THE THREE CUTTERS
THE THREE CUTTERS
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY EDMUND J. SULLIVAN AND AN INTRODUCTION BY DAVID HANNAY
London MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 1897
All rights reserved
Among the few subjects which are still left at the disposal of the duly-gifted writer of romance is the Pirate. Not but that many have written of pirates. Defoe, after preparing the ground by a pamphlet story on the historic Captain Avery, wrote The Life, Adventures, and Piracies of Captain Singleton. Sir Walter Scott made use in somewhat the same fashion of the equally historic Gow—that is to say, his pirate bears about the same relation to the marauder who was suppressed by James Laing, that Captain Singleton does to Captain Avery. Michael Scott had much to say of pirates, and he had heard much of them during his life in the West Indies, for they were then making their last fight against law and order. The pirate could not escape the eye of Mr. R. L. Stevenson, and accordingly we have an episode of pirates in the episode of the Master of Ballantrae. Balsac, too, wrote Argow le Pirate among the stories which belong to the years when he was exhausting all the ways in which a novel ought not to be written. Also the pirate is a commonplace in boys' books. Yet for as much as he figures in stories for old and young, it may be modestly maintained that nobody has ever yet done him quite right.
Defoe's Captain Singleton is a harmless, thrifty, and ever moral pirate, of whom it is impossible to disapprove. Sir Walter's is a mild gentleman, concerning whom one wonders how he ever came to be in such company. Michael Scott's pirate is a bloodthirsty ruffian enough, and yet it is difficult to feel that a person who dressed in such a highly picturesque manner, and who was commonly either a Don or a Scotch gentleman of ancient descent, was quite the real thing. Mr. Stevenson's pirate is nearer what one knows must have been the life. He is a cowardly, lurking, petty scoundrel. John Silver is certainly something very different, but then when Mr. Stevenson drew the commanding figure in Treasure Island he was not making a portrait of a pirate, but was only making play with the well-established puppet of boys' books. Yet, after all, the pirate, if he was not such an agreeable rascal as John Silver, was not always the greedy, spiritless rogue drawn in the Master of Ballantrae. To do him properly and as he was, he ought to be approached with a mixture of humour and morality, and also with a knowledge of the facts concerning him, which to the best of my knowledge have never been combined in any writer.
Captain Johnson, in his valuable General History of the Pirates from their First Rise and Settlement in the Island of Providence to the present time, begins with antiquity. He mounts up the dark backward abyss of time till he meets with the pirates who captured Julius Caesar, and were suppressed by Pompey. This is not necessary. Our pirate was a very different fellow from those broken men of the ancient world, the wrecks of States shattered by Rome and the victims of the usury of the Knights who collected in the creeks of Cilicia. It is not quite easy to say what he was, but we know well enough what he was not. He was not for many generations the recognised enemy of the human race. On the contrary, he was often a comparative respectable person, who was disposed to render service to his king and country at a crisis, even if he did not see his advantage in virtuous conduct. To begin with, he was only a seafaring man who carried on the universal practice of the Middle Ages after they had ceased to be recognised as legitimate. Then for a long time a pirate was not thought worthy of hanging until he had shown a hopelessly contumacious disposition by refusing the king's pardon several times. Sir William Monson, who was admiral to James I., saw no harm in recruiting well-known pirates for His Majesty's service. On the coast of Ireland he found Irish country gentlemen of respectable position, and the agents of London trading firms, engaged in friendly business transactions with these skimmers of the sea. The redoubted Captain Bartholomew Roberts, to skip over a century, went about the world recruiting for a well-organised piratical business, and there were many among his followers who would have been honest men if temptation had not come in their way, and who hastened to leave a life of vice so soon as the neighbourhood of one of His Majesty's cruisers made it dangerous. We ought not to speak of these men with harsh contempt. The king's government was largely responsible for their existence, by promising pardon to all who would come in before a given date. They came in and brought their booty with them. Captain Johnson had the pleasure of the personal acquaintance of several who were living in comfortable retirement at Rotherhithe or at Limehouse, and in the enjoyment, for aught we know to the contrary, of the respect of their neighbours. They had come in on a proclamation, and there was nothing more to be said against them. In many cases, no doubt, when the booty was spent they drifted back to the old irregular courses, and on that road those of them who did not get shot when boarding a galleon, or go down at sea, or die of starvation among the keys of the West Indies, did sooner or later contrive to overtake the gallows. But these men, if they were not quite so moral and orderly as Captain Singleton, or so romantic as the pirates of Michael Scott, were not altogether bloodthirsty, merciless scoundrels. Many of them had every intention of returning to their country upon the appearance of the next proclamation, and as they saw the prospect of a safe return for themselves they were not under the necessity of acting on the rule that dead men tell no tales. They did not make their prisoners walk the plank. They did not even burn their prizes, but were often content with taking out such provisions and portable property as their immediate occasions made desirable, and then allowing the plundered merchant-ship to continue her voyage. They were by no means so thoroughly hated as they ought to have been, to judge by the more recent opinion held of the pirate.
In fact, till towards the end of the pirate's existence he was nearly as much the product of the Government's management as of his own sins. During Charles II.'s reign, his governors in Jamaica gave what they were pleased to term commissions to all who would plunder the Spaniard. The Spaniards retaliated by giving commissions to all who would plunder anyone else. The marauder who victimised the Spaniard was sure of a market, and a refuge in Jamaica. The other marauder who was prepared to feed upon English, Dutch, or French, was sure of a welcome in Cuba. When Governments suddenly took to being virtuous, a sense of wrong inflamed the minds of the men who had hitherto been allowed to live in recognised lawlessness. Captain Kidd, for example, manifestly thought that Lord Bellomont and the other gentleman who sent him out to Madagascar to cruise against the pirates, were only assuming a decent excuse for a little speculation in piracy on their own account. The freebooters who settled at Providence, in the Bahamas, were really to be pardoned for not realising that the happy days of Governor Moddiford at Jamaica were over. When they were made to understand that there were to be no more of these cakes and ale, the majority, under the command of Captain Jennings, promptly came in. Captain Jennings was the owner of an estate in Jamaica, and he brought a comfortable little sum back with him from his piratical adventures. The residue, who probably had no comfortable sum to bring with them, did not come in, and as they were given to understand that they would certainly be hanged if caught, they took in self-defence to giving no quarter. So at the end of the great war, the powers who had encouraged privateering while the fighting lasted, without inquiring too closely how far the privateer confined his operations to the enemy only without plundering the neutral, became suddenly very strict. Then the men whom they had allowed to become hardened to a life of pillage took refuge in downright piracy. These men were the Pescadores del Puerto Escondido who enlightened the pages of Michael Scott. The Spaniards tolerated them as the English Governors of Jamaica had once encouraged the Buccaneers. It was not until a combined vigorous effort of the English and the United States navies had driven them off the sea, and till they had begun to support themselves by plundering plantations, that the Captains-General of Cuba took them in hand.
Now, in all this life, floating as it did between the honest and the dishonest, there was room for something more human than the be-sashed, velvet-jacketed, crimson-capped, and long-knifed heroes of Michael Scott, or than the mere rogue and floating footpad we meet in The Master of Ballantrae. There was also room, it must be candidly allowed, for something better than Captain Cain of the Avenger. The Pirate is not among the books which one most willingly re-reads out of Marryat's very respectably lengthy list of stories. Yet it is not without gaiety, and, as is ever the case with him, the man-of-war scenes are all alive. Captain Plumpton, and Mr. Markital the first lieutenant, and Edward Templemore the midshipman, are credible. Whenever Marryat has to introduce us to a man-of-war, he could draw on inexhaustible treasure of reminiscences, or of what is for the story-writer's purpose quite as good, of types and incidents which his imagination had made out of incidents supplied by his memory. The naval parts of the Pirate are no doubt variations on what he had recently written in Midshipman Easy, but they are not mere repetitions, and they have the one saving quality of life, which will make even a poorly constructed story readable.
It is impossible to say as much for the captain and crew of the Avenger. Cain is not only not a pirate, but he is not a human being. He is a Byronic or even a Michael Scottish hero—an impossible monster, compounded of one virtue and a thousand crimes. There never was any such person, and even on paper he is not tolerable for more than a paragraph or two without the help of verse. The crew of the Avenger is an inconceivable ship's complement for any pirate. Credulity itself cannot even in early life accept the capture of the Portuguese carrack. Marryat drew on his recollections of the time when he was a midshipman with Cochrane in the Imperieuse, for the figure of the old steersman, who sticks to his post under the fire of the Avenger. He had seen the mate of a Spanish trading ship behaving in just that way when attacked by boats from the Imperieuse. When he was asked why he did not surrender, though he was mortally wounded and had no chance of escape, he answered that he was an 'old Christian.' The term, which by the way only means a pure-blooded Spaniard, puzzled Marryat and his shipmates. It is not wonderful that he did not understand its meaning, since in spite of campaigning in Spain, and many visits to Spanish ports, he never learnt to avoid the absurd blunder of putting the title Don before a surname. But if the steersman is drawn from life, so are not either the carrack, which is a fragment of the sixteenth century, out of its place, nor 'Don' Ribiera and his sons, nor the bishop, nor anybody else in that ill-fated ship, nor the stilted, transpontine style of their conversation. Francisco and his bible are no more credible than the carrack and the bishop. Francisco's brother and his love affairs are not more credible, though they are decidedly more tolerable. The daughters of Spanish Governors who carry on flirtations on the sea-shore with the captains of English men-of-war, who are carried off by pirates and rescued in the nick of time, whose papas not only consent to their marriage with the heretical object of their affections but send boxes full of gold doubloons, together with their blessing, are so much better than life that we need not quarrel when invited to meet any number of them. The sea adventures in Marryat are always good, and so are the fights. The storms and wrecks, the rafts and wonderful escapes, the defences of houses, and the escapes of pirates and smugglers from under the very guns of His Majesty's frigates, are as welcome as, and are much more credible than, the lovely daughters of benevolent Spanish governors. Of them there is no want, and for their sake the Pirate can be read; but it is not what Marryat might have made it if he had written it in the spirit in which he was to write Snarley-Yow.
In The Three Cutters Marryat allowed himself to take a little holiday in company with another kind of sea malefactor whom he knew intimately well. He had already played with the smuggler in The King's Own. In this little story he reintroduces us to M'Elvina, somewhat disguised, and in altered circumstances, but essentially the same.
The Three Cutters may be supposed to have been written to fill out the volume containing The Pirate and those twenty engravings from drawings by Clarkson Stanfield, which still make the first edition a desirable possession. This function, whether it was originally designed or not, is very agreeably fulfilled by the history of the Arrow, the Active, and Happy-go-lucky. Although he wrote very few of them, Marryat had a happy hand with a short story. The S. W. and by W. and 1/4 W. Wind and Moonshine are very happy examples of the magazine story. The Three Cutters is somewhat longer than either, but the difference in bulk is due less to any greater amount of pure story there is than to the care with which Marryat introduces his three vessels, and sketches their respective starting-places—Plymouth, Portsmouth, and St. Malo. Here again it is to be noted that Marryat is far more at home in the man-of-war than in the smuggler or the yacht. Mr. Appleboy, with his forty-five years' service, and the interesting story which remains untold of the something which took place in '93 or '94, his seventeen daily tumblers of gin-toddy, his mate and his midshipman, is a part, and not an inferior one, of Marryat's inimitable naval gallery. The Happy-go-lucky is perhaps rather a smuggler of the Pays Bleu than of the British Channel, but she is sufficiently in place in a story not intended to be too slavishly faithful to life. Morrison, the sailing-master, with his augury of the blue pigeon, is real, and nothing can be more consistent with human nature than that he should have cursed the bird when he did finally find himself in prison. As for the adventures, they belong to the region of the fantastic, which does not pretend to be anything else. The idea of a yacht which endeavours the capture of a smuggler, and is herself made prize by him, is of course a motive for farce.
The scenes on board the captive yacht are not exactly horse-play. There are too many ladies concerned, and Marryat, in spite of occasional lapses of taste, preferred to write like a gentleman. But if there is no horse-play there is a great deal of what I hope it is permissible to describe as 'lark.' The sour old maid Miss Ossulton, her niece Cecilia, who, if she has not much character, is still a very nice girl, the frisky widow Mrs. Lascelles, make a capital trio. Given a gallant dashing smuggler, who is really a gentleman in disguise, in possession of the yacht, and determined to revenge himself on the owner by taking a little harmless amusement, it follows that lively incidents are to be expected. Marryat did not work the situation out at any length, probably because he felt that the stuff would not bear much handling. If he cut his story short for this reason he was undoubtedly right. It is so difficult as to be quite impossible for the majority of writers to hang just on the border of the outrageously impossible for more than a few pages. While it lasts it is very good fun. The reformation of Pickersgill through the influence of Mrs. Lascelles is quite in Marryat's manner. His heroes, when they need reformation, are commonly brought into the right path by the combined influence of a pretty woman and a round sum of money. Mrs. Lascelles, too, was unquestionably just the woman to marry Pickersgill. Having married an old man to please her parents, and having inherited his money, she had decided both to marry again and to please herself in her second husband. Experience shows that the Mrs. Lascelles of real life not uncommonly fall into the hands of a ruffian or an adventurer. Marryat was not making a study of real life, and he was too fond of his puppets; and besides that would have been another story, which would have been superfluous, considering that Marryat wanted to end this one. So Mrs. Lascelles had her fine dashing seaman, who stood six feet odd in his stockings, and was also a gentleman in disguise. Of course she was happy ever after. One has a haunting suspicion that the story was not only written to fill out the volume, but also to accompany Clarkson Stanfield's three very pretty plates of Plymouth, Portsmouth, and St. Malo. If so, that only proves that when a man is a born storyteller he can write good stories for very humble business reasons.
THE BAY OF BISCAY 3
THE BACHELOR 11
THE GALE 20
THE LEAK 26
THE OLD MAID 34
THE MIDSHIPMAN 43
SLEEPER'S BAY 50
THE ATTACK 60
THE CAPTURE 69
THE SAND-BANK 87
THE ESCAPE 93
THE LIEUTENANT 104
THE LANDING 111
THE MEETING 124
THE MISTAKE 135
THE CAICOS 145
THE TRIAL 158
THE THREE CUTTERS
CUTTER THE FIRST 185
CUTTER THE SECOND 199
CUTTER THE THIRD 208
PORTLAND BILL 216
THE TRAVESTIE 227
THE SMUGGLING YACHT 239
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
'Coco ab ten finger, and take long while suck em all dry' 7
Coco shouted to his utmost, and fortunately attracted notice 9
'That will do, Jonathan; I'll ring for coffee presently' 18
Oswald Bareth gained the helm, which he put hard up 23
'I'll cleave to the shoulder the first man who attempts to break into the spirit-room' 32
Found his green morocco easy-chair already tenanted by William the footman 35
'Antony, for shame! fie, for shame!' 41
He walked with his coat flying open, his thumbs stuck into the arm-holes of his waistcoat 44
A general discharge from a broadside of carronades, and a heavy volley of muskets, was the decided answer 62
'Take that, babbler, for your intelligence; if these men are obstinate, we may have worked for nothing' 72
'Blood for blood!' cried Francisco, as he fired his pistol at Cain, who staggered, and fell on the deck 82
Before Francisco had gained the sand-bank she was hull-down to the northward 85
At last he snatched up the haulyards of his boat's sail, and hastened down to the spot to afford such succour as might be possible 95
The flames increased in violence, mounting up to the masts and catching the sails one after another 101
Don Felix de Maxos de Cobas de Manilla d'Alfarez, too busy with his cigar to pay attention to his daughter 107
Francisco fixed the glass against the sill of the window, and examined the vessel some time in silence 113
The ball entered the left shoulder of Hawkhurst, and he dropped his hold 122
'God bless you, boy! God bless you!' said Cain; 'but leave me now' 129
'Blood for blood I will have,' continued the mate, holding up his clenched hand, and shaking it almost in the pirate captain's face 139
The pirate captain was seen to raise his body convulsively half out of the water—he floundered, sank, and was seen no more 152
Clara sprang into his arms, and was immediately in a state of insensibility 155
The pirates at the bar 160
As soon as she was sufficiently composed, was sworn, and gave her evidence 166
'Blood for blood!' 171
'Captain Templemore, I wish you joy!' 178
'Resurgam!' said the butler 181
THE THREE CUTTERS
The ladies 188
The Hon. Miss Cecilia Ossulton 190
'Fie! Mr. Vaughan,' cried Cecilia Ossulton; 'you know it came from your heart' 197
Lieutenant Appleboy 201
'Salt water, sir!' cried Jem. 'Yes, sir,' replied Mr. Appleboy, tossing the contents of the tumbler in the boy's face 206
The captain of the Happy-go-lucky, Jack Pickersgill 210
Jeannette held her finger up to Corbett, saying, with a smile, 'mechant!' and then quitted the room 214
The gun was loaded, and not being more than a mile from the smuggler, actually threw the ball almost a quarter of the way 219
'Well, gentlemen, what do you want?' said Pickersgill 222
'Pirates!—bloody, murderous stick-at-nothing pirates!' replied the steward 229
'Upon my soul, my lord,' cried Maddox, dropping on his knees, 'there is no Burgundy on board—ask the ladies' 237
Miss Ossulton, frightened out of her wits, took his arm; and, with Mrs. Lascelles on the other, they went up to the hotel 245
'Mrs. Lascelles,' said Pickersgill, 'before we part, allow me to observe, that it is you who have induced me to give up my profession——' 255
THE BAY OF BISCAY
It was in the latter part of the month of June, of the year 179—, that the angry waves of the Bay of Biscay were gradually subsiding, after a gale of wind as violent as it was unusual during that period of the year. Still they rolled heavily; and, at times, the wind blew up in fitful, angry gusts, as if it would fain renew the elemental combat; but each effort was more feeble, and the dark clouds which had been summoned to the storm now fled in every quarter before the powerful rays of the sun, who burst their masses asunder with a glorious flood of light and heat; and, as he poured down his resplendent beams, piercing deep into the waters of that portion of the Atlantic to which we now refer, with the exception of one object, hardly visible, as at creation, there was a vast circumference of water, bounded by the fancied canopy of heaven. We have said, with the exception of one object; for in the centre of this picture, so simple, yet so sublime, composed of the three great elements, there was a remnant of the fourth. We say a remnant, for it was but the hull of a vessel, dismasted, water-logged, its upper works only floating occasionally above the waves, when a transient repose from their still violent undulation permitted it to reassume its buoyancy. But this was seldom; one moment it was deluged by the seas, which broke as they poured over its gunwale; and the next it rose from its submersion, as the water escaped from the portholes at its sides.
How many thousands of vessels—how many millions of property—have been abandoned, and eventually consigned to the all-receiving depths of the ocean, through ignorance or through fear! What a mine of wealth must lie buried in its sands! what riches lie entangled amongst its rocks, or remain suspended in its unfathomable gulf, where the compressed fluid is equal in gravity to that which it encircles, there to remain secured in its embedment from corruption and decay, until the destruction of the universe and the return of chaos! Yet, immense as the accumulated loss may be, the major part of it has been occasioned from an ignorance of one of the first laws of nature, that of specific gravity. The vessel to which we have referred was, to all appearance, in a situation of as extreme hazard as that of a drowning man clinging to a single rope-yarn; yet, in reality, she was more secure from descending to the abyss below than many gallantly careering on the waters, their occupants dismissing all fear, and only calculating upon a quick arrival into port.
The Circassian had sailed from New Orleans, a gallant and well-appointed ship, with a cargo, the major part of which consisted of cotton. The captain was, in the usual acceptation of the term, a good sailor; the crew were hardy and able seamen. As they crossed the Atlantic, they had encountered the gale to which we have referred, were driven down into the Bay of Biscay, where, as we shall hereafter explain, the vessel was dismasted, and sprang a leak, which baffled all their exertions to keep under. It was now five days since the frightened crew had quitted the vessel in two of her boats, one of which had swamped, and every soul that occupied it had perished; the fate of the other was uncertain.
We said that the crew had deserted the vessel, but we did not assert that every existing being had been removed out of her. Had such been the case, we should not have taken up the reader's time in describing inanimate matter. It is life that we portray, and life there still was in the shattered hull thus abandoned to the mockery of the ocean. In the caboose of the Circassian, that is, in the cooking-house secured on deck, and which fortunately had been so well fixed as to resist the force of the breaking waves, remained three beings—a man, a woman, and a child. The two first-mentioned were of that inferior race which have, for so long a period, been procured from the sultry Afric coast, to toil, but reap not for themselves; the child which lay at the breast of the female was of European blood, now, indeed, deadly pale, as it attempted in vain to draw sustenance from its exhausted nurse, down whose sable cheeks the tears coursed, as she occasionally pressed the infant to her breast, and turned it round to leeward to screen it from the spray which dashed over them at each returning swell. Indifferent to all else, save her little charge, she spoke not, although she shuddered with the cold as the water washed her knees each time that the hull was careened into the wave. Cold and terror had produced a change in her complexion, which now wore a yellow, or sort of copper hue.
The male, who was her companion, sat opposite to her upon the iron range which once had been the receptacle of light and heat, but was now but a weary seat to a drenched and worn-out wretch. He, too, had not spoken for many hours; with the muscles of his face relaxed, his thick lips pouting far in advance of his collapsed cheeks, his high cheekbones prominent as budding horns, his eyes displaying little but their whites, he appeared to be an object of greater misery than the female, whose thoughts were directed to the infant and not unto herself. Yet his feelings were still acute, although his faculties appeared to be deadened by excess of suffering.
'Eh, me!' cried the negro woman faintly, after a long silence, her head falling back with extreme exhaustion. Her companion made no reply, but, roused at the sound of her voice, bent forward, slid open the door a little, and looked out to windward. The heavy spray dashed into his glassy eyes, and obscured his vision; he groaned, and fell back into his former position. 'What you tink, Coco?' inquired the negress, covering up more carefully the child, as she bent her head down upon it. A look of despair, and a shudder from cold and hunger, were the only reply.
It was then about eight o'clock in the morning, and the swell of the ocean was fast subsiding. At noon the warmth of the sun was communicated to them through the planks of the caboose, while its rays poured a small stream of vivid light through the chinks of the closed panels. The negro appeared gradually to revive; at last he rose, and with some difficulty contrived again to slide open the door. The sea had gradually decreased its violence, and but occasionally broke over the vessel; carefully holding on by the door-jambs, Coco gained the outside, that he might survey the horizon.
'What you see, Coco?' said the female, observing from the caboose that his eyes were fixed upon a certain quarter.
'So help me God, me tink me see something; but ab so much salt water in um eye, me no see clear,' replied Coco, rubbing away the salt which had crystallised on his face during the morning.
'What you tink um like, Coco?'
'Only one bit cloud,' replied he, entering the caboose, and resuming his seat upon the grate with a heavy sigh.
'Eh, me!' cried the negress, who had uncovered the child to look at it, and whose powers were sinking fast. 'Poor lilly Massa Eddard, him look very bad indeed—him die very soon, me fear. Look, Coco, no ab breath.'
The child's head fell back upon the breast of its nurse, and life appeared to be extinct.
'Judy, you no ab milk for piccaninny; suppose um ab no milk, how can live? Eh! stop, Judy, me put lilly finger in um mouth; suppose Massa Eddard no dead, him pull.'
Coco inserted his finger into the child's mouth, and felt a slight drawing pressure. 'Judy,' cried Coco, 'Massa Eddard no dead yet. Try now, suppose you ab lilly drop oder side.'
Poor Judy shook her head mournfully, and a tear rolled down her cheek; she was aware that nature was exhausted. 'Coco,' said she, wiping her cheek with the back of her hand, 'me give me heart blood for Massa Eddard; but no ab milk—all gone.'
This forcible expression of love for the child, which was used by Judy, gave an idea to Coco. He drew his knife out of his pocket, and very coolly sawed to the bone of his forefinger. The blood flowed and trickled down to the extremity, which he applied to the mouth of the infant.
'See, Judy, Massa Eddard suck—him not dead,' cried Coco, chuckling at the fortunate result of the experiment, and forgetting at the moment their almost hopeless situation.
The child, revived by the strange sustenance, gradually recovered its powers, and in a few minutes it pulled at the finger with a certain degree of vigour.
'Look, Judy, how Massa Eddard take it,' continued Coco. 'Pull away, Massa Eddard, pull away. Coco ab ten finger, and take long while suck em all dry.' But the child was soon satisfied, and fell asleep in the arms of Judy.
'Coco, suppose you go see again,' observed Judy. The negro again crawled out, and again he scanned the horizon.
'So help me God, dis time me tink, Judy—yes, so help me God, me see a ship!' cried Coco joyfully.
'Eh!' screamed Judy faintly, with delight; 'den Massa Eddard no die.'
'Yes, so help me God—he come dis way!' and Coco, who appeared to have recovered a portion of his former strength and activity, clambered on the top of the caboose, where he sat, cross-legged, waving his yellow handkerchief, with the hope of attracting the attention of those on board; for he knew that it was very possible that an object floating little more than level with the water's surface might escape notice.
As it fortunately happened, the frigate, for such she was, continued her course precisely for the wreck, although it had not been perceived by the look-out men at the mast-heads, whose eyes had been directed to the line of the horizon. In less than an hour our little party were threatened with a new danger, that of being run over by the frigate, which was now within a cable's length of them, driving the seas before her in one widely extended foam, as she pursued her rapid and impetuous course. Coco shouted to his utmost, and fortunately attracted the notice of the men who were on the bowsprit, stowing away the foretopmast-staysail, which had been hoisted up to dry after the gale.
'Starboard, hard!' was roared out.
'Starboard it is,' was the reply from the quarter-deck, and the helm was shifted without inquiry, as it always is on board of a man-of-war; although, at the same time, it behoves people to be rather careful how they pass such an order, without being prepared with a subsequent and most satisfactory explanation.
The topmast studding-sail flapped and fluttered, the foresail shivered, and the jib filled as the frigate rounded to, narrowly missing the wreck, which was now under the bows, rocking so violently in the white foam of the agitated waters that it was with difficulty that Coco could, by clinging to the stump of the mainmast, retain his elevated position. The frigate shortened sail, hove-to, and lowered down a quarter-boat, and in less than five minutes Coco, Judy, and the infant were rescued from their awful situation. Poor Judy, who had borne up against all for the sake of the child, placed it in the arms of the officer who relieved them, and then fell back in a state of insensibility, in which condition she was carried on board. Coco, as he took his place in the stern-sheets of the boat, gazed wildly round him, and then broke out into peals of extravagant laughter, which continued without intermission, and were the only replies which he could give to the interrogatories of the quarter-deck, until he fell down in a swoon, and was entrusted to the care of the surgeon.
On the evening of the same day on which the child and the two negroes had been saved from the wreck by the fortunate appearance of the frigate, Mr. Witherington, of Finsbury Square, was sitting alone in his dining-room, wondering what could have become of the Circassian, and why he had not received intelligence of her arrival. Mr. Witherington, as we said before, was alone; he had his port and his sherry before him; and although the weather was rather warm, there was a small fire in the grate, because, as Mr. Witherington asserted, it looked comfortable. Mr. Witherington having watched the ceiling of the room for some time, although there was certainly nothing new to be discovered, filled another glass of wine, and then proceeded to make himself more comfortable by unbuttoning three more buttons of his waistcoat, pushing his wig farther off his head, and casting loose all the buttons at the knees of his breeches; he completed his arrangements by dragging towards him two chairs within his reach, putting his legs upon one while he rested his arm upon the other. And why was not Mr. Witherington to make himself comfortable? He had good health, a good conscience, and eight thousand a year.
Satisfied with all his little arrangements, Mr. Witherington sipped his port wine, and putting down his glass again, fell back in his chair, placed his hands on his breast, interwove his fingers; and in this most comfortable position recommenced his speculations as to the non-arrival of the Circassian.
We will leave him to his cogitations while we introduce him more particularly to our readers.
The father of Mr. Witherington was a younger son of one of the oldest and proudest families in the West Riding of Yorkshire; he had his choice of the four professions allotted to younger sons whose veins are filled with patrician blood—the army, the navy, the law, and the Church. The army did not suit him, he said, as marching and counter-marching were not comfortable; the navy did not suit him, as there was little comfort in gales of wind and mouldy biscuit; the law did not suit him, as he was not sure that he would be at ease with his conscience, which would not be comfortable; the Church was also rejected, as it was, with him, connected with the idea of a small stipend, hard duty, a wife and eleven children, which were anything but comfortable. Much to the horror of his family he eschewed all the liberal professions, and embraced the offer of an old backslider of an uncle, who proposed to him a situation in his banking-house, and a partnership as soon as he deserved it; the consequence was, that his relations bade him an indignant farewell, and then made no further inquiries about him: he was as decidedly cut as one of the female branches of the family would have been had she committed a faux pas.
Nevertheless Mr. Witherington senior stuck diligently to his business, in a few years was partner, and at the death of the old gentleman, his uncle, found himself in possession of a good property, and every year coining money at his bank.
Mr. Witherington senior then purchased a house in Finsbury Square, and thought it advisable to look out for a wife.
Having still much of the family pride in his composition, he resolved not to muddle the blood of the Witheringtons by any cross from Cateaton Street or Mincing Lane; and after a proper degree of research, he selected the daughter of a Scotch earl, who went to London with a bevy of nine in a Leith smack to barter blood for wealth. Mr. Witherington being so unfortunate as to be the first comer, had the pick of the nine ladies by courtesy; his choice was light-haired, blue-eyed, a little freckled, and very tall, by no means bad-looking, and standing on the list in the Family Bible No. IV. From this union Mr. Witherington had issue: first, a daughter, christened Moggy, whom we shall soon have to introduce to our readers as a spinster of forty-seven; and second, Antony Alexander Witherington, Esquire, whom we just now have left in a very comfortable position, and in a very brown study.
Mr. Witherington senior persuaded his son to enter the banking-house, and, as a dutiful son, he entered it every day: but he did nothing more, having made the fortunate discovery that 'his father was born before him'; or, in other words, that his father had plenty of money, and would be necessitated to leave it behind him.
As Mr. Witherington senior had always studied comfort, his son had early imbibed the same idea, and carried his feelings, in that respect, to a much greater excess: he divided things into comfortable and uncomfortable. One fine day Lady Mary Witherington, after paying all the household bills, paid the debt of Nature; that is, she died: her husband paid the undertaker's bill, so it is to be presumed that she was buried.
Mr. Witherington senior shortly afterwards had a stroke of apoplexy, which knocked him down. Death, who has no feelings of honour, struck him when down. And Mr. Witherington, after having lain a few days in bed, was by a second stroke laid in the same vault as Lady Mary Witherington; and Mr. Witherington junior (our Mr. Witherington), after deducting L40,000 for his sister's fortune, found himself in possession of a clear L8000 per annum, and an excellent house in Finsbury Square. Mr. Witherington considered this a comfortable income, and he therefore retired altogether from business.
During the lifetime of his parents he had been witness to one or two matrimonial scenes, which had induced him to put down matrimony as one of the things not comfortable; therefore he remained a bachelor.
His sister Moggy also remained unmarried; but whether it was from a very unprepossessing squint which deterred suitors, or from the same dislike to matrimony as her brother had imbibed, it is not in our power to say. Mr. Witherington was three years younger than his sister; and although he had for some time worn a wig, it was only because he considered it more comfortable. Mr. Witherington's whole character might be summed up in two words—eccentricity and benevolence; eccentric he certainly was, as most bachelors usually are. Man is but a rough pebble without the attrition received from contact with the gentler sex; it is wonderful how the ladies pumice a man down to a smoothness which occasions him to roll over and over with the rest of his species, jostling but not wounding his neighbours, as the waves of circumstances bring him into collision with them.
Mr. Witherington roused himself from his deep reverie and felt for the string, connected with the bell-pull, which it was the butler's duty invariably to attach to the arm of his master's chair previous to his last exit from the dining-room; for, as Mr. Witherington very truly observed, it was very uncomfortable to be obliged to get up and ring the bell; indeed, more than once Mr. Witherington had calculated the advantages and disadvantages of having a daughter about eight years old who could ring the bell, air the newspapers, and cut the leaves of a new novel.
When, however, he called to mind that she could not always remain at that precise age, he decided that the balance of comfort was against it.
Mr. Witherington having pulled the bell again, fell into a brown study.
Mr. Jonathan, the butler, made his appearance; but observing that his master was occupied, he immediately stopped at the door, erect, motionless, and with a face as melancholy as if he was performing mute at the porch of some departed peer of the realm; for it is an understood thing, that the greater the rank of the defunct the longer must be the face, and, of course, the better must be the pay.
Now, as Mr. Witherington is still in profound thought, and Mr. Jonathan will stand as long as a hackney-coach horse, we will just leave them as they are, while we introduce the brief history of the latter to our readers. Jonathan Trapp has served as foot-boy, which term, we believe, is derived from those who are in that humble capacity receiving a quantum suff. of the application of the feet of those above them to increase the energy of their service; then as foot-man, which implies that they have been promoted to the more agreeable right of administering instead of receiving the above dishonourable applications; and lastly, for promotion could go no higher in the family, he had been raised to the dignity of butler in the service of Mr. Witherington senior. Jonathan then fell in love, for butlers are guilty of indiscretions as well as their masters: neither he nor his fair flame, who was a lady's-maid in another family, notwithstanding that they had witnessed the consequences of this error in others, would take warning; they gave warning, and they married.
Like most butlers and ladies'-maids who pair off, they set up a public-house; and it is but justice to the lady's-maid to say that she would have preferred an eating-house, but was overruled by Jonathan, who argued, that although people would drink when they were not dry, they never would eat unless they were hungry.
Now, although there was truth in the observation, this is certain, that business did not prosper: it has been surmised that Jonathan's tall, lank, lean figure injured his custom, as people are but too much inclined to judge of the goodness of the ale by the rubicund face and rotundity of the landlord, and therefore inferred that there could be no good beer where mine host was the picture of famine. There certainly is much in appearances in this world; and it appears, that in consequence of Jonathan's cadaverous appearance, he very soon appeared in the Gazette; but what ruined Jonathan in one profession procured him immediate employment in another. An appraiser, upholsterer, and undertaker, who was called in to value the fixtures, fixed his eye upon Jonathan, and knowing the value of his peculiarly lugubrious appearance, and having a half-brother of equal height, offered him immediate employment as a mute. Jonathan soon forgot to mourn his own loss of a few hundreds in his new occupation of mourning the loss of thousands; and his erect, stiff, statue-like carriage, and long melancholy face, as he stood at the portals of those who had entered the portals of the next world, were but too often a sarcasm upon the grief of the inheritors. Even grief is worth nothing in this trafficking world unless it is paid for. Jonathan buried many, and at last buried his wife. So far all was well; but at last he buried his master, the undertaker, which was not quite so desirable. Although Jonathan wept not, yet did he express mute sorrow as he marshalled him to his long home, and drank to his memory in a pot of porter as he returned from the funeral, perched, with many others, like carrion crows on the top of the hearse.
And now Jonathan was thrown out of employment from a reason which most people would have thought the highest recommendation. Every undertaker refused to take him, because they could not match him. In this unfortunate dilemma Jonathan thought of Mr. Witherington junior; he had served and he had buried Mr. Witherington his father, and Lady Mary his mother; he felt that he had strong claims for such variety of services, and he applied to the bachelor. Fortunately for Jonathan, Mr. Witherington's butler-incumbent was just about to commit the same folly as Jonathan had done before, and Jonathan was again installed, resolving in his own mind to lead his former life, and have nothing more to do with ladies'-maids. But from habit Jonathan still carried himself as a mute on all ordinary occasions—never indulging in an approximation to mirth, except when he perceived that his master was in high spirits, and then rather from a sense of duty than from any real hilarity of heart.
Jonathan was no mean scholar for his station in life, and, during his service with the undertaker, he had acquired the English of all the Latin mottoes which are placed upon the hatchments; and these mottoes, when he considered them as apt, he was very apt to quote. We left Jonathan standing at the door; he had closed it, and the handle still remained in his hand. 'Jonathan,' said Mr. Witherington, after a long pause, 'I wish to look at the last letter from New York; you will find it on my dressing-table.'
Jonathan quitted the room without reply, and made his reappearance with the letter.
'It is a long time that I have been expecting this vessel, Jonathan,' observed Mr. Witherington, unfolding the letter.
'Yes, sir, a long while; tempus fugit,' replied the butler in a low tone, half shutting his eyes.
'I hope to God no accident has happened,' continued Mr. Witherington; 'my poor little cousin and her twins! e'en now that I speak, they may be all at the bottom of the sea.'
'Yes, sir,' replied the butler; 'the sea defrauds many an honest undertaker of his profits.'
'By the blood of the Witheringtons! I may be left without an heir, and shall be obliged to marry, which would be very uncomfortable.'
'Very little comfort,' echoed Jonathan—'my wife is dead. In coelo quies.'
'Well, we must hope for the best; but this suspense is anything but comfortable,' observed Mr. Witherington, after looking over the contents of the letter for at least the twentieth time.
'That will do, Jonathan; I'll ring for coffee presently;' and Mr. Witherington was again alone and with his eyes fixed upon the ceiling.
A cousin of Mr. Witherington, and a very great favourite (for Mr. Witherington, having a large fortune, and not having anything to do with business, was courted by his relations), had, to a certain degree, committed herself; that is to say that, notwithstanding the injunctions of her parents, she had fallen in love with a young lieutenant in a marching regiment, whose pedigree was but respectable, and whose fortune was anything but respectable, consisting merely of a subaltern's pay. Poor men, unfortunately, always make love better than those who are rich, because, having less to care about, and not being puffed up with their own consequence, they are not so selfish, and think much more of the lady than of themselves. Young ladies, also, who fall in love, never consider whether there is sufficient 'to make the pot boil'—probably because young ladies in love lose their appetites, and, not feeling inclined to eat at that time, they imagine that love will always supply the want of food. Now, we will appeal to the married ladies whether we are not right in asserting that, although the collation spread for them and their friends on the day of the marriage is looked upon with almost loathing, they do not find their appetites return with interest soon afterwards. This was precisely the case with Cecilia Witherington, or rather Cecilia Templemore, for she had changed her name the day before. It was also the case with her husband, who always had a good appetite, even during his days of courtship; and the consequence was that the messman's account, for they lived in barracks, was, in a few weeks, rather alarming. Cecilia applied to her family, who very kindly sent her word that she might starve; but, the advice neither suiting her nor her husband, she then wrote to her cousin Antony, who sent her word that he would be most happy to receive them at his table, and that they should take up their abode in Finsbury Square. This was exactly what they wished; but still there was a certain difficulty; Lieutenant Templemore's regiment was quartered in a town in Yorkshire, which was some trifling distance from Finsbury Square; and to be at Mr. Witherington's dinner-table at 6 P.M., with the necessity of appearing at parade every morning at 9 A.M., was a dilemma not to be got out of. Several letters were interchanged upon this knotty subject; and at last it was agreed that Mr. Templemore should sell out, and come up to Mr. Witherington with his pretty wife. He did so, and found that it was much more comfortable to turn out at nine o'clock in the morning to a good breakfast than to a martial parade. But Mr. Templemore had an honest pride and independence of character which would not permit him to eat the bread of idleness, and after a sojourn of two months in most comfortable quarters, without a messman's bill, he frankly stated his feelings to Mr. Witherington, and requested his assistance to procure for himself an honourable livelihood. Mr. Witherington, who had become attached to them both, would have remonstrated, observing that Cecilia was his own cousin, and that he was a confirmed bachelor; but, in this instance, Mr. Templemore was firm, and Mr. Witherington very unwillingly consented. A mercantile house of the highest respectability required a partner who could superintend their consignments to America. Mr. Witherington advanced the sum required; and in a few weeks Mr. and Mrs. Templemore sailed for New York.
Mr. Templemore was active and intelligent; their affairs prospered; and in a few years they anticipated a return to their native soil with a competence. But the autumn of the second year after their arrival proved very sickly; the yellow fever raged; and among the thousands who were carried off Mr. Templemore was a victim, about three weeks after his wife had been brought to bed of twins. Mrs. Templemore rose from her couch a widow and the mother of two fine boys. The loss of Mr. Templemore was replaced by the establishment with which he was connected, and Mr. Witherington offered to his cousin that asylum which, in her mournful and unexpected bereavement, she so much required. In three months her affairs were arranged; and with her little boys hanging at the breasts of two negro nurses—for no others could be procured who would undertake the voyage—Mrs. Templemore, with Coco as male servant, embarked on board of the good ship Circassian, A I, bound to Liverpool.
Those who, standing on the pier, had witnessed the proud bearing of the Circassian as she gave her canvas to the winds, little contemplated her fate: still less did those on board; for confidence is the characteristic of seamen, and they have the happy talent of imparting their confidence to whomsoever may be in their company. We shall pass over the voyage, confining ourselves to a description of the catastrophe.
It was during a gale from the north-west, which had continued for three days, and by which the Circassian had been driven into the Bay of Biscay, that, at about twelve o'clock at night, a slight lull was perceptible. The captain, who had remained on deck, sent down for the chief mate. 'Oswald,' said Captain Ingram, 'the gale is breaking, and I think before morning we shall have had the worst of it. I shall lie down for an hour or two: call me if there be any change.'
Oswald Bareth, a tall, sinewy-built, and handsome specimen of transatlantic growth, examined the whole circumference of the horizon before he replied. At last his eyes were steadily fixed to leeward: 'I've a notion not, sir,' said he; 'I see no signs of clearing off to leeward: only a lull for relief, and a fresh hand at the bellows, depend upon it.'
'We have now had it three days,' replied Captain Ingram, 'and that's the life of a summer's gale.'
'Yes,' rejoined the mate; 'but always provided that it don't blow black again. I don't like the look of it, sir; and have it back we shall, as sure as there's snakes in Virginny.'
'Well, so be if so be,' was the safe reply of the captain. 'You must keep a sharp look-out, Bareth, and don't leave the deck to call me; send a hand down.'
The captain descended to his cabin. Oswald looked at the compass in the binnacle—spoke a few words to the man at the helm—gave one or two terrible kicks in the ribs to some of the men who were caulking—sounded the pump-well—put a fresh quid of tobacco into his cheek, and then proceeded to examine the heavens above. A cloud, much darker and more descending than the others, which obscured the firmament, spread over the zenith, and based itself upon the horizon to leeward. Oswald's eye had been fixed upon it but a few seconds, when he beheld a small lambent gleam of lightning pierce through the most opaque part; then another, and more vivid. Of a sudden the wind lulled, and the Circassian righted from her careen. Again the wind howled, and again the vessel was pressed down to her bearings by its force; again another flash of lightning, which was followed by a distant peal of thunder.
'Had the worst of it, did you say, captain? I've a notion that the worst is yet to come,' muttered Oswald, still watching the heavens.
'How does she carry her helm, Matthew?' inquired Oswald, walking aft.
'I'll have that trysail off of her, at any rate,' continued the mate. 'Aft, there, my lads! and lower down the trysail. Keep the sheet fast till it's down, or the flogging will frighten the lady passenger out of her wits. Well, if ever I own a craft, I'll have no women on board. Dollars shan't tempt me.'
The lightning now played in rapid forks; and the loud thunder, which instantaneously followed each flash, proved its near approach. A deluge of slanting rain descended—the wind lulled—roared again—then lulled—shifted a point or two, and the drenched and heavy sails flapped.
'Up with the helm, Mat!' cried Oswald, as a near flash of lightning for a moment blinded, and the accompanying peal of thunder deafened, those on deck. Again the wind blew strong—it ceased, and it was a dead calm. The sails hung down from the yards, and the rain descended in perpendicular torrents, while the ship rocked to and fro in the trough of the sea, and the darkness became suddenly intense.
'Down, there, one of you! and call the captain,' said Oswald. 'By the Lord! we shall have it. Main braces there, men, and square the yards. Be smart! That topsail should have been in,' muttered the mate; 'but I'm not captain. Square away the yards, my lads!' continued he; 'quick, quick!—there's no child's play here!'
Owing to the difficulty of finding and passing the ropes to each other, from the intensity of the darkness, and the deluge of rain which blinded them, the men were not able to execute the order of the mate so soon as it was necessary; and before they could accomplish their task, or Captain Ingram could gain the deck, the wind suddenly burst upon the devoted vessel from the quarter directly opposite to that from which the gale had blown, taking her all aback, and throwing her on her beam-ends. The man at the helm was hurled over the wheel; while the rest, who were with Oswald at the main-bits, with the coils of ropes, and every other article on deck not secured, were rolled into the scuppers, struggling to extricate themselves from the mass of confusion and the water in which they floundered. The sudden revulsion awoke all the men below, who imagined that the ship was foundering; and, from the only hatchway not secured, they poured up in their shirts with their other garments in their hands, to put them on—if fate permitted.
Oswald Bareth was the first who clambered up from to leeward. He gained the helm, which he put hard up. Captain Ingram and some of the seamen also gained the helm. It is the rendezvous of all good seamen in emergencies of this description; but the howling of the gale—the blinding of the rain and salt spray—the seas checked in their running by the shift of wind, and breaking over the ship in vast masses of water—the tremendous peals of thunder—and the intense darkness which accompanied these horrors, added to the inclined position of the vessel, which obliged them to climb from one part of the deck to another, for some time checked all profitable communication. Their only friend, in this conflict of the elements, was the lightning (unhappy, indeed, the situation in which lightning can be welcomed as a friend); but its vivid and forked flames, darting down upon every quarter of the horizon, enabled them to perceive their situation; and, awful as it was, when momentarily presented to their sight, it was not so awful as darkness and uncertainty. To those who have been accustomed to the difficulties and dangers of a seafaring life, there are no lines which speak more forcibly to the imagination, or prove the beauty and power of the Greek poet, than those in the noble prayer of Ajax:—
Lord of earth and air, O king! O father! hear my humble prayer. Dispel this cloud, the light of heaven restore; Give me to see—and Ajax asks no more. If Greece must perish—we thy will obey; But let us perish in the face of day!
Oswald gave the helm to two of the seamen, and with his knife cut adrift the axes, which were lashed round the mizenmast in painted canvas covers. One he retained for himself—the others he put into the hands of the boatswain and the second mate. To speak so as to be heard was almost impossible, from the tremendous roaring of the wind; but the lamp still burned in the binnacle, and by its feeble light Captain Ingram could distinguish the signs made by the mate, and could give his consent. It was necessary that the ship should be put before the wind, and the helm had no power over her. In a short time the lanyards of the mizen rigging were severed, and the mizen mast went over the side, almost unperceived by the crew on the other parts of the deck, or even those near, had it not been from blows received by those who were too close to it, from the falling of the topsail sheets and the rigging about the mast.
Oswald, with his companions, regained the binnacle, and for a little while watched the compass. The ship did not pay off, and appeared to settle down more into the water. Again Oswald made his signs, and again the captain gave his assent. Forward sprang the undaunted mate, clinging to the bulwark and belaying-pins, and followed by his hardy companions, until they had all three gained the main channels. Here, their exposure to the force of the breaking waves, and the stoutness of the ropes yielding but slowly to the blows of the axes, which were used almost under water, rendered the service one of extreme difficulty and danger. The boatswain was washed over the bulwark and dashed to leeward, where the lee-rigging only saved him from a watery grave. Unsubdued, he again climbed up to windward, rejoined and assisted his companions. The last blow was given by Oswald—the lanyards flew through the dead-eyes—and the tall mast disappeared in the foaming seas. Oswald and his companions hastened from their dangerous position, and rejoined the captain, who, with many of the crew, still remained near the wheel. The ship now slowly paid off and righted. In a few minutes she was flying before the gale, rolling heavily, and occasionally striking upon the wrecks of the masts, which she towed with her by the lee-rigging.
Although the wind blew with as much violence as before, still it was not with the same noise, now that the ship was before the wind with her after-masts gone. The next service was to clear the ship of the wrecks of the masts; but, although all now assisted, but little could be effected until the day had dawned, and even then it was a service of danger, as the ship rolled gunwale under. Those who performed the duty were slung in ropes, that they might not be washed away; and hardly was it completed, when a heavy roll, assisted by a jerking heave from a sea which struck her on the chesstree, sent the foremast over the starboard cathead. Thus was the Circassian dismasted in the gale.
The wreck of the foremast was cleared from the ship; the gale continued; but the sun shone brightly and warmly. The Circassian was again brought to the wind. All danger was now considered to be over, and the seamen joked and laughed as they were busied in preparing jury-masts to enable them to reach their destined port.
'I wouldn't have cared so much about this spree,' said the boatswain, 'if it warn't for the mainmast; it was such a beauty. There's not another stick to be found equal to it in the whole length of the Mississippi.'
'Bah! man,' replied Oswald; 'there's as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it, and as good sticks growing as ever were felled; but I guess we'll pay pretty dear for our spars when we get to Liverpool—but that concerns the owners.'
The wind, which at the time of its sudden change to the southward and eastward had blown with the force of a hurricane, now settled into a regular strong gale, such as sailors are prepared to meet and laugh at. The sky was also bright and clear, and they had not the danger of a lee shore. It was a delightful change after a night of darkness, danger, and confusion; and the men worked that they might get sufficient sail on the ship to steady her, and enable them to shape a course.
'I suppose, now that we have the trysail on her forward, the captain will be for running for it,' observed one who was busy turning in a dead-eye.
'Yes,' replied the boatswain; 'and with this wind on our quarter we shan't want much sail, I've a notion.'
'Well then, one advantage in losing your mast—you haven't much trouble about the rigging.'
'Trouble enough, though, Bill, when we get in,' replied another gruffly; 'new lower rigging to parcel and sarve, and every block to turn in afresh.'
'Never mind, longer in port—I'll get spliced.'
'Why, how often do you mean to get spliced, Bill? You've a wife in every State, to my sartin knowledge.'
'I arn't got one at Liverpool, Jack.'
'Well, you may take one there, Bill; for you've been sweet upon that nigger girl for these last three weeks.'
'Any port in a storm, but she won't do for harbour duty. But the fact is, you're all wrong there, Jack: it's the babbies I likes—I likes to see them both together, hanging at the niggers' breasts, I always think of two spider-monkeys nursing two kittens.'
'I knows the women, but I never knows the children. It's just six of one and half-a-dozen of the other; ain't it, Bill?'
'Yes; like two bright bullets out of the same mould. I say, Bill, did any of your wives ever have twins?'
'No; nor I don't intend, until the owners give us double pay.'
'By the bye,' interrupted Oswald, who had been standing under the weather bulkhead, listening to the conversation, and watching the work in progress, 'we may just as well see if she has made any water with all this straining and buffeting. By the Lord! I never thought of that. Carpenter, lay down your adze and sound the well.'
The carpenter, who, notwithstanding the uneasiness of the dismasted vessel, was performing his important share of the work, immediately complied with the order. He drew up the rope-yarn, to which an iron rule had been suspended, and lowered down into the pump-well, and perceived that the water was dripping from it. Imagining that it must have been wet from the quantity of water shipped over all, the carpenter disengaged the rope-yarn from the rule, drew another from the junk lying on the deck, which the seamen were working up, and then carefully proceeded to plumb the well. He hauled it up, and, looking at it for some moments aghast, exclaimed, 'Seven feet water in the hold, by G—d!'
If the crew of the Circassian, the whole of which were on deck, had been struck with an electric shock, the sudden change of their countenances could not have been greater than was produced by this appalling intelligence.
Heap upon sailors every disaster, every danger which can be accumulated from the waves, the wind, the elements, or the enemy, and they will bear up against them with a courage amounting to heroism. All that they demand is, that the one plank 'between them and death' is sound, and they will trust to their own energies, and will be confident in their own skill: but spring a leak, and they are half paralysed; and if it gain upon them they are subdued; for when they find that their exertions are futile, they are little better than children.
Oswald sprang to the pumps when he heard the carpenter's report. 'Try again, Abel—it cannot be: cut away that line; hand us here a dry rope-yarn.'
Once more the well was sounded by Oswald, and the result was the same. 'We must rig the pumps, my lads,' said the mate, endeavouring to conceal his own fears; 'half this water must have found its way in when she was on her beam-ends.'
This idea, so judiciously thrown out, was caught at by the seamen, who hastened to obey the order, while Oswald went down to acquaint the captain, who, worn-out with watching and fatigue, had, now that danger was considered to be over, thrown himself into his cot to obtain a few hours' repose.
'Do you think, Bareth, that we have sprung a leak?' said the captain earnestly. 'She never could have taken in that quantity of water.'
'Never, sir,' replied the mate; 'but she has been so strained, that she may have opened her top-sides. I trust it is no worse.'
'What is your opinion, then?'
'I am afraid that the wreck of the masts have injured her; you may recollect how often we struck against them before we could clear ourselves of them; once, particularly, the mainmast appeared to be right under her bottom, I recollect, and she struck very heavy on it.'
'Well, it is God's will; let us get on deck as fast as we can.'
When they arrived on deck, the carpenter walked up to the captain, and quietly said to him, 'Seven feet three, sir.' The pumps were then in full action; the men had divided, by the direction of the boatswain, and, stripped naked to the waist, relieved each other every two minutes. For half an hour they laboured incessantly.
This was the half-hour of suspense: the great point to be ascertained was, whether she leaked through the top-sides, and had taken in the water during the second gale; if so, there was every hope of keeping it under. Captain Ingram and the mate remained in silence near the capstern, the former with his watch in his hand, during the time that the sailors exerted themselves to the utmost. It was ten minutes past seven when the half-hour had expired; the well was sounded and the line carefully measured—Seven feet six inches! So that the water had gained upon them, notwithstanding that they had plied the pumps to the utmost of their strength.
A mute look of despair was exchanged among the crew, but it was followed up by curses and execrations. Captain Ingram remained silent, with his lips compressed.
'It's all over with us!' exclaimed one of the men.
'Not yet, my lads; we have one more chance,' said Oswald. 'I've a notion that the ship's sides have been opened by the infernal straining of last night, and that she is now taking it in at the top-sides generally; if so, we have only to put her before the wind again, and have another good spell at the pumps. When no longer strained, as she is now with her broadside to the sea, she will close all up again.'
'I shouldn't wonder if Mr. Bareth is not right,' replied the carpenter; 'however, that's my notion, too.'
'And mine,' added Captain Ingram. 'Come, my men! never say die while there's a shot in the locker. Let's try her again.' And, to encourage the men, Captain Ingram threw off his coat and assisted at the first spell, while Oswald went to the helm and put the ship before the wind.
As the Circassian rolled before the gale, the lazy manner in which she righted proved how much water there was in the hold. The seamen exerted themselves for a whole hour without intermission, and the well was again sounded—eight feet!
The men did not assert that they would pump no longer; but they too plainly showed their intentions by each resuming in silence his shirt and jacket, which he had taken off at the commencement of his exertions.
'What's to be done, Oswald?' said Captain Ingram, as they walked aft. 'You see the men will pump no longer; nor, indeed, would it be of any use. We are doomed.'
'The Circassian is, sir, I am afraid,' replied the mate: 'pumping is of no avail; they could not keep her afloat till daybreak. We must therefore trust to our boats, which I believe to be all sound, and quit her before night.'
'Crowded boats in such a sea as this!' replied Captain Ingram, shaking his head mournfully.
'Are bad enough, I grant; but better than the sea itself. All we can do now is to try and keep the men sober, and if we can do so it will be better than to fatigue them uselessly; they'll want all their strength before they put foot again upon dry land—if ever they are so fortunate. Shall I speak to them?'
'Do, Oswald,' replied the captain; 'for myself I care little, God knows; but my wife—my children!'
'My lads,' said Oswald, going forward to the men, who had waited in moody silence the result of the conference—'as for pumping any longer it would be only wearing out your strength for no good. We must now look to our boats; and a good boat is better than a bad ship. Still this gale and cross-running sea are rather too much for boats at present; we had therefore better stick to the ship as long as we can. Let us set to with a will and get the boats ready, with provisions, water, and what else may be needful, and then we must trust to God's mercy and our own endeavours.'
'No boat can stand this sea,' observed one of the men. 'I'm of opinion, as it's to be a short life, it may as well be a merry one. What d'ye say, my lads?' continued he, appealing to the men.
Several of the crew were of the same opinion; but Oswald, stepping forward, seized one of the axes which lay at the main-bits, and going up to the seaman who had spoken, looked him steadfastly in the face—
'Williams,' said the mate, 'a short life it may be to all of us, but not a merry one; the meaning of which I understand very well. Sorry I shall be to have your blood, or that of others, on my hands; but as sure as there's a heaven, I'll cleave to the shoulder the first man who attempts to break into the spirit-room. You know I never joke. Shame upon you! Do you call yourselves men, when, for the sake of a little liquor now, you would lose your only chance of getting drunk every day as soon as we get on shore again? There's a time for all things; and I've a notion this is a time to be sober.'
As most of the crew sided with Oswald, the weaker party were obliged to submit, and the preparations were commenced. The two boats on the booms were found to be in good condition. One party was employed cutting away the bulwarks that the boats might be launched over the side, as there were no means of hoisting them out. The well was again sounded. Nine feet water in the hold, and the ship evidently settling fast. Two hours had now passed, and the gale was not so violent; the sea, also, which at the change of wind had been cross, appeared to have recovered its regular run. All was ready; the sailors, once at work again, had, in some measure, recovered their spirits, and were buoyed up with fresh hopes at the slight change in their favour from the decrease of the wind. The two boats were quite large enough to contain the whole of the crew and passengers; but, as the sailors said among themselves (proving the kindness of their hearts), 'What was to become of those two poor babbies, in an open boat for days and nights, perhaps?' Captain Ingram had gone down to Mrs. Templemore, to impart to her their melancholy prospects; and the mother's heart, as well as the mother's voice, echoed the words of the seamen, 'What will become of my poor babes?'
It was not till nearly six o'clock in the evening that all was ready: the ship was slowly brought to the wind again, and the boats launched over the side. By this time the gale was much abated; but the vessel was full of water, and was expected soon to go down.
There is no time in which coolness and determination are more required than in a situation like the one in which we have attempted to describe. It is impossible to know the precise moment at which a water-logged vessel, in a heavy sea, may go down; and its occupants are in a state of mental fever, with the idea of their remaining in her so late that she will suddenly submerge, and leave them to struggle in the wave. This feeling actuated many of the crew of the Circassian, and they had already retreated to the boats. All was arranged; Oswald had charge of one boat, and it was agreed that the larger should receive Mrs. Templemore and her children, under the protection of Captain Ingram. The number appointed to Oswald's boat being completed he shoved off, to make room for the other, and laid-to to leeward, waiting to keep company. Mrs. Templemore came up with Captain Ingram, and was assisted by him into the boat. The nurse, with one child, was at last placed by her side; Coco was leading Judy, the other nurse, with the remaining infant in her arms; and Captain Ingram, who had been obliged to go into the boat with the first child, was about to return to assist Judy with the other, when the ship gave a heavy pitch, and her forecastle was buried in the wave; at the same time the gunwale of the boat was stove by coming in contact with the side of the vessel. 'She's down, by G—d!' exclaimed the alarmed seamen in the boat, shoving off to escape from the vortex.
Captain Ingram, who was standing on the boat's thwarts to assist Judy, was thrown back into the bottom of the boat; and before he could extricate himself, the boat was separated from the ship, and had drifted to leeward.
'My child!' screamed the mother; 'my child!'
'Pull to again, my lads!' cried Captain Ingram, seizing the tiller.
The men, who had been alarmed at the idea that the ship was going down, now that they saw that she was still afloat, got out the oars and attempted to regain her, but in vain—they could not make head against the sea and wind. Further and further did they drift to leeward, notwithstanding their exertions; while the frantic mother extended her arms, imploring and entreating. Captain Ingram, who had stimulated the sailors to the utmost, perceived that further attempts were useless.
'My child! my child!' screamed Mrs. Templemore, standing up, and holding out her arms towards the vessel. At a sign from the captain, the head of the boat was veered round. The bereaved mother knew that all hope was gone, and she fell down in a state of insensibility.
THE OLD MAID
One morning, shortly after the disasters which we have described, Mr. Witherington descended to his breakfast-room somewhat earlier than usual, and found his green morocco easy-chair already tenanted by no less a personage than William the footman, who, with his feet on the fender, was so attentively reading the newspaper that he did not hear his master's entrance. 'By my ancestor, who fought on his stumps! but I hope you are quite comfortable, Mr. William; nay, I beg I may not disturb you, sir.'
William, although as impudent as most of his fraternity, was a little taken aback: 'I beg your pardon, sir, but Mr. Jonathan had not time to look over the paper.'
'Nor is it required that he should, that I know of, sir.'
'Mr. Jonathan says, sir, that it is always right to look over the deaths, that news of that kind may not shock you.'
'Very considerate, indeed.'
'And there is a story there, sir, about a shipwreck.'
'A shipwreck! where, William? God bless me! where is it?'
'I am afraid it is the same ship you are so anxious about, sir—the——I forget the name, sir.'
Mr. Witherington took the newspaper, and his eye soon caught the paragraph in which the rescue of the two negroes and child from the wreck of the Circassian was fully detailed.
'It is indeed!' exclaimed Mr. Witherington. 'My poor Cecilia in an open boat! one of the boats was seen to go down—perhaps she's dead—merciful God! one boy saved. Mercy on me! where's Jonathan?'
'Here, sir,' replied Jonathan, very solemnly, who had just brought in the eggs, and now stood erect as a mute behind his master's chair, for it was a case of danger, if not of death.
'I must go to Portsmouth immediately after breakfast—shan't eat, though—appetite all gone.'
'People seldom do, sir, on these melancholy occasions,' replied Jonathan. 'Will you take your own carriage, sir, or a mourning coach?'
'A mourning coach at fourteen miles an hour, with two pair of horses! Jonathan, you're crazy.'
'Will you please to have black silk hatbands and gloves for the coachman and servants who attend you, sir?'
'Confound your shop! no; this is a resurrection, not a death: it appears that the negro thinks only one of the boats went down.'
'Mors omnia vincit,' quoth Jonathan, casting up his eyes.
'Never you mind that; mind your own business. That's the postman's knock—see if there are any letters.'
There were several; and amongst the others there was one from Captain Maxwell, of the Eurydice, detailing the circumstances already known, and informing Mr. Witherington that he had despatched the two negroes and the child to his address by that day's coach, and that one of the officers, who was going to town by the same conveyance, would see them safe to his house.
Captain Maxwell was an old acquaintance of Mr. Witherington—had dined at his house in company with the Templemores, and therefore had extracted quite enough information from the negroes to know where to direct them.
'By the blood of my ancestors! they'll be here to-night,' cried Mr. Witherington; 'and I have saved my journey. What is to be done? better tell Mary to get rooms ready: d'ye hear, William; beds for one little boy and two niggers.'
'Yes, sir,' replied William; 'but where are the black people to be put?'
'Put! I don't care; one may sleep with cook, the other with Mary.'
'Very well, sir, I'll tell them,' replied William, hastening away, delighted at the row which he anticipated in the kitchen.
'If you please, sir,' observed Jonathan, 'one of the negroes is, I believe, a man.'
'Well, what then?'
'Only, sir, the maids may object to sleep with him.'
'By all the plagues of the Witheringtons! this is true; well, you may take him, Jonathan—you like that colour.'
'Not in the dark, sir,' replied Jonathan, with a bow.
'Well then, let them sleep together; so that affair is settled.'
'Are they man and wife, sir?' said the butler.
'The devil take them both! how should I know? Let me have my breakfast, and we'll talk over the matter by and by.'
Mr. Witherington applied to his eggs and muffin, eating his breakfast as fast as he could, without knowing why; but the reason was that he was puzzled and perplexed with the anticipated arrival, and longed to think quietly over the dilemma, for it was a dilemma to an old bachelor. As soon as he had swallowed his second cup of tea he put himself into his easy-chair, in an easy attitude, and was very soon soliloquising as follows:—
'By the blood of the Witheringtons! what am I, an old bachelor, to do with a baby, and a wet-nurse as black as the ace of spades, and another black fellow in the bargain? Send him back again! yes, that's best? but the child—woke every morning at five o'clock with its squalling—obliged to kiss it three times a day—pleasant!—and then that nigger of a nurse—thick lips—kissing child all day, and then holding it out to me—ignorant as a cow—if the child has the stomach-ache she'll cram a pepper-pod down its throat—West India fashion—children never without the stomach-ache—my poor, poor cousin!—what has become of her and the other child, too?—wish they may pick her up, poor dear! and then she will come and take care of her own children—don't know what to do—great mind to send for sister Moggy—but she's so fussy—won't be in a hurry. Think again.'
Here Mr. Witherington was interrupted by two taps at the door.
'Come in,' said he; and the cook, with her face as red as if she had been dressing a dinner for eighteen, made her appearance without the usual clean apron.
'If you please, sir,' said she, curtseying, 'I will thank you to suit yourself with another cook.'
'Oh, very well,' replied Mr. Witherington, angry at the interruption.
'And if you please, sir, I should like to go this very day—indeed, sir, I shall not stay.'
'Go to the devil! if you please,' replied Mr. Witherington angrily; 'but first go out and shut the door after you.'
The cook retired, and Mr. Witherington was again alone.
'Confound the old woman—what a huff she is in! won't cook for black people, I suppose—yes, that's it.'
Here Mr. Witherington was again interrupted by a second double tap at the door.
'Oh! thought better of it, I suppose. Come in.'
It was not the cook, but Mary, the housemaid, that entered.
'If you please, sir,' said she, whimpering, 'I should wish to leave my situation.'
'A conspiracy, by heavens! Well, you may go.'
'To-night, sir, if you please,' answered the woman.
'This moment, for all I care!' exclaimed Mr. Witherington in his wrath.
The housemaid retired; and Mr. Witherington took some time to compose himself.
'Servants all going to the devil in this country,' said he at last; 'proud fools—won't clean rooms after black people, I suppose—yes, that's it, confound them all, black and white! here's my whole establishment upset by the arrival of a baby. Well, it is very uncomfortable—what shall I do?—send for sister Moggy?—no, I'll send for Jonathan.'
Mr. Witherington rang the bell, and Jonathan made his appearance.
'What is all this, Jonathan?' said he; 'cook angry—Mary crying—both going away—what's it all about?'
'Why, sir, they were told by William that it was your positive order that the two black people were to sleep with them; and I believe he told Mary that the man was to sleep with her.'
'Confound that fellow! he's always at mischief; you know, Jonathan, I never meant that.'
'I thought not, sir, as it is quite contrary to custom,' replied Jonathan.
'Well then, tell them so, and let's hear no more about it.'
Mr. Witherington then entered into a consultation with his butler, and acceded to the arrangements proposed by him. The parties arrived in due time, and were properly accommodated. Master Edward was not troubled with the stomach-ache, neither did he wake Mr. Witherington at five o'clock in the morning; and, after all, it was not very uncomfortable. But, although things were not quite so uncomfortable as Mr. Witherington had anticipated, still they were not comfortable; and Mr. Witherington was so annoyed by continual skirmishes with his servants, complaints from Judy, in bad English, of the cook, who, it must be owned, had taken a prejudice against her and Coco, occasional illness of the child, et caetera, that he found his house no longer quiet and peaceable. Three months had now nearly passed, and no tidings of the boats had been received; and Captain Maxwell, who came up to see Mr. Witherington, gave it as his decided opinion that they must have foundered in the gale. As, therefore, there appeared to be no chance of Mrs. Templemore coming to take care of her child, Mr. Witherington at last resolved to write to Bath, where his sister resided, and acquaint her with the whole story, requesting her to come and superintend his domestic concerns. A few days afterwards he received the following reply:—
'MY DEAR BROTHER ANTONY—Your letter arrived safe to hand on Wednesday last, and I must say that I was not a little surprised at its contents; indeed, I thought so much about it that I revoked at Lady Betty Blabkin's whist-party, and lost four shillings and sixpence. You say that you have a child at your house belonging to your cousin, who married in so indecorous a manner. I hope what you say is true; but, at the same time, I know what bachelors are guilty of; although, as Lady Betty says, it is better never to talk or even to hint about these improper things. I cannot imagine why men should consider themselves, in an unmarried state, as absolved from that purity which maidens are so careful to preserve; and so says Lady Betty, with whom I had a little conversation on the subject. As, however, the thing is done, she agrees with me that it is better to hush it up as well as we can.
'I presume that you do not intend to make the child your heir, which I should consider as highly improper; and, indeed, Lady Betty tells me that the legacy-duty is ten per cent., and that it cannot be avoided. However, I make it a rule never to talk about these sort of things. As for your request that I will come up and superintend your establishment, I have advised with Lady Betty on the subject, and she agrees with me that, for the honour of the family, it is better that I should come, as it will save appearances. You are in a peck of troubles, as most men are who are free-livers, and are led astray by artful and alluring females. However, as Lady Betty says, "the least said, the soonest mended."
'I will, therefore, make the necessary arrangements for letting my house, and hope to join you in about ten days; sooner, I cannot, as I find that my engagements extend to that period. Many questions have already been put to me on this unpleasant subject; but I always give but one answer, which is, that bachelors will be bachelors! and that, at all events, it is not so bad as if you were a married man: for I make it a rule never to talk about, or even to hint about these sort of things, for, as Lady Betty says, "Men will get into scrapes, and the sooner things are hushed up the better." So no more at present from your affectionate sister,
'P.S.—Lady Betty and I both agree that you are very right in hiring two black people to bring the child into your house, as it makes the thing look foreign to the neighbours, and we can keep our own secrets.
'Now, by all the sins of the Witheringtons, if this is not enough to drive a man out of his senses! Confound the suspicious old maid! I'll not let her come into this house. Confound Lady Betty, and all scandal-loving old tabbies like her! Bless me!' continued Mr. Witherington, throwing the letter on the table, with a deep sigh, 'this is anything but comfortable.'
But if Mr. Witherington found it anything but comfortable at the commencement, he found it unbearable in the sequel.
His sister Moggy arrived, and installed herself in the house with all the pomp and protecting air of one who was the saviour of her brother's reputation and character. When the child was first brought down to her, instead of perceiving at once its likeness to Mr. Templemore, which was very strong, she looked at it and at her brother's face with her only eye, and shaking her finger, exclaimed—
'O Antony! Antony! and did you expect to deceive me?—the nose—the mouth exact—Antony, for shame! fie, for shame!'
But we must hurry over the misery that Mr. Witherington's kindness and benevolence brought upon him. Not a day passed—scarcely an hour, without his ears being galled with his sister's insinuations. Judy and Coco were sent back to America; the servants, who had remained so long in his service, gave warning one by one, and, afterwards, were changed as often almost as there was a change in the moon. She ruled the house and her brother despotically; and all poor Mr. Witherington's comfort was gone until the time arrived when Master Edward was to be sent to school. Mr. Witherington then plucked up courage, and after a few stormy months drove his sister back to Bath, and once more found himself comfortable.
Edward came home during the holidays, and was a great favourite; but the idea had become current that he was the son of the old gentleman, and the remarks made were so unpleasant and grating to him, that he was not sorry, much as he was attached to the boy, when he declared his intention to choose the profession of a sailor.
Captain Maxwell introduced him into the service; and afterwards, when, in consequence of ill-health and exhaustion, he was himself obliged to leave it for a time, he procured for his protege other ships. We must, therefore, allow some years to pass away, during which time Edward Templemore pursues his career, Mr Witherington grows older and more particular, and his sister Moggy amuses herself with Lady Betty's remarks, and her darling game of whist.
During all this period no tidings of the boats, or of Mrs. Templemore and her infant, had been heard; it was therefore naturally conjectured that they had all perished, and they were remembered but as things that had been.
The weather-side of the quarter-deck of H.M. frigate Unicorn was occupied by two very great personages: Captain Plumbton, commanding the ship, who was very great in width if not in height, taking much more than his allowance of the deck, if it were not that he was the proprietor thereof, and entitled to the lion's share. Captain P. was not more than four feet ten inches in height; but then he was equal to that in girth: there was quite enough of him, if he had only been rolled out. He walked with his coat flying open, his thumbs stuck into the arm-holes of his waistcoat, so as to throw his shoulders back and increase his horizontal dimensions. He also held his head well aft, which threw his chest and stomach well forward. He was the prototype of pomposity and good-nature, and he strutted like an actor in a procession.
The other personage was the first lieutenant, whom Nature had pleased to fashion in another mould. He was as tall as the captain was short—as thin as his superior was corpulent. His long, lanky legs were nearly up to the captain's shoulders; and he bowed down over the head of his superior, as if he were the crane to hoist up, and the captain the bale of goods to be hoisted. He carried his hands behind his back, with two fingers twisted together; and his chief difficulty appeared to be to reduce his own stride to the parrot march of the captain. His features were sharp and lean as was his body, and wore every appearance of a cross-grained temper.
He had been making divers complaints of divers persons, and the captain had hitherto appeared imperturbable. Captain Plumbton was an even-tempered man, who was satisfied with a good dinner. Lieutenant Markitall was an odd-tempered man, who would quarrel with his bread and butter.
'Quite impossible, sir,' continued the first lieutenant, 'to carry on the duty without support.'
This oracular observation, which, from the relative forms of the two parties, descended as it were from above, was replied to by the captain with a 'Very true.'
'Then, sir, I presume you will not object to my putting that man in the report for punishment?'
'I'll think about it, Mr. Markitall.' This, with Captain Plumbton, was as much as to say, No.
'The young gentlemen, sir, I am sorry to say, are very troublesome.'
'Boys always are,' replied the captain.
'Yes, sir; but the duty must be carried on, and I cannot do without them.'
'Very true—midshipmen are very useful.'