The King's Own, by Captain Marryat.
Captain Frederick Marryat was born July 10 1792, and died August 8 1848. He retired from the British navy in 1828 in order to devote himself to writing. In the following 20 years he wrote 26 books, many of which are among the very best of English literature, and some of which are still in print.
Marryat had an extraordinary gift for the invention of episodes in his stories. He says somewhere that when he sat down for the day's work, he never knew what he was going to write. He certainly was a literary genius.
"The King's Own" was published in 1830, the second book to flow from Marryat's pen. It is almost as though Marryat was born as a talented and polished writer. The fact is, though, that for these early books he was still at sea when most of the work was done, and with lots of time, since he was engaged in looking for a non-existent, but reported, island in mid-Atlantic.
This e-text was transcribed in 1998 by Nick Hodson, and was reformatted in 2003, and again in 2005.
THE KING'S OWN, BY CAPTAIN FREDERICK MARRYAT.
However boldly their warm blood was spilt, Their life was shame, their epitaph was guilt; And this they knew and felt, at least the one, The leader of the hand he had undone— Who, born for better things, had madly set His life upon a cast, which linger'd yet. BYRON.
There is perhaps no event in the annals of our history which excited more alarm at the time of its occurrence, or has since been the subject of more general interest, than the Mutiny at the Nore, in the year 1797. Forty thousand men, to whom the nation looked for defence from its surrounding enemies, and in steadfast reliance upon whose bravery it lay down every night in tranquillity,—men who had dared everything for their king and country, and in whose breasts patriotism, although suppressed for the time, could never be extinguished,—irritated by ungrateful neglect on the one hand, and by seditious advisers on the other, turned the guns which they had so often manned in defence of the English flag against their own countrymen and their own home, and, with all the acrimony of feeling ever attending family quarrels, seemed determined to sacrifice the nation and themselves, rather than listen to the dictates of reason and of conscience.
Doubtless there is a point at which endurance of oppression ceases to be a virtue, and rebellion can no longer be considered as a crime; but it is a dangerous and intricate problem, the solution of which had better not be attempted. It must, however, be acknowledged, that the seamen, on the occasion of the first mutiny, had just grounds of complaint, and that they did not proceed to acts of violence until repeated and humble remonstrance had been made in vain.
Whether we act in a body or individually, such is the infirmity and selfishness of human nature, that we often surrender to importunity that which we refuse to the dictates of gratitude,—yielding for our own comfort, to the demands of turbulence, while quiet unpretending merit is overlooked and oppressed, until, roused by neglect, it demands, as a right, what policy alone should have granted as a favour.
Such was the behaviour, on the part of government, which produced the mutiny at the Nore.
What mechanism is more complex than the mind of man? And as, in all machinery, there are wheels and springs of action not apparent without close examination of the interior, so pride, ambition, avarice, love, play alternately or conjointly upon the human mind, which, under their influence, is whirled round like the weathercock in the hurricane, only pointing for a short time in one direction, but for that time steadfastly. How difficult, then, to analyse the motives and inducements which actuated the several ringleaders in this dreadful crisis!
Let us, therefore, confine ourselves to what we do really know to have been the origin of discontent in one of these men, whose unfortunate career is intimately connected with this history.
Edward Peters was a man of talent and education. He had entered on board the —- in a fit of desperation, to obtain the bounty for a present support, and his pay as a future provision for his wife, and an only child, the fruit of a hasty and unfortunate marriage. He was soon distinguished as a person of superior attainments; and instead of being employed, as a landsman usually is, in the afterguard, or waist, of the ship, he was placed under the orders of the purser and captain's clerk as an amanuensis. In this capacity he remained two or three years, approved of and treated with unusual respect by the officers, for his gentlemanlike appearance and behaviour: but unfortunately a theft had been committed,—a watch, of trifling value, had been purloined from the purser's cabin; and, as he was the only person, with the exception of the servant, who had free ingress and egress, suspicion fell upon him— the more so as, after every search that could be made had proved ineffectual, it was supposed that the purloined property had been sent on shore to be disposed of by his wife, who, with his child, had frequently been permitted to visit him on board.
Summoned on the quarter-deck—cross-examined, and harshly interrogated— called a scoundrel by the captain before conviction,—the proud blood mantled in the cheeks of one who, at that period, was incapable of crime. The blush of virtuous indignation was construed into presumptive evidence of guilt. The captain,—a superficial, presuming, pompous, yet cowardly creature, whose conduct assisted in no small degree to excite the mutiny on board of his own ship,—declared himself quite convinced of Peters's guilt, because he blushed at the bare idea of being suspected; and punishment ensued, with all the degradation allotted to an offence which is never forgiven on board of a man-of-war.
There is, perhaps, no crime that is attended with such serious consequences on board a ship as theft. A succession of thefts undiscovered will disintegrate a ship's company, break up the messes, destroy all confidence and harmony, and occasion those who have been the dearest friends to become the greatest enemies: for whom can a person suspect, when he has lost his property, in so confined a space, but those who were acquainted with its being in his possession, and with the place in which it was deposited?—and who are these but his own messmates, or those in whom he most confided? After positive conviction, no punishment can be too severe for a crime that produces such mischief; but to degrade a man by corporal punishment, to ruin his character, and render him an object of abhorrence and contempt, in the absence of even bare presumptive evidence, was an act of cruelty and injustice, which could excite but one feeling; and, from that day, the man who would have gloried in dying for his country, became a discontented, gloomy, and dangerous subject.
The above effect would have been produced in any man; but to Peters, whose previous history we have yet to narrate, death itself would have been preferable. His heart did not break, but it swelled with contending passions, till it was burst and riven with wounds never to be cicatrised. Suffering under the most painful burthen that can oppress a man who values reputation, writhing with the injustice of accusation when innocent, of conviction without proof, and of punishment unmerited, it is not to be wondered at that Peters took the earliest opportunity of deserting from the ship.
There is a particular feeling pervading animal nature, from which man himself is not exempt. Indeed, with all his boasted reason, man still inherits too many of the propensities of the brute creation. I refer to that disposition which not only inclines us to feel satisfaction at finding we have companions in misfortune, but too often stimulates us to increase the number by our own exertions. From the stupendous elephant, down to the smallest of the feathered tribe, all will act as a decoy to their own species, when in captivity themselves; and, in all compulsory service, which may be considered a species of captivity, man proves that he is imbued with the same propensity. Seamen that have been pressed themselves into the navy, are invariably the most active in pressing others; and both soldiers and sailors have a secret pleasure in recapturing a deserter, even at the very time when they are watching an opportunity to desert themselves.
The bonds of friendship seem destroyed when this powerful and brutal feeling is called into action; and, as has frequently occurred in the service, before and since, the man who was selected by Peters as his most intimate friend, the man with whom he had consulted, and to whom he had confided his plans for desertion, gave information of the retreat of his wife and child, from which place Peters was not likely to be very distant; and thus, with the assistance of this, his dearest friend, the master-at-arms and party in quest of him succeeded in his capture.
It so happened, that on the very day on which Peters was brought on board and put into irons, the purser's servant was discovered to have in his possession the watch that had been lost. Thus far the character of Peters was reinstated; and as he had declared, at the time of his capture, that the unjust punishment which he had received had been the motive of his desertion, the captain was strongly urged by the officers to overlook an offence which had everything to be offered in its extenuation. But Captain A—- was fond of courts-martial; he imagined that they added to his consequence, which certainly required to be upheld by adventitious aid. Moreover, the feeling, too often pervading little minds, that of a dislike taken to a person because you have injured him, and the preferring to accumulate injustice rather than to acknowledge error, had more than due weight with this weak man. A court-martial was held, and Peters was sentenced to death; but, in consideration of circumstances, the sentence was mitigated to that of being "flogged round the fleet."
Mitigated! Strange vanity in men, that they should imagine their own feelings to be more sensible and acute than those of others; that they should consider that a mitigation in favour of the prisoner, which, had they been placed in his situation, they would have declared an accumulation of the punishment. Not a captain who sat upon that court-martial but would have considered, as Peters did, that death was by far the more lenient sentence of the two. Yet they meant well—they felt kindly towards him, and acknowledged his provocations; but they fell into the too common error of supposing that the finer feelings, which induce a man to prefer death to dishonour, are only to be recognised among the higher classes; and that, because circumstances may have placed a man before the mast, he will undergo punishment, however severe, however degrading,—in short, every "ill that flesh is heir to,"—in preference to death.
As the reader may not, perhaps, be acquainted with the nature of the punishment to which Peters was sentenced, and the ceremonies by which it is attended, I shall enter into a short description of it.
A man sentenced to be flogged round the fleet receives an equal part of the whole number of lashes awarded, alongside each ship composing that fleet. For instance, if sentenced to three hundred lashes, in a fleet composed of ten sail, he will receive thirty alongside of each ship.
A launch is fitted up with a platform and shears. It is occupied by the unfortunate individual, the provost-marshal, the boatswain, and his mates, with their implements of office, and armed marines stationed at the bow and stern. When the signal is made for punishment, all the ships in the fleet send one or two boats each, with crews cleanly dressed, the officers in full uniform, and marines under arms. These boats collect at the side of the ship where the launch is lying, the hands are turned up, and the ship's company are ordered to mount the rigging, to witness that portion of the whole punishment which, after the sentence has been read, is inflicted upon the prisoner. When he has received the allotted number of lashes, he is, for the time, released, and permitted to sit down, with a blanket over his shoulders, while the boats, which attend the execution of the sentence, make fast to the launch, and tow it to the next ship in the fleet, where the same number of lashes are inflicted with corresponding ceremonies;—and thus he is towed from one ship to another until he has received the whole of his punishment.
The severity of this punishment consists not only in the number of lashes, but in the peculiar manner in which they are inflicted; as, after the unfortunate wretch has received the first part of his sentence alongside of one ship, the blood is allowed to congeal, and the wounds partially to close, during the interval which takes place previously to his arrival alongside of the next, when the cat again subjects him to renewed and increased torture. During the latter part of the punishment, the suffering is dreadful; and a man who has undergone this sentence is generally broken down in constitution, if not in spirits, for the remainder of his life.
Such was the punishment inflicted upon the unfortunate Peters; and it would be difficult to decide, at the moment when it was completed, and the blanket thrown over his shoulders, whether the heart or the back of the fainting man were the more lacerated of the two.
Time can heal the wounds of the body, over which it holds its empire; but those of the soul, like the soul itself, spurn his transitory sway.
Peters, from that moment, was a desperate man. A short time after he had undergone his sentence, the news of the mutiny at Spithead was communicated; and the vacillation and apprehensions of the Admiralty, and of the nation at large, were not to be concealed. This mutiny was apparently quelled by conciliation; but conciliation is but a half measure, and ineffectual when offered from superiors to inferiors.
In this world, I know not why, there seems to be but one seal binding in all contracts of magnitude—and that seal is blood. Without referring to the Jewish types, proclaiming that "all things were purified by blood, and without shedding of blood there was no remission,"—without referring to that sublime mystery by which these types have been fulfilled,—it appears as if, in all ages and all countries, blood had been the only seal of security.
Examine the records of history, the revolution of opinion, the public tumults, the warfare for religious ascendency—it will be found that, without this seal, these were only lulled for the moment, and invariably recommenced until blood had made its appearance as witness to "the act and deed."
This is a long description, but applies To scarce five minutes past before the eyes But yet what minutes! Moments like to these Rend men's lives into immortalities. BYRON.
The mutiny at Spithead was soon followed up by that at the Nore; and the ringleader, Parker, like a meteor darting through the firmament, sprung from nothing, corruscated, dazzled, and disappeared. The Texel fleet joined, except a few ships, which the courage and conduct of the gallant old Admiral Duncan preserved from the contagion. Let me here digress a little, to introduce to my readers the speech made by this officer to his ship's company on the first symptoms of disaffection. It is supposed that sailors are not eloquent. I assert that, with the exception of the North American Indians, who have to perfection the art of saying much in few words, there are few people more eloquent than sailors. The general object looked for, in this world, is to obtain the greatest possible effect with the smallest power; if so, the more simple the language, the more matter is condensed, the nearer we approach to perfection. Flourishes and flowers of rhetoric may be compared to extra wheels applied to a carriage, increasing the rattling and complexity of the machine, without adding to either the strength of its fabric or the rapidity of its course.
It was on the 6th of June that the fleet at the Nore was joined by the Agamemnon, Leopard, Ardent, and other ships which had separated from Admiral Duncan's fleet. When the Admiral found himself deserted by part of his own fleet, he called his own ship's crew together, and addressed them in the following speech:—
"My lads! I once more call you together with a sorrowful heart, owing to what I have lately seen, the disaffection of the fleets: I call it disaffection, for the crews have no grievances. To be deserted by my fleet, in the face of the enemy, is a disgrace which, I believe, never before happened to a British admiral; nor could I have supposed it possible. My greatest comfort under God is, that I have been supported by the officers, seamen, and marines of this ship, for which, with a heart overflowing with gratitude, I request you to accept my sincere thanks. I flatter myself much good may result from your example, by bringing those deluded people to a sense of the duty which they owe, not only to their king and country, but to themselves.
"The British navy has ever been the support of that liberty which has been handed down to us by our ancestors, and which I trust we shall maintain to the latest posterity—and that can only be done by unanimity and obedience. This ship's company, and others, who have distinguished themselves by loyalty and good order, deserve to be, and doubtless will be, the favourites of a grateful nation. They will also have, from their inward feelings, a comfort which will be lasting, and not like the floating and false confidence of those who have swerved from their duty.
"It has often been my pride with you to look into the Texel, and see a foe which dreaded coming out to meet us. My pride is now humbled indeed! our cup has overflowed, and made us wanton—the All-wise Providence has given us this check as a warning, and I hope we shall improve by it. On Him, then, let us trust, where our only security is to be found. I find there are many good men among us: for my own part, I have had full confidence of all in this ship; and once more I beg to express my approbation of your conduct.
"May God, who has thus far conducted you, continue to do so; and may the British navy, the glory and support of our country, be restored to its wonted splendour, and be not only the bulwark of Britain, but the terror of the world.
"But this can only be effected by a strict adherence to our duty and obedience; and let us pray that the Almighty God may keep us in the right way of thinking.
"God bless you all."
At an address so unassuming, and so calculated, from its simplicity and truth, to touch the human heart, the whole ship's crew were melted into tears, and declared their resolution to adhere to their admiral in life or death. Had all the ships in the fleet been commanded by such men as Admiral Duncan, the mutiny at Spithead would not have been succeeded by that at the Nore: but the seamen had no confidence, either in their officers, or in those who presided at the Board of Admiralty; and distrust of their promises, which were considered to be given merely to gain time, was the occasion of the second and more alarming rebellion of the two.
The irritated mind of Peters was stimulated to join the disaffected parties. His pride, his superior education, and the acknowledgment among his shipmates that he was an injured man, all conspired to place him in the dangerous situation of ringleader on board of his own ship, the crew of which, although it had not actually joined in the mutiny, now showed open signs of discontent.
But the mine was soon exploded by the behaviour of the captain. Alarmed at the mutinous condition of the other ships which were anchored near to him, and the symptoms of dissatisfaction in his own, he proceeded to an act of unjustifiable severity, evidently impelled by fear and not by resolution. He ordered several of the petty officers and leading men of the ship to be thrown into irons, because they were seen to be earnestly talking together on the forecastle,—and recollecting that his conduct towards Peters had been such as to warrant disaffection, he added him to the number. The effect of this injudicious step was immediate. The men came aft in a body on the quarter-deck, and requested to know the grounds upon which Peters and the other men had been placed in confinement; and perceiving alarm in the countenance of the captain, notwithstanding the resolute bearing of the officers, they insisted upon the immediate release of their shipmates. Thus the first overt act of mutiny was brought on by the misconduct of the captain.
The officers expostulated and threatened in vain. Three cheers were called for by a voice in the crowd, and three cheers were immediately given. The marines, who still remained true to their allegiance, had been ordered under arms; the first lieutenant of the ship—for the captain, trembling and confused, stood a mere cipher—gave the order for the ship's company to go below, threatening to fire upon them if the order was not instantaneously obeyed. The captain of marines brought his men to the "make ready," and they were about to present, when the first lieutenant waved his hand to stop the decided measure, until he had first ascertained how far the mutiny was general. He stepped a few paces forward, and requested that every "blue jacket" who was inclined to remain faithful to his king and country, would walk over from that side of the quarter-deck upon which the ship's company were assembled, to the one which was occupied by the officers and marines.
A pause and silence ensued—when, after some pushing and elbowing through the crowd, William Adams, an elderly quartermaster, made his appearance in the front, and passed over to the side where the officers stood, while the hisses of the rest of the ship's company expressed their disapprobation of his conduct. The old man just reached the other side of the deck, when turning round like a lion at bay, with one foot on the coamings of the hatchway, and his arm raised in the air to command attention, he addressed them in these few words:—
"My lads, I have fought for my king five-and-thirty years, and have been too long in his service to turn a rebel in my old age."
Would it be credited that, after the mutiny had been quelled, no representation of this conduct was made to government by his captain? Yet such was the case, and such was the gratitude of Captain A—-.
The example shown by Adams was not followed—the ship's crew again cheered, and ran down the hatchways, leaving the officers and marines on deck. They first disarmed the sentry under the half-deck, and released the prisoners, and then went forward to consult upon further operations.
They were not long in deciding. A boatswain's mate, who was one of the ringleaders, piped, "Stand by hammocks!" The men ran on deck, each seizing a hammock, and jumping with it down below on the main deck. The object of this manoeuvre not being comprehended, they were suffered to execute it without interruption. In a few minutes they sent up the marine, whom they had disarmed when sentry over the prisoners, to state that they wished to speak to the captain and officers, who, after some discussion, agreed that they would descend and hear the proposals which the ship's company should make. Indeed, even with the aid of the marines, many of whom were wavering, resistance would now have been useless, and could only have cost them their lives; for they were surrounded by other ships who had hoisted the flag of insubordination, and whose guns were trained ready to pour in a destructive fire on the least sign of an attempt to purchase their anchor. To the main deck they consequently repaired.
The scene which here presented itself was as striking as it was novel. The after-part of the main-deck was occupied by the captain and officers, who had come down with the few marines who still continued steadfast to their duty, and one sailor only, Adams, who had so nobly stated his determination on the quarter-deck. The foremost part of the deck was tenanted by a noisy and tumultuous throng of seamen, whose heads only appeared above a barricade of hammocks, which they had formed across the deck, and out of which at two embrasures, admirably constructed, two long twenty-four pounders, loaded up to the muzzle with grape and canister shot, were pointed aft in the direction where the officers and marines were standing—a man at the breech of each gun, with a match in his hand (which he occasionally blew, that the priming powder might be more rapidly ignited), stood ready for the signal to fire.
The captain, aghast at the sight, would have retreated, but the officers, formed of sterner materials, persuaded him to stay, although he showed such evident signs of fear and perturbation as seriously to injure a cause in which resolution and presence of mind alone could avail. The mutineers, at the suggestion of Peters, had already sent aft their preliminary proposals, which were, that the officers and marines should surrender up their arms, and consider themselves under an arrest, intimating at the same time that the first step in advance made by any one of their party would be the signal for applying the match to the touch-holes of the guns.
There was a pause and dead silence, as if it were a calm, although every passion was roused and on the alert; every bosom heaved tumultuously, and every pulse was trebled in its action. The same feeling which so powerfully affects the truant schoolboy—who, aware of his offence, and dreading the punishment in perspective, can scarce enjoy the rapture of momentary emancipation—acted upon the mutineers, in an increased ratio, proportioned to the magnitude of their stake. Some hearts beat with remembrance of injuries and hopes of vengeance and retaliation; others with ambition, long dormant, bursting from its concealed recess; and many were actuated by that restlessness which induced them to consider any change to be preferable to the monotony of existence in compulsory servitude.
Among the officers, some were oppressed with anxious forebodings of evil—those peculiar sensations which, when death approaches nearly to the outward senses, alarm the heart; others experienced no feeling but that of manly fortitude and determination to die, if necessary, like men; in others, alas;—in which party, small as it was, the captain was pre-eminent—fear and trepidation amounted almost to the loss of reason.
Such was the state of the main-deck of the ship at the moment in which we are now describing it to the reader.
And yet, in the very centre of all this tumult, there was one who, although not indifferent to the scene around him, felt interested without being anxious; astonished without being alarmed. Between the contending and divided parties, stood a little boy, about six years old. He was the perfection of childish beauty; chestnut hair waved in curls on his forehead, health glowed on his rosy cheeks, dimples sported over his face as he altered the expression of his countenance, and his large dark eyes flashed with intelligence and animation. He was dressed in mimic imitation of a man-of-war's man—loose trousers, tightened at the hips, to preclude the necessity of suspenders—and a white duck frock, with long sleeves and blue collar—while a knife, attached to a lanyard, was suspended round his neck: a light and narrow-brimmed straw hat on his head completed his attire. At times he looked aft at the officers and marines; at others he turned his eyes forward to the hammocks, behind which the ship's company were assembled. The sight was new to him, but he was already accustomed to reflect much, and to ask few questions. Go to the officers he did not, for the presence of the captain restrained him. Go to the ship's company he could not, for the barricade of hammocks prevented him. There he stood, in wonderment, but not in fear.
There was something beautiful and affecting in the situation of the boy; calm, when all around him was anxious tumult; thoughtless, when the brains of others were oppressed with the accumulation of ideas; contented, where all was discontent; peaceful, where each party that he stood between was thirsting for each other's blood:—there he stood, the only happy, the only innocent one, amongst hundreds swayed by jarring interests and contending passions.
And yet he was in keeping, although in such strong contrast, with the rest of the picture; for where is the instance of the human mind being so thoroughly depraved as not to have one good feeling left? Nothing exists so base and vile as not to have one redeeming quality. There is no poison without some antidote—no precipice, however barren, without some trace of verdure, no desert, however vast, without some spring to refresh the parched traveller, some oasis, some green spot, which, from its situation, in comparison with surrounding objects, appears almost heavenly; and thus did the boy look almost angelic, standing as he did between the angry exasperated parties on the main-deck of the disorganised ship.
After some little time he walked forward, and leaned against one of the twenty-four pounders that was pointed out of the embrasure, the muzzle of which was on a level with, and intercepted by, his little head.
Adams, the quarter-master, observing the dangerous situation of the child, stepped forward. This was against the stipulations laid down by the mutineers, and Peters cried out to him—"Heave-to, Adams, or we fire!" Adams waved his hand in expostulation, and continued to advance. "Keep back," again cried Peters, "or, by God, we fire!"
"Not upon one old man, Peters, and he unarmed," replied Adams; "I'm not worth so much powder and shot." The man at the gun blew his match. "For God's sake, for your own sake, as you value your happiness and peace of mind, do not fire, Peters!" cried Adams, with energy, "or you'll never forgive yourself."
"Hold fast the match," said Peters; "we need not fear our man," and as he said this, Adams had come up to the muzzle of the gun, and seized the boy, whom he snatched up in his arms.
"I only came forward, Peters, to save your own boy, whose head would have been blown to atoms if you had chanced to have fired the gun," said Adams, turning short round, and walking aft with the boy in his arms.
"God in heaven bless you, Adams!" cried Peters, with a faltering voice, and casting a look of fond affection at the child. The heart of the mutineer was at that moment softened by parental feelings, and he blew the priming off the touch-hole of the gun, lest an accidental spark should risk the life of his child, who was now aft with the officers and their party.
Reader, this little boy will be the hero of our tale.
Roused discipline alone proclaims their cause, And injured navies urge their broken laws. Pursue we in his track the mutineer. BYRON.
Man, like all other animals of a gregarious nature, is more inclined to follow than to lead. There are few who are endued with that impetus of soul which prompts them to stand foremost as leaders in the storming of the breach, whether it be of a fortress of stone or the more dangerous one of public opinion, when failure in the one case may precipitate them on the sword, and in the other consign them to the scaffold.
In this mutiny there were but few of the rare class referred to above: in the ship whose movements we have been describing not one, perhaps, except Peters. There were many boisterous, many threatening, but no one, except him, who was equal to the command, or to whom the command could have been confided. He was, on board of his own ship, the very life and soul of the mutiny. At the moment described at the end of the last chapter, all the better feelings of his still virtuous heart were in action; and, by a captain possessing resolution and a knowledge of human nature, the mutiny might have been suppressed; but Captain A—-, who perceived the anxiety of Peters, thought the child a prize of no small value, and, as Adams brought him aft, snatched the boy from his arms, and desired two of the party of marines to turn their loaded muskets at his young heart—thus intimating to the mutineers that he would shoot the child at the first sign of hostility on their part.
The two marines who had received this order looked at each other in silence, and did not obey. It was repeated by the captain, who considered that he had hit upon a masterpiece of diplomacy. The officers expostulated; the officer commanding the party of marines turned away in disgust; but in vain: the brutal order was reiterated with threats. The whole party of marines now murmured, and consulted together in a low tone.
Willy Peters was the idol and plaything of the whole crew. He had always been accustomed to remain on board with his father, and there was not a man in the ship who would not have risked his life to have saved that of the child. The effect of this impolitic and cruel order was decisive. The marines, with the sergeant at their head, and little Willy placed in security in the centre, their bayonets directed on the defensive, towards the captain and officers, retreated to the mutineers, whom they joined with three cheers, as the child was lifted over the barricade of hammocks, and received into his father's arms.
"We must now submit to their terms, sir," said the first lieutenant.
"Any terms, any terms," answered the terrified captain: "tell them so, for God's sake, or they will fire. Adams, go forward and tell them we submit."
This order was, however, unnecessary; for the mutineers, aware of the impossibility of any further resistance, had thrown down the barricade of hammocks, and, with Peters at their head, were coming aft.
"You consent, gentlemen, to consider yourselves under an arrest?" inquired Peters of the first lieutenant and officers, without paying any attention to the captain.
"We do, we do," cried Captain A—-. "I hope you will not stain your hands with blood. Mr Peters, I meant the child no harm."
"If you had murdered him, Captain A—-, you could not have injured him so much as you have injured his father," retorted Peters; "but fear not for your life, sir: that is safe; and you will meet all the respect and attention to your wants that circumstances will permit. We war not with individuals."
It was a proud moment for Peters to see this man cringing before him, and receiving with thanks the promise of his life from one whom he had so cruelly treated. There was a glorious revenge in it, the full force of which could only be felt by the granting, not the receiving party: for it could only be appreciated by one who possessed those fine and honourable feelings, of which Captain A—- was wholly destitute.
If the reader will consult the various records of the times which we are now describing, he will find that every respect was personally paid to the officers, although they were deprived of their arms. Some of the most obnoxious were sent on shore, and the intemperate conduct of others produced effects for which they had only to thank themselves; but, on the whole, the remark made by Peters was strictly correct: "They warred not with individuals,"—they demanded justice from an ungrateful country.
It is true that the demands in this mutiny were not so reasonable as in the preceding; but where is the man who can confine himself to the exact balance of justice when his own feelings are unwittingly thrown into the scale?
As I before stated, it is not my intention to follow up the details of this national disgrace, but merely to confine myself to that part which is connected with the present history. Peters, as delegate from his ship, met the others, who were daily assembled, by Parker's directions, on board of the Queen Charlotte, and took a leading and decided part in the arrangements of the disaffected fleet.
But Parker, the ringleader, although a man of talent, was not equal to the task he had undertaken. He lost sight of several important features necessary to insure success in all civil commotions: such as rapidity and decision of action, constant employment being found, and continual excitement being kept up amongst his followers, to afford no time for reflection. Those who serve under an established government know exactly their present weight in the scale of worldly rank, and the extent of their future expectations; they have accustomed themselves to bound their ambition accordingly: and feeling conscious that passive obedience is the surest road to advancement, are led quietly, here or there, to be slaughtered at the will and caprice of their superiors. But the leader of the disaffected against an established government has a difficult task. He has nothing to offer to his followers but promises. There is nothing on hand—all is expectation. If allowed time for reflection, they soon perceive that they are acting an humble part in a dangerous game; and that even though it be attended with success, in all probability they will receive no share of the advantages, although certain of incurring a large proportion of the risk. The leader of a connected force of the above description rises to a dangerous height when borne up by the excitement of the time; but let it once be permitted to subside, and, like the aeronaut in his balloon, from which the gas escapes while it is soaring in the clouds, he is precipitated from his lofty station, and gravitates to his own destruction.
He must be a wonderful man who can collect all the resources of a popular commotion, and bring it to a successful issue. The reason is obvious—everything depends upon the leader alone. His followers are but as the stones composing the arch of the bridge by which the gulf is to be crossed between them and their nominal superiors; he is the keystone, upon which the whole depends—if completely fitted, rendering the arch durable and capable of bearing any pressure; but if too small in dimensions, or imperfect in conformation, rendering the whole labour futile, and occasioning all the fabric previously raised to be precipitated by its own weight, and dispersed in ruin and confusion.
This latter was the fate of the mutiny at the Nore. The insurrection was quelled, and the ringleaders were doomed to undergo the utmost penalty of martial law. Among the rest, Peters was sentenced to death.
In the foremost part of the main-deck of a line-of-battle ship, in a square room, strongly bulk-headed, and receiving light from one of the ports, as firmly secured with an iron grating—with no other furniture than a long wooden form—his legs in shackles, that ran upon a heavy iron bar lying on the deck—sat the unfortunate prisoner, in company with three other individuals—his wife, his child, and old Adams, the quartermaster. Peters was seated on the deck, supporting himself by leaning against the bulkhead. His wife was lying beside him, with her face hidden in his lap. Adams occupied the form, and the child stood between his knees. All were silent, and the eyes of the three were directed towards one of the sad company, who appeared more wretched and disconsolate than the rest.
"My dear, dear Ellen!" said Peters, mournfully, as a fresh burst of grief convulsed her attenuated frame.
"Why, then, refuse my solicitations, Edward? If not for yourself, listen to me for the sake of your wife and child. Irritated as your father still may be, his dormant affection will be awakened, when he is acquainted with the dreadful situation of his only son; nay, his family pride will never permit that you should perish by so ignominious a death; and your assumed name will enable him, without blushing, to exert his interest, and obtain your reprieve."
"Do not put me to the pain of again refusing you, my dearest Ellen. I desire to die, and my fate must be a warning to others. When I reflect what dreadful consequences might have ensued to the country from our rebellious proceedings, I am thankful, truly thankful, to God, that we did not succeed. I know what you would urge—my wrongs, my undeserved stripes. I, too, would urge them; and when my conscience has pressed me hard, have urged them in palliation; but I feel that it is only in palliation, not in justification, that they can be brought forward. They are no more in comparison with my crime than the happiness of one individual is to that of the nation which I assisted to endanger, because one constituting a part of it had, unauthorised, oppressed me. No, no, Ellen, I should not be happy if I were not to atone for my faults; and this wretched life is the only atonement I can offer. But for you, and that poor child, my dearest and kindest, I should go to the scaffold rejoicing; but the thoughts—O God, strengthen and support me!" cried the unhappy man, hiding his face in his hands.
"Fear not for me, Edward. I feel here," said Ellen, laying her hand on her heart, "a conviction that we shall soon meet again. I will urge you no more love. But the boy—the boy—Oh, Edward! what will become of that dear boy when we are both gone?"
"Please God to spare my life, he'll never want a father," said old Adams, as the tears found a devious passage down the furrows of his weather-beaten face.
"What will become of him?" cried Peters with energy. "Why, he shall retrieve his father's faults—wash out the stain in his father's character. He shall prove as liege a subject as I have been a rebellious one. He shall as faithfully serve his country as I have shamefully deserted it. He shall be as honest as I have been false; and oh, may he be as prosperous as I have been unfortunate—as happy as I have been miserable. Come hither, boy. By the fond hopes I entertain of pardon and peace above—by the Almighty, in whose presence I must shortly tremble, I here devote thee to thy country—serve her bravely and faithfully. Tell me, Willy, do you understand me, and will you promise me this?"
The boy laid his head upon his father's shoulder, and answered in a low tone—"I will;" and then, after a short pause, added, "but what are they going to do with you, father?"
"I am going to die for my country's good, my child. If God wills it, may you do the same, but in a more honourable manner."
The boy seemed lost in thought, and, after a short time, quitted his father's side, and sat down on the deck by his mother, without speaking.
Adams rose, and taking him up, said, "Mayhap you have that to talk of which wants no listeners. I will take Willy with me, and give him a little air before I put him in his hammock. It's but a close hole, this. Good night to you both, though I'm afeard that's but a wish."
But a wish indeed!—and it was the last that was ever to close upon the unhappy Peters. The next morning was appointed for his execution. There are scenes of such consummate misery, that they cannot be portrayed without harrowing up the feelings of the reader,—and of these the climax may be found in a fond wife, lying at the feet of her husband during the last twelve hours of his mortal career. We must draw the curtain.
And now, reader, the title of this work, which may have puzzled you, will be explained: for, intelligible as it may be to our profession, it may be a mystery to those who are not in his Majesty's service. The broad-headed arrow was a mark assumed at the time of the Edwards (when it was considered the most powerful weapon of attack), as distinguishing the property of the King; and this mark has been continued down to the present day. Every article supplied to his Majesty's service from the arsenals and dockyards is thickly studded with this mark; and to be found in possession of any property so marked is a capital offence, as it designates that property to be the King's own.
When Adams left the condemned cell with Willy, he thought upon what had passed, and as Peters had devoted the boy to his King and country, he felt an irresistible desire to mark him. The practice of tatooing is very common in the navy; and you will see a sailor's arm covered with emblems from the shoulder to the wrist; his own initials, that of his sweetheart, the crucifix, Neptune, and mermaids being huddled together, as if mythology and Scripture were one and the same thing. Adams was not long in deciding, and telling our little hero that his father wished it—he easily persuaded him to undergo the pain of the operation, which was performed on the forecastle, by pricking the shape of the figure required with the points of needles, and rubbing the bleeding parts with wet gunpowder and ink. By these simple means the form of a broad-headed arrow, or the King's mark, was, in the course of an hour, indelibly engraved upon the left shoulder of little Willy, who was then consigned to his hammock.
The strife was o'er, the vanquish'd had their doom; The mutineers were crush'd, dispersed, or ta'en, Or lived to deem the happiest were the slain. BYRON.
The day broke serenely but brightly, and poured in a stream of light through the iron grating of the cell where Peters and his wife lay clasped in each other's arms, not asleep, but torpid, and worn out with extreme suffering. Peters was the first to break the silence, and gently moved Ellen, as he called her by her name. She had not for some time lifted up her head, which was buried in his bosom; and she was not aware that the darkness had been dispelled. She raised her head at his summons, and as the dazzling light burst upon her sunken eyes, so did the recollection that this was the fatal morning flash upon her memory.
With a shriek, she again buried her face in the bosom of her husband. "Ellen, as you love me," said Peters, "do not distress me in my last hour. I have yet much to do before I die, and require your assistance and support. Rise, my love, and let me write to my father; I must not neglect the interest of our child."
She rose tremblingly, and, turning back from her face her beautiful hair, which had been for so many days neglected, and was now moistened with her tears, reached the materials required by her husband, who, drawing towards him the wooden form to serve him as a table, wrote the following letter, while his wife sat by him with a countenance of idiotic apathy and despair:—
"DEAR FATHER,—Yes, still dear father,—Before you cast your eyes upon these characters, you will be childless. Your eldest boy perished nobly in the field of honour: your youngest and last will this morning meet an ignominious, but deserved death on the scaffold. Thus will you be childless; but if your son does meet the fate of a traitor, still the secret is confined to you alone, and none will imagine that the unhappy Peters, ringleader of a mutinous ship, was the scion of a race who have so long preserved an unblemished name. Fain would I have spared you this shock to your feelings, and have allowed you to remain in ignorance of my disgrace; but I have an act of duty to perform to you and to my child—towards you, that your estates may not be claimed, and pass away to distant and collateral branches;—towards my child, that he may eventually reclaim his rights. Father, I forgive you, I might say—but no—let all now be buried in oblivion; and as you peruse these lines, and think on my unhappy fate, shed a tear in memory of the once happy child you fondled on your knee, and say to your heart, 'I forgive him.'
"I have dedicated my boy to his king and country. If you forgive me, and mean to protect your grandchild, do not change the career in life marked out for him:—it is a solemn compact between my God and me; and you must fulfil this last earnest request of a dying man, as you hope for future pardon and bliss.
"His distracted mother sits by me; I would entreat you to extend your kindness towards her, but I fear she will soon require no earthly aid. Still, soothe her last moments with a promise to protect the orphan, and may God bless you for your kindness.
"Your affectionate son, EDWARD."
Peters had scarcely finished this letter when Adams, with the boy in his arms, was admitted. "I come for final orders, Peters, and to tell you what I did last night to this boy. He is real stuff,—never winced. You said he was to be the King's, and I thought you would like that he should be marked as such. There is no mistaking this mark, Peters," continued Adams, baring the boy's shoulder, and showing the impression of the broad-headed arrow, which now appeared angry and inflamed, as it always is for some days after the operation. "I did not mention that I was going to do it, because Ellen then might not have liked it: but I hope you do."
"Many, many thanks," answered Peters; and opening his letter, which was folded, but not sealed, he added a postscript, pointing out the mark by which the boy would be identified. "You could not have done me a greater favour, Adams; and now you must promise me one more, which is to look after my poor Ellen when—"
"I understand, my good fellow, and I will," replied Adams. "There is the chaplain outside, who is all ready for service if you would like to see him," continued the old man, passing his hands over his humid eyes.
"Ask him to come in, Adams; he is a good man, and an honour to his profession. I shall be glad to see him."
Adams went to the door, and soon returned with the chaplain. He saluted Peters, who respectfully bowed to him, and said: "I have long made my peace with God and man, sir, and am as well prepared to die, as sinful mortal can be in faith and charity with all men. Many thanks to you, sir, for your kindness; but, sir, you may be of use here yet. Can you,"—and his voice faltered,—"can you, sir, help that poor young woman? Cannot you reason her into some kind of tranquillity, some degree of submission to God's will? Oh, do that, sir, and you will confer a favour on me indeed."
The chaplain approached Ellen, who lay on the deck in a state of mental stupefaction, and, addressing her in mild accents, persuaded her to rise and take a seat on the form; he kindly contrived to bring it forward to the iron-grated port, so that she could not witness the motions of Peters, and, with a low, yet energetic and persuasive voice, attempted to reason her into patience and resignation. His efforts were in vain. She occasionally looked upon him with a vacant stare, but her thoughts were elsewhere. During the period, Peters had time to shave himself, and dress in clean attire, preparatory to being summoned to his fate.
The time was approaching fast; one bell after eight o'clock, designating the half hour, had struck; at two bells (nine o'clock) he was to be summoned to his doom. The clergyman rose from his useless endeavours—"Let us pray," said he, and sank upon his knees,—Peters, Adams, and the child followed his example; and, last of all, poor Ellen, who seemed to recover her recollection, sank on her knees, but, unable to keep her position, fell towards the clergyman, who, as he supported her in his arms, poured forth a fervent and eloquent appeal in behalf of the one who was about to appear in the presence of his Maker, and of those who were left in tribulation behind. It was scarcely over when the door opened, and the provost-marshal claimed his prisoner.
The prayer of the chaplain seemed to ring in Ellen's ears, and she remained supported by the worthy man, muttering parts of it at intervals, during which time the limbs of her husband were freed from the shackles. All was ready; and Peters, straining the child to his bosom in silence, and casting one look at his dear Ellen, who still remained in a state of stupefaction, denied himself a last embrace (though the effort wrung his heart), rather than awaken her to her misery. He quitted the cell, and the chaplain, quietly placing Ellen in the arms of Adams, followed, that he might attend and support Peters in his last moments.
The prisoner was conducted on the quarter-deck previously to being sent forward to execution. His sentence was read by Captain A—-; and the remark may perhaps be considered uncharitable, but there certainly appeared to be an ill-concealed satisfaction in his countenance as he came to that part where it stated that the prisoner was to "suffer death." Peters heard it read with firmness, and asked permission to address the ship's company. This was at first refused by the captain; but, at the request of the officers, and the assurance of the chaplain that he would vouch for the language of Peters being such as would have a proper tendency to future subordination on the part of the ship's company, it was assented to. Bowing first to the captain and officers, Peters turned to the ship's company who were assembled on the booms and gangway, and addressed them as follows:—
"Shipmates, the time may come when our country shall be at peace, and your services no longer be required. Then, when you narrate to your children the events of this unhappy mutiny, do not forget to add instruction to amusement, by pointing out to them that it ended in the disgrace and death of the ringleaders. Tell them that, in your presence, one of them acknowledged on the quarter-deck the justice of his sentence, and returned thanks to his Majesty for his kindness in pardoning others who had been led into the same error. Tell them to do their duty, to fight nobly for their King and country, and warn them by our example—"
At this moment Willy, who had eluded the vigilance of old Adams, who was occupied in supporting the inanimate Ellen, pushed his way between the legs of the marines, who were drawn up in ranks on the quarter-deck, and, running to his father, laid hold of the loose sailor's trousers in which he was attired, and looked anxiously and inquisitively in his face. Peters's voice faltered; he attempted to continue his address to the men, but could not; and waiving his hand, and pointing to the child, in mute explanation of the cause, after struggling in vain against the overflowings of a father's heart, he bent over the boy and burst into tears.
The effect was electrical. The shock was communicated to all; not an eye but was dimmed; sobs were heard in the crowd; the oldest officers turned away to conceal their emotions; the younger, and more fresh in heart, covered their faces, and leant against the bulwarks; the marines forgot their discipline, and raised their hands from their sides to wipe their eyes. Many a source, long supposed to be hermetically sealed, was re-opened, many a spring long dry reflowed rapidly; even Captain A—- was moved.
By a singular coincidence, the grouping of the parties at this moment was nearly the same as when we first introduced our little hero to the reader,—the officers and marines on the after part of the deck, the ship's company forward, and little Willy standing between the two. Again he appears in the same position;—but what a change of feeling had taken place! As if he had been a little spirit of good, waving his fairy talisman, evil passions, which in the former scene were let loose, had retired to their darkest recesses, and all the better feelings of humanity were called forth and displayed in one universal, spontaneous, and unfeigned tribute to the melancholy and affecting scene.
The silence was first broken by Willy—"Where are you going, father; and why do you wear that night-cap?"
"I am going to sleep, child,—to an eternal sleep! God bless and protect you," said Peters, taking him up and kissing him. "And now, sir, I am ready," continued Peters, who had recovered his self-possession; "Captain A—-, I forgive you, as I trust to be forgiven myself. Mr —-," said he, addressing the first-lieutenant, "take this child by the hand, and do not permit him to come forward—remember, he is the 'King's Own.'" Then, bowing to the chaplain, who had scarcely recovered from the effects that the scene had produced upon him, and looking significantly at the provost-marshal, Peters bent his steps forward by the gangway—the noose was fastened—the gun fired, and, in a moment, all was over.
Loud as was the report of the gun, those who were appointed to the unpleasant duty of running aft with the rope on the main-deck, which swung Peters to the yard-arm, heard a shriek that even that deafening noise could not overpower. It was the soul of Ellen joining that of her husband—and, before the day closed, their bodies were consigned to the same grave—
"Where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest."
Lord of himself, that heritage of woe. BYRON.
Our novel may, to a certain degree, be compared to one of the pantomimes which rival theatres annually bring forth for the amusement of the holiday children. We open with dark and solemn scenes, introducing occasionally a bright image which appears with the greater lustre from the contrast around it; and thus we proceed, until Harlequin is fairly provided with his wand, and despatched to seek his adventures by land and by sea. To complete the parallel, the whole should wind up with a blaze of light and beauty, till our dazzled eyes are relieved, and the illusion disappears, at the fall of the green curtain, which, like the "FINIS" at the end of the third volume, tells us that all is over.
We must, however, be allowed to recapitulate a little in this chapter, previously to launching our hero upon the uncertain and boisterous sea of human life. It will be necessary, for the correct development of the piece, that the attention of the reader should be called to the history of the grandfather of our hero.
Admiral De Courcy was the lineal descendant of an ancient and wealthy family, of high aristocratic connection. He had the misfortune, at an early age, to lose his father, to be an only child, and to have a very weak and doting mother. Add to all these, that he was the heir to a large entailed property, and the reader will acknowledge that even the best disposed child stood a fair chance of being spoiled.
But young De Courcy was not a well-disposed child; he was of a violent, headstrong, and selfish disposition, and was not easily to be checked by the firmest hand. He advanced to man's estate, the cruel tyrant of a fond and foolish mother, and the dislike of all around him. His restless disposition, backed by the persuasions of his mother to the contrary, induced him to enter into the naval service. At the time we are now describing, the name of the boy often appeared on the books of a man-of-war when the boy himself was at school or at home with his friends; if there were any regulations to the contrary, they were easily surmounted by interest. The consequence was that,—without any knowledge of his profession, without having commenced his career by learning to obey before he was permitted to command,—at the early age of eighteen years, young De Courcy was appointed captain of a fine frigate; and, as the power of a captain of a man-of-war was at that time almost without limit, and his conduct without scrutiny, he had but too favourable an opportunity of indulging his tyrannical propensities. His caprice and violence were unbounded, his cruelty odious, and his ship was designated by the sobriquet of The Hell Afloat.
There are, however, limits to the longest tether; and as no officer would remain in the ship, and the desertion of the men became so extensive, that a fine frigate lay useless and unmanned, the government at last perceived the absolute necessity of depriving of command one who could not command himself. The ship was paid off, and even the interest of Captain De Courcy, powerful as it was, could not obtain further employment for him. Having for some time been in possession of his large property, Captain De Courcy retired to the hall of his ancestors, with feelings of anger against the government, which his vindictive temper prompted him to indulge by the annoyance of all around him; and, instead of diffusing joy and comfort by the expenditure of his wealth, he rendered himself odious by avarice,—a vice the more contemptible, as it was unexpected at so early an age.
But, much as he was an object of abhorrence, he was more an object of pity. With a handsome exterior, and with fascinating manners, of high birth and connections, with a splendid fortune,—in short, with every supposed advantage that the world could give,—he was, through the injudicious conduct of a fond mother, whose heart he had broken, the most miserable of beings. He was without society, for he was shunned by the resident gentlemen in the neighbourhood. Even match-making mothers, with hearts indurated by interest, and with a string of tall daughters to provide for, thought the sacrifice too great, and shuddered at an alliance with Captain De Courcy. Avoided by the tenants of his large estates, whose misfortunes met with no compassion, and whose inability to answer the demands of the rent-day were followed up with immediate distress and seizure,—abhorred by his own household, who, if their services were not required, vanished at his approach, or, if summoned, entered the door of his room trembling,—he was an isolated and unhappy being, a torment to himself and to others. Wise, indeed, was Solomon, when he wrote, that "he who spared the rod spoiled the child."
The monotony of a life whose sole negative enjoyment consisted in the persecution of others, induced Captain De Courcy to make occasional excursions to the different watering-places; and whether that, to a certain degree, he was schooled by banishment from society at home, or that he had no opportunity of displaying his diabolical temper, his prepossessing appearance and well-known riches made him a great favourite in these marts for beauty. An amiable girl was unfortunate enough to fix his attention; and a hasty proposal was as hastily accepted by her friends, and quietly acquiesced in by herself. She married, and was miserable, until released from her heedless engagement by death.
There are those who excuse a violent temper in a man, and consider it no obstacle to happiness in the marriage life. Alas, may they never discover the fatal error in their own union! Even with the best-hearted and most fondly attached, with those who will lavish every endearment, acknowledge their fault, and make every subsequent effort to compensate for the irritation of the moment, violence of temper must prove the bane of marriage bliss. Bitter and insulting expressions have escaped, unheeded at the time, and forgotten by the offending party; but, although forgiven, never to be forgotten by the other. Like barbed arrows, they have entered into the heart of her whom he had promised before God to love and to cherish, and remain there they must, for they cannot be extracted. Affection may pour balm into the wounds and soothe them for a time, and, while love fans them with his soft wings, the heat and pain may be unperceived; but passion again asserts his empire, and upon his rude attack these ministering angels are forced from their office of charity, and woman—kind, devoted woman—looks inwardly with despair upon her wounded and festering heart.
Hurried as she was to an early tomb, the unfortunate wife of Captain De Courcy had still time to present him with two fine boys, whose infantine endearments soothed his violence; and, as long as they showed no spirit of resistance, they were alternately fondled and frightened. But children are not blind, and the scenes which continually occurred between their parents, the tears of their mother, and the remarks made in their presence by the domestics,—soon taught them to view their father with dread. Captain De Courcy perceived that he was shunned by his children, the only beings whom he had endeavoured (as far as his temper would permit) to attach to him. They were dismissed to school at a very early age, and were soon treated by their father in the same harsh manner as all those who had the misfortune to be under his baneful protection. They returned home at holiday time with regret, and the recommencement of their scholastic duties was a source of delight. The mother died, and all at home was desolate. The violence of their father seemed to increase from indulgence; and the youths, who were verging into manhood, proved that no small portion of the parent's fiery disposition had been transmitted to them, and showed a spirit of resistance which ended in their ruin.
William, the eldest of the boys, was, as it were, by birthright, the first to fall a victim to his father's temper. Struck senseless and bleeding to the ground for some trifling indiscretion, as he lay confined to his bed for many subsequent days, he formed the resolution of seeking his own fortune rather than submit to hourly degradation. At the period at which this occurred, many years previously to the one of which we are now writing, the East India Company had but a short time received its charter, and its directors were not the proud rulers which they have since become. It never was calculated that a company, originally consisting of a few enterprising merchants, could ever have established themselves (even by the most successful of mischievous arts) the controllers of an immense empire, independent of, and anomalous to, the constitution of England; or that privileges, granted to stimulate the enterprise of individuals, would have been the ground of a monopoly, which, like an enormous incubus, should oppress the nation from the throne to the cottage. They gladly accepted the offers of all adventurers; and at that period there was as much eagerness on their part to secure the services of individuals, as there is now on the part of applicants to be enrolled on the books of the Company.
William, without acquainting his father, entered into an engagement with the Company, signed it, and was shipped off, with many others, who, less fortunate, had been nefariously kidnapped for the same destination. He arrived in India, rose to the rank of captain, and fell in one of the actions that were fought at this time. The letter which William left on the table, directed to his father, informing him of the step he had been induced to take, was torn to atoms, and stamped upon with rage; and the bitter malediction of the parent was launched with dreadful vehemence upon the truant son, in the presence of the one who remained.
And yet there was one man, before whom this haughty and vindictive spirit quailed, and who had the power to soften, although not wholly to curb, his impetuosity, one who dared to tell him the truth, expose to him the folly and wickedness of his conduct, and meet the angry flash of his eye with composure,—one whose character and office secured him from insult, and who was neither to be frightened nor diverted from his purpose of doing good. It was the vicar of the parish, who, much as he disliked the admiral (for Captain De Courcy had latterly obtained the rank by seniority on the list), continued his visits to the hall, that he might appeal for the unfortunate. The admiral would willingly have shaken him off, but his attempts were in vain. The vicar was firm at his post, and often successfully pleaded the cause of his parishioners, who were most of them tenants of the admiral. He was unassisted in his parochial duties by the curate, a worthy, but infirm and elderly man, fast sinking into his grave, and whom, out of Christian charity, he would not remove from his situation, as it would have deprived him of the means of support.
Edward, the younger brother, naturally sought that happiness abroad which was denied him at home. The house of the curate was one of his most favourite resorts, for the old man had a beautiful and only daughter,—poor Ellen, whose fate we have just recorded. It is sufficient for the present narrative to state that these two young people loved and plighted their troth; that for two years they met with joy and parted with regret, until the approaching dissolution of the old curate opened their eyes to the dangerous position in which they were placed. He died; and Edward, who beheld her whom he loved thrown unprotected and penniless on the world, mustered up the courage of desperation to state to his father the wishes of his heart.
A peremptory order to leave the house, or abandon Ellen, was the immediate result; and the indignant young man quitted the roof, and persuaded the unhappy and fond girl to unite herself to him by indissoluble ties, in a neighbouring parish, before the vicar had possession of the facts, or the opportunity to dissuade him from so imprudent a step. He immediately proceeded to the hall, with a faint hope of appeasing the irritated parent; but his endeavours were fruitless, and the admiral poured forth his anathema against his only child.
Edward now took his wife to a village some miles distant, where, by their mutual exertions, they contrived for some time to live upon their earnings; but the birth of their first child, the hero of this tale, and the expenses attending her sickness, forced him at last (when all appeals to his father proved in vain) to accept the high bounty that was offered for men to enter into his Majesty's service, which he did under the assumed name of Edward Peters.
I disclaim all my paternal care, Propinquity and property of blood. The barbarous Scythian, Or he that makes his generation messes To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom Be as well neighbour'd, pitied, and relieved, As him. SHAKESPEARE.
In a lofty room, the wainscoting of which was of dark oak, with a high mantelpiece, elaborately carved in the same wood, with groups of dead game and flowers, and a few choice pictures let into the panels,—upon an easy-chair, that once had been splendid with morocco and gold, sat a man of about fifty years of age; but his hair was grey, and his face was indented with deep lines and furrows. He was listening with impatience to the expostulations of one who stood before him, and shifted his position from time to time, when more than usually annoyed with the subject. It was Admiral De Courcy, and the vicar of the parish, who was persuading him to be merciful.
The subject of this discourse was, however, dismissed by the entrance of a servant, who presented to the admiral, upon a large and massive salver, a letter, brought, as he stated, by a seafaring man. The admiral lifted up his glasses to examine the superscription. "From my worthless vagabond of a son!" exclaimed he, and he jerked the letter into the fire without breaking the seal.
"Surely, sir," rejoined the vicar, "it would be but justice to hear what he has to offer in extenuation of a fault, too severely punished already. He is your only son, sir, and why not forgive one rash act? Recollect, sir, that he is the heir to this property, which, being entailed, must of necessity devolve upon him."
"Curses on the bare thought," answered the admiral, with vehemence. "I hope to starve him first."
"May the Almighty show more mercy to you, sir, when you are called to your account, than you have shown to an imprudent and hasty child. We are told that we are to forgive, if we hope to be forgiven. Admiral De Courcy, it is my duty to ask you, do you expect (and if so, upon what grounds), to be forgiven yourself?"
The admiral looked towards the window, and made no reply.
The letter, which had been thrown into the grate, was not yet consumed. It had lit upon a mass of not yet ignited coal, and lay there blackening in the smoke. The vicar perceived it, and, walking to the fireplace, recovered the letter from its perilous situation.
"If you do not choose to read it yourself, admiral—if you refuse to listen to the solicitations of an only child, have you any objection that I should open the letter, and be acquainted with the present condition of a young man who, as you know, was always dear to me?"
"None, none," replied the admiral, sarcastically. "You may read it, and keep it too, if you please."
The vicar, without any answer to this remark, opened the letter, which, as the reader may probably imagine, was the one written by Edward Peters on the morning of his execution.
"Merciful Heaven!" exclaimed the man of religion, as he sat down to recover from the shock he had received.—"Unfortunate boy!"
The admiral turned round, astonished at the demeanour of the clergyman, and (it would appear) as if his conscience had pressed him hard, and that he was fearful that his cruel wish, expressed but a few minutes before, had been realised. He turned pale, but asked no questions. After a short time the vicar rose, and, with a countenance of more indignation than the admiral or others had ever seen, thus addressed him:—
"The time may come, sir,—nay, I prophesy that it will come, when the contents of this letter will cause you bitterly to repent your cruel and unnatural conduct to your son. The letter itself, sir, I cannot intrust you with. In justice to others, it must not be put into your hands; and after your attempt to commit it to the flames, and your observation that I might read and keep it too, I feel justified in retaining it. A copy of it, if you please, I will send you, sir."
"I want neither copy nor original, nor shall I read them if you send them, good sir," answered the admiral, pale with anger.
"Fare you well, then, sir. May God turn your heart!"
So saying, the vicar left the room with a determination not to enter it again. His first inquiry was for the person who had brought the letter, and he was informed that he still waited in the hall. It was old Adams, who had obtained leave of absence for a few days, that he might fulfil the last request of Peters. The clergyman here received a second shock, from the news of the death of poor Ellen, and listened with the deepest interest to Adams's straightforward account of the whole catastrophe.
The first plan that occurred to the vicar was to send for the child, and take charge of him himself; but this was negatived, not only by Peters's letter, but also by old Adams, who stated his determination to retain the child until claimed by legal authority. After mature deliberation, he considered that the child would be as much under an Allseeing Eye on the water as on the land, and that, at so early an age, he was probably as well under the charge of a trustworthy old man like Adams, as he would be elsewhere. He therefore requested Adams to let him have constant accounts of the boy's welfare, and to apply to him for any funds that he might require for his maintenance; and, wishing the old man farewell he set off for the vicarage, communing with himself as to the propriety of keeping the circumstance of the boy's birth a secret, or divulging it to his grandfather, in the hopes of eventually inducing him to acknowledge and to protect him.
To the seas presentlye went our lord admiral, With knights couragious and captains full good; The brave Earl of Essex, a prosperous general, With him prepared to pass the salt flood.
At Plymouth speedilye took they ship valiantlye, Braver ships never were seen under sayle, With their fair colours spread, and streamers o'er their head: Now, bragging foemen, take heed of your tayle. OLD BALLAD, 1596.
Many and various were the questions that were put by our little hero to Adams and others, relative to the fate of his parents. That they were both dead was all the information that he could obtain; for, to the honour of human nature, there was not one man in a ship's company composed of several hundred, who had the cruelty to tell the child that his father had been hanged. It may, at first, appear strange to the reader, that the child himself was not aware of the fact, from what he had witnessed on the morning of execution; but it must be recollected that he had never seen an execution before, and had therefore nothing from which to draw such an inference. All he knew was, that his father was on the quarter-deck, with a night-cap on, and that he told him that he was going to sleep. The death of his mother, whose body he was not permitted to see, was quite as unintelligible, and the mystery which enveloped the whole transaction added no little to the bereavement of the child, who, as I have before stated, from his natural talent and peculiar education was far more reflective and advanced than children usually are.
Adams returned to his little charge with pleasure: he had now a right to adopt the child, and consider him as his own. In the ship, the boy was such an object of general sympathy, that not only many of the men, but some of the officers, would gladly have taken him, and have brought him up. The name of his father was, by general consent, never mentioned, especially as Adams informed the officers and men that Peters had been a "purser's name," adopted by the child's father, and that, although the clergyman had stated this, he had not intrusted him with the real name that the child was entitled to bear. As, therefore, our little hero was not only without parents, but without name, he was re-christened by Adams by the cognomen of the "King's Own," and by that title, or his Christian name, Willy, was ever afterwards addressed, both by officers and men.
There is an elasticity supplied to the human mind by unerring Wisdom, that enables us, however broken down by the pressure of misfortune, to recover our cheerfulness after a while, and resign ourselves to the decrees of Heaven. It consoles the widow—it supports the bereaved lover, who had long dwelt upon anticipated bliss—it almost reconciles to her lot the fond and forsaken girl, whose heart is breaking.
Unusually oppressed as Willy was, with the loss of those to whom he had so fondly clung from his birth, in a few months he recovered his wonted spirits, and his cheeks again played with dimples, as his flashing eye beamed from under his long eyelashes. He attached himself to the old quarter-master, and seldom quitted him—he slept in his hammock, he stood by his side when he was on deck, at his duty, steering the ship, and he listened to the stories of the good old man, who soon taught him to read and write. For three years thus passed his life; at the end of which period he had arrived at the age of nine years.
After a long monotony of blockade service, the ship was ordered to hoist the flag of a commodore, who was appointed to the command of an expedition against the western coast of France, to create a diversion in favour of the Vendean chiefs. Captain A—-, whether it was that he did not like to receive a superior officer on board of his ship, or that he did not admire the service upon which she was to be employed, obtained permission to leave his ship for a few months, for the restoration of his health, to the great joy of the officers and crew; and an acting captain of well-known merit, was appointed in his stead.
The squadron of men-of-war and transports was collected, the commodore's flag hoisted, and the expedition sailed with most secret orders, which, as usual, were as well known to the enemy, and everybody in England, as they were to those by whom they were given. It is the characteristic of our nation, that we scorn to take any unfair advantage, or reap any benefit, by keeping our intentions a secret. We imitate the conduct of that English tar, who, having entered a fort, and meeting a Spanish officer without his sword, being providentially supplied with two cut-lasses himself, immediately offered him one, that they might engage on fair terms.
The idea is generous, but not wise. But I rather imagine that this want of secrecy arises from all matters of importance being arranged by cabinet councils. In the multitude of counsellors there may be wisdom, but there certainly is not secrecy. Twenty men have probably twenty wives, and it is therefore twenty to one but the secret transpires through that channel. Further, twenty men have twenty tongues; and much as we complain of women not keeping secrets, I suspect that men deserve the odium of the charge quite as much, if not more, than women do. On the whole, it is forty to one against secrecy, which, it must be acknowledged, are long odds.
On the arrival of the squadron at the point of attack, a few more days were thrown away,—probably upon the same generous principle of allowing the enemy sufficient time for preparation. Troops had been embarked, with the intention of landing them, to make a simultaneous attack with the shipping. Combined expeditions are invariably attended with delay, if not with disagreement. An officer commanding troops, who if once landed, would be as decided in his movements as Lord Wellington himself, does not display the same decision when out of his own element. From his peculiar situation on board,—his officers and men distributed in different ships,—the apparent difficulties of debarkation, easily remedied, and despised by sailors, but magnified by landsmen,—from the great responsibility naturally felt in a situation where he must trust to the resources of others, and where his own, however great, cannot be called into action,—he will not decide without much demur upon the steps to be taken; although it generally happens, that the advice originally offered by the naval commandant has been acceded to. Unless the military force required is very large, marines should invariably be employed, and placed under the direction of the naval commander.
After three or four days of pros and cons, the enemy had completed his last battery, and as there was then no rational excuse left for longer delay, the debarkation took place, without any serious loss on our side, except that of one launch, full of the —- regiment, which was cut in halves by the enemy's shot. The soldiers, as they sank in the water, obeyed the orders of the sergeant, and held up their cartouch-boxes, that they might not be wetted two seconds sooner than necessary,—held fast their muskets,—and, without stirring from the gunnels of the boat, round which they had been stationed, went down in as good order as could be expected, each man at his post, with his bayonet fixed. The sailors, not being either so heavily caparisoned or so well drilled, were guilty of a sauve qui peut, and were picked up by other boats. The officer of the regiment stuck to his men, and it is to be hoped that he marched the whole of his brave detachment to heaven, as he often had before to church. But we must leave the troops to form on the beach as well as they can, and the enemy's shot will permit, and retire on board.
The commodore's arrangement had been punctually complied with. The ships that were directed to cover the landing of the troops, knocked down many of the enemy, and not a great many more of our own men. The stations of the other ships were taken with a precision deserving of the highest encomiums; and there is no doubt, that, had not the enemy had the advantage of stone walls, they must have had the worst of it, and would have been well beaten.
The commodore himself, of course, took the post of honour. Anchored with springs on his cables, he alternately engaged a heavy battery on his starboard bows, a much heavier, backed by a citadel, throwing shells, on his beam, and a masked battery on his quarter, which he had not reckoned upon. The latter was rather annoying, and the citadel threw shells with most disagreeable precision. He had almost as much to do as Lord Exmouth at Algiers, although the result was not so fortunate.
A ship engaging at anchor, with very little wind, and that wind lulled by the percussion of the air from the report of the guns, as it always is, has the disadvantage of not being able to disengage herself of the smoke, which rapidly accumulates and stagnates as it were between the decks. Under these circumstances you repeatedly hear the order passed upon the main and lower deck of a line-of-battle ship, to point the guns two points abaft the beam, point-blank, and so on. In fact, they are as much in the dark as to the external objects, as if they were blindfolded; and the only comfort to be derived from this serious inconvenience, is, that every man is so isolated from his neighbour that he is not put in mind of his own danger by witnessing the death of those around him, for they may fall three or four feet from him without his perceiving it:—so they continued to fire as directed, until they are either sent down to the cock-pit themselves, or have a momentary respite from their exertions, when, choked with smoke and gunpowder, they go aft to the scuttle-butt, to remove their parching thirst. So much for the lower and main deck. We will now ascend to the quarter-deck, where we shall find old Adams at the conn, and little Willy standing behind him.
The smoke is not so thick here, but that you may perceive the commodore on the poop, walking a step or two to star-board, and then turning short round to port. He is looking anxiously through his glass at the position of the troops, who are ashore to storm the batteries, hoping to see a diversion in our favour made by them, as the affair becomes serious. By a singular coincidence, the commandant of the troops on shore is, with his telescope, looking anxiously at the shipping, hoping the same thing from the exertions of the navy. The captain of marines lies dead upon the poop; both his legs have been shot off by a spent shot—he is left there, as no surgeon can help him; and there are two signalmen lying dead alongside him.