys, Mick Kelly and Tim Daley, were habited in new liveries, of the same colour as Dan's, and stood behind the coach, in which were ensconced my mother, two sisters, and the happy bridegroom. My uncle, disdaining to enter a coach, led the way on horseback, dressed also in full uniform; and amid the shouts and good wishes of the assembled spectators, the family coach set off, those who had horses or vehicles immediately following at a respectful distance. Denis, my two brothers-in-law, and I had a vehicle to ourselves, which it had not been thought necessary to furbish up. It was an old travelling chaise, which had long rested in an out house, covered with dust and cobwebs, and often the roosting-place of poultry. It was drawn by two sorry hacks, and driven by Phil Kearney, the gamekeeper, for so he was called, though there was but little game on the estate to keep, he being our usual attendant on all sporting expeditions; while Larry, dressed in the attire in which he had appeared at our ball, mounted the rumble with his beloved fiddle, all ready, as he said, for setting the heels of the boys and girls going in the kitchen, while their betters were dancing in the hall. Denis and our two brothers-in-law were habited, as became the attendants of the happy bridegroom, in white cloth coats with blue capes, waistcoats and breeches of blue satin, spangled and laced all over, while their heads were adorned with large paste curls, white as snow, and scented with bergamot. I was more modestly attired in a new naval uniform, carefully made from the pattern of my last old one under my uncle's inspection. As we wished to reach Blatherbrook Castle before the rest of the party, we took a short cut across the country, so as to get into another high road, which would lead us directly to our destination. Phil lashed on our steeds, when, with a pull and a jerk, our horses, not being accustomed to work together, dashed forward at a rapid pace over the stones, in a way calculated not only to dislocate our limbs, but to shake the vehicle to pieces, but we held on to the sides, trying to keep it together as best we could.
When we settled to take this route, we forgot that there existed a turnpike on the road, an institution to which Irishmen have a decided objection. The old turnpike-keeper, a discharged soldier, who had only lately been sent there, and was thus unacquainted with any of us, cautiously closed the gate, knowing that travellers often forgot to pull up and pay. We, as loyal subjects of His Majesty, were ready to disburse whatever was demanded of us. I accordingly put my hand in my pocket, but not a coin could I find in it, and, knowing that my brothers-in-law were not over-willing to draw their purse-strings if there was any one else ready to do it, I desired Denis to give the gate-keeper the toll.
"I quite forgot to put any money in my pocket," he observed. "But you can pay him, Daley."
"I have not a stiver," said Daley, feeling first in one pocket, then in the other.
"Well, we must come upon you, Fitz," I said.
"Faith, I left my purse in my other small-clothes," he answered.
"Is there any cash in it?" asked Daley, with a wink.
"Well, but the man must be paid," I said. "I'll tell Phil Kearney," and, looking out of the window, I called to him.
"Sorra a ha'p'orth of coppers there are in my pocket, seeing not a sight of coin have I got from the master this many a day," he answered.
I then turned to Larry, hoping that he might be better off than the rest of us.
"Faith, Mr Terence, it's a long time since I have had a coin to boast of, and if I had that same, I'd not be after chucking it to an old spalpeen for just opening a gate."
Phil at this juncture, observing that the gate was swinging slowly back, lashed on his horses, and attempted to pass through, on which the old soldier seized them by their heads; but Phil, not inclined to be stopped, furiously flourishing his whip, bestowed his lashes, not only on their backs, but on the shoulders of the gate-keeper. Fitzgerald, who was the most peppery of the party, tried to get out to join in the fight, but fortunately could not open the carriage door. Just then the gate-keeper's wife hurried out, and joined her husband in hurling abuse at us.
"I see who you are," she exclaimed, "a party of vagabond stage-players running away from Cork, where you haven't paid your bills, and going to wheedle the people at Limerick out of their money."
"That's true enough, mistress," said Fitzgerald, who had a soft tongue in his head when he chose to use it; "but we're coming back soon, and we'll pay you double for the beating your husband has got, and remember, the next time he deserves it you'll pardon him for our sakes, and it will save you the trouble of giving it to him. It's not to Limerick we're going, but only to Castle Blatherbrook, where we're to play for the entertainment of the wedding guests, for it's Mr Maurice O'Finnahan is to marry Miss Kathleen O'Brien; and Mr O'Brien, the lady's father, will be after paying us well, for he's as rich as Croesus, and we'll bring away a bottle or two of the cratur to comfort your old soul."
As Phil had by this time ceased beating his horses, which stood quietly enough while Fitz was giving this address, the old man let go their heads and came to listen.
"Shure then you look like dacent stage-players, for certain; and as I'm mighty fond of a good tune, now just give us one, and maybe if I like it, I'll let you off this time, and thank you into the bargain," said the old soldier.
"With all the pleasure in the world," answered Fitz. "There's our musician sitting behind the coach, and he'll tune up his fiddle while we tune up our pipes, and just consider what's likely to please you."
Larry, on hearing this, shouted out—
"I'll be after giving you what'll make your old hearts bump right merrily, if it doesn't set your heels agoing," and, putting his riddle to his chin, he began playing one of his merriest airs.
"Arrah now, but that's a brave tune," cried the old woman, beginning to shuffle her feet, though she hadn't much elasticity in her limbs.
"It's a song we're after wanting," cried the gate-keeper; "shure you'll give us a song, gentlemen?"
"Well, you shall have one to begin with, and you shall have a dozen when we come back from the wedding," cried Fitz, and he struck up—
"As beautiful Kitty one morning was tripping With a pitcher of milk from the fair of Coleraine, When she saw me she stumbled, The pitcher it tumbled, And all the sweet buttermilk water'd the plain.
"'Och! what shall I do now? 'Twas looking at you now; Sure, sure, such a pitcher I'll ne'er meet again; 'Twas the pride of my dairy, Och, Barney McCleary, You're sent as a plague to the girls of Coleraine.'"
So Fitz ran on, verse after verse, and tune after tune, till he stopped for want of breath.
Highly delighted, the old pikeman insisted on shaking us all round by the hand, and then, running in, brought us out a glass of whisky each. He was much surprised to find Denis and I declined taking it. Daley, however, prevented his feelings being offended by singing another song. Then Larry gave them a second tune on the fiddle, which pleased him still more, and he set to work with Phil to put to rights the harness, which had been considerably disarranged by the prancing of our steeds.
Then he exclaimed—
"Good luck to you. You'll give us some more tunes when you come back. Off with you now. Success! success!"
Phil lashing on the horses, away we went, laughing heartily at our adventure. We soon arrived at the castle, where we found the guests rapidly assembling. I won't describe the ceremony. My brother and Kathleen O'Brien were indissolubly united. No sooner was it over than every one rushed forward to kiss the blushing bride, and then we all heartily congratulated each other at the happy event. My mother took charge of her new daughter-in-law, who cried a little, but, soon recovering, looked as bright and blooming as any of her fair bridesmaids.
Plum-cake and wine were then handed round, just to stay our appetites till dinner was announced,—a substantial repast, to which all did good justice. Then the ball commenced, the bride leading off the dance. It was kept up, with an interval for a hot supper, until three or four in the morning. It was lucky for me that Nora O'Flaherty, for some reason or other, was not present, or I believe that in spite of my uncle's advice I should have forgotten my poverty and confessed my love. But there's luck in odd numbers, and there were so many charming girls present that my heart was pretty evenly divided among them. The whole of the guests were put up in the house,—and pretty close stowing it was, but no one complained,—and, after a breakfast as substantial as the supper, we set off to return home. We purposely went back by the way we came, and greatly astonished the old pike-keeper by not only paying him his toll, but treble the value of the whisky he had bestowed on us, as well as two or three additional songs. He had by this time discovered who we were, and was profuse in his apologies for the way in which he had behaved. We assured him that he had but done his duty, and as we had chosen to pass for stage-players we could not complain of him for believing us. For a few days things went on much as usual. At last my uncle received a letter from Captain Macnamara, saying that he had not been appointed to a ship himself, but had applied to Lord Robert Altamont, who had just commissioned the Jason at Plymouth, and who had agreed to receive me on board on his recommendation. "Your nephew will meet some of his old shipmates, who, I have no doubt, will be glad to have him among them," he added.
At first I was highly delighted at this news, but when the time came for parting I wished that I had been able to remain longer at home. It appeared to me very unlikely that I should ever see my father again, and the state of our pecuniary affairs was evidently telling on my mother, though my brave uncle was doing his utmost to keep things together. It was settled, of course, that Larry was to accompany me.
"I should like to go with you," said my uncle; "but you're old enough to take care of yourself, and affairs at home require my presence. Two men will, however, attend you, to look after the horses and bring them back."
I will not describe our leave-takings a second time, or my journey to Cork. I found there was a vessel just about to sail for Plymouth, and I therefore secured berths on board her for myself and Larry. Nothing particular occurred during the passage. We dropped anchor in the Catwater at Plymouth five days after leaving Cork. I at once repaired on board the Jason, lying in Hamoaze.
Who should I find walking the deck as first lieutenant but old Rough-and-Ready. He put out his hand and shook mine cordially.
"Glad to have you aboard, my lad," he said. "You see, their Lordships, knowing my value as a first lieutenant, have taken good care not to promote me, lest my peculiar qualities should be lost to the service."
"I should have been glad to have served under you, had you been in command of a corvette, sir," I said; "and I'm very happy to be with you again."
"You'll find two or three old shipmates on board, for Lord Robert, being a friend of Captain Macnamara, applied to him to recommend such officers as he thought well of. He has immense interest, and I hope that we shall all get our promotion when he's done with us, though he'll take very good care it will not be till then."
I begged Mr Saunders to let me go ashore again to procure an outfit, as I had not got one at Cork.
"Have you brought another family chest with you?" he asked.
"No, sir; I'll get one of the proper dimensions this time, knowing the size you approve of," I answered.
On going into the berth, I found, to my infinite satisfaction, my old friends Nettleship and Tom Pim.
"Glad to see you, Paddy," they exclaimed in the same voice, each grasping a hand.
"We heard rumours that you were appointed to the Jason, but could not ascertain the fact for certain," said Nettleship. "Well, here you see me, after all the actions I have taken part in, still an old mate. Lord Robert assures me that he will look after my interests; but he has said the same to everybody else, and will probably tell you so likewise."
Tom Pim accompanied me on shore, and assisted me by his advice in getting the outfit I required, and I took care to choose the smallest chest I could find, that there might be no risk of its being cut down. In the evening Nettleship joined us, and we accompanied him to pay his respects to his mother and sister. I was more than ever struck by the sedate manner of the young lady, after having been so lately accustomed to those of Irish girls. Though Miss Nettleship was very pretty, I didn't lose my heart to her. Tom Pim, however, seemed to admire her greatly, though it was impossible to judge of how her feelings were affected towards him. We spent a very pleasant evening, and I took greatly to Mrs Nettleship, who seemed to me to be a very kind and sensible old lady. We had to return on board at night, to be ready for duty the next morning, for the frigate was now being rapidly fitted out Old Rough-and-Ready was in his true element, with a marline-spike hung round his neck, directing everywhere, and working away with his own hands. He made us do the same.
"We don't want dainty young gentlemen on board," he said, "but fellows who are not afraid of the tar-bucket."
Though not pleasant, this was useful, and I learned a good many things which I had before not known perfectly. The ship was completely fitted for sea before Lord Robert Altamont made his appearance on board. We all turned out in full fig to receive him as he came up the side. He had sent down a pattern of the dress he wished his crew to wear, and the men as they joined had to put it on. It consisted of a blue jacket, a red waistcoat, white or blue trousers, slippers of white leather, and a hat with the ship's name in gold letters under a crown and anchor. All the men wore pigtails, to the arrangement of which they devoted a considerable portion of Sunday morning. They might then be seen in groups, combing and brushing each other's hair, which hung down very long behind, and then tying up the tails with a bit of blue cotton tape. The captain was a young man, tall and slight, with a very effeminate air, and as unlike his first lieutenant as he well could be. Still his countenance was not bad, and he smiled in a pleasant way as he returned our salutes.
"Very well done, Mr Saunders," he said, looking aloft, and then glancing round the deck. "You have got the ship into good order, and I hope to find the crew in the same satisfactory state. If not, we must take measures to make them so. Though it's peace time, we must maintain the discipline of the service."
After a few more remarks he retired to his cabin, where he had ordered dinner to be prepared. He now sent to invite the first and second lieutenants, the lieutenant of marines, the doctor, and three of the young gentlemen, to dine with him. Such an invitation was like a royal command. Nettleship and I, with Dick Larcom, who had just joined the frigate, and who was a protege of the captain, were the favoured ones. The repast was sumptuous in my eyes, and unlike anything I had seen before. Lord Robert was all courtesy and kindness. He inquired of each of us what service we had seen, and particulars about our family history.
"My father was a lieutenant, killed in action, and my mother lives in a cottage near Plymouth," answered Nettleship.
"And I came in at the hawse-holes, and worked my way up. I have been in ten general actions, and five-and-twenty engagements with single ships, or cutting-out expeditions in boats," said Mr Saunders. "Here I am a first lieutenant; and a first lieutenant I suppose I shall remain until I'm too old to keep at sea, when perhaps I shall be rewarded with my master's and commander's commission."
"Long before that period arrives, I hope," said Lord Robert, smiling blandly. "I trust before many years are over to see you posted to a ship like this."
I answered his lordship's questions with all due modesty, and he seemed well pleased at hearing about my family. His lordship happened to look at Dicky Larcom, who, supposing that he had to give an account of himself, said—
"I haven't done anything yet, Lord Robert, because I have only been two days in the navy; but I intend to do as much as Admiral Benbow, Lord Rodney, or Sir Samuel Hood, if I have the chance."
"No doubt about it, youngster," said his lordship, laughing. "While I think of it, I wish two of you young gentlemen to breakfast with me every morning. I wish you all to learn manners, in which I find occasionally a great deficiency among the junior officers of the service. I'll say nothing about their seniors. You'll let it be known in the berth, Finnahan. You can all come in rotation."
"Thank you, my lord," I answered, for I found that he always liked to be thus addressed.
The announcement did not afford as much pleasure as I had expected. The oldsters voted it a great bore, though Dicky Larcom and the other youngsters looked upon the invitation as an especial honour, and anticipated the good breakfasts they were to enjoy several times a week.
Where we were to be sent to was now the question, for as yet that important information had not transpired. The bumboat-woman, the great authority as far as midshipmen were concerned, could not enlighten us, though some of the more knowing expressed an opinion that we should be attached to the Channel squadron, which, in other words, meant that Lord Robert intended to remain in harbour as much as possible, to save himself from the perils and discomforts he might be exposed to at sea.
We waited day after day, while the captain, it was understood, was transacting important business on shore, though it was shrewdly suspected that he was amusing himself as he thought fit. At length he received a peremptory order to proceed to sea. When he came on board, he complained to old Rough-and-Ready of the hardships to which he was subjected.
"Don't you think, Mr Saunders, that it's a shame that men of rank like myself should be at the beck and call of such old fogies as my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty?" he exclaimed. "I have had positively to give up Lady Seacombe's ball on the 15th. Putting my own feelings aside, there will be several sweet girls who will be bitterly disappointed."
"I don't know anything about balls, except round shot and musket-balls," answered the first lieutenant. "For my part, if I'm asked the use of a ship-of-war, I should say that it is to be afloat, looking after the interests of the country. I don't know, however, since the Government have thought fit to shake hands with the French and Spaniards, and to knock under to the Yankees, what we have got to do; only I do know that we shall never get the ship into a proper state of discipline till we're at sea, and can exercise the men at their guns, reefing and shortening sail."
"Oh, yes, to be sure! that's a very proper matter for you to think about, Mr Saunders," said the captain; "but for my part, I esteem that sort of thing as a great bore. However, understand that I want you to do whatever you consider right and proper."
"Thank you, my lord. If you leave the matter to me, I'll do my best to make the ship's company the smartest in the service," answered the first lieutenant.
"Well, I'm much obliged to you, and will support you to the best of my ability," said the captain.
I overheard this conversation; indeed, his lordship was not at all particular as to what he said, or as to who was present when he expressed his opinions.
That afternoon, the wind being fair, we went out of harbour, and by dark were well to the south-west of the Eddystone. As Lord Robert said he preferred having plenty of sea-room, we at once steered out into the Atlantic.
"We may thus, you see, Mr Saunders, be able to get a fair breeze from whatever quarter the wind blows, which is far better than having to batter away against a head-wind, and make ourselves uncomfortable. I wrote some lines on the subject:—
"We're rovers where'er rolls the fetterless sea, For the boundless blue ocean was made for the free.
"They are fine, are they not? Shall I go on with them?"
"They may be, my lord, but I'm no judge of pottery," answered Mr Saunders; "indeed, I never read a line in my life, except some old sea-songs. And as to being free, we should soon get the ship into a pretty state of disorder if the men were to get that notion into their heads; they may not be slaves, but they must do what they're ordered, and pretty smartly too, or look out for squalls, I've a notion. That's what we must do at present.—All hands, shorten sail!" he shouted. "Be smart about it, lads."
Lord Robert put his paper into his pocket, and threw himself into an attitude of command, while he glanced up at the straining canvas, and Mr Saunders shouted the necessary orders, which he did not receive from the captain.
The hands flew aloft. My station was in the main-top, to which I quickly ran up. Royals and topgallant sails were speedily taken in, two reefs in the topsails, the yards were squared, and we ran off before the fast-rising gale. We pitched and rolled pretty considerably as it was; it would have been much worse if we had been close-hauled. As the gale was from the northward, we ran south all the night.
In the morning it was my turn, with Dicky Larcom, to breakfast with the captain, which, according to his lordship's orders, the young gentlemen in the berth had taken their turns to do with considerable, regularity. We had to dress in our best, and at the appointed hour we made our appearance at the cabin door.
The captain treated us with his usual urbanity. We took our seats, and had got through some slices of ham and toast, when Lord Robert told us to help ourselves to coffee. As the ship was rolling and pitching, I, knowing what might happen if I filled my cup, poured out only a small quantity. Poor Dicky, not aware of the necessity of taking the same precaution, filled his to the brim; when, just as he was about to lift it to his lips, out flew the contents over the fine blue damask table-cloth. On this Lord Robert jumped up, his countenance exhibiting anything but an amiable expression, and, seizing poor Dicky by the collar, he gave him a kick which sent him flying to the cabin door, with an expression which sounded very unlike a blessing, exclaiming—
"Who is to wash breakfast-cloths for such a young powder-monkey as you? Remember that in future you only breakfast with me once a month." Then turning to me, he said in a gentle tone, "You see, Finnahan, I must maintain discipline."
I of course said nothing, but bolted the remainder of my breakfast as fast as I could, thinking it prudent to take my leave, lest his lordship should, with or without reason, find fault with anything I might do, and treat me in the same way.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
A MIDDY FLOGGED.
On returning to the berth, I found poor Dicky blubbering, and looking very melancholy.
"It was not the loss of my breakfast, for I don't care if I never have another with him, but it was the indignity with which I was treated," he exclaimed. At this most of our messmates laughed.
"Indignity, do you call it, Dicky, to be kicked by a lord? It's a high honour," said old Grumpus, who had joined us just before we sailed, and did duty as mate of the lower deck. "Look out, youngster, that you don't get treated with greater indignity before long. I took the skipper's measure the day I first set eyes on him. With all his mincing manners and fine talk, depend upon it he'll prove a Tartar at bottom."
Besides Dicky, another youngster had come to sea for the first time, and was related, it was supposed, to the captain. Alfred de Lisle was somewhat older than Dicky Larcom, and a refined, nice fellow. I took a great liking to him, though he had his faults. He was excessively indignant when he heard how Dicky had been treated.
"It's a great shame. I wouldn't stand it," he exclaimed. "If he treats me in the same way, I'll leave the ship and go home."
"Bravo, youngster," cried Grumpus, backing him up. "There'll be one less in the service to be placed over my head one of these days, and so I approve of your resolution; only just stick to it. When the captain next orders you to do anything you don't like, just let it alone. Don't say you won't, or you'll be guilty of mutiny."
De Lisle took what Grumpus said in downright earnest, though I didn't fancy he would have done so, or I should have given him better counsel.
As the gale increased, the captain, as we heard, sent for the first lieutenant, and said he should like to bear up for the Cove of Cork or Plymouth Sound.
"There's just one objection to our doing that," observed old Rough-and-Ready. "You see, my lord, they happen to be right away to windward, and we can no more get there until the wind shifts, than we can reach the moon. We'll heave the ship to, if your lordship pleases, and she'll be so much nearer Portsmouth than if we run on as we're doing."
"Oh, pray heave to; it is the best thing we can do under the circumstances," answered his lordship.
The hands were accordingly turned up, and the ship brought to the wind at the risk of carrying away some of our bulwarks and boats. We thus rode, hove-to, for a couple of days, when, the gale moderating, we were able to make sail, and steer for the Channel.
As soon as the weather was fine enough, old Rough-and-Ready, according to promise, kept all hands exercising at the guns and shortening and reefing sails for hours together. He was in no hurry to get into port again, as he wanted before then to have a smart ship's company.
This evidently gave the captain great satisfaction, for he knew he would gain the credit, and he was not above wishing that for himself, if it could be obtained without too much trouble. He had come on deck with his arms akimbo to give his orders, in a voice very different from that in which he spoke when in his cabin or ashore, introducing as many expletives and adjurations as the boatswain himself could have done. No sooner had the sails been again loosed, and tacks and sheets hauled down, than he sang out once more—
"Shorten sail. If you're not smart enough about it, I'll flog the last man in off the yards."
The midshipmen had to furl the mizzen-topsail. We consequently flew aloft with the rest. De Lisle, though active enough in general, didn't at all like this, and chose to take his time about it. He was consequently the last on deck. The captain had marked several of the men for punishment, which they got the next morning, and took it as a matter of course. The captain, however, said nothing to De Lisle, who did not dream, therefore, that he would carry out his threats. He was in the morning watch the next day, and had to turn out at eight bells to assist in holy-stoning and washing down decks. This was always done under the supervision of the first lieutenant, who appeared on such occasions in an old sou'-wester, a jacket patched and darned, a comforter round his throat, and a pair of blue trousers tucked up at the knee, without shoes or stockings. The midshipmen had also to go about with bare feet, as of course had the men. They, with buckets in hand, were dashing the water over the decks to carry off the sand through the scuppers, and then they had to dry the decks with huge swabs, which they swung about, now bringing them down on one side, now on another, with loud flops. When old Rough-and-Ready's eye was off them, all sorts of larks would take place. One would heave a bucket of water over a messmate, the other would return it with interest, and a battle royal would ensue, till every one was soused through. Then one fellow would bring his swab across the back of another, and a swab fight would generally follow, till the first lieutenant would turn round and call them to order.
De Lisle on this morning had not made his appearance. At length Rough-and-Ready, recollecting him, sent below. He came up dressed in full uniform.
"What are you after?" exclaimed the first lieutenant staring at him. "Turn to at once, and attend to your duty."
"I don't consider it my duty, sir, to engage in such dirty work as washing down decks; I should spoil my dress if I did," answered De Lisle.
"What I order you is your duty; and if I tell you to put your hands in the tar-bucket and black down the rigging, you'll have to do it," said the first lieutenant, for once in a way growing angry.
"I'll go and change my clothes, then, sir," said De Lisle.
He was so long about this that when he came on deck the operations were concluded, and the men were flemishing down the ropes. Rough-and-Ready said nothing at the time, and De Lisle attended to his duty as usual. Before noon, however, the captain sent for several of us youngsters into the cabin. Though I had been so long at sea I was still considered a youngster. The master-at-arms was standing with a small cat in his hand, a weapon of punishment capable of inflicting a considerable amount of pain, but not of so formidable a character as the large cat used on delinquents among the crew. By the captain's side stood his clerk, with a printed document in his hand.
"Read the Articles of War," said the captain, "and do you youngsters listen."
When he came to the part referring to obedience to the orders of superior officers, he looked at De Lisle, and exclaimed in a thundering voice—
"Do you hear that, youngster? Prepare to receive the punishment you merit for disobedience to orders."
On the port side was a gun which Lord Robert had chosen to have painted green, carriage and all, to make it harmonise with the furniture.
"Strip," he said.
De Lisle, trembling, seemed disinclined to obey; but the master-at-arms seized him, and quickly had his jacket off, and his back exposed. He then, in spite of the boy's struggles, secured him to the gun.
"Give him half-a-dozen lashes," said the captain.
The cat descended till the blood came.
"I'll tell my father and mother," sang out poor De Lisle in his agony.
"Two more for that," cried the captain.
"Oh! could my brothers and sisters see my disgrace!" cried out poor De Lisle, scarcely knowing what he said.
"Two more for that," shouted Lord Robert.
Again the cat descended. He thus got ten instead of six lashes. He did not again speak. Overcome by his feelings rather than by the pain, he had fainted. The captain sent for the doctor, who soon brought him to, when he was led off to the surgery to have his wounds attended to.
"That's a lesson for you all, young gentlemen," said Lord Robert in a subdued tone, differing greatly from that which he had lately used. "I'm determined to maintain discipline aboard my ship; and you'll understand that though I wish to treat you all with consideration, I will certainly punish any disobedience to orders."
We looked at each other, and then at the captain, and, supposing that we were not required to stay longer, I led the way out of the cabin, followed by the rest, my feelings boiling over with indignation, for I had never before seen a midshipman flogged. Still I could not but acknowledge that De Lisle merited punishment, and he confessed as much to me afterwards, though he did not expect to receive it in that fashion. He harboured no ill-will towards the captain in consequence, and became far smarter than he had ever been before in attending to his duties. The lesson was not thrown away on any of us, and we took good care not to run the risk of incurring the captain's displeasure. Notwithstanding the captain's effeminate looks and manners, he managed to gain the respect of the men, who liked to have a lord to rule over them, though they knew well enough that it was old Rough-and-Ready who had got the ship into such prime order; and for him they would have gone through fire and water, though they might not have wished to have him in supreme command. The captain having abundance of stores on board, our cruise continued for a longer period than we had expected, and we in the midshipmen's berth had run short of all our luxuries, and were condemned to exist on salt junk and hard biscuits. This gave old Grumpus, Nettleship, and other oldsters the opportunity of grumbling, which made them, as Tom said, perfectly happy. We enjoyed, however, an occasional blow-out, when we breakfasted or dined with the captain. We were beginning to wish, however, that another war would break out, or that we might return into port and have a spree on shore.
Besides making and shortening sail, we were constantly exercised at the guns, as well as the small arms. Our chief employment was firing at a cask with a flag at the top of it, in doing which we expended as much powder and shot as would have enabled us to fight a couple of pitched battles; but it made the men expert gunners, and would have enabled them, as old Rough-and-Ready observed, to take an enemy's frigate in half the time they would otherwise have done.
At length we sighted the coast of Ireland, and, with a westerly breeze, stood up Channel under all sail. We expected to put into Plymouth, and Nettleship invited Tom and me to come and pay his mother and sister a visit, but, to our disappointment, we found the ship passing the Eddystone, and heard that we were to go on to Portsmouth, where the captain had his reasons for wishing to remain, namely, that he might be so much the nearer to London. On a fine bright morning we stood in through the Needles, and steered for Spithead, where the fleet was lying at anchor. We carried on in fine style as we stood up the Solent, between the Isle of Wight and the mainland, exciting the admiration of all beholders on shore.
"Now, my lads, let's show the admiral how smartly we can shorten sail and bring the ship to an anchor," said the captain, who appeared in full fig on deck.
We were all on the alert, and the moment "Away aloft!" reached our ears we flew up the rigging. The boatswain's pipe sounded shrill, the topsails came down smartly with a loud whirr. The ship was rounded to, the men lay out on the yards and briskly handed the canvas, and the anchor was let go, a short distance from the flag-ship. Directly afterwards a signal was made for Lord Robert to go aboard her. I had the honour of accompanying him. The boats were newly painted, the men wearing white trousers and shirts, the oars without a speck; and in good style we dashed alongside.
The admiral received Lord Robert on the quarter-deck, and desired to compliment him on the splendid way in which he had brought his ship to an anchor. Lord Robert bowed, and, with a self-satisfied smile, replied he was glad to find that his efforts to bring his crew into a state of good discipline met with approval, and his only regret was that, it being peace time, he was unable to bring in a prize in tow, which, as he pleasantly observed, he should otherwise without doubt have done.
I thought that he might possibly refer to the assistance he had received from old Rough-and-Ready, but not a word escaped his lips to allow the admiral to suppose that all was not due to his own admirable system. He then hinted that the ship had been in some heavy weather, and that it might be necessary to go into harbour, to have her damages made good. The admiral made no objection, and we accordingly, the next morning, got under weigh, and stood in to Portsmouth harbour, where we brought up some distance from the dockyard. We found two or three other frigates lying there, and several sloops-of-war and corvettes and brigs.
We had not been there long before our captain received invitations from the residents in the neighbourhood, who had known him as a lieutenant and commander, and were accustomed to make much of him. He was acquainted with most of the captains of the other ships, and they were constantly dining on shore in each other's company. They had all been invited to dinner at the house of a baronet some miles out of Portsmouth, and their boats were ordered to be in waiting for them at about half-an-hour after midnight. All the commanders and most of the post-captains were young men, full of life and spirits, two or three of them noted for their harum-scarum qualities.
I had been sent to bring off Lord Robert, and a midshipman was in each of the other boats belonging to the different ships. We waited and waited for our respective captains, sitting in the stern-sheets wrapped in our thick cloaks, afraid to go ashore lest our men should take the opportunity of slipping off into one of the public-houses on the Common Hard, standing temptingly open.
At last we heard the voices of a party of revellers coming along, and I recognised among them that of my captain, who seemed to be in an especially jovial mood.
In those days there stood on the Hard a sentry-box, furnished with a seat inside, on which the sentry was accustomed to sit down to rest his legs between his turns.
Presently I heard Lord Robert sing out—
"Hillo! where's the sentry?"
He and the other captains then gathered round the box. The sentry was fast asleep. They shouted to him. He made no reply. There was a good deal of laughing and talking. Then they called several of the men, and in another minute they brought the sentry-box, with the sentry in it still fast asleep—or rather dead drunk—down to the boats. Securing two together, the sentry-box was placed across them, and, the order being given, we shoved off. Instead, however, of returning to our ships, we made our way across the harbour to the Gosport side, when the sentry-box was safely landed, and placed with the sentry, his head fortunately uppermost, and his musket by his side, on the beach.
We then left him, the boats casting off from each other amidst shouts of laughter, and we pulled back to the Jason. The captain didn't say much, for the best of reasons, he was not very well able to use his tongue, but rubbed his hands, chuckling at the thoughts of what he had done. I helped him up the side, and assisted him to his cabin.
I believe most of the other captains were also, as he was, three sheets in the wind, or they probably would not have engaged in the proceeding.
Next morning, soon after daybreak, Nettleship and I were sent ashore by the first lieutenant to look out for three men who had not come off on the previous evening, and who, it was supposed, might have deserted.
"Something like looking for a needle in a bundle of hay," said Nettleship, as we pulled towards the Hard. "The chances are we shall find them drunk in some house or other, or perhaps in the gutter with black eyes and broken heads. It's not pleasant work, but it must be done."
I said nothing about the condition in which the captains had come off the previous evening, but I thought to myself if captains set such an example, no wonder if the men follow it in their own fashion.
On landing we found an unusual number of people on the Hard for that early hour, while parties of soldiers, headed by sergeants, were passing at the double-quick march. We inquired of one of the men we met what had happened. He said that on the relief coming to the spot where the sentry-box had stood, and finding neither box nor sentry, they had been seized with alarm. The captain of the guard had immediately reported the circumstance to the fort major, and, forgetting that peace had been established, he roundly asserted that the French squadron was at Spithead, that the Isle of Wight had been captured, and that Portsmouth would be attacked. The whole garrison was aroused, and the telegraphs on the hills set to work to communicate the intelligence far and wide. As I was the only person in the boat who knew what had actually occurred, I thought it prudent to hold my tongue and let things take their course. Nettleship and I therefore proceeded in search of the men, and before long found them, much in the condition we had expected, though sufficiently recovered to walk. Helped along by their shipmates, we got them down to the boats. The excitement was still at its height, when, just as we were shoving off, a boat arrived from the Gosport side, with the astounding intelligence that the missing sentry-box, with the sentry in it, was standing upright on the beach. Immediately a number of boats, one of which contained the captain of the guard and several other officials, pulled across to investigate the matter.
"We may as well go to see the fun," said Nettleship; "the first lieutenant won't find fault with us when I explain the object."
Away we pulled with the rest, and lay off the beach, while Captain Bouncer and his party landed.
The sentry, who was standing in his box, stepped out, and saluted in due form.
"How did you get here, my man?" inquired Captain Bouncer in an angry tone.
"Faith, captain, that's more than I can be after telling you," answered the sentry, whom I recognised as a countryman.
"You don't mean to tell me that you don't know how you and your sentry-box were transported across the harbour in the middle of the night!" exclaimed Captain Bouncer.
"That's just what I'm saying I can't do, captain dear," replied the sentry.
"You must have been drunk as a fiddler," shouted the captain.
"I can swear, your honour, by all the holy saints, that I was sober as a judge," answered Pat. "Shure it's my belief I was lifted up by a couple of witches riding on broomsticks, and carried across without so much as wetting my feet, for my boots are as dry as if they had been roasting before the fire."
"If witches carried the man across, they must be hunted up and punished," cried one of the bystanders.
"Witches be hanged!" exclaimed the captain; "the man must give a better account than that of the way he came across."
"Then, captain, if it was not witches, it must have been a score of will-o'-the-wisps, who just upset the sentry-box and towed it across the harbour while I was sitting quiet, not dreaming of what was happening, and only just looking up at the stars shining brightly above me," said Pat in a wheedling tone.
"You must have been asleep, at all events, or you would have discovered that your box was being moved," said the captain.
"Asleep is it, your honour!" exclaimed the sentry; "shure Pat Donovan, and that's myself, never went to sleep on guard since he listed in His Majesty's army."