Ned Garth; Made Prisoner in Africa. A Tale of the Slave Trade, by W H G Kingston.
NED GARTH; MADE PRISONER IN AFRICA. A TALE OF THE SLAVE TRADE, BY W H G KINGSTON.
"Can you make her out, Ned? My eyes are not so sharp as they used to be, and I lost sight of the craft when came on."
"She has tacked, uncle; I see her masts in one, and she's standing to the westward."
"I was afraid so; she must be a stranger, or she would have kept her course. She'll not weather the head as she's now standing, and if it doesn't clear and show her the land, she'll be on shore, as sure as my name is John Pack."
The speaker was a strongly built man, dressed in a thick pea-coat buttoned closely over his breast, the collar turned up to protect his neck. A white, low-crowned, weather-beaten, broadish-brimmed hat covered his head, and he held in his hand a thick stick, which he pressed firmly on the ground as he walked, for he had been deprived of one of his legs, its place being supplied by a wooden substitute resembling a mop handle in shape. His appearance was decidedly nautical, and though habited in plain clothes, he might have been known at a glance to be a naval officer.
His companion, a boy of about fourteen years of age, though from his height and breadth of shoulders he might have been supposed to be older, wore a thick monkey jacket, a necessary protection against the strong wind and dense masses of rain and mist which swept up from the ocean.
They stood on the top of a cliff on the southern coast of England, which, circling round from the north-west to the south-east, formed a broad deep bay, terminated on the further side by a bluff headland, and on the other by a rocky point, a ledge partly under water extending beyond it.
The bay was indeed a dangerous place to enter with so heavy a gale from the south-west as was now blowing.
Lieutenant Pack and his young nephew Edward Garth were returning home from an errand of mercy to an old fisherman who had been severely injured by the upsetting of his boat, in a vain endeavour to go off to a coaster in distress, which foundered in sight of land, when he was washed on shore amid the fragments of his boat, narrowly escaping with his life. Although the fisherman's cottage was upwards of two miles off, the old lieutenant trudged daily over to see him, and on this occasion had been accompanied by his nephew, carrying a basket containing certain delicacies prepared by the kind hands of Miss Sarah Pack, or sister Sally, as he was wont to call her. He and his nephew had started later than usual, and the gloom of an autumn evening had overtaken them when they were still some distance from home. He had caught sight of the vessel, apparently a large brig, and had at once perceived her dangerous position.
For some time he and his nephew stood watching the stranger from the cliff.
"Here she comes again!" cried Ned.
"She made out the land sooner than I expected she would," observed the lieutenant; "but she'll scarcely weather the point even now, unless the wind shifts. She can't do it—she can't do it!" he cried, striking the ground in his eagerness with his stick. "Run on, Ned, to the coast-guard station. If you meet one of the men, tell him, in case he hasn't seen her, that I think the vessel will be on shore before long. But if you fall in with no one, go and let Lieutenant Hanson know what I say, and he'll get his rockets ready, so as to be prepared to assist the crew whenever the vessel may strike. Take care, Ned, though, not to fall over the cliff—keep well away from it. On a dark night you cannot see the path clearly, and in many spots, remember, it ends abruptly in places where it wouldn't do to tumble down. I cannot spare you, my boy."
While the lieutenant was shouting out these latter sentences, Edward, eager to obey his uncle's directions, had got to a considerable distance; he, however, very soon came back.
"I met one of the men, uncle," he said, "and he went on to the station faster than I could in the dark, as he knows the short cuts."
"Come along then, we'll keep an eye on the brig as we walk homeward," said the lieutenant. "I pray that after all she may claw off the land, although she will have a hard job to do it."
The old officer and the boy proceeded on the way they had previously been pursuing. They had gone some distance when they saw a light approaching them.
"Now, if my sister Sally hasn't sent Tom to look for us, or I am much mistaken," he exclaimed to himself rather than to his companion. "Poor soul! she's been in a precious quandary at our not returning sooner, and has been fancying that we shall be melted by the rain, or carried off the cliffs by the wind, though it blows directly on them."
The lieutenant was right in his conjectures; in another minute a voice was heard shouting, "Dat you, Massa Pack an' Massa Ned?"
"Aye, aye," answered the lieutenant; "keep your lantern shaded from the sea, or it may be mistaken for a signal."
Directly afterwards a tall figure could be discerned coming towards him. "Missie Sarah in drea'ful way, cos you an' Massa Ned not come back when de wind an' rain kick up such a hulabaloo," said the same voice which had before spoken.
The lieutenant explained the cause of their delay, and bade Tom hasten back and tell his mistress that they would soon be at home, but were anxious to ascertain the fate of a vessel they had discovered closer in-shore than she should be. "Beg her not to be alarmed; and, Tom, you come back with a coil of rope and a couple of oars from the boat-house. We may not want them, for I hope the coast-guard men will be up to the spot in time to help, should the craft unfortunately come ashore, but it is just as well to be prepared to render assistance in case of need."
Tom, handing the lantern to the boy, hurried back to execute the orders he had received, the lieutenant and his young companion following at a slower pace. The fast increasing darkness had now completely shut out the brig from sight. When last perceived, however, her head was pointed in a direction which, could she maintain, she might weather the rocks under her lee. Presently the loud report of a gun was heard sounding high above the roar of the seas which broke on the shore.
"That was fearfully near," observed Edward.
"It was indeed," said the lieutenant. "I hope that it will hurry Hanson and his men. The master of the brig has discovered his danger. There is no chance of her escaping, I fear."
"I can see her!" cried the boy; "one of her top-masts has gone, she's drifting bodily on shore."
"Poor fellows! with a heavy sea beating on it; unless she's a stout craft, she'll knock to pieces in a few minutes," observed the lieutenant. "We'll go down to the beach and try what help we can render."
A zig-zag pathway, well known to both of them, led downwards through an opening in the cliff, a short distance from the spot they had reached. The lieutenant and his nephew followed it without hesitation, the former leading and feeling the way with his stick, for it required care to avoid slipping over, and an ugly fall might have been the consequence of a false step. They reached the bottom, however, in safety; and as they hurried along the shingly beach, straining their eyes to discover the whereabouts of the hapless brig, another and another gun was heard, the loud reports rapidly succeeding the bright flashes, showing the nearness of the vessel. The whistling of the wind and the roaring of the waves overpowered all other sounds. They listened for another gun, but listened in vain.
"I feared it would be so," exclaimed the lieutenant; "she must have struck already."
"Yes, yes, I see a dark mass surrounded by foam; that must he her, and not fifty yards off," cried Ned. As he spoke he could distinguish, in imagination at all events, amid the wild foaming waters, the crash of timbers, and hear the cries of the hapless crew imploring assistance. For an instant, too, he fancied that he saw a smaller object floating on the snowy crests of the waves, but before he could be certain that it was what he supposed, it had disappeared.
"Would that the men with their rockets were here. What can have delayed them? If they don't come soon, not a soul of the crew will be left alive," exclaimed the lieutenant.
Just then a voice hailed, and Edward shouted in return. A dark figure could be seen at the top of the cliff. It was Tom, who rapidly made his way down to where they stood, carrying a pair of oars and a coil of rope.
"The brig is driving in," cried Edward. "She's much nearer than when I first saw her."
"You're right," answered the lieutenant. "In spite of my timber leg, few men could once beat me at swimming; even now I've a mind to go off to the wreck. I might be in time to save some of the people. Here, Tom, hand me the end of the rope, and I'll make it fast round my waist, and do you and Ned pay it out, and haul in again when I shout to you."
"Don't think of going," said Edward; "you have been ill lately, and are not as strong as you were. Let me try. I can swim like a fish; you have often seen me in rough water as well as in smooth. It won't matter to any one if I am drowned."
"Won't it though! What would Aunt Sally say if I was to go back without you, Ned?" exclaimed the lieutenant. "I should never be able to look her in the face again."
"But I'll do my best not to come to harm," said Edward; "and you can haul me back if I cannot make my way through the breakers."
"Let me go, massa," cried Tom, rapidly throwing off his clothes, and beginning, without further ado, to fasten the rope round his own waist. "Jis see him tight—not a slip-knot, massa. Tom Baraka swim tro' worse seas dan dis on coast ob Africa, as you know. Stick de oar in de sand. Tie de rope to it, Massa Pack; you pay out, and off him go."
And before the lieutenant or Ned had time to speak another word, the black had plunged into the foaming seas, dragging out the rope which the lieutenant quickly uncoiled. His dark head and back could be distinguished amid the surging foam, as he made his way through the breakers for some distance, when a huge wave rolling in beat him back almost to the beach. The lieutenant hauled in the rope, fearing that Tom's legs might be entangled, but the brave black again sprang forward. He had, however, another danger besides the sea to encounter. Already broken spars, planks, and masses of timber, with bales of all sorts, were being hurled on shore, and a blow from some heavy piece of wreck might in an instant disable him. It seemed useless indeed to proceed further; not a human being was likely to have remained alive on the shattered wreck. Probably the larger number were drowned when the boat was upset. Another sea, still fiercer than the former, rushing on with a loud roar, again drove Tom back.
"We must haul in the rope," cried the lieutenant. "I cannot let the brave fellow further risk his life."
But once more it was found that Tom was dragging out the rope.
"I heard a cry, and I fancy I see some one not far from. Tom," exclaimed Edward. "Yes, yes! he is making towards the man. Ah, I fear he has missed him; no, he has hold of him. Haul away, uncle, haul away; let me go and help him, there's rope enough to spare," and Ned, securing the slack end of the rope under his arms and seizing the spare oar, dashed forward in time to grasp the man just as the black, exhausted by his exertions, was on the point of letting him go. Another wave breaking at the moment, and hissing as it rushed back in a sheet of foam over the beach, would have swept away the almost rescued man, but Edward, planting his oar deep in the sand, held on while the lieutenant was engaged in hauling Tom out of danger, hastening, the moment he had done so, to assist his nephew in landing the stranger. The latter still breathed, and attempted to raise himself from the sand, though unable to speak.
"You attend to him, Ned, while I look after Tom," said the lieutenant.
The black, however, required no assistance. He proposed, indeed, to again swim off on the chance of finding some other human being struggling for life; but this the lieutenant would not allow. Already the breakers were covered with masses of wreck, amid which not a single person could be seen, though they looked out eagerly, Tom pressing into the seething foam as far as he dared venture, while the lieutenant held up the lantern as a signal to any strong swimmer who might successfully have buffeted with the waves; but he did so with little hope of success. Every now and then he looked round, uttering an exclamation of regret at the non-appearance of the coast-guard, though, had they arrived, it was evident that they would be too late to be of use.
The sea continued to cast up fragments of wreck and cargo on the beach, but the lieutenant and Tom searched in vain for any of their fellow-creatures to whom they might render assistance.
"No use waiting longer, I fear," shouted the lieutenant. "I'll go and look after the man we have saved; the sooner we get him under shelter the better, or he'll be perishing of cold."
"Me stop just a little longer," answered the black.
"Take care though that the sea doesn't carry you off, Tom," cried the lieutenant, even now trusting that someone else might be rescued.
On returning to the spot where Edward was tending the stranger, he bent down by the side of the latter and felt his heart. "He is still evidently in a very exhausted condition," he observed, holding up his lantern so that the light fell on the man's countenance. "Poor fellow, he does not look as if he were accustomed to a seaman's life."
"I have been rubbing his hands and chest, uncle, and trying what I could do to revive him," said Edward. "We should get him home at once, I am sure."
"Just what I was saying; we must not risk his life on the chance of saving that of others," replied the lieutenant. "Come, Tom," he shouted, "it is of no use, we must carry home this poor fellow; and may be before we get far the coast-guard will be down here and take our places."
At that instant a hail was heard. The lieutenant shouted in return. In a few minutes a party of coast-guard men appeared, headed by their lieutenant, who had heard the guns, and had been searching for the spot where the vessel had struck. The man to whom Edward had given the message had, however, not appeared, having, as was afterwards discovered, fallen over the cliff and nearly lost his life. Lieutenant Hanson said that he would remain on the spot, though his rockets would be useless, as not a man could be clinging to the wreck.
"Let me have one of your people to assist in carrying this poor fellow to my cottage then," said Lieutenant Pack; "it is more than Tom and I can accomplish, seeing that my timber toe is apt to stick in the soft sand as I trudge along."
"With all my heart," was the answer. "You shall have two, only send them back without delay."
No further time was lost. The coast-guard men, wrapping the stranger in their dry coats, lifted him on their shoulders, Ned and Tom taking his feet, while the lieutenant led the way, lantern in hand, towards his home.
Although a bright light beaming forth from the sitting-room of the lieutenant's abode could alone be distinguished as the party approached, it may be as well to describe it at once. Triton Cottage, as he called it, from the name of the ship on board which he first went to sea, stood on the side of a broad gap or opening in the cliff, some little distance up from the beach, the ground around it being sufficiently level to allow of a fair-sized garden and shrubbery. It was a building of somewhat curious appearance, having no pretentions to what is considered architectural beauty. The lieutenant, notwithstanding, was proud of it, as the larger portion had been erected by his own hands from time to time as he considered it necessary to increase its size, in order to afford sufficient accommodation to its inmates, and to obtain a spare room in which he could put up an old shipmate, or any other visitor to whom his hospitable feelings might prompt him to give an invitation. The original building had been a fisherman's cottage, to which he had added another story, with a broad verandah in front, while on either side wings had been attached, the upper portions composed of wood obtained from wrecks, the bulkheads serving as wainscoting to the rooms. Both from their size and the fittings they resembled the cabins of a small vessel, being warmed also by ship's stoves, with high flues, curiously topped, rising above the roof, exhibiting a variety of contrivances to prevent the smoke from beating down. The tar-bucket and paint-pot had been brought largely into requisition, the wood-work of the lower story being covered with a shining coat of black, while various colours adorned the walls both inside and out. The old lieutenant might frequently have been seen, brush in hand, adorning his mansion, and stopping up every crevice, so as to defy damp, or rain driven against it by the fiercest of south-westerly gales. It was substantially roofed with thick slabs of slate, obtained from a neighbouring quarry, calculated to withstand the storms of winter or the thickest downfall of snow. The building had, however, so slight an appearance that it looked as if it might be carried by a strong wind into the sea; but a closer inspection showed that the materials of which it was composed were well seasoned and firmly put together, and though gaily bedecked, fire was the only element it had to fear, and against that the owner had taken all necessary precautions.
"Sally, sister Sally!" he shouted, as he neared the door, "I have brought a guest who requires careful looking after, or he'll slip through our fingers, for he's pretty well gone already."
As he spoke, the door opened, and a female appeared holding a shaded lamp in her hand, which the wind threatened every instant to extinguish. Her figure was short and slight, her dress a grey silk gown, a plain lace cap confining her once dark hair, already sprinkled with grey, drawn back from her forehead, on which not a wrinkle could be seen. A kind expression beamed from her countenance, which, if it had never possessed much beauty, must always have been pleasant to look upon.
"Thank Heaven you've come back at last, John! Tom frightened me by the intelligence that a wreck was on shore, and I knew that you would be exposing yourself to danger. Have many of the poor fellows been saved?"
"Only one, I fear," answered the lieutenant, pointing to the men who now approached. "Take him into my room, Tom; the sooner he is in bed the better, and mine is ready for him. Get some warm broth or a cup of tea made in the meantime. He is terribly exhausted, and probably has not tasted food for many hours."
The lieutenant made these remarks as Ned and Tom, with the coast-guard men, conveyed the stranger into the room, when, speedily taking off his wet garments, they placed him in bed.
"By his dress I suspect he is a gentleman," observed the lieutenant to his nephew, as Tom gathered up his wet clothes. "Hand me his watch and purse—it is a heavy one—and that pocket-book. Here is a small case too, something of value probably. He will be glad to know that his property is safe when he comes to. Run and see if the tea is ready. I will get him, if I can, to take a little hot liquid. Tell your aunt and Jane to stir up the fire and get the broth boiling; that will soon set him on his legs I hope."
The lieutenant now managed to pour the warm tea down the throat of the stranger, who opened his eyes, and looking about with an astonished gaze murmured, "Thank you, thank you! Where am I?"
"All right and safe on shore, though you may take my room to be a ship's cabin," answered the lieutenant. "We have got your property, in case you are anxious about it; and after you have had a basin of broth I would advise you to try and go to sleep. It will restore your strength faster than any food we can give you."
The stranger again murmured his thanks, and soon after the broth was brought, following his host's advice, he fell into a quiet slumber.
"He'll require a visit from the doctor perhaps, though I hope that he'll do well enough now," observed the lieutenant, as he sat at supper with his sister and Ned that evening after he had paid all the attention necessary to his guest.
"I wonder who he can be?" observed Miss Sarah. "You say he was dressed as a gentleman, and has a considerable amount of property in his possession."
"Your female curiosity will probably be gratified to-morrow, when he is able to give an account of himself," replied the lieutenant; "but it matters very little as far as we are concerned. I suspect he'll thank us for doing what it was our simple duty to do, and after he has gone his way we shall probably hear no more of him. Had he been a seaman, without a copper in his pocket, we should have treated him in the same fashion I hope. Remember, Ned, the meaning of having no respect for persons. It is not that we are not to respect those above us, but that we are to treat our fellow-creatures alike, without expectation of reward, and to pull a drowning man, whether a lord or an ordinary seaman, out of the water when we can."
The next morning Ned went off to summon the doctor from the neighbouring town, for their guest still remained in an apparently dangerous state. Several days passed before he was able to rise. He was evidently, from his conversation and manners, a man of education; but he did not speak of himself, except to mention that his name was Farrance, and that he was on a voyage from the Mediterranean in the "Champion" brig, when she had been cast away; and he again also expressed his gratitude to Miss Sarah Pack for the kindness he was receiving, and to the lieutenant and his companions for preserving his life. He made minute inquiries as to the occurrence, he only remembering that he was clinging to a portion of the wreck after she had struck, when he felt himself washed into the foaming breakers. He appeared to be interested in Ned, whom he drew into conversation, inquiring particularly what profession he intended to follow.
"I wish to enter the navy, as my father and uncle did," answered Ned; "but my uncle says that he has no interest, and that I should have little chance of promotion. Indeed, his means are so limited that I cannot ask him to provide the necessary funds, so I conclude I shall have to go into the merchant service."
"Well, well, you are right in desiring not to be an expense to your uncle. Every man should endeavour, as far as he can, to depend upon his own exertions; however, you have still some time to think about the matter, and you will, I hope, succeed in whatever profession you follow," remarked the stranger.
There was another inmate of the house who appeared to interest him even more than Edward. A little girl of some ten or twelve years of age—a fair-haired, blue-eyed damsel, with a sweet, gentle expression of countenance, yet full of life and spirits. Edward had told him that she was not his sister, although he loved her as much as if she were. The first evening he came into the sitting-room the lieutenant heard him ask her name.
"I am called Mary," she answered; "Uncle John gave me my name when he first found me."
She shortly afterwards left the room. The stranger watched her as she went out with a look of much surprise.
"You may be curious to know the meaning of her remark," observed Miss Sarah. "My brother will tell you how she came into our possession; very thankful I have been to have so sprightly and sweet a young creature under our roof, though at first I confess I felt somewhat anxious when he placed her in my charge."
Mr Farrance turned an inquiring glance towards his host.
"I have but a short yarn to spin about the matter," said the lieutenant. "Some few years ago, after I had quitted the service, an old friend offered me the command of a ship bound on a voyage round the Cape of Good Hope and up the Red Sea. I was not sorry to obtain employment, and was glad to have the opportunity of making a few pounds, which might assist to keep the pot boiling at home, and help Sally in her housekeeping. Having touched at the Cape, I was steering for Aden, when we were overtaken by a heavy gale, which pretty severely tried my stout ship. We were about to make sail in the morning, the wind having abated and the sea gone down, when an object was seen floating a short distance ahead. On getting nearer, we saw that it was a piece of wreck with a man upon it. Standing on, I hove the ship to, and having lowered a boat, watched with interest her approach to the raft. The man was, I made out, a black. He was holding what looked like a bundle of clothes with one hand, keeping it above the water, which still nearly washed over him. His bundle contained, I had no doubt, something of value, or he would not have exerted himself as he was doing to preserve it from the sea. It was of value, and, to my mind, the most valuable thing in creation—a young child, as I discovered when the boat returned with the rescued man, who still held fast to his treasure. We lifted them both carefully on board. The black sank exhausted on the deck, making signs to us, however, to take care of the child. We thought that it was his own, but when we got a look at its countenance, greatly to our surprise we found that it was as fair as any European. How the man had managed to preserve it during the heavy sea which had been running for some hours seemed a miracle. We carried them both into my cabin. The little girl, you may be sure, had plenty of nurses. She looked frightened enough at seeing us, but appeared wonderfully little the worse for the exposure to which she had been subjected; indeed, although the shawl which had wrapped her was wet, the water was warm and the black must have contrived to keep her head well out of the sea, as her face and hair were only moistened by the spray.
"Though she seemed almost too young to speak, she uttered several words in a lingo none of us understood. In a very short time after we had given her some food, and she had had a quiet sleep, she seemed more happy and smiled, and lifted up her face to kiss me when I bent over her. I thanked Heaven that I had been the means of saving the little darling.
"It was not until evening that the black, who was pretty well exhausted by his exertions, awoke. I was disappointed, I can tell you, when on speaking to him, he answered in a language of which I could not comprehend a word. We tried him in all sorts of ways, and he made a variety of signs, but we could not comprehend the meaning he intended to convey. In appearance he greatly resembled the slaves I had seen at Zanzibar, on board the Arab dhows, though better-looking. Like most of them, he had but a clout round his waist, and his woolly hair was cropped close. Still he evidently did not lack intelligence. It was very tantalising to find that we could get no information out of him. The little girl was equally unable to give an account of herself, though I fancied that she understood us when we spoke English, but she could not reply intelligibly.
"I treated the black as he deserved, for the brave way in which he had saved the child, and he showed that he was grateful for such kindness as I bestowed upon him.
"As to the little girl, though I made inquiries at every place I touched at, I could get no information by which I could even guess where she had come from or who she was. From her ways and tone of voice I felt sure, however, that she was of gentle birth. The black seemed mortally afraid of the Arabs, and kept below when any came on board or any dhows hove in sight; indeed it was some time before we could make him understand that he was safe with us, and that no one would venture to take him away by force. He soon became a great favourite with the men, who gave him the name of Tom, in addition to the one by which he called himself, which sounded like Baraka, and Tom Baraka he has been ever since. In a short time he picked up a few words of English, with which he managed to make himself understood; but it was not until we were on the voyage home that he was able to give me an idea how he and the little girl came to be on the piece of wreck from which we rescued him. I would call him in, and let him give his own history; but I think I can make you understand the account better if I give it in ordinary English, for I took no little trouble during several months to get the truth out of him, anxious as he was to give the information I required. His vocabulary being somewhat limited, he accompanied his words by signs, often of so curious a description that it was with difficulty my officers and I could restrain ourselves from bursting into fits of laughter, and yet his account was sad enough.
"I placed before him the best map I possessed of the part of Africa from which I calculated he came, and explained to him the rivers and lakes marked upon it. He shook his head, as if he could make nothing of it, but at last fixed on a spot some way in the interior.
"'There!' he said, making a wide circle with his finger, 'There abouts was my home. By the banks of a river which fell into a lake my people and I were happy in our way, we cultivated our fields and tended our cattle, and had abundance of food without thinking of the future. We heard, it is true, that the cruel men who come across from the big sea had carried off not a few of the inhabitants of other districts; but it was a long, long distance away, and we hoped they would never come near us. We lived as our fathers had done. Occasionally we had to fight to punish our neighbours, who came upon our land and tried to carry off our cattle; and as I grew up and increased in strength I became a warrior, but I only wished to fight to protect my home and my fields from our enemies. When old enough I married a wife, who was as fond of me as woman could be. When kindly treated black women love their husbands, as do their white sisters. We had a little child, I was fond of him, oh! so fond. My delight when I came in from the fields was to carry him about in my arms, or to roll with him on the grass, letting him tumble over me and pull my hair and ears, and then he would smile down into my face and laugh merrily. I was a hunter also, and used fearlessly to attack huge elephants for the sake of their tusks, as well as for their flesh, especially for their big feet, which afford a dainty meal. Even one would be sufficient for the whole of our party. I had crossed the river, with several companions, armed with bows, arrows, and spears, intending to go some distance south, where many elephants, it was said, had been seen. A stranger brought the account. We had gone a day's journey, and were encamped at night, hoping to fall in with a herd of elephants the next day. We had eaten our evening meal, and were about to lie down to sleep, when we were startled by hearing a shower of bullets come whistling above our heads. We rose to fly, but knew not which way to go, for from either side strange cries assailed our ears, and before we could recover from our surprise a large party of men, with gleaming swords in their hands, rushed in upon us. Snatching up our spears we attempted to defend ourselves, but were quickly overpowered, two of my friends being killed and others badly wounded. We were at once bound with cords and thrown on the ground, while our captors were employed in preparing another way to secure us. They were fierce men in dark dresses, some wearing turbans on their heads, others red caps. I watched their proceedings, thinking that, perhaps, they were going to kill and eat us. They cut down some young trees, leaving a fork at one end, and fixing a thick branch at the other, so as to form another fork. When several logs had thus been prepared, they made us with kicks get up, and picking out the strongest men among us, placed one at one end of a leg, and one at the other, securing them by the forks round our necks. As our arms were lashed behind our backs we could offer no resistance, but, pricked by the spears or sword points of our captors, were compelled to march forward in the direction they ordered us. Twenty or more of us were thus secured; the remainder were fastened together by a long rope, one behind the other at an interval of a few feet, with their arms lashed behind them, led by an Arab. With the heavy log round our necks we had no chance of escaping, nor indeed had the others, who would have been shot had they made the attempt. Two or three of the worst wounded sank down from loss of blood. The Arabs made them get up and proceed, but finding at last that the poor wretches could not keep up with the rest, took them out of the line, and putting pistols to their heads, shot them dead. We were joined as we proceeded towards the coast by other captives, taken much as we had been, and treated in the same cruel manner. Some, who had come from still further up the country than we had, and who had thus a longer march, told us that one-third of their number had died or been killed on the way, so that even those who were suffering severely from sickness endeavoured to struggle on as long as they had strength to move for fear of being murdered.'
"'At night we were ordered to lie down before the fire, with a strong guard placed over us. We were generally amply fed, in order that our strength might be kept up. Although we passed through several thickly-populated districts, no one dared to help us for fear of the Arabs. At length we reached the bank of a river, near the sea-coast, where we found a large vessel ready to receive us. We were at once ordered to go on board, when we were placed on a bamboo deck, packed close to each other, with our chins resting on our knees. As soon as some fifty or more of us were stowed on the lower deck, another deck was placed over our heads, preventing us even from sitting upright. On this another layer of slaves was stowed in the same way that we were. A third deck was placed above them, which was also crowded with unfortunate captives. We could hear the voices of those above us, and frequently their cries, as the Arabs beat them in order to make them sit closer. A narrow passage was left down the centre of the deck, along which the Arabs could pass to bring us our food. We were thus kept a couple of days in the river, either waiting for a fair wind, or because our masters were afraid of being caught by some of the ships of the white men. Our condition was bad enough in smooth water, but we were to find it considerably worse when we got into the open sea. My only consolation was that my wife and little boy had escaped. I knew that they would be mourning for me, whom they were never to see again. I then wished that they were dead, that their grief might come to an end; and sometimes a terrible thought came to me that they too might some day be captured and carried off to the same horrible slavery which I was doomed, as I thought, to bear. There were not only men on board, but women and children, to be taken to a far distant country, of which we had never before heard. Where it was we could not tell, but we knew, by one telling the other, that it was inhabited by the same sort of people as the Arabs, and we supposed that they would beat and otherwise cruelly treat us if we did not obey them. The younger women and children were better cared for than we men were, and wore well fed, to make them look plump and healthy. The vessel had one great nearly triangular sail, and the after part rose high out of the water, while the bows seemed as if they would dip under it. At last, the wind being fair, we sailed. For some time we glided on. A few of us were sent on deck at a time to breath the fresh air. I felt my heart sink within me, when, on looking round, I could nowhere see the land, nothing but the smooth, shining ocean on every side. It was terrible; I thought we should never again set foot on shore. I had often paddled my canoe on the river, and had even made trading voyages down to the great lake, where I had seen huge waves covered with foam rolling across it; but on such occasions we had quickly made for the shore. Twice my canoe had been upset, but I had easily gained it by swimming. Suddenly the wind began to roar, the thunder rolled above our heads, and the dhow was tossed about by the sea in a way which made me expect that she would speedily be thrown over, and that all on board would be sent into the raging waves. Pitiful were the shrieks and cries of my companions. In vain the Arabs ordered them to keep quiet; they believed that their last hour was come, and cared not what was said to them. I determined, whatever happened, to struggle for my life. I was young and strong; and the thought entered my mind that I might swim to the shore, and get back some day to my wife and children, though I knew that my home must be a long way off. I felt quite disappointed when the storm ceased, and the dhow glided on her course as before. When I next went on deck, I saw that she was in company with other vessels, rigged as she was, and sailing in the same direction. Each of them had prisoners on board. The decks of two or three of the larger ones were crowded with black forms, and I guessed that there were as many more below. Our dhow sailed very fast, and was passing most of them, when a calm came on, and we lay all huddled together, near enough for the people in one vessel to speak to those on board another. Presently I heard the Arabs shouting to each other that there was a large sail in sight. The news seemed to alarm them. She was coming towards the fleet of dhows, bringing up a breeze. At last the wind filled our sails, and the dhows began to separate. We fancied that if we could keep ahead of the stranger that she could not harm us; but we saw flashes of flame proceeding from her side, and round shot came bounding over the water towards us; first one dhow was hit, now another. At last one shot struck our vessel, going through the side, and fearful were the cries which arose from the people below, who were wounded, or expected to be killed by other shots. I had been allowed to remain on deck, for the Arabs in their flight did not think about the slaves. I saw some of the dhows lower their sails, when boats from the big ship took possession of them. Our dhow sailing faster than the others soon got ahead, and I saw our Arab masters rejoicing that they should escape; but the wind was increasing; every instant it grew stronger and stronger. The large sail was lowered, and a small one hoisted, but we dashed over the fast rising sea at greater speed than ever, soon losing sight of the big ship, which, after securing the prizes she had taken, pursued some other dhows, who were endeavouring to make their escape in different directions to that we were steering. The storm, however, increased. The Arabs now began to look alarmed. In vain they tried to stop the hole which the shot had made in the vessel's side; finding this difficult, owing to the crowd of slaves below, they began to throw those in their way overboard. Some were dead, others wounded, but many were uninjured. They shrieked out for mercy, but the Arabs heeded them not.'
"'I had kept in the fore part of the vessel, hidden behind a coil of rope, fully expecting that they would soon seize me. After labouring away for some time and finding the water come in as fast as ever, they began to lower a boat and canoe, for the purpose of getting into them, and trying to save their lives, intending to leave me and my companions to our fate. The sea was foaming and roaring around us. It seemed that at any moment the dhow would sink. The sail was now lowered, and the boat and canoe were got into the water. The cry arose that the dhow was sinking, and the Arabs leapt into them in such haste that the boat was upset, and all in her were speedily overwhelmed. The canoe, after being tossed about on the tops of the waves for a few minutes, was also turned over, and all in her shared the fate of their companions. She was not far off at the time. I thought that I might reach her, but I remembered my fellow-slaves. I found a knife which one of the Arabs had left on the deck, and was endeavouring to release some of the men, who might be able to swim with me to the canoe, when I felt that the dhow was going down. I sprang overboard, and with a few strokes gained the canoe, being almost thrown on to her by the seas, when I felt that she was being drawn under the surface; but I clutched tight hold of her, and she quickly came up again. For a few moments the shrieks and cries of my drowning countrymen rose high above the loud dashing of the waves and the howling of the storm, but they were speedily silenced, and I found myself floating alone on the tossing waters. I wished to live for the sake of my wife and child. In my ignorance I knew not how far I was away from the land, still I struggled for life. All night long I clung to the canoe, and before morning the wind had fallen and the sea had become smooth. I was able to right the canoe, when I saw close to me a gourd and a paddle. I reached them by working the canoe on with my hands, and contrived to bale her out. I saw the sun rise, and knew that the land lay on the opposite side. I tried to paddle towards it; but I had had no food and no water, and the sun came down with a heat I had never felt on shore. Still, for hours I paddled on, when I saw the sails of a big ship rising above the horizon. She must be, I thought, the one which had captured the dhows. Fear filled my heart, for the Arabs had told us that the white men would kill and eat us. Terror and the suffering I had undergone overcame me; I sank down at the bottom of the canoe, and knew no more until I found myself on board a ship, with white people standing round me. I could not understand a word they said, nor tell them how I came to be in the canoe, but they looked kind, and my fears left me. I was well fed and cared for, and soon recovered my strength. There were several persons whom I now know to have been passengers. One lady, very fair and beautiful, who spoke in a gentle, sweet voice to me, trying to make me comprehend what she meant. She had a little girl with her. I loved that child from the first, for she made me think of my own boy by her playful ways and happy laugh, though she was fair as a lily, and my boy was as black as I am, but I thought not of the difference of colour. I felt that I should never wish to leave that kind lady and her child. In a few days the weather again became bad, a fearful gale began to blow. The ship was tossed about far more violently than the dhow had been. Presently, during the night, I heard a loud crash, followed by the shouts and shrieks of the crew and passengers. My first thought was of the little girl. On reaching the deck a flash of lightning showed her to me, clinging to her mother's arms. I made signs that I would try and save her, and I wrapped her up in some shawls which had been brought from below. The officers and crew were, I saw, trying to lower the boats. Whether they succeeded or not I could not tell, for the seas were sweeping over the ship, and I knew too that she was sinking, as the dhow had done. While I was standing by the lady's side, looking for one of the boats into which to help her, a huge sea separated us, carrying me off my legs, and I found myself struggling amid the foaming waves. I had caught sight of a dark object floating near, far larger than a boat. By what means I know not I reached it. It was part of the wreck of a dhow or of some other vessel against which our ship had struck. I climbed upon it with my little charge, whose head I had managed to keep above water. She was crying out for her mamma. I knew that name. I tried to console her. For some time voices reached my ear, but whether they came from the boats or the deck of the ship I could not tell; I guessed, too truly, that she had gone down, for when morning at last dawned neither she nor the boats were to be seen. I feared that the little girl would sink from hunger and thirst, for I remembered what I had endured in the canoe; but scarcely had the sun risen than I saw a ship approaching, and you, Massa Pack, know the rest.'
"It was my ship which Tom saw coming. Of course we soon had him and his little charge on board. You will understand that I have given what I may call a translation of his yarn. It was spun, as it were, in a number of shreds, and I have put them together; still I have expressed his sentiments, and have not adorned his tale by adding to it anything he did not say. Many a time did he melt into tears as he spoke of his own child and the love he bore him, and it would be difficult to picture fully all the horrors he endured during his journey overland and his voyage in the slave dhow. To send him back to his home I knew was impossible, he would have been retaken by the first Arab party he fell in with, or been murdered as he was trying to pass through the territory of any hostile tribe. He therefore cheerfully remained on board my ship, and has stayed with me ever since, pretty well reconciled to his lot, his whole soul wrapped up in Mary, who has taken the place in his affections of the son from whom he has, he believes, for ever been separated, though he is devoted also to my sister, and to Ned and me. That black fellow has as big a heart as any white man. He does not, however, forget his wife and child, for since he became a Christian, his great desire is that they should be brought to a knowledge of the truth. If it were possible, I would help him to get back to his native village, but to do so is beyond my means. Indeed, from what I hear I fear that the Arabs have long ere this carried them off into captivity, or that, deprived of their protector, they have died of hunger or been killed by their cruel persecutors. Those Arabs have long been the curse of that part of Africa—indeed, for the purpose of obtaining slaves, they have devastated many of its most fertile districts."
His guest listened with evident interest to the account given by the lieutenant.
"I have not hitherto turned my attention in that direction," observed the former. "Of course I have heard much of the slave trade on the western coast and of the horrors of the middle passage, but I believed that it is now carried on only in a very limited degree, and that the inhabitants of the east coast are well able to take care of themselves."
"I have cruised on both coasts, and am convinced that the people on the east part of Africa are subjected to cruelties fully equal to those which the western tribes have for so many ages endured," answered the lieutenant. "Tom's experience is that of thousands; but he did not describe the miseries suffered by those left behind, the despair of the women and children, and of the men who may have escaped from the sudden attack made on their village, to find it when they have returned burned to the ground, their fields laid waste, and their cattle carried off. No one can calculate the numbers who have died from hunger in a land teeming with abundance."
Ned and Mary came in during the latter part of the conversation, to which they paid the greatest attention.
"I wish I could help to put a stop to such horrible doings," exclaimed Ned. "I should like to see an English fleet employed in catching all the dhows, and an army sent to march through the country to turn all the Arabs out of it. It would be an honour to serve even as a drummer-boy on shore, or as a powder-monkey on board one of the ships."
Their guest smiled at Ned's enthusiasm.
"A more certain way may be found for benefiting the Africans than by armies or fleets," observed Miss Sarah; "if a band of faithful missionaries of the Gospel were scattered through the country, they would, with God's blessing, carry Christianity and civilisation to the long benighted and cruelly treated people."
"You speak the truth, madam, the matter is worthy of consideration," observed the guest, turning to Miss Sarah. "I have learned several things since I came into your house. I wish that I could remain longer to learn more, but I am compelled to go up to London; and as I feel myself sufficiently strong to travel, I must, early to-morrow morning, wish you farewell."
The shipwrecked stranger had taken his departure; he had paid the doctor, and sent a present to the coast-guard men who had assisted to carry him to the house; but he had not offered to remunerate the lieutenant or Tom for the service they had rendered him, though he feelingly expressed his gratitude to them. Perhaps he considered, and he was not wrong in so doing, that they not only did not require a reward for performing an act of humanity, but would have felt hurt had it been offered them.
The next morning the lieutenant and Ned started on a walk along the cliffs to inquire at Longview station about the coast-guard man who had nearly been killed on the night of the wreck. The sky was clear, the blue ocean slumbered below their feet, the gentle ripples which played over it sparkling in the bright rays of the sun. A large vessel, with a wide spread of canvas, was gliding majestically by on her way down channel. Ned gazed at her with a wistful eye.
"I wish that I were on board that fine craft," he said at length. "I am very happy at home, and I don't want to leave you and Aunt Sally and Mary, but I feel that I ought to be doing something for myself. You and my father went to sea before you were as old as I am. I don't like to be idle and a burden to you. If you did not disapprove of it, I would go before the mast and work my way up—many have done so who are now masters in the merchant service; though, as you know, I would rather go into the navy, but from what you tell me that is out of the question. The owners of your old ship would, I dare say, take me as an apprentice; I'll try and do my duty, and learn to be a sailor so as to become an officer as soon as possible."
"You look far ahead; but it is all right, my boy, and I am very sure of one thing, that you will do your duty and reap the reward, whatever happens. I'll write to Clew, Earring and Grummet, and ask them if they have a vacancy for you. Jack Clew, who was once in the navy, was a messmate of mine on board the old 'Thunderer' when I lost my leg at 'Navarin'," (so the lieutenant always pronounced Navarino, the action fought by the British fleet under Sir Edward Codrington with that of the Turks and Egyptians). "Jack used to profess a willingness to serve me, but, Ned, we must not trust too much to old friends. Times alter, and he may find he has applicants nearer at hand whose relatives have longer purses than I have. Don't fear, however, my boy, something may turn up, as it always does, if we seek diligently to get it and wait with patience."
Ned did not then press the matter further; his spirits were buoyant, and although his uncle's remarks were not calculated to raise them, he was not disheartened.
Edward Garth, the lieutenant's nephew, was the son of a younger sister, who had married a friend and messmate, a lieutenant in the same noble service in which he had spent his best days. They had served together in several ships up to the time that Garth was stricken down with fever up an African river, their ship then forming one of the blockading squadron on the west coast, when he committed his infant boy to his brother-in-law's care. "I am sure that you will look after him for our poor Fanny's sake; but she is delicate, and I know not what effect my death will have on her. At all events, he will be fatherless, and she, poor girl, will find it a hard matter to manage a spirited lad."
"Do not let that thought trouble you, Ned," answered Lieutenant Pack; "Fanny's child shall ever be as if he were my own son. I promised to keep house with Sally, and Fanny shall come and live with us. A better soul than Sally does not exist, though I, who am her brother, say so."
Soon after he had seen his brother-in-law laid in the grave, Lieutenant Pack came home to find that his sister Fanny had followed her husband to the other world, and that Sally had already taken charge of their young nephew.
From that day forward she truly became a mother to the orphan, and as the lieutenant proved a kind, though not over indulgent father, Ned never felt the loss of his parents, and grew up all that his uncle and aunt could desire, rewarding them for their watchful care and judicious management of him. The lieutenant's means would not allow him to bestow an expensive education on his nephew, but he was enabled to send him to a neighbouring grammar school, where the boy, diligently taking advantage of such instruction as it afforded, soon reached the head of each class in which he was placed. Though first in all manly exercises, he made good use of his books at home, his uncle giving him lessons in mathematics and navigation, so that he was as well prepared for the profession he desired to enter as any boy of his age. Ned was a favourite with all who knew him. His home training had answered, for, though kind, it had been judicious. He was truthful and honest, and sincerely, desirous of doing his duty, while he was manly and good-tempered, ever ready to forgive an injury, though well capable of standing up for himself. Had the "Worcester" training-ship then been established, and had Ned gone on board her, he would probably have become a gold medallist, and that is saying much in his favour. His uncle delighted in his society—"Ned always made him feel young again," he used to say—and Aunt Sally bestowed upon him the affection of her kind and gentle heart. As to Mary, she thought there never had been, never could be, a boy equal to brother Ned, for so she always called him, ever looking on him as her brother. Ned faithfully returned the affectionate feelings evinced towards him by his relatives.
The one-legged lieutenant and his nephew continued their walk, the former stopping every now and then to impress a remark on Ned, or glancing over the ocean to observe the progress made by the outward-bound ship, until the row of whitewashed cottages, surmounted by a signal staff, which formed the coast-guard station of Longview, hove in sight. Lieutenant Hanson, who met them at a short distance from it, shook Ned and his uncle cordially by the band.
"We came to learn how poor Herron is getting on," said the lieutenant.
"He'll weather it, I hope; but it was a wonder he was not killed from his fall down the cliff, sixty feet, with exposure to the rain and wind during the whole of the night, for we did not find him until the morning," answered the coast-guard officer. "The accident was even of more consequence to others than to himself, for had it not occurred, we might have been in time to save some more of the poor fellows from the wreck."
"That may be so; but had you come, my black man Tom Baraka and Ned here would have lost the opportunity of showing what they are made of, by pulling one of them out of the water," said Lieutenant Pack.
"What! had you a hand in saving the passenger?" asked Lieutenant Hanson, turning to Ned.
"Indeed he had, and had it not been for his courage I believe that the man would have been washed away again, for Tom was pretty well exhausted by that time," answered Lieutenant Pack.
"You have begun well," said Mr Hanson, casting an approving look at Ned.
"He has set his heart on going to sea, though I fear there is but little chance of his getting into the navy," observed Lieutenant Pack.
"If he does, I hope that he may be more fortunate than some of his elders," answered the coast-guard lieutenant in a tone not very encouraging.
The remark produced a momentary effect on Ned, but he soon forgot it, and was as eager as before to become a sailor.
They proceeded on to the station, where, after visiting the injured man, for whom the old lieutenant had brought some delicacies made by Miss Sarah, he and his nephew set off to return home by a circuitous road, which ran a good way inland. They had got some way, when they caught sight of Miss Sarah and Mary in the distance.
"Go, Ned, and see where those women-kind of ours are bound for," exclaimed the lieutenant. Ned ran forward.
"We are going to visit Silas Shank the miser, as the people call him, though he must be very poor and miserable, as I cannot suppose that he would nearly starve himself if he had the means of buying proper food," answered Mary.
"If I may, I will go with you," said Ned; "perhaps Uncle Pack would like to come also."
The lieutenant, for whom they waited, however, preferred going home, and Miss Sally, giving her basket to Ned, returned with him, allowing her nephew to accompany Mary.
"Just leave the pudding and jelly with the old man, and if he does not appear inclined to talk do not stop," said Miss Sally.
Ned and Mary walked on, cheerfully conversing, as they were wont to do, for they had always plenty to say to each other, and Mary's tongue wagged as fast as that of any young lady of her age, though not so thoughtlessly as that of many. Ned naturally spoke of the ship he had seen running down channel. "I do not wish to be away from you all, but yet I did wish to be on board her, sailing to distant lands, to go among strange people, and to feel that I was doing something and learning to be an officer. It would be a fine thing to command a ship like that."
"I wish as you wish; but, O Ned, you would be a long, long time absent from us—months and months, or perhaps years and years. Uncle Pack says that he was once five years without setting foot on English ground, and you might be as long away. We shouldn't know you when you came back; you will be grown into a big man, with a bronzed face and bushy whiskers." Mary laughed, though the tears at the same time came into her eyes.
"But that was in the war-time, Mary, and even the Queen's ships are not now kept out for so long a period, while merchant vessels return every year, and sometimes from short voyages much oftener. And then think of all the curiosities I should bring home; I should delight in collecting them for you and Aunt Sally, or to add to Uncle Pack's museum."
"Yes, yes, it would be a very joyous time when you did come back, we should be delighted to see all the things you brought; but then think how slowly the days will pass by when you are away, uncle and aunt and I all alone."
"There would be only one less," said Ned, naturally.
"Yes, I know," answered Mary—she stopped short—she did not say how large a space Ned occupied in her world. She was not aware of it herself just then.
The subject was one which made her feel sadder than was her wont, and she was glad to change it.
Old Shank's cottage was soon reached. It stood about half a mile from the village. It was situated in a hollow, an old quarry, by the side of a hill, the bare downs rising beyond it without a tree near. A desolate-looking place in its best days. Though containing several rooms—a large part of the roof having fallen in—it had only one which was habitable. In that lived Silas Shank the reputed miser. The palings which fenced it in had been broken down to be used as firewood. The gate was off its hinges; nettles and other hardy weeds had taken possession of the garden. Scarcely a pane of glass remained in any of the windows; even those of the rooms occupied by the miser were stuffed with rags, or had pieces of brown paper pasted over them.
"I'll stay outside while you go in," said Ned; "the old man was very surly when I last saw him, and I do not wish to face him again. He can't be rough to you."
Mary knocked at the door, which was tightly closed.
"Who's there?" asked a tremulous voice.
"It is I, Mary Pack; I've brought you something from aunt which she thought you would like to have."
The bars were withdrawn.
"Come in!" said the same voice, and the door was cautiously opened.
Mary, without hesitation, entered in time to see a thin old man, in a tattered threadbare great-coat, with a red woollen cap on his head, and slippered feet, his stockings hanging about his ankles, totter back to an arm-chair from which he had risen, by the side of a small wood fire on which a pot was boiling.
"That's all I've got for my dinner, with a few potatoes, but it's enough to keep body and soul together, and what more does a wretched being like me want?" he said in a querulous voice.
"I have brought you something nice, as aunt knows you can't cook anything of the sort yourself, and you may eat it with more appetite than you can the potatoes," said Mary, placing the contents of the basket in some cracked plates on a rickety three-legged table which stood near the old man's chair.
He eagerly eyed the tempting-looking pudding, a nicely cooked chop, and a delicious jelly. "Yes, that's more like what I once used to have," he muttered. "Thank you, thank you, little girl. I cannot buy such things for myself, but I am glad to get them from others. Sit down, pray do, after your walk," and he pointed to a high-backed oak chair, of very doubtful stability and covered with dust. He saw that Mary on that account hesitated to sit down, so rising he shambled forward and wiped it with an old cotton handkerchief which he drew out of his pocket. "There, now it's all clean and nice; you must sit down and rest, and see me eat the food, so that you may tell your aunt I sold none of it. The people say that I have parted with my coat off my back and the shoes from my feet, but do not believe them; if I did, it was on account of my poverty."
Mary made no reply; it appeared to her that the old man was contradicting himself, and she did not wish to inquire too minutely into the matter.
"This pudding must have cost a great deal," he continued, as he ate it mouthful by mouthful; "there's the flour, the milk, the raisins, and the sugar and spice, and other ingredients. Your aunt must be a rich woman to afford so dainty a dish for a poor man like me?"
"No, I do not think Aunt Sally is at all rich, but she saves what little she can to give to the sick and needy; she heard that you were ill, Mr Shank, and had no one to care for you."
"That's true, little girl, no one cares for the old miser, as they call me; and the boys, when I go into the village, throw stones at me, and jeer and shout at my heels. I hate boys!"
"I'm sure Ned would not do that," said Mary; "he is always kind and gentle, and would beat off bad boys if he saw them treating you in that way."
"No, he wouldn't, he would join them, and behave like the rest. They are all alike, boys! Mischievous little imps!"
Mary felt very indignant at hearing Ned thus designated, but she repressed her rising anger, pitying the forlorn old man, and smiling, said, "You will find you are mistaken in regard to Ned, Mr Shank; he is outside, and I must not keep him waiting longer. But I was nearly forgetting that I have a book to give you, which Aunt Sally thought you would like to read. It is in large print, so that you need not try your eyes."
Mary, as she spoke, produced a thin book from her basket, and presented it to the old man. He glanced at it with indifference.
"I do not care about this sort of thing," he said. "I wonder people spend money in having such productions printed. A loss of time to print them, and a loss of time to read them!"
"Aunt Sally will be much disappointed if you do not keep the book," said Mary, quietly; "you might like to read it when you are all alone and have nothing else to do."
"Well, well, as she has sent me the pudding, I'll keep the book; she means kindly, I dare say, and I do not wish to make you carry it back. What! must you go, little girl? You'll come and see me again some day, and bring another nice pudding, won't you?" said the old man, looking at Mary with a more amiable expression in his eyes than they generally wore.
"Yes, I must go, I cannot, indeed, keep Ned waiting longer. Good-bye, Mr Shank; you'll read the book, and I'll tell Aunt Sally what you say," said Mary, taking up her basket and tripping out of the room.
"Don't let that boy Ned you spoke of throw stones in at my window. You see how others have broken the panes, and it would cost too much money to have them repaired."
He said this as he followed Mary with a shuffling step to the door.
"Ned would never dream of doing anything of the sort," she answered, now feeling greatly hurt at the remark.
"They're all alike, they're all alike," muttered the old man; "but you, I dare say, can keep him in order. I didn't mean to offend you, little girl," he added, observing Mary's grave look, as she turned round to wish him good-bye before going through the doorway.
The remark pacified her. "Poor old man!" she thought, "sickness makes him testy."
"Good-bye, little girl," said Mr Shank, as he stood with his hand on the door-latch; "you'll come again soon?"
"If Aunt Sally sends me; but you must promise not to accuse Ned wrongfully. Good-bye!" answered Mary, as she stepped over the threshold, the old man immediately closing and bolting the door.
Ned, who had been on the watch at a little distance, sprang forward to meet her. She did not tell him what old Mr Shank had said, as she naturally thought that it would make him indignant; and like a wise girl she confined herself merely to saying how glad he seemed to be to get the food, and how pool and wretched he looked.
Mary and Ned had a pleasant walk home. After this she paid several visits to old Mr Shank, sometimes with Aunt Sally, at others with the lieutenant and Ned, but she always carried the basket and presented the contents to the old man. Aunt Sally would not believe that he was really a miser, although the people called him one. The cottage was his own, and he obtained periodically a few shillings at the bank, but this was all he was known to possess, and the amount was insufficient to supply him with the bare necessaries of life. He picked up sticks and bits of coal which fell from carts for firing. He possessed a few goats, which lived at free quarters on the downs, and their winter food cost but little. He sold the kids and part of the milk which he did not consume. He seemed grateful to Mary, and talked to her more than to any one else; but to Aunt Sally and the lieutenant he rarely uttered a word beyond a cold expression of thanks for the gifts they bestowed upon him.
Ned in the meantime was waiting anxiously for an answer to the letter his uncle had written Messrs. Clew, Earring and Grummet, the shipowners. After some delay a reply was received from a clerk, stating that Mr Clew was dead, and that the other partners were unable to comply with the lieutenant's request unless a considerable premium was paid, which was utterly beyond his means.
This was a great disappointment to Ned.
"Don't fret over it, my boy," said his uncle, "we shall all find many things to bear up against through life. There's a good time coming for all of us, if we'll only wait patiently for it. I ought to have been an admiral, and so I might if my leg hadn't been knocked away by a Turkish round shot at Navarin; but you see, notwithstanding, I am as happy as a prince. As far as I myself am concerned I have no reasonable want unsupplied, though I should like to have your very natural wish complied with."
Still week after week went by; the lieutenant wrote several other letters, but the answers were unsatisfactory. At last he began to talk of going up himself to town to call on the Admiralty, and to beard the lions in their den; but it was an undertaking the thoughts of which he dreaded far more than had he been ordered to head a boarding party against an enemy's ship. He talked the matter over with his sister Sally.
"If we want a thing we must go for it, if we don't want it we may stay at home and not get it," he observed. "If I felt anything like sure that I should succeed by pressing my claim, I'd go ten times as far; but my belief is, that I shall be sent back with a flea in my ear."
"Still, what can poor Ned do if he doesn't go to sea, though I wish that we could have found him some employment on shore suited to his taste," said Miss Sarah.
"Well, I'll make up my mind about the matter," said the lieutenant, who was as anxious as his sister to forward Ned's wishes. "I can but ask, you know, and if I am refused, I shall have good reason for grumbling for the next year to come, or to the end of my days. I'll go and talk the subject over with Hanson; he knows more about the ways of the Admiralty than I do, and will give me a wrinkle or two. In the meantime do you get my old uniform brushed up and my traps ready."
Next morning the old lieutenant, summoning Ned, set off to pay a visit to his brother officer. Ned was in high spirits at hearing that steps were actually being taken to promote his object, and he expressed his gratitude to his uncle for the effort he was about to make on his behalf. All difficulties seemed to vanish, and he already saw himself a midshipman on board a fine ship sailing down channel.
Lieutenant Hanson was not very sanguine when he heard of his friend's intention.
"There is nothing like asking, however, and they can't eat you, though you may be refused," he answered. "Go by all means; get to the Admiralty early, step boldly in, and show that you fully expect to have your request granted. Say that the boy will soon be over age, and consequently there is no time to be lost." [See Note 1.]
Although the old lieutenant had not received much encouragement from Mr Hanson, yet some of the difficulties he had apprehended appeared to clear away, and he walked home with Ned, resolved to carry out his project. The cost of his expedition was now his chief anxiety. He pictured to himself the risk of running short of funds in the great metropolis, and being unable to pay his journey back. Then Sally would be hard put to it for many a long month.
"His small income, poor lad, won't go far to defray his outfit and allowance," he said to himself as he walked along. "Still it must be done, and we'll find the ways and means. If the worst comes to the worst, I'll go to sea, and take Ned with me. I wonder I never thought of that before. It will make some amends to him for not entering the navy; he'd soon become a prime seaman under my charge, and in a few years get the command of a ship."
Such were some of the thoughts which passed through the worthy officer's mind, but he did not express them aloud.
While pointing his telescope seaward, an employment in which he seldom failed to spend a part of the day, he caught sight of a cutter standing for the bay.
As the tide had just turned, and the wind was falling, it was evident that she was about to bring up. In a short time her commander, Lieutenant Jenkins, came on shore, and proved to be an old messmate of Mr Pack. On hearing of his intention of going to London, Lieutenant Jenkins at once offered him a passage as far as Portsmouth. The invitation was gladly accepted, as a considerable expense would thus be saved. Miss Sally having packed her brother's traps, he, late in the evening, went on board the cutter, which, just as darkness set in, sailed for the westward.
Note 1. At the period we are speaking of, the rule had not been formed which makes it necessary for boys to undergo a training on board the "Britannia" before they can become midshipmen. The Admiralty either appointed them to ships, or captains had the privilege of taking certain number selected by themselves.
Several days had passed by, and no news had been received from the lieutenant. Aunt Sally began to grow anxious, though she pursued her ordinary avocations in her usual calm manner. Desirous as she was of being economical, she did not forget poor old Mr Shank, and Mary and Ned were despatched with some provisions which she had prepared, and another book from her lending-library for him. Mary, remembering his dislike to boys, went in alone, leaving Ned to amuse himself outside.
"I'll not be long, and I want you to walk up and down out of sight of his window, or he may, if he sees you, say something unpleasant," observed Mary.
Ned, though he cared very little as to what the old man might say about him, did not wish to have Mary's feelings hurt, and promising obedience, walked on to a spot whence he could watch for her when she came out.
She rapped at the door, the bolts were withdrawn, and she entered.
"Glad to see you, little girl," said Mr Shank, as he led the way into his room. "No one has come here for many a day. I am well-nigh starving, for the people in the village yonder do not trouble themselves about the wretched old miser, as they call me; and I could not go out yesterday to buy food—if I did, where was I to get the money to pay for it?"
"Aunt, fearing that you might be in want, has sent you something to eat," said Mary, unpacking her basket, and placing the contents on the three-legged table.
The old man drew it towards him, and began to eat far more voraciously than usual, showing that in one respect at all events his assertion was correct. Mary, thinking that it might amuse him, mentioned the lieutenant's journey to London and its object.
"So they intend to send that boy off to sea! The best thing they can do with him. Boys are always up to mischief at home, and it is to be hoped he'll never come back."
"You should not say that, Mr Shank!" exclaimed Mary, indignantly. "Ned is a good honest boy, he never harmed you in any way, and if he had it is your duty to forgive him, for God tells us in His Word to forgive our enemies, and do good to those who ill-treat us."
"I don't understand that; if we are not to hate our enemies, who and what are we to hate?" muttered the old man.
"We are to hate nothing except sin and Satan, because that is what God hates, I am very sure," said Mary. "Doesn't the book I brought you last week say that? And here is another which aunt has sent you, perhaps you will like to read it," and she put the volume on the table.
"What the book says doesn't concern me. I do no harm to any one; all I want is to lead a quiet life and be let alone," he muttered, evidently not wishing to enter into a discussion with the little girl, fearing perhaps that he might lose his temper. He, however, took the book she had brought and gave her back the other, observing, "Perhaps your aunt will lend it me at some other time if I feel ill and fancy I am going to die; but I shan't die yet, O no, no, I want to live a great many years longer."
"I hope that you may, if you wish it," said Mary. She did not add, "I wonder what the poor old man can find so pleasant in his existence as to make him desire to live?" She did not again refer to Ned, but shortly got up, and told Mr Shank that she must be going.
"What! do you come all this way alone merely to visit a wretched being like me?" he exclaimed, as she moved towards the door.
"No, Ned comes with me, and he is waiting to take me back," she answered.
"Why didn't he come in and sit down until you were ready to go?" he asked.
"Because, Mr Shank, he knows that you dislike boys," said Mary.
"Perhaps, as you think so well of him, he may not be so bad as others. When you come again bring him in; I'll not scold him if he speaks civilly to me, and doesn't attempt to play me tricks."
"He'll not play you tricks, and I'm sure that he'll speak properly to you," answered Mary, considerably mollified by Mr Shank's last remark. She was glad, however, that Ned was not in sight, as she still somewhat mistrusted the old man. As soon as the door was closed she looked about for Ned, and spied him hurrying up.
"He wants to see you," she said when Ned joined her, "so you must come in when Aunt Sally next sends me to him. He is a strange being. I wonder how he can manage to spend his time all by himself?"
They walked home chattering merrily, though Ned was a little more thoughtful than usual, wondering why his uncle had not written; and as soon as he had seen Mary safe at home, he hurried off to consult Lieutenant Hanson about the matter.
"Why," said Ned to the lieutenant, "has uncle not written?"
"Simply that he has had nothing to say, or has had no time to write, or if he has written, his letter may have gone astray," answered the lieutenant. "You must exercise patience, my young friend; you'll find plenty of that required in this world."
Ned returned home not much wiser than he went, but a brisk walk and the fresh air revived his spirits. Next morning's post brought the looked-for letter, addressed to Miss Sarah Pack. She hurriedly opened it, while the young people looked eagerly on, watching her countenance. That, however, betrayed no satisfaction. The lieutenant's handwriting required time to decipher, though the characters were bold enough and covered a large sheet of paper.
"Dear Sally," it began, "I have been to the Admiralty and seen the First Lord, having reached this big city, and lost my way half-a-dozen times in it, four days after I left you. We had calms and light winds the whole distance to Portsmouth. His lordship received me with a profound bow, as if I had been an admiral, listened attentively to all I had to say, and I made up my mind that he was the politest gentleman I had ever met, and fully intended to grant my request. When I had finished, he glanced his eye down a long list, which he held up so that I could see it, remarking that there were a number of promising lads who desired to enter the service, but that he much feared he should be compelled to disappoint them. My claims were great, and he was surprised that his predecessors had not acknowledged them by promoting me; that he had no doubt my brother-in-law would have been an ornament to the service had he lived; that I ought to have sent his son's name in long ago, and that he would take the matter into consideration. He desired me to leave my address, advising me not to remain in town, as it might be some time before I was likely to hear from him; he then politely bowed me out of the room. Whether or not anything will come of it is more than I can divine. In my humble opinion my visit to London will prove bootless; it can't be helped, Sally, so cheer up, and don't let Ned get out of spirits. I am going to call on two or three shipowners, of whom Jenkins, who knows more of London than I do, has told me, for if Ned cannot get into the navy, he must make up his mind to enter the merchant service. I'll write more when I have more to communicate, so, with love to the young ones, I remain, your affectionate brother, John Pack."
Aunt Sally had to confess to herself that the letter was not encouraging, still she did her best to follow her brother's advice. "Perhaps the First Lord doesn't like to make promises, but he must be a good man, or he would not hold the position he does, and I dare say he'll do his best. We may have a letter even before your uncle comes back, saying that you are appointed to a ship. It can't be so difficult a thing to make a midshipman. Had your uncle, however, asked to be promoted, I should not have been surprised had he been refused. It is very kind of the First Lord to receive him so well and to listen to all he had to say; we should not expect too much from great men."
Miss Sally ran on in the same strain for some time, but all she said failed to impart much confidence to poor Ned; still his uncle might succeed in getting him on board a merchant vessel, and like a prudent lad, he was ready for whatever might turn up. Next morning Ned eagerly looked out for the postman, but no letter arrived; another and another day passed by. It was too evident that the lieutenant had no news to communicate.
Some days after, just as evening was approaching, a post chaise was seen slowly descending the winding road which led down to the cottage. Miss Sally, followed by Ned, Mary, and Tom, hurried out. Ned darted forward to let down the steps, while Tom opened the door. The lieutenant, leaning on the black's shoulder, stepped out. Though he smiled at seeing those he loved, his countenance showed that he had no good news to communicate.
"I'll tell you all about it when I have refreshed the inner man," he said, as, after paying the driver and telling Tom to look after him, he stumped into the house; "I am at present somewhat sharp set. It is several hours since I took anything on board in the shape of provisions, and my jaw tackles want greasing before I can make them work."
Aunt Sally and Mary quickly got supper ready, and the lieutenant having said grace, took his seat at the table. Having eaten a few mouthfuls he looked mere cheerful than he had hitherto done. His sister and the young people were longing to hear what he had got to say.
"I told you I did not expect much from my visit to London, but it is wrong to allow ourselves to be cast down because things don't go as smoothly as we could wish," he at length observed. "I wrote you about my visit to the Admiralty; well, after that, believing that their lordships were not likely to do much for me, I called on three shipowners to whom Jenkins had given me introductions. They were civil enough, but all gave me the same sort of answer. They had numerous applications to receive on board their ships youngsters whose friends could pay handsome premiums, and in duty to themselves they were compelled to accept such in preference to others, willing as they were to attend to the recommendation of Lieutenant Jenkins. When I offered to take command of one of their ships, they replied, that as I had been some time on shore I might have grown rusty, and that they were obliged to employ officers brought up in their own service, though they could not doubt my abilities, and were duly grateful for the offer I had made them. They would consider the matter, and let me know the result to which they might come, but no promise could be made on the subject."
Miss Sally looked greatly relieved when she heard that it was not likely her brother would go to sea, anxious as she was that poor Ned should obtain the object of his wishes.
"We must not despair, however," said the lieutenant. "We know that God orders all for the best, if we trust Him and do our duty; perhaps something will turn up when we least expect it. I have been thinking, Ned, how I can raise money enough to pay the required premium, and if I can do that the matter will be quickly settled. After two or three voyages to India, Australia, or round Cape Horn, you will have obtained sufficient experience to become a mate. You will then be independent and able to gain your own livelihood."
"That is what I wish to do, uncle," answered Ned, gulping down his disappointment at the thoughts that he should be unable to enter the navy, and some day become a Nelson or a Collingwood. In truth, matters stood very much as they were before the lieutenant's journey, and he had to confess to himself that the cost and trouble had apparently been thrown away.
"Well, well, Ned, we'll go on with our mathematics and navigation, and wait patiently for what may occur. You are young yet, and won't be the worse for a few months more spent on shore if you make good use of your time."
Ned followed his uncle's advice, and did his utmost to overcome his disappointment.
Things went on much as usual at Triton Cottage. Ned frequently got a pull in a revenue boat, but his great delight was to take a sail in one of the fishing crafts belonging to the bay, when the fishermen, with whom he was an especial favourite, gave him instruction in steeling and other nautical knowledge, so that he learned how to handle a boat, to furl and shorten sail, to knot and splice, as well as to row.
His uncle always encouraged him to go when the weather was moderate, but on two or three occasions when it came on unexpectedly to blow, and the boats were kept out, poor Aunt Sally was put into a great state of trepidation until he came back safe. Nearly a month had passed since the lieutenant's return home, and no letter had been received either from the Admiralty or from any of the shipowners. The family were seated at tea. The lieutenant could not help occasionally speaking of the subject which occupied his thoughts, generally concluding by saying, "Well, never mind, something may turn up!"
Just then a ring was heard at the door, and Jane put her head in to say that Mr Hanson had called.
"I'll bring him in to take a cup of tea," said the lieutenant, rising and stumping out of the room. He soon returned with his friend.
"Well, Pack, I've come to wish you and Miss Sarah good-bye," said their guest. "Commander Curtis, an old friend of mine, has been appointed to the 'Ione' corvette, fitting out for the Cape station, and he has applied for me as his first lieutenant. Though I had made up my mind to remain on shore, as he is a man I should like to serve under, I have accepted his offer, and am going off to join the ship as soon as I can be relieved—in two or three days, I hope."
Ned listened, expecting that something else of interest to him was about to follow, but he was disappointed. He was not aware that even a first lieutenant could not obtain a berth for a midshipman.
"Very sorry to lose you, Hanson," said Lieutenant Pack; "you, I daresay will be glad to get afloat again, as there is a better chance of promotion than you would have on shore. We never know what may turn up. We may be at loggerheads with the French, or Russians, or some other people before your commission is over."