"Why, old fellows, where have you come from in that curious guise?" he exclaimed, as he warmly wrung their hands.
"Oh, we ran away, and have been running ever since, barring some few weeks we spent shut up in an old castle and a tumble-down tower," answered O'Grady.
"And the captain, and I, and a few others, were exchanged two weeks ago for a lot of French midshipmen without any trouble whatever."
"As to that, now we are free, I don't care a rope-yarn for all the trouble we have had, nor if we had had ten times as much. But we ought to report ourselves to the captain; and we think—that is, Gerrard does—that we ought to let our prisoners take back the sloop which we ran away with."
"I agree with Gerrard, and so I am sure will the captain," said Devereux.
The frigate on board which the three adventurers so unexpectedly and happily found themselves was the Proserpine, Captain Percy, of forty-two guns. As she was on her trial cruise, having only just been fitted out, she was short of midshipmen, and Captain Percy offered to give both O'Grady and Paul a rating on board if Reuben would enter. This he willingly did, and they thus found themselves belonging to the ship. The occupants of the berth received them both very cordially, and paid especial attention to Paul, of whom Devereux had spoken to them in the warmest terms of praise. The surprise of the Frenchman and boy on board the sloop was very great, when Paul and Reuben, accompanied by some prisoners from the prize, appeared and released them; and when Paul told them that they might return home, and that some countrymen had come to help them navigate the ship, to express his joy and gratitude, he would have kissed them both had they allowed him; and he seemed at a loss how otherwise to show it, except by skipping and jumping about, on his deck. When he shortly afterwards passed the Proserpine, he and his companions waved their hats, and attempted to raise a cheer; but it sounded very weak and empty, or, as Reuben observed to one of his new shipmates, "It was no more like a British cheer than the squeak of a young porker is to a boatswain's whistle."
The prize thus easily gained was sent into Portsmouth, and the Proserpine continued her cruise. O'Grady and Paul would have liked to have gone in her; but they thought it better to wait till the frigate herself returned to port, when they might get leave to go home and visit their friends, and perhaps take a little prize-money with them to make up for what they had lost. They easily got a temporary rig-out on board, so that there was no absolute necessity for their going. Paul had hitherto, young as he was, held up manfully in spite of all the fatigue and anxiety he had gone through; but no sooner had the prize disappeared, than his strength and spirits seemed to give way. He kept in the berth for a day or two; but could scarcely crawl on deck, when Devereux reporting his condition to the surgeon, he was placed in the sick list. Both his old shipmates, Devereux and O'Grady, attended him with the fondest care, and he would have discovered, had he possessed sufficient consciousness, how completely he had wound himself round their hearts. He had done so, not by being proud, or boastful, or self-opinionated, or by paying them court, by any readiness to take offence, or by flattery, or by any other mean device, but by his bravery and honesty, by his gentleness and liveliness, by his readiness to oblige, and general good-nature and uprightness, and by being true to himself and true to others—doing to them as he would be done by. They became at last very sad—that is to say, as sad as midshipmen in a dashing frigate, with a good captain, can become during war time; for they thought that Paul was going to die, and the surgeon gave them no hopes. No one, however, was more sad than Reuben, who for many a watch below, when he ought to have been in his own hammock, sat by the side of his cot, administering the medicines left by the doctor, and tending him with all a woman's care and tenderness. The thoughts of his friends were for a time, however, called off from Paul by an event which brought all hands on deck—the appearance of a strange sail, pronounced to be a French frigate equal in size to the Proserpine. All sail was made in chase. The ship was cleared for action, and Paul with other sick was carried into the cockpit to be out of the way of shot. The gunner went to the magazine to send up powder; the carpenter and his mates to the wings, with plugs, to stop any shot-holes between wind and water; and the various other officers, commissioned and warrant, repaired to their respective posts. Paul had sufficiently recovered to know what was about to take place, and to wish to be on deck.
"Couldn't you let me go, doctor—only just while the action is going on?" he murmured out. "I'll come back, and go to bed, and do all you tell me—indeed I will."
"I am sorry to say that you could be of no use, my brave boy, and would certainly injure yourself very much; so you must stay where you are," answered the surgeon, who was busy in getting out the implements of his calling. "You will have many opportunities of fighting and taking other prizes besides the one which will, I hope, soon be ours."
The remarks of the surgeon were soon cut short by the loud roar of the guns overhead, as the frigate opened her fire on the enemy. Then speedily came the crashing sound of the return shot, as they tore through the stout planks, and split asunder even the oaken timbers. It was evident that the two ships were very close together by the loud sound of the enemy's guns and the effects of his shot. Not many minutes had passed since the firing commenced, when steps were heard descending the ladder, and first one wounded man, and then another, and another, was brought below and placed before the surgeon. He had scarcely begun to examine their wounds, when more poor fellows were brought below badly wounded.
"Ah! sir," said one of the seamen who bore them, as he was hurrying again on deck, in answer to a question from the surgeon, "there are many more than these down for whom you could do nothing."
"What, is the day going against us?" asked the surgeon.
"No, sir; I hope not. But the enemy is a big one, and will require a mighty deal of hammering before she gives in."
Paul looked out; but he soon closed his eyes, and he would gladly have closed his ears to the shrieks and groans of anguish which assailed them, while the poor fellows were under the hands of the surgeons, or waiting their turn to have their wounds dressed, or their limbs amputated. Paul was more particularly anxious about his old friends; and whenever anybody was brought near him, he inquired after them. The report was, from those who had seen them, that they were at their posts as yet unhurt. Again he waited. Now there was a cessation of firing. Once more it was renewed, and the wounded were brought down in even still greater numbers than at first. Paul's spirits fell very low. He had never felt so miserable, and so full of dread. What, if after all the Proserpine should be overmatched, and he and his companions again fall into the hands of the French, or should perhaps Devereux, or O'Grady, or his firm friend Reuben Cole, be killed! Suddenly he remembered what his mother often had told him, that in all troubles and difficulties he should pray; and so he hid his face in the pillow, and prayed that his countrymen might come off victorious, and that the lives of his friends might be preserved. By the time he had ceased his fears had vanished; his spirits rose. He had done all he could do, and the result he knew was in the hands of Him who rules the world. Still the battle raged. He heard remarks made by the wounded, by which he guessed that the enemy was indeed vastly superior, and that many a man, if not possessed of an indomitable spirit, would have yielded long ago; but that their captain would fight on till the ship sunk beneath his feet, or till not a man remained to work the guns. Several officers were among the badly wounded, and many were reported to be killed. At length there was a cry of grief, and their brave captain himself was brought below. Still the first-lieutenant remained to fight the ship, and his captain's last order to him was never to yield while the remotest hope of victory remained.
"Am I likely to survive?" asked the captain of the surgeon, after his wound had been examined.
"It is possible, sir; but I will not disguise from you that your wound is dangerous," was the answer.
"I should be resigned," said the captain, "could I know that the victory would be ours."
At that instant the sound of cheering came down into the cockpit. The captain heard it, and lifted up his head with a look of intense eagerness. Directly afterwards an officer appeared. His head was bound up, and his coat at the shoulder was torn and bloody. It was Devereux.
"The enemy has sheered off, sir, and is making all sail to the southward," he exclaimed, in a hurried tone. "We are unable to follow, for our fore-top-mast and main-mast are gone, and the fore-mast and mizen-mast, until they are fished, cannot carry sail."
"Thank heaven! thank heaven!" whispered the captain, falling back. The surgeon, whom he had sent to attend to others worse wounded than himself, as he thought, hurried back to him with a restorative cordial; but he shook his head as he vainly put it to his mouth: it was too late. In the moment of victory the gallant spirit of the captain had departed. The enemy with which the Proserpine had for so long thus nobly sustained this fierce engagement, was a 74-gun ship, more than half as large again as she was, and having on board nearly twice as many men. The sea was fortunately calm, and the masts being fished, sail was made, and in two days the frigate reached Portsmouth. As she had suffered much in the action, she required extensive repairs; and the sick and wounded were sent on shore to the hospital. In the list of the former was Paul; in the latter, Devereux. Paul still continued very weak and ill. Devereux was not dangerously hurt; but the surgeons would not allow him to travel to go to his friends, and they showed no disposition to come to him. Paul was too weak to write home himself, but he had got Devereux to do so for him, making, however, as light as he could of his illness.
Two days had scarcely elapsed, when they were told that a young lady was below, waiting to see Mr Gerrard.
"It must be my dear sister Mary," whispered Paul. "Oh, do go and see her before she comes here, Devereux, and tell her how ill I am, and prepare her for the sort of place she is to come to."
Hospitals in those days, especially in the war time, were very differently arranged to what they are now, when every attention is paid to the comfort and convenience of the patients. At that time, even in the best regulated, were sights, smells, and sounds, trying to the sensibilities even of ordinary persons, but especially so to those of a young lady brought up in the quiet and retirement of a rural village; but Mary Gerrard, who now entered the Portsmouth hospital, escorted by Devereux, had at that moment but one feeling, one thought—an earnest desire to reach the bedside of her brave young brother, who she thought was dying. After the first greetings were over, Paul, seeing her look very sad, entreated her not to grieve, as he was sure that he should get well and go home and see them all.
She prayed he might, and so did Devereux, though from what the doctor said, there could be little doubt that he was very ill. Mary did not tell him that his dear mother was very ill also, being sure that the knowledge of this would agitate him, and retard, if it did not prevent, his recovery. She entreated that she might remain night and day with her brother; but this was not allowed, and so she was obliged to take lodgings near at hand, where she remained at night when turned out of the hospital. Devereux, however, comforted her by promising that he would sit up as long as he was allowed with his friend, while O'Grady and Reuben Cole came on shore and assisted in nursing him; so that Paul was not so badly off after all. The consequence was, that in spite of the doctor's prognostications, Paul rapidly improved. As soon as he was in a fit condition to be moved, he was conveyed to some nice airy lodgings Mary had engaged; and here Devereux, who was also recovering from his wounds, and allowed to go out, was a constant visitor, that is to say, he came early in the morning, and stayed all day. He came at first for Paul's sake; but it might have been suspected that he now came for the sake of somebody else. He was no longer a midshipman, for he had received his commission as lieutenant soon after landing, provisionally on his passing the usual examination, in consequence of the action in which he had taken part, when he had acted as second in command, all the other officers being killed or wounded. Mary could not fail to like him, and although she knew the whole history of the disastrous lawsuit between her father and the Devereux family, she had never supposed that he belonged to them in any way.
It did not occur to Paul that his friend and his sister were becoming sincerely and deeply attached to each other. He asked Devereux one day why, now that he was strong enough, he did not go home to see his friends.
"Do you wish me gone?" asked Devereux.
"No, indeed, I do not," answered Paul; "but it surprised me that you should not be anxious to go and see them."
"Did they show any anxiety to come and see me, when they supposed I was wounded and ill, and perhaps dying?" he asked, in an animated tone. "No, Paul; but there is one who did come to see my best friend, who saved my life, and watched over me with more than the tenderness of a brother when I was sick, and for that person I have conceived an affection which I believe will only end with my life."
"Who can you mean, Devereux?" asked Paul, in a tone of surprise.
"Why, who but your sister Mary!" exclaimed Devereux. "Do you think that I could have spent so many days with her, and seen her tending on you like an angel of light, as she is, and not love her with all my heart?"
"Oh, my dear Devereux, I cannot tell you how I feel about it," said Paul, warmly taking his hand; "though I am sure Mary does not know that you belong to that family we all fancy have treated us so ill; yet, when she does come to know it, as she ought to know, still I do not think that it will bias her in her sentiments towards you. When she knows that you love her, I am sure that she must love you."
"Thank you, Paul; thank you, my dear fellow, for saying that. Then I will tell her at once," said Devereux.
And so he did; and Mary confessed that Paul was not far wrong in his conjectures.
It had, curiously enough, never occurred to her to what family Devereux belonged, and when she heard, she naturally hesitated about allying herself to people who, if they could not despise, would assuredly dislike her. Devereux, however, overcame all her scruples, which is not surprising, considering that he was scarcely twenty-one, and she was only nineteen.
When Paddy O'Grady heard of the arrangement he was delighted.
"All right, my dear fellow," he exclaimed. "When you marry Mary Gerrard, I'll run over to France and pop the question to little Rosalie Montauban, and bring her back to live in some snug box of a cottage I'll take near you. Won't it be charming?"
Midshipmen, when they think of marrying, always think of living in a snug little box of a cottage, just big enough for themselves, forgetting that they may wish for servants, and may some day expand somewhat in various ways.
Devereux ventured to suggest that Miss Rosalie might not be as willing to come away as O'Grady supposed, at which Paddy became very irate, the more so, that some such idea might possibly have been lurking within his own bosom. However, as the war was not over, and might not be for some time, he could not go just: then.
Paul was now sufficiently recovered to be moved, and Devereux got leave to help Mary in taking him home. They were also accompanied by Reuben Cole. Mrs Gerrard had begun to recover from the day that she heard Paul was out of all danger. She joyfully and proudly received them at her neat and pretty, though small cottage; and from the day of his arrival Devereux found himself treated as a son. Devereux had admired Mary watching over her sick brother. He admired her still more when affectionately tending on her mother, and surrounded by her younger brothers and sisters. Paul was made so much of that he ran a great chance of being spoilt. He had to put on his uniform, and exhibit himself to all the neighbourhood as the lad who had gone away as a poor ship-boy, and come back home as a full-blown midshipman. At last, one day Devereux received a letter from his home, suggesting that as he was in England he might possibly be disposed to pay them a visit. He went, though very reluctantly. He was greatly missed, not only by Paul and Mary, but by all the younger Gerrards. Not ten days had elapsed when he again made his appearance.
"They have had enough of me," he said, as he entered laughing. "But, Mary, dear," he added, after he had gone the round of handshaking, and, it may be, with a kiss or two from the lady part of the family, "the best news I have to tell you is that they will not oppose our marriage, if we will wait till I am made a commander, and then my father promises me three hundred a year, which, with my pay, will be a great deal more than we shall want. To be sure, I had to undertake to give up some thousands which might some day come to me; but it would not be for a long time, at all events, and, in my opinion, perhaps never; and I was determined not to risk the danger of losing you for money, or any other cause."
"Oh, my dear Gilbert! and have you sacrificed your fortune and your future prospects for my sake?" said Mary, her eye's filling with tears; and yet not looking, after all, as if she was very sorry.
"No, no! not in the slightest degree. I have laid them out, as a merchant would say, to the very best advantage, by securing what I know will tend to my very great and continued happiness," answered Gilbert Devereux, adding—
But never mind what he said or did after that. Certain it is, Mary made no further objections, and Mary and he were regularly betrothed, which is a very pleasant state of existence, provided people may hope to marry before very long, and expect, when they do marry, to have something to live on.
Soon after this Gilbert Devereux went to Portsmouth to pass his examination, and came back a full-blown lieutenant, with an epaulette on his left shoulder, which, when he put on his uniform, was very much admired.
Paul awoke very early the morning after Devereux had returned, in the same little room in which he slept before he went to sea, and which he had so often pictured to his mind's eye as he lay in his hammock tossed by the stormy sea. A stout sea-chest stood open in the room, and over it was hung a new uniform with brass buttons; a bright quadrant, and spy-glass, and dirk, and gold-laced hat, lay on the table, and the chest seemed filled to overflowing with the articles of a wardrobe, and a variety of little comforts which his fond mother and sisters, he was sure, had prepared for him. He turned round in his bed and gazed at the scene.
"I have dreamed this dream before," he said to himself. "It was vivid then—it is vivid now; but I will not be deceived as I was then!—oh, how bitterly—No, no, it is a dream. I fear that it is all a dream!"
But when the bright sunbeams came in and glittered on the quadrant and buttons, and the brass of the telescope, and on the gold lace, and the handle of the dirk, and the birds sang cheerily to greet the glorious sun, and the lowing of cows and the bleating of sheep was heard, and the crack of a carter's whip, and his "gee up" sounded not far away from under the window, Paul rubbed his eyes again and again, and, with a shout of joy and thankfulness, exclaimed—
"It is true! it is true! I really am a midshipman!"
And when he knelt down to say his prayers, as all true honest Christian boys do, he thanked God fervently for having preserved him from so many dangers and granted him fully the utmost desire of his young heart. When Paul appeared at breakfast, did not his mother and brothers and sisters admire him, even more than they did Gilbert Devereux, except, perhaps, Mary; and she certainly did not say that she admired Paul less. They were a very happy party, and only wished that to-morrow would not come. But such happiness to the brave men who fight Old England's battles, whether by sea or land, must, in war time at all events, be of brief duration. A long official-looking letter arrived for Devereux, and another of a less imposing character, from the first-lieutenant of the Proserpine, ordering Paul, if recovered, to join forthwith, as the ship was ready for sea. The letter for Devereux contained his appointment to the same ship, which was a great satisfaction to all concerned.
We will not describe what poor Mary felt or said. She well knew that the event was inevitable, and, like a true sensible girl, she nerved herself to endure it, though we dare say she did not fail to let Gilbert understand, to his satisfaction, how sorry she was to lose him. It is, indeed, cruel kindness to friends to let them suppose when parting from them that you do not care about them.
Reuben Cole, who had spent his holiday in the village with his old mother, and left her this time cash enough to make her comfortable, according to her notions, for many a day, came to the cottage to say that his time was up. The three old shipmates therefore set off together for Portsmouth. On their arrival they found that Mr Order, who had been made a commander in the West Indies, and had lately received his post rank, was appointed to command the Proserpine. The Cerberus had arrived some time before, and several of her officers and men had, in consequence of their regard for Captain Order, joined the Proserpine. Among them were Peter Bruff, still a mate, Tilly Blake, and old Croxton. The midshipmen's berth contained a merry party, some youngsters who had come to sea for the first time, full of life and hope, and some oldsters who were well-nigh sick of it and of everything else in the world, and longed to have a leg or an arm shot away that they might obtain a berth at Greenwich, and have done with it. At that time, however, there were not many of the latter sort.
At first it was supposed that their destination was foreign; but whether they were to be sent to the North American station, to the Mediterranean, to the Pacific, or to India, they could not ascertain; so that it rather puzzled them to know what sort of stores they should lay in, or with what style of garments they should provide themselves. However, on the morning they were to sail Captain Order received a dispatch directing him to join the Channel fleet.
"Do you know what that means?" asked Peter Bruff of the assembled mess. "Why, I will tell you, boys, that we shall be attached to the blockading squadron off Brest, and that month after month, blow high or blow low, we shall have to kick our heels there till we have kicked holes in them."
Those present expressed great dissatisfaction at the prospect in view; but Devereux, when the subject was discussed in the gun-room, was secretly very glad, because he hoped thus to hear more frequently from Mary, and to be able to write to her. His brother officers took up the idea that he was an author, from the sheets upon sheets of paper which he covered; but, as may be supposed, nothing could induce him to exhibit the result of his labours. While others were weary; discontented, and grumbling, he was always happy in the belief that Mary was always thinking of him, as he was of her.
Blockading is always disagreeable work, as there must be an ever watchful look-out, night and day, and ships are often kept till all their provisions are expended, or the ships themselves can stand the wear and tear no longer. The Proserpine had, as was expected, plenty to do. Paul, though not finding it pleasant more than the rest, was satisfied that it was calculated to give him ample experience in seamanship, and to make him the good officer he aspired to become.
However, as disagreeable as well as agreeable times must come to an end some time, if we will but wait that time, the Proserpine was relieved at length, and returned to Portsmouth. She was not allowed to remain there long, for as soon as she could be refitted, and had taken in a fresh supply of provisions, wood, and water, she again put to sea to join a squadron in the North Seas. Winter came on, and as she lay in Yarmouth Roads, directions were sent to Captain Order to prepare for the reception of an ambassador, or some other great man, who was to be conveyed to the Elbe, and landed at Cuxhaven, or any other place where he could be put on shore and make his way to his destination.
It was early in February, but the weather was unusually fine, and off the compact little island of Heligoland a signal was made for a pilot, who came on board and assured the captain that there was not the slightest difficulty in getting up the Elbe to Cuxhaven, if he would but proceed at between half-flood and half-ebb, when he could see the sand on either hand. All the buoys in the river had, however, been carried away, he observed, to prevent the enemy from getting up. With a favourable breeze the frigate stood up the river, guided by the experienced pilot. While the weather continued fine, the task was one of no great difficulty, though with a wintry wind blowing and the thermometer far down below the freezing-point, it was anything but a pleasant one.
"Faith, I'd rather be back stewing away among the niggers in the West Indies, would not you, Gerrard?" exclaimed Paddy O'Grady, beating his hands against his sides to keep them warm.
"I should not mind it for a change, if it was not to last long; but I confess I don't wish it to be colder," said Paul.
"Why, lads, this is nothing to what I have had to go through in the North Seas," remarked Bruff. "I've known it so cold that every drop of spray which came on board froze, and I've seen the whole deck, and every spar and rope one mass of ice, so that there was no getting the ropes to run through the sheaves of the blocks, and as to furling sails, which were mere sheets of ice, that was next to an impossibility. I warn you, if you don't like what we have got now, you'll like still less what is coming. There are some heavy snow-clouds driving up, and we shall have a shift of wind soon."
The frigate had now got up to within four miles of Cuxhaven, when, at about four o'clock, as the winter's day was closing in, it, as Bruff had anticipated, came on to snow so thickly that the pilot could no longer see the marks, and it accordingly became necessary to anchor. Later in the evening, when darkness had already set in, the wind shifted to the southward of east, and the snow fell with a density scarcely ever surpassed, as if the whole cloud mass of snow were descending bodily to the earth. Added to this, the high wind drove the ice, which had hitherto remained fixed to the shore, high up, directly down on the ship, threatening every instant to cut her cables, when she must have been driven on shore and lost.
"All hands on deck!" turned many a sleeper out of his hammock, where, if not warm, he was not so cold as elsewhere. All night long the crew were on deck, fending off the ice, which in huge masses came drifting down on them.
"What do you think of this, Paddy?" asked Bruff.
"Why, by my faith, that when a thing is bad we have good reason to be thankful that it's no worse," answered O'Grady. "Can anything be worse than this?"
"Yes, indeed, a great deal worse," said Bruff.
The morning broke at length, and as it was evident that the ambassador could not be landed at Cuxhaven, it was necessary to get out of the Elbe without delay, that he might be put on shore on the coast of Holstein, if possible.
The wind blew as strong as ever—a severe gale; but, the snow ceasing partially, the pilot was enabled to see the land. The ship stood on under one sail only—the utmost she could carry—a fore-topmast stay-sail.
"Hurrah! we shall soon be out of this trap, and once more in the open sea," exclaimed O'Grady. "So the pilot says."
"Are we well clear of the outer bank?" asked the captain.
The answer was in the affirmative; but it was scarcely given when the ship struck heavily, and, her keel cutting the sand, she thus became, as it seemed, firmly fixed. Then arose the cry from many mouths—
"We are lost! we are lost!"
"Silence!" exclaimed Captain Order; "until every effort has been made to get her off, let no one under my command say that."
When a captain finds his ship on shore, even though he is in no way to blame, he feels as did Captain Order, that a great misfortune has happened to him. No sooner was the Proserpine's way stopped, than the ice drifting down the river began to collect round her. Still the captain did not despair of getting her off. The boats were hoisted out for the purpose of carrying out an anchor to heave her off; but the ice came down so thickly with the ebb, which had begun to make, that they were again hoisted in, and all hands were employed in shoring up the ship to prevent her falling over on her side. Scarcely was this done when huge masses of ice came drifting down with fearful force directly on the ship, carrying away the shores as if they were so many reeds, and tearing off large sheets of the copper from her counter.
"I told you that matters might be worse. What do you think of the state of things?" said Bruff to Paul.
"That they are very bad; but I heard the captain say just now that he still hopes to get off," answered Paul. "I suppose that he is right on the principle Mr Devereux always advocates, 'Never to give in while the tenth part of a chance remains.'"
"Oh, Devereux is a fortunate man. He is a lieutenant, and will be a commander before long, and so looks on the bright side of everything, while I am still a wretched old mate, and have a right to expect the worst," answered Bruff, with some little bitterness in his tone. "I ought to have been promoted for that cutting-out affair."
So he ought. Poor Bruff, once the most joyous and uncomplaining in the mess, was becoming slightly acidulated by disappointment. He had good reason on this occasion for taking a gloomy view of the state of affairs.
The ice drove down in increasingly larger masses every instant. One mass struck the rudder, and, though it was as strong as wood and iron could make it, cut it in two, the lower part being thrown up by the concussion on to the surface of the floe, where it lay under the stern, the floe itself remaining fixed in that position by the other masses which had collected round the ship.
The ambassador and members of his suite looked uncomfortable, and made inquiries as to the best means of leaving the ship; but she was Captain Order's first command, and he had no idea of giving her up without making a great effort for her preservation. At length came an order which showed that matters were considered bad in the extreme:
"Heave overboard the guns!"
Rapidly the guns were run out, and, aided by crowbars, were forced through the ports; but so strong was the ice that they failed to break it, and lay on its surface round the ship. Mr Trunnion, the gunner, hurried about, assisting in the operation; but as each gun went overboard he gave a groan, and made a face as if, one by one, his own teeth were being drawn.
"Never mind, mate, the good ship holds together, and we'll get her off, I hope," observed the carpenter.
"The ship! What's the value of her compared to the guns?" exclaimed the gunner, turning on his heel.
The stores (to the purser's infinite grief) and water followed. Anchors and cables were now carried out, and the ice astern with infinite labour was broken away; but the efforts of the crew were in vain, and the ship still remained firmly fixed in her icy prison when night drew on.
What a night was that! Down came the snow thicker than ever, the fierce wind howled and shrieked through the rigging, and when the ebb tide made, the ice in huge masses came down, crashing with fearful force against the sides of the frigate, mass rising above mass, till it seemed as if it were about to entomb her in a frozen mountain. The science and experience of the oldest officers were set at nought, all the exertions of the crew were unavailing; the wind increased, the snow fell thicker, and the ice accumulated more and more. The cold, too, was intense, and with difficulty the men could face the freezing blast.
Paul thought of how often he had heard people complaining of the heat of the West Indies, and now how glad would they have been to have obtained some of that caloric they were then so anxious to be rid of. Already the masses of ice reached up to the cabin windows. A loud crack was heard. It came from the after part of the ship. The carpenter and his mates descended to ascertain the mischief. He soon returned with a long face and a look of alarm on his countenance, and, touching his hat to the captain, reported that the stern port was broken in two, and parts of the stern stove in, so that there was small chance of the ship floating, even should she be got off.
"Well, well, Auger, keep up your spirits, man," observed Mr Grummit, the boatswain, to his brother warrant officer; "the masts are standing, and in spite of the gale the spars are uninjured, and you may manage, after all, to copper up the old barkie to get her out of this."
"Ah, that's just like the way of the world, Grummit," said Trunnion. "As long as your masts are standing, you don't care how much harm happens to the hull under Auger's charge; and while the hull was undamaged, Auger didn't care for my guns; but just let's see your masts going over the side, and we should have you singing out as loudly as any one—that we should, I know; and just you look out, they'll be going before long."
The indignant gunner turned away. It seemed very probable that his prognostications would prove true, for already in all directions the gallant ship cracked and groaned as the ice pressed in from every quarter on her stout timbers.
Paul met Devereux, and asked him what he thought was going to happen.
"One of two things, my dear Gerrard," answered the young lieutenant; "we must either try to get on shore, or we must be ready to go down with the ship, should the wind drift her out of her present position. I know that you will be prepared for whatever we are called to encounter; but whatever occurs, keep near me. I shall not be happy if we are separated."
As Paul was in Devereux's watch, this he could easily promise to do. Hour after hour wore on. The cold increased. The weather gave no signs of mending. Death, in a form, though not the most terrible, yet calculated to produce intense suffering, stared them in the face. The men looked at each other, and asked what was next to happen. The captain and most of his officers, and the ambassador, were in consultation in the cabin. Many of the men believed that the ship herself could not much longer resist the violent pressure to which she was exposed, and expected every instant that her sides would be crushed together.
The calmest, as usual, was old Croxton, who had been actively going about his duty without making any demonstration.
"Lads, just listen to me," he observed. "Some of you are proposing one thing, and some another; but let me advise you to go on steadily doing your duty, smartly obeying our officers, and leaving all the rest in the hands of Providence. It is the business of the officers to plan and command, and, depend on it, they'll order us to do what they believe to be best."
A few minutes afterwards the drum beat for divisions, and as soon as the men were mustered, the captain addressed them, and told them that, at the desire of the ambassador, it had been resolved to abandon the ship.
"At the same time, my lads, you will remember that while she holds together, you still belong to her," he added. "While, for your own sakes, you will maintain that strict discipline which has done you so much credit ever since I have had the satisfaction of commanding you."
A hearty cheer was the answer to this address.
The men were then directed to provide themselves each with a change of clothing, and a supply of provisions for two days. All knew that the undertaking was perilous in the extreme. The nearest inhabited part of the small island of Newark was upwards of six miles distant. No one knew exactly the direction. The snow continued to fall thickly, the cold was intense, and the wind blew fiercely, while it was possible that the ice might break away and carry them with it before they could gain the land.
They were to march in subdivisions, each under their respective officers. With heavy hearts the officers and crew went down the side of the ship, and formed on the ice under her lee. The sick—fortunately there were very few—were supported by their comrades. There were some women and children; for them it was truly fearful work. The captain, having ascertained that no man was left on board, was the last to quit the ship. He could not speak as he came down the side and took his place in the van. The order to advance was given. Slowly, with heads bent down against the freezing blast, the party worked their way. In some places the tide or the wind had forced the water over the ice, and pools of half-frozen slush had been formed, through which they were compelled to wade. In others they had to climb over the huge slabs of ice which had been thrown up in wild confusion. On they toiled, however, those who kept close together assisting each other; but some, alas! in the thick snow separated by the inequalities of the surface over which they travelled, sunk unseen, and not, in many cases, till their comrades had advanced too far to render assistance, was their absence discovered. A poor boy—who, though somewhat weak and sickly, was a favourite with the men—was one of the first missed. He had been complaining of the cold, but had been encouraged to proceed by those near him.
"Oh, let me just lie down and rest for a few moments, I am so weary, I will come on with the others," he murmured.
"You will get no rest to do you good," was the answer. "Cheer up, cheer up, lad!"
A friendly hand was stretched out to help him. For some way he struggled on. Then there arose a huge pile of ice slabs, and he escaped from the friendly hand which held him.
"Ah, now I will rest quietly," he thought, as he laid himself down on a crevice of the ice filled with snow.
From that sleep he never awoke.
Among the women, one toiled on with a child in her arms. Many of the seamen offered to carry it; but she would not part with her treasure. On and on she moved. Her words became wandering, then scarcely articulate. She ceased at length to speak. Still she advanced. The snow fell thicker. The road became more uneven. Each person had to exert himself to the utmost to preserve his own life. They thought not of the poor woman and her child till they discovered that she was not among them. But not only did the weak sink down. Strong men in the same way disappeared from among their comrades. No one at the time exactly knew how. No one saw them fall. They were by the side of those who still walked on alive one moment, and the next they were gone.
Paul kept near Devereux. They conversed together as much as they could, and often addressed words of encouragement to the men, who, though often sinking, it appeared, with fatigue and cold, were revived, it seemed, and proceeded with as much spirit as at first.
Paul himself at length began to grow very weary, and to long to lie down and rest.
"If I could stop back for three minutes, I could easily run on and catch them up," he thought to himself; yet he did not like to make the proposal to Devereux, who, he still had sense enough to believe, would not agree to it.
Poor Paul, was this to be the termination of all your aspirations for naval glory, to sink down and die on a frozen sand-bank, within a few miles of a spot where you may obtain food, shelter, and warmth?
"I can stand it no longer, I must rest," he said to himself. "There is a snug spot between two slabs of ice, quite an arm-chair. I must sit in it, if only for two minutes."
Devereux must have divined his thoughts, or probably observed the irregular and faltering steps he was making, for, seizing him by the arm, he exclaimed, with judicious roughness—
"Come, rouse up, Paul, my dear fellow! We must have none of this folly. I did not expect it from you."
The words had their due effect. By a powerful effort Paul threw off his lethargy, and once more sprang on with the rest, continuing to talk and encourage his companions.
Still no one could tell whether or not they should ever reach their destination. The snow fell thicker than ever, and not a windmill, a spire, or a willow, or any of the objects which adorn the shores of the Elbe, could be seen to indicate that they were approaching the haunts of men. It was too evident that many of their number had passed from among them since they began their march, and no one could say who might follow. Many were complaining bitterly of the cold, and others had ceased to complain, as if no longer conscious of the effect it was producing.
Suddenly there was a shout from those in advance. The rear ranks hurried on. A house was seen, then another, and another. They were in the middle of a village. Kind people came out of their houses to inquire what had occurred; and at once there was no lack of hearty invitations, and the whole party were soon enjoying warmth, hot drinks, and dry clothing, which soon revived the greater number, though some who had been frost-bitten required considerable attention before they were set to rights.
The next day the storm raged as furiously as before, and so it continued for nearly a week, and all had reason to be thankful that they had reached a place of safety. At length, the weather moderating, and provisions on the island growing very scarce, the ambassador and his suite, and half of the ship's company, proceeded on, though not without great difficulty and hazard, to Cuxhaven, while the rest remained on the island, in the hope of saving some of the ship's stores.
Among the latter were Devereux, Paul, and O'Grady, with Reuben Cole. The next day they, with a party of men, volunteered to visit the wreck, to report on her condition, and to bring back some bread, of which they stood greatly in need. They succeeded in getting on board, and found the ship in even a worse condition than they had expected. She was on her beam ends, with upwards of seven feet of water in her, apparently broken asunder, the quarter-deck separated six feet from the gangway, and only kept together by the ice frozen round her. Their task accomplished, with a few articles of value and a supply of bread, they returned to the shore.
Considering that the risk was very great, the captain decided that no further visits should be paid to the ship.
However, one morning, the weather becoming very fine, it being understood that the captain had not actually prohibited a visit to the ship, Devereux, Paul, and O'Grady, with Cole and another man, set off to pay, as they said, the old barkie a farewell visit. The captain, who was ill in bed, only heard of their departure too late to recall them. The frost was so severe that the ice was well frozen, and thus they must have got on board; but it was supposed that they had remained on board till the tide changing made their return impossible. They were looked-for anxiously during the evening, but no tidings came of them. At night the wind again got up, and their shipmates, as they sat by the fires of their hospitable host, trembled for their safety. As soon as daylight returned the greater number were on foot. Not a vestige of her could be seen. The tide and wind rising together must have carried down the masses of ice with terrific force, and completely swept her decks.
When Captain Order heard of this, his feelings gave way. "To have lost my ship was bad enough," he exclaimed; "but to lose so many fine young fellows on a useless expedition is more than I can bear. It will be the cause of my death."
The few officers who remained with the captain could offer no consolation. The pilots and other people belonging to the place were consulted. They declared that from the condition of the ship when last visited, it was impossible that she could withstand the numerous masses of ice which during the past night must have, with terrific violence, been driven against her, that she had probably been cut down by degrees to the water's edge, and that thus the ice must have swept over her. They said that if even those on board had been able to launch a boat, no boat could have lived amid the floating ice; and that even, had she escaped from the ice, she must have foundered in the chopping sea running at the mouth of the river. Probably, when the weather moderated in the spring, portions of the wreck would be found thrown up on the shore, and that was all that would ever be known of her fate. The captain, after waiting some days, and nothing being heard of the frigate or the lost officers and men, being sufficiently recovered, proceeded with the remainder of the crew to Cuxhaven.
Devereux, Paul and O'Grady were general favourites, and their loss caused great sorrow among their surviving shipmates; but sailors, especially in those busy, stirring days, had little time for mourning for those who had gone where they knew that they themselves might soon be called on to follow. Some honest tears were shed to their memory, and the captain with a heavy heart wrote his despatches, giving an account of the loss of his ship, and of the subsequent misfortune by which the service had been deprived of so many gallant and promising young officers. The ambassador and his suite had for some time before taken their departure, as the French were known to be advancing eastward, and might have, had they delayed, intercepted them. For the same reason Captain Order and his officers and crew anxiously looked forward to the arrival of a ship of war to take them away, as they did not fancy finishing off their adventures by being made prisoners and marched off to Verdun, or some other unpleasant place, where the French at that time shut up their captives. At length a sloop of war arrived, and they reached England in safety. Captain Order and his officers had to undergo a court-martial for the loss of the frigate, when they were not only honourably acquitted, but were complimented on the admirable discipline which had been maintained, and were at once turned over to another frigate, the Dido, lately launched, and fitting with all possible dispatch for sea.
But there were sad hearts and weeping eyes in one humble home, where the loss of two deeply loved ones was mourned; and even in the paternal hall of O'Grady, and in the pretentious mansion of Devereux, sorrow was expressed, and some tears were shed for those who had thus early been cut off in their career of glory. We will not attempt to pry into the grief which existed in Gerrard's home. It did not show itself by loud cries and lamentations, but it was very evident that from one heart there all joyousness had for ever flown. Still Mary bore up wonderfully. All her attention seemed to be occupied in attending to her mother, who, already delicate, felt Paul's loss dreadfully. Her young brothers and sisters, too, required her care. As usual, she taught them their lessons, made and mended their clothes, helped to cook their dinners, and attended them at their meals. None of these things did she for a day leave undone, and even Sarah and John, whispering together, agreed that Mary could not have cared so very much for Gilbert, and still less for poor Paul.
Some weeks passed on, when one day, when Mary was out marketing, Mrs Gerrard received a letter curiously marked over—not very clean, and with a high postage. Fortunately she had just enough to pay for it. She read it more than once. "Poor, dear, sweet, good Mary!" she exclaimed; "I almost fear to tell her; the revulsion may be too great. I know how much she has suffered, though others don't."
A writer has a great advantage in being able to shift the scene, and to go backwards or forwards in time as he may find necessary. We must go back to that fine, bright, but bitterly cold morning when Lieutenant Devereux and his companions set off to visit the frigate. They were strong and hardy, had thick coats, and, besides, the exercise kept them warm. The way was difficult, often through deep snow, into which they sank up to their middles. They looked in vain for trace of any of their lost shipmates. They were already entombed beneath the glittering snow, not to be again seen till the warm sun of the spring should expose them to the gaze of passers by. They at length reached the ship, and climbed up through a main-deck port. How silent and melancholy seemed the deserted ship, lately crowded with active busy human beings never more again destined to people its decks.
They looked into the cabins and selected a few articles they had before forgotten, taking some articles from the cabins of their messmates which they thought might be valued. On the main-deck the injuries which the ship had received were not so apparent.
"Would it be possible to save her?" exclaimed Devereux. "If she could be buoyed up with empty casks and got off into deep water, we might patch her up sufficiently to run her over to Yarmouth Roads. I would rather see her bones left there than here."
"Anything you like I am ready for," said O'Grady, and Paul repeated the sentiment.
"I do not mean to say that we can do it by ourselves; but if we can form a good plan to place before the captain, perhaps he will let us have the rest of the people to carry it out," said Devereux. "However, before we begin, let us have some food. I am very hungry after our walk, and I daresay you all are."
All hands agreed to this; there was no lack of provisions. Some time was occupied in the meal, and then they set to work to make their survey. As they wished to be exact, and to ascertain the number of casks on which they could depend for floating the ship, the business occupied a longer time than they had expected. They had nearly completed their plans when Paul, looking through one of the ports, saw the water rushing by with great rapidity, carrying with it large blocks of ice capable of overwhelming anybody they might have struck. The tide had turned, it was too evident, some time, and their retreat to the shore was cut off. Paul reported the circumstance to Devereux. There was no doubt about the matter. They stood at the gangway gazing at the roaring torrent, full of masses of ice leaping over and grinding against each other. No one but a madman would have ventured to cross it. It seemed doubtful if even a boat could live in such a turmoil of waters. If the flood ran up thus strong, what might be the effects of the ebb? It would not be low water again till past midnight, and it would then be very dangerous, if not altogether impracticable, to get on shore. They must, therefore, make up their minds to remain on board till the following day.
"The old ship is not going to tumble to pieces just yet," said Devereux. "We might have had worse quarters than she can still afford, so we shall have to turn into our berths and wait till the sun rises again."
Whether the young lieutenant felt as confident as he expressed himself might have been doubted; but he was one of those wise people who always make the best of everything, carrying out practically the proverb "What cannot be cured must be endured." As they had plenty to do, and were able to light a fire in the cabin stove and another in the galley to cook their supper, they passed their time not unpleasantly. Their habits of naval discipline would not allow them to dispense with a watch, so, while the rest turned in, one officer and one man at a time walked the deck, though, as O'Grady remarked, "We are not likely to run foul of anything, seeing that we are hard and fast aground, and nothing will purposely run foul of us; and if anything does, it may, for we can't get out of its way." Devereux took the dog watch, O'Grady was to take the first, and Paul the middle. Paul was not sorry to turn in, for he was very tired. He had not slept, as he thought, when he felt O'Grady's hand on his shoulder, telling him that it was time to turn out.
He was on deck in a minute, where he found O'Grady, who was waiting his coming. Just as O'Grady was going down, a loud, grating, crushing noise assailed their ears. It was blowing very strong, and freezing extremely hard. The night also was very dark, and occasionally heavy falls of snow came on, making the obscurity greater. The rushing noise increased. The tide they knew must have turned, and was now coming down with terrific force.
"I say, Gerrard, I doubt if Devereux's plan will succeed, if the ice continues to come down in this fashion; more likely to cut the old barkie to pieces," observed O'Grady.
"I am afraid so," said Paul; "I'll ask Cole what he thinks of the state of affairs."
Reuben was found, and confessed that he did not like them. The wind had increased to a fearful gale, which howled and whistled through the shrouds, and between the intervals of these gusts the roar of the distant ocean could be heard, as the seas met together, or dashed in heavy rollers on the coast.
While the midshipmen and Reuben were talking, they became conscious that the ship was moving; her deck rose and fell very slowly certainly, but they felt the sensation of which perhaps only seamen could have been aware that they were standing on a floating body. They instantly called Devereux, and he was convinced of the awful fact that the frigate was moving. In her present condition she could not float long, and though they might lower a boat, it was impossible that a boat could live among the masses of ice rushing by. Perhaps the frigate might ground again. They sounded the well; she had not made much water since they came on board, so she might float for some time longer. Perhaps she was still in shallow water, and just gliding over the bottom. A lead was found and hove for soundings; but instead of striking the water, it came upon hard ice. The mystery was explained. The whole floe in which the ship was embedded was floating away. There could be little doubt about that. But where was it driving to? That was the question. It might drive out to sea, and becoming broken by the force of the waves, allow the ship to sink between its fragments. Still even then they might possibly be able to escape in a boat. One was therefore cleared and got ready for landing, and a supply of provisions, a compass, and water, were placed in her, with some spare cloaks and blankets to afford them a slight shield and protection from the inclemency of the weather. After this they could do no more than pray that warning might be given them of the ship's sinking, and wait patiently for day.
The cold was so intense that they would have been almost frozen to death had they not been able to keep up a fire in the cabin stove, round which officers and men now clustered. It might possibly be their last meeting on this side a watery grave, and yet they had all, young and old, been so accustomed to face death, that they did not allow the anticipation of it altogether to quench their spirits. They talked of the past and even of the future, although fully aware that that future on earth might not be for them.
Day came at last, cold and grey. They looked out; they were, as they had conjectured, surrounded by a solid floe of ice—so thick that there seemed little danger of its immediately breaking up. Beyond it was the leaden sea foaming and hissing—but, in spite of the gale, not breaking heavily, owing to the floes of ice floating about and the direction of the wind; while in the distance to the south, and on either hand, was a low line of coast, with islands here and there scattered now and then.
The prospect was uninviting. The ship was driving out to sea, and could not then long hold together. O'Grady proposed making an attempt to gain the shore in the boat; but Devereux pointed out the difficulty there would be in making headway against the furious gale then blowing, in addition to the risk of having the boat stove in by the ice.
"No, no; let us stick to the ship as long as she keeps above water," he added.
Of course all agreed that his decision was right. They were not idle, however. Paul suggested that if a boat could not live, a strong raft might; and as soon as breakfast was over, they set to work to build one. As they had plenty of time and materials, they made it big enough and strong enough to carry fifty men, and in the centre built a store-house to hold provisions for several days. Fortunately the ice did not move very fast; and before they had drifted far off the coast, the wind shifted, and drove them along it at the same rate as before. Still it continued freezing hard. A rapid thaw they had most to fear, as it would melt away the supporting floe, and let the ship sink. But then they might take to their boat. Had it not been for the anxiety they felt as to what might happen, they had no great cause to complain, as they had shelter and firing, and were amply supplied with provisions, besides, as O'Grady observed, enjoying the advantage, when the raft was finished, of having nothing to do. The third night they had spent on board came to a close. They kept a very strict watch, that should any change occur, they might not be taken unawares. On looking out they found the land much nearer than before. This was accounted for, as the wind had shifted, and now blew almost directly on shore.
"Our voyage will come to an end sooner than we expected last night," observed O'Grady. "For my part I am almost sorry; it's very good fun."
"It will be no laughing matter, if the wind increases, and a heavy surf breaks on the shore," said Devereux, who overheard the remark.
The ship, still surrounded by its mass of ice, to which it acted as a sail, drifted slowly, but steadily, towards the shore. The rate of progress was increased, however, before long by the rising wind, and the deck of the ship, hitherto only gently undulating, began to be tossed about with a motion more rapid than pleasant. As they drove on, the land opened out, and appeared on either hand; so that they found that they were at the entrance of an estuary, or the mouth of a wide river. But the sea rolled in very heavily, and they feared, if it increased, that the ice round the ship would break up. Still there would be ample warning given, and they dreaded no immediate danger. The raft and boat were both got ready. Should the ship sink, the former would in all probability float, and afford them a refuge should the boat be unable to live.
"And now all our preparations are made, we'll pipe to dinner," said Devereux.
And the whole party sat down to a not unsubstantial meal round the cabin stove. Dinner was over. It had been somewhat prolonged, for there was nothing to do, and they had been talking of by-gone days, and fighting their battles over again. It was time, however, to look out to see what progress they had been of late making. It was O'Grady's watch, and when he opened the cabin door to go out, he saw a mass of smoke eddying round in the fore-part of the deck. His companions soon joined him to ascertain beyond a doubt that the ship was on fire. It might still be overcome. But the fresh water had been started; there was only ice alongside, and the pumps were choked. The party made a rush towards the fire, in the hopes of beating it out; but they were soon convinced that it had gained hold of the ship, and that no efforts they could make to extinguish it would avail. How it had originated there was no time to consider. Probably some coal jerked out of the galley-fire had found its way below, and had ignited some of the stores. The flames now burst forth, and spread rapidly—bursting through the hatchways and ports, and soon enveloping the whole of the fore-part of the ship. The party were now exposed to even a more terrible danger than any they had anticipated. Their raft would no longer avail them. Their entire dependence must be on their frail boat. Still till the last moment they were unwilling to leave the once stout ship which had so long been their home.
"We must go, my lads," exclaimed Devereux, with a sigh, as the flames, fanned by the wind, rapidly approached the quarter-deck. "One good thing is, that should she drive on shore, and the French be in the neighbourhood, they will not benefit by her."
"Hurrah! one cheer for the old barkie before we leave her!" cried Reuben Cole, as they launched the boat on to the ice. "Another good is, that not another mortal man will set his foot on her deck after us."
"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!" they shouted, as they ran the boat over the ice.
They did not leave the ship a moment too soon, for scarcely had they got their boat into the water to the leeward of the floe, than the fore-mast, already a pyramid of fire, fell with a loud crash on the ice.
"There is something more coming, and the further off we are, the better," cried Devereux. "I should have thought of that before. Give way, lads; the fire will soon reach the magazine."
So long as the boat was under the lee of the floe she made tolerably fine weather of it; but as she increased her distance, the seas came rolling up after her, threatening every instant to engulph her. A mast had been stepped, and a sail got ready for hoisting. This was now run up, and assisted her greatly. Devereux steered, and even he could scarcely keep his eyes from the burning ship. A cry from his companions made him for an instant turn his head. There was a thundering deep report; and as he looked for an instant, the whole ship seemed, with her remaining masts and spars one mass of flame, to be lifted bodily up out of her icy cradle into the air. Up, up it went, and then, splitting into ten thousand fragments, down it came hissing and crashing, some into the foaming sea, and others on to the ice, where they continued to burn brilliantly. There was no cheering this time. Paul felt more inclined to cry, as he witnessed the fate of the gallant frigate.
"If the wreckers on shore were expecting a prize, they'll be mistaken," observed Reuben, when all had been silent for some time.
They had enough to do to look after their own safety. It was already dusk. Masses of ice were floating about, not very thickly, but thick enough to make it a matter of difficulty to avoid them. The land was flat, and they were nearer to it than they supposed. A point appeared on the right. If they could get round it without being swamped, they would be in smooth water. They gave the point a sufficient berth. A heavy sea came rolling by them; luffing up, they ran in, and in another minute found themselves standing up a river of some size in perfectly smooth water. The weather was very cold, and they were anxious to get on shore as soon as possible. The further up they went, however, the more likely they were, they thought, to find satisfactory shelter, for as yet no houses of any sort could be seen. Shelter, however, must, if possible, be found, for although they had provisions, the weather was too cold to allow them to remain out, if it could be helped. They stood on for nearly half an hour, when a light was seen glimmering on the opposite shore. They steered towards it, fortunately lowering the sail when at some distance from it, for before the boat had lost way, her stem struck against the ice which fringed the bank, and very nearly stove in her bow. Searching about, however, they at length found a landing-place, and with hearts thankful for their escape sprang on shore. That they might not be a burden to the people whose hospitality they intended to seek, they loaded themselves, not only with the valuables they had rescued from the wreck, but with a good supply of provisions. They proceeded, therefore, boldly along a tolerable road in the direction of the light, or rather lights, for several appeared as they advanced.
"Oh, depend on it we shall have a cordial reception," said O'Grady. "Very likely that is some fat old Burgomaster's country residence, and he is giving a ball, or an entertainment of some sort, for which we shall come in."
"As likely it is a flour-mill, and those lights we see are from its windows," remarked Devereux.
"We shall soon settle the point, for we shall be up to the place directly," said Paul. "The lights are lower than I at first thought, and appear to be in the windows of several houses. Hark! I hear the tramp of horses coming along the road."
"Qui va la?" shouted a voice, in sharp, stern accents. "Stand and declare yourselves!"
"We are in for it," whispered O'Grady. "What can the fellows be?"
"French dragoons, I am afraid," answered Paul, "There is no use attempting to deceive them. They ask who we are."
"Gerrard, you speak French better than I do; tell them," said Devereux.
"Naval officers who have lost their ship, and are seeking for shelter this bitter cold night," shouted Paul.
"Come then with us," exclaimed the sergeant in command of the patrol, riding up. "Your story, friends, may or may not be true. If you are spies, the consequences may be unpleasant."
Escorted by the horsemen, they were conducted to the building they had seen. It appeared to be a large country house. All the outhouses and lower rooms were converted into stables, little trouble having been taken to remove rich Brussels carpets or valuable furniture. They were led upstairs to a large room, where several officers were seated at supper, and were announced as prisoners just captured on the road, reporting themselves as naval officers.
"A likely story," observed the commanding officer—a general apparently by his uniform. "What have you to say for yourselves?"
"That our tale is true," answered Devereux. "Any person on the coast must have seen our ship burning. If you will send, you can ascertain the truth of that part of our account."
"It is a considerable distance from the coast, and we cannot spare men to send," said the general, gruffly.
"The boat by which we landed will be found at the bank of the river," observed Paul, quietly.
"Very likely, but that will only prove that you landed from some ship off the coast," exclaimed the general, in an angry tone. "You were found prowling about my head-quarters, the act of spies, and as spies you will be treated. If your story is not authenticated, you will be shot at sunrise."
"Say, rather, brutally murdered!" said Devereux, indignantly. "I call all here to witness that I state that I am a British officer, that these are my subordinates, that all I have said is true, and that we landed here not knowing that the French were occupying the country."
The general, once well known for his atrocious cruelties, had made a signal to the guard to lead away the prisoners, when a young man entered the room dressed in the uniform of an hussar. Paul looked at him very hard, struck by his strong likeness to Alphonse Montauban.
"What!" exclaimed the new comer, springing forward, and taking Paul's hand, "Is it possible?"
His voice made Devereux and O'Grady turn their heads; and in spite of the astonished and angry looks of the general and some of his officers, he grasped their hands; then turning to the general, he cried out—
"What have these officers done? They appear to be treated as criminals. I know them well. They are old friends, who, when I was their prisoner, treated me with kindness, sympathy, and generosity. I will answer for it that whatever account they have given of themselves is the true one."
"That alters the case, my dear Count," said the general, in a blander tone than he had as yet used. "If they really have been wrecked, although we must consider them as prisoners, they shall receive all courtesy at our hands, and be exchanged as soon as possible."
Of course Devereux again gave an account of their adventures, on the truth of which Alphonse staked his honour.
"Very well; then if they will pass their parole, they shall be committed to your charge, Count," said the general, with a more courteous glance at the English officers than he had hitherto bestowed.
All arrangements having been made, the prisoners accompanied Alphonse to his quarters, where, with the aid of the provisions they had brought, an ample repast was soon spread before them. Of course they were all eager to know how Alphonse had happened so opportunely to make his appearance. He briefly told them that his father, who was no other than the old gentleman in the chateau whom Paul and O'Grady had known as Mon Oncle, was the Count de Montauban, and that his title having been restored by the Emperor, he had, on his death, succeeded to it; that having left the marine, of which his experiences had made him heartily sick, he had entered the army, and had rapidly risen to the command of a troop in a light cavalry regiment. His corps belonged to a division of the army which for some strategical object had been pushed forward, but was expected quickly to retreat, when he thought it very possible that the general would set them at liberty.
The old friends spent a very pleasant evening, much pleasanter, O'Grady remarked, for his part, than if he had expected to be taken out to be shot the next morning as a spy. He asked, not without a blush, increased when he saw Paul's laughing eye fixed on him, after Rosalie.
"Oh, my dear cousin is well, and merry as ever, if I may judge by her letters, for she writes constantly to me; indeed, I may confess that our parents have arranged an affair between us which we neither of us shall be loath to carry out. When I saw her, she laughed a great deal at the attempts of my young Irish friend, as she called you, O'Grady, to learn French, and said that she was afraid she would have had to give you up as a hopeless case."
Poor Paddy made an hysterical attempt to join the laugh of his companions against himself, and it was observed that he never again, at least not for some years, spoke about his dear little Rosalie.
After a detention of some weeks, the whole party were, as Alphonse had anticipated they would be, released, and having ample funds which the young Count pressed on them, they made their way without difficulty to Cuxhaven, which place of course the captain and officers and crew of the lost frigate had long since left. They succeeded, however, without much delay in getting over to England. Mary recovered her health, and on Devereux becoming a commander, they were married. O'Grady married one of her younger sisters a few years afterwards, and when peace came, paid a very pleasant visit to his old friends the Count and Countess Montauban.
Paul rose to the top of his profession, and used to take great delight in narrating to his grandchildren his adventures when he was a cabin-boy. To one of these grandchildren I am indebted for this history.