The Congo Rovers A Story of the Slave Squadron
By Harry Collingwood This book by Collingwood is a good story, but as your reviewer has said elsewhere, told in a rather long-winded manner, and in the notably Kingston style and format that Collingwood often adopts. Why not? Kingston was dead before Collingwood started to write, and the style had been proved to be what young readers of the era liked.
The format specifically is that the book starts with a young boy who is suddenly offered a posting as a midshipman in a naval vessel about to sail in a few days' time. The boy accepts, and the story goes on from there. THE CONGO ROVERS A STORY OF THE SLAVE SQUADRON
BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD
A Story of the Slave Squadron.
MY FIRST APPEARANCE IN UNIFORM.
"Um!" ejaculated my father as he thoughtfully removed his double eye- glass from his nose with one hand, and with the other passed a letter to me across the breakfast-table—"Um! this letter will interest you, Dick. It is from Captain Vernon."
My heart leapt with sudden excitement, and my hand trembled as I stretched it out for the proffered epistle. The mention of Captain Vernon's name, together with the announcement that the subject-matter of the letter was of interest to me, prepared me in a great measure for the intelligence it conveyed; which was to the effect that the writer, having been appointed to the command of the sloop-of-war Daphne, now found himself in a position to fulfil a promise of some standing to his dear and honoured friend Dr Hawkesley (my father) by receiving his son (myself) on board the sloop, with the rating of midshipman. The sloop, the letter went on to say, was commissioned for service on the west coast of Africa; and if I decided to join her no time should be lost in procuring my outfit, as the Daphne was under orders to sail on the —; just four days from the date of the receipt of the letter.
"Well, Dick, what do you think of Captain Vernon's proposal?" inquired my father somewhat sadly, as I concluded my perusal of the letter and raised my eyes to his.
"Oh, father!" I exclaimed eagerly, "I hope you will consent to let me go. Perhaps I may never have another such an opportunity; and I am quite sure I shall never care to be anything but a sailor."
"Ah! yes—the old, old story," murmured my father, shaking his head dubiously. "Thousands of lads have told their fathers exactly the same thing, and have lived to bitterly regret their choice of a profession. Look at my life. I have to run about in all weathers; to take my meals when and how I can; there is not a single hour in the twenty-four that I can call my own; it is a rare thing for me to get a night of undisturbed rest; it is a hard, anxious, harassing life that I lead—you have often said so yourself, and urged it as one of the reasons why you object to follow in my footsteps. But I tell you, Dick, that my life—ay, or the life even of the poorest country practitioner, for that matter—is one of ease and luxury compared with that of a sailor. But I have said all this to you over and over again, without convincing you; and I hardly dare hope that I shall be more successful now; so, if you are really quite resolved to go to sea, I will offer no further objections. It is true that you will be going to an unhealthy climate; but God is just as well able to preserve you there as He is here; and then, again, you have a strong healthy constitution, which, fortified with such preservative medicines as I can supply, will, I hope, enable you to withstand the malaria and to return to us in safety. Now, what do you say—are you still resolved to go?"
"Quite," I replied emphatically. "Now that you have given your consent the last obstacle is removed, and I can follow with a light heart the bent of my own inclinations."
"Very well, then," said my father, rising from the table and pushing back his chair. "That question being settled, we had better call upon Mr Shears forthwith and give the order for your uniform and outfit. There is no time to lose; and since go you will, I would very much rather you went with Vernon than with anyone else."
The above conversation took place, as already stated, in the breakfast- room of my father's house. My father was at that time—as he continued to be until the day of his death—the leading physician in Portsmouth; and his house—a substantial four-storey building—stood near the top of the High Street. The establishment of Mr Shears, "Army and Navy Tailor, Clothier, and Outfitter," was situated near the bottom of the same street. A walk, therefore, of some ten minutes' duration took us to our destination; and at the end of a further half-hour's anxious consultation I had been measured for my uniform—one suit of which was faithfully promised for the next day—had chosen my sea-chest, and had selected a complete outfit of such clothing as was to be obtained ready- made. This important business concluded, my father departed upon his daily round of visits, and I had the remainder of the day at my own disposal.
My first act on emerging from the door of Mr Shears' establishment was to hasten off to the dockyard at top speed to take another look at the Daphne. I had often seen the craft before; had taken an interest in her, indeed, I may say, from the moment that her keel was laid—she was built in Portsmouth dockyard—and had watched her progress to completion and her recent launch with an admiration which had steadily increased until it grew into positive love. And now I was actually to have the happiness, the bliss, of going to sea in her as an officer on her first cruise. Ecstatic thought! I felt as though I was walking on air!
But my rapture received a pretty effectual damper when I reflected—as I soon did—that my obstinate determination to go to sea must certainly prove a deep disappointment, if not a source of constant and cruel anxiety, to my father. Dear old dad! his most cherished wish, as I knew full well, had long been that I, his only son, might qualify myself to take over and carry on the exceedingly snug practice he had built up, when the pressure of increasing years should render his retirement desirable. But the idea was so utterly distasteful to me that I had persistently turned a deaf ear to all his arguments, persuasions, ay, and even his entreaties. Unfortunately, perhaps, for the fulfilment of his desires, I was born and brought up at Portsmouth; and all my earliest recollections of amusement are, in some way or other, connected with salt water. Swimming and boating early became absolute passions with me; I was never quite happy unless I happened to be either in or on the water; then, indeed, all other pleasures were less than nothing to me. As a natural consequence, I soon became the intimate companion of every boatman in the harbour; I acquired, to a considerable extent, their tastes and prejudices, and soon mastered all the nautical lore which it was in their power to teach me. I could sail a boat before I could read; and by the time that I had learned to write, was able to hand, reef, and steer with the best of them. My conversation—except when it was addressed to my father—was copiously interlarded with nautical phrases; and by the time I had attained the age of fourteen—at which period this history begins—I was not only acquainted with the name, place, and use of every rope and spar in a ship, but I had also an accurate knowledge of the various rigs, and a distinct opinion as to what constituted a good model. The astute reader will have gathered from this confession that I was, from my earliest childhood, left pretty much my own master; and such was in fact the case. My mother died in giving birth to my only sister Eva (two years my junior); a misfortune which, in consequence of my father's absorption in the duties of his practice, left me entirely to the care of the servants, by whom I was shamefully neglected. But for this I should doubtless have been trained to obedience and a respectful deference to my father's wishes. The mischief, however, was done; I had acquired a love of the sea, and my highest ambition was to become a naval officer. This fact my father at length reluctantly recognised, and by persistent entreaty I finally prevailed upon him to take the necessary steps to gratify my heart's desire—with the result already known to the reader.
The sombre reflections induced by the thought of my father's disappointment did not, I confess with shame, last long. They vanished as a morning mist is dissipated before the rising sun, when I recalled to mind that I was not only going to sea, but that I was actually going to sail in the Daphne. This particular craft was my beau-ideal of what a ship ought to be; and in this opinion I was by no means alone— all my cronies hailing from the Hard agreeing, without exception, that she was far and away the handsomest and most perfect model they had ever seen. My admiration of her was unbounded; and on the day of her launch—upon which occasion I cheered myself hoarse—I felt, as I saw her gliding swiftly and gracefully down the ways, that it would be a priceless privilege to sail in her, even in the capacity of the meanest ship-boy. And now I was to be a midshipman on board her! I hurried onward with swift and impatient steps, and soon passed through the dockyard gates—having long ago, by dint of persistent coaxing, gained the entree to the sacred precincts—when a walk of some four or five hundred yards further took me to the berth alongside the wharf where she was lying.
Well as I knew every curve and line of her beautiful hull, my glances now dwelt upon her with tenfold loving interest. She was a ship-sloop of 28 guns—long 18-pounders—with a flush deck fore and aft. She was very long in proportion to her beam; low in the water, and her lines were as fine as it had been possible to make them. She had a very light, elegant-looking stern, adorned with a great deal of carved scroll-work about the cabin windows; and her gracefully-curved cut-water was surmounted by an exquisitely-carved full-length figure of Peneus' lovely daughter, with both arms outstretched, as in the act of flight, and with twigs and leaves of laurel just springing from her dainty finger-tips. There was a great deal of brass-work about the deck fittings, which gleamed and flashed brilliantly in the sun; and, the paint being new and fresh, she looked altogether superlatively neat, in spite of the fact that the operations of rigging and of shipping stores were both going on simultaneously.
Having satisfied for the time being my curiosity with regard to the hull of my future home, I next cast a glance aloft at her spars. She was rigged only as far as her topmast-heads, her topgallant-masts being then on deck in process of preparation for sending aloft. When I had last seen her she was under the masting-shears getting her lower-masts stepped; and it then struck me that they were fitting her with rather heavy spars. But now, as I looked aloft, I was fairly startled at the length and girth of her masts and yards. To my eye—by no means an unaccustomed one—her spars seemed taunt enough for a ship of nearly double her size; and the rigging was heavy in the same proportion. I stood there on the wharf watching with the keenest interest the scene of bustle and animation on board until the bell rang the hour of noon, and all hands knocked off work and went to dinner; by which time the three topgallant-masts were aloft with the rigging all ready for setting up when the men turned-to again. The addition of these spars to the length of her already lofty masts gave the Daphne, in my opinion, more than ever the appearance of being over-sparred; an opinion in which, as it soon appeared, I was not alone.
Most of the men left the dockyard and went home (as I suppose) to their dinner; but half a dozen or so of riggers, instead of following the example of the others, routed out from some obscure spot certain small bundles tied up in coloured handkerchiefs, and, bringing these on shore, seated themselves upon some of the boxes and casks with which the wharf was lumbered, and, opening the bundles, produced therefrom their dinners, which they proceeded to discuss with quite an enviable appetite.
For a few minutes the meal proceeded in dead silence; but presently one of them, glancing aloft at the Daphne's spars, remarked in a tone of voice which reached me distinctly—I was standing within a few feet of the party:
"Well, Tom, bo'; what d'ye think of the hooker now?"
The man addressed shook his head disapprovingly. "The more I looks at her the less I likes her," was his reply.
"I'm precious glad I ain't goin' to sea in her," observed another.
"Same here," said the first speaker. "Why, look at the Siren over there! She's a 38-gun frigate, and her mainmast is only two feet longer than the Daphne's—as I happen to know, for I had a hand in the buildin' of both the spars. The sloop's over-masted, that's what she is."
I turned away and bent my steps homeward. The short snatch of conversation which I had just heard, confirming as it did my own convictions, had a curiously depressing effect upon me, which was increased when, a few minutes afterwards, I caught a glimpse of the distant buoy which marked the position of the sunken Royal George. For the moment my enthusiasm was all gone; a foreboding of disaster took possession of me, and but for very shame I felt more than half-inclined to tell my father I had altered my mind, and would rather not go to sea. I had occasion afterwards to devoutly wish I had acted on this impulse.
When, however, I was awakened next morning by the sun shining brilliantly in at my bed-room window, my apprehensions had vanished, my enthusiasm was again at fever-heat, and I panted for the moment—not to be very long deferred—when I should don my uniform and strut forth to sport my glories before an admiring world.
Punctual almost to a moment—for once at least in his life—Mr Shears sent home the uniform whilst we were sitting down to luncheon; and the moment that I decently could I hastened away to try it on.
The breeches were certainly rather wrinkly above the knees, and the jacket was somewhat uncomfortably tight across the chest when buttoned over; it also pinched me a good deal under the arm-pits, whilst the sleeves exhibited a trifle too much—some six inches or so—of my wristbands and shirt-sleeves; and when I looked at myself in the glass I found that there was a well-defined ridge of loose cloth running across the back from shoulder to shoulder. With these trifling exceptions, however, I thought the suit fitted me fairly well, and I hastened down- stairs to exhibit myself to my sister Eva. To my intense surprise and indignation she no sooner saw me than she burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, and was heartless enough to declare that I looked "a perfect fright." Thoroughly disgusted with such unsisterly conduct I mustered all my dignity, and without condescending to ask for an explanation walked in contemptuous silence out of the room and the house.
A regimental band was to play that afternoon on Southsea Common, and thither I accordingly decided to direct my steps. There were a good many people about the streets, and I had not gone very far before I made the discovery that everybody was in high good-humour about something or other. The people I met wore, almost without exception, genial smiling countenances, and many a peal of hearty laughter rang out from hilarious groups who had already passed me. I felt anxious to know what it was that thus set all Portsmouth laughing, and glanced round to see if I could discover an acquaintance of whom I might inquire; but, as usual in such cases, was unsuccessful. When I reached the Common I found, as I expected I should, a large and fashionably dressed crowd, with a good sprinkling of naval and military uniforms, listening to the strains of the band. Here, for the first five minutes or so, I failed to notice anything unusual in the behaviour of the people; but the humorous item of news must have reached them almost simultaneously with my own arrival upon the scene, for very soon I detected on the faces of those who passed me the same amused smile which I had before encountered in the streets. I stood well back out of the thick of the crowd; both because I could hear the music better, and also to afford any friend of mine who might chance to be present an opportunity to see me in my imposing new uniform.
It was whilst I was standing thus in the most easy and nonchalant attitude I could assume that a horrible discovery forced itself upon me. I happened to be regarding with a certain amount of languid interest a couple of promenaders, consisting of a very lovely girl and a somewhat foppish ensign, when I suddenly caught the eye of the latter fixed upon me. He raised his eye-glass to his eye, and, in the coolest manner in the world, deliberately surveyed me through it, when, in an instant, a broad smile of amusement—the smile which I by this time knew so well— overspread his otherwise inanimate features. I glanced hurriedly behind me to see if I could discover the cause of his risibility, and, failing to do so, turned round again, just in time to see him, with his eye- glass still bearing straight in my direction, bend his head and speak a few words to his fair companion. Thereupon she, too, glanced in my direction, looked steadfastly at me for a moment, and then burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter which she vainly strove to stifle in her pocket-handkerchief. For a second or two I was utterly lost in astonishment at this unaccountable behaviour, and then all the hideous truth thrust itself upon me. They were laughing at me. Having at length fully realised this I turned haughtily away and at once left the ground.
I hurried homeward in a most unenviable state of mind, with the conviction every moment forcing itself more obtrusively upon me, that for some inconceivable reason I was the laughing-stock of everybody I met, when, just as I turned once more into the High Street I observed two midshipmen approaching on my own side of the way, and some half a dozen yards or so behind them a certain Miss Smith, a parlour boarder in the ladies' seminary opposite my father's house—a damsel not more than six or seven years my senior, with whom I was slightly acquainted, and for whom I had long cherished a secret but ardent passion.
With that sensitiveness which is so promptly evoked by even the bare suspicion of ridicule I furtively watched the two "young gentlemen" as they approached; but they had been talking and laughing loudly when I first caught sight of them, and although I saw that they were aware of my presence I failed to detect the sudden change of manner which I had dreaded to observe. Whether they were speaking of me or not I could not, of course, feel certain; but I rather fancied from the glances they cast in my direction that they were.
As they drew nearer I observed that the eyes of one of them were intently and inquiringly gazing into mine, and they continued so to do until the pair had fairly passed me. Being by this time in a decidedly aggressive frame of mind I returned this pertinacious gaze with a haughty and contemptuous stare, which, however, I must confess, did not appear to very greatly intimidate the individual at whom it was levelled, for, unless I was greatly mistaken, there was a twitching about the corners of his mouth which suggested a strong, indeed an almost uncontrollable disposition to laughter, whilst his eyes fairly beamed with merriment.
As they passed me this individual half halted for an instant, passed on again a step or two, and then turning abruptly to the right-about, dashed after me and seized me by the hand, which he shook effusively, exclaiming as he did so:
"It is—I'm sure it is! My dear Lord Henry, how are you? This is indeed an unexpected pleasure!"
At this moment Miss Smith passed, giving me as she did so a little start of recognition, followed by a bow and a beaming smile, which I returned in my most fascinating manner.
I was once more happy. This little incident, trifling though it was in itself, sufficed to banish in an instant the unpleasant reflections which a moment before had been rankling in my breast, for had not my fair divinity seen me in the uniform of the gallant defenders of our country? And had she not also heard and seen me mistaken for a lord? If this had no power to soften and subdue that proud heart and bring it in sweet humility to my feet, then—well I should like to know what would, that's all.
I allowed my fair enslaver to pass out of ear-shot, and then said to the midshipman who had so unexpectedly addressed me:
"Excuse me, sir, but I think you are mistaking me for someone else."
"Oh, no, I'm not," he retorted. "I know you well enough—though I must say you are greatly altered for the better since I saw you last a year ago. You're Lord Henry de Vere Montmorenci. Ah, you sly dog! you thought to play a trick upon your old friend Fitz-Jones, did you? But what brings you down here, Montmorenci? Have you come down to join?"
This was a most remarkable, and at the same time gratifying occurrence, for I could not keep feeling elated at being thus mistaken for a noble, and greeted with such enthusiasm by a most agreeable and intelligent brother officer, and—evidently—a scion of some noble house to boot. For a single instant an almost invincible temptation seized me to personate the character with which I was accredited, but it was as promptly overcome; my respect for the truth (temporarily) conquered my vanity, and I answered:
"I assure you, my dear sir, you are mistaken. I am not Lord Henry de Vere Montmorenci, but plain Richard Hawkesley, just nominated to the Daphne."
"Well, if you persist in saying so, I suppose I must believe you," answered Fitz-Jones. "But, really, the resemblance is most extraordinary—truly remarkable indeed. There is the same lofty intellectual forehead, the same proud eagle-glance, the same haughty carriage; the same—now, tell me, Tomnoddy, upon your honour as an officer and a gentleman, did you ever in your life before see such an extraordinary resemblance?"
"I never did; it is really most remarkable," answered the other midshipman in a strangely quivering voice which, but for his solemn countenance, I should have considered decidedly indicative of suppressed laughter.
"It really is most singular, positively marvellous," resumed Fitz- Jones. Then he added hurriedly:
"By the way, do you know my friend Tomnoddy? No! Then allow me to introduce him. Lord Tomnoddy—Mr Richard Hawkesley, just nominated to the Daphne. And I suppose I ought also to introduce myself. I am Lord Montague Fitz-Jones. You have, of course, heard of the Fitz-Jones family—the Fitz-J-o-h-n-e-s's, you know?"
I certainly had not; nor had I, up to that moment, any idea that Lord Tomnoddy was other than a mythical personage; but I did not choose to parade my ignorance in such matters, so I replied by a polite bow.
There was silence between us for a moment; and then Fitz-Jones—or Fitz- Johnes, rather—raised his hand to his forehead with a thoughtful air and murmured:
"Hawkesley! Hawkesley! I'm positive I've heard that name before. Now, where was it? Um—ah—eh? Yes; I have it. You're the handsome heartless fellow who played such havoc with my cousin Lady Mary's affections at the state ball last year. Now, don't deny it; I'm positive I'm right. Do you know," he continued, glaring at me in a most ferocious manner—"do you know that for the last six months I've been looking for you in order that I might shoot you?"
Somehow I did not feel very greatly alarmed at this belligerent speech, and vanity having by this time conquered my natural truthfulness, I determined to sustain my unexpected reputation as a lady-killer at all hazards. I therefore drew myself up, and, assuming my sternest look, replied that I should be happy to give him the desired opportunity whenever he might choose.
Fitz-Johnes' ferocious glare continued for a moment or two; then his brow cleared, and, extending his hand, he grasped mine, shook the member violently, and exclaimed:
"That was spoken like a gentleman and a brave man! Give me your hand, Hawkesley. I respect you, sir; I esteem you; and I forgive you all. If there is one thing which touches me more than another, one thing which I admire more than another, it is to see a man show a bold front in the face of deadly peril. Ah! now I can understand Lady Mary's infatuation. Poor girl! I pity her. And I suppose that pretty girl who passed just now is another victim to your fascinating powers. Ah, well! it's not to be wondered at, I'm sure. Tomnoddy, do you remember, by the by—?"
But Lord Tomnoddy was now standing with his back turned toward us, and his face buried in his pocket-handkerchief. His head was bowed, his shoulders were heaving convulsively, and certain inarticulate sounds which escaped him showed that he was struggling to suppress some violent emotion.
Lord Fitz-Johnes regarded his companion fixedly for a moment, then linked his arm in mine, drew me aside, and whispered hastily:
"Don't take any notice of him; he'll be all right again in a minute. It's only a little revulsion of feeling which has overcome him. He's frightfully tender-hearted—far too much so for a sailor; he can't bear the sight of blood; and he knew that if I called you out I should choose him for my second; and—you twig, eh!"
I thought I did, but was not quite sure, so I bowed again, which seemed quite as satisfactory as words to Fitz-Johnes, for he said, with his arm still linked in mine:
"That's all right. Now let's go and cement our friend ship over a bottle of wine at the 'Blue Posts,' what do you say?"
I intimated that the proposal was quite agreeable to me; and we accordingly wheeled about and directed our steps to the inn in question, which, in my time, was the place of resort, par excellence, of all midshipmen.
Lord Tomnoddy now removed his handkerchief from his eyes; and, sure enough, he had been weeping, for I detected him in the very act of drying his tears. He must have possessed a truly wonderful command over his features, though, for I could not detect the faintest trace of that deep feeling which had overpowered him so shortly before; on the contrary, he laughed uproariously at a very feeble joke which I just then ventured to let off; and thereafter, until I parted with them both an hour later, was the merriest of the party.
We arrived in due course at the "Blue Posts," and, walking into a private parlour, rang for the waiter. On the appearance of that individual, Fitz-Johnes, with a truly lordly air, ordered in three bottles of port; sagely remarking that he made a point of never drinking less than a bottle himself; and as his friend Hawkesley was known to have laid down the same rule, the third bottle was a necessity unless Lord Tomnoddy was to go without. Lord Tomnoddy faintly protested against the ordering of so much wine; but Fitz-Johnes was firm in his determination, insisting that he should regard it as nothing short of a deliberate insult on Tomnoddy's part if that individual declined his hospitality.
After a considerable delay the wine and glasses made their appearance, the waiter setting them down, and then pausing respectfully by the table.
"Thank you; that will do. You need not wait," said Fitz-Johnes.
"The money, if you please, sir," explained the waiter.
"Oh, ah! yes, to be sure. The money." And Fitz-Johnes plunged his hand into his breeches pocket and withdrew therefrom the sum of twopence halfpenny, together with half a dozen buttons (assorted); a penknife minus its blades; the bowl of a clay tobacco pipe broken short off; three pieces of pipe-stem evidently originally belonging to the latter; and a small ball of sewing twine.
Carefully arranging the copper coins on the edge of the table he returned the remaining articles to their original place of deposit, and then plunged his hand into his other pocket, from which he produced— nothing.
"How much is it?" he inquired, glancing at the waiter.
"Fifteen shillings, if you please, sir," was the reply.
"Lend me a sovereign, there's a good fellow; I've left my purse in my other pocket," he exclaimed to Lord Tomnoddy.
"I would with pleasure, old fellow, if I had it. But, unfortunately, I haven't a farthing about me."
Thereupon the waiter proceeded deliberately to gather up the glasses again, and was about to take them and the wine away, when I interposed with a proposal to pay.
"No," said Fitz-Johnes fiercely; "I won't hear of it; I'll perish at the stake first. But if you really don't mind lending me a sovereign until to-morrow—"
I said I should be most happy; and forthwith produced the coin, which Fitz-Johnes, having received it, flung disdainfully down upon the table with the exclamation:
"There, caitiff, is the lucre. Now, avaunt! begone! Thy bones are marrowless; and you have not a particle of speculation about you."
The waiter, quite unmoved, took up the sovereign, laid down the change— which Fitz-Johnes promptly pocketed—and retired from the room, leaving us to discuss our wine in peace; which we did, I taking three glasses, and my companions disposing of the remainder.
Fitz-Johnes now became very communicative on the subject of his cousin Lady Mary; and finally the recollection came to him suddenly that she had sent him her miniature only a day or two before. This he proposed to show me, in order that I might pronounce an opinion as to the correctness of the likeness; but on instituting a search for it, he discovered—much to my relief, I must confess—that he had left it, with his purse, in the pocket of his other jacket.
The wine at length finished, we parted company at the door of the "Blue Posts;" I shaping a course homeward, and my new friends heading in the direction of the Hard, their uproarious laughter reaching my ear for some time after they had passed out of sight.
I QUIT THE PATERNAL ROOF.
On reaching home I found that my father had preceded me by a few minutes only, and was to be found in the surgery. Thither, accordingly, I hastened to give him an opportunity of seeing me in my new rig.
"Good Heavens, boy!" he exclaimed when he had taken in all the details of my appearance, "do you mean to say that you have presented yourself in public in that extraordinary guise?"
I respectfully intimated that I had, and that, moreover, I failed to observe anything at all extraordinary in my appearance.
"Well," observed he, bursting into a fit of hearty laughter, notwithstanding his evident annoyance, "you may not have noticed it; but I'll warrant that everybody else has. Why, I should not have been surprised to hear that you had found yourself the laughing-stock of the town. Run away, Dick, and change your clothes at once; Shears must see those things and endeavour to alter them somehow; you can never wear them as they are."
I slunk away to my room in a dreadfully depressed state of mind. Was it possible that what my father had said was true! A sickening suspicion seized me that it was; and that I had at last found an explanation of the universal laughter which had seemed to accompany me everywhere in my wanderings that wretched afternoon.
I wrapped up the now hated uniform in the brown paper which had encased it when it came from Shears; and my father and I were about to sally forth with it upon a wrathful visit to the erring Shears, when a breathless messenger from him arrived with another parcel, and a note of explanation and apology, to the effect that by some unfortunate blunder the wrong suit had been sent home, and Mr Shears would feel greatly obliged if we would return it per bearer.
The man, upon this, was invited inside and requested to wait whilst I tried on the rightful suit, which was found to fit excellently; and I could not avoid laughing rather ruefully as I looked in the glass and contrasted my then appearance with that which I remembered it to have been in the earlier part of the day. Later on, that same evening, my sea-chest and the remainder of my outfit arrived; and I was ready to join, as had been already arranged, on the following day.
The eventful morning at length arrived; and with my enthusiasm considerably cooled by a night of sleepless excitement and the unpleasant consciousness that I was about, in an hour or two more, to bid a long farewell to home and all who loved me, I descended to the breakfast-room. My father was already there; but Eva did not come down until the last moment; and when she made her appearance it was evident that she had very recently been weeping. The dear girl kissed me silently with quivering lips, and we sat down to breakfast. My father made two or three efforts to start something in the shape of a conversation, but it was no good; the dear old gentleman was himself manifestly ill at ease; Eva could not speak a word for sobbing; and as for me, I was as unable to utter a word as I was to swallow my food—a great lump had gathered in my throat, which not only made it sore but also threatened to choke me, and it was with the utmost difficulty that I avoided bursting into a passion of tears. None of us ate anything, and at length the wretched apology for a meal was brought to a conclusion, my father read a chapter from the Bible, and we knelt down to prayers. I will not attempt to repeat here the words of his supplication. Suffice it to say that they went straight to my heart and lodged there, their remembrance encompassing me about as with a seven- fold defence in many a future hour of trial and temptation.
On rising from his knees my father invited me to accompany him to his consulting-room, and on arriving there he handed me a chair, seated himself directly in front of me, and said:
"Now, my dear boy, before you leave the roof which has sheltered you from your infancy, and go forth to literally fight your own way through the world, there is just a word or two of caution and advice which I wish to say. You are about to embark in a profession of your own deliberate choice, and whilst that profession is of so honourable a character that all who wear its uniform are unquestioningly accepted as gentlemen, it is also one which, from its very nature, exposes its followers to many and great temptations. I will not enlarge upon these; you are now old enough to understand the nature of many of them, and those which you may not at present know anything about will be readily recognisable as such when they present themselves; and a few simple rules will, I trust, enable you to overcome them. The first rule which I wish you to take for your guidance through life, my son, is this. Never be ashamed to honour your Maker. Let neither false pride, nor the gibes of your companions, nor indeed any influence whatever, constrain you to deny Him or your dependence upon Him; never take His name in vain, nor countenance by your continued presence any such thing in others. Bear in mind the fact that He who holds the ocean in the hollow of His hand is also the Guide, the Helper, and the defender of 'those who go down into the sea in ships;' and make it an unfailing practice to seek His help and protection every day of your life.
"Never allow yourself to contract the habit of swearing. Many men—and, because of their pernicious example, many boys too—habitually garnish their conversation with oaths, profanity, and obscenity of the vilest description. It may be—though I earnestly hope and pray it will not—that a bad example in this respect will be set you by even your superior officers. If such should unhappily be the case, think of this, our parting moments, and of my parting advice to you, and never suffer yourself to be led away by such example. In the first place it is wrong—it is distinctly sinful to indulge in such language; and in the next place, to take much lower ground, it is vulgar, ungentlemanly, and altogether in the very worst possible taste. It is not even manly to do so, though many lads appear to think it so; there is nothing manly, or noble, or dignified in the utterance of words which inspire in the hearers—unless they be the lowest of the low—nothing save the most extreme disgust. If you are ambitious to be classed among the vilest and most ruffianly of your species, use such language; but if your ambition soars higher than this, avoid it as you would the pestilence.
"Be always strictly truthful. There are two principal incentives to falsehood—vanity and fear. Never seek self-glorification by a falsehood. If fame is not to be won legitimately, do without it; and never seek to screen yourself by a falsehood—this is mean and cowardly in the last degree. 'To err is human;' we are all liable to make mistakes sometimes; such a person as an infallible man, woman, or child has never yet existed, and never will exist. Therefore, if you make a mistake, have the courage to manfully acknowledge it and take the consequences; I will answer for it that they will not be very dreadful. A fault confessed is half atoned. And, apart from the morality of the thing, let me tell you that a reputation for truthfulness is a priceless possession to a man; it makes his services doubly valuable.
"Be careful that you are always strictly honest, honourable, and upright in your dealings with others. Never let your reputation in this respect be sullied by so much as a breath. And bear this in mind, my boy, it is not sufficient that you should be all this, you must also seem it, that is to say you must keep yourself far beyond the reach of even the barest suspicion. Many a man who, by carelessness or inexperience, has placed himself in a questionable position, has been obliged to pay the penalty of his want of caution by carrying about with him, to the end of his life, the burden of a false and undeserved suspicion.
"And now there is only one thing more I wish to caution you against, and that is vanity. It is a failing which is only too plainly perceptible in most boys of your age, and—do not be angry, Dick, if I touch the sore spot with a heavy hand; it is for your own good that I do it—you have it in a very marked degree. Like most of your compeers you think that, having passed your fourteenth birth-day, you are now a man, and in many points I notice that you have already begun to ape the ways of men. Don't do it, Dick. Manhood comes not so early; and of all disagreeable and objectionable characters, save me, I pray you, from a boy who mistakes himself for a man. Manhood, with its countless cares and responsibilities, will come soon enough; whilst you are a boy be a boy; or, if you insist on being a man before your time, cultivate those attributes which are characteristic of true manhood, such as fearless truth, scrupulous honour, dauntless courage, and so on; but don't, for Heaven's sake, adopt the follies and vices of men. As I have said, Dick, vanity is certainly your great weakness, and I want you to be especially on your guard against it. It will tempt you to tamper with the truth, even if it does no worse," (I thought involuntarily of Lady Mary and my tacit admission of the justice of Lord Fitz-Johnes' impeachment of me with regard to her), "and it is quite possible that it may lead you into a serious scrape.
"Now, Dick, my boy—my dear son—I have said to you all that I think, even in the slightest degree, necessary by way of caution and advice. I can only affectionately entreat you to remember and ponder upon my words, and pray God to lead you to a right understanding of them.
"And now," he added, rising from his seat, "I think it is time you were on the move. Go and wish Eva good-bye, and then I will drive you down to the Hard—I see Edwards has brought round the carriage."
I hurried away to the drawing-room, where I knew I should find my sister, and, opening the door gently, announced that I had come to say good-bye. The dear girl, upon hearing my voice, rose up from the sofa, in the cushion of which she had been hiding her tear-stained face, and came with unsteady steps toward me. Then, as I looked into her eyes— heavy with the mental agony from which she was suffering, and which she bravely strove to hide for my sake—I realised, for the first time in my life, all the horror which lurks in that dreadful word "Farewell." Meaning originally a benediction, it has become by usage the word with which we cut ourselves asunder from all that is nearest and dearest to us; it is the signal for parting; the last word we address to our loved ones; the fatal spell at which they lingeringly and unwillingly withdraw from our clinging embrace; the utterance at which the hand-clasp of friendship or of love is loosed, and we are torn apart never perhaps again to meet until time shall be no more.
My poor sister! It was pitiful to witness her intense distress. This was our first parting. Never before had we been separated for more than an hour or two at a time, and, there being only the two of us, our mutual affection had steadily, though imperceptibly, grown and strengthened from year to year until now, when to say "good-bye" seemed like the rending of our heart-strings asunder.
It had to be said, however, and it was said at last—God knows how, for my recollection of our parting moments is nothing more than that of a brief period of acute mental suffering—and then, placing my half- swooning sister upon the couch and pressing a last lingering kiss on her icy-cold lips, I rushed from the room and the house.
My father had already taken his seat in the carriage; my luggage was piled up on the front seat alongside the driver, and nothing therefore remained but for me to jump in, slam-to the door, and we were off.
It seemed equally impossible to my father and to myself to utter a single word during that short—though, in our then condition of acute mental tension, all too long—drive to the Hard; we sat therefore dumbly side by side, with our hands clasped, until the carriage drew up, when I sprang out, hastily hailed a boatman, and then at once began with feverish haste to drag my belongings off the carriage down into the road. I had still to say good-bye to my father, and I felt that I must shorten the time as much as possible, that ten minutes more of such mental torture would drive me mad.
The boatman quickly shouldered my chest, and, gathering up the remainder of my belongings in his disengaged hand, discreetly trotted off to the wherry, which he unmoored and drew alongside the slipway.
Then I turned to my father, and, with the obtrusive lump in my throat by this time grown so inconveniently large that I could scarcely articulate, held out my hand to him.
"Good-bye, father!" I stammered out huskily.
"Good-bye, Dick, my son, my own dear boy!" he returned, not less affected than myself. "Good-bye! May God bless and keep you, and in His own good time bring you in health and safety back to us! Amen."
A quick convulsive hand-clasp, a last hungry glance into the loving face and the sorrow-dimmed eyes which looked so longingly down into mine, and with a hardly-suppressed cry of anguish I tore myself away, staggered blindly down the slipway, tumbled into the boat, and, as gruffly as I could under the circumstances, ordered the boatman to put me on board the Daphne.
THE TRUTH ABOUT FITZ-JOHNES.
"Where are we going, Tom?" I asked, as the boatman, an old chum of mine, proceeded to step the boat's mast. "You surely don't need the sail for a run half-way across the harbour?"
"No," he answered; "no, I don't. But we're bound out to Spithead. The Daphne went out this mornin' at daylight to take in her powder, and I 'spects she's got half of it stowed away by this time. Look out for your head, Mr Dick, sir, we shall jibe in a minute."
I ducked my head just in time to save my glazed hat from being knocked overboard by the jibing mainsail of the boat, and then drew out my handkerchief and waved another farewell to my father, whose fast- diminishing figure I could still make out standing motionless on the shore, with his hand shading his eyes as he watched the rapidly moving boat. He waved back in answer, and then the intervening hull of a ship hid him from my view, and I saw him no more for many a long day.
"Ah, it's a sorry business that, partin' with friends and kinsfolk when you're outward-bound on a long cruise that you can't see the end of!" commented my old friend Tom; "but keep up a good heart, Mr Dick; it'll all be made up to yer when you comes home again by and by loaded down to the scuppers with glory and prize-money."
I replied somewhat drearily that I supposed it would; and then Tom— anxious in his rough kindliness of heart to dispel my depression of spirits and prepare me to present myself among my new shipmates in a suitably cheerful frame of mind—adroitly changed the subject and proceeded to put me "up to a few moves," as he expressed it, likely to prove useful to me in the new life upon which I was about to enter.
"And be sure, Mr Dick," he concluded, as we shot alongside the sloop, "be sure you remember always to touch your hat when you steps in upon the quarter-deck of a man-o'-war, no matter whether 'tis your own ship or a stranger."
Paying the old fellow his fare, and parting with him with a hearty shake of the hand, I sprang up the ship's side, and—remembering Tom's parting caution just in the nick of time—presenting myself in due form upon the quarter-deck, where the first lieutenant had posted himself and from which he was directing the multitudinous operations then in progress, reported myself to that much-dreaded official as "come on board to join."
He was a rather tall and decidedly handsome man, with a gentlemanly bearing and a well-knit shapely-looking figure, dark hair and eyes, thick bushy whiskers meeting under the chin, and a clear strong melodious voice, which, without the aid of a speaking-trumpet, he made distinctly heard from one end of the ship to the other. As he stood there, in an easy attitude with his hands lightly clasped behind his back and his eye taking in, as it seemed at a glance, everything that was going forward, he struck me as the beau-ideal of a naval officer. I took a strong liking to him on the spot, an instinctive prepossession which was afterwards abundantly justified, for Mr Austin—that was his name—proved to be one of the best officers it has ever been my good fortune to serve under.
"Oh, you're come on board to join, eh?" he remarked in response to my announcement. "I suppose you are the young gentleman about whom Captain Vernon was speaking to me yesterday. What is your name?"
I told him.
"Ah! Hawkesley! yes, that is the name. I remember now. Captain Vernon told me that although you have never been to sea as yet you are not altogether a greenhorn. What can you do?"
"I can hand, reef, and steer, box the compass, pull an oar, or sail a boat; and I know the name and place of every spar, sail, and rope throughout the ship."
"Aha! say you so? Then you will prove indeed a valuable acquisition. What is the name of this rope?"
"The main-topgallant clewline," I answered, casting my eye aloft to note the "lead" of the rope.
"Right!" he replied with a smile. "And you have the true nautical pronunciation also, I perceive. Mr Johnson,"—to a master's mate who happened to be passing at the moment—"this is Mr Hawkesley. Kindly take him under your wing and induct him into his quarters in the midshipmen's berth, if you please. Don't stop to stow away your things just now, Mr Hawkesley," he continued. "I shall have an errand for you in a few minutes."
"Very well, sir," I replied. And following my new acquaintance, I first saw to the hoisting in of my traps, and then with them descended to the place which was to be my home for so many months to come.
This was a tolerably roomy but very indifferently lighted cabin on the lower or orlop deck, access to which was gained by the descent of a very steep ladder. The furniture was of the most meagre description, consisting only of a very solid deal table, two equally solid forms or stools, and a couple of arm-chairs, one at each end of the table, all securely lashed down to the deck. There was a shelf with a ledge along its front edge, and divisions to form lockers, extending across the after-end of the berth; and under this hung three small book-cases, (which I was given to understand were private property) and a mirror six inches long by four inches wide, before which the "young gentlemen"— four in number, including myself—and the two master's mates had to perform their toilets as best they could. The fore and after bulkheads of the apartment were furnished with stout hooks to which to suspend our hammocks, which, by the by, when slung, left, I noticed, but a very small space on either side of the table; and depending from a beam overhead there hung a common horn lantern containing the most attenuated candle I ever saw—a veritable "purser's dip." This lantern, which was suspended over the centre of the table, afforded, except at meal-times or other special occasions, the sole illumination of the place. Although the ship was new, and the berth had only been occupied a few days, it was already pervaded by a very powerful odour of paint and stale tobacco-smoke, which made me anxious to quit the place with the least possible delay.
Merely selecting a position, therefore, for my chest, and leaving to the wretched lad, whom adverse fortune had made the attendant of the place, the task of lashing it down, I hastened on deck again, and presenting myself once more before the first lieutenant, announced that I was now ready to execute any commission with which he might be pleased to intrust me.
"Very well," said he. "I want you to take the gig and proceed on board the Saint George with this letter for the first lieutenant of that ship. Wait for an answer, and if he gives you a parcel be very careful how you handle it, as it will contain articles of a very fragile character which must on no account be damaged or broken."
The gig was thereupon piped away, and when she was in the water and her crew in her I proceeded in my most stately manner down the side and flung myself in an easily negligent attitude into the stern-sheets.
I felt at that moment exceedingly well satisfied with myself. I had joined the ship but a bare half-hour before; yet here I was, singled out from the rest of the midshipmen as the fittest person to be intrusted with an evidently important mission. I forgot not only my father's caution against vanity but also my sorrow at parting with him; my amour propre rose triumphant above every other feeling; the disagreeable lump in my throat subsided, and with an unconscious, but no doubt very ludicrous, assumption of condescending authority, I gave the order to—
"Shove off, and get the muslin upon her, and see that you crack on, coxswain, for I am in a hurry."
"Ay, ay, sir," returned that functionary in a very respectful tone of voice. "Step the mast, for'ard there, you sea-dogs, 'and get the muslin on her.'"
With a broad grin, whether at the verbatim repetition of my order, or in consequence of some pantomimic gesture on the part of the coxswain, who was behind me—I had a sudden painful suspicion that it might possibly be both—the men sprang to obey the order; and in another instant the mast was stepped, the halliard and tack hooked on, the sheet led aft, and the sail was all ready for hoisting.
"What d'ye say, Tom; shall us take down a reef!" asked one of the men.
"Reef? No, certingly not. Didn't you hear the gentleman say as how we was to 'crack on' because he's in a hurry? Give her whole canvas," replied the coxswain.
With a shivering flutter and a sudden violent jerk the sail was run up; and, careening gunwale-to, away dashed the lively boat toward the harbour.
It was blowing fresh and squally from the eastward, and for the first mile of our course there was a nasty choppy sea for a boat. The men flung their oil-skins over their shoulders, and ranging themselves along the weather side of the boat, seated themselves on the bottom-boards, and away we went, jerk-jerking through it, the sea hissing and foaming past us to leeward, and the spray flying in a continuous heavy shower in over the weather-bow and right aft, drenching me through and through in less than five minutes.
"I'm afeard you're gettin' rayther wet, sir," remarked the coxswain feelingly when I had just about arrived at a condition of complete saturation; "perhaps you'd better have my oil-skin, sir."
"No, thanks," I replied, "I am very comfortable as I am."
This was, to put it mildly, a perversion of the truth. I was not very comfortable; I was wet to the skin, and my bran-new uniform, upon which I so greatly prided myself, was just about ruined. But it was then too late for the oil-skin to be of the slightest benefit to me; and, moreover, I did not choose that those men should think I cared for so trifling a matter as a wetting.
But a certain scarcely-perceptible ironical inflection in the coxswain's voice, when he so kindly offered me the use of his jumper, suggested the suspicion that perhaps he was quietly amusing himself and his shipmates at my expense, and that the drenching I had received was due more to his management of the boat than anything else, so I set myself quietly to watch.
I soon saw that my suspicion was well-founded. The rascal, instead of easing the boat and meeting the heavier seas as he ought to have done, was sailing the craft at top speed right through them, varying the performance occasionally by keeping the boat broad away when a squall struck her, causing her to careen until her gunwale went under, and as a natural consequence shipping a great deal of water.
At length he rather overdid it, a squall striking the boat so heavily that before he could luff and shake the wind out of the sail she had filled to the thwarts. I thought for a moment that we were over, and so did the crew of the boat, who jumped to their feet in consternation. Being an excellent swimmer myself, however, I managed to perfectly retain my sang-froid, whilst I also recognised in the mishap an opportunity to take the coxswain down a peg or two.
Lifting my legs, therefore, coolly up on the side seat out of reach of the water, I said:
"How long have you been a sailor, coxswain?"
"Nigh on to seven year, sir. Now then, lads, dowse the sail smartly and get to work with the bucket."
"Seven years, have you?" I returned placidly. "Then you ought to know how to sail a boat by this time. I have never yet been to sea; but I should be ashamed to make such a mess of it as this."
To this my friend in the rear vouchsafed not a word in reply, but from that moment I noticed a difference in the behaviour of the men all round. They found they had not got quite the greenhorn to deal with that they had first imagined.
When at last the boat was freed of the water and sail once more made upon her, I remarked to the coxswain:
"Now, Tom—if that is your name—you have amused yourself and your shipmates at my expense—to your heart's content, I hope—you have played off your little practical joke upon me, and I bear no malice. But—let there be no more of it—do you understand?"
"Ay ay, sir; I underconstumbles," was the reply; "and I'm right sorry now as I did it, sir, and I axes your parding, sir; that I do. Dash my buttons, though, but you're a rare plucky young gentleman, you are, sir, though I says it to your face. And I hopes, sir, as how you won't bear no malice again' me for just tryin' a bit to see what sort o' stuff you was made of, as it were?"
I eased the poor fellow's mind upon this point, and soon afterwards we arrived alongside the Saint George.
I found the first lieutenant, and duly handed over my despatch, which he read with a curious twitching about the corners of the mouth.
Having mastered the contents, he retired below, asking me to wait a minute or two.
At that moment my attention was attracted to a midshipman in the main rigging, who, with exaggerated deliberation, was making his unwilling way aloft to the mast-head as it turned out. A certain familiar something about the young gentleman caused me to look up at him more attentively; and I then at once recognised my recent acquaintance, Lord Fitz-Johnes. At the same moment the second lieutenant, who was eyeing his lordship somewhat wrathfully, hailed him with:
"Now then, Mr Tomkins, are you going to be all day on your journey? Quicken your movements, sir, or I will send a boatswain's mate after you with a rope's-end to freshen your way. Do you hear, sir?"
"Ay ay, sir," responded the ci-devant Lord Fitz-Johnes—now plain Mr Tomkins—in a squeaky treble, as he made a feeble momentary show of alacrity. Just then I caught his eye, and, taking off my hat, made him an ironical bow of recognition, to which he responded by pressing his body against the rigging—pausing in his upward journey to give due effect to the ceremony—spreading his legs as widely apart as possible, and extending both hands toward me, the fingers outspread, the thumb of the right hand pressing gently against the point of his nose, and the thumb of the left interlinked with the right-hand little finger. This salute was made still more impressive by a lengthened slow and solemn twiddling of the fingers, which was only brought to an end by the second lieutenant hailing:
"Mr Tomkins, you will oblige me by prolonging your stay at the mast- head until the end of the afternoon watch, if you please."
As the answering "Ay ay, sir," came sadly down from aloft, I felt a touch on my arm, and, turning round, found my second acquaintance, Lord Tomnoddy, by my side. As I looked at him I felt strongly inclined to ask him whether he also had changed his name since our last meeting.
"Oh, look here, Hawksbill," he commenced, "I'm glad you've come on board; I wanted to see you in order that I might repay you the sovereign you lent us the other day. Here it is,"—selecting the coin from a handful which he pulled out of his breeches pocket and thrusting it into my hand—"and I am very much obliged to you for the loan. I really hadn't a farthing in my pocket at the time, or I wouldn't have allowed Tomkins to borrow it from you—and it was awfully stupid of me to let you go away without saying where I could send it to you."
"Pray do not say anything further about it, Mr —, Mr —."
"I am Lord Southdown, at your service—not Lord Tomnoddy, as my whimsical friend Tomkins dubbed me the other day. It is perfectly true," he added somewhat haughtily, and then with a smile resumed: "but I suppose I must not take offence at your look of incredulity, seeing that I was a consenting party to that awful piece of deception which Tomkins played off upon you. Ha, ha, ha! excuse me, but I really wish you could have seen yourself when that mischievous friend of mine accused you of—of—what was it? Oh, yes, of playing fast and loose with the affections of the fictitious Lady Sara, or whatever the fellow called her. And then again, when he remarked upon your extraordinary resemblance to Lord—Somebody—another fictitious friend of his, and directed attention to your 'lofty intellectual forehead, your proud eagle-glance, your—' oh, dear! it was too much."
And off went his lordship into another paroxysm of laughter, which sent the tears coursing down his cheeks and caused me to flush most painfully with mortification.
"Upon my word, Hawksbill—" he commenced.
"My name is Hawkesley, my lord, at your service," I interrupted, somewhat angrily I am afraid.
"I beg your pardon, Mr Hawkesley; the mistake was a perfectly genuine and unintentional one, I assure you. I was going to apologise—as I do, most heartily, for laughing at you in this very impertinent fashion. But, my dear fellow, let me advise you as a friend to overcome your very conspicuous vanity. I am, perhaps, taking a most unwarrantable liberty in presuming to offer you advice on so delicate a subject, or, indeed, in alluding to it at all; but, to tell you the truth, I have taken rather a liking for you in spite of—ah—ahem—that is—I mean that you struck me as being a first-rate fellow notwithstanding the little failing at which I have hinted. You are quite good enough every way to pass muster without the necessity for any attempt to clothe yourself with fictitious attributes of any kind. Of course, in the ordinary run of events you will soon be laughed out of your weakness—there is no place equal to a man-of-war for the speedy cure of that sort of thing—but the process is often a very painful one to the patient—I have passed through it myself, so I can speak from experience—so very painful was it to me that, even at the risk of being considered impertinent, I have ventured to give you a friendly caution, in the hope that your good sense will enable you to profit by it, and so save you many a bitter mortification. Now I hope I have not offended you?"
"By no means, my lord," I replied, grasping his proffered hand. "On the contrary, I am very sincerely obliged to you—"
At this moment the first lieutenant of the Saint George reappeared on deck, and coming up to me with Mr Austin's letter open in his hand, said:
"My friend Mr Austin writes me that you are quite out of eggs on board the Daphne, and asks me to lend him a couple of dozen." (Here was another take-down for me; the important despatch with which I—out of all the midshipmen on board—had been intrusted was simply a request for the loan of two dozen eggs!) "He sends to me for them instead of procuring them from the shore, because he is afraid you may lose some of your boat's crew." (Evidently Mr Austin had not the high opinion of me that I fondly imagined he had.) "I am sorry to say I cannot oblige Mr Austin; but I think we can overcome the difficulty if you do not mind being delayed a quarter of an hour or so. I have a packet which I wish to send ashore, and if you will give Lord Southdown here—who seems to be a friend of yours—a passage to the Hard and off again, he will look after your boat's crew for you whilst you purchase your eggs."
I of course acquiesced in this proposal; whereupon Lord Southdown was sent into the captain's cabin for the packet in question; and on his reappearance a few minutes later we jumped into the boat and went ashore together, his lordship regaling me on the way with sundry entertaining anecdotes whereof his humorous friend Tomkins was the hero.
We managed to execute our respective errands without losing any of the boat's crew; and duly putting Lord Southdown on board the Saint George again, I returned triumphantly to the Daphne with my consignment of eggs and handed them over intact to Mr Austin. After which I dived below, just in time to partake of the first dinner provided for me at the expense of His Most Gracious Majesty George IV.
For the remainder of that day and during the whole of the next, until nearly ten o'clock at night, we were up to our eyes in the business of completing stores, etcetera, and, generally, in getting the ship ready for sea; and at daybreak on the second morning after I had joined, the fore-topsail was loosed, blue peter run up to the fore royal-mast head, the boats hoisted in and stowed, and the messenger passed, after which all hands went to breakfast. At nine o'clock the captain's gig was sent on shore, and at 11 a.m. the skipper came off; his boat was hoisted up to the davits, the canvas loosed, the anchor tripped, and away we went down the Solent and out past the Needles, with a slashing breeze at east-south-east and every stitch of canvas set, from the topgallant studding-sails downwards.
A BOAT-EXCURSION INTO THE CONGO.
Our skipper's instructions were to the effect that he was, in the first instance, to report himself to the governor of Sierra Leone; and it was to that port, therefore, that we now made the best of our way.
The breeze with which we started carried us handsomely down channel and half-way across the Bay of Biscay, and the ship proving to be a regular flyer, everybody, from the skipper downwards, was in the very best of spirits. Then came a change, the wind backing out from south-west with squally weather which placed us at once upon a taut bowline; and simultaneously with this change of weather a most disagreeable discovery was made, namely, that the Daphne was an exceedingly crank ship.
However, we accomplished the passage in a little over three weeks; and after remaining at Sierra Leone for a few hours only, proceeded for the mouth of the Congo, off which we expected to fall in with the Fawn, which ship we had been sent out to relieve. Proceeding under easy canvas, in the hope of picking up a prize by the way—in which hope, so however, we were disappointed—we reached our destination in twenty- three days from Sierra Leone; sighting the Fawn at daybreak and closing with her an hour afterwards. Her skipper came on board the Daphne and remained to breakfast with Captain Vernon, whom—our skipper being a total stranger to the coast—he posted up pretty thoroughly in the current news, as well as such of the "dodges" of the slavers as he had happened to have picked up. He said that at the moment there were no ships in the river, but that intelligence—whether trustworthy or no, however, he could not state—had reached him of the daily-expected arrival of three ships from Cuba. He also confirmed a very extraordinary story which had been told our skipper by the governor of Sierra Leone, to the effect that large cargoes of slaves, known to have been collected on shore up the river, awaiting the arrival of the slavers, had from time to time disappeared in a most mysterious manner, at times when, as far as could be ascertained, no craft but men-o'-war were anywhere near the neighbourhood. At noon the Fawn filled away and bore up for Jamaica—whither she was to proceed preparatory to returning home to be paid off—her crew manning the rigging and giving us a parting cheer as she did so; and two hours later her royals dipped below the horizon, and we were left alone in our glory.
On parting from the Fawn we filled away again upon the starboard tack, the wind being off the shore, and at noon brought the ship to an anchor in nine fathoms of water off Padron Point (the projecting headland on the southern side of the river's mouth) at a distance of two miles only from the shore. The order was then given for the men to go to dinner as soon as that meal could be got ready; it being understood that, notwithstanding the Fawn's assurance as to there being no ships in the river, our skipper intended to satisfy himself of that fact by actual examination. Moreover, the deserted state of the river afforded us an excellent opportunity for making an unmolested exploration of it—making its acquaintance, so to speak, in order that at any future time, if occasion should arise, we might be able to make a dash into it without feeling that we were doing so absolutely blindfold.
At 1:30 p.m. the gig was piped away; Mr Austin being in charge, with me for an aide, all hands being fully armed.
The wind had by this time died away to a dead calm; the sun was blazing down upon us as if determined to roast us as we sat; and we had a long pull before us, for although the ship lay only two miles from the shore, we had to round a low spit, called, as Mr Austin informed me, Shark Point, six miles away, in a north-easterly direction, before we could be said to be fairly in the river.
For this point, then, away we stretched, the perspiration streaming from the men at every pore. Fortunately the tide had begun to make before we started, and it was therefore in our favour. We had a sounding-line with us, which we used at frequent intervals; and by its aid we ascertained that at a distance of one mile from the shore the shallowest water between the ship and Shark Point was about three and a half fathoms at low water. This was at a spot distant some three and a half miles from the point. Half a mile further on we suddenly deepened our water to forty-five fathoms; and at a distance of only a quarter of a mile from the point as we rounded it, the lead gave us fifteen fathoms, shortly afterwards shoaling to six fathoms, which depth was steadily maintained for a distance of eight miles up the river, the extent of our exploration on this occasion. On our return journey we kept a little further off the shore, and found a corresponding increase in the depth of water; a result which fully satisfied us that we need have no hesitation about taking the Daphne inside should it at any time seem desirable so to do.
Immediately abreast of Shark Point is an extensive creek named Banana Creek; and hereabouts the river is fully six miles wide. On making out the mouth of this creek it was our first intention to have explored it; but on rounding the point and fairly entering the river, we made out so many snug, likely-looking openings on the southern side that we determined to confine our attention to that side first.
In the first place, immediately on rounding Shark Point we discovered a bay at the back of it, roughly triangular in shape, about four miles broad across the base, and perhaps three miles deep from base to apex. At the further end of the base of this triangular bay we descried the mouth of the creek; and at the apex or bottom of the bay, another. The latter of these we examined first, making the discovery that the mouth or opening gave access to three creeks instead of one; they were all, however, too shallow to admit anything drawing over ten feet, even at high-water; and the land adjoining was also so low and the bush so stunted—consisting almost exclusively of mangroves—that only a partial concealment could have been effected unless a ship's upper spars were struck for the occasion. A low-rigged vessel, such as a felucca, would indeed find complete shelter in either of the two westernmost creeks— the easternmost had only three feet of water in it when we visited it; but the shores on either side consisted only of a brownish-grey fetid mud, of a consistency little thicker than pea-soup; and the facilities for embarking slaves were so utterly wanting that we felt sure we need not trouble ourselves at any future time about either of these creeks.
The other creek, that which I have described as situated at the further end of the base of the triangle forming the bay, was undoubtedly more promising; though, like the others, it could only receive craft of small tonnage, having a little bar of its own across its mouth, on which at half-tide, which was about the time of our visit, there was only seven feet of water. Its banks, however, were tolerably firm and solid; the jungle was thicker and higher; though little more than a cable's length wide at its mouth, it was nearly a mile in width a little further in; and branching off from it, right and left, there were three or four other snug-looking little creeks, wherein a ship of light draught might lie as comfortably as if in dry-dock, and wherein, by simply sending down topgallant-masts, she would be perfectly concealed. Mr Austin would greatly have liked to land here and explore the bush a bit on each side of the creek; but our mission just then was to make a rough survey of the river rather than of its banks, so we reluctantly made our way back once more to the broad rolling river.
A pull of a couple of miles close along the shore brought us to the entrance of another creek, which for a length of two miles averaged quite half a mile wide, when it took a sharp bend to the right, or in a southerly direction, and at the same time narrowed down to less than a quarter of a mile in width. For the first two miles we had plenty of water, that is to say, there was never less than five fathoms under our keel; but with the narrowing of the creek it shoaled rapidly, so that by the time we had gone another mile we found ourselves in a stream about a hundred yards wide and only six feet deep. The mangrove-swamp, however, had ceased; and the grassy banks, shelving gently down to the water on each side, ended in a narrow strip of reddish sandy beach. The bush here was very dense and the vegetation extremely varied, whilst the foliage seemed to embrace literally all the colours of the rainbow. Greens of course predominated, but they were of every conceivable shade, from the pale delicate tint of the young budding leaf to an olive which was almost black. Then there was the ruddy bronze of leaves which appeared just ready to fall; and thickly interspersed among the greens were large bushes with long lance-shaped leaves of a beautifully delicate ashen-grey tint; others glowed in a rich mass of flaming scarlet; whilst others again had a leaf thickly covered with short white sheeny satin-like fur—I cannot otherwise describe it—which gleamed and flashed in the sun-rays as though the leaves were of polished silver. Some of the trees were thickly covered with blossoms exquisite both in form and colour; while as to the passion-plant and other flowering creepers, they were here, there, and everywhere in such countless varieties as would have sent a botanist into the seventh heaven of delight.
That this vast extent of jungle was not tenantless we had frequent assurance in the sudden sharp cracking of twigs and branches, as well as other more distant and more mysterious sounds; an occasional glimpse of a monkey was caught high aloft in the gently swaying branches of some forest giant; and birds of gorgeous plumage but more or less discordant cries constantly flitted from bough to bough, or swept in rapid flight across the stream.
We were so enchanted with the beauty of this secluded creek that though the time was flitting rapidly away Mr Austin could not resist the temptation to push a little further on, notwithstanding the fact that we had already penetrated higher than a ship, even of small tonnage, could possibly reach; and the men, nothing loath, accordingly paddled gently ahead for another mile. At this point we discovered that the tide was met and stopped by a stream of thick muddy fresh water; the creek or river, whichever you choose to call it, had narrowed in until it was only about a hundred feet across; and the water had shoaled to four feet. The trees in many places grew right down to the water's edge; the roots of some, indeed, were actually covered, and here and there the more lofty ones, leaning over the stream on either side, mingled their foliage overhead and formed a leafy arch, completely excluding the sun's rays and throwing that part of the river which they overarched into a deep green twilight shadow to which the eye had to become accustomed before it was possible to see anything. A hundred yards ahead of us there was a long continuous tunnel formed in this way; and, on entering it, the men with one accord rested on their oars and allowed the boat to glide onward by her own momentum, whilst they looked around them, lost in wonder and admiration.
As we shot into this watery lane, and the roll of the oars in the rowlocks ceased, the silence became profound, almost oppressively so, marked and emphasised as it was by the lap and gurgle of the water against the boat's planking. Not a bird was here to be seen; not even an insect—except the mosquitoes, by the by, which soon began to swarm round us in numbers amply sufficient to atone for the absence of all other life. But the picture presented to our view by the long avenue of variegated foliage, looped and festooned in every direction with flowery creepers loaded with blooms of the most gorgeous hues; and the deep green—almost black—shadows, contrasted here and there with long arrowy shafts of greenish light glancing down through invisible openings in the leafy arch above, and lighting up into prominence some feathery spray or drooping flowery wreath, was enchantingly beautiful.
We were all sitting motionless and silent, wrapped in admiration of the enchanting scene, all the more enchanting, perhaps, to us from its striking contrast to the long monotony of sea and sky only upon which our eyes had so lately rested, when a slight, sharp, crackling sound— proceeding from apparently but a short distance off in the bush on our port bow—arrested our attention. The boat had by this time lost her way, and the men, abruptly roused from their trance of wondering admiration, were about once more to dip their oars in the water when Mr Austin's uplifted hand arrested them.
The sounds continued at intervals; and presently, without so much as the rustling of a bough to prepare us for the apparition, a magnificent antelope emerged from the bush about fifty yards away, and stepped daintily down into the water. His quick eye detected in an instant the unwonted presence of our boat and ourselves, and instead of bowing his head at once to drink, as had evidently been his first intention, he stood motionless as a statue, gazing wonderingly at us. He was a superb creature, standing as high at the shoulders as a cow, with a smooth, glossy hide of a very light chocolate colour—except along the belly and on the inner side of the thighs, where the hair was milk-white—and long, sharp, gracefully curving horns. We were so close to him that we could even distinguish the greenish lambent gleam of his eyes.
Mr Austin very cautiously reached out his hand for a musket which lay on the thwart beside him, and had almost grasped it, when—in the millionth part of a second, as it seemed to me, so rapid was it—there was a flashing swirl of water directly in front of the deer, and before the startled creature had time to make so much as a single movement to save itself, an immense alligator had seized it by a foreleg and was tug-tugging at it in an endeavour to drag it into deep water. The deer, however, though taken by surprise and at a disadvantage, was evidently determined not to yield without a struggle, and, lowering his head, he made lunge after lunge at his antagonist with the long, sharply-pointed horns which had so excited my admiration, holding bravely back with his three disengaged legs the while.
"Give way, men," shouted Mr Austin in a voice which made the leafy archway ring again. "Steer straight for the crocodile, Tom; plump the boat right on him; and, bow-oar, lay in and stand by to prod the fellow with your boat-hook. Drive it into him under the arm-pit if you can; that, I believe, is his most vulnerable part."
Animated by the first lieutenant's evident excitement, the men dashed their oars into the water, and, with a tug which made the stout ash staves buckle like fishing-rods, sent the boat forward with a rush.
The alligator—or crocodile, whichever he happened to be—was, however, in the meantime, getting the best of the struggle, dragging the antelope steadily ahead into deeper water every instant, in spite of the beautiful creature's desperate resistance. We were only a few seconds in reaching the scene of the conflict, yet during that brief period the buck had been dragged forward until the water was up to his belly.
"Hold water! back hard of all!" cried Mr Austin, standing up in the stern-sheets, musket in hand, as we ranged up alongside the frantic deer. "Now give it him with your boat-hook; drive it well home into him. That's your sort, Ben; another like that, and he must let go. Well struck! now another—"
The crocodile had suddenly released his hold upon the antelope; and the creature no sooner felt itself free than it wheeled round, and, on three legs—the fourth was broken above the knee-joint, or probably bitten in two—made a gallant dash for the shore. But our first lieutenant was quite prepared for such a movement, had anticipated it, in fact, and the buck had barely emerged from the water when he was cleverly dropped by a bullet from Mr Austin's musket. The boat was thereupon promptly beached, the buck's throat cut, and the carcass stowed away in the stern-sheets, which it pretty completely filled. We were just about to shove off again when the first lieutenant caught sight of a banana-tree, with the fruit just in right condition for cutting; so we added to our spoils three huge bunches of bananas, each as much as a man could conveniently carry.
The deepening shadows now warned us that the sun was sinking low; so we shoved off and made the best of our way back to the river. When we reached it we found that there was a small drain of the flood-tide still making, and, the land-breeze not yet having sprung up, Mr Austin determined to push yet a little higher up the river. The boat's head was accordingly pointed to the eastward, and, four miles further on, we hit upon another opening, into which we at once made our way.
We had no sooner entered this creek, however, than we found that, like the first we had visited, it forked into two, one branch of which trended to the south-west and the other in a south-easterly direction. We chose the latter, and soon found ourselves pulling along a channel very similar to the last one we had explored, except that, in the present instance, the first of a chain of hills, stretching away to the eastward, lay at no great distance ahead of us. A pull of a couple of miles brought us to a bend in the stream; and in a few minutes afterwards we found ourselves sweeping along close to the base of the hills, in a channel about a quarter of a mile wide and with from three to four and a half fathoms of water under us. Twenty minutes later the channel again divided, one branch continuing on in an easterly direction, whilst the other—which varied from a half to three-quarters of a mile in width—branched off abruptly to the northward and westward. Mr Austin chose this channel, suspecting that it would lead into the river again, a suspicion which another quarter of an hour proved correct.
The sun was by this time within half an hour of setting, and Shark Point—or rather the tops of the mangroves growing upon it—lay stretched along the horizon a good eleven miles off, so it was high time to see about returning. But the tide had by this time turned and was running out pretty strongly in mid-channel; the land-breeze also had sprung up, and, though where we were, close inshore, we did not feel very much of it, was swaying the tops of the more lofty trees in a way which I am sure must have gladdened the hearts of the boat's crew; so the oars were laid in, the mast stepped, and the lug hoisted, and in another ten minutes we were bowling down stream—what with the current and the breeze, both of which we got in their full strength as soon as we had hauled a little further out from the bank—at the rate of a good honest ten knots per hour.
The sun went down in a bewildering blaze of purple and crimson and gold when we were within five miles of Shark Point; and, ten minutes afterwards, night—the glorious night of the tropics—was upon us in all its loveliness. The heavens were destitute of cloud—save a low bank down on the western horizon—and the soft velvety blue-black of the sky was literally powdered with countless millions of glittering gems. I do not remember that I ever before or since saw so many of the smaller stars; and as for the larger stars and the planets, they shone down upon us with an effulgence which caused them to be reflected in long shimmering lines of golden light upon the turbid water.
Presently the boat's lug-sail, which spread above and before us like a great blot of ghostly grey against the starlit sky, began perceptibly to pale and brighten until it stood out clear and distinct, bathed in richest primrose light, with the shadow of the mast drawn across it in ebony-black. Striking the top of the sail first, the light swept gradually down; and in less than a minute the whole of the boat, with the crew and ourselves, were completely bathed in it. I looked behind me to ascertain the cause of this sudden glorification, and, behold! there was the moon sweeping magnificently into view above the distant tree-tops, her full orb magnified to three or four times its usual dimensions and painted a glorious ruddy orange by the haze which began to rise from the bosom of the river. Under the magic effect of the moonlight the noble river, with its background of trees and bush rising dim and ghostly above the wreathing mist and its swift-flowing waters shimmering in the golden radiance, presented a picture the dream-like beauty of which words are wholly inadequate to describe. But I am willing to confess that my admiration lost a great deal of its ardour when Mr Austin informed me that the mist which imparted so subtle a charm to the scene was but the forerunner of the deadly miasmatic fog which makes the Congo so fatal a river to Europeans; and I was by no means sorry when we found ourselves, three-quarters of an hour later, once more in safety alongside the Daphne, having succeeded in making good our escape before the pestilential fog overtook us. Our prizes, the buck and the bananas, were cordially welcomed on board the old barkie; the bananas being carefully suspended from the spanker-boom to ripen at their leisure, whilst the buck was handed over to the butcher to be operated upon forthwith, so far at least as the flaying was concerned; and on the morrow all hands, fore and aft, enjoyed the unwonted luxury of venison for dinner.
Mr Austin having duly reported to Captain Vernon that the river was just then free of shipping, we hove up the anchor that same evening, at the end of the second dog-watch, and stood off from the land all night under easy canvas.
About three bells in the forenoon watch next morning the look-out aloft reported a sail on the larboard bow; and, on being questioned in the usual manner, he shouted down to us the further information that the stranger was a brig working in for the land on the starboard tack under topgallant-sails, and that she had all the look of a man-o'-war.
By six bells we had closed each other within a mile; and a few minutes afterwards the stranger crossed our bows, and, laying her main topsail to the mast, lowered a boat. Perceiving that her captain wanted to speak us, we of course at once hauled our wind and, backing our main topsail, hove-to about a couple of cables' lengths to windward of the brig. She was as beautiful a craft as a seaman's eye had ever rested on: long and low upon the water, with a superbly-modelled hull, enormously lofty masts with a saucy rake aft to them, and very taunt heavy yards. She mounted seven guns of a side, apparently of the same description and weight as our own—long 18-pounders, and there was what looked suspiciously like a long 32-pounder on her forecastle. She was flying French colours, but she certainly looked at least as much like an English as she did like a French ship.
The boat dashed alongside us in true man-o'-war style; our side was duly manned, and presently there entered through the gangway a man dressed in the uniform of a lieutenant in the French navy. He was of medium height and rather square built; his skin was tanned to a deep mahogany colour; his hair and bushy beard were jet black, as also were his piercing, restless eyes; and though rather a handsome man, his features wore a fierce and repellent expression, which, however, passed away as soon as he began to speak.
"Bon jour, m'sieu," he began, raising his uniform cap and bowing to Mr Austin, who met him at the gangway. "What chip dis is, eh?"
"This, sir, is His Britannic Majesty's sloop Daphne. What brig is that?"
"That, sair, is the Franch brigue of war Vestale; and I am Jules Le Breton, her first leeftant, at your serveece. Are you le capitaine of this vaisseau?"
"No, sir; I am the first lieutenant, and my name is Austin," with a bow. "Captain Vernon is in his cabin. Do you wish to see him?"
At that moment the skipper made his appearance from below, and stepping forward, the French lieutenant was presented to him with all due formality by Mr Austin.
It being my watch on deck I was promenading fore and aft just to leeward of the group, and consequently overheard pretty nearly everything that passed. The Vestale, it appeared from Monsieur Le Breton's statement, had just returned to the coast from a fruitless chase half across the Atlantic after a large barque which had managed to slip out of the Congo and dodge past them some three weeks previously, and she was now about to look in there once more in the hope of meeting with better fortune. And, judging from the course we were steering that we had just left the river, Monsieur Le Breton had, "by order of Capitane Dubosc, ventured upon the liberte" of boarding us in order to ascertain the latest news.
The skipper of course mentioned our exploring expedition of the previous day, assured him of the total absence of all ships from the river, and finally invited him into the cabin to take wine with him.
They were below fully half an hour, and when they returned to the deck the Frenchman was chattering away in very broken English in the most lively manner, and gesticulating with his hands and shoulders as only a Frenchman can. But notwithstanding the animation with which he was conversing, I could not help noticing that his eyes were all over the ship, not in an abstracted fashion, but evidently with the object of thoroughly "taking stock" of us. It struck me, too, that his English was too broken to be quite genuine—or rather, to be strictly correct, that it was not always broken to the same extent. For instance, he once or twice used the word "the," uttering it as plainly as I could; and at other times I noticed that he called it "ze" or "dee." And I detected him ringing the changes in like manner on several other words. From which I inferred that he was not altogether as fair and above-board with us as he wished us to believe. I felt half disposed to seize an early opportunity to mention the matter to Mr Austin; but then, on the other hand, I reflected that Monsieur Le Breton could hardly have any possible reason for attempting to deceive us in any way, and so for the moment the matter passed out of my mind.
At length our visitor bowed himself down over the side, throwing one last lingering look round our decks as he did so, and in another five minutes was once more on board his own ship, which, hoisting up her boat, filled her main topsail, and, with a dip of her ensign by way of "good-bye," resumed her course.
"Thank Heaven I've got rid of the fellow at last!" exclaimed Captain Vernon with a laugh, when the brig was once more fairly under weigh. "He has pumped me dry; such an inquisitive individual I think I never in my life encountered before. But I fancy I have succeeded in persuading him that he will do no good by hanging about the coast hereabouts. We want no Frenchmen to help us with our work; and I gave him so very discouraging an account of the state of things here, that I expect they will take a trip northward after looking into the river."
We continued running off the land for the remainder of that day, the whole of the following night, and up to noon next day, with a breeze which sent us along, under topsails only, at a rate of about six knots an hour. On the following day, at six bells in the forenoon watch (11 a.m.), the look-out aloft reported a something which he took to be floating wreckage, about three points on the port bow; and Mr Smellie, our second lieutenant, at once went aloft to the foretopmast crosstrees to have a look at it through his telescope. A single glance sufficed to acquaint him with the fact that the object, which was about six miles distant, was a raft with people upon it, who were making such signals as it was in their power to make with the object of attracting our attention. Upon the receipt of this news on deck Captain Vernon at once ordered the ship's course to be altered to the direction of the raft, a gun being fired and the ensign run up to the gaff-end at the same time.
It was a trifle past noon when the Daphne rounded-to about a hundred yards to windward of the raft, and sent away a boat to pick up those upon it. It was a wretched make-shift structure, composed of a spar or two, some half-burned hen-coops, and a few pieces of charred bulwark- planking; and was so small that there was scarcely room on it for the fourteen persons it sustained. It was a most fortunate circumstance for them that the weather happened to be fine at the time; for had there been any great amount of sea running, the crazy concern could not have been kept together for half an hour. We concluded from the appearance of the affair that the castaways had been burned out of their ship; and so they had, but not in the manner we supposed. As we closed with the raft it was seen that several sharks were cruising longingly round and round it, and occasionally charging at it, evidently in the hope of being able to drag off some of its occupants. So pertinacious were these ravenous fish that the boat's crew had to fairly fight their way through them, and even to beat them off with the oars and stretchers when they had got alongside. However, the poor wretches were rescued without accident; and in a quarter of an hour from the time of despatching the boat she was once more swinging at the davits, with the rescued men, most of whom were suffering more or less severely from burns, safely below in charge of the doctor and his assistant. Later on, when their injuries had been attended to and the cravings of their hunger and thirst satisfied—they had neither eaten nor drunk during the previous forty-two hours—Captain Vernon sent for the skipper of the rescued crew, to learn from him an account of the mishap.
His story, as related to me by him during the second dog-watch, was to the following effect:—
"My name is Richards, and my ship, which hailed from Liverpool, was called the Juliet. She was a barque of three hundred and fifty tons register, oak built and copper fastened throughout, and was only five years old.
"Fifty-four days ago to-day we cleared from Liverpool for Saint Paul de Loando with a cargo of Manchester and Birmingham goods, sailing the same day with the afternoon tide.
"All went well with us until the day before last, when, just before eight bells in the afternoon watch, one of the hands, who had gone aloft to stow the main-topgallant-sail, reported a sail dead to leeward of us under a heavy press of canvas. I have been to Saint Paul twice before, and know pretty well the character of this coast; moreover, on my first trip I was boarded and plundered by a rascally Spaniard; so I thought I would just step up aloft and take a look at the stranger through my glass at once. Well, sir, I did so, and the conclusion I came to was, that though it was blowing very fresh I would give the ship every stitch of canvas I could show to it. The strange sail was a brig of about three hundred tons or thereabouts, with very taunt spars, a tremendous spread of canvas, and her hull painted dead black down to the copper, which had been scoured until it fairly shone again. I didn't at all like the appearance of my newly-discovered neighbour; the craft had a wicked look about her from her truck down, and the press of sail she was carrying seemed to bode me no good. So, as the Juliet happened to be a pretty smart vessel under her canvas, and in splendid sailing trim, I thought I would do what I could to keep the stranger at arms'-length, and when the watch was called, a few minutes afterwards, I got the topgallant-sails, royals, flying jib, main-topgallant, royal, and mizen- topmast-staysails all on the old barkie again, and we began to smoke through it, I can tell you. That done, I set the stranger by compass, and for the first hour or so I thought we were holding our own; but by sunset I could see—a great deal too plainly for my own comfort—that the brig was both weathering and fore-reaching upon us. Still she was a long way off, and had the night been dark I should have tried to dodge the fellow; but that unfortunately was no use; the sun was no sooner set than the moon rose, and of course he could see us even more plainly than we could see him. At seven o'clock he tacked, and then I felt pretty sure he meant mischief; and when, at a little before eight bells, he tacked again, this time directly in our wake, I had no further doubt about it. At this time he was about eight miles astern of us, and at midnight he ranged up on our weather quarter, slapped his broadside of seven 18-pound shot right into us without a word of warning, and ordered us to at once heave-to. My owners had unfortunately sent me to sea with only half a dozen muskets on board, and not an ounce of powder or shot; so what could I do? Nothing, of course, but heave-to as I was bid; and we accordingly backed the main topsail without a moment's delay. The brig then did the same, and lowered a boat, which five minutes later dashed alongside us and threw in upon our decks a crew of seventeen as bloodthirsty-looking ruffians as one need ever wish to see. We were, all hands fore and aft, at once bound neck and heels and huddled together aft on the monkey-poop, with two of the pirates mounting guard over us, and then the rest of the gang coolly set to work and ransacked the ship. The fellow in command of the party—a man about five feet six inches in height, square built, with deeply bronzed features and black hair and beard—made it his first business to hunt for the manifest; and having ascertained from it that we had amongst the cargo several bolts of canvas, a large quantity of new rope, four cases of watches and jewellery, and a dozen cases of beads, he first ordered me, in broken English, to inform him where these articles were stowed, and then had the hatches stripped off and the cargo roused on deck until he could get at them. When the beads, rope, canvas, and other matters that he took a fancy to, amounting to six boat loads, had been transferred to the brig, he informed me that I must point out to him the spot where I had concealed the money which he knew to be on board. Now it so happened that I had no money on board; my owners are dreadfully suspicious people, and will not intrust anybody with a shilling more than they can help—and many a good fifty-pound note has missed its way into their pockets through their over-cautiousness; but that's neither here nor there. Well, I told the fellow we had no money on board, whereupon he whipped out his watch and told me out loud, so that all hands could hear, that he would give us five minutes in which to make up our minds whether we would hand over the cash or not; and if we decided not to do so he would at the end of that time set fire to the ship and leave us all to burn in her. And that's just exactly what he did."