"Are you quite sure that the captain was seized by a shark?" I demanded, looking round from one to another of the men, who had now turned their faces inboard and stood staring alternately at Charpentier and myself.
"Oh yes, monsieur," excitedly replied half a dozen of them all together, "we all saw it; it was a monster. And," continued one of them, "the captain had scarcely risen to the surface after his plunge overboard when the shark seized him by the middle and dragged him under. We all saw the blood dyeing the water,—did we not, shipmates?—but the captain never uttered a cry; just threw up his arms and vanished. Is not that it, my friends?"
"Yes, yes," they all exclaimed again, "that is it. Jules describes it exactly as it occurred."
"Then," said I, "it seems to me, Monsieur Charpentier, that, Captain Lemaitre and the mate being dead, nothing remains but for you to take command and navigate the schooner to her destination."
"But, monsieur, I cannot do that, for, unhappily, I am not a navigator," replied Charpentier, wringing his hands.
"Do you mean to say that you know nothing whatever about navigation!" demanded I.
"Alas, no, monsieur! nothing whatever," was the reply.
"And is there no one else among you who can navigate the schooner?" asked I.
The men looked at each other, shaking their heads and muttering, "Not I"; and finally Charpentier exclaimed, "You see, monsieur, there is not one of us who can navigate. What is to be done? You, monsieur, are an officer—at least so I understood Francois to say; perhaps you could—"
"Well," demanded I, seeing that the fellow hesitated, "perhaps I could— what?"
"Pardon, monsieur," exclaimed he, "I was in hopes that, considering the difficulty we are placed in by this most lamentable tragedy, you would kindly take command and navigate the schooner."
"I see," remarked I. "Well," I continued, "if such is the wish of you all, I have no objection to do as you wish. But—understand me—I will only consent to navigate the schooner back to the West Indies; I will not undertake the trouble and responsibility of carrying the ship to her destination and shipping a cargo. I disapprove, on principle, of slave- trading, which I consider an iniquitous traffic, and I will have nothing to do with it; but, if you are willing, I will navigate the ship back to Port Royal,—guaranteeing you immunity from capture upon our arrival, in consideration of the rescue and succour that you have afforded me,—and, when there, you will have no difficulty in procuring someone who will navigate the schooner from thence to Havana or any other port that you may choose to go to. Just talk it over among yourselves, and let me know what you decide on doing."
I could see that my proposal was not at all to Charpentier's liking, or, indeed, to the liking of any of the crew; but I cared not for that. I was quite determined to have nothing whatever to do with the kidnapping of any unfortunate blacks; and in the end they were obliged to give way, although Charpentier tried hard to dissuade me from my resolution; the result being, that immediately after I had ascertained our position at noon, we wore round and shaped a course for Martinique, that island being in a direct line with Jamaica. At first I was rather apprehensive that the disappointment of the men at so unprofitable a result of the voyage would cause them to be troublesome; but it did not. The question of turning back having once been settled, they all seemed to take the matter very philosophically, the fact that they were now relieved of the mate's tyranny perhaps reconciling them to such disappointment as they might otherwise have felt.
I need not dwell upon the return voyage, which was singularly uneventful; suffice it to say that, favoured with fine weather and a fair wind all the way, we made an exceptionally smart run across the Atlantic, entering Port Royal harbour on the morning of the twenty- second day after bearing up, and eleven weeks to a day from the date of my abduction by Dominguez.
My sudden reappearance created quite a sensation among the dockyard people, my disappearance having been involved in so much mystery that all sorts of surmises had been indulged in to account for it. Some were of opinion that I had fallen overboard into the harbour, and had found a secure hiding-place in the maw of a shark; but there were others who, happening to have been present when I was summoned from Mammy Wilkinson's hotel upon my supposititious errand of help and rescue to young Lindsay, at once mentioned the circumstance, with the result that a very strong suspicion of foul play was aroused. My friend and patron, the admiral, was especially concerned upon my account, even going to the length of offering a reward of fifty pounds for such intelligence as should lead to my discovery; but it resulted in nothing, those worthies, Caesar and Peter, perhaps being too much afraid to utter a word of what they knew. Then there occurred more frigate actions, resulting in so heavy a pressure of work, that nobody seemed to have any time to think about the mysterious disappearance of a somewhat obscure young lieutenant. But now that I had unexpectedly turned up again, safe and sound, I was overwhelmed with congratulations, while the admiral sent a party of police to the house to which I had been conveyed, with instructions that the two negroes were to be at once found and arrested. The house, however, proved to be empty when the police made their domiciliary visit; and, as for the negroes, their whereabouts was never discovered. Possibly the excitement of my reappearance, and the talk to which it gave rise, alarmed them and caused them to beat a hasty retreat to some other island.
To my great joy, I discovered that the Diane was not yet recommissioned, the repairs and alterations to her having been greatly delayed by the more pressing work of repairing the frigates, while the admiral—in the hope that I might still turn up, and with that extreme kindness that had marked all his treatment of me—had determined not to give the command of her to anyone else until she should be absolutely ready for sea. I therefore at once stepped into my former position, and lost no time in getting as many men to work upon her as could be spared. And there was the less difficulty in accomplishing this, that Morillo was believed to be more busy than ever, several outward-bound ships being overdue without the occurrence of any bad weather to account for their disappearance. Meanwhile, during the progress of the work aboard the brigantine, I gave myself up to the task of getting together a crew, of which my old friend Black Peter constituted himself the nucleus, while several former Terns volunteered, these again inducing other men of their acquaintance to come forward and join; so that by the time that the finishing touches were being put to the Diane, I had fifty-two first-rate men waiting to go aboard as soon as the ship should be ready to receive them. But I wanted five more to complete my complement, and these I picked up by making a raid one night upon the low boarding- houses in Kingston, where the crimps were in the habit of taking in sailors and keeping them in hiding until they had extracted from them every penny of their hard-earned wages.
At length, some five weeks from the date of my reappearance, the time arrived when the Diane, being ready for sea, with her guns mounted, provisions, water, and stores of every kind on board, and sails bent, hauled off alongside the powder hulk to ship her ammunition; and that delicate job having been successfully accomplished, under my personal supervision, I went up to Kingston to dine with the admiral prior to sailing, calling at the hotel on my way in order to change my clothes. As I entered the building, the head waiter—a negro—stepped forward and handed me a letter addressed in an unknown and foreign-looking handwriting to myself. I opened it at once, and found that it bore a date a full fortnight old, and read as follows, the language being English:—
"Senor Courtenay,—You have constituted yourself my especial enemy, and have apparently declared war to the knife against me. In return I now declare my determination to destroy you by whatever means may present themselves. Thrice have you injured me, either personally or through my agents; but rest assured that a day of reckoning will come, when you shall curse the hour that gave you birth. I will fight you wherever we may happen to meet, and let the strongest conquer. If you fear not to meet me, hoist a red swallow-tailed burgee to your fore royal masthead, that I may recognise your ship from others, Morillo."
"When did this letter arrive, and who brought it?" demanded I of the waiter, who stood by as I read the document.
"A black boy brought it, about half an hour ago, sah, an' said I was to be suah an' gib it you, sah, an' dat dar was no ansah, sah," replied the fellow.
"Did you know the boy?" demanded I.
"No, sah; nebber saw him befoah to my knowledge, sah," was the reply.
"Did you take enough notice of him to be able to recognise him should you happen to see him again?" asked I.
"I's afraid not, sah; those black boys are all exactly alike, you know, sah," replied the fellow, who was himself as black as the ace of spades.
"Well," said I, "if you should happen to see him again, and can manage to detain him until you can give him into custody, it will be worth five guineas to you. I should very much like to see that boy and ask him a question or two."
"All right, sah; if I see him I'll stop him, nebbah feah, sah," replied the waiter, with a grin; and therewith I hurried away to my room to dress.
THE END OF THE GUERRILLA.
I arrived at the Pen just in time for dinner, and found myself one of an unusually large party of guests, several men-o'-war being in port at the time, while a large contingent of civilians might always be met at the admiral's table. The old gentleman received me with all his wonted kindness and cordiality, introducing me to such of his guests as I had not met before, and relating over the dinner-table, with much gusto, the story of my abduction and escape. Then I produced Morillo's letter of defiance, which I took with me to show him, and which added a fillip to the conversation that lasted us until the cloth was drawn. We sat rather late over our wine, and when we rose to go the admiral invited me into his library for a moment, and said—
"Well, my lad, d'ye intend to accept that piratical rascal's challenge?"
"Most assuredly I do, sir, if I can but fall in with him," answered I.
"Very well," said the admiral, "you shall have every opportunity to give him the thrashing that he so richly deserves. There," handing me a packet, "are your orders, which you will find are that, while cruising against the enemy, and doing as much harm as you can to their commerce, you are to keep a bright lookout for Morillo, and either capture or destroy him at all costs. When do you sail?"
"The moment that I can get aboard, sir," answered I.
"That's right, that's right; you will then be able to make a good offing before the land-breeze drops," returned the admiral. "Well," he continued, "good-bye, my boy, and a successful cruise to you. And if, when you return, you bring Morillo with you, or can assure me of his destruction, you shall have t'other swab; for I shall consider that you have well-earned it."
And therewith I left him and drove into Kingston, where I routed out a boatman and made the best of my way aboard the Diane. An hour later the brigantine was under way, and threading her passage through the shoals to seaward under the influence of a roaring land-breeze.
The question that now exercised my mind was, where was I to look for Morillo? In what direction should I be most likely to find him? It was a most difficult question to answer; but, after considering the matter in all its bearings, I came to the conclusion that his most likely haunt would probably be near one of the great entrances from the Atlantic to the Caribbean Sea, where he would be conveniently posted to intercept and plunder both outward and homeward-bound ships; although he would probably take care not to establish himself too near, lest he should run foul of any of our cruisers stationed in the same locality for the protection of British bottoms trading to and from West Indian ports. He would in all likelihood select a spot some two or three hundred miles away out in the Atlantic, from which he could command both the outward and the homeward routes of ships bound from and to Europe. I opened a chart of the North Atlantic and studied it carefully, trying to imagine myself in his place, and thinking what I should do under such circumstances; and reasoning in this way, I at length fixed upon a belt of ocean suitable for piratical purposes, and thither I determined to make my way, thoroughly searching every mile of intervening water as I did so. Then came the question whether I should select the Windward or the Mona Passage by which to make my way into the Atlantic; and after much anxious consideration I decided upon the Windward Passage, that being the channel most frequently used by our merchantmen. I accordingly set the course for Morant Point, and then went below and turned in.
When I went on deck next morning, shortly after daybreak, I found that the Diane had weathered the point and was now on the starboard tack, heading well up for Cape Mayzi, with the Blue Mountains already assuming the hue from which they are named, as the brigantine rapidly left them astern. It was a brilliant morning, with the trade wind piping up to the tune of half a gale; yet the little ship was showing her topgallantsail to it, and sheering through the rather short, choppy sea like a mad thing, with her yards braced hard in against the lee rigging, and the lower half of her foresail dark with spray, while the white foam hissed and seethed and raced past her to leeward at a pace that made one giddy to look at. That the Diane was a perfect marvel in the matter of speed—and a good sea-boat withal—was undeniable; and as I stood aft, to windward of the helmsman, and watched the little hooker thrashing along, I felt sanguine that, should we be fortunate enough to encounter Senor Morillo, he would have but small chance of escaping us by showing a clean pair of heels.
The following midnight found us handsomely weathering Cape Mayzi, the most easterly extremity of the island of Cuba, after which we held on until we had brought the southern extremity of Great Inagua broad abeam, when we again tacked, and so worked our way out to sea between the Handkerchief shoal and Grand Caicos, passing an inward-bound Indiaman on the way. I spoke this vessel, asking if they had sighted any suspicious craft of late; to which the skipper replied that four days previously he had been chased by a French brig, which he had contrived to elude in the darkness; and that he had on the following day sighted and spoken the British frigate Euterpe, which had forthwith proceeded in quest of the brig. Thenceforth we sighted nothing until our fifth day out, when we fell in with the Euterpe, which had just returned to her station after an unsuccessful search. Two days later we sighted a British privateer, which made sail and tried to run away from us as soon as she made out our pennant, fearing—so the skipper said when we overhauled and compelled him to heave-to—that we should impress some of his men. But, as I had as many hands as I required, I let him go without compelling him to pay toll. His report was that the Atlantic was absolutely empty of shipping, he having sighted nothing but a British line-of-battle ship and three frigates during his passage across.
Finally, we reached the cruising-ground that I had selected as being the most likely spot in which to meet Morillo; and there we cruised for a full fortnight, just reaching to and fro athwart the wind, under mainsail, topsail, and jib, and still there was no sign of the Guerrilla or of any other craft. At length I became so thoroughly discouraged that one night, soon after sundown, I went below, got out my chart, and proceeded to study it afresh, with a view to the selection of some other cruising-ground; and at length, after long and anxious consideration, I fixed upon a new spot, for which I determined to bear up next day if by noon nothing had hove in sight.
It chanced, however, that at dawn next morning a craft was made out some ten miles to windward of us, and the officer of the watch at once came down below and called me. I went on deck immediately, to find that the day was just breaking, and the stranger even then only barely visible against the faint light that was spreading along the eastern horizon. As we stood looking, we made her out to be a square-rigged vessel, apparently of no great size, running down toward us under easy canvas; and the thought came to me that here was the Guerrilla at last, and that my patience was about to meet its reward. But a few minutes later—by which time, as I supposed, it had grown light enough to reveal our canvas to the approaching stranger—the craft suddenly hauled her wind; and I then saw that she was a brig. That she was not a merchantman was obvious from the fact that she was under such short canvas, all she showed being her two topsails, spanker, and jib—just such canvas as a privateer or gun-brig would show, in fact, on her cruising-ground; and I at once set her down for one or the other. Of her nationality, however, it was impossible to correctly judge at that distance and in the still imperfect light; but there was a certain subtle something in her appearance that suggested France as the land of her birth. Meanwhile, as she had rounded-to on the same tack as ourselves, evidently with the intention of taking a good look at us before approaching too near, we held on as we were going, taking no notice whatever of her. In about a quarter of an hour, however, it became apparent that we were head-reaching upon her; whereupon she dropped her foresail, to keep pace with us, while we on our part took a small pull upon the lee braces, which enabled us to head up a point higher, and so gradually edge up toward her.
Such excessive caution as the stranger was now exhibiting convinced me that she could not be British; she must, consequently, be an enemy. And having once made up my mind upon this point, I very gradually braced our yards as flat in against the rigging as they would come, flattened in the main and jib-sheets, and thus brought the Diane on a taut bowline, without, as I hoped, arousing the suspicion of the stranger, meanwhile keeping the telescope constantly levelled upon her in order that, should I see any hands in her rigging going aloft to make sail, we might follow suit without loss of time. But I did not wish to take the initiative, because by so doing I might possibly alarm them; while, so long as we both kept on as we were, we were gradually and almost imperceptibly closing her.
This state of affairs prevailed for about an hour, when suddenly—with the view, perhaps, of compelling us to disclose our intentions—the stranger tacked. Obliged thus to throw off the mask, we at once did the same, the hands—who had been standing by, waiting for orders—at the same time springing into the rigging to loose our additional canvas; and by the time that the little hooker was fairly round on the starboard tack, and the yards swung, our topgallant sail and gaff-topsail were sheeted home and in the act of being hoisted, together with the flying- jib, foretopmast staysail, and main and maintopmast staysails, while the fore tack was being boarded and the sheet hauled aft. This caused an immediate stir aboard the stranger, who, in her turn, at once set all plain sail to her topgallant sails, the wind being altogether too fresh for either of us to show a royal to it.
The manoeuvres just described brought the brig about three points before our starboard beam and some eight miles to windward of us, both craft being now close-hauled on the starboard tack. There was a strong breeze blowing from the north-east, with a fair amount of sea on, and the day was brilliantly fine, with a rich, clear, crystalline blue sky, dappled here and there with puffs of white trade-cloud sailing solemnly athwart our mastheads; a splendid day for sailing, and we had the whole of it before us.
It soon became apparent that we were gaining upon the brig—weathering and fore-reaching upon her at the same time; and as it was now broad daylight, I sent the men to quarters, hoisted our colours, and fired a shotted gun to windward as an invitation to her to heave-to; but of this she took no notice whatever. By nine o'clock—at which hour I took an observation of the sun for my longitude—we had fore-reached upon the brig sufficiently to bring her a couple of points abaft our weather beam, and then, in accordance with the rule for chasing, we tacked again; whereupon she did the same, thus bringing us right astern and slightly to windward of her. It was now a stern-chase, she being as nearly as possible seven miles ahead of us. The wind held steady, and hour after hour the two craft went plunging along at racing speed, the brigantine gaining steadily all the time, until by one o'clock the chase was within range, and we opened fire upon her with our long eighteen- pounder. Our shot flew close to her on either side,—as we could see by the jets of water thrown up,—but it was fully half an hour before we hit her, which we then did fair in the centre of her stern. She immediately shot into the wind, all aback, and it took them fully five minutes to box her off again, when—seeing, I suppose, that they could not now possibly escape us—her people clewed up her courses, hauled down topgallant sails and staysails, until they had reduced their canvas to what it had been when we first sighted her, hoisted French colours, and bore up for us.
It was at this time that we first made out the upper canvas of another vessel just appearing above the horizon in the northern board, and evidently steering in our direction; and upon sending aloft one of the midshipmen who were acting as my lieutenants, he reported her as a craft of apparently about our own size. The fact that she was heading toward us led me to the conclusion that she must be either a privateer or a small cruiser like ourselves,—evidently attracted by the sound of our guns,—and as I did not wish for her assistance, if a friend, or the additional anxiety of having to fight her at the same time as the brig, if an enemy, I called the hands aft and made them a brief speech, impressing upon them the importance of settling the brig's business as promptly as possible, in order that we might be free to give the other stranger our undivided attention, if necessary. They answered with a hearty cheer, and went back to their guns; and a quarter of an hour later the brig rounded-to within biscuit-toss to windward of us, giving us her larboard broadside as she did so.
This was the beginning of a regular set-to, hammer and tongs, between us, the French fighting with the utmost courage and determination, and playing havoc with our rigging, which they cut up so severely that half a dozen of our people were kept busy aloft knotting and splicing. At length, however, when the fight had thus been raging for a full hour, with heavy loss on both sides, tacking suddenly under cover of the smoke of our starboard broadside, we shot across the brig's stern, raking her with a double-shotted broadside from our larboard guns, which had the effect of bringing both her masts down by the run, rendering her a wreck and unmanageable; and we now felt that she was ours.
But we were reckoning without our host—or rather, without the second stranger, whom we had been altogether too busy to give a thought to. As the smoke of our guns blew away to leeward, and we prepared to tack again preparatory to passing once more athwart the brig's stern, I got a full and clear view of the stranger, who—approaching us from to windward—had hitherto been hidden from us by the brig and by the smoke of our combined cannonade. She was less than half a mile distant from us, and was at the moment in the very act of taking in her studding- sails. She was a brigantine, and a single glance at her sufficed to assure me that she was the Guerrilla, and that at last the feud between Morillo and myself was to be fought out to the bitter end. I had long ago prepared a red swallow-tailed burgee, such as the pirate had dared me to exhibit, and I immediately gave orders to hoist it at our fore royal masthead. The flag had scarcely reached the truck when I saw a black flag flutter out over the other brigantine's rail and go soaring aloft to her gaff-end. Morillo had evidently recognised my challenge, and was prompt to answer it.
Sweeping under the brig's stern again, at a distance of only a few fathoms, I hailed, asking whether they surrendered; but a pistol-shot, which flew close past my ear, was their only reply, so we gave them our starboard broadside, and then wore round to meet our new antagonist, leaving the brig meanwhile to her own devices.
I am of opinion that Morillo must have had a very shrewd suspicion as to our identity long before the exhibition of our burgee, because of the eager haste with which he bore down upon us. So eager, indeed, was he, that he carried his studding-sails just a minute or two too long; a mistake on his part, which enabled us to make a couple of short stretches to windward and secure the weather-gage before he was ready to round-to, although as soon as his people detected our purpose they worked with frantic haste to shorten sail.
The pirates opened the ball by giving us their whole larboard broadside while we were in stays, tacking toward them; but the guns were fired hurriedly, and did us no harm, the shot flying high over us and between our masts, without touching so much as a ropeyarn. Five minutes later we passed close across the Guerrilla's stern, making a half-board to clear her, and delivered our larboard broadside, with the eighteen- pounder thrown in, every shot taking effect and raking her from end to end. Morillo was standing aft by the taffrail, and as we passed near enough to hear the wash of the water about the pirate vessel's rudder, he suddenly snatched up a blunderbuss, and, singling me out, fired point-blank at me, one bullet knocking my cap off, while another lodged in my left shoulder, a third killing the man at our wheel, close behind me. The Guerrilla immediately ported her helm, while I, springing to our wheel, put it hard a-starboard, thus passing a second time athwart our antagonist's stern; and again we raked her mercilessly, this time with our starboard broadside. Keeping our wheel hard over, we swept round until we were once more in stays, the Guerrilla having tacked toward us a minute earlier, with the evident intention of raking us in her turn. We were just a little too quick for her, however, gathering way so smartly that, as we neared each other, it became evident that, unless one or the other of us tacked again, we must inevitably run foul of each other. I had no mind for this sort of thing, however, as we should probably hurt ourselves quite as much as our antagonist; so, holding on until we had only just room to clear the Guerrilla, and singing out for a second shot to be rammed home in the larboard guns, I eased our helm down just at the right moment, ranging up so close to the other brigantine that we almost grazed her side, when we exchanged broadsides at precisely the same instant, with terrible effect on both sides. At the same moment our topsail was thrown aback to deaden our way, and as the Guerrilla passed ahead our helm was put hard up and we paid square off across her stern, firing our starboard broadside into her as we did so. The result this time was absolutely disastrous to the pirates, for the guns were fired at the precise moment when the Guerrilla's stern was lifted up on the crest of a sea, while we were in the trough beyond; in consequence of which, our shot all struck her a trifle below her normal water-line, producing a very serious leak, which, even under the most favourable circumstances, it would have been exceedingly difficult to stop. But this was not the worst of it; the shot, by a lucky accident, so far as we were concerned, had somehow become concentrated, all of them taking effect upon the pirate's rudder and stern-post, with the result that the former was shot away, and the latter, as well as two or three hood-ends, so badly started that ere ten minutes had elapsed it became apparent that the Guerrilla was rapidly filling.
Meanwhile, however, we held on across her stern, filling our topsail again, and tacking as soon as we had room; while the pirate brigantine, deprived of her rudder, shot into the wind and got in irons, obstinately refusing to pay off on either tack. This enabled us to sweep across her bows, pouring in our port broadside as we passed, raking her fore and aft, and bringing down her foremast by the run. Holding on for a few minutes, we next wore round—getting her starboard broadside as we passed—and then cut close across her stern again, raking her as before. By this time, however, it had become apparent that she was sinking, so, having once more tacked, we ranged up close athwart her stern, with our topsail aback, when, instead of firing, I hailed to ask if they surrendered.
"No, senor," replied Morillo himself, who was standing aft close to the now useless wheel, "we will never surrender! I wrote you a letter— which I hope you received—in which I said that I would fight you until my ship sinks under me; and I mean to do so. I also told you that my feud with you is to the death; so, take that!" and therewith the scoundrel quickly levelled a pistol and, for the second time that day, fired point-blank at me! And there is no doubt whatever that this time he would have slain me—for the pistol was pointed so truly that I actually looked for a moment right into the barrel of it—had it not been for the Diane's helmsman, who unceremoniously seized me by the arm in the very nick of time and quickly pulled me aside. As it was, the bullet whistled close past my ear. This dastardly act so exasperated our people that forthwith, without waiting for orders, they poured the whole of our port broadside into the devoted craft, completely demolishing her stern, so that for a few seconds, as we drew slowly athwart her wake, we got a full view of her decks, which were cumbered with killed and wounded, and literally streaming with blood. Still, by a miracle, Morillo himself survived this last destructive broadside of ours; for when the smoke blew away I saw him still standing erect and shaking his fist defiantly at us.
It was by this time evident to us all that the Guerrilla was a doomed ship; she was settling fast in the water, and to continue firing upon her would only be a waste of ammunition. We therefore filled our topsail and, a few minutes later, tacked, again getting a broadside from the sinking ship, when we stationed ourselves square athwart her bows— where we were pretty well out of the way of her fire—and, with topsail aback and mainsheet eased off, waited patiently for the final moment, which we saw was rapidly approaching. Yet, even now, Morillo persisted in firing at us with his two bow guns, compelling us to fire upon him in return; and so the useless fight went on, until the Guerrilla had settled so low in the water that the sea welled in over her bows at every plunge of her, rendering it impossible to any longer maintain their fire. Then, with folded hands, we all stood by, watching for the end.
And a very melancholy picture it was upon which we looked. There was the illimitable expanse of ocean all round us, blue as sapphire, heaving in long, regular ridges of swell, and whipped into foam here and there by the scourging of the strong trade wind, with a rich blue sky above, dappled with wisps of trade-cloud, and the sun shining brilliantly down from the midst of them, causing the heaving waters to flash and glitter under his fiery beams, so that the sea that way was too dazzling to look at. And there, right in the centre of the glowing picture, lay the two brigantines—we with our bulwarks torn and splintered to pieces, our sails riddled with shot-holes, our rigging badly cut up, and our decks scored with shot-marks and littered with dead and wounded men; while the Guerrilla was an even more melancholy wreck than ourselves, as she lay heaving and rolling sluggishly, with her covering-boards awash and the sea sweeping her decks from stem to taffrail at every plunge, and the wreck of her foremast towing under her bows. There was not a soul visible on board her. When she first engaged us her decks had appeared to be crowded with men, but now most of them were either killed or wounded, and the few who had escaped seemed to have flung themselves down exhausted, for they had all disappeared. As for the craft herself, it was now only when she rose heavily upon the ridges of the swell that we could see her hull at all; and every plunge that she took into a hollow threatened to be her last. Yet she lingered, as though reluctant to leave the brilliant sunshine and the warm, strong breeze; lingered until I began to wonder whether she would not after all remain afloat, a water-logged wreck; and then, all in a moment, her stern rose high in the air, revealing her shattered rudder and stern-post, and with a long, slow, diving movement, she plunged forward, like a sounding whale, and silently vanished in a little swirl of water. We at once bore up for the spot where she had disappeared,—finding it easily by the torn and splintered fragments of wreckage that came floating up to the surface,— but her crew went down with her, to a man; for although we cruised about the spot for fully half an hour, we never saw even so much as a dead body come to the surface.
And so ended that terror of the seas, the Guerrilla, with her bloodthirsty pirate crew; and with her destruction ended the feud that had been thrust upon me by one of the most fiendish monsters in human form that ever sailed the ocean. It may perhaps seem to the reader a cold-blooded deed on our part to remain passively by and calmly watch the passing of those wretches to their account; but in reality it was an act of mercy, for their end was at least swift; whereas, had we saved any of them, it would only have been that they might terminate their career upon the gallows.
Meanwhile, the brig had dropped some six miles to leeward during the fight, and her crew had made the best of the opportunity by endeavouring to get some jury-spars aloft. The time, however, was too short for that, and when we ran down to them they were still in the thick of their work. But they had now had enough of fighting, for when I again hailed to ask if they surrendered, they at once replied in the affirmative; and in due course we took possession of the Nereide of Bordeaux, armed with twelve long nine-pounders, and with a crew originally of eighty-six men, of whom twenty-three were killed and fifty-seven wounded in her fight with us. We spent the remainder of that day in completing the rigging of the jury-masts that her people had begun, and made sail upon both craft just after sunset that same evening, arriving safely in Port Royal harbour some three weeks later.
And now, what remains to be said? The tale of my association with the fate of Morillo the Pirate is told; and all I need add is that when the account of my exploit was told, I received a great deal more credit and praise than I felt I really deserved; while, as for my friend the admiral—well, he was as good as his word, for within twenty-four hours of my arrival with my prize in Port Royal harbour, he handed me, with hearty congratulations and many kind words, the commission that entitled me to mount "t'other swab."