AS WE SWEEP THROUGH THE DEEP
T. NELSON AND SONS London, Edinburgh, and New York
AS WE SWEEP THROUGH THE DEEP
A Story of the Stirring Times of Old
BY DR. GORDON-STABLES, R.N., Author of "Hearts of Oak," &c.
T. NELSON AND SONS London, Edinburgh, and New York 1894
I. POOR JACK, 9 II. "HE NEVER SAID HE LOVED ME," 20 III. AN INTERRUPTED PROPOSAL, 27 IV. THE BATTLE AND THE BREEZE, 33 V. "NOW THIS GOOD BLADE SHALL BE MY BRIDE," 43 VI. A BOLT FROM THE BLUE, 54 VII. "WENT GLIDING AWAY LIKE A BEAUTIFUL GHOST," 61 VIII. ON BOARD THE SAUCY "TONNERAIRE," 70 IX. "A SPLENDID NIGHT'S WORK, TOM!" 78 X. IN THE MOON'S BRIGHT WAKE, 87 XI. THE PHANTOM FRENCHMAN, 94 XII. A BATTLE BY NIGHT, 103 XIII. A HAPPY SHIP, 111 XIV. MUTINY, 123 XV. BEFORE CADIZ, 129 XVI. JACK AND THE MUTINEERS, 138 XVII. IN A FOOL'S PARADISE, 145 XVIII. "WOULD HE EVER COME AGAIN?" 152 XIX. THE BATTLE OF CAMPERDOWN, 162 XX. NELSON AND THE NILE, 171 XXI. WILLIE DIED A HERO'S DEATH, 180 XXII. STILL WATERS RUN DEEP, 189 XXIII. "IT'S ALL UP, MR. RICHARDS, IT'S ALL UP!" 197 XXIV. BY THE OLD DIAL-STONE, 206
As We Sweep through the Deep.
"As ye sweep through the deep While the stormy winds do blow, While the battle rages loud and long, And the stormy winds do blow." CAMPBELL.
"Just two years this very day since poor Jack Mackenzie sailed away from England in the Ocean Pride."
Mr. Richards, of the tough old firm of Griffin, Keane, and Co., Solicitors, London, talked more to himself than to any one within hearing.
As he spoke he straightened himself up from his desk in a weary kind of way, and began to mend his pen: they used quills in those good old times.
"Just two years! How the time flies! And we're not getting any younger. Are we, partner?"
Whether Mr. Keane heard what he said or not, he certainly did not reply immediately. He was standing by the window, gazing out into the half-dark, fog-shaded street.
"Fog, fog, fog!" he grunted peevishly; "nothing but fog and gloom. Been nothing else all winter; and now that spring has all but come, why it's fog, fog, fog, just the same! Tired of it—sick of it!"
Then he turned sharply round, exclaiming, "What did you say about Jack and about growing younger?"
Mr. Richards smiled a conciliatory smile. He was the junior partner though the older man—if that is not a paradox—for his share in the firm was not a quarter as large as Keane's, who was really Keane by name and keen by nature, of small stature, with dark hair turning gray, active, business-like, and a trifle suspicious.
Mr. Richards was delightfully different in every way—a round rosy face that might have belonged to some old sea-captain, a bald and rosy forehead, hair as white as drifted snow, and a pair of blue eyes that always seemed brimming over with kindness and good-humour.
"I was talking more to my pen than to you," he said quietly.
"But what's given you Jack on the brain, eh?"
"Oh, nothing—nothing in particular, that is. I happened to turn to his account, that is all."
"Bother him. Yes, and but for you, Richards, never an account should he have had with us."
"Well, Jack gets round me somehow. He is not half a bad lad, with his dash and his fun and his jollity. Ay, and his ways are very winning sometimes. He does get round one, partner."
"I don't doubt it, Richards. Winning enough when he wants to get round you and wheedle cash out of you. I tell you what, partner: Jack's got all his father's aristocratic notions, all his father's pride and improvidence. Ay, and he'd ruin his dad too, if—if—"
"If what, partner?"
"Why, if his dad weren't ruined already."
"Come, come, Keane, it isn't quite so bad as that."
"Pretty nigh it, I can assure you. And I can't get the proud old Scot to retrench. Why doesn't he let that baronial hall of his, instead of sticking to it and mortgaging it in order to keep up appearances and entertain half the gentry in the county? Why doesn't he take a five-roomed cottage, and let his daughter teach the harp that she plays so well?"
"O partner! Come, you know!"
"Well, 'O partner' as much as you like; if old Mackenzie's pride were proper pride, his daughter would take in washing sooner than the family should go deeper in debt every day. But the crisis will come; somebody will foreclose."
"You won't surely, partner?"
"Bother your sentiment, Richards. He owes me over forty thousand pounds. Think of that. I declare I believe I'd be a better landlord than Mack himself. Forty thousand pounds, Richards, and I don't see any way of getting a penny, except by—"
"Except by foreclosing?"
Richards sighed as he bent once more over his desk. He had been family lawyer to Mackenzie before he joined the firm of Griffin, Keane, and Co., and dearly loved the family, or what was left of it.
He tried to work but couldn't now. Presently he closed the ledger with a bang and got down off his stool.
"I say, Keane." he said, "I see a way out of this. Look here. You have nobody to leave your wealth to except dear little Gerty—"
"Well, Jack is precious fond of her; why not—"
"He, he, he! ho, ho, ho!" laughed Keane. "Why, Richards, you're in your dotage, man! I've a baronet in view for Gerty. And Jack is a beggar, although he does swing a sword at his side and fight the French."
Richards went back to his stool quiet and subdued. "Poor Jack!" he muttered.
* * * * *
"Just two years this very day, Gerty dear, since poor Jack sailed away from England in the Ocean Pride."
Flora Mackenzie bent listlessly over the harp she had been playing as she spoke, her fingers touching a chord or two that seemed in unison with her thoughts. The two girls, Gerty Keane and she, who were seldom separate now, by day or night, sat in Flora's boudoir, which had two great windows opening on to a balcony and overlooking the grand old gardens of Grantley Hall, Suffolk. Grant Mackenzie, a sturdy old one-armed soldier, was the proud owner of the Hall and all the wide, wooded landscape for miles around. Jack, now far away at sea, was his heir, and with his sister Flora, the only children the general had. The fine old soldier had been in possession of the property only about a dozen years, yet I fear he had inherited something else—namely, the lordly fashions of his Highland ancestry. That branch of the Clan Mackenzie to which he belonged was nothing unless proud. So long as it could hold its head a little higher than its neighbours it was happy, and when poverty came then death might follow as soon as it pleased. There was every appearance of unbounded wealth in and around Grantley Hall. The house was a massive old Elizabethan mansion, half buried in lofty lime and elm and oak trees, approached by a winding drive, and a long way back from the main road that leads through this beautiful shire from north to south.
Everything was large connected with the Hall and estate. There were no finer trees anywhere in England than those sturdy oaks and elms, no more stately waving pine trees, and no more shady drooping limes than those that bordered the broad grass ride which stretched for many a mile across the estate. On the park-like lawn in front of the house—if this ancient quaint old pile could be said to have a front—the flower-beds were as big as suburban gardens, the statuary, the fountains, and even the gray and moss-grown dial-stone were gigantic; and nowhere else in all this vast and wealthy county were such stately herons seen as those that sailed around Grantley and built in its trees. The entrance-hall was spacious and noble, though the porch was comparatively small; but if divested of its banners and curtains and emptied of its antique furniture, its wealth-laden tables, on which jewelled arms and curios from every land under the sun seemed to have been laid out for show, its oaken chests, its sideboards, its organ and many another musical instrument ancient and modern, the drawing-room was large enough to have driven a coach-and-four around.
The bedrooms above were many of them so lofty that in the dead, dull winter two great fires in each could hardly keep them warm.
The room in which the girls sat was the tartan boudoir. The walls were draped with clan tartans, and eke the lounges and chairs; while the heads of many a royal stag adorned the walls, amidst tastefully displayed claymores, spears, shields, and dirks, and pistols.
"Just two years, Gerty. How quickly the time has fled!"
"Just two years, Flora. Strange that I should have been thinking about Jack this very moment. But then you were playing one of Jack's favourite airs, you know."
Flora got up from her seat at the harp. A tall and graceful girl she was, with a wealth of auburn hair, and blue dreamy eyes, and eyelashes that swept her sun-tinted cheeks when she looked downwards.
She got up from her seat, and went and knelt beside the couch on which Gerty was lounging with a book.
"Why strange, sister?" she asked, taking Gerty's hand.
Gerty was petite, blonde, bewitching—so many a young man said, and many a rough old squire as well. She was no baby in face, however. Although of the purest type of Saxon beauty—without the square chin that so disfigures many an otherwise lovely English face—there was fire and character in every lineament of Gerty Keane's countenance.
She answered Flora calmly, candidly, quietly—I am almost inclined to say, in a business way that reminded one of her father.
"Dear Flo," she said—and her eyes as she spoke had a sad and far-away look in them—"it would be unmaidenly in me to say how much I should like to be your sister in reality. It may not be strange for me to think of Jack; we have liked each other, almost loved each other, since childhood."
"Almost?" said Flora.
"Listen, Flo. I may love Jack, but there is one other I love even more."
"Sir Digby, Gerty?"
"No, dear Flo, but my father. I love him more because he has few friends, and because others do not love him. I would do anything for father."
"You would even marry Sir Digby?"
"O Gerty! poor Jack will break his heart."
She buried her face in the pillow for a few moments. She was struggling with the grief that bid fair to choke her. When she looked up again there was nothing but softness in Gerty's face, and tears were coursing down her cheeks—tears she made no effort to wipe away.
* * * * *
"Just two years to-day, Tom, since you and I sailed away from dear old England in the Ocean Pride."
"And hasn't the time flown too?" said Tom.
"Ah! but then we've been so busy. Just think of the many actions we've fought."
"True, Jack, true! What a lucky, ay, and what a glorious thing for young fellows like us to be in a ship commanded by so daring a sailor as Sir Sidney Salt!"
"Yes, Tom, yes. And think of the haul of prize-money we shall have when we once more touch British ground."
"O Jack, I am surprised. Money! A Mackenzie of the Mackenzies to be mercenary! Jack, Jack!"
Jack and Tom were keeping their watch—that is, it was Tom's watch, and Jack had come on deck to bear him company and talk of home.
Under every stitch of canvas, with a bracing beam wind that filled every sail, jib, and square, and stay, the bold frigate Ocean Pride was skimming across the Atlantic like a veritable sea-bird. She was bound for the lone Bermudas, and the night was a heavenly one. So no wonder that, as the two young sailors leaned over the bulwarks and gazed at the moonlit water that seemed all a-shimmer with gold, their thoughts went back to their homes in merry England.
"Listen, Tom; don't call me mercenary, bo'. Did you ever hear those lines of Burns, our great national bard?—
'O poortith cauld and restless love, Ye wreck my peace between ye; But poortith cauld I well could bear, If it werena for my Jeannie.'
Yes, Tom; I love the sweetest lass ever wooed by sailor lad. Does she love me? Was that what you asked, Tom? She never said so, bo'; but ah! I know she does, and as sure as yonder moon is shining she is thinking of me even now. But sit here on the skylight till I tell you, Tom, where the 'poortith' comes in."
And sitting there, with the moonlight streaming clear on both their earnest young faces, and on their snow-white powdered hair, Jack poured into the ear of his friend a story that was at once both sorrowful and romantic.
Tom listened quietly till the very end, then he stretched out his soft right hand and clasped his friend's.
"Poor Jack!" he said.
"Ay, poor Jack indeed! And now I'll go below. I want to think and maybe dream of home and Gerty."
"HE NEVER SAID HE LOVED ME."
"The feast was over in Branksome Tower, And the ladye had gone to her secret bower.
* * *
The tables were drawn, it was idlesse all; Knight and page and household squire Loitered through the lofty hall, Or crowded around the ample fire."—SCOTT.
"Look your best, and act your best." That was all the letter said, and it was signed "Your affectionate father, Henry Keane."
It was the eve of a great party, to be held next day at Grantley Hall, in honour of the coming of age of the only son of General Grant Mackenzie, about a month after the incident described in last chapter.
Gerty sat alone in her room, just as the shadows of this beautiful evening in spring were beginning to deepen into night. She held the letter crumpled in her hand.
"Poor Jack!" she mentally observed. "His coming of age, and he not here! What a mockery! And dear Flora too. Oh, if she were but aware that hardly anything in this great house belongs to her father—all mortgaged, or nearly all. It is well, perhaps, she is kept in the dark. Her proud heart would be crushed in the dust if she but knew even a part. But poor Jack—is it possible, I wonder? he might come. Oh, what joy just to see his dear old face again once in a way! But ah, dear me! it may be better not. Besides, Jack never said he loved me. Oh, but he does. It is mean of me to compound with my feelings. No; I shall face the whole position. Father never asked me to marry Sir Digby Auld. Nay, he knows his daughter's spirit too well. For the love I bear father I would do anything, so long as no command were issued. Poor Jack! Poor father!—well, and I may add, poor Sir Digby! He is so good and gentle. Ah me! my life's bark seems drifting into unknown seas, and all is darkness and mist. What can I do but drift? Oh yes, I can hope. I am so young, and Jack is not old. We shall both forget; I am sure we shall. Moore says—
'There's nothing half so sweet in life As love's young dream.'
The poet is right. But then it does not last. In the unknown seas into which my bark is drifting all will be brightness and sunshine. Digby will be always kind, and father will be happy and gay. The people will love him, dear lonesome father! Away from the bustle and din and fogs of London, his life will enter a new lease. And Jack will visit us often, and together he and I will laugh over our childhood's amours. Digby is too good to be jealous. I wonder if Jack will marry; I had never thought of that. Oh dear, oh dear! my victory over self will not be such an easy one as I had imagined. I hope Jack won't marry that hateful Gordon girl, nor any of those simpering Symonses. But, after all, what does it matter to me whom Jack marries? I begin to think I am very mean after all; I hate myself. Positively I—"
"Sir Digby has called, Miss Keane, and desires to see you for a moment. He is in the tartan boudoir."
"Tell him, Smith, that I am sorry I cannot leave my room—that I have a headache—that—stay, Smith, stay. Say that I shall be down in a few minutes."
"Yes, Miss Gertrude."
"It is best over," she murmured to herself as Smith left.
She touched the bell, and next minute she was seated before a tall mirror, at each side of which burned a star of candles, and her maid was dressing her hair.
"Mary," she said, as she rose and smoothed out the folds of her blue silk dress, "do I look my best?"
"Oh, Miss Keane, you look 'most like a fairy—the low-bodied blue, and the pink camellia in your hair. You are so beautiful that if I were a knight I should come for you with a chariot and six, and carry you away to my castle, and have a real live dragon o' purpose to guard you—I would really, miss."
"Do you think, Mary, I could act well?"
"Oh, Miss Keane, how you do talk! Actors is low. Miss Gerty, always look your best; but acting—no, no, miss, I won't have she."
And Mary tossed her head regardless of grammar.
Mary was a little Essex maid that Miss Keane had had for years, and had succeeded in spoiling, as children are spoiled.
"Ah dear," said the girl, "and to think that to-morrow is Jack's coming o' age, and he won't be here! You don't mind me a-callin' of him Jack, does ye, Miss Gerty? Heigh-ho! didn't he used to chuck me under the chin just, the dear, bright boy? 'Mary,' he says once, 'when I comes of age I means to marry you right off the reel.' And I took him in my arms and kissed him on what Tim would call the spur o' the moment. Then Jack ups with a glass o' ale—it were in the kitching, miss—and he jumps on to a chair and draws his navy dirk. 'Here's the way,' he cries, 'that they tosses cans in the service. And I'll give you a toast,' he says. 'I drinks
'To the wind that blows, And the ship that goes, And the girl as loves a sailor, Hip, hip, hooray!'
But run away, Miss Gerty. Only no acting, mind. Oh dear, oh dear! I wish poor Jack would come."
* * * * *
"Ah, Jack, my bo'," cried Tom, meeting his friend on the quarter-deck just after divisions, "let me congratulate you. You've come of age this very morning. Tip us your flipper, Jack. Why, you don't look very gay over it after all. Feeling old, I daresay—farewell to youth and that sort of game. Never mind; I'm going to see the surgeon presently. Old M'Hearty is a splendid fellow, and he'll find an excuse for splicing the main-brace, you may be sure. Why, Jack, on such an eventful occasion all hands should rejoice. Ah, here comes the doctor!—Doctor, this is Jack's birthday, and he's come of age, and—"
"Sail in sight, sir!"
It was a hail from the mast-head—a bold and sturdy shout that was heard from bowsprit to binnacle by all hands on deck, and that even penetrated to the ward-room, causing every officer there to spring from his seat and hurry on deck.
The captain, Sir Sidney Salt, came slowly forth from his cabin. A daring sailor was Sir Sidney as ever braved gale or faced a foe. Hardly over the middle height, with clean shaven face and faultless cue, his age might have been anything from thirty to forty; but in those mild blue eyes of his no one, it was said, had ever seen a wrathful look, not even when engaged hand-to-hand in a combat to the death on the blood-slippery battle-deck of a French man-o'-war.
"Run aloft, Mr. Mackenzie," he said now, "and see what you make of her."
In five minutes' time, or even less, young Grant Mackenzie stood once more on the quarter-deck, and the drum was beating to arms.
No one would break with a loud word the hushed and solemn silence that fell upon the ship after the men, stripped to the waist, had stood to their guns; and as barefooted boys passed from group to group, scattering the sawdust that each one knew might soon be wet with his own or a comrade's life-blood, many an eye was turned skywards, and many a lip was seen to move in prayer.
Jack and Tom stood together. The former was pale as death. "Tom," he whispered, "I had a terrible dream last night. I shall not survive this battle; I do not wish to. Tell her, Tom, tell Gerty I died sword in hand, and that, false as she is, my last thoughts were—"
"Stand by the larboard guns!"
Jack and Tom flew to their quarters, and in the terrible fight that followed neither love itself nor thoughts of home, except in the minds of the wounded and dying that were borne below, could find a place.
AN INTERRUPTED PROPOSAL.
"None without hope e'er loved the brightest fair, But love can hope when reason would despair."
Perhaps never was youthful maiden less prepared to listen to the addresses of a would-be wooer than was Gerty Keane when she entered the tartan boudoir that evening at Grantley Hall. She was little more than a child even now, only lately turned seventeen; and before Jack went away to sea—now two years and a month ago—I believe that most of the love-making between them had been conducted through the media of bon-bons and an occasional wild flower, though it ended with farewell tears, a lock of bonnie hair, and a miniature, both of which Jack had taken away with him, and, like a true lover, worn next his heart ever since the parting.
Gerty's cheeks were flushed to-night, her eyes shone, her very lips were rosier than usual.
Sir Digby Auld sprang up as nimbly as his figure would permit, and advanced to meet the girl with outstretched hands. The baronet was verging on forty, but dressed in the height of youthful fashion; he was a trifle pompous, and he was likewise a trifle podgy.
As a shopkeeper or clerk there would have been nothing very attractive about Digby, but as a baronet he was somewhat of a success. There was nothing, however, in his fair, soft, round face or washed-out blue eyes calculated to influence the tender passion in one of the opposite sex; only he was excessively good-natured, and it is very nice of a baronet to be excessively good-natured and condescending, especially when everybody knows he may become a lord as soon as another noble lord chooses to die. Everybody knew also of Sir Digby's passion for Gerty Keane, and for this very reason used to say sneering and ill-natured things behind the baronet's back; for people were not a whit better in those "good old times" than they are now.
Whenever Sir Digby sailed into a drawing-room that happened to possess a sprinkling of marriageable girls of various ages, from sixteen to—say sixty, he sailed into an ocean of smiles; but if Gerty were there, he appeared to notice no one else in the room. Whenever Sir Digby sailed out again, their tongues began to wag, both male and female tongues, but particularly the latter.
But on the particular evening when Sir Digby Auld solicited an interview with Gerty, he had dressed with more than his usual care, and wore his softest, oiliest smile.
"O Gerty," he cried, "I'm delighted beyond measure! How beautiful you look to-night! No star in all the firmament half so radiant as your eyes; no rose that ever bloomed could rival the blush on your cheek!"
Sir Digby had practised this little speech for half-an-hour in front of the glass while waiting for Gerty.
The girl didn't seem to hear him; or if she did, she did not heed. He led her passive to a seat, and drew his own chair nearer to hers than ever he had sat before.
There was a sad kind of expression in Gerty's face, and a far-away look in her bonnie blue eyes.
If Mary, her maid, had only held her silly tongue, Gerty might have been almost happy now. But Mary hadn't held her tongue, but conjured up Jack, and he was before her mental eyes at this very moment just as she had seen him last, the young and handsome lieutenant, going away to fight for king and country with a heart burning with courage and valour, yet filled with love for her—and with hope. Ah yes! that was the worst of it. They were not betrothed, and yet—and yet when he returned and found her engaged to another, it would break his heart. Yes, that was simply what it would do. What was Sir Digby saying? Oh, he had been talking for ten minutes and more, yet not one word had she heard. Nor had she even turned towards him. She did so at last, blushing and embarrassed at what she deemed the rudeness of her inattention.
Digby misinterpreted her.
"Yes, yes," he cried rapturously; "I read my happy fate in those dear downcast eyes and in that tell-tale blush. You love me, Gerty; you love me, all unworthy as I am. Then behold I throw myself at your feet."
Sir Digby was preparing to suit the action to his words; but this was not so easy to do as might be imagined, for this gay Lothario had lately suffered from a slight rheumatic stiffness of the joints. He had already bent one knee painfully, and it had emitted a disagreeable crack which certainly tended to dispel a portion of the romance from the situation, when sturdy footsteps were heard outside, and next moment the round, rosy face of Richards, of the firm of Griffin, Keane, and Co., appeared smiling in the doorway.
Gerty sprang up, leaving her lover to recover the perpendicular as best he might. She rushed towards the old man and fairly hugged him.
"Confound it all!" muttered Sir Digby.
"I'm afraid," said Richards, "I've interrupted—"
"Oh, don't mention it, dear, dear Mr. Richards. What Sir Digby was about to tell me wasn't of the slightest consequence. That is, you know, I mean—it will keep."
Sir Digby Auld bit his lip.
Richards nodded to him.
"I've such news for you, Gerty dear. A long, long letter from Bermuda. Jack's ship—"
"Oh, do sit down and tell me all.—Sir Digby, you will forgive us, won't you? You're so good! Sit near us and hear it all.—Yes, Mr. Richards; I'm listening."
That she was. What a glad look in her face! what a happy smile! With lips half parted and eyes which shone with an interest intense, she never took her gaze from Mr. Richards' beaming countenance till he had finished speaking.
The letter was from a friend of his, and told of the arrival at Bermuda of Jack's ship, and all Jack's doings on shore; and how the Ocean Pride was ordered home; and how, if things turned out well, and she wasn't captured by a Frenchman five times her size, she might be expected back in a fortnight.
"O dear, dear Mr. Richards, I'm so happy; I mean, you know, that Flora will—"
"Yes, yes; Flora, of course, you sly little puss. There! never blush; I guess I know your secret—Jack, eh?—Ah, Sir Digby, you and I are too old to understand the tender passion, aren't we?"
"Yes—that is, no. You better speak for yourself, sir. I—I—I believe I have an appointment—I—Good evening, Miss Keane."
Sir Digby Auld's exit was not an impressive one.
With an amused look on his face, Richards watched him till the closed door shut out the view; then he stretched out his sturdy legs, threw himself back in his chair, and laughed until the rafters rang.
THE BATTLE AND THE BREEZE.
"The deck it was their field of fame, And ocean was their grave."
"Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, Uttered or unexpressed; The motion of a hidden fire That trembles in the breast."
The good ship Ocean Pride was a twenty-gun frigate, with a crew of nearly three hundred as brave fellows as ever waved cutlass or pulled lanyard for the honour and defence of their native land. In January 1793, when the great war broke out between Britain and France, she was homeward bound from the West Indies and South America, where she had been cruising, and had hardly reached Portsmouth ere she received orders to take in additional stores and proceed forthwith to sea again. No leave was granted to men or officers. The sick were simply bundled on shore, additional men shipped, and she was off again within eight-and-forty hours of her arrival in port.
For the Ocean Pride was a crack cruiser for those brave days, in which seamen were sailors and seamanship a fine art.
Sir Sidney Salt was not only brave, but daring almost to a fault. He believed most thoroughly and completely in the supremacy of British seamen to French; but discipline and drill he looked upon as his mainstays, fore and aft. His success had proved that he was correct in system, not once but often during the past twelve months; for more than one of the enemy's ships, larger even than his own, had been destroyed or taken by the Ocean Pride and her gallant crew. Boat actions had been fought also: she had been engaged with batteries; her men had cut out prizes from under the very guns of these; and they had fought on shore too, side by side with marines and soldiers.
"It would be but the fortune of war," said Sir Sidney to his commander as they stood together on the quarter-deck, "were this frigate, that is now bearing down so boldly on us, to destroy us."
The commander grasped his sword with his left hand, and his features were grimly set as he made reply,—
"True, sir, true. It would be but the fortune of war. Well, she may destroy us; she shall never take us."
"Boldly spoken, Miller. It would indeed be a disgrace to lower our flag to a ship of about our own size, and that ship a Frenchman. But see how boldly she carries herself. Top-gallant sails down; all trim fore and aft; guns run out; and hark! was that a cheer?"
"Yes, sir; a French one."
"Ha, ha, ha! Well, they shall hear a British one anon. Depend upon it, Miller, that frigate has a consort, and she is not far off at this moment, and—"
A puff of white smoke, with a point of fire in its centre, was now seen curling round the enemy's bows, and the roar of the cannon interrupted the captain's speech, and next moment a shot came ricochetting across from wave-top to wave-top, and passed harmlessly by on the starboard side.
"The fellow is beginning to be afraid already," said Miller, laughing.
"Yes; and depend upon it that shot was meant to keep his courage up. But if he thinks we are to have a long-range duel he is miserably mistaken. Set the fore-soldier, Miller. We'll walk to windward of him if we can."
The Ocean Pride was now more closely hauled, and seemed for a time to bear away from the foe. The movement evidently puzzled the Frenchman. Was John Bull sheering off? Would he presently put round on the other tack and show them a clean pair of heels?
Shot after shot came tearing over the water, and when one went clean through the Pride's rigging and was not even responded to, the excitement on board the Frenchman grew frantic.
The two vessels were now barely a quarter of a mile from each other, when suddenly round came the Pride till she was almost dead before the wind, and began bearing down upon the Desespere—for that proved to be her name—like a whirlwind, and almost right before the wind. The battle was about to begin in deadly earnest.
And none too soon; for at that moment a cry of sail in sight was heard from the maintop-mast cross-trees.
"That's her consort," cried Sidney Salt. "Now, men," he shouted, "be steady and cool; I need not say be brave. We may soon be engaged against two, unless we gain the day before that frigate's consort puts in an appearance."
A brave British cheer was the only reply to the captain's short but pithy speech. The cheer was feebly answered by the enemy, who from her uncertain movements was evidently puzzled at the apparent change in Sir Sidney Salt's tactics. It seemed to those on board the Pride that contrary orders had been issued; for she first luffed, as if to beat to windward and fight the British frigate beam to beam. Perhaps the courage of her commander suddenly failed him, and he came to the conclusion that he ought to ward off the real tug of war till his consort came up. Anyhow, just as a shot carried away a piece of her jib-boom she attempted to wear and fill, and in doing so missed stays.
Now came Sir Sidney's chance, and quick as arrow from bow he took advantage of it. In less time almost than it takes me to describe it, he had cut across the enemy's stern, and the well-aimed broadside that raked the Desespere from aft to fore, almost completely placed her at the mercy of the British frigate. The wheel was shot away, the rudder a wreck, the mainmast went by the board, and both dead and wounded lay upon the decks.
There were still men on board her, however, and brave ones too, to man and fight her guns; and as the Desespere paid off, seemingly of her own accord, the Pride received her starboard broadside just as she put about to close with her assailant. This broadside was fairly effective: it silenced a gun, killed three men, and wounded five.
The Desespere had got round far enough to save herself from being raked a second time. Broadsides were given and received; but as soon as the Pride had tacked again, it was evident she meant forcing the fighting in the good old English fashion first introduced by bold Hubert de Burgh.
Down came the Pride. She would not be denied. One wild cheer, one more terrible broadside as her guns almost touched those of the enemy, then grappling irons were thrown, and the vessels literally lashed together.
The last shout came from bold young Grant Mackenzie, as sword in hand, and followed by the men who had so bravely fought his guns, he sprang nimbly across the bulwarks and leaped down amongst the foe. To describe the melee that followed would be impossible—the shouts of victory and shrieks of pain, the cracking of pistols, the clashing of sword and cutlass, the shivering of pikes, the rattle of musketry from the tops. It was all like a terrible dream to every one concerned in it; for each British sailor or marine seemed to fight but for himself. Then there were the final stampede, the hauling down of the flag, and the surrender of the wounded captain to Sir Sidney Salt. All must have passed in seven minutes or less.
The loss on both sides was terrible to contemplate. Twenty of our brave lads would never fight again, thirty more were wounded, while in killed and wounded the enemy's loss was well-nigh one hundred.
There was no time to lose now, however. The enemy's consort was but five or six miles off, and coming down hand over hand. So the Frenchmen were speedily disarmed. The dead were left where they lay, the wounded and prisoners hurried on board the Pride. Then a train was laid to the Desespere's magazine, and just as all sail was hoisted on board the British frigate, the time fuse was lighted. The Pride must fly now; to fight another ship, lumbered as she was with wounded and prisoners, would have been insanity.
On comes the enemy's consort. Away flies the Ocean Pride. The men on the British ship still stand to their guns; for if they are overhauled, they mean to fight and fall.
But see, the two French frigates are now abreast, and the consort hauls her main-yard aback, and an armed boat leaves her side.
Nearer and nearer she rows. Those that behold her on board the Pride hold their breath. They know she is rowing to destruction.
It is awful, and even brave Sir Sidney turns a little as the boat reaches the doomed ship, and the men are seen clambering up her sides. At that dreadful moment a huge cloud of smoke, balloon shaped, rises high above the Desespere, a sheet of flame shoots into the air, and yards, and masts, and spars, and men are seen high above all. A sound far louder than thunder shakes the Pride from stern to stern. Sir Sidney presses his hand to his eyes and holds it there for a time. When he takes it away at last the Desespere has gone. A few blackened spars bob here and there on the waves, and the cloud rolls far to leeward, but the silence of death is over all the scene.
* * * * *
Tom Fairlie sat late that night beside poor Jack's couch. Jack's brow was bound in blood-wet bandages, his eyes were closed.
"O doctor," said Tom anxiously, as his eyes sought those of Surgeon M'Hearty, "is there no hope? Surely Jack will live?"
"Jack's in God's good hands, lad," was the solemn reply, "and I am but his servant."
The surgeon went slowly away, nor turned to look again.
"Poor Jack! poor Jack!" cried Tom; "and on his birthday too!"
He bent over the hardly breathing form, and tears welled through his fingers. He had never known till now how much he loved his shipmate.
Would Jack die? His wounds were very grievous. "He is in God's good hands," the doctor had said.
Tom Fairlie was a thorough English sailor—no better and no worse than the average. He attended church on Sunday, and was always on the quarter-deck when the bell rang for prayers; but the actual praying, I fear, he usually left to the parson himself. If asked, Tom would have told you that it was the parson's duty to make it all right with the Great Commander above in behalf of himself and shipmates; but now it occurred to Tom that he might himself personally address the Being in whose hands poor Jack lay. God was good. Dr. M'Hearty had said so, and the doctor knew almost everything. He hesitated for a few moments, though. It seemed like taking the parson's duty out of his hands. Was it impertinence? He looked at Jack's poor, white, still face—looked just once, then knelt and prayed—prayed a simple sailor's prayer that isn't to be found anywhere in a book, but may be none the less effectual on that account.
When Tom rose from his knees Jack's eyes were open.
"I've been sort of praying for you, Jack. I feel relieved. Seems to me the Great Commander is going to throw you a rope and pull you through the surf."
Jack's lips were moving as if in feeble reply. But his mind was wandering.
"The blue flower, Gerty—cull that. Oh, not the other! How dark it is! Gerty, I cannot find you. Dark, dark, dark!"
And poor Jack relapsed once more into insensibility.
"NOW THIS GOOD BLADE SHALL BE MY BRIDE."
"The bosom in anguish will often be wrung That trusts to the words of a fair lady's tongue; But true are the tones of my own gallant steel— They never betray, and they never conceal. I'll trust thee, my loved sword, wherever we be, For the clang of my sabre is music to me." QUARTER-MASTER ANDERSON.
It was not until Sir Digby Auld had quite gone that Gerty came to her senses, and realized the position she had placed herself in. The comical side of the situation struck her at the same time, and for a few moments right merrily did she join the laugh with her old friend, Mr. Richards. But she grew suddenly serious next minute.
"What have I done?" she cried; "and how can I tell father?"
"You droll, provoking little puss!" said Richards. "Come and sit on my knee here, as you always have done since you were a weary wee hop-of-my-thumb."
"And will you tell me a story?" Gerty was smiling once more. "Then it will just seem like old, old times, you know."
"Yes, of course. Once upon a time, then—oh, ever so long ago, because no such things as I am going to tell you about could happen in our day—once upon a time there lived, in a lonely house by the side of a deep, dark forest, a lonely man, to whom the fairies had once given a magic feather, plucked from the wing of a fairy goose; and whenever he touched paper with this quill, lo, the paper was turned into gold! So he amassed great wealth; but no one loved him when he went abroad, because, though he had gold, he had no titles and he was sharp of speech. Only he had one beautiful daughter, more fair than a houri of paradise; and she loved her father very much—more even than she loved the roses in June, or the wild birds that sang in the forest, or the stars that shone so brightly on still, clear nights in winter.
"And this daughter was beloved by a youth who was surpassingly fair and brave and comely; but, ah me! he was poor, and so the father despised him.
"But one day there came from out of the dark depths of the forest a prince in a splendid chariot, with six milk-white steeds, and the sound of many trumpets blowing. This prince was stiff and somewhat old, yet he said to the father: 'Give unto me your daughter, that I may wed her, and she shall be my queen; then shall you be loved and honoured too, for you shall have titles as well as wealth.'
"But the daughter loathed the elderly suitor. Nevertheless, that she might see her father happy and titled, she gave the prince her hand, and her father dowered her munificently, and—"
"Go on, Mr. Richards."
"Well, of course they lived happy ever afterwards."
"No, no, no, Mr. Richards; that isn't quite the end."
"Well, if I must tell you, I must. For a time, then, there was no one more loved and honoured than Sylvina (for that was her pretty name), and her father, too, was invited to the court of the prince. But the fame of Sylvina's beauty and charms spread far and near, and hundreds visited the prince who had never before been seen at his castle. Especially did there come gay young sparks, with downy moustachelets to twirl, and swords that tinkled at their heels; and so attentive were these crowds of gallants that Sylvina never had time even to think, else her thoughts might have gone back to her true lover, whom she had forsaken in his poverty and sorrow, and whose white, distracted face often even yet haunted her dreams at night, just as she had seen it for a moment that day as she walked to the altar with the prince.
"But to the prince the young sparks were beyond measure attentive. They seemed delighted of an evening to see him snug in his high-backed chair by the fire; and one would run and bring his slippers and warm them, another pulled off his shoes, while a third brought his wine, and a fourth his hubble-bubble. Then they sang lullabies to him and patted his shoulder till he fell asleep; then—
"But the prince awoke at last in every sense of the word. 'No longer,' he cried, 'will I keep an open house that young sparks may pay attentions to my wife. I will issue no more invitations, give no more parties; Sylvina's father must return to his lonely house by the forest. I and my bride will live but for each other.'
"He spoke thus because the green demon Jealousy had aroused him.
"So the prince dismissed nearly all his servants; and in his house by the forest Sylvina's father was more lonesome now than ever. Sylvina had been a dutiful daughter, and she tried hard to be a dutiful wife; but nothing that she did was properly construed by her old husband. If she laughed and was gay, he called her giddy; if she seemed sad, he told her she was pining for her 'pauper lover;' if she showed him marked affection, he thought she was but cajoling to deceive him. Ah dear, ah dear, how miserable she was! for her ways were not his ways, because his age was not hers."
Richards paused again.
"And the poor lover whom Sylvina deserted?" said Gerty. "Tell me about him. Did he pine and die?"
"Oh no. But here comes Flora. I'll finish the story another day, Gerty."
"Why, this is a pleasure!" cried Flora. "Who could have thought of finding you here? I say, Gerty, let us keep Mr. Richards to ourselves alone for the rest of the evening. My work is all complete, and father is busy in his room. Supper in the boudoir here!—Not a word, Mr. Richards; you have no say in the matter at all." Then Flora rang the bell.
And a long delightful three hours the girls and their friend spent too. It is almost needless to say that the chief subject of conversation was Jack, or that Sir Digby Auld was not spoken of or thought of even once.
"Heigh-ho!" said Richards, as he stood in his room that night, "heigh-ho! and I have come down to break bad tidings to Flora and her father. How ever can I do it! A lawyer ought to have no heart, but I have one. Worse luck! worse luck!"
The party next day at the Hall was a very gay affair, and never did General Grant Mackenzie seem in better spirits, nor Gerty and Flora look more bewitching or feel more happy. Mr. Keane, too, unbent himself, and was far less crisp and frigid than any one had ever seen him. Keane did not perhaps look a bit more happy than he felt, though he would not have told his thoughts to any one, as he wandered to and fro in the grand old beautifully-lighted rooms or out into the spacious gardens and flower-laden conservatories. Everything had of late years conspired to play into his hands. He had amassed money; he had spent but little. Gerty was good, so good, for she had promised to marry Sir Digby—promised her father, that is; the other promise would come. Then this splendid hall was his—Keane's—unless in a short time the easy-minded, happy-go-lucky general managed to clear his feet. "Clear his feet, indeed!" thought Keane; "how could he? No; the place would be his. Then he could hold up his head in the county. And as for Sir Digby, why, he could be easily managed after marriage. He was a trifle wild, he had been told, but he believed he was wealthy, and he would—some day—be a lord."
Every one loved the general and his beautiful but unassuming daughter. There was no word of her being engaged to any one as yet, though such an engagement might take place at any time. She was indeed a queenly girl. Now suitors are usually a little afraid of queenly girls—not that there are very many about, but though they may dispense their favours in kind words and smiles, they do not flirt, and though warm-hearted deep down in their soul-depths, there is no surface love to squander or to be ruffled with every breath that blows. Such girls as Flora Grant Mackenzie love but once, and that love is real and true. Flora's prince would doubtless come. She was in no hurry.
But the girl was very happy on this her brother's birthday, and after all the guests had gone she spent the usual quiet half-hour with her father in his room in loving chat and converse, just as she had done every night since, long, long ago, her mother had died.
"Good-night, dear," he said as he kissed her. "Affairs are not quite so flourishing with me as I would like; but we'll trust in Providence, won't we? Things are sure to take a turn."
"Yes, dear father. Good-night: God bless you!"
* * * * *
Many of the wounded, both among our own people and the French prisoners on board the Ocean Pride, died and were buried as the ship sailed on; but the strength of Jack's Highland constitution asserted itself, and he was at last pronounced by M'Hearty to be out of danger, very much to Tom Fairlie's delight.
His wounds had been very grievous—a sabre-cut on the skull and a spent bullet that had injured his left arm.
When the ship reached Portsmouth and the country rang with the news of Sir Sidney's bright little action, when the papers gave a list of the dead and wounded and extolled Jack's bravery, and when private information from headquarters informed the general that his son would be gazetted post-captain, then the old Highlander's cup of bliss seemed full.
"Look at that," he cried, with the joy-tears in his eyes; "read that letter, Flora dear. My boy, my brave boy! I shall go right away to Portsmouth and meet him, and you shall come and nurse him. My brave, good lad! What care we for money, Flo? The Mackenzies have their swords!"
On the arrival of the Ocean Pride in port, Jack had been sent to shore quarters for a time, and Tom determined to share his rooms.
Jack was very cheerful, for he had almost forgotten his dream.
Now Mr. Keane had determined to play his cards as well as he knew how to. The baronet had become indisposed, but the astute lawyer had invited him down to his little place in the country, and he had taken Gerty home too.
At the time of the Pride's arrival in Portsmouth there was no engagement between Gerty and Sir Digby. All that she had really promised her father since Richards had told her that fairy story was that she would try to learn to love Sir Digby all she could, and when a little older would marry him; so Keane was content.
This, however, did not prevent him sending a confidential clerk down to interview Jack. And the following is the bomb-shell Saunders the clerk, obeying orders, fired:—
"Mr. Keane just sent me down to ask about you and convey all sorts of kind messages. Especially did he bid me assure you that he had not spoken to your father about the little account, and that he is in no hurry for the money. Indeed, the approaching marriage of his daughter is at present absorbing all his attention.
"Why, what is the matter, Captain Mackenzie?" continued the clerk, noticing the staggering effect his words had on poor Jack.
"Nothing, nothing much. A little faint, that is all. Leave me now, Mr. Saunders. Tell Mr. Fairlie I would speak with him."
Tom ran in. He found Jack lying helpless on the sofa, white and trembling. But he soon recovered sufficiently to speak.
"My dream, my dream, Tom; it has all come true."
Tom Fairlie sat long beside his friend, giving him all the comfort he could think of, and that really was not a great deal. Things might not be quite as the clerk had represented them. Gerty could not be so cruel. From all he—Jack—had told him, he seemed to know her thoroughly. Jack must see her and learn his fate from her own lips. This and much more said Tom Fairlie.
But for a time never a word said Jack.
He rose from the couch at last, and going quietly to the corner, took up his sword and drew it.
"Tom," he said boldly, "pardon me if I seem to act stagy, I am not acting. We Mackenzies are a wild and headstrong lot, and too proud, I own, by far. We cannot help our nature. But here in your presence I vow that now this good blade shall be my bride; that I'll be true to her, and she as true as steel to me."
"Bravo, Jack!" cried M'Hearty, bursting into the room; "I've heard it all. And now, my lad, I bring you good tidings. I've run all the way from the port-admiral's office to be the very first to shake hands with Post-Captain Jack Mackenzie."
A BOLT FROM THE BLUE.
"O Life! how pleasant in thy morning, Young Fancy's rays the hills adorning." BURNS.
General Grant Mackenzie was a somewhat impulsive man. It is the nature of the Celt to be impulsive. His nervous system is far more finely strung than that of the plethoric or adipose Saxon, and it vibrates to the slightest breath of emotion. Mind, I talk of the ideal Celt—be he Irish or Scotch—and General Grant Mackenzie was an ideal Celt. And sitting here with my good guitar on my knee, I cannot help comparing a nature like his to just such a beautiful stringed instrument as this. What a world of fine feeling lies herein; what a wealth of poetry, what sadness, what tenderness—ay, and what passion as well! Behold, on this music-stand lies a big old book—a book with a story to it, for it belonged to my unfortunate ancestor Symon Fraser of Lovat, who was beheaded on Tower Hill. It is Highland music all, and sweet to me are its mournful laments as breathed by my sad guitar; but—I turn a leaf—and here is a battle-piece. Ha! the instrument hath lost its sadness, or only here and there come wailing notes like moans of the wounded amidst the hurry, the scurry, the dashing, and the clashing of this terrible tulzie. Can't you see the claymores glitter? Can't you see the tartans wave, and nodding plumes among the rolling smoke? Oh, I can. Seems as if the guitar would burst its very strings; but, the battle is over—cry of vanquished, shout of victor, all are hushed. And now comes the ghostly music of the coronach: they are burying the dead. And the instrument appears to sob, to weep, till the sweet low song of grief in cadence dies.
A nature like that of Grant Mackenzie, then, or of his son—for both seemed cast in the same mould—needs a well-trained, well-balanced mind to guide and restrain it; for there are few occasions indeed in this world when one dares lay bare his soul and feelings even to his best friends.
The day after M'Hearty's visit to Jack, the young post-captain, with his friend Tom Fairlie, was just finishing breakfast, when in dashed the general. Next minute his son was pressed against his breast just as if he had been a child.
Jack had spilt his tea and knocked over a chair in his hurry to get to his father; but what did that matter? So there they stood looking at each other for a moment, the tears in both their eyes.
Maybe the old general was a trifle ashamed of such weakness, for next moment he burst into a merry laugh.
"Why, Jack, my brave boy," he cried, "there are only two arms between the pair of us. But yours will get well; mine, alas, is in the grave!"
Flora came up now, and Jack seemed delighted to see her.
"And here," he said, "here, Flora, is the best friend I have in the world—Tom Fairlie.—Nay, never blush, Tom, my brother.—He it was, Flora, who helped to take me below after I got hit; and when even the surgeon—grand old fellow M'Hearty! father, you shall know him—gave me up, Tom stuck to me, and he has been nursing me ever since as if I were a child. Ah, Flora, there is no friendship on earth so true, and no love either, as that man bears for man."
Jack looked at his sister as he spoke, and that glance told her he knew all.
"Father, I had almost forgotten to tell you of my espousal."
"Espousal, Jack! You astonish me; it can't be true!"
"Oh, but it is."
He picked his sword off the couch as he spoke and held it out to his father.
"Let me present my bride," he said, laughing.
The general himself could laugh now.
"So pleased, so pleased! But, 'pon honour, you young rascal, you pretty nearly took your old father's breath away. Married! bless my soul, talk about that thirty years hence; and blame me, Jack, but that itself might be too soon.
"So you knocked the French about a bit? Well done, Jack; and well done, Lieutenant Fairlie."
"Oh," said the young sailor, laughing, "they always call me Tom."
"Well, Tom," said the general, holding out his hand, "you and my brave lad fought nobly; but bless my heart, he wouldn't be a true Mackenzie if he couldn't fight. So you gave it to the Froggies hot, eh? I knew you would. Second only to the British army is the British navy, lads."
"And second only to the British navy, father, is the British army."
"Bravo! esprit de corps. Well, I like it. But I've news for you, Jack. Why, your old father, you young dog you, is going to take command again. Ha, ha! sword arm all right, and head-piece in glorious form."
"O father, I'm so delighted!"
"Yes, boy, and there is one thing I look forward to—ay, and pray for—and that is for you and me, Jack, to be in the same field of battle, and drubbing the French as only British sailors and soldiers can."
"Father, you've made me happy.—Why, Tom, this all but reconciles me to the loss of the love—"
Jack stopped, looking a little confused.
"Love—love? Why, Jack, my lad, what is this? Love of whom, boy?"
"Oh, only a pet spaniel, father. No, not dead. Lost though; enticed away—with a bone, I suppose."
"Just the way with spaniels, Jack. Glad it's no worse. But 'pon honour, Jack, though you're not old enough to know it, womankind are precious little better. I know 'em well, Jack; I know 'em. A bone will entice them too, particularly a bone with a bit of meat on it."
* * * * *
Jack Mackenzie was not a young man who cared for much nursing. Had Gerty been his nurse it would doubtless have been all so different. However, it was very pleasant for Jack to while away the next month or two down at Grantley Hall, and to be treated like an interesting invalid and made a hero of by old maids and young ones too. The curate of the parish had not a chance now.
Then the country was so lovely all around the Hall. Though lacking the grandeur and romance of our Scottish Highlands, the land of the broads, with its wealth of wild flowers, its dreamy, quiet lakes, its waving reeds, its moors, and its birds, throws a glamour over one in spring-time that no true lover of nature can resist.
Jack's arm was well in a month, and he was waiting for service. He did not mind waiting even a little longer, and most assuredly Tom Fairlie did not, nor M'Hearty either, who was also a guest at the Hall. Richards also had come down to spend a week or two. He and M'Hearty became inseparables.
A great old tub of a boat belonged to Mackenzie, and this lay on an adjoining broad or lake. Tom and Jack fitted it out as a kind of gondola, and many a pleasant hour did the young folks spend together on the water, sometimes not returning till stars were reflected from the dark bosom of the lake or the moonbeams seemed to change it into molten gold.
A pleasant time indeed—a time that flew all too quickly for poor Tom Fairlie.
One evening, when hanging up his hat in the hall, Jack's father took him by the hand and led him silently into the library.
"Father, father," cried Jack, "what has happened?"
"A bolt from the blue, my boy; a bolt from the blue."
"WENT GLIDING AWAY LIKE A BEAUTIFUL GHOST."
"They bid me forget her—oh, how can it be? In kindness or scorn she's ever wi' me; I feel her fell frown in the lift's frosty blue, An' I weel ken her smile in the lily's saft hue. I try to forget her, but canna forget, I've liket her lang, an' I aye like her yet." THOM, the Inverury Poet.
Richards, the kindly old solicitor, with Jack and his sister Flora and the general—these formed the group in the solemn, dark-panelled library of Grantley Hall on that beautiful summer's evening. The light of the westering sun stole in through the high stained windows, and cast patches of light and colour on the furniture and on the floor. Mackenzie had already told his son all the story of his troubles, and while he had yet been talking, the curtains in the doorway were drawn back, and Flora appeared, leaning on the arm of her good friend Richards.
The general had lifted up a deprecating hand.
"No need, no need." This from the family lawyer. "Flora already knows all. And bravely has she borne the tidings. Ah, my good sir, Flora is a true Mackenzie."
"But you might have told me long ago," was all she had said as she seated herself on a low stool by her father's knee. "O father, I could have borne it, and could have comforted you, now that poor mother has gone!"
There was silence for a time, broken by Flora's low sobbing; broken, too, by the sweet, mellow fluting of a blackbird in the garden shrubbery.
General Mackenzie was the first to speak.
"Children," he said, "I have been for many a day like one living in a dream, call it if you will a fool's paradise. But I have awakened at last to the stern realities of life. It is better, perhaps, as it is, for we now know the very worst. You will believe me when I say that if I have hidden the truth from you, it was because I feared to vex you, or render you unhappy, while yet there was hope. But now," he added, "all is over, all is lost, or seems to be."
"Nay, nay, my good old friend," cried Richards; "you must not really take so gloomy a view as that of the matter."
"This grand old house," continued the general as if he had heard him not, "this estate, with all its beauty of domains, that was presented to my ancestors by Charles the First himself, with its lands and its lakes, its gardens and its trees, and which was prized by my father almost as much as our ancient home in the Highlands of Scotland, has been wasted, has been frittered away, through my intrinsic folly."
"Sir, sir," said Richards, "you are too hard on yourself now."
"Nay, my good friend, nay; that I cannot be. You have ever been faithful to our family; but I repeat it before you, and before my only son and daughter here: the estates are lost through my own folly, and through the imbecility, the madness, Richards, of my pride. Now in a month's time, if I do not pay off the mortgage, Keane, your partner, will foreclose."
It was at this moment that Jack sprang up from his seat as though a serpent had stung him. He took a few rapid strides up and down the floor, then, his calmness in some degree restored, he confronted the general.
"Did you say Keane would foreclose, father—Keane?"
"I said Keane, boy—Griffin, Keane, and Co. The old man Keane is my only creditor. But why should the knowledge of this affect you so?"
"Because, father—and oh, forgive me, for I ought to have told you before—because the heartless old man has been playing for your estates; he has won, and he has in a manner ruined you. But his daughter Gerty has been playing a crueller game than even his: she has won my heart, and having won it, having torn it from me, she has trampled it bleeding under foot. I can never love again."
"My boy, my poor boy, is this indeed so? How great is your sorrow and suffering compared with mine! Bah! let the estate go. I could feel happy now without it could I but believe that you would forget the heartless minx who has dared to gain your love then spurn it. You will forget her?"
"Never, father, never; that is impossible. Sword in hand on the battle-deck I shall seek surcease of sorrow, but forget little Gerty Keane, never, never, never!"
The young man covered his face with his hands, and his form heaved with suppressed emotion, and even the kindly-hearted Richards could but look on in silence. Not a word of consolation could he adduce that had the power to assuage grief so deep as this.
No one spoke for many minutes—sorrow is oftentimes too deep for words—but higher and higher in the calm, still gloaming rose the blackbird's notes of love, sounding half hysterical in the very fulness of their happiness and joy.
General Mackenzie rose slowly from his chair, and approaching his son placed a kindly hand on his shoulder.
"Dear Jack," he said slowly, "we each have something left us, a name that has never yet been tarnished; our clansmen have ever been found in the battle's van, or
'In death laid low, Their backs to the field, their feet to the foe.'
We have that name, Jack boy; we have that fame. We have our unsullied swords. Jack lad, we shall forget."
"Father, we shall try."
And hand met hand as eye met eye. The two had signed a compact, and well they knew what that compact was.
* * * * *
Jack Mackenzie sat alone in his bedroom that night long after his father and every guest had retired. The casement window was wide open, so that the sweet breath of the June roses could steal in, and with it the weird tremolo of a nightingale singing its love-lay in an adjoining copse. The moonlight was everywhere, bathing the flower-beds, spiritualizing the trees, lying on the grass like snow, and casting deep shadows from the quaint figures of many a statue, and a deeper shadow still from the mossy dial-stone.
So intent was Jack in his admiration of the solemn beauty of the scene, that he saw not his chamber door slowly opening, nor noted the figure robed from head to feet in white that entered and glided towards him.
Was it a spirit?
If so, it was a very beautiful one. The face was very white in the moonbeams, the eyes very sad and dark, and darker still the wealth of waving hair that floated over the shoulders.
Jack started now, and looked quickly round. Then a happy smile spread over his face as he arose and led his sister to a seat by his side.
"So like old, old times, Flora," he said.
"So like old, old times, Jack," said she.
He wrapped her knees in a great old Grant-tartan plaid.
"I knew you were still up, and that you were not happy, so I came to you. But, Jack—"
"Still more like olden times, Flora."
Jack lit up his pipe, and then he took his sister's hand.
"I'm glad," he said, "that I never had a brother."
"And I," she said, "am happy I never had a sister."
"We are all in all to each other, are we not, Flo?"
"All in all, Jack; especially now."
"Ah yes; now that I have lost Gerty. Ah, siss! you nor any one else in the wide world can ever tell how dearly I loved, and still love, that faithless girl."
"And she, Jack, will break her heart that she cannot marry you. That is what I came to tell you, Hush, Jack, hush! I know all you would say; but you do not understand women, and least of all do you understand Gerty. I do, Jack; yes, I do."
"Sissy," said the young man earnestly, "the cruellest thing mortals can be guilty of is to arouse the dying to feeling again, when the bitterness of death is almost past. You would not be so unkind. You did not come here to raise hopes in my heart that would be as certainly doomed to disappointment as that blooming flowers shall fade."
"No, Jack, no. I only came because I wanted to pour balm, not hope, into your bleeding heart. I came to tell you all Gerty Keane's story, that you may not think the very, very worst of her. Listen, Jack."
The young man sat in silence for quite a long time after his sister had finished the story of Gerty Keane, and of her fondness for her lonesome, friendless, and unlovable father; sat gazing out upon the moonlit landscape, but seeing nothing; sat while the nightingale's lilt, plaintive and low or mournfully sweet, bubbled tremulously from the grove, but hearing nothing. And in the shadow of the old-fashioned arm-chair snuggled Flora, her eyes resting lovingly, wistfully on her brother's sad but handsome face.
At last he sighed and turned towards her. "Flora," he said, "I'm going to try to forgive Gerty. I'm going to live in hope I one day may be able to forgive. Just tell her from me I wish her that happiness with another which fate has decreed it shall never be my joy to impart. Tell her—but there! no more, Flora, no more."
"Spoken like my own brother; spoken like a true and brave Mackenzie. Kiss me, Jack. I'm glad I came."
He held her hand a moment there, the moonbeams shining on both. "But, Flora," he said, "you too have a little story."
Her head drooped like a lily.
"And, siss, it—is connected with—don't tremble so, Flora—with Tom?"
The moonbeams shone on Jack alone now; his sister had stolen into the shadow to hide her blushes.
"Good-night again," she whispered, and so went gliding away like a beautiful ghost.
ON BOARD THE SAUCY "TONNERAIRE."
"O'er the wide wave-swelling ocean, Tossed aloft or humbled low— As to fear 'tis all a notion— When duty calls we're bound to go."—DIBDIN.
The Tonneraire lay at anchor just off the Hoe in Plymouth Sound, as pretty a craft as any sailor need care to look at. Plymouth was an amphibious sort of a place even in those days; and there was not a landsman who had ever been in blue water that, having once caught sight of the saucy Tonneraire, did not stop to stare at and admire her as he crossed the Hoe. Some, indeed, even sat quietly down and lighted up their pipes, the better to consider the bonnie ship. Long and low and dark was she, and though a frigate, the poop was not high enough to interfere with her taking lines of beauty. She carried splendid spars, and from their tapering height it was evident she was built either to fight or to chase a flying Frenchman. But her maintop-gallant masts were at present below, for the ship was not quite ready for sea. She seemed impatient enough, however, to get away. The wind blew pretty high, right in off the Channel, and the frigate jerked and tugged at her anchors like a hound on leash that longs to be loose and away scouring the plains in search of game. Everything on board was taut and trim and neat: not a yard out of the square, not a rope out of place, the decks as white as old ivory, the polished woodwork glittering like glass, the brass all gold apparently, the guns like ebony, and the very lanyards pipeclayed till they looked like coils of driven snow.
Post-Captain Mackenzie was walking to and fro on the poop-deck all alone, but casting many an anxious glance shorewards, or upwards at the evening sun that soon would sink over the beautiful wooded Cornish hills.
"There's a boat coming out yonder now, sir," said the signalman.
"Ah! is there, Wilson? Well, pray Heaven it may be the first lieutenant, and that he may have had luck."
Twenty minutes afterwards, Tom Fairlie, lieutenant in his Majesty's navy, but acting-commander under Captain Mackenzie, was alongside in the first cutter. He was not alone, for several other officers were with him, and among them our old friend M'Hearty. Jack welcomed the latter, figuratively speaking, with open arms, then went to his private cabin, accompanied by Tom, who had been on shore on duty since early morning.
"Sit down, Tom. Now we're off the quarter-deck there is no need for ceremony. You look tired and starved. Help yourself to wine and biscuits there before you say a single word."
Tom poured out a glass, smiling as he did so.
"Ah!" cried Jack, "I know you have good news."
"Ay, Jack, lots of it. I've been everywhere and I've done everything, and I've had good luck in the whole."
"Wait a moment, Tom.—Steward!"
"Ay, ay, sir."
"I'm engaged for the next half-hour unless any one desires to see me on duty.—Now, Tom, I shall light my pipe. Follow my example. It wants an hour to dinner, and you are my guest to-night. No one else save our two selves and M'Hearty, I believe."
"Well, Jack," said Tom Fairlie, after he had smoked in silence for a few moments, "first I went to the port-admiral's office and saw Secretary Byng. He knows everything. Told me your father was gazetted, and would sail with his command in a few months' time."
"Glorious news, Tom. How pleased father will be!"
"Byng told me further that we must get men to fill up our complement, and fifty over, by hook or by crook."
"Fifty over! that means fighting, Tom. Go on."
"The hook and crook means pressment, Jack."
"Well, well, I don't like it; but it is all for the good of the service. Heave round, Tom."
"Then I went to the post-office. Sly dog, am I? Well, perhaps. A letter from Flora, and one for you."
Jack tore his open.
"Why, she has gone to live with dear old Father Spence at Torquay, Tom."
"Yes, Jack, till the war is over. Then, if God but spares us all, I shall be your brother."
"Dear girl," said Jack. "Ah, Tom, what a noble courage she possesses! You and I can meet the foe face to face and fight well; but that is under excitement. But dear Flora needed more courage than ours to leave Grantley Hall so bravely as she did. Never a tear, Tom, never a tear; and I even saw my father's eyes wet. Ah well. It is the fortune of war. Heigh-ho!"
"Cheer up, Jack. Somehow, my friend, I think that Grantley Hall will come back to the Mackenzies yet."
"Ah, never, Tom, never! The dear old place where Flora and I spent our childhood, only to think it should come at last into the clutches of the plausible skinflint Keane; the father, though, of—but go on, Tom, go on."
"I next saw two gentlemen of the 'sailors' friend' persuasion."
"Well, anyhow, they are good for forty between them."
"Bravo! Things are looking up. What a capital fellow you are, Tom! But, stay; let me reckon. We still want twenty more."
"And these, Jack, shall be no mere top hampers, I can assure you. I have arranged to lay hands on fifteen at least of thorough dare-any-things—fellows who look upon fighting as mere fun, and can face the billows as well as tackle a foe."
"You interest me. Proceed."
"What say you to pirates, then?"
"Come, come, Tom."
"Well, they are the next thing to it. They are sea-smugglers. I met One-legged Butler to-day, the king of coastguardsmen; and if we lend him nets, he will land the fish."
"You mean seamen and cutlasses. Well, he'll have them; and I'll trust the matter all to you."
"Nay, Jack, nay; the second lieutenant must be left in charge, and you must come. Flora must see you."
"Flora?" cried Jack.
"Yes; we are to cut out the smuggler in Tor Bay."
"I'm with you, Tom. Well, we shall meet at dinner. Au revoir."
* * * * *
One-legged Butler was quite a character in his way. He had been in the service in his very young days, and had lost a limb while fighting bravely for king and country. But for this stroke of bad luck he might have been an admiral, and there is little doubt he would have been a brave one too. Appointed to the revenue service, he soon proved that, in addition to cunning, tact, and bravery, he possessed detective qualities of no mean order. His timber toe, as the sailors called his wooden leg, was no drawback to him. Timber toes in those stirring times were as common as sea-gulls in every British sea-port; and Butler's powers of disguising himself, or making up to act a part in order to gain information, were simply marvellous.
On the day Tom Fairlie made his acquaintance, he had been singing "Tom Bowling" on the street in front of a public-house, and our Tom had gone up to give him a penny. Like the Ancient Mariner, he had held Tom with his glittering eye; and a very few moments' conversation was sufficient to arrange for one of the cleverest and most daring little adventures that ever supplied a man-o'-war with gallant "volunteers," as pressed men were often ironically termed in those days.
They were a very merry party at dinner that day around the captain's table. Not a large one, however; only Jack Mackenzie himself, his friend Tom Fairlie, M'Hearty, one "middie," and bold Captain Butler, all good men and true; and the servant who waited at table was one to be trusted. Despite the fact that he was a Spaniard, he was most faithful, so that the conversation could take any turn without danger of a word being repeated either forward or to the servants below in the ward-room.
In talking and yarning right quickly passed the evening in the captain's cabin; but everywhere fore and aft to-night both officers and crew were hearty. They had already bidden farewell to friends and home, soon their country too would fade far away from sight, and then—the glories of war. Ah! never mind about its horrors; what brave young British sailor ever thought of these?
"A SPLENDID NIGHT'S WORK, TOM!"
"Ah! cruel, hard-hearted, to press him, And force the dear youth from my arms; Restore him, that I may caress him, And shield him from future alarms." DIBDIN'S Pressgang.
It was near to the hour of sunset, on an autumn evening about a week after the cozy dinner-party in the cabin of Captain Jack Mackenzie of the Tonneraire. The tree-clad hills and terra-cotta cliffs around Tor Bay were all ablur with driving mist and rain, borne viciously along on the wings of a north-east gale. Far out beyond the harbour mouth, betwixt Berry Head and Hope's Nose, the steel-blue waters were flecked and streaked with foam; while high against the rocks of Corbyn's Head the waves broke in clouds of spray.
As night fell, the wind seemed to increase; the sky was filled with storm-riven clouds; and the "white horses" that rode on the bay grew taller and taller.
Surely on such a night as this every fishing-boat would seek shelter, and vessels near to the land would make good their offing for safety's sake.
There were those who, gazing out upon the storm from the green plateau above Daddy's Hole, where the coastguard station now is, thought otherwise.
Daddy's Hole is a sort of inlet or indentation in the rock-wall, which rises so steeply up to the plain above that, though covered with grass, it seems hardly to afford foothold for goats. No man in his senses would venture to descend from above in a straight line, nor even by zigzag, were it not for the fact that here and there through the smooth green surface rocks protrude which would break his fall.
Shading their eyes with their hands in the gathering gloom, with faces seaward, stood two rough-looking men, of the class we might call amphibious—men at home either on the water or on shore.
"It can't be done," said one. "No, capting, it can't."
"Can't?" thundered the other; "and I tells yew, Dan, the skipper o' the Brixham knows no such a word as 'can't.' He's comin'. Yew'll see. Hawkins never hauled 'is wind yet where a bit o' the yellow was tow be made. Us'll drink wine in France to-morrow, sure's my name is Scrivings."
Dan shook his head.
"W'y, yew soft-hearted chap, for tew pins I'd pitch yew ower the cliff."
But as "Capting" Scrivings laughed while he spoke, and shook his friend roughly by the shoulder, there was little chance of the terrible threat being fulfilled.
"And min' yew, Dan," he added, "if us lands this un all right, us'll be rich, lad—ha! ha! Besides, wot's Hawkins got tow be afear'd of? The Brixham can cut the winkers from the wind's eye, that she can. Tack and 'alf tack though buried in green seas, Dan. Never saw a craft tow sail closer tow a wind. Here's tow bold Hawkins and the brave Brixham!"
The toast was drunk from a black bottle which the "capting" handed to Dan.
"'Ave a pull, chap; yew needs it to brace yewr courage tow the sticking-point."
* * * * *
Captain Butler prided himself on the seaworthiness and fleetness of his cutter, the saucy little Moonbeam. Not that she had been much to look at, or much to sail either, when he took her over; for in those good old times the Admiralty was not a whit more generous with paint and copper nails than it is now. But One-legged Butler was a man of some means, who might have driven his coach on shore had he not been so fond of the brine and the breeze. So he had the Moonbeam seen to at his own expense—not without asking and receiving permission, of course, for he was a strict-service man. Her bows were lengthened and her rig altered and improved; she was made, in fact, quite a model of.
And Captain Butler was justly proud of the Moonbeam. So highly did he regard her that he would not have marked her smooth and spotless deck with his timber toe to obtain his promotion, and therefore his servant had orders to always keep the end of that useful limb shod with softest leather.
Nothing that ever sailed got the weather-gauge on the Moonbeam.
Except the Brixham.
That smuggling sloop landed many a fine bale of silk, hogshead of wine, and tobacco galore, all along the south coast; but never had been caught. She was a fly-by-night and a veritable phantom. Thrice Butler had chased her. He might as well have attempted to overhaul a gull on the wing.
But to-night One-legged Butler meant to do or die. He knew she was going to venture into Tor Bay, and lie off at anchor under the lee of the cliffs. He could have boarded her in boats perhaps; but that would not have suited Butler's idea of seamanship. It must be neck or nothing—a fair race and a fair fight.
The Brixham carried a dare-devil crew, however, and Hawkins feared nothing. The Moonbeam would have her work cut out; but then all the more glory to the bold fellows on board of her; for these were the days when adventure was beloved for its own sake alone.
* * * * *
When, on the night previous, twenty brave blue-jackets from the Tonneraire were told off for special service and sent aboard the little Moonbeam, which sailed a few hours after just as the moon was rising over the Hoe, they had no idea what was in the wind. From their armature of cutlasses and pistols, they "daresayed" there was a little bit of fighting to be done, and rejoiced accordingly, for Jack dearly loves a scrimmage. The wind blew high, even then tossing the cutter about like a cork, although she carried but little sail. By next forenoon, however, she had passed Tor Bay, and lay in semi-hiding near Hope's Nose. There was the risk of the vessel's presence being discovered and reported to Scrivings and his gang; but there always are risks in warfare.
As soon as it was dusk a portion of the men were landed. Then the Moonbeam, although it blew big guns, set herself to watch for the foe.
Hour after hour flew by, and the moon, glinting now and then through a rift in the clouds, whitened the curling waves, but showed no signs of the Brixham, or of anything else.
It was an anxious time.
At twelve o'clock grog and biscuits were served out. The men never had time to swallow a mouthful—of biscuit, I mean. No doubt they drank the grog, for those were the days of can-tossing, a custom now happily but seldom honoured.
Yes, there she was! It could be none other save daring Hawkins in the Brixham.
Small look-out was being kept to-night, however, on the smuggler.
The Moonbeam swept down on her as hawk swoops down on his prey, and although Tor Bay is wondrous wide, and the Brixham was nearly in the centre of it, the cutter was on her in a surprisingly short time.
Fine seamanship, fine steering, to sheer alongside and grapple, despite the fact that the sea had gone down, and the waves were partially under the lee of the hills.
If ever man was surprised, that man was Smuggler Hawkins. But he answered the call to surrender with a shout of defiance.
After this it was all a wild medley of pistols cracking, cutlasses clashing, cries—yes, and, I am sorry to say, a few groans; for blood was shed, and one man at least would never sail the salt seas more. But if blood was shed, the seas washed it off; for the fight took place with the spray driving over both vessels, white in the moonlight.
A prize crew was left on the Brixham, and in less than twenty minutes both craft were safe at anchor in Torquay harbour.
Meanwhile, the party who had been landed near to Hope's Nose had made their way inland, bearing somewhat to the east to make a detour, both for the purpose of getting well in the rear of the smugglers' cottage—where Tom Fairlie, who was in command, knew the smugglers were to be found—and because the night was still young.
When Scrivings left the outlook with Dan on watch, he betook himself to this cottage, in order to complete arrangements for landing the cargo, every bale and tub of which they had meant to haul up from Daddy's Hole to the plains above, then to cart them away inland.
But he found his ten men ready, and even the horses and carts in waiting. They were hired conveyances. The smugglers found no difficulty in getting help to secure their booty in those days, when many even of the resident gentry of England sympathized with contraband trade. So there was nothing to be done but to wait.
It was a lonely enough spot where the little cottage stood among rocks and woodland. Lovely as well as lonely and wild; though I fear its beauties alone did nothing to recommend the place to the favour of "Capting" Scrivings and his merry men.
The night waned. The moon rose higher and higher. The men in the bothy, having eaten and drunk, had got tired at last of card-playing, and nearly all were curled up and asleep.
The sentry had seated himself on a stone outside, and he too was nodding, lulled into dreamland by the sough of the wind among the solemn pines.
The wind favoured Fairlie's party, who, as stealthily as Indians, crept towards the cottage from the rear.
The sentry was neatly seized and quickly gagged, and next moment the lieutenant, sword in hand, his men behind him, had rushed into the dimly-lit bothy.
"Surrender in the king's name! The first who stirs is a dead man!"
It was beautifully done. Not a show of resistance was or could be made, and in less than an hour Tom Fairlie, with his crestfallen prisoners, had reached the harbour, where they were welcomed by a hearty cheer, which awakened the echoes of the rocks and a good many of the inhabitants of the village of Torquay.[A]
[A] The town now shows a bolder front.
And now Captain Jack Mackenzie shook hands right heartily with his friend Tom Fairlie.
"Splendid night's work, Tom," he said. "A thousand thanks! Now the saucy Tonneraire may be called ready for sea."
Splendid night's work was it? Well, we now-a-days would think this impressment cruel—cruel to take men away from their homes and avocations, perhaps never to see their country more. Yet it must be admitted that smugglers like these, who had so long defied the law, richly deserved their fate.
IN THE MOON'S BRIGHT WAKE.
"Now welcome every sea delight— The cruise with eager watchful days, The skilful chase by glimmering night, The well-worked ship, the gallant fight, The loved commander's praise!"—Old Song.
It was not without a tinge of sorrow at his heart that Jack Mackenzie stood on his own quarter-deck and saw the chalky cliffs of England fading far astern, as the gloom of eventide fast deepened into night. He was not the one to give way to useless grief, but he could not help contrasting the hope and joyfulness with which he had last left home with his present state of mind. He was not a post-captain then certainly, but he had that—or thought he had—for which he would gladly now take the epaulettes from off his shoulders and fling them in the sea—namely, the love of the only girl he ever thought worth living for. But she— Well, no matter; that was past and gone. His love had been all a dream, a happy dream enough while it lasted, while his heart had been to her a toy. But then his father, his good old careless-hearted father. Wrecked and ruined! That he was in difficulties Jack had known for years, but he never knew how deep these were, nor that they had so entwined themselves around the roots of the old homestead, that to get rid of the former was to tear up the latter and cast all its old associations to the four winds of heaven. Dear old homestead! Somehow Jack had dreamt he would always have it to go home to on every return voyage, always have his father there to welcome him back, always—
"Hallo!" said a voice at his side, "what is all this reverie about, Jack?"
Tom laid his hand gently, half timidly on his arm as he spoke. Half timidly, I say, because it would not do for even the men to note a shadow of familiarity on poop or quarter-deck betwixt a commander and his captain.
Jack smiled somewhat sadly.
"I daresay, Tom," he replied, "it was very wrong, but I was just breathing one last sigh for lost love and home. Oh, I don't care for Grantley Hall so much; but then there is sister, and poor father, and it seems rather hard he should take service again. There is just enough saved out of the wreck for them to live on."
"Yes; and you'll win a fortune yet, mayhap an earldom, Jack—"
"Stay, Tom, stay. I care nothing for earldoms, and if I win enough to live on I'll be content. One thing I do mean to win for Flora's sake—honour and glory."
"Keep your mind easy about Flora," laughed Tom. "I'm going to win all the honour and glory she is likely to want."
"I'd quite forgotten, Tom—brother."
"That's better. And, Jack, I know you'll get more ambitious as we go on. Now mind you, you're not so badly off. That wound was a lucky hit. Just look around and beneath you. Ever see a finer frigate? Look at her build, her spars, her rigging, everything taut and trim and ship-shape—the very ship seems proud of herself, considering the independent way she goes swinging over the waves on the wings of this delightful breeze; swinging over the waves, bobbing and bowing to them as if they were mere passing acquaintances, and she proud mistress of the seas. Then, Jack, let me recall your attention to the fact that we have five-and-forty bonnie black guns and three hundred and twenty bold blue-jackets to man and to fight them; and that you—you lucky dog—are monarch of all you survey. Ah, brother mine, there is many a sailor mo'sieur afloat on the seas at this moment 'twixt here and America who well might tremble did he but know the fate that is in store for him when the Tonneraire crosses his hawse."
"You bloodthirsty man!"
"No, no, no. I've got one of the softest hearts ever turned out of dock, but it is all for king and country, you know. Behold how our good ship goes sweeping through the deep! Look, my captain bold, we are coming up to the convoy hand-over-hand. It was a good idea giving them half a day's start, for some of them, I daresay, we'll find are lazy lubbers."
"Well," said Jack, as we shall still call him, "we must do our best to keep them together. I would not like, however, for my own part, to go out in protection of many convoys."
"Nor will we; this is only a kind of trial trip. But if you are afraid you won't have any fighting to do, you may be agreeably disappointed, as the Irishman said."
Jack Mackenzie laughed.
"What a fire-eater you are, Tom! I wasn't thinking of fighting. But if I have to fight, I'd rather these merchantmen were a hundred miles away. Fighting in convoy must make one feel as does the father of a family, whom he has to defend against an aggressor while the children cling tightly to his legs."
From the above conversation it will be gathered that the Tonneraire had sailed at last, and was in charge of a merchant fleet bound for America. This was considered a very responsible task in these warlike days, when the cruisers of the enemy were here, there, and everywhere in our ocean highways, watching a chance to seize our unprotected ships. The Tonneraire had been chosen for her strength and her fleetness, and there was no doubt that under so able a young and dashing commander she would fulfil her mission, and make it warm for any Frenchman who sought to attack the ships.
There they were now sailing as closely together as possible, because night would soon fall, and they could only be distinguished by their lights. A cruise of this sort was seldom, if ever, free from adventure, and it entailed much anxious care and forethought on the part of the captain of the war-vessel convoying them. A good thing this for Jack Mackenzie. No cure for sorrow in this world except honest work. He was really, too, in a manner of speaking, a probationer. To do his duty strictly, wisely, and well on this voyage would certainly entitle him to no step, not even perhaps to praise; but to neglect it, or even to be unfortunate, would cause him to incur the displeasure of the Admiralty and hinder his advancement.