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Paul Gerrard - The Cabin Boy
by W.H.G. Kingston
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Devereux replied calmly that they had been cast on the island, and hoped that he and his companions would be treated with courtesy.

"That depends on how you behave yourselves, my spark," answered the man, gruffly. "We want a few hands to supply the places of those who were killed in our last engagement. If you like to join us, well and good; if not, look out for squalls."



CHAPTER SIX.

The midshipmen and their companions were in an unpleasant predicament. The pirates, after abusing them in no measured terms, ordered them, on the peril of their lives, to remain where they were while they themselves joined their companions, who were just commencing their feast. Old Charcoal, the black, soon appeared from the hole, and beckoning to Croxton and Reuben, he bade them carry a huge stew-pot full of viands, and place it in the midst of the pirates. The outlaws, when they had done this, ordered them to be off, and to wait till they were again wanted, and then set to in earnest, digging their long knives and daggers into the pot, and ladling out its more liquid contents, some with silver, and others with wooden spoons. It seemed a matter of indifference to them which they used. Cases of champagne and claret were soon broken open, and each man seized two or three bottles, from which he drank, or poured the contents into silver flagons, which he drained in a couple of draughts. Seasoned as were probably their heads, the result of these copious libations was soon apparent by the fiercer oaths they uttered, their louder laughter, and the quarrels which began to arise between those who apparently were strong friends a few minutes previously.

The black had taken his seat on the ground near them; but though they every now and then handed him a jug of wine, Paul observed that he poured the chief part of its contents on the ground. No long time passed before the wine began to take effect on the greater part of the crew. Some rose to their feet with their eyes glaring, and their unsheathed knives in their hands, vociferating loudly. Blows were exchanged, and wounds given, though on each occasion the combatants sank down again, and applied themselves afresh to their wine-cups. Some sang, others shouted and fired off their pistols in the air, and others again got up and danced wildly round their companions, till, wearied with their exertions, they reeled back to their former places. Old Charcoal shouted, and applauded, and clapped his hands with the rest. The day wore on—the orgies of the outlaws continued till the larger number lay helpless and unconscious on the ground, surrounded by broken bottles, though a few retained sufficient sense to reel towards the hut, where more comfortable couches than the ground could afford were to be found. The black followed, making a sign to Paul and his companions to remain where they were.

"He is our friend, sir, I am certain of it," said Paul to Devereux, who had not observed the sign; "there is a chance for us of escaping."

"By what means?" asked Devereux. "We could not get their vessel out of the harbour."

"No, sir, but in one of their boats. Before they recover their senses we might be far away out of sight of the island."

"Very good, Gerrard; but without knowing in what direction to steer we might too probably float about till we were starved to death, or overtaken by another hurricane," answered Devereux, shaking his head mournfully.

"But perhaps we may find a chart on board the pirate vessel," suggested O'Grady. "If Charcoal is really our friend, as I think he is, he will help us to get a chart, a compass, and provisions also. Hurrah! I feel quite in spirits at the thought that we shall get away."

"Be not over sanguine, young gentleman," observed old Croxton; "there's many a slip between the cup and the lip, and it's well to be prepared for reverses."

In spite of this warning, the boys remained as sanguine as ever, and anxiously waited the appearance of old Charcoal, who, at length, was seen cautiously creeping out of the hut. He came along very fast on his knees and hands. They were surprised to see him without his legs and crutches, till he gave them to understand that the pirates had put them away out of his reach. Paul's hopes were not to be disappointed; the black had resolved to take the opportunity for which he had long been waiting, while his hard taskmasters were overcome by drunkenness, to escape from their power.

"They will make us all slaves, and keep us to work for them if we don't escape," observed O'Grady. "I vote that we set about it at once."

"But I will try to get old Charcoal's legs and crutches first," said Paul.

"And I will not go vidout my cher violin," cried Alphonse; "it has been my good friend very often. It may be again."

The poor black signified his wish to have his wooden supporters, and together the two boys set off running to the hut, while the rest of the party, not to lose time, proceeded towards the schooner.

The door of the hut was opened. Paul and Alphonse stepped in cautiously, for any noise might arouse the sleepers. They looked about for the crutches; they were placed across the rafters in the centre of the hut. A tall man standing on the table had put them there. Paul saw that even with the help of Alphonse he could not reach up so high; but he was not to be defeated—so going to the wall he put his feet on his companion's shoulders, and climbing up he reached the beam, along which he clambered, till he got hold of the crutches, and then he handed them down to Alphonse, and fortunately without making any noise. The latter was now anxious to find his fiddle, for it was nowhere to be seen. At length, with almost a groan of despair, the young Frenchman pointed to it. A pirate had appropriated the case for a pillow. Was he to leave it? No!—he would perish first! Fortunately the man was among the most drunken, and was sleeping heavily. They agreed by signs to withdraw it, and to substitute something else. A bundle of flags had been overlooked in a corner. It might serve their purpose yet. It was hazardous work. Alphonse drew his dirk, which he had retained; but Paul implored him by a look to put it up again.

"If he does awake, only say that you want your fiddle-case to play a tune; he won't mind that," he whispered.

Paul went on one side, and gently lifted the pirate's head with one hand while with the other he held the bundle of flags to shove under it as Alphonse gently pulled away the case. All depended on the movement being regular. A sudden jerk would have awakened the man, who was a fierce-looking ruffian. One of his hands lay over the hilt of his dagger, which he seemed capable of using with effect at a moment's notice. The manoeuvre required great nerve and courage, scarcely to be expected in such young lads. It was not found wanting in them. With intense satisfaction Paul let the outlaw's head sink on the soft pillow. The man uttered a few inarticulate sounds, but gave no other signs of awaking. The boys held their breath, and for a minute dared not move lest they should make any noise which might even at the last arouse the man, or disturb any of the other sleepers. At last they crept silently away, picking up Charcoal's crutches on the way, and made their escape out of the hut. Darkness was coming on. It would have been well to have had daylight to get clear of the island. As soon as they had got a little distance from the hut, they set off running to overtake their companions. Charcoal was as delighted to get back his wooden legs and crutches as Alphonse was to recover his fiddle. They had to proceed cautiously as they passed the sleepers, and still more so when they entered the boat, lest the sound of an oar in the rowlock, or its splash in the water, might alarm them. One of the boats in which the pirates had come on shore was selected for the voyage; but they had first to visit the vessel to obtain the various articles they required. They quickly scrambled on board, and even the black showed a wonderful agility in getting up the side. On going below, he lighted a lantern with which to search for the articles they required. There would have been no difficulty in deciding on the character of the the vessel by the gorgeous and yet rude and tasteless style in which the chief cabin was furnished. Pictures of saints and silver ornaments were nailed against the bulkheads, interspersed with arms of all sorts, and rich silks and flags, while the furniture showed that it had been taken from vessels of various sorts—for there were damask-covered sofas, and rosewood cabinets, with deal three-legged stools, and a rough oak table; and hanging to the beams above, or in the racks against the sides, were battered pewter mugs and plates, mixed with silver tankards and salvers, and other utensils of the same precious metal. The party, however, had no time to pay attention to any of these things, or to wish even to possess themselves of any of them. They were only anxious to find the articles which would facilitate their escape. In a receptacle for all sorts of stores a ship's compass was found; but that without a chart, and oil for the lamp, would be of little use. Nearly the whole ship had been searched through and no chart could be found.

"We must find one though, unless the black knows the direction in which we should steer," exclaimed Devereux.

"Let us ascertain if he does. Does he know what we are looking for, though?"

O'Grady got Charcoal to come to the table, and drawing with a piece of chalk a chart on it something like the West Indies, pointed to one spot where he supposed they were, and then to others, and demanded by signs how they should get there. The black clapped his hands, and began looking about the cabins as a terrier hunts for a rat.

In a cabin evidently used by the captain from the greater number of weapons hung up in it, and its richer furniture, Charcoal discovered a locker hitherto overlooked. It was locked; but without ceremony it was broken open.

"Robbing thieves is no robbery, I hope," observed O'Grady, as he lent a hand.

"Necessity has no law, I've heard say, at all events," said Devereux.

Everything that could be required was at length discovered, and placed in the boat alongside, except one thing. They had shoved off, and were gliding noiselessly down the lagoon, when Paul, feeling his throat somewhat parched with the excitement he had gone through, asked Reuben for a mug of water from a cask he saw at his feet. Reuben tapped it. It was empty. To go without water would be destruction. There was none on board the vessel. An expedition to the fountain must be undertaken. Reuben and Croxton volunteered to go, as did O'Grady. They had, however, first to return to the schooner to get more casks. There was a fearful risk of waking up the sleeping men near whom they had to pass. Not a word was spoken by either party. While one proceeded on their expedition, the other sat still as death in the boat. Paul wished that he had gone also, for he was very anxious about his friends; he could not help fearing that should the pirates be awakened they would at once fire at strangers moving near them. It appeared to him a very long time since they had left the boat. He asked Devereux if he might go in search of them, as he feared that they might have lost their way.

"They will be here soon," was the answer; "they have no light weight to carry between them."

The time seemed longer perhaps than it really was. At length footsteps were heard.

"Here they come," said Devereux, and some figures emerged from the darkness. They must be their friends; the pirates would have approached with cries and threats of vengeance. O'Grady led the way, staggering under the weight of a cask; the men followed with still heavier burdens.

"We must be off; we heard the fellows talking in the hut," he whispered. Not another word was spoken; it was a moment for prompt action, if they would save their lives, for if captured by the pirates they would be treated with scant ceremony or mercy. The black took the helm; indeed, he alone knew anything of the shape of the lagoon, or of the passage which led from it to the sea. There were oars for each of the party. They pulled on in perfect silence, placing their handkerchiefs in the rowlocks to lessen the noise of the oars. There were numerous turns in the lagoon, which prevented them at first from feeling the wind. After pulling some way, however, they discovered that a strong gale was blowing directly into the mouth of the lagoon. It must have sprung up after they had visited the schooner, or they would have felt it before. A loud roar of breakers was heard, and the white surf could be seen breaking wildly over the surrounding reefs.

"We are in a trap, I fear," remarked O'Grady.

They were the first words which had been spoken since they embarked. There was no danger now of their being heard.

"Let us ascertain what the black thinks," said Devereux.

This was no easy matter in the darkness. He seemed disposed, at all events, to proceed, for he continued steering towards the sea. The rocks on either side were tolerably high, with numerous indentations, miniature bays, and inlets on either side. The boat now began to feel the seas as they rolled in. It seemed high time to stop unless they were to attempt passing through the rollers which came roaring in with increasing rapidity towards them. Suddenly the black touched Devereux's arm, and made a sign to him to cease rowing. He waited for a few minutes. They were full of suspense. Then he shook his head, and again signed for the starboard oars to pull round, and running back a little way, he took the boat into a small inlet, where she lay quiet, sheltered by the high rocks. The disappointment was very great. It would clearly have been suicidal to have attempted passing through the surf. It would be better to face the anger of the pirates. Poor Charcoal was most to be pitied. They would hang or shoot him, or beat him to death to a certainty.

"Could we not land him, and perhaps the pirates would not find out that he assisted in our attempt to escape?" suggested O'Grady.

"You forget, Mr O'Grady, that he could not have got his crutches without our help," observed Paul.

"The wind may moderate, and we may yet be away before daylight," remarked Devereux. "We could not leave him behind."

The question had not, however, been put to the black; indeed it was difficult to ascertain his wishes. He kept his seat, and made no sign. This made them hope that he still expected to get out of the lagoon before daylight. It was possible that the pirates might take to drinking again as soon as they awoke; and if so, more time would be obtained for their escape. These and similar speculations served to occupy the thoughts of the party as the dark hours of night passed by. Still the wind blew, and the seas, as they dashed over the coral reefs and broke on the sandy beach, roared as loud as before. The black made no sign of moving; indeed they all knew it would be useless. At length, with sinking hearts, they saw the first pale streaks of dawn appear. There is but little twilight in those southern latitudes; but the first harbinger of day is speedily followed by the glorious luminary himself, and the whole world is bathed with light.

"I wonder if it's pleasant," soliloquised O'Grady. "I don't know whether I should prefer being hung or having my throat cut."

"Hush," said Devereux, "see the black is signing to you not to speak."

"Nor will I, blessings on his honest face," answered O'Grady, whose spirits nothing could daunt. "But I propose that before we put our necks into the noose we have our breakfast. We shall have ample time for that before those honest gentlemen we left drunk last night will be up and looking for us."

The proposition met with universal approval, and in another instant all hands were busily employed in discussing a substantial breakfast of biscuit, dried meat, and fish, washed down by claret in as quiet a manner as if they were out on a pleasant picnic party. When it was over, some of the party scrambled up the rocks to ascertain if any of the pirates were yet on foot; but no one was to be seen moving on shore. It was possible that the pirates might suppose that they had already made their escape, and thus not take the trouble of looking for them. It was clearly their best chance to remain quiet, and so they all returned on board and lay down in the bottom of the boat. The day, as the night had done, passed slowly on. Their hopes again rose; they might remain concealed till night, and then make their escape, should the gale abate.

"We have reason to be thankful that we are not outside now," observed old Croxton, who had said little all the time; "no boat could live in the sea there is running."

"If we are discovered we may still fight for it," observed Reuben Cole. "We are a match for a few score of such buccaneering scoundrels as they are, I hope."

"I will play them one tune on my cher violin; they will not hang us if they hear that going," said Alphonse, evidently perfectly in earnest.

"We'll fight, undoubtedly, my friends," said Devereux. "If we are taken, we will make the best of it, and may even then save our lives without dishonour."

It was past noon. They judged from the continued roar that the force of the gale had in no way decreased, and that nothing could be gained by leaving their rocky shelter. Not a sound from the hut had reached them, when suddenly a loud shout reached their ears. It startled most of the party, who, overcome by the heat, had fallen asleep. Again and again the shout was repeated in tones of anger. There could be no doubt that the pirates had discovered their flight, and were searching for them. They were still at some distance, and might not look into the creek where the boats lay hid. If, however, they were to follow in a boat, they would scarcely pass by the mouth of the creek without exploring it. Paul, as the most active of the party, was directed to climb up the rock to try and ascertain in what direction the pirates were roaming. He clambered up the rock, concealing himself as much as possible by the projecting portions. He saw in the far distance on the level ground figures moving rapidly about; but only a small part of the island was visible. It was evident that those whose voices had been heard must have come much nearer. He came down and made his report.

"Hurrah! it never occurred to us before that we took the only boat they had on shore, and that those thieves of the world can't get aboard their vessel again," cried O'Grady, in great glee. "There are some ugly-looking monsters in the lagoon, sharks or alligators, and it's just that they don't like swimming off lest they should make a breakfast for some of those pretty creatures."

"Should your idea be correct, there is another chance for us; but they will not be long before they build a raft and get on board," said Devereux.

"Oh, by the pipers, but I wish that we had remained on board, and fought the thieves from their own craft," cried O'Grady. "We might have picked them off as they appeared on the shore one by one, and carried her out of the harbour in triumph. Would it be too late to go back to try that same just at once?"

"Too late to go back, except we wish to be picked off ourselves, yes indeed," said Devereux. "And hark! there is the sound of oars coming down the lagoon; the villains have got on board, and are in search of us. If we are silent, we may still avoid them."

The whole party remained still as death. The boat came nearer and nearer. She passed the mouth of the creek, and went down to the entrance of the lagoon. Those in her were apparently satisfied that their prisoners had escaped, for the splash of their oars, and their voices as they talked loudly, were again heard as they pulled up the lagoon. Paul and his companions breathed more freely under the belief that they had escaped their enemies. Poor Charcoal sat perfectly still, though he moved his large eyes about with an uneasy glance upwards and around on every side. He ate and drank with the rest, but made no attempt to communicate to others what was passing in his mind. The day was drawing on, when Paul, who, with the rest of the party, had dropped off into a drowsy state of unconsciousness, was aroused by a shout of derisive laughter, and a voice exclaiming:

"Ah, ah! my masters, you thought to escape us, did you? and you're like mice in a trap, and you'll find that you've cats with precious sharp claws to deal with."

On hearing this unpleasant announcement, Paul looked up and saw a hideous hairy face, ten times more hideous than that of Charcoal, because, though that of a white man, so fierce and sneering, grinning down upon them. The man, for man he was, though more like a huge baboon than a human creature, levelled a blunderbuss at Devereux's head.

"If you allow your men to put out an oar, I will fire," he exclaimed. "You cannot make your escape out to sea if you were to attempt it, and we can give you employment enough on shore; so we don't intend to take your lives."

Devereux guessed pretty accurately the meaning of these last words.

"Death rather than slavery, lads," he cried; "out oars, and let us make an attempt for liberty."

Scarcely had he uttered the words, while all hands were getting out their oars, than the pirate pulled the trigger. The moments of the young midshipman's life would have been numbered, but the firearm flashed in the pan. With a curse at his failure, the man again primed his piece; but the delay, short as it was, enabled the Englishmen to get away out of the creek. The blunderbuss was fired, but its shot fell harmless. The report, however, served to call others of the pirates, who were searching for the fugitives, to the spot, and as the boat proceeded down again towards the mouth of the harbour, they were seen clambering along the rocks, shouting and gesticulating violently. It bodied ill for the way they would treat their prisoners if they caught them. The mouth of the lagoon was reached, but the surf broke as furiously as before. The pirates were approaching, having climbed along over the rocks. Already their shot could almost reach the boat. The small arms of those days carried no great distance. It would be madness to attempt running the boat through the surf.

"What say you, friends, shall we make the attempt, or yield?" asked Devereux.

"Push through it," cried O'Grady and Reuben.

The black shook his head, and made a sign to them to pull round.

"Then let us get on a rock and fight it out; we might keep the pirates at bay for many a day, as long as our provisions last," cried O'Grady.

"There is one that will serve us, and the fellows may have no little difficulty in dislodging us."

He pointed to a rock close to the mouth of the lagoon, some eighty or a hundred yards in circumference. The sea dashed against it on one side, breaking into masses of foam, and the sides were high, steep, and slippery, so that neither could a boat approach, nor could a landing be effected; but on the other was a deep narrow inlet, scarcely wide enough to allow a boat to enter. They pulled towards it, and, much to their satisfaction, discovered that they could just push in their boat. As soon as they had secured her, they began carrying their water and provisions to the top. The rock was full of deep crevices and hollows, amply large enough to shelter them thoroughly, while they could completely command the passage, and destroy the crew of any boat attempting to enter. Scarcely had they made this arrangement, than a pirate boat was seen coming down the harbour. The pirates on the rocks pointed out to their companions where the Englishmen had taken refuge. Those in the boat seemed aware of the strength of the position, for they ceased rowing and held a consultation. The delay was of use to Devereux and his followers. It gave him time to dispose of them to the best advantage, and allowed them to distribute their ammunition and to load all their arms. They had fortunately brought a good supply of weapons and ammunition from the pirate vessel, so that they were prepared to stand a siege, although the most sanguine had very little hope of ultimate success. The pirates, too, had loaded their arms, and once more they came on with loud shouts and threats of vengeance. It appeared that they had only to climb up the rocks to wreak it on the heads of the small band. The task, however, was not so easy as it seemed, for the ocean itself favoured the brave defenders of the rock. There was but one spot at which, under ordinary circumstances, a boat could land, and just at the moment that the pirates were about to approach, a succession of huge rollers came tumbling in, surging round the rock, and threatening to dash the boat to pieces, unless she could hit the mouth of the inlet into which the English had run.

"Be cool, my friends," said Devereux, "and do not throw a shot away; I will tell you when to fire."

A cheerful "Ay, ay, sir," was the reply from all, except from the black. He nodded his head, however, tapped the lock of his musket, and grinned broadly, intimating that he clearly understood what was said.

The pirate boat lay off the rock, but her crew dared not, it was evident, pull in; and from the way she rocked about, it was impossible to take anything like a steady aim from her. Devereux pointed out these circumstances to his companions, and ordered them to reserve their fire, and to shelter themselves as much as possible in the hollows of the rock. It was well they obeyed, for the pirates, losing patience, began firing away as fast as they could load. The shot came pattering on the face of the rock, while some whistled by above the heads of the defenders.

"Steady, steady, boys!" cried Devereux. "Those pellets can do us no harm. We will keep our fire till it is wanted."

"They'll think that we don't fire because we are afraid, or have no powder," said O'Grady.

"Let them think what they like; we'll show them presently that we've powder and shot, too, if they tempt us," answered Devereux.

Volley after volley was fired by the pirates with the same want of result. No one was hit, though several of the bullets came near enough to them to show the besieged that they must not depend upon escaping with impunity. Before, they had wished the gale to moderate, now they prayed that it might continue till nightfall, when they hoped the pirates would retire, and give them a chance of escaping. They were not disappointed. Long before dark the enemy ceased firing, as was supposed, because they had expended their ammunition, and away up the lagoon they went.

"Hurrah! Let us give three cheers for victory," cried O'Grady. "We've beaten them off, anyhow, without firing a shot."

To celebrate their bloodless victory, the party took a hearty meal, and then, when night came on, each crouched down, with his musket by his side, in his hole, to snatch a short sleep, to be prepared, should the gale cease, to escape. It was, of course, arranged that one at a time should keep watch. It appeared to Paul that the gale was abating, but he very soon became unconscious of all sublunary affairs. He must have slept some hours, for he felt greatly refreshed. The gale had ceased. He was surprised that, whosoever was on watch, had not summoned the rest of the party. He was about to call out, when he found his shoulder clutched with a strong gripe, and looking up, he saw by the dim light of a young moon, the same hideous face which had appeared on the top of the rocks on the previous day, and a peal of derisive laughter broke forth, followed by the cries of his companions, as they found themselves in the power of their enemies. Paul could scarcely help hoping and believing that he was in a dream, till the truth flashed on his mind that the pirates, accustomed to practise every kind of trick, must have approached the rock with muffled oars, and have climbed up it while he and his companions were asleep, and surprised them. Such, indeed, was the case. Whichever of the party ought to have been awake had undoubtedly dropped into forgetfulness, or the pirates must have approached in a wonderfully stealthy manner. English seamen, when they have fought bravely, as they always do, and have striven to the last, and are overpowered, do not struggle or bluster, but yield to their destiny with calmness and dignity.

"So you thought to escape us, did you?" exclaimed one of the pirates, as he secured Devereux's hands. "What do you think you deserve, now, for running away with other people's property? Hanging is too good for you; that's the way you would have treated us, if we had been caught doing the same thing to you—ha, ha!" And the man laughed at what he considered a very good joke. "But come along, mister officer, we'll try you by judge and jury all fair and shipshape to-morrow morning, and if you're found guilty, you'll have no cause to complain," added the pirate, as he in no ceremonious manner dragged the poor young midshipman down the rock.

Paul found himself held tight by the savage who had at first seized him, and the whole party were quickly transferred to the boats, which proceeded up the lagoon.

Paul found himself in the boat in which they had attempted to escape, seated next to Alphonse, who had managed to secure his fiddle-case.

"De music vil soften de savage breast, I have heard—I vill try," said the young Frenchman, stooping down to open the case, for their arms were at liberty.

The pirates were amusing themselves by taunting and deriding their prisoners, some in one language, some in another. Alphonse took no notice of what was said—probably he understood but little. Paul felt that he should like to jump up and attack them, but he wisely kept his seat. Alphonse at length succeeded in getting out his bow and violin, and without saying a word, struck up a French tune.

"Hillo, you are a merry young chap," exclaimed one of the English pirates. "Scrape away, we don't hear much like that."

Alphonse played on without stopping.

"Ah, c'est de ma patrie—c'est de ma belle France," cried a Frenchman from the bow of the boat, and Alphonse felt a hope that there was one near who would befriend him. On landing, the prisoners, including poor old Charcoal, were marched up to the hut, into one end of which they were thrust, and told that their brains would be blown out if they moved or spoke. This made but little difference. They could expect but one fate, and by no plan they could devise were they likely to escape it.

When the morning came, some biscuit was given them, and the black was ordered to go and bring them water. This gave them hopes that they were not, at all events, to be murdered forthwith. The pirates all the morning were either asleep or very sulky, but at noon, having spread a supply of provisions in the shade and broached a cask of wine, they became merry, and one of them, the ugly hirsute fellow before described, proposed as an amusement, that they should try the prisoners and punish them afterwards according to their deserts. The proposal was received with great applause, and Devereux and his companions were ordered to appear before their captors. The pirate captain was the judge, and two of the officers undertook to be counsel for the defendants. The case, however, was made out very clearly against them, and except extenuating circumstances, they had nothing to plead in their favour. Poor Charcoal had still less chance of escape.

"He is guilty of ingratitude, of robbery, of rebellion and high treason, for either of which he deserves hanging, and hanged he shall be forthwith," cried the judge, draining off a jug of wine. "We couldn't before have done without him, but now one of you can take his place. You are a stout fellow," he added, addressing Reuben Cole. "Are you inclined to save your life and to work honestly for your bread?"

"To work for you, so as to let you hang that poor dumb fellow, Charcoal? No, that I'm not, yer scoundrels," he exclaimed vehemently. "If you touch a hair of his head, you'll not get a stroke of work out of me as long as you live unhung."

This reply excited the laughter rather than the anger of the crew. The same question was put to Devereux and Croxton, and answers to the same effect were given. Still the voice of the majority was for hanging the black. He, meantime, stood resting on his crutches, the most unconcerned of all the actors in the scene.

"Well, then, the young Frenchman shall hang him," cried the hairy savage, with a grin, seizing poor Alphonse by the arm. "Or stay—the other two youngsters shall perform the office, while mounseer shall fiddle him out of the world while we dance to the tune."

"No, you villains; I vill not play, if you hurt one hair of dat poor man's head," exclaimed Alphonse, starting up with unusual animation. "I vill play from morn to night, and you shall dance and sing as much as you vill, but if you hang him, I vill casser mon cher violin into pieces, and it vill never play more—dere!"

His address was received with much applause by many of the party, and, encouraged by it, he seized his violin and commenced playing, vigorously, one of his most animating tunes. The effect was instantaneous. Many of the pirates leaped to their feet and began dancing furiously one by one; even the more morose joined them, and old Charcoal took the opportunity of hobbling off to get out of their sight, hoping that if he could escape for a day or two, they might possibly forget their evil intentions with regard to him. Still, Devereux knew that, from their treacherous nature, as soon as the dance was over, they were very likely, for the sake of the amusement, to hang him and his elder companions, at all events, and to make slaves of O'Grady, Paul, and Alphonse. While the excitement was at its height, the pirates, with their frantic gestures and loud shrieks and cries, appearing more like a troop of demons than human beings, a large boat was seen coming up the harbour, pulled at a rapid rate. Her crew leaped on shore, and the pirates rushed to meet them. A few words overheard by Paul served to explain their errand.

"Our craft was sunk—we were pursued by a British man-of-war. Hardly escaped them. Some of our fellows taken prisoners. Are certain to betray us and to bring the enemy down here. Not a moment is to be lost. Our only chance is to escape to sea."

From what he heard, Paul guessed that the new comers were part of the crew of a consort of the pirate schooner, and he thought it probable that the pirates might carry him and his companions off as hostages. He therefore hastened to Devereux, who was at a little distance, and told him what he had heard. Devereux fully agreed with him, and before the pirates had time to recover from the excitement into which the news had thrown them, he and his companions, separating so as not to excite observation, walked quietly away till they were out of sight of the pirates. They then, once more meeting, set off running as hard as they could go towards the extreme end of the island. Before long, as they halted to take breath, they had the satisfaction of seeing sail made on the schooner, and presently she glided down with a fair wind towards the entrance of the lagoon. Before, however, she reached it, Paul, as he turned his eyes towards the west, caught sight of another sail approaching from that direction. He pointed it out to his companions.

"She is a square-rigged ship," cried Devereux; "a man-of-war, too, if I mistake not, come in search of the pirates. Unless their craft is a very fast one, their career will soon be brought to an end."



CHAPTER SEVEN.

The look-out from the mast-head of the pirate schooner must have discovered the stranger soon after Paul had seen her, and her appearance must have caused some uncertainty and irresolution on board. The wind dropping, they furled sails, as if about to remain where they were and fight it out.

"It will give the boats of the man-of-war some work to do," exclaimed Devereux, when he saw this. "I wish that we could get off to them first, though. I would give much to have a brush with those piratical scoundrels."

Before long, however, the pirates again altered their minds. The breeze returning, sail was once more made, and the schooner, with the boats towing ahead, stood through the entrance. The time lost was probably of the greatest consequence to them, and by the time that the schooner was clear of the reefs, the man-of-war had drawn so near, that her character was no longer doubtful. Devereux had been anxiously watching her for some time, so had Reuben Cole.

"What do you think of her, Cole?" asked Devereux.

"What you knows her to be, sir—the Cerberus herself, and no other," cried Reuben, in a more animated tone than he had indulged in for many a long day.

"I made sure it was she, sir, five minutes ago, but I was just afraid to speak; but when you axed me, sir, then I knowed it was all right."

"The Cerberus!" cried the rest of the party in the same breath.

"Ay, she's the fine old girl, no doubt about it," exclaimed O'Grady. "Three cheers for the Cerberus! Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"

All the party joined heartily in the shout. It was echoed from a distance, and old Charcoal was seen scrambling along on his crutches towards them. They congratulated him by signs at having escaped the fate which his cruel taskmasters had intended for him, and he seemed no less pleased than they were at the appearance of the English frigate. Their attention was, however, soon fully engrossed by the chase. The frigate had caught sight of the schooner, and was now crowding on all sail to overtake her. The latter was keeping as close in with the shore as the reefs would allow, with the intention, probably, of rounding the island and putting it between herself and her enemy. She, however, by keeping so close in, lost the sea breeze, which the frigate, keeping from necessity further out, retained. The pirates thus lost the advantage which the knowledge of the shore would have given them. Their craft was a fast one, but there was no faster frigate on the station than the Cerberus. She seemed putting forth all her speed, and it was soon evident that she was gaining rapidly on the chase. The wind, it must be understood, was off the land, along the south coast of which the vessels were standing towards the east. It was necessary, therefore, for the schooner, in order to get on the north side, either to stand a long way to the east, or else to make short tacks, so as to weather the eastern end of the island. The temptation to watch her proceedings was very great, and though the way round was long, and over soft sand in places, the party set off in that direction as fast as they could run. By the time they had reached a slight elevation, whence they could watch the further progress of the chase, the frigate had gained so greatly on the schooner, that the latter would, in a few minutes, be within range of her guns. The pirates must have seen that they had now little chance of escaping, but they would not give in.

"Hurra! There goes her first shot," cried O'Grady, as a puff of smoke and a flash was seen to proceed from the frigate's side, followed by a report, as the iron missile went leaping over the water, but falling short of the object at which it was aimed. For some half-hour or more the frigate did not throw another shot away; the schooner, meantime, made several tacks in shore, but the wind veered as she went about, and she gained far less ground than if she had continued on one tack. Still she managed nearly to weather the eastern point. The Cerberus, however, was by this time standing directly towards her, a point off the wind, so as to make her escape almost impossible. Again the frigate fired—the water was smooth, and her gunnery was good. The shot struck the schooner's hull. Another and another followed. Still she stood on. She was in stays; another tack or two would carry her round the point, and there were reefs amid which she might possibly make her escape, when a shot, flying higher than the rest, struck the head of her main-mast. Over the side went the topmast and topsail, down came the mainsail, and the vessel's head paying off, in five minutes she was hard and fast on a reef. The frigate had, meantime, been shortening sail, and scarcely had the schooner struck, when she dropped her anchor in a position completely to command the wreck with her guns.

"The villains will get their due now. Hurrah!" cried O'Grady. "But see, they are lowering their boats to escape on shore. If they fall in with us, they will knock us on the head to a certainty. Won't discretion with us be the best part of valour? and hadn't we just best get out of their way?"

"They will scarcely attempt to come on shore here, I should think," observed Devereux. "They will more probably pull along close in with the shore, and, if they can, get away from the island altogether."

The attempt of the pirates to escape was immediately seen from the frigate, which, thereon, opened her fire to prevent them, while at the same time her boats were lowered to cut them off. The frigate's shot had knocked one of the schooner's boats to pieces. Most of her crew crowded into the other two, which shoved off, leaving some on board, who loudly entreated them to return. But, overloaded as they were, they could not have done so had they wished, and it was with difficulty they reached the shore, swearing vengeance on the heads of their victors.

"It's time for us, at all events, to be off, if we would save our throats from being cut, or our heads from being broken," cried O'Grady, as he saw them about to land.

The rest of the party agreed with him, and signed to Charcoal to accompany them. But the old black seemed bewildered, and shook his head, to signify that he could not move as fast as they could, and that they must hurry on without him. In vain they urged him and showed him that they would help him on.

"Come, old fellow, just you get up on my back, and I will carry you," exclaimed Reuben Cole, who was by far the strongest of the party.

Still the black refused—the whole party were in despair. It was high time, indeed, to move away from the spot, not only to escape the pirates, but to avoid the shot from the Cerberus, some of which, passing over the schooner, had struck the ground very close to them. One of the shot at length settled the dispute by flying along and striking the poor old man on the shoulder, and very nearly taking off Reuben's head at the same time. His moments were evidently numbered, and to move him while seemingly in the agonies of death, would have been cruelty. Devereux, therefore, reluctantly ordered his followers to run for their lives, before they were discovered and pursued by the pirates. It was doubtful, indeed, whether they had not already been seen. Paul, as they came along, had observed a patch of rocky ground to the south near the shore, with low shrubs growing about it. He pointed it out to Devereux.

"Right, Gerrard, the very place for us; we'll steer towards it," he answered.

By running on at full speed, they had just time to conceal themselves among the rocks as the pirates reached the shore. Devereux had ordered them all to lie down, so that they were unable to observe the direction the outlaws took. O'Grady and Paul were crouching down close to each other. Both felt a strong inclination to look out from their hiding-place.

"I say, Gerrard, don't you think that you could manage, just with half an eye above the rock, to see what the spalpeens of pirates are about there?" whispered the former.

"Beg pardon, sir, but our orders were not to look out at all," answered Paul, in a very low voice.

"Right, Gerrard, right; but by the powers, our fellows are a long time getting on shore from the frigate," said O'Grady.

"Silence, lads!" whispered Devereux, who overheard them talking. "I hear footsteps."

Sure enough, the tramp of men running fast was heard, and, it seemed, coming in the direction of the rock. Probably the pirates were hastening there for shelter. Paul was sure, as most likely were the rest of the party, that they would wreak their vengeance on their heads if they discovered them. He felt very uncomfortable; his satisfaction was not increased, when he heard a voice shout out, "Here they are, the scoundrels! don't let one of them escape."

As there was no object in remaining to be cut down, he was about to follow the ordinary instinct of nature, and to try and escape by flight, when another voice added, "Come on, men, here they are, a dozen or two skulking scoundrels, too."

There was a shrill squeak in the sound, which Paul was certain he had heard many times before. He was not mistaken. There, on the top of a rock, stood honest Bruff, and by his side, Tilly Blake.

"There are two of the villains—young ones, though," cried Tilly, pointing to O'Grady and Gerrard.

Then he stopped, with a look of astonishment which made them almost burst into a fit of laughter, as they sprang forward to meet him, while the rest of the party at the same time rose up from their lair.

"Why, Devereux, old fellow, I thought that you were safe in England with our prize by this time," cried Bruff, as he shook his messmate's hand.

Devereux could with difficulty reply, his feelings had so completely mastered him; so Bruff continued: "Ah, I see how it was; the scoundrels surprised and captured you, and brought you prisoners here. Well, I'm thankful we've got you back safe, though I conclude poor old Noakes has lost the number of his mess."

In a few words, Devereux, who soon found his tongue, explained what had occurred, and the whole party, with the rest of the frigate's crew who had landed, set forward in pursuit of the pirates. It was important to come up with them before they could have time to fortify themselves. In high glee, the whole party hurried on, led by Bruff, and guided by Devereux and O'Grady. It was likely that the pirates would make a stand either at the hut or on the top of a rocky mound on which some thick brushwood, with a few trees, grew. It was a strong post naturally, and might be made much stronger if the pirates had time to cut down the trees and form barricades. Bruff, therefore, with his small party, without waiting for reinforcements from the ship, pushed on. They had already passed round the head of the lagoon without finding the enemy.

"They must have got into the hut, and we must be cautious how we approach it, or they may pick us off without our being able to return a shot," observed Devereux, as they came in sight of it.

Bruff, in consequence of this, at once divided his men, sending one party to the right, another to the left, while he advanced directly towards the hut, keeping, however, under such shelter as the cocoa-nut trees and bushes afforded. Whether the generalship was good might be doubted, for should the pirates break out, they might overwhelm one of the smaller parties, and make good their retreat to another part of the island, where they might hold out till the frigate was compelled to leave the coast. This was Reuben's opinion, which he imparted to Paul. Still the enemy did not appear. The parties closed in—not a shot was fired. "Charge!" shouted Bruff. The door was burst open—the hut was empty. There were treasures of all sorts scattered about, which the pirates had not time to pack up when they hurriedly left the island.

The crew of the Cerberus very naturally wished to take possession of the plunder, but Bruff called them together, and ordered them to proceed at once to the mound where Devereux and O'Grady thought that the pirates must have gone. It was hot work. They stopped for a few seconds at the fountain to wash the sand out of their throats, and pushed on. The hill was soon in sight. The place looked naturally strong.

"The fellows are there, for they are cutting down the trees already," cried O'Grady. "If we could but wait for an hour or so, they'd be pretty well ready for us, and we should get heaps of honour and glory in taking them."

"Thank you, Paddy, but we'll not give them time to get ready," answered Bruff. "On, lads, on!"

So busily engaged were the pirates, that the English were close up to the mound, for hill it was not, before they perceived that their enemies were on them. Led on by Bruff and the other midshipmen, the seamen clambered up the hill in spite of all obstacles. The pirates stood to their arms and fought desperately. They were a fierce set of ruffians. The hairy baboon, as O'Grady called the man who had seized Paul on the rock, led them on. Their captain, probably, had been killed, for he seemed to be the principal officer among them. Among gentry of that class, when the day is going against them, no one is anxious to be looked upon as a leader. Whether he wished it or not, however, the hairy baboon was a conspicuous object. With three brace of pistols stuck in his belt, his arms bare, and a huge sword in his hand, he stood like a wild beast at bay. The pirates, when overpowered at other points, rallied round him. Again and again Bruff attempted to pick him out, in the hopes of cutting him down, but each time calling his men around him, the pirate avoided the combat.

The pirates were, however, getting the worst of it. Several of them had fallen, killed, or desperately wounded. Some of the English also had been hurt, and two killed. Bruff, determining to put an end to the conflict, once more dashed up the slope, and with his brave fellows, leaping over all obstacles, pushed up to where the savage stood behind the trunk of a fallen tree. Devereux was at his side, and Paul followed close behind, armed with a pistol which had been given him by one of the seamen. His great wish was, should opportunity occur, of being of use to Devereux, just as he had been, on a former occasion, to poor old Noakes. This was fiercer work, for quarter was neither asked nor taken. The English among the pirates were the most desperate, for they knew that they were fighting with halters round their throats. The pirate plied his weapon with right good will, and kept Bruff fully occupied, bestowing, indeed, more than one wound on him. Devereux was, meantime, engaged with another fellow, evidently an officer by his gay dress and ornaments. He also was a good swordsman; and while the English seamen were engaged on either side, he managed to strike down Devereux's cutlass, and would the next moment have cut him from the head to the neck, when Paul, seeing that the moment for action had arrived, springing forward, fired his pistol with so good an aim, that the pirate, shot through the heart, sprang into the air and fell forward over the tree, while Devereux, recovering his guard, saved his head from the blow of the falling sword, which he sent flying away among the pirates. At liberty for a moment, he turned on Bruff's antagonist, who, unable to parry his rapid blows, was at length brought to the ground. As he lay writhing in the agonies of death, he attempted to fire a pistol, which he drew from his belt, at his victor's head; but his eye was dim—the shot flew into the air, and his hand fell powerless by his side. The pirates, though they still fought on, were evidently disheartened at the fall of their leaders; but the English were proportionately encouraged, and dashing on once more, they cut down every pirate opposing them. Some attempted to fly, prompted by the instinct of self-preservation; but they were met by a party under O'Grady, sent round to attack them in the rear, and at last, in the hopes of prolonging their lives, they threw down their arms and begged for quarter. However fierce men may be, very few will fight on with the certainty of being killed if they do, and the possibility of escaping if they yield. The pirates were completely disarmed, and were then surrounded by seamen, with pistols at their heads, marched towards the spot where the boats of the Cerberus lay waiting for them. The hut and its contents were not forgotten, and one party of men was ordered to collect and bring along all the more valuable articles which could be found. As they marched along, Devereux called Paul up to him. "Gerrard, I am anxious to tell you that I feel how heavy a debt of gratitude I owe you," he said. "You have tended me with a brother's care since I was wounded, and I saw the way in which you saved my life just now. Fortunately, Mr Bruff saw it also, and as you thus certainly contributed to the success of the undertaking, I am certain that he will place your conduct in its most favourable light before the captain, and, for my part, I think that there is one reward which you ought to obtain, and which you will obtain, too."

"What can that be, sir?" asked Paul, innocently. "All I know is, that I wished to be of use to you, and I am very glad that you think I have been of use."

"Indeed you have, Gerrard," answered Devereux. "I should have been food for the land crabs if it hadn't been for you; but we'll not say anything more about the reward just now."

They were approaching the beach where the boats were waiting.

"Hillo, what is that?" cried O'Grady. "Oh, you vile scoundrels—you did that, I know you did."

He shook his fist at the prisoners as he spoke, and pointed to the body of the poor black, which lay in their course, with the head smashed to pieces. The pirates had evidently found him wounded on the ground when they landed, and had thus wreaked their vengeance on him.

The seamen stopped a few short minutes to bury him in the sand, and the midshipmen, as they passed on, muttered, "Poor old Charcoal, good bye."

The pirates would have had very little chance just then of escaping with their lives had the seamen been their judges, and in consequence of the cruel murder of the black, they got many a punch in the ribs and a lift with the knee as they were bundled into the boats. Hitherto, of course, those on board the Cerberus were ignorant that Devereux and his companions were on the island. As the boats approached the ship, all glasses were turned towards them; but it took some time after they had climbed up the sides to explain who they were and where they had come from, so haggard in countenance were they, and so tattered in dress, and blood and smoke-begrimed. Devereux lost not a moment in speaking to Captain Walford in warm terms of Paul's conduct throughout all the events which had occurred, adding, "To-day, sir, he saved my life by shooting a man who was on the point of cutting me down, and I must entreat you to give him the only reward he would value, or indeed, I believe, accept."

"What is that?" asked Captain Walford, smiling at the idea of a ship-boy being punctilious as to the style of reward he would receive.

"Why, sir, that you would place him on the quarter-deck," answered Devereux, boldly. "There is no one who will do it more credit, or is better fitted to become an officer than Paul Gerrard, sir."

"I will keep him in mind, and perhaps he may have an opportunity of distinguishing himself while under my eye," answered the captain; but he made no promise to promote Paul, and Devereux left him, fearing very much that he was displeased at his having mentioned the subject.

All the party were, however, warmly welcomed on board, and Alphonse, who had now learned a good deal of English, became a great favourite both with officers and men. As there happened to be no fiddler among the crew, his violin was in great requisition. He had no pride, and as he took delight in giving pleasure, he constantly went forward to play to the men while they danced. There was nothing they would not have done for the "little mounseer," as they called him.

Before the Cerberus left the island, one of the pirates declared that a large amount of treasure was hidden near the hut, and volunteered to show it, provided that his life was spared. Captain Walford would make no promise, but let the man understand that if the treasure was found, and he chose to turn king's evidence, the circumstance might possibly tell in his favour. The pirate held out for the promise of a pardon and refused to afford any further information unless it was given. The captain, however, sent a party on shore, under Mr Bruff with O'Grady, to search for the supposed treasure. Reuben and Paul were of the party. There were two boats. They pulled up the lagoon.

"I feel very different now from what I did t'other day when the pirates were after us. Don't you, Paul?" said Reuben Cole, in a moralising tone. "Many are the ups and downs in the world. The pirates was then thirsting after our blood, and now we're thirsting after the pirates' gold. It's not much good our blood would have done them, and I'm afeared the gold won't do us much good either, if it's spent as most of us spends it when we gets ashore. Paul, don't you go and throw away your hard-earned gains as seamen generally do—you'll be sorry for it some day, if you do."

Paul promised to follow his friend's advice. He was very eager, however, to find the pirate treasure, as he hoped to be able to send his share home to his mother and sisters. He was not aware of the efforts Devereux had been making to get him placed on the quarter-deck, in which case the share would be considerably more than that of a cabin-boy. The search was commenced, but except a bag of dollars and a few gold doubloons, nothing of value could be found. The men dug about in every direction. There was no sign of the earth having been turned up.

"I say, Reuben, I wonder where all the gold we are looking for can be," exclaimed Paul, after they had searched in vain again and again.

"Just possible, nowhere," answered Reuben. "Them chaps is much more likely to spend their money ashore than to bury it in the ground."

It seemed very probable that Reuben's opinion was the right one. The seamen dug and dug more frantically and eagerly as the prospect of finding the gold became less and less. Reuben's spade at length struck something hard.

"Hurrah! Here it is," cried several voices, and half a dozen spades were plunged into the hole at the same time. A human skull was soon brought to view.

"All right," cried O'Grady. "The pirates always bury a man above their treasure, that his spirit may keep guard over it."

Thus encouraged, the seamen dug on, the bones were thrown up with very little ceremony, and all expected every instant to come upon an iron case, or an oak chest, or something of that sort, full of gold, and pearls, and diamonds. While thus employed, a gun from the ship was heard. They dug more desperately than ever. The gun was the signal for their return: it must not be disobeyed. Still, within the very grasp of their treasure, it seemed hard to lose it. They dug, and they dug, but there was no sign of treasure. Another gun was heard.

"We must be away!" cried the leader. "Shoulder spades, and march!"

O'Grady, stopping behind, leaped into the hole and ran his sword up to the hilt into the sand, but it met with no impediment. Again and again he plunged his sword in all directions. He saw that it was of no avail. "I must be out of this and run after the rest," he said to himself. But to propose was easier than to execute. In vain he tried to get up the sandy sides of the pit—he made desperate efforts. He ought not to have stopped behind, and did not like to cry out. "Oh! I shall have to take the place of the disinterred body, and that would not be at all pleasant," he muttered—"One more spring!" But no—down he came on his back, and the sand rushed down and half covered him up. He now thought that it was high time to sing out, and so he did at the very top of his voice. He shouted over and over again—no one came. His companions were getting further and further off. He scrambled to his feet and made another spring, shrieking out at the same time, "Help! help!"

Fortunately, Paul and Reuben were bringing up the rear, and Paul happening to speak of Mr O'Grady, observed that he was not in front. At that moment the cry of "Help, help!" reached his ears.

"It's Mr O'Grady," he exclaimed, and he ran forward to Mr Bruff and obtained leave to go and look. Reuben and several other men had, however, to go to his assistance to get poor Paddy out of the hole, and pretty hot they all became by running towards the boats, so as not to delay them. Nothing was said of O'Grady's adventure, and the captain did not seem much surprised at no treasure having been found. A course was steered for Jamaica, where the pirates were to be tried. The Cerberus arrived at her destined port without falling in with an enemy. Numerous witnesses came forward to prove various acts of piracy committed by the prisoners, the greater number of whom were condemned to death, and were accordingly hung in chains, as the custom of those days was, to be a terror and warning to like evil-doers, as dead crows and other birds are stuck up in a field to scare away the live ones wishing to pilfer the farmer's newly-sown seed.

The frigate having refitted in Port Royal harbour, was again to sail— like a knight-errant—in search of adventures. It was not likely that she would be long in finding them.

As soon as the commander-in-chief heard of the capture of the frigate by the mutineers, he became very anxious to re-take her. A brig of war before long arrived with a Spanish prize lately out of Puerto Cabello on the Spanish Main. Her crew gave information that the frigate was there fitting for sea by the Spaniards, to whom the mutineers had delivered her; that she was strongly armed, and manned with a half more than her former complement. It soon became known on board the Cerberus that Captain Walford had volunteered to cut out the frigate, but that the admiral objected to the exploit as too hazardous.

"Just like our skipper," exclaimed O'Grady. "He would try it and do it too. We'd back him, and so would every man on board."

"No fear of that," cried several voices. "Let us but find her, and she will be ours."

"I wish that we could have the chance," observed Devereux to O'Grady. "It would be a fine opportunity for Gerrard, and the captain would, I think, be glad of a good excuse for placing him on the quarter-deck."

As there was no longer a reason for Alphonse Montauban remaining on board the Cerberus, he had to be left at Jamaica to wait till an opportunity should occur for sending him to France. His friends parted from him with many regrets.

"We shall meet some day again, old fellow," said O'Grady, as he wrung his hands. "But I say, I hope that it won't be with swords in our fists."

"Oh no, no!" cried Alphonse; "I will never more fight against you English. I was told that you were little better than barbarians—a nation of fierce lords, money-making shopkeepers, and wretched slaves; but I find you very different. I love you now, and I love you for ever."

Alphonse parted in a most affectionate manner from Paul, telling him how glad he should be, when the war was over, if he would come and see him at his father's chateau, where he said he should go and remain quietly, and escape, if possible, being sent again to sea.

The Cerberus sailed with sealed orders. This was known. It was hoped that they would give permission to the captain to attack the Spanish frigate. The captain opened his orders off the east end of the island, when he found that he was to proceed off Cape Delavela, on the Spanish Main, a point of land about seventy leagues to leeward of Puerto Cabello, and that he was to remain as long as his provisions, wood, and water would allow, to endeavour to intercept the frigate supposed to be bound to the Havana. Thither the Cerberus accordingly proceeded. To wait in expectation of meeting a friend is a matter of no little interest; but when an enemy is looked-for, and there is the prospect of a battle, and a pretty tough one to boot, the excitement is immense. In this instance it was tenfold: the enemy was no ordinary one; the object was to win back a ship foully taken and disgracefully retained.

"There is no necessity to tell you to keep a sharp look-out," said the captain to the officers of the watch, as he went below the first night of their arrival on their cruising-ground.

"She'll be clever if she escapes us," was the answer. However, the captain was on deck that night several times, as he was on many subsequent nights, and sharp eyes were looking out all night and all day, and still no enemy's frigate hove in sight. Paul was very ambitious to be the first to see her. Whenever his duty would allow, he was at the mast-head till the hot sun drove him down, or darkness made his stay there, useless. He often dreamed, when in his hammock at night, that he heard the drum beat to quarters, and jumping up, slipped into his clothes, and hurried on deck, when finding all quiet, with no small disappointment he had again to turn in. "The opportunity will come, however, in some way or other," said Paul to himself as he tried to go to sleep, and succeeded, as ship-boys generally do. "I must have patience. Even if I were to be killed the next day, I should like to have been a midshipman." Week after week passed away; no enemy appeared. Now and then a prize was taken; but it was always the same story—the frigate was still in Puerto Cabello. At length it became known that the water and wood were running short, while it was a fact no one would dispute, that the provisions were very bad. The Cerberus must return to Jamaica. The disappointment was general.

"Och, the blackguards of Dons, to keep us waiting all this time, and not to give us the satisfaction of thrashing them after all!" cried Paddy O'Grady, as the matter was discussed in the midshipmen's berth.

"The fellow has probably slipped by us in the dark; but we'll catch him some day; that's a comfort," observed Devereux.

"Our skipper is not a man to take that for granted without ascertaining the fact," remarked Bruff.

He was right. Before a course was shaped for Jamaica, the Cerberus stood for Puerto Cabello. All hands were eagerly on the look out as they approached the port, to ascertain whether the frigate was still there. A shout of satisfaction broke from the throats of the crew as she was discovered with her sails bent ready for sea, though moored head and stern between two strong batteries, one on either side, at the entrance of the harbour. By herself, she looked no insignificant opponent; while the batteries, it was supposed, mounted not less than two hundred guns. The Cerberus stood in till she was within gun-shot of the enemy, and then continued her course, as if fearing a contest. Not a word was said by the captain as to what he intended doing. Hope returned when the ship was tacked. For two or three days the Cerberus continued cruising up and down before the port. Another day was drawing to a close, when, as it seemed, she had given a farewell to the port. Some of the officers had been dining with the captain. They came out of the cabin with an expression of satisfaction on their countenances.

"Something is in the wind," said Reuben to Paul. "They wouldn't look so pleased otherwise."

Not long after this, all hands were sent aft to the quarter-deck, where the captain stood, surrounded by his officers, ready to receive them.

"I told you so," whispered Reuben to Paul. "He's got some good news, depend on that; I see it in his eye."

"My lads, we have been waiting a long time to get hold of that villainous frigate in there," the captain began. "If we don't take her, somebody else will, and we shall lose the honour and glory of the deed. She will not come out to fight us fairly, and so we must go in and bring her out. It's to be done, I know, if you'll try to do it. What do you say to that?"

"That we'll try and do it," cried a voice from among the seamen.

"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!" Three hearty cheers broke from the crew. Again and again was given forth from the seamen's throats that soul-thrilling shout which none but Englishmen can utter.

"Thank you, my lads," cried the captain. "I knew that you would be ready to do it; and, what is more, I know that you will do it. It will not be your fault if that frigate is not ours before many hours are over. There will be six boats with their regular crews, and I have arranged already of whom the boarding-parties are to consist. I will myself lead."

Saying this, he handed a list to the first-lieutenant. All were eager to ascertain its contents. Bruff and Devereux had command of boats; the second-lieutenant had charge of another—the launch; the surgeon of a fourth. Paul, with no small delight, heard his name called out for the captain's boat—the pinnace. Reuben Cole was also to go in her. The expedition was to consist of two divisions; the first formed by the pinnace, launch, and jolly-boat, to board on the starboard-bow, gangway, and quarter; and the gig, black and red cutters, to board on the opposite side. Some of her crew were to remain in the launch to cut the lower cable, for which they were provided with sharp axes; the jolly-boat was to cut the stern cable and to send two men aloft to loose the mizen-topsail. Four men from the gig were to loose the fore-topsail, and in the event of the boats reaching the ship undiscovered, as soon as the boarders had climbed up the sides, the crews were to cut the cables and take the ship in tow. No arrangements could be more perfect, and all about to engage in the undertaking felt confident of success, eagerly waiting for the moment of action. The ship stood towards the harbour, and in silence the crews and the boarding-parties entered the boats and shoved off. Paul felt as he had never felt before. He had gone through a good many adventures; but the work he was now engaged in would probably be of a far more desperate character. Still his heart beat high with hope. If the undertaking should be successful—and he felt sure that it would be—he believed that he should secure that position he had of late taught himself so ardently to covet. The boats made rapid progress. The pinnace led; the captain with his night-glass keeping his eye constantly on the enemy. No light was seen, either on board her or in the batteries, or other sign to show that the Spaniards were aware that a foe was approaching. The night was dark; the water was smooth. There was a sound of oars. Two large gun-boats were seen at the entrance of the harbour. At the same instant the Spaniards, discovering the English, began firing. The alarm was given; lights burst forth in all directions, and round-shot and bullets came whizzing through the air. Some officers might have turned back; not so Captain Walford. Ordering the boats to follow, and not to mind the Spaniards, he gave three hearty cheers, and, dashing on, was quickly up to the frigate.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

The Spanish frigate lay moored head and stern, with her ports open, and the light from her fighting-lanterns streaming through them. The crew, awakened by the firing, had hurried to their quarters, and were now rapidly discharging their guns, sending their shot right and left, though happily, it seemed, without any definite aim. A shot passed close over the captain's head; so close that Paul expected for a moment to see him fall, but he did not even notice the circumstance, and only urged his men to pull up alongside the enemy. The pinnace was crossing the frigate's bows. Suddenly her way was checked.

"She's aground, sir," cried the coxswain. "A rope has caught our rudder—unship it, man," answered the captain, who was as cool as if about to go on board his own ship.

In another instant the pinnace had hooked on to the Spaniard's bows; and her crew, led by their brave captain, were climbing up to gain a footing on their forecastle. Paul's heart beat quick—not with fear, but with the belief that the moment for distinguishing himself had arrived. He resolved to follow the captain closely. Captain Walford had hold of the anchor which hung at the bows, when his foot slipped, and he would have fallen back, had he not caught at the lanyard and hauled himself up. The delay, though brief, enabled some of the men to be up before him. Paul was among the number; and, finding a rope, he hove it to the captain, which enabled him to gain the deck. Not an enemy was found; but, looking down on the main-deck, the English discovered the Spaniards at their quarters, not dreaming, it seemed, that the foe already stood on the deck of their ship. There they stood, some loading, others firing; fierce-looking fellows enough as the light of the lanterns fell on their countenances. The foresail had been left laid across the deck ready for bending, and the thick folds of the canvass served as a screen to the first of the gallant hoarders while the rest were climbing up. Not a moment was to be lost, and before the Spaniards had discovered that the English were on board, a party of the latter, led by their brave captain, were literally in the midst of them, fighting their way towards the quarter-deck, where it had been arranged that all the parties should rendezvous.

The Spaniards, taken by surprise, were cut down or leaped to the right hand or to the left to escape the cutlasses of the boarders. At length, however, some of the Spaniards rallied; and, led by one of their officers, made so furious an attack on the captain's party that he and most of his men were separated from each other. Paul had stuck by his captain from the first. His arm was not very strong, but he was active; and, while he managed to avoid the blows of his enemies, he bestowed several as he leaped nimbly on. He, with the captain and Reuben Cole, had nearly gained the quarter-deck when a Spaniard rushed at the latter, and knocked him over with the butt-end of a musket. At the same moment the captain's foot slipped, and another Spaniard striking him a furious blow on the head, he fell senseless on the coaming of the hatchway, very nearly going over below. Paul fully believed that his brave captain was killed, and that his last moment was come. The Spaniard was about to repeat the blow when Paul, springing in, regardless of consequences to himself, cut him so severely under the arm with his sword that the man missed his aim, and he himself fell headlong down the hatchway.

Paul then, while he laid about him with his weapon, did the best thing he could by shouting at the top of his voice, "Help! help!—the captain is down—help! help!" at the same time laying about him in so energetic a way that none of the Spaniards seemed disposed to come within reach of his weapon. His shouts quickly brought several of the crew of the Cerberus to the rescue; and, while some kept the Spaniards at bay, the others assisted the captain, who was recovering from the effects of the blow, to rise. Paul, as soon as he saw the captain on his feet, hurried with two of his companions to the assistance of Reuben Cole, just in time to prevent some Spaniards from giving him his quietus. Reuben's head was a tolerably thick one; and, notwithstanding the severity of the blow, he quickly came to himself; and, seizing his cutlass with right good will, joined the party under the captain, who were employed in preventing the Spaniards from regaining possession of the quarter-deck. Meantime, several separate combats were going on in different parts of the ship. The Spaniards, as they recovered from their first surprise, rallied in considerable numbers; and, attacking the boatswain's party, which had been separated from that of the captain's, fought their way forward and re-took the forecastle. Paul could only discern what was going forward by the flashes of the pistols of the combatants on deck, and of the great guns which those below still continued to fire. As yet, however, the English mustered but few hands, considering the magnitude of the enterprise. Paul anxiously looked for the arrival of the other boats. Now some dark forms were seen rising above the hammock nettings. The Spaniards rushed to repel them, but at the same moment the cry was raised that others were appearing on the opposite side. Others came swarming over the bows, another party climbed up on the quarter. The shouts and cries of the combatants increased. On every side was heard the clashing of steel and the sharp crack of pistols. The British marines now formed on deck, and, led by their officers, charged the Spaniards. The bravest of the latter, who had been attacking the captain, threw down their arms and cried for mercy or leaped below. They were quickly followed by Bruff and Devereux, who drove them into the after-cabin, where some sixty of them lay down their weapons and begged for quarter. Others, however, still held out. The game was not won; reinforcements might come from the shore, and the gun-boats might pull up and prove awkward customers. The deck was, however, literally strewed with the bodies of the Spaniards, while as yet not an Englishman was killed, though many were badly wounded. Many of the Spaniards still held out bravely under the forecastle, and others on the main-deck; but the gunner and two men, though severely wounded, had got possession of the wheel. The seamen who had gone aloft loosed the foretop sail, the carpenters cut the stern cable, the best bower was cut at the same moment, just in time to prevent the ship from canting the wrong way.

The boats took the frigate in tow, and though as yet those on deck were scarcely in possession of the ship, directly she was seen to be moving, the batteries on either side opened a hot fire on her, but, undaunted, the brave crews rowed on in spite of the shot whizzing over their heads, and the efforts of the yet unsubdued portion of the Spaniards to regain the ship. Those of the latter who attempted to defend the forecastle suffered most, and were nearly all killed or driven overboard. Still the victory was not assured; a cry was raised that the Spaniards retreating below were forcing open the magazine for the purpose of blowing up the ship.

Devereux was the first to hear the report, and calling on Paul, who was near him, and a few others to follow, he leaped down the hatchway, and sword in hand dashed in among the astonished Spaniards, who with crowbars had just succeeded in breaking open the door of the magazine. One man grasped a pistol ready to fire into it. Paul, who felt his spirits raised to the highest pitch, and ready to dare and do any deed, however desperate, sprang into the midst of the group and struck up the Spaniard's arm, the pistol going off and the bullet lodging in the deck above. Several of the others were cut down by Devereux and his men, and the rest, strange as it may seem, fell on their knees and begged for quarter; though an instant before they were preparing to send themselves and their foes suddenly into eternity.

"Quarter! Pretty sort of quarter you deserve, ye blackguards, for wishing to blow up the ship after all the trouble we've had to take her," cried Reuben, giving one of the Spaniards, who still stood at the door of the magazine, a kick which lifted him half-way up the ladder leading to the deck above.

All opposition after this ceased below, but there was work enough to secure the prisoners and prevent them from making any similar attempt to that which had just been so happily frustrated. The hands on deck were meantime employed in making sail with all speed; and good reason had they for so doing, for the shot from a hundred guns were flying above and around them, some crashing on board and others going through the sails and cutting the running and standing rigging; but in spite of the iron shower not a man aloft shrank from his duty. As soon as a brace was cut, or a shroud severed, eager hands were ready to repair the damage. The gallant captain, though bleeding from more than one wound, stood by the mizen shrouds conning the ship, and not till she was clear of the harbour and no shot came near her did he relinquish his post.

The triumphant moment was, however, when the two frigates neared each other, and the victors shouted out, "We have got her—we have got her, without the loss of a man, though we have some pretty severe scratches among us. Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"

Loud and hearty were the cheers; but there was too little time for making speeches. Most of the prisoners were removed to the Cerberus. A prize-crew, under the command of the second lieutenant, was put on board the re-captured frigate, and a course was immediately shaped for Jamaica. When Paul at length was able to turn into his hammock he felt very low-spirited. Not a word had been said of anything that had been done. He felt that he had certainly saved the captain's life, and had in all probability prevented the ship from being blown up. Yet he would not be his own trumpeter, and he thought that very likely no one had observed what he had done, and that it would be entirely overlooked. "Well, I should not care so much for myself," he thought, "but dear mother—how she would rejoice to hear that I had made my own way up to the quarter-deck. It can't be helped, I must wait for another opportunity."

The fate Paul dreaded has been that of many who have struggled on year after year in the hopes of winning fame, and have after all missed the object at which they aimed.

It was reported that the captain was suffering severely from his wounds, and for some days he did not appear on deck. Devereux, however, had not forgotten Paul, and took the first occasion to tell him that he would mention him to the captain as having preserved the ship and all their lives from destruction. Paul, on this, felt very much inclined to say that he had been the means also of preserving the captain's life. "No, I won't, though," he thought; "the captain will make inquiries as to what happened when he was struck down, and the men who saw me defending him will surely tell him the truth."

He therefore simply thanked Devereux for his kind intentions.

"You know, sir, that what I did was to save my own life as well as that of others," he added.

"Very true, but still I think that the captain will consider your conduct worthy of reward," answered Devereux.

To Reuben, Paul was more communicative.

"But do you know which were the men who came when you called for help?" asked the former.

Paul could not be positive as to one of them, on account of the darkness and confusion.

"Then I must find out, my lad, and make all things square," muttered Reuben, as he walked away.

The victors had plenty of hard work in putting the prize to rights, in manning her and their own ship, and in looking after the prisoners. However, not long after they had lost sight of land, a sail hove in sight. Chase was made, and the stranger proved to be a Spanish schooner. She quickly hauled down her colours, and a boat was sent to bring her captain on board. The Don stood, hat in hand, trembling in every joint, at the gangway, his long sallow face drawn down to twice its usual length, expecting to be carried off a prisoner, and to have his vessel destroyed. As Captain Walford was unable to come on deck, Mr Order received him. If it had been possible for a Don to throw up his hat and to shout for joy, the Spanish skipper would have done it when the first-lieutenant told him, that if he would undertake to carry the prisoners back to Puerto Cabello in his schooner, he might go free. He did not skip, or throw up his hat, or sing, but advancing with a deep bow, one hand holding his hat, and the other pressed on his heart, he gave the lieutenant an embrace and then retired to the gangway. Mr Order did not exhibit any sign of satisfaction at this proceeding, but it was too ridiculous to make him angry; so he told him to get on board and prepare for the reception of his countrymen. The Spanish prisoners were soon tumbled into the boats, and heartily glad were the English seamen to be rid of them.

"Their habits are filthy, and as to manners, they have none," was the opinion generally formed of them on board.

"Now, if we'd have had as many mounseers, they'd have been fiddling and singing away as merry as crickets, and been good sport to us—long afore this," observed Reuben to Paul, as the schooner made sail to the southward.

Although the captain's hurts were severe, he was, after some days, able to come on deck. He looked pale and weak, but there was fire in his eye and a smile on his lip as he glanced at the captured frigate sailing at a few cables' length abeam.

"Let the people come aft, Mr Order," he said in a cheerful voice.

The crew were soon assembled, hat in hand, looking up to their captain with eager countenances as he opened his lips.

"My lads," he said, "I have been unable before to thank you, as I do from my heart, for the gallant way in which you carried out my wishes the other night when you re-took yonder frigate, so disgracefully held by the Spaniards. Where all did well, it is difficult to select those most deserving of praise, yet to the second-lieutenant and the boatswain and gunner my thanks are especially due, as they are to the surgeon for the able support he gave me. They will, I trust, receive the reward they merit in due time; but there is another person to whom I am most grateful, and whom I have it in my power to reward, as he fully deserves, immediately. To his presence of mind I find the preservation of the lives of all on board the prize is due, and I fully believe, that had it not been for his courage, I should not have been conscious of the glorious achievement we have accomplished. Paul Gerrard, come up here. Accept this dirk from me as a slight token of gratitude, and from henceforth consider yourself a quarter-deck officer—a midshipman."

Paul, his eyes sparkling, his countenance beaming, and his heart beating, sprang forward, helped on by the arms of the crew, all sympathising with his feelings. The captain shook him warmly by the hand before giving him his dirk—an example followed by all the officers and midshipmen, and by none more cordially than by Devereux and O'Grady. They then took him by the arm and hurried him below, where he found a suit of uniform, in which they speedily clothed him and returned with him in triumph on deck. Their appearance was the signal for the crew to give three as hearty cheers as ever burst from the throats of a man-of-war's crew. Paul's heart was too full to speak, and he could with difficulty stammer out his thanks to his captain. He felt indeed as if he had already reached the summit of his ambition. The captain reminded him, however, that he had a long way yet to climb, by observing that he had only just got his foot on the lower ratline, but that, if he went on as he had begun, he would certainly, if he lived, get to the top. The advice was indeed, from beginning to end, very good, but need not be repeated. Paul was so cordially received in the midshipmen's berth, that he soon felt himself perfectly at home, though he did not forget that he had a short time before served at the table at which he now sat.

The frigates arrived without accident at Jamaica, where the officers and crew received all the honours and marks of respect they so justly merited. The Cerberus required no repairs, and the prize was quickly got ready for sea. Captain Walford, however, suffered so severely from his wounds, that he was ordered home to recruit his strength. Devereux and O'Grady had never entirely recovered from their illness, and they also obtained leave to go home. Paul was very sorry to lose them, not being aware how much he was himself knocked up by the hardships he had gone through. Three or four days before the ship was to sail, the doctor came into the berth, and looking hard at him, desired to feel his pulse.

"I thought so," he remarked. "You feel rather queer, my boy, don't you?"

"Yes, sir, very ill," said Paul; "I don't know what is the matter with me."

"But I do," answered the doctor. "A fever is coming on, and the sooner you are out of this the better. I'll speak to the captain about you."

The fever did come on. Paul was sent to the hospital on shore, where he was tenderly nursed by Devereux, aided by O'Grady; the Cerberus, meantime, having sailed on a cruise under the command of Mr Order. As no ship of war was going home, Captain Walford took his passage in a sugar-laden merchantman, having Devereux and O'Grady with him, and he got Paul also invalided home. Paul's chief source of delight was the thought that he should present himself to his mother and sisters as a real veritable midshipman, in the uniform he so often in his dreams had worn, and of the happiness he should afford them. Their ship was not a very fast one, though she could carry a vast number of hogsheads of sugar, and was remarkably comfortable. The captain was more like a kind father and a good-natured tutor than most skippers, and they all had a very pleasant time of it. Paul had had no time for study while he was a ship-boy, and so the captain advised him to apply himself to navigation and to general reading; and he did so with so much good will, that, during the voyage, he made considerable progress. They were nearing the mouth of the Channel.

"In another week we shall be at home," said Paul.

"Yes, it will be jolly," answered Devereux. "You must come and see me, you know, at the Hall, and I'll introduce you to my family, and they'll make you amends somehow or other, if they can; they must, I am determined."

"Thank you heartily, Devereux," answered Paul; "but the short time I am likely to be at home I must spend with my mother, and though I know your kind wishes, people generally will not look with much respect on a person who was till lately a mere ship-boy."

"No fear of that, Gerrard; but we'll see, we'll see," answered Devereux.

"A sail on the weather bow," shouted the look-out from aloft, "standing across our course."

The West Indiaman, the Guava was her name, went floundering on as before; the master, however, who had gone aloft, kept his glass on the stranger. After some time he came down, his countenance rather paler than usual.

"She has tacked and is standing towards us," he said, addressing Captain Walford.

"Sorry to hear it, Mr Turtle. Is she big or little?"

"Why, sir, she has very square yards, and has much the look of a foreign man-of-war," answered the master.

"Umph! If she is Spanish we may beat her off, but if she proves French, she may be a somewhat tough customer; however, you will try, of course, Mr Turtle."

"If you advise resistance, we'll make it, sir, and do our best," said Captain Turtle, who, though fat, had no lack of spirit.

"By all means. Turn the hands up, load the guns, and open the arm-chest," was the answer.

The crew of the Guava, which was rather of a mixed character—blacks, mulattoes, Malays, Portuguese, and other foreigners,—were not very eager for the fight, but when they saw the spirit of the naval officers, especially of the young midshipmen, they loaded the guns, stuck the pistols in their belts, and girded on their cutlasses to prepare for the fight.

The Guava, of course, could not hope to escape by flight, so the safest course was to put a bold face on the matter, and to stand on. The stranger rapidly approached. There could no longer be any doubt as to her nationality, though no colours flew from her peak. She was pronounced to be French, though whether a national ship or a privateer was doubtful.

"If she is a privateer and we are taken, our chances of fair treatment are very small," observed Captain Walford.

"It will be hard lines for the skipper, after performing so gallant an action, to fall into the hands of the enemy," observed O'Grady. "For my part, I'd sooner blow up the ship."

"Not much to be gained by that," answered Devereux. "Let us fight like men and yield with dignity, if we are overmatched."

"The right sentiment," said Captain Walford. "There is no disgrace in being conquered by a superior force."

"As I fear that we shall be," muttered the master of the Guava. "Now, if I'd been left alone, I'd have knocked under at once. We've not the shadow of a chance."

"Then it's not like Captain Turtle's own shadow," whispered O'Grady, who could even at that moment indulge in a joke.

Matters were indeed becoming serious. The stranger was, it was soon seen, a powerful vessel, cither a large corvette or a small frigate, against which the heavily-rigged, ill-manned and slightly-armed merchant ship, had scarcely a chance. Still, such chance as there was, the English resolved to try. The order was given to fire high at the enemy's rigging, and the rest of the crew stood prepared to make all possible sail directly any of the Frenchman's spars were knocked away. Paul had been so accustomed to believe that whatever his captain undertook he would succeed in doing, that he had no fears on the subject. The Guava rolled on, the stranger approached, close-hauled. Captain Turtle, with a sigh, pronounced her to be a privateer, and a large frigate-built ship. She would have to pass, however, some little way astern of the Guava, if she continued steering as she was then doing. Suddenly she kept away, and fired a broadside from long guns, the shot flying among the Guava's rigging and doing much damage. The merchantman's guns could not reply with any effect, her shot falling short. The Frenchman saw his advantage. His shot came rattling on board the Guava, her spars and blocks falling thickly from aloft. At length the former was seen drawing near, evidently to range up alongside; and many of the crew, fancying that resistance was hopeless, ran below to secure their best clothes and valuables, while the officers, with heavy hearts, throwing their swords overboard, saw Captain Turtle haul down the colours. The Frenchmen were soon on board. They proved to be, not regular combatants, but rascally privateers; fellows who go forth to plunder their fellow-men, not for the sake of overcoming the enemies of their country and obtaining peace, but for the greed of gain, careless of the loss and suffering they inflict. These were of the worst sort. Their delight was unbounded, when they found that they had not only taken a rich prize, for sugar at that time fetched a high price in France, but had taken at one haul a post-captain and several officers, for besides the three midshipmen, there were two lieutenants, a surgeon, and master, going home for their health. The privateer's-men began by plundering the vessel and stripping the crew of every article they possessed about them, except the clothes they stood in. They took the property of the officers, but did not, at first, take anything from their persons. Captain Walford retained his coolness and self-possession, notwithstanding the annoyances he suffered, and the insults he received. The other officers imitated him. They were all transferred to the privateer.

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