The Two Supercargoes; Adventures in Savage Africa, by W.H.G. Kingston.
This is rather a standard Kingston book, with adventures this time shore-based in Africa, which, at the time of the story, the early nineteenth century, was largely unknown. The two young men sail as supercargoes, a post which at that time existed, but which later was to be known a ship's clerk. The job of a supercargo was to be in charge of where in the vessel each item of cargo was stored, so that on arrival at its destination it could be quickly and easily found. Of course in those days, as fifty years ago, items of cargo were individual small objects, sometimes stowed on pallets, but mostly in casks. A pallet or a cask would be an individual item.
It wasn't very easy to read this text due to a slightly heavy typeface, so there may be a few errors, but not, we hope, over the 99.95% odds.
Probably best for that reason as an audiobook.
THE TWO SUPERCARGOES, ADVENTURES IN SAVAGE AFRICA, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
Adventures in Savage Africa.
THE OFFICE OF FRANK, TRUNNION & SWAB—HARRY BRACEWELL REPORTS THE ARRIVAL OF THE "ARROW"—HISTORY OF NICHOLAS SWAB—THE SLAVE TRADE—OUR FIRM GIVES UP ALL CONNECTION WITH IT—CAPTAIN RODERICK TRUNNION— SOMETHING ABOUT MYSELF AND FRIENDS—INTERVIEW BETWEEN MR. TRUNNION AND GODFREY MAGOR, MATE OF THE "ARROW"—AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL—A STRANGE ACCUSATION—SUSPICIONS OF CAPTAIN TRUNNION—MRS. BRACEWELL AND HER DAUGHTER MARY.
"The 'Arrow' has come in, sir, from the Coast of Africa, under charge of Mr Godfrey Magor, the second mate," I heard Harry Bracewell, one of our shipping clerks, say, as I was seated on a high stool, pen in hand, leaning over my desk in the office of Messrs. Crank, Trunnion & Swab, general merchants, of Liverpool Harry addressed the senior partner, Mr Peter Crank, who had just then stepped out of his private room with a bundle of papers in his hand into the counting-house, where I, with a dozen other clerks, senior and junior, were driving our quills as fast as we could move them over the paper, or adding up columns of figures, or making calculations, as the case might be.
As I turned my head slightly, I could see both Mr Crank and Harry. They afforded a strange contrast. Harry was tall, well-built, had a handsome countenance, with a pleasant expression which betokened his real character, for he was as kind, honest, and generous a young fellow as ever lived—the only son of his mother, the widow of a naval officer killed in action. She had come to Liverpool for the sake of giving a home to Harry, who had been for some time in the employment of the firm. The difference between Mr Crank and Harry was indeed most conspicuous in their personal appearance. Whereas Harry was tall, Mr Crank was short and stout; he had a bald head, shining as if it had been carefully polished, a round face, with a florid complexion, and a nose which was allowed by his warmest friends to be a snub; but he had a good mouth, bright blue eyes, often twinkling with humour, which seemed to look through and through those he addressed, while his brow exhibited a considerable amount of intellect. Had not he possessed that, he would not have been at the head of the firm of Crank, Trunnion & Swab.
"Brought home, did you say, by Godfrey Magor? What has happened to Captain Rig and the first mate?"
"Both died from fever while up the Nunn, as did all hands except himself and three others. So Mr Magor told me; and the survivors were all so weak, that he could not have brought the vessel home had he not shipped six Kroomen. He had also a narrow escape from pirates, who actually boarded his vessel, when a man-of-war heaving in sight, they made off without plundering her or killing any one."
"Bless my heart! I'm sorry to hear about Captain Rig's death. The poor man remained longer up the river than he should have done, no doubt about that I have over and over again charged the masters of our vessels to be careful in that respect, but they won't attend to what I say. Let me see! that makes the fifth who has lost his life during the last two years. I'm thankful he got clear of the pirates. Those rascals have long been the greatest pests on that coast. It is time the British Government should take effectual steps to put a stop to their depredations by sending a squadron into those seas. Have you brought the manifest and the other papers with you?"
"Yes, sir," answered Harry, producing them. "Mr Magor will be on shore himself in an hour or two, when he has seen the vessel made snug, for he has no one to leave in charge; he himself is still suffering from the fever, and two of her white crew are in their bunks."
Mr Crank, taking the documents, retired with them into his room, to run his eye over the list of articles brought by the "Arrow," and to calculate their present market value. The result I know was satisfactory. I had afterwards to note down the prices which they fetched. Merchants who could make so large a percentage on all their cargoes were certain to grow rich. It was at the cost, however, of the lives of a great number of human beings; but that was not my employers' look out, nor did they allow the matter to trouble their consciences. They could always obtain fresh masters to take charge of their vessels, and fresh crews to man them.
In a short time Mr Trunnion, who had heard on 'Change of the arrival of the "Arrow," came in to learn what news she had brought, expecting to find her master, who was wont, immediately he came on shore, to put in an appearance at the office. Mr Trunnion expressed himself much shocked at Captain Rig's death.
"Poor fellow! he used to boast that he was acclimatised, but it is a proof of the old adage, 'that the pitcher which goes often to the well gets broken at last.' We might have lost a worse man;" and with this remark Mr Trunnion passed into his room, in which he sat to receive visitors on private business.
Mr Trunnion, although the second partner, was the youngest in the firm. He was a good-looking, urbane, well-mannered man, who, if not always loved by those under him, was much liked and respected in the social circle in which he moved, he being also one of the magnates of Liverpool. For my own part, I had reason to like and be grateful to Mr Swab, the junior member of the firm. He had formerly been a clerk in the house, but by diligent attention to and a thorough knowledge of business and strict honesty, he had some years before been made a partner. To him I felt that I owed all the knowledge I possessed of commercial affairs, as from my first entrance into the office he took notice of me, and gave me the instruction I so much required. My chief friend was Harry Bracewell, who was also a favourite with Mr Swab, and had received the same instruction from him that I had obtained. Mr Swab was not at all ashamed of his origin. He used to tell us that he had risen, not from the gutter, but from the mud, like other strange animals, having obtained his livelihood in his early days by hunting at low tide for whatever he could pick up along the shore, thrown overboard from the lighters or similar vessels unloading at the quays. At length it was his good fortune to pick a purse out of the mud containing ten golden guineas, and, as he used to tell us, being convinced that he should never have a find like it, he resolved to quit his occupation, for which he had no particular fancy, and endeavour to obtain a situation where he might have a prospect of rising in the world. Though he could neither read nor write, he was well aware that those acquirements were necessary for his advancement, as also that a decent suit of clothes would greatly contribute to his obtaining a respectable place. These objects were now within his reach. The most easily attained was the suit of clothes, and these he bought, with a cap and a good pair of shoes, at a slopseller's, including three shirts, a necktie, and other articles of clothing, for the moderate sum of 2 pounds, 13 shillings and 6 pence. He had taken good care not to let the slopseller know of his wealth; indeed, that fact he kept locked in his own bosom, as he did his purse in a place in which no one was likely to discover it. The balance of the ten pounds into which he had broken he expended in supporting himself while he acquired the first rudiments of knowledge, with the aid of a friend, the keeper of a second-hand bookstall, a broken-down schoolmaster, who, strange to say, still retained a pleasure in imparting instruction to the young. Nicholas Swab first bought a spelling-book, and then confessed that he should find it of no use unless Mr Vellum would explain to him the meaning of the black marks on the pages.
"Then you do not know your letters, my poor boy?" said the old man in a tone of commiseration.
"No, sir, I don't; but I soon will, if you'll tell them to me," answered Nicholas in a confident tone.
"Sit down on that stool, and say them after me as I point them out to you," said Mr Vellum.
With great patience he went over the alphabet again and again.
"Now I want to put them together, sir," said Nicholas, not content with the extent of the first lesson. All day long he sat with the book before him, and then took it with him to his home. That home, the abode of his mother, a widow, with a pension of five shillings a week, which enabled her to live, although too small to afford subsistence to her son, was in a small garret up a dark stair in one of the poorest of the back streets of Liverpool. Nicholas set working away by the flame of a farthing rushlight, and at dawn he was up again poring over his book.
Old Vellum was so pleased with the progress made by his pupil, that he continued to give him all the assistance in his power, not only teaching him to read but to write. In a few weeks young Nicholas could do both in a very creditable manner. Having thus gained the knowledge he desired, dressed in a decent suit of clothes, he went round to various offices in Liverpool offering to fill any vacant situation for which he might be considered fit. Although he met with numerous rebuffs, he persevered, and was finally taken into the small counting-house of which Mr Peter Crank's father was the head. To the firm, through all its various changes, he had remained attached, and though frequently offered opportunities of bettering himself, had refused to leave it. "No, no; I'll stick to my old friends," he always answered; "their interests are mine, and although I am but a poor clerk, I believe I can forward them."
From the first, during all his leisure moments, of which he had not many, he continued to study hard, and to improve himself, spending a portion of his wages in books, which he obtained from Mr Vellum, who allowed him also the run of his library. He was raised from grade to grade until he became head clerk, and during the illness of Mr Crank and the absence of Mr Trunnion, he so well managed the affairs of the firm, that they felt bound to offer him a partnership in the business, to the success of which he had so greatly contributed. Notwithstanding his rise in the social circle, Nicholas Swab continued to be the same unostentatious, persevering, painstaking man which he had been from the first—upright in all his dealings, and generous to those who required a helping hand.
Some of the transactions of the firm would not, it must be confessed, stand the test of the present code of morality. The slave trade had, until lately, been lawful, and the firm had engaged in it with as little hesitation as it would in any other mercantile business. It had been in the habit of buying negroes in the cheapest market, and disposing of them in the dearest, without for a moment considering how they were obtained. When the traffic was pronounced illegal, it withdrew its own vessels, but still had no hesitation in supplying the means for fitting out others which it knew were about to proceed to the African coast, although no particular inquiries were made on the subject. It was not very long before the time of which I speak that the fact dawned on the minds of the partners that the traffic was hateful in the sight of God, as well as in that of a large number of their countrymen, and that it was the main cause of the cruel wars and miseries unspeakable from which the dark-skinned children of Africa had long suffered. Being really conscientious men, they had agreed to abandon all connection with the traffic, and to employ their vessels in carrying on a lawful trade on the coast. To do this, however, was not at first so easy as might be supposed. One of the vessels especially, which they had contributed to fit out and to supply with goods, although not belonging to them, was commanded by Mr Trunnion's brother—a Captain Roderick Trunnion, of whose character I had heard from time to time mysterious hints thrown out not much to his credit. He occasionally made his appearance at Liverpool. He seemed to me to be a fine, bold, dashing fellow, ready to do and dare anything he might think fit. He was like several privateer captains I had met with, who set their own lives and those of their followers at slight value, provided they could carry out their undertakings. He gave, I believe, his brother, Mr Thomas Trunnion, the partner in our firm, considerable cause for anxiety and annoyance. The last time he had been on shore, in order to recover his brother's confidence he endeavoured to make himself agreeable to the other partners. Mr Swab, however, I know, did not trust him, as he privately told Harry Bracewell on one occasion. "And don't you," he added; "he is without principles; he always did what he chose regardless of God or man. And he doesn't believe in God, or that any man has a grain of honesty, nor does he, except when it suits him, boast of having any himself."
Captain Trunnion, however, appeared to have insinuated himself into the good graces of our senior partner, at whose house he was a frequent visitor. He had a strong attraction there; for Lucy, Mr Crank's, only child, was a sweet, amiable, pretty girl, and Captain Trunnion believed that, could he win her, he should not only obtain a charming wife, but become possessed, some day or other, of Mr Crank's property. Which influenced him most I cannot say. All I know is, that he did not make any progress in the affections of Miss Lucy, for a very good reason, which he was not long in suspecting—that she had already given her heart to some one else. That some one was my friend Harry Bracewell Captain Trunnion had, however, gone away without suspecting who was his rival.
My father and mother resided in Chester, so that I was received into the house, as a lodger, of Mrs Bracewell; thus it was that I became more intimate with Harry than I might otherwise have been. I also had an opportunity of being constantly in the society of the widow's only daughter, Mary—a charming little unaffected girl, full of life and spirits, who treated me as her brother's friend, almost like a brother. For a long time I also thought only of her as a sister, although, somehow or other, I began at last to entertain the hope that, when I had by steady industry obtained the means of making her my wife, she would not feel it necessary to refuse me; and as my family was a respectable one, I had no reason to fear that any objection would be raised by Mrs Bracewell or Harry. Of my own family I need not speak, except of one member—my brother Charley, who had gone to sea before I entered the office, and was now a midshipman of some years' standing. He had lately joined the "Rover" frigate, employed on the African station. Charley and I had been fast friends and companions, as brothers should be, when we were together, and when separated we constantly corresponded with each other. I cannot say that I had any special fondness for mercantile pursuits, or at all events for the work of an office, having to sit for ten or twelve hours of the day on a high stool at a desk, but yet I was thoroughly impressed with the fact that I must gain my own livelihood, and that by working hard alone could I expect to do so. Had the choice been given me, I should have preferred a life in the open air, with the opportunity of travelling about and seeing the world; but my father did not wish to have more than one son in the navy, and Charley had been devoted as an offering to Neptune. I was, however, very happy in my situation. Understanding what I was to do, I took a pleasure in doing it well; and I spent my evenings happily in the society of Mrs Bracewell and her son and daughter. We had generally music and singing, now and then two or three visitors. Occasionally we went out to Mr Crank's parties and those of other friends, so that our lives were in no respects dull.
I enter into these details in order that more interest may be taken in the rest of my narrative than might otherwise have been the case.
About an hour after Harry had reported the arrival of the vessel, as I was engaged in Mr Trunnion's private room in taking down letters at his dictation, the mate of the "Arrow" was announced. As Mr Crank was out, Mr Trunnion desired him to come in and give an account of his voyage. As I was not desired to quit the room, I continued transcribing the notes which I had taken down, but I glanced round at the mate as he entered. His appearance showed that he had suffered from the fever which had carried off so many of his shipmates. His cheek was pale and hollow, his eye dull, and his figure emaciated; even his voice sounded weak and hollow.
"Sit down," said Mr Trunnion in a kind voice, showing that he was struck by the sickly look of the poor mate. "I should like to hear full particulars of your voyage. It has been a successful one judging by the manifest, which I have been looking over, although fatal to so many long in our employment. You have managed well, too, in bringing home the 'Arrow.' We are well satisfied—I can tell you that at once."
The mate then began an account of the transactions connected with the vessel from the time of her arrival on the Coast of Africa, the number of places visited, and the trade transactions at each. They were very interesting to me I know at the time, but I did not note them. Mr Magor then described how one after the other the captain and crew died, until he and three others were alone left. "I doubted indeed whether I should have been able to bring the vessel home," he continued. "We had a narrow escape of being captured by a picarooning craft which swept alongside us during a calm. A number of the crew, headed by their captain, had actually made their way on board, and having bound me and three of my men, were proceeding to get off the hatches to take the cargo out of the hold, when a man-of-war, bringing up a strong breeze from the south, hove in sight. The pirates on discovering her hurried on board their own craft, carrying away two of my Kroomen, and casting off the grapplings with which they had made her fast alongside, got out their long sweeps and pulled away for their lives. As soon as the remaining Kroomen had set me and the other white men free, we ran out our guns and began firing at her. She returned our shot; and as she had more guns and heavier metal than ours, we judged it prudent not to follow her. When the breeze came, which it did soon afterwards, she stood away under all sail before the wind. She showed that she was a fast craft, for she had almost got out of sight before the man-of-war came up with us. The latter pursued her, but whether she was overtaken or not I cannot say, as we continued our voyage towards England, and I saw no more of either of them. The pirates who had boarded us were of all nations, Spaniards, Portuguese, and French, and there were several Englishmen among them. That their leader was one I could swear, for I heard him speaking English to several of the villains; and what is more, as he gave me a good opportunity of marking his features while I was bound to the mainmast, I should remember him were I ever to meet him again."
"I hope that you may never fall in with him again under similar circumstances," remarked Mr Trunnion. "Should you do so, he will probably make you walk the plank before he begins discharging your cargo into his own craft."
While the mate was narrating his adventures I heard a strange race speaking in an authoritative tone in the outer office. Suddenly the door was burst open, and a tall powerful man, dressed in riding-boots, his clothes bespattered with mud, yet having in other respects a nautical cut about him, entered the room. Mr Trunnion gazed on him without speaking.
"What, Tom! don't you know me?" exclaimed the new-comer advancing and putting out his hand. "My beard has grown, and I have become somewhat sunburnt since we parted."
"Bless my heart! is it you, Roderick?" exclaimed Mr Trunnion. "I own that I did not recognise you, and was surprised at the intrusion of a stranger."
Roderick Trunnion, giving a laugh, threw himself into a chair opposite his brother, who reassumed his usual cold and dignified demeanour as he took his seat. From my desk I could observe what was going forward. I saw the mate start and narrowly scan the countenance of the new-comer with a look of extreme astonishment, while the latter, who did not appear to remark him, leaned forward and gazed at his brother, whose manner seemed to irritate him.
"Where in the world have you come from, Roderick?" asked Mr Trunnion.
"From Falmouth last, where I left the 'Vulture' to refit. We met with a somewhat heavy gale, in which she was fearfully knocked about, and had we not kept the pumps going she would have foundered to a certainty. As I wanted to see you and other friends; I took horse and rode night and day to get here. The business I have got to speak of brooks of no delay, and is such as you and I can talk about best alone."
Turning round as he spoke, he cast a glance at Mr Magor. For a moment, it seemed to me that his eye appeared to quail, but he quickly recovered himself.
"Have you finished your business here?" he asked in a bold tone, looking at the mate. "If so, you will leave me and your employer alone—for I presume that you are the master of one of his vessels. And that youngster—you do not wish him to take down our conversation, I suppose," he added, first looking at me then round at his brother.
"Really, Roderick, you have been so accustomed to command, that you forget that you are not on your own quarter-deck," observed Mr Trunnion, who was evidently annoyed at the authoritative tone assumed by his brother.
The mate rose and looked first at Mr Trunnion then at Captain Roderick.
"I have met that man before," he said, "and it is my duty to tell you when and how it was. It was not long ago, on the high seas, when he boarded the 'Arrow' at the head of—"
Mr Trunnion, as the mate spoke, looked very much agitated, and I naturally fancied that something extraordinary was about to be said. Captain Roderick alone appeared perfectly cool. Fixing his glance on the mate, he exclaimed in a loud tone, interrupting him—
"You, my good fellow, may have met me half-a-dozen times for what I know to the contrary, or half-a-dozen men whom you may mistake for me, although I cannot say that I ever set eyes on you before. However, go on and tell Mr Trunnion what I did when you fancy that you saw me, and I shall then know whether you are mistaken as to my identity."
The mate looked greatly confused.
"I can only hope that I am mistaken, and unless Mr Trunnion desires me, I shall decline at present stating where, as I believe, I last saw you."
Mr Trunnion was silent for a minute, and seemed lost in thought. Suddenly looking up he said—
"You have been suffering from fever, Mr Magor, and your recollection of events, very naturally, is somewhat clouded. A few weeks' quiet and rest will restore your health. I would advise you not to repeat what you have just said. I'll send on board and relieve you of charge of the brig as soon as possible, and you can go to your friends in the country."
Mr Magor, making a nautical bow to Mr Trunnion, and giving another glance towards Captain Roderick, left the room.
"Westerton," continued my employer, turning to me, "you have heard all that has been said, and if it were repeated, although the poor man is under an hallucination, it might be the cause of disagreeable reports. You are discreet, I can trust you. Let not a word on the subject escape your lips. You can now go and finish those letters at your own desk."
I did as I was ordered, and gathering up the papers, followed the mate out of the room, leaving the two brothers together. What followed, I of course cannot say. For an hour or more they were closeted together. At last Captain Roderick came out, and returned to the inn where he had put up his horse. All I know is, that Mr Trunnion did not invite him to his house. It seemed to me suspicious, and I could not help thinking about the matter, and wished that I could have consulted Harry Bracewell. Two evenings afterwards we went to a party at the house of Mr Crank. Shortly after we arrived, who should walk in but Captain Roderick. By the way Mr Crank and Lucy received him, I felt convinced that Mr Trunnion had said nothing to prejudice the senior partner against him. He made himself at home as usual, treating Miss Lucy with great deference, and it seemed to me that he was gaining ground in her good graces.
His appearance was greatly improved since the day I had seen him in the counting-house. His face was carefully shaved, and his dress was such as to set off his well-made active figure. His aim was evidently to play the agreeable, not only to the young lady of the house, but to all the ladies present, and with some—especially with the dowagers—he appeared to be as successful as he could desire. He cast an indifferent glance now and then at me, as if he had never set eyes on me before, and appeared perfectly unconscious of the accusation—for such I considered it—brought against him by Mr Magor. When I observed his apparent success with Lucy Crank, I felt a greater desire than ever to tell Harry what I had heard, and to advise him to warn her and her father of what I believed to be the real character of the man. His brother, I supposed, from fraternal affection of family pride, had said nothing to his senior partner to warn him, and, of course, even to Harry I could not venture to say what I thought about Captain Trunnion. I could only hope that Lucy would remain as indifferent to him as she had always before appeared to be, and that he would quickly again return to the "Vulture." I was surprised, indeed, that he had ventured to be so long absent from his vessel, as his presence would be necessary while she was refitting. Perhaps, after all, his statements about her might not be true; she might not even be at Falmouth, although his mud-bespattered appearance on his arrival showed that he had ridden a long distance.
CAPTAIN TRUNNION APPEARS OPENLY AT LIVERPOOL—HIS ATTENTIONS TO LUCY CRANK—HER AFFECTION FOR HARRY BRACEWELL—CAPTAIN TRUNNION EXHIBITS HIS JEALOUSY OF HARRY—SUSPECTING THE CAPTAIN'S EVIL INTENTIONS, I WATCH OVER HARRY—GODFREY MAGOR PLACED IN COMMAND OF THE "ARROW"—HARRY AND I APPOINTED SUPERCARGOES—ATTEND TO THE STOWAGE OF THE VESSEL—PREPARE FOR SAILING—FAREWELL TO LOVED ONES—VOYAGE COMMENCED.
Notwithstanding the very grave suspicion cast on him by the mate of the "Arrow," Captain Roderick Trunnion did not immediately quit Liverpool, as I supposed he would have done. He was, as far as I could judge, not on friendly terms with his brother, as he lived at an inn, although there was ample room for him at Mr Trunnion's house, where he seldom went, nor did he again appear at the office. I met him, however, frequently walking about Liverpool, dressed in shoregoing clothes, booted and spurred, and carrying a riding-whip in his hand.
Notwithstanding, I should have known him at a glance to be a seaman. I found also that he very frequently called at Mr Crank's residence at times when he well knew that the old gentleman would be at his counting-house. I did not suppose, however, that he received any encouragement from Miss Lucy, but he always had some excuse for paying a visit, either to show some curiosity which he said he had brought from abroad, or to leave a book or other articles which he had obtained for her. The fact was, that he had got into the good graces of Miss Deborah Crank, Mr Crank's maiden sister, who resided with him to look after Miss Lucy and keep his house in order. I met the Captain there at two or three evening parties to which the Bracewells and I were invited, and on each occasion he was evidently paying court to the young lady. When not with her, he was making himself agreeable to Miss Deborah.
Harry appeared to be in no way jealous or unhappy, which he would have been had he thought that Captain Roderick had the slightest chance of success.
"We understand each other," he said, "and she has assured me that she does not like him, though she cannot be rude to him while her father and aunt invite him to the house."
I did not like to make Harry unhappy by saying that I was not quite so certain about the matter as he was; at the same time I longed to be able to warn Miss Lucy of the character of the roan. What surprised me was that Mr Trunnion should not have spoken to Mr Crank, or that the latter should not have thought it strange that Captain Roderick never came to the counting-house.
Probably Mr Trunnion was influenced by fraternal feelings in not warning his partner of his suspicions regarding his brother's character. I did not, however, long entertain fears of Miss Lucy's affection for Harry, from a circumstance which he told me. It was a holiday, and he had arranged to accompany her and her aunt on a visit to some friends in the country. The coach was at the door waiting for Miss Deborah, who was upstairs, not yet having finished her toilet, while Lucy, who had finished dressing, was seated in the drawing-room with Harry by her side. Suddenly the door opened, the young people expecting to see Miss Deborah enter. What, therefore, was their surprise when Captain Roderick talked into the room. He stood for a moment gazing fiercely at Harry.
"What business have you here?" he exclaimed in a voice hoarse with passion.
Harry wisely did not answer him; but Lucy, looking up and holding Harry's hand, said quietly—
"Mr Bracewell has come to escort my aunt and me into the country, and I have good reason for the annoyance I feel at the question you have put to him. My father is from home and will not return for some time, so I cannot invite you to wait for him."
Captain Roderick was not a man to be abashed even by the way Miss Lucy had addressed him. Taking a turn or two in the room, he waited—so Harry thought—expecting Miss Deborah to come down-stairs and invite him to accompany them. Lucy, suspecting his purpose, took Harry's arm and whispered, "Let us go down to the carriage."
Miss Deborah, happening to look out of her window, saw them get in, and being just then ready, she joined them without going into the drawing-room. Lucy, with much presence of mind, just before the carriage drove off, desired the servant, in a low voice which her aunt did not hear, to see Captain Roderick out of the house.
Whatever Captain Roderick might before have supposed, he now discovered to a certainty that Harry Bracewell was his rival. When I heard the account just given, believing that the mate was right in his suspicions, I felt sure that, should he have an opportunity, he would revenge himself on my friend. I told Harry all I could to warn him. I said that I believed Captain Roderick was a bad, unprincipled man, whom no fear of consequences or any right feeling would restrain from committing an act of violence if he thought that it would further his object.
Harry merely laughed, and observed, "When he finds that he has no chance of cutting me out he'll take himself off. I should think his brother, who is so strict and correct in his conduct, would be very glad to get him away from Liverpool."
Knowing what dreadful deeds had been done by men of ill-regulated minds influenced by jealousy, I felt seriously anxious about Harry, lest Captain Roderick should find means to revenge himself. Had I been able to explain the cause of the dread I had of him I might have convinced Harry of his danger, and induced him to be careful when going abroad at night; but I could only tell him that I suspected the man, and that I did not like him: Harry, however, though he had a true regard for me, either thought that I was mistaken or needlessly alarmed.
Sometimes I thought of telling my fears to Mr Trunnion, and asking permission from him to warn Harry Bracewell; but I knew that he would feel highly offended were I to speak on the subject to him. I therefore, whenever Harry went out, made some excuse for accompanying him, especially when he went to Mr Crank's house. On those occasions, instead of going in, I used to walk about in the neighbourhood, or sit down in an archway where the dark shadow concealed me from the view of passers-by. On two different evenings I saw a person pass whom I felt sure by his figure was Captain Roderick. The second time, when he stopped before Mr Crank's house, the light of the moon falling on his face revealed his features to me, and convinced me that I was not mistaken. He was dressed as I first saw him at the counting-house, and he had a hanger by his side, and a brace of pistols in his belt, with a pair of riding-boots on, as if prepared for a journey.
Fearing that Harry might come out, and that his rival might attack him, I went up as if I was going to knock at the door; instead of which I stood in the porch, where, concealed, I could watch Captain Roderick. Perhaps he suspected that I had recognised him; for after waiting a minute, and looking up at the windows, he moved away, and I lost sight of him. I waited until Harry came out, and then taking his arm, I hurried him along in an opposite direction to that which he would naturally have followed as the shortest way home.
"Why are you going by this road?" he asked.
"I will tell you presently," I answered, continuing at a quick pace. "Don't ask questions just now, for I really cannot answer you."
Harry did as I wished, and we therefore exchanged few word until we reached home.
"Now," I said, "I will tell you. I am confident that Captain Roderick was waylaying you, and would either have sought a quarrel, or perhaps have cut you down with his hanger, or shot you."
Harry was at length inclined to believe that I was right, but still he added, "Perhaps, after all, he maybe going away, and only came to take a last look at the house where Lucy lives; for, from what she tells me he said to her, I cannot help thinking that he must be desperately enamoured."
"If he does go, well and good; but if he remains, I tell you, Harry, that I do not consider your life safe," I remarked. "I must beg your mother and sister to lock you up, and not let you go out at night until the fellow has gone. He is a villain!" I repeated, in my eagerness almost revealing what I was bound to keep secret.
After this I saw no more of Captain Roderick. Whether or not he had left Liverpool I was uncertain, but I hoped he had gone. A few days afterwards, Mr Magor, the mate of the "Arrow," came to the office, where he was received in a very friendly way by Mr Swab. He looked completely changed. The sickly hue had left his cheek, and he was stout and hearty, with the independent bearing of a seaman.
"I am glad to see you looking so well, Mr Magor," said Mr Swab. "My partners and I have been talking the matter over; and from the way you brought the 'Arrow' home, and the character you received from her late master, we are resolved to offer you the command."
"Thank you, sir. I am proud of your approval; and I may venture to say, as far as navigating a vessel, or handling her in fine weather or foul, I am as competent as most men. I cannot boast, however, of my abilities as a trader, as I am no hand at keeping accounts. In that respect, I do not think that I should do you Justice."
"Well, well, Captain Magor; we cannot always expect to find a man like Captain Rig, who combined both qualifications. We must therefore send a supercargo, or perhaps two, to help you; and I hope, with their assistance, that you will not be compelled to remain long up any of the rivers, and run the risk of losing your own life or of having your crew cut off by fever. You must try and be away from the coast before the sickly season sets in. It is by remaining up the rivers during the rains and hot weather that so many people die."
"As to the hot weather, I don't know when it is not hot on the coast," observed Captain Magor, for so in future I may call him; "but I am ready to brave any season in your service. And I again thank you, sir, for the offer you make me, which I gladly accept, provided you supply me with the assistance you see I require."
"We will try to do that," said Mr Swab. "Now, without loss of time, look out for a couple of good men as mates, and the best crew you can obtain, and get the vessel fitted out without delay. I will accompany you on board and place you in command."
This was said in the outer office, where Henry and I overheard it.
"I wonder to whom they will offer the berths," said Harry to me. "If I thought that it would advance me in the house, and enable me the sooner to speak to Mr Crank, I for one should be ready to accept an offer, although it would be a sore trial to go away. I had never dreamed of doing so; but yet, if I was asked, I would not refuse, as, of course, it could not fail to give one a lift; whereas, should I refuse, I should fall in the estimation of the partners."
The very next day Mr Crank desired Harry and me to come into his inner room, and he then told us, what we already knew, that the firm intended to send out two supercargoes, who might assist each other, and asked if we would go, promising us each a share in the profits of the voyage, and advancement in the house on our return. "I do not hide from you that there is danger from the climate, and in some places from the natives; but the vessel will be well armed, and you must exert all the judgment and discretion you possess. You are both young and strong, and have never tampered with your constitutions, so that you are less likely to succumb to the climate than the generality of seamen." He then entered fully into the subject, telling us how to act under various circumstances, and giving us full directions for our guidance.
We did not appear very elated at the offer, but accepted it, provided Harry's mother and my parents did not object. "Tell them all I have said," observed Mr Crank, "and let me know to-morrow, that should you refuse our offer I may look out for two other young men who have no family ties to prevent them from going. Our interests should, I think, be considered in the matter."
I judged by the tone of the senior partner's voice that he would be offended should we refuse his offer, and we therefore made up our minds to press the matter with those who had to decide for us. Of course we talked it over as we walked home that evening. We both fancied that we should be absent little more than five months, and that we should come back with our purses well filled, or, at all events, with the means of filling them.
Mrs Bracewell and Mary were very unhappy when Harry placed the state of the case before them; but they acknowledged that he ought to act as the firm wished. My parents, to whom I wrote, expressed themselves much in the same way, only entreating that I would come and pay them a visit before starting. As soon as I received their letter I placed it in the hands of Mr Crank, who seemed well pleased.
"You will not have cause to regret going, as far as we are concerned," he observed; "as for the rest, we must leave that to Providence."
Harry and I had, of course, been very often on board vessels, and made several trips down the Mersey, returning in the pilot-boat, but neither of us had ever been at sea. It was necessary that we should both see the cargo stowed, and be acquainted with the contents of every bale. As soon as it was stowed the brig would sail. I therefore hastened over to the neighbourhood of Chester to pay my promised visit to my family. "I shall be gone only five or six months," I said cheerfully, fully believing that such would be the case. "I will take good care of myself, depend upon that. I won't trust the black fellows, and will never sleep on shore."
On my return I found the vessel nearly ready to take in cargo. Harry and I were employed from morning until night in the warehouse, examining and noting the goods. We then both went on board, one remaining on deck to book them as they were hoisted in, the other going below to see them stowed away, so that we might know where each bale and package was to be found. Captain Magor was also on board assisting us, as were his two mates, Tom Sherwin and Ned Capstick, both rough, honest hands, as far as I could judge, who had been chosen by the master simply because they were good seamen and bold fellows in whom he could trust. While we stood by, notebooks in hand, it was their business to stow away the various packages; and as we were together many hours every day, we became pretty well acquainted before we sailed. We had a few hours left after the cargo was on board and the hatches fastened down.
I should have said I had made all the inquiries I could for Captain Roderick, but could hear nothing of him, nor did he ever come near Mr Crank's house after he knew I saw him waiting at the door. I had another reason for supposing that he had gone. Mr Trunnion had regained his usual spirits, and looked as cheerful as he did before his brother's appearance.
"You have acted discreetly, Westerton," said Mr Trunnion to me one day when I was alone with him in his private room. "Whether Captain Magor was right or not in the fearful accusation he brought against that unhappy man. I know not. The 'Vulture' has, I trust, long since sailed. I wish you to understand that, although she was once our vessel, she does not now belong to us, and I need not say how I fear she is employed."
I was pleased to receive this commendation from my principal. I merely replied that I hoped to be always able to give him satisfaction in whatever way he might be pleased to employ me. He shook hands with me warmly on parting. "You will receive full written directions from the firm for your guidance while on the coast, and I hope that we shall see you and Bracewell back again well and hearty in a few months with a full cargo. I have great confidence in Captain Magor, into whose character, since he went to sea, we have made minute inquiries, and you will find him a bold and sagacious seaman, and an obliging and agreeable companion."
Before I left the counting-house, Mr Swab called me into his little den, into which he was wont to retire whenever he had any private business to transact, although he generally sat in the outer office, that he might keep an eye on the clerks and see that there was no idling.
"My dear boy," he said in a kind tone, "I have had a talk with Harry, and now I want to speak with you, and I'll say to you what I said to him: Work together with a will; do not let the slightest feeling of jealousy spring up between you, and give and take. If he is right one time, you'll be ready to follow him the next; while, if your opinion proves correct, he will be ready to follow you. I am sure you will both act as you consider best for the interest of the firm; and remember there is One above who sees you, and you must do nothing which He disapproves of—your conscience will tell you that. You are to be engaged in a lawful traffic. If carried on fairly, it must of necessity tend to advance the interest of the Africans. We did them harm enough formerly when we were engaged in the slave trade, although I for one didn't see it at the time, and was entirely ignorant of the horrors it inflicted on the unfortunate natives. If I thought at all, I thought they exchanged barbarism for civilisation; and what are called the horrors of the middle passage were not so great in those days as they are now, when the traffic has become unlawful. We had roomy vessels, the slaves were well-fed and looked after; and the master had no fear of being chased by a man-of-war, so that they could wait in harbour when the weather was threatening, and run across the Atlantic with a favourable breeze. You will very likely see something of the business, and hear more of it while you are up the rivers; but you must in no way interfere, either to help a slaver by supplying her with goods, provisions, or water, or by giving information to the man-of-war of her whereabouts, unless the question is asked, and you will then tell the truth. And now about your personal conduct. You must do all you can to keep your health. Be strictly sober. Do not expose yourself to the heat by day nor to the damp air by night, which is, I understand, more likely to prove injurious than even the sun's rays. Never lose your temper with the natives, or any one else, for that matter; and, from what I can learn, you are often likely to be tried. Many people fancy they show their spirit by losing their temper; in reality they always give an opponent an advantage over them, and the negroes are quick enough to perceive that. Do not imagine them fools because they do not understand your language. Indeed, I might say, as a golden rule, never hold too cheap the person with whom you are bargaining or an enemy with whom you are engaged in fighting. You will, of course, be very exact in all your accounts, and endeavour to obtain such information as you possibly can from all directions likely to prove of further use to the firm. Now, my dear boy, farewell. I pray that you and Harry may be protected from the dangers to which you will be exposed."
The worthy man said much more to the same purpose. The "Arrow" had, in the meantime, hauled out into the stream, and Harry and I went on board that evening, as she was to sail at daybreak, the tide being fair, the next morning. Mrs Bracewell and Mary accompanied us, very naturally wishing to see the last of us; and just as we were setting out, Lucy Crank arrived, greatly to Harry's satisfaction.
"Papa did not object to my going, and I thought that Mrs Bracewell and Mary would require some one to cheer them up," she said.
Mrs Bracewell smiled, for Lucy did not look as if she was very well capable of doing that. She had evidently been crying, although she had done her best to dry her tears.
Just as we were at the water's edge, Mr Swab joined us, remarking as he did so, "My partners are not able to come. I wanted to have a few more words with Captain Magor, so that I shall have the satisfaction of escorting you ladies back." I suspected that, in the kindness of his heart, the latter was his chief object.
"Thank you," said Mrs Bracewell; "we shall be glad of your protection. We wish to see Harry's and Mr Westerton's cabin, and the brig, now that she is ready for sea, so that we may picture them to ourselves when they are far away."
The evening was serene, the water smooth as glass, the slight breeze blowing down the river, being insufficient to enable us to stem the flood tide, which had then begun to make up, or we should at once have sailed. Boats were plying backwards and forwards between the shore and the various vessels which lay in that much-frequented river. Some, like the "Arrow," ready for sea; others only just arrived, or taking cargo on board from lighters. They were either bound to or had come from all parts of the world, the African traders perhaps predominating; but there were not a few either going to or coming from the West Indies, with which Liverpool had a considerable commerce. There were South Sea whalers, high black vessels, with boats hoisted up on either side, and fast-sailing craft running up the Mediterranean, besides innumerable coasters. Indeed, Liverpool had become a successful rival of Bristol, hitherto the chief commercial port of the kingdom.
The ladies were well pleased with our little berths off the main cabin, for Captain Magor had done his best to make them comfortable. The cabin was well fitted, with a mahogany table, a sofa at the upper end, and two easy-chairs. A swinging lamp was suspended above us, while the bulkhead in the fore part was ornamented with muskets, pistols, and cutlasses ranged in symmetrical order. The brig carried seven guns, three on each side, and one long gun, which could be trained fore or aft to serve as a bow or stern chaser, while all told she had thirty hands, besides Harry and me; so that we were well able to cope with any ordinary enemy we were likely to meet with, either pirate or Frenchman, Spaniard or Hollander. The captain had prepared tea on board, or rather supper. Mr Swab did his best to keep up the spirits of the party—which poor Lucy certainly failed in doing—by telling stories or cracking jokes, though he soon gave up the attempt when he saw none of us responded. Indeed, I must confess that both his jokes and stories were stale, and it might be added "flat and unprofitable." They did not flow naturally from him. At length he discovered that the time was passing on; the shades of evening were already stealing over the broad surface of the magnificent stream. The boat belonging to the firm had hauled up alongside, and Harry and I helped the ladies into her, Mr Swab following, and giving each of us a hearty shake of the hand. As the boat rowed away they waved an adieu with their handkerchiefs, which before they were out of sight all three applied to their eyes, and even then I could distinguish Mr Swab frequently blowing his nose with his scarlet bandana.
Neither Harry nor I slept very soundly; we had too much to think about to allow "nature's soft nurse," as the poet calls it, to visit our eyelids.
The boatswain's call roused up all hands. Quickly dressing, we were on deck. The dawn was just breaking in the eastern sky, from which direction there came a gentle breeze. The pilot was on board, the anchor hove up, the tide was making down, sail after sail was set, and just as there was light sufficient to enable us to see our way, the brig, under a cloud of white canvas, was standing down the Mersey.
"God bless you all! A prosperous voyage, and a safe and happy return!" was uttered by the pilot, as, having seen us clear of the sandbanks at the mouth of the river, he lowered himself into his boat and paddled off to his cutter, which had accompanied us. We were now left to our own resources, and before evening we were standing down the Irish Channel with a brisk breeze on the larboard tack.
MY SHIPMATES—TOM TUBBS THE BOATSWAIN—SIGHT A SUSPICIOUS CRAFT—ALTER OUR COURSE TO AVOID HER—CHASED—A HEAVY SQUALL—A THICK MIST—WE HOPE TO ESCAPE—THE STRANGER REAPPEARS—NIGHT COMES ON AND WE LOW SIGHT OF HER—ONCE MORE THE STRANGER IS SEEN IN HOT CHASE—OPENS FIRE—DESPERATE FIGHT—WE ATTEMPT TO RAKE THE ENEMY—HE FRUSTRATES IT—THE ENEMY HOISTS THE PIRATE FLAG—BOARDS US—OUR CREW OVERCOME—THE CAPTAIN AND BOATSWAIN, HARRY AND I, FIGHT DESPERATELY—CAPTAIN TRUNNION APPEARS— SPARES OUR LIVES—DREADFUL STATE OF THE DECK—TOM, HARRY, AND I TAKEN ON BOARD THE "VULTURE"—CAPTAIN MAGOR ORDERED TO NAVIGATE THE "ARROW" INTO THE SHERBRO—THE VESSELS PART COMPANY.
Harry and I soon got our sea-legs, for although when we sailed the weather was fine, before we were well clear of the Irish Channel it began to blow fresh, and a heavy sea ran, which tumbled the vessel about not a little. We both quickly made the acquaintance of the officers and crew, for we did not consider it beneath our dignity as supercargoes to talk to our ship mates of lower rank. We were well repaid by the confidence they bestowed upon us, and the histories of their lives and adventures which they narrated. Although rough in their ways, they possessed many of the best qualities in human nature. The mates were, as I before said, good steady men, fair navigators, who could be trusted on all occasions, and had been chosen for these qualifications by Captain Magor, to whom they had long been known. Our chief friend was Tom Tubbs, the boatswain. Tom would have risen to a higher rank, but he was destitute of the accomplishments of reading and writing, though having to some purpose studied the book of nature, he possessed more useful knowledge than many of his fellow-men. He, like Tom Bowling, was the darling of the crew; for although he wielded his authority with a taut hand, he could be lenient when he thought it advisable, and was ever ready to do a kind action to any of his shipmates. He could always get them to do anything he wanted; for, instead of swearing at them, he used endearing expressions, such as "My loves," "My dear boys," "My charming lads." Thus, "My darlings," he would sing out, "be smart in handling that fore-topgallantsail," or "Take down two reefs in the topsails, my cherubs," or when setting studding-sails, he would sing out, "Haul away, my angels," or again, when shortening sail, "Clew up— haul down, my lovely dears." He varied his expressions, however, according to the urgency of the case. If more speed was required, the more endearing were his words. I won't undertake to say that he did not sometimes rap out words of a very different signification, but that was only in extreme cases, when all others seemed to fail, or he had exhausted his vocabulary; but the men did not mind it a bit, for it only showed them that they must exert all their strength and activity if the masts were to be saved or the ship preserved from capsizing, or any other catastrophe prevented. The men were well aware of the motive which induced him to use strong expressions. We had two black men, who, having long served on board merchant vessels, spoke English pretty well. One of them, called Quambo, acted as steward; the other, Sambo, being ship's cook, spent a good portion of his time in the caboose, from which he carried on a conversation on either side with the men who happened to be congregated there. He, as well as Quambo, had to do duty as a seaman, and active fellows they were, as good hands as any of the crew. Sambo, besides his other accomplishments, could play the fiddle, and in calm weather the merry tones of his instrument would set all the crew dancing, making even Tom Tubbs shuffle about out of sight of the officers; for it would have been derogatory, he considered, to have been seen thus conducting himself in public. We had an Irishman, a Scotchman, three Finns, and a Portuguese, who was generally known as "Portinggall." The captain and the rest were Englishmen, two of whom had seen better days. One had been a schoolmaster and the other a lawyer's clerk. There was also a runaway from home of gentle birth, but who had so long mixed with rough characters, that not a trace of the good manners he once possessed remained by him.
We had got into the latitude of the Cape de Verde islands, and were looking out for the African coast, the wind being about east, when about two hours after noon the look-out at the masthead shouted, "A sail in sight on the larboard bow."
On hearing this, the first mate, with a glass slung over his shoulder, went aloft to have a look at the stranger. He was sometime there, and when he returned on deck I thought by his countenance that he did not like her appearance.
"She's ship rigged, going free, and standing this way, sir," he said to the captain; "and if we keep on our present course she will be within hail of us within a couple of hours at furthest. She may be a man-of-war cruiser, or an enemy's privateer, or an honest trader; but were she that, I don't see why she should be standing this way, unless she thinks the wind will shift, and she wishes to get a good offing from Cape de Verde. Or else she may be one of the picarooning craft which we have heard of on this coast, although it has never been my ill luck to fall in with them."
"But it has been mine; and though I had the good fortune to get clear of the rascal, I never wish to meet with one of her class again; and so, in case yonder craft should be of that character, or an enemy's privateer, we shall do well to stand clear of her," said Captain Magor; "and although we may lose a day or two, that will be better than running the risk of being captured or sent to the bottom. All hands make sail—up with the helm—square away the yards. Rig out the studding-sail booms, Mr Sherwin," he added, addressing the first mate as soon as the ship was before the wind.
The boatswain sounded his whistle. "Be smart there, my sweet lads," he cried out. "Haul away, my lovely cherubs, on the starboard studding-sail halyards. Belay all that, my charmers;" and so he went on whistling and shouting, until we had studding-sails extended below and aloft on either side, and both royals set, and were running along at the rate of some seven or eight knots an hour before a light breeze.
Harry and I on all occasions lent a hand when we thought we could be of use, and Tom did not fail to bestow his approving remarks upon us. The first mate now went aloft to ascertain whether the stranger had again altered her course, or whether she was standing on as before, in which case we hoped to run her out of sight, when we could again haul on the wind. He remained some time aloft. When he came down he looked even grave than before.
"It is as I feared, sir. The fellow has clapped on all sail and is standing after us. It is a question which has the fastest pair of heels. If we can keep well ahead until nightfall, we may then alter our course and get clear of her."
"Perhaps, after all, she is only a British man-of-war, which takes us for a slaver, or perhaps for an enemy's cruiser; for the 'Arrow,' I flatter myself, doesn't look like an ordinary trader," observed Captain Magor.
"That may be, sir," answered the mate, "but we are doing the wisest thing to keep out of her way; and, as you said, it's better to do that and lose a day or two, than be snapped up by an enemy." The captain ordered all hands to remain on deck at their stations, ready to shorten sail at a moment's notice. I saw him frequently look astern, not so much at the stranger as at the appearance of the clouds.
"Do you think she is coming up with us, Captain Magor?" I asked.
"No doubt about that, though she is carrying less sail than we are. She has got a stronger breeze, and I am watching lest the wind should come down on us harder than our sticks can stand."
A few minutes afterwards, as I moved to the fore part of the quarter-deck, where the boatswain was standing, the captain cried out, "All hands shorten sail!"
In an instant Tom's whistle was at his mouth, and didn't he stamp and shout.
"In with the studding-sails, my lovely lads; let fly topgallant sheets, my sweet angels. Haul down, trice up, my pretty boys." Though what between the orders issued by the captain and mates, and repeated by him, with the howling of the wind and the whistling of his shrill pipe, the rattling and creaking of the blocks, and the fluttering of the sails, it was difficult for ears unnautical to comprehend the actual words uttered. All to me seemed hubbub and confusion. The men flew here and there, some going aloft, while others came tramping along the deck with the ropes. Even Captain Magor and the mates were pulling and hauling. Harry and I caught hold of the ropes they gave us, and ran along with them to gather in the fluttering canvas, which seemed as if it would be blown to shreds before it could be secured. As it was, a fore-royal was carried away and a studding-sail boom was snapt off. Before we had time to stow the lighter canvas the squall came down thick and strong on us. The order was given to clew up the courses and take a reef in the topsails. The wind, though coming off the land, quickly beat the ocean into wild tossing waves, through which the brig dashed forward with lessened sail, yet still with increased speed. A thick misty appearance, caused by a fine impalpable sand brought off the land by the squall, soon hid the stranger from sight. "It's an ill wind that blows nobody good," observed the mate; "and I hope we shall be in luck, and get out of the way of that fellow; I don't like his looks, that I don't."
What Captain Magor thought about the matter he did not say. He kept the brig away, running as before, which showed that he considered the stranger was still in pursuit of us. Harry and I looked out for her, but she was nowhere to be seen.
"Perhaps the squall took her unawares and carried away her masts; if so, and she is an enemy, we may thank the wind for the service it has rendered us," observed the first mate.
"There's little chance of that, I fear," said Captain Magor. "When it clears up again we shall see her all ataunto, or I am much mistaken."
We all continued looking out anxiously over the taffrail, while the brig ploughed her way through the fast rising seas, which hissed and foamed around her.
The captain paced the deck, now looking aft, now aloft, waiting for the moment when he could venture to make sail again. The men stood with their hands on the halyard, ready to hoist away at the expected order, for all on board knew the importance of keeping ahead of the stranger should she be what we suspected. Still the atmosphere remained charged with dust off the coast, which, as the rays of the sun fell upon it, assumed a yellowish hue. At any moment, however, it might dissolve, and already it had sunk lower than when it first came on. Before long we had evidence that the captain's surmise was correct, for just over the thick bank astern we caught sight through our glasses of a fine perpendicular line against the sky, which he asserted were the royal masts of the stranger, with the royals still furled. If he was right— and of that there appeared little doubt—she must have gained rapidly on us. The best we could hope for was that the mist would continue until nightfall and shroud us from her sight. The setting sun, it should be understood, cast its light upon her masts, while ours were still in the shade. We were doomed, however, to disappointment; suddenly the mist cleared off, and the bright rays of the sun exposed to view the topsails and courses of our pursuer.
"We may still keep ahead of her, and when night comes on give her the slip," observed Captain Magor; "if not, we will fight her. The men, I hope, will stand to their guns, and show that they are British seamen. It will be a disgrace to knock under to piratical villains, such as I fear are the crew of yonder craft."
"The men are staunch, I'll answer for that," observed Mr Serwin. "Tubbs has had a talk with them to try their tempers, and he is as true a fellow as ever stepped."
"That he is; and if you and I and the second mate should be killed, he will fight the ship as long as a stick is standing," answered the first mate, showing his appreciation of the boatswain's character. Harry and I, as we walked the deck, agreed that we would fight to the last, though we heartily wished that we might escape the stern necessity. Before long the captain shouted—
"Shake out the reefs in the fore-topsail, my lads."
The topmen flew aloft and the sail was hoisted. Soon afterwards the captain gave the order to set the fore-topgallantsail.
"We must get preventer braces on it," he observed to the first mate; "it won't do to run the risk of carrying away the spar."
The additional ropes were quickly secured by the active crew. As they stood aft watching the sail, it seemed as if at any moment it would carry away the mast and spar, as, bulging out with the strong breeze, it strained and tugged in its efforts to free itself, but the sticks were tough and the ropes which held them sound, and with increased speed the brig flew before the gale. Two of the best hands were at the wheel, for any carelessness in steering might in an instant have produced a serious disaster. The effects of the additional sail were satisfactory, as the stranger was no longer gaining on us, as she had hitherto done. Still, as I felt the violent blows given by the seas, now on one quarter, now on the other, the brig now pitching into a hollow ahead, now rising rapidly over another sea, then rolling from side to side, I feared that the masts must be jerked out of her. Harry and I found it scarcely possible to walk the deck without being tossed about like shuttlecocks, so that our only resource was to hold fast to the stanchions, or, when we wanted to move, to catch hold of the bulwarks. As night approached, however, the wind began to decrease, and the sea, having no great distance to run, went down. Whether this was likely to be an advantage to us or not was now to be proved. As the last rays of the sun ere he set glanced horizontally across the ocean, they fell on the stranger's canvas down to the foot of her courses. Still our stout-hearted captain did not despair.
"We will do what we can to give the fellow the go-by, and may outwit him, clever as he thinks himself," he said, laughing. "Aloft there, and set the fore-royal," he shouted; and this being done, the foretopmast studding-sails were again rigged out, thus exhibiting a broad sheet of canvas to the eyes of our pursuer, which would probably make him suppose that we intended to continue our course directly before the wind. The sun had now sunk, but we could yet distinguish through the fast gathering gloom the sail astern. Captain Magor now ordered the mainsail to be hauled out, and the main-topsail and maintop-gallant-sail to be set. By the time this was done, not even the outlines of the stranger could be perceived astern.
"Take in studdin'-sails," cried the captain.
These by the united efforts of the crew, wildly fluttering, were hauled down without a spar being lost. The fore-royal was then furled. "Starboard the helm," was the next order given. "Haul on the starboard fore and main braces," he then sang out, and the brig was brought to the wind on the larboard tack. No sooner did she feel its power, as the yards were braced sharp up, the tacks hauled down, and the braces and bowlines sheeted home, than she heeled over to the force of the wind, which was still considerable, although it did not appear to when we were running before it. "If the stranger does not discover our change of course, she will be well away to leeward before morning, and we shall see no more of her," said Captain Magor, addressing Harry and me. "I don't want to expose the lives of you young gentlemen to danger, or to risk the loss of our cargo, I daresay you felt not a little anxious, but you may turn in and sleep soundly, with the prospect of making the coast of Africa in another day or two at furthest. We will have some food first though, for you have been on deck ever since dinner; you'll be hungry. Quambo!" he shouted, "let's have some supper on table as soon as possible."
"Him dare 'ready, captain," answered the black steward, "only wait de young gen'lemen to cut him."
The captain, leaving the deck in charge of the first mate, descended with us, and did ample justice to the plentiful meal Quambo had spread on the table. The captain, before going on deck again, advised us to turn in. We were, however, too anxious to do so, notwithstanding his assertions that all was likely to go well, and we therefore soon joined him on deck. We found him looking out over the larboard quarter, the direction in which the stranger was most likely to be seen. Although we swept the ocean with our glasses round two-thirds of the horizon, she was nowhere visible. At length, trusting that the captain really was right, with our minds tolerably relieved, we went below and turned into our berths. Still, though I slept, I could not get the thought of the pirate out of my mind. I dreamed that I was again on deck, and that I saw our pursuer, like some monster of the deep, her canvas towering high above our own towards the sky, close to us. Then she poured forth her broadsides, her shot with a crashing, rending sound passing across our deck. Still we remained unharmed, and I heard the captain say, "Give it them again, my lads—give it them again." Our crew sprung to their guns; but there came another broadside from the enemy which carried away our masts and spars, pierced our bulwarks, knocking our boats to pieces. Still Harry and I stood on deck uninjured, and our crew appeared is undaunted and active as before. I have often heard of people "fighting their battles o'er again;" but in this instance I fought mine before it occurred. I was awakened by the stamping sound of the feet of the watch overhead as they ran along with the halyards; then came the cry, "All hands on deck." I jumped out of my berth, and found Harry slipping into his clothes. No one else was in the cabin. We hurried on deck, where the officers and the watch below with the idlers had assembled. I was surprised to find the brig once more before the wind and the crew engaged in making all sail. The captain was standing aft issuing his orders, while the mates and boatswain were aiding the men in pulling and hauling. We joined them without asking questions. Some of the crew were aloft setting the top-gallant-sails and royals. I wondered why this was done, but there was no time to ask questions. At last, all the sail the brig could carry was set. I then, having nothing further to do, went aft and asked the captain the reason of the change of course.
"If you look astern you will see it," he said.
Shading my eyes with my hand, I gazed into the darkness, and there I at length discovered what the more practised eyes of the captain had long seen—the shadowy form of the stranger coming up under all sail towards us.
"You see now why we have kept away," observed the captain. "Before the wind is our fastest point of sailing, and I wish that we had kept on it from the first. That fellow out there must have hauled his wind soon after we lost sight of him."
"Do you think she will come up with us?" I asked.
"There is a great likelihood that she will," answered the captain; "but a stern chase is a long chase, as every one knows. Perhaps we may fall in with a man-of-war cruiser, when the tables will be turned; if not, as I said before, we must fight her."
"With all my heart," I answered; and Harry echoed my words.
The stranger had by this time approached much nearer to us than before, or we should have been unable to see her. We could thus no longer hope for an opportunity of escaping by altering our course. "It is my duty to stand on as long as I can, to give ourselves every chance of meeting with another craft, which may take a part in the game," observed the captain. "At all events, it will be daylight before we get within range of her guns, and you young gentlemen may as well turn in in the meantime and finish your night's rest."
Neither I nor Harry had any inclination, however, to do this. The dream I had had still haunted my imagination, and I felt pretty sure that were I to go to sleep it would come back as vividly as before. Stepping into the waist, I found Mr Tubbs, the boatswain.
"Well, Tom, what do you think about the matter?" I asked. "Shall we have a brush with yonder craft which seems so anxious to make our acquaintance?"
"No doubt about it, Mr Westerton, and more than a brush too, I suspect. That ship out there is a big fellow, and will prove a tough customer. We shall have to show the stuff we are made of, and fight hard to beat him off. I don't say but that we shall do it, but it will cost us dearly; for his people, we may be sure, know how to handle their guns; and from the height of his canvas I should say that he was twice our size, and probably carries double as many guns as we do, and musters three or four times more men."
"Then I'm afraid that we shall have but a poor chance of beating him off," I observed.
"There are always chances in war, and one of them may be in our favour; so it is our business to fight hard to the end. A happy shot may knock away his masts and render him helpless, or enter his magazine and blow him up; or we may send half a dozen of our pills between wind and water, and compel him to keep all hands at the pumps, so that he will have no time to look after us."
"But the same may happen to us," observed Harry.
"Granted; those belong to the chances of war," answered Tom. "I was only speaking of those in our favour. We must not think of the others; if the worst comes to the worst, we can but go to the bottom with our colours flying, as many pretty men have had to do before."
On the whole, Tom's remarks did not greatly increase our spirits. Harry and I walked aft together.
"One of us may fall, Dick," said Harry to me in a grave tone. "If I do, you will carry my last fond love to my mother and sister and poor Lucy, and say that my last thoughts were about them."
"That I will," I answered. "And should I fall and you escape, you will see my parents, and tell your mother and sister Mary how to the last moment of my life I thought of them—how grateful I am for all their kindness to me."
The expressions we exchanged were but natural to young men who were about to engage for the first time in their lives in a desperate battle—for desperate we knew it must be, even should we come off victorious, if the stranger astern was, as we supposed, a pirate. We paced the deck together. The suspense we were doomed to undergo was more trying than when we were engaged in making or shortening sail, and the gale was blowing and the vessel tumbling about. Now we were gliding calmly on, with nothing to do except occasionally to take a look astern at our expected enemy. I began to long for daylight, and wished even to see the stranger come up within shot, so that we might ascertain to a certainty her true character. At length a ruddy glow appeared beyond her in the east, gradually increasing in depth and brightness until the whole sky was suffused with an orange tint, and the sun, like a vast ball of fire, rose rapidly above the horizon, forming a glowing background to the sails of our pursuer, who came gliding along over the shining ocean towards us. Already she was almost within range of our long gun, which the captain now ordered to be trained aft through one of the stern-ports. The gun was loaded and run out. "Shall I fire, sir?" asked Tom Tubbs, who acted as gunner as well as boatswain, running his eye along the piece.
"Not until we can see her flag," answered the captain; "she may, after all, be a man-of-war. If we fire she may take us for a pirate, and we should get small credit for our bravery. We shall see her colours presently if she yaws to fire at us. Wait until I give the word."
In the meantime the magazine had been opened and powder and shot brought up on deck; the guns were loaded and run out, the arm-chest was also got up, and Harry and I, as did all on board, girded hangers to our sides and thrust pistols into our belts.
The captain shortly afterwards issued the order for all hands to be ready to shorten sail as soon as no chance remained of escaping without fighting. Even now there was a hope that we might get away, or that the stranger might after all prove a friend instead of a foe; every rope was therefore kept belayed. "Long Tom," as the boatswain called his gun, was run out, it should be understood, under the poop on which Harry and I stood. The captain had taken his post near the mizen rigging, so that he could see all parts alike, and his voice could be heard by Tom and the crew of the gun below him.
The mates were at their stations ready to shorten sail. I had my spyglass turned towards our pursuer, endeavouring to get a glimpse of her flag should she have hoisted one, which she very certainly would have done were she a King's ship. As I watched her, I could see that she was gaining upon us. Objects which at first appeared indistinct were now clearly visible. I could make out the men on the forecastle, but I saw no gun there with which she could return the compliment our "Long Tom" was about to pay her. So far this was satisfactory.
"Were she a King's ship she would have fired a gun without altering her course, as a signal for us to heave to," observed the captain.
Scarcely had he spoken than the stranger yawed—a gun was fired, and a shot came towards us, striking the water and sinking close under our counter. At the same moment, raising my glass, I caught sight of the British ensign flying from the end of the peak.
"Hurrah!" I exclaimed; "she's a King's ship, and we are all right."
"We must not be too sure of that," observed Harry; "pirates can hoist false colours. We want better proof of her honesty before we heave to. Had she been well disposed, she would not have sent that iron messenger after us."
For some time longer the "Arrow" stood on her course, while the stranger, keeping directly astern, did not alter hers. I expected every moment to hear our captain give the word to fire, but he refrained from doing so. Suspicious as was the behaviour of our pursuer, still I thought it possible that, after all, she might be a King's ship, and had shown her proper colours. Presently, however, she yawed, her studding-sails fluttering as she did so, being almost taken back. Two spouts of flame, followed quickly by a couple of round shot, issued from her bow-ports. That the shot were fired with evil intent was evident, for one struck our larboard quarter close below where I was standing, and knocked away the carved work, while the other, flying high, passed close above our heads, and fell into the water not a dozen fathoms from the ship. Before her helm could again be put up, Captain Magor shouted, "Give it them, Tubbs," and our "Long Tom," with a loud roar, sending forth a spout of flame, pitched a shot right through the fore part of her bulwarks, and I could see the splinters fly as it struck them.
"Load and fire away as fast as you can," cried the captain; "if that's a King's ship, she fired first, and must take the consequences."
I should have felt more satisfied had I been convinced that the captain was right, but still I could not help fancying that she was a royal cruiser, and that we might be committing a terrible mistake. Shot after shot was now aimed at our pursuer. Tom Tubbs and his men hauling in and loading the gun with a rapidity which only well-trained hands could have done. Few of our shots—as far as I could judge—appeared to be so successfully aimed as the first had been. Still I heard Captain Magor shouting out, "Well done, my lads; never saw a gun better served. Wing her if you can; knock away her foremast, and twenty golden guineas shall be yours."
The stranger all this time did not return our fire, for she could not bring her foremost guns to bear without yawing, and by doing so she would have lost ground. She was still gaining on us, and I observed at length that she had slightly altered her course, so as to be creeping up on our starboard quarter, though so slightly, that at first the alteration was not perceived. Captain Magor took two or three short turns on the poop, then suddenly stopping, he shouted, "In with the studding-sails, send down the royals," and presently afterwards, when this was done, "Furl top-gallant-sails." He had evidently made up his mind that escape was impossible, and was determined to fight the stranger should she prove an enemy. Active as were our crew, some minutes passed before sail was shortened, by which time the stranger had crept up on our quarter. She had hitherto kept all her canvas standing. We were still running before the wind. I saw the captain give a steady look at her.
"I know her now. She is the 'Vulture,' and we can expect no mercy if we are taken," he exclaimed, turning to Harry and me, his countenance exhibiting the anxiety he felt in the discovery, although the next moment he spoke in the same firm tone as usual. "The men stationed at the starboard guns be ready to fire," he cried out. "Brace the yards to larboard."
Before, however, the words were out of his mouth, the stranger's crew were seen swarming aloft. The yards and tops were covered with men, and with a rapidity far excelling anything we were capable of, the studding-sails were taken in, the royals and top-gallant-sails furled, and just as our helm was put down, and we were about to luff across her bow, she luffed up and let fly a broadside of ten guns in return for our three. At the same moment, as I looked aft, expecting still to see the ensign of Old England flying from her peak, I beheld a black piratical flag with the death's head and cross-bones, which had evidently been hoisted to strike terror into the hearts of our crew. At that instant I heard the same crashing, rending sounds which had disturbed my slumbers, as the shot tore their way through our bulwarks, some striking the masts, others cutting away the shrouds and knocking a boat to pieces. I saw one man fall at the after-guns, while two more were binding handkerchiefs round their arms, showing that they had been struck either by shot or splinters. Having missed the opportunity of raking the enemy, we were now placed in a disadvantageous position to leeward. Still Captain Magor was not the man to give in. He ordered "Long Tom" to be dragged from its present position, and run through the foremost port.
"If the enemy have more guns than we have, we must make amends by firing ours twice as fast as she does," he cried out in a cheerful tone. "Cheer up, my lads. Toss the pieces in, and give the villains more than they bargain for."
Harry and I hastened to one of the guns, at which three of the crew had already been killed or disabled, and we exerted ourselves to the utmost. I confess that I have a somewhat confused idea of what now occurred. I was thinking only of how I could best help in loading and running out the gun at which I had stationed myself. All my thoughts and energies were concentrated on that; but I remember hearing the cries and groans of my shipmates as they were shot down, the tearing and crashing of the shot as they struck our devoted craft, the blocks falling from aloft, the shouts of the officers, and the occasional cheers of the men, and seeing the ropes hanging in festoons, the sails in tatters, wreck and confusion around us, with wreaths of smoke. Then I remember observing the pirate ship, which had approached us closer and closer, come with a louder crash than any previous sounds alongside. Grapplings were thrown on to our bulwarks, then a score or more of ruffianly looking fellows with hangers flashing leapt down on our decks. We fired our pistols and drew our own blades, and for a few minutes fought with desperation; then Harry and I, with Tom Tubbs and the captain, were borne back towards the poop, where, as we stood for a few seconds, keeping our enemies at bay, we saw that, overwhelmed by numbers, all hope of successful resistance was vain. Captain Magor shouted to us to sell our lives dearly, but just then I heard a voice exclaim, "Drop your weapons and you shall have your lives, for you have fought like brave fellows." Gazing at the speaker, whom I had not before recognised among the boarders, I beheld one whose countenance I knew. Yes! I had no doubt about the matter, he was Captain Roderick Trunnion. At his heels followed a huge mastiff, who growled fiercely as his master was addressing us. Whether or not Captain Roderick recognised Harry or me, we neither of us could tell.
"We had better make a virtue of necessity," said the captain, dropping his sword; and I with the rest of the party did the same, for we could not suppose that our captors intended afterwards to slaughter us. One of the officers of the pirate, stepping up, took our weapons, which we handed to him; and as our assailants now separated, apparently to plunder the vessel, the fearful condition of our deck was exposed to view. In every direction were our poor fellows dead or wounded, including the two mates, one of whom had his head knocked off, while the other was cut almost in two by a round shot. Planks were torn up where the shot had ploughed their way along them; blocks, entangled ropes, shattered spars, fragments of the bulwarks and boats, and pieces of sails, were scattered about amid large splashes of blood. The pirates, now masters of the vessel, began at once to heave the dead overboard, several still breathing, who might have recovered, being treated in the same way. Every moment I expected that the miscreants would compel us to walk the plank, but for a wonder they appeared satisfied with their victory.
Captain Trunnion did not appear to recognise us, though he fixed his eyes on Captain Magor in a very ominous way.
"I know you," he said, approaching him; "you once did me a good turn by picking me out of the water. I should probably otherwise have served for a dinner to a hungry shark close at my heels; but you counterbalanced that by the scurvy trick you endeavoured to play me at Liverpool. However, as no harm was done, except that my brother was not quite so affectionate as he might have been, I'll overlook that, and I tell you I don't wish to have your blood or that of any other man on my hands. Now, listen to me, and if you are a sensible person, you will accept my offer and save your life. I happen to have no one on board whom I can spare capable of navigating the vessel. I intend to put a prize-crew on board this craft, and leave you some of your own men, and if you take her and them safe into the Sherbro River, you shall have your liberty and go wherever you like after the vessel has sailed. I must send a man on board to act as mate who will stand no nonsense. If you prove true, he'll be civil; but if not, you may expect to have your brains blown out at a moment's notice. You understand me?"