"Whether the sentry was drunk or asleep, whether transported across by witches or imps, we must have the sentry-box back again," said Captain Bouncer, and he gave orders to have it lifted into a boat. This was found, from its weight, not to be an easy matter, confirming the people in their belief that the sentry had been carried across as he stated, for if heavy when empty, it must have been much heavier with him in it.
Poor Pat meantime was placed under arrest, and carried away to be further examined by the town major, and dealt with as might seem expedient, while we pulled back to our ship. There were many among the crowd who believed that Pat Donovan, of her Majesty's 3—-th regiment, had been spirited across Portsmouth harbour by a couple of witches riding on broomsticks, though where they were to be found was more than one could say. We heard afterwards that a dozen old women had been seized and accused of the crime, and that had it not been for the interference of certain naval officers, whose names were not mentioned, they would have been subjected to the ordeal of being ducked in the harbour, or tossed in a blanket. It was reported that our captain had seen what he took to be a sentry-box floating across the harbour on the night in question, and he could swear that no such agency as was reported had been employed. Whatever the educated might have believed, the lower classes were still forcibly impressed with the idea that the sentry-box and sentry had been carried across by witches; but on board ship the real state of the case was soon known, and the men, who kept the secret, chuckled over the credulity of their friends on shore.
Portsmouth had become very dull, I was told, since the war was over, and we certainly at times found a difficulty in knowing how to pass our time. Our captain occasionally posted up to London, but, having no business there, received a hint from the Admiralty that he must remain on board his ship, and therefore had to post down again as fast as he could. He consoled himself by spending nearly all the day on shore, generally at the houses of people in the neighbourhood. He had one evening gone to dine at a house situated some way in the country, on the Gosport side, and he had ordered his boat to be waiting for him at the nearest landing-place to it, punctually at ten o'clock. As he had a picked crew, not likely to desert, no midshipman went in the boat. As it happened, the doctor, the second lieutenant, and the lieutenant of marines had been invited to spend the evening close to Gosport, and I was ordered to go and bring them off at half-past ten, not far from the place where the captain had intended to embark. When I got in I found his boat still there. The men had been talking and laughing, and had evidently managed to get some liquor on board. They did not see me, and as I was afraid that they might send over some to my men, I kept my boat as far off as I could get.
Presently the steward came down, and told the coxswain that his lordship had made up his mind to stay on shore, and that the boat was to return to the ship. Just then, however, I saw an animal of some sort, but what it was I could not distinguish through the gloom of night, come close down to the water. A couple of the men instantly jumped ashore, and, catching hold of it, lifted it into the boat, laughing and chuckling loudly. I had a short time longer to wait before the officers came down.
Of course I said nothing of what I had seen. We pulled alongside the frigate, the boats were hoisted up, and my watch being over, I turned in to my hammock. I had not been long asleep when my ears were saluted by the most unearthly sounds, so it seemed to me, that ever broke the stillness of night. A universal panic seemed to be prevailing. Men were rushing up on deck, shouting out that Old Nick himself had gained possession of the ship, some carrying their clothes with them, but others only in their shirts, leaving in their terror everything else behind.
The alarm which had begun forward extended aft; the marines, headed by their sergeant and corporal,—though the sentries still remained at their posts,—ever mindful of their duty, and ready to do battle with foes human or infernal. I and the other midshipmen, thus awakened from our sleep by the fearful sounds, jumped out of our hammocks, and began dressing as fast as we could. It was not until I was half-way up the ladder, and still not quite awake, that I recollected the occurrence at the landing-place. Again the sounds which had alarmed us came forth from the lower depths of the ship. Many of the men in their terror seemed inclined to jump overboard.
Before long, however, old Rough-and-Ready came hurrying on deck, with his small-clothes over his arm and night-cap on head; his voice rang out above the uproar, inquiring what was the matter. The drum beat to quarters, the boatswain's whistle sounded shrilly, piping all hands on deck, though the greater number were there already. No one answered the first lieutenant's question.
Again the sound was heard. The men who were at their stations seemed inclined to desert them, when it struck me that only one animal in existence could make that fearful noise, and as matters were getting serious, I went up to the first lieutenant and said—
"I fancy, sir, that it's a donkey's bray."
"Of course it is," exclaimed Mr Saunders. "How in the name of wonder came a donkey on board the ship?"
I thought it prudent not to reply; and the second lieutenant and other officers who had come off with me of course said that they knew nothing about it.
The first lieutenant, having now got into his breeches, calling the mate of the lower deck, the master-at-arms, and others, to bring lanterns, descended to the fore-hold. None of the men, however, except those who were summoned, appeared inclined to follow them. I, however, expecting to have my suspicions verified, went forward with Tom Pim. We heard old Rough-and-Ready shouting out for a tackle, and in another minute up came an unfortunate donkey. The poor brute, having fallen into the hold, had given expression to its dissatisfaction by the sounds which had driven the ship's company well-nigh out of their wits.
How the donkey had come on board was still to be discovered. My boat's crew knew nothing about the matter; and it was surprising that the captain's crew, including the coxswain, were equally unable to account for the mysterious occurrence. As they had been engaged in transporting the sentry-box across the harbour, it was just possible that they might have taken it into their heads to imitate the example of their superiors, and play a trick on their own account.
Whatever the first lieutenant might have thought on the subject, he took no steps in the matter, but awaited the return of the captain. The first thing the next morning, however, he sent the poor donkey ashore.
Late in the afternoon Lord Robert came on board, and received due information of what had occurred. Perhaps he might have suspected how the donkey had entered the ship; at the same time it is possible that his conscience may have smote him for having set the example of practical joking. At all events, he made no strenuous attempts to discover the culprits. The next day he issued an order that, even if his satanic majesty and a thousand of his imps should come aboard, the men were not to turn out of their hammocks till piped up by the boatswain.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.
A TRIP TO LONDON.
While we lay in harbour, three ships of Sir Edward Hughes' squadron from the East Indies came home and were paid off, the crew not only receiving their pay, but large sums for prize-money. Scarcely had they dropped their anchors than the ships were boarded by hundreds of harpies in all shapes, eager to fleece the crew,—or rather, to win their confidence, in order to fleece them as soon as they had received their hard-earned wages. Pinchbeck watches, copper chains which passed for gold, huge rings for the fingers and ears, trinkets of all sorts, and cutlery made of tin, were pressed upon Jack as loans, to be paid for as soon as he landed; and the moment he got his pay, no time was lost in commencing the operation of fleecing him. Some sturdy fellows, who had been played that trick often before, attempted to resist the importunities of their pretended friends, and kept their hands in their pockets, turning scornful glances on either side, as they rolled along; but most of them, unless they could resist the grog-shop, were very soon doomed to fall into more warily-laid traps.
Tom and I were on shore the day the Hero was paid off, one of the ships which had so often encountered the squadron of the French Admiral de Soufryen. The whole of Portsmouth was in an uproar. We met dozens of stout fellows rolling along, with massive chains hung from their fobs, rings on their fingers, their heads adorned with lovelocks, pigtails, and earrings, with female companions hung on to each of their arms, rolling and shouting as they went, paying no respect to anybody out of uniform, in the height of good humour as long as they could have their way, but evidently ready to quarrel with any one whom they might fancy wished to interfere with them.
At the door of one of the principal inns we found a couple of coaches, with four horses each, prepared for starting, and surrounded by some twenty or thirty seamen. Some quickly clambered up on the roof and into the front seats, and others behind; those who had climbed outside shouting out that the ship would be top-heavy if the rest did not stow themselves away below, the last half-dozen or so got inside.
"Drive on, coachee," cried one of the men in front; "let's see how fast your craft can move along."
The coachman smacked his whip, and off galloped the horses, the men cheering and waving their hats at the same time, and throwing showers of silver among the boys in the street, who had gathered to look on, and who were soon engaged in a pretty scrimmage to pick up the coins thus profusely bestowed on them. Tom and I could with difficulty refrain from joining in the scramble.
The junior officers were at a paying-off dinner at the "Blue Posts," to which Tom and I, and Nettleship, who afterwards joined us, were invited. The wine of course flowed freely. Before the feast was over, the larger number of the party scarcely knew what they were about.
At last it was proposed that we should sally forth, and out we went, arm-in-arm, in good humour with ourselves, and ready for anything that might turn up. One of the party commenced a sea-song, in the chorus of which we all joined at the top of our voices, awaking the sleeping inhabitants, who, however, were not unaccustomed to such interruptions to their slumbers. We were becoming more and more uproarious, when we encountered a party of watchmen in greatcoats, carrying lanterns and rattles. Having been lately reprimanded for allowing disturbances in the streets, they took it into their heads to disperse us, telling us in no very courteous manner to return on board our ships. They were received with shouts of laughter, and, as they still persisted in interfering, our leader cried out—
"Charge them, lads."
At the word we rushed forward, scattering the old gentlemen right and left.
"Chase them, boys! chase them!" cried our leader.
As they went up one street, and then down another, this was no easy matter, and we became quickly dispersed.
"I say, Paddy, this sort of thing doesn't do," said Tom. "It may be all very well for those fellows who are paid off, and are going home, but we shall be getting into a row before long, and it would look foolish to return on board with broken heads and black eyes."
Just then we met Nettleship, who had been looking for us, and who, being perfectly sober, fully agreed with Tom. We accordingly directed our course to the Point, where we knew we should find a boat to take us off.
Just as we were turning out of the High Street, however, we encountered three of the guardians of the night who had been assailed by our party. They instantly accused us of attacking them, and I fully expected that we should be carried off into durance vile.
"How dare you say anything of that sort?" said Nettleship. "We belong to the Jason, Lord Robert Altamont, and his lordship will take very good care to bring you to justice should you venture to detain us. Make way there. Let us pass."
The watchmen were overawed by his manner, and we walked steadily on. Seeing that we were perfectly sober, they supposed that we did not belong to the party, as they had at first fancied, and we reached the water's edge without further interruption.
"You see the dangerous consequences of being in bad company," observed Nettleship. "We might have been kept locked up all night, and had our leave stopped for a month when we returned on board."
"But you joined us," said Tom.
"I know I did," said Nettleship, "and I am more to blame than you are, in consequence of setting you so bad an example; but that does not prevent me from reading you a lecture. It's easier to preach than to practise."
"You are right, I see," said Tom; "and I am very glad we haven't lost our senses, as most of the other fellows have done."
We roused up a waterman who was sleeping in the bottom of his boat, and got on board the frigate in time to keep the middle watch.
Lord Robert Altamont being fond of amusing himself on shore, was willing to allow his officers the same liberty, provided a sufficient number remained on board to maintain the discipline of the ship, for which he was at all times a great stickler.
"You have never been in London, Paddy," said Nettleship to me one day. "I have some business that calls me up there. It's a legal affair, and if I am successful it will add some fifty pounds or more a year to my mother's income. I have obtained leave, and if you like to accompany me, I'll ask leave for you to go, and promise to take charge of you."
It was not likely that I should refuse such an offer, and, leave being obtained, we set off by the coach as Nettleship intended. We had inside places, for there was only room outside for four persons besides the coachman, and on the hinder part, on a little box of his own, sat the guard, arrayed in a scarlet coat, a three-cornered hat, a brace of pistols in his belt, a hanger by his side suspended by a sash over his shoulder, while a couple of blunderbusses were stuck into cases on either side of him ready to his hand.
"Why does the man carry all these arms?" Tasked.
"If he didn't, the chances are that the coach, when passing over Hounslow Heath, would be attacked by highwaymen or footpads, and the passengers robbed, if not murdered," answered Nettleship. "As it is, occasionally some bold fellows stop the coach and cry, 'Your money or your lives,' and the guard is either shot down or thinks it wise not to interfere, and the passengers have to deliver up their purses."
"I hope that sort of thing won't happen to us," I said.
"When they look in and see two naval officers, with a brace of pistols and swords by their sides, the highwaymen will probably ride on. They are generally, I fancy, arrant cowards, and prefer pillaging old dowagers, who are likely to afford good booty without any risk," said Nettleship.
Notwithstanding Nettleship's assertions, I half expected to be stopped, but we reached London in safety. When he had time Nettleship accompanied me about to see the sights, but when he was engaged I had to go out by myself, and consequently very often lost my way. I always, however, managed to get back to our lodgings without having to obtain a guide. I will not here describe the adventures I met with. As, according to Nettleship's advice, I looked upon every one who spoke to me as a rogue, I escaped being fleeced, as some of my shipmates were who ventured into the metropolis by themselves. Our leave had nearly expired, and we had to be down at Portsmouth the following evening. When we went to the coach office to secure our places, we were told that the whole coach had been engaged, it was supposed by a gentleman who was going to take down his family.
"But we must go," said Nettleship to me, "even if we travel in the boot, for I've not got money enough left to pay for posting, and I should not like to expend it so even if I had."
We waited until the coach drove up to the office, expecting to see a dignified gentleman with his wife and daughters inside, and his sons and servants on the outside. What was our surprise, then, to behold only a jovial Jack Tar, with his arms akimbo, seated on the roof, looking as dignified and independent as the Sultan on his throne.
"Come, there's plenty of room," I said to Nettleship. "No one else seems to be coming; the gentleman who took the coach has probably delayed his journey."
Nettleship put the question to the coachman.
"There's the gentleman who's taken the coach," he replied, pointing with his thumb over his shoulder. "He says it's his, and that no one else is to ride, inside or out. He has paid his money, and we can't interfere."
All this time Jack was regarding us with supercilious glances. I felt very indignant, and proposed opening the door and getting inside, whatever the seaman might say, but the doors were locked, and the shutters drawn up.
"That will never do," observed Nettleship. "Let me tackle him, though it won't do to give him soft sawder. I say, my man, you lately belonged to the Hero, didn't you?" he asked.
"Yes, I did, but I'm free of her now," answered Jack.
"You fought some pretty smart actions in her, I've a notion. We have heard speak of them. My young messmate and I were out in the West Indies, and belonged to the Liffy. She ran ashore. Then we joined the old Cerberus, which went down in the Atlantic; and then we went on board the Hector, which fought the two French frigates. We had a narrow squeak for our lives, for she went the way of our former ship. And now we belong to the Jason, and shall have to keep the middle watch to-night, which is what you'll not have to do, I fancy. Now if we overstay our leave and don't get down, you know what the consequences will be."
"I've some notion of it," said Jack. "What is it you're driving at?"
"If you'll just let us get inside your coach we'll say you're a mighty good fellow; and if you don't, we'll leave you to call yourself what you think you would be," answered Nettleship.
"Come, I like an outspoken fellow," said Jack. "Jump in, youngsters; I'll give you a passage down, and nothing to pay for it. You guard there, with your long horn, open the door and let the young gentlemen in, but mind you, you take up nobody else, not if the First Lord and all the Admiralty come and axe for places."
In we sprang with our valises, and we heard Jack shout—
"Make sail, coachee, and see how many knots you can run off the reel."
The coachman smacked his whip, and away we rattled through the villages of Knightsbridge, Kensington, and Hammersmith. The coach pulled up at the "Green Dragon" at the latter place, and some parcels were offered, but Jack kept his eyes about him, and would not let one be taken on board. In an authoritative tone he ordered the landlord to bring us out a tankard of ale, and likewise treated the coachman and guard. As we knew it would please him, we did not refuse the draughts. He flung the landlord a sovereign.
"There's payment for you, old boy," he cried out. "Don't mind the change; and, I say, you may treat as many thirsty fellows as you like with it. Now drive on, coachee."
Thus Jack went on at each stage, sitting, while the coach was in motion, with his arms folded, looking as proud as a king on his throne. I thought at one time that he would have quarrelled with us because we declined to taste any more of the ale he offered. He was pretty well half-seas over by the time we arrived at Portsmouth. When he came to the door to help us out, Nettleship began to thank him.
"I don't want your thanks, young masters," he answered gruffly. "I've had my spree, and maybe before long I shall be at your beck and call; but I'm my own master now, and intend to remain so as long as the gold pieces jingle in my pocket. Maybe I'll have another ride up to London in a day or two, and if you like the trip, I'll give it you. You may thank me or not as you like."
Nettleship and I saw that it would be no use saying more, so, wishing him good evening, we took our way down to the Hard. I turned for a moment, and saw our friend rolling up the middle of the street with his hands in his pockets, as proud as the grand bashaw.
A few nights after this Tom Pim and I, having leave on shore, took it into our heads to go to the theatre. In the front row of seats sat our friend who had given us so seasonable a lift down from London. The seats on either side of him were vacant, and when any one attempted to occupy them he told them to be off. He had taken three seats that he might enjoy himself. There he was, with his arms folded, looking as if he thought himself the most important person in the house. There were a good many more seamen on the other benches,—indeed, the house was more than half filled with them, some in the pit, others in the upper boxes and galleries. The play was "The Brigand's Bride." The lady evidently had a hard time of it, and appeared to be in no way reconciled to her lot, her great wish being clearly to make her escape. In this attempt she was aided by a young noble in silk attire, who made his appearance whenever the brigand, a ferocious-looking ruffian, was absent. The lady made piteous appeals to the audience for sympathy, greatly exciting the feelings of many of them, though Tom and I were much inclined to laugh when we saw the brigand and the lover hob-nobbing with each other behind a side scene, which, by some mischance, had not been shoved forward enough. At length the young count and the brigand met, and had a tremendous fight, which ended in the death of the former, who was dragged off the stage. Soon afterwards, the lady rushed on to look for him, and the brigand, with his still reeking sword, was about to put an end to her existence, when, stretching out her hands, she exclaimed—
"Is there no help for me on earth? Am I, the hapless one, to die by the weapon of this cruel ruffian?"
"No, that you shan't, my pretty damsel," cried our friend Jack, forgetting all the stern selfishness in which he had been indulging himself,—"not while I've got an arm to fight for you."
Just as he was speaking, a dozen of the brigand's followers had appeared at the back of the stage.
"Hurrah, lads! Boarders! repel boarders!" he exclaimed, starting up. "On, lads, and we'll soon put this big blackguard and his crew to flight."
Suiting the action to the word, he sprang over the footlights, followed by the seamen in the pit. The lady shrieked at the top of her voice, not at all relishing the interruption to her performance, and far more afraid of the uproarious seamen than of the robber from whom she had just before been entreating protection. Bestowing a hearty box on Jack's ear, she freed herself from his arms, and rushed off the stage, while the brigand and his companions, turning tail, made their escape.
"Blow me if ever I try to rescue a young woman in distress again, if that's the way I'm to be treated," cried Jack. "Shiver my timbers, if she hasn't got hold of that vagabond. There they are, the whole lot of them, carrying her off. No, it's impossible that she can be wanting to go with such a set of villains. On, lads! on! and we'll soon drive them overboard, and just bring her back to learn what she really wants."
Saying this, Jack, followed by a score of seamen, rushing up the stage, disappeared behind the side scenes. We heard a tremendous row going on of mingled cries and shouts and shrieks. Presently the seamen returned, dragging with them the perfidious heroine, and well-nigh a dozen of the brigands whom they had captured. In vain the latter protested that they were not really brigands, but simply scene-shifters and labourers, who had been hired to represent those formidable characters. The lady also asserted that she was the lawful wife of the robber chief, and the mother of six children, and that she didn't stand in the slightest fear of him, but that he was the kindest and most indulgent of husbands.
At length the manager came on the stage, leading forward the murdered youth and the brigand himself, who now, having laid aside his beard and wig, looked a very harmless individual. The manager, politely addressing the seamen, requested them to return to their seats and allow the performance to continue. After some persuasion they complied, but the illusion was gone, and by the loud remarks which issued from their lips they evidently took very little interest in the plot of the piece.
"I say, Smith, how are the babies at home?" shouted one.
"You know if you was such a villain as you say, you would be triced up to the yard-arm in quarter less than no time," cried another.
The poor actress, as she reappeared, was saluted with, "How goes it with you, Mrs Smith? Have you been to look after the babies?" while the carpenters and scene-shifters were addressed as Jones and Brown and other familiar names.
In vain the manager protested against the interruption of the performance. He was desired to dance a hornpipe or sing a sea-song. To the latter invitation he at last acceded, and at length restored somewhat like order in the theatre. Tom and I, having to return on board, left the house before the performance was concluded, so I can give no further account of what happened on that memorable evening.
Some days after this, the boatswain, with a party of men, having gone ashore to obtain some fresh hands to fill up our complement,—there was no need of the press-gang at that time,—returned on board with six stout fellows. Among them I recognised the seaman who had given us a passage down in the coach from London, and who had taken so prominent a part in the defence of the brigand's bride. They were at once entered, the man I speak of under the name of John Patchett. He looked at Nettleship and me as if he had never before seen us in his life, and I at first almost doubted whether he could really be the same man; but when I observed the independent way in which he went rolling along the deck, evidently caring for no one, and heard the tone of his voice, I was certain that he was the fellow I had supposed; so also was Nettleship, who said that he would have a talk with him some day, under pretence of learning what ships he had served aboard. He told me afterwards that he had done so, but that Patchett didn't allude to his journey in the coach. His only answer when he asked him if he knew anything about it was—
"Well, the fellow had his spree, but he was a fool for all that."
At last Lord Robert, whose name had appeared very frequently at balls and entertainments given in London, received peremptory orders from the Admiralty to put to sea. He came back in very ill-humour, complaining as before to Mr Saunders of the harsh treatment he received from the Admiralty. In a cheerful tone the following day old Rough-and-Ready, who was always happier at sea than in harbour, gave the order to unmoor ship. Visitors were sent on shore, and sail being made, we stood out of Portsmouth harbour to Spithead. We there dropped our anchor near the spot where, four years before, the Royal George with brave Admiral Kempenfeldt and upwards of four hundred men, went down. A large buoy marked the place where the stout ship lay beneath the waves.
Some cases of claret and other stores which Lord Robert expected had not arrived, and he declared that it would be impossible to put to sea without them. It was a matter of perfect indifference to us in the midshipmen's berth how long we remained, or where we went, for in those piping times of peace we expected to have very little to do. In that respect we were not mistaken. After waiting three days, the expected stores, which had come down from London by waggon, were brought alongside, and, going out by Saint Helen's, we stood down Channel. We put into Plymouth Sound, where we remained a whole week, while Lord Robert went on shore; but as it was impossible to say at what moment we might be ordered to sea, no leave was granted. We all wished for a gale of wind from the south-west, which might compel us to run into Hamoaze, as the Sound itself afforded no shelter. Lord Robert had better have kept at sea if he had wished to remain on the home station, for by some means or other information was sent to the Admiralty of our being at Plymouth, and a courier came down post haste from London, with despatches for the Jason to convey to the Mediterranean. We were well pleased when the news was brought aboard. The captain, however, looked in not very good humour at having to go so far from home. The wind being to the eastward, we immediately got under weigh, and proceeded on our course down Channel. Old Rough-and-Ready tried his best to restore the men to their former discipline, by exercising them at the guns, and repeatedly shortening and making sail. The despatches, I suppose, were of no great importance, as Lord Robert appeared not to be in a hurry to deliver them. We took it easily, therefore, and at times, when the wind was light or contrary, furling everything, and then making all sail again; that done, we had once more to reef and furl sails, and to brace the yards about. However, at last we got a strong breeze and continued our course. About a month after leaving Plymouth, we came in sight of the Rock of Gibraltar, and brought up in the bay. Lord Robert delivered the despatches he had brought out to the governor. We got leave to land and visit the wonderful galleries hewn out in the Rock, which had bid defiance to the fleets and armies of France and Spain when General Elliot was in command of the place, in 1782, while we were in the West Indies. We heard many particulars of the gallant defence. General Elliot had comparatively a small force of troops to garrison the fortress, but they were reinforced by the seamen of the fleet, who were landed, and formed into a brigade under the command of Captain Robert Curtis, of the Brilliant frigate. The French and Spaniards had a fleet of forty-seven sail of the line, besides floating batteries of a peculiar construction, frigates, zebecks, gun and mortar boats, and upwards of 40,000 troops, who besieged the fortress on the land side. The naval brigade had charge of the batteries at Europa Point, and so ably did they work their guns, that they soon compelled the Spanish squadron to retire out of the reach of their shot. Besides the vessels I have mentioned, the Spaniards had 300 large boats, collected from every part of Spain, which were to be employed in landing the troops. Early in the morning on the 13th September, the fleet, under the command of Admiral Moreno, got under way, and, approaching to a distance of about a thousand yards, commenced a heavy cannonade, the troops on the land side opening fire at the same time. It was replied to by the garrison with tremendous showers of red-hot shot, which, falling on board the Spanish ships, set that of the admiral and another on fire. The Spaniards were seen in vain attempting to extinguish the flames. The fiery shower was kept up, and during the night seven more vessels took fire in succession. The Spaniards were seen making signals of distress, and the boats of their fleet came to their assistance, but were so assailed by the showers of shot, that they dared no longer approach, and were compelled to abandon their ships and friends to the flames.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
IN THE MEDITERRANEAN.
When morning broke, a scene of fearful havoc was exhibited. Numbers of men were seen in the midst of the flames imploring relief, others floating on pieces of timber; and even those on board the ships where the fire had made but little progress were entreating to be taken off. Captain Curtis, on seeing this, regardless of the danger he was running, or that those in distress were enemies, embarked with several of his boats to their assistance. They boldly boarded the burning ships and rescued the perishing crews. While engaged in this glorious service, one of the largest of the ships blew up, scattering its fragments far and wide around. One English gunboat was sunk, and another was considerably damaged. A piece of timber falling struck a hole in the bottom of the barge in which was Captain Curtis. His coxswain was killed, and two of his crew wounded, and the boat would have sunk had not the seamen stuck their jackets into the hole. By these means she was kept afloat till other boats came to their assistance. Don Moreno left his flag flying on board his ship, and it was consumed with her. The English garrison had sixty-five killed and four hundred wounded, and the naval brigade only one killed and five wounded. Soon after this a heavy gale from the southward sprang up, dispersing the enemy's fleet. A fine seventy-four was driven close under the Rock, when, after a few shots, she struck. Others received much damage. The garrison was finally relieved by the fleet under Lord Howe, who attacked the French and Spaniards, and gave them a severe drubbing. They managed, however, to escape, and stood up the Mediterranean, where Lord Howe didn't consider it prudent to follow them. Tom Pim and I agreed that we wished we had been there. When we had gone over the place, we were not so much surprised as we might have been at its having been able, with so small a garrison, to resist the enormous force brought against it. The Spaniards received a lesson at that time which they have never since forgotten.
All now looked peaceable and quiet. The country people came jogging on their mules across the neutral ground up to the forts, and seemed on perfectly good terms with their old enemies. After spending a week at Gibraltar, we steered for the Bay of Naples, Lord Robert intending, we heard, to pay his respects to the king and queen of that very insignificant state, and to give an entertainment to their majesties. Cork harbour is a fine place, but the Bay of Naples, we all agreed, beat it hollow.
Lord Robert went on shore, and was, we suppose, received by the king and queen, for two days afterwards we were ordered to dress the ship with flags, and to rig an awning over the quarter-deck, so as to turn it into what looked very much like a tent. Old Rough-and-Ready grumbled as if he were not at all pleased at what he had to do, but he did it notwithstanding. All the officers then turned out in full uniform, and shortly afterwards we saw a magnificent barge coming off, followed by a number of smaller boats. The barge came alongside, and the captain went down the accommodation ladder which had been rigged to receive his royal guests. They seemed highly pleased with the appearance of the ship, and, it was said, did good justice to the banquet which had been prepared for them. We then very quickly unrigged the tent and hauled down the flags, and, getting under weigh, took a cruise round the bay. As the water was perfectly smooth, their majesties seemed to enjoy themselves, and the king remarked that he was not surprised that the King of England's son should become a sailor.
"I've a notion that the prince has a very different sort of life to this," remarked old Rough-and-Ready, "though I have no doubt they make it as easy for him as they can."
When we came to an anchor, their majesties, with their courtiers, went ashore, and we had the ship to ourselves. We got leave to visit a number of ruins and other places. As far as we could judge, we should have time to become well acquainted with the neighbourhood, as our captain was evidently intent on enjoying himself after his own fashion, and showed no inclination to put to sea. Lord Robert knew, however, that even he must not remain there for ever, and, fearing that the commodore might come in and send him off, with orders not to return, reluctantly came on board; the anchor was weighed, and we sailed on a cruise along the African coast. At that time the Barbary States, as they were called, were nominally at peace with England, but their cruisers didn't object to capture English merchantmen when they could fall in with them, and carry off their crews into slavery. In the daytime we stood close to the coast, and at night kept at a respectful distance. We had one night been standing to the eastward, about nine miles off the land.
Just as day dawned the look-out from aloft shouted, "Two sail ahead!"
"What are they like?" inquired the first lieutenant.
"I can't make out, sir," was the answer. "One seems to me as if she had boarded the other, for she's close alongside."
Mr Saunders at once sent me aloft to have a look at the strangers. I was also at first puzzled, till the light increased, when I made out an English merchant vessel, and a foreign-looking ship alongside her. Soon after I came down, and had reported what I had seen, we made them out clearly from the deck.
"We must overhaul those fellows," said the first lieutenant, and he instantly gave orders to make all sail.
The breeze was increasing, and we soon neared them. At last we saw the larger ship make sail, and stand in for the land, while the other remained, with her yards some one way some another. As she was not likely to move, we steered after the first. The captain had been called, and now made his appearance on deck. Our fear was that the stranger would run on shore, or get into some harbour before we could come up with her. That she was an Algerine pirate, and had been engaged in plundering the brig, we had no doubt. However, she was not a very fast sailer, and we soon got her within range of our guns.
"Give her a shot across the forefoot, and make her heave to," cried the captain, who was more animated than I had ever yet seen him.
Our larboard bow-chaser was fired, but the Algerine took no notice of it. We now sent our shot as fast as our guns could be run in and loaded. Several struck her, and at last her main-yard was knocked away. Still she stood on, her object being, apparently, to induce us to follow till we ran ashore. The men were sent into the chains to heave the lead. Occasionally the chase fired at us, but her shot did us no damage.
"She will escape us after all," cried the captain, stamping with impatience.
Scarcely had he uttered the words than there came a loud roar. Up rose the masts of the Algerine, with her deck, and fragments of wreck and human bodies, and then down they fell into the water, and, except a few spars and planks, the fine vessel we had just seen vanished from sight. The frigate's head was at once put off shore; the boats were lowered, and pulled away to rescue any of the unfortunate wretches who had escaped destruction. I went in one of the boats, and we approached the scene of the catastrophe. We saw two or three people clinging to the spars, but as they perceived us they let go their hold and sank from sight, afraid, probably, of falling into our hands alive. As soon as the boats returned on board, the frigate's sails were filled, and we stood for the brig alongside which we had seen the Algerine, hoping to find that her crew had escaped with their lives, even though the vessel might have been plundered. As we again caught sight of her, however, we observed that her yards were braced, some one way, some another, and she lay like a boy's model vessel on a pond, without a hand to guide the helm.
"That looks bad," observed Nettleship.
"Perhaps the poor fellows are below, thinking the Algerine still in sight, and are afraid to return on deck," I remarked.
"Very little chance of that," he replied; "however, we shall see presently."
On getting near the brig, the frigate was hove-to, and I was sent in a boat with the second lieutenant to board her. A fearful sight met our eyes. On her deck lay stretched the bodies of her officers and crew, almost cut to pieces by the sharp scimitars of their assailants. We hurried below, hoping to find some still alive, but not a voice answered to our shouts. Finding a couple of lanterns, we explored the vessel fore and aft, but the wretches who had just met their doom had made certain work of it, having killed every human being who had attempted to resist them. Many of the sufferers whom they had captured must have perished when their vessel blew up. The lieutenant sent me back to report the state of things to the captain. After a short talk with Mr Saunders, Lord Robert sent for Nettleship.
"I put you in charge of the brig," he said. "You may take Pim and Finnahan with you, and follow close in our wake, I intend to steer for Gibraltar, and will there ascertain whether it is necessary for me to send the brig to England or not."
On receiving the captain's orders through Mr Saunders, we immediately got our traps ready, and the boat carried us on board the brig, with eight hands to form our crew. Among them was Larry, who jumped into the boat in the place of another man, who was glad enough to escape having to go, and Jack Patchett, our coach friend, who proved himself, though a sulky, self-conceited fellow, a prime seaman. As we were short-handed we were not sorry to have him. On getting on board the brig we had first to bury the bodies of the murdered crew. Her ship's papers showed her to be the Daisy of London, John Edwards, master. The pirates had rifled his pockets, and those of his mates, so that we were unable to identify them. We at once, therefore, set to work to sew the murdered men up in canvas, when, without further ceremony, they were launched overboard. We then washed down decks, to try and get rid of the dark red hue which stained them; but buckets of water failed to do that.
The lieutenant and his men having assisted us in knotting and splicing the rigging, and in bracing the yards the proper way, returned on board the frigate, which directly made sail, we following in her wake. The Daisy was not a fast craft, and though we made all sail we could carry, we found she was dropping astern of the frigate.
"It matters very little," said Nettleship, who had brought his quadrant and Nautical Almanac; "we can find our way by ourselves."
We saw the frigate's lights during the early part of the night, but before morning they had disappeared. This being no fault of ours, we did not trouble ourselves about the matter. As daylight approached the breeze fell, and became so light that we scarcely made more than a knot an hour. As soon as it was daylight, we turned to with the holy-stones to try and get the blood-stains out of the deck before they had sunk deeply in. We were thus employed till breakfast. By this time the wind had completely dropped, and it became a stark calm, such as so often occurs in the Mediterranean. The brig's head went boxing round the compass, and chips of wood thrown overboard lay floating alongside, unwilling to part company. The heat, too, was almost as great as I ever felt it in the West Indies. Still we tried to make ourselves as happy as we could. We were out of sight of the African coast, and were not likely to be attacked by Salee, Riff, or Algerine corsairs; and Tom observed that if we were, it would be a pleasing variety to our day's work, as we should to a certainty beat them off.
"We must not trust too much to that," observed Nettleship. "We have only six small pop-guns, and as we muster only eleven hands, all told, we might find it a hard job to keep a crew of one hundred ruffians or more at bay."
We kept the men employed in putting the brig to rights, and setting up the rigging, which had become slack from the hot weather. As the vessel was well provisioned, and one of the men sent with us was a tolerable cook, we had a good dinner placed on the table. Nettleship and I were below discussing it, while Tom Pim had charge of the deck. I hurried over mine, that I might call him down, and was just about to do so, having a glass of wine to my lips, when there came a roar like thunder, and over heeled the brig, capsizing everything on the table, and sending Nettleship and me to the lee side of the cabin. We picked ourselves up, and rushed to the companion ladder, but it was upset.
While we were endeavouring to replace it, I heard Tom's voice shouting—
"Cut, lads, cut!"
Just as he had uttered the words, a succession of crashes reached our ears, and the brig righted with a suddenness and force which threw us off our legs. We quickly, however, had the ladder replaced, and sprang up on deck. We found that both the masts had been carried away by the board and were trailing alongside. Tom Pim was holding on to the starboard bulwarks, while Jack Patchett was at the helm, steering the brig before the gale. None of the men appeared to have been lost or injured, but were standing forward, looking very much astonished at what had happened.
"The first thing to do is to clear the wreck," cried Nettleship, and he called the men aft; while I ran down to get up some axes which we had seen in the cabin.
When I returned on deck, to my surprise I found that the wind had suddenly fallen. The brig had been struck by a white squall, which frequently occurs in the Mediterranean, and either whips the masts out of a vessel, or sends her to the bottom.
We accordingly, under Nettleship's directions, began hauling the masts alongside, to obtain such spars as we could that might serve us to form jury-masts. We could scarcely hope, with the limited strength we possessed, to get the masts on deck. We were thus employed till dark. We had saved the spars and some of the sails, though it was rather difficult to avoid staving in the boats, which had been lowered that we might effect our object. The weather might again change, and it was important to get up jury-masts as soon as possible.
During the night, however, we could do but little, as the men required rest. One half, therefore, were allowed to turn in. The night was as calm as the greater part of the day had been. At dawn we all turned out and set to work. We were thus employed, when I saw several sail standing down towards us, and bringing a breeze with them. I pointed them out to Nettleship.
"It's to be hoped the wind will continue moderate," he said, "or we may be driven nearer to the African coast than may be pleasant."
We were at this time just out of sight of land, to the northward of Algiers. As the ships got nearer, we made them out to be a large fleet, several being line-of-battle ships, others frigates, and vessels of various rigs. In a short time many more came in sight, till we could count upwards of one hundred. These appeared not to be all. The larger number had lateen sails and long tapering yards.
"What can they be about?" asked Tom.
"That's more than I can say," said Nettleship; "but I suspect they are bound upon some expedition or other,—perhaps to attack the Algerines."
As we got near enough to make out their flags, we distinguished four to be Spanish ships, two had Maltese flags flying; there were two Portuguese, and one Sicilian.
"Then I have no doubt about it," said Nettleship, "for the Dons and Portingales have the chief trade up the Levant, and are likely to suffer most from those rascally corsairs. Since Blake gave them a good drubbing they have generally been pretty careful how they interfere with English vessels; but we have strong proof in this unfortunate craft that they want another thrashing to keep them in order."
As we had not as yet got up our jury-masts, we were unable to move out of their way, and there appeared to be some risk of our being run down. Every now and then Jack Patchett hailed with his stentorian voice, and warned the vessels approaching us that they might pass ahead or astern, as the case might be. At last a Spanish man-of-war, carrying an admiral's flag, was sailing quite close to us, when a voice asked from her deck in English—
"Can we render you any assistance?"
"The best assistance you can give us, is to take us in tow, and carry us to Gibraltar," answered Nettleship.
He said this without the slightest expectation of its being done.
"We'll heave to and send a tow-rope on board," was the answer; and presently the line-of-battle ship, shortening sail, hove-to under our lee. A couple of boats being lowered, came rowing towards us. Their object, we found, was to tow us close enough to receive a hawser on board.
As one of them came alongside, an officer stepped on to our deck, and, advancing towards Nettleship, said—
"I am an Englishman, and have joined an expedition to attack Algiers, for my hatred and detestation of the cruelty the Algerians inflict on the unfortunate Europeans they capture. An English vessel in which I sailed lately up the Levant was attacked, and not until we had lost several men did we succeed in beating off the Algerines."
Nettleship explained that the Daisy had also been plundered and her people murdered.
"That is a good reason why you should join us in our proposed attack on Algiers," said the officer. "I must introduce myself to you as Henry Vernon, a name not unknown to fame. I am a nephew of the admiral, and my desire is to emulate his deeds."
Nettleship at once agreed to accompany the fleet, and expressed his readiness to take part in the expected engagement.
"We have no help for it," he said to Tom and me; "and I think I am justified in agreeing to Mr Vernon's proposal. We shall, I expect, see some heavy work. Algiers is a strong place, I'm told, and the Algerines are not likely to knock under without trying to defend themselves."
Tom and I were of course well pleased with this.
The Spanish ship, the Guerrero having taken us in tow, continued her course after the fleet. We waited just out of sight of land till nightfall, when, some of the smaller vessels piloting ahead, we stood in towards the Bay of Algiers.
Before daybreak the troops were embarked on board a number of galleys and gunboats, which landed them a short distance from the town.
By Harry Vernon's advice we dropped our anchor out of range of the Algerine guns, as the brig could not be of any assistance in the attack. Nettleship had resolved to go on board the flag-ship to assist. Tom and I asked him to take us with him. He replied that it was impossible for both of us to go, but that Tom Pim should remain in charge of the brig with four hands, while the rest of us should go on board the Guerrero to assist in working her guns. Tom did not at all like this arrangement, but Nettleship replied that as he was senior to me, he was the proper person to take charge of the brig. We shook hands with him as we went down the side to go on board the flag-ship.
"Never mind, Tom," said Nettleship, "you're doing your duty by remaining where you are."
The Admiral Don Antonio Barcelo expressed his pleasure, through Harry Vernon, at having the assistance of so many English officers and men, whose noted courage, he said, would animate his crew.
The wind being fair at daybreak, the line-of-battle ships stood slowly in, each having to take up an appointed position before the town. The ships were stationed as close as they could venture, the gun and mortar boats being placed in the intervals between them, but still closer to the shore.
Scarcely had the anchors been dropped and the sails furled, than the Algerines began blazing away along the whole line of their batteries, the ships discharging their broadsides at the same moment. The troops had been ordered to make an assault at the same time; and it was hoped by the combined efforts of the land and sea forces that the pirates would soon be compelled to yield.
After some hours of firing, however, news was brought to the admiral that the assault made by the troops had failed, and as far as we could judge from what we could see through the wreaths of smoke which enveloped the ships, no impression had been made on the walls of the city, though the flames bursting forth here and there showed that some of the houses inside had been set on fire. Don Antonio Barcelo, thus finding that his efforts were unavailing, the wind having shifted, ordered the ships to get under weigh, and stand out of the reach of the Algerine shot.
We had lost a few men, but had not been at sufficiently close quarters to receive much damage. Vernon was much disappointed, and so were we; but the admiral assured him that he would go at it again the next day, after the troops had had a little breathing-time.
He was as good as his word; and soon after dawn the fleet again stood in, and recommenced the attack. The Algerines, however, kept up so tremendous a fire, that some of the ships, being much damaged, withdrew to a safer distance. The admiral also received information that the enemy had made a sortie on the troops, and had driven them back with fearful slaughter. Still he was undaunted, and declared his intention of succeeding.
"If he would dismiss a few of the Maltese and Sicilian ships, he would have a better chance of doing so," said Vernon. "The Spaniards and Portuguese are brave enough, but they are not much given to coming to close quarters, while the others would keep out of the fight altogether if they could."
Another attack was accordingly planned, and Don Antonio ordered the smaller craft to stand closer in than before. The other ships, however, brought up at a respectful distance when they found the Algerine shot came rattling aboard them. Judging by the thunder of the guns and the amount of the smoke, it seemed to me impossible that the Algerines could long stand out against our assaults. In all directions houses were seen in flames; and I thought that the whole city must be burned down, for the flames were extending, yet the guns and batteries replied with as much briskness as at first. Again news was brought from the shore that the troops had made another assault, but that the Algerines had sallied out, and were cutting them fearfully up. On this Don Barcelo notified his intention of going himself to lead them, and invited Vernon to accompany him.
"If you like to come and see what is going on, I can give you a seat in the boat," said Vernon, an offer I was delighted to accept.
We at once pulled off from the side of the flag-ship. The admiral had promised Vernon the command of one of the ships, the captain of which had shown the white feather, and he expected to have the honour of leading the attack and taking the ships in closer. Away we pulled, but we had not gone very far when a couple of shots struck the boat herself, killing three men. I remember hearing two distinct crashes, and the next moment found myself in the water, and about to sink. I believe I should have gone down, had not a friendly hand held me up; and, looking to see who it was, I recognised the face of my faithful follower, Larry Harrigan.
"It's all right, Mr Terence, and I'll not let you go while I can keep my feet moving," he cried out, energetically treading water. "We will swim back to the big ship, and there'll be plenty of ropes hung over the sides by this time."
The distance, however, was considerable, and, independent of the chances of being hit by the round shot which were plunging into the water around us, I doubted whether we could swim as far, even though I did my best to second his efforts to keep me afloat. We were now joined by Patchett, who came swimming up, and offered to assist Larry in supporting me.
"Hurrah! here comes a boat," cried Patchett.
Looking round, I saw one approaching, and soon made out Nettleship standing up in the stern-sheets; but as the shots from the Algerine batteries came plunging into the water close to her, it seemed doubtful whether she would reach us. She soon, however, got up uninjured, and I and my companions were taken on board. We then went on to where two persons were still floating. The one was Vernon. He had been gallantly supporting the Spanish admiral.
"Take him aboard first," cried Vernon; "he's unable to help himself."
We accordingly hauled in the Don, while Vernon held on with one hand to the gunwale of the boat. Nor till the admiral was safe would Vernon allow us to lift him in. He sat down, looking very ghastly.
"Why, my dear fellow, you are yourself wounded," said Nettleship, examining his shoulder, from which the blood was flowing.
"Yes, I fancy I was hit," answered Vernon, though I have not had time yet to think about it.
"The sooner you're under the doctor's care the better," said Nettleship, as he got the boat round. "Now give way, lads."
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.
A MIRACULOUS ESCAPE.
The Spanish crew understood his gestures more than his words, and with might and main pulled back to the flag-ship. As we went on, the shot fell like hail around us, but providentially none of us were hit. On getting to the opposite side of the ship, the admiral and Vernon were lifted on board. The rest of us quickly followed. Vernon was at once carried below to be placed under the care of the surgeon; while, without waiting to change our wet clothes, we hurried to the guns, to encourage the Spanish crew, some of whom appeared to think they had had enough of it. Don Barcelo, however, retired to his cabin, and, having changed his uniform, shortly afterwards reappeared. He showed no wish, however, to make another attempt to land, but sent off despatches by an officer to the commander of the land forces. What were their contents did not at the time transpire. He continued, however, pacing the deck, watching, as far as the smoke would allow, the other ships, and the forts opposed to us.
"I very much doubt whether we shall thrash the Algerines after all," said Nettleship to me. "The villains fight desperately, and I can't see that we have made a single breach in any part of the walls. See! two more of our galleys have sunk; and I have seen half-a-dozen gun or mortar boats go down. Several of the ships and frigates are already tremendously cut about. The old Don is a plucky fellow, or he wouldn't keep at it so long."
While he was speaking the admiral came up, pointing first towards a sinking vessel, and then at one of the boats alongside.
"Just ask him, Paddy, if he doesn't want me to go and rescue the fellows," said Nettleship. I addressed the admiral in French, which he understood tolerably well.
"Yes, I shall be obliged to him if he will. My officers and men are required to fight the ship," answered the admiral.
"They don't exactly like the sort of work," observed Nettleship; "but I'll go willingly."
"And I will go with you," I said.
We ran down and got into the boat, followed by Larry and Patchett, the rest of our crew being made up of Spaniards, who were ordered by their officers to man the boat. Away we pulled, and had time to save a good many people from the vessel, which had sunk before we reached her. We were exposed all the time to the shot, which came splashing into the water close to us. I heartily hoped that none would come aboard, for, crowded as the boat was, a number of the people must have been killed. There was no necessity to tell the Spanish crew to give way, for they were eager enough to get back.
Soon after returning on board, the admiral, having received intelligence from the shore that the attack had again failed, threw out a signal to his ships to discontinue the action. Fortunately the wind enabled us to stand off the shore, in spite of the shattered condition of many of the ships, when we anchored out of range of the enemy's guns. As soon as we had brought up, Nettleship and I went down to see Vernon. Though the surgeon had told him that the wound was a bad one, he didn't complain.
"I fear, after all, that we shall not succeed, and I advise you, Nettleship, to return on board your brig, and get her into a condition to put to sea," he said. "The admiral may not be able to help you as I could wish, and you will have to look out for yourself."
Nettleship thanked him for his advice, saying that he intended to follow it, as we could not further assist the cause, and that it was our duty to get the brig to Gibraltar as soon as possible.
The admiral had invited both of us to supper in the cabin. He spoke in the highest terms of Vernon, and said that he had intended to give him command of one of his ships, that he might lead the next attack.
"I wish, gentlemen, also to show you my high sense of the assistance you have rendered me by coming on board," he added.
When I translated this to Nettleship, he said—
"Tell the old fellow that I shall be obliged to him if he'll send a dozen of his best hands, with such spars and rigging as we require, to set up jury-masts."
"It shall be done to-morrow," replied the admiral. "I intend to give the crew of my ships a short breathing-time before I again renew the attack."
Though we were ready enough to fight, we were not sorry to find the next day that the old Don was as good as his word, and had sent us on board a sufficient number of spars, which, with the aid of his men, enabled us to set up jury-masts, and to get the brig into condition for putting to sea. The Spaniards worked very well, and as soon as their task was accomplished, Larry offered to give them a tune on his fiddle.
When, however, he began scraping away, instead of jumping up, and toeing and heeling it as Frenchmen would have done, they stood with their arms folded, gravely listening to his strains.
"Arrah, now, my boys, there is no quicksilver in your heels," he exclaimed, observing their apathy. "What's the use of playing to such grave dons as you?" We then tried them with a song, but with no better effect. At last their officer, who took supper with us in the cabin, ordered them into the boat, and they pulled back to their ship.
"I say, Paddy," said Tom, "I wish that you would let me go instead of you to-morrow, if the dons make another attack on the city. I daresay Nettleship will consent, if you ask him."
I did not like to disappoint Tom, but at the same time, as I should thereby be avoiding danger, it was just the request to which I could not well agree.
Nettleship, however, settled the matter. "To tell you the truth," he answered, "I have been thinking over what is our duty, and have arrived at the conclusion that, now the brig is ready for sea, we ought to make the best of our way to Gibraltar. As far as I can judge, no impression has been made on the city; and if the Spaniards and their allies could not succeed while their ships were in good order, they are less likely to do anything now. Had the Spanish admiral requested our assistance, we should have been bound to afford it; but as he said nothing on the subject, I don't feel called upon to offer it again."
We, however, remained at anchor during the night. The next day the fleet showed no signs of renewing the attack, though righting was taking place on shore. Nettleship, however, having desired me to accompany him, we pulled on board the flag-ship to bid farewell to Don Barcelo and Henry Vernon. The admiral again thanked us, but, from the remarks he made, I judged that he was rather anxious than otherwise that we should go away, so as not to witness his defeat. When I wished him success, he looked very gloomy, and made no reply. Having paid him our respects, we went down into the cockpit to see Vernon, who was, we were sorry to find, suffering greatly. The surgeon, however, who was present, assured me that his wound was not mortal, though it would be some time before he recovered. When Nettleship told him his intention of leaving the fleet, he replied that it was the wisest thing he could do.
"If you could speak Spanish you might have taken the command of the ship which was to have been given to me; but as it is, the men would not place confidence in you, and you could do nothing with them; so, to tell you the truth, I think you are well out of it. Our success is very uncertain. The troops on shore have again been defeated with heavy loss, and I suspect have been so demoralised that they'll take to flight whenever the enemy rush out upon them."
These remarks strengthened Nettleship in his resolution, and, wishing our new friend good-bye, we pulled back to the brig. The wind was from the south-east, and Nettleship thought it prudent to get a good offing before night, lest it should again shift and blow us back towards the land. The brig sailed under her reduced canvas tolerably well, and before daybreak the next morning we had made fair progress towards Gibraltar. As the sun rose, however, the weather gave signs of changing. The wind veered round to the north-west, and blew heavily directly towards the Bay of Algiers.
"Don Barcelo and his fleet will catch it, I'm afraid, if they don't manage to get out of the bay before this gale reaches them," remarked Nettleship. "I'm very thankful that we put to sea, or we should have fared ill."
As it was, we ran a great risk of losing our masts; but they were well set up, and we shortened sail in good time, and were able to keep our course. Our chief anxiety, however, was for the gallant Henry Vernon; for should the flag-ship drive on shore, he would to a certainty lose his life.
"We must hope for the best," observed Nettleship; "the Guerrero was less damaged than many of the other ships, and may be able to ride it out at anchor, or claw off shore."
As we could never manage to get more than four knots an hour out of the brig, we were a considerable time reaching Gibraltar. To our satisfaction we found the Jason was still there. We were warmly congratulated on our return on board, as from our non-appearance for so long a time it was supposed that we had either been lost in a squall, or that the brig had been taken by another pirate. We were much disappointed to find that the brig had to be delivered up to the authorities at Gibraltar, as we fully expected that Nettleship would have been ordered to take her home. Though she was an especially detestable craft, yet he and Tom Pim and I were very happy together, and we had enjoyed an independence which was not to be obtained on board the frigate. When Lord Robert got tired of Gibraltar, we sailed to the eastward, and again brought up in the Bay of Naples. We here heard of the failure of the expedition against the Algerines. Nearly half the troops had been cut to pieces in the repeated and resolute sallies made by the Moors. During the gale we had encountered, the ships narrowly escaped being wrecked. Several smaller vessels sank, and all were severely damaged. The troops were finally embarked, and the ships got back to the ports from which they had sailed, with neither honour nor glory to boast of. Their ill success encouraged the pirates in their warfare against civilised nations. The people of Tripoli, Tunis, and other places imitated their example, so that the voyage up the Straits became one of considerable danger in those days. After leaving Naples we stood up the Mediterranean to Alexandria, where we saw Pompey's Pillar and Cleopatra's Needle, and other wonderful things in the neighbourhood, of which I will not bother my readers with a description. On our way we kept a sharp look-out for Tunisian or Algerine rovers; but as we were known to be in those seas, they took good care that we should not get a sight of them, and our cruise was bootless as far as prizes were concerned. Lord Robert managed to eke out a few more weeks at Naples, the pleasantest place, he observed, at which he could bring up. Thence we sailed to Gibraltar, where we found orders awaiting us to return to England.
"I have managed it very cleverly," said Lord Robert to Mr Saunders. "When I was last here, I wrote to some private friends in the Admiralty, telling them I was getting heartily tired of the Mediterranean, and requesting that we might be sent home; and you see how readily their Lordships have complied with my wishes. Their willingness arose from the fact that I'm going to stand for one of our family boroughs, and have promised the Ministry my support."
"It would be a good job for Dick Saunders if he had a friend at court to look after his interests," said the first lieutenant; "but as he knows not a soul who would lift a finger to help him, he must be content to remain at the foot of the rattlins, till a lucky chance gives him a lift up them."
"Don't be down-hearted, my dear fellow," said Lord Robert in a patronising tone. "When once I'm in Parliament I'll look after your interests. The First Lord is sure to ask me to name some deserving officers for promotion, and I'll not forget you."
We had contrary winds, and then we were hove-to for two or three days, during a heavy gale in the Bay of Biscay. After that we were kept knocking about in the Chops of the Channel for a week, when, the wind shifting, we ran for Plymouth Sound, and came to an anchor in Hamoaze.
Lord Robert immediately went on shore, and we all wondered what would next happen to us.
We had no reason to complain. We got plenty of leave. Tom and I accompanied Nettleship to pay a visit to his family. I won't describe it just now, except to say that we were received in as kind a way as before.
We guessed that if Lord Robert was returned to Parliament we should have no further chance of seeing any foreign service while the ship remained in commission. Nettleship, indeed, was of opinion that before long she would be paid off.
I wrote home to say where we were, and in the course of a fortnight received a letter from the major, telling me to come to Ballinahone if I wished to see my father alive. I with difficulty obtained leave on urgent family affairs, and next day, going to the Catwater, I found a small hooker belonging to Cork, just about to return there. Although she was not the sort of craft aboard which I should have chosen to take a passage, yet as she was likely to afford the most speedy way of getting to my destination, I forthwith engaged berths for myself and Larry, for whom I also got leave.
Nettleship and Tom went on board with me. There was a little cabin aft, about eight feet square, with a sleeping place on either side, one of which was occupied by the skipper, while I was to enjoy the comforts of the other. The crew, consisting of three men and a boy, were berthed forward, in a place of still smaller dimensions, and only just affording room for Larry.
"I would rather you had gone to sea in a stouter craft," said Nettleship; "but as the skipper tells me he has made the passage a dozen times a year for the last twenty years, I hope he'll carry you across in safety."
The wind was light, and my messmates remained on board, while the hooker towed their boat some way down the Sound.
Wishing me farewell, they then pulled back to Hamoaze, and we stood on, fully expecting to be well on our voyage by the next morning. During the night, however, a strong south-westerly breeze sprang up, and the skipper considered it prudent to put back to Cawsand Bay, at the entrance to the Sound.
Here, greatly to my disgust, we lay the best part of a week, with a number of other weather-bound vessels. I dared not go on shore lest the wind should change, and had nothing to do but to take a fisherman's walk on deck,—three steps and overboard.
Larry had, of course, brought his fiddle, with which he entertained the crew, who were as happy as princes, it being a matter of indifference to them where they were, provided they had the privilege of being idle.
The skipper, who had remained on board all the time, at last one day went ashore, saying that he must go and buy some provisions, as our stock was running short. We had hitherto been supplied by bumboats with vegetables and poultry, so that I had not supposed we were in want of any.
I had fortunately brought two or three books with me, and had been sitting reading by the light of the swinging lamp in the small cabin, when, feeling sleepy, I went to bed. I was awakened by hearing some one entering the cabin, and, looking out of my berth, I observed that it was the skipper, who, after making a lurch to one side, then to another, turned in, as far as I could see, all standing. This, however, did not surprise me, as I thought he might be intending to sail early in the morning.
Soon after daylight I awoke, and, having dressed, went on deck, when what was my surprise to find that all the other vessels had got under weigh, and were standing out of the bay.
I tried to rouse up the skipper, but for some time could not succeed. When he opened his eyes, by the stupid way he stared at me, it was very evident that he had been drunk, and had scarcely yet recovered. I told him that a northerly breeze had sprung up, and that we had already lost some hours of it. At last, getting up, he came on deck, and ordered his crew to heave up the anchor and make sail; but this they could not have done without Larry's and my assistance.
As I hoped that the skipper would soon recover, I did not trouble myself much about the matter. He had brought the stores he had procured in a couple of hampers, which I found on deck. They contained, as I afterwards discovered, not only provisions, but sundry bottles of whisky.
There being a fresh breeze, the little hooker ran swiftly along over the blue ocean; the Eddystone being soon left astern and the Lizard sighted. The skipper told me he intended to run through the passage between the Scilly Islands and the main.
"If the wind holds as it does now," he said, "we'll be in Cork harbour in a jiffy. Shure the little hooker would find her way there if we were all to turn in and go to sleep till she gets up to Passage."
"As I'm not so confident of that same, captain, I must beg you to keep your wits about you till you put me ashore," I observed.
He gave me a wink in reply, but said nothing.
During the day I walked the deck, going into the cabin only for meals. The skipper spent most of his time there, only putting up his head now and then to see how the wind was, and to give directions to the man at the helm. From the way the crew talked, I began to suspect that they had obtained some liquor from the shore, probably by the boat which brought the skipper off. Not being altogether satisfied with the state of things, I offered to keep watch. The skipper at once agreed to this, and suggested that I should keep the middle watch, while he kept the first.
Before I went below the wind veered round almost ahead. The night, I observed, was very dark; and as there was no moon in the sky, while a thick mist came rolling across the water, had I not supposed that the skipper was tolerably sober I should have remained on deck; but, feeling very sleepy, I went below, though thinking it prudent not to take off my clothes. I lay down in the berth just as I was. I could hear the skipper talking to the man at the helm, and it appeared to me that the vessel was moving faster through the water than before. Then I fell off to sleep.
How long I had slept I could not tell, when I was awakened by a loud crash. I sprang out of my berth, and instinctively rushed up the companion ladder. Just then I dimly saw a spar over me, and, clutching it, was the next moment carried along away from the deck of the vessel, which disappeared beneath my feet. I heard voices shouting, and cries apparently from the hooker. The night was so dark that I could scarcely see a foot above me. I scrambled up what I found must be the dolphin striker of a vessel, and thence on to her bowsprit.
"Here's one of them," I heard some one sing out, as I made my way on to the forecastle of what I supposed was a ship of war.
My first thought was for Larry.
"What has become of the hooker?" I exclaimed. Has any one else been saved?
The question was repeated by the officer of the watch, who now came hurrying forward.
No answer was returned.
"I fear the vessel must have gone down. We shouted to her to keep her luff, but no attention was paid, and she ran right under our bows," said the officer.
"I'm not certain that she sank," I answered. "She appeared to me to be capsizing, and I hope may be still afloat."
"We will look for her, at all events," said the officer; and he gave the necessary orders to bring the ship to the wind, and then to go about.
So dark was the night, however, that we might have passed close to a vessel without seeing her, though eager eyes were looking out on either side.
Having stood on a little way we again tacked, and for three hours kept beating backwards and forwards; but our search was in vain.
The vessel which had run down the hooker was, I found, H.M. brig of war Osprey, commander Hartland, on her passage home from the North American station.
"You have had a narrow escape of it," observed the commander, who came on deck immediately on being informed of what had occurred. "I am truly glad that you have been saved, and wish that we had been able to pick up the crew. I have done all I can," he said at length, "and I feel sure that if the hooker had remained afloat, we must have passed close to her."
"I am afraid that you are right, sir," I said, and I gave vent to a groan, if I did not actually burst into tears, as I thought of the cheery spirits of my faithful follower Larry being quenched in death.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.
A VISIT TO FRANCE.
"What is the matter?" asked the commander in a kind tone.
"I had a man on board who had been with me ever since I went to sea," I answered. "We had been through dangers of all sorts together, and he would have given his life to save mine."
"Very sorry, very sorry to hear it," he said in a kind tone. "Come into my cabin; I'll give you a shake-down, and you must try to go to sleep till the morning."
I gladly accepted his offer. The steward soon made up a bed for me; but after the dreadful event of the night, I found it more difficult than I had ever done before to close my eyes. I kept thinking of poor Larry, and considering if I could have done anything to save him. I blamed myself for turning in, when I saw the half-drunken condition of the skipper. His crew probably were in the same state, and had neglected to keep a look-out. I at last, however, went to sleep, and didn't awake till the steward called me, to say that breakfast would be on the table presently.
I jumped up, and, having had a wash, went on deck. The officers of the brig received me very kindly, and congratulated me on my escape. Presently a master's mate came from below, and looked hard at me for a moment, and then, stretching out his hand, exclaimed, "Why, Paddy, my boy! is it yourself? I'm delighted to see you."
I recognised Sinnet, my old messmate on board the Liffy.
"Why, I thought you were a lieutenant long ago," he said, after we had had a little conversation. "For my part I have given up all hopes of promotion, unless we get another war with the French, or Dutch, or Spaniards; but there's no use in sighing, so I take things as they come."
"That's much as I must do, and as we all must if we would lead happy lives," I answered.
It cheered me up to meet Sinnet, and we had plenty of talk about old times. A strong north-westerly breeze was blowing, and the brig, under plain sail, was slashing along at a great rate up Channel. I hoped that she would put into Plymouth, but somewhat to my disappointment I found that she was bound for Portsmouth. I was now summoned by the captain's steward to breakfast, and a very good one I enjoyed. When I told the commander where I was going when the hooker was run down, he said that he thought it very likely he should be sent round to the Irish coast, and that if I liked to remain on board he would land me at the first port we might touch at near my home. Next day we ran through the Needles' passage, and brought up at Spithead, where the Osprey had to wait for orders from the Admiralty. As we might sail at any moment, we were unable to go on shore. Though I was the commander's guest, I several times dined with the midshipmen, or spent the evening in the berth.
Our berth in the Liffy was not very large, but this was of much smaller dimensions, and had in it the assistant-surgeon, two master's mates, the master's assistant, all grown men, besides two clerks and four midshipmen. It was pretty close stowing, when all hands except those on watch were below, and the atmosphere, redolent of tobacco-smoke and rum, was occasionally somewhat oppressive. As the brig had been some time in commission, the greater part of the glass and crockery had disappeared. There were a few plates of different patterns, which were eked out with platters, saucers, and two or three wooden bowls. The bottoms of bottles, two or three tea-cups without handles, and the same number of pewter mugs, served for glasses. Three tallow dips stuck in bottles gave an uncertain light in the berth. Salt beef and pork with pease-pudding, cheese with weevilly biscuits, constituted our fare till we got to Spithead, when we obtained a supply of vegetables, fresh meat, and soft tack, as loaves are called at sea. The ship's rum, with water of a yellowish hue, formed our chief beverage; but the fare being what all hands were accustomed to have, no one, except the assistant-surgeon, a Welshman, who had lately come to sea, grumbled at it.
I wrote to my uncle to tell him I was safe; for, having said I was coming by the hooker, as she would not arrive, my family, I conjectured, might be alarmed at my non-appearance. I also mentioned the loss of poor Larry, and begged the major to break the news to his family. Their great grief, I knew, would be that they would not have the opportunity of waking him. I also wrote to Nettleship to tell him of my adventure, and enclosed a letter to the captain, begging that in consequence my leave might be prolonged.
After we had been three days at anchor, the commander, who had been on shore, told me on his return that he had received orders to proceed at once to Cork, and that he would land me there. We had a quick passage, and as soon as we had dropped our anchor in the beautiful bay, Captain Hartland very kindly sent me up, in a boat under charge of Sinnet, to Cork.