Ben Burton; or, Born and Bred at Sea, by W H G Kingston.
The story really consists of a series of nautical and shore incidents, to do with Ben Burton and his family. During the course of the story he goes from being born, to a senior Naval rank. Shortly after he is born they come across a dinghy drifting with an ayah and a small white girl, who grows up in parallel with Ben, though she is spared some of his more martial adventures.
It's always difficult to get a timescale with books like this one, as the years seem to go past much faster than the supply of adventures.
I was somewhat baffled by the paragraphing in this book. For most of the book the paragraphing is as you would expect it to be, but there is an over-supply of very long paragraphs, and some of these contain quite complex conversations, so that one is tempted to split them up so that passage looks more conventional and readable. I have not done so, except in one flagrant case, because I suspect that Kingston may have been experimenting in some way. On the other hand it may be that he had contracted to write a book of so many pages, and this was a way of condensing a long conversational exchange.
There were some other strange things to be noticed, such as places and people changing their spelling (Benjy and Benjie, for instance), within a few lines. And there were some words that Kingston spells correctly in other books, but anomalously in this one. It's almost as though he dictated the book to a typist, and then never actually read it for himself. It lends weight to the theory that Kingston books were authored by more than one person, because this one is within his rules of style, except for the really quite numerous typographical anomalies mentioned above.
Apart from that, the story is quite good to read or to listen to, just as Kingston books always are.
BEN BURTON; OR, BORN AND BRED AT SEA, BY W H G KINGSTON.
"Dick Burton, you're a daddy! Polly's been and got a baby for you, old boy!" exclaimed several voices, as the said Dick mounted the side of the old "Boreas," on the books of which ship he was rated as a quarter-master, he having just then returned from a pleasant little cutting-out expedition, where he had obtained, besides honour and glory, a gash on the cheek, a bullet through the shoulder, and a prong from a pike in the side.
"Me a what?" he inquired, bending his head forward with a look of incredulity, and mechanically hitching up his trousers. "Me a daddy? On course it's a boy? Polly wouldn't go for to get a girl, a poor little helpless girl, out in these outlandish parts."
"On course, Dick, it's a boy, a fine big, walloping younker, too. Why bless ye, Quacko ain't no way to be compared to him, especially when he sings out, which he can do already, loud enough to drown the bo'sun's whistle, let me tell you," was the reply to Dick Burton's last question.
That baby was me. Quacko was the monkey of the ship. I might not have been flattered at being compared to him, though it must be owned that I stood very much in the light of his rival. I soon, however, cut him out completely. My mother was one of two women on board. The other was Susan King, wife of another quarter-master. The two men enjoyed a privilege denied to their captain, for they could take their wives to sea, which he could not. To be sure, Polly and Susan made themselves more generally useful than the captain's wife would probably have done had she lived on board, for they washed and mended the men's shirts, nursed them when sick or wounded, prepared lint and bandages for the surgeons, and performed many other offices such as generally fall to the lot of female hands. They had both endeared themselves to the men, by a thousand kind and gentle acts, but my mother was decidedly the favourite. This might have been because she was young and remarkably handsome, and at the same time as good and modest as a woman could be; and so discreet that she was never known to cause a quarrel among her shipmates, or a pang of jealousy to her husband; and that, under the circumstances of the case, is saying a great deal in her favour. Fancy two women among nearly four hundred men, and not one of the latter even thinking of infringing the last commandment of the Decalogue. What an amount of good sense, good-temper, and self-command must have been exercised on the part of the former.
Susan's qualifications for the position she held were very different to those of my mother. In appearance she was a very Gorgon, a veritable strong-minded, double-fisted female, tall, gaunt, and coarse-featured. A hoarse laugh, and a voice which vied with the boatswain's in stentorian powers, and yet withal she was a true woman, with a gentle, loving, tender heart. Bill King, her husband, knew her good qualities, and vowed that he would not swap her for Queen Charlotte, or any other lady in the land, not if the offer was made to him with a thousand gold guineas into the bargain.
I ought to be grateful to her, and do cherish her memory with affection, for she assisted to bring me into the world; attended my mother in her time of trial and trouble, and nursed me with the gentlest care. Yet Sue had a tongue, and could use it too when occasion, in her judgment, required its employment. But she always took the side of right and virtue against wrong and vice, and woe betided the luckless wight who fell under the ban of her just displeasure. She would belabour him, not with her hands, but by word, look, and gesture, till he shrieked out for mercy and promised never again to offend, or took to ignominious flight like a thief with a posse of constables at his heels. Bill King was a quiet-mannered little man with a huge pair of whiskers, like studden-sails rigged out on either side of his cheeks, and a mild expression of countenance which did not belie his calm good-temper and amiability of disposition. But though gentle in peace, he was as brave and daring a seaman as ever sprang, cutlass in hand, on an enemy's deck, or flew aloft to loose topsails when a prize had been cut out, amid showers of bullets and round-shot.
Of my father, I will only say that he was in no way behind his friend Bill King in bravery, and though he spoke the sailor's lingo like his shipmates, he was vastly his superior in manners and appearance. Indeed, he and my mother were a very handsome couple. They were also, I may say, deservedly looked upon with great respect by the officers, from the captain downwards, and regarded with affection by all the crew.
To go back to that insignificant little individual, myself, as I certainly was on the day I have mentioned, when I made my first appearance on board the HMS "Boreas". I came in for a large share of the regard entertained by the ship's company for my parents. My father was the first person introduced by Susan King into my presence.
"Well, he is a rum little youngster!" he exclaimed, taking me up in his open palms. "He is like Polly—that he is!" he added, as he gazed at me affectionately, the feelings of a father for the first time welling up in his bosom. "Yes, he is a sweet little cherub! Shouldn't wonder but he is like them as lives up aloft there to watch over us poor chaps at sea. Ay, that he must be. They can't beat him. Lord love ye, Sue, I am grateful to you for this here day's work."
I here interrupted my father's remarks by a loud cry, and other infantine operations, on which Sue insisted on having me back again to her safe keeping, while outside the screen several voices were heard entreating my father to bring me out for inspection, a request with which Mrs King had before steadily refused to comply.
"I say, Dick, just let's have a look at him. One squint, Burton, just to see what sort of a younker he may be. Come now, he ain't a chap to be ashamed of, I'm sure. There ain't none like him here aboard, I'll swear. He don't come up to Quacko anyhow. Come, Dick, show us him now, do, there's a good chap."
These and similar exclamations were sung out by various voices in different tones, to which my mother, as she lay in her cot, listened not unpleased, till at length my father having given her a kiss, and uttered a few words of congratulation and thanks to Heaven—sailors are not addicted to long prayers—again took me in his outstretched palms, and thus brought me forth to the admiring gaze of his shipmates. So eager were they to see me, that I ran no little risk of being knocked out of my father's hands, as they were shoving each other aside in their endeavours to get to the front rank. Then one and all wanted to have me to handle for a moment; but to this Susan King, who had followed my father from behind the screen, would on no account consent.
"Why, bless you, my lads, you would be wringing the little chap's neck off, if you were to attempt to take hold of him," said Susan.
"Oh! No, don't fear, we will handle him just as if he was made of sugar," was the reply.
"Oh! You don't know what delicate, weak little creatures these babies are when they are first born," observed Susan. "Just like jellyfish, they will not stand any rough handling."
Still in spite of my kind nurse's remarks, the bystanders continued to urge my father to let them have me.
"It is as much as my place is worth, mates," he answered at length; "I would not let him out of my hands on no account."
My new shipmates were, therefore, compelled to admire me at a respectful distance. I believe the remarks they made were generally complimentary, only they seemed to have arrived at the opinion that I was not at that time so fat or so fair as the cherubs they had heard of who live up aloft.
"And now, mates, I will just hand him back to Susan, and go and get the doctor to look at me, for I begin to feel pretty stiffish with the holes I got made in me just now," said my father.
And I was forthwith reconsigned to the charge of my mother and her attendant, while he went to the surgeon to get his wounds dressed. There were none of them, fortunately very serious, for the bullet had gone through the fleshy part of the arm, and the pike had missed the bone; the cut in the cheek, which at first appeared the most trifling, giving in the end more trouble and annoyance than either of the other hurts. The expedition in which he had been engaged was something out of the common way, though when I come to note down the numerous ones he has described to me, it is somewhat difficult not to mix them all up together.
The frigate, on board which I thus suddenly found myself, formed one of the East India Squadron, of which Admiral Peter Rainier was Commander-in-Chief.
The "Boreas" had a short time before this been despatched to Macao for the protection of the China trade. I speak of course from hearsay, as what I am about to relate occurred just before I came into existence; indeed, of many other subsequent events which I shall venture to describe I cannot be said to have any very vivid recollection, although present at the time. The frigate was standing to the eastward, some three or four leagues from the coast, when one of the topmen, Pat Brady, on the look-out at the mast-head, discovered a sail in shore to the northward. Pat was a relation of my mother—she was an Irishwoman, and, as Pat never failed to assert, a credit to her country. He would at all times have been ready to fight any man who ventured to hold a different opinion.
Our Captain, Christopher Cobb, was a brave man, but somewhat peppery, and very easily put out.
The wind had previously been light. It fell a dead calm soon after the stranger had been sighted. Our First-Lieutenant, Mr Schank, who, in spite of having a wooden leg, was as active as any man on board, having gone aloft himself to take a look at her, came to the opinion that she was a brig of war. From the way in which she increased her distance from the frigate after she was seen, it was very evident that she had her sweeps out, and there was every probability of her escaping.
"That must not be! That must not be!" muttered the Captain, as he paced the quarter-deck, fretting and fuming under the hot sun of the tropics. "Mr Schank, we must not let her go."
"No, sir," said the First-Lieutenant, "that would never do."
"We must take her with the boats if we cannot overtake her with the ship," said the Captain, with one of his quiet laughs.
"The very thing I was thinking of, sir," answered Mr Schank, who, I may observe, presented a great contrast to his excellent superior, the one being short and rotund, while in figure the Lieutenant was tall and gaunt.
"Then we will have the boats out and see what we can do," said the Captain.
"With all my heart, sir," answered the First-Lieutenant. "I will, if you please, take the command."
"Out boats!" was the order. The object was quickly known. In an instant the men who had till then been listlessly hanging about the decks in the few shady places they could find, for the sun was pretty nigh overhead, were instantly aroused into activity.
In a short time six boats were in the water manned and armed. In them went three lieutenants and the master, two master's mates, fifty seamen, and twenty marines. One of the gigs, the fastest boat, led the way, each boat taking the one next to her in tow. As they shoved off their shipmates cheered, and heartily wished them success. That they were determined to obtain, though they well knew that they had a pull before them of a good many hours under a burning sun, and probably some pretty sharp fighting at the end of it. After following her for an hour or more, Mr Schank perceived that they gained nothing on the brig. He therefore ordered the boats to cast off from each other, and to make the best of their way, provided no boat rowed ahead of the barge under his command. It was just two o'clock when the expedition left the frigate. My father was in the launch commanded by a master's mate, Mr Harry Oliver, a slight delicate youth who appeared utterly unfit for such work, but he had the heart of a lion, and daring unsurpassed by any officer in the service. For four long hours the chase continued, when, at about six in the evening, she was still four leagues ahead. Mr Schank now ordered the master to proceed in the gig as fast as he could pull, and by all means to keep sight of the brig, while in the event of darkness coming on he was to hoist a light to show her position. It had been arranged that the attack was to be made in two lines. The barge, pinnace, and gig were to board on the starboard quarter; and the other line, consisting of the three other boats, on the larboard quarter. For upwards of two hours longer the boats pulled on, the gloom of evening gradually closing over them. Still they could distinguish the dim outline of the brig ahead. The First-Lieutenant having got within musket-shot of the chase with Mr Oliver's boat, he directed his men to lie on to their oars that they might arm, and allow the sternmost boats to come up. Just then the master in the gig rejoined them.
"What is she?" asked Mr Schank.
"A French man-of-war brig of sixteen guns," was the answer. "She is under all sail with her sweeps out, and we shall find it pretty brisk work getting on board." The crews had of course been ordered to keep silence, or I rather think that they would have uttered a hearty shout at this announcement. In a few minutes more the sternmost boats got up, and their crews also armed and prepared for the attack. They were directed to steer one on each side of the brig, and to get in under the sweeps and close to her sides. In ten minutes they were within pistol-shot of the enemy, who was slipping along through the water, her sweeps being aided by the light wind off the land, at about two knots an hour.
And now the silence which had hitherto been kept was broken by the voice of their gallant leader shouting, "What vessel is that?"
There was no answer. Again he asked the same question in French. It was very bad French, and perhaps was not better understood than the previous question. At all events no reply was made.
"Then at her, lads!" cried Mr Schank; and the crews of the boats, uttering three hearty cheers, dashed up towards the brig's stern. As they got close up, however, a tremendous fire of heavy guns and musketry was opened on them, the bullets whizzing round them and wounding many, though fortunately none of the boats were struck by the round-shot, while, as they got up, pikes were thrust down at them and pistols fired in their faces. The bowmen in the leading boats which had got hold of the ship's sides were killed or wounded, and the boats dropped astern. Among those hit was their brave leader, but undaunted he shouted to his men to pull up again. Again as they did so they met with the same reception.
The First-Lieutenant was not a man to be defeated. Wounded as he was, he still resolved to persevere.
"Never say die, lads!" he shouted, as they were driven back. "Give them a taste of our powder in return!"
On this, the boats poured a hot fire of musketoons and small-arms through the brig's stern and quarter-ports. It told with tremendous effect, for not a shot was now fired upon the boats.
"On, on, lads!" shouted the First-Lieutenant; and before the Frenchmen could recover, the boats were hanging on to her quarters, and the crews were climbing up on deck. The First-Lieutenant, in spite of his wooden leg and wound, was among the foremost. My father, though also hit, followed close behind the brave young mate—Harry Oliver. Scarcely had they gained the brig's deck, however, ere the Frenchmen rallied and opposed them with the most determined bravery. The English crew climbing up one after the other, quickly gained possession of the whole of the after part of the brig, not, however, without several being killed and wounded, the Second-Lieutenant being among the former. He was cut down, after being twice shot through the body. For a few minutes a most bloody and tremendous conflict ensued. A Frenchman thrust his pike through Mr Oliver's side, and another was following it up with his sword, and would certainly have put an end to the young officer, had not my father, just as he got an ugly prong in his side of the same description, with one sweep of his cutlass brought the man to the deck, never to move again. French crews can very seldom, if ever, stand against English boarders. The bravest of the enemy were cut down, or began to give way. My father, with Mr Oliver on one side and the First-Lieutenant and Master on the other, with the men at their backs, now made a clear path, strewing the decks with the bodies of those who attempted to oppose them. The remainder of the enemy fled; some leaped down the hatchways, others took shelter on the bowsprit and jib-boom, and the more nimble sprang up the shrouds, where, as my father declared, like so many monkeys, they hung chattering and asking for quarter.
"Of course, if they would but have been quiet and peaceable, we had no wish to kill them," he used to say, "and glad enough we were when we found ourselves in possession of the brig, just about five minutes from the time we had first stepped on her decks. It was about the hardest bit of work I ever was engaged in," he always averred. "We lost our Second-Lieutenant, five seamen and three marines killed, three officers and twenty-two men wounded. The Frenchman had a crew of one hundred and sixty men and boys, out of whom there were no less than fourteen killed and twenty wounded—pretty badly, too, for we were not apt to use our cutlasses over gently, you may suppose.
"We had still plenty of work to do, for, though cowed for the moment, the Frenchmen would not have made much ceremony in trying to turn the tables again upon us. We had barely fifty men fit for work, and they had still one hundred and twenty—considerable odds against us.
"Mr Schank, as soon as he saw that the deck was ours, directed one of the officers to hurry down into the cabin and secure the private signals, and ordered me, at the same time, to go with a couple of marines to take charge of the magazine, for one never knows what desperate fellows may do when they have lost their ship, and some mad chap or other might have set fire to it, and blown us and themselves up into the air. Such things have been done before now.
"The next thing we did was to carry the wounded below. Our own people and the enemy's were treated alike. Poor fellows! How some of them did groan when they were lifted up. Next, an order was given to heave the dead overboard, 'And look out, lads, that you don't send any with the breath in their bodies to feed the sharks,' said the First-Lieutenant. The caution did not come too soon. Two men, one of whom was Paddy Brady, were about shoving a big Frenchman through a port, when the poor fellow uttered a groan. 'What is that you say, monsieur? Just speak again. Are you alive or dead?' exclaimed Brady. No answer was returned, and Paddy began to drag the dead body nearer the port. Again a groan, considerably louder than the first was heard. 'Arrah, now,' said Paddy, 'I wish you would just make up your mind whether it is overboard you would wish to go, or be carried below. Speak, man; I ax ye again for the last time: are ye alive or dead?'
"The Frenchman, maybe, might not have understood exactly what Brady was saying, but he must have had a pretty horrible idea that he was about to be sent overboard. This time he not only groaned, but uttered some words, and endeavoured to drag himself along the deck. 'Arrah, now, that's like a dacent, sinsible man,' observed Pat. 'Anyhow, you deserve to have your hurts looked to, and so we will carry him below, Jim.'"
The truth was that the man had been only slightly wounded, and afterwards stunned by a blow. Had he not come to himself at that moment, his career would undoubtedly have been finished. Hands were now sent aloft, the studden-sails hauled down, and the brig brought on a wind. The sweeps, which had all this time remained run out, were taken in-board, and the boats were veered astern.
"We now stood in the direction we hoped to find the frigate, hoisting two lights at the mast-head, firing guns, and burning blue lights to show our position. It was an anxious time, however, and we had to keep a very watchful eye on the Frenchmen. They evidently were hatching mischief, for they must have known as well as we did that the frigate was still a long way off, and that if they could overcome us they might yet get away with their brig. She was called the 'Loup' (the Wolf), and a wolf she had proved herself among our merchantmen. I had been relieved at my station at the magazine, when Pat Brady came up to me. 'Burton,' he said, 'I wish you would just take a look at the wounded prisoners. There is one of them whom I thought dead, and there he is, sitting up and talking away as if there was nothing the matter with him. I cannot understand his lingo, but, by the way he moves his arms about, I think he means mischief!'
"I went below with Brady, and there, sure enough, was the man he had so nearly thrown overboard, apparently very little the worse for his hurt, and evidently, as it appeared to me, trying to persuade his countrymen to do something or other which he had proposed. Sentries had been placed over the other prisoners, of course, but desperate men might soon have overpowered them, especially if the prisoners knew that there would be a little diversion in their favour.
"Hurrying on deck, I reported what we had seen to Mr Schank, who immediately ordered the man to be brought on deck, and as his wound was dressed, there was no cruelty in that. He grumbled considerably; the more so, probably, because his plan had been defeated.
"We continued every now and then sending up blue lights, keeping a very watchful eye all the time on our prisoners. At length, far away on our weather-beam, a bright light suddenly burst forth as if out of the dark ocean. We tacked and stood towards it. However, as the wind was very light, the Third-Lieutenant was sent off in the gig with an account of our success. Two hours had still to pass away before we at length got up to the frigate, and pretty well-pleased we were when the cheer which our shipmates sent forth to congratulate us on our success reached our ears." Such was the substance of my father's account, often subsequently told.
I do not know whether the anxiety which Burton felt when she saw her husband setting out on what she knew must be a dangerous expedition had any peculiar effect on her, but certain it is, that while my father was slashing away at the Frenchmen, and the bullets were flying about his head, I was born into the world.
With regard to the prize, she was carried safely into Macao, in the expectation that she would be fitted out as a cruiser, and that Mr Schank would get the command of her. Her fate I shall have hereafter to relate.
I meantime grew apace, and speedily cut out Quacko in the estimation of our shipmates. He, however, had his friends and supporters; for some months, at all events, he afforded them more amusement than I could do. They could tease him and play him tricks, which my mother and Mrs King took very good care they should not do to me. I had no lack of nurses from the first, and highly honoured were those into whose hands my mother ventured to commit me.
Mrs King had enough to do for some time after the action, in attending both to my mother and the poor fellows who had been wounded, both English and French, the latter receiving as much care from her gentle hands as did our own people. The two chief rivals for the honour of looking after me were my cousin, Pat Brady, and Toby Kiddle, boatswain's mate. Although many of my old shipmates have passed away from my memory, Toby Kiddle made an impression which was never erased. Nature had not intended him for a topman, for though wonderfully muscular, his figure was like a tun. His legs were short, and his arms were unusually long. With them tucked akimbo, he could take up two of the heaviest men in the ship, and run along the deck with them as lightly as he would have done with a couple of young children. He had a generous, kind heart, could tell a good story, and troll forth a ditty with any man; and as to his bravery, where all were brave, I need scarcely mention it, except to say that I do no not think anyone beat him at that. Boatswain's mate though he was, Toby Kiddle had a heart as gentle as a lamb's. He scarcely seemed cut out for the post, and yet there was a rough crust over it which enabled him to do his duty, and when he had to lay on with the cat, to shut his eyes, and to hit as hard as he was ordered. And yet I always have pitied a kind-hearted boatswain's mate, though he is not after all worse off than the captain and officers, who have to stand by and see men punished. However, I will not say anything about that matter just now. Time went on, and I grew bigger, and began to chew beef and bacon with the rest of the ship's company becoming more and more independent of my mother in every way. Yet I loved her, as such a mother deserved to be loved. As I grew bigger I made more and more friends. The Captain himself very frequently took notice of me, and patted my head, which was beginning to get curls upon it, and often gave me cakes and other Chinese manufactured delicacies which he had got from the shore. Captain Cobb was a short man, and since he came out to China had grown very round and stout. His face, as a boy, had been probably pink and white, but it had now been burnt into a deep red copper colour. His eyes, which were small, were bloodshot, with a ferrety expression, and altogether his outward man was not attractive. His uniforms, which had hung loosely on him when he left home, had been, by the skill of the tailor, let out and out to meet the demands of his increasing corpulency; but no art or skill could do more for them; and as he was unwilling to procure others till those were worn out, he looked, when walking the quarter-deck, very much as if he had on a straight waistcoat.
Captain Cobb was not disregardful of his creature comforts, and in order to supply himself with milk for breakfast and tea, he had shipped on board, some time back, a she-goat, which fully answered his wishes. Seamen will make pets of everything—monkeys, babies, lions, pigs, bears, dogs, and cats. The goat had become a favourite, for she was a handsome creature, and very tame, but it was chiefly in connection with Quacko, who was soon taught to ride upon her. Quacko was certainly very well aware that he must never venture upon the quarter-deck, and before, therefore, he reached the sacred precincts on his daily rides, he always managed to wheel the goat about and retrace his steps forward. Quacko was a wonderfully sagacious monkey, and held his position in the good opinion of the crew in spite of my rival claims. Had I been thrown entirely upon their mercy as Quacko was, I might have completely cut him out; but having my mother and Mrs King, with two or three select friends to look after me, the remainder very naturally felt that they had not so much interest in the matter. On one occasion, when I was about three years old, the frigate was caught in a typhoon. I was safe below in my poor mother's arms, but Quacko remained on deck to see what was going forward. Nobody was thinking of him. The seamen, indeed, had to hold on with might and main to secure their own lives. Some preparation had been made, and fortunately it was so, for all the sails still set were blown out of the bolt ropes. The frigate was hove on her beam-ends. Where Quacko had come from nobody knew, when on a sudden he was seen hanging to the slack end of a rope. In vain one of the topmen made an attempt to grasp him. The rope swung away far over the foaming sea. He swung back, but it was to strike the side apparently, for the next instant the rope returned on board and no Quacko hanging to it. The ship righted without having suffered much damage; indeed, the loss of Quacko was our greatest misfortune.
After the sad event just mentioned, Quacko's friends made various attempts to appropriate me; indeed, Mrs King and Toby Kiddle had, in order to console them for their loss, to give me up to them occasionally.
"Here, Toby, let's have the little chap and learn him to ride," said Tom Trimmers, one of the topmen. "Why, Nanny will be forgetting how to carry a human being as she has been accustomed to do, and you will soon see what a capital horseman he will make, won't you, Ben?"
"Ay, ay," I answered, for though I could not say much I could say that, and so Nanny was brought forth, and I was placed on her back, Toby, however, remarking, that though some day I should have more sense than the defunct Quacko ever had, yet at present, as I had no experience in riding, he must decline allowing me to mount unless he held me up. "It will be time when the little chap has had some practice to let him go along by himself," he observed, looking round at our shipmates. "Now, you don't know what would become of him, for Nanny is more than likely to trot off on the quarter-deck and make herself disagreeable there, and maybe pitch Master Benjy down the main hatchway. No, no, I will stand by and hold him on till he is a bit older."
This resolution was certainly very prudent; but I very soon began to complain of it, and to assert, by signs rather than by words, that I was well able to take care of myself, and steer the goat as Quacko had done.
"And where is Quacko, Master Ben?" asked Toby, who understood me better than anyone else. "He thought he could take care of himself, but he could not do so, you see, nor can any of us, and that's my opinion. If there was not one better able to take care of us than we are of ourselves, we poor sea-going chaps would be in a bad way."
In spite, however, of Toby Kiddle, my other friends managed occasionally to let me have my own way; and with great pride they looked on while I, with the end of a mop stick in my hand, went galloping about the deck, belabouring the goat's hinder quarters, very much after the fashion of an Irishman riding a donkey at a race. The Sergeant of Marines, Julian Killock was his name, on seeing the use I made of my weapon, took it into his head to teach me the broadsword exercise, which I very soon learnt. The Jollies now began to contemplate appropriating me to themselves, and thus, as it may be supposed, made the Blue-jackets somewhat jealous.
"No, no, Tom Sawyer," I remember hearing one of the latter observe, "you shall not have little Ben to turn into a horse-marine on no account. He is our'n and cut out for a blue-jacket, and a blue-jacket he will be till the end of his days."
Still the Jollies were in no way disposed to give up their share of me, to which they considered they had a right. I was very nearly the cause of a serious dispute between the two Services. A compromise was at length entered into by the suggestion of my father, who agreed that the Jollies might teach me the sword and platoon exercise, while the Blue-jackets might impart as much nautical knowledge as I was capable of taking in.
But I was speaking of the goat. I was especially fond of mounting Nanny's back, though she must have found me considerably heavier than Quacko. However, as I never played her any tricks, which he constantly had done, she had no objection to carry me. I consequently took my daily ride round and round the deck, sweeping close round the mainmast and forward again.
It is not surprising that people should lose their temper under such a climate as our ship's company was doomed for so many years to endure. One afternoon, just as the men had finished dinner, it being a dead calm, the ocean like a sheet of molten lead, smooth as a mirror, the sun's rays striking down with tremendous force on our decks, making the pitch hiss and bubble, while one of the midshipmen was frizzling a piece of beef on a metal plate, that he might declare when he got home, without injuring his conscience, that it was usual to cook dinners by the heat of the sun out in China, and the men lay about gasping for breath, I was brought up by Pat Brady, that, as he said, I might enjoy a breath of air, only there happened to be none at the moment, and while I, the least important personage on board thus made my appearance on the upper regions of our ocean world, so did the most important, the Captain, come up to look about him, and whistle for a breeze. It did not come however, although the Captain kept whistling and whistling away till his cheeks must have ached. Nanny had been let out of her pen to discuss the remains of an old straw hat, the other part of which had been given her for her supper the previous evening, when it came into Pat Brady's head to place me on her back; I, nothing loth, sung out for my broadsword, with which I began forthwith to whack the hinder quarters of my long-horned steed. Off she set, but instead of wheeling round the mainmast, on she galloped along the forbidden district of the quarter-deck. The Captain just at that moment, with a stamp of his foot, vexed at his not getting the wished-for wind, turned round, when Nanny and I, at a furious speed, dashed bolt against him; and the goat, catching him between the legs by the impetus she had obtained, sent him sprawling on the deck, and her horns catching in his coat-tails, he and she and I all went rolling over together. There we lay, the Captain spluttering and swearing incontinently, though scarcely able in his rage to utter a word clearly, the goat tugging away to get again on her legs, I all the time shrieking out lustily for help. The officers, who had been pacing the other side of the deck, could scarcely for laughter come to their chiefs assistance, nor could he, from the struggles of the goat, get again on his legs, for each time he made the attempt the terrified animal in her efforts to escape his fury once more pulled him down. I however, had managed to roll out of the way, while my cries, which did not cease, although I was clear of danger, caught the ears of Toby Kiddle, who was coming along the main-deck. He sprang up the main hatchway ladder, and rushing up seized me in his arms. Just then the purser and surgeon managed to raise up the Captain; not, however, till Nanny had almost torn off his coat-tails, and finding herself released was scampering back to the fore-part of the ship. The Captain's whole frame seemed bursting with indignation and rage. Just then his eye fell on Toby Kiddle and me in his arms.
"Who did it? Who did it?" he exclaimed. "Who set them on? You did, sirrah—you did. You shall have three dozen for your fun!"
"Please, sir, it was not me," answered Toby, "and it could not have been the poor innocent child. It was the goat, sir. What put it into her head to do it, is more than I can tell."
"Hang the goat!" exclaimed the Captain, who by this time had begun to feel that his anger was not very dignified; and turning round he went below to hide his annoyance, as well as to put on another coat, instead of the nankeen garment which Nanny had destroyed.
"Ay, ay, sir," answered Kiddle, as he turned forward. "I will take care the goat never plays such a trick again."
As Toby had always objected to my riding the goat, he now came triumphantly forward among those who had placed me on her back, telling them the orders he had received from the Captain.
"But the skipper will lose his milk if you hang his goat," observed one of them.
"Arrah, now, I suppose he is thinking it is time to wean himself," observed Paddy Brady, who had been the chief cause of the accident.
"At all events, his orders must be obeyed," observed Kiddle, "and so, mates, as it was an evident case of mutiny, we will run her up to the yard-arm at sunset. To my mind, if the goat was got rid of, we should have a quieter ship than we have now."
Fortunately, the preparations which the men were making for hanging the goat were observed, and reported to the Captain.
"Really, I do believe I did say so," he answered to the First-Lieutenant. "Just go and tell Kiddle and the rest, that, in consideration of her general good conduct, I purpose reprieving her. That will settle the matter, and show my leniency and consideration in favourable colours."
Thus our worthy Captain was in the habit of arranging even more weighty matters, by which mode of proceeding, in spite of his eccentricities, he warmly attached the ship's company to him.
Time passed by, as it does in youth as well as in old age. The ship's company were looking forward to being relieved, for the frigate had already been the best part of five years on the station. I was learning to knot and splice, and could already perform a hornpipe, if not with much grace, at all events with an exhibition of considerable elastic power, and greatly to the admiration of Toby Kiddle, Pat Brady, and my other friends, as well as my father and mother and Mrs King. They would get round applauding me greatly, as I sprang up and down, shuffled round and round and snapped my fingers, kicking out my legs in every direction. Sometimes the officers would come forward to have a look at me, and on several occasions I was invited aft to exhibit before the Captain.
Several changes had taken place on board, one of the lieutenants having invalided home, while another had died, their places being filled by others whom I shall shortly have to describe. The brig we had captured was ultimately brought into the service, and she was about to be commissioned. She was fitting out at Macao, and it was understood that Mr Schank would take the command of her. He had long been expecting promotion, though frequently disappointed, and he now made sure that he should obtain it. He might also hope, in so fine a vessel, to make a fair amount of prize-money. He required it much, for he had an old mother and several maiden sisters at home to support, besides two or three younger brothers to educate and send out in the world. This was generally known among his brother officers, and, although the cut of his uniforms was somewhat antiquated, and his best coat was tolerably threadbare, even the most thoughtless never ventured to quiz him. Every sixpence he could save went to the cottage in Lincolnshire. There his father had been the incumbent of a living of under a hundred and fifty pounds a year, on which he had to bring up his family and pay certain college debts, which had hung like a millstone round his neck all his life. I mention these things now, although, of course, I did not hear them till many years afterwards. Mr Schank was still doing duty on board the frigate expecting to be superseded, that he might commence refitting the brig. It had just become dark. She was lying some distance inside of us. Happily for themselves several of the crew in charge had come on board the frigate. Suddenly a tremendous explosion was heard. Bright flames burst forth from the spot where the brig lay, and a huge pyramid of fire was seen to rush upward towards the sky, where it burst into a thousand fragments, which, scattering far and wide, came hissing back into the mirror-like ocean, reflecting, ere they reached it, a thousand bright lights on its tranquil bosom.
"What is that about?" exclaimed Captain Cobb, coming on deck.
"The brig has blown up, sir," was the answer.
"And so then are all my hopes!" exclaimed Mr Schank, who had followed him on deck. "Lower the boats though, and we will try and pick up any poor fellows who may have escaped."
Mr Schank leaped into the first boat which reached the water, and in his eagerness to save his fellow-creatures instantly forgot his own bitter disappointment. Three men only were picked up alive, floating on fragments of the wreck. It sank almost directly the boats got up to the spot. What had caused the catastrophe no one could tell, but the brig certainly must have had a larger amount of gunpowder on board her than was supposed. Mr Schank therefore, as before, continued to act as our First-Lieutenant. Once or twice we returned to the Hoogley to refit, and on one occasion we were sent round to Madras and Bombay on special service. We were running down the Coromandel coast; the wind fell, and we lay, rolling our lower yardarms under in a long heavy swell, which came moving onwards in giant undulations towards the coast. We had to get rolling tackles set up, for sometimes it seemed as if the frigate would shake the very masts out of her. The Captain was on deck whistling away as was his wont. I do not know whether he expected his whistling to produce a breeze, but certainly I observed that he never failed to whistle when there was a calm.
He was thus employed when Mr Schank, who had previously been on deck for some hours, and had gone below to rest, once more made his appearance. He cast a look round, and pointed out a dark spot in the horizon. The order was immediately given to furl sails and strike topgallant masts. The royal-masts had previously been sent down. It was a time when a careless hold was likely to cause the stoutest seaman a leap into eternity. Scarcely was the ship made snug when down came the blast upon her. The sky grew of a leaden hue, and the long swell was broken up into a thousand tossing seas, foaming and leaping, and crossing each other in a way trying even to a frigate, and fearfully dangerous to any smaller craft. We, having been prepared in good time, ran on before the wind, having, however, as it shifted, which it did suddenly several points at a time, to change our course. The gale was a violent one, and did, I believe, send more than one ill-found ship to the bottom, but it was fortunately short in its duration, and by daylight had greatly decreased. Pat Brady, who had as sharp a pair of eyes as anyone on board, being on the look-out, discovered an object floating far away on the lee-bow. Whether it was a rock or a vessel on her beam-ends it was difficult to say. The ship was, however, kept away towards it, and the master being consulted, declared that no rock was to be found thereabouts. As we approached nearer, there was no doubt that the object seen was a vessel, and probably capsized in the late hurricane. The sea was still running very high, and washing over the greater portion of it, almost hiding it from view. Still the after part was higher out of the water than the rest, and it was possible that some human beings might still be clinging to it. As we approached, the frigate was brought on a wind, and hove to, but lowering a boat was still an operation of danger. All glasses were turned towards the wreck.
"I cannot help thinking there may be somebody on board," exclaimed Mr Harry Oliver, the mate I have spoken of. "If you will let me go, sir, I will board her," he added, turning to the Captain.
"As you like, Oliver," said Captain Cobb. "You know the risk; you can take a boat, but only volunteers must accompany you."
Mr Oliver smiled. He knew well there would be no lack of them. Pat Brady was the first to spring forward, and Bill King and my father both volunteered to go likewise. The crew was soon formed, and the boat safely reached the water. Away she went. No small skill was required to keep her afloat. My mother and Mrs King were looking on, and I have no doubt offering up prayers for the safety of their husbands. At length the boat got round to the lee side of the wreck. A cloth of shawl of some sort was seen to be fluttering from under the weather bulwarks.
The boat drew nearer. "There is somebody there, to a certainty," exclaimed Mr Oliver. "We may get up under her quarter, and an active man may then leap on board."
My father volunteered. The boat approached. Taking a line in his hand, he sprang on to the deck, half of which was under water. Supporting himself by the stump of the after-mast, and then catching hold of a portion of the weather-rigging, he hauled himself to the upper part of the wreck, where, secured to a stanchion, was what looked like a bundle of rags, out of the midst of which appeared a brown face, while his ear, at the same time, amidst the roaring of the sea, caught the sound of an infant's cry, to which, since I came into the world, his ears had been pretty well accustomed. Although Mr Oliver and the men in the boat gave him notice at that instant that the wreck was sinking, that cry had aroused all the father's feelings in his bosom. He sprang forward, and, as a seaman only could have done, cut away the lashings which secured a dark female, in whose grasp he then discovered a fair young infant. Seizing the woman and child in his arms, as the bow of the vessel was already sinking, he gave one spring aft, and struggled out of the vortex of the sinking vessel.
"Haul away!" he cried out, while he held the rope with one hand and kept his charges afloat with the other. A strong man alone could have saved them, and even a strong one, unless a truly brave fellow, would not have made the attempt. In a few seconds they were lifted safely into the boat. The infant breathed freely, and seemed not to have got any harm, but the poor black woman suffered greatly, and this further immersion had contributed still more to exhaust her. Yet she was perfectly conscious of what had occurred. Her lips moved, and a smile lighted up her countenance when she saw the infant lifted carefully in my father's arms. Unfortunately, there was no food in the boat, but just as Mr Oliver was stepping in, the surgeon had put a small brandy-flask in his pocket. This he produced, and attempted to pour a few drops down the throat of the poor woman, but the instant she tasted it she spat it forth as if it was poison, and showed signs of the evident disgust she felt at its being put into her mouth. All that those in the boat could do, therefore, was to make the best of their way back again to the frigate. There was not a sign of another human being on the wreck. As there were no boats, it was possible that the crew might have attempted to make their escape in them, but then surely they would not have left the woman and child behind. When the wreck went down, scarcely anything floated up by which any information could be gained as to what she was. From her appearance, Mr Oliver supposed that she was a snow, possibly belonging to one of the neighbouring ports. The black woman, from her dress and appearance, was at once known to be a native nurse—a class noted for their fidelity to those to whom they become attached. Not without great difficulty and danger, the boat at length reached the frigate's side, when a cradle was sent down into which the nurse was placed, and hoisted on board, my father following with the infant. I rather think it created far more sensation than I did when I came on board. In the first place, it made its appearance in a more public manner, and the Captain and officers crowded round to look at it and the poor nurse.
"Wonder whether it's a boy or a girl," said Toby Kiddle, who was amongst the foremost crowding round. "If it's a boy the younker will make a fine playmate for our Benjy. Let's have a squint at it, Dick. He won't cut our little chap out, anyhow; but we'll let the Jollies have him in keeping, and let them see what they can make on him. He'll help, at all events, to keep peace and quiet between us and them."
From the delicate features of the child, the officers seemed to think, however, that Toby's hopes would be disappointed; and the small stranger being forthwith committed to the charge of my mother, she soon settled the question by pronouncing her to be a remarkably fine healthy little girl, the child of Europeans, and from her dress, and the handsome coral ring and gold chain round her neck, of people of some wealth and quality.
The nurse was carried down into the surgeon's cabin, where Mrs King came instantly to assist him in taking care of her. The poor creature had fainted almost immediately on being brought on deck; when, at length, restoratives being applied, she opened her eyes, she gave a look round expressive of grief and alarm, uttering several words in an unknown tongue.
"It is the child she is asking for, sir," observed Mrs King. "Of course, that would be the first thing in her mind."
That Mrs King was right was proved when the child was brought to her. Several times she pressed it to her bosom, but she had no nourishment to afford it. Then, giving one convulsive gasp, before the surgeon could pour the restorative he had ready into her mouth, she sank back and expired. There was nothing about the woman to show who she was, or whence she had come. Her dress, as I have said, was that of an ayah or native nurse, such as all Europeans employ to take care of their children. Conjecture was rife as to who the little stranger was. What the Captain and officers thought about the matter I do not know. Forward, however, the general opinion ran in favour of her being of exalted birth.
"She is a little lady, no doubt about that," remarked Toby Kiddle, as he scrutinised her delicate features and the fineness of her clothing, and the "Little Lady" she was ever afterwards called.
But to whose charge she should fall was the next question. The Captain had a wife ashore, but he seemed to think that she would not be particularly well-pleased should he present her with an infant to look after. It would be something like reversing the order of things, and it might be difficult to persuade her that he was entirely ignorant of the child's parentage.
"You had better have her, Gunning," he said to the First-Lieutenant of Marines, "you have eight or nine already, have you not? And surely another can make no odds, and your wife will be delighted, I'm sure. Mrs Cobb would not mind standing godmother, I dare say, supposing the little damsel is not christened, and, to make sure, it will be just as well to have that done when we get home. I suppose they can go to heaven without it, but it is a matter I am not very clear about, and it is as well to be on the right side, do you see."
These remarks of the Captain enabled Mr Gunning to think over the matter. He had only joined us a few months, and he had some idea that on his return he should find a further increase to his large family. Though he was a kind-hearted man, and really would have been glad to look after the little stranger, yet he did not consider himself justified in undertaking further responsibilities, in addition to those already upon his shoulders. Still, who could take care of the little girl? The junior lieutenants were all young men, not at all fitted for the office. The surgeon was not exactly the person to whom a female infant could be committed. The master was a good seaman, but a somewhat rough hand, and he and his wife were known to live a cat-and-dog life when he was ashore: whereby the service benefited, as he always took care, for the sake of peace, to keep afloat. Then there was the purser. Her life was not likely to prove a happy one should he assume her guardianship, for as his great and sole pleasure in life seemed to be the laborious occupation of skinning flints, it was not likely that he would afford her a liberal education or a liberal maintenance. He was therefore put out of the question. The only persons, therefore, who appeared at all eligible among the officers were the Captain, the First-Lieutenant, and the Lieutenant of Marines. Mr Schank, when the matter was suggested to him, thought a good deal about it. "Perhaps his old mother would like to look after the little girl, he was sure she would, and so would his sisters, and very fit people they were in many respects, barring the expense she would be to them."
"What say you, Schank? Suppose I help you in that matter. I am in duty bound to do so, and so you will excuse my making the offer," said the Captain, his more generous feelings excited, as he thought of the forlorn condition of the little creature.
Lieutenant Schank thanked him, and promised if his mother would accept the charge not to decline his proposal. In the meantime the Little Lady was consigned to my mother's charge. Next to me and my father, the kind woman soon learned to love her more than anything on earth; in fact, she felt for her as for a daughter. The little creature from the first clung to her, and from the way she looked into her eyes, I really believe thought she was her own mother. At first she would not let Susan King even touch her, and shrieked out with fear. Poor Susan's tender heart was somewhat grieved at this. Her outward appearance and hoarse voice was indeed calculated to frighten a discerning child. However, in time, the Little Lady became reconciled to her, though she still always showed a strong preference to my mother.
I need scarcely say that I now, at all events, had a more powerful rival on board than had existed since Quacko was consigned to a watery grave. As may be supposed, the goat during a long sea voyage, where the food was scarce, gave but a small quantity of milk, only sufficient indeed for the Captain and any guest he might have at breakfast or tea. I do not believe that he would have sacrificed it for the sake of anyone else, but directly the child was brought on board he issued an order that the whole of the milk should be reserved for her use. There was something strange about this, for immediately the goat gave twice the quantity that had for some time appeared on the Captain's table. It was, to be sure, whispered that some of the young gentlemen were fond of milk for their tea, and from that time forward not a drop was ever seen in their berth. Before that time, one or two of them used to boast that they had the art of manufacturing milk out of pipeclay, whereby they accounted for the rare fluid which occasionally appeared on the mess-table.
I remember clearly the funeral of the poor nurse. As the Captain and the First-Lieutenant had considered it important that her clothes should be preserved, in the hopes of assisting in discovering to whom the Little Lady belonged, Mrs King had dressed the body in one of her old petticoats. It was then sewn up in a piece of canvas, with a shot at the feet, and placed on a grating near an open port. The Captain, who had somewhat obfuscated theological views, could not decide whether he was bound to read the funeral service over the poor woman.
"Supposing she is a heathen—and I never heard of these black people being Christians—I shouldn't think it was much in their way, eh, Schank? Would it not be something like sacrilege to bury her in a Christian fashion?" he asked of the First-Lieutenant.
"As to that," observed Mr Schank, "I suspect we are apt to perform the ceremony over a good many who have no more claim to be considered true Christians than she possibly had."
"Well, I suppose it can't do much harm, eh, Schank?" observed the Captain, after a moment's reflection, and the Little Lady's nurse was buried, according to the notion of the crew, in a decent Christian manner; they piously believing that, however she might have lived, she would now at all events have a fair chance of getting a safe passage to heaven. We were during this time standing to the southward, and having rounded the south of Ceylon, we touched at Point de Galle, and afterwards at Colombo, proceeding on to Bombay. Greatly to the disappointment of the ship's company, the "Boreas" was here found to be in such good condition, that, instead of going home, she was ordered back to the China Seas. Passing through the Straits of Malacca, we returned to Macao.
We were here joined by another frigate, the "Zephyr," of thirty-six guns. Captain Peter Masterman, her commander, presented a great contrast to Captain Cobb. The former was a remarkably fine, handsome man, with dignified manners and calm temper. We received orders soon afterwards to proceed to the Philippine Islands, there to reconnoitre the Spanish force supposed to be collected near their chief town of Manilla, and if possible to cut out from under the batteries which guard the harbour certain richly-laden ships which it was understood had there taken shelter. We were also to attack all their armed dependencies, and to give them as much annoyance as possible as we cruised up the Archipelago.
As soon as we were clear of the land, the crews of the two frigates were employed in making them look as much like French frigates as possible, both as to rigging and hulls. The Philippines, belonging to Spain, consist of a number of islands, the largest of which is Luzon, and is divided into two parts joined by an isthmus about ten miles wide. The capital, Manilla, where the cheroots are made, is situated on a bay of that name. It is a large place, consisting of several suburbs or towns surrounding the city proper, which is built on the banks of the river Pasig. South of Manilla is the fortress of Cavite, situated at the extremity of a tongue of land about two miles long. It protects the entrance to the only harbour in the bay of Manilla. The arsenal is within the fortress, and a number of vessels are built there. It was under the guns of this fortress that we expected to find our prizes, and, in spite of its formidable appearance, to cut them out. As we were running down the coast of Luzon, the large island I have spoken of, we captured a trader of considerable size belonging to the island, but, as she was bound northward, Captain Masterman generously declined detaining her after we had taken out of her all the cash to be found on board, amounting to about six thousand dollars. It was somewhat amusing to see the grateful way in which the Spanish skipper thanked the Englishmen for having so mercifully robbed him, so I have heard my father say. It might have been supposed that they had done him the greatest possible favour, instead of having mulcted him of a pretty considerable sum. He also, to show his gratitude, told us that the squadron in the harbour of Cavite consisted of four sail of the line and four frigates, but that only one ship of each class was at all in a state to put to sea. Our Captain considered that two English frigates were fully able to cope with a Spanish line-of-battle ship and one frigate, hoping to draw them off the land if they could be persuaded to come out of harbour, and to capture them in detail. At all events, the news increased the good spirits of the ship's company, and all on board anticipated some rich prizes.
The next day we came up with several other vessels which were treated in the same liberal manner, although those which were sailing south were allowed to pass unmolested, lest it might have been suspected that we did not belong to the friendly nation which we pretended.
Thus we proceeded on, till soon after sunset we approached the Bay of Manilla, with the French flag flying at our peaks, and to Spanish eyes, looking, I doubt not, like two Frenchmen. We had to pass close to a small island on which a signal-house stands, and it now became doubtful whether we should be detected. However, the Spaniards appeared not to suspect us, and we stood on till we came to an anchor in about fourteen fathoms at the entrance of the bay; both the frigates, however, keeping their topsails at the mast-head, to be ready for a sudden start.
The night was very calm; and sounds from a great distance could reach us across the water. There was no chance therefore of our being surprised, should the enemy have discovered our real character. It became, however, hopeless for us to attempt cutting-out any of the vessels, as we should not have had sufficient wind to carry them off, even when we had taken possession. We, however, kept a very bright look-out, and the men were in good spirits at the thoughts of the work they anticipated the next day.
Before morning dawned, we and our consort got under weigh, and, with French colours flying, slowly worked up the bay, which, being broad and free from dangers, we were enabled to do. Soon after sunrise, three sail were seen to leeward, also apparently bound up the bay. They were soon made out to be gunboats, and the Captains congratulated themselves on the prospect of quickly capturing them without difficulty. I should have before introduced a personage who, for a time, belonged to the ship—Mr Noalles, our pilot. He was supposed to be a Jersey man, as he spoke French perfectly, and also Spanish, and several other languages. He had been in the China seas for a considerable number of years, though he was still a young man. He had dark, strongly-marked features, somewhat perhaps of a Jewish cast, with large black whiskers, and was powerfully built. He was greatly respected on board, as he was known to be a good seaman and a determined character, but my father used to say there was something about him he could not exactly make out. He messed with the officers, for he was perfectly the gentleman, and possessed of a large amount of information, especially respecting that part of the world. I rather think that it was he who suggested the plan of operations we were now carrying out. Captain Cobb himself, having once spent some time in France as a prisoner, spoke French sufficiently well to deceive a Spaniard at all events, though I suspect a Frenchman would soon have detected him. Several of our men also had been in French prisons, or had lived among Frenchmen, and if they could not speak the language grammatically, they could at all events imitate the sounds of a party of Frenchmen talking together. The uniform of the officers did not differ much from those of the French, while such alterations as were necessary were speedily made. It was a great source of amusement to the men to see the officers who were about to act in the proposed drama going through their parts, Captain Cobb flourishing his hat with the air of a Frenchman, and uttering the expressions with which he proposed to greet his visitors.
"I wonder whether we shall bamboozle the Dons," observed Toby Kiddle, who, holding me in his arms, formed one of a group of seamen collected on the forecastle.
"No fear of that, Toby," observed Pat Brady. "If they once think we are Frenchmen, they are such conceited fellows that they will never find out that they are wrong."
Onward we stood, till soon after breakfast we opened the ships in Cavite Road. The glasses of all the officers were pointed in that direction, when they made out three sail of the line and three frigates—tolerable odds against us, it might be supposed; but they could not do us any harm then, because four of them were without masts and the other two had only their lower masts in, and no yards across. We, therefore, if we could get possession of the gunboats, should be at liberty to commit any mischief we chose along the coast. Three gunboats, at all events, were likely soon to give us an opportunity of having something to say to them. The wind was so light that we made but little way, and thus about two hours afterwards we lay about three miles from Cavite, and the same distance from the city of Manilla. At length, when nearly becalmed, a guard boat was seen coming off to us from Cavite, and as she approached, we made out that she pulled twelve oars, and had several officers and men besides on board.
"Now, Mr Noalles," said Captain Cobb to the pilot, "do your best to induce these gentlemen to come on board. It will not do to let them examine the ship, and then go back and express their suspicions, if they have any."
As the boat came alongside, Mr Noalles, in excellent Spanish, politely invited the officers and men on board. The chief officer introduced himself as the second captain of one of the frigates at anchor in Cavite, and inquired who we were and whence we came. Our pilot in return replied that the "Boreas" and her consort were two frigates belonging to the French squadron in those seas, that we had been cruising for some time along the coast of China, where our crews had naturally become sickly, and that we had come to Manilla for refreshment; as also, should the Spanish Admiral be pleased to accept our services, to form a junction with his squadron; Mr Noalles also said he was desired to express a hope that the Spanish ships would accompany us to sea. Meantime, the seamen who had been stationed near began jabbering French, as they had been directed to do, throwing the Spaniards completely off their guard. The Spanish captain, in reply to what had been said, stated that the Governor had directed him to acquaint the French that their wants should be immediately supplied, "but," he added, "it is with great sorrow that we cannot accompany you to sea, because the truth is, none of our ships can by any possibility be got ready in less than two months, as our crews are sickly; and to confess the truth, we are in want of every species of stores."
The boat meantime was secured alongside, and while the captain and officers accompanying him were invited into the cabin, the seamen were conducted below. Captain Cobb acted his part very well, and probably he was just as well dressed as many of the Republican naval officers of those days, who were in the habit of assuming a somewhat rough exterior and rougher manners. Refreshments were immediately ordered, and our consort having by this time got a considerable way up the bay, Captain Masterman, who had seen the boat come off, arrived on board. Captain Cobb immediately introduced him as the French Commodore, giving the name of an officer who it afterwards turned out was at that time dead. Of this fact, however, the Spanish captain was fortunately not aware, or the ruse would have been discovered.
Captain Masterman was able to speak a little Spanish. Refreshments being ordered, the officers were soon engaged in pleasant and not altogether uninstructive conversation at the table. Our Captain, in return, gave the Spaniards a large amount of information, not likely, it may be supposed, to benefit them very much. A great friend of mine, Charlie Crickmay, one of the Captain's boys waiting at table, afterwards gave me a full account of all that occurred. As the Spaniards were plied with wine by their polite hosts, their hearts opened, and they let out all the information which it was necessary to obtain.
"Now, my excellent friends," said the Spanish Captain, "we will drink success to the united exertions of the Spaniards and French against those rascally British, who come out here and interfere with our trade, and do us so much mischief."
Just then a midshipman came down to say that a large barge and a felucca were coming off from the shore. In reply to the toast, Captain Cobb assured his guests that as far as they were concerned their great wish was that the Spanish and French ships should never fail to fall in with the English, as they had little doubt who would come off victorious.
"Of course, excellent senors, the Spaniards will always conquer their foes, whenever the latter dare stay to encounter their prowess," was the answer.
Our Captains continued to humour the gentlemen for some time till the midshipman, again coming down, informed them that the large boats were nearly alongside. At length, Captain Cobb laying his hand on the Spanish officer's shoulder, looked him in the face.
"My dear sir," he said, "you will pardon us for the little trick we have played you; but the honest truth is, we are not the people you took us for. There is an old proverb which says: 'Deceit is lawful in love and warfare.' In the latter it is at all events. Though we have the flag of France now flying, that of Britain generally floats over our decks, and will, I hope, do so till our ships are paid off at home."
"Senor!" exclaimed the Spaniard, turning pale and gasping for breath, "you surely are joking."
The Captain's answer assured him that he was not. The poor man almost fainted.
"Come, my friend," said Captain Masterman, "we intend you no harm. Here, take a glass of wine, you will find it excellent Madeira, and be assured that many a worse event might have happened to you. All we require is, that you should say nothing to your friends when they come below. You will meet them here presently, whoever they are, and believe us on our honours that we intend no one any harm."
While Captain Cobb entertained his dismayed guest, Captain Masterman went on deck to receive the new comers.
The first boat which came alongside was announced to be the barge of Admiral Don Martin Alaba. She rowed twenty oars, and had on board a rear-admiral and two other officers, one of whom was the Governor's nephew, who came to pay his respects to their supposed friends. The other, a felucca, contained the same number of officers and men, and among them was an aide-de-camp of the Admiral's, who sent his compliments and congratulations to the French, with the information that they would be supplied with all they desired. He also announced, which was less agreeable to us, that several launches with anchors and cables were getting ready to assist the frigates into the harbour.
Unless, therefore, a good excuse could be framed for not going in, our true characters would immediately be discovered. However, as Spaniards are not very quick in their movements, it was hoped that some time would pass before the arrival of the launches, and that an opportunity might occur of taking a few more prizes without bloodshed. The new visitors were ushered down, with every mark of respect, into the cabin, while the crews were handed below as the others had been. The first glance the Admiral caught of the Spanish captain's countenance gave him, probably, some anxiety. This was still further increased when Captain Masterman, with a polite bow, requested his pardon for the trick which had been played off on him and his countrymen.
"What trick!" exclaimed the Admiral. "Surely you do not mean to say that you are not the people we took you for?"
"We must confess that we are not," said Captain Masterman; "we beg to assure you that neither you nor any of your countrymen will suffer the least insult or hurt at our hands. We must, however, request you contentedly to remain on board for a few hours, after which time I have little doubt that we shall be able to set you at liberty."
These remarks reassured the Spaniards, who were further reconciled to their lot when they saw the cloth spread, and a number of covers brought aft by active hands. The table glittered with plate and glass, and numerous well-filled bottles of ruby wine. While, however, the dinner was getting ready, the Spanish officers were invited to take a turn on deck. Their astonishment and vexation had been considerable before; it was now increased when they saw a number of Englishmen come up, dressed in the clothes of the Spaniards, and immediately jump into the Spanish boat. Several of the frigates' boats were also seen at the same time to shove off with their officers and men well armed, and to pull towards the three Spanish gunboats which lay at their anchors just outside the river leading to Manilla. The Admiral and his officers watched them anxiously. What could they be about? On they went till they were alongside the gunboats. Not a sound of a shot was heard, not a trigger apparently had been pulled. In a short time the gunboats under sail were seen slowly dropping down towards the frigates.
"Dinner is ready," observed our Captain to his guests. "We will inform you of the particulars of what has taken place after you have enjoyed it."
The Spaniards were wise men. They shrugged their shoulders, twirled their moustaches, but said nothing, quickly following their hosts into the cabin. Their eyes could not help brightening up when they saw the good dinner spread before them, for such will, with few exceptions, touch the hearts of mortals of all nations. Toasts were proposed, healths drunk, and the Spaniards began to think that the accounts they had read of British ferocity and British barbarism must have been somewhat exaggerated. Meantime the three gunboats were brought alongside with about one hundred and twenty officers and men as prisoners. Several of their people had managed to escape on shore. The officers acknowledged to their captors that there were a considerable number more gunboats in the harbour, all new and coppered, very fast, and well fitted for service. We, having plenty of provisions on board, our Captain had ordered a good entertainment to be prepared for all the prisoners, who showed no unwillingness to make themselves happy and at home. We had already had a pretty good morning's work, but the Spaniards seemed still willing to present us with another prize, for soon after the gunboats had been brought alongside, a second felucca-rigged boat, pulling eighteen oars, was seen coming off. Several officers were also aboard her. As she came alongside, they were received with the same politeness as the others had been. The principal officer informed us that he was Captain of the port. He requested to know for what reason the boats were detained, saying that if they were not immediately restored the authorities would consider the two frigates as enemies, and not only decline giving them any assistance, but direct the squadron to come out of harbour and drive them off.
"Tell him what we know about the squadron," said Captain Cobb to our pilot.
"Why, my friend," observed Mr Noalles, "you must be aware that you have the larger portion of your squadron without their masts, and that even the others will not be able to follow us for a fortnight at least. We know perfectly well what we are about; in fact, it must be confessed that we are Englishmen!"
The start given by the Captain of the port was even more violent than that of his predecessors. What, had he actually run his head into the lion's den, after so many of his companions had been already caught? However, on being conducted into the cabin, he was received with shouts of laughter from his countrymen, who by this time were feeling the effects of the generous wine they had imbibed. The Spaniards were, however, able to punish us slightly in return by the information they gave, that of the two merchant vessels we had come to cut out, one was aground, and the other had landed her cargo in consequence of the appearance of a suspicious looking ship of war, which we afterwards ascertained was one of our cruisers, whose melancholy fate I shall some day have to relate.
By this time we had fully two hundred prisoners on board, and a happier set of prisoners it would have been difficult to find, for not only had the officers' hearts been made merry, but the seamen had as much grog on board as they could well carry. There could be little doubt that by this time the people on shore must have been fully certain of our real characters. Their suspicions must have been confirmed when they saw a breeze spring up, and that we did not proceed into the roads as they had supposed we should do. Our Captains, who were as generous and liberal as brave, now told the Spanish officers that they should be at liberty to return on shore, offering to present them with the Admiral's barge, the guard boat, and the two feluccas; nor would they even ask for their parole nor impose a restriction of any sort upon them. The Spaniards' astonishment on being captured had been very great, but it was greater still when they received this information. I did not hear what the Admiral said, but I know he made a very long speech, full of grandiloquent words, that he pressed his hands to his heart very often, and in other ways endeavoured to show his sense of British magnanimity. Evening coming on, he and his countrymen took their departure in their respective boats, some of which were rather overcrowded, as, of course, they had to carry the crews of the gunboats which we had detained.
Our ship's company shook hands with all the men as they helped them into their boats, and parted from them with three hearty cheers, as if they had been their dearest friends. As soon as our guests had departed, we once more stood out of the bay with our three prizes, keeping away to the south in the hopes of visiting other places before the information of our true character could reach them. The gunboats were manned, a lieutenant from the "Zephyr" taking charge of one of them, and our junior lieutenant and Mr Oliver having the command of the other two.
They were respectively named by the ship's company the "Bam," the "Boo," and the "Zel". The "Zephyr" took the "Bam" in tow, while we had the "Boo" and the "Zel". It was young Mr Oliver's first command, and with no small pleasure he descended the ship's side to go and take charge of the craft, fully expecting to perform great deeds in her. Many another young man has done the same, and found, after all, his expectations sadly disappointed. I remember perfectly watching the little vessels as they followed in our wake. They were handsome, graceful craft, very well fitted for the work for which they were intended, cruising along shore, and being able to run into harbour again on the appearance of bad weather. Somehow or other Englishmen are apt to think if a vessel can float she is fit to go anywhere, and that there is no considerable difference between smooth water and a heavy cross sea,—a summer breeze and a snorting gale.
Mr Oliver had with him a young midshipman, ten seamen, and a boy—a very much smaller crew than the gunboat had under the Spanish flag. Of course, however, fewer Englishmen are required to man a vessel than Spaniards, not but that Spaniards are very good sailors, but then they have not got the muscle and the activity of Englishmen. As a rule, Spanish vessels are far better found than English craft, and are rather over than under manned. We continued to run down the coast without meeting with any adventure till we sighted the large island of Mindanao. We were standing off that island one night, when about midnight the ship was struck by a heavy squall. She lay over till her yardarms almost dipped in the ocean. Topsail and topgallant sheets were let fly, and she soon again righted without much apparent damage to herself, but at that instant there was a cry from aft that one of the gunboats had parted.
The night was dark, and those who looked out could nowhere distinguish her. The frigate was, however, immediately brought to. A gun was fired, but there was no report in return. A blue light was next ordered to be lit. No answering signal was to be perceived. The missing boat was the "Zel" under charge of young Harry Oliver. He was a great favourite on board, and many anxious eyes were looking out for him. Another and another gun was fired, and blue lights ever and anon sent their bright glare over the foam-topped waves. While one of these blue lights was burning, one of the men on the look-out whispered to another: "What do you see there, Bill? As I am a living man there is a long low ship under all sail gliding by right in the wind's eye."
"And I see her too! And I, and I!" exclaimed several men in suppressed voices. "Hark? There are sounds. There is music."
"Why, they are singing on board. What can she be? I for one would rather never have looked on her. Can you make out the words?"
"No, I should think not."
"Do you see her now?"
"No, she seemed to shoot right up into that thick cloud to windward."
Such and similar expressions were heard, and the men were still talking about the matter when my father and Pat Brady, who had been below, came on deck. At that moment Mr Schank's voice was heard shouting out "Shorten sail!" and the ship was brought speedily under still closer canvas, barely in time, however, to enable her to bear the effects of the second violent squall which came roaring up from the quarter where the supposed stranger had disappeared. Guns were again fired, and more blue lights burned, and thus we continued waiting anxiously till morning broke. The other gunboat was safe, but it was too certain that the unfortunate "Zel" had foundered, and that her crew and the brave young Harry Oliver and his still more youthful companion had perished. Many hearts on board grieved for their loss. I will not say tears were shed, because, however poets may write about the matter, it is my belief that British seamen are not addicted to express their feelings in that way, unless perhaps occasionally a few do so when they become sentimental with a larger amount of grog on board than usual, but even that is not very common. They are more inclined to become obstreperous and combative on such occasions.
The latter part of our cruise was not likely to prove so successful as the commencement.
Standing to the extreme south of the group, we came off a Spanish settlement, guarded by a couple of forts, and which, as it was of considerable size, our Captains determined to lay under contribution for wood, water, and refreshments. We fortunately captured a felucca a short distance from the coast, and her master was now directed to stand in and make our request for the articles we required known to the authorities of the place. They not understanding our amiable disposition, or supposing that we were the bloodthirsty monsters we had been described, declined acceding to our petitions. There was no help therefore but to attempt to take by force what was denied to our modest request. The wood and water we might have procured elsewhere, but vegetables and fresh meat and other provisions we had no hopes of finding. We accordingly stood in towards the town, hoping that our appearance would overawe the enemy. The Spaniards, however, as soon as we got within range of their guns, opened a hot fire upon us which showed that they fully intended to keep to their resolution of not rendering us assistance. Hungry Englishmen are not well-pleased to be baulked of their provisions. The order was "Out boats and take the fort." Four boats shoved off, under command of Captain Masterman, and made for the shore, in spite of the hot fire with which they were received. One, however, grounded on a sandbank, and several men were hit while they were endeavouring to get her off. The intention was to take the fort. They reached the beach, and on the men dashed, expecting in a few minutes to be engaged in storming the fort. As, however, they were rushing up the hill, a large body of armed men appeared on the top of it, five or six times their number. A braver man than Captain Masterman never stepped; but, unless the enemy were great cowards, they could scarcely hope to drive them off, and to get into the fort at the same time. The walls, too, as they approached them, were seen to be far more difficult to climb than they had expected. Meantime the batteries were keeping up a very heavy fire on the frigates, our guns making but little impression in return. With a heavy heart Captain Masterman gave the order to retreat and the British had to hurry down to their boats, while the Spaniards were rapidly advancing. The latter, however, did not venture to come to close quarters, being well content with their success, but continued firing on the boats as long as they were within reach of their muskets. By this time the frigates had lost several men. The "Zephyr"—her master and three or four men killed, and a midshipman and several men wounded. We lost five or six killed or wounded. Among the latter was Pat Brady, who came on board vowing vengeance against the Spaniards wherever he should meet them. The two frigates, besides, had received considerable damage.
Our wheel was hit, the head of our mizzen-mast wounded, several of our shrouds were cut away, and running rigging and sails much injured. At length a shot cut away two strands of our cable. The gunboats which joined in the fight had escaped with very little damage, although they kept up a pretty hot fire on the fort. There seemed to be not the slightest possibility of our success, and as our chief object was to get wood and water, which certainly could be obtained elsewhere, cutting our cables, we made sail out of the harbour. Altogether we had paid pretty dearly for our morning's amusement.
I give the account, however humbling to our national pride it may be, to show that it is possible for the bravest and most sagacious officers to meet with reverses, and as a warning lesson to others not to think too highly of themselves.
I leave the reader to count up what we did during the cruise, and to judge whether we had much cause for congratulation, I had the account from my father in after years, and, calculating profits and losses, I rather think that the balance was terribly against us.
The two gunboats, "Bam" and "Boo," had been a source of anxiety to our Captain, ever since they came into our possession, and fears were entertained, should another gale come on, that they might share the fate of the unfortunate "Zel". Their young commanders were ready to go anywhere in them, but it seemed very unlikely, should they make the attempt, that they would ever reach Canton, to which we were soon about to return. They were condemned therefore to be destroyed. They were beautiful looking craft, but were too likely to prove what the ten-gun brigs of those days often did—coffins for their living crews. Accordingly, all their stores being taken out of them, their crews set them on fire and returned to the frigates. I remember well seeing them blaze away and at length blow up, at which I clapped my hands, having some idea that they were fireworks let off expressly for my amusement. The frigates' damages being now repaired, a course was steered for the north. Being greatly in want of water, we put into another harbour on the coast where it was known that no Spanish settlement existed. The watering parties from our frigates proceeded to the shore, making six boats in all, the men being well armed. They ought properly to have remained for each other, but our boats came off first, leaving the "Zephyr's" to follow. Casks were being hoisted up, when the officers, through their glasses, perceived several men running down to the beach, making signals that an enemy was coming. Instantly all the remaining boats were manned, and away they pulled to the support of those on shore, led by the two Captains. There was no time to be lost, for as they approached the shore they saw our men defending themselves against a vast number of enemies. The natives, as the boats approached, took to flight, but it was evident that the number of our people was greatly diminished. The officer commanding the watering party was alive, though he had with difficulty escaped from the enemy, but two poor fellows lay dead upon the beach, and a third was desperately wounded, and was evidently dying. No less than nine had been carried off as prisoners. Our pilot, Mr Noalles, having accompanied the party, now proceeded with Captain Masterman and a very strong body in search of the natives. These, however, had fled at their approach. At length our party came upon a hut, in which a man was found who appeared by his dress and air to be of some consequence. He was lame from a wound, and had been unable to make his escape. Mr Noalles explained to him that we were in search of our men, and demanded their instant release. He was told that unless they were delivered up, their village would be destroyed, and their corn cut down. He promised to use his influence with his countrymen, and as our people retired to a distance, one or two persons were seen to enter his hut. After waiting, however, a considerable time, no one approached. Again the chief was appealed to, but he declared that he had no power in the place. At length Captain Masterman directed his followers to set the village on fire, while our men rushed into the corn fields, and in a short time made a clean sweep of several acres. Whether or not it was a wise proceeding, I think, is doubtful, for it was too probable that the natives would either kill their prisoners in revenge, or else make them labour as slaves to repay them for the damage they had received. This work being accomplished, the frigates got under weigh, the Captains intending to call off a place farther to the north where the Malay chief of the island resided, for the purpose of making him exert his influence for the recovery of the missing men. We were not very far from the latitude where the unfortunate "Zel" had foundered. Our people very naturally talked of their lost shipmates, and especially of young Mr Oliver, who, as I said, was a great favourite with all of them. My father especially looked on him with much affection, having saved his life once, seemed to regard him almost in the light of a son. We had had a fair wind all the morning, when suddenly it shifted round to the northward, and a sudden squall very nearly took the masts out of the two frigates. As it was impossible to say from what direction the breeze would next come, we continued standing off the land towards the town of Palawan. The wind had moderated, though it still blew strong, and we continued standing to the west, when a small island was sighted on the weather bow. As we drew in with it, Pat Brady, who was one of the look-outs, declared he saw a signal flying from the highest point in sight. I speak of it as an island—it seemed to be little more than a large rock—and the peak of which Brady spoke was forty or fifty feet or so out of the water. The ships' companies had been grumbling considerably at being delayed, as they were anxious to get back to Canton, where, it was hoped, we should receive orders to convoy the homeward-bound merchant fleet. The midshipman of the watch having reported what Pat Brady had seen, after we had run on some distance, the ship was hove to, and the glasses being directed in that direction, a man was made out waving apparently a shirt from the rock. A boat accordingly was instantly lowered and pulled towards it. The man kept his post for some time as the boat approached, making signals to those in her to pull round rather farther to the westward, as the surf beating on that side of the rock would prevent their landing. As the boat's head was once more put off the shore the men caught sight of the person on the rock. Pat Brady, who formed one of the boat's crew, looked up at him with a glance of astonishment.
"I say, Jem," he exclaimed to the man next him, "either that's Mr Oliver or his ghost, as sure as my name is Pat Brady."
"It's his ghost," was the answer, "for there is no doubt the gunboat went down a week ago; and it's not likely he or any other man could have swum out of her."
"By my faith, then," answered Brady, "it must be his ghost; and sure enough he is more like a ghost than anything else."
As they were speaking, the figure disappeared from the summit of the rock.
"I told you so," said Brady, "depend on it, when we land, we may hunt about till doomsday, and we shall never find mortal man on this rock." These remarks were overheard by the other men, who seemed to agree very much with the opinions of the speakers.
"He is fathoms deep down beneath the water, depend on that," observed another; "we shall never see young Mr Oliver with our mortal eyes again."