THE HONOUR OF THE FLAG
W. CLARK RUSSELL
AUTHOR OF "THE WRECK OF THE GROSVENOR," "LIFE OF LORD NELSON," ETC., ETC.
G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS
NEW YORK LONDON 27 West Twenty-third Street. 24 Bedford Street, Strand.
The Knickerbocker Press, New Rochelle, N.Y.
The Honour of the Flag 3
A Midnight Visitor 41
Plums from a Sailor's Duff 57
The Strange Adventures of a South Seaman 82
The Adventures of Three Sailors 110
The Strange Tragedy of the "White Star" 137
The Ship Seen on the Ice 163
THE HONOUR OF THE FLAG
The Honour of the Flag.
A THAMES TRAGEDY.
Manifold are the historic interests of the river Thames. There is scarcely a foot of its mud from London Bridge to Gravesend Reach that is not as "consecrated" as that famous bit of soil which Dr. Samuel Johnson and Mr. Richard Savage knelt and kissed on stepping ashore at Greenwich. One of the historic interests, however, threatens to perish out of the annals. It does not indeed rise to such heroic proportions as you find in the story of the Dutch invasion of the river, or in old Hackluyt's solemn narrative of the sailing of the expedition organised by Bristol's noble worthy, Sebastian Cabot; but it is altogether too good and stirring to merit erasure from the Thames's history books by the neglect or ignorance of the historian.
It is absolutely true: I pledge my word for that on the authority of the records of the Whitechapel County Court.
In the year 1851 there dwelt on the banks of the river Thames a retired tailor, whom I will call John Sloper, out of regard to the feelings of his posterity, if such there be. This man had for many years carried on a flourishing trade in the east end of London. Having got together as much money as he might suppose would supply his daily needs, he built himself a villa near the pleasant little town of Erith. His house overlooked the water; in front of it sloped a considerable piece of garden ground.
Mr. Sloper showed good sense and good taste in building himself a little home on the banks of the Thames. All day long he was able, if he pleased, to entertain himself with the sight of as stirring and striking a marine picture as is anywhere to be witnessed. He could have built himself a house above bridges, where there is no lack of elegance and river beauty of many sorts; but he chose to command a view of the Thames on its commercial side.
In his day there was more life in the river than there is now. In our age the great steamer thrusts past and is quickly gone; the tug runs the sailing-ship to the docks or to her mooring buoys, and there is no life in the fabric she drags. In Sloper's time steamers were few; the water of the river teemed with sailing craft of every description; they tacked across from bank to bank as they staggered to their destination against the wind.
Sloper, sitting at his open window on a fine day, would be able to count twenty different types of rigs in almost as many minutes. That he took a keen interest in ships, however, I do not assert; that he could have told you the difference between a brig and a schooner is barely imaginable. The board on which Sloper had flourished was not shipboard, it had nothing to do with starboard or larboard; he was a tailor, not a sailor, and the friends who ran down to see him were of his own sort and condition.
Sloper was a widower; how many years he had lived with his wife I can't say. She died one Easter Monday, and when Sloper took possession of his new house near Erith he mounted some small cannon on his lawn, and these pieces of artillery he regularly fired every Easter Monday in celebration of what he called the joyfullest anniversary of his life. From which it is to be assumed that Sloper and his wife had not lived together very happily. But though the Whitechapel County Court records have been searched and inquiries made in that part of London where Sloper's shop was situated, it has not been discovered that Mrs. Sloper's end was hastened by her husband's cruelty; that, in short, more happened between them than constant quarrels. Yet it must be said that Sloper behaved as though, in truth (as the old adage would put it), his little figure contained no more than the ninth part of a soul, when he mounted his guns and rudely and noisily triumphed over the dead whom he perhaps might have been afraid of in life, and coarsely emphasised with blasts of gunpowder his annual joy over his release.
Now in the east end of London, not above twenty minutes' walk from Sloper's old shop, there lived a sailor, named Joseph Westlake. This man had served when a boy under Collingwood, had smelt gunpowder at Navarino under Codrington, had been concerned in several dashing cutting-out jobs in the West Indies, and was altogether as hearty and worthy a specimen of an old English sailor of the vanished school as you could ask to see.
He had been shot in the leg; he carried a great scar over his brow; he was as full of yarns as a piece of ancient ship's biscuit of weevils; he swore with more oaths than a Dutchman; sneered prodigiously at steam; and held the meanest opinion of the then existing race of seamen, who, he said, never could have won the old battles which had been the making of this kingdom, whether under Howe's or gallant Jervis's, or the lion-hearted Nelson's flag.
The country had no further need of his services on his being paid off out of his last ship, and he was somewhat at a loss, until happening to be in the neighbourhood of Wapping, and looking in upon an old shipmate who kept a public house, he learnt that a lawyer had been making inquiries for him. He called upon that lawyer, and was astounded to hear that during his absence from England a fortune of L15,000 had been left to him by an aunt in Australia.
Joe Westlake on this took a little house in the Stepney district, and endeavoured to settle down as an east-end gent; but his efforts to ride to a shore-going anchor were hopeless. His mind was always roaming. He had followed the sea man and boy for hard upon fifty years, and the cry of his heart was still for water—water without rum!—water fresh or salt! it mattered not what sort of water it was so long as it was—water.
So as Joe Westlake found that he couldn't rest ashore he looked about him, and, after a while, fell in with and purchased a smart little cutter, which he re-christened the Tom Bowling, out of admiration of the song which no sailor ever sang more sweetly than he. It was perfectly consistent with his traditions as a man-of-wars man that, having bought his little ship, he should arm her. He equipped her with four small carronades and a pivoted brass six-pounder on the forecastle. He then went to work to man her, but he did not very easily find a crew. Joe was fastidious in his ideas of seamen, and though some whom he cast his eye upon came very near to his taste, it cost him a great deal of trouble to discover the particular set of Jacks he wanted.
Three at last he found: Peter Plum, Bob Robins, and Tom Tuck. Joe was admiral; Plum, coming next, combined a number of grades. He was captain, first lieutenant, and boatswain. Robins was the ship's working company, and Tom Tuck cooked and was the all-round handy man of the Tom Bowling.
It was Mr. Joe Westlake's intention to live on board his cutter; he furnished his cabin plainly and comfortably, and laid in a plentiful stock of liquor and tobacco. As he was to cruise under his own flag, and was indeed an admiral on his own account, he conferred with his first lieutenant, Peter Plum, on the question of a colour: what description of flag should he fly at his masthead? They both started with the understanding that nothing under a fathom and a half in length was worth hoisting. After much discussion it was agreed that the device should consist of a very small jack in the top corner, and in the middle a crown with a wooden leg under it—the timber toe being in both Westlake's and Plum's opinion the most pregnant symbol of Britannia's greatness that the imagination could devise.
Within a few months of his landing from the frigate out of which he had been paid, Mr. Joseph Westlake was again afloat, but now in a smart little vessel of his own. She had been newly sheathed with copper, and when she heeled over from the breeze as she stretched through the winding reaches of the river the metal shone like gold above the wool-white line of foam through which the cutter washed, and lazy men in barges would turn their heads to admire her, and red-capped cooks in the cabooses of "ratching" colliers would step to the rail to look, and sometimes a party of gay and gallant Cockneys, male and female, taking their pleasure in a wherry, would salute the passing Tom Bowling with a flourish of hands and pocket handkerchiefs.
Never had old Joe been so happy in all his life. Of a night he'd bring up in some secure nook, and after having seen everything all safe, he'd go below with Peter Plum, and in the cosy interior of the little cabin, whose atmosphere was rendered speedily fragrant with the perfume of rum punch, which Joe, whilst in the West Indies, had learnt the art of brewing to perfection, the two sailors would sit smoking their yards of pipe-clay whilst they discoursed on the past, one incident recalling another, one briny recollection prompting an even salter memory, until their eyes grew moist and their vision dim in their balls of sight; whereupon they would turn in and make the little ship vocal with their noses.
It happened, according to the usual methods of time, that an Easter Monday came round, which, as we know, was the joyful anniversary of the death of the wife of the retired tailor, Sloper, whose villa, called Labour's Retreat, stood upon the banks of the Thames near Erith. To fitly celebrate this happy day Mr. Sloper had invited three friends to dine with him. It was in the year 1851, when the class of society in which Mr. Sloper belonged was not so genteel in its habits as it has since become; in other words, Sloper dined at two o'clock. Had he survived into this age he would not have dreamt of dining at an earlier hour than seven.
His friends were of his own sex. Sloper did not like the ladies. His friends' calling matters not. They did business in the east end of London, and were all three thoroughly respectable tradesmen in a small way, wanting, perhaps, in the muscle and depth of chest and hurricane lungs of Joe Westlake and Peter Plum, but all of them able to pay twenty shillings in the pound, to give good value for prompt cash, and desirous not only of fresh patronage, but determined to a man to merit the continuance of the same.
When Sloper and his friends had dined, and the bottle had circled until, like quicksilver in the eye of a hurricane, the contents had sunk out of sight, the party went on to the lawn to fire off the guns there in completion of the triumphant celebration of the ever-memorable anniversary of Sloper's release.
It was precisely at this hour that the Tom Bowling, with Plum at the helm and Joe Westlake in full rig, marching up and down the quarter-deck, came leisurely rounding down Halfway Reach before a pleasant northerly breeze of wind blowing over the flat, fat levels of Barking. The Tom Bowling, opening Jenningtree Point, ported her helm and floated in all her pride of white canvas and radiant metal and fathom and a half of shining bunting at her masthead into Erith Reach.
Just as she came abreast of Labour's Retreat a gun was fired; the white powder-smoke clouded the tailor's lawn; the thunder of the ordnance smote the ear of Joe Westlake, who, dilating his nostrils and directing his eyes at Sloper's villa, bawled out: "Peter! that's meant for us, my heart! Down hellum! slacken away fore and aft! pipe all hands for action!"
A second gun roared upon the lawn that sloped from the tailor's house; and almost as loud was the shout that Westlake delivered to all hands to look alive and bring the guns to bear. The Tom Bowling was thrown into the wind and brought to a stand abreast of Labour's Retreat; Plum took a turn with the helm and went to help at the guns, and in a few minutes the three of a crew, with Westlake continuously bawling out orders to bear a hand and load again, were actively engaged in firing blank at the enemy on the lawn.
It might have been that Mr. Sloper and his friends were a little tipsy; it might have been that they were irritated by their feu de joie being interrupted and complicated, so to speak, by the cutter's artillery; it is certain that they continued to load and discharge their guns as fast as they could sponge them out; whilst from the river the cutter maintained a rapid fire at Labour's Retreat. In an evil moment, temper getting the better of Sloper's judgment, he loaded one of his pieces with stones, and the gun was so well aimed that on Joe Westlake looking aloft he beheld his beautiful flag of a fathom and a half in holes.
For some moments the old man-of-wars man stood staring up at his wounded flag, idle with wrath and astonishment. He then in a voice of thunder shouted: "Plum—Robins—Tuck! D' ye see what that there fired little tailor's been and done? Why, junk me if he ha' n't shot our colour through! Boys, load with ball; d' ye hear? Suffocate me, but he shall have it back. Quick, my hearts, and go for him."
With ocean alacrity some round shot were got up, a gun was fired point-blank at Labour's Retreat, and down came a chimney-stack, amidst the cheers of the crew of the Tom Bowling.
"Now, then," roared old Joe, "over with our boat, lads, and board 'em! Tommy, stay you here and let go the anchor"; and in a very few minutes Plum and Robins were pulling Joe Westlake ashore.
Sloper and his party saw them coming and manfully stood their ground. The three seamen, securing their boat, forced their way on to the lawn and marched up to the tailor and his friends.
"What do you mean by firing at my cutter?" roared old Joe.
"What do you mean by knocking down my chimneys?" cried the tailor, who was exceedingly pale.
"Who began it?" bawled Joe. "Who fired first? Who's bin and made holes in that there flag of mine? Why, that's the flag of a British sailor, you little withered thimble you; and durn ye, if you don't make me instantly an humble apology and stump up with the cost of what ye've injured, I'll skin ye!" and he threw himself into a very menacing posture.
At this point one of the tailor's friends slunk off.
"My chimney-stack is worth more than your twopenny flag," shrieked Sloper, maddened even into some temporary emotion of courage by the insults of the old man-of-warsman.
"Say that again, will 'ee," said Joe. "Just sneer at that there flag again, will 'ee."
The tailor was idiotic enough to repeat the affront, on which, and as though a perfect understanding as to what was to be done subsisted among the three sailors, old Joe, Plum, and Robins fell upon Sloper, and, lifting him up in their arms, ran with him to the boat, into which they flung him, paying not the least heed whatever to his cries for help and for mercy, and instantly headed for the cutter, leaving the tailor's friends white as milk and speechless with alarm near the cannon upon the lawn.
When the boat reached the cutter, Plum jumped aboard and received little Sloper from the hands of old Joe, making no more of the burthen than had the tailor been a parcel, say, of a coat and waistcoat, or a pair of trousers. Old Joe then actively got over the rail. He lifted the little main-hatch, and Mr. Sloper was dropped into the space below, where the darkness was so great that he could not see, and where there was nothing to sit upon but Thames ballast.
"In boat, up anchor, and away with us!" said Joe Westlake.
The breeze was fresh, the cutter was always an excellent sailer, and in a very short space of time she was running down Long Reach with Erith and its adjacent shores out of sight, past the round of land where Dartford creek is to be found. Joe Westlake then called a council. Robins was at the tiller; Plum and Tuck came aft, and the four debated at the helm.
"I've heerd," said old Joe, "of this tailor afore. His name's Sloper. I've never larnt why he mounted them guns, or where the little rooting hog got his pluck from to fire 'em. But there can be no shadder of a doubt, mates, that his object in firing to-day was to insult that there flag."
He pointed with an immensely square forefinger to the masthead.
"Ne'er a shadder," said Plum.
"For why," continued old Joe, "did the smothered rag of a chap wait for us to come right abreast afore firing?"
"Ah! that's it, ye see," exclaimed Bob Robins. "There ye've hit it, Mr. Westlake."
"The little faggot's game," old Joe went on, "is as clear as mud in a wineglass. He fires with blank cartridge; like as he'd say 'What'll you do?' What did he want? That we should retarn his civility with grape? Of course; that if it should come to a difficulty he'd have the law on his side. Not being able to aggravate us into shotting our guns, what must he turn to and do but load with stone—and look at that flag! Riddled, mates. I'll not speak of it as spiled, though a prettier and a better bit of bunting was never mastheaded. Spiled ain't the word: disgraced it is."
"Degraded," said Plum, in a deep voice.
"Ay, and degraded," cried old Joe, with a surly, dangerous nod. "That there little tailor has degraded the honour of our flag. What's to be done to him?"
After a pause, Plum said: "Bring him up and sit in examination on him. Try him fairly, and convict him."
They opened the hatch and pulled little Sloper off the Thames ballast into daylight. He was exceedingly white, and trembled violently, and cut, indeed, a very pitiful figure as he stood on the quarter-deck of the Tom Bowling, surveyed by her owner and crew. He was a short man and spare, and Tom Tuck grinned as he looked at him.
"I suppose you're aweer," said old Joe, "that in shooting at my flag and wounding her you've degraded the honour of it? Are you aweer of that?"
"You came in my way; I was shooting for my hentertainment," answered Mr. Sloper.
"You're a retired tailor, ain't ye?" said Joe.
Sloper sulkily answered "Yes."
"Have ye any acquaintance with the laws which are made and purwided for British seamen when it happens that their flag's degraded by the haction of a retired tailor?" said old Joe.
Mr. Sloper, instead of answering, cast a languishing eye at the river banks, which were fast sliding past, and requested to be set ashore.
"It don't answer his purpose to speak to the pint," said Plum.
"Listen, now," said old Joe, shaking his forefinger close into the face of little Sloper. "When a retired tailor degrades the honour of a seaman's flag by a shooting at it and a riddling of it, the law 'as made and purwided sets forth this: that the insulted sailor shall collect his crew and in the presence of all hands pass sentence after giving an impartial hearing to what the culprit may have to say in his defence. Now, you durned little powder-burner, speak up, and own what made you do it, and then I'll pass judgment."
"What's your game? What d' yer mean to do with me? Where are you carryin' me to?" cried the owner of Labour's Retreat. "None of yer nonsense, you know. This is what's called kidnappin'. It's hindictable. You may find yourself in a very unpleasant predicament over this business, I can tell yer. You profess to know who I am. D'yer want to know what I'm worth? Yer'd better put me ashore, I say, and stop this nonsense. I don't mind a joke, but this is carrying a lark too far. Why," he shrieked, "here we are a-drawing on to Northfleet! Yer 'd better let me go." And so he went on.
Old Joe and the others listened to him with stern faces; in fact, they received his protests and threats as his defence. When he had made an end Joe Westlake spoke thus:
"Sloper—I dunno your Christian name and I won't demean myself by asking of it,—four of your countrymen—and sorry they are that you should be a countrymen of their'n—have patiently listened to what ye've had to say. And all that ye've said amounts to nothen at all. The haccusation made against ye is one of the very gravest as can be brought agin a retired tailor. You're charged with degrading the honour of my flag, and ye 've been found guilty, and my sentence is that after a sufficient time's been granted you for prayer and meditation, ye be brought up to the place of hexecution, aboard this here cutter the Tom Bowling, and hanged by the neck till you're dead."
"Murder!" screamed Sloper, and here (so he afterwards swore in court) the unhappy little tailor fell down upon his knees and begged Joe Westlake to grant him his life.
"Clap him under hatches," exclaimed the old man-of-warsman, and Plum and another, lifting the hatch cover, popped Mr. Sloper down among the ballast again.
By this time the afternoon had very considerably advanced, the wind had dropped, and it was already dark when the Tom Bowling let go her anchor off Gravesend. The cabin lamp was lighted, and old Joe and Plum sat down to a hearty meal, after which they smoked their pipes and dipped a ladle into a silver bowl of rum punch of Westlake's own brewing.
"D' ye mean, captain," said Plum, "that the little chap in the hold shall have any supper?"
"Well, Peter," answered old Joe, "I've bin a-turning of it over in my mind, and spite of his 'rageous conduct I dunno, after all, that it would be right to let him lie all night without a bite of something. Call Bob."
This man, whose surname was Robins, arrived. Joe told him to get a lantern and cut a plate of beef and bread and mix a small mug of rum and water.
"Ye can tell the little chap, Bob," said old Joe, speaking with one eye shut, "that we're only a-feeding of him up so as to get more satisfaction out of his hexecution to-morrow morning. You can say that sailoring is a rather monotonous life, and that if he'll die game we shall all feel obliged for the hentertainment he'll afford us."
Whether Bob Robins communicated this speech to Sloper I cannot say. It is certain, however, that he took the lantern and the tailor's supper into the hold and stood over the little man whilst he ate and drank. When the retired tailor had finished his repast he asked Robins if he was to be kept locked up in that black hole all night without anything to lie on but shingle.
"What did you fire at us for?" said Bob.
"I never fired at you. I was firing for my own diversion," answered Mr. Sloper.
"D' ye load with stones for your divarsion, as ye call it?" said Bob.
"There was no stones when you came along," cried the tailor. "Why did you aggrevate me by firing in return?"
"What did you want to fire at all for?" said Bob, almost pitying the trembling little creature as he showed by the lantern light in the cutter's small black hold.
"I was celebrating a hanniversary," answered Mr. Sloper, who maltreated his h's as badly as old Westlake.
"And what sort of a hanniversary calls for gun firing?" said Bob, holding up the lantern to the tailor's face.
"It was the hanniversary of my wife's death," said Mr. Sloper, "and a day of rejoicing with me and my friends."
Bob, who himself was a married man, loving his wife and two little girls with the warm affection of the genuine sailor's heart, looked for some moments speechless with disgust at the white shadowy countenance of Mr. Sloper, and without deigning another word, rose through the hatch, which he carefully secured, and then went aft to old Joe and Plum to report what had passed.
"Smite me," cried the old man-of-warsman, after listening to Bob; "but if this was furrin parts instead of Lunnon river, poisoned if I wouldn't yard-arm the little faggot in rale earnest. What! make a joyful hanniversary of his wife's death, and fire off guns that the whole blooming country may know what a little beast it is. Sit ye down, Bob, there's a glass—help yourself. This is what we mean to do," and he forthwith related his scheme for the morning to Robins and Plum.
They smoked hard and roared out in great peals of laughter. The bulkheads of a little ship such as the Tom Bowling are not, as may be supposed, of very formidable scantling; there is no doubt that Sloper in the hold heard these wild shouts of laughter which the muffling of the bulkhead and his own terrors would render awful to him, and we may be sure that as he lay in the blackness harkening to those horrid notes of merriment, he feared and perspired exceedingly.
Somewhere at about eight o'clock next morning the Tom Bowling was got under way, and when all hands had breakfasted, Joe Westlake took the tiller, and Plum, Robins, and Tuck went to work to construct the machinery for the retired tailor's execution. They filled a big tub with water and covered it loosely with a tarpaulin. Close against this tub they placed a three-legged stool; alongside this stool upon the deck was a tar-bucket with a tar-brush sticking up in it; they also procured and placed beside this tar-bucket a piece of rough iron hoop. At the time that these preparations were completed the cutter was running through the Warp, which is some little distance past the Nore Light. The river had widened into the aspect of an ocean, and over the bows of the craft the water stretched boundless and blue as the horizon of the Pacific.
They opened the hatch and brought the tailor on deck. Needless to say, he had not slept a wink all night. Who, accustomed to a feather-bed, could snatch even ten minutes' sleep when his couch is Thames ballast? Sloper's eyes were bloodshot, and his countenance haggard. He looked inconceivably grimy and forlorn, and Bob Robins felt sorry for the little creature till he recollected on a sudden the man's reason for letting off his cannons. Tuck took the helm, and old Joe with a solemn countenance and slow gait rolled forward to where the apparatus was stationed.
"Now, you see your fate," he exclaimed, lifting up his eyes as though he beheld a rope with a noose dangling from the masthead, "and since no good can come of cautioning a corpse, why then, sorry I am that there are n't a company of people arter your kind assembled aboard this craft to witness the hexecution of my sentence upon ye. Last night I heard that the reason of your firing off your guns were to celebrate the hanniversary of your wife's death. I dunno, I'm sure, whether such a practice wouldn't be considered as more criminal and worthy of a fearfuller punishment than even the shooting at a man's flag and degrading the honour of it. But to say more 'ud only be a-wasting of breath. My lads, do your duty."
Robins, with powerful arms, grasped the tailor, who shrieked murder and struggled hard. His struggles were as the throes and convulsions of a mouse in the teeth of a cat. He was dumped down on the three-legged stool. In an instant Plum lathered his jaws with the tar-brush, and picking up the piece of broken iron hoop scraped little Sloper's cheeks till the lather was as much blood as tar. Then, lifting his leg, he tilted the stool and Mr. Sloper fell backwards on to the tarpaulin, which, yielding to his weight, soused him into the water They left him to kick and splash awhile, then pulled him out and ran him forward into the head, where they secured him to the windlass till the sun should have somewhat dried him.
But long before the sun had had time to comfort the shivering little creature Herne Bay had hove into sight. The helm was shifted, and the cutter ran close into the land, where they hove her to whilst Plum and Robins got the boat over.
Mr. Sloper was then dropped over the side into the boat, which pulled ashore, landed him, and returned; and a few minutes later the cutter was standing for the mouth of the river, leaving the tailor on the Herne Bay beach, forty miles from home without a farthing in his pocket.
This is the historic incident of the Thames which I desire to rescue from the oblivion that has overtaken many greater matters. Mr. Sloper, on his return to Labour's Retreat, and when he was somewhat recovered in nerves and health, sued Joe Westlake in the Whitechapel County Court, in action of tort, laying his damages at the moderate sum of fifty pounds. Mr. G.E. Williams, for the defendant, contended that the plaintiff deserved the treatment which he had brought on himself, and the Judge, after hearing the evidence, said that although the plaintiff, Sloper, had acted most improperly in loading his guns, the defendant, Westlake, had retaliated too severely, but, under the circumstances, he should award only five pounds' damages, without costs.
"I don't see no signs of the tug, do you, Tom?" said the old skipper, John Bunk, rolling up to me from the companion hatchway. He was fresh from the cabin, and was rather tipsy, with a fixed stare and a stately manner, though his legs would have framed the lower part of an egg. His hat was tall, and brushed the wrong way. He wore a thick shawl round his neck and was wrapped up in a long monkey-jacket, albeit we were in the dog-days. In a word, Bunk was a skipper of a type that is fast perishing off our home waters.
"No," said I, "there's no sign of the tug."
"Then bloomed," said he, "if I don't work her up myself. Who's afraid? I know the ropes. Get amidships in the fair-way and keep all on, and there y' are. And mubbe the tug'll pick us up as we go."
"It's all one to Tom," said I.
Our brig was the Venus, of Rye, a stump topgallantmast coaster, eighty years old. We were in a big bight of the coast, heading for a river which flows past a well known town, whither we were bound. The bed of that river went in a vein through about three miles of mud, till it sheared into the land, and flowed into a proper-looking river with banks of its own. At flood the water covered the mud, but the river was buoyed, and when once you had the land on either hand and the bay of mud astern, the pilotage to the town was no more than a matter of bracing the yards about till you floated into one long reach whose extremity was painted by the red wharf you moored alongside of.
We were six of a ship's company. John Bunk was skipper, I, Tom Fish, was the mate, the others were Bill Martin, Jack Stevens, a man named Rooney, and a boy called William. On board craft of this sort there is very little discipline, and the sailor's talk to the captain as though he lived in the forecastle.
"John," sings out Bill Martin, casting his eyes over the greasy yellow surface of the water streaming shorewards, "are ye going to try for it without the tug?"
"Ay," answered old Bunk.
"And quite right, tew. No good a-messing about here all day," says Jack Stevens at the tiller.
The land was flat and treeless on either hand the river, but it rose, about a couple of miles off, curving into a front of glaring chalk, with a small well known town sparkling in the distance like a handful of frost in a white split. The horizon astern was broken by the moving bodies of many ships in full sail, and the sky low down was hung with the smoke of vanished steamers as though the stuff was cobwebs black with dust.
The stream was the turn of the flood. Old Bunk went forward into the bows, and the brig flapped forwards creaking like a basket on the small roll of the shallow water. We overhung her rails, and watched for ourselves. John Bunk, trying to look dignified with the drink in him, stared stately ahead; sometimes singing out to the helmsman to port, and then to starboard, and so we washed on, fairly hitting the river's mouth, and stemming safely for a mile, till the flat coast was within an easy scull of our jolly-boat, and you saw the spire of a church, and a few red roofs amidst a huddle of trees on the right, at that time two miles distant.
Just then the Venus took the mud; she grounded just as a huge fat sow knuckles quietly ere stretching herself.
"All aback forrard!" sings out Bill Martin, with a loud silly laugh.
We were a brig of a hundred and eighty tons, and there was nothing to be done with poling; nor was kedging going to help us at this the first quarter of ebb.
"Tom," says John Bunk, coming aft and speaking cheerfully, "there's no call to make any worrit over this shining job. The tug's bound to be coming along afore sundown, anyhow. See that village there?" says he, pointing. "My brother lives in that village, at a public house of his own, called the 'Eight Bells,' and seeing as we're hard and fast, I shall take the boys on a visit to him and leave you and William to look arter the brig."
"Suppose the tug should come along?" said I.
"She could do nothing with us till the flood floats us," said he; "I shall let go the anchor for security and go ashore."
He talked like a reckless old fool, but was tipsy, and in no temper to reason with. The situation of the brig was safe enough as far as ocean and weather went; nothing could hurt her as she lay mud-cradled on her fat bilge. We clewed up and let the canvas hang by its rigging, and then dropped the anchor; after which old Bunk and the others cleaned themselves up and got the boat over, and went away in her, singing songs, leaving me and William to look after the brig.
It was ten o'clock in the morning, a very fine hot day. I went into the cabin for a smoke, and after lounging an hour or so below whilst the boy boiled a piece of beef for our dinner, I stepped on deck, and found that the sea was already half-way out of the bay with twenty lines of foaming ripples purring not a quarter of a mile off, and the channel of the river was already plain, coming out from the land, and through the dry mud like a lane of water till it met the wash of the yellow brine and melted into it. The brig lay with an uncomfortable list to starboard. When the mud should come a-dry it would be an easy jump from her decks to it.
At half-past twelve William came below with my dinner, and I told the lad to out with his knife and eat with me. We munched together, taking it easy. There was nothing to be done on deck, no sign of the tug, no use we could put her to, even if she should heave into sight, and the time hung heavy. After dinner I lay upon a locker smoking, and William sat at the table with a pipe in his mouth.
Presently I thought I heard a noise of something moving in a scratching sort of way on deck. I listened and then heard nothing. A little later, happening to be looking at William, I heard the same noise, and that moment I fancied a kind of shadow passed over the glass of the grimy little cabin skylight.
I said to William: "Step on deck, my lad, and see if anybody's come aboard."
He went up, and was not gone a minute when I heard him scream shockingly. The shriek was full of terror and agony, and froze my blood. I rushed on deck and saw the figure of William under the paw of a large yellow tiger! I stared madly, as though my senses were all gone wrong and reporting a nightmare. But the big beast, turning its head, spied me, swept the planks with its tail, crouched in cat-like way, and was coming for me.
With a roar of terror I sprang for the main rigging, and in a few breathless moments was safe in the top.
It was all sheer mud now to the very forefoot of the brig; but the half of her lay afloat in the stream of the river. I saw the marks of the beast's paws pitting the shiny surface of ooze and sand; the trail came in a straight line from the land to the right of the village where Bunk's brother lived to the starboard bow of the brig. The beast had sprung easily aboard. We were not in India, nor in Africa, nor in any country where such huge yellow horrors as that flourished; therefore, on recovering my wits and my breath whilst I looked down over the rim of the top, I guessed that the tiger had broken loose from some show or menagerie, and had made for this desolate waste of sand to escape the hunt that was doubtless in loud cry after him. But I could not get any comfort into me out of the reflection that we had stranded on English instead of African or South American mud; down on deck, now crouching close beside the boy without, however, offering to touch the motionless figure, was a massive savage beast, apparently a man-eater; and it was all the same to me whether it had sprung aboard off the banks of an Indian river, or trotted across this breast of English slime out of a showman's cage.
The boy lay as though dead, and I turned sick, fearing to see the creature eat him. I was going to call, thinking he would answer me, then reflected if he was not dead my voice might cause him to move, and bring the tiger upon him, and so I lay silent in the top, now staring down, then glaring round upon the scene of mud and at the distant blue crescent of sea for the help that was nowhere visible.
Presently the tiger got up, and, passing over the body of the lad, stepped with its supple gait into the bows. I took my chance of shouting to William, but the lad never stirred. Again and again I yelled down at him, and I saw the splendid, horrible beast in the bows gazing at me, and still the lad remained lifeless. He was upon his face, with his arms out, as though his hands were nailed to the deck. I looked for blood, but saw none.
The most awful time that ever passed in my life now went along. The tiger roamed the deck silently, smelling at everything, once shoving its huge head into the companion-way, and I prayed with all my heart it would go below, that I might skim to the hatch and secure it. It drew its head out, and going to the boy stopped and smelt him. The very blood in me was curdled, for I made sure the beast was about to eat the lad. Sometimes I broke out into the noisiest roarings and screaming my pipes could set up in the hope of driving the brute overboard.
Between five and six o'clock in the evening the tide had made so as to cover the mud, and I saw the brig's boat approaching. Those who pulled flourished their oars drunkenly. The boat came to a stand when within easy hailing distance, as though old Bunk was taking a view of me as I sat in the top, and was wondering what I did there.
I roared out: "For God's sake mind how you come aboard! There's been a blooming tiger in this brig since noon!"
"A what?" yelled Bunk, and the seamen pulled a little closer in.
It was still broad flaming daylight, and the sun hung like a huge blood-red target over the crimson sea.
"A what?" shrieked Bunk.
"A tiger! A blooming tiger!" I bellowed, pointing to the brute that lay crouched on the forecastle hidden from the boat's crew.
"Drunk again, Tom? or is it sun-stroke this time?" sung out old Bunk, standing up in the boat and lurching to the rocking of her.
"It's killed William!" I yelled.
When I said this the beast, attracted by the noise of voices over the side, got up and looked over the bulwark rail at the men, and old Bunk instantly saw it. He stared for a minute or two as though he had been blasted by a stroke of lightning. The other three fellows then saw the beast, and if there was any drink in their heads the fumes of it flew out at that sight, and left them sober men. Their postures were full of wild surprise and terror whilst they gazed. Old Bunk roared:
"Has he killed the boy, d'yer say?"
"He lies there dead," cried I, pointing. "He hasn't moved since I first saw him."
"Has he been eating of him?"
"We must go ashore for help," sung out Jack Stevens.
"For God's sake don't leave me up here!" I cried.
"Tom," shouted Bunk, "there's only wan thing to dew; there's an old gun in my cabin, and yer'll find a powder-flask and ball in the locker. We must keep that tiger a-watching of us over the bow, whilst you run below and shut the hatch. By lifting the lid you'll be able to shoot him through the skylight. Come you down now as far as you durst whilst we fixes the attention of the brute upon ourselves."
I at once dropped into the rigging, where I stretched and played my legs a bit. They were as stiff as hand-spikes after that long spell in the maintop. I descended as low down as the sheer-pole, breathlessly watching. They pulled the boat under the bow, and Bill Martin with lifted oar made as though spearing at the brute's head. It opened its huge mouth and showed its immense claws upon the rail; old Bunk hissed and snapped at it, then roared out to me:
"Now's your time, Tom," whilst I heard Jack Stevens sing out:
"Back astarn! The fired cat's going to jump."
With the nimbleness of terror I dropped to the deck and passed like a shadow to the hatch, unnoticed by the beast. In a moment I closed the companion doors, then entering Bunk's cabin found the gun and ammunition. I loaded the piece, and, getting on to the cabin table, put my head into the skylight, and bawled out to let the others know that I was going to shoot. My voice attracted the tiger; it turned, and with swaying tail came with velvet tread, crouching in a springing posture. I levelled the gun, steadying the barrel, and, taking a cool, deliberate aim—for I was safe!—fired, and the instant I had fired, without pausing to see what had happened, I loaded again; but before I could present the piece for a second shot the beast, who was now on this side the boy, lurched and fell.
I fired a second ball into it, and then a third and a fourth, and now shouting to let the men know the brute was wounded and dying, I ran on deck, and putting the muzzle of the gun to the creature's glazing eye, fired, and this did its business, for just one spasm ran through it, and then the terrible, muscular bulk lay motionless.
The men came scrambling aboard. We turned the boy over, and took him below. Shortly afterwards the tug hove in sight, and we let the beast lie whilst we got our anchor and manoeuvred with the tow-rope. I am sorry to say the boy was dead. On our arrival a doctor came and looked at him, and a crowd tumbled aboard to view the beast. There was not a scratch on the lad; the tiger had never touched him; the doctor said he had died of syncope caused by fright.
The owner of the tiger threatened old Bunk with the law, and asked for a hundred guineas. Bunk started William's mother upon him for compensation for the loss of her boy, and shortly afterwards the showman went broke.
A Midnight Visitor.
"There are more terrors at sea than shipwreck and fire, more frights and horrors, mateys, than famine, blindness, and cholera," said the old seaman with a slow motion of his eyes round upon the little company of sailors. "I remember a line of poetry—'a thing of beauty is a joy for ever.' Can any man here tell me who wrote that? Well, I suppose it is a joy so long as it remains a beauty, but d'ye see it's got to remain, and that's the job.
"Yet, mates, if there is a thing of beauty that should be a joy to every heart, it is a full-rigged ship, clothed in white, asleep in the light of the moon, on a pale and silent breast of ocean that waves in splendour under the planet over the flying jib-boom end. Have I got such a ship as that in my mind? Ay. And was it a sheet calm but ne'er a moon? Ay, again. There was ne'er a moon that night. The ship rose faint and hushed to the stars. It was one bell in the morning watch. Scarce air enough moved to give life to the topmost canvas; as the ship bowed upon the light swell the sails swung in and swung out with a rushing sound of many wings up in the gloom. Yet the vessel had steerage way in that hour. Shall I tell you why? Because I know!
"And ere that full-rigged ship alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean came to a dead halt, life sinking in her with the failing of the wind in a sort of dying shudder from royal to course, this was how her decks showed: a man was at the wheel, the chief mate leaned against the rail in the thickness made by the mizzen rigging, and with folded arms seemed to doze in the shadow; a 'young gentleman,' as they used to call the 'brass-bounders,' loafed sleepily near the main shrouds where the break of the poop came. That youngster watched the stars trembling between the squares of the starboard rigging. He was new to the sea, and emotion and sentiment were still sweet—they were not salt in him. He was the son of a gentleman—he had a clever eye for what was picturesque and romantic, for what was tender and affecting in all he beheld, whether by day or night, whether he looked aloft or whether upon the mighty breast of brine—he should have done well: he oughter ha' done well."
The grey-haired respectable seaman closed his eyes in a silence filled with significance, and after a short smoke thus proceeded:
"Some of the watch on deck sprawled about in the shadow out of sight, curled up, asleep; only one figure was upright forward. 'Twas the shape of the man on the look-out. For all the world he postured like the mate aft, as though he copied the officer for a life or death bet: head sunk, arms folded—the forecastle break brought that raised deck well aft, and the look-out had the shadow of the starboard fore-rigging upon him.
"This man thus standing, by no means asleep, yet with his head sunk and no doubt his eyes closed, was suddenly struck on the side of the face by something hairy, damp, and cold. He sprang into the air as though he had been shot through the heart. O heavens! What was it? A naked figure, shaggy as Peter Sarrano, wild with hair, furious with a grin, terrible with the red gleams the starlight flung upon his little eyes. The sailor shrieked like a midnight cat and fell in a heap down upon the deck in a fit.
"The ship was in commotion in an instant. Such a yell as that was worse than the smell of fire.
"'What's the matter?' bawled the mate from the break of the poop.
"A number of shadowy shapes swarmed up the forecastle ladder. Meanwhile the watch below, aroused by the yell of the look-out man, suspecting imminent deadly danger in the peculiar noise, were leaping in twos and threes up through the forescuttle, growling and swearing and grumbling, and asking of one another in those deep hurricane-chested whispers which will make a stagnant midnight atmosphere tingle, what the blooming blazes that noise was, and what was up.
"'What's the matter?' roared the mate.
"'Here's Kennedy in a fit, sir,' sung out a voice.
"'Is that all?' said the mate, and he went forward to look at the man.
"'It's a fit certainly,' said he. 'Give him air, lads. Get a drink of cold water into his mouth. It's epilepsy.'
"'Or weevils,' said a deep voice.
"The joker was not to be discerned; the mate therefore took no notice. Some one brought a pannikin of cold water, and after a little the man came to, by which time the watch below had returned to their hammocks, and the forecastle was comparatively clear.
"When the mate was told the man had his senses and was sitting up, he went forward again and questioned him. He was sitting on the foot of a cathead, and was too weak to rise when the mate stood before him.
"'What is this you're rambling about?' said the officer. 'Aren't you quite well yet?'
"'S' 'elp me then, it slapped me fair over the chops, like flicking yer with the wet sleeve of a jacket. He rose four foot when I swounded. He might ha' been more an' he might ha' been less. Darkness put him out, only that I recollect,' said the man, turning up his pale face to the stars, 'taking notice of a couple of eyes like red lights floating in water and a grin of teeth wide as the keys of a pianey.'
"'He's mad,' thought the mate, who stepped nevertheless into the bows and looked over. Nothing was to be seen. He surveyed the ocean by the light of the stars, and glanced along the deck and up aloft, then told the look-out man to go below and turn in, and went aft, reckoning the thing an epileptic's nightmare.
"'It soaks into their livers ashore,' thought he, as he leisurely mounted the poop ladder, 'and when they get upon the ocean and into hot weather it works out in slaps over the head and hairy sea-beasts four feet high. Ha! ha! ha!' and he laughed drowsily as he walked to the wheel.
"Just then a catspaw blew. It was so faint that it scarcely chilled the moistened forefinger of the officer. It had to be reckoned with nevertheless; it was an air of wind anyhow, and some one sung out that the ship was aback forward, on which the mate went to the break of the poop, and yelled to the seamen to trim sail. Something went wrong in swinging the yards on the fore.
"'Jump aloft, a hand, and clear it.'
"A seaman went up the rigging, his shadowy shape vanished in the gloom that blackened like a thunder-cloud upon the foretop; he showed again when he got into the topmast rigging, with his figure small, and clear-cut against the stars.
"Suddenly, when midway the rigging he yelled at the top of his voice. His cry was more dismal and heartshaking than even that with which the man Kennedy had terrified the ship; he caught hold of a backstay, and sank to the bulwark rail, as though handsomely lowered away in a bowline.
"'By Cott!' he roared, flinging down his cap, whilst those who peered close saw that he trembled violently, 'der toyfel is on boardt dis ship. I have seen her mit mine eyes. If I hov not seen her den I was a nightmare und she was mad. Look up dar.'
"He obtained no answer. The seamen attending the indication of the Dutchman were to a man gazing aloft with hanging chins; for on high up in the cross-trees, a visible bulk of shadow, there sat, squatted, hung—what? A man? No angel from heaven surely? A demon then with folded wings like those of a bat resting in his flight from the halls of fire to some star of Satan? Mateys, if you think this language too poetical, I'll translate my thought into fok'sle speech. But I'd rather leave the job to others," said the grey-haired respectable seaman; "I've forgotten the profanities of the sea-parlour. I have not used a bad word for thirty year."
Some interruption by laughter attended this flight. The grey-haired sailor looked round him with his slow critical motion of eye, and continued:
"'What's wrong aloft forrad there?' bawled the mate, and now he sung out with energy and decision, for the figure of the captain was alongside of him.
"'There's something aloft that looks like a man,' howled a seaman, one of the upstaring crowd about the Dutchman. 'Come forrad, sir. You'll see him.'
"The mate and the captain went forward and looked up.
"'It's a man,' exclaimed the captain. 'Aloft there! What are you doing skylarking up in those cross-trees? Come down!' he cried, angrily.
"'You sick-hearts, what d'ye see to stare at, or seeing, why don't you go for it?' thundered the mate, after a pause, during which the figure on high had made no answer or motion, and as he spoke the words the officer bounded on to the bulwarks, and ran up the fore-shrouds.
"He travelled with heroic speed till he got as high as the foretop. There he stood at gaze; presently, after you might have counted fifty, putting his foot into the topmast rigging he began to crawl, with frequent breathless stops; his passage up those shrouds had the dying uncertainty of the tread of a blue-bottle when it climbs a sheet of glass in October.
"On a sudden he came down into the top very fast. There he stood staring aloft as though fascinated or electrified, then putting his foot over the top he got into the fore-shrouds, and trotted down on deck, all very quick. The captain stood near the main hatch, looking up. The mate approached him, and, in a whisper of awe and terror, exclaimed, whilst his eyes sought the shadow up in the foretopmast cross-trees, 'I believe the Dutchman's right, sir, and that we've been boarded by the devil himself.'
"'What are you talking about?'
"'I never saw the like of such a thing,' said the mate, in shaking tones.
"'Is it a man?' said the captain, staring up with amazement, while the seamen came hustling close in a sneaking way to listen, and the Dutchman drew close to the mate.
"'It has the looks of a man,' said the mate; 'yet it sha'n't be murder if you kill him.'
"'She vos no man, sir. I vos close. I vent closer don you. I oxpect, sir,' said the Dutchman, 'she's an imp. Strange dot I did not see him till I was upon her.'
"The captain went swiftly to his cabin for a binocular glass. The lenses helped him to determine the motionless shadow in the cross-trees, and he clearly distinguished an apparently large human shape, but in what fashion, or whether or not habited, it was impossible to see. How had he come into the ship? The captain went on to the poop and searched the silent sea with the glass with some fancy of finding a boat within reach of his vision. Nothing was to be seen but the glass-smooth face of the deep, with here and there the light of a large trembling star draining into it. The catspaw had died out, and it mattered nothing whether they braced the fore-yards round or not.
"It got wind in the forecastle that something wild, unearthly, hellish, was aloft, and the watch below turned out, too restless to sleep, and all through those hours of darkness the sailors walked the decks in groups, again and again staring up at the foretopmast cross-trees, where the mysterious bulk of blackness sate, squatted, or hung motionless, like some brooding fiend, or incarnation of ill-luck, sinking by force of meditation its curses not loud, but deep, into the bottom of the very hold itself.
"'Why don't the captain let me shoot him?' said the second mate at four o'clock. 'I cannot miss that mark; my rifle will bring him to your feet at the cost of a single shot.'
"'No,' said the chief mate, 'I've talked of trying what shooting will do. The captain means to wait for sunlight. But how did it get on board?' said he, sinking his voice in awe. 'There's no land for hundreds of leagues. Is it some sort of human sea-monster, some merman whose looks blind you with their ugliness, which this ship's been doomed to discover, and perhaps carry home?'
"It was not long before day whitened the east. In those climates the morning is a quick revelation, and hardly had the dawn broke when sea and sky were lighted up. And then, and even then, what was it? There it sat up in the cross-trees, a hairy, sulky bulk of man or beast, black, and the creature looked hard down whilst all hands were staring hard up.
"Seized if it isn't a gorilla!" said the mate.
"'No.' said the captain, letting fall his binocular, 'look for yourself. Yet, it's not a man, either.' He burst into a laugh as though for relief. 'It's a huge, hairy baboon, one of the biggest I ever saw in my life. He'll be as fierce as a mutinous crew, and strong as a frigate's complement. What's to be done with him?'
"'How in Egypt did he come on board?' said the mate, viewing the beast through the glass.
"'By that, maybe, sir,' exclaimed the second mate, pointing to some object floating flat and yellow, faint and far out upon the starboard quarter.
"The captain levelled the ship's telescope. 'A large raft!' he exclaimed, after some minutes of silent examination. 'Take a boat and examine it.'
"A quarter-boat was lowered, and the second mate and four men pulled away for the raft in the distance. It was a very large raft, manifestly launched by some country wallah in the last throes: a complicate huge grating, or floating platform, of immensely thick bamboos and spare spars, secured by turns of Manilla or coir rope. It was clean swept; not a rag was to be seen. Whether the sufferers had been taken off, leaving the baboon behind them, whether they had died, and the wash of the ocean had slipped their bodies overboard, the baboon holding on to the raft, who was to tell? 'At sea,' said Lord Nelson, 'nothing is impossible and nothing improbable.'
"The raft had floated to the bows of the ship in the silent midnight, and the baboon sprang aboard and aloft.
"The creature on high was a clear picture in the bright sunshine. It made many dreadful grimaces, by the exhibition of its teeth, and when the boat drew alongside it moved and stood up, and showed a great tail, then hung with one fist, looking down. It next descended with the velocity of wind into the foretop.
"The captain said: 'The beast don't seem faint, but I guess he's thirsty, and he may fall mad, come down, and bite some of us. So,' says he to the chief officer, 'send a hand aloft with a bucket of fresh water for the poor brute and a pocketful of ship's bread. If we can civilise him, so much the better.'
"But it never came to it," said the grey-haired respectable seaman. "The creature fled to the cross-trees nimble as light when he saw a couple of seamen mounting to the top, then descended, and ate and drank ravenously when they had come down, which feeding murdered him, and ruined the captain's hopes of carrying the fellow to London and selling him at a large price to the Zooelogical Gardens. For he refused to come on deck. He bared his teeth, and his eyes shone with the malice of hell if the men attempted to approach him. It was impossible to let him rest aloft throughout the night to command the ship, so to speak; for he might sink to the deck stealthy as the shadow of a cloud blown by the wind, and he was strong enough and big enough to tear a sleeping man's throat out.
"'He must be shot,' said the captain, and he told the second mate to fetch his rifle.
"The second mate, that he might make sure of his aim, went aloft into the foretop. The beast was then sitting on the topgallant yard. He had been in command of the fabric of the fore all day. Had it come on to blow so as to oblige the captain to shorten sail, the deuce a seaman durst have gone aloft to stow the canvas. The second mate, standing in the top, was in the act of lifting his rifle, when the monster, running on all fours out to the dizzy topgallant yard-arm, stood erect a breathless instant, poised—in human posture—a marvellous picture of the man-beast against the liquid blue, then sprang into the air.
"'Come down,' roared the captain to the second mate, 'and shoot him through the head, for God's sake!'
"As the beast rose with a wild grin after having been so long out of sight through the frightful height he had jumped from, you'd have thought he'd have risen with a burst skin, the captain bawled out, 'Blessed if he's not making for his raft.'
"The baboon, with a fixed expression, and with eyes askew upon the ship as he drove past, swimming very finely with long easy flourishes of his arms and dexterous thrusts of his legs, whilst the end of his tail stood up astern of him as though it was some comical little man there steering,—the baboon, I say, was undoubtedly and with amazing sagacity making straight for the raft, having taken its bearings when aloft; but at the moment the second mate knelt to level his piece, meaning to murder the poor brute out of pure mercy, the thing uttered, oh, my God! what a horrible cry! and vanished, and a quantity of blood rose and dyed a bright patch upon the calm blue. No more was seen of the baboon, but a little later the black scythe-like fins of three sharks showed in the spot where he had disappeared."
Plums from a Sailor's Duff.
It has been commonly expected of sailors in all ages that they should encounter nothing upon the ocean but hair-breadth escapes. The theory is that the mariner but half discharges his duties when his experiences are limited to his work as a seaman. That he may be fully and perfectly accomplished vocationally he must know what it is to have been cast away, to have barely come off with his life out of a ship on fire, to have been overboard on many occasions in heavy seas, to have chewed pieces of lead in open boats to assuage his thirst—to have encountered, in short, most of the stock horrors of the oceanic calling. Considering, however, that the sailor goes to sea holding his life in his hands, I cannot but think that his mere occupation is perilous enough to satisfy the romantic demands of the shore-going dreamer. It is feigned that the sea-faring life is not one jot more dangerous than most of the laborious callings followed ashore. Let no man credit this. The sailor never springs aloft, never slides out to a yard-arm, never gives battle to the thunderous canvas, scarcely performs a duty, indeed, that does not contain a distinct menace to his life. That the calling has less of danger in it in these days than it formerly held I will not undertake to determine. If in former times ships put to sea destitute of the scientific equipment which characterises the fabrics of this age, the mariner supplied the deficiencies of the shipyard by caution and patience. He was never in a hurry. He waited with a resigned countenance upon the will of the wind. He plied his lead and log-line with indefatigable diligence. There was no prompt despatch in his day, no headlong thundering, through weather as thick as mud in a wineglass, to reach his port. We have diminished many of the risks he ran through imperfect appliances, but, on the other hand, we have raised a plentiful stock of our own, so that the balance between then and now shows pretty level.
My sea-faring experiences covered about eight years, and they hit a traditional period of immense moment—I mean the gradual transformation of the marine fabric from wood into iron. I was always afloat in wood, however, and never knew what it was to have an iron plate between me and the yearning wash of the brine outside until I went on a voyage to Natal and back in a big ocean steamer that all day long throbbed to the maddened heart in her engine room, like some black and gleaming leviathan rendered hysterical by the lances of whalers feeling for its life, and all night stormed through the dark ocean shadow like a body of fire, faster than a gale of wind could in my time have driven the swiftest clipper keel that furrowed blue water.
What hair-breadth escapes did I meet with? I have been asked. Was I ever marooned? Ever cast away, as Jack says, on the top crust of a half-penny loaf? Ever overboard among sharks? Ever gazing madly round the horizon, the sole occupant of a frizzling boat, in search of a ship where I might obtain water to cool my blue and frothing lips? Well, my duff is not a very considerable one, and the few plums in it I fear are almost wide enough apart to be out of hail of one another. However a sample or two will suffice to enable me to keep my word and to write something at all events autobiographic.
So let us start off Cape Horn on a July day in the year of grace 1859. The ship was a fine old Australian liner, a vessel of hard upon 1400 tons, a burden that in those days constituted a large craft. She was commanded by one Captain Neatby, something of a favourite I believe in the passenger trade—a careful old man with bow-legs and a fiery grog-blossom of a nose. He wore a tall chimney-pot hat in all weathers, and was reckoned a very careful man because he always furled his fore and mizzen royals in the first dog-watch every night. We were a long way south; I cannot remember the exact latitude, but I know it was drawing close upon sixty degrees. There was a talk in the midshipmen's berth amongst us that the captain was trying his hand at the great Circle course, but none of us knew much about it down in that gloomy, 'tween-decks, slush-flavoured cavern in which we youngsters lived. I was fourteen years old, homeward bound on my first voyage; a little bit of a midshipman, burnt dry by Pacific suns, with a mortal hatred and terror of the wild, inexpressibly bitter cold of the roaring ice-loaded parallels in whose Antarctic twilight our noble ship was plunging and rolling now under a fragment of maintopsail, now under a reefed foresail and double-reefed foretopsail, chased by the shrieking western gale that flew like volleys of scissors and thumbscrews over our taffrail, and by seas, whose glittering, flickering peaks one looked up at from the neighbourhood of the wheel as at the brows of tall and beetling cliffs. The gale was white with snow, and dark with the blinding fall of it too, when I came on deck at noon. I was in the chief mate's, or port watch, as it is called. The ship was running under a double-reefed topsail—in those days we carried single sails,—reefed foresail, close-reefed foretopsail, and maintopmast staysail. The snow made a London fog of the atmosphere; forward of the galley the ship was out of sight at times when it came thundering down out of the blackness aft, white as any smother of spume. She pitched with the majesty of a line-of-battle ship, as she launched herself in long floating rushes from gleaming pinnacle to seething valley with a heavy, melancholy sobbing of water all about her decks, and her narrow, distended band of maintopsail hovering overhead black as a raven's pinion in the flying hoariness. We were washing through it at twelve or thirteen knots an hour, though the ship was as stiff as a madman in a strait-jacket, with the compressed wool in her hold and loaded down to her main-chain bolts besides. By two bells (one o'clock) forward of the break of the poop the decks were deserted, though now and again, amidst some swiftly passing flaw in the storm of snow, you might just discern the gleaming shapes of two men on the look-out on the forecastle, with the glimpse of a figure in the foretop, also on the watch for anything that might be ahead. The captain in his tall hat was stumping the deck to and fro close against the wheel, cased in a long pilot coat, under the skirts of which his legs, as he slewed round, showed like the lower limb of the letter O. Through the closed skylight windows I could get a sort of watery view of the cuddy passengers—as they were then called—reading, playing at chess, playing the piano, below. There were some scores of steerage and 'tween-deck passengers, deeper yet in the bowels of the ship, but hidden out of sight by the closed hatches.
I know not why it should have been, but I was the only midshipman on the poop, though the ship carried twelve of us, six to a watch. The other five were doubtless loafing about under cover somewhere. I stood close beside the chief mate to windward, holding to the brass rail that ran athwart the break of the poop. This officer was a Scotchman, a man named Thompson, and I suppose no better seaman ever trod a ship's deck. He was talking to me about getting home, asking me whether I would rather be off Cape Horn in a snow-storm or making ready to sit down with my brothers and sisters at my father's table to a jolly good dinner of fish and roast beef and pudding, when all on a sudden he stopped in what he was saying, and fell a-sniffing violently.
"I smell ice," said he, with a glance aft at the captain.
"Smell ice!" thought I, with a half look at him, for I believed he was joking. For my part, it was all ice to me—one dense, yelling atmosphere of snow; every flake barbed, and the cold of a bitterness beyond words. He fell a-sniffing again, quickly and vehemently, and stepped to the side, sending a thirsty look into the white blindness ahead, whilst I heard him mutter, "There 's ice close aboard, there 's ice close aboard!" As he spoke the words, there arose a loud and fearful cry from the forecastle.
"Ice right ahead, sir!"
"Ice right ahead, sir!" repeated the chief mate, whipping round upon the captain.
"I see it, sir! I see it, sir!" roared the skipper. "Hard a starboard, men! Hard a starboard for your lives! Over with it!"
The two fellows at the helm sent the spokes flying like the driving-wheel of a locomotive; the long ship, upborne at the instant by a huge Pacific sea, paid off like a creature of instinct, sweeping slowly but surely to port just in time. For right on the starboard bow of us there leapt out into proportions terrible and magnificent, within a musket shot of our rail, an iceberg that looked as big as St. Paul's Cathedral, with stormy roaring of the gale in its ravines and valleys, and the white smoke of the snow revolving about its pinnacles and spires like volumes of steam, and a volcanic noise of mighty seas bursting against its base and recoiling from the adamant of its crystalline sides in acres of foam. We were heading for it at the rate of thirteen miles an hour as neatly as you point the end of a thread into the eye of a needle. In a few minutes we should have been into it, crumbled against it, dissolved upon the white waters about it, and have met a nameless end. Boy as I was, and bitter as was the day, I remember feeling a stir in my hair as I stood watching with open mouth the passage of the mountainous mass close alongside into the pale void astern, whilst the ship trembled again to the blows and thumps of vast blocks of floating ice.
"Ice right ahead, sir!" came the cry again, nor could we clear the jumble of bergs until the dusk had settled down, when we hove-to for the night. No one was hurt, but I suppose no closer shave of the kind ever happened to a ship before.
Again, and this time once more off Cape Horn. It was my third voyage; I was still a midshipman, and in the second mate's watch. I came on deck at midnight and found the ship hove-to, breasting what in this age of steamboats, and, for the matter of that, perhaps in any other age, might be termed a terrific sea. She was making good weather of it—that is to say, she kept her decks dry, but she was diving and rolling most hideously, with such swift headlong shearing of her spars through the gale that the noises up in the blackness aloft were as though the spirits of the inmates of a thousand lunatic asylums had been suddenly enlarged from their bodies and sent yelling into limbo. The wind blew with an unendurable edge in the sting and bite of it. The second mate and I, each with a rope girdling his waist to swing by, stood muffled up to our noses under the lee of a square of canvas seized to the mizzen shrouds. Presently he roared into my ear, "Sort of a night for a pannikin of coffee, eh, Mr. Russell?" "Ay, ay, sir," I replied, and with that, liberating myself from the rope, I clawed my way along the line of the hencoops—the decks sometimes sloping almost up and down to the heavy weather scends of the huge black billows,—and descended into the midshipmen's berth. It was not the first time I had made a cup of coffee for myself and the second mate in the middle watch during cold weather. An old nurse who had lived in my family for years had given me an apparatus consisting of a spirit-lamp and a funnel-shaped contrivance of block tin, along with several pounds of very good coffee, and with this I used to keep the second mate and myself supplied with the real luxury of a hot and aromatic drink during wet and frosty watches. The midshipmen's berth was a narrow room down in the 'tween decks, bulkheaded off from the sides, fitted with a double row of bunks, one on top of another, the lower beds being about a foot above the deck. There were five midshipmen all turned in and fast asleep. The others, who were on watch, were clustered under the break of the poop for the shelter there. A lonely one-eyed sort of slush lamp, with sputtering wick and stinking flame, swung wearily from a blackened beam, rendering the darkness but little more than visible. I slung my little cooking apparatus near to it, filled the lamp with spirits of wine, put water and coffee into the funnel, and then set fire to the arrangement. I stood close under it, wrapped from head to foot in gleaming oilskins—looking a very bloated little shape, I don't doubt, from the quantity of clothing I wore under the waterproofs,—waiting for the water to boil. The seas roared in thunder high above the scuttles to the wild and sickening dipping of the ship's side into the trough. The humming of the gale pierced through the decks with the sound of a crowd of bands of music in the distance, all playing together and each one a different tune. The midshipmen snored, and coats and smallclothes hanging from the bunk stanchions wearily swung sprawling out and in, like bodies dangling from gallows in a gale of wind.
All in a moment a sea of unusual weight and fury took the ship and hove her down to the height as you would have thought, of her topgallant rail; the headlong movement sent me sliding to leeward; the forethatch of my sou'wester struck the spirit-lamp; down it poured, in a line of fire upon the deck, where it surged to and fro in a sheet of flame, with the movements of the ship. I was so horribly frightened as to be almost paralysed by the sight of that flickering stretch of yellowish light, sparkling and leaping as it swept under the lower bunks and came racing back again to the bulkhead with the windward incline. I fell to stamping upon it in my sea-boots, little fool that I was, hoping in that way to extinguish it. A purple-faced midshipman occupied one of the lower bunks, and his long nose lay over the edge of it. He opened his eyes, and after looking sleepily for a moment or two at the coating of pale fire rushing from under his bed, he snuffed a bit, and muttering, "Doocid nice smell; burnt brandy, ain't it?" he turned over and went to sleep again with his face the other way.
I was in an agony of consternation, and yet afraid of calling for help lest I should be very roughly manhandled for my carelessness. There was a deal of "raffle" under the bunks—sea-boots, little bundles of clothing, and I know not what else; but thanks to Cape Horn everything was happily as damp as water itself. There was therefore nothing to kindle, nor was there any aperture through which the burning spirit could run below into the hold; so by degrees the flaming stuff consumed itself, and in about ten minutes' time the planks were black again. I went on deck and reported what had happened to the second mate. All he said was "My God!" and instantly ran below to satisfy himself that there was no further danger. I can never recall that little passage of my life without a shudder. There were a hundred and ninety-five souls of us aboard, and had I managed to set the ship on fire that night the doom of every living creature would have been assured, seeing that no boat could have lived an instant in such a sea as was then running.
In a very different climate from that of Cape Horn I came very near to meeting with an extremely ugly end. It was a little business entirely out of the routine of the ordinary ocean dangers, but the memory of it sends a thrill through me to this hour, though it is much past twenty years ago since it happened. I was making my second voyage aboard a small full-rigged ship that had been hired by the Government for the conveyance of troops to the East Indies. I was the only midshipman; the other youngsters consisted of five apprentices. We occupied a deck-house a little forward of the main-hatch. This house was divided by a fore and aft bulkhead; the apprentices lived in the port compartment, the third and fourth mates and myself slung our hammocks on the starboard side. The third mate was a man of good family, aged about twenty-one, a young Hercules in strength, with heavy under-jaws and the low, peculiar brow of the prize-fighter. He had been a midshipman in Smith's service, and was a good and active sailor, very nimble aloft and expert in his work about the ship, but of a sullen, morose disposition, and a heavy drinker whenever the opportunity to get drink presented itself. I think he was regarded by all hands as a little touched, but I was too young to remark in him any oddities which might strike an older observer. He was given to delivering himself of certain dark, wild fancies. I remember he once told me that if he owed a man a grudge he would not scruple to plant himself alongside of him on a yard on a black night and kick the foot-rope from under him when his hands were busy, and so let him go overboard. But this sort of talk I would put down to mere boasting, and indeed I thought nothing of it.
We were in the Indian Ocean, and one evening I sat at supper (as tea, the last meal on board ship, is always called) along with this man and the fourth mate. We fell into some sort of nautical argument, and in the heat of the discussion I said something that caused the third mate to look at me fixedly for a little while, whilst he muttered under his breath, in a kind of half-stifled way, as though his teeth were set. I did not catch the words, but I am quite certain from the fourth mate's manner, that he had heard them, and that he knew what was in the other's mind. I say this because I recollect that very shortly afterwards the fellow rose and walked out on deck with an air about him as if he was willing to give the third mate a chance of being alone with me. It was a mean trick, but then he was a cowardly rogue, and when I afterwards heard that he had been dismissed from the service he had formerly entered for robbing his shipmates of money and tobacco and the humble trifles which sailors carry about with them in their sea-chests I was wicked enough, recalling how he had walked out of that deck-house, leaving me, a little boy, alone with a strong, brutal, crazy third mate, to hope that he might yet prove guilty of larger sins still, for I could not but regard him as a creature that deserved to be hanged. The instant this man stepped through the door the third mate jumped up and closed it. It travelled in grooves, and he whipped it to with a temper which caused the whole structure to echo again to the blow.
"Now, you young—" he exclaimed, turning his bulldog face, white with rage, upon me, yet speaking in a cold voice that was more terrifying to listen to than if he had roared out, "I have you and I mean to punish you," and with that he unclasped his heavy belt, and then clasped it again so as to make a double thong of the leather, and grasped me by the collar.
What my feelings were I am unable to state at this distance of time. I believe I was more astonished than frightened. I could not imagine that this huge creature was in earnest in offering to beat me for what I had said, and yet I was sensible too of an unnatural fire in his eyes—a glow that put an expression of savage exultation into them; and this look of his somehow held me motionless and speechless. He half raised his arm, but a sudden irresolution possessed him, as though my passivity was a check upon his intentions.
"No, no," he exclaimed, after a little, "I'll manage better than this"; and still grasping me by the collar of my jacket he dropped his belt and ran me to the fore end of the compartment, threw me on my back, and knelt upon me. Within reach of his arm, kneeling as he was, were three shelves on which we kept such crockery and cutlery as we owned, along with our slender stores of sugar and flour and the cold remains of previous repasts. He felt for a knife; I could hear the blades rattle as his fingers groped past his curved wrist for one of them, and then flourishing the black-handled weapon in front of my eyes he exclaimed, "Now I'm going to murder you." I lay stock-still; I never uttered a word; I scarcely breathed indeed. Again, I say that I do not know that I was terrified. My condition was one of semi-stupefaction, I think, with just enough of sense left in me to comprehend that if I uttered the least cry or struggled, no matter how faintly, I should transform him into a wild beast. Nothing but my lying corpse-like under the pressure of his knee saved me, I am certain. My gaze was fixed upon his face, and I see him now staring at me with his little eyes on fire, and the knife poised ready to plunge. This posture maybe he retained for two or three minutes; it ran into long hours to me. Then on a sudden he threw the knife away backwards over his shoulder, rose and went to the door, where he stood a little staring at me intently. I continued to lie motionless. He opened the door and passed out, on which I sprang to my feet and fled as nimbly as my legs would carry me to the poop, where I found the chief mate. He was a little Welshman of the name of Thomas, a brother of Ap Thomas, the celebrated harpist, and if he be still alive and these lines should meet his eyes, let him be pleased to know that my memory holds him in cordial respect as the kindest officer and the smartest seaman I ever had the fortune to be shipmates with. To him I related what had happened.
"O—ho," cried he, "attempted murder, hey? Our friend must be taught that we don't allow this sort of thing to happen aboard us."
He gave certain orders and shortly afterwards the third mate was seized and locked up in a spare cabin just under the break of the poop. Two powerful seamen were told off to keep him company. How much the unfortunate man needed this sort of control I could not have imagined but for my hearing that he was locked up and my going to the cabin window that looked on to the quarter deck to take a peep at him if he was visible. He saw me and bounded to the window, bringing his leg-of-mutton fist against it with a blow that crashed the whole plate of glass into splinters. His face was purple, his eyes half out of their sockets. There was froth upon his lips, with such a general distortion of features that it would be impossible to figure a more horrible illustration of madness than his countenance. I bolted as if the devil had been after me, catching just a glimpse of the powerful creature wrestling in the grasp of the two seamen who were dragging him backwards into the gloom of the cabin. Such an escape as this I regard as distinctly more eventful, if not more romantic, than falling overboard and being rescued when almost spent, or being picked up after a fortnight's exposure in an open boat. My most sleep-murdering nightmares nearly always include the phantom form of that burly, crazed third mate kneeling upon my motionless little figure and feeling for a knife on one of the shelves just over my head.
Another little plum out of my plain sailor's pudding. This time my ship was an East Indian trader that whilst lying at Calcutta was chartered by the Government to convey troops to the North of China. It was in 1860. Difficulties had arisen, and John Chinaman was to be attacked. We proceeded to Hong Kong with the headquarters of the 60th Rifles on board, and thence to the Gulf of Peche-li, which I should say submitted one of the finest spectacles in the world, with its congregations of transports and English and French and Yankee ships of war. It was an old-world scene which the sponge of time has obliterated for ever, and I behold again in memory those two noble frigates, the Imperieuse and the Chesapeake, straining tightly at their cables, with smoke-stacks too modest in proportions to impair to the critical nautical eye the tack and sheet suggestions of the graceful, exquisitely symmetrical fabric of spars and yards and rigging soaring triumphantly aloft to where the long whip or pennant at the main flickered like a delicate line of fire against the hard cold blue of the Asiatic sky.
We lay for many months in that bay, and were obliged repeatedly to send ashore for fresh meat, vegetables, and the like. On one occasion I recollect going with the mate in the long-boat some distance up the river Peiho, a rushing, turbid stream at the mouth of which the Chinese had fixed a very chevaux-de-frise of spikes, upon which they had fondly hoped our men-of-war would impale themselves, forgetting that the depth of water scarcely permitted the approach of a shallow gunboat. We were returning to the ship with a fair wind, and on top of the fierce rush of the river, when our helmsman run us plump against one of Johnny's huge impalers. The shock of the blow threw the mate into an immense basket of fresh eggs. He fell with a squelch past all power of forgetting, and lay wriggling in a very quagmire of yolk and white and fragments of shells. We pulled him out blind and streaming with eggs. His aspect was so preposterously absurd that the helmsman, rendered almost imbecile by laughter, let the boat drive into a second pile, when, as I live to write it, the mate, who was cleaning himself near to the basket, was thrown a second time into the glutinous mess! I will not attempt to repeat the sea-blessings he bestowed upon the steersman. Happily eggs were cheap, and a dollar might have represented a more considerable smash. Now it was two days following this that the captain sent the long-boat to procure some sheep and poultry from a little village situated close to the shores of the bay on the north of the river. The second mate took charge, and I and another midshipman and a couple of sailors went along with him. We landed and left the boat in charge of a seaman, and strolled towards the village. The second mate was a wild, dissolute young fellow, who, before he quitted China, became the recipient of more than one round dozen by order of the provost-marshal for looting. A little knot of Chinamen stood watching as we approached, whilst just beyond we caught sight of a couple of women hobbling nimbly away out of reach of our sight, as though they walked on stilts. Sherman—for such was the second mate's name,—approaching the Chinamen, began with them in pigeon English. They did not understand. He exhibited a few dollars, and traced the outline of a sheep upon the ground, and, with many surprising motions of his arms, sought to acquaint them with the object of his visit. All to no purpose. "What's to be done?" said Sherman, looking at us. "There's nothing that resembles a sheep hereabouts." His eyes suddenly brightened as they lighted on a large concourse of cocks and hens pecking in tolerably close order at some fifty paces distant from us. "Boys," he shouted, "as these chaps can't be made to understand, let's help ourselves. Each one seize what he can get and make for the boat. Follow me." He sprang with incredible agility towards the fowls, and in a trice had a couple of them shrieking and fluttering in his grasp. In a breath the Chinamen—thirty or forty strong—uttering a long, peculiar shout, armed themselves with pitchforks—at all events, a species of weapon that to my young eyes resembled a pitchfork,—sticks, and stones, and gave chase. They tramped after us with the noise of an army in pursuit. We flew towards the boat, screaming to the fellow in charge to haul in and receive us. A stone struck me in the small of my back, and urged me forwards faster than my legs were travelling. Down I should have tumbled on my nose, and in that posture have been straightway massacred, but for the timely grip of a sailor who was running by my side. "Hold up, my hearty!" he roared, hooking his fingers into the back of my collar and jerking me backwards. In a few moments we gained the boat, wading waist-high to come at her, and rolling like drunken men over her gunwale into her bottom. A volley of stones rattled about our ears, but we were safe. Had the Chinamen carried firearms, not one of us but must have been shot down.
I could relate a score or more of such experiences: of ugly collisions with the police in Calcutta, of a narrow escape of being thrown overboard by a dinghy-wallah of the river Hooghley, of a desperate fight in the slings of the mizzen-topgallant yard with an apprentice of my own age, and the like; but the space at my disposal obliges me to conclude. Very little of the heroic enters the sailor's life. The risks he runs, the adventures he encounters, have, as a rule, nothing of the romantic in them; they are mainly brought about by his own foolhardiness, by the proverbial carelessness that is utterly irreconcilable with the stern obligations of vigilance, alertness, and foresight imposed upon him by the nature of his calling, by the imbecility of shipmates, and much too often by drink. Yet no matter what the cause of most of the perils he meets with, his experiences, I take it, head the march of professional dangers. Small wonder that faith in the "sweet little cherub that sits up aloft" should still linger in the forecastle. For certainly were it not for the bright look-out kept over him by some sort of maritime angel, the mariner would rank foremost as amongst the most perishable of human products.
The Strange Adventures of a South Seaman.
On November 4th, 1830, a number of convicts were indicted at the Admiralty Sessions of the Old Bailey for having on the 5th of September in the previous year piratically seized a brig called the Cyprus. A South Seaman was innocently and most involuntarily, as shall be discovered presently, involved in this tragic business, to which he is able to add a narrative that is certainly not known to any of the chroniclers of crime. But first as to the piratical seizure.
The Cyprus, a colonial brig, had been chartered to convey a number of convicts from Hobart Town to Macquarie Harbour, on the northern coast of Tasmania, and Norfolk Island, distant about a week's sail from Sydney—in those days a penal settlement. There were thirty-two felons in all. These men had been guilty of certain grave offences at Hobart Town, and they had rendered themselves in consequence liable to new punishment; they were tried before the Supreme Court of Judicature there, and sentenced to be transported to the place above mentioned.
Only the very worst sort of prisoners were sent to Norfolk Island and Macquarie Harbour. The discipline at those penal settlements was terrible; the labour that was exacted, heart-breaking. The character of the punishment was well known, and every felon re-sentenced to transportation from the colonial convict settlements very well understood the fate that was before him.
The Cyprus sailed from Hobart Town in August, 1829. In addition to the thirty-two convicts, she carried a crew of eight men and a guard of twelve soldiers, under the command of Lieutenant Carew, who was accompanied by his wife and children. The prisoners, as was always customary in convict ships, were under the care of a medical man named Williams.
Nothing of moment happened until the brig either brought up or was hove-to in Research Bay, where Dr. Williams, Lieutenant Carew, the mate of the vessel, a soldier, and a convict named Popjoy went ashore on a fishing excursion. They had not been gone from the ship above half-an-hour when they heard a noise of firearms. Instantly guessing that the convicts had risen, they made a rush for the boat and pulled for the brig. It was as they had feared: the felons had mastered the guard and seized the brig. They suffered no man to come on board save Popjoy, who, however, later on sprang overboard, and swam to the beach. They then sent the crew, soldiers, and passengers ashore, but without provisions and the means of supporting life. Then, amongst themselves, the prisoners lifted the anchor and trimmed sail, and the little brig slipped away out of Research Bay.
The chroniclers state that the vessel was never afterward heard of, though some of the convicts were apprehended, separately, in various parts of Sussex and Essex. The posthumous yarn of the mate of an English whaler disproves this. He relates his extraordinary experience thus:
"We had been fishing north of the Equator, and had filled up with a little 'grease,' as the Yankees term it, round about the Galapagos Islands, but business grew too slack for even a whaleman's patience. Eleven months out from Whitby, and, if my memory fails me not, less than a score of full barrels in our hold! So the Captain made up his mind to try south, and working our way across the Equator, we struck in amongst the Polynesian groups, raising the Southern Cross higher and higher, till we were somewhere about latitude 30 deg., and longitude 175 deg. E.
"I came on deck to the relief at four o'clock one morning: the weather was quiet, a pleasant breeze blowing off the starboard beam; our ship was barque-rigged, with short, topgallant masts—Cape Horn fashion; she was thrusting through it leisurely under topsails and a maintopgallantsail, and the whole Pacific heave so cradled her as she went that she seemed to sleep as she sailed.