The Log of a Privateersman
By Harry Collingwood Another cleverly written and interesting book by this prolific author of books about the sea for teenage boys. The time of the story is the very beginning of the nineteenth century, at which time the British were at war with France. The task of a privateersman is to act as a licensed pirate, preying on enemy ships. The hero is very successful at all this, and eventually is offered a permanent commission in the Royal Navy. Makes a good audiobook. THE LOG OF A PRIVATEERSMAN
BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD
THE CAPTURE OF THE WEYMOUTH—AND WHAT IT LED TO.
The French probably never did a more audacious thing than when, on the night of October 26th, 1804, a party of forty odd of them left the lugger Belle Marie hove-to in Weymouth Roads and pulled, with muffled oars, in three boats, into the harbour; from whence they succeeded in carrying out to sea the newly-arrived West Indian trader Weymouth, loaded with a full cargo of rum, sugar, and tobacco. The expedition was admirably planned, the night chosen being that upon which the new moon occurred; it was a dismal, rainy, and exceptionally dark night, with a strong breeze blowing from the south-west; the hour was about two o'clock a.m.; there was an ebb tide running; and the ship—which had only arrived late in the afternoon of the previous day—was the outside vessel in a tier of three; the Frenchman had, therefore, nothing whatever to do but to cut the craft adrift and allow her to glide, silent as a ghost, down the harbour with bare poles, under the combined influence of the strong wind and the ebb tide. There was not a soul stirring about the quays at that hour; nobody, therefore, saw the ship go out; and the two custom-house officers and the watchman—the only Englishmen aboard her—were fast asleep, and were secured before they had time or opportunity to raise an alarm. So neatly, indeed, was the trick done that the first intimation poor old Peter White—the owner of the ship and cargo—had of his loss was when, at the first streak of dawn, he slipped out of bed and went to the window to gloat over the sight of the safely-arrived ship, moored immediately opposite his house but on the other side of the harbour, where she had been berthed upon her arrival on the previous afternoon. The poor old gentleman could scarcely credit his eyes when those organs informed him that the berth, occupied but a few hours previously, was now vacant. He looked, and looked, and looked again; and finally he caught sight of the ropes by which the Weymouth had been moored, dangling in the water from the bows and quarters of the ships to which she had been made fast. Then an inkling of the truth burst upon him, and, hastily donning his clothes, he rushed downstairs, let himself out of the house, and sped like a madman down the High Street, across Hope Square, and so on to the Nothe, in the forlorn hope that the ship, which, with her cargo, represented the bulk of the savings of a lifetime, might still be in sight. And to his inexpressible joy she was; not only so, she was scarcely two miles off the port, under sail, and heading for the harbour in company with a British sloop-of-war. She had been recaptured, and ere the news of her audacious seizure had reached the ears of more than a few of the townspeople she was back again in her former berth, and safely moored by chains to the quay.
It was clear to me, and to the rest of the Weymouth's crew, when we mustered that same morning to be paid off, that the incident had inflicted a terribly severe shock upon Mr White's nerves. The poor old boy looked a good ten years older than when he had boarded us in the roads on the previous afternoon and had shaken hands with Captain Winter as he welcomed him home and congratulated him upon having successfully eluded the enemy's cruisers and privateers; but there was a fierce glitter in his eyes and a firm, determined look about his mouth which I, for one, took as an indication that the fright, severe as it undoubtedly was, had not quelled the old man's courage.
The capture of the ship by the Frenchmen occurred during the early hours of a Friday morning; and on the following Tuesday evening I received a message from Mr White, asking me to call upon him, at his office, next day at noon. Punctual to the moment, I presented myself, and was at once ushered into the old gentleman's private sanctum, where I found my employer seated at his desk, with several bundles of papers lying before him. He shook hands with me very cordially, and signed to me to be seated.
"Let me see, George," he commenced. "Your indentures will soon expire, will they not?"
"Yes, Mr White," I answered. "I shall be out of my time on the sixteenth of next month."
"Just so; just so. I thought that they would have about a month to run; but have been too busy the last few days to ascertain the precise date. Well, George," he continued, "I have come to the conclusion that the Weymouth must be laid up, for the present at all events. Her capture the other night has opened my eyes more completely than they have ever been opened before, to the risk of working an unarmed ship during war- time. Were I to continue to do so, and the ship should happen to be captured, it would go far toward ruining me; and I am too old to endure such a loss; so I have made up my mind to lay up the Weymouth while the war lasts. But there is good money to be made, even in war-time, if a man goes the right way to work. Privateering is a very profitable business when it can be carried on successfully; and success depends as much as anything upon the kind of men employed. I have been having a chat with Captain Winter upon the subject, with the result that I have purchased the schooner that they are now finishing off in Martin's building-yard; and I intend to fit her out as a privateer; that being the kind of work, in fact, that she has been especially built for. Captain Winter will have the command of her, of course, with Mr Lovell as chief mate; and, George, upon the captain's very strong recommendation, I have determined to offer you the berth of second mate. It will take more than a month to complete the schooner and fit her for sea; and by that time your indentures will have expired. Captain Winter gives you a most excellent character, and has recommended you for the berth; and from what I have seen of you, my lad, I have come to the conclusion that I shall not go very far wrong in giving it to you. Nay, you owe me no thanks, boy; you have earned the refusal of the offer by your steadiness and industry, so it is yours, freely, if you like to have it. I do not want you to make up your mind and answer me yea or nay upon the spur of the moment; take a little time to consider the matter if you like, and let me know by the end of the week."
I needed no time for consideration, however; the offer was altogether too good and advantageous in every way to be left hanging in the balance, as it were. I therefore thankfully accepted it on the spot, and the question of pay and prize-money then being gone into and settled upon a very satisfactory basis, so far as I was concerned, I took my leave, and hurried off home to acquaint my relatives with my good fortune.
Now the reader will have gathered from the foregoing that at the period of the opening of my story I was a sailor, and quite a young man; and probably I need say but little more to complete the acquaintance thus begun.
My name is George Bowen, and I was the only son of my father, Captain Bowen, who was believed to have been drowned at sea—his ship never having been heard of after leaving England for the South Seas—when I was a little chap of only six years old. My sister Dora was born just about the time that it was supposed my father must have perished, and a year later my poor mother died, broken-hearted at the loss of a husband that she positively idolised. Thus, we two—Dora and I—were left orphans at a very early age, and were forthwith taken into the motherly care of Aunt Sophie, who had no children of her own. Poor Aunt Sophie! I am afraid I led her a terrible life; for I was, almost from my birth, a big, strong, high-spirited boy, impatient of control, and resolute to have my own way. But Dora—ah! Dora, with her sweet, docile disposition, made ample amends for all my shortcomings, and in the end, by her gentle persuasiveness, did much to subdue my rebellious spirit and render me amenable to domestic discipline.
We were both exceptionally well educated, as education went then; for Uncle Jack—Aunt Sophie's husband—was a clever, long-headed fellow, who believed that it was not possible for a man to know too much; so Dora, in addition to receiving a sound English education, was taught French, music, and, in fact, the general run of what was then known as "accomplishments", while I, in addition also to a good sound English education, was taught French, Latin, and mathematics, including geometry, algebra, and trigonometry. I was allowed to continue at school until my fourteenth birthday, when, in consequence of my strong predilection for the sea as a profession, I was apprenticed by Uncle Jack to Mr White for a period of seven years. The first year of my apprenticeship was spent aboard a collier, trading between the Tyne and Weymouth; then I was transferred for three years to a Levant trader; and finally I was promoted—as I considered it—into the Weymouth, West Indiaman, which brings me back to the point from whence this bit of explanation started.
The modest cottage which I called home was situated in the picturesque little village of Wyke; I had therefore a walk of some two miles before me when I left Mr White's office; and as I sped along the road I beguiled the way by building the most magnificent of castles in the air. After the brief peace of Amiens, war had again broken out in May of the preceding year; and everybody was of opinion that the struggle which then commenced was destined to be of quite exceptional duration and severity. Then, again, it was well-known that Spain was only waiting for a sufficiently plausible pretext to declare war against us; and that pretext, it was believed, would be found in the capture by a British squadron of the three Spanish treasure-ships Medea, Clara, and Fama, news of which had just reached England. All this was of course simply disastrous from a commercial point of view; but for navy men and privateersmen it opened up a long vista of opportunities to win both distinction and fortune; for it gave us the marine commerce of three rich and powerful nations—France, Holland, and Spain—as a lawful prey. Fortunes of almost fabulous magnitude had been made by lucky privateersmen during the last war; and was there not even then living in Weymouth the heroic Captain Tizard, who had captured a Spanish Plate ship and sailed into Plymouth Sound with his prize in tow, and a massive gold candlestick glittering at each mast-head? And if others had done such things, why not we? I knew Captain Winter for a man who not only had every detail of his profession at his fingers' ends, but who also combined the highest courage with the nicest discretion and a subtlety of resource that had already served us in good stead on more than one occasion. Then there was Robert Lovell, our chief mate, late of the Weymouth. He, like the captain, was a finished seaman; bold as a lion; and knew exactly how to deal with a crew, encouraging those who did their duty, while the idle skulkers found in him a terrible enemy.
Our late second mate—a man named Penrose, who had only been one voyage with us—had not given the skipper satisfaction; he had proved to be untrustworthy, overbearing, obstinate, unscrupulous, and altogether objectionable, so I was not at all surprised to find that he had been passed over; but it was a surprise, and a most agreeable one, too, to learn that the captain had recommended me in place of him. It was a responsible post, more so even than that of second mate in an ordinary trader; but I had no fear of myself, and was quite determined to leave nothing undone to justify "the old man's" recommendation.
Thus pondering, I soon found myself at home. Truth compels me to admit that I was greatly disappointed with the reception that my good news met with at the hands of Aunt Sophie and Dora. Instead of congratulating me they wept! wept because I was so soon to leave them again, and because of the dangerous character of my new berth! They declared their conviction that I should be killed by the first enemy that we might happen to fall in with; or, if I were fortunate enough to escape death, that I should be brought home to them a miserable, helpless cripple, minus a leg and arm or two, and all that Uncle Jack and I could say failed to shake that conviction. Dora even went so far as to endeavour to coax me to decline the berth; and only desisted upon my representation that, were I so foolish as to do so, I should inevitably be snapped up by the press-gang. That, and the indisputable fact—which they appeared to have forgotten—that there were at least a dozen men in Weymouth alone who had gone through the whole of the last war without receiving so much as a scratch, brought them to regard the matter somewhat more resignedly; and at length, when they had all but cried themselves blind, Uncle Jack's cheery and sanguine arguments began to tell upon them so effectually, that they dried their tears and announced their determination to hope for the best.
Strange to say, although I had been at home six days, I had hitherto been so busy, running about with Dora and calling upon a rather numerous circle of friends that, up to the time of receiving Mr White's offer, I had not found time to do more than just become aware of the fact that Mr Joe Martin, our local ship-builder, happened to have a very fine craft upon the stocks, well advanced toward completion. Now, however, that it had come about that I was to serve on board that same craft as "dickey", I was all impatience to see what she was like; so, the next day happening to be fine, I set off, the first thing after breakfast, and, walking in to Weymouth, made my way straight to the shipyard. As I reached the gates I caught my first near view of her, and stood entranced. She was planked right up to her covering-board, and while one strong gang of workmen was busy fitting her bulwarks, another gang, upon stages, was hard at work caulking her, a third gang under her bottom, having apparently just commenced the operation of coppering. She was, consequently, not presented to my view in her most attractive guise; nevertheless, she being entirely out of the water, I was able to note all her beauties, and I fell in love with her on the spot. She was a much bigger craft than I had expected to see; measuring, as I was presently told, exactly two hundred and sixty-six tons. She was very shallow, her load-line being only seven feet above the lowest part of her unusually deep keel, but this was more than counterbalanced by her extraordinary breadth of beam. She had a very long, flat floor, and, despite her excessive beam, her lines were the finest that I had ever seen—and that is saying a great deal, for I had seen in the West Indies some of the most speedy slavers afloat. Altogether she impressed me as a vessel likely to prove not only phenomenally fast but also a perfect sea-boat. She was pierced for four guns of a side, with two stern- chasers; and there was a pivot on her forecastle for a long eighteen- pounder; she would therefore carry an armament formidable enough to enable us to go anywhere and do anything—in reason. Having thoroughly inspected her from outside, and gone down under her bottom, I next made my way on board, and went down below to have a look at her interior accommodation. This I found to be everything that could possibly be desired; the arrangements had evidently been carefully planned with a view to securing to the crew the maximum possible amount of comfort; the cabins were large, and as lofty as the shallow depth of the vessel would allow; there was every convenience in the state-rooms in the shape of drawers, lockers, sofas, folding tables, shelves, cupboards, and so on; and the living quarters were not only light, airy, and comfortable, but were being finished off with great taste and considerable pretensions to luxury. While I was prowling about below I encountered Harry Martin, the son of the builder, who told me that Mr White, when completing the purchase of the vessel, had given instructions that no reasonable expense was to be spared in making the craft as thoroughly suitable as possible for the service of a privateer. I spent fully two hours on board, prying into every nook and cranny of the vessel, and making myself thoroughly familiar with the whole of her interior arrangements, and then left, well satisfied with my prospects as second mate of so smart and comfortable a craft.
As I was crossing Hope Square, toward the foot of Scrambridge Hill, on my way home again, I met Captain Winter, who, after congratulating me upon my appointment, informed me that he had secured carte blanche from the owner as to the number of the crew, and that he was determined to have the vessel strongly manned enough to enable her to keep at sea even after sending away a prize crew or two. He was therefore anxious to secure as many good men as possible, and he suggested that I could not better employ my spare time than in looking about for such, and sending to him as many as I could find. This I did; and as the skipper and Mr Lovell, the chief mate, were both industriously engaged in the same manner, we contrived, by the time that the schooner was ready for sea, to scrape together a crew of ninety men, all told—a large proportion of whom were Portlanders,—as fine fellows, for the most part, as ever trod a plank.
The schooner was launched a fortnight from the day upon which I had first visited her, and as she slid off the ways Joe Martin's youngest daughter christened her, giving her the name of the Dolphin. She was launched with her two lower-masts in, and was at once taken up the harbour and moored opposite Mr White's warehouse, where the work of rigging her and getting her guns and stores on board was forthwith commenced. Thenceforward I was kept busy every day, assisting the skipper and Mr Lovell in the task of fitting-out; and so diligently did we work that by mid-day of the 26th of November the Dolphin was all ataunto and ready for sea. And a very handsome, rakish, and formidable craft she looked, as she lay alongside the quay, her enormously long and delicately-tapering masts towering high above the warehouse roof; her wide-spreading yards, extending far over the quay, accurately squared; her standing and running rigging as taut and straight as iron bars; her ten long nine-pounders grinning beneath her triced-up port-lids; her brightly-polished brass long eighteen-pounder mounted upon her forecastle; her spacious deck scraped and scoured until it was as white as snow; and her new copper and her black topsides gleaming and shimmering in the gently-rippling tide. Day after day, as the work of fitting-out progressed, the quay was crowded with people who came down to watch our operations and admire the schooner; and so favourable was the impression she created that, had we been in want of men, we could have secured volunteers in plenty from among the idlers who spent day after day alongside, watching us at work, and speculating among themselves—with their hands in their pockets—as to the measure of success that our bold venture was likely to meet with.
When we knocked off work at noon, to go to dinner, our work was completed; and as Mr White had taken care to secure our letters-of- marque in good time, it was determined that the Dolphin should proceed to sea that same evening, the crew having already signed articles, and been warned to hold themselves in readiness for a start at a moment's notice. As for me, my traps were already on board, and nicely arranged in my cabin—my sister Dora having, with her usual tenderness of affection, insisted upon attending to this matter herself—there was therefore nothing for me to do but to go home, say good-bye, and rejoin the ship. This ceremony I had always found to be a most painful business; but it was especially so in the present case; for I was not only once more about to brave the ordinary perils incidental to a sailor's life, but was, in addition, to be exposed to the still greater hazards involved in battle with the enemy. Poor Dora and my aunt were but too well aware, from the experience of others in the last war, what these hazards were; they knew how many men had gone out from their homes, hale, strong, and full of enthusiasm, either to find death in their first engagement, or to be brought back, sooner or later, maimed, helpless, and physically ruined for the remainder of their lives; and, as tender, loving women will, they anticipated one or another of these evils for me, and were therefore distressed beyond all hope of comfort. Nor could I shut my eyes to the possibility that their forebodings might come true, and that I might therefore be looking upon their dear faces for the last time. To bid them farewell, therefore, and tear myself from their clinging arms was a most painful business; and it was not until I had returned to the Dolphin, and was busying myself about the final preparations for our departure, that I was able in some degree to recover my equanimity and get rid of the troublesome lump that would keep rising in my throat.
A FOGGY NIGHT IN THE CHANNEL.
The town clock was striking four when, the muster roll having been called and all hands being found to be on board, we cast off the shore- fasts and, under the influence of a light, keen, frosty air from the northward, went gliding down the harbour under mainsail and flying-jib, fully two hundred people following us along the quay and cheering us as we went. The Dolphin was the first privateer that Weymouth had fitted out since the last declaration of war, and the enthusiasm was intense; for, in addition to the foregoing circumstance, she was the largest, most powerful, and most heavily-manned privateer that had ever sailed out of the port; our full complement numbering no less than ninety, all told, including a surgeon, every one of whom was either a Weymouth or a Portland man; consequently there were plenty of friends and relatives to see us start and bid us God-speed.
Upon clearing the harbour all sail was at once made upon the schooner, our object being, of course, to reach the open channel as quickly as possible—when we might hope to fall athwart a prize at any moment,—and a noble picture we must have made as, edging away to pass out round Portland, our noble spaces of new, white canvas were expanded one after the other, until we were under all plain sail, to our royal.
The day had been one of those quiet grey days that occasionally occur about the latter end of November; the sky a pallid, shapeless canopy of colourless cloud through which the sun at long intervals became faintly distinguishable for a few minutes at a time, then vanished again. There was little or no wind to speak of, the faint breathing that prevailed being from the northward. The air was very keen, the atmosphere so thick that our horizon was contracted to a limit of scarcely three miles, and it looked very much as though, with nightfall, we should have a fog. The moon was a long time past the full, and the small crescent to which she had been reduced would not rise until very late; there was a prospect, therefore, that the coming night would be both dark and thick; just the kind of night, in fact, when we might hope to blunder up against a ship belonging to the enemy, and take her by surprise.
Captain Winter's plan was to run across to the French coast, make Cherbourg, and then cruise to the westward, in the hope that, by so doing, we should either pick up a French homeward-bound merchantman, or succeed in recapturing one of the prizes that the French privateers occasionally captured in the Channel and generally sent into Cherbourg or Saint Malo. Should we fail in this, his next project was to cruise in the chops of the Channel for a fortnight, and then return to Weymouth to replenish our stores and water; it being hoped that by that time something definite would be known as to the prospects of war with Spain.
Our course took us close past the easternmost extremity of Portland—the highest point of the miscalled "island"; and by the time that we had drifted across the bay—for our progress could scarcely be called more than drifting—the fog had settled down so thickly that, had we not by good fortune happened to have heard two men calling to each other ashore, we should have plumped the schooner on to the rocks at the base of the cliff before seeing the land. Even as it was, it was touch and go with us; for although the helm was put hard a-starboard at the first sound of the mens' voices, we were so close in that, as the schooner swerved heavily round, we just grazed a great rock, the head of which was sticking out of the water. But we now knew pretty well where we were, and hauling well off the land, out of further danger, we shaped a course that would take us well clear of the Shambles, and so stretched away athwart the Channel.
By the time that we had hauled off the land about a mile it had fallen as dark as a wolf's mouth, with a fog so thick that, what with it and the darkness together, it was impossible to see as far as the foremast from the main rigging, while the wind had fallen so light that our canvas flapped and rustled with every heave of the schooner upon the short Channel swell; yet, by heaving the log, we found that the Dolphin was slinking through the water at the rate of close upon three knots in the hour, while she was perfectly obedient to her helm. The most profound silence prevailed fore and aft; for Captain Winter had given instructions that the bells were not to be struck, and that all orders were to be passed quietly along the deck by word of mouth. The binnacle light was also carefully masked, and the skylight obscured by a close-fitting painted canvas cover that had been made for the express purpose. There was, therefore, nothing whatever to betray our presence except the soft rustling of our canvas, and, as the same sounds would prevail on board any other craft that might happen to drift within our vicinity, we were in hopes that, by keeping our ears wide open, we might become aware of their presence before our own was betrayed. It is true that these precautions greatly increased the risk of collision with other vessels; but we trusted that the watchfulness upon which we depended for the discovery of other craft in our neighbourhood would suffice to avert any such danger.
In this way the time slowly dragged along until midnight, when I was called to take charge of the deck. Upon turning out I found that there was no improvement in the weather, except that the faint breathing from the northward had strengthened sufficiently to put our canvas to sleep, and to increase our speed to a trifle over six knots; but it was just as dark and thick as ever. Lovell, whom I was relieving, informed me that nothing whatever had been seen or heard during his watch; and that now, by our dead reckoning, we were, as nearly as possible, thirty miles south-by-west of Portland Bill. The skipper was still on deck; he had been up all through the first watch, and announced his intention of keeping the deck until the weather should clear. The night was now bitterly cold and frosty; the rail, the ropes coiled upon the pins, the companion slide, even the glass of the binnacle, all were thickly coated with rime, and the decks were slippery with it.
It was close upon two bells; and everything on board the Dolphin was silent as the grave, no sound being audible save the soft seething of the water past the bends, and the "gush" of the wave created by the plunge of the schooner's sharp bows into the hollows of the swell, when the skipper, who was standing near me on the starboard side of the binnacle, sucking away at a short pipe, caught hold of my arm and said in a low tone:
"Listen, Bowen! you have sharp ears. Tell me if you hear anything hereaway on the starboard bow?"
I listened intently for some seconds without hearing anything, and was about to say so, when I thought I caught a faint sound, as of the creaking of a boom; and at the same instant the two look-out men on the forecastle, forgetting, in the imminence of the danger, their instructions to be silent, simultaneously shouted, in sharp incisive tones:
"Hard a-port! Hard over! there's a big ship right under our bow!"
There was nothing whatever to be seen from where the skipper and I stood, but the cry was too imperative to be neglected; I therefore sprang with one bound to the wheel and assisted the helmsman to put it hard over, while the skipper rushed forward to see for himself what it was that was reported to be in our way.
I had but grasped the spokes of the wheel when I heard a cry, close ahead of us of:
"There's a small craft close aboard of us on our larboard beam, sir!" followed by a confused rush of feet along a ship's deck, and an order to "put the helm hard a-starboard, and call the captain!"
These sounds appeared to be so close aboard of us that I involuntarily braced myself against the expected impact of the two vessels; but the next moment, through the dense fog, I saw the faint glimmer of a light opening out clear of our foremast, saw a huge, dark, shapeless blot go drifting away on to our port bow, and heard a sharp hail from the stranger.
"Schooner ahoy! What schooner is that?"
"The Dolphin, privateer, of Weymouth. What ship is that?" answered the skipper.
"The Hoogly, East Indiaman; Calcutta to London. Can you tell me whereabouts we are?"
"Thirty-six miles south-by-west of Portland Bill," answered the skipper.
"Much obliged to you, sir," came the faint acknowledgment from the Indiaman, already out of sight again in the fog. This was followed by some further communication—apparently a question, from the tone of voice,—but the two vessels had by this time drawn so far apart from each other that the words were unintelligible, and the captain made no endeavour to reply; coming aft again and resuming his former position near the binnacle.
He and I were still discussing in low tones our narrow escape from a disastrous collision, some ten minutes having elapsed since we had lost sight of the Hoogly, when suddenly a faint crash was heard, somewhere away on our port quarter, immediately followed by shouts and cries, and a confused popping of pistols, which lasted about a minute; when all became as suddenly silent again.
"Hillo!" ejaculated the skipper, turning hastily to the binnacle, as the first sounds were heard, and taking the bearing of them, as nearly as possible; "there's something wrong with the Indiaman; it sounds very much as though one of the rascally, prowling, French lugger privateers had run him aboard and—"
"D'ye hear that rumpus away out on the larboard quarter, sir?" hailed one of the men on the forecastle.
"Ay, ay, my lad, we hear it; we're not asleep at this end of the ship!" answered Winter. "Depend upon it, George," he continued to me, "the Hoogly has been boarded and carried by a Frenchman. There!" as the sounds ceased, "it is all over, whatever it is. We will haul up a bit, and see if we can discover what has happened. Starboard, my man!" to the man at the wheel; "starboard, and let her come up to full and by. Hands to the sheets and braces, Mr Bowen. Brace sharp up on the larboard tack; and then let the men cast loose the guns and load them. Call all hands quietly, and let them go to quarters."
The skipper peered into the binnacle again.
"Nor'-east, half east!" he continued, referring to the direction in which the schooner was now heading: "If we are in luck we ought to come athwart the Indiaman again in about twenty minutes—that is to say, if they have hove her to in order to transfer the prisoners."
He pulled out his watch, noted the time, and replaced the watch in his pocket. "Just slip for'ard, Mr Bowen, and caution the hands to be as quiet as possible over their work," said he. "And give the look-out men a hint to keep their eyes skinned. The French have undoubtedly taken the Indiaman by surprise; now we must see if we cannot give the Frenchmen a surprise in turn."
I went forward to execute my orders; and upon my return found the skipper, watch in hand, talking to the chief mate, who, with the rest of the watch below, had been called. Meanwhile the crew were at quarters, and, having cast loose the guns, were busily loading them, the work being carried on as quietly as possible. As I rejoined the skipper, the arms-chest was brought on deck; and in a few minutes each man was armed with a cutlass and a brace of pistols.
By the time that these preparations were completed, the twenty minutes allowed us by Captain Winter to reach the scene of the recent disturbance had elapsed, and our topsail was laid to the mast, the word being passed along the deck for absolute silence to be maintained, and for each man to listen with all his ears, and to come aft and report if he heard any sound. Then we all fell to listening with bated breath; but not a sound was to be heard save the gurgle and wash of the water about the rudder as the schooner rose and fell gently to the lift of the sea.
In this way a full quarter of an hour was allowed to elapse, at the expiration of which the skipper remarked:
"Well, it is clear that, wherever the Indiaman may be, she is not hereabout. If, as I believe, she has been attacked, and has beaten the Frenchman off, she has of course proceeded on up channel; but if she has been taken, her captors have evidently headed at once for some French port, possibly having been near enough to have heard the hails that passed between us. If that was the case they would naturally be anxious to get away from the neighbourhood of their exploit as quickly as possible, for fear of being interfered with. And, assuming this supposition of mine to be correct, they will be certain to make for the nearest French port; which, in this case, is Cherbourg. We will therefore resume our course toward Cherbourg, when, if we are lucky, we may get a sight of both the Indiaman and the privateer at daybreak, if this confounded fog will only lift."
We accordingly squared away once more upon our former course, which we followed until morning without hearing or seeing anything of the vessels for which we were looking.
This being our first night out, and my watch being the starboard watch, I was relieved by Lovell at four o'clock a.m., and under ordinary circumstances should not have been called until seven bells, or half- past seven. But I was not greatly surprised when, on being called, I found that it was still dark, the time being five bells. It was Lovell who called me.
"George!" he exclaimed, shaking me by the shoulder. "George! rouse and bitt, my lad; tumble out! The fog is clearing away, and the cap'n expects to make out the Indiaman at any moment, so it's 'all hands'. Hurry up, my hearty!"
"Ay, ay," grumbled I, only half awake; "I'll be up in a brace of shakes."
And as Lovell quitted my cabin and returned to the deck, I rolled out of my bunk and hurriedly began to dress by the lamp that the chief mate had been considerate enough to light for my convenience.
When I went on deck I found that, as Lovell had stated, the fog was clearing away, a few stars showing out here and there overhead; moreover the wind had hauled round from the eastward and was now blowing a fresh topgallant breeze that had already raised a short choppy sea, over which the Dolphin was plunging as lightly and buoyantly as a sea-gull, doing her seven knots easily, although the skipper had taken all the square canvas off her, letting her go along under mainsail, foresail, staysail, and jibs. There was nothing to be seen, as the fog still lay thick on the water; but there were indications that it would probably lift before long, and Captain Winter had therefore ordered all hands to be called, so that we might be ready for any emergency that might arise.
"Sorry to have been obliged to disturb you, George, before your time," said the skipper, as I appeared on deck; "but the fog shows signs of clearing, and I want to be ready to act decisively the moment that we catch sight of the Indiaman."
"Quite so, sir," I replied. "Where do you expect to make her?"
"Ah!" he answered; "that's just the question that has been puzzling me. We did not see enough of her last night to enable us to judge very accurately what her rate of sailing may be; but I rather fancy, from the glimpse we caught of her, that she is something of a slow ship, and, if so, we may have run past her. At the same time, if the French have got hold of her—of which I have very little doubt—they would be pretty certain to crowd sail upon her in order to get well over toward their own coast before daylight. I have shortened sail, as you see, so as to reduce our own speed as nearly as possible to what I judge hers will be; but this schooner is a perfect flyer—there's no holding her,—and it would not surprise me a bit to find that we have shot ahead of the chase. I feel more than half inclined to heave-to for a short time; but Lovell thinks that the Indiaman is still ahead of us somewhere."
"Well," said I, "we ought to see something of her before long, for it is clearing fast overhead, and it appears to me that, even down here on the water, I can see further than I could when I first came on deck."
It was evident that the skipper was very fidgety, so I thought I would not further unsettle him by obtruding my own opinion—which coincided with his—upon him; therefore, finding him slightly disposed to be taciturn, I left him, and made the round of the deck, assuring myself that all hands were on the alert, and ready to go to quarters at any moment. I passed forward along the starboard side of the deck, noticing as I did so that there was a faint lightening in the fog away to windward, showing that the dawn was approaching; and as I turned on the forecastle to go aft again, I observed that the fog was thinning away famously on the weather quarter. As I walked aft I kept my eyes intently fixed on this thin patch, which appeared to be a small but widening break in the curtain of vapour that enveloped us, for it was evidently drifting along with the wind. I had reached as far aft as the main rigging, still staring into the break, when I suddenly halted, for it struck me that there was a small, faint blotch of darker texture in the heart of it, away about three points on our weather quarter. Before I could be quite certain about the matter, however, the blotch, if such it was, had become merged and lost again in the thicker body of fog that followed in the track of the opening. But while I was still debating within myself whether I should say anything about what I fancied I had seen, I became aware of a much larger and darker blot slowly looming up through the leeward portion of the break, and apparently drifting across it to windward, though this effect was, I knew, due to the leeward drift of the break. This time I felt that there was no mistake about it, and I accordingly cried:
"Sail ho! a large ship about a point on our weather quarter!"
And I hurried aft to point it out to the skipper before it should vanish again. He looked in the direction toward which I was pointing, but was unable to see anything, his eyes being dazzled in consequence of his having been staring, in a fit of abstraction, at the illuminated compass-card in the binnacle. Neither could Lovell see anything; and while I was still endeavouring to direct their gaze to it, it disappeared.
"Are you quite certain that your eyes were not deceiving you, Mr Bowen?" demanded the skipper rather pettishly.
"Absolutely certain, sir," I replied. "And what is more, I believe it to be the Indiaman; for just before sighting her I fancied I saw another and smaller craft about two points further to windward, and astern of the bigger ship; and I am now of opinion that what I saw was a lugger."
"Ay," retorted the skipper; "you fancied you saw a lugger; and so, perhaps, under the circumstances, would naturally fancy also that you saw the Indiaman. Did anybody else see anything like a sail astern of us?" he demanded in a low voice, addressing the crew.
"Yes, sir," answered a voice from the forecastle. "I looked directly that I heard Mr Bowen sing out, and I fancied that I saw something loomin' up dark through the fog on the weather quarter."
"Another fancy!" ejaculated the skipper. "However," he continued, "you may be right, Mr Bowen, after all. How far do you suppose the stranger to have been away from us?"
"Probably a matter of three miles or thereabout," I answered. "The smaller craft would perhaps be a mile, or a mile and a half astern of her."
"Then," said the skipper, "we will haul the fore-sheet to windward, let our jib-sheets flow, and wait a quarter of an hour to see what comes of it. If you are correct in your surmise, Mr Bowen, we ought to see something of these strangers of yours by that time."
"And I have no doubt we shall, sir," answered I. "And if I may be allowed to offer a suggestion, it is that we should bring the schooner to the wind, so that she may eat out to windward of the Indiaman, all ready for bearing up and running her aboard when she heaves in sight."
"A very good idea, Mr Bowen! we will do so," answered the skipper.
The main- and fore-sheets were accordingly flattened in, when the schooner luffed up to about south-east, and slowly forged to windward, athwart what I believed to be the track of the Indiaman.
Meanwhile, the dawn was coming slowly, while the fog was gradually thinning away under the influence of the freshening breeze, so that we were by this time able to distinguish the heads of the breaking waves at a distance of fully half a mile. As for me, I kept my eyes intently fixed upon the grey cloud of vapour that went drifting away to leeward past our weather quarter; and presently, when we had been hove-to about ten minutes, I caught sight of a thickening in the fog thereaway that, even as I looked, began to grow darker and assume a definite shape.
"There she is, sir!" I exclaimed, pointing out the darkening blot to the skipper; and by the time that he had found it, that same blot had strengthened into the misty outline of a large ship under studding- sails, running before the wind, and steering a course that would bring her diagonally athwart our stern, and within biscuit-toss of our lee quarter.
"Ay! there she is, sure enough!" responded the skipper eagerly. "Now," he continued, "the next thing is to find out whether she is the Indiaman or not, without arousing the suspicions of those aboard her. Haul aft your lee-jib and fore-sheets, there, my lads; we must not present the appearance of lying in wait for her. Luff all you can without shaking," to the man at the wheel; "I do not want the schooner to move fast through the water. We must let yonder ship pass near enough to us, if possible, to be able to read the name on her stern."
"I do not think there is much doubt about her being the Indiaman, sir," said I; "for if you will look out here, broad on our weather quarter, you will see what I take to be the lugger that has captured her."
"Ay, true enough, I do see something! You have sharp eyes, George, and no mistake," answered the skipper. "Yes, there certainly is something there; and, as you say, it looks uncommonly like a lugger! Well, she is a good two miles off. We shall have time to run the big fellow aboard and take her before that lugger is near enough to trouble us. Stand by, there, some of you, to jump aloft and loose the topsail when I give the word. Hillo, what is that? A gun from the lugger, by the hookey! They have made us out, and don't like the look of us, apparently, so they have fired a gun to wake up the people aboard the prize. Ha! now they have seen us aboard the big ship too, and are taking in their stunsails, to haul to the wind, I suppose. But you are too late, my hearties!" apostrophising the ship, now less than a cable's length from us; "you will be to leeward of us in another two minutes. Boy, bring me my glass. You will find it slung in beckets in the companion."
On came the ship, near enough now for us to see that she was undoubtedly an Indiaman, and as undoubtedly British. The people on board her were evidently in a great flusteration, for they had started to take in all the studding-sails at once, and a pretty mess they were making of the job, most of the studding-sails having blown forward over the fore side of the booms. While they were still battling with the unruly canvas the ship swept, yawing wildly, close past our lee quarter; so close, indeed, that no glasses were required, for even in the faint light of the growing dawn it was possible to read with the unaided eye the gilt lettering on her stern—"Hoogly, London."
OUR FIRST SUCCESS.
"That settles the matter for good and all!" exclaimed the skipper, now in rare good-humour, as he pointed to the Indiaman's stern. "Up with your helm, my man," to the man at the wheel; "let her go broad off. We will pass under the Indiaman's stern, and board her from to leeward. Away aloft there and let fall the topsail, some of you. Mr Lovell, you will take twenty men—I don't suppose there are above forty Frenchmen aboard that craft—and board by the main and mizzen chains as we touch. You will have to be smart about it, as I do not want to remain alongside, grinding the schooner's side to pieces, a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. Take the ship; and, as soon as you have secured possession and driven the prize crew below, haul your wind, keeping us between you and the lugger. The moment that you and your party are aboard I shall haul off; and you may leave me to deal with that fellow to windward. You will make the best of your way to Weymouth, of course. See that your men freshen the priming of their pistols at once; and then station them, half by the main rigging, and half by the fore, ready to jump at the word."
"Ay, ay, sir!" responded Lovell, as he hastened away to select his twenty men. The topsail was by this time sheeted home, and the men were mast-heading the yard. The skipper sprang upon the rail, steadying himself by the weather main swifter, to con our schooner alongside; and I, in obedience to an order from him, went forward and gave the word for those who were not of the boarding-party to arm themselves with muskets, and pick off any of the Frenchmen who might show their heads above the rail.
It took us less than ten minutes to close with the Indiaman; and as we ranged up on her lee quarter and swept alongside a party of some ten or a dozen jabbering and gesticulating Frenchmen jumped up on her poop and saluted us with an irregular fire of musketry, which, however, did no harm; and upon our people returning the fire three of the Frenchmen fell, while the rest tumbled off the poop in such a desperate hurry that our fellows were fairly convulsed with laughter. The skipper conned us alongside in such a masterly style that I do not believe the hulls of the two vessels actually touched at all—at least, I was unconscious of any shock—yet we were close enough for the two boarding-parties to spring with ease and certainty from our rigging into the Indiaman's channels; and the next moment, as they tumbled in over the ship's rail, our helm was eased up, and the vessels sheered apart, without having carried away so much as a rope-yarn. There was a tremendous scuffle on the Indiaman's deck for perhaps half a minute, with a great popping of pistols, the sound of heavy blows, cheers from our lads, loud execrations on the part of the Frenchmen, a shriek or two of pain at some well-directed cut or thrust, then a rush forward, during which we remained some twenty fathoms to leeward of the Indiaman, ready to sheer alongside again and render assistance if necessary; and then Lovell sprang up on the poop and hailed that he had secured possession of the ship, and would haul his wind as soon as he could get in the studding- sails. Thereupon our helm was put hard up, and we wore short round, bracing sharp up on the starboard tack to intercept the lugger, which craft was now foaming along under all the canvas that she could spread.
She was a big lump of a craft, of her class, measuring, according to my estimation, fully a hundred and fifty tons; and she appeared to be very fast. It was light enough by this time, what with the increasing daylight and the clearing away of the fog, for us to see that she mounted four guns—probably six-pounders—of a side, and there was something very like a long nine-pounder covered over by a tarpaulin, between her fore and mainmasts. She was well to windward of us, and presently crossed our bows at a distance of about a mile. We, of course, at once tacked, and, letting the schooner go along clean full, so as to head off the lugger, set our topgallant-sail and small gaff- topsail.
We rapidly neared each other, the Dolphin gradually edging away as the lugger fore-reached upon us, until only half a mile of water divided the two craft. Then we saw that her people were busy with the mysterious object between her masts, and presently, sure enough, a long nine- pounder, mounted upon a pivot, stood revealed. Five minutes later they tried a shot at us from this same piece—the ball from which struck the water some five fathoms astern of us,—and at the same time hoisted the French tricolour. We responded by running our ensign up to the gaff, but reserved our fire for a while, the skipper having as yet had no opportunity of finding out our lads' capabilities with the guns. At length, however, having edged up to within a quarter of a mile of the lugger, and having conclusively demonstrated our superiority of sailing, Captain Winter gave orders that our larboard broadside should be carefully levelled and trained upon the lugger's mainmast; and while this was being done she fired her starboard broadside at us, one of the shot from which passed through our mainsail, while another struck our fore-topmast about a foot above the topsail-halliard sheave-hole, bringing down the upper part of the spar and the topgallant-sail.
The Frenchmen's cheers at this success were still floating down to us, when, having personally supervised the levelling and training of our guns, I gave the order to fire. Sharp at the word, our broadside rang out; and as the smoke blew over us and away to leeward the lugger's mainmast was seen to suddenly double up, as it were, in the middle, the upper portion toppling over to leeward and carrying the sail with it into the water, while the foresail began to flap furiously in the wind, the sheet having been shot away.
"Hurrah, men! capitally done!" shouted the skipper; "you have her now," as the lugger, under her mizzen only, shot up into the wind, plunging heavily. "Ready about! and stand by to rake her with your starboard broadside as we cross her stern. Helm's a-lee! Load your port guns again as smartly as you please, my lads. Topsail haul! Stand by, the starboard battery, and give it her as your guns are brought to bear! Away aloft there, a couple of hands, and clear the wreck of the topgallant-mast!"
The Dolphin, tacking as fast as the men could haul round the yards, without losing headway for an instant, went round like a top, and in less than half a minute was crossing the lugger's stern. There was tremendous confusion on board, her crew, to the number of some thirty or forty, rushing about her decks,—as we could now plainly see,— apparently undecided what to do next. At the proper moment our starboard broadside was fired, and the great white, jagged patch that instantly afterwards appeared in the lugger's transom showed that pretty nearly, if not quite all, the shot had taken effect.
"Well aimed, men!" cried the skipper in an ecstasy of delight. "That is the way to bring them to their senses. Ready about again! And stand by to give them your port broadside. Helm's a-lee!"
Round swept the Dolphin again, and presently we were once more crossing the stern of the lugger, the confusion on board being, as it seemed, greater than ever. We were by this time within a quarter of a mile of our antagonist, and again our broadside, discharged at precisely the right moment, told with terrible effect on board the lugger, not only raking her from stem to stern, but also bringing down her fore and mizzen-masts. And all this time they had not replied to our fire with a single gun.
Standing on for a distance of about a cable's length, the Dolphin again tacked, this time fetching far enough to windward to have enabled us to cross the lugger's bows had we desired to do so. Instead of that, however, Captain Winter gave orders to keep away and pass close under her stern, the starboard broadside being all ready to pour into her if need were. Captain Winter's orders were, however, not to fire until he gave the word. Reaching along on an easy bowline, we were soon on the lugger's starboard quarter, and within biscuit-toss of the vessel, when the skipper ordered the topsail to be laid aback, and as, with diminished way, we drifted fair athwart the lugger's stern, in a position admirably adapted for raking her from end to end, he sprang into the starboard main rigging, and hailed in French, asking whether they surrendered. A man, who looked like the captain, standing near the deserted wheel, looked at us intently for a few seconds, and then, observing that we were all ready to give him our starboard broadside, answered in the affirmative; whereupon our people, several of whom had a smattering of French, gave three hearty cheers as they dropped the lanyards of their locks to the deck, and laid down their rammers, sponges, and hand-spikes.
"Take the starboard cutter, Mr Bowen, and ten men, and go on board to take possession," said the skipper. "Cut away the wreckage as soon as you have secured the crew below, and then send the boat back with a couple of hands, and be ready to receive a tow-line from us. We shall have to take you in tow, as I see that the Indiaman is now on a wind; and I have no fancy for leaving either her or you to make your way into port unprotected. As soon as you are fast to us, set your men to work to get up jury-masts, if you find that there are any spars aboard suitable for the purpose. There is a fine breeze blowing now, and if we have luck we ought to get into harbour to-night, prizes and all."
"Ay, ay, sir," answered I. "The carpenter had better come with us, had he not? I expect we shall want his help in rigging our jury-masts."
"Yes, certainly," assented the skipper; "take him by all means."
"Thank you, sir," said I as I turned away. "Now then," I continued, "ten of you into the starboard cutter, lads, as quick as you like. And take your cutlasses and pistols with you. Come along, Chips, my man; get your tools, and tumble them into the boat."
Ten minutes later we were on board the lugger, which proved to be the Belle Jeannette, of Saint Malo, and a very fine craft she was, as we saw, when we stood upon her broad, roomy deck. She mounted nine guns, eight of them being long sixes, while the ninth was the long nine- pounder between the fore and mainmast. I was astonished to see what havoc our shot had wrought, the deck and bulwarks being broadly streaked and splashed with blood, while each gun had its own little group of two or three killed and wounded lying about it. All three of her masts had been shot away, as already stated; and, in addition to this, her stern transom was regularly torn to pieces, one of the jagged and splintered holes being quite large enough for me to have passed through it had I been so minded. Three spokes of the wheel had been shot away, and it was a wonder to me, as I marked the path of our shot along the torn and splintered deck, that the whole concern had not been destroyed. The companion was badly damaged and started; and as for the cabin skylight, there was very little of it left.
The crew—the few of them who could still stand, that is to say—had thrown down their arms and gone forward on to the forecastle upon hearing their skipper state that he surrendered, and there we found them when we boarded our prize. The skipper himself—a rather fine-looking man, some thirty-five years of age, with piercing black eyes, curly black hair and beard, and large gold ear-rings in his ears—had, of course, remained aft; and when I sprang over the bulwarks, in on deck, he advanced toward me, and handing me his sheathed sword, remarked rather bitterly:
"Accept my sword, monsieur, and with it my congratulations upon your good fortune in having secured two such valuable prizes. The Indiaman herself is not to be despised, but I was a fool not to let her go when I saw that her capture was inevitable. I believe we could have escaped you had we hauled our wind when we first made you out; but, as it is, I have lost not only my prize but also my ship and the chest of specie which we took the precaution of removing from the Indiaman last night. You are certain to find it, as it is lying beneath the table in my cabin, so I may as well make a virtue of necessity and tell you of it at once. Perhaps, under the circumstances, monsieur will be generous enough to be content with the treasure, and allow me to retain my lugger, which represents all that I possess in the world?"
"And thus restore to you the power to inflict further injury upon our commerce? I am afraid not, monsieur," answered I. "Had you been a mere harmless trader, it might possibly have been different; but, as it is, the proposal is—pardon me for saying so—preposterous."
"As monsieur pleases, of course. But it will be my ruin," remarked the man gloomily. "With monsieur's permission, then, I will retire to my cabin." And he turned away as though to go below.
"Pardon me, monsieur," said I, hastily interposing between him and the companion; "I am afraid that my duty necessitates my requesting that monsieur will be so obliging as to remain on deck for the present."
"Then take that, curse you!" ejaculated he, whipping a big, ugly knife out of his bosom, and striking savagely at my heart with it. Fortunately the sudden glitter in his eyes warned me, and I succeeded in catching his upraised arm in my left hand, with which I gripped his wrist so strongly that he was perforce obliged to drop the knife to the deck or submit to have his wrist broken. Kicking the weapon overboard, through an open port close at hand, I called to one of my men to clap a lashing round the hands and feet of my antagonist, and then went forward to superintend the securing of the remainder of our prisoners. There were only fourteen of them uninjured, or whose wounds were so slight as to leave them capable of doing any mischief, and these we drove down into the hold, where, finding plenty of irons, we effectually secured them.
By the time that this was done, the wreck of the masts cut away, and the sails—which had been towing overboard—secured, the Dolphin was ready to pass a towrope on board us. This we at once took, securing the end to the windlass bitts, when the schooner filled away, with the lugger in tow, and stood after the Indiaman, which was by this time a couple of miles to windward of us, heading to the northward on an easy bowline, on the starboard tack. Russell, the Dolphin's surgeon, came aboard us about the same time as the tow-line, and while he busied himself in attending to the hurts of the Frenchmen, we went to work to rig up a set of jury-masts—suitable spars for which we were lucky enough to find aboard the lugger—and, by dint of hard work, we contrived to get three spars on end,—securely lashed to the stumps of the masts, and well stayed,—by dinner-time, and by four bells that same afternoon we had the lugger under her own canvas once more, when we cast adrift from the Dolphin, it being found that, even under jury-masts, the Belle Jeannette was quite capable of holding her own with the Indiaman in the moderate weather then prevailing. Long before this, however, I had found an opportunity to go below and have a look at the treasure-chest, which I had found in the position indicated by the French skipper. It was an unexpectedly bulky affair; so much so, indeed, that I thought the safest place for it would be down in the Dolphin's run, and there it was soon safely stowed, after I had gone on board the schooner to report to Captain Winter the great value of our prize. It afterwards turned out that this chest contained no less than thirty thousand pounds in specie; so I was right in considering it worth taking care of.
ANOTHER FIGHT, AND ANOTHER PRIZE.
The weather had been clearing all day, and when, about six bells that afternoon, we made the high land of Portland, the sky was without a cloud, the atmosphere clear and bright, and the sun was shining as brilliantly as though it had been midsummer, quite taking the keen edge off the frosty air. There was not a vessel in sight in any direction, which was rather a relief to us; for, situated as we were then, it would have been difficult to say whether the sight of a friend or of an enemy would have excited the most uneasiness in our breasts. A friend would almost certainly have been a man-o'-war; and although our papers were nominally a protection of our crew against impressment, we were fully aware that, as a matter of fact, they were nothing of the sort, the captains of our men-o'-war impressing almost as freely from a privateer as from an ordinary merchantman. Now, our men were, so far as we had had an opportunity of proving them, first-rate fellows, with scarcely a single exception, we were therefore most anxious not to lose any of them; and were consequently the reverse of desirous to meet with one of our own ships of war. On the other hand, we were by this time so close in with the English coast that, if we happened to encounter an enemy, it would certainly be a prowling privateer—like ourselves—heavily enough armed and manned to admit of their venturing, without much risk, over to our side of the Channel, on the look-out for homeward-bound British ships. To encounter such a customer as this would mean plenty of hard knocks, without very much profit, and with just the chance of losing one or the other of our prizes. We were, therefore, heartily thankful to find a clear horizon all round us when the fog cleared away. We were destined, however, to have another bout with a Frenchman before long, as will presently appear.
We had made the high land of Portland about half an hour when the sounds of distant firing were faintly borne to our ears; and shortly afterwards two craft, a cutter and a brig—the latter evidently in chase of the former—hove into view, broad on our weather-bow. The firing was not very heavy, it is true, but it was briskly maintained; and as they came sweeping rapidly down toward us it became apparent that the two craft were exchanging shots from their bow and stern-chasers respectively. The cutter was flying the British ensign, while the brig sported the tricolour; and, the two vessels being dead before the wind, the brig carrying studding-sails on both sides, the Frenchman seemed to be getting rather the best of it, overhauling the cutter slowly but surely. As soon as this was seen, the Dolphin hove-to and put ten more men on board the Belle Jeannette, with orders to me to close with the Indiaman, and to clear for action, both which orders I obeyed without loss of time. And, while doing so, the Dolphin and ourselves hoisted British colours, as a hint to the brig that if she dared to meddle with us we were quite ready for her. The cutter and the brig happened to be steering a course that would bring them close aboard of our little squadron, and when the Frenchman saw the colour of our bunting he began at once to shorten sail by taking in his studding-sails, preparatory, as we supposed, to hauling his wind out of so perilous a neighbourhood.
But in supposing thus we were mistaken; the fellow evidently at once hit off our respective characters to a T; he saw that the lugger—under jury-masts and bearing other unmistakable signs of having been very recently in action—was a prize; no doubt judged the Indiaman to be a recapture; and—perhaps believing that, with these two prizes, the schooner would be very short-handed—quickly made up his mind that either of the three would be more valuable than the cutter to him. At all events he shortened sail in a most determined and workmanlike manner, threw open all his ports, and, slightly shifting his helm, made as though he would slip in between the Dolphin and the Indiaman. Captain Winter, however, would not have it so; as the Frenchman luffed, the Dolphin edged away, until both vessels were heading well in for the West Bay, athwart the Indiaman's hawse, and running upon lines so rapidly converging that, within ten minutes of the declaration of the Frenchman's intentions, the brig and the schooner were within biscuit- toss of each other. The brig mounted six guns of a side against the Dolphin's five; but this disparity was altogether too trifling a matter for our skipper to take any notice of, and accordingly, when the two vessels had neared each other to within about twenty fathoms, the Frenchmen showing signs of an intention to run the schooner on board, Captain Winter poured in his starboard broadside, and at the same time edged away just sufficiently to keep a few fathoms of water between himself and the brig. The broadside was promptly returned, and in another minute the two vessels were at it, hammer and tongs, yard-arm to yard-arm, and running almost dead away before the wind.
Meanwhile, having sent a hand aloft to take a look round, and having thus ascertained that there was nothing else in sight to interfere with us, I came to the conclusion that the Indiaman might very well take care of herself for half an hour or so; and, accordingly, we in the lugger at once bore up to support the schooner. Up to the time of encountering the Frenchman we had been sailing about a quarter of a mile to leeward of the Indiaman, while the Dolphin had been jogging along about the same distance to windward of the big ship; our positions, therefore, were such that we in the lugger had only to put up our helm a couple of spokes or so to enable us to converge upon the two combatants, which we did. By the time of our arrival upon the scene the fight was raging so hotly, and both craft were so completely enveloped in smoke that neither party was aware of our presence; I therefore steered so as to just shave clear of the Dolphin's stern; and, having done so, our men deliberately fired each of the four long sixes in our larboard broadside slap into the stern of the brig, raking her fore-and-aft. Then, passing out clear of her, we tacked the instant that we had room, and, passing close under her stern again, gave her in like fashion the contents of our starboard broadside. This time the Frenchmen were ready for us, and returned our fire with their two stern-chasers, both shot passing through our mainsail without doing any further damage. Again we tacked; and this time I gave orders to put in a charge of grape on top of each round shot, which we rattled into the stern of the Frenchman at a distance of not more than three or four fathoms. Our shot must have wrought terrible execution; for after each discharge we could hear the shrieks and groans of the wounded even through the crash of the two other vessels' broadsides. This time they only gave us one gun in exchange for our four, the shot passing in through our port bulwarks and out through the starboard, killing a man on its way. Our shot, however, had killed the brig's helmsman, and almost immediately afterwards the vessel broached-to, her foremast going over the bows as she did so. This was enough for them; they received another broadside from the Dolphin, and then, just as we were in stays, preparatory to passing athwart their stern and raking them again, a man ran aft and hauled down their flag, at the same time crying out that they surrendered.
The firing on both sides at once ceased, the smoke drifted away to leeward, and we were able to see around us once more, as well as to note the condition of the combatants after our brief but spirited engagement. The cutter had seized the opportunity to make good her escape, and was now more than two miles to leeward, running before the wind to the westward on her original course. The brig—which proved to be the Etoile du Nord, of Dunkirk—had, as already stated, lost her foremast, her bulwarks were riddled with shot-holes, and her rigging badly cut up. The Dolphin also had suffered severely from the fire of her antagonist, her starboard bulwarks being almost destroyed, her rigging showing a good many loose ropes'-ends floating in the wind, and her main-boom so severely wounded that it parted in two when her helm was put down to bring her to the wind and heave her to. As for us, the damage that we had received from the brig's fire was so trifling as to be not worth mentioning.
I knew, of course, that after so determined a fight the services of our surgeon would be in urgent request on board both the principal combatants; so, as he was aboard the lugger, I ran down close under the Dolphin's lee and, having hove-to, lowered a boat and put the medico on board the schooner, going with him myself to see whether I could be of any service. The deck of the schooner bore eloquent testimony to the sharpness of the recent conflict, several dead and wounded men lying about the guns in little pools of blood, while the torn and splintered woodwork that met one's view on every side was grimly suggestive of the pandemonium that had raged there a few minutes previously. Captain Winter was one of the wounded, a splinter having torn a large piece of skin from his forehead, laying bare the skull over his right eye; but the gallant old fellow had replaced the skin as well as he could, lashed up the wound with his silk neckerchief, using his pocket handkerchief under it as a pad, and was attending to his duty as coolly as though he had escaped untouched. He instructed me to go on board the brig with ten men, to take possession, leaving the carpenter in charge of the lugger, and at the same time signalled the Indiaman—which had hove-to some two miles to windward—to close.
The new prize was, as may be supposed, terribly knocked about; out of a crew of eighty-six men and boys she had no less than nineteen killed— the captain among them—and forty-three wounded; while, in addition to the damage which had been noticeable before going on board her, I found that two of her guns had been dismounted, most probably by the lugger's raking broadsides. Fortunately, her hull was quite uninjured, the whole of the damage done being to the upper works. Our first task was to clear away the wreck of the foremast, the skipper hailing me soon after I had boarded to say that he intended the Indiaman to take us in tow. The wreck was soon cut away, and just as it was falling dark we got our tow-line aboard the Indiaman, and proceeded, the uninjured Frenchmen having meanwhile requested permission to attend to their wounded fellow- prisoners and make them comfortable below.
More or less disabled as we all were, with the exception of the Indiaman, it took us until past midnight to reach Weymouth roadstead, where we anchored for the night, without communicating with the shore; no one in the town, therefore, was aware of our quick return to port, and our brilliant success, until the following morning; and as for Mr Peter White, our owner, the first intimation that he had of the affair was while he was dressing; when his servant knocked at his door to say that Captain Winter had returned with three prizes, and was waiting below to see him. The old gentleman, I was afterwards told, was so excited at the good news that he would not wait to dress, but descended to the parlour, where the skipper awaited him, in his dressing-gown. The old boy was almost overwhelmed at the news of his good fortune; insisted that Captain Winter should stay to breakfast with him; and afterwards, despite the cold weather, came off to the roadstead and visited each of the prizes in turn. It was as well, perhaps, that he did so, as there was a considerable amount of business to be transacted in connection with the recapture of the Hoogly, the captain of which was anxious to resume his voyage up channel as soon as possible. This important matter was arranged by noon; and about two o'clock, the wind having hauled round from the southward, the Indiaman weighed and proceeded, the passengers on board having meanwhile subscribed a purse of two hundred and thirty guineas for the officers and crew of the Dolphin, in recognition of what they were complimentary enough to term our "gallantry" in the recapture of the ship. This nice little sum was, however, only the first instalment of what was to come; there was the salvage of the ship to follow: and over and above that I may mention that the underwriters voted a sum of five hundred guineas to us; while the Patriotic Fund Committee awarded the skipper a sword of the value of one hundred guineas, and to me a sword of half that value, for our fight with and capture of the two privateers, poor Lovell being left out in the cold in consequence of his having been prize-master of the Hoogly, and having therefore taken no part in either of the engagements. He got his reward, however, in another way; for the Etoile du Nord turned out to be such a very fine vessel, quite new and wonderfully fast, that Mr White purchased her on his own account, rechristening her the North Star, and put Lovell in command. He was fairly successful in her, I afterwards heard, but not nearly to such an extent as he ought to have been with so fine a vessel under him. He declared that luck was always against him. As for me, Mr White was so pleased with the report of my conduct which Captain Winter had given him that, as soon as ever the purchase of the Etoile du Nord had been effected, and Lovell provided for, he offered me the berth of chief mate of the Dolphin, which berth I promptly and thankfully accepted. As for the Belle Jeannette, she, too, was sold, fetching a very good price, and before we left port again we had divided our prize-money, my share of which amounted to the very respectable sum of two thousand six hundred and odd pounds.
The Dolphin had received so severe a mauling in her fight with the French privateer brig that, although the utmost despatch was used in repairing and refitting her, it was not until the 24th of December that she was again ready for sea, by which time news had reached us of the declaration of war by Spain against Great Britain. This last circumstance, of course, threw all hands of us into a fever of impatience to get to sea again, in order that we might have an early opportunity of picking up a rich Spanish prize; but when Christmas-eve arrived, finding us still in harbour, our owner was generous enough to say that we might, if we pleased, defer our sailing until the day after Christmas-day, in order that the crew might have the opportunity to spend Christmas at home, which opportunity we thankfully made the most of. But all hands were on board by noon of the 26th, when we cast off and stood out of the harbour once more before a fresh south-westerly breeze, the day being, for a wonder—with the wind in a wet quarter— brilliantly fine, and as mild as a day in early autumn; a circumstance which most of our lads were willing to accept as the omen of a prosperous cruise.
Captain Winter's object was to reach the French coast as soon as possible, and then to work along it to the westward, right round to the Spanish coast, and thence as far as Gibraltar, and perhaps into the Mediterranean, hoping that somewhere on the way we might pick up something worth having, or at least obtain information relating to a homeward or outward-bound convoy; upon clearing Portland, therefore, we stood across the Channel, on a taut bowline, on the starboard tack, making Cape de la Hague, well on our lee bow, next morning at daybreak. We then shortened sail to our fore-and-aft canvas only, and, taking in our gaff-topsail, held on as we were going, with the French coast close aboard, to leeward, until we reached Granville, when, having seen nothing worthy of our attention, we tacked to the westward, and eventually found ourselves off Cape Frehel, the easternmost extremity of Saint Brieuc Bay. This was our third day out; we had seen nothing, and the men, who appeared to think, from our past experience, that we ought to take at least one prize every day, were beginning to grumble at our ill-luck. Great, therefore, was their enthusiasm when, on the following day,—the breeze being fresh at about north-north-west, and the time about five bells in the forenoon watch,—a large ship was seen to emerge from behind Chien Point, then about eight miles distant, a couple of points on our lee bow. She was coming along under larboard studding- sails. It was my watch on deck, and upon the ship being reported to me I took the glass, and at once went up to the fore-cross-trees to get a better look at her. So far as I could make out she was full-rigged; she floated very deep in the water; and the exceeding whiteness of her sails caused me to suspect that she was homeward-bound from a long voyage. She had somewhat the look of a Dutchman, to my eye, and if so she would probably afford very respectable pickings to a crew of hard-working privateersmen like ourselves. When first seen she was steering a course that would lead her about mid-way between the islands of Jersey and Guernsey; but before I returned to the deck it seemed to me that she had hauled up a point or two, and had braced her yards correspondingly further forward. Our game, of course, was to get between her and the land, if possible, before declaring ourselves, so that, if she happened to be what I suspected, she might be prevented from running in and taking shelter under the guns of one of the numerous batteries which the French had thrown up all along the coast, to cut her out from which might involve us in a heavy loss of men. I therefore gave no order to make sail, or to alter our course, but at once went down below to the skipper, who was lying down, his wounded head still troubling him a good deal, and reported the stranger to him. He immediately followed me on deck at the news, and took a good long look at the ship through the telescope; and while he was doing so she took in her studding-sails and hauled her wind.
"Ah!" remarked the skipper; "they have made us out, and evidently don't quite like our looks. I suppose her captain thinks that, having hauled his wind, we shall now make sail in chase of him if we happen to be an enemy. But I know a trick worth two of that. You did quite right, Mr Bowen, not to shift your helm. Let him stand on another three miles as he is going, and then we will show him who and what we are. Just so; there goes his bunting—Dutch, as you thought. He is beginning to feel a little anxious. Perhaps it would ease his mind a bit if you were to run the tricolour up to our gaff-end, Mr Bowen."
I did so, and we kept it flying for the next half-hour, by which time the Dutchman had been brought well out on our weather beam, about six miles distant, and his retreat cut off. We then hauled down the French flag and made sail, still, however, holding on upon the same tack. By the time that we had got our topsail, topgallant-sail, flying-jib, and small gaff-topsail set the stranger was about two points abaft our weather beam, and we at once tacked in chase. This was the signal for an immediate display of confusion on board the Dutchman; which ship immediately set her royals and flying-jib, and, when she found that that would not do, bearing away sufficiently to permit of her setting all her larboard studding-sails again. Of course, as soon as she bore away we bore away too, steering such a course as would enable us to gradually converge upon her.
But we had hardly been in chase half an hour when another large ship appeared in sight ahead, steering toward us; and, approaching each other rapidly, as we were, another quarter of an hour sufficed us to discover that she was a frigate, and undoubtedly French. We stood on, however, a few minutes longer, trying to devise some scheme for slipping past her without being brought to, but it evidently would not do; her people suspected us, and clearly intended to have a nearer look at us if they could; so, as she was altogether too big a craft for us to tackle, we were reluctantly compelled to abandon the chase, and heave about to ensure our own escape. And now it became our turn to play the part of the pursued; for as we went in stays the frigate fired a gun, to ascertain whether we were within range, most probably, hoisted her ensign, and made all sail in chase. The shot—a twelve-pounder, we judged it to be by the sound of the gun—fell short; yet at the same time it came near enough to satisfy us that we had not turned tail a moment too soon.
Captain Winter at once jammed the schooner close upon a wind, the vessel heading up about west-north-west for the chops of the Channel, in the hope of both out-weathering and out-sailing the frigate. But the wind had shown a disposition to freshen all day, and was by this time piping up so spitefully that we had been obliged to furl our topgallant-sail and haul down our flying-jib as soon as we hauled our wind; moreover there was a nasty, short jump of a sea on, into which the Dolphin plunged to her knight-heads every time. The weather was, therefore, all in the frigate's favour, and very soon, to our extreme annoyance, we discovered that the Frenchman was slowly but surely gaining upon us; for when the frigate had been in chase about half an hour, she fired another gun, the shot from which reached within twenty fathoms of us, and it was capitally aimed, too.
"We must get the topgallant-sail and flying-jib on her again, Mr Bowen, and shift our small gaff-topsail for the big one. This will never do; we shall be within range in another half-hour; and then, if that fellow happens to wing us, we shall be done for!"
"The sticks will never bear it, sir," answered I. "Look at our topmasts now; they are bending like fishing-rods as it is; and unless we rig the preventers pretty quickly we shall lose them, in my opinion."
"Then get up your preventers at once, my dear fellow," answered the skipper; "and be as smart as you please about the job. One thing is quite certain, and that is that unless we can drive the schooner a little faster we shall be nabbed!"
"Perhaps, sir," said I, "if we were to keep the schooner away about half a point she would go along more freely. We are looking a good point higher than the frigate at present, but we are hugging the wind so closely that we have no life in us, and are losing as much as we gain."
The skipper looked at the frigate astern, then up at the weather leech of our own topsail, which was lifting at every plunge of the schooner.
"Perhaps you are right, George," said he. "At all events your suggestion is worth trying. So, my man," to the helmsman, at the same time peering into the binnacle, "keep her away to west-by-north; nothing higher."
"West-and-by-north, and nothin' higher, sir," answered the man, easing his weather helm a couple of spokes as I turned away to see to the preventer back-stays being rigged.
THE FRENCH FRIGATE.
Our preventer back-stays—which, for the benefit of the uninitiated, I may explain, were simply extra ropes intended to take a portion of the strain and so relieve the ordinary back-stays whenever it became necessary to carry a very heavy press of canvas—were already cut and fitted; all that we had to do, therefore, was to send their upper ends aloft and attach them to their respective spars by shackling the eye to a stout iron collar on the spar, fitted especially for the purpose, set up the lower ends by means of runners to ring-bolts in the stanchions, and the thing was done. Five minutes sufficed for this job, and we then reset our topgallant-sail and flying-jib, and shifted our gaff-topsail. The effect soon became apparent; for a few minutes after we had concluded our work the frigate fired another gun, the shot from which only reached to within about thirty fathoms of us. I was inclined to attribute this result, however, quite as much to our having eased the schooner away a trifle as to the extra canvas that we had packed upon her. I believed we should have done quite as well, if not better, without it; for the poor little craft seemed pressed down and buried by the enormous leverage of the wind upon her sails. She was heeling over so much that it was difficult to maintain one's footing upon the steeply inclined deck; the lee scuppers were all afloat, and at every lee roll the white, yeasty seething from her lee bow brimmed to the level of her rail, sometimes even toppling in over it. She was a magnificent sea- boat; but we were now driving her so unmercifully that at every plunge into the hollow of a sea she buried her sharp nose completely, taking green water in over both the lee and the weather-bow by tons at a time, so that it became necessary to close the fore-scuttle to prevent the water from going below. As for the spray, it flew over us in clouds, coming right aft, and wetting our mainsail as high up as the second reef-band.
Another gun from the frigate served to conclusively demonstrate that we were at least holding our own; but our topmasts were bending like fishing-rods, and at every savage plunge of the schooner I quite expected to see one or both of them go over the side. The skipper, too, was very uneasy, as I could see by the anxious glances that he continually flung aloft. At length, when the frigate had fired yet another gun, the shot from which fell at about the same distance astern of us as the preceding one had done, he turned to me and said:
"This is all very well, George, as far as it goes; and if the wind would only drop a little we might snap our fingers at that fellow astern; but I don't at all like the way that those topmasts are whipping about, up there. If so much as a rope-yarn parts we shall lose them, as sure as fate; and then we may bear up for a French prison as soon as we please. The frigate keeps popping away at us, in the hope, I suppose, that a lucky shot may wing us; and I don't see why we shouldn't return the compliment. We are just out of reach of her twelve-pounders, but I think our long eighteen ought to be capable of pitching a shot aboard her. Just bowse it up to wind'ard as far as it will go, and let us see what it will do."
"Ay, ay, sir," answered I. "The gun ought to reach her; and if we can but wing her, though ever so slightly, we may scrape clear after all. Lay aft, here, some of you, and get the tarpaulin off this Long Tom, and pass the word for the gunner."
We soon got the gun into position, and the captain of it—a man who had seen a great deal of service on board a man-o'-war, from which he had deserted just before joining the Dolphin—tried a shot at the frigate. The gun was splendidly aimed, but it was fired just a second too late, as the schooner's stern was dipping; the result was that the shot, which flew straight for the frigate, struck the water some distance ahead of her.
"Very good, Mason, for a first attempt!" remarked the skipper approvingly. "Try again, my lad."
The gun was sponged, loaded, and again fired, and this time the shot hulled the frigate fair and square, striking her about a foot below the larboard hawse-pipe.
"Now," remarked the skipper, "try her again, my fine fellow. You ought to do something worth the powder this time."
The words were hardly spoken when the frigate bore almost square up for a moment, and let fly her whole weather broadside at us; but every one of the shot fell short. The moment that she had fired she luffed up into our wake once more.
Again Mason pointed the long gun and fired, but this time—perhaps because he was too careful—the shot flew wide, striking the water some distance to leeward and, as we all thought, astern of the frigate.
"Keep cool, Mason, keep cool, my man," warned the skipper. "That shot was well meant, and shows that you have got the range to a nicety; but you were in too much of a hurry. Try again."
Mason mopped his forehead with his handkerchief, although the wind was piercingly cold; the gun was reloaded, and then Mason pointed and levelled it with the utmost care. When this was done, taking the lanyard in his hand he stepped back to the utmost length of the line, and with arm outstretched, stood for more than a minute squinting along the sights of the gun. Suddenly he pulled the lanyard, the gun belched forth a torrent of flame and smoke, and, as I stood looking at the frigate through my own telescope, I saw a small round hole appear in the foot of the fore-topgallant-sail, another moment and the topgallant-mast doubled over and went, hanging down by its rigging, under the lee of the topsail, with the topgallant-sail and royal attached.
"Hurrah!" shouted I, in an ecstasy of delight; "winged her, by all that is fortunate!"
The men heartily echoed my cheer; one or two of them playfully patting Mason on the shoulder, by way of encouragement.
"A most excellent shot!" remarked the skipper. "I owe you a glass of grog for that, Mason; and you shall have it, my lad, but by and by, not now; you must keep your head perfectly clear until we have done with that gun. Try her again!"
They were certainly a very smart set of fellows aboard the Frenchman; for no sooner had the topgallant-mast fallen than the hands were in her rigging on their way aloft to clear away the wreck.
Again Mason levelled the gun, taking a long and careful aim as before; and this time the shot struck the sill of the frigate's lee bridle port, entering the port, and no doubt raking the deck for a considerable portion of its length. That it did enough damage to greatly exasperate the French captain seemed almost certain, for presently he bore away again and treated us to another broadside, the shot of which fell so far astern that it looked as though we were now creeping away from her.
Mason now seemed to have got his hand in, for his next shot hit the frigate's bowsprit-end as fair as though he had specially aimed at it, knocking the cap to pieces, and causing the jib-booms to go over to leeward. This completely disabled the frigate, so far as chasing to windward was concerned, as with the loss of her jib-booms she also lost the use of her jibs; the pressure of her after-sail at once throwing her up into the wind until she was all aback. They at once went to work to take in all the sail upon her mizzen-mast, and presently boxed her off again; but her captain knew that to think of catching us now was out of the question, and presently he wore round and hauled up to the northward and eastward, on an easy bowline; his people swarming on the forecastle as they busied themselves in securing the jibs.
Our lads gave three rousing cheers as they saw the frigate bear up; but it appeared that we had not quite done with her yet, for as the men ceased cheering, the skipper very quietly remarked:
"Now it is our turn! That fellow has given us some anxiety; and, now that we have the opportunity, we will return the compliment. I mean to teach him that he cannot bully us poor, hard-working privateersmen with impunity. Take in your topgallant-sail, flying-jib, and gaff-topsail, Mr Bowen, and then stand by to 'bout ship."
Our men responded to this with a cheer of rapturous delight. We had had an opportunity to take a good look at the frigate as she wore round, and we had made her out to be a vessel of thirty-six guns. The audacity of the idea of the Dolphin actually chasing such a ship exactly suited the taste of our people; it was a stupendous practical joke to them, and they entered into it with all the glee and spirit of so many overgrown school-boys. Sail was quickly shortened, and we then hove about and steered after the Frenchman.
The first thing to be done was to get the long gun over to windward. This was soon accomplished; and then Mason went to work once more. His first and second shots were misses; but the third one plumped slap in through the frigate's cabin windows. The next shot struck the gig that was hanging at the frigate's weather quarter, tearing her bottom out; and the next passed through her main-topsail. After this came four misses in succession, to the unspeakable disgust of all hands, who chaffed poor Mason so unmercifully that he almost lost his temper over it. The skipper thought the opportunity a good one to serve out a glass of grog to the gun's crew, which had the effect of restoring harmony; and presently Long Tom began to speak again. The shot struck fair upon the frigate's stern; and almost instantly she flew up into the wind, with all the appearance of something having gone wrong with her steering-gear. She remained head to wind for so long a time that at length the skipper caused our own helm to be put down and the topsail laid to the mast lest we should stand on too far and get within range of her guns. And we were not a moment too soon; for as we rounded-to she fired the whole of her larboard broadside at us, the shot making the water spout all round us, and one of them actually striking our hull; it was, however, so far spent that it did no damage.
Lying almost broadside-on to us, as the frigate now was, she presented a very pretty mark for target practice; and our long eighteen was brought to bear upon her most effectively. Shot after shot we gave her, as fast as the men could load, and almost every one of them struck her somewhere. Mason's blood was now thoroughly up; he was making a reputation as a crack shot, and he knew it. I saw, by the increasing care with which he every time sighted his piece, that he was striving to do something specially good; and presently he did it. Taking an unusually long and careful aim he at length gave a smart tug to the lanyard, and immediately sprang aside to watch the result.
"Did it, by the great horn spoon!" shouted he delightedly; and even as he spoke we saw the white splinters fly from the frigate's mainmast- head; the topmast swayed aft, tottered for a moment, and came down by the run!
The delight of our men—every soul of whom was by this time on deck—was a sight to see! They cheered shouted, laughed, patted Mason on the back, and were in the midst of a variety of ludicrous antics, expressive of supreme gratification, when another broadside rattled out from the frigate, and this time the shot went humming close over our heads, drilling half a dozen holes in our canvas, and showing us that we had drifted within range of her guns. We immediately filled on the schooner, and hauled off to a respectful distance; for we had no fancy for being reduced to the same plight as the Frenchman. But the moment that we considered ourselves safe from her guns we again hove-to, and resumed our attentions with the long gun.