Marmaduke Merry, A Tale of Naval Adventures in Bygone Days, by William H G Kingston.
This is quite a long book, but it is full of action, and in between the actions there are tales being told about even more action and interesting situations, rather in the style of Captain Marryat.
This edition was printed by Cassell's for use as an English language course-book. At the end of the book is printed a sixteen-page set of questions and exercises to guide pupils into learning how to read and appreciate the book better. I do wish that more books were printed with such an appendix, as this one, at any rate, was very well-constructed.
The only quibble we have about the way Cassell's laid out the book is the amazing amount of inconsistency in the hyphenation, but we believe we have detected most of the instances, and put them right.
While Kingston was a devout Christian, he does not over-lard the book with piety, though as usual he puts in a big chunk of it near the end.
You'll enjoy reading or listening to this book.
MARMADUKE MERRY, A TALE OF NAVAL ADVENTURES IN BYGONE DAYS, BY WILLIAM H G KINGSTON.
I belong to the family of the Merrys of Leicestershire. Our chief characteristic was well suited to our patronymic. "Merry by name and merry by nature," was a common saying among us. Indeed, a more good-natured, laughing, happy set of people it would be difficult to find. Right jovial was the rattle of tongues and the cachinnation which went forward whenever we were assembled together either at breakfast or dinner or supper; our father and mother setting us the example, so that we began the day with a hearty laugh, and finished it with a heartier. "Laugh and grow fat" is an apothegm which all people cannot follow, but our mother did in the most satisfactory manner. Her skin was fair and most thoroughly comfortably filled out; her hair was light, and her contented spirit beamed out from a pair of large laughing blue eyes, so that it was a pleasure to look at her as she sat at the head of the table, serving out the viands to her hungry progeny. Our sisters were very like her, and came fairly under the denomination of jolly girls; and thoroughly jolly they were;—none of them ever had a headache or a toothache, or any other ache that I know of. Our father was a good specimen of a thorough English country gentleman; he was thorough in everything, honest-faced, stout, and hearty, not over-refined, perhaps, but yet gentle in all his thoughts and acts; a hater of a lie and every thing dishonourable, hospitable and generous to the utmost of his means; a protector of the poor and helpless, and a friend to all his neighbours. Yes, and I may say more, both he and my mother were humble, sincere Christians, and made the law of the Bible their rule of life. He told a good story and laughed at it himself, and delighted to see our mother and us laugh at it also. Had he been bred a lawyer, and lived in London, he would have been looked upon as a first-rate wit; but I am certain that he was much happier with the lot awarded to him. He had a good estate; his tenants paid their rents regularly; and he had few or no cares to disturb his digestion or to keep him awake at night; and I am very certain that he would far rather have had us to hear his jokes, and laugh at them with him, than all the wits London ever produced. He delighted in joining in all our sports, either of the field or flood, and we always looked forward to certain amusement when he was able to accompany us. He was our companion and friend; we had no secrets from him,—why should we? He was always our best adviser, and if we got into scrapes, which one or the other of us was not unfrequently doing, we were very certain that no one could extricate us as well as he could. I don't mean to say that he forgot the proverb, "Spare the rod, spoil the child;" or that we were such pieces of perfection that we did not deserve punishment; but we had sense enough to see that he punished us for our good: he did it calmly, never angrily, and without any unnecessarily severe remark, and we certainly did not love him the less for the sharpest flogging he ever gave us. Directly afterwards, he would meet the culprit in his usual frank, hearty way, and seem to forget all about the matter.
Our sisters were on the same happy intimate terms with our mother, and we boys had no secrets with her, or with them either.
Our father used to believe and assert that our family had settled in Leicestershire before the Conquest, and, in consequence of this notion, he gave us all old English names or what he supposed to be such. His own name was Joliffe, and he used to be called by his hunting associates, the other gentlemen of the county, Jolly Merry. He was not, I should say, par excellence a fox hunter, though he subscribed to the county hunt, and frequently followed the hounds; and no one rode better, nor did any one's voice sound more cheerily on copse or hill side than did his, as he greeted a friend, or sang out, in the exuberance of his spirits, a loud tallyho-ho. My name stood sixth in the Family Bible, and that of Marmaduke had fallen to my lot. We had a Cedric, an Athelstane, an Egbert, and an Edwin among the boys, and a Bertha, an Edith, and a Winifred among the girls. We all went to school in our turns, but though it was a very good school, we did not like it so much as home. When, however, we got to school, we used to be very jolly, and if other boys pulled long faces we made round ones and laughed away as usual. Our school was in Northamptonshire, so that we had not far to go, and we kept up a very frequent correspondence with home, from which, in consequence of its vicinity, we received more hampers laden with cakes and tongues, and pots of jam, and similar comestible articles, than most of our companions. I do not say that we should not otherwise have been favourites, but it might have been remarked that the attentions and willingness to oblige us of our companions increased in proportion to the size of our hampers, and our readiness to dispense their contents.
However, I will not dwell on my school life. I imbibed a certain amount of classical and elementary knowledge of a somewhat miscellaneous description, and received not a few canings, generally for laughing in my class at something which tickled my fancy, when I ought not to have allowed my fancy to be tickled; but altogether my conduct was such that I believe I was considered to have brought no discredit on the Merry name or fame. Such was my uneventful career at school.
We were all at home for the summer holidays. We were seated at breakfast. What a rattle of tongues, and knives, and forks, and cups, and saucers there was going on. What vast slices of bread and butter were disappearing within our well practised jaws. Various cries proceeded from each side of the table. "Bertha, another cup of tea;" "Bertha, some more milk;" "Bertha, you haven't given me sugar enough by half;" "Bertha, I like strong tea; no wish-wash for me."
Bertha was our oldest sister and tea-maker general. She had no sinecure office of it; but, in spite often of the most remarkable demands, she dispensed the beverage with the most perfect justice and good humour. Not unsatisfactory were the visits paid to the sideboard, covered as it was with brawn, and ham, and tongue, and a piece of cold beef, and such like substantial fare.
Suddenly the tenor of our conversation was turned by the entrance of the servant with the post-bag. The elders were silent for a few minutes,— our father and mother and Bertha, and Cedric, who was at home from college. Our mother had a large circle of correspondents, and seldom a post arrived without a letter for her. Our father had fewer; but this morning he received one, in a large official-looking cover, which absorbed his attention. Still the clatter of tongues went on among us younger ones. Our father and mother had grown so accustomed to it, that, as the miller awakes when his mill stops, so they would have looked up to ascertain what was the matter had we been silent.
"Which of you would like to become a midshipman?" asked our father looking up suddenly.
The question had an effect rarely produced in the family. We were all silent. Our mother put down her letters, and her fond eyes glanced round on our faces. Her countenance was unusually grave.
Again my father looked at the document in his hand. "Captain Collyer says he should not be more than fourteen. Marmaduke, that is your age. What do you say on the subject?" said my father.
"Joliffe, what is it all about?" asked my mother, with a slight trepidation in her voice.
"I forgot that I had not read the letter. It is rather long. It is from my old friend, Dick Collyer, and a better fellow does not breathe. The tenor of it is that he has got command of a fine frigate, the Doris, fitting with all despatch for sea, and that he will take one of our boys as a midshipman, if we like to send the youngster with him. There is no time to lose, as he expects to be ready in a week or ten days; so we must decide at once."
The question was put indirectly to me, "Should I like to go to sea?" Now, I had never even seen the sea, and had never realised what a man-of-war was like. The largest floating thing to which I was accustomed was the miller's punt, in which my brothers and I used occasionally to paddle about on the mill-pond; in which mill-pond, by the bye, we had all learned to swim. I had seen pictures of ships, though as to the size of one, and the number of men she might carry, I was profoundly ignorant. I was, therefore, not very well qualified to come to a decision. Suddenly I recollected a visit paid to us by Tom Welby, an old schoolfellow, after his first trip to sea, and what a jolly life I thought he must lead as he described his adventures, and how fine a fellow he looked as he strutted about with his dirk at his side, the white patch on his collar, and the cockade in his hat. I decided at once. "If you wish it, father, I'm ready to go," said I.
My father looked at me affectionately. There was, I am certain, a conflict going on in his mind whether or not he should part with me; but prudence conquered love.
"Of course, you must all have professions, boys, and the navy is a very fine one," he observed. "What do you say, Mary?"
My mother was too sensible a woman to make any objections to so promising an offer if I did not; and therefore, before we rose from the breakfast table, it was settled that I was to be a midshipman, and we were all soon laughing away as heartily as ever. The news that Master Marmaduke was going away to sea quickly reached the servants' hall, and from thence spread over the village.
Not a moment was lost by our mother in commencing the preparations for my outfit. Stores of calico were produced, and she and Bertha had cut out a set of shirts and distributed them to be made before noon. While they were thus employed, I went down to have a talk with my father, and to have my ignorance on nautical affairs somewhat enlightened, though he, I found, knew very little more about them than I did. While I was in the study the footman came to say that Widow Bluff wished to see him. "Let her come in," was his reply. "Well, dame, what is it you want this morning?" he asked, in his cheery encouraging tone as she appeared.
"Why, sir, I hears how Master Marmaduke's going away to sea, and I comes to ask if he'll take my boy Toby with him," answered the dame, promptly.
"What, Mrs Bluff, do you wish him to be an officer?" said my father.
"Blessy no, sir. It's to be his servant like. I suppose he'll want some one to clean his shoes and brush his clothes, and such little things, and I'd be proud for my Toby to do that," answered the dame. Now, I had always thought Toby Bluff to be a remarkably dunder-headed, loutish fellow, though strong as a lion, and with plenty of pluck in his composition. I had helped him out of a pond once, and done him some other little service, I fancy; but I had forgotten all about the matter.
"I will see about it, dame," said my father. "But I doubt if Toby, though a good lad, will ever set the Thames on fire."
"Blessy heart, I hopes not," exclaimed the dame in a tone of horror. "He'd be a hanged, if he did, like them as burnt farmer Dobbs's corn stacks last year."
Toby, it appeared, was waiting outside. My father sent for him, and found that he really had a very strong desire to go to sea, or rather to follow me. Toby had an honest round freckled countenance, with large hands and broad shoulders, but a slouching awkward gait, which made him look far less intelligent than he really was. As he had always borne a good character, my father promised to learn if Captain Collyer would take him. The answer was in the affirmative. Behold, then, Toby Bluff and me about to commence our career on the briny ocean.
I tried to laugh to the last; but somehow or other, it was a harder job than I had ever found it; and as to my mother and sisters, though they said a number of funny things, there was a moisture in their eyes and a tremulousness in their voices very unusual with them. Toby Bluff, as he scrambled up on the box of the chaise, which was to take us to meet the London coach, blubbered out with a vehemence which spoke more for the sensitiveness of his feelings than for his sense of the dignified; but when his mother, equally overcome, exclaimed, "Get down, Toby; I'll not have thee go, boy, an thou takest on so," he answered sturdily, "Noa, noa, mother; I've said I'd stick to Measter Marmaduke, and if he goes, I'll go to look after him."
My brothers cheered and shouted as we drove off, and I did my best to shout and cheer in return, as did Toby in spite of his tears. My father accompanied us as far as London. We spent but a few hours in that big city.
"I don't see that it be so very grand like," observed Toby as we drove through it. "There bees no streets paved with gold, and no Lord Mayor in a gold coach,—only bricks and mortar, and people running about in a precious hurry."
Captain Collyer had desired that I should come down by the coach to the George at Portsmouth, where he would send his coxswain to meet me, and take me to the tailor, who would make my uniform, a part of my outfit which our country town had been unable to supply.
It was a bright summer morning when my father accompanied us to Piccadilly, whence the Portsmouth coach started.
"Cheer up, and don't forget your name, Marmaduke," he said, wringing my hand as I was climbing on to the front seat. He nodded kindly to Toby, who followed me closely. "Don't you forget to look after the young master, boy," he added.
"Noa, squire, while I'se got fists at the end of my arms, I won't," answered Toby.
"All right," shouted the guard, and the coach drove off.
I found myself seated by a tall man with a huge red nose, like the beak of an eagle, a copper complexion, jet black piercing eyes, and enormous black bushy whiskers. He looked down at me, I thought, with ineffable contempt. His clothes were of blue cloth, and his hands, which were very large and hairy, were marked on the back with strange devices, among which I observed an anchor, a ship, and a fish, which made me suspect that he must be a nautical character of some sort. He addressed the coachman and the passenger on the box seat several times in a wonderfully loud gruff voice, but as they showed by their answers that they were not inclined to enter into conversation with him, he at last turned his attention to me.
"Why are you going down to Portsmouth, little boy?" he asked, in a tone I did not like.
"I suppose because I want to get there," I answered.
"Ho! ho! ho!" His laugh was like the bellowing of a bull. "Going to sea, I fancy," he remarked.
"Yes, going to see Portsmouth," said I, quietly, "if I keep my eyes open."
"Ho! ho! sharp as a needle I see," observed the big man.
"Sharpness runs in the family," I replied. We were well up to this sort of repartee among each other at home.
"Your name is Sharp, I suppose," said my friend.
"No, only my nature, like a currant or a sour gooseberry," I replied, not able to help laughing myself.
"Take care, youngster, you don't get wounded with your own weapon," said the big man.
"Thank you," I answered, "but I am not a tailor."
"No—ho, ho, ho,—perhaps not; but you are little more than the ninth part of a man," said the giant.
"The ninth part of you, you mean; but I am half as big as most men now, and hope to be a whole man some day, and a captain into the bargain."
"Then I take it you are that important character, a new fledged midshipman," observed my huge companion.
"Judging of you by your size, I should suppose on the same grounds that you are nothing less than an admiral," I retorted.
"I should be, if I had my deserts, boy," he replied, drawing himself up, and swelling out his chest.
"Then are you only a captain?" I asked.
"I once was, boy," he replied with a sigh which resembled the rumbling of a volcano.
"Captain of the main-top," said the gentleman on the box without turning round.
"What are you now, then?" I asked.
"A boatswain," uttered the gentleman on the box.
"Yes, young gentleman, as our friend there says, I am a boatswain," he exclaimed in a voice of thunder, "and a very important person is a boatswain on board ship, let me tell you, with his call at his mouth, and colt in his hand, as your silent companion there will very soon find out, for I presume, by the cut of his jib, that he is not a midshipman."
"And what is a boatswain on board ship?" I asked, with unfeigned simplicity.
"Everything from truck to kelson, I may say, is under his charge," he replied consequentially. "He has to look after masts, spars, rigging, sails, cables, anchors, and stores; to see that the men are kept under proper discipline, and make them smart aloft. In my opinion a man-of-war might do without her captain and lieutenants, but would be no man-of-war without her boatswain."
The gentleman on the box laughed outright, but the boatswain took no notice of it. I began to think in spite of his coarseness that he must be a very important personage, and probably I showed this in my manner, for he went on enlarging on his own importance.
"I tell you, young gentleman, it's my belief that I have been round the world oftener and seen more strange sights than any man living."
"I should like to hear some of your adventures," I said.
"I dare say you would, and if you like to pay me a visit on board the Doris frigate, and will inquire for Mr Jonathan Johnson, the boatswain, I shall be happy to see you and to enlighten your mind a little."
"Why, that is the ship I am going to join," I exclaimed; "didn't Captain Collyer tell you?"
"No, he has not as yet communicated that important matter to me," answered Mr Jonathan Johnson, twisting his huge nose in a comical way. "But give us your flipper, my hearty,—we are to be shipmates it seems. I like you for your dauntless tongue; if you've a spirit to match, you'll do, and I promise you that you shall some day hear what you shall hear."
The coach stopped at the George. A seaman, who announced himself as Sam Edkins, Captain Collyer's coxswain, came up, and touching his hat respectfully to Mr Johnson, helped me off the coach.
"Well, Edkins, have all the officers joined yet?" asked the boatswain.
"All but the second lieutenant; he's expected aboard to-day, sir," was the answer.
"What's his name, Edkins? I hope he's not a King's hard bargain, like some lieutenants I have fallen in with within the last hundred years," said Mr Johnson.
"No, sir; he's no hard bargain," answered Edkins. "I heard the captain say his name is Bryan, the same officer who, with twenty hands, cut out a French brig of seven guns and ninety men the other day in the West Indies."
"All right; he'll do for us," observed Mr Johnson, with a patronising air. "By the bye, Edkins, have you received any directions about this boy?"
"No, sir; only that he was to go aboard at once."
"Very well, then, I'll take him. Come, youngster—what's your name?"
"Please, sir, it be Tobias Bluff; but I be called Toby most times," answered my young follower, evidently awe-struck with the manner and appearance of Mr Johnson. Not an inch did he move, however, from my side.
"Come along, boy," cried the boatswain in a thundering tone which might have been heard half down the High Street.
"Noa," said Toby, looking up undauntedly at him; "I has a said I'd stick to the young squire, and I'll no budge from his side, no, not if you bellows louder than Farmer Dobbs's big bull."
Never had the boatswain been thus bearded by a ship's boy. His black eyes flashed fire—his nose grew redder than ever, and seizing him by the collar of his jacket, he would have carried him off in his talons, as an eagle does a leveret, had not Edkins and I interfered.
"You see, Mr Johnson, the boy has the hay-seed in his hair, and doesn't know who you are, or anything about naval discipline," observed the coxswain. "If you'd let him stay with the young gentleman, I'll just put him up to a thing or two, and bring him aboard by and by."
Mr Johnson, who was really not an ill-natured man, agreed to this, remarking, "Mind, boy, the king is a great man ashore, but I'm a greater afloat—ho, ho, ho," and away he walked down the street to the Point.
The passenger who had had the box seat was standing near all the time. "He'll find that there's a greater man than he is on board, if he overstays his leave," I heard him remark, with a laugh, as he entered the inn.
He was a slight active young man, with a pleasant countenance.
"That's our second lieutenant, Mr Bryan," said Edkins to me. "I saw his name on his portmanteau. He must have thought the boatswain a rum 'un."
Captain Collyer's tailor lived close at hand, so I went there at once, and he promised to have a suit ready for me by the following morning.
Edkins told me I was to dine with the captain at the George, and to sleep there. He proposed that we should walk about in the interval, and I employed part of the time in comforting Toby, persuading him to accompany the coxswain on board the frigate without me.
We had just got outside the Southsea-gate, when, passing a fruit-stall, I saw a little boy, while the old woman who kept the stall was looking another way, surreptitiously abstract several apples and make off with them. She turned at the moment and observed the deed.
"Come back, ye little thieving spalpeen," she cried angrily, rising and making sail in chase. She was very stout, and filled out with petticoats on either side. The wind was very strong from the south-west, and, knowing that it is easier to sail with a fair wind than a foul, off darted the little boy before it over Southsea common. He, however, compared to the old lady, was like a brig to a seventy-four, with the studding sails set alow and aloft, and she, with her wide expanded figure propelled onward, was rapidly gaining on the apple-loving culprit. She would have caught him to a certainty. Toby and I and Edkins ran on to see the result. An old admiral (so Edkins told me he was), taking his constitutional, stopped, highly enjoying the fun. He observed the cause of old Molly's rapid progress. His sympathies were excited for the urchin.
"Try her on a wind, boy; try her on a wind," he shouted, giving way to his feelings in loud laughter.
The boy took the hint, and coming about darted off to the westward. Molly attempted to follow, but her breath failed her; the hitherto favouring gale blew her back, and with anathemas on the head of the culprit, she gave up the pursuit, and returned panting to her stall.
"There's the price of your apples, Molly," said the admiral, as he passed, handing her a sixpence. "You have gained it for the fun you have afforded me."
"That 'ere little chap will come to the gallows some day, if he goes on like that," was the comment made by Toby.
"That's true, boy," observed Edkins. "People are apt to forget, if they are amused, whether a thing is right or wrong; white's white, and black's black, whatever you choose to call them."
I felt very sure, from what I saw of Edkins, that he would take good care of Toby. He left me at the George. The captain came at last. He was a broad-shouldered, thick-set man, not very tall, but with fair hair and a most pleasant expression of countenance. Frank, honest, and kind-hearted I was certain he was. He reminded me of my father, except that the squire had a fresh and he had a thoroughly saltwater look about him. We were joined at dinner by several officers, and among others by my fellow-passenger, who proved, as Edkins suspected, to be Mr Bryan, the second lieutenant of the Doris. He amused the company very much by an account of Mr Johnson's conversation with me.
"He is a very extraordinary fellow, that," said the captain. "He is a first-rate seaman, and thoroughly trustworthy in all professional matters; but I never met his equal for drawing the long bow. I knew him when I was a lieutenant, and could listen to his yarns."
The party laughed heartily at my account of the old applewoman and the little boy, and I felt wonderfully at my ease among so many big-wigs, and began to fancy myself a personage of no small importance. After dinner, however, Mr Bryan called me aside. "I must give you a piece of advice, youngster. I overheard your contest of wit with the boatswain, and I remarked the way you spoke to your superior officers at dinner. You are now in plain clothes, and the Captain's guest, but do not presume on their present freedom. You will find the drawing-room and the quarter-deck very different places. Sharpness and wit are very well at times, but modesty is never out of place." I thanked Mr Bryan, and promised to remember his advice.
The next day, with the assistance of the tailor, I got into my uniform, and, after I had had a little time to admire myself, and to wish that my mother and sisters could see me, Edkins appeared to take me and my traps on board. The frigate had gone out to Spithead, where one of England's proud fleets was collected. The gig was waiting at the point. I stepped into her with as much dignity as I could command and we pulled out of the harbour. When we got into the tide-way the boat began to bob about a good deal. I felt very queer. "Edkins, is this what you call a storm?" I asked, wishing the boat would be quiet again.
"Yes, in a wash-tub, Mister Merry. As like a storm as a tom-tit is to an albatross," he answered.
My astonishment at finding myself among the line-of-battle ships at Spithead was very great. What huge floating castles they appeared—what crowds of human beings there were on board, swarming in every direction, like ants round their nest. In a few moments a wonderful expansion of my ideas took place. Even our tight little frigate, as I had heard her called, looked an enormous monster when we pulled alongside, and the shrill whistle and stentorian voice of the boatswain sounded in my ears as if the creature was warning us to keep off, and I thought, if it began to move, that we should, to a certainty, be crushed. However, I managed to climb up the side, and as I saw Edkins touch his hat to a tall thin gentleman in uniform, with a spy-glass under his arm, and say, "Come aboard, sir;" I touched mine, and said, "Come aboard, sir."
"All right," said Edkins, as he passed me. "This is the first-lieutenant."
He did not take much notice of me; but soon afterwards Mr Bryan appeared and shook hands with me, and told him that I was a new midshipman, a friend of the captain's, and was very kind; and after a little time he called another midshipman, and desired him to take me down to the berth and to introduce me to our messmates. My conductor was a gaunt, red-haired lad, who had shoved his legs and arms too far into his trousers and jacket. He did not seem well-pleased with the duty imposed on him. I followed him down one flight of steps, when I saw huge cannon on either side, and then down another into almost total darkness; and though he seemed to find his way very well, I had no little difficulty in seeing where he was going. He stopped once and said, "What's your name, youngster?" I told him, and turning to the right he caught me by the collar and shoved me through a door among a number of young men and boys, exclaiming, in a croaking voice, "Here's Master Marmaduke Merry come to be one of us; treat him kindly for his mother's sake."
Having thus satisfactorily fulfilled his mission he disappeared.
"Sit down, boy, and make yourself at home," said an oldish man with grey hair, from the other end of the table.
"Thank you, as soon as I can see where to sit," said I; "but you don't indulge in an over-abundance of light down here."
"Ha, ha, ha! Make room for Marmaduke, some of you youngsters there," exclaimed the old mate, for such I found he was, and caterer of the mess, "Remember your manners, will you, and be polite to strangers."
"But he is not a stranger," said a boy near me. "Yes, he is, till he has broken biscuit with us," said old Perigal. "That reminds me that you are perhaps hungry, youngster. We've done tea, but we shall have the grog and the bread on the table shortly. We divide them equally. You youngsters have as much to eat as you like of the one, weevils and all, and we drink of the other. It's the rule of the mess, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, not to be broken. However, we will allow Merry a small quantity to-night, as it is his first on board ship, but after that, remember, no infraction of the laws;" and old Perigal held up a weapon which he drew from his pocket, and with which, I found, he was wont to enforce his commands in the berth.
His system worked pretty well, and it kept the youngsters from falling into that most pernicious of practices, spirit drinking, and the oldsters were too well seasoned to be injured by the double allowance they thereby obtained.
Altogether I was pleased with my reception, and I fancy my new shipmates were pleased with me. My great difficulty at first was finding my way about, for as to which was the head or after part of the ship I had not the slightest notion, and the direction I received to go aft or go forward conveyed no idea to my mind.
As I was groping my way about the lower-deck, I saw what I took to be a glimmering light in a recess, when a roaring voice said, "Ho, ho! Mr Merry, what—have you come to see me? Welcome aboard the Doris." The light was the nose, and the voice that of Jonathan Johnson the boatswain.
I thanked him, and, guessing it would please him, told him that I should hold him to his promise of recounting his adventures.
"Time enough when we get into blue water, Mr Merry. Under present circumstances, with every thing to do, and nobody fit to do it but myself; for you see, Mr Merry, the gunner and carpenter are little better than nonentities, as you will find out some day; I have barely time to eat my necessary meals, much less to talk."
I told him that I should anxiously look forward to a fitting time for the expected treat, and asked him where I could find Toby Bluff.
"You shall see him in a jiffy," he answered; and he bellowed out, "Boy Bluff! Boy Bluff! send aft boy Bluff!"
The same words were repeated in various hoarse tones, and in less than a minute Toby came running up. He had had the advantage of a day's experience on board, and had wonderfully soon got into the ways of the ship.
When he saw me he shouted with joy.
"I did think, Master Marmaduke, you never would a coome," he exclaimed. "But it's all right now, and my—what a strange place this bees. Not a bit like the Hall, though there's plenty o' beef here for dinner, but it's main tough, and the bread for all the world's like old tiles."
"Be thankful you haven't to live on grind-stones and marlin-spikes, as I once had for a whole month, with nothing but bilge-water to wash 'em down," growled out the boatswain, who heard the observation.
As he told me that he had not time to talk, I did not ask him how this had happened.
I might prolong indefinitely my account of my first days on board ship. I gradually found myself more and more at home, till I began to fancy that I must be of some use on board. No one could be kinder than was Captain Collyer, and he was constantly employing me in a variety of ways in which he thought I could be trusted. One day he sent for me, and giving me a letter, ordered me to take it on board the flagship, and to deliver it in person to Captain Bumpus, the flag-captain. I knew Captain Bumpus, because he had been one of our dinner party at the George, and I remembered that he had laughed complacently at my stories. He was, however, very pompous, not a little conceited, and a great dandy, and I cannot say that I had felt any great respect for him.
We had discussed him in the berth, and the opinion was that he was sweet on one of the admiral's daughters. At all events he was a bachelor, and having lately made some prize-money, he was supposed to be looking out for a wife to help him to spend it. Moreover it was whispered that he wore a wig, but this he strenuously denied, being very fond of talking of the necessity he was under of having to go and get his hair cut, till it became a common remark that though Captain Bumpus got his hair cut oftener than any one else, it never appeared shorter.
I stepped into the second gig, and as Edkins went with me to steer the boat, I had no difficulty in getting alongside the flagship. As we pulled under the stern, I saw several ladies looking out from a stern gallery, which Edkins told me belonged to the admiral's cabin. I found my way on deck, and touching my hat to the mate of the deck, announced my errand.
"Come, I'll show you," he said, seeing that I hesitated which way to turn, and he led me up first to one deck and then to another, and then he pointed to a door at which a sentry was standing, and told me to go in there. I found four or five officers in the after-cabin waiting to see Captain Bumpus, who was dressing, I collected from their conversation.
Presently a frizzled out Frenchman, the very cut of a stage barber (a refugee, I heard afterwards), entered the cabin with a freshly dressed wig on a block.
"Monsieur de Captain tell me to bring his vig and put it in his cabin. I do so vid your permission, gentlemen," he observed, as he placed it on the table, and with a profound bow took his departure.
The story went that Captain Bumpus, who was fond of good living, had only lately fallen in with poor Pierre Grenouille, and had concluded a bargain on which he prided himself exceedingly. Ostensibly Pierre was engaged to dress his dinners, but privately to dress his hair, or rather his wigs.
There was a general titter among the officers, in which I heartily joined.
Suddenly, before we had time to compose our features, a door on one side opened, and Captain Bumpus appeared in full rig, with his sword under his arm, and his cocked hat in hand, looking self-satisfied in the extreme. He started when he saw the wig block and wig, the fac-simile of the one he wore on his head.
"What's that?" he exclaimed in a voice hoarse with rage. "Who put it there?"
No one answered, and dashing down his hat, he seized the wig block and wig, and with an exclamation of anger threw them overboard.
"Now, gentlemen," he said, turning round and attempting to be calm, "what is it you have to say? Really this incident may seem ridiculous," he added, seeing that there was still a suppressed titter going on, "but I detest the sight of a wig block since—you know that Highland tragedy—"
"A man overboard! a man overboard!" was heard resounding in gruff voices from above.
"Oh, poor man, he will be drowned, he will be drowned," came in a sharper treble from the admiral's cabin.
I heard the shrill pipe of the boatswain's mate as boats were being lowered, and at that instant into the cabin rushed the French barber, wringing his hands in a frantic state, and exclaiming, "Oh, Captain, your beautiful vig, your beautiful vig, it vill all be spoilt, it vill all be spoilt."
"My wig!" shouted Captain Bumpus, in a voice of thunder. "My wig, you anatomy, you mendacious inventor of outrageous impossibilities. Begone out of the cabin, out of the ship, overboard with you, the instant dinner is served!" And he gave the unhappy barber a kick which sent him flying across the after-cabin, through the door of the outer one, against the sentry, who was knocked over, and soldier and barber lay floundering and kicking, and bawling and swearing in their native dialects, amid the laughter of the officers, who ran to see what had become of the little man, and the shouts of the men who were outside.
Meantime the tide was running strong, and the wig block drifted past the other ships of the fleet, from all of which boats instantly put off in chase. They were all assembled round the fatal block, and the bowman of one, more fortunate than the rest, had got hold of it, and held it up amid shouts of laughter, when a boat from the flagship arrived and claimed the prize.
As the boat returned and pulled up astern, the admiral shouted out, "Have you got the poor fellow?"
"It wasn't a man, sir; it was only the captain's wig, sir," was the answer.
"The captain's what?" cried the admiral.
"Captain Bumpus's wig," shouted the bowman, as he held it up for inspection.
"Come aboard with it, then," answered the admiral, roaring with laughter, for he richly enjoyed a joke.
I heard a merry giggle in the stern gallery. Captain Bumpus turned pale with rage and mortified vanity. I delivered my despatch, to which he said he would send an answer. The next day it was reported that he had resigned his commission and gone on shore. He could not bear the idea that the whole fleet should have discovered he wore a wig.
Blue Peter had been for some hours flying aloft when Jonathan Johnson's pipe, sounding along the decks with a shrillness which surpassed the keenest of north-easterly gales, gave the expected order, which his mates, in gruffest of gruff tones, bawled out, of "All hands up anchor!" In an instant the whole ship was in an uproar, and seemed to me to be in the most dire confusion. Boatswain's mates were shouting and bawling, the officers hurrying to their stations, the men flying here and there, some aloft to loose sails, and others to halyards, sheets, and braces. I must own that I did not feel myself of any great service in assisting at the operation going forward, but I ran and shouted with the rest, and as the men passed me I told them to look sharp and to be smart, and to hurry along; but what they were about to do I was utterly unable to discover. I met Toby Bluff hurrying along, looking very much scared and half inclined to blubber. I asked him what was the matter.
"It's the big man with the rattan," (he alluded to the ship's corporal) "told me to go aft to the poop and stand by the mizen-topsail halyards," he exclaimed. "But, oh, Master Marmaduke, where they be it's more than my seven senses can tell. What shall I do? what shall I do?"
I saw some other boys running aft, so I advised him to go where they went, and to do whatever they did. I soon afterwards saw him hauling away sturdily at a rope, and though he tumbled down very often, he was quickly again on his feet. The fife and fiddle were meantime sounding merrily, and, as with cheerful tramp the men passed round the capstan-bars, the anchor was speedily run up to the bows. What the lieutenant on the forecastle could mean when he shouted out "Man the cat-fall," I could not divine, till I saw that some of the crew were securing the stock of the anchor by means of a tackle to a stout beam, which projected over the bows of the ship. "Over to the fish," next shouted out the officer, an order at first equally inexplicable to me, till I saw the flukes of the anchor hauled up close to the bows—fished, as it is called.
The sails were let fall and sheeted home, braces hauled taut, and the Doris, with a rattling breeze, under all sail, stood through the Needles Passage and down Channel. Those were stirring times. The cruisers of the various nations then at war with old England swarmed in all directions; and it was the ardent wish of every one on board the frigate, from the captain down to my small self, and to the youngest powder-monkey, that we should before long meet an enemy worthy of our prowess. A sharp look-out was kept aloft night and day, and it would have been difficult for anything under sail passing within the circle seen from our main-truck to have escaped notice. Captain Collyer also did his best to prepare his crew for an encounter whenever it might come, and the men were kept constantly exercising at the great guns and small-arms, and, for a change, at shortening and making sail, till they had all learned to work well together. I was all this time rapidly picking up a fair amount of miscellaneous nautical knowledge, partly by observation, but chiefly from my messmates, and from Sam Edkins, the captain's coxswain, who had, as he said, taken a liking to me.
Mr Johnson, the boatswain, at times condescended to give me instruction. "At present, Mr Merry, you'll observe, and I say it with perfect respect," remarked my friend, "you're like a sucking babe, an unfledged sparrow, a squid on dry ground—you're of no use to nobody, and rather want somebody to look after you, and keep you out of harm. When you've been to sea as many years as I have, if you keep your eyes open, you'll begin to find out what's what."
I confess that these observations of the boatswain were calculated to make me feel rather small. However, I was not offended, and I often managed to pay Mr Jonathan back in his own coin, which made him like me all the more. A great contrast to him in character was the captain's steward, Billy Wise. Billy had been to sea all his life, but no training could make a sailor of him. He was devoted to the captain, whom he had followed from ship to ship, and who took him, I truly believe, from pure compassion, because no one else would have had him. He was, however, a faithful fellow, and I am certain would have done anything to serve his captain.
Captain Collyer used to have some of the youngsters into his cabin to learn navigation. I liked this very much, and studied hard; for, as I had come to sea to be a sailor, I wished to be a good one. Several of us were seated round the table one day, when the steward made his appearance.
"How is the wind, Wise?" asked the captain.
"Some says it's east, and some says it's west, Captain Collyer," was the satisfactory answer.
"And which way do you say it is?" inquired his master.
"Whichever way you please, sir," replied the steward, pulling a lock of his hair.
Even the presence of our captain could scarcely prevent us youngsters from bursting into a roar of laughter. This was surpassed, however, by an Irish midshipman, an old shipmate of mine, who, when undergoing his examination for navigation, being asked, whether the sun went round the earth, or the earth round the sun, looked up with perfect confidence, and unhesitatingly replied—
"Faith, gentlemen, it's sometimes one and sometimes the other."
He was very much surprised at being turned back. He, however, afterwards managed to pass, but whether it was because the examining officers were not quite confident as to the exact state of the case themselves, and therefore did not push the question, or that he had in the meantime gained the required information, I do not now remember.
Captain Collyer was accustomed to Billy's eccentricities. They were sometimes inconvenient. One day, we fell in with a line-of-battle ship, and our captain had to go on board to pay his respects to his superior officer.
As he was hurriedly leaving his cabin he called for his cocked hat.
"Your hat. Captain Collyer—your hat, sir," ejaculated Billy Wise, in a state of great trepidation,—"it's all safe, sir. It druve ashore at Hurst, as we was coming through the Needles Passage, and some of the sodgers at the castle picked it up."
Poor Billy had been brushing the hat at a port with too great vehemence, and sent it flying overboard. He might possibly have seen something dark floating towards Hurst, and his shipmates, who were always practising on his credulity, probably persuaded him that it was the captain's hat. Many captains, in those days, would have given him a couple of dozen, or put him on nine-water grog for a month. Captain Collyer very soon forgot all about the matter, except when he told the story as a good joke. On the present occasion he had to borrow a cocked hat; and it was not till we had been in action, and one of the officers was killed, that he could get fitted with one of his own.
The captain had a goat, which was a source of much amusement to us youngsters, and of annoyance to Mr Lukyn, the first-lieutenant; for, as if aware that she did belong to the captain, she made no scruple of invading the quarter-deck, and soiling its purity. One day, my first acquaintance on board—the tall, gaunt midshipman with red hair, who, by the bye, went by the name of Miss Susan—with two or three other youngsters and me, was standing on our side of the deck, when Nancy, the goat, released from her pen, came prancing up to us. We, as usual, made grabs at her horns and tail, and somewhat excited her temper. Now, she began to butt at us, and made us fly, right and left. Miss Susan was capsized, and sent sprawling on the deck; and Nancy, highly delighted at her victory, frisked off to the starboard side, where Mr Lukyn, with all the dignity of a first-lieutenant, was walking the deck with his glass under his arm. Nancy, either mistaking his long legs for the stems of the trees and shrubs of her native hills, or wishing to repeat the experiment which had succeeded so well with regard to Miss Susan, made a furious butt at his calves while he was walking aft, unconscious of her approach. The effect must have been beyond Nancy's utmost expectations, as it was beyond ours. Our gallant first never appeared very firm on his pins, and, the blow doubling his knees, down he came, stern first, on the deck with his heels in the air, while the goat, highly delighted at her performance, and totally unconscious of her gross infraction of naval discipline, frolicked off forward in search of fresh adventures.
Just at that moment up came Billy Wise with a message from the captain.
Now Mr Lukyn rarely gave way to anger, but this was an occasion to try his temper. Picking himself up from his undignified posture, "Hang the goat," he exclaimed in a loud tone; "who let the creature loose?" Billy did not know, but having delivered his message, away he went forward; while we endeavoured to conceal, as far as we could, the fits of laughter in which we were indulging. Miss Susan's real name was Jacob Spellman. Some short time after this, I was going along the main-deck with him, when we found the captain's steward very busy splicing an eye in a rope, close to the cattle-pen, where Nancy had her abode. We walked on a little way, and then turned round to watch him. Having formed a running noose, he put it round the goat's neck, and dragged her out of the pen. He then got a tub and made her stand upon it while he passed the rope over a hook in the beam above. Hauling away as hard as he could, he gave the tub a kick, and there hung poor Nancy, in a most uncomfortable position, very nearly with her neck dislocated; but as he had not calculated on her power of standing on her hind legs, the result he expected was unaccomplished, and she was not altogether deprived of life. She struggled, however, so violently that she would very soon have been strangled had not old Perigal, who was mate of the main-deck, come up and seen what was going forward. "Why, man, what are you about?" he exclaimed. "Please, sir, I be hanging the goat," was Billy's reply.
"Hanging the goat! who told you to do that?" inquired Perigal.
"It was the first-lieutenant, sir. She knocked him over right flat on the deck, and so he told me to go and hang her."
"Well, you are a precious—," exclaimed the old mate. "Let free the beast, and thank your stars that you didn't hang her. The captain is a wonderfully good-natured man, there can be no doubt of it; but even he wouldn't have stood having his goat hung."
Of course I do not dress the language of my shipmates with the expletives in which many of them were apt to indulge, when the use of strange oaths and swearing of all descriptions was more common than even at present, when the practice would be more honoured in the breach than in the observance. One thing I must say, I never heard our gallant captain utter an oath or abuse a man during the whole time I had the happiness of serving under him, and a braver, more spirited, or more sensible man never trod the deck of a man-of-war as her chief. His memory is dear, not only to all those who served with him, but to all of high or low degree who knew him during his long and glorious naval career. His manners were mild and gentle—though he had an abundance of humour and spirit. He could, however, when he thought it necessary, speak with the gravest severity to a delinquent. I never saw any man more cool and calm and thoughtful in action. It may truly be said of him that in battle he was as brave as a lion, and in peace as gentle as a lamb. I could not resist uttering this panegyric on our well-loved captain.
To return to Billy Wise and the goat. The poor animal's life was saved, though she had a strange way of stretching out her neck for some weeks afterwards, and always gave Billy a wide berth when she encountered him in her rambles about the decks.
When the captain heard the account, instead of being angry, he laughed heartily, and added the story to his batch of anecdotes.
"I must do something with that poor fellow," he remarked. "He is not fit to be made Lord Chief Justice, I fear."
It was not always plain sailing with me. Spellman and I were pretty good friends, but he was somewhat inclined to play the bully. He was called Miss Susan simply because he was as unlike a girl as a great awkward gawky fellow, with red hair and a freckled face, could well be.
One day, as I was going along the lower-deck, with a message to old Perigal, who was attending to some duty forward, I came suddenly on Toby Bluff, whose ear Spellman had seized, while with his heel he was bestowing sundry hard blows on the corpus of my sturdy follower, who already knew enough of naval discipline not to venture on retaliation. Toby, though short, was as strong as a lion, and could have hurled him to the deck if he had dared. This made Miss Susan's attack all the more cowardly. What Toby had done to give offence I did not stop to inquire. My anger was up in a moment.
"Let go the boy, Spellman!" I exclaimed; "you shall not strike him again."
Toby gained little by this, for Miss Susan only kicked him the harder; whereon, up I rushed and hit my tall messmate a blow between the eyes, which made lightning flash from them, I suspect. Spellman instantly let go Toby and sprang at me. I stood prepared for the onslaught. Blinded by my first blow, my antagonist hit out at random, and though double my weight, was far from getting the best of it. While we were thus pleasantly occupied, Mr Lukyn, with the sergeant-at-arms, was going his rounds. We were so earnestly engaged in endeavouring to the utmost of our power to hurt each other, that we did not perceive their approach. Toby knew too well the laws of British pugilism to interfere, though had my opponent been an enemy of a different nation, and had we been engaged in mortal combat, I have no doubt that I should have found my young follower an able supporter. An exclamation from Toby threw Spellman off his guard, when a full blow, which I had planted on his breast, sent him reeling back into the not very tender clutches of old Krause, the master-at-arms.
"What is this about, young gentlemen?" exclaimed Mr Lukyn, in a severe tone. "Fighting is against the articles of war."
"He hit me, sir;" "He kicked the boy Bluff," we both exclaimed in the same breath.
"I must have you both up before the captain, and ascertain who is the culprit," said Mr Lukyn. "Master-at-arms, take these young gentlemen into custody."
I, on this, represented that I had been sent on a message to Mr Perigal, and was allowed to go and deliver it. While I was absent, Spellman took care to put his case in the best light, and mine in the worst. In about an hour we were both taken before the captain, and Toby was summoned as a witness. For fear of committing me, he was only puzzled what to say.
"Speak the truth, and nothing but it," said I boldly. The captain cast a look of approbation on me. Toby frankly confessed that, not seeing Mr Spellman, he had run against him, when he had been seized by the ear, and that I, coming up, had taken his part. Toby was dismissed.
"Now, young gentlemen, you are both in the wrong," said the captain. "You, Mr Spellman, should not have struck the boy for his heedlessness, and you, Mr Merry, should not have taken the law into your own hands. You will both of you go to the mast-head, and remain there till Mr Lukyn calls you down; Mr Merry to the foremast, Mr Spellman to the mainmast."
We thought that we had got off very easily; and we should, had not the first-lieutenant gone below and forgotten all about us. Hour after hour passed by: we had had no dinner: I was almost starved, and could scarcely have held on longer, when my eye fell on a sail to the southward. We were in the chops of the channel, with the wind from the northward. "Sail, O!" I shouted in a shrill tone. Fortunately Mr Lukyn was on deck, and when I had told him the direction in which I had seen the stranger, he called me down, it having probably occurred to him that I had been mast-headed rather longer than he intended.
When I got on deck I went up to him, and, touching my hat, said, "Please, sir, Spellman is still at the mast-head."
"Oh, is he? ah!" he answered, taking a turn.
I guessed from this that he did not think I was much to blame. Still I was anxious to get poor Miss Susan out of this unpleasant predicament, for I knew he was almost dead with hunger. I had resolved to go up to Mr Lukyn to tell him so, when he hailed my late antagonist, and ordered him on deck.
"You have to thank Mr Merry that you are not up still," observed the first-lieutenant, walking away.
Meantime the helm had been put up, and sail made in chase of the stranger. All hands earnestly hoped that she might prove an enemy. A sharp look-out was kept on her. One thing soon became evident—that we must have been seen, and that she was not inclined to fly.
"Now, Mr Merry, we'll show you what fighting is," observed Mr Johnson, the boatswain, as I stood near him on the forecastle. "You'll soon see round-shot, and langrage, and bullets rattling about us, thick as hail; and heads, and arms, and legs flying off like shuttle-cocks. A man's head is off his shoulders before he knows where he is. You'll not believe it, Mr Merry, perhaps; but it's a fact. I once belonged to a frigate, when we fell in with two of the enemy's line-of-battle ships, and brought them to action. One, for a short time, was on our starboard beam, and the other right aft; and we were exposed to a terrible cross and raking fire: it's only a wonder one of us remained alive, or that the ship didn't go down. It happened that two men were standing near me, looking the same way—athwart ships, you'll understand. The name of one was Bill Cox—the other, Tom Jay. Well, a round-shot came from our enemy astern, and took off the head of Bill Cox, who was on the larboard side; while at that identical moment a chain-shot from the ship abeam cut off Tom Jay's head, who was nearest the starboard side, so cleanly— he happened to have a long neck—that it was jerked on to the body of Bill Cox, who, very naturally, putting up his hands to feel what had become, of his own head, kept it there so tightly that it stuck— positively stuck; and, the surgeon afterwards plastering it thickly round, it grew as firmly as if it had always belonged to the body. The curious thing was, that the man did not afterwards know what to call himself; when he intended to do one thing he was constantly doing another. There was Bill Cox's body, d'ye see, and Tom Jay's head. Bill Cox was rather the shorter of the two, and had had a very ugly mug of his own; while Tom Jay was a good-looking chap. Consequently, Bill used sometimes to blush when he heard his good looks spoken of, and sometimes to get angry, thinking people were making fun of him. At first, Bill never knew who was hailed, and used to sing out, 'Which of us do you want?' However, it was agreed that he was and should be Bill Cox; because the head belonged to the body by right of capture; for if Bill's arms hadn't sprung up and caught it, the head would have gone overboard, and been no use to nobody. So the matter was settled, as far as the public was concerned. D was put against Tom Jay's name, and his disconsolate widow was written to, and told she might marry some one else as soon as she liked. But Bill wasn't at all comfortable about himself. He was fond of fat bacon, which Tom Jay could never abide; and when Bill put it into his new mouth, why, you see, the mouth that was Tom's spit it out again, and wouldn't let it, by no manner of means, go down his throat. Then Tom was fond of a chaw, and seldom had had a quid out of his cheeks. Bill, for some reason, didn't like baccy, and though his mouth kept asking for it, nothing would ever tempt his hands to put a quid inside. 'I'm very miserable, that I be,' groaned poor Bill; 'I sometimes almost wishes I hadn't caught Tom's head—that I do.'
"You see, Mr Merry, people seldom know when they are well off, and that I used to tell him. More came of it when Bill got back home. When poor Tom Jay's widow caught sight of him there was a terrible to do, seeing she was already married to another man; but I'll tell you all about that by and by. There's the captain about to speak."
The captain's speech was very brief: "Clear ship for action," he exclaimed, as he placed himself on one of the after guns; "and now, lads, let me see what you are made of."
I had been about to ask the boatswain how he got clear of the two line-of-battle ships, when this interruption occurred. Toby Bluff had been standing at a respectful distance, taking it all in with open mouth and astonishment. Each man went to his station—bulkheads were knocked away—the fires put out—the magazine opened—powder and shot were carried on deck—the guns were cast loose, and every preparation was made in a wonderfully short space of time. As I passed along the main-deck, I found Toby Bluff sitting on his tub, the picture of a regular powder-monkey—fat, sturdy, and unconcerned. He had become on very familiar terms with the other boys, and had fought his way into a satisfactory state of equality. He and those near him were firing off jokes at each other at a rapid rate, the others trying to frighten him, and he in no way inclined to take alarm.
"Never you mind," he answered to a remark made by one of his companions; "if some chaps have their heads blown off, others gets new ones clapped on again! Ha, ha, ha! That's more than some of you ever see'd done."
I was glad to see that Toby was in such good heart, and would not disgrace our county. When I reached the upper deck, I found our bunting going up and down. We were signalising with the stranger, which, after all, turned out to be no enemy, but his Majesty's thirty-six gun frigate Uranius. There was a general groan of disappointment when the order was given to secure the guns and close the magazine. I believe that, at that moment, most of the people, so worked up were they for fighting, would rather have had a turn to with their friend than have been baulked altogether. We found, however, that we should soon have a good opportunity of gratifying our pugnacious propensities. Admiral Cornwallis was at that time the commander-in-chief of the Channel fleet. He had directed Captain Collyer to look out for the Uranius and another frigate, the Emerald, and to proceed off Point Saint Matthieu, to watch the French and Spanish fleets then lying in Brest harbour. After cruising for a couple of days, we fell in with the other frigate, and thus all together proceeded to our destination. We soon reached it. On standing in towards the land, we very clearly made out the enemy's fleet at anchor in Brest harbour; but few, if any, of the ships had their sails bent, and even if they had come out after us we could very easily have escaped.
"All hands shorten sail, and bring ship to an anchor," was the order given, and all three frigates brought up just as coolly as if we had been at Spithead.
"I wonder what they think of us?" I observed to the boatswain, as one day I was examining the enemy through my glass.
"Think of us!" he exclaimed. "That we are as impudent as sparrows, and that they would willingly wring our necks and eat us if they could. But it is nothing to what I have seen done in the way of daring. I once belonged to a frigate, commanded by Captain Longbow, and, as he would tell you, if you were to ask him, we one night sailed right into the middle of a Spanish fleet—ran alongside one of their ships, boarded and carried her, and took her out free without the Spanish admiral discovering what we had been about. There's no end to the wonderful things I have seen done, or, I may say, without conceit, have done, Mr Merry. But I rather suspect that we shall have to lose sight of the Dons and Monsieurs for a few days. There's bad weather coming on, and we shall have to stand out to sea; but, never mind, they'll not make their escape with a gale in their teeth."
Mr Johnson prognosticated rightly. Before many hours it was blowing great guns and small-arms, and the three frigates were endeavouring, under all the sail they could carry, to obtain a good offing from the land. We tumbled about and pitched into the seas in a way which prevented me from, as usual, pitching into my dinner. One thing was satisfactory; the gale blockaded the enemy as effectually as we could have done. They were not inclined to come out and face either our guns or the fury of the wind. I cannot say, however, that just at that time anything brought much consolation to me. I had only one very strong wish; it was, to be thrown overboard—not that I had the slightest intention of jumping into the sea of my own accord. I was too far gone for any such energetic proceeding; and had anybody else taken me up for the purpose, I have no doubt that I should have struggled and kicked myself into perfect health again. I had coiled myself away on the top of my chest, on the lower-deck, in a dark recess, where I thought no one would see me; and there I hoped to remain all alone in my misery, till the ship went down, or blew up, or something else dreadful happened, for as to my ever getting well again that I felt was physically impossible. I had lain thus for some time, believing myself to be the most miserable small piece of humanity in existence, when, the frigate appearing to be pitching and rolling more furiously than ever, I heard a gruff voice exclaim—
"What, youngster! are you going to let the ship go down, and you not try to save her? On deck with you; be smart, now."
I felt a colt applied to a part of my body which, in the position I lay, offered a tempting mark. The voice was that of old Perigal; his sharp eyes had found me out. I sprang up and rushed on deck with an involuntary yell of pain, to find the ship under her three topsails closely reefed, forcing her way bravely through the seas, and not at all inclined to go down, or to come to any other damage.
"You're all the better for that trip, youngster," said the old mate, with a grin, as I returned to the berth. "Now, just take a lump of this fat bacon, and a bit of biscuit,—and here, as a treat, you shall have a nip of old Jamaica, and you'll be all to rights in ten minutes, and never be sea-sick again as long as you live."
I remonstrated, but out came the colt, and with an argument so cogent I was fain to adopt my messmate's remedy. It was a terrible trial. At first, I could scarcely bring my teeth to meet; but Perigal flourished his weapon, and my jaws went faster and faster, till I was not sorry to finish the whole of the biscuit and bacon placed before me, and could have taken twice as much if I could have got it. Perigal was right. From that day to this I have never suffered from sea-sickness.
Toby Bluff had undergone a similar ordeal, and when I was well enough to go and look for him, I found him scraping away at a beef bone, from which he had just removed the last particle of meat.
The summer gale was soon over, and once more we stood in for the land to look after the Frenchmen. As we drew in, I saw the captain and officers eagerly scanning the coast with their glasses, and it was soon known that a ship had been discovered at anchor by herself in a bay almost abreast of where we then were. She was protected, however, by the guns of some strongish batteries.
"We must have her out, though," observed Captain Collyer; and forthwith the proposal was made to our consorts by signal.
Neither of the captains was the sort of man to decline engaging in the undertaking. Off we went, under every stitch of canvas we could carry, to look for the admiral, who, with a fleet sufficient to render a good account of the enemy, should they venture out of harbour, was cruising in the neighbourhood.
Admiral Cornwallis highly approved of the proposal. "Go and do it," was his laconic reply. He was more addicted to acts than words. He sent a lieutenant, in whom he placed great confidence, to take command, and a boat and boat's crew from the flagship to lead. This was not quite as complimentary a proceeding as the three captains would have liked; but they were all too zealous and too anxious to get the work done to stand on ceremony. Away back we sailed, till we once more made out the entrance to the bay, which was called Camaret Bay.
The craft we were about to attack, and hoped to capture, was the Chevrette, a ship corvette, mounting twenty guns—a powerful vessel, and not likely to be taken without a severe struggle. Notice was given that volunteers would be required for the service, and immediately the greater part of the officers and crews of the three frigates came forward. Among those who volunteered from the Doris was Mr Bryan, the second lieutenant; Mr Johnson, the boatswain; and Edkins, the captain's coxswain. All were allowed to go. The captain had great confidence in Mr Bryan; and I suspect that he had a fancy to ascertain what Mr Johnson really was made of.
We brought up at our usual anchorage, and the remainder of the day was occupied in making preparations for the expedition. I saw Mr Johnson very busily employed in his cabin in cleaning his pistols.
"Come in, Mr Merry," he said, as he caught sight of me. "These are old friends of mine: they have served me many a good turn before now. If it was not for these pistols I should not have been in the land of the living: some day I'll tell you how it happened. Well, we are likely to have some desperate work to-night, and no one can tell whose lot it will be to fall. That reminds me, Mr Merry, I have written a letter to my wife, and I will intrust it to you. That is more than I would do to any other midshipman in the ship. She is a charming person—every inch a lady, and a lady of rank, too. One thing I must charge you—do not speak of me as a boatswain. She has no idea that I hold so subordinate a rank. She believes that I am an officer, and so I am; only I am a warrant and not a commissioned officer. Just tell her that I died fighting bravely for my country. Her name—for she is not called Mrs Johnson—and address you will find within that enclosure. If I come back, you will restore it to me as it is; if I fall, you will know what to do with it."
I thanked Mr Johnson very much for the confidence he reposed in me, but told him that I had come for the very purpose of asking him to let me go in his boat.
"You, Mr Merry?" exclaimed the boatswain. "You'll be made into mince-meat—cut to atoms—annihilated. It's no child's play, that cutting-out work we are going on, let me tell you. Time enough when you are bigger."
"But I want to go, that I may know how to do it," I argued; "I have come to sea to learn to be a sailor and an officer, and the captain says we should lose no opportunity of gaining knowledge; and I could not find a better occasion than the present for gaining an insight into what, I fancy, is of very considerable importance."
I went on for some time arguing in this way, and coaxing the boatswain.
"Well! well! I cannot give you leave, youngster—you know that; but I have heard of boys stowing themselves away under a sail in the bows of a boat, and coming out to play their part right manfully when the time for action had arrived. I am to have the pinnace, you know."
"Thank you—thank you," I exclaimed, overwhelmed with gratitude at the enormous favour done me by the boatswain, of allowing me to run a considerable chance of getting knocked on the head.
"Don't say any more about it, Mr Merry," said Mr Johnson; "I always liked you; and I couldn't do for my own son, if I had one, more than I would do for you." The boatswain forgot to ask for his letter back, so I locked it up in my desk, after I had written a few lines to inform my family that, if they received them, it would be to convey the information that I had fallen, nobly fighting for my country, on the field of fame—or something to that effect. I know I thought my epistle so very fine and pathetic that I could not resist the temptation of sending it home, and very nearly frightened my mother and sisters into hysterics, under the belief that I really was numbered among the killed and wounded. It was only when they got to the postscript that they discovered I was all right and well. Having written this despatch, announcing my own demise—which, by the bye, I should certainly not have done had not the boatswain put it into my head—I set to work to make my other preparations. Having secured a pistol, with some powder and bullets, and a cutlass, which I fancied I could handle, I stowed them away in the bows of the pinnace.
I never before played the hypocrite, but I was so afraid that my messmates would discover my purpose, that I pretended to take no interest in the proposed expedition, and spoke as if it was an affair in which I should be very sorry to be engaged. I got, in consequence, considerably sneered at: Miss Susan, especially, amused himself at my expense, and told me that I had better go back to my sisters, and help them to sew and nurse babies, if I was afraid of fighting. I bore all that was said with wonderful equanimity, hoping that the next morning would show I was a greater hero than any of them.
At length the boats' crews were piped away: it was the signal for which I had long been listening. I rushed on deck, and, unperceived, as I hoped, I jumped into the pinnace, and stowed myself away under the thwarts. The boats were lowered, the order was given to shove off; and, with a hearty cheer from all on board the ships, to which those on the boats responded, away we pulled for the mouth of Camaret Bay. My position was anything but pleasant, especially as I got several kicks from the feet of the men which nearly stove in my ribs; and I was therefore very glad when I thought it would be safe to crawl out, and present myself to the boatswain. The men, very naturally, were highly pleased, and I rose considerably in their estimation by what I had done; but Mr Johnson, of course, pretended to be very angry when he saw me, and told me the captain would never forgive me, or speak to me again, if I got killed. At first, the men were allowed to laugh and talk as much as they liked; but as we approached the entrance to the bay, silence was enjoined, and even the oars were muffled, so that we should give no notice to the enemy of our approach.
The night was very dark. Our boat had kept near that of our leader, Mr Bryan; but after some time it was discovered that the other division of boats had not come up. We had pulled very fast, and probably outstripped them. We pulled on till we got within the very mouth of the harbour, and then the order was passed from boat to boat that we were to lay on our oars till the rest of the boats came up. I found this rather a trying time. While we were rapidly pulling on I could not think, and I felt a powerful longing to be slashing away at the enemy. Now I began to reflect that they would equally be slashing away at me; and I remembered my own pathetic letter, and what I fancied Jonathan Johnson's anticipations of evil. Probably the men were indulging in much the same sort of thoughts; I know that they did not appear to be in nearly such good spirits as at first. This showed me what I have ever since remembered, that when dashing work is to be done, it should be done off-hand, and that all pains should be taken to avoid a halt or interruption.
Hour after hour passed by; no boats appeared. At length the day broke, and so rapidly did it come on that, before we had time to get to a distance, the light revealed us to the eyes of the enemy. The other boats were nowhere to be seen; they, for some reason, had returned to the ships; we had now no resource but to do the same, in a very crestfallen condition.
I hid myself away, as before, and managed to get on board without any one discovering where I had been. I knew that Mr Johnson would keep his counsel, and I did my best to keep mine. Captain Collyer and the other captains were very much annoyed at the failure of the expedition, and it soon became known that they had resolved to make another attempt to cut out the Chevrette.
There was no time to be lost. Another expedition was arranged for that night. Every one knew that it would be far more dangerous than it would have been on the previous night, because the enemy would now be prepared for our reception. The corvette, indeed, was seen to go further up the harbour, so as to be more completely under the protection of the batteries; and as boats were continually passing between her and the shore, there could be little doubt that she was augmenting the number of her crew. Notwithstanding the formidable resistance they might thus expect to meet with, all were as eager as before to join in the expedition.
I resolved not to be baulked of my expected amusement, but how to accomplish my purpose was the difficulty. I heard both the officers and men regretting the failure of the previous night, and observing that they should have much tougher work the next time, by which I knew that the danger would be very greatly increased; but that only made me the more eager to go on the expedition. The resistance to be expected was, indeed, formidable. We could see with our glasses the people busily employed in throwing up new batteries on shore; and then a large gun vessel came out and anchored at the mouth of the bay, to give notice of the approach of boats. What, however, excited the rage of all on board, and made us still more eager to capture the French corvette, was to see her hoist a large French ensign above the British flag.
"That insult seals her fate," observed Mr Bryan, loud enough for the men near to hear him. "Our fellows will take very good care to reverse those two flags before many hours are over."
I was in a very fidgety state all day. I was not accustomed to concealment, and I dared trust no one with my plans. Even Toby Bluff I suspected, would try to prevent me going, unless he was allowed to go also; and that I did not wish, as it would, in the first place, have increased the chances of my being discovered, and also, though I was ready enough to run the risk of being knocked on the head myself, I did not wish to let him get hurt if I could help it. I likewise very carefully kept out of the boatswain's way. I knew that, as the danger was increased, he would be still less willing to let me go, and I was in a great fright lest he should have an opportunity of speaking to me alone, and altogether prohibit me from going in his boat. At last a bright idea occurred to me—I would sham ill, and then no one would suspect me. I immediately went to our long-headed Scotch assistant-surgeon, Macquoid, and described my symptoms.
"You're vary ill, lad—vary ill," he answered, looking at me with a quizzical expression in his humorous countenance. "I'll give you something which will do for ye, and not make ye wish for any more physic for a long time to come."
Macquoid was as good as his word. Terribly nauseous was the draught he insisted on my swallowing; nor would he leave me till every drop had gone down, and then I rushed off to the berth and threw myself on a locker to luxuriate in the flavour, which nothing I could take would remove from my mouth.
It was the first and last time I ever made an attempt at malingering.
After I had taken Macquoid's nauseous draught, I went and lay down on my chest. I chose that spot because, from the uncomfortable position in which I was obliged to place myself, I was not likely to go to sleep, and because I was there better able to hear when the boats' crews were called away. I could not help now and then giving way to a groan, which the sickness and pain of the physic produced.
"Who's that?" I heard old Perigal inquire, as he was passing to the berth.
"Oh, it's only that little sneak Merry," Spellman answered. "He thinks that he may be ordered off in the boat, and is shamming sick to escape, as if such a hop-o'-my-thumb as he is could be of any use."
"That is not like him. I consider him a very plucky little fellow," remarked Perigal.
"Thank you, old boy," I said mentally. "And you, Miss Susan, I'll be even with you some day for your obliging remarks."
I cannot say, however, that I felt any enmity towards Spellman on that account. I had not respect enough for him. I would rather, however, have parted with more kindly feelings towards all my messmates on so dangerous an expedition. I could not help thinking over the matter while lying so long silent by myself, but my resolution to accomplish my design was not shaken. My messmates went into the berth, and just then I heard the boats piped away. I ran quickly upon deck, and, while the men were buckling on their cutlasses, I slipped into the pinnace, and stowed myself, as before, into so small a space that even the boatswain, who looked into the boat, did not perceive me. I knew that he looked for me, because I heard his gruff voice say, "All right; he's not there. He's thought better of it." At about half-past nine the final order to shove off was given, and away we went. I got fewer kicks this time, for I took good care to keep my legs out of the way. The men, also, I suspect, guessed that I was there. I knew that I was perfectly safe with them.
The flotilla consisted of fifteen boats, containing nearly three hundred officers and men, not counting myself. After we had got, as I supposed, about a couple of miles from the ship, and I knew that I could not be sent back, I ventured to crawl out and look over the gunnel. The inky sea around us was dotted with boats, all the party keeping pretty close together. The night was so dark that I could see little more than their outlines, as they crept rapidly along, like many-footed monsters, over the deep. I did not fancy that Mr Johnson knew I was there, but his sharp eyes made me out through the gloom.
"Mr Merry, step aft, if you please, sir," he bawled out suddenly.
Stepping over the oars, I went and sat myself down by him, but said nothing.
"Mr Merry, this conduct is highly reprehensible. I must report it to the captain as soon as we get back, after we have carried and brought out that French corvette, and covered ourselves with honour and glory; and I don't know what he'll say to you. And now, sir, after, as in duty bound, from being your superior officer, I have expressed my opinions, I should like to know what you are going to do when we get alongside the enemy?"
"Climb up with the rest, and fight the Frenchmen," I replied promptly.
"Very good, Mr Merry; but suppose one of the Frenchmen was to give you a poke in the ribs with a boarding-pike, or a shot through the chest, or a slash with a cutlass, what would you do then?"
"Grin and bear it, I suppose, like anybody else," was my answer.
"Very good, very good, indeed, Mr Merry," said the boatswain, well-pleased; "that's the spirit I like, and expected to find in you. Now, my boy, whatever you do, stick by me; I'll do my best for you. If I get knocked over, and there's no saying what will happen in desperate work like this, then keep close to Edkins. He's a good swordsman, and won't let you be hurt if he can help it. I should be sorry if any harm came to you. But, Mr Merry, how are you going to fight? I don't see that you have got a sword, and I fancy that you'll not do much execution with one of the ship's cutlasses."
I told him that I had got my dirk, and that I hoped to make good use of that.
He laughed heartily.
"A tailor's bodkin would be of as much use in boarding," he answered; "but you shall have one of my pistols; the chances are that I do not require either of them. Cold steel suits me best."
I thanked Mr Johnson warmly, and then asked him what orders had been received about attacking. He told me that some of the boats were to board on the bows, and others on the quarters of the corvette; that a quarter-master of the Beaulieu, with a party of men to protect him, was to take charge of the helm; that others were to fight their way aloft, to let fall the topsails; and that he, with his men and another boat's crew, was to hold possession of the forecastle, and to cut the cables. All this was to be done in spite of any fighting which might be taking place. Some were to sheet home the topsails, and the remainder were to do their best to overpower the enemy. We had got some way, when we caught sight of a strange boat inside of us.
The commander of the expedition, supposing that she belonged to the Chevrette, summoning five other boats to attend him, made chase to secure her, ordering his second in command to pull slowly on till he rejoined the expedition. On we went. As to pulling slow, that was a very difficult thing to do just then. So eager were the men, that they couldn't help putting more strength into their strokes than they intended. All I know is that the nine remaining boats got close up to the harbour's mouth, and that the others had not joined. We lay on our oars, as ordered, for a short time.
"What can have become of them?" exclaimed a lieutenant in one of the boats.
"Daylight will be upon us if we don't look sharp," said another.
"It would be a disgrace to go back without attempting something," cried a third.
"We will lose no more time, but try what we can do without them," said the senior officer of the party. He was undoubtedly very eager to lead on the occasion. Certain necessary alterations were made.
"Gentlemen, you all know your respective duties," he added. "Then give way!"
Right cheerfully the men bent to their oars, and up the harbour we dashed. I kept looking ahead for the enemy. I knew that as soon as we saw her, she would see us, and then the fun would begin. I felt rather nervous, but very eager.
"There she is," cried the boatswain.
Suddenly through the gloom, I saw the tall masts and spars of the ship we were to attack. A voice from her hailed us in French. Of course our only reply was a hearty cheer, and on we dashed faster than ever. Not unmolested though. The next moment, sheets of flame darted from the ports, from one end of the ship to the other, and showers of grape and bullets rattled about our heads. A groan, or a cry of anguish from some of the boats, told that the emissaries of destruction had taken effect. Thick fell the shot, and the next instant a heavy fire opened on us from the shore; but nothing stopped our progress. On we dashed, and were quickly alongside the enemy. The whole side bristled with boarding-pikes, and as we attempted to climb up, muskets and pistols were discharged in our faces, and tomahawks and sabres came slashing down on our heads. Our men cheered and grasped hold of the ship's sides, but again and again were thrust back, and then the Frenchmen leaped into our boats, making a dashing effort to drive us out of them. They had better have remained on their own deck, for very few got back. Some did though, and formed shields to our men, who climbed up after them. Meantime, our boat had boarded, as directed, on the starboard bow, but finding it hopeless to get up there, Mr Johnson dropped astern, and perceiving only one boat on the quarter, and space for us to shove in, we hooked on, and the next instant were scrambling up the side. I kept close to the boatswain. I thought that we were about to gain the deck, when the enemy made a rush towards us, and over we went, and I was left clinging to the side, with a dozen sabres flashing above my head. As to letting go, I never thought of that. I kept Mr Johnson's pistol in my right hand, and was about to fire, when down came a sword, which would have clove my head in two, had not a lieutenant of marines in the next boat interposed his own weapon, and saved me. But the act was one of self-devotion, for the Frenchman brought his sabre down on my preserver's arm, while another thrust a pike through his body, and hurled him back, mortally wounded, to the bottom of the boat. I should, after all, have shared the same fate, had not Mr Johnson at that instant recovered himself, and with a shout, loud enough to make our enemies quake, up he sprang, and, with one whirl of his cutlass, drove the Frenchmen from the side. Over the bulwarks he leaped; I and most of the men from the two boats followed. But though we had gained the deck, there seemed but little chance of our forcing our way forward.
Our men, in the first desperate struggle alongside, had lost their firearms, and for a few seconds the tall figure of the boatswain, as he stood up facing the enemy, offered a mark to a score of muskets aimed at him. The Frenchmen, expecting to see him fall, came on boldly. I grasped his pistol, hoping to avenge him.
"The forecastle is our station, lads," he shouted, and his stentorian voice was heard above the din of battle.
"Make a lane, there; make a lane, there," he added, dashing furiously among the enemy. I followed by his side. His whirling cutlass flashed round, and sent the Frenchmen flying on either side. On we went, intent on our object, bearing down all opposition, to gain the forecastle, while another party had got possession of the helm. The deck was by this time covered with killed and wounded. Many of our men had fallen. We strode over friend and foe alike, alive or dead. The break of the topgallant forecastle was gained. It was desperately defended, but the boatswain, clearing with a sweep of his cutlass a spot to stand on, sprang up among the astonished Frenchmen. I felt myself lifted up after him; our men followed; and though pikes were thrust at us, and pistols were flashed in our faces for a few seconds, our opponents either leaped overboard or threw themselves on the deck, and sang out for quarter. Some of our men, appointed for the purpose, went to the head sails, while others instantly cut the cable. I glanced my eye upwards; the topmen, who had fought their way aloft, had cut loose the topsails with their cutlasses, and they were now being sheeted home; but the fighting was not over, a desperate attempt was being made by the enemy to drive us out of the ship. The boatswain, meantime, was uttering his war shouts, issuing orders to the men, and dealing death and wounds around.
"Old England for ever I hoist the fore-staysail. Back, ye Johnny Crapeaus! Back, ye French scarecrows! Haul away, my lads, and belay all that. Hurra! we've gained the day!"
In the latter assertion he was somewhat premature, for the French crew, now rallying amidships, made a desperate attack on the forecastle, but the boatswain's flashing weapon literally cut them down like corn before the reaper's scythe, as they came on. Still they pressed round us. Most of our men were occupied in making sail.
A big Frenchman, the boatswain of the ship, I fancy, who was almost as big as Jonathan himself, now sprang ahead of his comrades to measure his strength with our champion. He was evidently a first-rate swordsman, and in his progress forward had already cut down two or three of our men. He shouted something to his companions; it was, I suspected, to tell them to try and wound Mr Johnson while he was engaging him in front. I had hitherto grasped the pistol he had given me, but had not fired it. I felt for the lock. On came the Frenchmen; Mr Johnson had need of all his skill to keep his enemies at bay. The French boatswain pressed him desperately hard. One of his mates rushed in, and was bringing down his cutlass with a terrific sweep, which would have half cut our boatswain in two, when, raising my pistol, I fired at the man's head. The bullet went through his brain, and his cutlass, though wounding Johnson slightly in the leg, fell to the deck. The boatswain's weapon meantime was not idle, and at the same moment it descended with a sweep which cut the Frenchman's head nearly in two, and he fell dead among his comrades. It was at that instant the French discovered that their ship was under way. "Sauve qui peut!" was the cry. Some jumped overboard and endeavoured to swim on shore. Many leaped below, either in fear or with determination still to carry on the fight, and others threw down their arms and cried for mercy. Not a cutlass was raised on them after that, but the fellows who fled below had got possession of some muskets, and began firing at all of us who appeared near the hatchways. A party of our men, however, leaped down among them and quickly put a stop to their proceedings.
The ship was now completely under our command; the sails filled, she felt the helm, and was standing down the harbour. Though it appeared to me nearly an hour, if not more, I found that not five minutes had passed since the boats got alongside. But we were not quite free. We were congratulating ourselves on our success, when a shot whistled between our masts, followed by another, and a heavy battery opened upon us. We were too busy to reply to it, and the men went about their work just as coolly as if nothing was occurring. The wind was light, and we were a long time exposed to the fire of the battery. Mr Johnson, between pulling and hauling, for he lent a hand to everybody, apostrophised the masts, and urged them not to get shot away. He evidently thought more of them just then than of anything else. They were in his department.
"I wonder, Mr Johnson, whether any of us will have to change heads?" said I.
"If you and I did, you'd look rather funny with my mug on your shoulders," he answered, with a loud laugh. "Even your own mother wouldn't know you, I suspect." Just then a shower of grape came rattling round us, and though I could hear the shot whistling by, close to my ears, not one of us was hit. I could not help wishing that a breeze would spring up, and carry us clear of the unpleasant neighbourhood. Just then the missing boats arrived, and rather surprised our friends were to find that we had already secured the prize. Though too late to help to take her, they were of great assistance in towing her out of range of the enemy's batteries, and I believe some of the poor fellows in them were hit while so employed. At length a breeze sprang up, and all sail being made, right merrily we glided out of the enemy's harbour, much, undoubtedly, to their disgust, and to our very great satisfaction.
Now came the sad work of counting the killed and wounded. We had lost twelve of the former, two being officers, and nearly five times that number wounded; while we found that the corvette had her captain, three lieutenants, and three midshipmen, and eighty-five seamen and soldiers killed, being ninety-two killed, though only sixty-two were wounded. The deck was a complete shambles: the wounded were carried below, friends and foes alike, though the dead Frenchmen were hove overboard at once. Our own dead, being not so numerous, were kept to be committed to the deep with more ceremony in the morning. Among them was a midshipman. I could not help lifting up the flag which covered his face. Poor fellow, there he lay, stiff and stark! A jovial laughing fellow he had been, cracking his jokes but a few minutes before, just as we were entering the harbour. Such might have been my fate. He had fallen, though in the path of duty. He had been ordered to come. I felt more sad, and was more thoughtful, than I had ever been in my life before. How long I stood there I do not know. Mr Johnson's voice aroused me.
"I haven't had time to speak to you before, Mr Merry," said he. "You did very well,—very well indeed. Jonathan Johnson thanks you from the bottom of his heart; that he does. If it hadn't been for your steady aim, and the unfailing accuracy of my pistol which you fired, I should now be among those lying there, covered with glory;—a very fine thing in theory to be covered with, but, practically, I would rather be alive, and have less of it. However, I mustn't stop talking here. By the bye, there's Mr Bryan has found you out. I will tell him how you have behaved, and I dare say that he'll not get you into trouble, if he can help it."
I thought that would be very kind in Mr Bryan. It did not occur to me that I had done anything to be proud of; nor had I, indeed. I had done what I ought not to have done. I wanted to see some fighting; I had seen it, and just then I felt that I did not want to see any more. The face of that dead midshipman haunted me. I had had a sort of a notion that midshipmen could not be killed, and now I had had proof positive to the contrary. I felt unusually grave and sad. For a long time I could not get the face out of my head. I believe that it contributed to sober me, and to prevent me from being the reckless creature I might otherwise have become.
Day broke as we hove in sight of the squadron, and loud cheers saluted us as we brought up in triumph among them. A prize crew was put in charge of the captured ship, and I returned in the pinnace with the boatswain to the Doris. I was in hopes of getting on board without being observed, but too many eyes were gazing down on us for me to do that. Spellman was, of course, one of the first to discover me.
"What, you there, 'hop o' me?'" he exclaimed; "how did you tumble into the boat?"
"Don't answer him," whispered the boatswain, as we climbed up the side; "I'll let him know what I think of you and him."
I ran down below as fast as I could to change my clothes and wash, for I was dreadfully dirty, covered from head to foot with powder and blood. The first person I encountered was Toby Bluff.
"Oh! Muster Merry, Muster Merry! Be you really and truly alive?" he exclaimed, throwing his arms round my neck, and bursting into tears. "They told me you was gone away to be killed by the Frenchmen, and I never expected to see you more; that I didn't. But is it yourself, squire? You looks awful smoky and bloody loike. Where are all the wounds? You'll be bleeding to death, sure. Let me run for the doctor."
He would have been off like a shot, but I assured him that I was not hurt. After he was satisfied that such was the case, I despatched him to the cook's galley to procure some hot water, with which, and the aid of soap, I managed speedily to get rid of the stains of the fight. By the time I got to rights, breakfast was on the table, and I went into the berth and sat myself down as if nothing had happened. I flattered myself that my messmates looked at me with considerable respect, though they badgered me not a little.