Sunshine Bill, by W H G Kingston.
Bill's father is a wherry-man in Portsmouth Harbour, who one day has an accident and is killed. Bill's mother is a seller of apples. The whole family are a happy, good-humoured lot. Bill is befriended by a Captain Trevelyan, who offers him a boy seaman's place in his ship, the Lilly. So Bill goes off to sea, knowing that it would be perhaps four years or more before he would see his family again.
His companions as boy seamen include Tommy Rebow, a somewhat weaker lad than Bill. The crew are all reasonably pleasant people, maybe grumbling occasionally, but all getting on well together.
But all is not sunshine, for there are hurricanes, fallings overboard, and other serious mishaps resulting in some swimming. Some fighting with the French, some encounters with sharks, some days with little or no food and water. But they get through it all, giving heartfelt thanks to God for each release from their ordeals. They were taking a captured prize to Jamaica, when a lot of this occurred, and it was a considerable time before they found themselves back on board the Lilly, and homeward bound.
This is a neatly written book—no complaints about it. It is also very short, only half the length of most of Kingston's books, and printed on incredibly thick paper, comparable with the card used to pack breakfast cereals. But the action is lively and frequently unexpected.
SUNSHINE BILL, BY W H G KINGSTON.
Sunshine Bill, according to the world's notion, was not "born with a silver spoon in his mouth;" but he had, which was far better, kind, honest parents. His mother kept an apple-stall at Portsmouth, and his father was part owner of a wherry; but even by their united efforts, in fine weather, they found it hard work to feed and clothe their numerous offspring.
Sometimes Sunshine Bill's father was laid up with illness, and sometimes his mother was so; and occasionally he and his brothers and sisters were sick also. Sometimes they had the measles, or small-pox, or a fever; and then there was the doctor to pay, and medicine to buy; consequently, at the end of these visitations, the family cash-box, consisting of an old stocking in a cracked basin, kept on the highest shelf of their sitting-room, was generally empty, and they considered themselves fortunate if they were not in debt besides. Still, no one ever heard them complain, or saw them quarrel, or beat their children, as some people do when things do not go straight with them; nor did their children ever fight among themselves. Even, indeed, in the worst of times, Sunshine Bill's mother managed to find a crust of bread and a bit of cheese, to keep the family from starving. To be sure, she and her husband could not give their children much of an education, as far as school learning was concerned. They themselves, in spite of all trials, were never cast down; and they taught Bill, and his brothers and sisters, to follow their example. They said that God had always been kind to them, and that they were sure He would not change while they tried to do their duty and please Him.
The most contented, and merriest, and happiest of their children was Sunshine Bill. That was not his real name, though; indeed, he did not get it till long after the time I am speaking of.
He was properly called William Sunnyside, for, curiously enough, Sunnyside was his father's name. His father was known as Merry Tom Sunnyside, and his mother as Pretty Molly Sunnyside—for pretty she had been when she was young, and good as she was pretty. It may seem surprising that they were not better off, but they began the world without anything, and children came fast upon them—a circumstance which keeps many people poor in worldly wealth.
Sunshine Bill, when still a very little fellow, found out how to keep the family pot boiling, even before some of his brothers had done so. No occupation came amiss to him. Sometimes he would go mud-larking, and seldom missed finding some treasure or other. The occupation was not a nice one, for the mud in Portsmouth Harbour is far from clean, or sweet to the nose; but Bill did not care for that, provided he was successful in his search. Sometimes, too, he would go fishing, and seldom came home without a pretty well-filled basket. Then he would look after seamen's boats, and place stools for passengers to walk along when the water was low; and when the weather was bad, and few persons were going afloat, he would go on errands, or scamper alongside gentlemen's horses, ready to hold them when they dismounted. He had such a merry, facetious manner about him, that he generally managed to pick up twice as much as anybody else engaged in the same sort of occupation.
This sort of work, however, was very well for Bill while he was a little fellow; but it was clear that it would not do for him when he should grow bigger. His father and mother often talked over what Bill was to do when that time came.
Tom Sunnyside wished to send him to sea after his two elder brothers, for his next two boys were with him in his boat. Molly wanted to keep him at home to help her in her trade; Bill was ready to do whatever they wished. He would serve his country afloat, and do his best to become an admiral, or he would sell apples all his life.
Nothing, however, was settled; and Bill continued to mud-lark, catch fish, run errands, look after boats, and hold gentlemen's horses, till he was getting to be a big lad.
At length a heavy affliction and trial overtook Mrs Sunnyside—Bill's mother. The wherry, with his father and two of his brothers, went off one November morning when it was blowing hard, with a passenger to a ship lying at Spithead. They put their fare all right on board, received payment, and shoved off from the ship. The gale increased, the weather thickened; hour after hour passed away, and the expected ones did not return to their home. Three days afterwards, a pilot vessel brought in an oar, and a board, with the rising sun painted on it.
The Rising Sun was the name of Tom Sunnyside's boat. Such was the only clue to his fate. Neither he, nor his boys, nor his boat, were ever seen again. The widow bowed her head, but she had no time to indulge in grief, for she had still several younger children to support.
She sat at her stall, and did her best to sell her apples. Bill exerted himself more than ever. His two elder brothers were, as has been said, on board men-of-war. The next two surviving children were girls, and could do little to help themselves or their mother. And now, for the first time, the family began to feel what it was to be hungry, and to have no food to put into their mouths. Bill was up early and late, and was always so hard at work that he declared he had no time to be hungry. The truth is, he might always have had plenty of food for himself, but that he thought fit to share every farthing of his gains among his brothers and sisters.
One day he was holding a horse for an officer, who was, he saw by his uniform, a commander in the navy, for Bill could distinguish the rank of naval officers by the gold lace on their coats, and knew at a glance a post captain from a commander, and a commander from a lieutenant, and so on. He especially liked the look of the officer whose horse he was holding; and while he walked it up and down as he had been directed, he thought to himself—
"If I was to go to sea now I should not only get a rig out, but have enough to eat, and be able to send home my pay to mother as soon as I get any."
He had just before been taking a survey of his clothes, which, in spite of all sorts of contrivances, he had no small difficulty in keeping about him. He wished to look tolerably decent, though he had considerable misgivings on that score. He felt very thin, and not so strong as he used to be, which is not surprising, considering the small amount of sustenance he took. The little ones at home were certainly fatter than he was.
When the officer came out of the house he cast a kind look at Bill, who, as was his custom to his superiors, pulled off his battered hat to him.
"I should like to know something about you, my lad," said the officer, as he mounted his horse, in a tone which was as kind as were his looks.
"Yes, sir," answered Bill, pulling a lock of his long, shaggy hair; "I be called Bill Sunnyside, and mother sells apples out at the corner of High Street, there."
"A succinct account of yourself, my lad," said the officer.
"It be true though, sir," said Bill, not understanding what succinct meant. "And, sir, I'd like to go to sea with you."
"Oh! Would you?" said the officer, smiling. "But how do you know that I command a ship?"
"Because you would not otherwise be in uniform," answered Bill, promptly.
"Ay, I see you have your wits about you," remarked the officer.
"It's as well I should, for they be the only things I have got except these duds," answered Bill, giving way to a propensity for humour, which, unknown to himself, he possessed, though he spoke with perfect respect.
The officer laughed, and said—
"Where is your father, boy?"
"He and two brothers were drowned out at Spithead, last autumn," answered Bill.
"Ah! I will have a talk with your mother, one of these days; I think I know her. Be a good boy meantime," said the officer, and he rode away up the street.
Bill looked after him, thinking when "one of these days" would come, and what would come out of the talk.
Several days passed by, and Bill heard nothing of the captain. His clothes became more and more tattered, and, though his mother mended them at night, they were so rotten that they often got torn again the next day. Winter came. Times were indeed hard with him. He grew thinner and thinner. Still, whenever he got a penny, he shared it with those he loved at home. "Never say die," was his motto; "it is a long lane which has no turning," and "a dull day when the sun does not shine out before the evening." With such expressions he used to cheer and comfort his mother, though, in spite of all trials, she was not often disposed to be more cast down than he was.
"Don't give way, mother," Bill used to say, when, on coming home in the evening, she looked sadder than usual. "Just remember what the parson said: 'The sun is shining up above the clouds every day in the year, and he is sure to break through them and shine upon us some time or other; and God is looking down at all times through them, let them be ever so thick, and never forgets us.'"
Still Bill could not help wishing that the kind captain had remembered, as he said he would, and made that some day or other arrive rather more quickly than there appeared a likelihood of its doing.
There was not, I repeat, a more cheery, kind-hearted little woman in all Portsmouth, in spite of her large family, in spite of the loss of her husband, in spite of her poverty, than was Mrs Sunnyside; and this was just because God had given her a kind, happy heart, and she trusted in God, and knew that He loved her, and would not fail in any one of His promises. Had she not done that, she would soon have broken down.
"Well, Mrs Sunnyside, and how goes the world with you; and how is Bill?" said a gentleman, one day, coming up to the stall, where she sat knitting assiduously.
"Bill is at work, as he always is, and God has given health to those of my children who are spared, sir," said the widow, continuing her knitting, and only just glancing up at the gentleman's face. She then added, "I beg your pardon, sir, maybe I ought to know you, but you will excuse me when I say I don't."
"Very likely not," answered the gentleman, "yet I rather think I was a frequent customer of yours in former days, when I wore a midshipman's uniform. My business, however, is with your son Bill. He is my acquaintance. Tell me, Mrs Sunnyside, would you wish your boy to go to sea on board a man-of-war, with a captain who would keep an eye upon him, and give him a helping hand, if he proved himself worthy of it?"
Mrs Sunnyside did not answer at once. She went on knitting very slowly, though.
"Oh, sir! It would be a sore trial to part from Bill. He is the bright, cheering light of our little home. Yet the lad is fit for more than he is now doing; and I would be thankful, very thankful, if I thought he was with a kind, just captain, who would do as you say; but I would rather let Bill answer for himself."
"Well, Mrs Sunnyside, the truth is, I have asked Bill, and he told me that he should like to go to sea. He thinks he can help you better than by remaining at home. I must not, however, praise myself too much. I am Captain Trevelyan. I command the Lilly sloop-of-war; and if Bill still wishes, as he did the other day, to go to sea, I will take him, and honestly look after him, and forward his true interests as far as justice to others will allow."
"Thank you, sir, thank you!" exclaimed Mrs Sunnyside. "If Bill wants to go, I will not say him nay; for I am sure you will do what you say, and a mother's prayers will be offered up for you and him every morning and night of my life. You see, sir, when I sit out here, I can often be thinking of you; and if anything does happen to you or Bill, I am sure it won't be for want of praying, nor for want of God's love; but just because He sees it's best."
"Have you taught Bill to hold these sentiments?" asked the gentleman.
"Well, sir, I know he thinks and does just as I think and do."
"Then, Mrs Sunnyside, I shall be very glad to have him with me. He will be one on whom I can depend on a pinch, and I shall like to think, when I am far away, that you are remembering me and him in your prayers, while you sit out here selling your apples. And here, Mrs Sunnyside, Bill's outfit, I know, is not very first-rate; take these three guineas, and spend them as you think best. You know as well as I do what he wants. And here is ten shillings in addition, just to put a little lining into Bill's and his brothers' and sisters' insides. A good meal or two will cheer you all up, and make things look brighter when Bill is going away. No thanks now; we understand each other, Mrs Sunnyside. When Bill is ready, he can come on board the Lilly—to-morrow, or next day; and ask for Mr Barker, the first lieutenant, to whom he can present this card. Now good-bye, Mrs Sunnyside, and I hope, when the ship is paid off three or four years hence, you will see Bill grown into a fine, big, strapping young seaman."
Saying this, Captain Trevelyan hurried away down the street.
"God bless you, sir! God bless you!" exclaimed Mrs Sunnyside, almost bursting into tears, for her feelings of gratitude overcame her.
That afternoon she had a wonderfully brisk sale for her apples, and was able to leave her post at an earlier hour than usual. She almost ran, in her eagerness to get home. Bill was out, but she hurried forth again to a slop-shop with which she was well acquainted. The shopmaster knew her. She felt sure he would treat her fairly, when she told him the state of the case. She knew Bill's height and width to the eighth of an inch. The great object was to get the things big enough. With a big bundle under her arm, she trudged home again, full of joy one moment at the thoughts of how happy his good luck would make him, and then ready to cry when she remembered that he would have to go away from her, and that for three, perhaps four years, or even more, she might not again see his bright, ruddy, smiling face; for, somehow or other, it was ruddy even when he was hungry.
"Who are all those things for, mother?" exclaimed Bill, with a look of surprise, as he came into the room and saw them hung up on the chairs and foot of the bed.
Mrs Sunnyside told him. At first, he could not speak. He used to long very much to go to sea; but now the reality had come suddenly upon him. When his brothers and sisters came in, they insisted on his putting on his new clothes. The bustle and talking revived him somewhat.
"I must go and have a wash first. I am not fit for these things," he answered, looking at his dirty clothes and hands; and out he rushed to the pump in the back yard, where he was wont to perform his ablutions. He returned for a piece of soap, however.
"I am going to do it right well," he said, "while I am about it."
He came back in about ten minutes, looking thoroughly fresh and clean. In the meantime, his mother and sister had laid the table for supper. It was not a very grand one, but more than usually abundant. There were hot sausages and toast, and maybe butter, or what did duty for butter, for it was very, very white, and tea, and some milk in a cream-jug.
"Well, I do feel as if I had been and done it right well!" exclaimed Bill, as he stood in a blue check shirt which his mother had sent out to him to put on after he had washed.
"Now, Bill, do try this on," she said, handing him a pair of trousers. They fitted nicely round the waist; no braces were needed. Then she made him put his arms into the jacket, and fasten a black silk handkerchief round his neck with a sailor's knot. And then his sister came behind, and clapped on a broad-brimmed, low-crowned hat, with a long ribbon round it, hanging down on one side.
"There! There! How well he does look!"
"Bill, you do, darling!" exclaimed his mother. "Every inch a sailor. Bless you, Bill!" His brothers and sisters made some of these remarks, and many others; and came round, taking him by the hand, or patting him on the back, and Bill stood by smiling and well pleased. He had never in his life been so nicely dressed. Then they brought him a pair of low shoes. He thought them rather incumbrances, but he put them on for the honour of the thing; and they had broad ribbon bows in front, and did look very natty, to be sure.
In their eagerness they almost forgot the sausages, which were somewhat overdone—burnt all on one side; but that did not matter much, and at length they all sat down, and while they were laughing and talking, the sausages hissed and spluttered in return, as much as to say, "We are all ready; we wish you would eat us. You look so merry and happy, and perhaps we shall be merry and happy too."
Bill at first could not eat much for thinking that at last he was going on board a man-of-war. No more could his mother, but when the rest began to eat away, he followed their example; and his mother at last managed to get down the remaining sausage, which all her children insisted she should have, Susan giving it a fresh heating up before the fire, for they had a good fire that day. Many a winter's evening they had had to go without it, for want of something to burn. At last there was not as much left as a piece of grease in the dish, nor a piece of bread on the platter, and all the tea was drained to the last drop; and then Bill stood up and thanked God for their good supper.
"And it was a good one!" cried out little Tommy. "A right good one. And, Bill, I hope you may get many such aboard ship."
"Maybe," said Bill, "but they will not be like this, for there will be none of you there; and after all it's not the grub, but it's them that eats it with us that makes it pleasant."
Bill might have said more but he did not; for a good reason—he could not just then trust his voice; so he jumped up and began to dance a hornpipe, though he was not very perfect in the art of dancing.
"Never mind," he said, "I will learn something more about that too, when I get to sea."
Bill was up betimes, dressed in his new suit. "Mother, I would like to carry your basket for you," he said. "Maybe it's the last day I shall be able to do it."
"No, no, Bill," she said; "I am not going out this morning, till you are away. We will go down to the Point, and learn when the Lilly is going out of harbour. It is better to go on board now than to wait till she gets out to Spithead."
It was a hard matter for Bill to wish all his brothers and sisters good-bye, and harder still to part from his mother, but he did it in a brave, hearty way. Old Joe Simmons, who had known him all his life, and known his mother too, for that matter, since she was born, insisted on taking him off.
"The Lilly will be going out of harbour to-day, or to-morrow at farthest, and the sooner you are aboard, my boy, the better," said old Joe, taking Bill's bundle from Mrs Sunnyside. "Come along with me. And now, Mrs Sunnyside, do you go back, there's a good woman, now. I'll look after your boy, and see him all right aboard. I know three or four of her crew who shipped from here, and I will speak to one or two of them, and they will put Bill up to what he ought to do, so that he won't seem like a green-horn when they get to sea. There's the captain of the maintop, Jack Windy, son of an old shipmate of mine, and he will stand Bill's friend, if I ask him. And there's little Tommy Rebow, who has been to sea for a year or more; and I'll just tell him I will break every bone in his body if he don't behave right to Bill. So, you see, he will have no lack of friends, Mrs Sunnyside. There now, good-bye, good-bye! Bless you, missus! Bless you! Don't fret, now; Bill will be all right."
These words the old man uttered, as he pushed his wherry from the beach, and pulled up the harbour towards a fine corvette which lay at anchor off Gosport.
The Lilly was a fine, rakish-looking corvette, with a crew of one hundred and twenty, officers and seamen, as Joe Simmons informed Bill.
The old man went up the side with him.
"There's the first lieutenant," he said. "You just go up and tell him you have come aboard. It will be all right. Although he looks very grand, he is all right at bottom; and I have heard more than one thing in his favour. He won't eat you; so don't be afear'd, Bill."
Bill did as he was advised, and presented the captain's card. Mr Barker glanced at it.
"Oh! You are Bill Sunnyside. We will enter you. Master-at-arms, see to this boy."
"It's all right, boy, you can go forward!"
Bill, thus dismissed, gladly rejoined his old friend, thankful that the dreaded interview was over. He would not have minded it if the captain had been aboard, for he had taken a great fancy to him, and felt ready to go through fire and water to serve him.
Old Joe introduced him, as he had promised, to a fine, active-looking seaman who had just come from aloft, with hands well tarred, and a big clasp knife hung by a rope round his neck. Jack Windy was every inch a sailor.
"Oh, ay, Joe! No fear; we'll look after the lad," he said, giving an approving glance at Bill. "We will make a prime seaman of him, never you fear. And here, Tommy Rebow, you just come here, boy. You show Bill here what he will have to do, and what he must not do; and none of your jackanape tricks—mind that."
Thus Bill had not been many minutes on board before he found himself with several acquaintances. Old Joe, satisfied that all was right, wished him good-bye.
"There, Bill," he said, taking him by the hand, "just do you go on doing what you have been, and there's One who will look after you, and knows better how to do so than I could, or your own father, if he was alive, or the captain himself; and when I say my prayers—and I do say them, and so must you, Bill—I will put in a word about you; and I am sure your mother will, and your brothers and sisters as is big enough; and you see, Bill, you have every reason to go away contented and happy. Now good-bye, lad, God bless you!"
And again old Joe wrung Sunshine Bill's hand, and went down the side of the ship into his wherry.
"Now, do you mind, Bill," he shouted, as, taking his seat, he seized the sculls and sprung them briskly into the water. Once more he stopped, and, resting his oars for a moment, waved another farewell with his right hand.
The men had just been piped to breakfast when Bill went on board, and the ship was comparatively quiet. In a short time, however, all was bustle and seeming confusion. The officers were shouting, the boatswain was piping, and the men hurrying here and there along the decks or up the rigging; some bending sails, others hoisting in stores, or coming off, or going away in boats. Bill had often been on board ship, so it was not so strange to him as it would have been to many boys. Yet he had never before formed one of a ship's company, and he could not help feeling that he might at any moment be called upon to perform some duty or other with which he was totally unacquainted.
"Never you fear, Bill," said Tommy Rebow, who observed his anxiety. "I will put you up to anything you want to know. Just you stick by me."
Presently a quartermaster ordered Tommy to lay hold of a rope and haul away; and Bill ran and helped him, and quickly got the rope taut, when an officer sung out, "Belay," and Tommy made the rope fast. This was the first duty Bill ever performed in the service of his country.
After this, whenever there was any pulling or hauling, Bill ran and helped, unless ordered elsewhere. Though he could not always remember the names of the ropes, still he felt that he was making himself useful.
Amidst the bustle, he at length heard the first lieutenant sing out, "Man the sides." The boatswain's whistle sounded. The sideboys stood with the white man-ropes in their hands, the officers collected on either side of the gangway. The marines hurried from below with their muskets, and stood, drawn up in martial array; and presently Bill saw a boat come alongside, and an officer in full uniform, whom he at once recognised as Captain Trevelyan, stepped upon deck. Saluting the officers by lifting his hat, he spoke a few kind, good-natured words to them, and then gave a scrutinising glance along the decks, turning his eyes aloft.
"You have made good progress, Mr Barker. I hope we shall go out to Spithead to-morrow," he observed. "How many hands do you still want?" he asked.
"We have our complement complete, sir," was the answer.
"Has that boy I spoke to you about come on board—Sunnyside?"
"Yes, sir; he came on board this morning. He is a sharp lad, and will make a good seaman."
Bill would have been proud, had he known that he was the subject of conversation between the captain and first lieutenant.
The next morning the Lilly cast off from the buoy to which she was moored, and, making sail, ran out to Spithead, where she again anchored. Bill thought he should now be fairly off to sea, but she had another week to remain there. There was the powder to take on board, and more provisions; then there were despatches from the Admiralty. At length Blue Peter was hoisted. All boats were ordered away from the ship's side. Once more sail was made, and with the wind from the north-east the Lilly glided down the calm waters of the Solent.
Bill was soon perfectly at home among his new shipmates. He had never been so well fed in his life—plenty of good boiled beef and potatoes, and sweet biscuit.
"I have often wished to come to sea, and I am very glad I have come," he said, as he was seated at mess. "I did not think they fed us so well."
"Just you wait till we have been a few months in blue water, youngster," observed Sam Grimshaw—"old Grim," as his shipmates called him—"when we get down to the salted cow and pickled horse, and pork which is all gristle and bone. You will then sing a different tune, I have a notion."
Old Grim was noted for grumbling. He grumbled at everything; and as to pleasing him, that was out of the question.
"Well," answered Bill, "all I can say is, I am thankful for the good things now I've got them; and when the bad come, it will be time enough to cry out. I used to think, too, when once a ship got into the Channel clear away from the land, there would be nothing but tumbling and tossing about; and here we are running on as smoothly as we might up Portsmouth Harbour. Now, I am thankful for that."
"Well, so it's as well to be, my lad, for before many days are over we may be tumbling about in a heavy gale under close-reefed topsails, and then you will sing another tune to what you are doing now."
"I shall be singing that I know the bad weather won't last for ever, and that I have no doubt the sun will shine out," answered Bill.
"But maybe you will get washed overboard, or a loose block will give you a knock on the head and finish you, or some other mishap will befall you," growled out old Grim.
"As to that," answered Bill, "I am ready for the rough and smooth of life, and for the ups and downs. As I hope to have some of the ups, I must make up my mind to be content with a few of the downs."
"Well, well! There's no making you unhappy," growled out old Grim. "Now, you don't mean to say this duff is fit food for Christians," he exclaimed, sticking his fork into a somewhat hard piece of pudding.
"It's fit for hungry boys at sea," answered Bill; "and I only wish that my brothers and sisters had as good beef and pork for dinner, not to speak of peas-pudding and duff, as we have got every day. I should like to send them some of mine, and yours too, if you do not eat it."
"Well, as we cannot live on nothing, I am obliged to eat it, good or bad," answered old Grim; "and as to giving you some of mine, why, I don't see that there's overmuch I get for myself."
"I did not ask it for myself, and I am glad to see you do not find it too bad to eat after all," said Bill, observing that old Grim cleared his plate of every particle of food it contained.
Tommy Rebow used to amuse himself by trying to tease Grimshaw, not that he would stand much from him, or from anybody else; and often Tommy had to make a quick jump of it to get out of his way. Still he would return to the charge till Grim got fearfully vexed with him. Bill himself never teased old Grim or anybody else. It was not his nature. He could laugh with them as much as they might please, but he never could laugh at them, or jeer them. Old Grim really liked Bill, though he took an odd way of showing it sometimes. Bill, indeed, soon became a favourite on board, just because he was so good-natured and happy, and was ready to oblige any one.
Captain Trevelyan did not forget his promise to Bill's mother; and though of course he did not say much to the lad, it was very evident that he had his eye on him, as he had indeed, more or less, on everybody on board. He took care that Bill should learn his duties. There were several young gentlemen on board in the midshipman's berth; and the captain had for their use a model built of the ship's masts and rigging. He used to have them up every morning in fine weather, and make them learn all the names and uses of the ropes. Then he would make them put the ship about, or wear ship, or heave her to. Then he would have the yards braced up, then squared, then braced up on the other tack, and so forth. The ship's boys were made to stand by, to watch these proceedings, and then they were called up to go through the manoeuvres themselves, the boatswain, or one of the masters, giving them lessons. Bill was very quick in learning, and so, before they got half way across the Atlantic, he knew how to put the ship about almost as well as any body on board. He soon, indeed, caught Tommy Rebow up, and as they were both well-grown lads, they were placed in the mizzen-top. Both of them soon learned to lay out on the yards, and to reef and furl the mizzen-topsail as well as anybody.
"Come, Bill, I told Joe Simmons I would learn you all I know myself," said Jack Windy, "and now you are getting seamanship, it's time you should be learning the hornpipe. You have a good ear, because you can sing well, as I have heard you; so you should learn to dance it, to astonish the natives wherever we go."
Captain Trevelyan had secured a fiddler among his ship's company—a negro of jet black hue, with a face all crumpled up in a most curious fashion, with great white rolling eyeballs, and huge thick lips. He was not a beauty, and he did not think so himself; but he prided himself on playing the fiddle, and well, too, he did play it. His name was Diogenes Snow; but he was called Dio, or Di sometimes, for shortness. With his music, and under Jack Windy's instruction, Bill soon learned to dance a hornpipe, so that few could surpass him.
"Dare, Bill; well done, Bill!" shouted Dio, as he scraped away with might and main. "Oh, golly! Iolly! Bill would beat Queen Charlotte, if she tried to do it, dat he would. Berry well, Bill. Keep moving, boy! Dat's it! One more turn! Hurrah! Hurrah!"
The Lilly had been ordered to proceed direct to Jamaica. She was already in the latitude of the West Indies, and might expect to get into Port Royal in the course of six or eight days. Hitherto the weather had been remarkably fine, though the wind had been generally light. There was now, however, a dead calm. The dog-vanes hung up and down, the sails every now and then giving sullen flaps against the masts, while the ship rolled slowly—so slowly as scarcely to allow the movement to be perceptible—from side to side. The ocean was as smooth as the smoothest mirror, not a ripple, not the slightest cat's-paw being perceptible on it. Instead, however, of its usual green colour, it had become of a dead leaden hue, the whole arch of heaven being also spread with a dark grey canopy of a muddy tint. Yet, though the sun was not seen, the heat, as the day drew on, became intense. Dio was the only person on board who did not seem to feel it, but went about his duties as cook's mate with as much zeal and alacrity as ever, scrubbing away at pots and pans, scraping potatoes, and singing snatches of odd nigger songs. His monkey Queerface, brought from his last ship, just paid off on her return from the West Indies, was skipping about the fore-rigging, now hanging by his tail swinging to and fro, now descending with the purpose of attempting to carry off one of the boy's hats, then failing, scudding hand over hand up the rigging again like lightning, chattering and spluttering as he watched the rope's end lifted threateningly towards him, or dodging the bit of biscuit or rotten potato thrown at his head. The watch on deck were hanging listlessly about, finding even their usual employment irksome. A few old hands might have been seen making a grummit or pointing a rope, while the sailmaker and his crew were at work on a suite of boat-sails; here and there also a marine might have been seen cleaning his musket, but finding the barrel rather hotter to touch than was pleasant. In truth, everywhere it was hot: below, hotter still. Though the sun was not shining, there was no shade; and discontented spirits kept moving about, in vain trying to find a cooler spot than the one they had left. Old Grim did nothing but growl.
"If it's hot out here, what will it be when we gets ashore?" he growled out. "Why, we shall be regularly roasted or baked, and the cannibals won't have any trouble in cooking us. But to my mind (and I have always said it) a sailor is the most unfortunate chap alive, one day dried up in these burning latitudes, and then sent to cool his nose up among the icebergs. It's all very well for Dio there. It's his nature to like heat. For us poor white-skinned chaps, it's nothing but downright cruelty."
"But I suppose that it won't be always like this," said Bill. "We shall have the sun shine, and a breeze, one of these days, and go along merrily through the water. There's no place, that I ever heard tell of, where the sun does not shine, and though we don't see him, he is shining as bright as ever up above the clouds, even now. He has only got to open a way for himself through them, and we shall soon see him again."
"As to the sun shining always, you are wrong there, young chap," growled out old Grim. "Up at the North Pole there, there's a night of I don't know how many months, when you don't see him at all."
"You are wrong there, Grim," cried out Jack Windy. "I once shipped aboard a whaler, and we were shut up all the winter in the ice, and during the time we every day caught a sight of the red head of the old sun, just popping up above the horizon to the southward, and a comfort that was, I can tell you, particularly when we saw him getting higher and higher, and knew that summer was coming back again, and that we should have the ice breaking away, and get set free once more."
"Yes, yes!" exclaimed Bill, exultingly, "I am sure the sun shines everywhere, and though you might have got a long night in winter, you got a longer day in summer, I'll warrant."
"You are right there, boy," said Jack Windy. "For days together, in the north there, the sun never sets, and so, as you say, we have a very long day."
"I thought so!" exclaimed Bill, quite delighted. "Whatever else happens, God takes care to give us a right share of sunshine, and more than a right share too, if we reckon upon what we deserve."
A portion of the crew were below, but one after the other they came up, complaining that the between-decks was more like a stew-pan or hothouse than any place they had ever before been in. The officers also made their appearance on deck; but though they began to walk up and down as usual, one after the other they stopped and leant against the bulwarks or a gun-carriage, turning their faces round as if to catch a breath of air. The dog-vanes, however, hung down as listlessly as ever.
"Not an air in the heavens, sir," observed Mr Truck, the master, as Captain Trevelyan came on deck. "I cannot make anything of the weather."
"But I can," exclaimed the captain, taking a hurried glance to the westward. "What is that, do you think?"
He pointed to what seemed a long bank of driven snow rising out of the horizon. It extended nearly half-way round the horizon, every instant getting higher and higher.
"All hands shorten sail!" shouted the captain. "Up aloft, there! Lay out, haul down!"
The words produced a magical effect. In a minute, the listless crew were all activity and life. Up the rigging they swarmed like bees, some throwing themselves into the tops, others ascending the topgallant yards, and running out to either yard-arm, till every part of the ship swarmed with life, those on deck pulling and hauling with might and main, the officers assisting, every idler putting a hand to a rope. The topsails were quickly clewed up and furled, the other sails were handed, but scarcely were the men off the yards, than the high bank of foam approached the ship. There was a loud rushing, roaring noise.
"Down for your lives!" shouted the captain.
"Down for your lives, my lads," repeated the lieutenants; and though the helm was put up, and the fore-topmast staysail hoisted, the wind, striking the tall ship, drove her down before it. Over she heeled. Down, down she went. It seemed as if she was never to rise again. The bravest held their breath. Many a cheek turned pale with fear. The captain waved his hand to the carpenter and his mates.
"Axes!" he shouted. They knew what that meant.
"I knew it would be so," growled old Grim who was standing near Bill, holding on to the weather bulwarks. "First a calm, to dry the sap out of a fellow's bones, and then a gale, to blow his teeth down his throat."
"But there may be a calm again or a fair breeze, and the sun will shine out bright and clear," answered Bill, who, however, felt more inclined to think that his last day had come, than he had ever been before. As he looked out, there was the sea, hitherto so smooth, now leaping and raging, and covered with seething foam, the spoon-drift flying in vast sheets of white, from top to top of its broken summits, while huge watery mountains seemed about to burst over the deck. Still, he knew very well that sailors had to expect rough seas as well as smooth, and that many a ship had been in a worse predicament and had escaped. As the captain cried out "axes," the carpenter and his men sprang aft, with their shining weapons in their hands. Just then the ship gave a bound, it seemed like a race-horse darting forward. Up she rose, her head springing round, and feeling the power of the helm, away she flew before the hurricane.
"Square away the fore-yards!" shouted the captain (the after-yards had already been squared). The ship's company saw that the immediate danger was passed, and once more, fore and aft, all hands breathed freely.
"The sun will soon be shining out!" exclaimed Bill cheerily, within old Grim's hearing.
"Don't be too sure of that, boy," growled out the latter. "We shall be broaching to, maybe, before long, and be in a worse case than we were just now. I have heard of a ship doing that, running under bare poles, and getting every soul of her crew washed off her deck, except three— the black cook, the caulker's mate, and the captain's steward—and a pretty job they had to find their way into port, seeing that neither of them knew anything of navigation, or seamanship either, for that matter; and I should like to know whose case you would be in, Sunshine Bill, if you were left with Dio and Ned Farring, aboard this craft?"
"All I can say is, I hope we should do our best, and trust to Providence," answered Bill. "I have never heard that a man can do more than that, and that's what I hope I shall always do, as long as I have life."
On went the Lilly before the still increasing hurricane. The topgallant masts were struck, and topmasts housed, the yards secured by rolling tackles, and the ship made as snug as she could be. This was done not a bit too soon, for it was evident that she was about to encounter one of the fiercest of West Indian hurricanes, such as have sent many a stout ship to the bottom.
The wind howled, and shrieked, and whistled in the rigging, the seas roared and dashed against the sides of the corvette, as under bare poles she rushed on amidst them. Now she rose to the summit of a dark green mountainous billow, with its crest all leaping, foaming, and hissing; then she glided rapidly down its side, as if it had been an ice-mountain, into the dark valley below, again to rise up more slowly to the top of another sea, suddenly to find herself once more in the deep trough, with a huge curling wave reaching almost to her tops, threatening to break over her. Two of the quartermasters were at the helm. The officers were all on deck, the crew at their stations. No one could tell what might next happen.
"If the wind holds as it does now, we shall be all right," observed Mr Truck, the master, "but if it shifts, we may find ourselves running in among some ugly navigation, and our best chance is to scud as we are doing."
"Hurricanes always do shift," observed Captain Trevelyan: "but we must hope for the best. The wind may hold in its present quarter for some time to come."
"Well, Bill, what do you think of this here breeze?" asked Tommy Rebow. "I was telling you it blew pretty stiffish out in these parts."
"Why, that if I had my choice, I would rather it did not blow so hard; but then do you see, Tommy, we have not got our choice, and it's for us to take the weather as we find it. I am very sure that God has got His reasons for sending this hurricane,—though maybe we don't see them,— and so it's our business to make the best of it."
"Maybe," put in old Grim; "but I have a notion you won't be so content as you are now, when it comes on to blow ten times harder. I tell you I am expecting every moment to see the ship come right up, with one of those seas breaking clean over her, and then there will be 'cut away the masts' in earnest, if there's time for it, and if not, we shall all go to the bottom together."
Jack Windy and two or three other men who heard old Grim growling out these remarks, burst into a loud laugh. "Why, any one would suppose you had taken a double dose of growling-powder, old Grim," exclaimed Jack. "Do you want to frighten these young chaps, or not? If you do, maybe they will be taking a turn out of you one of these days. Of course it may blow, and a good deal harder than it does now; but the Lilly is not a craft to mind a cap full of wind, more or less, and she will weather a worse gale than this, I have a notion."
Night was coming on. The hurricane raged as fiercely as ever; the light grew greyer and greyer, till, by degrees, a black darkness settled down over the ocean. Still the seas rose up more wild and fierce-looking every instant, and the ship rushed on, seemingly into space. Sharp eyes only could see beyond the jib-boom, yet there were some who could have pierced even that thick darkness, if there had been anything to see besides the tossing seas. They, however, only appeared leaping up ahead and round the ship, as if each one was eager to get hold of her, and carry her down to the depths of old ocean. On, on she flew. The captain and master frequently cast anxious looks at the compass in the binnacle, while the second lieutenant with the boatswain went forward and stood on the forecastle, peering with all their might and main into the darkness ahead. Not a few other eyes were trying to look out ahead also; but it seemed as if all the eyes and all the looking would do little to discover any object, till the ship was too close to avoid it. The seconds appeared like minutes, the minutes hours, as thus the corvette rushed on. Not a man spoke. In truth, speaking, except at the top of the voice, was of little use, the howling of the wind and the roaring of the sea drowning all other sounds.
At length, however, there came a cry from forward, such as a seaman alone could give. "Breakers! Breakers! On the starboard bow!" It reached right aft, sounding high above the hurricane.
"Starboard the helm!" cried the captain.
There were few on board who did not hold their breath, till they were obliged to gasp for more. It seemed as if the last moments of the ship and all on board were approaching. Yet there was no sign of terror; not a man quitted his station. The captain sprang into the starboard rigging and looked anxiously out on that side. His eye distinguished breakers, and his ear the increased roaring of the seas, as they dashed against the rocky impediment to their course. Would the ship weather the reef, and if she did, were there more reefs ahead? On she flew; but the compass showed that she had come up a little to the wind: still there was now the danger, as her bows met the seas, of their breaking on board.
"Hold on! Hold on for your lives!" shouted the second lieutenant, as he and the boatswain, clinging desperately to the fore-stay, saw a huge sea about to break over the ship's bows. On it came. It was upon them, and over them it burst, deluging the deck, and almost tearing them from their hold. The crew clung to whatever they could grasp. On rolled the sea across the deck, with difficulty finding its way through the scuppers, the greater bulk at length breaking open a port, and thus getting free, a considerable quantity of water, however, finding its way down below.
"If another sea like that comes aboard us, we shall be sent to the bottom!" exclaimed old Grim, shaking himself from the water, which had covered him from head to foot. "It's lucky you boys have got paws to hold on by, like Master Queerface there, or you would have broken biscuit for the last time."
Neither Bill nor Tommy made any answer. Tommy, in fact, was more frightened than he had ever before been in his life, and Bill could not help feeling that the ship was in no small danger. Still he thought to himself,—"There's One looking after us who can help us better than we can ourselves, and so why should I cry out till I have got something to cry for?"
Many on board who saw the breakers, expected every instant to hear the fearful crash of the ship driving on the pointed rocks, to see the masts falling, and the seas come leaping triumphantly over the shattered wreck; but it was not to be so.
The first danger was passed, and no other sign of breakers was perceived. The master had gone below to examine the chart.
"We may keep her before the wind again," he said. "All is clear ahead, for if any of those ugly seas were to break on board, it might play havoc with the barky."
The longest night has an end. In the middle of the watch, the hurricane began to abate, and though the seas tumbled and rolled, and leaped and roared, with almost unabated fury, it was evident that there was much less wind. At length the fore-topsail was set, closely reefed, and the ship ran bounding on from sea to sea, as if escaping from the huge billows which came roaring up astern. Next the foresail was set. Another sail succeeded, till once more, under her usual sail, in spite of the heavy sea still running, the ship was hauled up on her course, a long way out of which she had for some time been running. The sun shone forth, casting his beams on the white crests of the seas, making them glitter and shine like frosted silver.
"Well, Grimshaw," said Bill, addressing old Grim, "the sun has come out, as I said he would, and the hurricane has had its blow, and we shall have fine weather again presently."
"Don't you be boasting too much about that, youngster," answered old Grim. "You don't know what is going to happen next, and you will be laughing on the wrong side of your mouth before long, so look out for squalls, boy."
No one minded what old Grim said, so these remarks made but little impression on Bill, and he went about his duties with as much briskness as ever. Bill was a favourite on board; no doubt about that, both among officers and men. The lieutenants had applied to have him appointed as one of the boys in the gun-room. It would give him more work; but Bill was ready for that at all times.
The sun had set. It was rapidly growing dark, when the watch on deck were ordered to take a reef out of each of the topsails. Bill and Tommy Rebow sprang up the mizen rigging, as they were both in the mizen-top, and were soon lying out on the mizen-topsail yard. They were both in high spirits, feeling up to anything at the moment. One of the older topmen was in the lee-earing. Bill was next to him. Tommy came next. Suddenly the ship gave a tremendous lurch. There was a cry.
"Where's Bill?" exclaimed Tommy, a horror coming over his heart.
"A man overboard! A man overboard!" was shouted from the mizen-top. It was echoed from below.
At that instant the captain came on deck. In falling, Bill had struck the chain-span of the weather-quarter davits, breaking it as if it had been packthread. Mr Collinson, the second lieutenant, who had charge of the deck, pointed it out to the captain.
"The poor fellow must have been killed, whoever he was."
"Who is it?" asked the captain.
"Sunshine Bill!" cried out a voice.
"Bill Sunnyside, sir," said another.
"Alas!" thought the captain, "the poor lad I promised his widowed mother I would look after. Does any one see him?" asked the captain.
"Yes, sir; there he is! There he is!" answered several voices.
Bill was seen floating on the top of a foaming sea. The life-buoy was let go, its bright light bursting forth, and burning a welcome beacon, it might be, to poor Bill. He was known to be a good swimmer. No boy was equal to him on board. The ship was flying away, however, at a rapid rate from him. Many declared that they saw him swimming, and that therefore he could not have been killed, as had been supposed. Captain Trevelyan gazed for an instant at the spot where Bill had been seen. He was no longer, however, visible. It was a moment to him of intense anxiety. To lower a boat in that foaming sea would in all probability cause the loss of many more, and yet could he desert the poor lad?
Suddenly, with startling energy, he shouted out, "Wear ship! Up with the helm! Square away the after-yards!"
The ship went on plunging into the heavy seas as she made a wide circuit, the yards being again braced up on the other tack.
The Lilly, brought to the wind, once more stood back along the course on which she had just before been sailing. She was then hove to. By the captain's calculations, she had reached the locality where Bill had fallen overboard. All hands were on deck and every eye strained, endeavouring to pierce the thick gathering gloom in the direction where it was supposed he might still be.
Friendly voices shouted out,—"Bill Sunnyside! Sunshine Bill! Answer, lad! Answer!" Still no reply came.
"I knew it would be so," muttered old Grim. "The lad was always boasting of being in such good luck, or something of that sort. And now this is what his good luck has come to. Well, well, his fate has been that of many, so there's nothing strange in it."
With this philosophical remark old Grim walked forward; but still, somehow or other, his heart felt sorry at losing the poor lad, and he went and peered down to leeward and then looked to windward again, in the hopes that his eyes, which were among the sharpest on board, might catch a glimpse of the lad. If he was clinging to the life-buoy he might be all right, but where that was, was the question. Minutes passed away, and still no one could discover Bill. The captain pulled out his watch and went to the binnacle-lamp.
"Twenty minutes," he remarked to Mr Collinson. "A strong man could scarcely swim as long in such a sea as this."
"But he may have got hold of the buoy, sir," observed Mr Collinson.
"True! If he has, I wish we could see him. I do not like to give him up."
Another five minutes passed. Again the captain looked at his watch. The time had appeared an age to him, as it had to most on board. He took another turn on deck, and then looked out once more.
"Does nobody see him?" he asked; and there was sorrow and regret in his tone.
There was no answer. The silence was very sad. Once more he returned to the lamp.
"Half an hour has passed," he observed to Mr Barker. "I am afraid the matter is hopeless."
"I am afraid so too," answered the lieutenant, who was a kind-hearted man.
"It must be done!" he said. "Hands, wear ship!" he shouted out, in a startling voice, evidently giving the order with no good will.
The men were hurrying to their stations to obey it, when Grimshaw shouted out:—
"I heard a voice. It's Bill! It's Bill! Away to windward there!"
"Silence, fore and aft," cried the captain; and directly afterwards, borne down by the gale, there came a loud, strange, wild cry.
"That's him! There's no mistake about it," cried Grimshaw; "hurrah!"
The crew gave a shout in reply.
"It will keep up the poor fellow's spirits," observed the captain. "Now, silence, men." And now the awful thought crossed his mind, "Can I allow a boat to be lowered in this broken, heavy sea, with the greatest probability of her being capsized, and all hands in her lost?" These words were uttered partly aloud.
"I'll go in her, sir," said Mr Collinson. "There will be no lack of volunteers."
"Volunteers alone then must go," answered the captain. "The risk is a fearful one, yet I cannot allow the poor lad to perish."
Scarcely had Mr Collinson shouted out, "I am going, lads! Volunteers for the boat," than numbers of the crew came rushing aft, Jack Windy and Grimshaw among them.
"I don't suppose we shall pick up the lad, after all," growled the latter, "but we ought to try, I suppose."
As no man pulled a stouter oar than he did, Mr Collinson gladly accepted him, as he did Windy.
Four other men were selected, and waiting for a favourable lull, the boat was lowered. The bowman, however, in shoving off, lost his balance, and overboard he went. Happily, the man next to him had just time to seize him by the leg, and haul him in, though not without difficulty his oar was saved. Not without sad forebodings of the fate of the boat's crew, did the captain see her leave the ship's side.
"No man can handle a boat better than Collinson," he observed to Mr Barker, who was by his side, "that's one comfort."
Away the boat pulled amidst the foaming broken seas, and was soon lost to sight in the thick gloom which had settled down over the ocean.
"I should be thankful to see something of them again," observed the captain to Mr Barker. "The boat has been a long time away. How long do you think?"
"I did not look at my watch when she was lowered," answered the first lieutenant, "but it is some time; yet the sea is a dangerous one; but, as you say, sir, Collinson is wonderful handy in a boat, and he and his crew will do what men can do, there is no doubt about that."
Still the captain looked very anxious, so did others on board. Even in the attempt to pick up Bill, should he have floated so long, the boat might be swamped. It was the most critical time; for the helmsman looking towards the man he wished to save, might watch with less care the approach of a curling sea. Had old Grim been on board he would have been prognosticating dire disaster, but as he had gone away in the boat, he knew better than anybody else on board, what had happened. Many had become very anxious. Tommy Rebow, who was very fond of Bill, as well as of Jack Windy, wrung his hands, almost bursting into tears, as, not seeing them return, he began to fear that they both had been lost.
Meantime, where was Bill? On falling from aloft, and striking the chain-span, which, though it did not break his bones, broke his fall, he bounded off into the foaming sea. How he had not been killed he could not tell, but one thing was certain, it was not his head that struck the chain, but, as Jack Windy observed, it was the other end of his body. The fact at all events was, that he reached the foaming raging water not at all the worse for his fall. Though he went under for a moment, he soon rose with his head above the surface. He turned himself round once or twice to ascertain that all was right as far as his body was concerned, and then quietly contented himself with keeping his head as high above the foam as he well could. He did not think about sharks, or it might have made him still more uncomfortable. As to swimming after the ship, that he knew to be an impossibility.
"If I swim at all I shall only tire myself," he thought, so he just threw himself on his back, and kept his eyes fixed on the ship, as she flew away from him.
"It will be some time before she can be up to me again," he thought. "Captain Trevelyan is not the man to desert one of his people, even a little chap like me, and maybe he will remember what he said to my mother. If I keep my clothes on me, I shall not be able to float as long as without them."
Thinking thus, for he did not utter the words aloud, he managed to kick off one shoe, then the other. He felt lighter without them. The trousers were next to be got rid of. There was some risk in pulling them off, lest he might get his feet entangled in them, but a sailor's trousers are not very large. So Bill managed to draw up one of his legs and get hold of the foot of the trousers; then he slipped the other leg quickly out, and off went his trousers after his shoes. His shirt was the next thing to be rid of, but there was a risk of the tails getting over his head, so he rolled them up, and then getting one arm clear, in a twinkling whisked it off, and there he was, floating out in the ocean, with no more clothes on than when he was born; but he felt much lighter, and when the seas came roaring round him he kept his head more easily out of the curling foam. While getting off his clothes, he saw the life-buoy, with its bright light bursting forth, drop into the water, but it was too far off for him to attempt to reach it in that troubled sea. Though, as has been said, he knew his captain too well to dread that he would desert him, it was a sore trial of his faith to see the ship sail on and on, till she vanished into gloom. He had seen the ship wore round several times on different occasions. He knew that was the way of getting her head in another direction, in such a sea as was now running.
"The captain will not leave me; no, no fear of that," he thought, and presently, once more, as if to reward his confidence, he saw the ship appearing again through the gloom. On she came, nearer and nearer. He longed to strike out towards her, but he felt that the attempt would be useless, so he still lay floating with his hands moving, to prevent being rolled over and over by the seas. On she came, her dark masts and sails seen clearly against the sky, but she seemed about to pass him at a distance. Then he saw her heave-to. And now his heart beat anxiously. Would a boat be sent to pick him up? He was still too far away to give him a hope of reaching it by swimming. He thought, too,—"If I sing out I shall exhaust myself, and be unable to keep afloat;" so he lay as before, hoping only as a person in his position could hope, that a boat might be lowered. Yet he had been long enough at sea to know the danger of the operation. He had heard of boats being lowered in such a sea as was then running, and all hands being lost out of them. He waited and waited. It seemed to him not as if one hour, but hour after hour passed away, and there lay the ship, and yet no one on board could see him, nor could he make himself heard, as he thought.
"They are looking for me, there's no doubt about that," he said to himself; "but I wish they would send a boat."
If the water had been cold he could not have kept up, but it was just pleasant, and he felt his strength in no way exhausted. At length, amid the hurly-burly and clashing of the sea round him, although the corvette was a long way to leeward, he heard Captain Trevelyan's voice shouting out, "Up with the helm! Square away the after-yards!"
"Now," thought Bill, "I shall be left alone if I do not make myself heard;" and as he rose to the summit of a sea, he shouted out with might and main, "Lilly ahoy!"
"Hold fast!" cried the captain. "Down with the helm again!" and then came a hearty cheer from the deck of the ship.
It convinced him that his voice had been heard, but now he had a long long time to wait. He was sure that a boat was being lowered, but sometimes he pictured her to himself swamped alongside, and perhaps all those coming to his rescue cast into the foaming sea. Anxiously he looked out for her. How long it had seemed since he had shouted, and yet no help had come to him. His confidence in his captain, however, was unabated. He was sure that help would come, sooner or later. All he had to do was to float till then. Fortunately, he did not think of sharks, but still more fortunately, the sharks did not think of him. At length he saw a dark object between him and the ship. Yes! Yes! It was a boat! Now it was hid from his sight. Now he saw it again.
"Lilly ahoy!" he shouted out again, but not so loud as before.
"Hurrah!" some voices cried in return;—"Cheer up, lad, cheer up; it's all right!"
And then he saw without doubt a boat approaching, now making her way on the summit of a foaming sea, now again sinking into the trough, and being hid from his view. Still on she came towards him.
"Cheer up, lad!" again shouted a voice. It was that of old Grim. He was sure he knew it.
At length there was the boat quite close to him. Eager hands were ready to grasp him, but there was the danger of being struck by the bows of the boat, or the oars.
He watched his opportunity, and singing out, "I'll make for the bow," he struck forward.
Grimshaw's arms were extended towards him, and in another instant he found himself grasped by those friendly hands, and hauled up into the boat.
"Why, the lad's as slippery as an eel!" cried old Grim. "Are you hurt, Bill?"
"No, thank you," answered Bill. "I'm hearty and strong, as if I had only been taking a swim for pleasure."
"We must put you aft, though, and a jacket over you," said old Grim.
Fortunately, one of the men had one on. It was off in a moment, and wrapped round Bill, who was passed aft into the stern-sheets.
"Thank Heaven you are saved, boy. The captain will be glad to hear it," said Mr Collinson, as he was putting the boat's head round.
And now once more she made for the ship. Bill was quickly hauled up the side.
"Gripe him hard!" sung out old Grim, "or he will slip through your fists, lads; he's got such a lot of seaweed round him."
"Why, how is this?" exclaimed the captain, as he saw Bill's condition.
Bill told him.
"You did wisely, lad," he observed; "and now go below and turn into your hammock, and I will send the doctor and a stiff glass of grog, if he will let you have it."
In another minute Bill was between the blankets; but the doctor, after feeling his pulse, pronounced him none the worse for his ducking. The grog came out hissing hot from the captain's cabin, but old Grim, who was standing by the boy's hammock, declared it was somewhat too stiff for a youngster, and helped him with half the contents; for which kindness Bill was none the worse.
When Bill came on deck, the sun was shining brightly, the sea was blue and smooth, and the ship was running to the west, with studding-sails below and aloft.
"I told you so," said Bill to a remark of old Grim's. "There's the sun shining out as bright as ever, and, through the mercy of Him who looks after us poor sailors, not one of us has lost the number of his mess."
A blue canopy, undimmed by a single cloud, was spread over the bright, sparkling ocean, in the midst of which the graceful corvette, her snow-white canvas tapering upwards, glided towards the coast of Jamaica. Ahead was seen, rising out of the green plain, range above range of lofty blue mountains, appearing above the stratum of clouds which rolled along their precipitous sides, their steep cliffs descending abruptly to the ocean, while thick forests covered the more gentle slopes of the hills. In a short time, the white buildings of Port Royal were distinguished at the end of a narrow sandy spit overgrown with mangroves, well known as the Palisades. At the farther end of the spit was seen the white walls of Fort Morant, with a steep hill rising above it. Passing between the formidable ramparts of Fort Charles on one side, thickly studded with heavy ordnance, and of Fort Augusta, with Rock Fort above it, capable of sinking any fleet which might have ventured to enter, the corvette ran on towards Kingston, where she brought up at some distance from the town.
"Well, this is a beautiful country!" exclaimed Bill, as he surveyed the scene in which he found himself. "It beats Portsmouth Harbour hollow— that it does, I'm sure."
"Just wait a bit till we have had yellow Jack aboard!" growled out old Grim. "Very fine to look at, maybe, but you will find it very different when you know it as well as I do. Once I belonged to a ship out in these parts, when we lost the better half of our ship's company before we got home again."
"I hope we shall be more fortunate," said Bill. "But what do you mean by yellow Jack?"
"The yellow fever, to be sure, boy. You will see a fellow one hour rolling along with a quid in his mouth, as happy as a prince, and the next down with the fever, and wriggling about with pain; and in the morning when you ask after him, if he's on shore, you will hear he is buried already; if he's at sea, the sailmaker will be busy sewing him up in his hammock."
When Bill went to the cabin to attend to his duties, the officers were all talking away of what they were going to do on shore. While dinner was going forward, Bill could not help hearing their conversation. Some of them were talking of friends they expected to find; others were proposing rides up the country to Rock Fort, and other places; some talked of going over to Spanish Town, the capital of the island.
"Well, Collinson, and do you expect to find your friends the Lydalls here?" asked Mr Barker.
"He wouldn't be looking so happy if he did not," said the master.
"I am not surprised at it," observed the surgeon. "I once saw Miss Ellen Lydall, and if I had not happened to have a wife and small family of my own, I should have been entering the lists with him myself."
"Colonel Lydall told me that he expected his regiment would be sent here. The colonel's family accompanied him out, and I hope to find that he is stationed either at Uphill Barracks or Rock Fort," answered Lieutenant Collinson.
"But I say, Collinson, do you think the young lady will have remained faithful all this time? Remember what numbers of soldier-officers and rich planters there are out here ready to supplant you. Ha! Ha! Ha!" and the purser laughed and rubbed his hands at his own joke.
Lieutenant Collinson took this bantering very coolly. "A man may take from messmates what he certainly would not from other persons," he answered.
Bill heard the remark, but very wisely never repeated out of the cabin what he heard in it. He did, however, think to himself, "Mr Collinson is a kind, good officer, and I only hope, if he likes this Miss Lydall, that he will fall in with her, and maybe marry her one of these days."
As the ship lay some way from the town, it was too late for any of the officers to go on shore that night. When dinner was over, and Bill had finished his duties in the gun-room, he went on deck, but found Tommy Rebow and some of the other lads skylarking about the fore-rigging. He soon joined them.
"Hillo, youngster!" cried Grimshaw, as he passed him. "Take care you don't fall overboard again. You will not come off as easily as you did before. Look out there! What do you say to that chap?" and old Grim pointed to a dark triangular object which was slowly gliding by the ship. "Do you know what that is?"
"No," said Bill, "I cannot make it out."
"Then I'll tell you," said old Grim. "That's Black Tom—the biggest shark in these seas. This harbour is his home; and he takes precious good care that no seaman shall swim ashore from his ship. He would be down upon him in a twinkling, if he caught him in the water. They say the Government keeps him in its pay to act watchman, and he goes up to the Dockyard to be fed every day."
Bill now distinguished a large black body beneath the fin, but it soon passed ahead of the ship and was lost to sight.
The next day Mr Collinson sent for Bill, and told him to clean himself and get ready to go with him on shore, to carry his carpet-bag. Bill was very quickly ready, and took charge of the bag, which the lieutenant's servant gave him. The purser, and master, and two or three midshipmen were going on shore at the same time. "Now," thought Bill, "I shall hear all about the young lady, for I dare say Mr Collinson is going up to look after her."
They passed several other ships of war, for it was a busy time then in the West Indies; for, though England had thrashed most of her enemies, there were still a number of privateers cruising about, and doing all the mischief they could. Captain Trevelyan expected to be employed in looking after them. He had already gone ashore in his gig to pay his respects to the admiral up at the Penn—as the residence of the commander-in-chief is called—situated on an elevation about two miles out of Kingston.
As soon as they landed, Mr Collinson, telling Bill to follow him, took leave of his companions, they casting knowing glances after him.
"Lucky fellow!" said one of the midshipmen. "Depend upon it he is all right, or he would not look so happy."
They soon learned that Colonel Lydall's regiment was stationed at Uphill Barracks. As it was too far to walk, he ordered a caleche, and directed Bill to put in his bag. Bill looked very much disappointed, thinking he should have to go back to the boat. Great was his pleasure, therefore, when the lieutenant said—
"Jump up behind, lad." And away they drove through the regular, broad streets of Kingston, and were soon ascending the hill towards the barracks.
It was a grand scene—the blue mountains rising up in a semicircle before them, with lofty groves of palmetto, the wild cotton-tree and fig-tree at their bases; behind them the clean-looking white town with the vast harbour beyond; the palisades stretching away on one side, with Port Royal at the end, separating it from the ocean; the merchant-vessels floating in the harbour of Kingston, while farther off were seen the lofty masts and spars of the men-of-war. It was very hot, but Bill did not mind the heat, and only wished the drive was to be longer. They were soon among the well-built airy barracks of Uphill Park camp, and Bill felt very grand as the carriage drove up to the officers' quarters.
"Now I hope I shall see this young lady Lieutenant Collinson thinks so much about," thought Bill to himself.
The lieutenant jumped from the carriage, and eagerly went to the hall-door. He came back, however, very soon, looking somewhat disappointed, and told the negro driver to go on farther up the country. Bill, however, was not sorry, as he thus had an opportunity of seeing more of the island.
"I hope the lady is there, however," he said to himself.
They drove on along the fine road, and among curious trees such as Bill had never seen in his life. There was the graceful bamboo, with its long leaves waving in the breeze; and the trumpet tree, from thirty to forty feet high, its trunk something like that of the bamboo, with a curious fruit growing on it not unlike the strawberry. Bill was quite delighted when he caught sight of a monkey leaping among the branches of a tree, wild and at liberty, like a squirrel in England. Away it went, however, as the carriage approached, stopping only now and then to have a look at the approaching vehicle, then hiding itself among the foliage.
At length, after driving some miles, ascending higher and higher, the carriage turned off towards a large cottage-looking building on the side of the hill. There was a broad verandah in front, looking out over the plain towards the sea beyond. Under the verandah, several ladies and gentlemen were collected.
Two or three blacks came out to meet the carriage, and the lieutenant, having exchanged a few words with them, proceeded across the garden to the verandah. Bill could just see a young lady, who had been seated with her back to the drive, start up as the lieutenant approached, and put out her hand to shake his, as he came up. A fine-looking gentleman, whom Bill took to be the colonel, advanced from the other end of the verandah, and seemed to welcome him warmly. He then saw him bow to the rest of the company, and finally shake hands with one or two whom he appeared to recognise.
"It's all right," said Bill.
Bill was soon at home among the negro servants. He did not turn up his nose at them because they were black, and was ready to laugh and joke with them, and help them in anything they were about. He was very glad when, after some time, the lieutenant told him to take the bag out of the carriage, for he was going to stop there that evening.
Old Sally, the black cook, especially took a great fancy to Bill, and he seldom had had so luxurious a dinner as she put before him.
"Dare, sailor-boy! Eat and grow fat. Dat better than salt junk dat dey give on board ship."
Bill, in return, danced a hornpipe for the amusement of his black friends, who stood round him grinning from ear to ear, and clapping their hands with delight, one or two of the negro boys trying to imitate him, though Sally and the rest declared that they could in no way come up to his performance.
When the colonel's party went to dinner, Bill was told to go in and help. This he was glad to do, as he thus had an opportunity of seeing the young lady he had heard spoken about.
Lieutenant Collinson was seated by her side. He was sure that must be she, from the way the lieutenant was speaking to her.
"Well," thought Bill, "no wonder Mr Collinson admires her. She is indeed a sweet young lady; so fair, and such blue eyes! And I think she seems pleased to have the lieutenant where he is."
Little, probably, did either the officer or the young lady dream of the thoughts which were entering Bill Sunnyside's head. There were a number of other guests present,—two or three officers of the regiment, a planter or two, as the West Indian proprietors are called, and several ladies. Bill, however, thought that the colonel's daughter surpassed them all. How very happy she looked, as the lieutenant spoke to her; her countenance varying according to the subject, often a rich glow overspreading her face, while her eyes flashed and sparkled. Certainly, if the lieutenant had cared for her before, he must have admired her now more than ever. And so he did,—of that there could be little doubt; and he would have been ready at any moment to give his life for hers, and to fight to the last gasp to defend her from danger.
After spending a couple of days at Rockhill Cottage (for that was the name of the colonel's residence), Lieutenant Collinson, accompanied by Bill, returned on board. Each time, however, that the lieutenant went to the colonel's house he took Bill with him, who, accordingly, found himself thoroughly at home there. Sally especially won his affections. She sometimes in her kindness reminded him of his mother, only she was a great deal larger and fatter, and her skin was very black. "But, after all," as Bill observed, "what has that to do with it? It's the heart that I am talking about, the nature of which just comes out through the eyes and acts; and even mother could not be much kinder than Sally sometimes is, though, to be sure, she can knock the black boys about pretty smartly; but then maybe they deserve it, and their heads are somewhat thick, so that they don't feel when she comes down with a frying-pan on the top of them."
At length the corvette got put to rights; and stores and provisions having been taken on board, the admiral ordered her away on a cruise.
Mr Collinson looked somewhat sad when he bade Miss Ellen Lydall farewell.
"We shall be back soon, however," he said.
He did his best to keep up his spirits; and he told the young lady to do the same. As the carriage drove off, Bill saw her watching it, and she did not move from the point of the garden which commanded the road as long as it was in sight.
The Lilly was to be some time absent:—to proceed to the westward, and then to come round the northern coast of Cuba, in search of the privateers, which were an excessive annoyance to the English merchantmen passing through those seas. They had been at sea some days, and had seen no vessels.
"Well, Grimshaw," said Bill, "you see we have not had yellow Jack aboard yet, and I hope, in spite of what you have said, he will not pay us a visit."
"Don't sing out yet, Master Bill," answered old Grim. "Just stay till we have been into some of the harbours we shall have to visit, or been becalmed for a week together, with the water in the tank so hot that it pretty well scalds your mouth to drink it, and no need of a fire in the galley, because as how we can cook the meat by just hanging it up in the sun."
Bill laughed. "It must be pretty hot for that," he observed; "and I didn't expect we should have it much hotter than we have had it already."
"Wait a bit, boy, wait a bit," answered Grimshaw. "Now, you youngsters, what are you skylarking away there for?" he shouted out to several of the lads, who were, as usual, in spite of the hot sun, frolicking about in the rigging, accompanied by Queerface, the monkey.
Just as he spoke, Tommy Rebow was hunting the animal from shroud to backstay, up over the mast-head and down again. At last, Master Queerface made a spring out on the fore-yard. Tommy pursued him with thoughtless eagerness, and, in his attempt to get hold of him, lost his grasp. Over he went. In vain he caught at the foot-rope; and giving a turn, struck the water with his head. Down beneath the surface he went. Bill saw him falling, and knew well he could not swim. In spite of old Grim's caution about the sharks, without a moment's hesitation in he plunged, and swam towards the spot where Tommy had gone down.
"A man overboard! A man overboard!" was shouted by numbers who saw the accident.
The corvette was going at the rate of only three or four knots through the water. Bill swam rapidly on, his eye fixed on the centre of the circle made by Tommy as he fell.
"He's gone! He's gone!" shouted out several voices from the ship. Tommy, however, quickly again came to the surface, and Bill caught him as he appeared.
"A shark! A shark!" cried several voices.
Among the first who saw the shark was Jack Windy. He had a large knife in his hand, employed in some work, and, without waiting to cry out, overboard he went, and swam up to where the boys were struggling in the water. Old Grimshaw at the moment saw the danger of his young friend, and not knowing what Jack was about, overboard he went, with a boat's stretcher in his hand, purporting to do battle with the monster. At that instant the captain came on deck.
"Who's overboard?" he asked.
"Bill Sunnyside—Sunshine Bill, sir," cried out several voices.
"The lad whom I promised his widowed mother to protect," thought the captain, for he scarcely uttered the words aloud.
He had on a light silk jacket. There was no necessity to throw that off, but taking his watch out of his pocket, he handed it to one of the midshipmen, and, in another instant, he also was overboard, and swimming away towards Bill and Tommy.
"Turn on your back, Tommy!" cried Bill. "If you catch me round the neck, we shall both be drowned."
Tommy was too much frightened to understand what Bill said. The latter had, therefore, to tear himself from his grasp, and to swim away a little distance, only to return, however, to seize him by the collar.
The monster of the deep during this time had been eyeing the human beings in the water. Had there been only one, he would have attacked him immediately; but the number of persons swimming about made him somewhat timid. Jack, seeing that Bill was handling Tommy scientifically, kept his eye on the spot where he had seen the shark.
"Come on," he shouted, when he saw Grimshaw in the water; "we two will tackle the brute. And here comes our skipper, God bless him! He will look after the boys."
Mr Barker meantime had hove the ship to, and a boat was lowered, into which Mr Collinson had leaped with four hands, who were pulling with all their might towards the spot, though of course they had by this time some distance to go.
The captain swam on towards Bill and Tommy, and came up just as the latter had got Bill a second time round the throat.
Those on board had been watching Jack with intense anxiety. Once the monster was seen to be darting towards the captain, but, as he approached, Jack struck out towards him with his knife in his hand, while Grimshaw beat the water with his stick. The effect was to startle the shark. Jack dived; but, to the horror of all, a patch of blood appeared on the surface directly afterwards. None expected to see Jack Windy again. The next instant, however, up he came, shouting out—
"I've done for him! I've done for him!"
Meantime, Grimshaw was swimming round and round where the boys and the captain were, shouting, and kicking, and beating the water, which he continued to do till the boat came up to the spot.
"Take in the boys and the captain," he shouted out; "we will hold our own against the sharks."
There was little time to be lost, however, for the monster defeated by Jack was not the only one. Several others, attracted by the blood of their companion, came swimming swiftly towards the spot. The captain and the two boys were quickly hauled on board. Grimshaw was taken in next, and Jack had only just time to draw in his legs, before a huge shark, turning up the white of its belly, appeared close to the side of the boat.
"If I had been ready for you, you would have repented your boldness, Master Shark," cried Jack, as he saw the monster retreat, disappointed of its prey.
At first the captain thought that it was Bill who had first tumbled overboard; but when he found that he had leaped in to save Tommy Rebow, he praised him greatly; and from that day Bill became even a greater favourite than before with all on board. Sometimes prosperity spoils people. It was not the case with Sunshine Bill.
The ship had been at sea for some weeks, beating to the westward, when she rounded Cape Saint Antonio, the western coast of Cuba, and stood towards the coast of Florida. At length, one morning at daybreak, two vessels were seen about four miles away to the southward. One was a brig, the other a schooner.
The Lilly instantly made sail towards them, setting all the canvas she could spread. As soon as she was seen, the schooner made sail, evidently to escape her. The breeze freshened, and she was soon up with the brig, which was seen to be an English merchant-vessel. As they passed her a voice hailed—